AT&T, Apple, Google to work on ‘robocall’ crackdown

An AT&T Logo is pictured on the side of a building in Pasadena, California, January 26, 2015. REUTERS/Mario AnzuoniMore than 30 major technology and communication companies said on Friday they are joining the U.S. government to crack down on “robocalls,” automated, prerecorded phone calls that regulators have labeled a “scourge.”

AT&T Inc (T.N), Google parent Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O), Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) and Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) are among members of the “Robocall Strike Force” that held its first meeting with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

The strike force will report to the FCC by Oct. 19 on “concrete plans to accelerate the development and adoption of new tools and solutions,” said AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson, chairman of the group.

The strike force hopes to implement Caller ID verification standards to help block calls from spoofed phone numbers and consider a “Do Not Originate” list that would block spoofers from impersonating legitimate phone numbers from governments, banks or others.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in July urged major companies to take new action to block robocalls, which often come from telemarketers or scam artists.

“This scourge must stop,” Wheeler said on Friday, calling robocalls the No. 1 complaint from consumers.

“The bad guys are beating the good guys with technology,” Wheeler said. In the past, he has said robocalls continue “due in large part to industry inaction.”

Stephenson emphasized “the breadth and complexity” of the problem.

“This is going to require more than individual company initiatives and one-off blocking apps,” Stephenson said. “Robocallers are a formidable adversary, notoriously hard to stop.”

The FCC does not require robocall blocking and filtering but has strongly encouraged phone service providers to offer those services at no charge.

The strike force brings together carriers, device makers, operating system developers, network designers and the government.

“We have to come out of this with a comprehensive play book for all of us to go execute,” Stephenson said. “We have calls that are perfectly legal, but unwanted, like telemarketers and public opinion surveyors. At the other end of the spectrum, we have millions of calls that are blatantly illegal.”

Stephenson said technical experts representing the companies have had “preliminary conversations about short- and longer-term initiatives.”

Joan Marsh, AT&T vice president of federal regulatory issues, called the problem complicated. “We have been wrangling with this problem long enough to know there is no silver bullet,” she said. “Nothing by itself is going to do it.”

Other companies taking part include Blackberry Ltd (BB.TO), British Telecommunications Plc [BTCOM.UL], Charter Communications Inc (CHTR.O), Frontier Communications (FTR.O), LG Electronics Inc (066570.KS), Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), Nokia Corp (NOKIA.HE), Qualcomm Inc (QCOM.O), Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS), Sirius XM Holdings Inc (SIRI.O), T-Mobile US Inc (TMUS.O) and U.S. Cellular Corp (USM.N).

Consumers Union, a public advocacy group, said the task force is a sign “phone companies are taking more serious steps to protect their customers from unwanted calls.”

Apple Said to Plan First Significant MacBook Pro Overhaul in 4 Years

Apple Said to Plan First Significant MacBook Pro Overhaul in 4 Years

  • There’s been no significant update to the lineup in 4 years
  • New laptops expected to be unveiled after iPhone launch
  • Biggest new feature expected is an Oled touch panel

Apple is preparing the first significant overhaul of its MacBook Pro laptop line in over four years, according to people familiar with the matter, using one of its older products to help reverse two quarters of sliding sales.

The updated notebooks will be thinner, include a touch screen strip for function keys, and will be offered with more powerful and efficient graphics processors for expert users such as video gamers, said the people, who asked not to be named.

The new computers have been in advanced testing within Apple since earlier this year, said one of the people, who didn’t want to be identified discussing products before their release. The MacBook Pros aren’t likely to debut at an event currently scheduled for September 7 to introduce next-generation versions of the iPhone, according to one of the people. Apple spokesman Bill Evans declined to comment.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs heralded tablets as possible laptop replacements by calling the iPad a “post-PC” device after it launched in 2010, but products like the MacBook Pro have shown surprising resilience. Sales of Macs, including the Pro line, rose 6 percent to $25.5 billion in the last fiscal year, while iPad sales fell 23 percent to $23.2 billion.

This year’s MacBook Pro overhaul is aimed at increasing notebook sales at a time when consumers are taking longer to buy or replace iPads. Apple research suggests customers upgrade iPads roughly every three years, while they buy new iPhones every 18 to 24 months, according to a person familiar with Apple’s strategy, which helps explain why iPad sales numbers have fallen from a peak in 2013.

The most significant addition to the new MacBook Pro is a secondary display above the keyboard that replaces the standard function key row. Instead of physical keys, a strip-like screen will present functions on an as-needed basis that fit the current task or application. The smaller display will use Organic Light-Emitting Diodes, a thinner, lighter and sharper screen technology, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said earlier this year.

Apple’s goal with the dedicated function display is to simplify keyboard shortcuts traditionally used by experienced users. The panel will theoretically display media playback controls when iTunes is open, while it could display editing commands like cut and paste during word processing tasks, the people said. The display also allows Apple to add new buttons via software updates rather than through more expensive, slower hardware refreshes.

The new top-of-the-line MacBook Pros will be slightly thinner than the current models but are not tapered like the MacBook Air and latest 12-inch MacBook, one of the people said. The new MacBook Pros have a smaller footprint than current models and the casing has shallower curves around the edges. The pressure-sensitive trackpad is also slightly wider, the person added.

An option for a version featuring a higher-performance graphics chip from Advanced Micro Devices will be available, another person familiar with the matter said. It’s unclear which provider Apple will use for the main processor, but Intel Corp. has supplied this in the past.

Apple is using one of AMD’s “Polaris” graphics chips because the design offers the power efficiency and thinness necessary to fit inside the slimmer Apple notebook, the person said. The new graphics card is more than 20 percent thinner than its predecessor, AMD said earlier this year. AMD declined to comment, referring inquiries to Apple.

The new design will include USB-C technology, a multifunctional type of port that can handle charging, data transfers, and display connectivity, one of the people said. Apple has also considered bringing gray, gold, and silver colors to the new line, as it has done with other products like the iPhone, iPad, and the 12-inch MacBook, a person said. It’s unclear whether colored Pro laptops will be available when the new line is released.

Apple is planning to bring over its Touch ID fingerprint technology from the iPhone to the new MacBook Pro line. Apple has tested versions of the upcoming laptops that integrate the scanner beside the new function key display, according to one of the people. The sensor would allow users to log in more quickly and theoretically authenticate Apple Pay purchases. Like with iPhones, the new Pro laptops will encrypt fingerprint data so it can’t be removed from the devices.

Apple will also release a new version of its Mac operating system named Sierra this fall that brings Siri, new messaging and photo-management features, deeper iCloud integration, and more efficient file storage to Apple’s desktops and laptops, the company said in June.