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Apple says it prioritizes privacy. Experts say gaps remain | Technology

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For years, Apple has carefully curated a reputation as a privacy stalwart among data-hungry and growth-seeking tech companies.

In multi-platform ad campaigns, the company told consumers that “what happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone,” and equated its products with security through slogans like “Privacy. That’s iPhone.”

But experts say that while Apple sets the bar when it comes to hardware and in some cases software security, the company could do more to protect user data from landing in the hands of police and other authorities.

In recent years, US law enforcement agencies have increasingly made use of data collected and stored by tech companies in investigations and prosecutions. Experts and civil liberties advocates have raised concerns about authorities’ extensive access to consumers’ digital information, warning it can violate fourth amendment protections against unreasonable searches. Those fears have only grown as once protected behaviors such as access to abortion have become criminalized in many states.

“The more that a company like Apple can do to set itself up to either not get law enforcement requests or to be able to say that they can’t comply with them by using tools like end-to-end encryption, the better it’s going to be for the company,” said Caitlin Seeley George, the campaigns and managing director at the digital advocacy group Fight for the Future.

Apple gave data to law enforcement 90% of the time

Apple’s most recent transparency report indicates it only rejected law enforcement requests for data 3.6% of the time.
Apple’s most recent transparency report indicates it only rejected law enforcement requests for data 3.6% of the time. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Apple receives thousands of law enforcement requests for user data a year, and overwhelmingly cooperates with them, according to its own transparency reports.

In the first half of 2021, Apple received 7,122 law enforcement requests in the US for the account data of 22,427 people. According to the company’s most recent transparency report, Apple handed over some level of data in response to 90% of the requests. Of those 7,122 requests, the iPhone maker challenged or rejected 261 requests.

The company’s positive response rate is largely in line with, and at times slightly higher than that of counterparts like Facebook and Google. However, both of those companies have documented far more requests from authorities than the iPhone maker.

In the second half of 2021, Facebook received nearly 60,000 law enforcement requests from US authorities and produced data in 88% of cases, according to that company’s most recent transparency report. In that same period, Google received 46,828 law enforcement requests affecting more than 100,000 accounts and handed over some level of data in response to more than 80% of the requests, according to the search giant’s transparency report. That’s more than six times the number of law enforcement requests Apple received in a comparable time frame.

That’s because the amount of data Apple collects on its users pales in comparison with other players in the space, said Jennifer Golbeck, a computer science professor at the University of Maryland. She noted that Apple’s business model relies less on marketing, advertising and user data – operations based on data collection. “They just naturally don’t have a use for doing analytics on people’s data in the same way that Google and a lot of other places do,” she said.

Apple’s drafted detailed guidelines outlining exactly what data authorities can obtain and how it can get it – a level of detail, the company says, which is in keeping with best practices.

Despite ‘secure’ hardware, iCloud and other services pose risks

But major gaps remain, privacy advocates say.

While iMessages sent between Apple devices are end-to-end encrypted, preventing anyone but the sender and recipient from accessing it, not all information backed up to iCloud, Apple’s cloud server, has the same level of encryption.

“iCloud content, as it exists in the customer’s account” can be handed over to law enforcement in response to a search warrant, Apple’s law enforcement guidelines read. That includes everything from detailed logs of the time, date and recipient of emails sent in the previous 25 days, to “stored photos, documents, contacts, calendars, bookmarks, Safari browsing history, maps search history, messages and iOS device backups.” The device backup on its own may include “photos and videos in the camera roll, device settings, app data, iMessage, business chat, SMS, and MMS [multimedia messaging service] messages and voicemail”, according to Apple.

Golbeck is an iPhone user but opts out of using iCloud because she worries about the system’s vulnerability to hacks and law enforcement requests. “I am one of those people who, if somebody asks if they should get an Android or an iPhone, I’m like, well, the iPhone is gonna be more protective than the Android is, but the bar is just very low,” she said.

“[Apple’s] hardware is the most secure on the market,” echoed Albert Fox Cahn, the founder of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a privacy rights organization. But the company’s policies around iCloud data also have him concerned: “I have to spend so much time opting out of things they’re trying to automatically push me towards using that are supposed to make my life better, but actually just put me at risk.

“As long as Apple continues to limit privacy to a question of hardware design rather than looking at the full life cycle of data and looking at the full spectrum of threats from government surveillance, Apple will be falling short,” he argued.

It’s a double standard that was already apparent in Apple’s stance in its most high-profile privacy case, the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, Cahn said.

At the time, Apple refused to comply with an FBI request to create a backdoor to access the shooter’s locked iPhone. The company argued that a security bypass could be exploited by hackers as well as law enforcement officials in future cases.

But the company said in court filings that if the FBI hadn’t changed the phone’s iCloud password, it wouldn’t have needed to create a backdoor because all of the data would have been backed up and therefore available via subpoena.

In fact, the company said up until that point, Apple had already “provided all data that it possessed relating to the attackers’ accounts”.

Apple CEO Tim Cook previously said that iPhone messages are only secure if sent between iPhones.
Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, previously said that iPhone messages are only secure if sent between iPhones. Photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA

“They were quite clear that they were weren’t willing to break into their own iPhones, but they were eager to actually break into the iCloud backup,” said Cahn.

Apple said in a statement it believed privacy was a fundamental human right, and argued users were always given the ability to opt out when the company collects their data.

“Our products include innovative privacy technologies and techniques designed to minimize how much of your data we – or anyone else – can access,” said an Apple spokesperson, Trevor Kincaid, adding that the company is proud of new privacy features such as app tracking transparency and mail privacy protection, which gives users more control over what information is shared with third parties.

“Whenever possible, data is processed on device, and in many cases we use end-to-end encryption. In instances when Apple does collect personal information, we’re clear and transparent about it, telling users how their data is being used and how to opt out anytime.”

Apple reviews all legal requests and is obligated to comply when they are valid, Kincaid added, but emphasized that the personal data Apple collects is limited to begin with. For instance, the company encrypts all health data and does not collect device location data.

People are ‘vastly unaware of what’s going on with their data’

Meanwhile, privacy advocacy organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are urging Apple to implement end-to-end encryption for iCloud backups.

“When we say they’re better than everyone else, it’s more an indictment of what everyone else is doing, not necessarily Apple being particularly good,” EFF staff technologist Erica Portnoy said.

Portnoy gives Apple credit for its default protection of some services like iMessage. “In some ways, some of the defaults can be a bit better [than other companies], which isn’t nothing,” she said. But, she pointed out, messages are only secure if they’re being sent between iPhones.

“We know that unless messages are end-to-end encrypted, many people could have access to these communications,” said George, whose organization Fight for the Future launched a campaign to push Apple and other companies to better secure their messaging systems.

It’s a problem the company can fix by, for one, adopting a Google-backed messaging system called rich communication services (RCS), George argued. The system isn’t in and of itself end-to-end encrypted but supports encryption, unlike SMS and MMS, and would allow Apple to secure messages between iPhones and Androids, she said.

At the Code 2022 tech conference, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, indicated the company didn’t plan to support RCS, arguing that users haven’t said this is a priority. But they “don’t know what RCS is”, George said. “If Apple really doesn’t want to use RCS because it comes from Google, they could come to the table with other solutions to show a good faith effort at protecting people’s messages.”

Kincaid said consumers were not asking for another messaging service because there are many existing encrypted offerings, such as Signal. He also said that Apple is concerned RCS isn’t a modern standard or encrypted by default.

Golbeck, who has a TikTok channel about privacy, says people are “vastly unaware of what’s going on with their data” and “think they’ve got some privacy that they don’t”.

“We really don’t want our own devices being turned into surveillance tools for the state,” Golbeck said.

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Hurricane Ian pushes NASA’s Artemis launch into October • The Register

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NASA’s Moon-ward Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will not be blasting off from Earth until late October at the earliest, after the vehicle was rolled back to its hangar to shelter from an incoming hurricane.

Tropical storm Ian is projected to hit Florida, where the SLS lives, over the next few days. Officials began transporting the rocket back to its Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on Monday at 2321 ET (0321 UTC, Tuesday) as a precautionary measure. Unfortunately, the move means NASA cannot launch the rocket from the Kennedy Space Center for the next few weeks. 

It’s hoped the SLS rocket will be used in NASA’s Artemis mission to, some time this decade, put the first American woman and another man on the Moon. For now, prior to that return to our natural satellite, the US space agency wants to test the SLS: it’s expected to carry an empty Orion crew capsule up into the Moon’s orbit. The podule will then return to Earth. In future, there’ll be astronauts in the pod.

The hurricane marks another set back to conduct this first-ever flight demonstration of the multi-billion-dollar SLS heavy launch vehicle – NASA’s most powerful rocket to date – that was at one point slated to fly on August 29.

Jim Free, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, said there was a slim chance the SLS may launch in late October, and November may be more likely. “We’re not writing it off, but it will be difficult,” he said during a media teleconference briefing on Tuesday.

When weather conditions improve, experts will assess any damage to infrastructure at the center before personnel are safely allowed back on site. Engineers then have to perform checks on the heavy launch vehicle; hardware components may need to be replaced, such as the flight’s batteries before it can be rolled back out on the launchpad. 

Hurricane Ian isn’t the only bad omen NASA has been forced to deal with. Janet Petro, the space center’s director, said a fire had erupted in the VAB. “I’ll also note that approximately at 1145 today, a fire was reported in the Vehicle Assembly Building, employees were evacuated and there were no reported injuries. The VAB is now fire safe, personnel are back inside working and the Artemis vehicle was never at risk,” she said during the briefing. An investigation to uncover the cause of the blaze is underway.

All previous attempts to launch the SLS have been scrubbed due to hydrogen fuel leakage. A team of NASA engineers performed a cryogenic demonstration test to confirm whether repairs made to address leaks were successful or not on September 21.

“The launch director has confirmed all objectives have been met for the cryogenic demonstration test, and teams are now proceeding with critical safety activities and preparations for draining the rocket’s tanks,” NASA previously said in a statement. “After encountering a hydrogen leak early in the loading process, engineers were able to troubleshoot the issue and proceed with the planned activities.” ®

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Here’s what workers and students can expect to get

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The cost-of-living crisis loomed large in Budget 2023, with a host of temporary supports announced for businesses, households and students.

The Irish Government has today (27 September) announced a number of measures designed to protect workers and those in higher education as part of the 2023 Budget.

Among the measures being promised are a package of supports for families, households and businesses to help them cover energy bills amid the ongoing inflation crisis. There will also be a cost-of-living package introduced for students, as well as investment plans for education over the coming months.

Remote working and rural development are being invested in too, as part of the Government’s Our Rural Future and National Development plans. There will be a total of €390m allocated to rural and community development, building on projects for remote and hybrid regional workers such as Connected Hubs.

To complement its investment in rural development, the Government is putting aside €218m to progress the roll-out of the high-speed broadband network next year under the National Broadband Plan.

The State is promising that fibre broadband will be made available to an additional 80,000-85,000 premises in 2023. This is designed to help businesses and workers who rely on technology as part of their working lives.

Those working from home can expect a little help covering their energy bills, as the Budget is to provide a €600 electricity credit to ease the cost of energy bills this winter.

All Irish households regardless of whether their occupants work from home or not, will receive this credit. It will be delivered in instalments, with €200 due before Christmas and the remainder due in two separate batches early next year.

In order to protect jobs and dampen the effects of the energy crisis on businesses, the Government is providing up to €10,000 per business per month until spring 2023. This is part of its plan to help employers meet rising energy costs. The temporary scheme will support eligible companies, covering 40pc of the increase in their energy bills.

Criticism

However, critics have said the measures will not be enough to protect jobs. Damien McCarthy, CEO of Kerry’s HR Buddy said that the measures will only save “a small number of businesses” and a “small number of jobs”.

“The number one aim in a cost-of-living crisis should be to protect how people earn their living. For this reason, businesses needed more from this budget in order to survive and protect their workers’ jobs through this crisis. A support that only covers 40pc of an overwhelming problem is not going to save jobs. Employers will still be left with 60pc of the problem and that is only the energy costs problem. Businesses have many other rising costs outside of energy,” he said, adding that the temporary measures would “prolong the pain a while longer, but that’s about it”.

“The fact that the lower VAT rate is not being maintained beyond February is also going to be a huge blow and again put people’s jobs at risk,” McCarthy said.

Higher education supports

For those in higher education, the Budget will attempt to alleviate the pressure of the cost-of-living crisis with a range of temporary grants and supports packages. There will be a once-off €1,000 reduction in the undergraduate student contribution fee for higher education students eligible for the free fees initiative.

There will also be a once-off reduction of up to 33pc in the contribution fee for apprentices, as well as a once-off extra payment for all student maintenance grant recipients. Postgraduate students who qualify for SUSI grants will receive a once-off payment of €1,000, meaning their grant will increase from €3,500 to €4,500.

There will be a further €8m investment in the Student Assistance Fund for the 2022-2023 academic year and more once-off funding for the third-level sector to assist with rising energy costs.

The Government is investing in apprenticeships and skills training programmes in Budget 2023, also. It will provide funding for 4,800 additional apprenticeship places and 4,000 registrations. The State will provide more than 11,000 upskilling and reskilling opportunities for those sectors most impacted by Brexit and more than 2,000 Skillnet places in sectors such as sustainable finance, green-tech and climate.

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Fifa 23 review – EA’s final Fifa game bows out gracefully | Games

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They think it’s all over … The football sim series that has graced the gaming charts every year since its launch in 1993 is about to face the final whistle, thanks to a licensing tussle with Fifa. Next year, Electronic Arts will be revealing its annoyingly named replacement, EA Sports FC, but for now, we get to run out on to this heavily branded pitch one last time.

It’s immediately clear the development team was determined to go out on a high, throwing in a range of vital updates. At last we get to play women’s league football, if only within the English and French premier divisions. Still, it’s fun to play as the stars of the recent Euro 22 tournament, making a mazy run into the box as Beth Mead or marshalling the Olympique Lyonnais defence with Wendie Renard, and it may be genuinely inspiring and educational for girls who have got into the sport through that glorious summer tournament. And there is full online cross-play between consoles of the same generation (PC owners are able to play against PS5 and Xbox Series X pals) in seasons and friendlies, as well as Ultimate Team, broadening your competitive base considerably.

Fifa 23 stadium realism.
Fifa 23 stadium realism. Photograph: Electronic Arts

How does it play? It’s really rather lovely. There is a fluidity to the action that contrasts with the somewhat ponderous Fifa 22. It’s not quite the turbo-charged ping pong feel of classic Pro Evo, but the zippy passes and pacy off-the-ball movement allow for sweeping attacks that feel genuinely exciting. There seems to be a much more granular employment of analogue button presses too, allowing well weighted crosses and accurate long-range strikes. While the set pieces are still not perfect, you can now add spin and bend to the ball with the right analogue stick, and use a slightly more instructive onscreen pointer to get the direction right.

Updated impact physics add greater unpredictability to collisions and loose ball situations. I’ve seen a through ball connect with the back of the target player’s boot, sending the ball rebounding back to me; I’ve powered in a low cross that has spun wildly off a defender’s shin and into their own goal. These capricious little moments add a nice sense of realism and tension to the game. Meanwhile, players now have one of three types of pace – explosive, lengthy and balanced – bringing variety to how they chase the ball and outrun rivals. The likes of Thiago and Traoré can call on a quick burst of speed, peeling away from nearby opponents in a sudden blur, while Kyle Walker and Luke Shaw will stride the whole length of the pitch, gathering momentum as they go. Brought together, the new additions provide moments of genuine visual spectacle: play for long enough and you might see Lewandowski audaciously chip the keeper in a crowded box or Bernardo Silva volleying a stray ball into the top right-hand corner from an angle so acute it would make Euclid shake his head in disbelief.

Throughout every match there are pleasing visual moments: players pulling dainty step-overs to change direction, the ball spinning up water from a wet surface; the net billowing wildly as a shot makes contact. Even the commentary is bearable, despite the odd Accidental Partridge moment from Derek Rae (after a fumbled throwout that results in a goal: “And the goalkeeper is wishing, quite simply, that he hadn’t done that.”)

There is as ever, a lot of football on offer here. Quick Play lets you launch straight into a single match or a tournament either alone or against friends or online competitors. Skill Games test you in various elements of passing and shooting. Volta is street football with a lot of fancy moves. In Career, you take either a player or manager through their entire footballing life, handling all aspects of their ascent, as a timetable of matches, training sessions and transfer dramas rolls by. This hasn’t changed hugely since the last game, though the presentation is neater and you get the chance to take part in Playable Highlights of matches rather than having to go through the entire 90 minutes. It’s kind of like an interactive version of Match of the Day, and feels tense, fun and demanding.

Then, of course, there is the monstrous Ultimate Team, where you buy virtual packs of player cards to build a super-squad of heroes while trading swaps and challenging other Fifa owners to online matches. For me, the big addition is Moments, a new set of single-player challenges that let you earn currency towards card packs and loan players. These might be mini skill challenges, or you could be tasked with replaying key moments in a major player’s career. New stuff arrives daily so there’s always a way to earn packs for nothing. Fifa 23 may be more generous with its freebies than previous titles, but at its heart Ultimate Team remains a fiendish loot box specifically designed to prompt fans into regular card pack purchases. The dopamine-piquing quest for elusive star players is as real as ever.

Controversial player-packs aside, Fifa 23 is the culmination of EA Sports’ philosophy. This series has always talked about realism, but it was for many years a Roy of the Rovers-style of realism – a penalty in the dying seconds, a scissor kick goalline clearance, a 35-yard screamer bending through the air like a misfiring exorcet missile. Now it feels like the physics, AI and animation have come together in a way that makes even these ridiculous moments feel naturalistic and pleasurable. The first Fifa on the Mega Drive billed itself as an authentic experience of real sport, real drama, real spectacle. It wasn’t then, but perhaps, in this final iteration … it is now.

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