Bytes: What’s new in tech

A big push for unlocked phones; The upside of piracy; Wearable tech for babies

A big push for unlocked phones

The age of unlocked smartphones may be near, said Hayley Tsukayama in The Washington Post. The White House filed a formal petition last week with the Federal Communications Commission “asking that all wireless carriers be required to unlock all mobile devices so that users can easily switch between carriers.” Unauthorized unlocking of phones, tablets, and other devices has been illegal since January, prompting activists to launch an online petition on the White House’s website. The Obama administration and the FCC had earlier backed measures allowing consumers to unlock their mobile devices once their carrier contracts run out, but “the idea had lost some momentum, and the administration appears to be trying to bring it back into the legislative arena.”

The upside of piracy

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“You would think that Netflix, HBO, and the like don’t think too highly of video piracy websites,” said Nick Bilton in But it turns out that Netflix uses pirating websites “to determine the genre of new shows viewers might be interested in,” helping it decide what content to create or license. “With the purchase of a series, we look at what does well on piracy sites,” said Kelly Merryman, vice president of content acquisition at Netflix. Time Warner Chairman Jeff Bewkes even said that discovering that the HBO series Game of Thrones was the most pirated TV show last year was “better than an Emmy.” The content creators’ laissez-faire stance may just be an admission that cracking down on illegal downloads “is like playing the world’s largest game of Whac-a-Mole.”

Wearable tech for babies

Researchers at Brigham Young University have developed a new way to track your baby’s condition, said Margaret Rhodes in The “Owlet Baby Monitor” is a baby-size “smart sock” that can keep tabs on an infant’s heart rate, oxygen levels, temperature, and sleeping habits. It even features “a rollover alert to ease the universal anxiety of new parents, sending notice if the baby turns facedown in the crib.” The device can sync its data with a mobile app, and is made of easily cleanable silicone. “Being dads ourselves, we realize babies don’t stay the cleanest or driest all the time,” said Jordan Monroe. “And it’s food grade, so if you took a bite out of it, then nothing would happen to your stomach.”

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