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April 16, 2014

Apple, Samsung, and throng of other of large cell phone manufacturers are finally adding a "kill switch" option to their devices. A kill switch makes a phone inoperable if it's lost or stolen by letting owners remotely wipe data and prevent it from being reactivated. Carriers are able to help users reactivate and restore their devices (using the cloud) if found.

The voluntary move, planned by the cell-phone company trade group CTIA, was a preventative one, prompted by increasing pressure from several states and municipalities. Kill switches will appear as an opt-in function on most phones beginning July 2015. Since consumers spend more than $2.5 billion a year on insurance fees and replacement costs, the button seems like a no-brainer.

Read more at Recode. Jordan Valinsky

1:46 p.m. ET

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson likely broke a federal law Tuesday night when he was introduced by his government title before President Trump's rally in Phoenix, Arizona, The Washington Post reports.

The rally was, technically speaking, part of Trump's 2020 bid. Carson ran into trouble because of an odd little rule in the 1939 Hatch Act, "a measure meant to preserve the impartiality of public servants," the Post writes.

Among the prohibitions included in the Hatch Act is one prohibiting Cabinet secretaries from leveraging their positions for a political cause. That means that the head of, say, the Department of Housing and Urban Development can't appear at a campaign rally in a way that implies he's doing so in an official capacity. Say, by being introduced with his official title. [The Washington Post]

"[Carson] should have told them in advance that they cannot use his title," said the senior director of the Campaign Legal Center, Larry Noble. “Once hearing the introduction, he should have made clear he was speaking in his personal capacity and not as secretary."

Read more about how Carson possibly broke the law at The Washington Post. Jeva Lange

1:02 p.m. ET
Ralph Freso/Getty Images

A Public Policy Polling survey released Wednesday revealed that 45 percent of President Trump's supporters believe that white people encounter "the most discrimination in America." Meanwhile, 17 percent of Trump voters said that Native Americans face the most discrimination, 16 percent said that African Americans do, and 5 percent said that Latinos do.

The poll also found that a majority of Trump voters — 54 percent — believe that Christians face the most discrimination of any religious groups in the U.S. Twenty-two percent said that Muslims do, while 12 percent said that Jews do.

Public Policy Polling suggested the fact that there's "a mindset among many Trump voters that it's whites and Christians getting trampled on in America that makes it unlikely they would abandon Trump over his 'both sides' rhetoric," referring to the president's tack of blaming "both sides" for the violence at the Aug. 12 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. In fact, Trump doubled down on his remarks at a Phoenix rally Tuesday night, accusing the "dishonest" media of downplaying the actions of anti-fascists.

The poll surveyed 887 registered voters from Aug. 18-21. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. Becca Stanek

12:57 p.m. ET

Taylor Swift announced her sixth studio album, Reputation, in a series of Instagram posts on Wednesday. The album will be out Nov. 10.

Swift also released the artwork for her new record:

A post shared by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

The first single from the album will be released Thursday night, Swift added.

Reputation is the follow-up to Swift's 2014 album 1989, which sold nearly 1.3 million copies within its first week. Jeva Lange

12:10 p.m. ET

President Trump's science envoy resigned on Wednesday, leaving critics of the commander-in-chief a secret acrostic message to discover in his letter:

The first letter of each paragraph of Professor Daniel Kammen's letter spells "impeach," some readers noticed.

An energy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Kammen cites Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement and his failure to clearly condemn white supremacists in Charlottesville as "a broader pattern that enables sexism and racism, and disregards the welfare of young Americans, the global community, and the planet."

While he was Trump's science envoy, Kammen "focused on building capacity for renewable energies," The Sacramento Bee writes, adding that "the science envoy program draws on scientists and engineers to leverage their expertise and networks to build connections and identify opportunities for international cooperation."

Members of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities also resigned with a secret message in their letter earlier this month. Jeva Lange

11:53 a.m. ET

After the disastrous recall of its Galaxy Note 7 phone last year, Samsung on Wednesday unveiled the next phone in its Note line, the Galaxy Note 8. The successor to the discontinued and sometimes flammable phone features a sizable infinity screen measuring 6.3 inches diagonally; two 12-megapixel color cameras; fingerprint, facial, and iris scanning capabilities; an updated S Pen stylus that can now translate full sentences; and an impressive 64 gigabytes of built-in storage.


Samsung also made a point of independently verifying that the Note 8 battery meets safety standards, a key step to winning back consumer trust since the Note 7 battery was prone to overheating. On top of that, the company now completes an "eight-point battery safety check during its manufacturing process," Time reported.

The Galaxy Note 8 is available for presale on Aug. 25. It's slated to hit stores on Sept. 15, pitting it against Apple's upcoming 10th-anniversary iPhone. Becca Stanek

11:40 a.m. ET
Carl Court/Getty Images

Snapchat plans to host original scripted content through Snapchat Shows before the year is over, Variety reports. The announcement from the company's head of content, Nick Bell, follows Snapchat's successful rollout of TV companion programs for shows like The Voice and The Bachelor.

"Mobile is the most complementary thing to TV that has been around," Bell said.

Snapchat's first attempt at original scripted content, though, was widely panned. Literally Can't Even aired on the app in 2015, Tech Crunch reports, "inspiring headlines including 'We Literally Can't Even with Snapchat's new original series' and 'Snapchat's First Original Series is Here and It's Awful."

Bell said Wednesday the company had been hesitant to break into scripted content — production is expensive — but that it is "an interesting next juncture" for the app and could create "fundamentally a new medium."

The new shows will be tailored to Snapchat's mobile platform, likely running approximately three to five minutes in length, Variety adds. Jeva Lange

11:30 a.m. ET

As the climate continues to warm, the permanently frozen ground underneath much of Alaska is starting to thaw. While the loss of permafrost would obviously have big consequences for the state's population, wildlife, and infrastructure, perhaps even more alarmingly, it would also have a huge impact on the already increasing global temperature, The New York Times reported Wednesday:

Starting just a few feet below the surface and extending tens or even hundreds of feet down, it contains vast amounts of carbon in organic matter — plants that took carbon dioxide from the atmosphere centuries ago, died and froze before they could decompose. Worldwide, permafrost is thought to contain about twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere.

Once this ancient organic material thaws, microbes convert some of it to carbon dioxide and methane, which can flow into the atmosphere and cause even more warming. Scientists have estimated that the process of permafrost thawing could contribute as much as 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit to global warming over the next several centuries, independent of what society does to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels and other activities. [The New York Times]

The complete thaw of the Arctic's "always-frozen ground" is estimated to be millennia away, but already the melting ground is believed to be contributing to rising carbon emissions in the region. One calculation estimates that right now, thawing permafrost worldwide emits about 1.5 billion tons of fossil fuel annually, which the Times noted is "slightly more than the United States emits from fossil-fuel burning."

“There's a massive amount of carbon that's in the ground, that's built up slowly over thousands and thousands of years," said Max Holmes, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center studying Alaska's permafrost melt. "It's been in a freezer, and that freezer is now turning into a refrigerator."

Read more on the alarming thaw at The New York Times. Becca Stanek

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