Oracle CEO Larry Ellison joined call about contesting Trump’s election loss

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison was involved in a call where a number of influential GOP figures—including Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Fox News anchor Sean Hannity and Trump attorney Jay Sekulow — brainstormed ways to contest the 2020 presidential election, reported the Washington Post. Details of the call which occurred on November 14, 2020 were revealed in new court filings from a lawsuit brought by voting rights organization Fair Fight against True The Vote, a conservative Texas vote monitoring organization that disputes the results of the 2020 presidential election.

“Jim was on a call this evening with Jay Sekulow, Lindsey O. Graham, Sean Hannity, and Larry Ellison,” True the Vote’s founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, wrote to a donor, according to court filings reviewed by the Post. “He explained the work we were doing and they asked for a preliminary report asap, to be used to rally their troops internally, so that’s what I’m working on now.”

Ellison is a high-profile GOP donor and has hosted fundraisers for former president Donald Trump. He has seemingly never expressed doubts about the 2020 election results publicly. While the CEO has donated to both parties over the years as the Palm Desert Sunpoints out, he’s poured a substantial amount of money into the GOP and conservative causes since the 2020 election. His $15 million donation in February to a super PAC associated with Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) is one of the largest of the 2022 election cycle so far.

Ellison's proximity to Trump has led to concerns that Oracle may have had an unfair advantage in competing for federal contracts during the former administration. Oracle nabbed a lucrative contract in 2020 to aid the Department of Health and Human Services to collect data on doctors who treat COVID-19 patients with hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug embraced by Trump. It is also nearing a deal with TikTok to store their US data, which Trump approved in 2020.

Amazon’s upcoming tablets will include a more modern Fire OS 8

Amazon’s new Fire 7 tablets — due to arrive this summer — will be equipped with improved software. According to a report on AFTV News. tablets will come with Fire OS 8, an entirely new version of the Fire operating system that is based on Android 11. Given that Google no longer releases security patches or updates for Android 9, this will be welcome news for Fire tablet owners.

As Liliputing points out, most of what Fire OS 8 changes bring to the table seem to be under-the-hood security updates. But users can expect a new system-wide dark mode, which might make browsing your tablet late at night a bit easier on the eyes. The new OS will also support HEIF or (High Efficiency Image File) format images, an update to JPEGs that most Apple and Android smartphones have supported since 2018. 

Fire apps will also now be able access your device’s location while running in the background, but you'll need to give permission first. The update also includes a new set of privacy controls, including one-time permissions on location tracking. For a more nuanced breakdown of what to expect in Fire OS 8, check out Amazon’s updated developer guide.

Disney+ is working on a ‘Daredevil’ series

Daredevil fans who were disappointed when Netflix axed the popular show after three seasons now have something to look forward to. Disney+ is moving forward with its own series about the blind lawyer-turned-superhero Matt Murdock, reportedVariety. The streaming service has signed co-writers Matt Corman and Chris Ord to write and executive produce the series. Corman and Ord served as co-showrunners for the NBC military drama The Brave, and the duo also created the spy drama Covert Affairs.

Daredevil is only the latest of a large number of MCU titles that have been revived on Disney+ as shows, starting with last year’s WandaVision. The streamer has since released six other Marvel shows, including Hawkeye, Moonknight and Loki, with many more to follow this year. Meanwhile, the raft of Netflix shows based on Marvel characters all left the streaming platform's library for good earlier this year.

The Daredevil Disney+ show is still in the very early stages — Variety notes that Marvel has yet to announce anything formally. Charlie Cox, who played the lead character in the Netflix series, returned to his old role in this year’s Spider-Man:No Way Home and Vincent D'Onofrio reprised his Daredevil role of Kingpin in Disney’s Hawkeye. Both actors seemed optimistic about a Disney+ revival of the series, but there's no telling if they'll return to the new series.

In an interview with Marvel News Desk, D'Onofrio shed some light on the Netflix show’s sudden cancellation, which shocked its many fans. The actor said the show’s departure in 2018 likely had to do with Marvel paving the way for Disney’s nascent streaming service. “You know, at the same time the group #SaveDaredevil started to rise, we started to learn the reasons why that happened and so we understood what Marvel was doing because Disney+ coming out.”

The Voyager 1 space probe appears to be confused about its location

Voyager 1 — one of two space probes NASA launched in 1977 to study Jupiter, Saturn and their respective moons — is sending confusing data back to Earth, according to the space agency. The spacecraft’s control system regularly sends telemetry data back to NASA that indicates its location. But Voyager 1’s engineering team has recently been puzzled by readouts from the spacecraft that contain jumbled or inaccurate data. Even more perplexingly, the nearly 45-year-old probe is otherwise in good shape — its signal is still strong and the glitch hasn’t triggered its safe mode. Voyager 2 (Voyager 1’s sister probe) appears to be perfectly fine.

“A mystery like this is sort of par for the course at this stage of the Voyager mission,” said Suzanne Dodd, the project manager for the Voyager program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The spacecraft are both almost 45 years old, which is far beyond what the mission planners anticipated. We’re also in interstellar space – a high-radiation environment that no spacecraft have flown in before. So there are some big challenges for the engineering team."

Communicating with Voyager 1 is easier said than done. Both probes are now farther away from Earth than Pluto — Voyager 1 is an estimated 14.5 billion miles away from our planet. It takes roughly two days to receive a response from the spacecraft after sending a message, according to NASA.

Dodd said that NASA may be able to solve the issue through software changes or potentially one of the spacecraft’s redundant hardware systems. If not, the agency will “have to adapt” to the glitch.

Either way, NASA will lose touch with both drones in the next few years when they run out of their energy supply. Both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 run on plutonium-238, which decays with time. Scientists estimate that by 2025, neither probe will have enough plutonium-238 to still operate properly. There’s a finite supply of plutonium left on Earth, and producing it is time-consuming and challenging. For many years, Russia provided NASA with plutonium-238, until it severed this agreement in 2015. Luckily for NASA, the US Department of Energy re-started domestic plutonium-238 production at Oak Ridge Laboratory, making a number of current and future NASA missions possible —including NASA’s Perseverance Rover.

Mercedes-AMG unveils concept for its first sports EV

Mercedes-Benz offered a glimpse today into what its all-electric future will look like. The Germany automaker released a concept for the Vision AMG, a sports EV that will be launched under its high-performance brand AMG. The low-lying, four-door coupe has a long wheelbase, silver paint and teal accents, bearing an intentional resemblance to the Formula 1 cars driven by the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team. Most strikingly, the side windows and rear glass of the Vision AMG are painted the same silver as the body of the car. Due to the hexagonal pattern of the design, drivers will still be able to see the road.

The Vision will be AMG’s first sports EV, joining the subsidiary’s other all-electric efforts, the EQE and the EQS. Other than that, there’s still very little we know about what the Vision AMG will offer — the automaker didn’t reveal any performance details for the car in the press release. It did say the Vision AMG would be equipped with an Axial Flux Motor by YASA, which has partnered with Mercedes to develop electric motors for their EV lineup that are more compact and lightweight than traditional electric motors.

The automaker also didn’t reveal any details on pricing, but the goal is for the production version to be out in 2025. Last December, Mercedes-Benz upped its initial EV investment to a staggering $63.6 billion, which it's planning to spend between 2022 and 2026. Just this week, the automaker announced it was partnering with battery materials company Sila Nanotechnologies to create a more energy-dense, silicon-anode battery for EVS. The company estimates that silicon-anode batteries offer 20 to 40 percent more capacity than the traditional lithium-ion found in most of today's electric cars. 

The Vision AMG will be one of the three dedicated EV platforms that Mercedes plans on launching in 2025, in addition to the MB.EA platform for medium and large vehicles and the Van.EA for light commercial vehicles. The automaker has stated its goal is to switch to an all-electric lineup by 2030. Mercedes-AMG also released a promotional video (also with virtually no technical details) for the Vision AMG, which you can watch below.

Netflix rolls out a new discovery feature for kids

Picking out something new to watch from Netflix’s slew of kid’s titles can be overwhelming, for both parents and children. And sometimes kids are just indecisive. But the streaming service’s new “Mystery Box” feature on Netflix Kids — available today — can leave the decisions up to the algorithm. Similar to the “Play Something” option for the adult set, the Mystery Box feature will pick a new title that viewers haven’t watched before. Rest assured, the new show or film that Mystery Box selects won’t be a complete wildcard pick — the titles will be similar to shows that viewers have already deemed their favorites.

In order to try out the Mystery Box, select a kid’s profile on Netflix on any platform of your choice. Then go to the “Favorites Row” on top of the homepage. Finally, hover over the “Mystery Box” option to see a selection of new titles. According to a Netflix spokesperson, the new discovery mechanism will surface one new viewing option per day.

When it comes to children’s programming, Netflix has more competition than ever before. Its main rival in the space — Disney+ — is planning on a $32 billion content spend for the 2022 fiscal year. Hulu, HBOMax and Apple TV+ all offer children’s programming. Netflix last year acquired some high-profile IP, including the Roald Dahl Story Company. But given its current commitment to trim costs in light of a historic drop in subscribers earlier this year, we’re likely to see Netflix be more cautious moving forward. A number of kids titles that were in production recently got the chopping block, including an animated series by Meghan Markle and Ava DuVernay’s Wings of Fire.

Update 5/19/22 6:23pm ET: The headline has been changed and additional information on the frequency of "Mystery Box" options has been included to better reflect how the feature operates.

Netflix to expand audio descriptions and subtitles in 10 additional languages

Netflix will expand its accessibility features in 10 additional languages, part of an effort to accommodate users who are hearing and vision-impaired. Starting this month and through early 2023, Netflix will roll out Audio Descriptions (AD), Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (SDH) and dubbing for its entire library of original content, in languages including French, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Italian. Eventually, the streamer plans to add even more languages from the Asia-Pacific region and local European languages. The expansion will be available to all Netflix users globally and only apply to Netflix Originals. 

The streamer said its aim was to allow even more viewers to watch content that is not in their native language. “For decades, the entertainment you had access to was determined by where you lived and what language you spoke, meaning people who needed AD or SDH could not enjoy stories made outside of where they were from,” wrote Netflix’s director of accessibility Heather Dowdy in a blog post.

For those who are deaf or vision-impaired, watching a new show or film on a streaming platform means turning on assistive technologies like subtitles or audio descriptions. But such accessibility features aren’t widely available across all platforms. Advocacy groups for the deaf and blind such as the National Federation of the Blind and the National Association for the Deaf have pushed streaming services to include more accessibility features over the years. Thanks to a 2012 settlement with the NAD, Netflix makes closed captioning available for all of its content. Netflix began rolling out audio descriptions for the blind and visually impaired in 2015, with the release of the show Daredevil. But the entertainment industry has been slow to embrace the newer technology, at the expense of its vision-impaired audience.

Currently, there are over 11,000 hours of audio description available globally on Netflix, and the streaming service plans to keep adding more. Netflix is also adding new badges for subtitles and audio descriptions on iOS and the web version.

“Our ambition is to entertain the world, and by increasing our SDH and AD language availability to now cover over 40 languages we hope to give all of our members the ability to see their lives reflected on screen,” wrote Dowdy.

Facebook issues $397 checks to Illinois residents as part of class-action lawsuit

More than a million Illinois residents will receive a $397 settlement payment from Facebook this week, thanks to a legal battle over the platform’s since-retired photo-tagging system that used facial recognition. It’s been nearly seven years since the 2015 class-action lawsuit was first filed, which accused Facebook of breaking a state privacy law that forbids companies from collecting biometric data without informing users. The platform has since faced broad, global criticism for its use of facial recognition tech, and last year Meta halted the practice completely on Facebook and Instagram. But as Voxnotes, the company has made no promises to avoid facial recognition in future products.

Even though it was first filed in Illinois, the class-action lawsuit eventually wound up on Facebook’s home turf — at the U.S. District Court for Northern California. Nevertheless, the court repeatedly denied the platform’s many motions to dismiss the lawsuit and eventually certified the Illinois class-action. Facebook tried to appeal the case certification with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but was rejected. After Facebook initially agreed to settle the lawsuit for $550 million — which at the time was the largest payout from an online privacy class-action lawsuit — a federal judge fought back and said the amount was too small. Finally, the company last year agreed to a settlement total of $650 million.

The issue at hand was Facebook’s old photo-tagging system, which relied on facial recognition to recognize users in photos and videos. Attorneys representing Illinois residents argued that the platform’s “Suggested Tags” feature violated the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act. Any Facebook user in Illinois who posted a photo of themselves or was tagged on the platform during a certain time period was eligible to file a claim. Nearly 1.6 million Illinois residents in total were included in the settlement.

A number of Redditors reported receiving their settlement checks via direct deposit or in the mail this week, though not everyone has received their payment yet. “I did mine and my wife’s at the same time and got one yesterday and the other today. This was through Zelle,” noted one user on Reddit.

Some who opted to receive a check in the mail were a little thrown off by its non-descript appearance. “Honestly I almost threw mine away. It was sent in a brown envelope made of recycled paper. Felt just like a paper bag. I thought for sure it was junk mail,” said a user on Reddit.

Grubhub’s free lunch offer in NYC crashed its website and app

Grubhub’s offer of free lunch to anyone in the New York City metro area today led to sheer chaos. Many were unable to access the promotional deal — which was scheduled to run from 11 am to 2 pm ET this afternoon — when both the website and app started to crash, according to tweets from many frustrated users. A large number of restaurants were overwhelmed with orders from hungry customers, prompting them to pause taking on new orders or “close” for the day. Although Grubhub’s “free lunch” promo was actually just a deep discount (the offer was good for $15, and customers were responsible for additional taxes, tip and delivery fee), turns out few people will turn down the offer of a cheap meal, especially in one of the world’s most expensive cities. While access to the website and app was eventually restored, a number of customers still complained about delayed or canceled orders.

At its peak, Grubhub said its platform was receiving 6,000 orders per minute. “The initial demand temporarily overwhelmed our app, causing some diners to experience an error message when they used their promo code. However, this was quickly rectified, and along with our restaurant and driver partners, we were able to successfully fulfill more than 400,000 lunch orders connected to the promotion,” a spokesperson for Grubhub told Engadget. 

But workers and restaurant owners faced worse problems than merely going hungry on their lunch breaks. Buzzfeedspoke to several Grubhub delivery people and restaurant owners and workers, all who recounted a harrowing, stressful day filled with non-stop orders. Many workers and restaurants told various outlets that they weren’t informed about the promo in advance.

“We really got slammed by it today,” Ching, a worker from Greenberg’s Bagels told Buzzfeed. “It was just non-stop all day.”

Grubhub denied claims that it didn't inform restaurants of the promo beforehand. "Grubhub isn’t just a delivery logistics app, we are a marketplace for restaurants. And as we do with any promotions, we notify our entire restaurant network in advance via multiple points of communication," a Grubhub spokesperson told Engadget in a statement. 

Despite the advance warning, it's clear many restaurants were unprepared for the barrage of orders and the extra strain on staff and food supply that such an offer incurred. 

Netflix lays off 150 mostly US-based staff

Netflix terminated the roles of 150 mostly US-based staff today in an ongoing effort to cut costs following a historic drop in subscribers, reportedDeadline. The impacted employees reportedly include a number in senior-level positions. It’s the second round of layoffs at the company— which numbers roughly 11,000 employees — in recent weeks. An undisclosed number of writing and editing staff attached to Netflix's in-house fan website, Tudum, were let go last month.

A company spokesperson said the layoffs were directly tied to a slowdown in Netflix’s revenue growth. “As we explained on earnings, our slowing revenue growth means we are also having to slow our cost growth as a company. So sadly, we are letting around 150 employees go today, mostly US-based,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement to Engadget. “These changes are primarily driven by business needs rather than individual performance, which makes them especially tough as none of us want to say goodbye to such great colleagues. We’re working hard to support them through this very difficult transition.”

Varietyreported today that the streaming service has also cut a number of in-development animated projects, including Wings of Fire from executive producer Ava DuVernay, a preschool series called Antiracist Baby and With Kind Regards From Kindergarten. But according to Variety's sources, these projects were dropped due to creative reasons and not as an effort to cut costs. 

The streaming service also dropped the documentary Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, And You, a companion piece to Stamped From the Beginning.

Employee morale has been low at the Los Gatos, California-based company since it indicated during its last earnings call that it plans to tighten its belt, according to the Los Angeles Times. The company also updated its cultural memo this month to warn prospective employees that the streaming services “may not be the best place” for those who cannot work on content they disagree with.

“As employees we support the principle that Netflix offers a diversity of stories, even if we find some titles counter to our own personal values. Depending on your role, you may need to work on titles you perceive to be harmful. If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you,” reads the culture guidelines.

Netflix reported it lost subscribers in the first quarter of 2022, which it chalked up to a rise in password sharing, increased competition from other streaming platforms and dropping its entire subscriber base in Russia. The streaming service is exploring adding a lower-priced, ad-supported tier as well as cutting a number of projects that were in development. The company anticipates losing another 2 million subscribers in the second quarter of 2022.