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Need to fix an iPhone or Android device? You can now break DRM under new US rules

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It’s now legal for consumers and repair firms to break an electronic device’s DRM protections to repair it, according to a ruling by the US Copyright Office.

The rules are part of newly adopted exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which prohibits circumventing digital rights management (DRM) protections used to safeguard copyrighted works.

Every three years the Copyright Office makes a ruling on petitions for new exemptions or the cancellation of existing ones.

The new ruling, which comes into effect on October 28, affects the legality of owners and professional repairers bypassing access controls on devices for specific purposes, for example, for repairs, jailbreaking, unlocking a device from a carrier’s network, accessibility, and education.

The ruling covers an array of devices, including smartphones, tablets, mobile hotspots, wearables, smart TVs, vehicles — including cars and tractors, as well as smart home appliances like refrigerators, Nest-like devices, and HVAC systems.

See: iOS 11 tips and tricks for business professionals (free PDF)

Specifically, the rules permit circumvention of access-control features to maintain or repair them.

The Copyright Office explains that the repair-related exemptions cover “computer programs that are contained in and control the functioning of a lawfully acquired motorized land vehicle such as a personal automobile, commercial vehicle or mechanized agricultural vehicle, except for programs accessed through a separate subscription service, when circumvention is a necessary step to allow the diagnosis, repair or lawful modification of a vehicle function.”

Security researchers are also exempt from the rules when hacking computer programs, such as electronic voting systems, so long as the activity is carried out in good faith and doesn’t break the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Jailbreaking smartphones was already allowed under existing exemptions, and now this situation has been expanded to include smart speakers, like Google Home and Amazon Echo devices.

While the exemptions will be welcomed by right-to-repair advocates, there are still practical limitations and contradictory elements.

As Motherboard notes, companies have made it hard to acquire the tools needed to fix devices and put in obstacles that make it difficult to bypass manufacturer-made restrictions, even if it’s now legal to bypass them.

For example, the recently discover ‘kill switch’ in MacBook Pros could be used by Apple to brick a device if it were repaired by an unauthorized repair shop.

Also, the Copyright Office, part of the Library of Congress, says it can’t make an exemption on a rule that makes it illegal for anyone to manufacture or supply tools that could be used to break copyright protection systems.

As Cory Doctorow puts it: “You’re allowed to jailbreak your iPhone, but no one is allowed to give you an iPhone jailbreaking tool, and if you make a tool for your own use you can’t share it or even tell people how it works.”

A worker tries to repair an iPhone in a repair store in New York.


Image: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

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Fortnite’s mystery ‘superstar’ virtual music tour kicks off next week – TechCrunch

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Epic Games is teasing the biggest in-game event since Travis Scott psychedelically stomped through Fortnite’s virtual meadows.

The mysterious new event, which Fortnite-maker Epic is calling the “Rift Tour,” will kick off on Friday, August 6 and run through Sunday, August 8. In the teaser announcement, Epic invites players to “take a musical journey into magical new realities where Fortnite and a record-breaking superstar collide.”

In-game events building up to the mystery show series will run from July 29 through August 8, so players can hop into Fortnite to check out new Rift Tour-themed quests and rewards now. The cotton-candy-colored event will offer a custom loading screen and a fluffy cloud kitty emoticon, among other digital prizes.

The Rift Tour isn’t a one-and-done event. Like the Travis Scott event, Fortnite will host five different show times across three days to make it easier for players to catch. Epic says they’ll have more details to share on Monday, August 2, so Fortnite players will have to wait for more hints or an official announcement about who’s performing.

So … who’s performing? So far, all signs point to Ariana Grande. Leakers have been saying as much for more than a week, and the documents revealed through Epic’s court battle with Apple also detailed plans for in-game events with both Grande and Lady Gaga.

Image Credits: Epic Games

At Forbes, Paul Tassi also connected the dots on how recent leaks point to Grande, including some visual themes from her music videos and a reference to her pet pig Piggy Smalls.

Since Epic is calling its latest virtual event a tour, that suggests Grande won’t be alone, if she is indeed the mystery superstar. A Lady Gaga appearance could also be in the cards, since Epic apparently had plans for Gaga to appear in a December 2020 concert that never materialized. Kanye West is also releasing his newest album on August 6, but it seems less likely that Epic would be willing to partner with West given his myriad recent controversies. And “Donda,” West’s latest album, was originally scheduled for a different date before being delayed.

Whoever it winds up being, we’ll likely know more on Monday. Even if you’re not a Grande fan or a regular gamer, Fortnite’s in-game concerts are some of the most creative and visually exciting virtual events to date.

Everyone should fall through the metaverse with their friends while a skyscraper-sized virtual rapper shoots neon lightning bolts at least once.

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Why companies and brands need to tune in – TechCrunch

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What comes to mind when you think of livestreaming? In the U.S., most people would name their favorite celebrity leading a Q&A on Instagram or a gamer doing a speedrun on Twitch.

In China, it’s shopping, streamed live.

Livestream e-commerce has taken off in China in the last few years and is expected to yield more than $60 billion this year. In 2019, 37% of online shoppers in China (a cool 265 million people) made purchases on livestreams — and that was well before quarantine. In 2020, it’s estimated to have reached around 560 million people.

During Taobao’s annual Single’s Day Global Shopping Festival in 2020 (China’s Black Friday), livestreams accounted for $6 billion in sales — nearly doubled from a year earlier.

Starting to see a trend? The big U.S. companies have noticed, and they’re jumping on the bandwagon faster than you can say, “Swipe up to buy now!”

Last December, Walmart livestreamed shopping events on TikTok. Amazon released a live platform where influencers promote items and chat with customers. Instagram launched a Shop feature that encourages users to browse and buy within the app. Facebook also kicked off Live Shopping Fridays for the beauty and fashion categories.

“It’s an entertaining way for shops to tell the story behind their products. It brings buyers closer than ever to their favorite creators and allows them to have a voice in the conversation.”

Startups are growing fast to keep up with the heavy hitters — PopShop.Live raised $20 million to let people buy everything from books and toys to jewelry from sellers who livestream their offerings, and Whatnot raised a $50 million Series B, largely to expand its livestream commerce infrastructure. There’s also a burgeoning category of SaaS tools such as Bambuser, which is working with brands like Klarna to test native livestream shopping directly within branded apps.

At this pace, retailers will all welcome livestream commerce teams like they have influencer partnerships in recent years. It’ll just be part of the digital equation to stay competitive and relevant in the future of marketplaces and e-commerce.

From B.C. to 5G: The evolution of shopping

What is old is new again. Your grandparents spent years watching QVC because it balanced the experience of speaking with an associate with the convenience of their retirement community’s TV room. Livestream is today’s version of “shoptainment,” where hosts showcase products dynamically, interact with their audiences and build urgency with short-term offers, giveaways and limited-edition items.

Now, with livestream commerce, hosts can form deeper customer connections and answer questions in real time. It’s a new standard of communication that holds a longstanding truth from Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar to smartphones: People shop to kill time and are more likely to buy when they feel connected with a salesperson.

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Twitter shuttering NY, SF offices in response to new CDC guidelines – TechCrunch

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Just two weeks after reopening its New York and San Francisco offices, social media giant Twitter said Wednesday that it will be closing those offices “immediately.”

The decision came “after careful consideration of the CDC’s updated guidelines, and in light of current conditions,” a spokesperson said.

“Twitter has made the decision to close our opened offices in New York and San Francisco as well as pause future office reopenings, effective immediately. We’re continuing to closely monitor local conditions and make necessary changes that prioritize the health and safety of our Tweeps,” the spokesperson added.

The company initially just reopened those offices on July 12. It declined to reveal headcount per office.

The CDC this week recommended that fully vaccinated people begin wearing masks indoors again in places with high Covid transmission rates amid concerns about the highly contagious Delta variant.

Earlier today, TechCrunch’s Brian Heater reported that Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that the company will require employees to be vaccinated before returning to work on-site. It was part of a larger letter sent to Google/Alphabet staff that also noted the company will be extending its work-from-home policy through October 18, as the COVID-19 delta variant continues to sweep through the global population.

In a message to TechCrunch, Facebook’s VP of People, Lori Goler, confirmed a similar policy for the social media behemoth.

Amazon also responded to TechCrunch’s inquiry on the matter, noting, “We strongly encourage Amazon employees and contractors to be vaccinated as soon as COVID-19 vaccines are available to them.”

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