We can’t say as though we’re particularly surprised to see such numbers, but, well, at least they’re finally coming to light. According to The Washington Post, newly declassified court documents highlight how the NSA collected up to 56,000 e-mails per year, over a three year period. The docs detail why the collection of such “wholly domestic” information was ruled unconstitutional by a judge in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, though the NSA stated that the surveillance was unintentional, adding that it reported said information to the court. As part of the ruling, the intelligence agency was required to investigate limits to its data collection — the NSA claims to have since addressed the problem. The newly available information was made public thanks to a recently field EFF lawsuit.
Update: Want to crawl through some of that information? The White House has begun posting key docs to Tumblr, of all places.
The question of how much contact the NSA has with internet traffic throughout the US is being raised again, this time by the Wall Street Journal. Yesterday The Atlantic took issue with the security agency’s mathematics and 1.6 percent claim, while the WSJ report looks more closely at its reach into telecommunications companies. The mishmash of codenamed programs are said to cover up to 75 percent of US internet traffic, although the amount actually stored and accessed is much smaller. The main difference between the calculations may be due to the difference between what ISPs — handing over data under FISA orders — carry, and what the NSA specifically requests. Its capabilities mean it can pull a lot more than just metadata, with access to the actual content of what’s sent back and forth becoming even more troubling as privacy violations exposed by its own audits come to light.
There’s an FAQ-style breakdown of what’s new and notable from the usual “current and former” officials to get those interested up to speed quickly — keep your tinfoil hats and end-to-end encrypted communications systems close by.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that China’s government has now leant on ZTE to produce a smartphone using predominantly local hardware that’ll run COS, a homegrown operating system that’s designed to be immune to US-based hacking attempts. The paper goes on to say that Alibaba is now working with the nation’s ministry of public security to develop another operating system that’s secure enough for police officers to use. It’s all part of the country’s attempts to put water between itself and the US in a post-Snowden world after backdoors were found in numerous American-designed products.
It’s probably not worth getting too worked up over, since it’s likely that the only people using these devices will be forced to by their employers. After all, the ZTE device reportedly won’t ship with a camera, GPS, WiFi or Bluetooth connections, so we’re not sure what jobs it’ll do better than a secondhand Nokia 101. In addition, the journal points out that a lot of devices still rely upon (American company) Qualcomm’s internals, with few true domestic alternatives capable of easily replacing it. Then again, the move isn’t so much about technology as it is appearances, since China’s determined to talk about distancing itself from the US whenever its own sordid history of hacking is brought to the fore.
There is, of course, another justification for the creation of homegrown smartphones and software that goes beyond global politics. Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang has repeatedly pointed out that economic protectionism — that is, favoring products made by your own people instead of buying in from other countries — helps to create a dynamic and fast-growing economy. China’s trading partners, like the US, have successfully pushed for the country to abandon official quotas. If, however, politicians can suggest that American products are a security risk then the locals will be far more predisposed to spending their cash with ZTE and Huawei instead of Apple and Samsung.
China’s next try at a government-supported operating system may soon become a practical reality. The Chinese Academy of Engineering tells the People’s Post that a desktop version of China Operating System (COS) should be ready by October, with mobile device support coming later. That’s pretty quick considering that we first heard about the software in January, although there’s a chance it could slip. Xinhua claims that the project is suffering from both a lack of funding and developers “pulling in different directions” — not totally surprising if true, since it’s the work of a public-private alliance that might not always share the same vision.
Still, the team is optimistic that its efforts will eventually bear fruit; it believes COS could replace existing desktop operating systems within two years, and their mobile counterparts within three to five. It may have a realistic shot at this when the Chinese government has lately been giving both Apple and Microsoft platforms the boot in response to fears about American surveillance. However, that could still be a daunting task in at least some situations. Right now, the Chinese smartphone market is dominated by Android devices, many of which come from local manufacturers like Xiaomi. There isn’t exactly a rush to replace Google’s platform with something brand new, no matter how well-made it might be.
China’s tried to create its very own mobile OS ecosystem in the past, but let’s face it: The attempt with OPhone was hardly something that would make the nation proud. This time round, though, a company by the name of Shanghai Liantong has joined forces with the ISCAS (Institute of Software at the Chinese Academy of Sciences) and the government to launch COS, which simply stands for China Operating System. While there’s no official mention of this, it appears that HTC is a big supporter behind this project, which would match what we heard from a Wall Street Journal report from August.
Apart from the open-source code, this Linux-based OS is said to be developed “entirely independently,” in the hopes of breaking the foreign software monopoly, as well as providing better localization for the likes of language input, cloud services and monetization. At yesterday’s launch event, the head of ISCAS criticized iOS for being a closed ecosystem, while Android has the infamous fragmentation problem, and both Windows plus Android are let down by poor security.
Ironically, all the COS variants — in the form of phones, tablets, PCs and set-top boxes — shown in the promo video after the break are very Android-like, and some of those features, like multitasking, content streaming and remote desktop, are nothing new. Even the HTC One and Butterfly S we saw looked like they were still carrying Sense 5. But hey, maybe such a close relationship with the Chinese government is just what HTC needs for its recovery this year.
Update: We reached out to HTC regarding its involvement in COS, but the spokesperson wasn’t keen to talk about it:
HTC remains focused on working with its current OS partners and we do not comment on speculation regarding other OS.
The European Parliament has voted to grant amnesty to Edward Snowden, the former US government contractor who revealed the depth of the country’s surveillance programs back in 2013. By a vote of 285 to 281, the European Parliament is recommending that the 28 states of the EU “drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden, grant him protection and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties, in recognition of his status as whistle-blower and international human rights defender”.
It’s important to note that this isn’t a legally binding vote; Snowden can’t just walk into any country in the EU and expect to necessarily go free. It does open the door to EU countries to grant him amnesty and also puts pressure on other nations that still want to prosecute him (like the US) to drop their charges. But all of the EU countries have extradition treaties with the US, and, as pointed out by The Daily Dot, defying that treaty and not honoring that agreement would be a bold and shocking move.
Still, Snowden himself is taking heart in the vote, saying on Twitter that “This is not a blow against the US Government, but an open hand extended by friends. It is a chance to move forward.” He also called it a “game changer” in another tweet.
This is not a blow against the US Government, but an open hand extended by friends. It is a chance to move forward. pic.twitter.com/fBs5H32wyD
Unsurprisingly, the US government responded by saying its position hasn’t changed. “Our position has not changed,” NSC spokesman Ned Price told The Daily Dot via email. “Mr. Snowden is accused of leaking classified information and faces felony charges here in the United States. As such, he should be returned to the U.S. as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process.”
There’s no way to know what Snowden’s next move is, but it seems likely he’s not going to take the risk of venturing into the EU for now. He has been living in Russia under a three-year asylum agreement with the country since fleeing the US in 2013.
Investigators at the FBI supposedly aren’t happy that social networks like Facebook or Google+ don’t have the same kind of facility for wiretaps that phones have had for decades. If claimed industry contacts for CNET are right, senior staff at the bureau have floated a proposed amendment to the 1994-era Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) that would require that communication-based websites with large user bases include a backdoor for federal agents to snoop on suspects. It would still include the same requirement for a court order as for phone calls, even if US carriers currently enjoy immunity for cooperating with any warrantless wiretapping. As might be expected, technology firms and civil liberties advocates like the Electronic Frontier Foundation object to deepening CALEA’s reach any further, and Apple is thought to be preemptively lobbying against another definition of the law that might require a government back channel for audiovisual chat services like FaceTime or Skype. The FBI didn’t explicitly confirm the proposal when asked, but it did say it was worried it might be “going dark” and couldn’t enforce wiretaps.
A few weeks ago, a malicious person created a new user account on Engadget (a time-consuming process in its own right) and dropped a massive pair of Fallout 4 spoilers in the comments of my Pip-Boy edition write-up. Why? Because some people just want to destroy the fun of others. I absentmindedly read these “comments” and was bummed out because I thought the game I’d been waiting for since 2009 had been ruined. As it turns out, that wasn’t the case.
For the most part, Fallout 4 takes a hands-off approach to how you play. There are scripted events at the outset that everyone will experience in the same order, but once you exit the titular fallout shelter, you’re on your own to do as you please. The game world is gigantic and littered with destroyed buildings occupied by enemies — much like the caves and dungeons you’d find in developer Bethesda Softworks’ fantasy series, The Elder Scrolls. Working your way through these locations gives the game a loose structure: Clear out a gaggle of raiders or super mutants, and then retrieve a new weapon or other valuable gear as a reward for not abandoning hope and leaving the building. The promise of a piece of highly effective chest armor is only one reason to trudge through seemingly insurmountable odds, though.
In Fallout 4, every location tells a story; something I discovered while exploring the Wilson Atomatoys Corporate HQ. It started out unassumingly enough: I was on my way to the town of Goodneighbor when I noticed a pair of super mutants on the roof of a sea-green building up ahead. I took them out with a few well-thrown Molotov cocktails and made my way inside, continuing to blast the green ogres from room to room. It’s when I stopped to check the computer terminals littered about, that a tale of heartbreak emerged.
The letter that set everything into motion at Wilson Atomatoys.
Each one had the same repeated memo about an engineer no longer being an employee with the company. I didn’t really think anything of it, but the further I got into the building, the more this engineer’s story revealed itself: Atomatoys’ CEO had recently passed the torch to his lazy son as a gift. At first, all I found were messages from the new boss’ point of view, justifying why the company’s director of product development, Arlen Glass, had been terminated. “He called me out in front of the board, I had to fire him!” one memo reads.
The truth, however, slowly emerged.
Glass had been working day and night alone to design a new model of the company’s “Giddyup Buttercup” pseudo rocking horse toy; profits were down, and the new model was supposed to help bring the firm into the black. Unlike before, Glass didn’t have the elder CEO to help him brainstorm or work on it in any way; the son was cancelling appointments with Glass to broker a top-secret military contract for the factory instead. Research and development wasn’t going well, either: One journal entry describes a prototype kicking holes in the test-lab’s floor.
In Fallout 4, every location tells a story.
In fact, Glass had been so busy with R&D that he had to set reminders to call his daughter at bedtime — the little girl had left a voicemail saying she missed him and asked when he’d be coming home. He missed her dance recital because of a late night at the office watching paint dry on prototypes. “I’ll make it up to her once this is all over,” the journal reads. He even used her name, Marlene, as his terminal password — a sign of how much she meant to him. It’s a cruel bit of irony: His own daughter’s childhood is passing by while he makes toys for other children around the world.
Deeper into the building, an activity log on the security desk’s computer notes Glass being escorted off the premises multiple times after he was fired. On the last day, there’s a time-out error. It’s here that I started noticing skeletons scattered throughout the offices. In the elevator, one’s laying on the floor contorted into the shape of a broken “O,” heel almost touching skull; another nearby was clutching a sniper rifle. I couldn’t find anymore terminals detailing what’d happened to Glass, but it wasn’t hard to piece the sobering story together myself. Glass had gone postal after being unfairly dismissed by the CEO who refused to work with him. The bones littered about the office belonged to Wilson Atomatoys’ employees.
Sure, the missile launcher I got from a steamer trunk after clearing the building was a killer reward, but that wasn’t what drove me to endure the dilapidated office maze. I’d wanted to know more about Glass and discover the mystery of what led him to the brink of insanity.
Every skeleton tells a story. It’s why I wanted to be a paleontologist as a kid and dig up dinosaur bones. Those dreams never materialized, so video games are the closest I’m going to get to examining the past, and unearthing the mysteries of the worlds I’m inhabiting. In Fallout 4, the nuclear-bomb-bleached remains of buildings are my tombs to explore. The main quest is but one story out of hundreds, if not thousands hidden among the game’s irradiated Boston. So having it spoiled wasn’t as big of a deal as I’d initially thought. In fact, if it hadn’t been ruined for me, maybe I’d never have discovered the tragedy of Arlen Glass.
Fallout 4 is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on November 10th. Bethesda revealed Fallout 4 earlier this month with a teaser site and a trailer full of brighter colors and a friendly dog companion. Plus: The robot butler of your dreams. The Fallout team has been working on 4 since the launch of Fallout 3 in 2009, Bethesda announced on-stage today. Fallout 4 includes the series’ most in-depth character-customization process and it showcases a dynamic dialogue system that lets you “walk away at any point.” Also new in Fallout 4, there’s a crafting system. Players can create their own settlements — build power stations to run turrets and other fancy, electrical fortress elements. In addition, the weapon-modding system is robust, with 50 base weapons and more than 700 modifications, plus a separate UI for the power armor.
“The Pip-Boy is an important part of Fallout and we love it so much we made a real one.” Those words, delivered by game director Todd Howard at developer Bethesda Softworks’ first-ever E3 media briefing this year, triggered cheers around the world. And thus, the Fallout 4 Pip-Boy Edition was born: a $120 special edition peripheral bundled with Fallout 4 that aims to mimic the game’s wrist-bound menu and stat-tracking system. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the premium version of the game proved insanely popular, prompting Bethesda to apologize when it couldn’t make any more units to meet demand. Not bad for a rather awkward looking piece of light brown plastic that sits on your arm and holds your cellphone. But is it actually worth the hype and high price?
The Fallout 4 Pip-Boy is meant to give fans a chance at owning a real-life version of the universe’s wrist computer. Given that we already have supercomputers in our pockets, it made sense for Bethesda to take the slightly easier path of just making a smartphone holster rather than build a proper, functioning Pip-Boy from scratch. It mostly succeeds, too — especially given the price.
First things first: The Pip-Boy is massive. On its included stand, it’s about eight inches tall at its highest point, nearly seven inches across and just under six inches wide. There was never a point when I had it on that I forgot it was there, which is fine; the in-game Pip-Boy is pretty sizable, too. Despite its size though, it’s still pretty comfortable to wear for extended sessions. That’s due in no small part to the squishy, ribbed memory foam liner inside the cuff. It even makes wearing the Pip-Boy comfortable enough that I dozed off while playing one night — not an easy task.
Bethesda built an even more real version of the Pip-Boy for an in-game movie
Lift the metal latch and the Pip-Boy splits in half, while sliding a pretty well-hidden clasp down releases the lid on the compartment where your smartphone rests. I’m not swole by any means, so my arm fit pretty comfortably inside the cuff with enough wiggle room to get the device positioned just right so I could see the screen while I’m playing. It’s worth noting that I have the PlayStation 4 version of the game and am sitting on a couch while I play. If you’re on a PC, depending on your desk configuration, accessing your keyboard and mouse with this thing on could be a bit difficult. Oh, and it isn’t ambidextrous, so you can only wear it on your left arm.
Now, about that smartphone tray. The Pip-Boy comes with several foam inserts that sit inside the tray to prevent your device from slopping around. I used the one designed for last year’s iPhone and it worked fine on my new 6S. If you have a non-Apple or non-Galaxy phone, your results are going to be a little dicey. For example, none of the inserts helped keep my old Moto E in place or even fit it at all. A friend’s Galaxy S6 Edgealmost didn’t fit, but his latest iPod revision did.
On the other hand, once your supported phone is in place, getting it out will take some effort. Every time I go to remove my phone, I have to use a butter knife to do so — not even opening the lid and shaking it upside down is enough to pry my handset loose. That could change over time as the foam insert wears down, but for now I’m not worried about my smartphone’s well-being while it’s in use here.
Bethesda’s Todd Howard starts showing off the Pip-Boy at the 15 minute mark.
After slotting it in, there’s a small plastic frame to set in place over your smartphone’s screen to give the whole thing a finished, convincing look while keeping the rest of your device’s chassis hidden from view with the lid closed. All these little touches really sell the illusion that you have a working Pip-Boy on your arm. Well, until you start fiddling with the moveable knobs and dials on the thing.
In Fallout 4, navigating the Pip-Boy’s menus is handled by turning various gears on the wrist-mounted device. You can do that here as well, but nothing happens; they’re all superficial and don’t change anything within the app. It’s disappointing, but that type of functionality would’ve likely added to the peripheral’s already high price. What you can do, however, is turn a few amber LEDs on (powered by a watch battery in the phone tray). It’s minor, but still kind of cool.
“Usually, I find second-screen experiences generally stupid gimmicks, but as far as stupid gimmicks go, this is the best fucking one I have ever seen. It is awesome.” That’s Todd Howard again from this past June describing the Pip-Boy app. It released last week and I’ve been using it during my play-through ever since. Is it as Howard describes? Actually, yeah. Setup is pretty simple: Select your screen-size, the platform you’re playing on and your device connects to your PC or console via WiFi direct. The downside is that you can only have one device connected to the game at a time. That means you can’t have your phone and tablet hooked into it at once. Realistically, probably no one will do this, but it’s worth noting.
The app has all the functions of the in-game Pip-Boy: inventory management, access to your stats, quest log and map. Oh, and there are playable hidden mini-games (more on those in a bit). My most common use for this thing? Leaving the map screen open so I could keep a constant eye on where I was going in real-time. Having the app constantly running in my peripheral vision while playing is a much better experience than picking up my iPad every five minutes or trying to balance it on my arm.
Using the app is so much better than relying on the in-game menu system and it basically renders the game’s onscreen compass useless, too. It’s simply more convenient than opening the in-game Pip-Boy every five minutes to check if I’d really seen everything in an area. But here’s the disappointing clincher: The bigger display you have running the app, the better the experience. Using my iPad Mini 2, I don’t have to squint to see what I’m pressing and my fingers don’t obscure three landmarks on the map at once. In that way, not having the Pip-Boy itself is actually beneficial. So I’m faced with the tradeoff of one type of convenience for another. I have a sneaking suspicion my Pip-Boy’s going on a bookshelf sooner rather than later, though.
Because the app keeps your smartphone screen on constantly, it’s a major battery killer. I started with a full charge the other night and the low-battery alert chimed on my 6S about three hours later. That’s fine for a shorter session, sure, but Fallout games absolutely beg marathon sessions in their weird worlds. And there isn’t a way to have a charger running into your smartphone while the Pip-Boy’s lid is shut. Your best bet? Running the app on a tablet that’s plugged into a power supply.
Oh right, those mini-games. Throughout the nuclear-apocalyptic Boston that Fallout 4 calls the Commonwealth, there are a handful of classic arcade games tucked away in the irradiated nooks and crannies. I haven’t found any yet, but my coworker Sean Buckley happened across knock-offs of Donkey Kong and Pitfall!, and the Pip-Boy app itself comes with a Missile Command clone packed in. They’re pretty fun distractions and you can play them all from within the app as you find them.
I was incredibly excited when Fallout 4‘s special edition was announced at E3 and pre-ordered one for myself from my Santa Monica, CA hotel room. I didn’t do it out of hype, but genuine love for the series, as I presume many, many others did as well. I knew that the app would be the heart of the experience and that my Pip-Boy would wind up on a shelf in my office anyway.
For all its non-functional bells and whistles, the Pip-Boy itself is really just a glorified smartphone case. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the “wearable,” but I can’t help but feel a little weird wearing it around my apartment. Cosplayers (and eBay resellers) will likely eat this up, but once the novelty of the Pip-Boy wears off, the rest of us won’t use it much. If you didn’t get your pre-order in on time, all you’re missing is another plastic doodad to dust.