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ExtraBITS for 28 August 2017

In ExtraBITS this week, Apple is opening a new data center in Iowa that will run entirely from renewable energy, Virgin Mobile USA is offering a year of cell service for $1 even if you bring your own iPhone, Sonos is forcing a new privacy policy on speaker owners, Verizon is throttling video for new unlimited data customers, and weather app AccuWeather has been caught collecting location data without permission.

Apple’s New Iowa Data Center Will Run Entirely on Renewable Energy -- Apple is building a $1.3 billion, 400,000 square foot data center in Waukee, Iowa that will be powered completely by renewable energy from day one. The new data center will create over 550 construction and operations jobs, and Apple will contribute up to $100 million to a community development fund for the area around Waukee. Apple didn’t say how many of those jobs would continue after construction finishes.

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Virgin Mobile Offering $1 Service without iPhone Purchase -- The Sprint subsidiary Virgin Mobile USA recently switched to being an iPhone-only carrier, offering a full year of service for $1 when purchased with an iPhone. Now the company has opened that offer to everyone who ports an existing iPhone to Virgin Mobile. Until 29 September 2017, Virgin Mobile will give new customers SIM cards for free, after which they will be $25. Service after the initial year will cost $50 per month, but you’ll get an additional 6 months of service for $1 every time you upgrade your iPhone.

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Sonos: Accept Our New Privacy Policy or Lose Your Speakers -- In preparation for adding Alexa-powered smart speaker features, sound system manufacturer Sonos is about to start collecting audio settings, error data, and other account data. Sonos has updated its privacy policy, and if users don’t agree to it, they won’t be able to update the Sonos software, and their speakers may cease to function in the future. Users will be able to opt out of some data collection, but not all. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and other privacy-oriented groups are both crying foul and warning that this is an increasing problem with Internet-connected devices. Sonos’s move seems particularly shortsighted in light of Apple’s forthcoming HomePod.

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Verizon Wireless Throttling Video for New Unlimited Customers -- When Verizon Wireless announced the return of unlimited data plans earlier this year, we were afraid it was too good of a deal. Verizon now offers an unlimited plan for $75 per month ($5 less than before) but will throttle video streams so that they cannot exceed 480p (DVD) resolution on phones and 720p on tablets. Those resolution limits will also apply to mobile hotspots, which will also be capped at 600 Kbps. Verizon has also announced a new $85-per-month Beyond Unlimited plan that lets you stream video in HD resolutions and includes 15 GB of 4G LTE data for tethering per month, throttling data to 600 Kbps after 15 GB. The good news is that if you currently subscribe to Verizon’s previous $80-per-month unlimited plan, you get the benefits of Beyond Unlimited for the same price as before.

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AccuWeather Gathering Location Data Even When Location Services Is Disabled -- iOS weather app AccuWeather has been gathering data about your location even if you told it not to in Settings > Privacy > Location Services. Security researcher Will Strafach found that the app sends your Wi-Fi router name and MAC address to data monetization firm Reveal Mobile every few hours. Although Reveal Mobile claimed it was never tracking individual devices, the Wi-Fi router and MAC address data could be used to determine your location. AccuWeather says that it’s updating its app to eliminate this behavior, but we recommend switching to another weather app and deleting AccuWeather on principle. There must be consequences for such a blatant disregard for user privacy, and all we users can do is vote with our feet.

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