Apple pays off its $15.4 billion Irish tax bill


The EU is to drop its litigation against Apple over its cosy tax relationship with Ireland now that the iPhone-maker has paid back 13.2 billion Euros ($15.4 billion) in back taxes, plus interest of 1.2 billion Euros ($1.4 billion). That sum is going in an escrow holding account pending Dublin and Apple’s appeal against the ruling.

Ireland’s finance minister Paschal Donohoe, announced on Tuesday that the government had recovered the full amount from the so-called “sweetheart deal,” which saw the trillion-dollar tech giant paying taxes as low as 0.05 percent as part of its arrangement with the country.

“The government fundamentally disagrees with the [European] Commission’s analysis in the Apple state aid decision and is seeking an annulment of that decision in the European courts,” said Donohoe. He added that as a committed EU member Ireland had “always confirmed that we would recover the alleged state aid”. Apple is refusing to comment on the decision, instead rehashing a statement from last year that said it is cooperating with the recovery process and was confident the decision would be overturned.

The EU deemed Ireland’s tax break to Apple illegal in 2016 as it gave the company a “significant advantage” over its competition. Apple was ordered to pay back the taxes it owed for the period between 2003 and 2014, along with interest. Unsuccessful appeals followed until Apple began paying back the money, starting with a $1.76 billion payment in May of this year, into an escrow fund.

“In light of the full payment by Apple of the illegal State aid it had received from Ireland, Commissioner Vestager will be proposing to the College of Commissioners the withdrawal of this court action,” European Commission spokesman Ricardo Cardoso said in an email to Reuters.

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US Senate passes bill modernizing music licensing and payouts

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The US Senate has unanimously passed the Music Modernization Act, which aims to bring the way the music business works in line with the digital age. Providing the bill is met with approval from the House, and is subsequently signed by President Donald Trump, the legislation — renamed the Orrin G Hatch Music Modernization Act in honour of the Republican senior senator responsible for introducing the bill — will finally be enshrined into law. It’s not expected to meet any opposition.

The bill, in three parts, ensures all music rights holders are compensated more fairly for their work. It will create a publicly-accessible database, detailing who owns a song, making it easier for publishers and artists to be paid royalties. Song reproduction charges have also been updated, to reflect market rates, and sound recording royalty rates will also be taken into account when considering performance royalty rates for songwriters and composers.

The bill has been a long time coming, with companies such as online radio SiriusXM and licensing organization SESAC creating issues along the way, but as SoundExchange CEO Michael Huppe said: “The future of the music industry got brighter today. Creators of music moved one step closer to getting paid more fairly. And industry forces that fought to maintain an unfair and harmful status quo were rebuffed.”

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Capcom closes Vancouver studio behind ‘Dead Rising’


Video game publisher Capcom is shutting down its Vancouver studio and around 158 employees will be let go. The company told Variety that operations were suspended Tuesday and a skeleton crew would remain on board until January in order to finalize the closure. “Capcom has been focused on increasing the efficiency and growth of its game development operations,” a spokesperson told Variety. “To support this objective, new R&D facilities and annual hiring have been underway at the Osaka headquarters. In consideration of this process, as a result of reviewing titles in development at Capcom Vancouver, Capcom has decided to cancel the development projects at this studio and will concentrate development of major titles in Japan.”

Capcom Vancouver, known for its Dead Rising series, was hit with layoffs earlier this year as well. While the company confirmed that a number of titles were now cancelled, it didn’t say what plans it had for Dead Rising.

“We appreciate the hard work and contributions of all the studio team members in creating unforgettable gameplay experiences for the Dead Rising series and Puzzle Fighter,” Capcom said.

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Tesla reportedly faces DOJ investigation over Elon Musk tweets

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It looks like Tesla is in more hot water over Elon Musk’s tweets that the company might go private. Bloomberg reports that, according to two people familiar with the matter, the Department of Justice is investigating Tesla because of the CEO’s statements. In August, Musk tweeted that he was considering taking his company private, adding that funding had already been secured. Musk later announced that Tesla would remain a publicly traded company for the time being.

But the incident led the SEC to launch an investigation into the matter, and Bloomberg’s sources say the DOJ probe will operate alongside the SEC’s inquiry. The SEC is said to be looking into the legality of how Musk announced the plan to go private and whether he properly notified the company’s investors of how statements like that would be made ahead of time. Bloomberg says that federal prosecutors initiated a fraud investigation following the CEO’s tweets.

We’ve reached out to Tesla and we’ll update this post if we hear more.

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ACLU: Facebook allowed gender-discriminating job ads


The ACLU has filed a complaint against Facebook with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for what it says is unlawful gender-based targeting of job ads. The organization filed the charges on behalf of three women, the Communications Workers of America and the women the CWA represents. Its charges allege that Facebook allowed employers to target their job ads toward men and it names 10 companies that it says took advantage of that feature.

“Sex segregated job advertising has historically been used to shut women out of well-paying jobs and economic opportunities,” said ACLU Attorney Galen Sherwin in a statement. “We can’t let gender-based ad targeting online give new life to a form of discrimination that should have been eradicated long ago.”

In its complaint, the ACLU shows that when Facebook users are creating an ad, the platform requires them to choose whether they want the ad targeted to men, women or all. “Targeting job ads by sex is unlawful under federal, state and local civil rights laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” said the ACLU.

Facebook and its ad platform have been in hot water before. Just last month, the Department of Housing and Urban Development filed a complaint against the company for allowing advertisers to target housing ads based on gender, race, religion, accessibility and national origin. While Facebook removed the ability to target housing, credit, employment, insurance or public business ads based on race, creed, color, national origin, veteran or military status, sexual orientation or disability status in April, it disabled an additional 5,000 targeting options in its ad tool suite following the HUD complaint.

“While Facebook has recently taken some steps to prevent employment discrimination against people of various protected classes on its ad platform, Facebook has consciously decided not to stop itself or employers from targeting employment ads that exclude female users from receiving the ads,” said the ACLU complaint. “Instead, Facebook has consciously retained the gender targeting tool and deployed it to send employment ads that excluded non-male users from receiving the ads.”

Among the employers named in the complaint are moving, retail and construction companies, software developer Abas USA and the Greensboro, North Carolina police department.

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US government payment site leaks 14 million customer records

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Government Payment Service Inc — the company thousands of local governments in the US use to accept online payments for everything from court-ordered fines and licensing fees — has compromised more than 14 million customer records dating back to 2012, KrebsOnSecurity reports. According to the security investigation site, the leaked information includes names, addresses, phone numbers and the last four digits of credit cards.

KrebsOnSecurity alerted the company — which does business as — to the problem on September 14th. The site found that it was possible to view millions of customer records simply by tweaking the digits in the web address displayed by each receipt. Two days later, the payment site released a statement saying it had addressed a “potential issue,” and that while there was “no indication that any improperly accessed information was used to harm any customer” the company has nonetheless updates its systems to prevent the issue reoccurring.

Government Payment Services Inc was acquired by Securus Technologies at the start of 2018. The Texas-based company provides telecommunications services to prisons, among other things, and has come under fire a number of times for data breaches this year alone. In May, it emerged that Securus was abusing its cell phone-tracking capabilities, then just weeks later hackers broke into its system and stole the online credentials of multiple law enforcement officials. As KrebsOnSecurity notes, fixing these information disclosure issues is relatively simple, so it’s remarkable how many organizations are falling foul of these basic vulnerabilities — especially if their name, ‘Securus’ suggests they should really be on top of their game.

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Soylent's meal replacement drinks are coming to the UK


Soylent and its hugely divisive food replacement drinks will launch in the UK on Thursday. As BBC News reports, the Silicon Valley startup has swapped seven ingredients and tweaked some of the vitamin and mineral content to appease British regulators. We doubt it will taste hugely different to the version sold in the US, however. In the UK, Soylent will be sold in 12-bottle packs for £39.99 (roughly £3.33 per drink) through Amazon. By comparison, Huel — an already established rival in the British Isles — sells enough powdered food to whip up 28 meals for £45 online.

Soylent’s biggest challenge, though, is convincing Brits that its drinks are safe to consume. In late 2016, the company had to recall its flagship powder and food bars after some customers became ill. The problem, it turned out, was algae — specifically algal flour — that can cause gastrointestinal distress in rare instances. By December, Soylent was back on the market, albeit with a damaged reputation. Since then, the drinks have been effectively banned in Canada, and the company has appointed a new CEO. The bottles are certainly convenient, but the startup needs to prove definitively that they’re a healthy long-term meal replacement.

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Audi rips the camouflage off its E-Tron electric SUV

Audi finally took the wraps off its E-Tron pure electric SUV. At an event in Northern California, the automaker stripped off the QR code-esque wrap from the vehicle and announced how you can reserve your own and for how much.

Gallery: Audi E-Tron | 26 Photos

Starting at $74,800, the E-Tron is clearly aimed at those also considering the Jaguar I-Pace (starting at $69,500) and Tesla Model X (starting at $79,500). You know, people with lots of money. Like those other two vehicles, the E-Tron is packed to the electrified gills with technology including some innovative ideas.

One of the coolest new features is the E-Tron’s braking system. Brakes, while incredibly important, don’t usually get their due. On the new Audi, there are two braking systems. The typical friction-based system that uses brake pads, pressed against rotors to slow the vehicle down and also an electronic system that uses the two motors to slow the car down.

Audi says that in 90 percent of typical driving the electronic system will slow the car without the friction brakes. The system will work at up to 0.3 g (G-forces. One equals the gravitational pull of the Earth). Anything more than that and the friction brakes are ready to take over nearly instantaneously, according to Audi.

Audi says that its researchers have determined that the braking system (which is also 30 percent lighter than a typical brake system) can be responsible for up to 30 percent of the vehicle’s range in optimal conditions.

When the two motors aren’t bringing the car to a stop, they can propel it from zero to 60 in 5.5 seconds in boost mode. Regular mode will get the car up to 60 in 6.6 seconds. The motors are powered by a 95 kWh battery pack that’s populated with 4323 cells in 96 modules. In boost mode, it puts out 300 kW of power and 664 Nm of torque. That’s roughly 400 horsepower and 489 foot-pounds of torque, although Audi says the final US spec numbers aren’t available yet.

The battery supports up to 150kW DC fast charging and will charge from zero to 80 percent in 30 minutes (For comparison: The I-Pace on a 100kW charger will go from zero to 80 percent in 40 minutes). Owners will get 1,000kW of free charging (a bit more than 10 free charge ups from zero to 100 percent although most people rarely go from dead zero to 100 percent at a station) from Electrify America (a subsidiary of Volkswagen America the parent company of Audi) over four years. If you’ve never heard of this charging company, you’re not alone. But the company is expected to open 484 stations in the United States by the end of 2019. So fingers crossed if you buy an E-Tron they open one up near you.

Inside, the E-Tron has the latest version of Audi’s dual display MMI along with an interior that’s badged with the E-Tron logo with gold accents. Fancy.

Audi also wants to sell the car with side-mirror cameras instead of actual mirrors. In addition to being cool looking, they cut down on wind resistance. Unfortunately, US regulations prohibit Audi from offering them in the United States. So we’re stuck with regular side mirrors. Audi will be delivering an E-Tron to NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration) to test the side camera solution but can’t say if or when the agency will allow the tech on US roads. Sort of like the Matrix Lights that are unavailable in this country.

Audi will also offer short-term subscriptions for some of the E-Tron’s features. For example, if you never use adaptive cruise control in your normal commute, but you have a very long drive coming up, you can “rent” it and have it added to the vehicle for a predetermined amount of time. The same can be done with the Matrix lights (in regions where they are allowed). Like the other Audi vehicles like the A7, the Matrix hardware will be on the car, it’s just a matter of turning it on. For folks that want to test drive a feature before committing to it, it’s a nice way to try something out before dropping cash on it.

The automaker also announced that, in the future, the E-Tron and its chargers will be updated to support sharing energy with the grid. For example, if your SUV is connected to the charger instead the power company spinning up an additional power station, the E-Tron along with other electric vehicles that support the function could sell energy back to the system. No word on when that’ll go live.

There are also some things we didn’t learn, like the range based on EPA estimates. Audi says that the E-Tron will get over 400 kilometers (248.5 miles) using the Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP). The EPA method is more stringent, but once the official numbers come in (the vehicle is being tested now), we’re guessing at least over 200 miles of range. The horsepower and torque specs are also not finalized (as noted above). Those details should be available when the SUV gets closer to being delivered which should be in the second quarter of 2019.

If you’re itching for an electric Audi, you can place a reservation now with a fully refundable $1,000 deposit. If you’re looking to splurge, you can get one of the $86,700 First Edition models. Only 999 will be sold and will have fancy orange accents inside and 21-inch wheels. Once we get some time behind the wheel, we’ll be better able to determine how well it stacks up against the I-Pace and Model X.

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British cave diver sues Elon Musk over 'pedo guy' comments

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Recently, Elon Musk doubled down on his claim that the British cave diver who helped rescue children trapped in a Thai cave was a pedophile, going so far as to tell BuzzFeed News, “I hope he fucking sues me.” Well, it looks like Musk got his wish as Vernon Unsworth has filed a defamation suit against the Tesla CEO in a Los Angeles federal court. “Elon Musk falsely accused Vern Unsworth of being guilty of heinous crimes,” Unsworth’s lawyer said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “Musk’s influence and wealth cannot convert his lies into truth or protect him from accountability for his wrongdoing in a court of law.”

Musk initially called Unsworth a “pedo guy” in a July tweet after the cave diver said the rescue capsule Musk had made was a “PR stunt.” He later apologized saying his words “were spoken in anger” and Unsworth’s actions didn’t justify those he made in response. But then last month, Musk stood by his initial accusations, saying in a tweet that it was strange Unsworth hadn’t sued him yet and calling the diver a “child rapist” in a series of emails to BuzzFeed News’ Ryan Mac.

In his lawsuit, Unsworth denies all of Musk’s accusations. “Apparently angered by Mr. Unsworth’s criticism of his Tube in the CNN interview, Musk embarked on a PR campaign to destroy Mr. Unsworth’s reputation by publishing false and heinous accusations of criminality against him to the public,” says the complaint. He’s seeking upwards of $75,000 and plans to file a separate lawsuit against Musk in the UK.

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Audi: Autonomous cars alone won’t solve traffic jams

It’s easy to think that once cars start driving themselves most of our traffic woes will be eliminated. Robocars are supposed to be better drivers and better driving should mean less gridlock. Unfortunately, that drop in bumper to bumper hell won’t be as big as we all hoped, according to Audi’s research.

At Audi’s Charged event (where it will unveil the E-Tron), the automaker gave Engadget a sneak peek at its latest 25th Hour Flow research. The company (along with Karlsruhe Institute for Technology and Munich’s MobilityPartners) peered into the future to see how drivers and passengers can reclaim time thanks to autonomous driving and mobility options. During this year’s research, Audi looked at traffic flow in Ingolstadt, Germany the home of its headquarters.

The researchers learned that a city with 100 percent self-driving cars will reduce commute times by a third, even with 10 percent more vehicles on the road. But that vehicle utopia is decades away and, in the meantime, city streets are increasingly strangled by cars during morning and evening commutes. Basically, it’s going to take more than self-driving cars to make our roads less congested.

“Automation will not solve the problems alone,” Martin Margreiter, traffic expert and founder at MobilityPartners Munich said during a briefing. Cities themselves need to take action even if it’s incremental. That includes municipal transportation districts and automakers sharing data with each other. The more information both sides have about traffic conditions, the better they can react to how people travel through a city. For Audi’s part, it’s worked with Las Vegas on its traffic light countdown technology. It’s a first step and could be helpful in other cities. Unfortunately, there’s not a one-size fits all solution.

You can’t compare one city to another,” said Melanie Goldmann head of Trend Communication at Audi. The team chose Ingolstadt not just because it’s the headquarters (but mostly because) but also it’s an average-sized city without much of a public transportation network. While Audi is learning quite a lot from its study, it’s quick to point out that not everything it learns in its hometown will translate to other areas.

The one thing that will work universally is increasing the occupancy rate in cars. According to Audi’s research, with a rise in persons per vehicle from 1.1 to 1.3 (with only 20 percent of the cars on the roads being self-driving), commute times would drop by 12 percent — even with 4 percent more people on the roads. As the rate of automated vehicles with multiple riders rises (including buses), Audi foresees cities reclaiming space used by cars to be utilized by bikes, pedestrians and even adding parks and other green areas to a road once packed with gridlock. It calls this scenario: Balance.

You can check all the scenarios and how they affect traffic thanks to the handy tool the automaker built for its research below.

Frankly, that’s what we need. A balance of all involved taking part to reduce congestion and reclaim the massive amount of space cars take up in our cities. It involves making decisions that work best for an area and implementing them. It won’t happen overnight and it’ll be tough for municipal areas strapped for cash.

But, if people are willing to start sharing rides now (that includes taking the bus) and urging their elected officials to make incremental changes towards a smarter infrastructure when autonomous cars do finally land on our streets, the benefits will be impressive. Because alone, a self-driving car with a single passenger is barely better than a car with only the driver behind the wheel.

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