Security audit raises severe warnings on Chinese smartphone models

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A child uses a smartphone.

Enlarge / Be sure you know what you’re getting into before buying and using unfamiliarly branded smartphones—especially international models not originally intended for your country. (credit: Clover No. 7 Photography via Getty Images)

The Lithuanian National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) recently published a security assessment of three recent-model Chinese-made smartphones—Huawei’s P40 5G, Xiaomi’s Mi 10T 5G, and OnePlus’ 8T 5G. Sufficiently determined US shoppers can find the P40 5G on Amazon and the Mi 10T 5G on Walmart.com—but we will not be providing direct links to those phones, given the results of the NCSC’s security audit.

The Xiaomi phone includes software modules specifically designed to leak data to Chinese authorities and to censor media related to topics the Chinese government considers sensitive. The Huawei phone replaces the standard Google Play application store with third-party substitutes the NCSC found to harbor sketchy, potentially malicious repackaging of common applications.

Huawei's P40 is still stuck on Android 10, while Xiaomi ships with 10 but can be upgraded to 11. Only the OnePlus 8T shipped from the factory with Android 11 installed.

Huawei’s P40 is still stuck on Android 10, while Xiaomi ships with 10 but can be upgraded to 11. Only the OnePlus 8T shipped from the factory with Android 11 installed. (credit: Lithuanian NCSC)

The OnePlus 8T 5G—arguably, the best-known and most widely marketed phone of the three—was the only one to escape the NCSC’s scrutiny without any red flags raised.

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Accolade doubles down on personalized mental health services with new offerings

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Raj Singh, CEO of Accolade. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

Health benefits platform company Accolade is expanding its offerings to add two personalized services with an emphasis on mental health, the company announced Tuesday.

The offerings will be provided as options for the company’s employer customer base, which includes Comcast Cable, American Airlines, Lowe’s, and State Farm.

“We’re building on the existing relationship we have with our customers who are very familiar with our track record of delivering value,” said Accolade’s senior vice president of investor relations, Todd Friedman, in a phone call with reporters Tuesday.

The Seattle and Philadelphia-based company offers services that help employees and their families navigate health benefits and medical care. Accolade tracks health data such as outcomes from medical providers with the aim of reducing cost and increasing care quality, for instance by matching users with health providers.

The company, which went public in July last year, serves more than nine million members and 400 customers.

This year Accolade expanded on its services with two major acquisitions. In April, it acquired PlushCare, a startup that offers virtual primary care. And in January, Accolade payed $460 million for 2nd.MD, expanding its ability to provide medical opinions from specialists, local medical support, and services for members to help navigate the medical system.

The new offerings incorporate some of Accolade’s existing services and build on them.

Accolade One provides members access to virtual primary and mental health care teams and additional services such as clinical programs that can help manage chronic conditions.

Accolade Care provides mental and physical health services in a fuller set of advocacy, care and clinical capabilities. Accolade’s multidisciplinary care teams include nurses, primary care physicians, health coaches, pharmacists, and mental health professionals.

Both offerings provide access to a physician who “stays with you forever throughout your health care journey” and is available by video or messaging, said CEO Raj Singh at an online customer presentation on Tuesday.

The pandemic has exacerbated mental health conditions in the U.S., noted chief medical officer Shantanu Nundy. He added that by placing primary care providers and therapists on the same platform with access to the same data, “we can warrant better outcomes for both mental as well as physical health conditions.”

The offerings also build on Accolade’s partnership with mental health service Ginger, which includes outreach to participating Accolade members deemed at risk of mental health challenges, based on data analysis.

The new options deliver services as part of a “value-based health care” model that de-emphasizes fee-for service pricing, said Singh, who previously led the software giant Concur, which sold to SAP for $8.3 billion. Accolade’s analytics capabilities for assessing patient needs and outcomes help support that model, which also provides higher quality care, he said.

“Value-based care should replace fee-for-service health care in the United States. And we’re here to enable that for the customers we serve,” said Singh, who leads the company with Mike Hilton, another Concur co-founder who is now chief innovation officer at Accolade.

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Microsoft unveils Surface Laptop Studio and Surface Duo 2 in buildup to Windows 11 launch

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Microsoft’s new Surface Laptop Studio uses a unique hinge to transition between laptop, presentation and studio modes. (Microsoft Photo)

Microsoft has developed a new style of laptop with a versatile screen that makes a unique transition into tablet mode, channeling the ethos of its high-end Surface Studio desktop computer for creative professionals.

The new Surface Laptop Studio was shown for the first time during Microsoft’s fall hardware event Wednesday morning.

It comes with a 14.4-inch display that shifts from a traditional laptop configuration into a “Stage” mode that covers the keyboard at a 45-degree angle, and then into a horizontal “Studio” mode, elevated slightly at the rear for ergonomic use with a Surface Slim Pen docked magnetically under the chassis of the device.

Surface Laptop Studio in “Studio” mode. (Microsoft Photo)

It uses what Microsoft calls a Dynamic Woven Hinge to transition smoothly between modes, continuing the company’s efforts to innovate in hinges to let devices adapt to different scenarios. Surface Laptop Studio will sell at a starting price of $1,600, with an Oct. 4 release date.

The event comes as Microsoft prepares to release Windows 11 on Oct. 5, refreshing the user interface of its PC operating system and adding new productivity features. Microsoft saw increased interest in desktop and laptop computers during the pandemic, and the company is hoping to sustain that momentum. Revenue from Microsoft’s Surface products fell 20% in the June quarter to $1.38 million.

Microsoft’s Surface computers, tablets and devices have traditionally been a way for the company to advance new form factors in the industry, providing a blueprint for other hardware makers to follow. Microsoft describes the Surface Laptop Studio as a new category, signaling that it hopes other computer makers will come up with similar devices.

The company also introduced Surface Duo 2, a new version of its dual-screen handheld Android device with 5G cellular connectivity and a “Glance Bar” that provides notifications on the outside hinge. Microsoft also upgraded the Surface Duo 2 camera, which was one of the criticisms of its predecessor.

Notifications on the exterior hinge of the new Surface Duo 2. (Microsoft Photo)

Surface Duo 2 will start at $1,499, with an Oct. 20 release date.

Other surprises from Microsoft’s fall hardware event Wednesday included an Ocean Plastic Mouse made from a resin produced with 20% recycled ocean plastic, part of a larger focus on sustainability; and a Surface Adaptive Kit that uses tactile and visually distinct labels to improve accessibility.

Microsoft’s new Ocean Plastic Mouse. (Microsoft Photo)

In addition, the company introduced upgraded versions of its Surface Pro, Surface Pro X and Surface Go tablets; and a new version of the Surface Slim Pen.

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Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena to feature Amazon’s ‘Just Walk Out’ tech to avoid lines in select stores

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A rendering of a store using Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” technology at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle. (Climate Pledge Arena Image)

Amazon may have skipped putting its name on the outside of the renovated stadium where the Seattle Kraken will begin NHL play next month, but the company is bringing its technology to the inside of Climate Pledge Arena.

The arena announced Wednesday that four food and beverage stores inside the arena will be equipped with “Just Walk Out” cashierless technology like that used in Amazon Go convenience stores and some Fresh grocery stores. The arena stores will also feature Amazon One palm-scanning tech, which lets customers enter and pay with the wave of a hand.

Just Walk Out allows customers to grab what they want and leave a store without having to stand in line. Cameras and sensors in ceilings and shelves track what a customer picks up and payment is facilitated through a credit card inserted upon entry. Amazon One uses an ID and payment method associated with a user’s biometric palm scan. Those who are new to that tech will be able to sign up at kiosks near the stores on the arena’s main and upper concourses.

The use of tech to speed shopping and avoid long lines is a key part of the tech-enhanced experience that Kraken and Climate Pledge Arena representatives have been promising for years at the redeveloped KeyArena site.

“For us, the fan experience inside Climate Pledge Arena is paramount; we want it to be simple, safe and fast for every guest,” Todd Humphrey, SVP of Digital Fan Experience for the Kraken, said in a news release. “We are thrilled to work with Amazon to use their groundbreaking technology to make it as easy as hovering your palm, picking an item off a shelf, and leaving to make your purchase.”

Seattle Kraken SVP Todd Humphrey. (Lisi Wolf Photo)

Humphrey told GeekWire last year that he was highly motivated “as a Canadian and as a hockey player to get people beer and to their seat faster.” A former business development director at Amazon, Humphrey previously said that he was a fan of Just Walk Out tech and that he would love to partner on that sort of experience for Kraken fans.

He was echoing the March 2017 sentiment of Tim Leiweke, CEO of Oak View Group, which led the arena redevelopment. Leiweke told GeekWire on that visit to Seattle that going through an Amazon Go store and understanding the technology was “like a life-altering moment.”

“We immediately began to talk to them about developing a self-service concessions stand in this facility, using their cloud system,” Leiweke said.

The Just Walk Out tech-enabled stores will sell beer, wine, soft drinks, coffee, water, and food offerings from The Climate Collective, the arena’s food and beverage program. Guests purchasing alcohol, which will be sold in bottles in the specialized stores, will be required to show ID to a store attendant.

(Climate Pledge Arena Image)

Climate Pledge Arena, located at Seattle Center, opens in October and will be home to the Kraken, the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, and serve as a venue for live music and events. Amazon purchased naming rights in June 2020 and put the Climate Pledge name on the 18,100-seat venue as a way to draw more attention to the actual Climate Pledge, a promise to be net-zero carbon by 2040 that was first announced by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in September 2019.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy joined Seattle’s NHL team ownership group in September 2018 when he was still head of Amazon Web Services. The expansion team had yet to be awarded to Seattle and redevelopment of KeyArena was still just a proposal. As more technology is introduced to the team and the arena, Jassy’s influence over those decisions on behalf of Amazon will no doubt be part of the equation.

(Climate Pledge Arena Photo)

The Kraken’s Humphrey said last year that he meets regularly with Jassy and the tech committee Humphrey leads to do a “deep dive” on where things stand with app development, the arena, connectivity and anything else they could be doing.

“Andy is one of the leaders in all of the tech space and Amazon is, in my mind, the most advanced technology company in the world,” Humphrey said. “To have them as a partner on the arena is a huge advantage for us.”

Last week, Amazon announced that it was putting its smile logo and The Climate Pledge branding on the sides of Kraken players’ helmets, part of a corporate advertising scheme first introduced by the NHL last season.

Climate Pledge Arena is not the first sports venue to introduce Amazon’s cashier-free checkout tech. TD Garden in Boston, home of the Celtics and Bruins, announced in March that two stores were now using Just Walk Out to deliver what it called “a fast, frictionless experience.”

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How a focus on mental health wins consumer loyalty and trust (VB Live)

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VB LIVE: Presented by Latana To thrive in today’s market, modern brands need to prioritize mental health for both customers and employees. Join this VB Live event to learn how brands can build emotional connections with customers by weaving mental health into their campaigns, and more. Register here for free. This last year has not only had a…Read More

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Phone calls disrupted by ongoing DDoS cyber attack on VOIP.ms

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Phone calls disrupted by ongoing DDoS cyber attack on VOIP.ms

Enlarge (credit: Icons8 Team)

Quebec-based provider of telephony services VoIP.ms is facing an aggressive Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) cyber attack, causing a disruption in phone calls and services. The incident began around September 16 and has put a strain on the VoIP provider’s systems, websites, and operations.

VoIP.ms serves over 80,000 customers across 125 countries, many of whom are now facing issues with voice calls.

Voice calls and services disrupted by DDoS attack

Last week, Canadian voice-over-IP service provider VoIP.ms announced that it became aware of an issue that was preventing customers from accessing its website and was working toward a solution. Fast-forward to today: the issue is ongoing and has been attributed to a persistent DDoS attack.

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