The Tech News Blog

December 17, 2014

Amazon Extends Free Shipping Deadlines

Amazon Tips

Heads up, holiday shoppers. If you're still planning to buy Christmas presents from Amazon and want to take advantage of the retailer's free shipping option, you'll need to place your order in the next two days to ensure you'll receive it before the holiday.

The Web retail giant this week extended its holiday shipping deadlines, allowing customers to order with Free Shipping (available on orders $35 and over) by Dec. 19 to receive items before Christmas. Prime members can order by Dec. 22 to have their packages delivered on Christmas Eve.

In addition, truly last-minute shoppers in 12 major metro areas can choose from a huge selection of items for same-day delivery, and order as late as 10 a.m. on Dec. 24 to have their items delivered the very same day. The "Get it Today" option is available in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Head over to Amazon's Same-Day Delivery page to check out the selection of eligible items, including books, movies, toys, and electronics.

December 17, 2014

Report: Sprint Faces $105M Phone ‘Cramming’ Fine

Sprint Logo Sprint may be facing a $105 million fine from the Federal Communications Commission for unauthorized charges on customers' cell phone bills.

Sprint is reportedly accused of "cramming," or charging customers for unwanted text message alerts, according to The Wall Street Journal.

At issue are bogus fees for monthly subscriptions to services like horoscopes, sports scores, and ringtones.

Sprint declined to comment on the reports; the FCC did not immediately responded to PCMag's request.

AT&T was hit with a $105 million cramming fine in October by the Federal Trade Commission. According to the FTC, customers often did not agree to the charges, which were hidden on AT&T phone bills. AT&T was also accused of failing to stop the bogus charges in a timely manner since it received a 35 percent cut of all sales. Almost 360,000 individuals sought reimbursements from AT&T.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile this summer was also accused of failing to stop bogus charges on customers' bills; an FTC complaint said the Un-carrier made "hundreds of millions of dollars" via premium SMS subscriptions. T-Mobile has denied any wrongdoing.

AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint actually pledged last year to stop charging for spam or "premium" texts. When asked about that pledge in the wake of the AT&T fine, Edith Ramirez, Chairwoman of the FTC, said that "the carriers agreed to stop the premium text messaging services as of January 2014," but the AT&T settlement at least "applies to all forms of direct-carrier billing, so this continues to be an issue."

Complaints about cramming date back to at least 2008, when regulators started requiring carriers to refund customers who were duped into signing up for extra services they didn't want.

The FTC filed its first case in April 2013 against companies that add fraudulent charges to users' mobile phone bills.

In July, the FTC published a set of cramming-related recommendations, which includes five actions to be taken by mobile carriers, merchants who charge directly to phone bills, and billing intermediaries who facilitate charges.

The Senate Commerce Committee also joined the fight, calling on mobile providers to more vigilantly monitor evolving third-party billing practices.

December 15, 2014

Apple’s Holiday Ad Tugs at the Heartstrings (Again)

iPad mini 3 centered

Apple is flexing its marketing muscles again this season with a new holiday ad called "The Song."

The 90-second TV spot highlights Cupertino's top products—the iPhone, MacBook, and iPad—in action as a teenager gives her grandmother the gift of nostalgia.

While sifting through what is presumably a two-generation-old stack of records, the girl happens upon a voice-o-graph recording her grandmother, Valerie, made for her grandfather, Raymond, more than 60 years ago.

Once the needle hits the 45rpm vinyl, an amateur version of "Love Is Here to Stay" crackles through the speakers. It's clear the granddaughter has had a stroke of brilliance, because the next moment, she's already copying the original recording to her MacBook Air.

There is a quick glimpse of Garage Band before she starts jamming out to her own version of the song with a guitar, piano, and even a pair of chopsticks.

While on the go, the girl bobs her head in time with her grandmother's voice flowing through what is presumably an iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

In the end, she surprises Valerie with an updated version of the 1930s jazz standard, accompanied by photos of her once-young grandparents, and, of course, tears.

"With a Mac, iPhone or iPad, you have the power to create thoughtful, emotional gifts and memories that transcend time," Apple's video description said. "It could be a movie, a homemade card or a song that brings generations closer together."

Only a month after launching its next-gen iPhones, Cupertino in October revealed the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3—available in silver, gray, or gold, and starting at $399 for the 16GB Wi-Fi version. The updated slate comes with a Touch ID fingerprint scanner and support for the Apple Pay mobile payment system (though only within apps).

Apple offered up a similarly sentimental holiday ad last year.

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December 14, 2014

Xbox One Outsells PS4 in November

Xbox One holiday saleThough the PlayStation 4 has largely outsold the Xbox One for the last year, Microsoft's next-gen console has picked up some steam this holiday season.

The Xbox One unseated the PS4 to become the top-selling console in November, Microsoft announced Friday, citing data from The NPD Group.

"November set a new record for sales of Xbox One, and Xbox One was the best-selling console in the U.S. and U.K.," Microsoft said in a statement. "Response to the holiday lineup of games on Xbox One was incredible, with Xbox One fans buying more games in November in the U.S. than any other gen-eight platform and enjoying over 357 million hours of gameplay globally." Redmond added that fans logged into Xbox Live across Xbox One and Xbox 360 more than any other month in the game system's history.

Microsoft gave its Xbox One a $50 discount for the holiday season. Earlier this year, it also started offering a version of its console without the Kinect sensor, bringing the price down another $100.

Overall, according to NPD, sales of new gaming hardware, software, and accessories in the U.S. declined 11 percent year over year last month to $2.41 billion, the analyst firm said.

December 14, 2014

Apple’s Online Store Now Accepts PayPal

PayPal on

Apple and PayPal might not be the best of friends, but the two are working a little closer now with Apple's integration of PayPal as an online payment option.

As first reported by Re/code, Apple is now allowing shoppers to pay for goods with PayPal. Previously, buyers had to user a credit/debit card or an Apple gift card to complete a purchase.

The move might not sound like that big of a deal, but it's interesting, given that Apple Pay now makes Apple a bigger competitive threat to PayPal.

PayPal even felt the need to take out a full-page advertisement in three major newspapers, which criticized Apple over the naked celebrity photo hack issue, and suggested that PayPal was more secure than Apple Pay.

December 10, 2014

Police Raid Targets The Pirate Bay

Pirate Bay Turns 10

Swedish police have sunk The Pirate Bay ship, possibly forever.

Police on Tuesday executed a raid in Stockholm, seizing servers, computers, and other equipment in an operation to protect intellectual property. At the same time, The Pirate Bay and a number of other torrenting sites disappeared from the Web.

"There has been a crackdown on a server room in Greater Stockholm," Paul Pintér, police national coordinator for IP enforcement, said in a statement published by TorrentFreak.

Little is known about the exact location of the operation, though Frederick Ingblad, one of Sweden's special file-sharing prosecutors, confirmed that the raid took place in Stockholm on Tuesday morning.

"Several servers and computers were seized, but I don't want to say exactly how many," Ingblad told Radio Sweden. He also declined to reveal whether anyone was detained, or exactly what the suspicions were.

"I can't say exactly what the crime is yet," he said.

There is no official word on targets other than The Pirate Baby, though Torrent Freak also reported that forum is also offline, as well as,, EZTV, Zoink, Torrage, and the Istole tracker.

While there are surely folks tearing their hair out over the missing Pirate Bay, others are taking the shutdown in stride.

"News just reached me that The Pirate Bay has been raided, again," co-founder Peter Sunde wrote in a blog entry, reminding readers of the last raid more than eight years ago. "That time, a lot of people went out to protest and rally in the streets. Today few seem to care. And I'm one of them."

Without diving into his "multiple reasons" for apathy, Sunde highlighted the most important one: "I've not been a fan of what TPB has become."

"TPB has become an institution that people just expected to be there," he said. "[No one] willing to take the technology further."

Calling the site ugly, and full of bugs, old code, and outdated design, Sunde said it never changed, with the exception of more ads. What was meant by its creators to be shuttered after a decade has instead become a soul-less service based on money and idolatry, Sunde said—making it everything he said he worked against during his time at TPB.

"It feels good that it might have closed down forever, just a real shame the way it did that," Sunde wrote. "A planned retirement would have given the community time and a way to kick off something new, something better, something faster, something more reliable and with no chance of corrupting itself. Something that had a soul and could retain it."

Late last week, Google removed several popular third-party Pirate Bay apps from its Play Store, on the grounds of copyright violation. The newly banned apps include The Pirate Bay Proxy, The Pirate Bay Premium, The Pirate Bay Mirror, and PirateApp—all of which use proxy sites to help users get around ISP blockades and access TPB from a mobile device.

Google claims they violate intellectual property provisions of its Play Store content policy.

December 9, 2014

Amazon Rolls Out 4K Video Streaming for Prime Instant Video

Amazon 4K Looking for more 4K content to stream on your Ultra HD TV set? Amazon has you covered.

The company just announced it will now offer certain movies and TV shows on its Prime Instant Video Service in 4K, or Ultra HD, which offers four times the number of pixels as standard full HD for ridiculously clear images.

The move comes after rival Netflix started rolling out 4K video streaming in April. But unlike Netflix's 4K offering, which costs $3 a month more than its standard streaming plan, you won't need to pay anything extra to view Amazon's super high-resolution content. It's included with an Amazon Prime membership, though you'll need a pricey 4K TV set to view it.

The list of 4K-ready content includes Amazon original series Alpha House and Transparent as well as Sony movies like After Earth, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and This Is the End.

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December 9, 2014

World Cup, Ebola Dominate Facebook Chatter in 2014

World Cup FacebookFrom the conflict in Gaza to the Michael Brown case, there was no shortage of topics to discuss — and debate — on Facebook in 2014.

But which event incited the most vigorous discussion on the social network this year? The World Cup.

"The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil drove more conversation than any other event in Facebook history," the company revealed on Tuesday in its annual roundup of the most talked-about topics and people of the year.

Coming in second was the Ebola virus outbreak, followed by the elections in Brazil, the death of Robin Williams, the Ice Bucket challenge, the conflict in Gaza, the Malaysia Airlines disappearance, the Michael Brown/Ferguson case, and the Sochi Winter Olympics.

In the U.S. specifically, Ebola sparked the most chatter on Facebook this year, followed by the Ice Bucket challenge (George W. Bush's video had the most views), and the death of Robin Williams. Other hot topics in the U.S. included The Super Bowl, the U.S. midterm elections, and ISIS.

December 9, 2014

PlayStation Network Restored After Hack

PlayStation Network

Sony's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month continued when the PlayStation Network was knocked offline Sunday.

The site—now up and running again—was allegedly hacked by a group called "Lizard Squad," which recently hit Xbox Live and took credit for an August attack against several major gaming networks.

"PSN Login #offline #LizardSquad" the collective tweeted on Sunday afternoon. Several hours later, Sony's official PlayStation Twitter account acknowledged the problem, saying in a message that "We are aware of the issues some users are experiencing, and are working to address them."

Several hours later, Sony encouraged users to try again.

December 4, 2014

Apple Deleted Music From Rival Services Off iTunes

iTunes Tips

It turns out Apple has been controlling your music library since long before shoehorning U2's latest album into iTunes.

According to attorneys representing consumers in an antitrust case against Cupertino, the tech giant deleted music that iPod owners downloaded from competing services between 2007 and 2009.

As described by opposing counsel, those users who downloaded music from a rival service—like Real Networks—and tried to sync it with an iPod were met with an error message and instructions to restore the device to factory settings. Once the user followed through, those songs would disappear.

"You guys decided to give them the worst possible experience and blow up" users' music libraries, attorney Patrick Coughlin said in a California U.S. District Court, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

But Apple told jurors on Wednesday that the maneuver was a legitimate security measure - and intentionally cryptic so as to not confuse users.

"We don't need to give users too much information," Apple security director Augustin Farrugia testified, according to the Journal.