Ask Siri Why Apple’s HomePod Is Delayed

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The language Apple used Friday to delay the release of its highly anticipated HomePod speaker was both amusing and telling. “We can’t wait for people to experience HomePod, Apple’s breakthrough wireless speaker for the home, but we need a little more time before it’s ready for our customers,” the company wrote in statement. “We can’t wait” is an Apple verbal tick, an earnest misdirection meaning, “We’re rather excited.” In fact, Apple can wait and so must its fans and investors. The pricey speaker-come-lately has missed a self-imposed deadline, leaving us to guess why.

Even as Apple surges toward $1 trillion in value, its doubters relish these moments as proof that Apple can’t innovate anymore. It’s not nearly the first company to plan a “smart” speaker. Amazon pioneered the category. Google is making a game effort. Chinese search engine Baidu recently said it plans an entry too.

As Apple fans never tire of pointing out, though, Apple has rarely been first to anything. Sony’s Walkman far predated the iPod. Nokia ruled smartphones before Apple. No matter your interpretation of Apple’s success with its Watch, it has become a leader—and it wasn’t first to market.

So is the HomePod delayed because Apple is having trouble making it? Or because it is nervous about the proposed price point? Or because Siri is underperforming Alexa? And will it matter to Apple’s bottom line if the HomePod misses Christmas 2017 but surges in 2018?

Perhaps these will be questions to ask the device—once we get our hands on it.

***

Joe Matthews, a columnist for a non-profit called Zocalo Public Square, performs the difficult task of writing about all of California, a state as big, powerful, wealthy, and diverse as many countries. That means he must tie together interests from entertainment to agriculture to technology and beyond. A good example is his recent tale of two towers, a look at L.A.’s Wilshire Grand Center versus San Francisco’s Salesforce Tower. One, he says, looks out over a wasteland that isn’t the capital of anything. The other speaks to the entitled power of a rising elite. It’s a good read.

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Pentagon Exposed 1.8 Billion Social Media Posts From Facebook and Twitter for Anyone to See

It’s hardly a secret that the Defense Department collects social media data. More surprising is just how much data it collects—and how sloppy the Pentagon can be about storing that information.

The latest example comes via the security firm Upguard, which discovered open Amazon Web Services servers that contain more 1.8 billion social media records stored by the U.S. Central Command (Centcom) and U.S. Pacific Command (Pacom).

The records, which date back to 2009, include everything from Facebook posts to online news comments to web discussion forums about sports and politics. The data represents publicly-available information, but the scope and extent of it is remarkable:

Massive in scale, it is difficult to state exactly how or why these particular posts were collected over the course of almost a decade. Given the enormous size of these data stores, a cursory search reveals a number of foreign-sourced posts that either appear entirely benign, with no apparent ties to areas of concern for U.S. intelligence agencies, or ones that originate from American citizens, including a vast quantity of Facebook and Twitter posts, some stating political opinions. Among the details collected are the web addresses of targeted posts, as well as other background details on the authors which provide further confirmation of their origins from American citizens.

As Upguard notes, the collection is also notable because it includes ordinary social media posts of American citizens, raising questions about the Pentagon’s surveillance practices.

The security firm was able to gain access to the data because a contractor used by the Defense Department stored it in a way that was accessible by anyone with an AWS account. Specifically, as CNN reports, the contractor put the social media trove onto three unsecured AWS servers, which could be discovered and accessed simply by doing keyword searches:

Amazon servers where data is stored, called S3 buckets, are private by default. Private means only authorized users can access them. For one to be made more widely accessible, someone would have to configure it to be available to all Amazon Web Services users, but users would need to know or find the name of the bucket in order to access it.

The discovery of the Defense Department’s social media repository is just the latest example of big institutions using cloud-based storage services to park massive amounts of data, and then failing to secure it. Other examples include the Republican Party doing this with the voter data of 200 million people, and Verizon posting data about 6 million subscribers on the open Internet.

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In response to Upguard’s discovery, Centcom has complained about the company using “unauthorized access” to get access to the data and “employing methods to circumvent security protocols.” It’s unclear is such claims are accurate, however, if the data was available to anyone on the web.

Meanwhile, some claim the issue is not Upguard’s discovery of the data but why the Pentagon is collecting so much of it in the first place:

“I know that the U.S. government still has this ‘collect it all’ mentality,” observed Mike Masnick, the editor of TechDirt, in an essay on Friday, “but as we’ve discussed over and over again, adding more hay to the haystack doesn’t make it easier to find the needles.”

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Bitcoin hits record high after smashing through $8,000 for first time

LONDON (Reuters) – Bitcoin hit a new record high on Monday after smashing through the $8,000 level for the first time over the weekend, marking an almost 50 percent climb in just eight days.

A bitcoin sign is seen during Riga Comm 2017, a business technology and innovation fair in Riga, Latvia November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

The new high came after leading U.S. payments company Square Inc said late last week that it had started allowing select customers to buy and sell bitcoins on its Cash app.

Bitcoin traded as high as $8,197.81 on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange, up over 2 percent on the day and around 48 percent up since dipping to $5,555 on Nov. 12.

An eye-watering eightfold increase in the value of the volatile cryptocurrency since the start of the year has led to muliple warnings that the market is in a bubble, and institutional investors are broadly staying away.

Retail investors, however, as well as some hedge funds and family offices, are piling into the market. The “market cap” of all cryptocurrencies hit an all-time high of over $242 billion on Monday, according to trade website Coinmarketcap.

Reporting by Jemima Kelly; Editing by Dhara Ranasinghe

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Volvo Cars to supply Uber with up to 24,000 self-driving cars

STOCKHOLM/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Uber plans to buy up to 24,000 self-driving cars from Volvo, marking the transition of the U.S. firm from an app used to summon a taxi to the owner and operator of a fleet of cars.

Uber’s Volvo XC90 self driving car is shown during a demonstration of self-driving automotive technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. September 13, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

The non-binding framework deal could offer San Francisco-based Uber a way to overcome setbacks at its autonomous driving division in Silicon Valley’s race to perfect self-driving systems.

Combining Volvo’s cars with Uber’s self-driving system builds on their nearly three-year relationship and comes as Uber’s autonomous driving unit has been hit by a lawsuit over trade secrets and the departure of top talent.

Automakers, ride-hailing firms and tech startups have been forging loose alliances in an effort to advance self-driving technology and claim a piece of what is expected to be a multi-billion-dollar business.

Geely-owned Volvo said in a statement on Monday it would provide Uber with its flagship XC90 SUVs equipped with autonomous technology as part of a non-exclusive deal from 2019 to 2021. A Volvo spokesman said it covered up to 24,000 cars.

The self-driving system that would be used in the Volvo cars — which have yet to be built — is under development by Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group.

Should Uber buy all 24,000 cars, it would be Volvo’s largest order by far and the biggest sale in the autonomous vehicle industry, giving Uber, which is losing more than $600 million a quarter, its first commercial fleet of cars.

A new Volvo XC90 typically retails from a starting price of around $50,000.

Uber has been testing prototype Volvo cars for more than a year, with safety drivers in the front seat to intervene if the self-driving system fails, in Tempe, Arizona and Pittsburgh.

“Our goal was from day one to make investments into a vehicle that could be manufactured at scale,” Jeff Miller, Uber’s head of automotive alliances, said.

The Uber logo is seen on mobile telephone in London, Britain, September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

The cars, in theory, would be available through the Uber app to pick up passengers without a driver.

“It only becomes a commercial business when you can remove that vehicle operator from the equation,” Miller said.

No financial details were disclosed for the purchase, which would be a massive new investment for Uber and mark a change from Uber’s long-standing business model where contractor drivers buy or lease and maintain their own cars.

Miller said a small number of cars would be purchased using equity and others would be bought using debt financing.

The deal builds on a $300 million alliance Volvo announced with Uber last year focused on collaborating on the design and financing of cars with self-driving systems, which require different steering and braking features and sensors.

“We get support developing this car,” Volvo Cars CEO Hakan Samuelsson said in an interview. “It’s also a big commercial deal.”

LYFT RIVALRY

Volvo, which has been under Chinese ownership since it was bought by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group from Ford in 2010, plans to make the SUVs at its Torslanda plant in western Sweden, and Samuelsson said they would be sold at roughly the same profit margin as Volvo sells through dealers.

Uber’s rival Lyft has this year struck a research partnership with Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) unit Waymo and secured deals with Ford Motor Co (F.N) and startups Nutonomy and Drive.ai to incorporate self-driving cars into its fleet.

Volvo’s agreement with Uber and Ford’s with Lyft show the pressure on automakers to avoid becoming obsolete in a world of increased automation, and on ride-services companies to start automating to cut driver costs and turn profits.

Volvo is one of Sweden’s biggest manufacturers by revenue, and has forecast a fourth straight year of record sales in 2017.

Reporting by Niklas Pollard and Johannes Hellstrom in Stockholm and Heather Somerville in San Francisco; editing by Peter Henderson and Alexander Smith

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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