Surface Headphones are $100 off at the Microsoft Store

Microsoft is discounting its Surface Headphones by $100. The deal is available over at the company’s online store, and it looks like a temporary price cut to $249.99 down from the regular $349.99 price.

Microsoft’s headphones have Cortana built-in, but they also work with Apple’s Siri or the Google Assistant on Android. Surface Headphones also include noise canceling (NC), smart switching between multiple paired devices, and USB-C charging.

Microsoft first released its Surface Headphones back in November, and this is the first major discount on the Surface cans since then. We reviewed the Surface Headphones and found them to have great wireless performance, excellent noise cancellation, but lacking in sound quality overall.

Rumors suggest Microsoft might also be preparing its own Surface earbuds to compete with Apple’s AirPods. Like the existing headphones, these buds are rumored to include Cortana support and noise cancellation.

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Jony Ive’s latest product is the Apple Stage, a giant rainbow under which Lady Gaga is about to play

According to MacRumors, Cult of Mac and a variety of social media reports, Apple employees are having a unique day at Apple’s spaceship campus — one filled with rainbows.

Last week, drone videographer Duncan Sinfield discovered that Apple had erected a gigantic new rainbow stage at the heart of its Apple Park campus, and this morning Apple employees learned what it meant: a huge celebration that may culminate in a private performance from Lady Gaga herself.

There was rainbow swag:

There were rainbow staircases:

Rainbow coffee cups:

And most importantly, there was reportedly a full explanation on Apple’s own internal network:

According to those articles on the Apple intranet (via Cult of Mac), the rainbows are all part of a special event today — one celebrating the formal opening of Apple Park (though it technically opened in April 2017) and paying tribute to late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs simultaneously.

The colorful arches aren’t just some fancy tent, by the way. It’s called the Apple Stage, and it’s apparently a 25,000 piece structure built to the specifications of Apple’s famous design director Jony Ive (the one whose face may someday appear next to “aluminum” in the dictionary). According to the report, the design breaks down into a set of building blocks that Apple can use again and again, meaning we may see it reappear for future events.

But first, it sounds like Lady Gaga will get a chance to break it in.

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Italy opens antitrust probe into Google because of a rejected Android Auto app

Italy’s antitrust authority has become the latest international regulatory body to open an anti-competition investigation into Google, joining the European Union and the Competition Commission of India.

The regulator opened the probe on Thursday after energy company Enel Group complained that Google wouldn’t allow the “Enel X Recharge” app to work with Android Auto. Enel Group was created by the Italian government in 1962, and it was privatized in 1999, though its biggest shareholder is currently Italy’s Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Google allows third-party developers to develop Android Auto-compatible versions of their apps, but only if they offer media or messaging services. Enel X Recharge is mostly dedicated to helping drivers find charging stations for electric cars.

“Android Auto is designed with safety in mind, to minimize distractions and to ensure apps can be used safely when driving,” a spokesperson for Google said in a statement. “We are reviewing the complaint and look forward to working with the authority to resolve their concerns.”

India opened its investigation into Google earlier this month, though it’s still unclear what triggered the probe. The European Union has hit Google with three fines totaling €8.2 billion ($9.3 billion) in the last three years over what it says were anti-competitive practices. The most recent €1.5 billion fine was levied in March.

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Man sentenced to over 18 months in prison after threatening to kill Ajit Pai

On Friday, a California man was sentenced to over a year and a half in prison for threatening to kill Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and his family over the agency’s controversial repeal of net neutrality.

The threats took place in December 2017 as the FCC took up the vote to roll back net neutrality regulations under Pai’s leadership. As the day of the vote approached, a man named Markara Man, 33, began sending Pai emails with threats against him and his family.

Allegedly, the first email accused the net neutrality repeal, and therefore Pai, of causing a teenager to die by suicide. The next email reportedly made explicit threats to kill Pai and his family, including specific addresses in and around Arlington, Virginia. The final one contained images of the chairman and his family.

These emails are what led the FBI to Man and his home in Norwalk, California, where he was arrested last June. Man told investigators that he sent the emails from the address “Stubblemanliness@gmail.com” in order to appear “tougher.” Man also claimed the emails were only meant to frighten Pai, and he didn’t intend to actually hurt him or his family.

After FBI investigators arrived at Man’s home, the court documents say that he factory reset his phone, wiping evidence. When investigators learned of the reset, Man lied to them and said that it was a phone he received a month earlier and hadn’t set up yet.

“Threatening to actually kill a federal official’s family because of a disagreement over policy is not only inexcusable, it is criminal,” US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia G. Zachary Terwilliger said in a statement. “This prosecution shows not only that we take criminal threats seriously, but also that online threats of violence have real world consequences.”

Ever since Pai announced that he would work to roll back net neutrality, he began receiving threats. Over six months following the commission’s vote, Pai told The Wall Street Journal that he and his family were still receiving threats, and he required 24/7 security as a result. He’s been unable to appear at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, an event he previously attended regularly, since taking his hard stance on net neutrality.

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Google has been tracking nearly everything you buy online — see for yourself with this tool

Google has been quietly keeping track of nearly every single online purchase you’ve ever made, thanks to purchase receipts sent to your personal Gmail account, according to a new report today from CNBC. Even stranger: this information is made available to you via a private web tool that’s been active for an indeterminate amount of time. You can go view it here.

Because I made my Gmail account nearly a decade ago, my purchase history stretches back as far as 2010, including purchases I made while I was a college student and those through Apple’s App Store, which has been linked to my Gmail account since its inception. It also includes some real-world transactions made using my credit card, thanks to point-of-sale software providers like Square and others that link your credit card number and name to an associated email account to deliver receipts, offer rewards programs, and, in some cases, collect valuable purchase data.

“To help you easily view and keep track of your purchases, bookings and subscriptions in one place, we’ve created a private destination that can only be seen by you,” Google told The Verge in a statement. “You can delete this information at any time. We don’t use any information from your Gmail messages to serve you ads, and that includes the email receipts and confirmations shown on the Purchase page.” Google did not say how long this tool has been active.

According to CNBC, the company says it does not use this information for personalized ad tracking; Google said back in 2017 that it would stop using data collected from Gmail messages to personalize ads. You can also delete the information from the Purchases webpage, but you must do so individually for each recorded transaction.

Google, like Facebook, knows an immense amount of information about you, your personal habits, and, yes, what you buy on the internet. And like the social network it dominates the online advertising industry alongside, Google gets this information mostly through background data collection using methods and tools its users may not be fully aware of, like Gmail purchase receipts. This is true of web tools like Gmail and smart assistants, which are increasingly coming under scrutiny for the ways the data that software collects is observed by human employees during the artificial intelligence training process.

This particular tool is not outright nefarious in an obvious way, but it does highlight Google’s struggle to transparently communicate its privacy policies and ad-tracking methods as Silicon Valley at large grapples with a more sensitive atmosphere around data privacy and security. The idea that this tool, and the technology to collect and present the data it provides, has existed quietly without a majority of Gmail users aware it exists echoes similar issues Google has faced over the last few years.

Those include a controversy over third-party app developers pulling data from the contents of Gmail messages, an auto-login feature for Chrome that would sync web browsing with your Gmail account, and reports that Google supplemented its ad-targeting tools with Mastercard purchase history data to provide advertisers a link between online ad impressions and real-world purchases. All of these situations contribute to a common theme: Google offers users a compromise that involves trading products and web services in exchange for data that the company will collect through a variety of means you may not know about and have little to no control over. That data is then used to help Google target ads, a division of its business that’s largely responsible for it becoming one of the most valuable corporations on Earth.

The existence of such purchase history tool that knows a scary amount of your offline and online behavior stretching back years, even if it is private, does not square nicely with Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s op-ed in The New York Times last week. Timed to the company’s I/O developer conference, Pichai wrote that “privacy cannot be a luxury good,” a subtle swipe at Apple and a pledge to remake Google’s image as one concerned with broad, inclusionary access to privacy tools that give you more control and provides more transparency.

Google is improving on this front, and it’s making an effort to make sure users are aware of what is being collected, how it’s collected, and what ways it can be deleted. As part of its I/O announcements, Google announced a new privacy policy for its smart home devices, given they contain microphones and cameras and are designed to be plugged in inside your home.

It also announced new tools for users to better control ad tracking in Chrome and Incognito mode options for both Google Maps and Google search, following an extension of the Chrome browsing Incognito feature to YouTube last year. One cornerstone of the upcoming Android P operating system update is better and more transparent privacy and data deletion tools. Google also said earlier this month that it would soon let users auto-delete location, web, and app data collected across its products and services either after three or 18 months on a rolling basis.

Yet Google will only continue to face scrutiny for tools that, while benign in nature, reveal the true extent of the company’s depth of knowledge that it has stored on its users. Fixing its image will require more than a Pichai op-ed or the pledges of executive onstage at a developer conference. In an interview with CNET ahead of I/O last week, Google ad chief Prabhakar Raghavan resisted the notion that the company should turn its more significant privacy tools on by default, saying the approach would be “ham-handed.”

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