The FTC accuses Amazon of ‘monopolistic practices’ in long-expected antitrust suit

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon today in Western Washington district court, with 17 states joining the federal agency. The case isn’t surprising (the FTC was reportedly nearly ready to file in late August), but its specifics weren’t yet known.

The FTC accuses the online retailer of monopolistic practices, including preventing merchants from offering lower prices on other platforms and forcing them to use Amazon’s logistics service if they wanted to be included in customers’ Prime shipping perks. Those anticompetitive practices allegedly led to higher prices and an inferior shopping experience.

The suit describes “Amazon's one-two punch of seller punishments and high seller fees” that forces vendors to “use their inflated Amazon prices as a price floor everywhere else.” The complaint reads, “Amazon's punitive regime distorts basic market signals: one of the ways sellers respond to Amazon's fee hikes is by increasing their own prices off Amazon.”

“Today’s lawsuit seeks to hold Amazon to account for these monopolistic practices and restore the lost promise of free and fair competition,” said FTC chair Lina Khan, according toThe New York Times.

“Amazon is a monopolist,” the lawsuit reads. “It exploits its monopolies in ways that enrich Amazon but harm its customers: both the tens of millions of American households who regularly shop on Amazon's online superstore and the hundreds of thousands of businesses who rely on Amazon to reach them.”

The 17 states joining the FTC include New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

The FTC has had its eye on Amazon for several years. This is the fourth action the agency has taken against the company this year. Amazon settled a previous lawsuit (for $30.8 million) filed in May over Alexa children’s privacy concerns and snooping with Ring cameras. In June, the FTC sued the retailer again, claiming the company tricked customers into signing up for Prime subscriptions and then made it hard to cancel them.

Amazon claimed that the FTC’s actions are out of line. “Today’s suit makes clear the FTC’s focus has radically departed from its mission of protecting consumers and competition,” said David Zapolsky, Amazon's Senior Vice President of Global Public Policy and General Counsel. “The lawsuit filed by the FTC today is wrong on the facts and the law, and we look forward to making that case in court.”

The media’s narrative about the suit will likely frame it as a long-awaited title bout between Khan and Amazon. The FTC chair gained prominence by publishing a 2017 Yale Law Journalpaper arguing US antitrust laws fell short of adequately reining in the tech giant. That helped begin a national conversation about whether the nation’s anti-monopoly laws were prepared to handle modern Silicon Valley behemoths. 

But more important than one-on-one championship fight framing, the showdown will serve as a test for Washington regulators and Amazon, as the federal agency tests its authority and the retailer faces its most consequential political fight to date.

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Uber partners with LA taxi companies to expand its fleet

Uber announced Tuesday that it’s struck a deal with Los Angeles Yellow Cab to deploy taxi fleets across Southern California. The multi-year partnership, also extending to five other SoCal affiliates, will allow traditional yellow taxis to pick up Uber passengers. The collaboration between the strange bedfellows follows similar trials in New York City and San Francisco.

Uber describes the alliance as mutually beneficial for all parties. Taxi drivers, struggling to recover from pandemic losses while competing with ridesharing, get access to Uber referrals. Meanwhile, riders could see faster pickups. (They can opt out of yellow taxis in the app if they prefer typical ridesharing cars.) And, of course, Uber gains a greater supply of rides.

The partnership stretches down the SoCal coast to the Mexico border. It includes 1,200 vehicles from Los Angeles Yellow Cab, San Diego Yellow Cab, California Yellow Cab, Long Beach Yellow Cab, Fiesta Taxi Cooperative, Inc. and United Checker Cab. Onboarding for taxicab drivers in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties begins this week. Once fully onboarded, drivers can start accepting trips at UberX prices.

The unusual pairing follows years of contentiousness between ridesharing and traditional taxi businesses. The two sides have often been at war since the early 2010s when Uber and Lyft’s existence began threatening the taxi industry. Uber claims cab drivers who took ridesharing fares in the NYC and SF pilots raked in an extra $1,767 per month from those trips alone and earned 23.8% more on average than taxi drivers who eschewed Uber.

“We are thrilled to announce this partnership with Uber because it’s a clear win-win for drivers and riders,” said William Rouse, CEO of Yellow Cab of Los Angeles. “We anticipate that this partnership will have a positive impact for our driver-owners as the pandemic recovery continues. No longer will drivers have to worry about finding a fare during off peak times or getting a street hail back into the city when in the outer suburbs.”

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Sennheiser Accentum Wireless headphones offer 50-hour battery life for $180

Sennheiser announced a new pair of mid-ranged headphones today that carry over some features from its latest flagship model. The Accentum Wireless offers “a similar sound” to the $380 Momentum 4, along with hybrid active noise cancellation (ANC), 50-hour battery life and a $180 price tag.

The company suggests you’ll hear “breathtaking Sennheiser sound” from Accentum Wireless. They use 37mm dynamic transducers (slightly smaller than the 42mm ones in the Momentum 4) and Bluetooth 5.2 with multipoint connectivity. The headphones support aptX HD, which can output up to a 576 kbps bitrate for those with supported devices. It’s also compatible with AAC (the maximum for iPhone users) and SBC codecs.

The headphones’ battery can last an estimated 50 hours on a single charge, not terribly far from the Momentum 4’s absurd 60 hours. (By comparison, Sony’s latest flagship headphones are only rated for 30 hours.) Sennheiser says the Accentum can quick-charge for up to five extra hours of playtime in only 10 minutes. In addition, the included USB-C cable also enables wired listening mode for environments where Bluetooth doesn’t make sense.

Lifestyle marketing photo for the Sennheiser Accentum Wireless headphones. A young man stands along a rocky terrain: jutting rocks behind him. He wears a green button-down shirt with gold / orange floral patterns.

On the voice side, the Accentum Wireless has two mics with a wind-reduction mode and adjustable sidetone, which lets you control how much you hear your voice during calls. The headphones also pair with the Sennheiser Smart Control app, which gives you a five-band equalizer, user presets, software updates and management of multipoint connections.

Sennheiser claims the Accentum’s battery life is matched by its long-term comfort. “The earcup and headband padding contact points effortlessly conform to the wearer’s shape, with a gentle touch that always feels secure and natural,” the company wrote in a press release. The fold-out cans also appear to borrow design cues from the Momentum 4, which (somewhat controversially) dropped previous Momentum headphones’ iconic / vintage look.

The black version of the Accentum Wireless will begin shipping on October 4, with pre-orders starting tomorrow (September 26). Meanwhile, the white colorway arrives in “late November.” The headphones cost $180 and will be available from select retailers and Sennheiser’s website.

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Reddit turns top contributors’ Reddit Gold into real-world money

Reddit announced today that it will begin paying top contributors for gold. The platform’s new Contributor Program allows redditors who meet certain requirements to receive real-world money (distributed monthly) for their awarded content. The company is also revamping how post / comment rewards work by eliminating Reddit Coins (and all associated awards) in favor of all gold all the time.

The Contributor Program is open to redditors who are 18+ years old, in an eligible location (only the US at the beginning), have an account “in good standing” and meet karma minimums. Reddit will grant “standard contributor” status (earning 90 cents per gold awarded) to those with at least 10 gold who received between 100 and 4,999 karma in the last 12 months. Beyond that, “top contributors” (earning $1 per gold awarded) will need a minimum of 10 gold and over 5,000 karma from the preceding 12 months. Redditors falling below those thresholds won’t be eligible for real-world payments until they reach the goals.

You can check your eligibility by navigating to the program page via your profile menu. If you can join, the “Get Verified to Start Earning” button will be highlighted and tappable/clickable.

Reddit also made some interface changes to match the new emphasis on gold. Gilded posts and comments will now display a gold upvote icon in place of the standard one. The platform also now lets you award and purchase gold straight from a post: You can now long-press on the upvote icon for a post or comment in the Reddit mobile app (or, eventually, hover the cursor over the symbol on the web) to choose between giving one and 25 gold awards. A single gold will cost users $2, while they could pay up to $49 for 25 of them. The new gold system is available now on mobile and will roll out to web users “later this year.”

Reddit’s API changes from earlier this year make it much more difficult for third parties to track engagement on the platform. However, with anecdotal reports of engagement dropping after the API protests, today’s moves could be viewed as a carrot to lure / retain prolific contributors who will help the platform build engagement — similar to creator programs from X, YouTube, TikTok and Instagram.

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iPhone 15 Pro Max teardown reveals a mixed bag for repairability

Repairability website iFixit has published its teardown of the iPhone 15 Pro Max, and the results are a mixed bag. Local repair shops still have to deal with the company's software-restricted “parts pairing” requirement, which means they need to order official components directly from Apple and get on the phone with a company employee before iOS will accept individual part replacements.

On the positive side, iFixit praised Apple for returning to a “dual-entry” removable glass back cover with the iPhone 15 Pro models — a feature that debuted with the standard iPhone 14 line last year. “This is a win for consumers as back glass repairs have been outrageously expensive on the high-end models until now, costing as much as $550,” iFixit said in its teardown video.

iFixit also examined the phone’s titanium frame and came away less than impressed. While noting that titanium is dirtier to produce than stainless steel and aluminum (mocking Apple’s “Mother Nature” skit in its launch event), the site also said the material scratches easily. “Unfortunately for the cool factor, we found that the color on the titanium shell scratches easily, a process that is only satisfying under the magnificent magnification of the microscope,” the teardown video said. “I could scratch this thing up all day.”

Elsewhere, iFixit found that the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s logic board appears to be the same as the one in the iPhone 15 Pro, and you have to remove the speaker and Taptic Engine to access the battery-removal tabs. Interestingly, the website also noted that the main and wide camera sensors on the iPhone 15 Pro Max appear identical to those on the iPhone 14 Pro Max, suggesting the “Tetraprism” periscope lens, which enables 5x optical zoom, is the only hardware-based camera update this year. “Any improvement in image quality has more to do with a new A17 SoC than the camera hardware itself,” iFixit said.

Dinging Apple for parts pairing appears primed to stand as a primary focus of iFixit’s Apple teardowns from now on. The repair advocacy website views it as significant enough of a problem to have lowered the iPhone 14’s repairability score from 7 out of 10 to 4 out of 10 nearly a year after launch because of it. “And as we’ve now come to expect, each year brings new parts pairing issues and bugs,” the video said. “This year’s edition is the LiDAR sensor, which now crashes if the sensor is swapped out. Calibration issue or not, these bugs need to be fixed, or else they might as well be paired with the logic board with a tiny Apple warning saying, ‘Hey, this phone is property of Apple.’”

Due to the parts pairing requirement, iFixit gave the iPhone 15 Pro Max a mere 4 out of 10 repairability score. “This phone won't accept salvaged parts, it complicates at-home repair, and it won't be any fun for your local repair tech,” the website said.

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iPhone 15 stuck on the Apple logo during setup? Here’s how to fix it

If you’re setting up a new iPhone 15 today, you might run into some problems. As first reported by9to5Mac, the new models (including standard and pro variants) can get stuck in a boot loop where they may freeze on the Apple logo when transferring apps and data to the new model. Although Apple says the setup process should prompt you to install iOS 17.0.2, which fixes the problem, some users (including one Engadget staff member) have reported that it failed to do that. Here’s what to do.

First, if your iPhone 15 setup prompts you to install iOS 17.0.2 before reaching the data-transfer step, you’re good to go: That means Apple’s hotfix worked as planned, and you don’t need to worry about any special instructions. Accept the update, wait for it to install and complete the process. But you’ll need to hop on a computer if it doesn’t prompt you to update.

Computer workaround

Start by plugging your iPhone into a Mac or Windows PC using its supplied (or any compatible) USB-C cable. Then, put the phone in recovery mode using the following button combinations: While it’s still plugged in, quickly press the iPhone’s volume up button, then the volume down button. Immediately after, press and hold the phone’s side (power / sleep) button until your handset displays the image below of a computer and cable. (If you don’t see it, try the button combinations again without pausing.)

Image of an iPhone with a recovery mode graphic (cable pointing upward towards a laptop) on its screen. Gray background.

Next, Mac users can open Finder and select their iPhone from the sidebar. Windows users will need to open iTunes. (If you don’t already have it, you can download it from here.)

After opening Finder (Mac) or iTunes (Windows), it will ask if you want to restore or update your phone. Choose “Restore,” and it will install the new software. (Apple notes that if your iPhone restarts while your Mac or PC downloads the update, you’ll need to wait for the update to complete before repeating the recovery mode button combination from paragraph three.)

After your Mac or PC completes the software restore, you should be able to unplug your iPhone and follow the prompts on its screen to set it up and transfer your data as usual.

Workaround without a computer

If you’re on the go or otherwise don’t have access to a computer, there’s an alternate method that may take a little longer. After powering up the phone, select the option to set it up as a new iPhone instead of transferring apps and data from your old model or iCloud. Then, after it takes you to a clean Home Screen for the first time, navigate to Settings > General > Software Update, and install the iOS 17.0.2 update.

After the update completes, head to Settings > General > Transfer or Reset iPhone, and choose “Erase All Content and Settings” at the bottom of the screen. After it completes the factory reset, the setup process should allow you to transfer your existing content from iCloud or your old handset.

Once you’ve set up your new phone, you can check out Engadget’s iPhone 15 Pro / Pro Max review and iOS 17 preview to brush up on all your new features.

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Bowing to pressure, Unity announces the terms of its surrender

Unity announced significant concessions to its new game developer pricing on Friday. After rolling out the widely scorned changes 10 days ago, including a per-install fee many developers said could upend their entire businesses, the company rolled out a walkback today that softens some of the policy’s sharper edges.

Perhaps most notably, users on the Unity Personal plan will no longer be subject to the Unity Runtime Fee. This broadly disdained charge would have forced smaller developers to pay every time their game was installed (including reinstallations from the same user). Under the revised policy, Unity Personal users can earn up to $200,000 without changing plans — up from the previous $100,000. In addition, the company is waiving the requirement to include the “Made with Unity” splash screen.

Meanwhile, developers on Unity Pro and Enterprise plans won’t have to worry about the Unity Runtime Fee until they upgrade to the next LTS (long-term support) version of the engine shipping in 2024. Any current games or projects in development based on versions of Unity older than that won’t be charged the fee. It also only applies to those who switch to the upcoming version. “We will make sure that you can stay on the terms applicable for the version of Unity editor you are using — as long as you keep using that version,” Unity Create leader Marc Whitten wrote today.

Rami Ismail, an influential indie game dev who co-founded Vlambeer, was among the dissenting voices speaking out against Unity's initial changes. He had this initial reaction to the new proposal:

Devs on Unity Pro or Enterprise plans who qualify for the Unity Runtime Fee will pay either a 2.5% cut of their revenue or a “calculated amount based on the number of new people engaging with your game each month.” A fee summary webpage clarifies those as “initial engagements,” which sounds like it voids the previous method that would have charged developers twice if the same person uninstalled and reinstalled their game (or downloaded it onto a new device). In addition, Unity clarified that developers will self-report the numbers determining the fee and will always pay the lesser amount of the two, quelling concerns about the potential for tracking and abuse.

Unity also said no game with less than $1 million in revenue for the preceding 12 months will pay the fee.

Whitten sounded a conciliatory tone as the company does damage control over its roundly condemned plans. “I want to start with simply this: I am sorry,” he wrote. “We should have spoken with more of you and we should have incorporated more of your feedback before announcing our new Runtime Fee policy. Our goal with this policy is to ensure we can continue to support you today and tomorrow, and keep deeply investing in our game engine. You are what makes Unity great, and we know we need to listen, and work hard to earn your trust. We have heard your concerns, and we are making changes in the policy we announced to address them.”

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Amazon Prime members can get a Blink camera bundle for half off

Amazon has a half-off deal for Prime members on a Blink outdoor / indoor security camera bundle. The sale gives you a pair of Blink Outdoor 4 cameras, which launched last month, and a Blink Mini for only $117.49. Whether these are your first security cameras or you’re adding to an existing setup, this is a chance to save 50 percent off their usual cost.

The Blink Outdoor 4 is a wireless device that, despite its name, can work as an inside or outside camera. It supports person detection, which uses computer vision to alert you when it spots a human in its field of view (if you also subscribe to an optional Blink subscription). The camera offers 1080p HD video, infrared night vision, two-way audio and enhanced dual-zone motion detection. Its bundled AA batteries can last up to an estimated two years. Also included is the Blink Sync Module 2, required for offline storage (if you bring your own USB drive).

Meanwhile, the Blink Mini is the company’s classic entry-level indoor camera. The wired device also records and streams in 1080p. It includes motion detection, two-way audio and night vision. It also requires a Blink subscription to save clips in the cloud, but, like the Outdoor 4, the Blink Mini also supports offline storage if you connect a USB drive to the Sync Module 2.

Remember that the deal is only available for Amazon Prime members. And it only lasts until midnight Pacific time.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter and subscribe to the Engadget Deals newsletter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

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YouTube’s upcoming AI-powered creator tools include a generative green screen

YouTube has new AI features for creators on the way. AI-powered features the company announced at its Made on YouTube event on Thursday include a green screen feature, insights to stimulate ideas, automatic dubbing to other languages and a soundtrack search.

Dream Screen gives YouTube Shorts creators an AI-powered green screen, similar to a popular feature on TikTok. YouTube’s tool will automatically remove backgrounds from your videos, replacing them with AI-generated images or videos based on your prompts.

Although it’s yet to be seen how professional and convincing the generated content appears in practice, the idea is for Dream Screen to make it easier to illustrate fantasy scenarios or simply liven up otherwise ho-hum backdrops. YouTube suggests trekking through an enchanted forest or riding shotgun as your pug drives you to school as two oddball scenes Dream Screen can craft. The company says it will start to test the tool with “select creators” later this year before a broader rollout in 2024.

YouTube marketing screenshot of an upcoming generative feature called AI insights. The shot shows a creator's YouTube Studio page. The Channel analytics page has a box up top that says,
YouTube Studio’s AI-powered insight recommendations

YouTube Studio will get a new feature that brainstorms for you. Similar to asking ChatGPT for video ideas, the “insight recommendations” feature can draft outlines and help creators conceptualize projects. Similarly, assistive search in Creator Music will make it easier to find background tunes for your videos. “Simply type in a description of your content and AI will suggest the right music at the right price,” YouTube VP Toni Reid wrote today. Both Insights and assistive music search will be available for creators next year.

YouTube also showcased the AI-powered dubbing feature it began testing earlier this year. Developed at Google’s Area 120 incubator, it can generate a text-based translation into the selected target language. The company says it gives you a chance to double-check the output before choosing from different virtual narrators to read your content. The feature is currently being tested with select creators in English, Portuguese and Spanish.

The company is also launching a YouTube Create app to help video makers produce content on their mobile devices. It includes standard features like editing, trimming, automatic captioning, voiceovers, filters, effects and royalty-free music with beat matching. The free app is currently in beta for Android in select markets.

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GTA+ now includes free games, starting with three Grand Theft Auto remasters

Rockstar announced on Thursday that GTA+ subscribers will now get access to a rotating selection of Rockstar Games. At launch, members can download and play Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - The Definitive Edition, the 2021 remaster of early 21st-century classics GTA III, GTA: Vice City and GTA: San Andreas.

The games will only be available for the console platform your GTA+ membership is tied to. Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - The Definitive Edition typically costs $60, so this could be a cheap and easy way to revisit the trio of open-world pioneers. The remastered trilogy polishes the original’s dated graphics with new lighting and environmental upgrades, high-res textures, greater draw distances, modern controls and refined targeting.

The 2021 remake starts with the highly influential Grand Theft Auto III (2001), which dazzled turn-of-the-millennium gamers with its vast (for its day) open-world sandbox of Liberty City. 2002’s GTA: Vice City built on that formula while adding a voiced protagonist, Tommy Vercetti (the late Ray Liotta), along with an abundance of 1980s nostalgia and satire. GTA: San Andreas capped off the trilogy in 2004 with a broader scope (it spans three cities) and a memorable 1990s hip-hop soundtrack; you walk in the shoes of Carl “CJ” Johnson (Christopher Bellard) as he returns to his Grove Street home after five years away.

GTA+ launched in 2022 for GTA Online players on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S. In addition to the revolving assortment of games, the $6-per-month program offers perks like a monthly deposit of $500,000 in virtual currency, and rotating rewards like in-game vehicles, clothes, properties, weapons and bonus mission rewards.

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