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Date: Wednesday, 23 Jul 2014 01:00
Amazon's first phone isn't without its charms, but is it good enough to replace the iOS or Android stuff you already have?
Andrew Cunningham

It took other companies a long time to respond to the iPad. Early efforts like the first Samsung Galaxy Tabs, the Motorola Xoom, and Barnes & Noble's Nook Color had their fans, but compared to Apple's tablets, they all had major flaws. Amazon's first Kindle Fire had its problems too, but Amazon's name recognition and the tablet's $199 price made it one of the iPad's first semi-credible competitors. It opened the door for even better tablets at the same price point, and Android's tablet market share is largely built on the cheap tablet foundation that Amazon helped establish.

Amazon's first smartphone is taking the opposite path. It's jumping into the high-end smartphone market surprisingly late in the game. The market started showing signs of saturation, and its competitors are entrenched. At $649 unlocked for a 32GB phone ($199 with a two-year contract), it doesn't have a price advantage. It's also not being subsidized by Amazon's media storefronts or by "Special Offers"-style advertisements.

Because it's 2014, because the phone costs what it does, and because there are dozens of great phones to be had at (and well below) this price bracket, it's going to be much more difficult for users to overlook flaws or shortcomings when compared to those first Kindle Fire tablets. Amazon's phone brings unique features like its Dynamic Perspective head tracking cameras and its Firefly scanning software, but can the phone get by on a couple of cool features if it has other problems?

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Author: "Andrew Cunningham" Tags: "Ars Technica Videos, Features, Gear & Ga..."
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Date: Wednesday, 23 Jul 2014 00:15

Polls relating to publicly controversial scientific issues often trigger a great wailing and gnashing of teeth from science advocates. When large proportions of a population seem poorly informed about evolution, climate change, or genetically-modified foods, the usual response is to bemoan the state of science literacy. It can seem obvious that many people don’t understand the science of evolution, for example—or the scientific method, generally—and that opinions would change if only we could educate them.

Research has shown, unfortunately, it's not that simple. Ars has previously covered Yale Professor Dan Kahan’s research into what he calls “cultural cognition,” and the idea goes like this: public opinion on these topics is fundamentally tied to cultural identities rather than assessment of scientific evidence. In other words, rather than evaluate the science, people form opinions based on what they think people with a similar background believe.

That shouldn’t come as a shock, especially given the well-known political or religious divides apparent for climate change and evolution.

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Author: "Scott K. Johnson" Tags: "Scientific Method, climate change, Clima..."
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 23:05
Michelle Phan, a very popular YouTube user, demonstrates the stretchiness of hair ties.

Popular YouTube user Michelle Phan is being sued for alleged copyright infringement on songs she has used in her videos, according to reports from the BBC. Ultra Records claims that Phan has used 50 of its songs in her YouTube posts and on her website illegally despite one of the label's own artists objecting to the legal action.

Phan's YouTube channel centers around using and buying makeup, and her videos are often backed by upbeat music with the artist credited in the video's description. Artists whom Phan has used in her videos include Kaskade, deadmau5, and Calvin Harris.

Kaskade spoke out on Twitter about the lawsuit, condemning Ultra for pursuing Phan for copyright infringement. "Copyright law is a dinosaur, ill-suited for the landscape of today’s media," he wrote. "We can’t love (& won’t buy) music we haven’t heard." If it's exposure artists are looking for, Phan's audience isn't a bad target. She boasts over six million subscribers and videos that consistently crack a million views each.

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Author: "Casey Johnston" Tags: "Law & Disorder, Ministry of Innovation, ..."
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 22:30
A defendant accused of illegally downloading porn on BitTorrent argued it was like having a pirated CD slipped in his bag on the way out of the store. The judge didn't buy it.

Porn studio Malibu Media files more copyright lawsuits than anyone else in the US since the fall of Prenda Law; hundreds of suits against "John Doe" defendants have been filed in just the last few months. Nearly all of those cases settle before the case is decided on the merits.

However, in a rare development yesterday, a Malibu lawsuit proceeded to a judgment—and it was a slam dunk for the porn studio. In a terse five-page order (PDF), US District Judge Robert Jonker tore apart defendant Don Bui's arguments that using BitTorrent and the site Kickass Torrents to get porn files didn't violate Malibu's copyright.

In the case, the defendant admitted he had 57 unauthorized copies of Malibu Media movies on his hard drive and had used BitTorrent technology to get them. Bui tried to shift the blame to the Kickass Torrents website, but it didn't work. He also tried to distinguish the technology he used from earlier technologies found to violate copyright laws, like Grokster. That didn't sway Jonker, who wrote:

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Author: "Joe Mullin" Tags: "Law & Disorder, copyright, Malibu Media"
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 21:00
Satya Nadella and former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop in a photo-op.
View Liveblog

Last week, Microsoft announced that it would be making the largest set of staff cuts in the company’s history, axing as many as 18,000 jobs over the next fiscal year. This week, CEO Satya Nadella will be delivering Microsoft’s fourth-quarter earnings results, and according to his corporate-speak-filled layoff e-mail, Nadella will take the opportunity to "share further specifics on where we [Microsoft] are focusing our innovation investments."

This likely means elaboration on both the specific nature of the cuts (which Microsoft EVP and former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop discussed at length in his own e-mail last week) and some details on where and how Microsoft plans to expend effort to improve itself. There will also likely be a barrage of questions from analysts wanting to know about how the cuts will affect Microsoft’s business strategy, since Nadella’s e-mail contained language indicating that he wanted to (among other things) flatten the organization’s notoriously thick management layer cake.

Shares of MSFT actually jumped a few points when trading commenced after the layoff announcements on the morning of July 17; revenues are expected to be up from last fiscal year’s fourth quarter, and analyst expectations are that Microsoft’s Q414 performance will come in at about $0.60 per share, down from $0.66 last year.

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Author: "Lee Hutchinson" Tags: "Ministry of Innovation, layoffs, microso..."
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 20:58
Apple has set another quarterly record for iPhone sales, despite the fact that the iPhone 5S is due for replacement relatively soon.
Jacqui Cheng

It's been another quiet, by-the-books quarter for Apple, which has yet to release any major updates to any of its products so far in this calendar year. For the third quarter of 2014, the company projected it would maintain profit margins between 37 and 38 percent on revenues between $36 and $38 billion, and it met the revenue estimates with profits of $7.7 billion on revenue of $37.4 billion. Revenue is about six percent higher and profit is 11.6 percent higher than Q3 of 2013, in which the company earned $6.9 billion of profit on $35.3 billion of revenue.

The company's gross margin was considerably higher than the estimate, at 39.4 percent compared to 36.9 percent a year ago, an increase of 6.8 percent.

iPhone and Mac sales were both up over the year-ago quarter—Apple sold 35.2 million iPhones (compared to 31.24 million) and 4.41 million Macs (compared to 3.75 million) this quarter, despite the fact that most of its products are either mid-cycle or nearing the end of their refresh cycles. The delay of Intel's next-generation Broadwell CPUs has kept Apple from making more than minor tweaks to its Mac lineup this year.

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Author: "Andrew Cunningham" Tags: "Infinite Loop, Ministry of Innovation, e..."
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 20:55

The busy holiday gaming season, set to get its start in earnest during a packed October this year, is looking a little less packed today. That's because EA has announced that two of its biggest titles have slipped from planned October release dates to give the developers more time to finish up their work.

The bigger of the two delays is the spin-off shooter franchise Battlefield: Hardline, which has been pushed from October 21 to an unspecified date in "early 2015." According to a blog post announcing the move, that delay comes after a post-E3 beta for the game seemingly failed to live up to player expectations.

"We’ve been pouring over the data and feedback [from the beta], and have already been putting a lot of it right into the game and sharing it directly with you," DICE VP and Group GM Karl Magnus Troedsson wrote in the blog post. "This feedback also spurred us to start thinking about other possibilities and ways we could push Hardline innovation further and make the game even better. The more we thought about these ideas, the more we knew we had to get them into the game you will all be playing. However, there was only one problem. We would need more time. Time that we didn’t have if we decided to move forward with launching in just a couple of months."

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Author: "Kyle Orland" Tags: "Opposable Thumbs, Battlefield, battlefie..."
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 20:50
Apple's newly split stock price has been on the rise lately. Let's see if this quarter's earnings make it move one way or the other.
Andrew Cunningham
View Liveblog

Apple will be announcing its Q3 2014 financial results on Tuesday, July 22 at 5pm Eastern time (2pm Pacific), and the standard earnings call with press and analysts will follow shortly afterward. As we usually do, we'll be following along with the call to liveblog and provide charts and other contextual information—Apple rarely makes major announcements on these calls, but it does give more information on how particular Apple products are doing both in the US and other markets.

Apple's third fiscal quarter runs from the beginning of April to the end of June, and while WWDC was full of new software announcements, those updates (and the new hardware that will accompany them) won't actually be available until the fall, late in Q4 2014 or early in Q1 2015. Beyond a new, slightly cheaper iMac and a security lock for the Mac Pro, we just haven't gotten many new gadgets lately, and the majority of Apple's money is made by selling hardware. That said, Apple's products tend to sell well even when they're in the middle of a refresh cycle. One stat in particular to keep an eye on: will iPad sales continue to be down as they were last quarter, or will they bounce back up? Analysts believe that tablet sales are beginning to level off, and the iPad's sales numbers will be a major data point in that discussion.

Apple's guidance for the quarter predicted revenue between $36 billion and $38 billion with profit margins between 37 and 38 percent. Other predictions for this quarter can be found in the Q2 2014 announcement.

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Author: "Andrew Cunningham" Tags: "Infinite Loop, Ministry of Innovation, a..."
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 19:49

A YouTube video featuring a controversial San Francisco lawyer who has been representing landlords in eviction procedures appears to have been newly restored on Tuesday after being made unavailable for a week.

The lawyer, Daniel Bornstein, filed a seemingly spurious copyright infringement claim under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Many have noted (including Ars founder Ken Fisher a decade ago) that the DMCA’s notice-and-takedown provision practically encourages an overzealous response from those who claim copyright ownership.

The two-minute video depicts Bornstein at a January 2014 seminar in which he is speaking to local landlords but is interrupted by protesters angry at the rise in San Francisco evictions. Many such evictions have been blamed on rising rents, which have in turn been blamed on the huge influx of cash from high-paid tech jobs. (Just last week, the median home sales price in San Francisco topped $1 million for the first time.)

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Author: "Cyrus Farivar" Tags: "Law & Disorder, daniel bornstein, DMCA, ..."
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 18:58

Greetings, Arsians! Our partners at LogicBuy are back with even more deals. Have you upgraded to 4k yet? The top deal this week is a 28-inch 4K Dell monitor for just $399.99. That's $300 off the MSRP! There are a few options this week from Dell, and the company just started taking Bitcoin. So if you've got some lying around, make the most of them by hitting up these deals.

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HDTV and home theater

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Author: "Ars Staff" Tags: "Gear & Gadgets"
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 18:15

Developers of the Tor privacy service say they're close to fixing a weakness that researchers for an abruptly canceled conference presentation said provides a low-cost way for adversaries to deanonymize hundreds of thousands of users.

The talk previously scheduled for next month's Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas was titled "You Don't Have to be the NSA to Break Tor: Deanonymizing Users on a Budget." The abstract said that the hack cost less than $3,000 and could uncloak hundreds of thousands of users. On Monday, Black Hat organizers said the presentation was canceled at the request of attorneys from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), where the researchers were employed, as well as the Software Engineering Institute (SEI). The attorneys said only that the materials to be presented "have not yet been approved by CMU/SEI for public release." Researchers Alexander Volynkin and Michael McCord have yet to explain why their talk was pulled.

Tor officials responded by saying that they're working on an update for individual Tor relay nodes that will close the unspecified security hole.

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Author: "Dan Goodin" Tags: "Law & Disorder, Risk Assessment, Technol..."
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 18:05

As part of its last-ditch effort to be classified as a cable company, Aereo has filed documents with the US Copyright Office that has made public previously unknown details about the company.

At the end of 2013, Aereo had 77,596 subscribers in 10 cities, according to Peter Kafka of Re/code, who published the information earlier today. About 27,000 of them lived in New York City, Aereo's first market. Boston, its second market, had 12,000 subscribers, while Atlanta had 10,000.

By way of comparison, Kafka notes that Netflix has more than 50 million subscribers worldwide, while Hulu has 6 million subscribers for its premium service.

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Author: "Joe Mullin" Tags: "Law & Disorder"
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 17:55
This screenshot reminds us that Video Games: The Movie is better than the Bob Hoskins Super Mario Bros. film, but that's not saying much.
Variance Films

The announcement of Video Games: The Movie was exciting and promising enough to help most fans stomach its amateur status (and its awkward title). Not that gaming documentaries are a rarity anymore; other recent, popular flicks have poked their noses into gaming culture, but they’ve typically chosen and focused on a niche, like competitive retro play or small-fry development.

VGTM, on the other hand, cast its documentary net wide by way of a giant interview cast. With luminaries like Nolan Bushnell, Warren Spector, Rob Pardo, David Crane (Pitfall), and other important games-history figures, the film’s comprehensive reputation preceded it.

Unfortunately, the film's scope, in fact, is its greatest stumble. This feature-length debut from director Jeremy Snead boasts an impressive cast and noticeable polish, but it has “overreach” written all over it, proven by a lack of focus, wildly varying levels of authority, and crippling indecision about whether gaming culture should still adopt the defensive pose of old.

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Author: "Sam Machkovech" Tags: "Opposable Thumbs, documentary, Nolan Bus..."
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 17:18

Johns Hopkins Health System is agreeing to pay more than 8,000 women as much as $190 million to settle a lawsuit charging a gynecologist with deploying a secret pencam to shoot photos and videos of patients' sex organs.

The Monday settlement is believed to be the largest involving sexual misconduct involving a physician.

The male doctor, Nikita Levy, committed suicide last year, days after a fellow doctor became suspicious and alerted administrators at the Baltimore-based hospital—one of the country's most prestigious medical centers. Levy died after wrapping his head in plastic and overdosing on helium.

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Author: "David Kravets" Tags: "Law & Disorder, pencam, surveillance cam"
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 17:06

No company has lobbied more fiercely against network neutrality than Verizon, which filed the lawsuit that overturned the FCC's rules prohibiting ISPs from blocking and discriminating against Web content. But the absence of net neutrality rules isn't just good for Verizon—it's also good for the blind, deaf, and disabled, Verizon claims.

That's what Verizon lobbyists said in talks with congressional staffers, according to a Mother Jones report last month. "Three Hill sources tell Mother Jones that Verizon lobbyists have cited the needs of blind, deaf, and disabled people to try to convince congressional staffers and their bosses to get on board with the fast lane idea," the report said. With "fast lanes," Web services—including those designed for the blind, deaf, and disabled—could be prioritized in exchange for payment.

Now, advocacy groups for deaf people have filed comments with the FCC saying they don't agree with Verizon's position.

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Author: "Jon Brodkin" Tags: "Law & Disorder, Ministry of Innovation, ..."
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 16:56

Just how profitable is fully acquiring America’s largest mobile phone companyVery.

In February of this year, Verizon purchased the remaining minority stake in Verizon Wireless previously held by Vodafone. Verizon has since raked in $4.2 billion in profits during the second quarter of 2014, compared to $2.2 billion over the same time period in 2013. Still, investors remained unmoved: Verizon’s stock price was essentially flat on the news.

One data point that likely contributed to the new, bigger company’s bottom line is Verizon Wireless’ ever-rising average revenue per account (ARPA); this rose 4.7 percent quarter-over-quarter, hitting just shy of $160 per month. As recently as January 2014, Verizon customers on average paid the most of any major carrier in the United States, at $148 per month.

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Author: "Cyrus Farivar" Tags: "Ministry of Innovation, profits, verizon"
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 16:13

Xiaomi is one of the biggest phone makers in China and is often called the "Apple of China" by the western press. The moniker is well-deserved, as the CEO has a penchant for doing product announcements wearing jeans and a black shirt and using Apple's trademark "One More Thing" surprise at the end of a show.

Today, the company announced the Xiaomi Mi 4, a new version of its flagship smartphone. The spec rundown is a 5-inch 1080p IPS LCD, 2.5Ghz Snapdragon 801 chipset, 3GB RAM, 13MP rear camera, 8MP front camera, and a 3080mAh battery. The real kicker is the price, 1,999 Yuan (about $320) for 16GB of storage, or 2,499 Yuan (about $400) for the 64GB version. The specs are similar to the OnePlus One—a 5.5-inch device for $300—and while the Mi 4 is slightly more expensive, the difference is that you can actually buy the Xiaomi device if you live in China.

And sure enough, Xiaomi is still taking inspiration from its western role model, as the Mi 4 looks like a big iPhone. A segmented metal band with chamfered edges surrounds the phone, and it even uses a similar earpiece design. The rest of the outside is plastic, but for the new version Xiaomi says it has incorporated a stainless steel frame into the device.

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Author: "Ron Amadeo" Tags: "Gear & Gadgets, china, xiaomi"
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 15:42
Just give Riot an excuse to use the banhammer...

League of Legends developer Riot Games is ready to take a tougher stance with the toxic players that are ruining the gameplay experience for many of the game's more than 27 million players. Riot Lead Designer of Social Systems Jeffrey Lin announced via Twitter yesterday that, starting immediately, "players that show extreme toxicity (intentional feeding or racism, etc) will be instantly 14-day or permabanned."

In a a follow-up post on Reddit, Lin notes that things like "death threats [and] homophobia" will also draw the ire of the new stricter player moderation. Further, players that publicly complain about these bans will now be "named and shamed" through sharing the chat logs that led to the ban.

The new banning system will be largely automated, and players caught up in the dragnet will be told they are being banned "until Year 2500," though such permanent bans will have to be reviewed by a human before going into effect. After testing the new moderation system one server at a time, Riot plans to roll the program out across the entire game.

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Author: "Kyle Orland" Tags: "Opposable Thumbs, community management, ..."
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 15:35

As part of its normal life cycle, HIV inserts a copy of itself into the genome of every cell it infects. Most of these copies go on to cause an active infection, pumping out new copies of the virus. A few of them, however, go quiet and can persist even during aggressive antiviral treatments. These infected cells act as a reservoir for the virus, reestablishing an active infection if antiviral therapies are ever stopped. Eliminating this viral reservoir has proven extremely difficult.

Now, researchers are reporting on some of the first tests of a technique that targets the copies of the virus that are lurking in cells with a quiescent infection. Using a system that bacteria utilize to disable viruses, they've shown that it's possible to precisely edit out key HIV DNA sequences, essentially inactivating any copies of the virus. And if placed in cells prior to exposure to HIV, the same system effectively blocks infection.

Bacteria don't have an immune system, but that doesn't mean they have no defenses against viruses. When infected, the bacteria can make special RNAs that match the DNA sequences of the virus. These RNAs then guide a protein called Cas9 to the viral DNA, which the protein then cuts. The cut inactivates the virus, protecting the bacteria. The whole system (called CRISPR/Cas) is incredibly flexible; given the right RNA, it can be turned loose on pretty much any DNA sequence. Researchers have shown that it can be used to cut the DNA of living human cells, effectively editing their contents.

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Author: "John Timmer" Tags: "Scientific Method, AIDS, Biology, HIV, m..."
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 15:23

When a call to cancel Comcast service descended into "a stunning display of hysteria and desperation," pretty much everyone who listened to a recording of the phone call agreed: it was painful to listen to.

Comcast Chief Operating Officer Dave Watson found it painful too. In an internal memo published by The Consumerist, Watson wrote:

[I]t was painful to listen to this call, and I am not surprised that we have been criticized for it. Respecting our customers is fundamental, and we fell short in this instance. I know these Retention calls are tough, and I have tremendous admiration for our Retention professionals, who make it easy for customers to choose to stay with Comcast. We have a Retention queue because we believe in our products, and because we offer a great value when customers have the right facts to choose the package that works best for them. If a customer is not fully aware of what the product offers, we ask the Retention agent to educate the customer and work with them to find the right solution.

A Comcast spokesperson confirmed to Ars that the Watson memo published by The Consumerist is authentic. The unfortunate customer Watson referred to was Gdgt founder and AOL Vice President of Product Ryan Block, who posted a recording of the latter parts of a nearly 20-minute call in which a Comcast employee repeatedly refused to cancel Block's service.

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Author: "Jon Brodkin" Tags: "Ministry of Innovation, Comcast, ryan bl..."
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