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Report: US Flooded With Robocalls in 2018

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A whopping 26.3 billion robocalls were made in the US last year, according to a new report from Hiya.

Up 46 percent over 2017’s total of 18 billion, the number averages out to 10 spam calls per person, per month.

So if you were feeling inundated by nuisance numbers, you’re not alone.

Seattle-based caller profile firm Hiya this week released its first State of the Call report, providing insight “into how Americans use their mobile phones on a monthly basis given the rise in robocalls.”

In an analysis of 11 billion monthly calls, only 52 percent are answered, meaning almost half get ignored. But, in a “surprising twist,” the company said, 9 percent of call identified as spam are picked up.

“General spam” constitutes most robocalls (32.1 percent), followed closely by telemarketers (24.7 percent) and fraudsters (25.5 percent).

Actual robotic callers only account for 10.6 percent, while debt collectors (2 percent), IRS scams (1.9 percent), and extortionists (1.1 percent) round out the pie.

(From PCMag: How to Block Robocalls and Spam Calls)

Just remember: If someone randomly rings you to say you’ve won a free cruise, it’s probably a hoax.

Even if the call comes from an otherwise reputable source, like Southwest Airlines: Con artists are disguising themselves as the Dallas-based company to lure victims into believing they’ve won a trip, vacation, or mileage vouchers.

Texas is a popular state for cold callers, considering seven of the top 10 targeted area codes are found in the Lone Star State. Folks in Atlanta, Birmingham, and Orlando are also sitting ducks, the report said.

“As our phones continue to be inundated by robocalls, many people no longer want to pick up the phone at all,” Hiya caller ID specialist Allison Espiritu wrote in a blog post. “Unfortunately, this has led to important calls being missed, such as those from your doctor, your child’s school, the bank, and others.”

In an effort to combat what Hiya called the “scourge” of robocalls in 2019, the Federal Communications Commission promised to amend the Truth in Caller ID rules to extend to communications originating outside the US, including text messages and voice services.

Verizon also recently stepped up its spam protection efforts, announcing free anti-robocall tools for all customers. Starting in March, call blocking and spam alerting apps will be available for wireless customers with compatible Android or iOS devices.

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Watch a Fleet of SpotMini Robo Dogs Haul a Box Truck

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Do you hear that? It’s the sound of the impending robot revolution.

Actually, it’s the sound of 10 SpotMini robo dogs hauling a truck across the Boston Dynamics parking lot.

Like I said: impending uprising.

Small and nimble, the 2.75-foot-tall, four-legged machine inherited the mobility of big brother Spot—with the added ability to pick up and handle objects using a claw-like arm and perception sensors.

Considered Boston Dynamics’ “quietest robot” yet, SpotMini can carry a 30-pound payload while operating for up to 90 minutes on a single charge.

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“These Spot robots are coming off the production line now,” the Massachusetts-based engineering firm said in a video caption, promising availability “for a range of applications.”

Company co-founder Marc Raibert last year tipped potential clients in four categories: construction, delivery, security, and home assistance. (And, now, roadside service.)

There is no word yet on pricing.

Anyone else get a sort of sinking feeling watching the robo dogs wake up and snap into position like a headless army?

Something about their asynchronous marching and stiff frames remind me equally of Santa’s reindeer and mechanized assassins.

Yet, when Boston Dynamics last year released a minute-long clip of its droid dog shimmying along to “Uptown Funk,” my heart melted; SpotMini side-steps, twerks, and does the best automated Running Man YouTube has ever seen.

That’s nothing, though, compared with dynamic humanoid Atlas.

Standing nearly five feet tall and weighing 165 lbs, the robot is an athlete and gymnast: In 2017, it landed a perfect backflip—completely unaided; last year, Boston Dynamics highlighted the droid’s ability to job comfortably over uneven natural terrain, jump gracefully over a log, and leap up steps without breaking its stride.

I can’t even jump onto the 18-inch plyo box at the gym.

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New Uber Initiative Boosts Rider Safety on College Campuses

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Uber is cracking down on fake rideshare drivers after a college student was murdered last month waiting for a pick up.

The transportation network, in partnership with the University of South Carolina, has launched the Campus Safety Initiative: a national effort to help students learn how to avoid fraudulent chauffeurs.

In March, 21-year-old USC student Samantha Josephson went missing after getting into a car outside a Columbia bar. Her body was later found on a secluded dirt road in nearby Clarendon County.

The Columbia Police Department announced that 24-year-old Nathaniel Rowland has been charged with murder and kidnapping, after matching large amounts of blood in the suspect’s car to the missing New Jersey woman, CBS reported.

It’s believed Rowland posed as an Uber driver to lure his victim into the car.

“We were heartbroken by the recent crime committed by a fake rideshare driver in South Carolina,” Andrew Macdonald, Uber VP of operations, wrote in a blog post. “While no words can alleviate the loss felt by the Josephson family, we are committed to continuing to take action to make our communities safer.”

Existing public awareness campaign Check Your Ride, introduced two years ago, encourages users to double check that the vehicle and driver match details in the app before entering a car.

But if you’re in a hurry or maybe a bit tipsy, safety precautions can often be thrown to the wind.

New in-app safety features—like push notifications and banners—are rolling out now to remind folks how to confirm the right car before it arrives.

“In addition to these steps, you can also ask the driver to confirm your name,” Macdonald suggested, echoing the #WhatsMyName mission by the Josephson family to educate the world on rideshare precautions.

Inspired by the University of South Carolina and its students, Uber is working with the Columbia Police Department to create dedicated pickup zones—well-lit areas with law enforcement on hand to help riders and drivers connect safely.

“Our goal is to make checking your ride before you get in the car synonymous with using Uber,” Macdonald said. “There is nothing more important than the safety of the people we serve and we’re constantly working to improve.”

Rival Lyft also announced enhancements to the safety and security of its platform, including continuous background checks and enhanced identity verification.

Neither of which will save an unsuspecting rider from getting into the wrong car. But every little bit helps, right?

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Samsung Galaxy Fold Keeps Breaking and It’s Hilarious

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Does anyone really want a smartphone that folds? Like, really? Shoving two phones together with a seemingly nifty hinge always just felt like a grift to just sell one phone for double the price. Give me a nice small screen and a headphone jack and I’m good.

But even if you’ve bought into the tech hype that foldable phones are the way of the future, you may want to hold back on spending $2,000 on the most high-profile example of this trend the Samsung Galaxy Fold. Tech journalists this week got their review units for the upcoming device and right now it’s looking pretty fragile.

Take a look.

Samsung can show as much footage of robots bending the phone hinge as they want, but something isn’t right if the bridge is breaking just after days of use by careful professionals. If two of your effectively three screens fizzle out so quickly, just buy a normal phone with one solid screen for way cheaper.

Even more concerning is that there are apparently multiple causes of this problem. The most common issue is reviewers accidentally a protective film that appears to be an optional screen protector but is actually extremely vital. So be careful about that if you still want to pick this up. But at The Verge their screen broke after a piece of debris somehow wedged itself in the hinge and basically cut the unfolded screen down the middle. So the solution is to basically treat the Samsung Galaxy Fold like a sick child, not a premium piece of tech.

As a consumer you always face risks being an early adopter of bleeding-edge technology. It takes time for manufacturers to work out little kinks in big innovations. Remember the last Samsung phone disaster when batteries kept blowing up? And I should say we also have a Samsung Galaxy Fold here at the PCMag office that seems okay… right now. Still, unless you absolutely positively need a folding phone as soon as possible, here are some other Android phones you may want to invest in instead of the Samsung Galaxy Fold.

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