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.

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.

Google I/O 2020 will kick off on May 12th

Google has just revealed that its next I/O developer conference will take place from May 12th to May 14th. The company revealed the date after users participated in its annual I/O teaser, which this year was a collaborative online game to restore a fictional satellite network.

When the game was completed, the constellation of satellites spelled out the date.

Image: Google

In a tweet, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said I/O 2020 will be at the Shoreline Amphitheatre, which is in Mountain View near Google’s HQ and is where Google has hosted the event for the past few years.

Arguably the biggest news of I/O 2019 was the announcement of the budget-friendly Pixel 3A and 3A XL, which my colleague Dieter Bohn found to be a decent phone with a great camera. There are already rumors swirling about a potential Pixel 4A, including that it may have a hole-punch display, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a square camera bump. 9to5Google reported that it may arrive at around the same time as the Pixel 3A did last year, so the 4A seems like a possible candidate for an I/O reveal.

Last year, we also saw the reveal of the Nest Hub Max, so perhaps Google will announce more Nest hardware at I/O 2020 as well. At I/O, Google also typically shows off upcoming updates to Android as well as other updates to its software and services.

Samsung’s next foldable may have an ‘ultra thin’ glass display

We first heard last month that Samsung’s rumored new foldable, possibly called the Galaxy Z Flip, will apparently fold clamshell-style similar to Motorola’s upcoming Razr and might have a glass screen. Today, leaker Max Weinbach of XDA Developers shared a few more rumors about that glass screen on Twitter.

According to Weinbach, the phone’s OLED screen will use a type of glass that Samsung may call “Samsung Ultra Thin Glass.” Leaker Ice Universe used similar language last month, saying that the phone would have “an ultra-thin glass cover,” and we noted last month that Samsung has applied for a trademark for the term in Europe. Weinbach also says that the upcoming foldable will have a crease in the middle — which you can see in the image at the top of this post, taken from apparent leaked images of the phone floating around Chinese social media.

Weinbach also said that the smaller screen that’s accessible when the phone is closed can be used to see how much battery you have left, how fast your phone is charging, and act as a viewfinder for the camera. In a follow-up tweet, he clarified that his source for the information probably meant to say that the screen is one inch in size, not .1 inch.

Here are some more apparent photos of the phone taken from Chinese social media, if you want to visualize the device and get a better look at that crease:

Image: 王奔宏 via Weibo

If it’s true that Samsung’s new foldable has a glass screen, that would differentiate it from the Razr and Samsung’s first foldable, the Galaxy Fold, both of which have plastic screens. And perhaps this rumored glass screen is more durable than the unreliable plastic one that almost shipped on the Galaxy Fold before it was delayed and Samsung was forced to revamp the design.

Rocket League is killing online multiplayer on macOS and Linux

Today, Epic Games-owned Psyonix announced that it will stop supporting Rocket League on macOS and Linux starting in March. Psyonix says it will release a final patch on both platforms that month that will turn off online features, which means you won’t be able to play online multiplayer anymore. You’ll still be able to play matches with your friends sitting in front of your computer, though.

According to a support document, here is what will still work after the patch:

  • Local Matches
  • Split-Screen Play
  • Garage/Inventory (existing items will not be removed from your inventory)
  • Career Stats
  • Replays
  • Steam Workshop Maps (downloaded before the final patch)
  • Custom Training Packs (downloaded before the final patch)

And here’s what won’t work after the patch:

  • Online Matchmaking
  • Private Matches
  • Tournaments
  • Rocket Pass
  • Item Shop / Esports Shop
  • In-Game Events
  • Friends List
  • Clubs
  • News Panel
  • New Custom Training Packs
  • New Steam Workshop Maps
  • Leaderboards
  • League Rankings

In its announcement post, Psyonix said that “it is no longer viable for us to maintain support for the macOS and Linux (SteamOS) platforms.” And in the support article, it said “we want Rocket League to be the best experience possible for all our players. This includes adapting to use new technologies.” But those statements don’t tell us anything about why the studio is pulling online features for Rocket League from macOS and Linux.

Dropping support for two platforms is kind of ironic because Rocket League was the poster child for cross-platform online multiplayer games. Sony had long claimed that supporting cross-platform multiplayer between Xbox and PS4 would be up to the developers. But a Psyonix VP proved that was wrong in 2016, revealing to IGN that the game was “at the point where all we need is the go-ahead on the Sony side and we can, in less than a business day, turn it on and have it up and working no problem.” But that Sony hadn’t approved it. (Sony finally allowed cross-platform play for Rocket League last January.)

Epic Games, the creator of the smash-hit Fortnite, bought Psyonix last May. At the time, it was unclear how long Rocket League would remain on Steam before presumably becoming an Epic Games Store exclusive on PC. But for now, it’s still only available on Steam for PC, macOS, and Linux. If you bought a copy from Steam, you can continue to play that same copy online with a Windows PC.

Read the report that concluded Saudi Arabia hacked Jeff Bezos’ phone

This week, The Guardian posted a huge story reporting that Saudi Arabia hacked Jeff Bezos’ phone in May 2018 after he received a message from Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. A report published by the security forensics firm FTI Consulting concluded with “medium to high confidence” that was the case.

If you want to read the report yourself, you can do so right here, thanks to Vice, which obtained the report in its entirety exclusively on Wednesday.

Some security professionals don’t think that FTI went far enough with its analysis, as reported by CyberScoop. Facebook’s former chief security officer Alex Stamos, for example, said that there was “no smoking gun” in the report. Some researchers said that FTI should have been able to analyze the encrypted file that the crown prince sent Bezos which reportedly hacked his phone. And one said he didn’t see evidence in the report to suggest that Bezos’ phone was hacked.

Today, the White House also commented for the first time on the situation:

Right now, this is a story with a lot of twists and turns, but I highly recommend reading my colleague Casey Newton’s analysis of the situation, where he gives the salient advice to never open a WhatsApp message from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

Google launches collaborative game to reveal when I/O 2020 is happening

Every year, Google launches a game or puzzle that people can play to eventually learn the dates for the company’s annual I/O conference, and this year’s game is now live (via 9to5Google).

It’s a space-themed game where users have to work collaboratively to restore an intergalactic satellite network. When you first visit the game’s site, you’ll see the “map” of the galaxy I’ve included at the top of this post as well as a message about the mission and a few progress bars (which have been slowly rising as I’ve been writing this story):

Image: Google

If you accept the mission, a command line box appears with this text:

The satellite cluster nearest your current location has been located. Determine its proper name, then restore its satellites to their original frequencies. If successful, a portion of the Universal Grid will illuminate. Once all clusters are fully operational, the entire Grid will shine brightly and the connectivity of the cosmos restored. Remember, your fellow space citizens will be working alongside you.

You can then type in the word “engage” (no quotes) or click on the Engage box to get to the below screen, where you’ll be able to type in commands to help restore the satellites to their frequencies:

Image: Google

From here, you can pull up a list of commands by typing “help” in the command line box and work to puzzle through applying frequencies. I will fully admit this is where I got stuck — I couldn’t figure out what to do next, even after typing in a few queries into the command line. But hopefully with the collaborative effort of the internet, these puzzles will get solved soon.

In past years, Google I/O has taken place in the first few weeks of May, so perhaps the dates for this year’s I/O will fall in that time frame as well. Here are the dates for the conference for the past four years, if you were curious:

  • 2019: May 7th-9th
  • 2018: May 8th-10th
  • 2017: May 17th-19th
  • 2016: May 17th-19th

In a tweet announcing the game, Google also showed off what could be some of the branding for this year’s I/O:

Google designed an envelope you can use to hide your phone from yourself

Today, Google launched three new experimental apps to help you use your phone less as part of its Digital Wellbeing initiative, including one that actually has you seal up your phone in a phone-sized paper envelope (via Android Police). It sounds similar to the pouches some artists require fans to put their phones into at concerts, except it’s something you make at home — and Google’s envelope should at least let you make a call, if you need to.

If you want to try Google’s envelope technique out for yourself, it only works with a Pixel 3A right now — and we can’t think of a reason that’s the case. If you do have a Pixel 3A, though, download the required Play Store app for the envelope, called Envelope, then print out the PDF for the envelope, cut out the template, and follow the instructions to construct it.

Then, when you’re ready for a break from your phone, open up the Envelope app, slide your Pixel 3A into the envelope, and seal the envelope shut — the PDF recommends using glue. Once your phone is sealed in the envelope, you’ll only be able to dial phone numbers on the phone, use speed dial, or have the phone tell you the time by flashing the numbers on the number pad.

Check out this video to see how it all works:

In the video, Google also shows off a version of the envelope that only lets you take photos and videos, but I haven’t found a PDF of that. Here’s a better look at it:

Image: Google

Image: Google

I actually really like the idea of Envelope. I’ve been to a couple of those concerts that required using the phone pouches, and I felt that being completely blocked from using my phone helped me and the rest of the crowd focus better on the show. I can see how Envelope could be a similarly useful way to give myself a break from my phone at home. But since your phone is glued inside the envelope, you’ll have to tear the seal and part of the envelope to get it out, which means that you’d probably have make a new envelope every single time you want to use the app.

Google has open sourced the Envelope app on GitHub, so if you want to make an envelope that lets you do something different than call people or use the camera, you can tinker what Google has already shared to your liking.

Google also launched an Android app called Activity Bubbles, which puts a bubble on your wallpaper each time you open the phone and increases the size of the bubble the longer you’re on your phone. If your home screen is covered in bubbles, that might be a sign that you’ve been on your phone for too long.

And if you want to visualize your time on your phone in hard numbers, consider Google’s new Screen Stopwatch, a live wallpaper for Android phones that constantly counts up whenever you have your phone unlocked. These screenshots from Google show how the numbers add up over time:

If you’re looking for other ways to evaluate your phone use, late last year, Google released a handful of other Digital Wellbeing experiments on the Play Store, such as one that counts how many times you unlock your phone in a day.

Venmo will soon let you add GIFs to Venmo notes

Venmo will soon let you add custom animated GIFs to your transaction notes, the payment company announced today. If your Venmo feed is anything like mine, it’s already chock-full of flying dollar bill and pizza emoji, so GIFs seem like a fun way to make Venmo feeds even more lively.

You can get an idea of the style of the GIFs, which it made in partnership with animated sticker company Holler, with some examples below. I think they look really fun:

Yes, that last one does have an IKEA logo on it — there will also be a sticker made in partnership with Subway to start.

And here’s how the GIFs will likely look in the app:

Venmo says its app will utilize Holler’s keyword suggestion technology to suggest GIFs as you’re writing transaction notes, which sounds pretty similar to how the app already recommends emoji. It seems like you can only add the Venmo and Holler-made GIFs to your Venmo notes right now, though, so you’ll have to share your Baby Yoda GIFs with your friends a different way.

Holler tells The Verge that some users will get the GIFs starting tomorrow and that they’ll be rolled out to everyone by January 31st. If you want to, you can also add Bitmoji to your Venmo notes, an option the company added last May.

This clever R/C car leans and drifts like it weighs tons, not pounds

A handy Redditor has made a really cool Arduino-powered toy R/C car that can dip, move, and drift almost exactly like a real car. (And it’s decked out with an awesome-looking 1963 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 Wagon shell, to boot.)

Seriously, watch this thing take a few turns. I’ve never seen an R/C car move like this — it realistically leans into turns and drifts, almost like a stunt car driven in a movie. Most R/C cars don’t move with quite the same illusion of weight.

This next GIF is pretty cool, too, showing how the car can bounce side to side and “fire” up its exhaust pipes as if it was revving up. It also gives you a brief look of what’s under the hood, so to speak:

The maker of the car, Dimitar Tilev, says that this realistic movement is possible due to an accelerometer and four servo motors connected to an Arduino programmable circuit board that create an active suspension system. An active suspension system can actively adjust itself, usually to keep the car as stable as possible, but in this case, the system actively raises and lowers each of the wheels in ways that simulate the movements and weight of a full-size car.

If someone floors it in a real car, for example, it can feel as if the car’s nose rises up a bit and you get thrown back in your seat. Or if someone takes a hard turn, you might feel the car lean into that turn. The system in the R/C car uses an accelerometer to replicate those movements, detecting acceleration on the X and Y axes and sending that data to the Arduino. Depending on how the car is moving, the four servo motors at the wheels can extend different heights to simulate what a real car would look like in a similar situation.

Here’s the guts of the car — it’s got a lot of tech packed into it.

Image: Dimitar Tilev

If you want to know more about what makes the car go, you should read all of the nitty-gritty details on Tilev’s blog. And if you want to buy something like it, you might be able to someday. Tilev says he plans to find a way to sell something similar to this first design, though with some changes, and if you want to follow the progress of that, he says he’ll share updates on this Facebook page.