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Archivo del Autor: Belen De Leon

Gatwick airport drones incident leads to arrests – CNET

Police take two people into custody after drones fly too close to the London airport, causing flight cancellations and a nightmare for holiday travelers.
Source: CNET

How Juul made vaping viral to become worth a dirty $38 billion

A Juul is not a cigarette. It’s much easier than that. Through devilishly slick product design I’ll discuss here, the startup has massively lowered the barrier to getting hooked on nicotine. Juul has dismantled every deterrent to taking a puff.

The result is both a new $38 billion valuation thanks to a $12.8 billion investment from Marlboro Cigarettes-maker Altria this week, and an explosion in popularity of vaping amongst teenagers and the rest of the population. Game recognize game, and Altria’s game is nicotine addiction. It knows it’s been one-upped by Juul’s tactics, so it’s hedged its own success by handing the startup over a tenth of the public corporation’s market cap in cash.

Juul argues it can help people switch from obviously dangerous smoking to supposedly healthier vaping. But in reality, the tiny aluminum device helps people switch from nothing to vaping…which can lead some to start smoking the real thing. A study found it causes more people to pick up cigarettes than put them down.

Photographer: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg via Getty Images

How fast has Juul swept the nation? Nielsen says it controls 75 percent of the U.S. e-cigarette market up from 27 percent in September last year. In the year since then, the CDC says the percentage of high school students who’ve used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days has grown 75 percent. That’s 3 million teens or roughly 20 percent of all high school kids. CNBC reports that Juul 2018 revenue could be around $1.5 billion.

The health consequences aside, Juul makes it radically simple to pick up a lifelong vice. Parents, regulators, and potential vapers need to understand why Juul works so well if they’ll have any hope of suppressing its temptations.


It’s tough to try a cigarette for the first time. The heat and smoke burn your throat. The taste is harsh and overwhelming. The smell coats your fingers and clothes, marking you as smoker. There’s pressure to smoke a whole one lest you waste the tobacco. Even if you want to try a friend’s, they have to ignite one first. And unlike bigger box mod vaporizers where you customize the temperature and e-juice, Juul doesn’t make you look like some dorky hardcore vapelord.

Juul is much more gentle on your throat. The taste is more mild and can be masked with flavors. The vapor doesn’t stain you with a smell as quickly. You can try just a single puff from a friend’s at a bar or during a smoking break with no pressure to inhale more. The elegant, discrete form factor doesn’t brand you as a serious vape users. It’s casual. Yet the public gesture and clouds people exhale are still eye catching enough to trigger the questions, “What’s that? Can I try?” There’s a whole other article to be written about how Juul memes and Instagram Stories that glamorized the nicotine dispensers contributed to the device’s spread.

And perhaps most insidiously, vaping seems healthier. A lifetime of anti-smoking ads and warning labels drilled the dangers into our heads. But how much harm could a little vapor do?

A friend who had never smoked tells me they burn through a full Juul pod per day now. Someone got him to try a single puff at a nightclub. Soon he was asking for drag off of strangers’ Juuls. Then he bought one and never looked back. He’d been around cigarettes at parties his whole life but never got into them. Juul made it too effortless to resist.


Lighting up a cigarette is a garish activity prohibited in many places. Not so with discretely sipping from a Juul.

Cigarettes often aren’t allowed to be smoked inside. Hiding it is no easy feat and can get you kicked out. You need to have a lighter and play with fire to get one started. They can get crushed or damp in your pocket. The burning tip makes them unruly in tight quarters, and the bud or falling ash can damage clothing and make a mess. You smoke a cigarette because you really want to smoke a cigarette.

Public establishments are still figuring out how to handle Juuls and other vaporizers. Many places that ban smoking don’t explicitly do the same for vaping. The less stinky vapor and more discrete motion makes it easy to hide. Beyond airplanes, you could probably play dumb and say you didn’t know the rules if you did get caught. The metal stick is hard to break. You won’t singe anyone. There’s no mess, need for an ashtray, or holes in your jackets or couches.

As long as your battery is charged, there’s no need for extra equipment and you won’t draw attention like with a lighter. Battery life is a major concern for heavy Juulers that smokers don’t have worry about, but I know people who now carry a giant portable charger just to keep their Juul alive. But there’s also a network effect that’s developing. Similar to iPhone cords, Juuls are becoming common enough that you can often conveniently borrow a battery stick or charger from another user. 

And again, the modular ability to take as few or as many puffs as you want lets you absent-mindedly Juul at any moment. At your desk, on the dance floor, as you drive, or even in bed. A friend’s nieces and nephews say that they see fellow teens Juul in class by concealing it in the cuff of their sleeve. No kid would be so brazen as to try smoke in cigarette in the middle of a math lesson.


Gillette pioneered the brilliant razor and blade business model. Buy the sometimes-discounted razor, and you’re compelled to keep buying the expensive proprietary blades. Dollar Shave Club leveled up the strategy by offering a subscription that delivers the consumable blades to your door. Juul combines both with a product that’s physically addictive.

When you finish a pack of cigarettes, you could be done smoking. There’s nothing left. But with Juul you’ve still got the $35 battery pack when you finish vaping a pod. There’s a sunk cost fallacy goading you to keep buying the pods to get the most out of your investment and stay locked into the Juul ecosystem.

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

One of Juul’s sole virality disadvantages compared to cigarettes is that they’re not as ubiquitously available. Some stores that sells cigs just don’t carry them yet. But more and more shops are picking them up, which will continue with Altria’s help. And Juul offers an “auto-ship” delivery option that knocks $2 off the $16 pack of four pods so you don’t even have to think about buying more. Catch the urge to quit? Well you’ve got pods on the way so you might as well use them. Whether due to regulation or a lack of innovation, I couldn’t find subscription delivery options for traditional cigarettes.

And for minors that want to buy Juuls or Juul pods illegally, their tiny size makes them easy to smuggle and resell. A recent South Park episode featured warring syndicates of fourth-graders selling Juul pods to even younger kids.


Juul co-founder James Monsees told the San Jose Mercury News that “The first phase is proving the value and creating a product that makes cigarettes obsolete.” But notice he didn’t say Juul wants to make nicotine obsolete or reduce the number of people addicted to it.

Juul co-founder James Monsees

If Juul actually cared about fighting addiction, it’d offer a regimen for weaning yourself off of nicotine. Yet it doesn’t sell low-dose or no-dose pods that could help people quit entirely. In the US it only sells 5% and 3% nicotine versions. It does make 1.7% pods for foreign markets like Israel where that’s the maximum legal strengths, though refuses to sell them in the States. Along with taking over $12 billion from one of the largest cigarette companies, that makes the mission statement ring hollow.

Juul is the death stick business as usual, but strengthened by the product design and virality typically reserved for Apple and Facebook.

Source: TechCrunch

The new Aquaman movie converted me from Marvel to DC – CNET

Commentary: Move over, Marvel. CNET’s Bonnie Burton explains why Jason Momoa replaced her love for all things Avengers.
Source: CNET

Facebook’s fact-checkers toil on

Facebook is fielding so many problems, oversights, scandals, and other miscellaneous ills that it wouldn’t surprise anyone to hear that its fact-checking program, undertaken last year after the network was confronted with its inaction in controlling disinformation, is falling apart. But in this case the reason you haven’t heard much about it isn’t because it’s a failure, but because fact-checking is boring and thankless — and being done quietly and systematically by people who are just fine with that.

The “falling apart” narrative was advanced in a recent article at The Guardian, and some of the problems noted in that piece are certainly real. But I was curious at the lack of documentation of the fact-checking process itself, so I talked with a couple of the people involved to get a better sense of it.

I definitely didn’t get the impression of a program in crisis at all, but rather one where the necessity of remaining hands-off with the editorial process and teams involved has created both apparent and real apathy when it comes to making real changes.

No bells, no whistles

Facebook likes to pretend that its research into AI will solve just about every problem it has. Unfortunately not only is that AI hugely dependent on human intelligence to work in the first place, but the best it can generally do is forward things on to human agents for final calls. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the process of fact-checking, in which it is trivial for machine learning agents to surface possibly dubious links or articles, but at this stage pretty much impossible for them to do any kind of real evaluation of them.

That’s where the company’s network of independent fact-checkers comes in. No longer among their number are two former Snopes staffers who left to work at another fact-checking concern — pointedly not involved with Facebook — and who clearly had major problems with the way the program worked. Most explosive was the accusation that Facebook had seemingly tried to prioritize fact checks that concerned an advertiser.

But it wasn’t clear from their complaints just how the program does work. I chatted with Snopes head David Mikkelson and checked in with Politifact editor Angie Drobnic Holan. They emphatically denied allegations of Facebook shenanigans, though they had their own reservations, and while they couldn’t provide exact details of the system they used, it sounds pretty straightforward.

“For the most part it’s literally just data entry,” explained Mikkelson. “When we fact-check something, we enter its URL into a database. You could probably dress it up in all kinds of bells and whistles, but we don’t really need or expect much more than that. We haven’t changed what we do or how we do it.”

Mikkelson described the Facebook system in broad terms. It’s a dashboard of links that are surfaced, as Facebook has explained before, primarily through machine learning systems that know what sort of thing to look for: weird URLs, bot promotion, scammy headlines, etc. They appear on the dashboard in some semblance of order, for instance based on traffic or engagement.

“It lists a thumbnail of what the item is, like is it an article or a video; there’s a column for estimated shares, first published date, etc,” said Mikkelson. “They’ve never given us any instructions on like, ‘please do the one with the most shares,’ or ‘do the most recent entry and work your way down,’ or whatever.”

In fact there’s no need to even use the dashboard that way at all.

“There’s no requirement that we undertake anything that’s in their database. If there’s something that isn’t in there, which honestly is most of what we do, we just add it,” Mikkelson said.

Passive partner or puppet master?

I asked whether there was any kind of pushback or interference at all from Facebook, as described by Brooks Binkowski in the Guardian story, who mentioned several such occasions that occurred during her time at Snopes.

Politifact’s Holan said she thought the suggestion was “very misleading.” In a statement, the organization said that “As with all our work, we decide what to fact-check and arrive at our conclusions without input from Facebook or any third party. Any claim suggesting otherwise is misinformed and baseless.”

“I realize Facebook’s reputation is kind of in the dumpster right now already,” Mikkelson said, “but this is damaging to all the fact-checking partners, including us. We would never have continued a working relationship with Facebook or any other partner that told us to couch fact checks in service of advertisers. It’s insulting to suggest.”

The question of receiving compensation for fact-checking was another of Binkowski’s qualms. On the one hand, it could be seen as a conflict of interest for Facebook to be paying for the service, since that opens all kinds of cans of worms — but on the other, it’s ridiculous to suggest this critical work can or should be done for free. Though at first, it was.

When the fact-checking team was first assembled in late 2016, Snopes wrote that it expects “to derive no direct financial benefit from this arrangement.” But eventually it did.

“When we published that, the partnership was in its earliest, embryonic stages — an experiment they’d like our help with,” Mikkelson said. Money “didn’t come up at all.” It wasn’t until the next year that Facebook mentioned paying fact checkers, though it hadn’t announced this publicly, and Snopes eventually did earn and disclose $100,000 coming from the company. Facebook had put bounties on high-profile political stories that were already on Snopes’s radar, as well as others in the fact-checking group.

The money came despite the fact that Snopes never asked for it or billed Facebook — a check arrived at the end of the year, he recalled, “with a note that said ‘vendor refuses to invoice.’ ”

Partners, but not pals

As for the mere concept of working for a company whose slippery methods and unlikeable leadership have been repeatedly pilloried over the last few years, it’s a legitimate concern. But Facebook is too important of a platform to ignore on account of ethical lapses by higher-ups who are not involved in the day-to-day fact-checking operation. Millions of people still look to Facebook for their news.

To abandon the company because (for instance) Sheryl Sandberg hired a dirty PR firm to sling mud at critics would be antithetical to the mission that drove these fact-checking companies to the platform to begin with. After all, it’s not like Facebook had a sterling reputation in 2016, either.

Both Politifact and Snopes indicated that their discontent with the company was more focused on the lack of transparency within the fact-checking program itself. The tools are basic and feedback is nil. Questions like the following have gone unanswered for years:

What constitutes falsity? What criteria should and shouldn’t be considered? How should satire be treated if it is spreading as if it were fact? What about state-sponsored propaganda and disinformation? Have other fact checkers looked at a given story, and could or should their judgments inform the other’s? What is the immediate effect of marking a story false — does it stop spreading? Is there pushback from the community? Is the outlet penalized in other ways? What about protesting an erroneous decision?

The problem with Facebook’s fact-checking operation, as so often is the case with this company, is a lack of transparency with both users and partners. The actual fact-checking happens outside Facebook, and rightly so; it’s not likely to be affected or compromised by the company, and in fact if it tried, it might find the whole thing blowing up in its face. But while the checking itself is tamper-resistant, it’s not clear at all what if any effect it’s having, and how it will be improved or implemented in the future. Surely that’s relevant to everyone with a stake in this process?

Over a year and a half or more of the program, little has been communicated and little has been changed, and that not fast enough. But at the same time, thousands of articles have been checked by experts who are used to having their work go largely unrewarded — and despite Facebook’s lack of transparency with them and us, it seems unlikely that that work has also been ineffective.

For years Facebook was a rat’s nest of trash content and systematically organized disinformation. In many ways, it still is, but an organized fact-checking campaign works like constant friction acting against the momentum of this heap. It’s not flashy and the work will never be done, but it’s no less important for all that.

As with so many other Facebook initiatives, we hear a lot of promises and seldom much in the way of results. The establishment of a group of third parties contributing independently to a fact-checking database was a good step, and it would be surprising to hear it has had no positive affect.

Users and partners deserve to know how it works, whether it’s working, and how it’s being changed. That information would disarm critics and hearten allies. If Facebook continues to defy these basic expectations, however, it only further justifies and intensifies the claims of its worst enemies.

Source: TechCrunch

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse post-credits scene, explained – CNET

Marvel adds more Spider-people and meme moments to the mix. Warning: spoilers incoming!
Source: CNET

Best Christmas gifts under $50 – CNET

Looking for a tech bargain real soon? Here are some of the top tech deals you can still get for less than $50.
Source: CNET

The top smartphone trends to watch in 2019

This was a bad year for the smartphone. For the first time, its seemingly unstoppable growth began to slow.

Things started off on a bad note in February, when Gartner recorded its first year-over-year decline since it began tracking the category. Not even the mighty Apple was immune from the trend. Last week, stocks took a hit as influential analyst Ming-Chi Kuo downgraded sales expectations for 2019.

People simply aren’t upgrading as fast as they used to. This is due in part to the fact that flagship phones are pretty good across the board. Manufacturers have painted themselves into a corner as they’ve battled it out over specs. There just aren’t as many compelling reasons to continually upgrade.

Of course, that’s not going to stop them from trying. Along with the standard upgrades to things like cameras, you can expect some radical rethinks of smartphone form factors, along with the first few pushes into 5G in the next calendar year.

If we’re lucky, there will be a few surprises along the way as well, but the following trends all look like no-brainers for 2019.


Attendees look at 5G mobile phones at the Qualcomm stand during China Mobile Global Partner Conference 2018 at Poly World Trade Center Exhibition Hall on December 6, 2018 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China.

GUANGZHOU, CHINA – DECEMBER 06: Attendees look at 5G mobile phones at the Qualcomm stand during China Mobile Global Partner Conference 2018 at Poly World Trade Center Exhibition Hall on December 6, 2018 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China. The three-day conference opened on Thursday, with the theme of 5G network. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Let’s get this one out of the way, shall we? It’s a bit tricky — after all, plenty of publications are going to claim 2019 as “The Year of 5G,” but they’re all jumping the gun. It’s true that we’re going to see the first wave of 5G handsets appearing next year.

OnePlus and LG have committed to a handset and Samsung, being Samsung, has since committed to two. We’ve also seen promises of a Verizon 5G MiFi and whatever the hell this thing is from HTC and Sprint.

Others, most notably Apple, are absent from the list. The company is not expected to release a 5G handset until 2020. While that’s going to put it behind the curve, the truth of the matter is that 5G will arrive into this world as a marketing gimmick. When it does fully roll out, 5G has the potential to be a great, gaming-changing technology for smartphones and beyond. And while carriers have promised to begin rolling out the technology in the States early next year (AT&T even got a jump start), the fact of the matter is that your handset will likely spend a lot more time using 4G.

That is to say, until 5G becomes more ubiquitous, you’re going to be paying a hefty premium for a feature you barely use. Of course, that’s not going to stop hardware makers, component manufacturers and their carrier partners from rushing these devices to market as quickly as possible. Just be aware of your chosen carrier’s coverage map before shelling out that extra cash.


We’ve already seen two — well, one-and-a-half, really. And you can be sure we’ll see even more as smartphone manufacturers scramble to figure out the next big thing. After years of waiting, we’ve been pretty unimpressed with the foldable smartphone we’ve seen so far.

The Royole is fascinating, but its execution leaves something to be desired. Samsung’s prototype, meanwhile, is just that. The company made it the centerpiece of its recent developer conference, but didn’t really step out of the shadows with the product — almost certainly because they’re not ready to show off the full product.

Now that the long-promised technology is ready in consumer form, it’s a safe bet we’ll be seeing a number of companies exploring the form factor. That will no doubt be helped along by the fact that Google partnered with Samsung to create a version of Android tailored to the form factor — similar to its embrace of the top notch with Android Pie.

Of course, like 5G, these designs are going to come at a major premium. Once the initial novelty has worn off, the hardest task of all will be convincing consumers they need one in their life.


Bezels be damned. For better or worse, the notch has been a mainstay of flagship smartphones. Practically everyone (save for Samsung) has embraced the cutout in an attempt to go edge to edge. Even Google made it a part of Android (while giving the world a notch you can see from space with the Pixel 3 XL).

We’ve already seen (and will continue to see) a number of clever workarounds like Oppo’s pop-up. The pin hole/hole punch design found on the Huawei Nova 4 seems like a more reasonable route for a majority of camera manufacturers.

Embedded Fingerprint Readers

The flip side of the race to infinite displays is what to do with the fingerprint reader. Some moved it to the rear, while others, like Apple, did away with it in favor of face scanning. Of course, for those unable to register a full 3D face scan, that tech is pretty easy to spoof. For that reason, fingerprint scanners aren’t going away any time soon.

OnePlus’ 6T was among the first to bring the in-display fingerprint scanner to market, and it works like a charm. Here’s how the tech works (quoting from my own writeup from a few months ago):

When the screen is locked, a fingerprint icon pops up, showing you where to press. When the finger is in the right spot, the AMOLED display flashes a bright light to capture a scan of the surface from the reflected light. The company says it takes around a third of a second, though in my own testing, that number was closer to one second or sometimes longer as I negotiated my thumb into the right spot.

Samsung’s S10 is expected to bring that technology when it arrives around the February time frame, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of other manufacturers follow suit.

Cameras, cameras, cameras (also, cameras)

What’s the reasonable limit for rear-facing cameras? Two? Three? What about the five cameras on that leaked Nokia from a few months back? When does it stop being a phone back and start being a camera front? These are the sorts of existential crises we’ll have to grapple with as manufacturers continue to attempt differentiation through imagining.

Smartphone cameras are pretty good across the board these days, so one of the simple solutions has been simply adding more to the equation. LG’s latest offers a pretty reasonable example of how this will play out for many. The V40 ThinQ has two front and three rear-facing cameras. The three on the back are standard, super wide-angle and 2x optical zoom, offering a way to capture different types of images when a smartphone camera isn’t really capable of that kind of optical zoom in a thin form factor.

On the flip side, companies will also be investing a fair deal in software to help bring better shots to existing components. Apple and Google both demonstrated how a little AI and ML can go a long way toward improving image capture on their last handsets. Expect much of that to be focused on ultra-low light and zoom.

Source: TechCrunch

Twitter’s newest feature is reigniting the ‘iPhone vs Android’ war

Twitter’s newest feature is reigniting the flame war between iOS and Android owners.

The U.S. social media company’s latest addition is a subtle piece of information that shows the client that each tweet is sent from. In doing so, the company now displays whether a user tweets from the web or mobile and, if they are on a phone, whether they used Twitter’s iOS or Android apps, or a third-party service.

The feature — which was quietly enabled on Twitter’s mobile clients earlier this month; it has long been part of the TweetDeck app — has received a mixed response from users since CEO Jack Dorsey spotlighted it.

Some are happy to have additional details to dig into for context, for example, whether a person is on mobile or using third-party apps, but others believe it is an unnecessary addition that is stoking the rivalry between iOS and Android fans.

Interestingly, the app detail isn’t actually new. Way back in 2012 — some six years ago — Twitter stripped out the information as part of a series of changes to unify users across devices, focus on service’s reading experience and push people to its official apps where it could maximize advertising reach.

That was a long time ago — so long that TechCrunch editor-in-chief Matthew Panzarino was still a reporter when he wrote about it; he and I were at another publication altogether — and much has changed at Twitter, which has grown massively in popularity to reach 330 million users.

Back in 2012, Twitter was trying to reign in the mass of third-party apps that were popular with users in order to centralize its advertising to get itself, and its finances, together before going public. Twitter’s IPO happened in 2013 and it did migrate most users to its own apps, but it did a terrible job handling developers and thus, today, there are precious few third-party apps. That’s still a sore point with many users, since the independent apps were traditionally superior with better design and more functions. Most are dead now and Twitter’s official apps reign supreme.

Many Twitter users may not be aware of the back story, so it is pretty fascinating to see some express uncertainty at displaying details of their phone. Indeed, a number of Android users lamented that the new detail is ‘exposing’ their devices.

Here’s a selection of tweets:

I could go on — you can see more here — but it seems like, for many, iPhone is still the ultimate status symbol over Android despite the progress made by the likes of Samsung, Huawei and newer Android players Xiaomi and Oppo.

While it may increase arguments between mobile’s two tribes, the feature has already called out brands and ambassadors using the ‘wrong’ device. Notable examples including a Korean boyband sponsored by LG using iPhones or the Apple Music team sending a tweet via an Android device. Suddenly spotting these mismatches is a whole lot easier.

Source: TechCrunch

The Audio Technica ATH-SR5 headphone will delight listeners craving a detailed sound – CNET

Lightweight and folds flat for easy storage, the Audio Technica ATH-SR5 on-ear headphones are ideal on-the-go companions.
Source: CNET

The Most-Read WIRED Business Stories of 2018

Scandals of all stripes dominated the news, from Facebook’s data leaks to Google’s diversity war.
Source: Wired