Jeff Bezos’ girlfriend shared compromising texts with her brother, who sold them, WSJ reports

New York prosecutors have evidence suggesting that Jeff Bezos’ girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez, shared compromising texts about her affair with Bezos to her brother, Michael Sanchez, The Wall Street Journal reports. Michael then reportedly sold those photos to the National Enquirer, which then published a story about Lauren and Bezos’ affair last January. The WSJ says its reporters have seen the texts themselves.

Bezos’ affair returned to the limelight this week when The Guardian reported that it was “highly probable” that Saudi Arabia hacked Jeff Bezos’ phone in May 2018. According to this theory, Bezos’ phone was compromised when he received a WhatsApp message with a malicious video file from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

After Bezos apparently tapped on the video, an awful lot of data “were exfiltrated from Bezos’s phone within hours,” The Guardian reported, based on an account from an anonymous source. This theory was supported by a report about the hack published by security forensics firm FTI Consulting that was obtained by Vice.

That report also included an apparent screenshot of a misogynistic meme sent by MBS to Bezos in November 2018 with a picture of a woman who looks similar to Lauren Sanchez, and the report suggests that the image means MBS may have had knowledge of the affair before it was public in early 2019.

Both the Guardian’s story and FTI’s report would seem to back up the original accusations of Bezos’ security consultant Gavin De Becker, who initially published a story in The Daily Beast that not only claimed Saudi Arabia had hacked the Amazon founder’s phone, but strongly suggested there might be a link to the Enquirer’s story.

However, some security professionals felt that FTI’s report didn’t prove that Saudi Arabia hacked Bezos’ phone. It’s primarily based on coincidences, not evidence that Bezos’ data flowed back to Saudi Arabia. And although Bezos also hinted in an earlier Medium article that there is a connection between Saudi Arabia and the National Enquirer, it doesn’t appear that either Bezos or his security consultant have evidence linking anything from the apparent hack by Saudi Arabia to the National Enquirer’s story about Bezos’ affair.

Since the story first came to light, American Media, owner of the National Enquirer, has maintained that it received information about the affair from Michael Sanchez, not from Saudi Arabia, and reiterated that position in a statement published yesterday in The New York Times.

It seems likely that Michael Sanchez is the primary source for the National Enquirer’s story. It’s also possible that Saudi Arabia may have hacked Bezos’ phone, though that’s not a certainty. Both might be true. Right now, though, there isn’t hard evidence that Saudi Arabia was a source for the National Enquirer’s story about the affair.

Vine successor Byte is available now on iOS and Android

Dom Hofmann, the co-creator of Vine who has been quietly working on a successor to the short-form video platform, says the new app, called Byte, is available now on iOS and Android. The app has been available in beta form for quite some time, but its launch late on Friday afternoon came as a complete surprise.

Hofmann has been developing Byte on and off for years, after he quit Vine just after its acquisition by Twitter. Last we heard from him in an official capacity about the app’s launch (he’s been regularly dropping updates in the app’s rather active online forum) was in November 2018, when Hofmann said it would be arriving in the spring of the following year.

This was after Hofmann had postponed work on the Vine successor, which he initially named V2 before officially rebranding the project as Byte, in May 2018. The name itself is not to be confused with Beijing-based Bytedance, the Chinese maker of TikTok. TikTok is now Byte’s biggest competition, as the app has fast-become one of the most explosively popular platforms ever created and has largely taken up the short-form video mantle from Vine after Instagram and Snapchat matured into less teen-oriented and more ad-friendly platforms.

In fact, Hofmann came up with the Byte name back in 2015, when he was designing his next app. It was a short-lived creative app with a social component similar in ways to the original Vine that, in a wild twist, let you create custom soundtracks to play over images and GIFs, much like how TikTok would later use licensed music and a lip syncing theme to propel itself to viral stardom. Hofmann simply resurfaced the Byte branding as the official product name for V2 when he decided he would in fact follow through and release it.

Hofmann did miss that 2019 deadline. But Byte is out now and longtime fans of Vine, which Twitter unceremoniously shut down just four years after acquiring it, will probably be happy just to have anything that resembles the defunct platform’s short-lived but profoundly impactful creative spirit. We’ll have to see whether TikTok users give Byte a chance, and if the app can live up to the hype of carrying the Vine flame forward.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Hofmann says Byte will introduce a revenue-sharing mechanism to help creators get paid for their work when the app does eventually introduce advertising. “We’re looking at all of those, but we’ll be starting with a revenue share + supplementing with our own funds. We’ll have more details about exactly how the pilot program will work soon,” Hofmann says. And in a series of tweets from the official Byte Twitter account, the company says “compensation creators is one important way we can support” both creativity and community.

Update January 24th, 8:15PM ET: Added additional details regarding the history of Byte and Hofmann’s prior work, as well as a quote from Hofmann on Byte’s revenue sharing.

US pulls rule that would have made it harder for American companies to sell to Huawei

The US Department of Commerce has pulled a potential regulation would have made it more difficult for US companies to sell to Huawei, according to sources who spoke with the Wall Street Journal, after the Pentagon and Treasury Department protested the rule.

Right now, US companies can sell chips or other electronic goods to Huawei from their overseas locations without an export license as long as those goods are made with less than 25 percent of materials or patents that aren’t made by US companies.

However, the Commerce Department had proposed a new rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that would have lowered that percentage to 10 percent. The Pentagon apparently objected to that change because it believed it would hurt US companies by limiting how much they could sell to Huawei, and the Commerce Department pulled the rule from the OMB.

Huawei remains effectively blacklisted by the US after President Trump declared an executive order last May that barred American businesses from working with the company without a license from the US government. That means, for example, that Google can’t license Android to Huawei to use on Huawei phones. But some companies still do sell to Huawei in part, and the rule that was just pulled by the Commerce Department would have made selling to Huawei even more difficult than it already is.

Huawei and the Department of Commerce didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Clayton Christensen, who coined the term ‘disruptive innovation,’ dies at 67

Clayton Christensen, the business scholar who coined the term “disruptive innovation,” died at a Boston hospital this week, the Deseret News reports. He was 67. You may not immediately recognize his name, but the tech industry — and every resulting industry — is built on the framework of technology disruption and innovation that Christensen devised.

The crux of Christensen’s theory is that big, successful companies that neglect potential customers at the lower end of their markets (mainframe computers, in his famous example) are ripe for disruption from smaller, more efficient, more nimble competitors that can do almost as good a job more cheaply (like personal computers). One need look no further than the biggest names in Silicon Valley to find evidence of successful disrupters, from Napster to Amazon to Uber to Airbnb and so on.

And scores of notable tech leaders have for years cited Christensen’s 1997 book The Innovator’s Dilemma as a major influence. It’s the only business book on the late Steve Jobs’ must-read list; Netflix CEO Reed Hastings read it with his executive team when he was developing the idea for his company; and the late Andy Grove, CEO of Intel, said the book and Christensen’s theory were responsible for that company’s turnaround. After summoning Christensen to his office to explain why he thought Intel was going to get killed, Grove was able to grok what to do, Christensen recalled:

They made the Celeron Processor. They blew Cyrix and AMD out of the water, and the Celeron became the highest-volume product in the company. The book came out in 1997, and the next year Grove gave the keynote at the annual conference for the Academy of Management. He holds up my book and basically says, “I don’t mean to be rude, but there’s nothing any of you have published that’s of use to me except this.”

As Jill Lepore wrote (in a piece critical of Christensen’s theory) for The New Yorker in 2014, “Ever since ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma,’ everyone is either disrupting or being disrupted. There are disruption consultants, disruption conferences, and disruption seminars.” While his initial theory suggested that it was extremely difficult to recover from such disruption, it was possible, and there are examples, Christensen later wrote:

Develop a disruption of your own before it’s too late to reap the rewards of participation in new, high-growth markets—as Procter & Gamble did with Swiffer, Dow Corning with Xiameter, and Apple with the iPod, iTunes, the iPad, and (most spectacularly) the iPhone.

He later refined his thinking on disruption, introducing the concept of “jobs to be done,” which stressed the need to focus on customers’ needs, and acknowledged that disruption was a great way to start a company, but not a good way to grow a company. “It’s not a manual for how to grow or how to predict what customers want. [Jobs to be done] is the second side of the same coin: How can I be sure that competitors won’t kill me and how can I be sure customers will want to buy the product? So it’s actually a very important compliment to disruption.”

Anyone who’s listened to a tech exec on a podcast in the past five years has heard someone mention “jobs to be done” — it has gone beyond management framework to conventional wisdom.

Christensen was born in the Salt Lake City area, received a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University, a master’s from Oxford University, and an MBA and a doctorate from Harvard, where he later became a professor. He started the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, and founded venture capital firm Rose Park Advisors.

He wrote numerous books and hundreds of articles, and while he’s best known for his writing on disruption, not all of his books were specific to business. As a devout Mormon, his faith was intertwined with his thinking on how companies and people should conduct themselves. His 2012 TEDx talk titled “How Will You Measure Your Life” was based on an address he gave to Harvard Business School’s 2010 graduating class, which he gave while he was battling cancer. Christensen took the principles of his business theories and used them as a basis for how to achieve personal happiness.

“When I have my interview with God at the end of my life, he’s not going to ask me to show how high I went in anybody’s org chart or how much money I left behind in the bank when I died,” Christensen said. “It’s actually really important you succeed at what you’re succeeding at, but that isn’t going to be the measure of life.”

Here’s the logo for Trump’s Space Force, and it looks awfully familiar

President Donald Trump on Friday revealed the official logo for the Space Force, the newest branch of the armed forces and part of the existing United States Air Force department, in a tweet.

The Space Force, a fixation of Trump’s throughout his presidency, became a reality last month when Congress passed a $738 billion military bill that created the sixth branch of the military. And now the Air Force is responsible for branding, uniform design, and the various other requirements involved with creating a new armed force.

However, the logo appears to borrow heavily from the fictional logo of Starfleet from the Star Trek universe.

Vocal Trump critic and former Star Trek cast member George Takei also weighed in.

Analyst and former national security policy advisor John Noonan, who was a member of the USAF, commented on Twitter shortly after the announcement to point out that the Space Force logo, while similar in design to the Starfleet one, is in fact based on an existing Air Force command logo.

Adding another wrinkle to the situation is that Trump’s political action committee, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, was polling voters back in 2018 about which Space Force logos they liked the best. And the six options provided all look drastically different than the end result we have today, with quite a few featuring NASA-inspired iconography and type faces alongside retro-futurist aesthetics.

It’s not entirely clear how the team responsible for branding the Space Force went from that to what Trump revealed this afternoon. But here we are.

Although, as one user on Twitter noted, the designers did seem to take some cues from the NASA logo, predominantly the exact placement of the stars that appear to have been copied over directly.

CBS, which owns the rights to Star Trek, was not immediately available for comment.

YouTube signs exclusive streaming deal for Activision e-sports like Call of Duty and Overwatch

Video game publisher Activision Blizzard has entered into a multiyear partnership with Google that will see the search giant’s cloud platform power all of Activision Blizzard’s game hosting and other technical needs. But more importantly, as part of the deal, YouTube will become the exclusive streaming partner for all of the game publisher’s big e-sports titles, including the upcoming season of the Overwatch League and the Call of Duty League, which kicks off today in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The deal is a huge win for YouTube, which has struggled to compete with game streaming leader Twitch, despite YouTube being the largest video site in the world and the second most-visited website on the planet behind only its parent company’s search engine. Twitch was the exclusive streaming partner for Activision Blizzard’s first two seasons of the Overwatch League, and Twitch has long been the go-to destination for live gaming entertainment.

That looks like it’s beginning to change, in part due to competing platforms’ willingness to spend large amounts of money to lock down talent and ink exclusivity deals like this one. Since its launch in 2015, YouTube Gaming failed to flourish as its own distinct section of the broader YouTube ecosystem, and earlier this year, the company even shuttered the standalone YouTube Gaming app because its existence caused “confusion” among viewers. In its place is a game-focused hub on YouTube for finding popular live streams and videos.

Yet the failure of YouTube Gaming as a standalone platform hasn’t stopped the video site from continuing to try to capture more of the live-streaming market. YouTube has signed streaming exclusivity deals with top creators like Jack “CouRage” Dunlop and Lachlan Power in recent months, and the platform continues to be the prime destination for prerecorded footage. Even though many streamers still remain on Twitch or, like Fortnite star Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, have moved over to Microsoft’s competing Mixer, YouTube is still where all of these creators post highlight videos, vlogs, and other content that lives on after it’s streamed live.

In that context, this Activision deal is another chapter in the ongoing streaming wars saga playing out between online video platforms, streaming services, traditional cable and network companies, and content creators. In this particular scenario, it’s Amazon-owned Twitch competing against Google-owned YouTube, and Facebook is also trying to build out its own live-streaming platform to capitalize on the popularity of gaming content. But it seems like it’s only a matter of time before other big streaming wars players, be it Disney or HBO or Netflix, try to get more involved in the live-streaming and gaming spaces, too.

“With more than 200 million gamers a day watching more than 50 billion hours of gaming content per year, YouTube provides gamers and their passionate fans with the most popular video gaming platform in the world,” Ryan Wyatt, YouTube’s head of gaming, said in a statement.

“Both the Overwatch League and Call of Duty League are the quintessential examples of world class esports content. As a former Call of Duty esports commentator myself, I couldn’t be more excited for Activision Blizzard to choose YouTube as its exclusive home for the digital live streaming of both leagues. This partnership further demonstrates our dedication to having a world class live streaming product for gaming.”

How to download apps for your Fitbit

So you’re the owner of a brand-new Fitbit Versa or Ionic smartwatch. Congratulations!

If you’ve never used a smartwatch before, you may be (understandably) overwhelmed. If you swipe left from the home screen, you’ll see that there are dozens of different things to click on: Spotify, Wallet, Weather, and more.

But those apps are only a fraction of what Fitbit has to offer. There are hundreds of third-party apps available for your smartwatch, which you can use to really make it your own. Fitness enthusiasts, for example, can download any number of apps tailored to their workout needs: Strava for runners, MySwimPro for swimmers, Mindbody for yoga, or FitStar for personal training. Meanwhile, smart home enthusiasts can load Alexa, Nest, and IFTTT; shoppers can compile their store membership cards; and travelers can set up Uber, Find My Car, and more.

A couple of things to note before we get into the process of downloading apps to your Fitbit.

First, Fitbit apps aren’t as fully fledged as Android and iOS apps are. For example, they usually can’t access Wi-Fi. Instead, they communicate via Bluetooth with a proxy version of the app on your phone. (Some apps, such as Starbucks and Uber, will require you to create an account and log in on your phone before you can use them on your watch.)

As a result, Fitbit apps can’t update if your phone isn’t nearby, and their interfaces are fairly bare-bones. They can still be very functional and handy, but don’t expect a full-featured experience.

Second, you can’t download apps onto your Fitbit directly. Instead, you download them through the Fitbit app on your phone. This may seem like a hassle at first, but it’s easy once you’ve gotten the hang of it.

The first thing you’ll need to do is download the Fitbit app to your phone and pair it to your smartwatch. To do that:

  • Download the Fitbit app from the Apple App Store, Google Play Store, or Microsoft Store. You’ll be prompted to create a Fitbit account.
  • In the Fitbit app, tap your profile icon in the top left corner, and select “Set Up a Device.” Follow the prompts from there; you should be paired in just a few minutes.

How to add apps to your Fitbit

Once your device is paired to your phone, you’re ready to download apps. To do that:

  • Tap your profile icon in the top left corner of the app. Select your device.
  • Hit “Apps” > “All Apps.” This will put you in Fitbit’s app store where you can browse the offerings.
  • To install an app, tap its icon, and hit “Install.” You may need to agree to some permissions to proceed. (Quick caveat here: when Google purchased Fitbit last November, many users were spooked about the company’s potential uses of their personal health metrics. Google stated that it would not sell Fitbit customer data or use it to inform Google ads. However, if you’re concerned about privacy, it is worth reading through and considering the permissions each app is asking you for before you download.)
  • Once your phone confirms that the app has downloaded, swipe all the way to the left from your smartwatch’s home screen. You should see that the new app has appeared.

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Pentagram designed a smart speaker that’s like HitClips for kids

The Yoto Player, a connected speaker for kids, has more in common with old-school cassette players than smart speakers like Amazon Echo or Google Home devices. It deliberately doesn’t have a microphone, camera, or a screen — it’s really just designed to play audio, but through NFC-enabled physical cards. Inspired by Montessori teachings that emphasize tactile learning and encourage kids to have a level of independence, the cards are loaded with songs, audiobooks, and podcasts to let kids choose what they want to listen to. It was created by two parents who wanted to minimize screen time for their kids — compare to Bluetooth speakers that need to be paired with a phone — and after a successful Kickstarter run with its first version, Yoto partnered with Pentagram, (the renowned design studio behind everything from Yahoo’s redesign to microprocessors) for a second run.

The physical cards slot into the top of the speaker like the nostalgic HitClips of yore, which encased bite-sized clips of music in tiny plastic squares. Parents can connect the speaker to a companion app to “upload” their own content onto blank cards, or purchase cards that connect to Yoto’s library of music, activities, sound effects, and audiobooks from partners like Random House and the Roald Dahl collection. The speaker requires Wi-Fi, and the NFC cards contain links to content stored on Yoto’s servers, so the speaker is actually downloading content when they’re inserted into the Yoto Player. Blank cards can be customized with your own MP3s, purchased audiobooks, or anything you upload to Yoto’s server. There’s free daily content, but Yoto is also selling an annual subscription service that delivers new audio cards to your house four times a year, which costs $94. That seems like a lot to pay compared to the catalogs of audiobooks and music readily available on the Kindle library or streaming services, but parents are paying for the peace of mind knowing that their kids won’t be listened to, or subjected to an overwhelming selection of potentially child-unfriendly content.

“As physical objects, [the cards] not only allow children to be in control of content, but also support learning and play, and for very young children also promote fine motor control development,” Pentagram’s Jon Marshall told Fast Company.

The Yoto’s design is meant to be simple enough for kids to use, but sleek and modern in a way adults can appreciate. The only controls on the speaker are the two red knobs, and the soft edges of the blocky design let kids tip the speaker to turn it on and off. The soft-lit pixel display occasionally shows a friendly face or basic drawings. It can also be used as a regular Bluetooth speaker.

The speaker can charge wirelessly on top of a magnetic dock that comes included, and a built-in battery means kids can take the speaker with them wherever they go. It only lasts for about three hours of continuous play, which isn’t a lot for a wireless speaker, but Yoto says this will be improved through software updates. The Yoto Player costs $107, and will begin shipping this month.

How to pick the right Fitbit for you

Fitbit is probably one of the best-known brands of smartwatches / fitness trackers next to the Apple Watch, and its range of wearables offers something for every kind of health enthusiast. If you want to get started with a fitness band that won’t over-extend your budget, Fitbit has a large selection that’s especially well-suited for those who are new to wearables.

In fact, Fitbit offers a variety of fitness bands in various form factors: there’s the Versa 2, Versa Lite, Ionic, Charge 3 (and a special edition version with Fitbit Pay), Inspire, Inspire HR, and Ace 2, which are all designed for different lifestyles and age groups. So depending on whether you’re looking to start walking a little more each day or diligently track your workout progress over time, here’s what to consider when choosing the right Fitbit for you.

If you want a feature-packed Fitbit

Fitbit Versa 2

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Although the Ionic is technically the most premium product that Fitbit offers, the Versa 2 is just a better and more well-rounded device for most people. (Quite literally: the screen has rounded corners that fit and look better on most wrists.) The device comes with on-screen guided workouts, week-long battery life, Fitbit Pay, blood oxygen tracking, swim-proofing, quick replies for incoming text messages, and sleep tracking. The Versa 2, which retails for a little under $200, also features an OLED screen (compared to the Ionic’s LCD screen), making the display that much more vivid, bright, and clear.

If you value all of these features, there’s really no reason to spring for the Ionic unless you absolutely require built-in GPS so you can run or bike outside without a phone. You can also opt to wait and see what the upcoming Ionic 2 will offer, though I don’t necessarily recommend it since Fitbit still hasn’t released concrete timing on its release. (Fitbit’s CEO has teased the Ionic 2 for over a year, and we still haven’t heard much about it.)

If you want the best bang for your buck

Fitbit Charge 3 Special Edition

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

The Charge 3 Special Edition is probably the best middle-of-the-road Fitbit since the device is the only Fitbit tracker that also gets advanced features designed for a smartwatch. That means you’ll also get Fitbit Pay, quick replies, always-on heart rate tracking, sleep tracking, and swim-proofing for $170. (But since the Charge 3 SE has been around for a while, you’ll likely be able to snag it for around $150, give or take, pretty easily these days.)

If you hate the look of a traditional smartwatch / fitness band

Fitbit Inspire HR

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

This is the best Fitbit that doesn’t look quite like a Fitbit. Multiple band options, including a mesh metal one, turn it into more of a fashion bracelet than workout wear. It’s also likely to fit better on a smaller person’s wrist, considering the slimmer profile.

For $100, you get a fitness band that has a built-in heart rate monitor, a five-day battery life, and swim-proofing for underwater exercises or excursions at the pool / beach. The Fitbit Inspire HR is a great tracker for both beginners and those who want a little more from their wearable without other features that might seem superfluous, such as Fitbit Pay or internal music storage.

If you want a Fitbit that ages with you

Fitbit Ace 2 / Inspire

Photo by Natt Garun / The Verge

Fitbit designed the Ace 2 for kids, with custom software that features cartoon faces to encourage younger wearers to get moving periodically. The Ace 2 is essentially the Inspire with a modded interface, and it can be updated to become the Inspire when kids have grown out of the cartoon characters and want a “real” tracker. You simply update the software and find a new band to fit around the center module.

The tracker lacks features like quick replies and heart rate monitoring, but that’s to be expected considering you can find it for around $50 to $70 — half the price of Fitbit devices that do offer those features. Still, it is a solid Fitbit on a budget.

Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.

Google is backtracking on its controversial desktop search results redesign

Google is backtracking on a controversial search engine redesign, announcing today that it will experiment with some elements of the new look in response to user feedback.

Google made one of the biggest changes to how it displays search results in the company’s history earlier this month, with the changes taking effect over the course of the last week. It involved a visual overhaul that makes it more difficult to differentiate between advertising and organic search results with the removal of color overlays and the introduction of small branded iconography, known on the web as favicons, next to non-ad results.

The company’s stated intention was to align desktop search results with the way they’re presented on mobile, but it became clear this also had the effect of making it harder to distinguish between paid results and non-paid ones. The only difference between an ad and an organic result in the new design is the small lettering or icon next to a link, meaning ads and organic results now look more similar than ever before. And critics have been noticing.

Now, Google says it’s going to experiment with both the existence of favicons next to search results and their placement on the web version of its search engine. The experiments will take place “over the coming weeks.”

“Last week we updated the look of Search on desktop to mirror what’s been on mobile for months. We’ve heard your feedback about the update. We always want to make Search better, so we’re going to experiment with new placements for favicons,” writes Danny Sullivan, Google’s search liaison, in a statement posted to Twitter. “Our experimenting will begin today. Over the coming weeks, while we test, some might not see favicons while some might see them in different placements as we look to bring a modern look to desktop.”

Google also released a more formal statement as to why it made the initial changes and making a commitment to “iterate on the design over time”:

We’re dedicated to improving the desktop experience for Search, and as part of our efforts around this we rolled out a new design last week, mirroring the design that we’ve had for many months on mobile. The design has been well received by users on mobile screens, as it helps people more quickly see where information is coming from and they can see a prominent bolded ad label at the top. Web publishers have also told us they like having their brand iconography on the search results page. While early tests for desktop were positive, we are always incorporating feedback from our users. We are experimenting with a change to the current desktop favicons, and will continue to iterate on the design over time.

As of shortly after 2PM ET on Friday, Google has already started experimenting with favicon removal.

Screenshots by Sean Hollister / The Verge

Update January 24th, 2:18PM ET: Clarified that Google has already begun its experiments with favicon removal for some users.