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December 17, 2017 - Episode 488 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

Hosted by Scott Ertz and Avram Piltch, F5 Live is a livecast covering the worlds of gadgets, gaming, Internet and media.

December 10, 2017 - Episode 487 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, Intel faces new competition, EA begins responding to backlash and NiceHash deals with a digital heist.

Apples to Apples: Ryzen 5 Mobile vs Core i5 - Episode 156 (Piltch Point)

This week, Avram Piltch has the much anticipated results of LAPTOP Magazine's AMD Ryzen 5 Mobile versus Intel Cire i5 tests. For this showdown, nearly identical models of the HP Envy x360, one featuring an AMD processor and one featuring the comparable Intel processor, were run against the same tests. While the results are mixed, they are very different from what you might have expected from an AMD vs Intel showdown from a year ago. For example, the Geekbench test goes to Intel, while the Cinebench test goes to AMD. The ultimate question, however, is which model should you buy? Avram's got your recommendation.

December 3, 2017 - Episode 486 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, BLU goes dark, Coinbase gives to the IRS and Redbox kind of sells digital movies.

Best Retro Gadgets 2017 - Episode 155 (Piltch Point)

This week, Avram Piltch discusses some of the more nostalgic gifts that you can find for your friends and family. Whether you're looking for the new, modern Teddy Ruxpin or a Casio calculator watch, or maybe you want a Polaroid camera, Avram's got some interesting ideas.

BLU Products Bricks Phones with Update, Give Zero Information

The long-lasting image of a company is not built upon how they handle themselves when things are going well, but instead is built upon how they handle a crisis. For example, a year from now, people will only have one image of Equifax: the recipient of a preventable data breach. The image of Yahoo was so damaged by the revelation of several breaches that Verizon almost canceled their planned purchase of the company.

This week, a new company has been added to the list of massive failures during a crisis: BLU Products. The Miami, Florida based company designs and builds low cost Android phones, and previously built Windows Phones as well. A firmware update released this week to their Life One X2 handset had an unexpected side effect: complete handset failure. Customers have been posting complaints on the company's Facebook page, as well as their BLU SubReddit.

Unfortunately, the company has not done anything to deal with the problem. Instead, there is a canned response that BLU support has been using in reply to every comment, on every Facebook post regarding the issue. It reads,

Hi **person's name**, we are aware of the issue with the Life One X2, and currently working on it. We apologize for the inconvenience.

This is as close to a public statement as we have received from BLU. The latest post under their News section on their website is from Halloween, announcing their first Sprint phone. On Facebook, there has been no statement aside from the canned response, but there have been a number of new posts since the incident began. Several posts about the soccer team they sponsor, a few advertisements about their rewards program, and one general advertisement for BLU phones in general.

What's worse than the company's complete lack of a public response has been their private response. Apparently, the company has absolutely no contingency plan in place for a flawed firmware release. In the case of companies like Microsoft or Samsung, if a firmware update goes sideways, there is a process in place to revive the phone without losing data, or at least retrieve data before resetting the phone. With BLU, there is nothing; if you trusted your data to the company's phone and you received the flawed firmware update, your data is gone. To get the phone working again, your only choice is to do a full reset.

This is one of the sacrifices you make when you decide to go with a low-cost provider for any product or service. No one goes to Wal-Mart expecting good customer service; they go for the price. The same is true here - the choice was made for price, not because the company is a powerhouse.

November 26, 2017 - Episode 485 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, Uber has a bad week, Minecraft has a good addition and YouTube has some new rules.

Best Gift Laptops for Kids - Episode 154 (Piltch Point)

This week, Avram Piltch discusses an important topic this time of year: laptops that make great gifts and are good for kids. The requirements are different: screens size should be smaller, platform should be chosen based on school's selection, price should be manageable and durability is must. Luckily, LAPTOP Magazine has tested a lot of laptops and can recommend the right one for you.

Uber and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

From time to time, a company has a really bad week. Not just one, but multiple incidents happen is succession that cause a lot of trouble. Sometimes companies weather these weeks just fine, and sometimes they take a major toll on the company's image for a long time. This week might have been the latter for Uber, with 2 major legal blows within very short order.

Data Breach

Uber revealed this week that they have been on the receiving end of a massive data breach, but they are not the most recent. With 57 million accounts violated, for both drivers and riders, it's the kind of breach that requires immediate attention, and immediate notification of those affected. Notification allows those affected to ensure that their passwords are safe, their credit cards are not being used, etc.

Unfortunately, Uber decided to handle the breach in a very different way. Disclosed this week, the company announced that the breach occurred in 2016, but the information was never disclosed. Instead, ousted former CEO Travis Kalanick decided to pay the hackers $100,000 for the promise that they would delete the data. That isn't exactly how hackers work, though, so you're still going to want to verify that your information is safe.

Current CEO Dara Khosrowshahi discovered the issue and was surprised to find out that there was a breach that was never disclosed. He immediately set about to see how the company handled it, and was not happy. In his public statement, he said,

You may be asking why we are just talking about this now, a year later. I had the same question, so I immediately asked for a thorough investigation of what happened and how we handled it.

In response to his findings, he said that two security employees were no longer with the company, including Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan. He continued, saying,

None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it. While I can't erase the past, I can commit on behalf of every Uber employee that we will learn from our mistakes. We are changing the way we do business, putting integrity at the core of every decision we make and working hard to earn the trust of our customers.

Bad Background Checks

This particular one is not new for the company. Uber has had several run-ins with riders and attorneys claiming that background checks have been incomplete, inaccurate or, in one case, not run. There was even a period of time where Uber had neglected to make any decisions based on those background checks, allowing drivers with violent pasts, DWI arrests and even no driver's license to drive under the company's brand.

This week, another batch of bad drivers has been revealed by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. After a driver assaulted a rider in Vail, the commission opened up an investigation in to the company's business practices and announced that 57 drivers had been allowed to drive for the company that should not have been. According to the report,

PUC staff found that Uber allowed individuals to drive with previous felony convictions, major moving violations (DUI, DWI, reckless driving, driving under restraint), and numerous instances of individuals driving with suspended, revoked or cancelled driver's licenses.

One of the drivers in question was even an escaped convict. All of these issues would obviously come out in even the least detailed of background checks. Half of them can be discovered simply by reading a local newspaper. Because of the obvious oversight, or possibly purposeful ignorance, the state has fined Uber $8.9 million.

According to Stephanie Sedlak, a spokesperson for Uber,

We recently discovered a process error that was inconsistent with Colorado's ridesharing regulations and proactively notified the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

This error affected a small number of drivers and we immediately took corrective action. Per Uber safety policies and Colorado state regulations, drivers with access to the Uber app must undergo a nationally accredited third-party background screening. We will continue to work closely with the CPUC to enable access to safe, reliable transportation options for all Coloradans.

The strangest part of this statement is the suggestion that, if it weren't for Colorado's regulations, Uber would have had no issue with letting these drivers continue. That does not instill a lot of confidence in the company's morals or safety processes. It would seem that there are certain universal truths that would fail a potential driver from contention, and that would include escaped convicts, violent felons and those who are legally not permitted to drive any vehicle.

Germany Bans Smartwatches for Children, Encourages Destroying Them

The market for kids' wearables is growing and myriad. Every year at CES we encounter at least one company showing off a wearable device that is designed to make kids safer and parents more at ease. Usually they are shaped like a watch, but not all of them offer screens. Most allow a parent to track the child via GPS, some allow parents to communicate with their kids, and some allow parents to listen in on their kids.

This last feature, while uncommon here in the US, has raised concern in Germany. While some helicopter parents have begun listening in on their kids' teachers, the government worries that it could be taken one step farther: espionage. Yes, that's right - the German government is worried about people listening in on all of the top-secret meetings that 8-year-olds are taking.

In reality, the concerns over privacy with these types of devices is legitimate. Several models of these watches, and other IoT transmitters, have been found to transmit and store data unencrypted. This means, especially in the case of children, that it could become really easy to track a child's location or listen to a child's environment, without anyone being the wiser. If the child in question is the kid of a public figure, tracking the child could be like tracking the parent, creating a double security threat.

In addition to banning the sale of these products, the government has encouraged parents to take them from their kids and destroy them. This might be an extreme reaction to a hypothetical problem. In fact, it seems that, rather than banning the devices entirely, perhaps regulations to ensure the safety and security of the data, and the wearer, might make for a better plan. The privacy issues are not limited to kids' smartwatches - in fact they are potentially ever-present in all IoT devices, including adult watches.

Data security is the real topic here, not kids' smartwatches in particular. As a whole, we need to encourage manufacturers of IoT devices to pay more attention to what they are doing, and to respect the privacy of the people who buy their products, not to demonize a single aspect of the industry.

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