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FCC Empowers Carriers to ‘Aggressively Block’ Robocalls

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Voice service providers now have the power to “aggressively block” robocalls before they reach consumers.

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted to empower carriers to block unwanted calls—as long as customers are informed and can opt out.

Led by Chairman Ajit Pai, the group approved a “Declaratory Ruling,” which aims to protect customers from the top down.

While some phone companies already offer call-blocking tools on an opt-in basis, this week’s ruling clarifies that they can provide them as the default, meaning everyone will benefit.

Consumers also have the option to sign up for even tougher services, including blocking calls from any number not on their digital contact list or other “white lists.”

“There are many tools available right now that are effective in blocking unwanted calls before they reach consumers,” according to Pai. “But their deployment has been limited because they’re only being made available on an opt-in basis, and many of the consumers who would most benefit from these tools, such as elderly Americans, are unaware that they can opt in.

“We believe today’s clarification will make it easier for consumers to participate in and benefit from call-blocking programs,” he said in a statement.

Optimists would expect phone companies to immediately take advantage of the new feature, quickly rolling out consumer tools to block unwanted calls.

Realists, on the other hand, understand that change doesn’t happen overnight.

As Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel pointed out, the FCC vote doesn’t require carriers to deploy automatic call blocking, nor does it prevent them from charging extra for such services.

Providers don’t seem too keen on changing their ways, either.

According to Ars Technica, T-Mobile responded to the vote by noting that it lets consumers opt in to a free call-blocking program. But said nothing about whether it will move from an opt-in to an opt-out service.

Verizon, meanwhile, applauded the FCC’s decision to authorize stronger robocall blocking, calling it “welcome news.”

Wireless customers can already choose to automatically block robocalls for free using Verizon’s Call Filter service, which sends blocked calls directly to voicemail. (And who checks their voicemail anymore, anyway?)

Moving forward, the firm plans to “evolve” its service, taking advantage of the new flexibility the FCC has provided.

“With the help of these new FCC rules, we’ll be able to provide our customers the benefits of spam alerts and blocking more broadly and conveniently,” Executive Vice President Ronan Dunne said.

The Commission also started the process of requiring carriers to implement SHAKEN/STIR protocols, which use digital certificates to ensure Caller ID numbers aren’t being spoofed.

“I’m optimistic that all of these measures will meaningfully reduce the number of unwanted robocalls that Americans get,” Pai said.

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You’ll Need Very Deep Pockets to Book Airbnb Luxe Accommodation

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Always dreamt of spending a night in a French castle or Tuscan villa? Airbnb’s got you covered.

The lodging service this week introduced Luxe: a new rental tier aimed at people with cash to burn: lavish accommodations cost more than $1,000 per night*.

Boasting homes that are “destinations in themselves,” Airbnb has offerings for every type of one-percenter:

Literary fans may seek inspiration (and beachfront views) at The Fleming Villa in Jamaica, where Ian Fleming wrote his famous spy novels. Introverts, meanwhile, can plan the ideal vacation by booking an entire island (with its own self-declared time zone) in French Polynesia.

“Airbnb Luxe provides access to unique and spectacular properties with dedicated trip designers to ensure bespoke experiences and services to make every stay truly magical,” the company wrote in an announcement.

The new platform—based on the “deep expertise” Airbnb gained from its 2017 acquisition of Luxury Retreats—launches with more than 2,000 handpicked homes around the world.

Each dwelling must pass meet 300-plus criteria in design and function: everything from premium materials and rare features to group spaces, chef-grade appliances, and “the proper amount of bathrooms corresponding to each bedroom.”

The medieval farm-to-table experience of Castello di Vicarello in Tuscany, the eco-friendly design of Te Kahu in New Zealand, and the chef, driver, and butler services that come with Grace Bay Residences in Turks and Caicos don’t hurt, either.

Each Airbnb Luxe booking promises 24/7 access to a trip designer—a sort of personal travel agent—who will ensure the stay is tailored to your needs (including arranging childcare, private chefs, in-house massage therapists, and, for the truly dedicated, personal training sessions in a private gym).

“Today’s luxury traveler is craving more than just high-end accommodations,” Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky said in a statement. “They seek transformation and experiences that leave them feeling more connected to each other and to their destination.”

As impossibly out-of-reach these Caribbean islands and ski chalets seem to most people, there appears to be a real market for luxury properties and experiences.

In 2018, the number of Airbnb booking for listings worth at least $1,000 per night increased more than 60 percent (to what number, it isn’t clear).

The hospitality firm recently announced a new Adventures program, which offers extraordinary experiences like the chance to travel around the world in 80 days, track lions on foot in Kenya, and hunt for UFOs in Arizona. Perhaps a six-day Galapagos Slow Food Safari or camping on a Colorado cliff is more your style.

Ranging in price from $79 for an overnight trip to $5,000 for a 10-day trek, adventures are led by local experts and meet certain quality and safety standards.

* Much, much, much more

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Amazon Prime Day 2019 Promises 48 Hours of Deals

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Next month’s Amazon Prime Day 2019 will be a two-day parade of deals.

The annual sale kicks off at midnight PT on Monday, July 15, and—for the first time ever—runs for a full 48 hours.

Subscribers have two days to shop more than 1 million deals, including limited-time offers and exclusive launches. (I am most looking forward to stocking up on discounted Alexa-enabled devices.)

“Get ready, as we pull back the curtain to reveal exclusive products, special performances, and two full days of phenomenal deals this Prime Day,” Jeff Wilke, CEO of worldwide consumer at Amazon, said in a statement.

Mark-downs apply to Prime members the world over: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, the United Arab Emirates (new this year), the UK, and the US.

To participate, sign up online to join Prime or start a 30-day free trial.

“Our vision is that Prime Day should be the absolute best time to be a member,” Wilke said. “When you can enjoy shopping, savings, entertainment, and some of the best deals Prime members have ever seen.”

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Whether you brazenly browse on the office computer, hide your habits in a bathroom stall, or take a “sick day” to stay home and spend money, Amazon encourages buyers to remain alert.

You don’t have to wait three weeks for the deals roll in, though.

Starting today, Prime members can save $120 on a Toshiba HD 43-inch Fire TV Edition Smart TV—now only $179.99 (through June 30, or while supplies last).

Also available now: Alexa-compatible Jabra Elite85h wireless headphones with SmartSound and the iOttie Easy One Touch Connect smartphone car mount.

Plus, members can gear up for Prime Day in-home deliveries with 40 percent off the Key for Garage myQ Smart Garage Hub + Amazon Cloud Cam (Key Edition) kit, on sale for the reasonable price of $99.98.

As part of the company’s 20th anniversary, Amazon launched Prime Day in 2015, hoping to entice buyers with discount prices on a scale you’d expect to see only on Black Friday.

The inaugural event—a mix of “Deals of the Day” and “Lightning Deals”—lasted 24 hours. Prime Day 2017 boasted 30 hours of deals for techies, beauty fans, gamers, kids, home chefs, bookworms, fitness buffs, DIYers, sports enthusiasts, and other stereotypes.

Last year, Prime members had a record 36 hours to shop.

At this rate, the 2024 affair will last all week.

“Stay tuned as we reveal exclusive savings at Whole Foods Market, thousands of new product launches, as well as world-class entertainment and more, leading up to Prime Day,” Wilke said.

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Google Wants to Teach Kids About Phishing, Fake News

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When I was a kid, the only computer literacy I learned was Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.

Fast forward 25 years, and there is a whole online world children must learn to navigate.

Thankfully, Google is here to help.

The company in 2017 introduced its “Be Internet Awesome” curriculum to teach young people the fundamentals of digital citizenship and safety.

Now it’s launching six new activities designed to aid kids in analyzing and evaluating online media.

Developed in partnership with the Net Safety Collaborative and National Association for Media Literacy Education, the new program covers everything from responsible communication and fake news to personal security and anti-bullying.

“We need the right tools and resources to help kids make the most of technology,” Amy Mascott, educator and founder of teachmama.com, wrote in a Google blog post. “And while good digital safety and citizenship resources exist for families, more can be done for media literacy.”

Through instruction, activities, and discussions, these new classes provide students with vital information, like how to avoid phishing attacks, prevent identity theft, identify credible sources, spot fake URLs, create strong passwords, recognize harassment or bullying, and more.

Frankly, we could all use a refresher course on how to be a decent person on the Internet.

“Kids today need a guide to the Internet and media just as they need instruction on other topics,” Mascott said. “We need help teaching them about credible sources, the power of words and images, and more importantly, how to be smart and savvy when seeing different media while browsing the Web.”

Google’s new curriculum is available online in English, Spanish, and eight other languages for teachers, parents, and guardians.

Its overall goal, according to TechCrunch, is to encourage kids to make checking news and information a habit—not only those headlines and links that seem suspicious.

The company is partnering with the YMCA and National PTA to host online safety workshops across multiple cities.

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