Court filings accidentally reveal charges against Julian Assange

In a turn of events that reads like a plot point from an unreleased Coen Brothers script, information has surfaced revealing that prosecutors have charged embattled Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange.

The information came to light as part of the recently unsealed filing of a seemingly unrelated sex crimes case. How Assange’s name and fate appeared in those court documents is apparently anyone’s guess. Wikileaks, for one, is chalking the whole kerfuffle up to a “cut-and-paste error.”

The three-page filing itself dates back to August, originating from the court of the Eastern District of Virginia. It was unsealed the following month, but hadn’t received much attention until now, when George Washington University faculty member Seamus Hughes stumbled upon an odd passage in the filing.

“[D]ue to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case,” the filing reads, “no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.”

Hughes suggested that the mention was a Freudian slip from someone who, “just appears to have Assange on the mind when filing motions to seal and used his name.” Ultimately, the truth of the matter seems much more unfortunate for Assange, who has been holed up in London’s Ecuadoran embassy.

“The news that criminal charges have apparently been filed against Mr. Assange is even more troubling than the haphazard manner in which that information has been revealed,” Assange lawyer Barry Pollack told The New York Times. “The government bringing criminal charges against someone for publishing truthful information is a dangerous path for a democracy to take.”

The charges could ultimately have additional cascading effects, impacting other major cases including Robert Mueller’s on-going investigation into the 2016 election.

Welcome to the awkward future of the open office

I have seen the future — in fact, I have worn it. It’s big and awkward kind of digs into the top of your head with little metal bars designed to hold it in place.

I was like 95 percent sure Wear Space was some viral bit of social commentary the first time it popped up online. And yet, here I am at a TechCrunch event in Tokyo and the horse blinder-style wearable was right there for all the world to see and try on. So try it on, I did.

The device is still very much in prototype mode, so the uncomfortable bit is something that will likely be resolved before the device starts shipping. The awkwardness of actually wearing the thing, on the other hand, is the sort of thing that takes time to dissipate.

The product is light weight — a good quality for something designed to be work on the head for hours at a time. It’s really just a wireframe with a cloth covering that blots out your peripheral vision, while still giving you plenty to look at in front of you. It somehow felt dystopian and weirdly comforting all at once. At very least, I feel like I have a new-found respect for horses.

Inside are a pair of on-ear headphones. They’re not noise canceling, so they won’t block out everything, but maybe having read on ambient noise is a net positive on something like this.

I will say this: having seen the bizarre things people will put on their heads for the 14 hour plane ride it took to get to Japan, nothing about the Wear Space feels out of the realm of possibility. I mean, if this can be a thing, why not, right?

Keep in mind, too, that we’ve done this to ourselves. Open offices were going to the be the great workplace revolution of the early 21st century, and all we got were these strange horse blinders for people.

New York politicians push back on Amazon HQ2 plans

Amazon’s HQ2 process was bound to polarize (though I do enjoy a good dueling op-ed on these pages) no matter how it landed. But the decision to set up shop in New York City is likely ruffling more feathers than just about any other possible outcome.

As a resident of neighboring Astoria, Queens, the less I say about the matter the better — I’m going to assume you didn’t click on this story to read five paragraphs of me complaining about the N train and my rent.I will say I haven’t spoken to too many fellow NYC residents who are excited about the personal impact Amazon’s move will have on quality of life.

A number of local and state representatives are also finally starting to weigh in on the matter, and many of the comments don’t reflect the sort of capitalist cheerleading one anticipates from elected officials. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand took to Twitter to express “concern” with how the process played out.

In particular, the one-time Blue Dog Democrat (who handily won her latest Senate bid a few weeks back) singles out Amazon’s tax breaks, along with the impact on struggling families, writing, “One of the wealthiest companies in history should not be receiving financial assistance from the taxpayers while too many New York families struggle to make ends meet.”

New York assemblyman Ron Kim took things further, promising legislation aimed as using tax subsidies to help cancel student debt, rather than prop up Amazon. It’s a move that reflects Bernie Sanders’ recent successful bid to provide Amazon warehouse employees a $15 minimum wage.

Congress member-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expressed support for Kim and voiced her own disappointment in a deal that was brokered without community input.

“Amazon is a billion-dollar company,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “The idea that it will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here.”

Indiegogo’s guaranteed shipping provides refunds for failed campaigns

For all the potential upsides of crowdfunding, backing a project always feels like a gamble. And some fairly high profile campaigns over the last few years have helped removed some of the model’s luster. Indiegogo’s hoping to curb some of those failures with guaranteed shipping, a new feature that suspends funding unless a product actual ships.

The crowdfunding site has laid out the terms of the program, which was first highlighted by The Verge. Guaranteed shipping will launch with a select number of campaigns early next year. Those Marketplace campaigns will feature a a badge letting users know they’re covered.

“Pre-Order sellers undergo an assessment for a period of up to 90 days to determine whether they will be able to ship on time,” the company writes on an FAQ page. “If Indiegogo isn’t satisfied with the results of that assessment, we’ll refund your order.”

The concept isn’t a rethink of crowdfunding exactly, but it does signal a shift in thinking for platforms in the wake of the first bubble. Indiegogo has spent the last few years attempting to diversify and reposition its offerings after former COO David Mandelbrot took over CEO duties from co-founder Slava Rubin back in 2016.

Gift Guide: 10 suitcase-friendly gifts for frequent flyers

Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2018 Holiday Gift Guide! Need more gift ideas? Check out our Gift Guide Hub.

I’ve been traveling a lot this year — more than any year in the past. It’s been both a blessing and a curse, so thanks, TechCrunch, for that. Honestly, I should probably be packing for Asia instead of writing this, but I’m looking out for you instead.

Rather than writing the standard Travel Guide or Holiday Gift Guide, we’ve opted to combine them into one. Because if there’s one key to making the most out of your time on the road, it’s efficiency. Technology can play an important role in helping streamline the packing process and generally making the most out of your trip.

Of course, as with everything, too much tech can also be a bad thing. I know I’ve found myself packing too many gadgets or jamming a messy rat king of cables in my carry-on, making a mess of things in the process.

What follows is a collection of gadgets, accessories and other products designed to remove some of the biggest pain points from travel and help you make the most of your trip, whether overnight or longer.

Amazon Kindle Oasis

Okay, maybe including a Kindle on here is a bit of a cheat, but very few devices have improved my travel life like an e-reader — and the Oasis is currently the nicest one you can get. It wasn’t all that long ago I used to jam several paperbacks into my carry-on. I do miss the tactility of real books from time to time, but when it comes to traveling, nothing beats the ability to jam thousands of books into a seat-back pocket.

Price: $249-$279
Available from: Amazon


Anker 40W 4-Port USB Wall Charger

A lot of modern hotels are getting better about USB ports. I recently found myself staying at one in LA where every single link had a place for me to charge my iPhone. But it’s still a crapshoot — especially when traveling to a strange city — and hey, if you can avoid plugging your personal devices into a strange port, all the better.

I started traveling with my own combo mini power strip/USB hub years ago, but Anker’s 40W 4-Port USB Wall Charger is a much more compact solution, bringing four USB ports directly to the wall. Best of all, like all of Anker’s products, it’s dirt cheap.

Price: $26
Available from: Amazon



BUBM Cable Bag

I’ve tried a LOT of cable organizers in my many years of gadget blogging. It’s the only thing that keeps my travel bag from turning into the Indiana Jones snake pit. At the end of the day, all of them ultimately suffer the same compromise: you can either have a lot of compartments for your various tech doodads or you can free up more space in your bag.

Ultimately, I tend to side with the latter. Especially when it comes to carry ons, anything you can do to free up space is a net positive. Lately, I’ve been digging this one from BUBM. It looks snazzy and the fold-over design helps free up precious bag real estate.

Price: $12
Available from: Amazon


Calm Subscription

This is one is admittedly an odd choice. Sure there are plenty of travel-specific apps out there, but when it comes to helping tamp down the stress associated with travel, the Calm app is a good place to start. This is coming for a very anxious flyer, mind you. It’s not a fear of flying — that part’s fine. It’s everything else. From the getting to the airport to the endless lines to the $3 airport water to the occasional middle seat.

I’m also, not coincidentally, an anxious meditator. I’ve tried a LOT of different apps to pursue mindfulness on my smartphone, and Calm is far and away the one I like the best. The guided meditation sessions are terrific and ditto for the the more freeform ones. It’s also a great way to get your bearings after waking up in a hotel room in some unknown city.

A year’s subscription runs $60, which is a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Price: $60
Available from: Calm


Harman Kardon Traveler Speaker

This one admittedly feels like more of a luxury than many of the others, but don’t underestimate how much a small Bluetooth speaker can improve hotel time. The vast majority of laptops have pretty terrible built-in speakers and even middling Bluetooth speakers are a major improvement.

Harman Kardon’s Traveler fits the bill and won’t add much size or weight to a carry on. It also has a built-in mic for teleconference — a definite bonus for work trips — and doubles as a power bank for charging up devices. The 2,500mAh battery isn’t much, but on the road, every little bit of juice counts.

Price: $150
Available from: Harman Kardon


HyperDrive USB-C Hub Attach

I travel with a LOT of gadgets. It’s kind of my job. As such, you’re no doubt catching onto the fact that lack of charging ports is a consistent theme in all of this. HyperDrive USB-C Hub Attach is a clever take on TwelveSouth’s iconic PlugBug that brings USB ports directly to the MacBook’s charging brick. Here, however, you’ve got the decided bonus of a third active USB-C port for data transfer. At $50 for the larger version, it’s also priced to match TwelveSouth’s offering.
Price: $50
Available from: HYPER



Luna Display

As I noted in my write up last month, the Luna Display isn’t for everyone, but those who need it will find it to be a downright lifesaver. Once this thumbnail-sized $80 device plugs into a MacBook, it connects to a nearby iPad over Wi-Fi, converting the tablet into a second screen.

I’ve been using the hell out of it every time I’ve found myself working from the road or at home. I’ve become entirely dependent on my monitor at work, and now find myself being the guy with both a laptop and tablet out on the table at the coffee shop. Totally worth it for the ability to monitor my RSS feeds while working on a story.

Price: $80
Available from: Luna


RAVPower Wireless Portable Charger

Powerbanks are a dime a dozen these days, but RavPower is making some of the cleverest ones out there. It’s tough to narrow them all down, but this one lands on my list for its inclusion of a Qi charging pad that lets users wirelessly charge compatible handsets on top of the brick.

Keep in mind, some airlines and airports are limiting the size of batteries that can be stowed in a bag, so if the person you’re buying for is a frequent visitor to, say, China, double check the limits — though this 10400mAh battery should be fine in most cases.

Price: $50
Available from: Amazon


Timbuk2 Never Check Expandable Backpack

I always thought I’d outgrow backpacks, but aside from a brief flirtation with the messenger bag in the aughts, I’m rarely seen without one. Of course, no two are the same, and if there’s a frequent traveler in your life, a solid backpack makes all the difference in the world.

Timbuk2 makes some truly terrific bags, and the Never Check certainly fits the bill. It has a spacious interior for clothes, shoes and anything else needed for an overnight trip, while maintaining a small enough footprint to be stashed in an overhead bin or under the seat in of you.

Price: $200
Available from: Timbuk2


Twelve South AirFly

This is one of those travel concerns that doesn’t really dawn on you until you’re face to face with it. Love your Bluetooth earbuds? Great. But good luck listening to the movie on your flight. Twelve South, in all of its infinite wisdom, has designed a small wireless transmitter that plugs into headphone jacks, so you can use your go to headphones with the seat-back entertainment system. Turns out it also comes in handy for the TVs at the hotel gym.

The biggest downside here is pricing — $30 doesn’t seem like much, but you can grab a pair of wired headphones for pretty cheap these days.

Price: $30
Available from: Amazon

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Facebook starts shipping Portal, clarifies privacy/ad policy

Planning to get in early on the Portal phenomenon? Facebook announced today that it’s starting to ship the video chat device. The company’s first true piece of devoted hardware comes in two configurations: the Echo Show-like Portal and the larger Portal+ . Which run $199 and $349, respectively. There’s also a two-fer $298 bundle on the smaller unit.

The device raised some privacy red flags since it was announced early last month. The company attempted to nip some of the those issues in the bud ahead of launch — after all, 2018 hasn’t been a great year for Facebook privacy. The site also hasn’t done itself any favors by offering some murky comments around data tracking and ad targeting in subsequent weeks.

With all that in mind, Facebook is also marking the launch with a blog post further spelling out Portal’s privacy policy. Top level, the company promises not to view or listen to video calls. Calls are also encrypted and all of the AI tech is performed locally on-device — IE not sent to its servers.

In the post, Facebook also promises to treat conversations on Portal the way it does all Messenger experience. That means while it won’t view the calls, it does indeed track data usage, which it may later use to serve up cross platform ads.

“When you make a Portal video call, we process the same device usage information as other Messenger-enabled devices,” Facebook writes. “This can include volume level, number of bytes received, and frame resolution — it can also include the frequency and length of your calls. Some of this information may be used for advertising purposes. For example, we may use the fact that you make lots of video calls to inform some of the ads you see. This information does not include the contents of your Portal video calls.”

In other words, it’s not collecting personally identifying data, but it tracking information. And honestly, if you have a Facebook account, you’ve already signed up for that. The question is whether you’re comfortable introducing an extra level and bringing it into your living room or kitchen.

TwelveSouth put a wireless charger in a picture frame

TwelveSouth is one of the most innovative Mac accessory companies out there. From its PlugBug adapter to the AirFly bluetooth headphone receiver, the company makes clever, well-produced products. But the PowerPic — I dunno, man.

I’m sure the build quality is there, as with its other offerings. New Zealand pine sounds nice. At its heart, though, the product is really a wood box around a wireless charging stand. “Wireless charging is awesome, but adding yet another charging gadget to your bedside table is not,” says the press material.

So TwelveSouth built a picture frame with Qi charging built in to hide your gadget-owning shame. It’s a real picture frame — one designed to put real pictures in. Then you place your phone on top. So when it’s not charging, it’s a picture frame. Kind of like how the Google Home Hub or Facebook Portal turn into digital picture frames when not in use. Only this isn’t digital. It’s paper.

The best part of the PowerPic is probably the name — like PowerPC, but with an “i.” Apple homages abound. Ultimately, though, it’s one of those things that seems more like a project you’d find on a DIY YouTube channel. Only it’s a product you can buy for $80. Just in time for the holidays, I guess.

Spotify Connect speakers will soon work with its free-tier

Spotify’s ad-supported tier has long been one of the service’s differentiators. Naturally, the model’s not nearly as feature rich as its paid counterpart, though the company’s removing one of those key distinctions as this morning.

In a press release, the company notes that free users will soon be able to stream music through Spotify Connect-sporting speakers. The newfound integration will work with hardware companies that switch to the new SDK.

Here’s your standard game changer quote, this time from Senior Product Director, Michael Ericsson: “The release of our new eSDK will change the game for Spotify’s Free users who want to enjoy music on their connected speakers. We look forward to supporting our partners over the coming months as they update existing speakers and bring new products to market.”

Most (around 104 million) of Spotify’s 191 million subscribers are free users. The tier has been a tremendous part of the service’s global growth, and it continues to be a difference as Apple Music gains a foothold, particularly here in the U.S.

Earlier this year, Spotify fleshed out its free offering, but Premium continues to offer some marked advantages. Along with getting rid of ads, it includes higher quality streams and the ability to download offline tracks.

Hey look, it’s a new Barnes & Noble Nook in 2018

It’s true! It’s 2018, and Barnes & Noble just announced another Nook! You can preorder it today! All of these things are somehow  simultaneouslytrue. The Nook line has basically been a non-starter since 2016, back when the once ubiquitous bookseller offered up a dirt cheap $50 model. Even back then it felt like a strange anachronism.

The pricing on the new model is more inline with what you’d expect from a budget tablet, from, say Amazon. The Nook 10.1 runs $130. Aside from the titular screen size (at a middling 224 ppi), there’s really not much to talk about with what will almost certainly be a run of the mill budget Android tablet with 32GB of storage, two cameras and a headphone jack — which admittedly does qualify as a feature in 2018.  Barnes & Noble is calling it a “game changer,” because that’s what people do in press releases.

“The new Nook 10.1 provides a complete reading and entertainment experience on our biggest display yet,” Chief Digital Officer Bill Wood says in the release. “The soft-touch feel and lightweight design make it a perfect holiday gift for readers who want to enjoy their favorite books for hours, while also being able to browse, watch shows, listen to music, or send emails all from one device. The NOOK 10.1 is truly a game changer for the Nook lineup.”

Games will be changed when the device hits what’s left of Barnes & Noble’s stores on November 14.

Amazon opens yet another retail store, this time in Berkeley, CA

Halloween’s over, that means retail is in full holiday mode. For Amazon, that also means a couple of new shipping offers and, apparently, the launch of a bunch of new brick and mortar locations. In September, the online giant opened a 4-Star Store in New York City, following it up with a Denver location last week.

The Verge notes that Amazon’s opening yet another location for its new retail strategy, this time in the East Bay. The Berkeley location follows the same model as its predecessors, only stocking products that have managed to score four stars or higher on the site. Naturally, that list also includes a bunch of Amazon’s own products, including Echo speakers and Fire tablets.

If nothing else, it’s an opportunity to actually experience some of those products in person — a phenomenon that’s become rarer and rarer in the age of online commerce. The retail stores also afford the company the ability to blur the line between online and in-person sales.

The Four-Star locations are a small part of the company’s fast growing store strategy. The model also includes a number of Amazon Go cashier-less grocery stores (including a recent addition in nearby San Francisco) and, of course, the company’s purchase of Whole Foods last year.