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Juul launches a pilot program that tracks how Juul devices get in the hands of minors – TechCrunch

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Juul Labs is today launching a pilot for its new Track & Trace program, which is meant to use data to identify exactly how Juul devices wind up in the hands of minors.

Juul vaporizers all have a serial number down at the bottom, by the Juul logo. However, it wasn’t until recently that Juul had the capability to track those serial numbers through every step of the process, from manufacture to distribution to retail to sale.

With Track & Trace, Juul is calling upon parents, teachers and law enforcement officials to come to the Juul Report web portal when they confiscate a device from a minor and input the serial number. Each time a device is input in the Track & Trace system, Juul will open an investigation to understand how that minor wound up with that device.

In some cases, it may be an issue with a certain retail store knowingly selling to minors. In others, it may be a case of social sourcing, where someone over 21 years of age buys several devices and pods to then sell to minors.

Juul will then take next steps in investigating, such as talking to a store manager about the issue. It may also enhance its secret shopper program around a certain store or distributor where it sees there may be a spike in sale/distribution, to youth to identify the source of the problem. To be clear, Track & Trace only tracks and traces the devices themselves, and does not use personal data about customers.

Juul isn’t yet widely publicizing Track & Trace (thus, the “Pilot” status), but it is focusing on Houston as a testing ground with banner ads targeted at older individuals (parents, teachers, etc.) pointing them to the portal. Of note: The ad campaign is geofenced to never be shown in or around a school, hopefully keeping the program a secret from young people illegally using Juul.

The company wants to learn more about how people use the portal and test the program in action before widening the campaign around Track & Trace. That said, the Report portal is not limited to Houston residents — anyone who confiscates a Juul can report it through the portal and trigger an investigation.

“It’s important to note that the pilot is an opportunity for us to learn how the technology is working and optimize the technology,” said Chief Administrative Officer Ashley Gould. “It’s not just at the retailer level. It’s a whole process through the supply chain to track that device and find out if everyone who is supposed to be scanning it is scanning it, and the software that we’ve created to track that serial number through the supply chain to the retail store is working. The only way we’re going to know that is when someone puts in the serial number and we see if we have all the data we need to track it.”

According to Juul, every device in production will be trackable in the next few weeks. In other words, Juul vapes that are years old are likely not fully traceable in the program, but those purchased more recently should work with the system.

Juul has been under scrutiny from the FDA and a collection of Democratic Senators due to the device’s rise in popularity among young people. Outgoing FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has called it “an epidemic” and enforced further restrictions on sales of e-cig products.

Juul has also made its own effort, removing non-tobacco and non-menthol flavored pods from all physical retail stores, enhancing their own purchasing system online to ensure online buyers are 21+ and not buying in bulk, going after counterfeits and copycats posing as Juul products and exiting its Facebook and Instagram accounts.

But Juul Labs also committed to build technology-based solutions to prevent youth use of the product. Co-founder and CPO James Monsees told TechCrunch at Disrupt SF that the company is working on Bluetooth products that would essentially make the Juul device as smart as an iPhone or Android device, which could certainly help lock out folks under 21.

However, the Track & Trace program is the first real technological step taken by the e-cig company. And it has been an expensive one. The company has spent more than $30 million to update its packaging, adjust printing standards, change manufacturing equipment and integrate the data and logistics software systems.

For now, Track & Trace is only applicable to Juul vaporizers, but it wouldn’t be shocking to learn that the company was working on a similar program for its Juul Pods.

Editor’s Note: This article mistakenly said that Republican senators were scrutinizing Juul. It has been edited for accuracy.

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Eufy’s “local storage” cameras can be streamed from anywhere, unencrypted

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Enlarge / Eufy’s camera footage is stored locally, but with the right URL, you can also watch it from anywhere, unencrypted. It’s complicated.

When security researchers found that Eufy’s supposedly cloud-free cameras were uploading thumbnails with facial data to cloud servers, Eufy’s response was that it was a misunderstanding, a failure to disclose an aspect of its mobile notification system to customers.

It seems there’s more understanding now, and it’s not good.

Eufy didn’t respond to other claims from security researcher Paul Moore and others, including that one could stream the feed from a Eufy camera in VLC Media Player, if you had the right URL. Last night, The Verge, working with the security researcher “Wasabi” who first tweeted the problem, confirmed it could access Eufy camera streams, encryption-free, through a Eufy server URL.

This makes Eufy’s privacy promises of footage that “never leaves the safety of your home,” is end-to-end encrypted, and only sent “straight to your phone” highly misleading, if not outright dubious. It also contradicts an Anker/Eufy senior PR manager who told The Verge that “it is not possible” to watch footage using a third-party tool like VLC.

The Verge notes some caveats, similar to those that applied to the cloud-hosted thumbnail. Chiefly, you would typically need a username and password to reveal and access the encryption-free URL of a stream. “Typically,” that is, because the camera-feed URL appears to be a relatively simple scheme involving the camera serial number in Base64, a Unix timestamp, a token that The Verge says is not validated by Eufy’s servers, and a four-digit hex value. Eufy’s serial numbers are typically 16 digits long, but they are also printed on some boxes and could be obtained in other places.

We’ve reached out to Eufy and Wasabi and will update this post with any further information. Researcher Paul Moore, who initially raised concerns with Eufy’s cloud access, tweeted on November 28 that he had “a lengthy discussion with [Eufy’s] legal department” and would not comment further until he could provide an update.

Vulnerability discovery is far more of a norm than an exception in the smart home and home security fields. Ring, Nest, Samsung, the corporate meeting cam Owl—if it has a lens, and it connects to Wi-Fi, you can expect a flaw to show up at some point, and headlines to go with it. Most of these flaws are limited in scope, complicated for a malicious entity to act upon, and, with responsible disclosure and a swift response, will ultimately make the devices and systems stronger.

Eufy, in this instance, is not looking like the typical cloud security company with a typical vulnerability. An entire page of privacy promises, including some valid and notably good moves, has been made largely irrelevant within a week’s time.

You could argue that anyone who wants to be notified of camera incidents on their phone should expect some cloud servers to be involved. You might give Eufy the benefit of the doubt, that the cloud servers you can access with the right URL are simply a waypoint for streams that have to leave the home network eventually under an account password lock.

But it has to be particularly painful for customers who bought Eufy’s products under the auspices of having their footage stored locally, safely, and differently from those other cloud-based firms only to see Eufy struggle to explain its own cloud reliance to one of the largest tech news outlets.

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Pixel 7a rumors show similar design, big tech upgrades

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Enlarge / Yep, that’s what I thought it would look like.

OnLeaks and Smartprix

The design of the Pixel 7a does not seem like it will contain many surprises. OnLeaks has a fresh render for Google’s next mid-range phone, and it looks like a mini Pixel 7. Usually, these renders are based on CAD information passed out to accessory manufacturers, so the sizes and shapes are usually accurate, but things like the colors and materials are up for interpretation.

If rumors are true, this will be Google’s fourth phone to keep the camera-bar design going. The Pixel 6 and 6a camera bar had a clear glass or plastic covering around the camera lenses, while the Pixel 7 switched to an opaque, solid aluminum camera bar. Google likes these phones to look the same, so it’s a safe bet the Pixel 7a will also get a solid camera bar. Whether that’s aluminum or some other material is still up for interpretation. The front is also predictable and looks just like the Pixel 6a, with a flat screen and what the report calls “thick bezels.”

Elsewhere in the Pixel rumor mill, big upgrades are expected for the Pixel 7a. Android researcher Kuba Wojciechowski has been tracking the Pixel 7a (codenamed “Lynx” and “Pixel 22 Mid-range”) via the Android codebase, which reveals additions like (slow) 5 W wireless charging and the same Samsung GN1 main camera as what’s in the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro, along with a Sony IMX787 for the wide-angle sensor. The new sensors would be a big camera upgrade. Currently, the Pixel 6a’s main camera is the venerable Sony IMX363, a sensor that Google has been using (with one minor revision) since the Pixel 2. A fresh set of sensors would make sense, given that the IMX363 is around six years old now.

You might ask, “Well, won’t flagship cameras cannibalize the bigger Pixel sales?” and we’ll say that Google has never seemed to care about that. The Pixel 6a has the same SoC as the Pixel 6 and really seems to strive to be a third flagship next to the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. Running a similar camera loadout would fit that strategy. Cannibalization might matter for companies with big, established businesses, but Google might just want to grab at whatever sales it can get at this point.

Wojciechowski’s code hunting also says the Pixel 7a will sport a 90 Hz, 1080p Samsung display, which would also be a huge improvement over the 60 Hz Pixel 6a. All of this at the 6a’s current $449 price might sound like a lot, but the Pixel 7 recently shipped in India, and if Google wants to be competitive there, this still isn’t good enough. In India, it’s normal for phones in this price range to have 120 Hz displays and flagship specs. In the US, though, this phone at Pixel 6a prices would be a killer deal.

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Elon Musk appears to reconcile with Apple after Twitter tirade

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Elon Musk said he had a “good conversation” with Apple chief executive Tim Cook and “resolved the misunderstanding” about his claim that Twitter could be removed from the App Store, just days after the world’s richest man unleashed a tirade against the most valuable tech company.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Musk said that “Tim was clear that Apple never considered” potentially removing Twitter from the App Store, describing it as a “misunderstanding.”

Musk, who bought Twitter for $44 billion last month, also thanked Cook for “taking me round Apple’s beautiful HQ,” and posted a video from Apple Park.

The volte-face comes after the billionaire entrepreneur on Monday accused Apple of threatening to “withhold Twitter from its App Store” without explaining why, and criticized the iPhone maker for curbing advertising on the platform, writing: “Do they hate free speech in America?”

The Tesla and SpaceX chief executive also raised concerns about Apple’s “in-app purchase” policy, which gives it a 15-30 percent cut of digital purchases made on the iPhone, and claims that the company abuses its market power.

Musk has previously outlined plans to shift Twitter away from relying on advertising revenues—in which Apple takes no cut—towards more subscription revenues, from which Apple would take a slice.

Apple declined to comment.

The apparent reconciliation comes amid growing concern among some nonprofits and regulators about Musk’s relaxation of Twitter’s content moderation policing. Musk, a self-declared “free speech absolutist,” is reversing most permanent bans on the platform and allowing all speech as long as it is legal, although “negative/hate speech” will not be boosted in users’ feeds.

The approach has prompted dozens of large brands to pull spending from the platform over fears their advertising may run alongside toxic content.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Twitter said none of its policies had changed and that its trust and safety team remained “strong and well-resourced.”

Apple maintains guidelines requiring social media apps to “block abusive users,” allow users to “report offensive content” and to filter “objectionable material from being posted.”

When Apple expelled Parler, a Twitter rival used by rightwing extremists, Apple said it had “not upheld its commitment to moderate and remove harmful or dangerous content encouraging violence and illegal activity.”

Although the feud appears to be over for now, Musk’s tweets were a catalyst for renewed criticism of Apple that could prove damaging, as antitrust regulators and app developers voice concerns over its rules and the role it plays as “gatekeeper” by deciding what content is allowed on more than 1 billion phones worldwide.

Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, warned Apple that removing Twitter from the App Store would be viewed as a “raw exercise of monopolistic power” and “would merit a response from the United States Congress.”

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook parent Meta, was also critical of Apple’s market power during an interview at The New York Times’s Dealbook summit on Wednesday, saying: “I do think Apple has sort of singled themselves out as the only company that is trying to control, unilaterally, what apps get on the [Apple] device and I don’t think that’s a sustainable or a good place to be.”

Apple has been dealing with criticism of the App Store for years. Epic Games, the maker of popular mobile game Fortnite, sued Apple in 2020 but only won on one of the 10 counts. Epic and Apple have both appealed against the decision.

© 2022 The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved. Not to be redistributed, copied, or modified in any way.

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