Pornhub to leave five more states over age-verification laws

Pornhub will cease operating in five more states this summer due to new legislation that requires age verification on adult entertainment websites. The move is in response to a wave of recently-passed laws that require porn websites and other platforms with explicit adults-only content to collect proof of their users' ages. In all of these states, that means people would need to upload a copy of their driver's license or other government ID, or register with a third-party age verification service, in order to use sites like Pornhub.

A blog post from Pornhub said that its latest locations for shutdowns are Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky and Nebraska. The site said it would end operations in those states in July 2024. The website closed in Texas last week, and has also blocked access to its site in Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Utah, and Virginia in response to similar state legislation.

Lawmakers from these states who supported age-verification laws said the rules would keep children from viewing explicit content. For example, the Kentucky bill framed pornography as a “public health crisis” with a “corroding influence” on children.

Pornhub parent company Aylo has countered that the approach taken by these laws puts users' privacy at risk and may not actually prevent minors from seeing explicit content. After Louisiana enacted a similar law last year and Aylo remained in operation with a government-supported age verification service, Pornhub traffic in the state dropped 80 percent.

"These people did not stop looking for porn," Aylo told the Indiana Capital Chronicle. "They just migrated to darker corners of the internet that don’t ask users to verify age, that don’t follow the law, that don’t take user safety seriously, and that often don’t even moderate content." The company advocates a device-based age verification solution rather than state legislation to keep minors off of adults-only sites.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation also raised privacy concerns around these bills, noting that no age-verification method is completely foolproof. "No one should have to hand over their driver’s license just to access free websites. That’s why EFF opposes mandated age verification laws, no matter how well intentioned they may be," the organization said in a 2023 statement.

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Congress passes sweeping pro-nuclear energy bill

The United States has taken a significant step towards becoming a nuclear reactor hub. On Tuesday, June 18, the Senate passed the Accelerating Deployment of Versatile, Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy (ADVANCE) Act in an 88 to 2 vote. A version also garnered bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, passing 365 to 33 earlier this year, leaving the path clear for the bill to reach President Biden's desk. 

The past decade has seen over a dozen reactor closures and only two new ones open — a pair that launched last month in Georgia to the tune of over $30 billion in expenses. The ADVANCE Act aims to expand the nation's nuclear energy industry by creating incentives and reducing the time and cost of building nuclear reactors. These attempts include financial awards for the first companies to reach certain goals, such as implementing upcycling of recycled nuclear waste. 

Much of the ADVANCE Act centers on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), an independent government agency that monitors nuclear use, including commercial nuclear power plants. The bill shifts the NRC's role, requiring it to create a new mission statement that states "licensing and regulation of the civilian use of radioactive materials and nuclear energy be conducted in a manner that is efficient and does not unnecessarily limit the benefits of civilian use of radioactive materials and nuclear energy technology to society." It further instructs the NRC to accelerate its licensing review process and hiring of staff, along with improving "its process for approving the export of American technology to international markets."

In a statement following the bill's passage, US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works chairman Tom Carper stated, "The ADVANCE Act will provide the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with the tools and workforce it needs to review new nuclear technologies efficiently, while maintaining the NRC's critical safety mission and creating thousands of jobs."

However, not everyone is in favor of the bill, with critics warning it comprises safety. Senators Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey were the two opposing votes, with the latter arguing that the ADVANCE Act turns the NRC into a facilitator rather than a regulator. "This bill puts promotion over protection, and corporate profits over community clean-up," Markey stated. "The ADVANCE Act, as attached to the Fire Grants and Safety Act, includes language that would require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to rewrite its mission to state that its regulation and oversight should 'not unnecessarily limit' civilian nuclear activity, regardless of whether it is beneficial or detrimental to public safety and national security. The NRC shouldn't be the Nuclear Retail Commission."

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Sennheiser Momentum Sport review: Fitness earbuds that lack finesse

Sennheiser could have just trotted out a set of wireless earbuds that were rated IP55 and called it the Momentum Sport ($330), but it went further, adding heart-rate and body-temperature sensors to the made-for-exercise earbuds. These additions give you more insight into workouts, but also feed data to your existing third-party activity apps. Of course, the Momentum Sport also has to excel at the normal earbud stuff, and offer an ergonomic design, active noise cancellation (ANC), touch controls and other common features. Sennheiser has a solid track record with sound quality, but now it has to balance that with the expanded capabilities of the Momentum Sport.

The Momentum Sport’s overall shape is what I wish Sennheiser used for the Momentum True Wireless 4. The former’s rounder profile fits my ears better and feels more comfortable even though they’re slightly larger. Without the fit wing, the Sport version still rests nicely in my ears, though that extra part definitely helps keep them in place during workouts. Simply put, this design feels more refined and I’d love to see the company take a similar direction on its flagship model.

Sennheiser says it aimed for “vivid sound and impressive bass” that would help amp up a workout and it delivered. The stock tuning has noticeably more low-end thump on Justice’s Hyperdrama, bracing the electronic tunes with a thicker layer of tone. That’s definitely something that assists with your energy levels during physical activity. But, as I’ll discuss later, the extra bass isn’t always a good thing.

The Momentum Sport’s marquee features, which are heart-rate and body-temperature tracking, work well. Thanks to the earbuds’ secure fit, you can get constant, dependable readings in Sennheiser’s Smart Control app. Heart rate figures matched those on my Apple Watch, and I confirmed my temperatures with a forehead scan. The Momentum Sport’s readings were consistent with the other devices every time, which means the earbuds are as reliable as other at-home alternatives.

The Momentum Sport earbuds are equipped with body temperature and heart rate sensors.
Billy Steele for Engadget

What’s more, there’s tight integration with apps like Polar, Peloton, Strava and Zwift, so you can use the Momentum Sport with their devices and not just Sennheier’s app, which is mostly designed to tweak settings. However, only Polar’s Flow supports the Momentum Sport’s body-temperature tracking. Sennheiser says this is because Polar is the only company with an ecosystem that keeps tabs on that metric and supports the appropriate sensors. No matter which third-party app you prefer, you’ll probably want to sync the Momentum Sport to one of them, since the Smart Control software only displays real-time readings and won’t keep tabs on trends or monitor stats during workouts.

Although it has to power more sensors, the Momentum Sport still delivers solid battery life. Sennheiser says a single charge offers five and a half hours of playback, and that claim holds up. I didn’t have any issues hitting that figure during my testing of looping audio at about 65-70 percent volume. That’s with ANC on normal mode and heart-rate and body temperature sensors active. The company says you can extend the battery on the Momentum Sport by 30 minutes if you enable Eco Mode in its app. This feature disables aptX audio and both of the body-tracking sensors.

The Momentum Sport lets you tap your cheek for playback and call controls. This is convenient when running, for example, since you don’t have to find the exact location of the touch panel while on the move or if you’re wearing gloves. The downside is that it can be activated by chewing. It is intensely annoying. During my tests, chewing gum or food frequently triggered the controls.

Sennheiser says this is because I have strong jaw muscles (yay?) in close proximity to the sensor, but that doesn’t make it any less maddening. I chew gum during both runs and lifting sessions, so this is a dealbreaker. Just clenching my jaw didn't trigger it, so at least there's that. The only way to remedy the issue is to turn off the onboard controls entirely, which disables both the cheek tapping and more common earbud tapping gestures. 

The Momentum True Wireless 4’s ANC performance is solid but not amazing and that holds true on the Momentum Sport. Both sets of earbuds perform similarly with constant noise sources, lowering the volume of the external roar rather than blocking it completely. Like a lot of the competition (and the True Wireless 4), the Momentum Sport struggles with human voices. Overall, neither of them offer the kind of robust, world-silencing power that Bose and Sony muster.

The Momentum Sport's outer panel accepts taps for onboard controls.
Billy Steele for Engadget

Transparency mode on the Momentum Sport is serviceable, but it’s far from great. The earbuds let in your surroundings well, but don’t pipe in enough of your voice and I found myself getting shouty during a few calls. There’s also an anti-wind mode that comes in handy during outdoor workouts, but it’s a tool nearly all new earbuds are equipped with these days.

Unfortunately, good audio performance isn’t universal on the Momentum Sport. While some albums are detailed and crisp despite the added bass, others are missing punchy highs and a strong mid range. The sound profile compresses things like grungy, distorted guitars and bass lines. Vocals consistently cut through, but the more prominent kick drum in songs like Knocked Loose’s chaotic “Suffocate” relegates guitars to the backseat. In fact, guitars across a range of styles – including alternative, rock and country – lack the depth and detail the Momentum 4 provide. By dialing up the low-end tone, Sennheiser has sacrificed some of the dynamics that usually give its earbuds such great audio. And in a set of earbuds that cost over $300, that’s a shame.

Lastly, let’s discuss the case, which is less sophisticated than Sennheiser’s previous designs. These earbuds cost $330 and the charging case shouldn’t feel this flimsy. The lid closes securely most of the time, but the hinge is just a piece of rubber so the case doesn’t stay open unless you lay it all the way flat. The soft-touch coating feels nice, but compared to the accessories that come with the Momentum line, this case is what I’d expect with a set of earbuds that cost half as much. The good news is, there is wireless charging support and the case is rated IPX4, so it’s not all a loss.

The Momentum Sport presents a dichotomy. On one hand, they’re excellent workout earbuds that reliably track biometric stats for an inside look at your training regime. On the other, they lack the overall sound quality I’ve come to expect from Sennheiser’s Momentum lineup and the overly sensitive controls are an extreme nuisance. The earbuds could improve with some software fine-tuning, but for now, they’re too expensive to buy just for workouts and don’t even perform consistently enough to be your go-to set.

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Tales of the Shire is a cozy village sim where you can’t run, but you can skip

The march of big-budget Tolkien fantasy has hit gaming yet again. While ignoring Gollum’s misadventures, another game, Tales of the Shire, offers a gentler, low-stakes way to play in the universe of Bagginses, lembas bread, and Gandalf.

Set somewhere between the end of The Hobbit, but before it all kicked off in Lord of the Rings, Tales of the Shire sees you settling into Bywater, helping fellow villagers achieve their tasks and dreams. That involves fishing, farming vegetables and cooking up a storm to improve your relationships and unlock new recipes and possibly other activities.

The game’s simple but effective home decoration system allows you to move a single book or an entire table (and everything on it). In fact, the whole of Tales of the Shire seems designed as a gentle introduction to cozy gardening game mechanics, with its cooking and general good-neighborly activities. A cute system of bluebirds helps you navigate the snug but packed hamlet. (If it’s not a village, it’s a hamlet, right?). And when you run – you don't run, you skip.

If anything, it’s a bit too familiar. You can fish, farm and cook some dishes, and these activities offer rewards that can all be tracked elsewhere in the village, just like countless other farming and village life sims. The overarching aim is to help turn Bywater into a bonafide village by helping your neighbors with their various projects and challenges. During a brief demo, I was tasked with developing a new menu for the local inn. I had to pick my ingredients and seasonings carefully to hit the right flavor profile of dishes representing the story of Bilbo Baggins’ adventures to steal treasure from a dragon. But Tales of the Shire isn’t reinventing the genre.

The Tolkien references are present but not overwhelming — this is another cute countryside village that needs a bit of help — just that everyone has hairy big feet. The development team told me their writing team included a “Tolkien expert” to make sure that sidequests, stories and characters still fit cohesively into the author’s vision. I think that generally means maximum whimsy. Expect lots of food-based chilling by the riverbanks and cozy errands.

Tales of the Shire

Even the relationship mechanism between your customizable character and the rest of the village is based on making dinner to forge bonds and deepen connections. Hosting a mean dinner party opens up more quests, and – just as crucial – more potent recipes for schmoozing and feeding other villagers. Meal crafting itself is a relatively short minigame in which you can riff off base ingredients to incorporate your guests’ favorite flavors. Some fish, for example, may have a salty or hot flavor profile, improving your odds of making a new friend. A little graph guides your cooking prep as you aim for the best consistency and texture for your culinary creations.

According to the team behind it, Tales of the Shire is intentionally slow-paced. It aims to be forgiving and doesn’t punish the player if they mess up a task or fail to complete it. Time passes slowly, giving the player enough time to walk (or skip) to other parts of the village. My demo was a relaxing, if predictable, jaunt around the Shire, but could be a tempting new game for Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley fans, all with the cultural pull of Tolkien.

Tales of the Shire will be released later this year for PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, and Xbox Series X/S.

Catch up on all of the news from Summer Game Fest 2024 right here!

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Amazon’s Throne and Liberty MMO is coming to the west in September

Amazon Games has revealed when it will bring free-to-play MMO Throne and Liberty to the Americas, Europe and Japan. The company will release the NCSoft-developed title in those regions on PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S on September 17. There will be full cross-platform support. An open beta will take place in July and you can sign up for that through the game’s website.

Throne and Liberty, which was originally supposed to be a direct sequel to the original Lineage, debuted in Korea last year after a lengthy development process. It has both player vs. player and player vs. environment combat, and you can join guilds and form alliances to help you succeed. Amazon says battles can accommodate thousands of players at the same time.

The action takes place in an open world called Solisium, where the weather can impact the effectiveness of your weapons and even open up new routes. Your character can shapeshift into creatures that can navigate the sea and air more quickly. You'll even be able to transform into slain bosses to help out your side in battles.

Amazon signed a deal with NCSoft in 2023 to publish Throne and Liberty in North America, South America, Europe and Japan on the heels of Lost Ark’s success. That game, from South Korean developer Smilegate, turned out to be a huge hit, with a peak of 1.3 million concurrent players on Steam. Over two years later, Lost Ark is still going strong, with an average Steam concurrent player count of nearly 56,000 in May.

Despite how well Lost Ark (and before that, New World) performed for Amazon Games, the division has gone through some rough spells over the last several years. Soon after its first in-house game Crucible debuted in May 2020, Amazon pulled it back into beta status before completely shutting down the free-to-play shooter outright a few months later. Last year, Amazon laid off around 300 workers from its games division as part of a broader downsizing.

Even so, Amazon has some other notable games in its pipeline. It's working on a Lord of the Rings MMO and it's publishing the next Tomb Raider game (it's bringing a live-action Tomb Raider series to Prime Video too).

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California Governor Gavin Newsom wants to restrict phone use in schools

Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, has issued a statement in support of efforts aiming to restrict the use of smartphones in schools within the state. As The New York Times reports, the governor aired his stance merely hours before board members at the Los Angeles Unified School District voted to pass a proposal for a school phone ban. Newsom said he will work with lawmakers "to restrict the use of smartphones during the school day" this summer, because children and teens "should be focused on their studies — not their screens."

The governor also mentioned and agreed with the US Surgeon General's op-ed published by The Times, wherein he said that social media platforms should be required to display warning labels from his office because they can significantly harm teenagers' mental health. In his piece, Vivek Murthy explained that the label "which requires congressional action, would regularly remind parents and adolescents that social media has not been proved safe."

Newsom said the rules he develops will build upon the directive he signed in 2019, which authorizes (but doesn't require) districts to adopt phone bans. If California does pass a law to ban the use of phone during school hours, it'll join Florida and Indiana in the list of states with similar legislation. Florida's schools are required to prevent their students from using their phones during class time, and some districts even require them to ban phone use until it's time for the students to go home. Other states are poised to follow suit. New York City designated social media as a public health hazard earlier this year, and Governor Kathy Hochul previously said that she would pursue phone restrictions for schools in the New York state next year.

While LA's board members ultimately passed the proposal for a phone ban, two members voted against it. One told The Times that he voted no because teachers are already having difficulties imposing existing restrictions in schools. Perhaps more importantly, he said that parents need to be able to contact their children during emergencies, like school shootings, echoing the concerns of parents who opposed phone bans in the past. 

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The Morning After: The biggest announcements from Nintendo Direct

Nintendo sidestepped sharing the spotlight with all the other gaming companies at Summer Game Fest last week, promising its own Direct later in June. And that happened yesterday, teasing a lot of new games with Nintendo favorites. Mario games, yes. Zelda games, yes, and even a new Metroid game, confirmed. (More on that below the fold).

The funny thing is the new Zelda game is all about… Zelda. You play as the princess in The Legend of Zelda: Echoes of Wisdom. It opens where most Zelda games finish, with Link defeating Ganon. But just as he frees Princess Zelda, our usual hero is sucked into an alternate dimension. The game is played top-down and borrows the art style of the Link’s Awakening remake. However, Zelda’s main weapon and tool is the trirod. With this, she can copy many items and use these “echoes” to navigate the world. You can even create echoes of monsters to fight for Zelda.

Nintendo’s 40-minute update also included release dates for the forthcoming Dragon Quest remake, a new Mario Party title and news that feline adventure Stray is coming to Switch.

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Here are all of the just-announced Copilot+ PCs with Snapdragon X chips

Black Myth: Wukong is pretty, intriguing and as challenging as it looks


The Solo Buds cover the basics, but that’s about it. Audio quality is flat, unless you’re listening to Dolby Atmos content in Apple Music, but at least the earbuds are comfy with long battery life. Then again, they only cost 80 bucks.

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Fisker has officially declared bankruptcy. The US-based startup filed for Chapter 11 protections and plans to restructure its debt and sell its assets. This means the Alaska EV with a designated cowboy hat space — not a joke — will likely never happen. Fisker revealed in a recent report that it had produced 10,193 units of its sole EV available, the Ocean SUV, in 2023, but only delivered 4,929 vehicles.

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Habbo Hotel: Origins, on Mac today, revives the 2005 PC game in all its nostalgic glory. If you never played Habbo Hotel 20 years ago, the game is an online community, in the format of, well, a hotel. Your avatar can chat with your friends in the virtual hotel lobby and spend in-game credits on furniture and accessories.

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After 18 years and a complete reboot, Samus Aran will return in Metroid Prime 4: Beyond, next year. We got our first glimpse of the game too, with Samus duking it out with aliens in typical Metroid style. The teaser ends with the reveal of a new big bad. It’s wearing a suit like our hero but is flanked by two floating metroids. Ominous? Yes.

Continue reading.

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More than 1,000 students pledge not to work at Google and Amazon due to Project Nimbus

No Tech for Apartheid (NOTA), a coalition of tech workers demanding big tech companies to drop their contracts with the Israeli government, is close to reaching its goal for a campaign asking students not to work with Google and Amazon. As Wired reports, more than 1,100 people who identified themselves as STEM students and young workers have taken the pledge to refuse jobs from the companies "for powering Israel's Apartheid system and genocide against Palestinians." Based on its website, NOTA's goal is to gather 1,200 signatures for the campaign. 

"As young people and students in STEM and beyond, we refuse to have any part in these horrific abuses. We’re joining the #NoTechForApartheid campaign to demand Amazon and Google immediately end Project Nimbus," part of the pledge reads. Google and Amazon won a $1.2 billion contract under Project Nimbus to provide the Israeli government and military with cloud computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence services. A Google spokesperson previously denied that the company's Nimbus contract deals with "highly sensitive, classified or military workloads relevant to weapons or intelligence services."

As two of the biggest tech companies on the planet, Google and Amazon are also two of the biggest employees of STEM graduates. Wired says the campaign's pledgers include undergraduate and graduate students from Stanford, UC Berkeley, the University of San Francisco and San Francisco State University — institutions located in the same state as Google's HQ. 

NOTA had also organized actions protesting tech companies' involvement with Israel in the past, including sit-ins and office takeovers that had led Google to fire dozens of workers. In March, one of its organizers was fired from Google after interrupting one of its executives at an Israeli tech conference in New York and loudly proclaiming that he refuses to "build technology that powers genocide or surveillance."

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Netflix House will open two locations in Texas and Pennsylvania in 2025

Netflix announced that Dalla and King of Prussia, Pennsylvania will host the first incarnations of its Netflix House entertainment complex concept. The Netflix blog Tudum posted the announcement Tuesday morning along with an artist’s rendering of one of the locations. Both will open sometime next year.

Netflix House is the streaming giant’s first attempt at a brick-and-mortar retail business. The Dallas and King of Prussia locations will offer dining, live events and interactive sets and experiences based on some of Netflix’s most popular shows and movies.

The “experiential entertainment venue” will let fans of shows like Bridgerton, Money Heist, Stranger Things and Squid Game interact with some of its most iconic scenes and settings. The announcement promises that guests can do things like “waltzing with your partner to an orchestral cover of a Taylor Swift song on a replication of the Bridgerton set.” Then you can enter another area of Netflix House and “compete in the Glass Bridge challenge from Squid Game” presumably without experiencing a really messy death in the end.

Presumably, no high concept entertainment experience is complete without taking a forced path through a gift shop. You can pick up special merchandise like a Hellfire Club T-shirt, a copy of The Queen’s Gambit board game or an “I survived a rich guy’s game of death” coffee mug from Squid Game. Don’t forget to check out the clearance bin for a Too Hot to Handle oven mitt.

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The FTC has referred its child privacy case against TikTok to the Justice Department

The Federal Trade Commission has referred its complaint against TikTok to the Justice Department after a long-running investigation into the company’s privacy and security practices. “Our investigation found reason to believe that TikTok is violating or about to violate the FTC Act and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA),” FTC Chair Lina Khan said in a post on X.

In a longer statement shared by the FTC, the regulator noted its investigation into TikTok after a 2019 privacy settlement related to, the app acquired by ByteDance that eventually became TikTok. The FTC “also investigated additional potential violations of COPPA and the FTC Act,” it said. It’s not clear exactly what the FTC turned up, though Politico reported earlier this year that the regulator was also looking into whether TikTok had misled users about whether their personal data was accessible to people in China.

The statement itself is a somewhat unusual move for the FTC, which acknowledged that it doesn't typically publicize its referral decisions. It said it believed doing so in this case “was in the public interest.” The referral is likely to ramp up pressure on TikTok, which is also fighting a legal battle against the US government to avoid a potential ban. Lawmakers and other officials have alleged the app poses a national security threat due to its ties to China.

A TikTok spokesperson told Engadget in a statement that the company was “disappointed” with the FTC’s decision. "We've been working with the FTC for more than a year to address its concerns,” the spokesperson said. “We're disappointed the agency is pursuing litigation instead of continuing to work with us on a reasonable solution. We strongly disagree with the FTC's allegations, many of which relate to past events and practices that are factually inaccurate or have been addressed. We're proud of and remain deeply committed to the work we've done to protect children and we will continue to update and improve our product.”

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