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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 3rd Jan 2017

Amazon EchoImage copyrightAMAZON

Image captionAmazon refused to share data captured by one of its Echo speakers

US police investigating a murder have tussled with Amazon over access to data gathered by one of its Echo speakers.

The voice-controlled device was found near to a hot tub where the victim was found dead amid signs of a struggle.

According to court filings, Amazon was issued with two search warrants but refused to share information sent by the smart device to its servers.

However, the police said a detective found a way to extract some data from the device itself.

The accused killer has yet to be put on trial and it is not clear whether that information proved useful to the investigation.

The prosecutor in the case told the BBC he was still hopeful Amazon would share some further details.

"While many privacy advocates have expressed interest in this case due to the technology involved, this case is really about seeking justice for the victim, who was a husband and a father," Nathan Smith told the BBC.

"The application for a search warrant based on probable cause and approved by a judge is the constitutionally authorised means for law enforcement to conduct lawful searches of homes, property or computer devices like the Amazon Echo.

"Since law enforcement officers followed the constitutionally mandated procedures to obtain a lawful search warrant in this case, I am confident that Amazon will comply."

Blood spots

Details of the case were first reported by the Information news site.

But it dates back to November 2015, when the suspect, James Bates, called the Bentonville, Arkansas police department to say he had found the body of a friend, Victor Collins, face down in water.

The court records say one of deceased's eyes and lips appeared to be swollen and suspected blood spots were found around the rim of the hot tub.

Detectives say they learned that music had been streamed to the back patio at the time of death, which they thought might have been controlled via the Echo's smart assistant Alexa.

Amazon EchoImage copyrightAMAZON

Image captionAmazon's range of Echo speakers have proved popular gifts over Christmas, potentially opening the door to further privacy clashes

The "always on" machine makes recordings of audio it hears from a fraction of a second before it detects a wake word - either Alexa or Amazon - until it judges the command to be over.

This audio is then transmitted to Amazon's computer servers, which interpret the request and tell it how to respond.

Although no recordings are meant to be made at other times, the device often becomes activated when it misinterprets speech as being its wake command.

Any captured audio might therefore have identified who was active in the early hours of the morning when the alleged murder is thought to have taken place, as well as what was said. Mr Bates claims to have been asleep at the time.

'Overbroad demands'

The case has echoes of Apple's refusal to help the FBI bypass the security code of an iPhone used by a gunman in 2015.

In that case, the authorities were ultimately able to extract information without Apple's aid.

"Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us," a spokesman for retail giant told the BBC.

"Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course."

The spokesman added that utterances are not stored by Echo devices, and the associated audio is only accessible via the cloud and can be deleted by relevant account holders.

HuaweiImage copyrightHUAWEI

Image captionDetectives were unable to view the contents of the murder suspect's mobile phone

Bentonville's police force said it had also managed to extract data from Mr Collins' LG smartphone.

But it added that it had been unable to access Mr Bates' Huawei Nexus handset because it had been "encrypted at the chipset level" and was protected by a passcode lock.

However, the court papers indicate that the property's smart water meter may have yielded the most useful evidence.

The police say it showed that 140 gallons (636 litres) of water was used around the time of the alleged killing. They suggest this was down to Mr Bates using a garden hose to wash away evidence from his porch before he alerted them to the death.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 3rd Jan 2017

Britney SpearsImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Sony Music has said sorry to pop star Britney Spears, after an official Twitter account suggested the pop star had died.

The entertainment firm quickly removed the hoax tweets, saying its global account had been "compromised" but that the situation had "been rectified".

Sony added it "apologises to Britney Spears and her fans for any confusion".

The 35-year-old did not react directly to the tweet, but her manager confirmed the singer was "fine and well".

TweetImage copyrightTWITTER

Image captionThe tweets were quickly dismissed as a hoax

As well Sony's Twitter account, the official account of Bob Dylan also appears to have been hacked. It tweeted: "Rest in peace @britneyspears" around the time of the fake Sony tweets.

After the tweets were published, a group called OurMine appears to have gained access to the Sony Music account and pointed out the security breach. It is not clear whether it was also responsible for the original false messages.

Just a few days ago, it appeared to have hacked into the Twitter accounts of Netflix US and Marvel Entertainment.

And it has also been linked to compromising the Twitter accounts of top executives including Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Google chief executive Sundar Pichai.

Hollywood hack

While the latest incident is potentially embarrassing to Sony Music, it is not likely to have the same repercussions as another cyber-security breach that Sony suffered in 2014.

That hack, which targeted Sony Pictures, resulted in unreleased films and the script for the next James Bond movie being leaked online.

Details of corporate finances and private emails between producers and Hollywood figures were also released.

North Korea was accused by the US of orchestrating the move and the eventual fallout saw Sony cancel the Christmas release of a comedy called The Interview, a film depicting the assassination of the North Korean leader.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 3rd Jan 2017

Poorly secured webcams and other Internet-connected devices are already being used as tools for cyberattacks. Can the government prevent this from becoming a catastrophic problem?

growing mass of poorly secured devices on the Internet of things represents a serious risk to life and property, and the government must intervene to mitigate it. That’s essentially the message that prominent computer security experts recently delivered to Congress.

The huge denial-of-service attack in October that crippled the Internet infrastructure provider Dyn and knocked out much of the Web for users in the eastern United States was “benign,” Bruce Schneier, a renowned security scholar and lecturer on public policy at Harvard, said during a hearing last month held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. No one died. But he said the attack—which relied on a botnet made of hacked webcams, camcorders, baby monitors, and other devices—illustrated the “catastrophic risks” posed by the proliferation of insecure things on the Internet.

For example, Schneier and other experts testified that the same poor security exists in computers making their way into hospitals, including those used to manage elevators and ventilation systems. It’s not hard to imagine a fatal disaster, which makes it imperative that the government step in to fix this “market failure,” he said.

The problems with IoT devices are worsening because manufacturers lack incentives to prioritize security. Even if consumers wanted to assess the relative security of Internet-connected thermostats and other devices, there are no established ratings or other measures.

There is little disagreement that the government should do something about this, since so many critical systems are vulnerable to attacks like the one that hit Dyn. Exactly how the government should handle the situation, however, is a subject of an intensifying debate in Washington—one that won’t be settled before President-elect Donald Trump takes office. Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Consumer Technology Association argue that new regulations on IoT devices could hinder innovation.

Schneier argues that we need a new agency in charge of cybersecurity rules. This seems unlikely, given that Trump campaigned on a broad promise to roll back regulations, and Republicans generally oppose expanding the government. But if something catastrophic were to happen, a frightened public would probably ask that something be done, and the government should be prepared for that, he warned the committee members.

How big is the risk? Massive and growing, says Kevin Fu, a University of Michigan professor of computer science and engineering who specializes in cybersecurity. Not only are IoT devices being added in “sensitive places that have high consequence, like hospitals,” Fu said, but millions of them can be easily hacked and gathered into huge botnets, armies of zombie computers that adversaries can use to debilitate targeted institutions.

Fu, who also testified in the House hearing, believes that without a “significant change in cyber hygiene” the Internet can’t be relied on to support critical systems. He recommends that the government develop an independent entity in charge of testing the security of IoT devices. The process should include premarket testing along the lines of the automotive crash testing done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, post-attack testing similar to what the National Transportation Safety Board does after car crashes, and “survivability and destruction testing” to assess how well devices cope with attacks, says Fu.

We don’t know yet whether the Trump administration or the next Congress will make addressing IoT-related risks a priority. So what can the government do in the meantime? Last month, the Department of Homeland Security released a set of “strategic principles for securing the Internet of Things,” and suggested that the government could sue manufacturers for failing to “build security in during design.” On the same day, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which publishes industry standards for many areas of technology, issued voluntary guidelines for engineering “more defensible and survivable” connected systems.

Meanwhile, every additional connected computer—whether it is in a car, drone, medical device, or any one of countless other gadgets and systems—is exposed to these risks. That’s why centralized regulatory authority is needed, according to Schneier: “We can’t have different rules if the computer has wheels, or propellers, or makes phone calls, or is in your body.”


Source: technologyreview.com
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 3rd Jan 2017

Naturi NaughtonImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Image captionActress Naturi Naughton was one TV star targeted by hacker Alonzo Knowles

A hacker who stole sexually explicit videos and unpublished film and TV scripts from celebrities has been sentenced to five years in jail.

Alonzo Knowles hacked email accounts, from the Bahamas, to steal the images and scripts, which he tried to sell.

Knowles used viruses and fake security notifications to obtain passwords.

He was caught when he travelled to the US to sell stolen scripts not knowing that he was meeting undercover police officers.

Dark ends

The US Department of Justice said Knowles had had a list of the email addresses and phone numbers of 130 celebrities, including actors, musicians and others, that he sought to steal from.

Knowles stole 25 unreleased film and TV show scripts as well as banking details and intimate images and videos.

In December 2015, law enforcement agencies were alerted to his hacking campaign by a radio show presenter who Knowles approached trying to sell one of the stolen scripts.

When contacted by undercover agents, Knowles boasted he had many more scripts to offer worth "hundreds of thousands of dollars".

One stolen script was for a biographical film about rapper Tupac Shakur, who died in 1996, called All Eyez on Me.

The sentence for hacking the accounts was more than double the usual amount, said Judge Paul Engelmayer, because Knowles had been shown to be "devoid of remorse".

Emails Knowles sent while in prison that were read in court revealed his plan to write a book exposing more of the secrets he stole.

This, said the judge, showed he was a "clear and present danger" who would probably commit the same crime again.

"You have some obvious facility for computers," said Judge Engelmayer. "But you chose to use your gifts for dark and lawless ends."

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 3rd Jan 2017

As reports circulate about tech-savvy thieves using electronic devices - "key jammers" - to prevent cars from locking, what do you need to know about this growing crime?

The transmitters, which are easy to buy online, can be used to interrupt signals from keys fobs, meaning unwary motorists believe their cars to be secure when they're anything but.

This leaves the path clear for thieves to help themselves to your belongings, and even take the car itself.

Relatively low-powered jammers can have a range of about 75m, meaning fairly large areas, such as a whole car park, can be affected at the same time.

But jammer-wielding crooks can strike anywhere, not just public car parks.

car break-in

Image captionSmashing the side window is old hat

Deputy Chief Constable Matt Jukes, from the National Police Chiefs' Council, said although he believes the problem is currently small, it is a "growing feature of vehicle crime".

"The Vehicle Crime Intelligence Unit is working closely and extensively with a number of partners including the Home Office and motor manufacturers on solutions to prevent this crime now and in the future."

Loran Dover got in touch with the BBC to say it happened to her on a residential street in Leeds.

"When I got up and ready for work, I went outside to find all my car doors just placed shut.

"I was mortified to think I'd left my car like this, when I knew I locked it - I was staying at my boyfriend's house and had to leave Christmas presents in the car. But then when we actually looked inside the car, the whole car had been rifled through and anything of value taken.

"Police at first said there was nothing they'd do. Not even send anybody to check for fingerprints because there was no clear sign of a break-in. But when I phoned my bank to cancel my card, the thieves had been using my contactless. That's when the police actually got involved and took it more seriously.

"They are currently looking at CCTV so hopefully they will catch them."

How can you make sure your car is safe?

The only sure way to know your car is locked is to check manually. Most cars have another indication the lock has been deployed, such as the indicator lights flashing, wing mirrors drawing in, or the horn giving a short toot.

If you're close enough to the car you can also hear the central locking clunk into place.

Deputy Chief Constable Jukes adds: "It is essential that people remain vigilant against this kind of electronic breach.

"We urge people to keep a close watch on their cars and possessions so as not to offer any incentives to criminals, including manually checking that the vehicle is locked and taking any valuables with you when leaving the vehicle unattended."

A more hi-tech approach to securing your vehicle might be to invest in a car jamming detector, a device that sets off an alarm when a blocking signal is detected.

Will insurance companies pay out for such thefts?

Ms Dover highlights one problem faced by victims - not only are they deprived of their belongings, but there is no proof they've not simply forgotten to lock their cars. And most insurance companies will not pay out if the car has been left unattended and unlocked.

According to the Financial Ombudsman, many insurers exclude cover for theft if the vehicle was left unlocked and unattended.

The only way to prove a car lock was jammed is if a thief is caught red-handed, although patterns of theft can be strong indications.

For example, Thames Valley Police is investigating 14 recent thefts from lorries, vans and cars with "no obvious sign of a break-in".

All of the thefts took place at service stations on the M4 in Berkshire in the last two weeks of November.

Is my car itself safe?

Not necessarily.

The Met police force warns an increasing number of electronically controlled vehicles are being taken by criminals exploiting their electronics.

Once inside the vehicle, the thieves plug a device into the on-board diagnostic port (OBD) which allows them to download the vehicle's electronic information on to a blank key. This key is then compatible with the car, allowing them to drive the vehicle away.

This process can take just seconds.

The Organised Vehicle Crime Unit recommends using a steering wheel lock or gearstick lock and to consider having an OBD lock and a tracker fitted.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 14th Dec 2016

How to Find Your Computer's Name

Microsoft Windows 7 & Windows Vista

  1. Click on the Start button.
  2. Right-click on Computer.
  3. Select Properties.
  4. Your computer name will be listed near the bottom of the window that opens under "Computer name, domain, and workgrouop settings".

Microsoft Windows XP

  1. Click on the Start button.
  2. Right-click on My Computer.
  3. Select Properties.
  4. Click on the Computer Name tab.
  5. Your computer name will be listed near the center of the window that opens.

Mac OS X

  1. Click on the Apple Menu.
  2. Select System Preferences....
  3. Click on Sharing.
  4. Your computer name will be listed at the top of the window that opens.



Source: KB0000280

Source: its.yale.edu
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 13th Dec 2016

Prince Charles and Ozzy OsbourneImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Image captionPrince Charles and Ozzy Osbourne have more in common than you might think

Consider Prince Charles and Ozzy Osbourne, even in a darkened room it would be difficult to mistake one for the other but by some measures they are uncannily similar.

And for some analytic engines that decide which adverts you see online, the Prince of Wales and the Prince of Darkness are almost indistinguishable.

The two men were born in the same year, 1948, are wealthy, self-employed, and spend a lot of time in the same location, London.

They both like international travel, dogs, sports cars, fine wines, have children and have married and re-married.

But you probably wouldn't want to send the same ad to both of them.

So how can ad firms differentiate between seemingly similar people and fire more relevant ads at them?

"The best way we have found to do that is through the picture gallery," says Ofri Ben-Porat, founder and chief executive of Pixoneye, an Israeli ad tech firm. "Young people today take photos of everything."

And what we take photos of reveals more about us that almost anything else, he says. Our phones are becoming extensions of ourselves.

Woman taking photo of bootsImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Image captionDo our photos tell advertisers more about our interests than anything else?

So Pixoneye is working with app makers on ways to use what it learns from analysing picture galleries to tailor adverts to particular lifestyles.

"You don't necessarily see fewer ads," says Mr Ben-Porat, "You'll see the same amount of adverts but there will be different creatives for different users."

In other words, the same ad campaign will need to have multiple versions to suit each audience. And this will put more pressure on advertisers and their agencies to produce more individualised content, he says.

In the early days of web advertising that list of similarities was useful, says Mr Ben-Porat, as it gave firms more data about potential customers than they ever had before.

That approach worked well when most people browsed the web via a desktop or laptop, but it looks crude now that people spend so much time using apps or going online via a phone or tablet, he argues.

Graphic taken from Pixoneye websiteImage copyrightAP

Image captionPixoneye thinks our photos, more than our browsing habits, reveal our true interests

"If you browse on a laptop you can see the same advert three times a day and live with it," he says.

"But think about how many times a day or hour people look at their mobile against how many times they open a laptop."

Waiting for the same ad to load again and again or simply seeing the same one many times a day will do little to aid the "engagement" that firms crave, he says.

"It would be better to find where in the data they differ and how you can pick up on those differences."

'Out of business'

It is not just the bigger firms that need to do better with adverts.

Smaller firms and lone app developers are keen to turn more clicks into customers, says Ted Nash, co-founder of app monetising platform, Tapdaq.

They have to, he says, because without those ad dollars and pounds they would go out of business, given that most apps are free to download.

"Only 1% of the apps in the stores are monetised through an app purchase," he says. "The other 99% are ad-funded."

The problem is that most consumers see mobile ads as, at best, a necessary evil and, at worst, intrusive annoyances to be thwarted with ad-blocking software.

Smartphone showing app iconsImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Image captionMost app developers don't make money from subscriptions

Yet people need to realise what the revenue from ads makes possible, Mr Nash argues.

"It comes down to a fundamental exchange," he says. "Would they rather pay for everything or not?"

Tapdaq is working on a system that helps smaller developers do a better job of targeting ads rather than bombarding users with irritating and irrelevant ads that simply drain your mobile battery.

"Developers would absolutely love to have a full-time career building apps," he says, "but that has become more and more difficult, so they are becoming more desperate and adopting more aggressive ad strategies that increasingly annoy customers," he says.

Tapdaq's system gives developers more control over which ad networks are used within the app and what ad formats, helping them serve the right type of ad at the right time.

Women on smartphone with dollars coming out of itImage copyrightTHINKSTOCK

Image captionDevelopers need advertising to turn their apps into dollars

"This can make a huge difference to rates of engagement," he says.

A bad ad can net response rates as low as 7%, whereas a properly targeted ad can see five times as many people clicking on it, says Mr Nash.

"This is the money that pays them to live. They need the advertising; that's why they like it and are active around it."

Deep analysis

But despite the inability of some ad-serving systems to tell the difference between Chuck and Ozzy, David Gosen, of online ad firm Rocket Fuel, believes they are getting better.

"Marketing managers used to complain that they were wasting half of their advertising budget and, unfortunately, they didn't know which half," he says. "Now they are getting much closer to knowing which 50% is being wasted and how effective their spend is."

This is because they know so much more about what we search for online and what sites we visit.

Many of the ads we see are now chosen by real-time "programmatic" ad auctioning systems. Rocket Fuel's system works out the best moment for hitting us with a specific advert. So the ad will change depending on the time of day and the device we're using.

When they're done right, ads can help companies reach those customers who are really fans and motivate them to act.

"It's about the right combination of creative and message," he says. "If a company has data on loyal customers then it should be able to work with them to build engagement and turn them into brand advocates.

"It's loyalty you are starting to build."

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 13th Dec 2016


A woman playing Pokémon Go outside Buckingham PalaceImage copyrightPRESS ASSOCIATION

Image captionPokemon Go broke week-one App Store records, according to Apple

It is quite possibly the biggest gaming phenomenon of the smartphone age - but is Pokemon Go's popularity dwindling?

Since the augmented-reality app launched in July, Pokemon Go has swept up gamers in a craze of monster-catching across the world.

Just a week after its release in the US, Apple said the game had broken the App Store record for most downloads in a week. Gamers chasing down the likes of Pikachu and Snorlax have filled public spaces - such as New York's Central Park - with congregations of people wandering about with phones in hand.

But now, a month since Pokemon Go's release, independent analysis suggests its popularity has plummeted.

Some churn was only to be expected - the huge publicity it generated was always going to have attracted players who would briefly try it out and then set it aside.

However, the drop-off occurred during a period when the app was launching across much of Asia and Latin America as well as France.

How many players has Pokemon Go lost?

No official figures on Pokemon Go's downloads have been made public, but according to data compiled by Axiom Capital Management, more than 10 million players have turned away since mid-July.

Pokemon Go's Daily Active Users (DAUs) - an industry metric that determines how many people switch on an app each day - suggested that the game edged close to 45 million users on 17 July. By 16 August, that figure fell to just above 30 million.

Pokemon graphImage copyrightAPPTOPIA

Image captionEstimates on Pokemon's daily active users suggest the game's popularity has been in decline since mid-July

This would imply that Pokemon Go has lost more than 10 million daily active users in a month, which equates to nearly a quarter of its DAUs.

Crucially, this is during a phase where Pokemon Go was launching across Brazil, Indonesia, the Philippines and dozens of other countries, meaning that the fall in popularity had significantly offset growth in new territories.

Pokemon Go's downloads, engagement, and time spent on the app per day are all in decline too, according to Axiom's data.

Nevertheless, in Apple's UK App Store charts, Pokemon Go is currently in seventh place in the "free" category, and still in first place on the "top-grossing" chart. The game is similarly popular on Google's Play store.

What is the effect of the decline?

Nintendo, which owns about a third of The Pokemon Company, has seen its share price fall about 3% in the wake of Axiom's report.

In the context of the volatility of Nintendo's share price in the past month, that 3% drop isn't too drastic. The Kyoto-based firm's valuation surged upon Pokemon Go's release and subsequently plummeted when it warned investors that the game's popularity wouldn't make a significant change to its revenues.

Axiom senior analyst Victor Anthony said the decline should curb concerns that Pokemon Go would weaken the usage of other popular smartphone apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. In July, independent analysis of Android app usage showed that Pokemon Go had overtaken Twitter in the US.

"The declining trends should assuage investor concerns about the impact of Pokemon Go on time spent on [other apps]," Mr Anthony wrote.

Pokemon Go being played in Downing StreetImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Image captionMany Pokemon Go players complained when developer Niantic removed some of the game's tracking features

Was the drop-off inevitable?

Considering the finite capacity of Android and iOS owners, as well as the extraordinary speed with which Pokemon Go caught on, a decline in popularity of some kind was almost inevitable.

"It's rare for games to explode in popularity like Pokemon Go has, but a drop in users was always expected after a big launch," said Craig Chapple, editor of mobile games trade publication PocketGamer.Biz.

He told the BBC: "Players do typically churn from these free-to-play games. Another recent launch, Supercell's Clash Royale, is also being hit by a decline in active and paying users, but it's still making millions of dollars every day."

However, the sheer speed with which Pokemon Go appears to be losing players should raise concerns, Mr Chapple said.

"The numbers, if accurate, do raise some questions about long-term retention in Pokemon Go - whether or not players are finding enough variety and fun in the core experience right now to stick with it."

He added: "But it's important to note it continues to be a top-grossing game in most countries, so players are still spending and enjoying it."

Could Niantic have done more to prevent it?

It's difficult to say whether Pokemon Go's decline would have been so steep had its developer Niantic not removed a core feature from the game.

At the start of August, ardent players aired their grievances at Niantic after the developer reduced the functionality of the game's "nearby" feature. Before the game's update, players were able to look at a list of Pokemon creatures and estimate how close they were.

At the same time, Niantic also cracked down on third-party websites such as Pokevision that let players see where the creatures were located.

Axiom's data suggests the decline in Pokemon Go's popularity commenced mid-July - more than a week before the controversial removal of the nearby feature - but retention rates fell sharply following the update.

A Pokemon player searches the square in front of the White HouseImage copyrightAFP

Image captionA Pokemon player searches the square in front of the White House

What happens next?

Niantic was, by its own admission, caught off-guard by the sheer popularity of Pokemon Go, but it has pledged to continue supporting the game with bi-weekly updates.

"Running a product like Pokemon Go at scale is challenging," the developer recently wrote on its blog.

For now, the game has yet to be released across many parts of Asia and Africa, which could improve its usage figures once the game arrives in those territories.

However, Mr Chapple believes that fewer people playing Pokemon Go in the West could diminish the game's social aspect, which in turn would make it a less attractive game for those who stick around.

"Pokemon Go is unique. At the moment it relies on people in your local area playing with you, not someone on the other side of the world. If the numbers continued to drop so dramatically, who will be left to play you in your small, local town?"

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 13th Dec 2016


A record player, yesterday

Image captionAudiophiles say vinyl has a "warmer" sound than digital files

More money was spent on vinyl than downloaded albums last week, for the first time.

Vinyl sales made the record industry £2.4m, while downloads took in £2.1m, the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) said.

It marks a big shift in music consumption. In the same week last year, vinyl albums made £1.2m while digital ones made £4.4m.

Downloads have been in sharp decline as consumers switch to streaming services.

The ERA has suggested the surge in vinyl sales could be attributed to the popularity of vinyl as a Christmas gift and the growing number of retailers - including supermarkets such as Sainsbury's and Tesco - which now stock vinyl.

Kate BushImage copyrightEMI

Image captionKate Bush's live album topped the vinyl charts last week

"This is yet further evidence of the ability of music fans to surprise us all," said ERA chief Kim Bayley.

"It's not so long ago that the digital download was meant to be the future. Few would have predicted that an album format, first invented in 1948 and based on stamping a groove into a piece of plastic, would now be outselling it in 2016."

However, it is worth noting that vinyl albums are priced much higher than downloads. Last week's biggest-selling vinyl was Kate Bush's triple-disc live album Before The Dawn, which retails at £52. A download of the same recording is available for £12.

All of which means that downloads are still the more popular product. According to the ERA, 120,000 vinyl albums were sold last week, compared with 295,000 digital ones.

Nonetheless, the "vinyl revival" has been one of the most surprising success stories of the digital music era.

The format has now shown eight consecutive years of growth since facing near extinction in 2007, although it still represents less than 2% of the overall music market.

Earlier this year, a BBC/ICM poll found that people who listened to music on streaming services were more likely to buy vinyl - often as a goodwill gesture to an artist they loved.

But 48% of those surveyed said they did not play the vinyl they bought - while 7% did not even own a turntable.


Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 13th Dec 2016


Saad with a kangaroo, after arriving in Australia

Image captionSaad with a kangaroo, after arriving in Australia

A Syrian refugee who couldn't speak English two years ago has just passed exams with flying colours in Australia.

But Saad Alkassab wasn't always the best student.

"I was actually, before the war, that boy who would say 'I wish I could never go to school again'," he tells Newsbeat. "My wish came true and it was shocking. I actually felt guilty."

Saad was just 14 years old when the civil war started in his country in 2011.

He later fled Syria with his family to live in Melbourne, sponsored by his uncle.


Coming to a place where you don't know how to speak, where you don't understand people - it was really hard, that first stage

Saad Alkassab

But for two years, he didn't go to school as public buildings were turned into refugee camps or army bases.

The family were forced to move from suburb to suburb, fleeing the bombs.

His older brother's arrest by the regime - for helping coordinate food aid and humanitarian efforts as a scout leader - was a "red line" and the family decided they had to flee.

They crossed the border to Lebanon, then flew to Egypt for a year, before moving to Australia.

Saad with his Grade 6 teacher and classmates in Homs, Syria, before the war forced schools to close

Image captionSaad with his Grade 6 teacher and classmates in Homs, Syria, before the war forced schools to close

From zero English to top marks

Now 19, Saad has just graduated with the best marks at one of Australia's biggest Catholic secondary schools, and the top 4% in Melbourne.

He was awarded an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) of 96.65 after studying at Catholic Regional College Sydenham, in north-west Melbourne.

It would be impressive for anyone - let alone a refugee who didn't speak any English when he arrived in the country with his parents, two brothers and one sister, in the middle of 2014.

"Coming to a place where you don't know how to speak, where you don't understand people - it was really hard, that first stage, because it just felt unreal," says Saad now.

Saad and his friend in the Syrian scouts

Image captionSaad and his friend in the Syrian scouts

The pros of politics

After two months of learning English from his cousins, he applied to schools but was turned down.

Then he started watching Question Time - Australia's version of Prime Ministers Questions in parliament - and his English began to take off.

"It really makes me sad to think that I have friends in my school back in Syria who were as good as me, but who didn't have the opportunity that I've had"

Saad Al-Kaab

"They use the best, persuasive language in parliament," he says. "They speak slowly and you can find the words."

He also enjoyed seeing politics in action - especially when it was so different to Syria.

"I found it fascinating," says Saad. "In Syria, it's a dictator regime, and (in) parliament in Syria, all they do is clap. They will agree to anything because you cannot be against (the government)."

Saad with Australia's minister of education

Image captionSaad with Australia's minister of education

The universal language of kebab

He says the culture in Australia took some getting used to - "Why do the shops close at 5pm?!" - but there are some universal similarities.

"We would always go and get kebabs in Homs, and over here, I still go with my Aussie friends to get kebab. It's a must!"

After his incredible exam results, Saad has been offered a scholarship to study biomedicine at Melbourne's Monash University, and wants to become a doctor.

Saad has come a long way from being the kid who wanted to play football instead of studying.

But the shadow of the Syrian war is never too far away.

Saad Alkassab

"I really feel so depressed that the truth about refugees is not being told properly, or the right picture is not being sent," he tells Newsbeat. "It really makes me sad to think that I have friends in my school back in Syria who were as good as me, but who didn't have the opportunity that I've had.

"I really wish they had the opportunity to keep going with their education."

He credits his mum for helping him to prioritise his education while they sheltered from bombs in Syria.

And he is also hugely grateful to his newly country, for giving him a new start:

"I just want to say that you so much to Australia for giving me the opportunity. It's revived me and given me a new life."

Source: bbc.co.uk
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