Posted Apr. 7, 2017 at 5:00 a.m.

Tech wrap: Twitter-Trump fight; Netflix scraps ratings; Samsung profits; record space time; Comcast wireless service

Published: 2017-04-07 05:00:00
Updated: 2017-04-07 05:00:00

Bulldog Bulldog

In today's Bulldog wrapup of technology and science news:

  • Twitter challenges US order for anti-Trump user records
  • Netflix is looking for a thumbs-up as star ratings fade away
  • Samsung tips huge jump in profit despite corruption scandal
  • Veteran NASA spacewoman getting 3 extra months in orbit
  • Cable giant Comcast offers cellular plans on Verizon network

The details:

  • Twitter challenges US order for anti-Trump user records

Twitter defied a U.S. government request for records that could identify users behind an account opposed to President Donald Trump, and is challenging that order in court.

The company filed its lawsuit Thursday in a San Francisco federal court against the federal Department of Homeland Security and its Customs and Border Protection office, charging that their efforts to "unmask" the people behind the account violate the First Amendment.

Twitter said its users have a constitutional right to disseminate such "anonymous and pseudonymous political speech." It declined to comment beyond the lawsuit. DHS likewise declined to comment.

The account in question is @ALT_uscis , a reference to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office. The account described its users to The Associated Press in February as employees and former employees of the agency.

In a Thursday interview, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer now representing the account declined to discuss anything about the person or people currently involved in the account being targeted by the Trump administration. Documents supporting the Twitter account holder's right to speak anonymously online will be filed in the next few days, said Esha Bhandari, a staff attorney for the ACLU.

  • Netflix is looking for a thumbs-up as star ratings fade away

Netflix's video-streaming service is officially scrapping its familiar star-rating system, hoping to make it easier for its 94 million subscribers to signal whether they liked a movie or TV show.

The service is compressing its familiar one-to-five star system into a simpler choice of thumbs-up or thumbs-down. The change, first discussed by a Netflix official last month and officially unveiled on Wednesday, is aimed at soliciting more viewer feedback and helping the service make better program recommendations.

Netflix believes its star system has been confusing to many people. The five stars allowed subscribers to tell Netflix whether they "hated," ''didn't like," ''liked," ''really liked" or "loved" a particular video.

That was straightforward enough. But the company found that too many subscribers thought the star ratings Netflix posted for videos they hadn't rated reflected the average of all user responses. In actuality, those ratings were personalized predictions based on Netflix analysis of a user's viewing history and past ratings.

Instead, Netflix will now display a percentage designed to predict how much each subscriber will enjoy a given show or movie. The number, similar to compatibility predictions on online dating services, will also be drawn from viewing patterns and past ratings, including those previously entered into the star system.

  • Samsung tips huge jump in profit despite corruption scandal

Samsung Electronics said Friday its first-quarter profit jumped 48 percent, a better-than-expected result that analysts believed to be driven by strong smartphone components.

The quarterly earnings preview show that how Samsung's business is booming while its stock trade near historic highs, despite unprecedented crises in recent months. Samsung scrapped its flagship smartphones last year after they overheated and caught fire, leaving billions of dollars in financial damages and hurting its reputation. A few months later, its de facto heir and several top executives were charged with crimes linked to a political scandal that toppled the country's president.

Its January-March operating income will be 9.9 trillion won ($8.8 billion), compared with 6.7 trillion won a year earlier, the South Korean company said in its earnings preview.

The result was higher than the market consensus of 9.3 trillion won, according to financial data provider FactSet. Its sales stayed nearly flat at 50 trillion won ($44 billion) during the first quarter.

Samsung's de facto leader is due to make his first appearance at court later Friday along with four other Samsung executives who were also charged on bribery and embezzlement.

Lee Jae-yong, 48, a vice chairman at Samsung Electronics and the only son of its chairman, was arrested and indicted in February on bribery, embezzlement and three other charges that could entail at least five years in prison if he is proven guilty.

  • Veteran NASA spacewoman getting 3 extra months in orbit

The world's oldest and most experienced spacewoman is getting three extra months in orbit.

NASA announced Wednesday that astronaut Peggy Whitson will remain on the International Space Station until September. The 57-year-old astronaut arrived last November and was supposed to return to Earth in June. But under an agreement between NASA and the Russian Space Agency, she'll stay another three months and take advantage of an empty seat on a Soyuz capsule in the fall.

This mission — her third — will now last close to 10 months. Scientists are eager to monitor any changes to her body, to add to the knowledge gained from retired astronaut Scott Kelly's recent one-year flight.

The two men she flew up with in November — France's Thomas Pesquet and Russia's Oleg Novitskiy — will return in June without her.

Whitson has already spent more time in space than any other woman, counting all her missions, and just last week set a record for the most spacewalks by a woman, with eight.

This weekend, she'll take over as space station commander, her second time at the job.

And on April 24, she'll set a new U.S. record for most accumulated time in space. That NASA record — 534 days — is currently held by former space station resident Jeffrey Williams.

  • Cable giant Comcast offers cellular plans on Verizon network

The cable giant Comcast will start selling cellphone plans called Xfinity Mobile in the coming months, using a network it's leasing from Verizon.

Many subscribers will save money, especially if they don't use a lot of data. The catch: Only Comcast internet customers can sign up.

Comcast, which has nearly 25 million high-speed internet customers, said its wireless service is aimed at holding onto its customers. Comcast's key competitors — AT&T's DirecTV and Verizon's FiOS — are part of companies with wireless offerings.

"We're not getting into the mobile business to be the No. 1 carrier," said Sam Schwartz, chief business development officer with Comcast Cable. "It's to benefit our existing core business. We're not going to make billions of dollars in profit."

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