SiriusXM releases a subscription plan for people without cars

SiriusXM is coming for the milllenials
SiriusXM is coming for the milllenials
Image: marcus ingram/Getty Images for SiriusXM

If you’re one of the millions of people in America who don’t own a car and have to rely on terrible public transportation (points to self), SiriusXM is out-of-reach.

Recently, however, the company released a new plan called SiriusEssential that would give people access to SiriusXM on mobile or for listening at home. At just $8 a month, the plan gives people access to over 200 channels. 

Unfortunately for some listeners, the plan will not include premium channels including the NBA, the NHL, the NCAA, and Howard Stern. Listeners who want access to those channels would have to sign up for their Premium Subscription plan, which goes for $13 a month.

Still, it’s well-priced, especially for millennials, many of whom don’t have cars and who turn to alternative streaming services on Spotify or Pandora for their music needs.

Listen. We all know what makes SiriusXM good — their 24/7 Dave Matthews Band Channel. All DMB, all the time. I would purchase a car solely for the opportunity to jam so damn hard to “Ants Marching” on SiriusXM at any hour of the day.

New users can sign up for just $1 for three months. 

Davey boy, here I come.

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Amazon's delivery drivers now have to verify their identity with selfies

Amazon Flex drivers use their own cars for deliveries.
Amazon Flex drivers use their own cars for deliveries.
Image: Pat Greenhouse / Boston Globe via Getty Images

Amazon is now using facial recognition to verify its delivery drivers’ identities. 

Specifically, the change applies to people who drive for Amazon Flex, the retail giant’s program that allows contract workers to deliver Amazon packages using their own cars. Now, Amazon will start verifying their identities using a combination of selfies and facial recognition.

The new development was reported by The Verge after the Amazon Flex app began notifying drivers they needed to start taking selfies in the app. Amazon has said the change is meant to reduce fraud and ensure only people authorized to deliver packages are able to access Amazon Flex.

In the FAQ section of its website for Flex, Amazon states, “we use your photo for identification.” “This can include making sure it’s you who is doing the delivery and using your picture to identify you to customers and station staff. The photo is also used on your in-app ID card.” 

Since Amazon Flex drivers are independent contractors — they use their own cars set their own schedules — an additional layer of verification could help Amazon keep tabs on its workers. 

Amazon isn’t the first company to use facial recognition with a contract workforce. Uber introduced its own selfie feature in 2016. Uber’s version requires drivers to snap a selfie before the start of each shift in order to prove they are indeed the person driving their car and picking up passengers.

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Samsung will investigate the Galaxy Fold's screen problems

Samsung will investigate screen issues on its Galaxy Fold.
Samsung will investigate screen issues on its Galaxy Fold.
Image: Simon Nagel/picture alliance via Getty Images

Today wasn’t a great one for Samsung.

The company’s foldable smartphone, the Galaxy Fold, has been having all sorts of screen problems after it was sent out to tech journalists this week.

And by problems, we mean that the screens were actually breaking.

Hours after these reports began to surface, Samsung released a statement saying it would be investigating the issue. 

The company also added that removing the screen’s top protector — something which didn’t carry a warning — could be the source of the problem.

“A limited number of early Galaxy Fold samples were provided to media for review. We have received a few reports regarding the main display on the samples provided. We will thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter,” a Samsung spokesperson told Mashable.

“Separately, a few reviewers reported having removed the top layer of the display causing damage to the screen. The main display on the Galaxy Fold features a top protective layer, which is part of the display structure designed to protect the screen from unintended scratches. 

“Removing the protective layer or adding adhesives to the main display may cause damage. We will ensure this information is clearly delivered to our customers.”

Despite the problems and questions about the Galaxy Fold’s durability, it appears that Samsung still intends to have the $1,980 device on sale in just over a week’s time on Apr. 26.

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What Apple and Qualcomm's settlement means for the 5G iPhone

2019's iPhones could wireless charge AirPods.
2019’s iPhones could wireless charge AirPods.
Image: lili sams / mashable

So much for one of the biggest tech courtroom battles in history.

As the smoke settles over Apple and Qualcomm’s sudden agreement to end all litigation between the two companies worldwide, the attention has now turned to the 5G iPhone. 

With the tech giants no longer feuding, what does this mean for the 5G iPhone? Is it back on track for a 2020 release? Maybe, but it’ll be tight.

Prior to Tuesday’s unexpected settlement, many analysts were losing faith in Apple being able to deliver a 5G iPhone by 2020.

Earlier this month, UBS analyst Timothi Arcuri told investors there was “increasing potential that Apple may not be able to ship a 5G iPhone for 2020.” He cited Apple’s failure to secure necessary 5G modems as the main reason why a 5G iPhone might not ship until 2021 at the earliest.

Apple’s problem with sourcing 5G modems has been two-fold: It couldn’t get 5G modems from Qualcomm because the two were locked in litigations, and Intel, the sole supplier of 4G LTE modems in the iPhone XS and XR, appears to be behind schedule with its own 5G modems.

Without any supplier, a 5G iPhone in 2020 would have been impossible. However, the settlement could change things.

“I think it should mean Apple is back on track for a 2020 launch as long as Qualcomm has supply,” says Carolina Milanesi, a consumer tech analysts at Creative Strategies. 

Even if Qualcomm can’t provide enough 5G modems to Apple in time for 2020, Milanesi thinks they could “prioritize some markets such as the U.S. and China for instance.”

Other analysts aren’t quite as optimistic. Though he still believes a 5G iPhone won’t launch until 2021, Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, says squeezing a 5G iPhone into 2020 would be “tight.”

The iPhone XS and XS Max use Intel 4G LTE modems and none from Qualcomm.

The iPhone XS and XS Max use Intel 4G LTE modems and none from Qualcomm.

Image: lili sams / Mashable

Though Apple and Qualcomm didn’t disclose specific chip details to their agreement — only that the two companies “have reached a six-year license agreement, effective as of April 1, 2019, including a two-year option to extend, and a multiyear chipset supply agreement” — it’s very likely Apple will now have access to Qualcomm’s 5G modems, such as the Snapdragon X55 5G modem announced in February.

With Qualcomm back in the supplier mix, the heat will be on for Intel to accelerate development of its “XMM 8160 5G multimode modem” if it wants to continue being a modem supplier for future iPhones.

More importantly, Qualcomm’s return means Intel will need to step it up in terms of modem performance. While Intel’s 5G modem is capable of “up to 6Gbps” download speeds, Qualcomm’s X55 is already faster with advertised speeds of “up to 7Gbps”.

Apple and Qualcomm’s settlement couldn’t have come at a better time. As phone makers release 5G phones and carriers begin to light up their 5G networks this year, it was becoming worrisome that Apple might be left behind the next mobile revolution. Now, it would appear Apple might have made it just in the nick of time. 

The big question is whether Apple rushes out an iPhone to meet the 5G blitz that’s planned for 2020 or it waits (like it’s previously done with 3G and 4G) until the networks are more mature and deployment is widespread — what’s the point of a 5G phone if you don’t have a 5G network to use it on?

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Twitter secretly verified Jack Dorsey's mom and thousands of others despite 'pause'

Twitter 'paused' verification to fix it, but it's still verifying thousands of accounts.
Twitter ‘paused’ verification to fix it, but it’s still verifying thousands of accounts.
Image: bob al-greene / mashable

Jack Dorsey’s mother and father, the ’80s band Whitesnake, a “war room” associated with Donald Trump’s reelection campaign — these are a few of the more than 10,000 accounts Twitter has quietly verified in recent months, despite putting its verification program on hold.

The company has said little publicly about verification, which it suspended in 2017 following backlash over its verification of a white supremacist. But data viewed by Mashable suggests the company is verifying a flurry of accounts each month despite the supposed break. 

Celebrities, and others with backchannel connections to the company, are able to become verified as Twitter ignores everyday users and those without insider access. In many ways, this secretive process is now more opaque and unfair than it was when anyone could apply on Twitter’s website. At a time when Twitter says it’s trying to be more transparent about its rules, the lack of an official verification policy is hurting groups already susceptible to abuse, critics say.

On its official FAQ page, Twitter states “our verified account program is currently on hold. We are not accepting any new requests at this time.” Despite the lack of an official request form, the company has continued to verify new accounts for more than a year. Some, such as the survivors of the Parkland shooting, or Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, have been well publicized. But many more have flown under the radar, such as Tim and Marcia Dorsey, the parents of Twitter’s CEO, both of whom got a blue check at some point in the last four months.

In a statement, Twitter said it continues to “verify select accounts,” but didn’t offer specifics on how many accounts it’s verifying. The company didn’t dispute Mashable’s findings.

“We have paused public submissions for verification while we focus on a new authentication and verification program,” a spokesperson said. “However, our teams around the world continue to work closely with trusted partners to verify select accounts.”

While Twitter typically doesn’t discuss which accounts it verifies, there is one way to gain some visibility into just how many accounts are gaining the blue checkmark: Twitter’s official @verified account, which automatically follows every verified account. Using data from third-party Twitter analytics platforms, Mashable peeled back the curtain on Twitter’s behind-the-scenes verifying. 

Mashable used Twitter analytics service Follower Wonk to analyze all of the accounts @verified followed for 120 days ending on March 28th, and the results show Twitter’s verification is far from “paused.” The account followed a total of 13,767 users during that 120-day period, according to Follower Wonk’s data. 

FollowerWonk data on new accounts followed by Twitter's @verified account.

FollowerWonk data on new accounts followed by Twitter’s @verified account.

Image: follower wonk

Data from SocialRank, another Twitter analytics service, shows similar numbers during roughly the same time period. According to the company, the @verified account followed about 10,259 new accounts between November 20, 2018 and April 9, 2019. (Unlike FollowerWonk, SocialRank only tracks net follows, meaning any accounts unfollowed in a given time period are subtracted from the total number of new follows.) 

A third service, SocialBlade, which only surfaces data for a 30-day period, shows @verified has followed 2,772 accounts between March 12, 2019 and April 9, 2019, and follows an average of 88 new accounts a day.  

While these numbers may not offer an exact look at how many accounts Twitter is verifying, they suggest Twitter’s pause is bogus.

Verification’s messy history

Twitter first began verifying accounts in 2009. In its early days, the coveted blue checkmark was reserved mostly for celebrities and other public figures, and not much was known about how it was awarded. 

In 2016, the company opened up an application process so that anyone could apply for verification. Soon after, the number of verified accounts appeared to spike, with 219 new verified accounts a day on average, according to The Next Web’s analysis at the time. 

Then, in November 2017, Twitter abruptly put its verification program on hold, just days after it verified Jason Kessler, the white supremacist who organized the Unite the Right protest in Charlottesville, where counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed.

Twitter executives at the time admitted that the existing verification process had been broken for quite awhile, and that the checkmark should be a verification of a user’s identity and not seen as an endorsement. 

Dorsey also said he intended the new verification process to be open to everyone. 

But it’s now been 17 months since Twitter paused verification, and more than a year since Dorsey made that statement. Not only is there no sign of this long-promised reboot, the company is quietly verifying thousands of users without providing any guidance on how it’s making these decisions.

Why verification matters

Verification may be seen as a status symbol, but there are a number of benefits to the blue checkmark besides social media influence.

Allison Esposito Medina, founder and CEO of Tech Ladies, an online community for women in the tech industry, says Twitter’s silence about verification hurts people who are already more susceptible to harassment. 

“It’s even more important to verify underrepresented people on Twitter, because we’re so often the people who get the brunt of the harassment on the site,” she said. “It makes being a woman or an underrepresented person on Twitter very hard because if you build up a following and you have a strong voice, but then you can’t prove that you are who you say you are, it puts you in an even more dangerous position for speaking out on anything “

Lack of verification can also make you vulnerable to impersonation, an issue Matt Gisbrecht, a rapper with more than 54,000 YouTube subscribers, says he has struggled with on Twitter. Like Medina, he says his requests for verification have been denied without explanation. 

“I’ve actually had people read tweets from fake accounts and think it was me saying what the fake account says,” he says. “This happened to a family member of mine recently and they actually got upset because of something a fake account said that they misjudged thinking it was me.” 

Gisbrecht, who uses the name PFV professionally, says Twitter makes it nearly impossible for creators to report impersonation if they don’t use their legal name on the platform. “They want a copy of your ID to prove you’re being impersonated, and you can’t do that if your government name and business name or alias is not the same.”

Even some high-profile users have apparently been unable to benefit from Twitter’s current shadowy verification rules. Peter Ramsey, who this year won an Academy Award as the director for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, says he has been unable to become verified. 

Twitter, of course, has been dealing with a number of issues over the last year and a half. Namely, rampant harassment and other kinds of abuse that have driven some high-profile users away from the platform.

While Twitter has made significant steps in combatting the spread of spam and abuse, it would appear the verification revamp is less of a priority.

At the same time, Twitter has been trying to give off the impression that it’s more transparent than in years past. The company is currently beta testing new conversation features in public view, and the company’s head of trust and safety has said she would like to publish “case studies” explaining Twitter’s rationale for banning or suspending high-profile accounts. 

But when it comes to verification, at least, Twitter still has a long way to go.  

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