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Waymo sues California DMV to keep driverless crash data under wraps

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Waymo filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Motor Vehicles to keep driverless car crash data from being made public. The autonomous vehicle operator, which is owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, claims that such data should be considered a trade secret. The news of the lawsuit was first reported by the Los Angles Times.

California’s DMV oversees the largest autonomous vehicle testing program in the country, with over 60 companies permitted to operate test vehicles on public roads. Only a handful are approved to operate fully autonomous vehicles without safety drivers at the wheel, and even fewer have been approved to deploy vehicles for commercial purposes.

Waymo is seeking to keep private information about how it handles certain autonomous vehicle emergencies, how it responds when its vehicles attempt to drive somewhere they are not intended to go, and how they handle steep hills or tight curves. Waymo is currently testing some of its vehicles in downtown San Francisco, where it is permitted to operate fully driverless cars without safety drivers.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Sacramento County Superior Court last week, argues that releasing this information to the public would put Waymo at a competitive disadvantage.

Making public the process by which Waymo analyzes crashes “could provide strategic insight to Waymo’s competitors and third parties regarding Waymo’s assessment of those collisions from a variety of different perspectives, including potential technological remediation,” the company argues.

Moreover, it could have a “chilling effect” on the entire autonomous vehicle industry. “Potential market participants interested in deploying autonomous vehicles in California will be dissuaded from investing valuable time and resources developing this technology if there is a demonstrated track record of their trade secrets being released,” Waymo claims.

The suit stems from a public records request to the DMV from an unidentified party seeking Waymo’s application for a permit to operate driverless cars on public roads. Before complying with the request, the DMV allowed Waymo to redact certain details. The individual seeking the information challenged the redactions, and the DMV advised Waymo to seek an injunction through a lawsuit if it wanted to block that challenge.

“Every autonomous vehicle company has an obligation to demonstrate the safety of its technology, which is why we’ve transparently and consistently shared data on our safety readiness with the public,” Nicholas Smith, a spokesperson for Waymo, said in a statement. “We will continue to work with the DMV to determine what is appropriate for us to share publicly and hope to find a resolution soon.”

A spokesperson for the DMV declined to comment on “active litigation.”

Every year, companies that operate autonomous vehicles in California are required to submit data to the DMV listing the number of miles driven and the frequency at which human safety drivers were forced to take control of their autonomous vehicles (also known as a “disengagement”). The companies have been mostly critical of this process, describing the reports as a misleading and ultimately useless way to track AV testing progress in the state.

AV companies can be a black box of information, with most firms keeping a tight lid on important metrics and only demonstrating their technology under the most controlled settings.

Waymo has been more willing to share data than most AV companies, but largely on its own terms. In 2020, the company published 6.1 million miles of driving data from 2019 and 2020 from its test fleet in Arizona, including 18 crashes and 29 near-miss collisions. More recently, Waymo simulated dozens of real-world fatal crashes that took place in Arizona over nearly a decade to demonstrate how its vehicles could have helped prevent them.



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Buffalo shooting suspect reportedly shared plans on Discord

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The alleged gunman behind the attack in Buffalo, New York that left 10 dead and three injured on Saturday used Discord to discuss and share plans ahead of the assault, according to Bloomberg.

As far back as December, the suspect is reported to have used a private server on the popular chat service to describe his intentions to carry out an attack. He later shared links to Discord logs describing his attack plan and white supremacist views, according to Bloomberg. The report says that the suspect mentioned the terrorist who attacked a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand more than 30 times and used racist slurs and extremist phrases while in the app.

“As soon as we became aware of it we took action against it and removed the server in accordance with our policies against violent extremism,” a Discord spokesperson told Bloomberg. The company did not immediately respond to The Verge’s request for more information on its moderation policies.

Discord’s moderation team “splits its time” between responding to user-reported messages and “proactively finding and removing servers and users” engaged in “high-harm activity,” the company wrote in 2021. That approach to moderation was created after Discord learned that white supremacists had used its app to organize the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.

“Trust & Safety has spent a lot of time since 2017 trying to ensure that another event like Charlottesville isn’t planned on our platform,” the company wrote last year.

As recently as 2019, Discord was primarily relying on user reports to moderate its platform and not actively monitoring private or public servers, according to a PC Gamer story from that year. The company’s moderation team does have the ability to read messages from private servers, the story said, but Discord typically only did so when a message was reported by a user.

Saturday’s attack is being investigated as a hate crime, Buffalo police have said. CNN reports that the suspect, identified as Payton S. Gendron, told authorities he was targeting a Black community; 11 of the people shot were Black.

The suspect is also alleged to have used Discord to plan to livestream the attack. Video of the assault was broadcast live on Twitch, which claims to have stopped the stream “less than two minutes after the violence began.” Even so, footage has continued to spread online as major platforms struggle to crack down on new uploads of the horrific footage.



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With Twitter deal on hold, Musk says a lower sale price isn’t ‘out of the question’

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Billionaire Elon Musk is continuing to clash with Twitter over the accuracy of its bot count, and hinted today that he may try to renegotiate the $44 billion deal. Musk told attendees at a Miami conference that a deal at a lower price wasn’t “out of the question,” reported Bloomberg. Musk’s potential bid for a lower price is an unexpected twist, given that the SpaceX exec agreed to pay a 38 percent premium on Twitter when he reached a deal with the company’s board back in April.

“Currently what I’m being told is that there’s just no way to know the number of bots,” Musk said at the conference. “It’s like, as unknowable as the human soul.”

Musk’s potential bid for a lower price is an unexpected twist, given that the SpaceX exec agreed to pay a 38 percent premium on Twitter when he reached a deal with the company’s board back in April. 

Last Friday, Musk had announced that a buyout of Twitter was “temporarily on hold” due to concerns that the number of bots on the platform was much higher than the company estimated. The billionaire tweeted that his team would do an independent analysis on bot count and also tried to crowdsource bot estimates from his own followers. Musk was later reprimanded by Twitter’s legal team for revealing — in a tweet, of course — the company’s methodology for estimating the proportion of bot accounts across the platform.

Earlier today, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal explained in a series of tweets that external estimates of bots are likely wrong, since the platform includes private data in its count.

“Unfortunately, we don’t believe that this specific estimation can be performed externally, given the critical need to use both public and private information (which we can’t share),” tweeted Agrawal.

Musk responded to Agrawal’s explanation with a series of his own tweets, one that included a single poop emoji. Musk also suggested that Twitter verify whether users are human or not by calling them on the phone.

Tesla expert Dan Ives — an analyst at financial advisory firm Wedbush Securities — put the chances of Musk going through with the deal at under 50 percent. If Musk chooses to walk away, he’ll be subject to a $1 billion “kill fee”. But according to legal experts who spoke to The Washington Post, Twitter could sue Musk for the financial damages inflicted on the company due to the hasty reversal of the deal.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.





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Apple will let your subscription apps charge you more money without asking

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Apple has updated its App Store rules to make it so subscriptions can auto-renew without your explicit permission, even if the developer has raised the monthly or annual price. Before the rule change, users would have to manually opt-into a subscription renewal if it came with a price bump; now, that won’t necessarily be the case, though you’ll still be notified about the price change before it happens. Apple says it’s making the change to help avoid the situation where users unintentionally lose access to a subscription because they missed an opt-in message.

According to Apple’s Monday evening post, there are specific conditions that developers will have to follow if they want to offer what the company is calling “an auto-renewable subscription price increase.” For starters, it can only be so big — Apple’s rules say that if a developer increases a weekly or monthly subscription price by more than 50 percent, and that difference is over $5, it doesn’t qualify. For an annual subscription, devs can still raise the price by 50 percent, but can’t raise it more than $50 USD without requiring an opt-in.

Here are some examples of what that could look like: let’s say I have a subscription that’s $60 a year. The developers could raise it to $90 ($60 plus 50 percent), and it would auto-renew without me having to opt-in. If I have a monthly subscription that’s $15, and the developers wanted to raise it to $22, in theory I’d have to opt-into that — it’s less than a 50 percent increase, but over the $5 cap.

However, Apple’s wording leaves things a bit unclear: what if there’s an app that costs $10 a year, and goes up to $60 a year? Apple’s rules say, verbatim, that consent is needed if the price increase is:

More than 50% of the current price; and

The difference in price exceeds approximately $5 United States Dollar (USD) per period for non-annual subscriptions, or $50 USD per year for annual subscriptions.

Reading that literally, it means that both conditions would have to be true to require an opt-in. But the example scenario seems so ridiculous that it’s hard to believe that’s what Apple intends. We’ve reached out for clarification on this point, and will update if we receive any.

The price can only be raised once per year without requiring an opt-in, which should help prevent scammy apps from slowly increasing their price by a buck or two every other month. Apple also says the price increase has to be “permissible by local law,” though that one was probably a given.

If any of those conditions aren’t met, you’ll still have to opt-in to the price increase, otherwise your subscription will lapse. Apple says that users will be warned about upcoming automatic renewals with price changes by “email, push notifications, and in-app messaging.” It’s worth noting that you could easily turn Apple’s logic on its head: if users were missing those renewal opt-in notices, wouldn’t they also miss these new price change warnings? But it does sound like they’ll be relatively in your face.

We’ve seen evidence that this change was coming — last month, TechCrunch reported that Apple appeared to be testing this change with a Disney Plus price increase. Developer Max Seelemann also posted a screenshot in March showing what one of the notifications looked like, though it’s not clear whether this the final design. At the time, Apple confirmed that it was “piloting a new commerce feature we plan to launch very soon,” and said that it would provide details. It looks like that day is here.

The screenshot from March shows that, near the “OK” button, there’s a link that says “to learn more or cancel, review your subscription.” Apple’s post on Monday says that it “will also notify users of how to view, manage, and cancel subscriptions if preferred,” a promise that would seemingly be fulfilled by that link.

From my point of view, Apple’s definitely making a trade-off here between consumer friendliness and convenience. There are probably a lot of people who will be happy that they won’t have to go and re-subscribe to a thing just because the price went up by a buck and they missed an opt-in prompt.

Personally, though, I like to know where every dollar is going — and since I almost always opt for annual subscriptions, it seems like I’ll have to be on the lookout for apps that could be going up in price by a pretty significant sum (that $60 subscription wasn’t a hypothetical example). There is an easy fix to this: let users pick whether or not they want the auto-renewing price increases instead of deciding for them. In my mind, that’d just be a toggle in the App Store settings that says something like “Always ask for opt-in if price increases,” and turning it on would make it like this change never happened.

Apple didn’t immediately respond to The Verge’s question on whether there were plans to add such a toggle.

Or, if Apple wanted to be really consumer-friendly, it could make it so subscriptions don’t auto-renew by default. As my colleague Sean Hollister pointed out in his piece on how Apple could show it cares about App Store users, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has a relevant quote (though at the time he was talking about privacy):

Ask them. Ask them every time. Make them tell you to stop asking them if they get tired of your asking them.

With this rule change, Apple has moved one step further away from that.





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