Author Archives: BeauHD

Facebook Doesn’t Care About Fixing Fake News Problem On Its Platform

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Journalists working as factcheckers for Facebook have pushed to end a controversial media partnership with the social network, saying the company has ignored their concerns and failed to use their expertise to combat misinformation. Current and former Facebook factcheckers told the Guardian that the tech platform's collaboration with outside reporters has produced minimal results and that they've lost trust in Facebook, which has repeatedly refused to release meaningful data about the impacts of their work. Some said Facebook's hiring of a PR firm that used an antisemitic narrative to discredit critics -- fueling the same kind of propaganda factcheckers regularly debunk -- should be a deal-breaker. Facebook now has more than 40 media partners across the globe, including the Associated Press, PolitiFact and the Weekly Standard, and has said false news on the platform is "trending downward." While some newsroom leaders said the relationship was positive, other partners said the results were unclear and that they had grown increasingly resentful of Facebook. Facebook has said that third-party factchecking is one part of its strategy to fight misinformation, and has claimed that a "false" rating leads an article to be ranked lower in news feed, reducing future views by 80% on average. The company has refused, however, to publicly release any data to support these claims. Facebook said in a statement that it had "heard feedback from our partners that they'd like more data on the impact of their efforts," adding that it has started sending "quarterly reports" with "customized statistics" to partners and would be"looking for more statistics to share externally in early 2019." Facebook declined to share the reports with the Guardian.

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NASA’s Jupiter Mission Juno Reveals Giant Polar Storms

NASA's Juno mission to the gas giant Jupiter has reached its halfway mark and has revealed new views of cyclones at the poles. The BBC reports: As it orbits the planet every 53 days - Juno performs a science-gathering dive, speeding from pole to pole. Its sensors take measurements of the composition of the planet, in an effort to decipher how the largest world in our Solar System formed. Mapping the magnetic and gravity fields should also expose Jupiter's structure. But images from JunoCam -- a camera that was intended to capture images that could be shared with the public -- has already given us some surprising insights. "When we made our first pass over the poles, we knew we were seeing a territory on Jupiter we had never seen before," said Dr Candice Hansen, from the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona. "What we did not expect was that we would see these orderly polygons of cyclones; huge storms - twice the size of Texas."

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Supernovae May Explain Mass Extinctions of Marine Animals During Pliocene Era

"The Register has an article on the possibility that a supernova or a series of them could explain a mass die-off of marine animals around 2.6 million years ago," writes Slashdot reader KindMind. From the report: A gigantic supernova explosion may have triggered mass extinctions for creatures living in Earth's prehistoric oceans some 2.6 million years ago, according to new research published in Astrobiology. Marine animals like the megalodon [...] suddenly disappeared during the late Pliocene. Around the same time, scientists [...] noticed a peak in the iron-60 isotope in ancient seabeds. "As far back as the mid-1990s, people said, "Hey, look for iron-60. It's a telltale because there's no other way for it to get to Earth but from a supernova.' Because iron-60 is radioactive, if it was formed with the Earth it would be long gone by now. So, it had to have been rained down on us" explained Adrian Melott, lead author of the paper and a physics and astronomy professor at the University of Kansas. The team believes that a supernova located 150 light years away set of a chain of supernovae bursts and covered the Earth in a shroud of deadly cosmic ray radiation. This was amplified, Melott said, because the Solar System is right on the edge of an area of the interstellar medium called the Local Bubble. The Local Bubble extends about 300 light years across and contains the two main clouds of dust and gas: Local Interstellar Cloud and the G-Cloud. As the supernovae ejected cosmic rays, these beams of energetic particles would have repeatedly bounced off the clouds to create a "cosmic-ray bath" that could have lasted 10,000 to 100,000 years. Some of that radiation such as cosmic ray muons would have leaked onto Earth, and over time it could have led to genetic mutations and cancers [that would have caused animals like the megalodon to die off prematurely].

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Neurosurgery Could Spread Protein Linked To Alzheimer’s, Study Finds

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Surgical instruments used in brain operations should be treated to ensure they are not contaminated with proteins linked to Alzheimer's disease, according to scientists who found evidence that they may be spread by certain medical procedures. The researchers urged doctors to decontaminate neurosurgical tools more thoroughly as a precautionary measure to reduce the potential risk of spreading abnormal proteins known to build up in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. Prof John Collinge, director of the Medical Research Council prion unit at University College London, said that while Alzheimer's disease was not contagious, there was a slim risk that harmful proteins that drive the disease could spread through brain surgery and other rare procedures.

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Japan Plans For 100ft Tsunami

schwit1 shares a report from The Times: It will shake houses and tall buildings, and unleash a 100ft tsunami on one of the most densely populated and industrialized coastlines in the world. It could kill and injure close to a million people. It will almost certainly come in the next few decades. Now, the Japanese government is making plans to evacuate millions of people in anticipation of what could be one of the worst natural disasters in history (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). It is known as the Nankai Trough megaquake. The Japanese government has previously estimated that there is a 70 to 80 percent chance that such an event will take place in the next 30 years and that the earthquake, and subsequent tsunami, could kill 323,000 people and injure 623,000. Unfortunately, the report doesn't outline how the government plans to get people out of harm's way. The city with the most people in the danger zone is Nagoya, Japan's fourth largest city and home to 2.3 million people. "The home of the nation's industry Hamamatsu is also at risk and home to over 800,000 people," reports The Irish Sun.

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Microsoft Is Readying a Consumer Microsoft 365 Subscription Bundle

Microsoft is working on a new "Microsoft 365 Consumer" bundle that "will be the consumer-focused complement to Microsoft's existing Microsoft 365 subscription bundle for business users," reports ZDNet. From the report: A couple of recent Microsoft job postings mention the consumer subscription bundle, which Microsoft has yet to announce publicly. One job posting for a Product Manager for the "M365 Consumer Subscription" notes: "The Subscription Product Marketing team is a new team being created to build and scale the Microsoft 365 Consumer Subscription." The job description says the product manager for this service will help "identify, build, position and market a great new Microsoft 365 Consumer Subscription." The job post notes that the team behind Microsoft 365 Consumer oversees the Windows platform, the Microsoft Surface device portfolio, Office 365 consumer plans, Skype, Cortana, Bing search, as well as the Microsoft Education team. If I were betting on what Microsoft 365 Consumer might include, I'd think some variant of Windows 10, Office 365 Home, Skype, Cortana, Bing, Outlook Mobile, Microsoft To-Do and maybe MSN apps and services could figure into the picture. Maybe this subscription will be tied to Surface devices only? Maybe a monthly leasing fee for Surfaces will be part of the bundle itself?

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Qualcomm Asks China To Ban the iPhone XS and XR

After securing a win in court earlier this week to ban Apple's older phones, Qualcomm is trying to get the newer iPhones banned too. "According to the Financial Times, Qualcomm has now asked Chinese courts to issue an injunction that bans Apple from selling the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR within the country due to the same case of possible patent infringement," reports The Verge. From the report: The new filing will escalate the companies' legal conflict in China, where Apple has so far ignored a court-ordered sales ban. Apple claims the ban only applied to phones running iOS 11 and earlier. Since its phones have now been updated to iOS 12, Apple believes they can remain on sale, and so it has continued to sell them. According to the Financial Times, the Chinese court's order doesn't specifically mention any version of Apple's operating system. That doesn't necessarily mean Apple is wrong, but it does mean that there's more to be hashed out.

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Iranian Phishers Bypass 2fa Protections Offered By Yahoo Mail, Gmail

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A recent phishing campaign targeting U.S. government officials, activists, and journalists is notable for using a technique that allowed the attackers to bypass two-factor authentication protections offered by services such as Gmail and Yahoo Mail, researchers said Thursday. The event underscores the risks of 2fa that relies on one-tap logins or one-time passwords, particularly if the latter are sent in SMS messages to phones. Attackers working on behalf of the Iranian government collected detailed information on targets and used that knowledge to write spear-phishing emails that were tailored to the targets' level of operational security, researchers with security firm Certfa Lab said in a blog post. The emails contained a hidden image that alerted the attackers in real time when targets viewed the messages. When targets entered passwords into a fake Gmail or Yahoo security page, the attackers would almost simultaneously enter the credentials into a real login page. In the event targets' accounts were protected by 2fa, the attackers redirected targets to a new page that requested a one-time password. "In other words, they check victims' usernames and passwords in realtime on their own servers, and even if 2 factor authentication such as text message, authenticator app or one-tap login are enabled they can trick targets and steal that information too," Certfa Lab researchers wrote. "We've seen [it] tried to bypass 2fa for Google Authenticator, but we are not sure they've managed to do such a thing or not," the Certfa representative wrote. "For sure, we know hackers have bypassed 2fa via SMS."

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Louisiana Adopts Digital Driver’s Licenses

Louisiana is rolling out a new digital driver's license app, called LA Wallet, that will let retailers digitally verify the age of their customers, if required. "According to IEEE Spectrum, Louisiana's Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control is expected to announce that bars, restaurants, grocery stores and other retails are allowed to accept LA Wallet as proof of age, according to the app's developer, Envoc." From the report: The Baton Rouge-based company launched LA Wallet in June, after two years of collaboration with state officials. But so far only law enforcement officers making routine traffic stops are required to accept the digital driver's license. Next week's announcement would greatly broaden the scope of the app's use. About 71,000 people have downloaded LA Wallet so far, says Calvin Fabre, founder and president of Envoc. The app costs $5.99 in the Google Play and Apple App stores. Users buy it, create an account with some basic information from their physical driver's license, and create a password. That's it. No biometric security -- like iris scans or facial recognition -- required. The app links back to Louisiana's Office of Motor Vehicles database, which completes the digital license with the user's photo and additional information. Any changes to the license, like a suspension or renewal, are updated immediately in the app with a wireless network connection. To present the license -- say, to a cop during a traffic stop -- the driver (hoping his phone battery isn't dead) opens the app with a password, shows the cop the digital license image, and authenticates it by pressing and holding the screen to reveal a security seal. The license can be flipped over to show a scannable bar code on the back. There's also a handy security feature that allows anyone with the LA Wallet app to authenticate another person's Louisiana digital driver's license. It allows the bar patron to select which information she would like to reveal to the bartender -- in this case, simply the fact that she is over 21. That information is displayed on the phone with a photo and embedded QR code. The bartender scans the code with her app, which tells her that the woman seated on the other side of the bar is indeed over 21. None of the customer's personal information, such as her name, birth date, or address, is displayed or stored on the bartender's phone.

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Google Pledges To Hold Off On Selling Facial Recognition Technology

In a blog post today, Google detailed how its facial recognition technology will and won't be used. Citing a number of risks associated with the technology, the company vowed to refrain from selling facial recognition products until it can come up with policies that prevent abuse. Engadget reports: "Like many technologies with multiple uses, facial recognition merits careful consideration to ensure its use is aligned with our principles and values, and avoids abuse and harmful outcomes," Google said. "We continue to work with many organizations to identify and address these challenges, and unlike some other companies, Google Cloud has chosen not to offer general-purpose facial recognition APIs before working through important technology and policy questions." "This is a strong first step," the ACLU's Nicole Ozer said in a statement about Google's announcement. "Google today demonstrated that, unlike other companies doubling down on efforts to put dangerous face surveillance technology into the hands of law enforcement and ICE, it has a moral compass and is willing to take action to protect its customers and communities. Google also made clear that all companies must stop ignoring the grave harms these surveillance technologies pose to immigrants and people of color, and to our freedom to live our lives, visit a church, or participate in a protest without being tracked by the government."

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Dozens of Bomb Threats Reported Across America In Apparent Bitcoin Ransom Scam

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: On Wednesday afternoon, a wave of bomb threats were reported at various locations across the United States. On social media, numerous law enforcement departments issued alerts notifying citizens that they're looking into bomb threats targeting businesses, schools, government offices and even private residents. It appears the threats are being sent by email. NBC News said "dozens" of threats had been reported, but the full extent of these threats is not yet clear. A number of news organizations and law enforcement agencies report remarkably similar sounding emails mentioning a bitcoin ransom of $20,000. And some Twitter users have shared emails they've received demanding the cryptocurrency and warning that an explosion would only encourage others to pay up. NBC News quoted the NYPD's Counterterrorism Bureau's brief statement on the investigation: "We are currently monitoring multiple bomb threats that have been sent electronically to various locations throughout the city. These threats are also being reported to other locations nationwide and are not considered credible at this time."

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Tesla Is Seeking $167 Million From Former Employee Accused of Sabotage

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: Tesla is seeking more than $167 million in a lawsuit against former employee Martin Tripp, recent legal filings revealed. In the lawsuit, which was filed by the electric car maker in June, Tesla alleges that Tripp, a former process engineer, had illegally exported data and made false claims to reporters, among other things. Tripp had earlier claimed in a number of press interviews that Tesla engaged in poor manufacturing practices at its massive battery plant outside of Reno, Nevada, and that it may have used damaged battery modules in its Model 3 vehicles, posing a risk to drivers. An interim case management report published on Nov. 27 reveals that Tripp's attorneys aim to depose Tesla CEO Elon Musk and more than 10 people involved with the company. Tesla has refused to make Musk available and sought to limit the number of people deposed by Tripp's defense team at the law firm Tiffany & Bosco. Tripp's lawyers wrote in that report: "Tesla has objected to Mr. Tripp's desire to take more than ten depositions... In this case, where Mr. Tripp is being sued for more than $167,000,000 and has asserted counterclaims against Tesla, more than ten depositions is certainly reasonable and appropriate." Tripp attorney Robert D. Mitchell said in an email to CNBC: "The purported damage amount claimed by Tesla relates to supposed dips in Tesla's stock price by virtue of the information Mr. Tripp provided to the press last summer." He characterized the damage claims as "absurd."

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Arctic Posts Second Warmest Year On Record In 2018, NOAA Says

According to a new report released on Tuesday by the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the Arctic had its second-hottest year on record in 2018. "Arctic air temperatures for the past five years have exceeded all previous records since 1900," according to the annual NOAA study, the 2018 Arctic Report Card, which said the year was second only to 2016 in overall warmth in the region. Reuters reports: The study said the Arctic warming continues at about double the rate of the rest of the planet, and that the trend appears to be altering the shape and strength of the jet stream air current that influences weather in the Northern Hemisphere. "Growing atmospheric warmth in the Arctic results in a sluggish and unusually wavy jet-stream that coincided with abnormal weather events," it said, noting that the changing patterns have often brought unusually frigid temperatures to areas south of the Arctic Circle. Some examples are "a swarm of severe winter storms in the eastern United States in 2018, and the extreme cold outbreak in Europe in March 2018 known as 'the Beast from the East.'"

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Russian State TV Shows Off ‘Robot’ That’s Actually a Man In a Robot Suit

A "hi-tech robot" shown on Russian state television turns out to be a man in a suit. While airing footage of a technology forum aimed at kids, a Russian state TV reporter proclaimed that Boris the robot "has already learned to dance and he's not that bad." Gizmodo reports: This "robot" actually retails for 250,000 rubles (about $3,770), as first reported by the Guardian, and is made by a company called Show Robots. "Boris" features glowing eyes, and plastic parts -- and shockingly human-like movements. Probably because he needs a human inside to operate properly. This faux-robot (fauxbot?) mystery was actually first unraveled when some eagled-eyed Russian viewers on the internet noticed that a suspiciously human-like neck was showing in the video. The report notes that "there's no indication" that there was intent to deceive anyone. Instead, it "appears to be a case of a TV presenter getting confused with what he believed to be 'modern robots.'" You can watch the broadcast on Russia-24's YouTube channel.

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FCC Panel Wants To Tax Internet-Using Businesses, Give the Money To ISPs

The FCC's Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), which includes members like AT&T, Comcast, Google Fiber, Sprint, and other ISPs and industry representatives, is proposing a tax on websites to pay for rural broadband. Ars Technica reports: If adopted by states, the recommended tax would apply to subscription-based retail services that require Internet access, such as Netflix, and to advertising-supported services that use the Internet, such as Google and Facebook. The tax would also apply to any small- or medium-sized business that charges subscription fees for online services or uses online advertising. The tax would also apply to any provider of broadband access, such as cable or wireless operators. The collected money would go into state rural broadband deployment funds that would help bring faster Internet access to sparsely populated areas. Similar universal service fees are already assessed on landline phone service and mobile phone service nationwide. Those phone fees contribute to federal programs such as the FCC's Connect America Fund, which pays AT&T and other carriers to deploy broadband in rural areas. The BDAC tax proposal is part of a "State Model Code for Accelerating Broadband Infrastructure Deployment and Investment." Once finalized by the BDAC, each state would have the option of adopting the code. An AT&T executive who is on the FCC advisory committee argued that the recommended tax should apply even more broadly, to any business that benefits financially from broadband access in any way. The committee ultimately adopted a slightly more narrow recommendation that would apply the tax to subscription services and advertising-supported services only. The BDAC model code doesn't need approval from FCC commissioners -- "it is adopted by the BDAC as a model code for the states to use, at their discretion," Ajit Pai's spokesperson told Ars. As for how big the proposed taxes would be, the model code says that states "shall determine the appropriate State Universal Service assessment methodology and rate consistent with federal law and FCC policy."

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Google Training Document Reveals How Temps, Vendors, and Contractors Are Treated

"An internal Google training document exposed by The Guardian reveals how the company instructs employees on how to treat temps, vendors, and contractors (TVCs)," writes Slashdot reader Garabito. "This includes: 'not to reward certain workers with perks like T-shirts, invite them to all-hands meetings, or allow them to engage in professional development training.'" From the report: "Working with TVCs and Googlers is different," the training documentation, titled the The ABCs of TVCs, explains. "Our policies exist because TVC working arrangements can carry significant risks." The risks Google appears to be most concerned about include standard insider threats, like leaks of proprietary information, but also -- and especially -- the risk of being found to be a joint employer, a legal designation which could be exceedingly costly for Google in terms of benefits. Google's treatment of TVCs has come under increased scrutiny by the company's full-time employees (FTEs) amid a nascent labor movement at the company, which has seen workers speak out about both their own working conditions and the morality of the work they perform. American companies have long turned to temps and subcontractors to plug holes and perform specialized tasks, but Google achieved a dubious distinction this year when Bloomberg reported that in early 2018, the company did not directly employ a majority of its own workforce. According to a current employee with access to the figures, of approximately 170,000 people around the world who now work at Google, 50.05% are FTEs. The rest, 49.95%, are TVCs. The report notes that "the two-tier system has complicated labor activism at Google." On November 1st, after 20,000 workers joined a global walkout, "the company quickly gave in to one of the protesters' demands by ending forced arbitration in cases of sexual harassment -- but only for FTEs."

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President Trump To Use Huawei CFO As a Bargaining Chip

hackingbear shares a report from Politico, adding: "This fuels the suspicion that the Chinese executive is held as a hostage for the ongoing trade negotiation with China." From the report: President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he reserved the right to weigh in on the Justice Department's case against the CFO of Huawei, if it would help him close a trade deal with Beijing or would serve other American national security interests. "If I think it's good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made -- which is a very important thing -- what's good for national security -- I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary," Trump told Reuters. Trump added that President Xi Jinping of China had not called him about the case, but that the White House had been in touch with both the Justice Department and Chinese officials. Huawei's CFO, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Canada earlier this month at the request of American authorities, who allege that she violated U.S. sanctions against Iran. Yesterday, a Vancouver judge ruled that Meng would be released on a $7.5 million bail if she remains in British Columbia.

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Apple Is Making Its Own Modem To Compete With Qualcomm, Report Says

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Apple is apparently working on its own, in-house developed modem to allow it to better compete with Qualcomm, according to several new Apple job listings that task engineers to design and develop a layer 1 cellular PHY chip -- implying that the company is working on actual, physical networking hardware. Two of the job posts are explicitly to hire a pair of cellular modem systems architects, one in Santa Clara and one in San Diego, home of Qualcomm. That's alongside several other job postings Apple has listed in San Diego for RF design engineers. The Information, which spotted the first job posting, cites sources that go a step further, claiming that Apple is not only potentially working to develop its own modem, but is in fact specifically targeting it for use in future iPhones, with the company looking to leave longtime partner Intel behind in favor of its own, in-house solution. According to The Information's report, the new modem would still be years away, with even Apple's purported 5G iPhone slated for 2020 using Intel's in-development 5G modem instead. It makes sense logically, too -- if Apple is only just starting to hire now, it'll take at least a few years before it'll actually be ready to ship hardware. But the move would have big ramifications for the mobile space, particularly for Qualcomm and Intel, two of the biggest modem suppliers in the world.

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California Considers Text Messaging Tax To Fund Cell Service For Low-Income Residents

According to a report from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), California may soon tax text messaging to help fund programs that make phone service available for low-income residents. The report says the tax would likely be a flat fee added to a monthly bill instead of a per text tax. The Hill reports: The report outlines the shrinking revenue coming from a current tax on the telecommunications industry and argues that a new tax on text messaging should be put in place to make up for it. "From a consumer's point of view, surcharges may be a wash, because if more surcharge revenues come from texting services, less would be needed from voice services," CPUC spokeswoman Constance Gordon said in a statement. "Generally, those consumers who create greater texting revenues may pay a bit more, whereas consumers using more voice services may pay less." "Parties supporting the collection of surcharges on text messaging revenue argue that it will help preserve and advance universal service by increasing the revenue base upon which Public Purpose Programs rely. We agree," the report states. The CTIA, a trade association representing major carriers in the wireless industry, says the tax is anti-competitive and would put carriers at a disadvantage against social media messaging apps from tech companies such as Google and Facebook. The CPUC is expected to vote on the proposal in January 2019.

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Facebook Settles Oculus VR Lawsuit With ZeniMax

"Gaming giant ZeniMax Media's lawsuit against Facebook over the misuse of intellectual property related to the founding of Oculus VR has finally been settled," reports TechCrunch. In a statement, ZeniMax CEO Robert Altman said, "We are pleased that a settlement has been reached and are fully satisfied by the outcome. While we dislike litigation, we will always vigorously defend against any infringement or misappropriation of our intellectual property by third parties." From the report: At the trial's conclusion, the judge awarded ZeniMax $500 million in damages to be paid by the defendants, including Facebook and some of the Oculus VR co-founders, a figure that Facebook appealed and had reduced to $250 million. Following the initial verdict, ZeniMax sought an injunction on sales of Facebook's Oculus Rift headset, claiming the device violated key IP. Terms of this settlement weren't disclosed. The trial was notable in that it offered a rare moment on the stand for a number of Facebook executives, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg. It also gave rare insight into the details surrounding the company's founding and acquisition.

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FCC Gives Carriers the Option To Block Text Messages

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNET: The Federal Communications Commission said it's getting tough on text message spam by clarifying that phone companies can block unwanted texts. At its monthly meeting Wednesday, the Republican-led agency voted 3-1 to classify SMS text messages as a so-called Title I information service under the Telecom Act. The three Republicans on the FCC, which voted to adopt the classification, said this would allow phone companies to block spam text messages. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the new classification would empower wireless providers to stop unwanted text messages. "The FCC shouldn't make it easier for spammers and scammers to bombard consumers with unwanted texts," he said during the meeting. "And we shouldn't allow unwanted messages to plague wireless messaging services in the same way that unwanted robocalls flood voice services." But he said that's what would happen if the FCC were to classify text messages as a Title II telecommunications service under the law. Jessica Rosenworcel, the lone Democrat on the FCC, disagrees with the classification. "Today's decision offers consumers no new ability to prevent robotexts," she said."It simply provides that carriers can block our text messages and censor the very content of those messages themselves." She says the FCC did the same thing to the internet last year when it repealed Obama-era net neutrality rules. "That means on the one-year anniversary of the FCC's misguided net neutrality decision -- which gave your broadband provider the power to block websites and censor online content -- this agency is celebrating by expanding those powers to also include your text messages," she added.

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Chinese Spies Reportedly Behind Massive Marriott Hack

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNET: A Chinese intelligence-gathering effort was behind the massive Marriott hotels data breach that exposed the personal information for up to 500 million people, the New York Times reported Tuesday. The hackers are believed to have been working for China's Ministry of State Security, the Times reported citing sources who had been briefed on the investigation's preliminary results. The revelation emerges as the U.S. Justice Department is preparing to announce new indictments against Chinese hackers working for the intelligence and military services, the Times reported. The hotel chain revealed last month that it had discovered that hackers had compromised the guest reservation database of its Starwood division, whose brands include Sheraton, W Hotels, Westin, Le Meridien, Four Points by Sheraton, Aloft and St. Regis. Marriott said some of the stolen information also included payment card numbers and expiration dates. Private investigators involved in a probe into the breach had previously discovered hacking tools, techniques and procedures that were used in earlier cyberattacks that have been linked to Chinese hackers.

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Mapping Service Blurs Out Military Bases, But Accidentally Locates Secret Ones

schwit1 shares a report from Popular Mechanics: A Russian online mapping company was trying to obscure foreign military bases. But in doing so, it accidentally confirmed their locations -- many of which were secret. Yandex Maps, Russia's leading online map service, blurred the precise locations of Turkish and Israeli military bases, pinpointing their location. The bases host sensitive surface-to-air missile sites and facilities housing nuclear weapons. The Federation of American Scientists reports that Yandex Maps blurred out "over 300 distinct buildings, airfields, ports, bunkers, storage sites, bases, barracks, nuclear facilities, and random buildings" in the two countries. Some of these facilities were well known, but some of them were not. Not only has Yandex confirmed their locations, the scope of blurring reveals their exact size and shape.

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South Australia To Be Home To Australia’s New Space Agency

"South Australia, which has a history with space events long ago, is set to become the base for the Australian space industry," writes Slashdot reader Badooleoo. ABC News reports: Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced Adelaide will be the home of Australia's new space agency. South Australia beat strong competition from other states to secure the headquarters, after enlisting homegrown NASA astronaut Andy Thomas to help with its campaign. The agency will be based at Lot Fourteen, the former Royal Adelaide Hospital site, which is being transformed into an innovation precinct. The Prime Minister said South Australia was an ideal home for the new agency and was already a key hub for the space and technology industry. "This agency is going to open doors for local businesses and Australian access to the $US345 billion global space industry," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. "Our Government's $41 million investment into the agency will act as a launching pad to triple Australia's space economy to $12 billion and create up to 20,000 jobs by 2030."

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Net Neutrality Bill 38 Votes Short In Congress, and Time Has Almost Run Out

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Legislation to restore net neutrality rules now has 180 supporters in the U.S. House of Representatives, but that's 38 votes short of the amount needed before the end of the month. The Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution, already approved by the Senate, would reverse the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality rules. But 218 signatures from U.S. representatives (a majority) are needed to force a full vote in the House before Congress adjourns at the end of the year. Net neutrality advocates previously said they needed 218 signatures by December 10 to force a vote. But an extension of Congress' session provided a little more time. "[Now that the Congressional session has officially been extended, members of Congress could be in town as late as December 21st," net neutrality advocacy group Fight for the Future wrote yesterday. "This means we have until the end of the year to get as many lawmakers as possible signed on to restore net neutrality." A discharge petition that would force a vote on the CRA resolution gained three new supports in the past two weeks, but even if all Democrats were on board it still wouldn't be enough to force a vote. Republicans have a 236-197 House majority, and only one House Republican has signed the petition.

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Amazon Fires Employees Over Data Leak As It Fights Seller Scams, Report Says

After investigating claims that its employees are taking bribes to sell internal data to merchants to help them increase their sales on the site, Amazon has reportedly fired several employees involved in the scams. The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon let go of several workers in the U.S. and India who allegedly inappropriately accessed company data that disreputable merchants had misused. The Hill reports: Amazon is focusing its internal bribery investigation on India, a person familiar with the effort told the paper. Some employees in India and China working as customer support have said that their access to an internal database that allows them to find data about specific product performance or trending keywords has been dramatically limited. Amazon has also deleted thousand of suspect reviews, restricted sellers' access to customer data on its platform, and quashed some methods to force the site to bring up certain products higher in search results, the people told the Journal. "We have strict policies and a Code of Business Conduct & Ethics in place for our employees. We implement sophisticated systems to restrict and audit access to information," the company wrote. "We hold our employees to a high ethical standard and anyone in violation of our Code faces discipline, including termination and potential legal and criminal penalties." "In addition, we have zero tolerance for abuse of our systems and if we find bad actors who have engaged in this behavior, we will take swift action against them, including terminating their selling accounts, deleting reviews, withholding funds, and taking legal action," Amazon added.

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Google’s CEO Thinks Android Users Know How Much Their Phones Are Tracking Them

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Google CEO Sundar Pichai thinks Android users have a good understanding of the volume of data Google collects on them, when they agree to use the Android mobile operating system. The exec, who is testifying today in front of the House Judiciary committee for a hearing entitled "Transparency & Accountability: Examining Google and its Data Collection, Use and Filtering Practices," claimed that users are in control of the information Google has on them. "For Google services, you have a choice of what information is collected, and we make it transparent," Pichai said in response to questioning from Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). Google's defense on the data collection front is similar to Facebook's -- that is, Pichai responded that Google provides tools that put users in control. But do they actually use them? "It's really important for us that average users are able to understand it," said Pichai, stating that users do understand the user agreement for Android OS. "We actually ... remind users to do a privacy checkup, and we make it very obvious every month. In fact, in the last 28 days, 160 million users went to their My Account settings, where they can clearly see what information we have -- we actually show it back to them. We give clear toggles, by category, where they can decide whether that information is collected, stored, or -- more importantly -- if they decide to stop using it, we work hard to make it possible for users to take their data with them," he said. When asked if Google could improve its user dashboard and tools to better teach people how to protect their privacy, including turning off data collection and location tracking, Pichai said "there's complexity," but it is "something I do think we can do better." He continued: "We want to simplify it, and make it easier for average users to navigate these settings. It's something we are working on."

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Ask Slashdot: Why Don’t HDR TVs Have sRGB Or AdobeRGB Ratings?

dryriver writes: As anyone who buys professional computer monitors knows, the dynamic range of the display device you are looking at can be expressed quite usefully in terms of percentage sRGB coverage and percentage AdobeRGB coverage. The higher the percentage for each, the better and wider the dynamic range of the screen panel you are getting. People who work with professional video and photographs typically aim for a display that has 100 percent sRGB coverage and at least 70 to 80 percent AdobeRGB coverage. Laptop review site Notebookcheck for example uses professional optical testing equipment to check whether the advertised sRGB and AdobeRGB percentages and brightness in nits for any laptop display panel hold up in real life. This being the case, why do quote-on-quote "High Dynamic Range" capable TVs -- which seem to be mostly 10 bits per channel to begin with -- not have an sRGB or AdobeRGB rating quoted anywhere in their technical specs? Why don't professional TV reviewers use optical testing equipment that's readily available to measure the real world dynamic range of HDR or non-HDR TVs objectively, in hard numbers? Why do they simply say "the blacks on this TV were deep and pleasing, and the lighter tones were..." when this can be expressed better and more objectively in measured numbers or percentages? Do they think consumers are too unsophisticated to understand a simple number like "this OLED TV achieves a fairly average 66 percent AdobeRGB coverage?"

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Border Agents Fail To Delete Personal Data of Travelers After Electronic Searches, Watchdog Says

The Department of Homeland Security's internal watchdog, known as the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that the majority of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents fail to delete the personal data they collect from travelers' devices. Last year alone, border agents searched through the electronic devices of more than 29,000 travelers coming into the country. "CBP officers sometimes upload personal data from those devices to Homeland Security servers by first transferring that data onto USB drives -- drives that are supposed to be deleted after every use," Gizmodo reports. From the report: Customs officials can conduct two kinds of electronic device searches at the border for anyone entering the country. The first is called a "basic" or "manual" search and involves the officer visually going through your phone, your computer or your tablet without transferring any data. The second is called an "advanced search" and allows the officer to transfer data from your device to DHS servers for inspection by running that data through its own software. Both searches are legal and don't require a warrant or even probable cause -- at least they don't according to DHS. It's that second kind of search, the "advanced" kind, where CBP has really been messing up and regularly leaving the personal data of travelers on USB drives. According to the new report [PDF]: "[The Office of the Inspector General] physically inspected thumb drives at five ports of entry. At three of the five ports, we found thumb drives that contained information copied from past advanced searches, meaning the information had not been deleted after the searches were completed. Based on our physical inspection, as well as the lack of a written policy, it appears [Office of Field Operations] has not universally implemented the requirement to delete copied information, increasing the risk of unauthorized disclosure of travelers' data should thumb drives be lost or stolen." The report also found that Customs officers "regularly failed to disconnect devices from the internet, potentially tainting any findings stored locally on the device." It also found that the officers had "inadequate supervision" to make sure they were following the rules. There's also a number of concerning redactions. For example, everything from what happens during an advanced search after someone crosses the border to the reason officials are allowed to conduct an advanced search at all has been redacted.

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Verizon Admits Defeat With $4.6 Billion AOL-Yahoo Writedown

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Verizon is conceding defeat on its crusade to turn a patchwork of dot-com-era businesses into a thriving online operation. The wireless carrier slashed the value of its AOL and Yahoo acquisitions by $4.6 billion, an acknowledgment that tough competition for digital advertising is leading to shortfalls in revenue and profit. The move will erase almost half the value of the division it had been calling Oath, which houses AOL, Yahoo and other businesses like the Huffington Post. The revision of the Oath division's accounting leaves its goodwill balance -- a measure of the intangible value of an acquisition -- at about $200 million, Verizon said in a filing Tuesday. The unit still has about $5 billion of assets remaining. Verizon also announced yesterday that 10,400 employees are taking buyouts to leave the company. The cuts are "part of an effort to trim the telecom giant's workforce ahead of its push toward 5G," TechCrunch reported.

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China To Force Changes To 20 Popular Games, Ban 9 Including Fortnite and PUBG

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: A panel of censors set up to vet mobile video games in China has signaled it will be hard to please. State media reports that of the first 20 titles it assessed, nine were refused permission to go on sale. The Xinhua news agency added that developers of the other 11 had been told they had to make adjustments to remove "controversial content." The authorities have voiced concerns about the violent nature of some titles as well as worries about the activity being addictive. It was announced in August that a new body -- the State Administration of Press and Publications -- had taken over responsibility for approving games and that it would limit the number of online titles available. And although it has not been specified, some experts are assuming that the new panel will operate under its auspices. Xinhua said it is comprised of gaming experts, government-employed researchers, and representatives from the media and video games industry. But it provided no other information about who they were or the titles they had already examined. UPDATE: The list of games being examined by the ethics panel has been revealed by users on NGA, a Chinese gaming forum. A number of games, such as League of Legends, Overwatch, Diablo, and World of Warcraft, will need "corrective action," while others will be "banned/withdrawn" entirely. Some of the most popular prohibited titles include Fortnite and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG).

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Californians Have Now Purchased Half a Million EVs

According Veloz -- an electric car industry group -- electric vehicle sales in California hit a cumulative 512,717 since 2010. "Months of strong U.S. sales in 2018, preceded by a strong 2017, are starting to show a trend: electric vehicles are selling well, especially in places where there are strong monetary and non-monetary incentives to buy them," reports Ars Technica. From the report: "Overall, this year has seen exponential growth in electric car sales," Veloz wrote. "Electric cars accounted for 7.1 percent of California car sales in the first three quarters of the year, with fully electric, zero-emission car sales outpacing plug-in hybrid sales 4.1 percent to 3 percent respectively." Veloz's data tallies not just fully battery-electric vehicles but also plug-in hybrids as well as the much rarer fuel cell vehicles. The group gets its data (PDF) from the blogs InsideEVs and HybridCars.com as well as a market-research firm called Baum & Associates and estimates from the California Air Resources Board (CARB). According to data from InsideEVs, the Tesla Model 3 was the top-selling electric vehicle model in the U.S. in November. In November alone, 18,650 of those vehicles were sold in the U.S. To its credit, Veloz's press release isn't too self-congratulatory. The group writes, "Veloz recognizes that, while electric car sales are increasing at a rapid clip, it is not happening fast enough to achieve the deep cuts in emissions that the state needs to achieve to protect people's health and curb negative impacts on the environment."

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Facebook Filed a Patent To Calculate Your Future Location

Facebook has filed several patent applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for technology that uses your location data to predict where you're going and when you're going to be offline. BuzzFeed News reports: A May 30, 2017, Facebook application titled "Offline Trajectories" describes a method to predict where you'll go next based on your location data. The technology described in the patent would calculate a "transition probability based at least in part on previously logged location data associated with a plurality of users who were at the current location." In other words, the technology could also use the data of other people you know, as well as that of strangers, to make predictions. If the company could predict when you are about to be in an offline area, Facebook content "may be prefetched so that the user may have access to content during the period where there is a lack of connectivity." Another Facebook patent application titled "Location Prediction Using Wireless Signals on Online Social Networks" describes how tracking the strength of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular, and near-field communication (NFC) signals could be used to estimate your current location, in order to anticipate where you will go next. This "background signal" information is used as an alternative to GPS because, as the patent describes, it may provide "the advantage of more accurately or precisely determining a geographic location of a user." The technology could learn the category of your current location (e.g., bar or gym), the time of your visit to the location, the hours that entity is open, and the popular hours of the entity. Yet another Facebook patent application, "Predicting Locations and Movements of Users Based on Historical Locations for Users of an Online System," further details how location data from multiple people would be used to glean location and movement trends and to model location chains. According to the patent application, these could be used for a "variety of applications," including "advertising to users based on locations and for providing insights into the movements of users." The technology could even differentiate movement trends among people who live in a city and who are just visiting a city. A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement: "We often seek patents for technology we never implement, and patent applications -- such as this one -- should not be taken as an indication of future plans."

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Samsung Embarrassingly Partners With Fake Supreme

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Droid Life: Samsung was doing its song and dance in China today at an event where they announced the Galaxy A8s, their first phone equipped with an Infinity-O display, only to pause midway to announce a new partnership. Samsung claimed to be partnering with iconic streetwear brand Supreme. They invited a couple of gentlemen on stage to talk about the deal, including plans for Supreme to enter China next year with a big flagship store. The thing is, those dudes don't work for Supreme and Supreme has no presence in China, nor do they plan to head there next year. Samsung appears to have been duped by a fake Supreme company or just doesn't care that anyone who pays attention to fashion will mock them for decades to come over this partnership. The Supreme that Samsung is partnering with is actually called Supreme Italia, which is a fake Supreme brand that is able to sell fake Supreme gear, thanks to some weird legal loophole or decision in Italy. They have no affiliation with the real Supreme. They are counterfeiters. As for the Galaxy A8, it too hasn't been very well received. Not only is it the first Samsung phone without a headphone jack, but it has a laser-drilled hole in the display for the front-facing camera sensor. It's not quite as obstructive as the iPhone X notch, but it still leaves a noticeable hole in the top left corner of the display.

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Huawei Executive Arrest Inspires Advance Fee Scams

UnderAttack writes: Scammers are attempting to trick Chinese victims into sending thousands of dollars in order to secure the release of Chinese Huawei executive Meng who was arrested in Canada last week. The messages claim to originate from Ms. Meng and suggest that she found a corrupt guard who will let her go for a few thousand dollars. Of course, there will be riches for anybody who is willing to help (and more). The scam is reportedly targeting people via WeChat, which may have a higher success rate than more widely distributed scams. One of the messages reads (translated): "Hello, I am MENG Wanzou. Currently, I have been detained by Canadian customs. I have limited use of my phone. Right now CIA is trying to get me into the hands of the US government. I bribed the guard of my room, and urgently need US$2000 to get out of here. Once I am out, I will reward you 200,000 shares of Huawei. I will be good on my word. if you are single, we can also discuss the important thing in life. The guard's name is David, the account number is 52836153836252, swift 55789034. I will be good on my word."

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More People Get Their News From Social Media Than Newspapers, Study Finds

The Pew Research Center has found that more adults get their news from social media than newspapers. "In a survey conducted earlier this year, 20 percent of adults said they often get news via social media while just 16 percent said the same about print newspapers," reports Engadget. "Television topped the list, with 49 percent of respondents saying they get news from TV often while 33 percent and 26 percent of respondents said news websites and radio were significant news sources for them." From the report: Though television is still the dominant news source for American adults, it has been on a decline -- 57 percent of surveyed adults reported getting their news from television regularly back in 2016. And Pew points out that when you look at online news sources together, so either news websites or social media, it's creeping up to TV as the top source, pulling 43 percent of adults combined. But there are significant differences between age groups. TV is by far the most popular news source for adults aged 50 and over while just 16 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds and 36 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds say they often get news via television. Among the youngest adults (aged 18 to 29), social media is the most popular platform for news, and for 30- to 49-year-olds, websites are the top news source.

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Walmart Is Reportedly Testing a Burger-Flipping Robot

Flippy, a burger-flipping robot that's been trialed in a number of restaurants this year, is coming to Walmart's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, to see whether or not it's the right fit for its in-store delis. Yahoo News reports: Flippy is the world's first autonomous robotic kitchen assistant powered by artificial intelligence from Miso Robotics, a two-year-old startup. Flippy got a gig at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles with vending food service company Levy Restaurants, part of Compass Group, to fry up chicken tenders and tater tots. Through the World Series, Flippy churned out 17,000 pounds worth of the fried foods. It's able to fry up to eight baskets of food simultaneously. "Walmart saw what we were doing and said, 'Could you bring Flippy from Dodgers Stadium to our Culinary Institute?'" Miso Robotics CEO David Zito told Yahoo Finance. In practice, a Walmart associate would place a frozen product on the rack. Using visual recognition technology, Flippy identifies the food in the basket and sets it in the cooking oil. The machine then "agitates" the basket by shaking it to make sure the product cooks evenly. When the food is finished cooking, Flippy moves the basket to the drip rack. An associate then tests the food's internal temperature. A few minutes later, the associate can season the food before it hits the hot display case. The reason Walmart is looking at the robot is so it can do some of the more mundane and repetitive tasks at the deli. The robot is supposed to serve as an "extra set of hands," letting the associate spend less time putting potato wedges and chicken tenders in fryers and more time on other services like taking customer orders and prepping other foods.

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At Least One Major Carrier Lied About Its 4G Coverage, FCC Review Finds

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Four months after receiving a complaint claiming that Verizon "grossly overstated" its 4G LTE coverage in government filings, the Federal Communications Commission says that at least one carrier is apparently guilty of significant rules violations. The FCC did not name any specific carrier in its announcement and did not respond to our question about whether Verizon is among the carriers being investigated. But the investigation was apparently triggered by a complaint about Verizon filed in August by the Rural Wireless Association (RWA). The RWA, which represents rural carriers, made its case to the FCC by submitting speed test data. The speed tests showed the Verizon network wasn't providing 4G LTE service in areas that Verizon claimed to cover, according to the RWA. Inaccurate coverage maps could make it difficult for rural carriers to get money from the Mobility Fund, a government fund intended for unserved areas. "A preliminary review of speed test data submitted through the challenge process suggested significant violations of the Commission's rules," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Friday in his announcement of the FCC investigation. The FCC said its investigation focuses on "whether one or more major carriers violated the Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II) reverse auction's mapping rules and submitted incorrect coverage maps."

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GoPro To Move US-Bound Camera Production Out of China

In an effort to counter the potential impact from new tariffs, GoPro is moving most of its U.S.-bound camera production out of China by the summer of 2019. The company said international-bound camera production will remain in China. Reuters reports: The company had previously said it was being "very proactive" about the situation regarding tariffs as U.S. and China ramped up its bitter trade war, in which both nations have imposed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other's imports. "It's important to note that we own our own production equipment while our manufacturing partner provides the facilities, so we expect to make this move at a relatively low cost," said Chief Financial Officer Brian McGee. In the company's earnings call in November, GoPro said it had the option to move U.S.-bound production out of China in the first half of 2019, if necessary.

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Verizon Announces 10,400 Employees Will Voluntarily Leave the Company

Verizon today announced that 10,400 employees -- about 7 percent of its worldwide workforce -- are taking buyouts to leave the company. "This is part of an effort to trim the telecom giant's workforce ahead of its push toward 5G," reports TechCrunch. From the report: Verizon put this offer on the table in September with a goal to save $10 billion in cash by 2021. The offer, which included 60 weeks of salary bonus and benefits depending on length of service, applied to 44,000 employees across Verizon's business. "For those who were accepted, the coming weeks and months will be a transition. For the entire V Team, there will be opportunities to work differently as we prepare for the great things to come at Verizon," CEO Hans Vestberg said in a note to employees, CNBC reports.

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House Panel Issues Scathing Report On ‘Entirely Preventable’ Equifax Data Breach

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: The Equifax data breach, one of the largest in U.S. history, was "entirely preventable," according to a new House committee investigation. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, following a 14-month probe, released a scathing report Monday saying the consumer credit reporting agency aggressively collected data on millions of consumers and businesses while failing to take key steps to secure such information. "In 2005, former Equifax Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Richard Smith embarked on an aggressive growth strategy, leading to the acquisition of multiple companies, information technology (IT) systems, and data," according to the 96-page report authored by Republicans. "Equifax, however, failed to implement an adequate security program to protect this sensitive data. As a result, Equifax allowed one of the largest data breaches in U.S. history. Such a breach was entirely preventable." The report blames the breach on a series of failures on the part of the company, including a culture of complacency, the lack of a clear IT management operations structure, outdated technology systems and a lack of preparedness to support affected consumers. "A culture of cybersecurity complacency at Equifax led to the successful exfiltration of the personal information of approximately 148 million individuals," the committee staff wrote. "Equifax's failure to patch a known critical vulnerability left its systems at risk for 145 days. The company's failure to implement basic security protocols, including file integrity monitoring and network segmentation, allowed the attackers to access and remove large amounts of data." The Oversight staff found that the company not only lacked a clear management structure within its IT operations, which hindered it from addressing security matters in a timely manner, but it also was unprepared to identify and notify consumers affected by the breach. The report said the company could have detected the activity but did not have "file integrity monitoring enabled" on this system, known as ACIS, at the time of the attack.

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‘Great Dying’: Rapid Warming Caused Largest Extinction Event Ever, Report Says

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Rapid global warming caused the largest extinction event in the Earth's history, which wiped out the vast majority of marine and terrestrial animals on the planet, scientists have found. The mass extinction, known as the "great dying," occurred around 252m years ago and marked the end of the Permian geologic period. The study of sediments and fossilized creatures show the event was the single greatest calamity ever to befall life on Earth, eclipsing even the extinction of the dinosaurs 65m years ago. Up to 96% of all marine species perished while more than two-thirds of terrestrial species disappeared. The cataclysm was so severe it wiped out most of the planet's trees, insects, plants, lizards and even microbes. The researchers used paleoceanographic records and built a model to analyze changes in animal metabolism, ocean and climate conditions. When they used the model to mimic conditions at the end of the Permian period, they found it matched the extinction records. According to the study, this suggests that marine animals essentially suffocated as warming waters lacked the oxygen required for survival. The great dying event, which occurred over an uncertain timeframe of possibly hundreds of years, saw Earth's temperatures increase by around 10C (18F). Oceans lost around 80% of their oxygen, with parts of the seafloor becoming completely oxygen-free. Scientists believe this warming was caused by a huge spike in greenhouse gas emissions, potentially caused by volcanic activity.

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Mice Given an Experimental Gene Therapy Don’t Get Fat

AmiMoJo shares a report from Boing Boing: Researchers at Flinders University knocked out a gene known as RCAN1 in mice, hypothesizing that this would increase "non-shivering thermogenesis," which "expends calories as heat rather than storing them as fat" -- the mice were fed a high-calorie diet and did not gain weight. In particular, the modified mice did not store fat around their middles -- a phenomenon associated with many health risks, including cardiac problems -- and their resting muscles burned more calories. [Vice News reports:] The study's authors point out that there's a time and place for RCAN1's role in preventing calories from being burned: namely, back when food was scarce and calories weren't so readily available. In the modern world of "caloric abundance," however, too much fat is being stored and real health problems are ensuing as a result. The researchers suggest that "These adaptive avenues of energy expenditure [such as RCAN1] may now contribute to the growing epidemic of obesity." "We looked at a variety of different diets with various time spans from eight weeks up to six months," said Damien, "and in every case we saw health improvements in the absence of the RCAN1 gene. "Mice on a high-fat diet that lacked this gene gained no weight."

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Amazon Targets Airports For Checkout-Free Store Expansion

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Amazon is looking at bringing its futuristic checkout-free store format to airports in an effort to win business from hungry, time-pressed travelers, according to public records and a person familiar with the strategy. For months, the world's largest online retailer has been expanding Amazon Go, where customers scan their smartphones at a turnstile to enter, and then cameras identify what they take from the shelves. When shoppers are finished, they simply leave the store and Amazon bills their credit cards on file. Amazon is evaluating top U.S. airports for new locations, according to public records requests to several airport operators.

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FCC To Probe Whether Carriers Gave Inaccurate Broadband Coverage Data

The FCC is launching an investigation into whether one or more major carriers gave the agency inaccurate maps of their broadband coverage, violating the rules of an initiative that provides subsidies for rural coverage. ZDNet reports: The initiative, called the Mobility Fund Phase II program "can play a key role in extending high-speed Internet access to rural areas across America," he continued. "In order to reach those areas, it's critical that we know where access is and where it is not." The initiative is reallocating $4.5 billion in previously-approved funding to bring high-speed mobile broadband service to rural Americans over the course of 10 years. The agency is using a competitive reverse auction to distribute the funds to private providers. To determine eligibility, mobile providers were required to submit current, standardized coverage data.

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Google Play Services Drops Support For Android Ice Cream Sandwich

Google is pulling support for Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich more than seven years after it was first introduced. The company announced in a blog post that Google Play services will no longer provide updates for the APIs (14 and 15) used by applications running on ICS. VentureBeat reports: Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), as Android 4.0 to 4.0.4 is more affectionately known, was a landmark operating system in many ways, ushering in a whole new set of interface guidelines -- with a more minimalist design, not to mention groundbreaking features such as near-field communication (NFC), lockscreen support for camera and music controls, and facial recognition smarts for unlocking devices. App developers who currently offer minimum support of API level 16 (Android 4.1 Jelly Bean) and over won't have to do anything as a result of these changes. However, if their apps currently support API level 14 or 15, they will encounter a build error when updating to a newer SDK version. Google is now recommending that all developers target API level 16 as the bare minimum, which means those still using Ice Cream Sandwich on their Android device won't even see the app update in Google Play, let alone be able to download it.

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Huawei’s CFO Is Being Accused of Fraud, and Her Main Defense Is a PowerPoint

"Today, a bail hearing was held for Huawei's chief financial officer, who was arrested in Canada on Saturday at the request of U.S. law enforcement," reports The Verge. "The CFO, Meng Wanzhou, is facing extradition to the U.S. for conspiring to defraud banking institutions, according to the Star Vancouver." The Verge reports that her main defense is "a PowerPoint presentation that Meng had once given to explain to a bank in Hong Kong that Huawei had not violated any U.S. sanctions." From the report: Many lined up to see Meng's bail hearing today, after the extremely high-profile arrest that signified the first major break in a U.S. probe that has mostly been kept from the public. The U.S. has an arrest warrant out for Meng that was issued by a New York court on August 22nd. It has 60 days from the time of Meng's arrest on Saturday to provide Canadian courts with evidence and intent. Meng served on the board for a Hong Kong-based company called Skycom, which allegedly did business with Iran between 2009 and 2014. U.S. banks worked with Huawei at this time, so Iran sanctions were violated indirectly, and Meng therefore committed fraud against these banks. Skycom reportedly had connections to Huawei and at the bail hearing today, Gibb-Carsley argued that Skycom was an unofficial subsidiary of Huawei's, using the same company logo. "Huawei is SkyCom," he said, "This is the crux, I say, of the alleged fraud." The hearing also examined whether Meng would be a flight risk if she was granted the $1 million bail, part of the argument Gibb-Carsley was pushing. "Defense lawyer Martin responded by explaining the Chinese emphasis on saving face, and how Meng wouldn't want her father and Huawei to look bad. Even more than that, 'she would not embarrass China itself,' Martin said."

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‘Send Noncompete Agreements Back To the Middle Ages’

Stephen Mihm, Bloomberg contributor and associate professor of history at the University of Georgia, argues against the use of noncompete agreements (NCAs) because they limit the free flow of employees and discourage innovation. An anonymous Slashdot reader shares an excerpt from his report: The agreements, known as NCAs, forbid workers from taking valuable skills acquired from one employer to a competing firm. They first appeared in the Middle Ages, when master artisans required them of apprentices because they didn't want to face direct competition once their proteges set up shop on their own. Courts eventually sanctioned these restraints, provided they didn't harm the public interest, establish a monopoly or unduly restrain an employee's right to work. But this trend toward wider use of the contracts, which gathered steam from the late 18th century onward, conveniently omitted that they originally applied to skilled laborers operating in a pre-capitalist society. Yet employers increasingly used noncompete clauses to limit the mobility of unskilled wage laborers along with skilled workers. Have NCAs helped or hindered economic growth? The most famous study looked at California, one of only a handful of states that do not permit NCAs. The de facto prohibition of the agreements affected skilled and non-skilled workers alike, and employees high and low could jump from job to job without any fear of legal reprisal. The mobility seems to have disseminated innovation very swiftly from company to company, creating the kind of dynamism and technological spillover that helps foster long-term success. The prohibition of NCAs clearly benefited Silicon Valley. Further proof was provided by the comparison to another claimant to high-tech supremacy: Route 128 in Massachusetts. The conclusion was that California's ban -- and the embrace of the agreements in Massachusetts -- helped tilt the balance of power to California.

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After 23 Years, IBM Sells Off Lotus Notes

"IBM has agreed to sell select software products to HCL Technologies," writes Slashdot reader virtig01. "Included among these is everyone's favorite email and calendaring tool, Lotus Notes and Domino." TechCrunch reports: IBM paid $3.5 billion for Lotus back in the day. The big pieces here are Lotus Notes, Domino and Portal. These were a big part of IBM's enterprise business for a long time, but last year Big Blue began to pull away, selling the development part to HCL, while maintaining control of sales and marketing. This announcement marks the end of the line for IBM involvement. With the development of the platform out of its control, and in need of cash after spending $34 billion for Red Hat, perhaps IBM simply decided it no longer made sense to keep any part of this in-house. As for HCL, it sees an opportunity to continue to build the Notes/Domino business. "The large-scale deployments of these products provide us with a great opportunity to reach and serve thousands of global enterprises across a wide range of industries and markets," C Vijayakumar, president and CEO at HCL Technologies, said in a statement announcing the deal.

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Trump’s Pick To Be the Next Attorney General Has Opposed Net Neutrality Rules For Years

William P. Barr, President Trump's pick to become the nation's next Attorney General, is a former chief lawyer for Verizon who has opposed net neutrality rules for more than a decade. "Barr, who served as attorney general under former President George H.W. Bush from 1991-93, warned in 2006 that 'network neutrality regulations would discourage construction of high-speed internet lines that telephone and cable giants are spending tens of billions of dollars to deploy,'" reports Fast Company. From the report: Barr's appointment would be welcome news for at least three major internet service providers and a trade organization -- including Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association -- that have spent more than $600 million lobbying on Capitol Hill since 2008, according to a MapLight analysis. Their lobbying on a key issue was rewarded last December, when the Federal Communications Commission, led by another former Verizon lawyer-turned-Trump appointee, overruled popular opinion by voting to scrap rules that banned internet companies from giving preferential treatment to particular websites or charging consumers more for different types of content. Barr's previous employment with Verizon foreshadows credibility problems similar to those faced by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, also a former Verizon lawyer. Barr, however, is likely to face even more scrutiny stemming from his role as a member of WarnerMedia's board of directors. The entertainment conglomerate, which includes HBO, Turner Broadcasting, and Warner Bros. Entertainment Group, was created in the aftermath of AT&T's 2016 purchase of Time Warner Inc. [...] Barr has argued that net neutrality rules will discourage internet service providers from investing in high-end delivery systems, such as fiber-optic networks. "Companies are going to make these kinds of investments only if they see an opportunity to earn a return that is commensurate with the risk, and only if they have the freedom to innovate, differentiate, and make commercially sensible decisions that they need to compete and win in the market," he said at a 2006 Federalist Society convention. Barr also claimed that 81 percent of the nation's roughly 40,000 zip codes have three or more choices of broadband providers. A PC Magazine study last year found that to be untrue, with only 30 percent of 20,000 zip codes having three or more broadband options.

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China’s Chang’e-4 Launches On Mission To the Moon’s Far Side

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: China is aiming to go where no one has gone before: the far side of the moon. A rocket carrying the Chang'e-4 lunar lander blasted off at about 2:23 a.m. local time on Saturday from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southern China. (In the United States, it was still midday Friday). Chinese authorities did not broadcast the launch, but an unofficial live stream recorded near the site showed the rocket rise from the launch pad until its flames looked like a bright star in the area's dark skies. Nearly one hour later, Xinhua, China's state-run news agency reported that Chang'e-4 had successfully launched. Exactly when it will set down at its destination has not yet been announced -- possibly in early January -- but Chang'e-4 will provide the first close-up look at a part of the moon that is eternally out of view from Earth. The rover will attempt to land in the 110-mile-wide Von Karman crater. The crater is within an area known as the South Pole-Aitken basin, a gigantic, 1,600-mile wide crater at the bottom of the moon, which has a mineralogy distinct from other locations. "That may reflect materials from the inside of the moon that were brought up by the impact that created the basin," reports The New York Times. The suite of instruments on the rover and the lander -- cameras, ground-penetrating radar and spectrometers -- "will probe the structure of the rocks beneath the spacecraft, study the effects of the solar wind striking the lunar surface," the report says. "Chang'e-4 will also test the ability of making radio astronomy observations from the far side of the moon, without the effects of noise and interference from Earth." It will also see if plant seeds will germinate and silkworm eggs will hatch in the moon's low gravity.

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Luxembourg To Become First Country To Make All Public Transport Free

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Luxembourg is set to become the first country in the world to make all its public transport free. Fares on trains, trams and buses will be lifted next summer under the plans of the re-elected coalition government led by Xavier Bettel, who was sworn in for a second term as prime minister on Wednesday. Luxembourg City, the capital of the small Grand Duchy, suffers from some of the worst traffic congestion in the world. It is home to about 110,000 people, but a further 400,000 commute into the city to work. A study suggested that drivers in the capital spent an average of 33 hours in traffic jams in 2016. While the country as a whole has 600,000 inhabitants, nearly 200,000 people living in France, Belgium and Germany cross the border every day to work in Luxembourg. Luxembourg has increasingly shown a progressive attitude to transport. This summer, the government brought in free transport for every child and young person under the age of 20. Secondary school students can use free shuttles between their institution and their home. Commuters need only pay about $2.27 for up to two hours of travel, which in a country of just 999 sq miles (2,590 sq km) covers almost all journeys. Now, from the start of 2020 all tickets will be abolished, saving on the collection of fares and the policing of ticket purchases. The policy is yet to be fully thought through, however. A decision has yet to be taken on what to do about first- and second-class compartments on trains.

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Aston Martin Will Make Old Cars Electric So They Don’t Get Banned From Cities

Aston Martin announced this week that it's starting a "Heritage EV" program where owners of classic Aston Martins can have their cars converted to an all-electric powertrain. The British automaker said they are starting this program so that classic cars don't get banned from cities that are moving to shun internal combustion engines in favor of boosting air quality for residents. The Verge reports: Aston Martin says the technology for these conversions will be built on "key components" being used to develop the Rapide E, a super-limited all-electric sports car due late next year. The Rapide E will use an 800-volt, 65kWh battery, offer "over 200 miles" of range, and feature a sub-4-second 0-60 mph time, as well as a top speed of 155 miles per hour. Only 155 of them will be sold, too. So the best way to get a taste of Aston Martin's electric future might actually be one of these EV conversions. The automaker says the first car it will develop a conversion plan for is the 1970 DB6 MkII Volante. Aston Martin will build Rapide E-inspired "cassettes" that can essentially slide in where the original engine and gearbox used to be, and will even be attached to the same mountings. A new screen will be fitted in the car's interior, but otherwise, little else is changed. This also means that, should an owner change their mind, and also have the money (which, come on, of course they do), they should be able to change it back if they so desire.

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Google, Mozilla, and Opera React To Microsoft’s Embrace of Chromium

With the news earlier today that Microsoft is embracing Chromium for Edge browser development on the desktop, VentureBeat decided to see what the other browser companies had to say about the decision. From the report: Google largely sees Microsoft's decision as a good thing, which is not exactly a surprise given that the company created the Chromium open source project. "Chrome has been a champion of the open web since inception and we welcome Microsoft to the community of Chromium contributors. We look forward to working with Microsoft and the web standards community to advance the open web, support user choice, and deliver great browsing experiences." Mozilla meanwhile sees Microsoft's move as further validation that users should switch to Firefox. "This just increases the importance of Mozilla's role as the only independent choice. We are not going to concede that Google's implementation of the web is the only option consumers should have. That's why we built Firefox in the first place and why we will always fight for a truly open web." Mozilla regularly points out it develops the only independent browser -- meaning it's not tied to a tech company that has priorities which often don't align with the web. Apple (Safari), Google (Chrome), and Microsoft (Edge) all have their own corporate interests. Opera thinks Microsoft is making a smart move, because it did the same thing six years ago. "We noticed that Microsoft seems very much to be following in Opera's footsteps. Switching to Chromium is part of a strategy Opera successfully adopted in 2012. This strategy has proved fruitful for Opera, allowing us to focus on bringing unique features to our products. As for the impact on the Chromium ecosystem, we are yet to see how it will turn out, but we hope this will be a positive move for the future of the web."

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Scientists Develop 10-Minute Universal Cancer Test

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Scientists have developed a universal cancer test that can detect traces of the disease in a patient's bloodstream. The cheap and simple test uses a color-changing fluid to reveal the presence of malignant cells anywhere in the body and provides results in less than 10 minutes. The test has a sensitivity of about 90%, meaning it would detect about 90 in 100 cases of cancer. It would serve as an initial check for cancer, with doctors following up positive results with more focused investigations. The test was made possible by the Queensland team's discovery that cancer DNA and normal DNA stick to metal surfaces in markedly different ways. This allowed them to develop a test that distinguishes between healthy cells and cancerous ones, even from the tiny traces of DNA that find their way into the bloodstream. Healthy cells ensure they function properly by patterning their DNA with molecules called methyl groups. These work like volume controls, silencing genes that are not needed and turning up others that are. In cancer cells, this patterning is hijacked so that only genes that help the cancer grow are switched on. While the DNA inside normal cells has methyl groups dotted all over it, the DNA inside cancer cells is largely bare, with methyl groups found only in small clusters at specific locations. Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the Queensland team described a series of tests that confirmed the telltale pattern of methyl groups in breast, prostate and colorectal cancer as well as lymphoma. They then showed that the patterns had a dramatic impact on the DNA's chemistry, making normal and cancer DNA behave very differently in water. The suspect DNA is added to water containing tiny gold nanoparticles, which turn the water pink. "If DNA from cancer cells is then added, it sticks to the nanoparticles in such a way that the water retains its original color," The Guardian reports. "But if DNA from healthy cells is added, the DNA binds to the particles differently, and turns the water blue."

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DeepMind Produces a General-Purpose Game-Playing System, Capable of Mastering Games Like Chess and Go Without Human Help

DeepMind has created a system that can quickly master any game in the class that includes chess, Go, and Shogi, and do so without human guidance. "The system, called AlphaZero, began its life last year by beating a DeepMind system that had been specialized just for Go," reports IEEE Spectrum. "That earlier system had itself made history by beating one of the world's best Go players, but it needed human help to get through a months-long course of improvement. AlphaZero trained itself -- in just 3 days." From the report: The research, published today in the journal Science, was performed by a team led by DeepMind's David Silver. The paper was accompanied by a commentary by Murray Campbell, an AI researcher at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. AlphaZero can crack any game that provides all the information that's relevant to decision-making; the new generation of games to which Campbell alludes do not. Poker furnishes a good example of such games of "imperfect" information: Players can hold their cards close to their chests. Other examples include many multiplayer games, such as StarCraft II, Dota, and Minecraft. But they may not pose a worthy challenge for long. DeepMind developed the self-training method, called deep reinforcement learning, specifically to attack Go. Today's announcement that they've generalized it to other games means they were able to find tricks to preserve its playing strength after giving up certain advantages peculiar to playing Go. The biggest such advantage was the symmetry of the Go board, which allowed the specialized machine to calculate more possibilities by treating many of them as mirror images. The researchers have so far unleashed their creation only on Go, chess and Shogi, a Japanese form of chess. Go and Shogi are astronomically complex, and that's why both games long resisted the "brute-force" algorithms that the IBM team used against Kasparov two decades ago.

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Facial Recognition Has To Be Regulated To Protect the Public, Says AI Report

A new report (PDF) from the AINow Institute calls for the U.S. government to take general steps to improve the regulation of facial recognition technology amid much debate over the privacy implications. "The implementation of AI systems is expanding rapidly, without adequate governance, oversight, or accountability regimes," it says. The report suggests, for instance, extending the power of existing government bodies in order to regulate AI issues, including use of facial recognition: "Domains like health, education, criminal justice, and welfare all have their own histories, regulatory frameworks, and hazards." MIT Technology Review reports: It also calls for stronger consumer protections against misleading claims regarding AI; urges companies to waive trade-secret claims when the accountability of AI systems is at stake (when algorithms are being used to make critical decisions, for example); and asks that they govern themselves more responsibly when it comes to the use of AI. And the document suggests that the public should be warned when facial-recognition systems are being used to track them, and that they should have the right to reject the use of such technology. The report also warns about the use of emotion tracking in face-scanning and voice detection systems. Tracking emotion this way is relatively unproven, yet it is being used in potentially discriminatory ways -- for example, to track the attention of students. "It's time to regulate facial recognition and affect recognition," says Kate Crawford, cofounder of AINow and one of the lead authors of the report. "Claiming to 'see' into people's interior states is neither scientific nor ethical."

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Google Translate Learns To Reduce Gender Bias

Google is working to make Translate less gender-biased by giving both a feminine and masculine translation for a single word. "Previously, the service defaulted to the masculine options," reports CNET. "The new function is available when translating words from English into French, Italian, Portuguese, Turkish and Spanish. It provides a similar function when translating into English." From the report: Google Translate learns from the hundreds of millions of already-translated examples available on the internet, creating an opportunity for the tool to incorporate the gender bias it encountered online, according to a Google blog post announcing the change. With the update, Google Translate will present translations for both genders. For example, if you translate "o bir doktor" from Turkish to English, you'll see "she is a doctor" and "he is a doctor" in the translation box. In November, Google also made Gmail's Smart Compose technology stop suggesting gender-based pronouns. Previously, it defaulted to masculine pronouns.

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Apple Watch Series 4 ECG, Irregular Heart Rate Features Are Now Available

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Today, with an update to watchOS, Apple is making its electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) reading feature available to Apple Watch Series 4 owners. It's also releasing an irregular rate notification feature that will be available on Apple Watches going back to Series 1. Both are a part of watchOS 5.1.2. To take an EKG, you open up the EKG app on the Watch and lightly rest your index finger on the crown for 30 seconds. The Watch then acts like a single-lead EKG to read your heart rhythm and record it into the Health app on your phone. From there, you can create a PDF report to send to your doctor. The irregular heart rate monitoring is passive. Apple says that it checks your rhythm every two hours or so (depending on whether you're stationary or not), and if there are five consecutive readings that seem abnormal, it will alert you and suggest you reach out to a doctor. If you have been previously diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, Apple's setup process tells you not to use the feature. Apple tells me these features are most definitely not diagnostic tools. In fact, before you can activate either of them, you will need to page through several screens of information that try to put their use into context and warn you to contact your doctor if needed. They are also not the sort of features Apple expects users to really use on a regular basis. The EKG feature, in particular, should only really be used if you feel something abnormal going on, and then you should only share the resulting report with your doctor, not act on it directly. Angela Chen from The Verge notes that these features have only received "clearance" from the FDA, which is not the same thing as FDA "approval": The Apple Watch is in Class II. For Class II and Class I, the FDA doesn't give "approval," it just gives clearance. Class I and Class II products are lower-risk products -- as [Jon Speer, co-founder of Greenlight Guru] puts it, a classic Class I example is something like a tongue depressor -- and it's much easier to get clearance than approval.

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Tesla’s Giant Battery In Australia Saved $40 Million During Its First Year, Report Says

Last December, Tesla switched on the world's biggest lithium ion battery in South Australia to feed the country's shaky power grid for the first day of summer. Neoen, the owner of the giant battery system, released a new report for the first full year of operation and revealed that the energy storage system saved about $40 million over the last 12 months. Electrek reports: The energy storage capacity is managed by Neoen, which operates the adjacent wind farm. They contracted Aurecon to evaluate the impact of the project and they estimate that the "battery allows annual savings in the wholesale market approaching $40 million by increased competition and removal of 35 MW local FCAS constraint." It is particularly impressive when you consider that the massive Tesla Powerpack system cost only $66 million, according to another report from Neoen. Here are the key findings from the report: - Has contributed to the removal of the requirement for a 35 MW local Frequency Control Ancillary Service (FCAS), saving nearly $40 million per year in typical annual costs - Has reduced the South Australian regulation FCAS price by 75% while also providing these services for other regions - Provides a premium contingency service with response time of less than 100 milliseconds - Helps protect South Australia from being separated from the National Electricity Market - Is key to the Australian Energy Market Operator's (AEMO) and ElectraNet's System Integrity Protection Scheme (SIPS) which protects the SA-VIC Heywood Interconnector from overload

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Eastern European Banks Were Attacked Via Backdoors Directly Connected To Local Networks, Report Finds

An anonymous reader writes: Karspesky security researcher Sergey Golovanov writes about recent cybertheft incidents involving hardware backdoors planted by criminals. Each attack had a common springboard: an unknown device directly connected to the company's local network. In some cases, it was the central office, in others a regional office, sometimes located in another country. At least eight banks in Eastern Europe were the targets of the attacks, which caused damage estimated in the tens of millions of dollars. Hardware backdoors are cheap and immune to antivirus. A firmware modified OpenWrt based router can provide covert remote access, painless packet captures, and secure VPN connections with the flip of a switch. Will a flashlight and a ladder be common tools of computer security someday? After the cybercriminals entered a organization's building, connected a device to the local network and scanned the local network seeking to gain access to the resources, they proceeded to stage three. "Here they logged into the target system and used remote access software to retain access," writes Golovanov. "Next, malicious services created using msfvenom were started on the compromised computer. Because the hackers used fileless attacks (PDF) and PowerShell, they were able to avoid whitelisting technologies and domain policies. If they encountered a whitelisting that could not be bypassed, or PowerShell was blocked on the target computer, the cybercriminals used impacket, and winexesvc.exe or psexec.exe to run executable files remotely."

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China Calls For Release of Arrested Huawei CFO Detained In Canada

China is demanding the release of a senior executive at Huawei after she was detained in Canada on extradition charges to the U.S. Wanzhou Meng, who is also the deputy chair of Huawei's board and the daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei, is suspected of violating U.S. trade sanctions against Iran. NBC News reports: The arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer and daughter of the company's founder Ren Zhengfei, spooked investors with U.S. stocks tumbling on fears of a flare-up in Chinese-U.S. tensions. She was arrested in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Dec. 1. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said officials have been contacted both in the U.S. and Canada to demand Meng's release. Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the ministry, said her detention needed to be explained, and both countries had to "effectively protect the legitimate rights and interests of the person concerned." A spokesperson for Huawei said in a statement that it "complies with all applicable laws and regulations where it operates, including applicable export control and sanction laws and regulations."

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Sea Levels May Rise More Rapidly Due To Greenland Ice Melt

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Rising sea levels could become overwhelming sooner than previously believed, according to the authors of the most comprehensive study yet of the accelerating ice melt in Greenland. Run-off from this vast northern ice sheet -- currently the biggest single source of meltwater adding to the volume of the world's oceans -- is 50% higher than pre-industrial levels and increasing exponentially as a result of manmade global warming, says the paper, published in Nature on Wednesday. Almost all of the increase has occurred in the past two decades -- a jolt upwards after several centuries of relative stability. This suggests the ice sheet becomes more sensitive as temperatures go up. The researchers used ice core data from three locations to build the first multi-century record of temperature, surface melt and run-off in Greenland. Going back 339 years, they found the first sign of meltwater increase began along with the industrial revolution in the mid-1800s. The trend remained within the natural variation until the 1990s, since when it has spiked far outside of the usual nine- to 13-year cycles.

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24 Amazon Workers Sent To Hospital After Robot Accidentally Unleashes Bear Spray

Joe_Dragon shares a report from ABC News: Twenty-four Amazon workers in New Jersey have been hospitalized after a robot accidentally tore a can of bear repellent spray in a warehouse, officials said. The two dozen workers were treated at five local hospitals, Robbinsville Township communications and public information officer John Nalbone told ABC News. One remains in critical condition and 30 additional workers were treated at the scene. The official investigation revealed "an automated machine accidentally punctured a 9-ounce bear repellent can, releasing concentrated Capsaican," Nalbone said. Capsaican is the major ingredient in pepper spray. The fulfillment center was given the all clear by Wednesday evening. "All of the impacted employees have been or are expected to be released from hospital within the next 24 hours. The safety of our employees is always our top priority and a full investigation is already underway. We'd like to thank all of the first responders who helped with today's incident," Amazon said in a statement Wednesday night.

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Australia Passes Anti-Encryption Laws [Update]

Earlier today, Australia's House of Representatives passed the Assistance and Access Bill. The Anti-Encryption Bill, as it is known as, would allow the nation's police and anti-corruption forces to ask, before forcing, internet companies, telcos, messaging providers, or anyone deemed necessary, to break into whatever content agencies they want access to. "While the Bill can still be blocked by the Senate -- Australian Twitter has been quite vocal over today's proceedings, especially in regards to the [Australian Labor Party's] involvement," reports Gizmodo. ZDNet highlights the key findings from a report from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS): The threshold for industry assistance is recommended to be lifted to offenses with maximum penalties in excess of three years; Technical Assistance Notices (TANs) and Technical Capability Notices (TCNs) will be subjected to statutory time limits, as well as any extension, renewal, or variation to the notices; the systemic weakness clause to apply to all listing acts and things; and the double-lock mechanism of approval from Attorney-General and Minister of Communications will be needed, with the report saying the Communications Minister will provide "a direct avenue for the concerns of the relevant industry to be considered as part of the approval process." The report's recommendations also call for a review after 18 months of the Bill coming into effect by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor; TANs issued by state and territory police forces to be approved by the Australian Federal Police commissioner; companies issued with notices are able to appeal to the Attorney-General to disclose publicly the fact they are issued a TCN; and the committee will review the passed legislation in the new year and report by April 3, 2019, right around when the next election is expected to be called. In short: "Testimony from experts has been ignored; actual scrutiny of the Bill is kicked down the road for the next Parliament; Labor has made sure it is not skewered by the Coalition and seen to be voting against national security legislation on the floor of Parliament; and any technical expert must have security clearance equal to the Australia's spies, i.e. someone who has been in the spy sector." Further reading: Australia Set To Spy on WhatsApp Messages With Encryption Law. UPDATE: The encryption bill has passed the Senate with a final vote of 44-12, with Labor and the Coalition voting for it. "Australia's security and intelligence agencies now have legal authority to force encryption services to break the encryptions, reports The Guardian. Story is developing...

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Australia’s Anti-Encryption Bill Passes House of Representatives

Earlier today, Australia's House of Representatives passed the Assistance and Access Bill. The Anti-Encryption Bill, as it is known as, would allow the nation's police and anti-corruption forces to ask, before forcing, internet companies, telcos, messaging providers, or anyone deemed necessary, to break into whatever content agencies they want access to. "While the Bill can still be blocked by the Senate -- Australian Twitter has been quite vocal over today's proceedings, especially in regards to the [Australian Labor Party's] involvement," reports Gizmodo. ZDNet highlights the key findings from a report from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS): The threshold for industry assistance is recommended to be lifted to offenses with maximum penalties in excess of three years; Technical Assistance Notices (TANs) and Technical Capability Notices (TCNs) will be subjected to statutory time limits, as well as any extension, renewal, or variation to the notices; the systemic weakness clause to apply to all listing acts and things; and the double-lock mechanism of approval from Attorney-General and Minister of Communications will be needed, with the report saying the Communications Minister will provide "a direct avenue for the concerns of the relevant industry to be considered as part of the approval process." The report's recommendations also call for a review after 18 months of the Bill coming into effect by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor; TANs issued by state and territory police forces to be approved by the Australian Federal Police commissioner; companies issued with notices are able to appeal to the Attorney-General to disclose publicly the fact they are issued a TCN; and the committee will review the passed legislation in the new year and report by April 3, 2019, right around when the next election is expected to be called. In short: "Testimony from experts has been ignored; actual scrutiny of the Bill is kicked down the road for the next Parliament; Labor has made sure it is not skewered by the Coalition and seen to be voting against national security legislation on the floor of Parliament; and any technical expert must have security clearance equal to the Australia's spies, i.e. someone who has been in the spy sector." Further reading: Australia Set To Spy on WhatsApp Messages With Encryption Law.

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Quantum Computers Pose a Security Threat That We’re Still Totally Unprepared For

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: The world relies on encryption to protect everything from credit card transactions to databases holding health records and other sensitive information. A new report from the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says we need to speed up preparations for the time when super-powerful quantum computers can crack conventional cryptographic defenses. The experts who produced the report, which was released today, say widespread adoption of quantum-resistant cryptography "will be a long and difficult process" that "probably cannot be completed in less than 20 years." It's possible that highly capable quantum machines will appear before then, and if hackers get their hands on them, the result could be a security and privacy nightmare. Today's cyberdefenses rely heavily on the fact that it would take even the most powerful classical supercomputers almost unimaginable amounts of time to unravel the cryptographic algorithms that protect our data, computer networks, and other digital systems. But computers that harness quantum bits, or qubits, promise to deliver exponential leaps in processing power that could break today's best encryption. The report cites an example of encryption that protects the process of swapping identical digital keys between two parties, who use them to decrypt secure messages sent to one another. A powerful quantum computer could crack RSA-1024, a popular algorithmic defense for this process, in less than a day. The U.S., Israel and others are working to develop standards for quantum-proof cryptographic algorithms, but they may not be ready or widely adopted by the time quantum computers arrive. "[I]t will take at least a couple of decades to get quantum-safe cryptography broadly in place," the report says in closing. "If that holds, we're going have to hope it somehow takes even longer before a powerful quantum computer ends up in a malicious hacker's hands."

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FCC Chairman Admits Russia Meddled In Net Neutrality Debate

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has admitted that around 500,000 comments submitted during the net neutrality public comment period were linked to Russia email addresses. "Pai noted in a court filing that most of the comments were in favor of net neutrality, which the FCC repealed last December," reports Engadget. From the report: The New York Times and BuzzFeed News have filed freedom of information requests in the hopes of uncovering the extent of fraudulent comments and Russian influence in the net neutrality process. Pai's filing was part of an FCC memorandum that addressed the requests, and the agency has argued that releasing the data could expose the U.S. to cyberattacks. Pai's concession underscores how Russia's influence on U.S. democracy extends beyond headline-grabbing election interference and fake news peddling, and it also reflects the litany of issues the FCC faced during the net neutrality comment period. Over half of the almost 22 million comments came from phony, temporary or duplicate email addresses, according to a study, and reportedly only 17.4 percent of the comments were unique.

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A Quarter of Tumblr’s Users Are There To Consume Porn, Data Scientists Estimate

On Monday, Tumblr announced that it will permanently ban adult content from its platform on December 17th, alienating a large portion of the site's users who enjoy sharing and consuming NSFW content. Motherboard has surfaced a study conducted in 2017 by two Italian universities and Bell Labs, which found that roughly a quarter of Tumblr users were on the platform largely to consume pornography. From the report: This study was based on the behavior of 130 million users, about half of Tumblr's entire user base. Of that number, "adult content consumers are 22 percent of our sample," the study said. "At the time of the study, roughly 30 million active accounts were consuming adult content, either re-sharing it or following the accounts of those producers," Luca Aiello, one of the study's authors and now a senior research scientist at Nokia Bell Labs told Motherboard in an email. "I expect this audience to experience a noticeable drop in engagement: some of them will just churn out, many of them will likely reduce considerably the time spent on the platform." Another 28 percent, or roughly 40 million users, encountered pornography unintentionally on Tumblr. That means they didn't seek out the porn, but they followed someone who pushed it into their feed. "The extent of this exposure is hard to estimate but it's probably not major," Aiello said. "Therefore, I believe some people in this segments would be happy to have a cleaner Tumblr feed but I don't expect a significant lift in their engagement, overall." Crucially, the study found that Tumblr's userbase was more female than many social networks ("we estimate that the average user age is 26 and 72 percent of the users are female," they wrote.) They found that these demographics held up between porn consumers and non porn consumers on the site, and that, in fact, young women between the ages of 20-25 were consuming porn on the site at a higher rate than young men. This means that Tumblr's crackdown will likely disproportionately affect women porn consumers.

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Canada Arrests Top Huawei Executive For Allegedly Violating Iran Sanctions

Canada has arrested Huawei's chief financial officer on suspicion of violating U.S. trade sanctions against Iran. "Wanzhou Meng, who is also the deputy chair of Huawei's board and the daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested in Vancouver at the request of U.S. authorities," reports The Globe and Mail. From the report: "Wanzhou Meng was arrested in Vancouver on December 1. She is sought for extradition by the United States, and a bail hearing has been set for Friday," Justice department spokesperson Ian McLeod said in a statement to The Globe and Mail. "As there is a publication ban in effect, we cannot provide any further detail at this time. The ban was sought by Ms. Meng. A Canadian source with knowledge of the arrest said U.S. law enforcement authorities are alleging that Ms. Meng tried to evade the U.S. trade embargo against Iran but provided no further details. Since at least 2016, U.S. authorities have been reviewing Huawei's alleged shipping of U.S.-origin products to Iran and other countries in violation of U.S. export and sanctions laws.

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First Baby Born After Deceased Womb Transplant

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: A healthy baby girl has been born using a womb transplanted from a dead person. The 10-hour transplant operation -- and later fertility treatment -- took place in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2016. The mother, 32, was born without a womb. There have been 39 womb transplants using a live donor, including mothers donating their womb to their daughter, resulting in 11 babies. But the 10 previous transplants from a dead donor have failed or resulted in miscarriage. In this case, reported in The Lancet, the womb donor was a mother of three in her mid-40s who died from bleeding on the brain. The recipient reportedly had Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome, which affects about one in every 4,500 women and results in the vagina and uterus (womb) failing to form properly. The baby girl was delivered by Caesarean section on December 15, 2017, weighing 6 pounds (2.5kg).

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Google Is Shutting Down Its Allo Messaging App, Says Report

According to 9to5Google, citing a source familiar with the plan, Google will "soon" announce that it will be shutting down its Google Allo messaging app. "This development comes almost 8 months after Anil Sabharwal, Vice President of Chrome, Comms and Photos at Google, said that the company was 'pausing investment' in Google Allo," reports 9to5Google. It also comes less than a week after 9to5Google reported that Google will be shutting down Google Hangouts for consumers sometime in 2020. Google may delay the news about Allo due to the backlash stemming from the article about Hangouts. From the report: Lately, some of the app's remaining users have complained of bugs and broken functionality: there have been messages not being delivered, features like hearting posts randomly disappearing for some, and the latest stable version has been unable to perform Google Drive restores of chats for several weeks. Meanwhile, essentially the entire Allo team was moved to work on Android Messages and spent the last several months porting over much of Allo's features and functionality -- all leading up to the recent beginnings of evidence that the rollout of Google's RCS 'Chat' initiative is gaining traction.

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SpaceX Sends Dragon To ISS But Falcon 9 Rocket Misses Landing Pad

On Wednesday, SpaceX successfully sent a Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station to deliver supplies, but unfortunately it wasn't able to recover the Falcon 9 rocket that launched with it. "The first stage of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle appeared to lose control as it approached Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral," reports CNET. "The live feed from the rocket cut away on the SpaceX webcast, but video from people in the media area at the cape showed the Falcon 9 appearing to regain control before making an unplanned landing in the water rather than ashore at the landing area." From the report: Musk tweeted shortly afterward that cutting the live feed "was a mistake" and shared the full clip of the water landing from the rocket's perspective. The rocket took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:16 p.m. local time, a little more than 48 hours after SpaceX sent another Falcon 9 to space from the West Coast on Monday. Dragon's flight to low-Earth orbit was supposed to happen Tuesday, but the mission was pushed back a day to replace some food being sent to the space station for experimental mice living there. SpaceX had planned to land the first stage of the brand-new Block 5 Falcon 9 rocket at a landing zone ashore at Cape Canaveral, but as the rocket descended toward the cape, the live feed from the booster's onboard cameras appeared to show the craft going into some sort of uncontrolled spin. Musk tweeted that the problem was that a "grid fin hydraulic pump stalled, so Falcon landed just out to sea." Musk also tweeted that the pump that failed didn't have a backup because "landing is considered ground safety critical, but not mission critical. Given this event, we will likely add a backup pump & lines."

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Thieves Are Boosting the Signal From Key Fobs Inside Homes To Steal Vehicles

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CBC.ca: According to Markham automotive security specialist Jeff Bates, owner of Lockdown Security, wireless key fobs have a role to play in many recent car thefts, with thieves intercepting and rerouting their signals -- even from inside homes -- to open and steal cars. According to Bates, many of these thieves are using a method called "relay theft." Key fobs are constantly broadcasting a signal that communicates with a specific vehicle, he said, and when it comes into a close enough range, the vehicle will open and start. The thief will bring a device close to the home's door, close to where most keys are sitting, to boost the fob's signal. They leave another device near the vehicle, which receives the signal and opens the car. Many people don't realize it, Bates said, but the thieves don't need the fob in the car to drive it away. Bates says, if you have a key fob that can wirelessly unlock/start your car, you should not keep it by the front door. "If you do live in a house, try to leave your keys either upstairs or ... as far away from the vehicle as possible," he said. "The other thing that you can do is there are products out there that you can put your key fob into," such as a faraday cage -- a box used to block radio signals -- a key pouch, which works similarly, or even a steel box.

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VW Says the Next Generation of Combustion Cars Will Be Its Last

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Volkswagen AG expects the era of the combustion car to fade away after it rolls out its next-generation gasoline and diesel cars beginning in 2026. "Our colleagues are working on the last platform for vehicles that aren't CO2 neutral," Michael Jost, strategy chief for Volkswagen's namesake brand, said Tuesday at an industry conference near the company's headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany. "We're gradually fading out combustion engines to the absolute minimum." The world's largest automaker has started to introduce its first wave of electric cars, including next year's Porsche Taycan. The rollout across its stable of 12 automotive brands is forecast to comprise about 15 million vehicles, as the company earmarks $50 billion over the next five years to spend on its transformation to self-driving, electric cars. Production of the VW brand's I.D. Neo hatchback will start in 12 months in Germany, followed by other models from the I.D. line assembled at two sites in China as of 2020. VW plans to launch fully or partly electric versions across its lineup of more than 300 cars, vans, trucks and motorbikes by 2030. The company "will continue to modify its combustion engine technology after the new platform is introduced next decade," reports Bloomberg. "After 2050, there may still be some gasoline and diesel models in regions where there is insufficient charging infrastructure, according to Jost."

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Facebook Ends Platform Policy Banning Apps That Copy Its Features

Facebook will now freely allow developers to build competitors to its features upon its own platform. Today Facebook announced it will drop Platform Policy section 4.1, which stipulates "Add something unique to the community. Don't replicate core functionality that Facebook already provides." TechCrunch reports: Facebook had previously enforced that policy selectively to hurt competitors that had used its Find Friends or viral distribution features. Apps like Vine, Voxer, MessageMe, Phhhoto and more had been cut off from Facebook's platform for too closely replicating its video, messaging or GIF creation tools. The move will significantly reduce the risk of building on the Facebook platform. It could also cast it in a better light in the eyes of regulators. Anyone seeking ways Facebook abuses its dominance will lose a talking point. And by creating a more fair and open platform where developers can build without fear of straying too close to Facebook's history or road map, it could reinvigorate its developer ecosystem. In a statement to TechCrunch, a Facebook spokesperson said: "We built our developer platform years ago to pave the way for innovation in social apps and services. At that time we made the decision to restrict apps built on top of our platform that replicated our core functionality. These kind of restrictions are common across the tech industry with different platforms having their own variant including YouTube, Twitter, Snap and Apple. We regularly review our policies to ensure they are both protecting people's data and enabling useful services to be built on our platform for the benefit of the Facebook community. As part of our ongoing review we have decided that we will remove this out of date policy so that our platform remains as open as possible. We think this is the right thing to do as platforms and technology develop and grow."

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Amazon Promised Drone Delivery In Five Years Five Years Ago

On December 1, 2013, Amazon announced its plans to deliver packages by drone in just "four or five years" on a 60 Minutes episode with then-host Charlie Rose. As The Associated Press reports, it's officially been five years and drone deliveries seem to be nowhere in sight. "Bezos made billions of dollars by transforming the retail sector," reports The Associated Press. "But overcoming the regulatory hurdles and safety issues posed by drones appears to be a challenge even for the world's wealthiest man." From the report: The day may not be far off when drones will carry medicine to people in rural or remote areas, but the marketing hype around instant delivery of consumer goods looks more and more like just that -- hype. Drones have a short battery life, and privacy concerns can be a hindrance, too. Amazon says it is still pushing ahead with plans to use drones for quick deliveries, though the company is staying away from fixed timelines. "We are committed to making our goal of delivering packages by drones in 30 minutes or less a reality," says Amazon spokeswoman Kristen Kish. The Seattle-based online retail giant says it has drone development centers in the United States, Austria, France, Israel and the United Kingdom.

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Google Bridges Android, iOS Development With Flutter 1.0

Google has launched Flutter 1.0, the first stable release of its open source, cross-platform UI toolkit and SDK. "Flutter lets developers share a single code base across Android and iOS apps, with a focus on speed and maintaining a native feel," reports Ars Technica. From the report: Flutter enables cross-platform app code by sidestepping the UI frameworks of both Android and iOS. Flutter apps run on the Flutter rendering engine and Flutter framework, which are shipped with every app. The Flutter platform handles communication with each OS and can spit out Android and iOS binaries with native-looking widgets and scrolling behavior if desired. It's kind of like applying a "video game" style of development to apps: if you write for a game engine like Unity or Unreal, those engines are packaged with your game, allowing it to run on multiple different platforms. It's the same deal with Flutter. Flutter apps are written in Dart, and the SDK offers programmers nice quality-of-life benefits like the "stateful hot reload," a way to instantly make code changes appear in the emulator. For IDEs, there are plugins for Visual Studio Code, Android Studio, and IntelliJ. Apps come with their own set of Flutter UI widgets for Android and iOS, with the iOS widgets closely following Apple's guidelines and the Android widgets following Google's Material Design. Flutter is designed to be fast, with its custom app engine running on Google's hardware-accelerated Skia engine. This means 60fps apps on Android and iOS and a path for 120fps apps in the future. This is a bigger deal on Android than it is on iOS. The Google Ads app is already built on Flutter, which means Google "thinks Flutter is ready for prime time," writes Ron Amadeo. There's a list of other apps built on Flutter, too. Amadeo goes on to suggest that Flutter may be the path to Android's replacement. "Flutter ships its own app engine on Android and iOS, but in secret, Google is also developing an OS called 'Fuchsia' that runs these Flutter apps natively," writes Amadeo. "With Fuchsia, Google would switch from the Android apps written in Java to Flutter apps written in Dart..."

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Japan’s Final Pager Provider To End Its Service In 2019

Tokyo Telemessage, Japan's last pager provider, has announced that it will end service to its 1,500 remaining users in September 2019. It will bring a national end to telecommunication beepers, 50 years after their introduction. The BBC reports: The once-popular devices are able to receive and show wireless messages. Users would then find a phone to call the sender back. Developed in the 1950s and 1960s, they grew in popularity in the 1980s. By 1996, Tokyo Telemessage had 1.2 million subscribers. However, the rise of mobile phones rendered the pager obsolete, and few remain worldwide. Emergency services, however, continue to use the reliable technology -- including in the UK.

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Apple Hit With Class Action Suit Over Lack of Dust Filters In Macbook, iMac

AmiMoJo shares a report from 9to5Mac: Apple is facing a new class action lawsuit claiming that it sells select iMac and MacBook models without needed dust filters. In turn, this causes issues such as display imprecations, slowing performance, and more, the lawsuit alleges. The iMac and MacBook lawsuit is being brought forward by law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, which is a class action litigation firm that has gone after Apple before. Most notably, the firm won the infamous $450 million ebooks pricing case against Apple. Since then, Hagens Berman has levied other suits at Apple, including one regarding the performance throttling of iPhones. Hagens Berman's latest lawsuit reads in part: "iMac and MacBook owners have reported dark smudges and spots on the interior of the screens of their desktop computers as well as excessive slowness and break downs of their computers related to the lack of filter on Apple computers. The computer intakes air to cool its components, but with no filter, dust gets trapped inside. This affects the screen and logic board of the computer, leading to dust stuck behind the screen and gummed up motherboards, causing the computer to run slow and/or overheat." Hagens Berman says "Apple refuses to remedy the defect," instead forcing affected customers to pay "more than $500 to fix this screen defect, and even more if they wish to replace parts integral to the computer's sped and performance." "We believe Apple owes it to the purchasers of these premium, high-end computers to pay for the widespread defect, and we seek to represent iMac owners to recover their losses in costs to repair this defect, or for their loss of use of their computer."

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The Secret Service Wants To Test Facial Recognition Around the White House

The Secret Service is planning to test facial recognition surveillance around the White House, "with the goal of identifying 'subjects of interest' who might pose a threat to the president," reports The Verge. The document with the plans was published by the American Civil Liberties Union, describing "a test that would compare closed circuit video footage of public White House spaces against a database of images -- in this case, featuring employees who volunteered to be tracked." From the report: The test was scheduled to begin on November 19th and to end on August 30th, 2019. While it's running, film footage with a facial match will be saved, then confirmed by human evaluators and eventually deleted. The document acknowledges that running facial recognition technology on unaware visitors could be invasive, but it notes that the White House complex is already a "highly monitored area" and people can choose to avoid visiting. We don't know whether the test is actually in operation, however. "For operational security purposes we do not comment on the means and methods of how we conduct our protective operations," a spokesperson told The Verge. The ACLU says that the current test seems appropriately narrow, but that it "crosses an important line by opening the door to the mass, suspicionless scrutiny of Americans on public sidewalks" -- like the road outside the White House. (The program's technology is supposed to analyze faces up to 20 yards from the camera.) "Face recognition is one of the most dangerous biometrics from a privacy standpoint because it can so easily be expanded and abused -- including by being deployed on a mass scale without people's knowledge or permission."

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NYC Votes To Set Minimum Pay For Uber, Lyft Drivers

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: On Tuesday, New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission voted to set a minimum pay rate for Uber, Lyft, and other on-demand ride-hailing drivers. The new rate will be set at $17.22 after expenses, or $26.51 per hour gross. New York is believed to be the first city in the nation to implement such a pay floor. Four months ago, the Big Apple also imposed a cap on the number of such vehicles in the city. The Independent Drivers Guild, a local affiliate of the Machinists Union, advocated for the change. Meanwhile, Uber has already put out a statement saying that increased driver earnings "will lead to higher than necessary fare increases" and that the new rules do not adequately take into account "incentives or bonuses forcing companies to raise rates even higher." "Today we brought desperately needed relief to 80,000 working families. All workers deserve the protection of a fair, livable wage and we are proud to be setting the new bar for contractor workers' rights in America," Jim Conigliaro, Jr., founder of the Independent Drivers Guild, said in a statement.

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China Announces Punishments For Intellectual-Property Theft

China has announced an array of punishments that could restrict companies' access to borrowing and state-funding support over intellectual-property theft. The news comes after the G20 Summit in Argentina, where the Trump Administration agreed to hold off on tariff action for at least 90 days as they negotiate to resolve specific U.S. complaints. Bloomberg reports: China set out a total of 38 different punishments to be applied to IP violations, starting this month. The document, dated Nov. 21, was released Tuesday by the National Development and Reform Commission and signed by various government bodies, including the central bank and supreme court. China says violators would be banned from issuing bonds or other financing tools, and participating in government procurement. They would also be restricted from accessing government financial support, foreign trade, registering companies, auctioning land or trading properties. In addition, violators will be recorded on a list, and financial institutions will refer to that when lending or granting access to foreign exchange. Names will be posted on a government website. "This is an unprecedented regulation on IP violation in terms of the scope of the ministries and severity of the punishment," said Xu Xinming, a researcher at the Center for Intellectual Property Studies at China University of Political Science and Law. The newly announced punishments are "a security net of IP protection" targeting repeat offenders and other individuals who aren't in compliance with the law, he said.

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Hulu, AT&T To Test ‘Pause Ads’ In 2019, Automatically Playing Commercials When You Hit Pause

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MacRumors: Streaming TV services offered by companies like Hulu and AT&T are testing the waters for a new type of advertising called "pause ads." The idea behind pause ads is that instead of facing forced commercial breaks at specified interludes, users would be more accepting of ads that play when they choose to pause a show for a bit while they do something else. Hulu says it plans to launch pause ads in 2019, but not much else was given in the way of details regarding which of its numerous streaming plans will include the new type of commercial. The plan likely to see pause ads is Hulu With Limited Commercials, which interjects a few ads throughout a show's runtime, similar to live TV, but again this hasn't been confirmed. AT&T cited similar interest in pause ads, stating that it also plans to launch technology in 2019 that plays a video when a user pauses a TV show. For both companies, it's unclear exactly how long these ads will run for, and if you'll be able to immediately cancel them out by simply hitting the play button and resuming your TV show. According to Hulu vice president and head of advertising platforms Jeremy Helfand, pause ads will not be home to longform advertisements, but will instead focus on commercials where advertisers "have seconds" to deliver a message effectively. Over the next three years, Hulu expects "more than half" of its advertising revenue to come from these so-called non-disruptive experiences.

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Quora Data Breach Exposes 100 Million Users’ Personal Info

schwit1 shares a report from CBS News: Information sharing website Quora has announced a data breach which has exposed "approximately 100 million users'" personal data. The company said in a statement released Monday that it discovered the "unauthorized access to one of our systems by a malicious third party," on Friday. Chief Executive Adam D'Angelo wrote in the blog post that Quora had alerted law enforcement authorities and was "working rapidly to investigate the situation further and take the appropriate steps to prevent such incidents in the future." D'Angelo said Quora was working to alert the affected users of the site, whose names, email addresses and encrypted passwords, and public content such as their questions, answers and comments, were exposed through the breach. Those users would be required to reset their passwords, D'Angelo said.

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Will AWS Be Spun Off Into a Separate Company?

Ammalgam writes from a report via Business Insider: A credible business school professor who correctly predicted that Amazon would buy Whole Foods now says an AWS spinoff is inevitable. Marketing guru Scott Galloway said Monday at Business Insider's IGNITION conference. The move will also help the company placate regulators who are starting to scrutinize its anticompetitive practices, said Scott Galloway, a professor at New York University's Stern School of Business. After the e-commerce giant spins it off, Amazon Web Services (AWS) "will be one of 10 most valuable companies in the world," he said. "The question then becomes, what happens to the old retail-side of Amazon," Galloway added. Amazon will decide to split off AWS, because it makes a lot of sense and market forces will dictate it, Galloway said. Cloud computing is one of the most important trends taking place in the technology industry, but there's no simple way for investors to profit off it. The three biggest cloud services -- AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud -- are all part of much bigger companies whose results only partially reflect their cloud businesses. As the biggest of the bunch, AWS would be a natural to become its own standalone business, he said. And it could be a huge windfall for Amazon shareholders. Depending on how it would be valued and the multiple to earnings that the market would assign to it, AWS by itself could be see a valuation of anywhere from $70 billion to $600 billion, he said. What do you think? Is this possible?

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Marriott’s Breach Response Is So Bad, Security Experts Are Filling In the Gaps

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Last Friday, Marriott sent out millions of emails warning of a massive data breach -- some 500 million guest reservations had been stolen from its Starwood database. One problem: the email sender's domain didn't look like it came from Marriott at all. Marriott sent its notification email from "email-marriott.com," which is registered to a third party firm, CSC, on behalf of the hotel chain giant. But there was little else to suggest the email was at all legitimate -- the domain doesn't load or have an identifying HTTPS certificate. In fact, there's no easy way to check that the domain is real, except a buried note on Marriott's data breach notification site that confirms the domain as legitimate. But what makes matters worse is that the email is easily spoofable. Many others have sounded the alarm on Marriott's lackluster data breach response. Security expert Troy Hunt, who founded data breach notification site Have I Been Pwned, posted a long tweet thread on the hotel chain giant's use of the problematic domain. As it happens, the domain dates back at least to the start of this year when Marriott used the domain to ask its users to update their passwords. Williams isn't the only one who's resorted to defending Marriott customers from cybercriminals. Nick Carr, who works at security giant FireEye, registered the similarly named "email-mariott.com" on the day of the Marriott breach. "Please watch where you click," he wrote on the site. "Hopefully this is one less site used to confuse victims." Had Marriott just sent the email from its own domain, it wouldn't be an issue.

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Google’s DeepMind Predicts 3D Shapes of Proteins

Google's DeepMind is using an AI program, called AlphaFold, to predict the 3D shapes of proteins, the fundamental molecules of life. "DeepMind set its sights on protein folding after its AlphaGo program famously beat Lee Sedol, a champion Go player, in 2016," reports The Guardian. The company says "It's never been about cracking Go or Atari, it's about developing algorithms for problems exactly like protein folding." From the report: DeepMind entered AlphaFold into the Critical Assessment of Structure Prediction (CASP) competition, a biannual protein-folding olympics that attracts research groups from around the world. The aim of the competition is to predict the structures of proteins from lists of their amino acids which are sent to teams every few days over several months. The structures of these proteins have recently been cracked by laborious and costly traditional methods, but not made public. The team that submits the most accurate predictions wins. On its first foray into the competition, AlphaFold topped a table of 98 entrants, predicting the most accurate structure for 25 out of 43 proteins, compared with three out of 43 for the second placed team in the same category. To build AlphaFold, DeepMind trained a neural network on thousands of known proteins until it could predict 3D structures from amino acids alone. Given a new protein to work on, AlphaFold uses the neural network to predict the distances between pairs of amino acids, and the angles between the chemical bonds that connect them. In a second step, AlphaFold tweaks the draft structure to find the most energy-efficient arrangement. The program took a fortnight to predict its first protein structures, but now rattles them out in a couple of hours.

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Sci-Hub ‘Pirate Bay of Science’ Blocked In Russia Over Medical Studies

UK academic publisher Springer Nature has filed a complaint against Sci-Hub, a site that provides open access to scientific research papers. "The Moscow City Court was told that Sci-Hub is infringing the company's copyrights and should, therefore, be subjected to blocking," reports TorrentFreak. "Listing 'bulletproof' hosting company Quasi Networks and U.S.-based CloudFlare as facilitating access to the site, Springer Nature complained that three specific works were being made available illegally by Sci-Hub." From the report: As the above table obtained from the Court shows, the research papers cover topics of interest to the medical community in the spheres of heart and brain health -- Effect of glucose-lowering therapies on heart failure, Nitric oxide signaling in cardiovascular health and disease, and Lactate in the brain: from metabolic end-product to signaling molecule. These would ordinarily sit behind paywalls but thanks to Sci-Hub, their contents are available for everyone to absorb for free. It's a situation that's unacceptable to Springer Nature and the Moscow City Court was sympathetic to the company's complaints. As a result, several Sci-Hub and Library Genesis domains (gen.lib.rus.ec, www.libgen.io, scihub.unblocked.gdn, lgmag.org, libgen.unblocked.gdn, sci-hub.tw and libgen.io) are now being rendered inaccessible by Russian Internet Service Providers.

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Nvidia Uses AI To Render Virtual Worlds In Real Time

Nvidia is using artificial intelligence to draw new worlds without using traditional modeling techniques or graphics rendering engines. "This new technology uses an AI deep neural network to analyze existing videos and then apply the visual elements to new 3D environments," reports Tom's Hardware. From the report: Nvidia claims this new technology could provide a revolutionary step forward in creating 3D worlds because the AI models are trained from video to automatically render buildings, trees, vehicles, and objects into new 3D worlds, instead of requiring the normal painstaking process of modeling the scene elements. But the project is still a work in progress. As we can see from [this image], which was generated in real time on a Nvidia Titan V graphics card using its Tensor cores, the rendered scene isn't as crisp as we would expect in real life, and it isn't as clear as we would expect with a normal modeled scene in a 3D environment. However, the result is much more impressive when we see the real-time output in [this YouTube video]. The key here is speed: The AI generates these scenes in real time.

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Madrid’s Ban On Polluting Vehicles Cuts Traffic By Nearly 32 Percent In Some Areas

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Last Friday, Madrid's tough new vehicle emissions controls went into effect, resulting in a drop in traffic by nearly 32 percent in some parts of the city, reports El Pais. The new rules impose strict restrictions on which vehicles can enter an area of just under two square miles in the city's downtown. The plan, known as Madrid Central, is an attempt to lower the city's nitrogen dioxide levels, which have exceeded European limits since 2010 and are thought to cause around 3,000 premature deaths per year, according to one study. The exact drop in traffic varied between different areas in the zone. One area, San Bernardo, saw a modest reduction of just over 5 percent, while Gran Via saw the highest reduction of 31.8 percent. Although Reuters reports that traffic continues to be heavy around the perimeter of the zone, El Pais claims that even there, traffic levels were down by between 1 and 2 percent. The lack of congestion also had benefits for public transport, with bus speeds on one highway increasing by 14 percent. "Petrol and diesel cars registered before 2000 and 2006, respectively, will be restricted, while hybrid vehicles will be allowed to enter the area and park for a maximum of two hours," reports The Verge. "However, residents living in the controlled areas will not be affected by the ban. Petrol and diesel taxis will continued to be allowed in the area until 2022. Electric cars, which produce no emissions, driven by non-residents will also be allowed to freely enter the area."

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Two iOS Fitness Apps Were Caught Using Touch ID To Trick Users Into Payments of $120

secwatcher shares a report from Threatpost: Two apps that were posing as fitness-tracking tools were actually using Apple's Touch ID feature to loot money from unassuming iOS victims. The two impacted apps were the "Fitness Balance App" and "Calories Tracker App." Both apps looked normal, and served functions like calculating BMI, tracking daily calorie intake or reminding users to drink water; and both received good reviews on the iOS store. However, according to Reddit users and researchers with ESET, the apps steal money -- almost $120 from each victim -- thanks to a sneaky popup trick involving the Apple Touch ID feature. According to heated victims who took to Reddit to air their complaints, after a user launches one of the apps, it requests a fingerprint scan prompting users to "view their personalized calorie tracker and diet recommendations." After the users use Touch ID, the app then shows a pop-up confirming a payment of $119.99. The pop-up is only visible for a second, according to users. "However, if the user has a credit or debit card directly connected to their Apple account, the transaction is considered verified and money is wired to the operator behind these scams," said Lukas Stefanko, malware analyst with ESET security, in a Monday post on the scam.

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Elon Musk Says Autopilot Will Soon Recognize Emergency Response Vehicles

Over the weekend, Elon Musk alluded to impending software updates that would make Teslas even safer than they already are. In response to a story about a DUI where a Tesla autopilot may have been involved, Musk said Autopilot may soon be able to recognize emergency response vehicles and react accordingly. Inverse reports: "Default Autopilot behavior, if there's no driver input, is to slow gradually to a stop & turn on hazard lights," Musk explained in the replies. "Tesla service then contacts the owner." That naturally got people wondering whether or not Tesla's autopilot was capable of differentiating between emergency response vehicles and everyone else. Presumably, someday soon autonomous vehicles are going to be able to recognize sirens (or their futuristic software equivalent.) If an ambulance pulls up behind an autonomous car on a single-lane road, it will need some mechanism to know it's supposed to get out of the way. In the meanwhile, Musk said that Tesla is already working on the first half of that problem, by teaching neural net to be able to recognize police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks. On Twitter, he said that this capability would be added to the neural net "in the coming months."

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AT&T Will Keep Your Money If You Cancel TV Or Internet In Middle of Billing Cycle

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: The telecom giant has announced the end of its prorated credits for some subscribers who cancel a service in the middle of a billing period. AT&T bills service for DirecTV, U-verse TV, AT&T Phone, AT&T Internet, and Fixed Wireless Internet in advance. It previously offered the option to receive a credit for any unused days in a month when a subscriber canceled before the next billing period, but it will now force many customers to ride out the month with nothing in return. The change goes into effect on January 14, 2019, in most states, so if you're considering a change, it's time to plan ahead. If you're even one day into your billing month, you'll presumably have to pay for the full period, according to the company's new policy. You get to keep the service you don't want for that period of time, but, of course, you're canceling because you don't want it. The change will not apply to customers in California, Illinois, New York and, in some instances, Michigan.

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Trump Administration Wants To End Subsidies For Electric Cars, Renewables

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Monday that the United States wants to end subsidies for electric cars and other items including renewable energy sources. "Asked about actions planned after General Motors announced U.S. plant closings and layoffs last week, Kudlow said he expected subsidies for buying electric cars will end in 2020 or 2021," reports Reuters. "Kudlow said the Trump administration will end other subsidies, including on 'renewables.'"

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Robot Janitors Are Coming To Mop Floors At a Walmart Near You

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: The world's largest retailer is rolling out 360 autonomous floor-scrubbing robots in some of its stores in the U.S. by the end of the January, it said in a joint statement with Brain Corp., which makes the machines. The autonomous janitors can clean floors on their own even when customers are around, according to the San Diego-based startup. Brain's robots are equipped with an array of sensors that let them gather and upload data. Brain doesn't make its own hardware, focusing instead on developing software -- BrainOS -- that endows machines with autonomy in closed environments. At first, the machines were need to be operated by humans, who "teach" the layout of the space that needs cleaning. After that the robots can perform the task autonomously. The robots, which look like a cross between a miniature Zamboni and a motorized wheel chair, already scrub floors at airports in Seattle, San Diego, Boston and Miami, Brain Chief Executive Office Eugene Izhikevich said. Brain last month unveiled a smaller version of the machine developed jointly with SoftBank's robotics arm and aimed at the Japanese market.

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Tumblr Will Ban All Adult Content On December 17th

Tumblr, the underground social media site known for its pornographic content and tight-knit community, will be instituting a major change to its guidelines in a couple of weeks. The company said in a blog post today that it will permanently ban adult content from its platform on December 17th. The company flatly stated that "adult content will no longer be allowed here." The Verge reports: Banned content includes photos, videos, and GIFs of human genitalia, female-presenting nipples, and any media involving sex acts, including illustrations. The exceptions include nude classical statues and political protests that feature nudity. The new guidelines exclude text, so erotica remains permitted. Illustrations and art that feature nudity are still okay -- so long as sex acts aren't depicted -- and so are breastfeeding and after-birth photos. After December 17th, any explicit posts will be flagged and deleted by algorithms. For now, Tumblr is emailing users who have posted adult content flagged by algorithms and notifying them that their content will soon be hidden from view. Posts with porn content will be set to private, which will prevent them from being reblogged or shared elsewhere in the Tumblr community. "Blogs that have been either self-flagged or flagged by us as 'explicit' per our old policy and before December 17, 2018 will still be overlaid with a content filter when viewing these blogs directly," the blog post reads. "While some of the content on these blogs may now be in violation of our policies and will be actioned accordingly, the blog owners may choose to post content that is within our policies in the future, so we'd like to provide that option..."

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By 2025, Nearly 30 Percent of Data Generated Will Be Real-Time, IDC Says

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: As global connectivity grows, allowing more data to be generated and collected, a growing portion of that data will be real-time information, according to IDC. By 2025, nearly 30 percent of the so-called "global datasphere" will be real-time information, IDC says in a new white paper, sponsored by Seagate. By comparison, real-time data represented 15 percent of the datasphere in 2017, according to the report. IDC defines the "global datasphere" as "the quantification of the amount of data created, captured, and replicated across the world." All told, of the 150 billion devices that will be connected across the globe in 2025, most will be creating real-time data, IDC says. The global datasphere is expected to grow from 23 Zettabytes (ZB) in 2017 to 175 ZB by 2025. One zettabyte is equivalent to a trillion gigabytes.

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Dark Web Dealers Voluntarily Ban Deadly Fentanyl

Major dark web drug suppliers have started to voluntarily ban the synthetic opioid fentanyl because it is too dangerous. "They are 'delisting' the high-strength painkiller, effectively classifying it alongside mass-casualty firearms and explosives as commodities that are considered too high-risk to trade," reports The Guardian. From the report: Vince O'Brien, one of the NCA's leads on drugs, told the Observer that dark web marketplace operators appeared to have made a commercial decision, because selling a drug that could lead to fatalities was more likely to prompt attention from police. It is the first known instance of these types of operators moving to effectively ban a drug. O'Brien said: "If they've got people selling very high-risk commodities then it's going to increase the risk to them. There are marketplaces that will not accept listings for weapons and explosives -- those are the ones that will not accept listings for fentanyl. Clearly, law enforcement would prioritize the supply of weapons, explosives and fentanyl over, for example, class C drugs -- and that might well be why they do this. "There are also drug users on the dark web who say on forums that they don't think it's right that people are selling fentanyl because it is dangerous and kills a lot of people."

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Intel Sues Ex-Engineer For Trying To Steal 3D XPoint Technology On His Way To Micron

Intel has filed a lawsuit last week against one of their former hardware engineers, alleging they tried to steal confidential chip blueprints to potentially pass on to Micron. "The lawsuit [...] is the latest twist in the tale of Intel and Micron's difficult partnership over 3D XPoint memory," reports The Register. From the report: The legal complaint, aimed at former employee Doyle Rivers, alleges that having "secretly" accepted a position at Chipzilla's former bedfellow, Micron, Rivers had a go at taking confidential trade and personnel data with him as he left. Intel alleged that a few days before leaving, "Rivers tried to access and copy a 'top secret' designated Intel file that Intel's electronic security system blocked from being copied." Chipzilla said the document was related to what it was at pains to say is its "independent" work to productize the 3D XPoint tech into its Optane product line. In other words, blueprints secret to Intel. No one outside Intel, "including Micron" had been privy to such data, the complaint alleged. Intel's security system stopped the file from escaping, but according to the complaint, that did not stop Rivers from allegedly hoovering up a selection of personnel files into a USB device plugged into his computer. The chipmaker also claimed that Rivers "aggressively" recruited his former colleagues to join him on his grand adventure to pastures new. Intel demanded that Rivers return the USB drive, but he apparently "never responded" to them. Instead, "he handed the USB device over to his new employer." It was later discovered by a forensic investigator that it had been wiped. Intel is now demanding "a neutral forensic investigator" be allowed to take a look at Rivers' PC to see what was on there, and when exactly the USB stick was erased. There's a deadline of November 16 for Rivers to agree to this probing.

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Monarch Butterfly Populations In the West Are Down an Order of Magnitude

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: Far fewer [monarch butterflies] were heading south this year, and those that have arrived did so a month late, according to Xeres, a non-profit conservation group for invertebrates. One researcher said it was the fewest monarch butterflies in central California in 46 years. Surveyors at 97 sites found only 20,456 monarchs compared to 148,000 at the same sites last year, an 86% decline. It's possible more insects will make the journey late this year, says Xeres, but that now seems unlikely. The minimum population size before the species experiences "migration collapse" is unknown, but a 2017 modeling paper in Biological Conservation (pdf) found that 30,000 butterflies adult butterflies are probably the smallest viable population. Without this critical mass, there aren't enough insects in the western monarch population to continue one of the world's most remarkable lifecycles.

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More Than 40 Percent of World Coal Plants Are Unprofitable, Says Report

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: More than 40 percent of the world's coal plants are operating at a loss due to high fuel costs and that proportion could to rise to nearly 75 percent by 2040, a report by environmental think-tank Carbon Tracker showed on Friday. London-based Carbon Tracker analyzed the profitability of 6,685 coal plants around the world, representing 95 percent of operating capacity and 90 percent of capacity under construction. It found that 42 percent of global coal capacity is already unprofitable. From 2019 onwards, it expects falling renewable energy costs, air pollution regulations and carbon pricing to result in further cost pressures and make around 72 percent of the fleet cashflow negative by 2040. In addition, by 2030, new wind and solar will be cheaper than continuing to operate 96 percent of today's existing and planned coal plants, the report said.

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Astronomers Measure Total Starlight Emitted Over 13.7 Billion Years

Astronomers have measured all the light from all the stars that have ever existed. "In total, the astronomers estimate, stars have radiated 4x1084 photons (a photon being the smallest unit of light)," reports The Guardian. "Or put another way: 4,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 photons." From the report: The astronomers based their calculation on measurements of the extragalactic background light (EBL), a cosmic fog of radiation that has been accumulating since stars first illuminated the dark, vast expanse of space. More than 90% of starlight ends up surviving in this dim backdrop of radiation. The latest observations, collected over nine years by Nasa's Fermi space telescope, use the light from blazars -- super-massive black holes that emit powerful jets of gamma rays -- as beacons to illuminate the cosmic fog. In total, the team captured signals from 739 blazars -- some relatively close and some extremely distant, whose light was emitted in the ancient universe and has taken billions of years to arrive at Earth. Gamma-ray photons travelling through a fog of starlight have a high chance of being absorbed. So by taking blazars at different distances from the Earth and working out how much of their radiation had been lost along the way, the total starlight at different time periods could be ascertained. The researchers used a computer model to factor in the cosmic fog, which "is simultaneously being diluted as the universe expands and space itself is stretched out," the report mentions. "The measurements suggest that star formation peaked about 11 billion years ago and has been on the wane ever since. About seven new stars are created in our Milky Way galaxy every year."

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Australian Fence of Sound Halves Roadkill On One Deadly Stretch of Road

Researchers in the Australian state of Tasmania are using a "virtual fence" system, consisting of alarm units mounted on posts along the side of a three-mile stretch of road, to reduce the number animals that get struck and killed by cars on a particularly deadly stretch of road. "These alarm units, around 80 feet apart, emit sounds and flashing lights to warn animals when a car is approaching," reports Digital Trends. "These do not distract drivers because the sound and light are directed to the edge of the road. They are also only loud and bright enough to be noticeable to wildlife in the immediate vicinity." From the report: "The virtual fence technology involves small devices, approximately the size of a mobile phone, mounted on a pole on the side of the road which are triggered by car headlights when they hit a sensor in the device," Samantha Fox, the researcher who led the project, told Digital Trends. "This sets off blue and yellow flashing lights and a high pitched siren. These together warn local wildlife that a car is coming, and give the animal time to move away from the road." Over the course of a three-year trial, the technology has reduced roadkill on one particular road by a massive 50 percent. On this stretch of road alone, this has meant saving the lives of around 200 animals, ranging from wombats to possums.

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George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States, Dies At 94

George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States, has passed away tonight at the age of 94. As The Washington Post reports, he was "the last veteran of World War II to serve as president, he was a consummate public servant and a statesman who helped guide the nation and the world out of a four-decade Cold War that had carried the threat of nuclear annihilation." From the report: Although Mr. Bush served as president three decades ago, his values and ethic seem centuries removed from today's acrid political culture. His currency of personal connection was the handwritten letter -- not the social media blast. He had a competitive nature and considerable ambition that were not easy to discern under the sheen of his New England politesse and his earnest generosity. He was capable of running hard-edge political campaigns, and took the nation to war. But his principal achievements were produced at negotiating tables. Despite his grace, Mr. Bush was an easy subject for caricature. He was an honors graduate of Yale University who was often at a loss for words in public, especially when it came to talking about himself. Though he was tested in combat when he was barely out of adolescence, he was branded "a wimp" by those who doubted whether he had essential convictions. This paradox in the public image of Mr. Bush dogged him, as did domestic events. His lack of sure-footedness in the face of a faltering economy produced a nosedive in the soaring popularity he enjoyed after the triumph of the Persian Gulf War. In 1992, he lost his bid for a second term as president. Bush's spokesman Jim McGrath announced his death on Twitter, but didn't provide the cause of death. In 2012, he announced that he had vascular Parkinsonism, a condition that limited his mobility. UPDATE: George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States, has issued a statement on the passing of his father: "Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro, and I are saddened to announce that after 94 remarkable years, our dear Dad has died. George H. W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for. The entire Bush family is deeply grateful for 41's life and love, for the compassion of those who have cared and prayed for Dad, and for the condolences of our friends and fellow citizens."

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DHL To Invest $300 Million To Quadruple Robots In Warehouses In 2019

A logistics division of DHL announced today that it will invest $300 million to modernize 60 percent of its warehouses in North America with more IoT sensors and robots. Robotic process automation and software made to reduce workflow interruptions will also play a role. VentureBeat reports: Such technology is already in operation in 85 DHL facilities, or roughly 20 percent of warehouses across North America. Funding announced today will bring emerging technology to 350 of DHL Supply Chain's 430 operating sites. The company has more than 35,000 employees in North America. Conversations are ongoing with more than 25 robotics and process automation industry leaders, DHL Supply Chain president of retail Jim Gehr said. DHL Supply Chain warehouse robots will work primarily with unit-picking operations and will be able to complete a range of tasks, from collaborative piece picking to shuttling items across a factory to following human packers.

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Shocking Maps Show How Humans Have Reshaped Earth Since 1992

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: It's no secret that humans -- noisy, messy creatures that we are -- are vastly altering Earth's environments. But it's one thing to know this in the abstract, and another to see global changes laid out in detail, as they are in comprehensive new maps published this month in the International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation. Developed by geoscientist Tomasz Stepinski and his team at the University of Cincinnati's Space Informatics Lab (SPI), the intricate visualizations reveal that 22 percent of Earth's total landmass was altered between 1992 and 2015, mostly by humans. The most common change was forest loss due to agricultural development, and the second most common was the reverse -- farms to forests. The swift urbanization of grasslands, forests, and farms was also reflected in the maps. Stepinski and his colleagues used satellite data collected by the European Space Agency's Climate Change Initiative, which included geospatial maps of land cover designed to monitor climate change. The team broke these maps into 81-kilometer-squared tracts and created a legend of color-coded tiles based on nine broad types of transitions that occurred between 1992 and 2015 (agriculture gains in yellow, forest losses in maroon, etc). The tiles are shaded to reflect the degree of change, with the lightest shade corresponding to regions altered by less than 10 percent, and dark patches representing regions that shifted by 30 percent or more. On a broad scale, the maps emphasize the massive influence of human activity on the planet. But the project has also revealed granular details about specific locations.

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Turns Out Mitochondria Can Come From Fathers Too

schwit1 shares a report from Popular Mechanics: We all know: The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. But the mitochondria is much more than a simple power plant. It's also a unique source of DNA that can give us important clues to our species and our history. That's because the DNA in your mitochondria comes only from your mother. At least, that's what we believed. But new research suggests that in some cases, mitochondrial DNA can be inherited from fathers, too. A group of researchers found three unrelated families where individuals had mitochondrial DNA from both parents. A total of 17 people across these three families were affected, suggesting that mitochondria aren't as exclusively maternal as scientists believed.

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Automakers Give the Chinese Government Access To Location Data of Electric Cars

According to a new report from The Associated Press, a number of China's government officials and entities have had access to the location data of "new energy vehicles" from many different manufacturers. "More than 200 manufacturers (both national and foreign) transmit the data to 'government-backed monitoring centers,' according to the report, including one called 'The Shanghai Electric Vehicle Public Data Collecting, Monitoring and Research Center' and another known as the 'National Big Data Alliance of New Energy Vehicles,'" reports The Verge. From the report: Chinese officials told the AP that this data -- which includes the real-time location of cars, plus "dozens of other data points" -- is collected to "improve public safety" and "facilitate industrial development and infrastructure planning." The officials say the data is also used to "prevent fraud" in the government's subsidy program for new energy vehicles, which offers steep discounts on clean cars. The monitoring systems have been in place since the beginning of 2017, according to a report by the International Council on Clean Transportation from last year. Staffers at the data monitoring centers are able to look at a map, click on a car, and see things like make and model, mileage, and battery charge, according to the AP report.

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Airbnb Will Start Designing Houses In 2019

Airbnb is reportedly planning to distribute prototype buildings next year. Yesterday, Samara, a futures division of Airbnb meant to develop new products and services for the company, announced a new initiative called Backyard. The initiative is described in a press release as "an endeavor to design and prototype new ways of building and sharing homes," with the first wave of test units going public in 2019. Fast Company reports: The name "Backyard" might imply that Airbnb just wants to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), those small cottages that sit behind large suburban houses and are often rented on Airbnb. [Airbnb chief product officer and cofounder Joe Gebbia] clarifies that is not the case. "The project was born in a studio near Airbnb headquarters," he says in an interview over email. "We always felt as if we were in Airbnb's backyard -- physically and conceptually -- and started referring to the project as such." Backyard is poised to be much larger than ADUs, in Gebbia's telling. Yes, small prefabricated dwellings could be in the roadmap, but so are green building materials, standalone houses, and multi-unit complexes. Think of Backyard as both a producer and a marketplace for selling major aspects of the home, in any shape it might come in. "Backyard investigates how buildings could utilize sophisticated manufacturing techniques, smart-home technologies, and gains vast insight from the Airbnb community to thoughtfully respond to changing owner or occupant needs over time," Gebbia says. "Backyard isn't a house, it's an initiative to rethink the home. Homes are complex, and we're taking a broad approach -- not just designing one thing, but a system that can do many things."

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Samsung’s Foldable Screen Tech Has Been Stolen, Sold To China

Prosecutors in South Korea say that Samsung's latest bendable screen technology has been stolen and sold to two Chinese companies. "The prosecutors allege that a Samsung supplier leaked blueprints of Samsung's 'flexible OLED edge panel 3D lamination' to a company that it had set up," reports CNN. "That company then sold the tech secrets to the Chinese firms for nearly $14 million, according to the prosecutors." CNN reports: The Suwon District Prosecutor's Office charged 11 people on Thursday with stealing tech secrets from Samsung, the office said in a statement. They did not name the people or companies involved in the theft. Samsung Display, a subsidiary of the South Korean conglomerate, said in a statement Friday that it was "surprised and appalled at the results of the investigation by prosecutors." Prosecutors said Samsung invested six years and some 150 billion won ($130 million) to develop the bendable screen. Investigators have not been able to track down and question two Chinese individuals believed to be involved in the case, and have asked Interpol to help find and detain them. Of the 11 people indicted, three have been detained.

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Google Hangouts For Consumers Will Be Shutting Down Sometime In 2020

According to 9to5Google, Google Hangouts for consumers will be shutting down sometime in 2020. The news shouldn't come as too much of a surprise since Google essentially stopped development on the app more than a year ago. Thankfully, there are plenty of other Google messaging apps available, such as Allo, Duo, and Android Messages. From the report: Last spring, Google announced its pivot for the Hangouts brand to enterprise use cases with Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet, so the writing has been on the wall for quite some time regarding the Hangouts consumer app's demise. Meanwhile, Google has transitioned its consumer-facing messaging efforts to RCS 'Chat' and Android Messages following Allo's misadventures. As mentioned, Hangouts as a brand will live on with G Suite's Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet, the former intended to be a team communication app comparable to Slack, and the latter a video meetings platform. Meanwhile, Google Voice calling, which was at first independent and then long integrated into Hangouts, was moved back out to its own redesigned app earlier this year. Interestingly, despite its forthcoming axing, Hangouts was one of a few apps to get early support for Android Auto's new MMS and RCS functionality, alongside Android Messages and WhatsApp.

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Facebook Discussed Using People’s Data As a Bargaining Chip, Emails and Court Filings Suggest

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Washington Post: Facebook executives in recent years appeared to discuss giving access to their valuable user data to some companies that bought advertising when it was struggling to launch its mobile-ad business, according to internal emails quoted in newly unredacted court filings. In an ongoing federal court case against Facebook, the plaintiffs claim that the social media giant doled out people's data secretly and selectively in exchange for advertising purchases or other concessions, even as others were cut off, ruining their businesses. The case was brought by one such company, Six4Three, which claims its business was destroyed in 2015 by Facebook's actions. In one of the exchanges from the filings, Facebook employees discussed shutting down access "in one-go to all apps that don't spend at least $250k a year to maintain access to the data," according to the trove. The documents reference email exchanges regarding Facebook's relations with several large commercial partners, including Lyft, Tinder, Amazon.com, Airbnb and the Royal Bank of Canada. Facebook denies that it exchanged access to people's data for commercial benefit. Thousands of pages of court filings, which Facebook is fighting to keep sealed -- including in an emergency hearing scheduled for Friday afternoon -- illustrate the shrewd strategies the social network employed as it built its advertising empire. The disclosure sheds light on allegations of anti-competitive behavior that could play into efforts by U.S. and European lawmakers to curb the power of technology giants. "The documents Six4Three gathered for this baseless case are only part of the story and are presented in a way that is very misleading without additional context," Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Facebook's director of developer platforms and programs, said in a statement. "We stand by the platform changes we made in 2015 to stop a person from sharing their friends' data with developers. Any short-term extensions granted during this platform transition were to prevent the changes from breaking user experience."

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Japan Has Restarted Five Nuclear Power Reactors In 2018

With Shikoku Electric Power Company's 890 megawatt (MW) Ikata-3 reactor, Japan has restarted a total of five nuclear reactors in 2018. "Japan had suspended its nuclear fleet in 2013 for mandatory safety checks and upgrades following the 2011 Fukushima accident, and before 2018 only four reactors had been restarted," reports OilVoice. From the report: Following the Fukushima accident, as each Japanese nuclear reactor entered its scheduled maintenance and refueling outage, it was not returned to operation. Between September 2013 and August 2015, Japan's entire reactor fleet was suspended from operation, leaving the country with no nuclear generation. Sendai Units 1 and 2, in Japan's Kagoshima Prefecture, were the first reactors to be restarted in August and October 2015, respectively. The restart of Japan's nuclear power plants requires the approval of both Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) and the central government, as well as consent from the governments of local prefectures. In July 2013, the NRA issued more stringent safety regulations to address issues dealing with tsunamis and seismic events, complete loss of station power, and emergency preparedness. As part of Japan's long-term energy policy, issued in April 2014, the central government called for the nuclear share of total electricity generation to reach 20%-22% by 2030, which would require 25 to 30 reactors to be in operation by then. In 2017, four operating nuclear reactors provided 3% of Japan's total electricity generation.

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NASA Is Outsourcing Its Next Moon Lander To a Private Company

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced Thursday that nine U.S. companies will compete to deliver experiments to the lunar surface. The space agency will buy the service and let private industry work out the details on getting there, he said. The Press Herald reports: The goal is to get small science and technology experiments to the surface of the moon as soon as possible. The first flight could be next year; 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing. "We're going at high speed," said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA's science mission directorate, which will lead the effort. NASA officials said the research will help get astronauts back to the moon more quickly and keep them safer once they're there. The initial deliveries likely will include radiation monitors, as well as laser reflectors for gravity and other types of measurements, Zurbuchen said. Bridenstine said it will be up to the companies to arrange their own rocket rides. NASA will be one of multiple customers using these lunar services.

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Google Shut Out Privacy, Security Teams From Secret China Project

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Intercept about Google's secretive plans to build a censor version of its search engine for China: The objective, code-named Dragonfly, was to build a search engine for China that would censor broad categories of information about human rights, democracy, and peaceful protest. Yonatan Zunger, then a 14-year veteran of Google and one of the leading engineers at the company, was among a small group who had been asked to work on Dragonfly. He was present at some of the early meetings and said he pointed out to executives managing the project that Chinese people could be at risk of interrogation or detention if they were found to have used Google to seek out information banned by the government. Scott Beaumont, Google's head of operations in China and one of the key architects of Dragonfly, did not view Zunger's concerns as significant enough to merit a change of course, according to four people who worked on the project. Beaumont and other executives then shut out members of the company's security and privacy team from key meetings about the search engine, the four people said, and tried to sideline a privacy review of the plan that sought to address potential human rights abuses. Google's leadership considered Dragonfly so sensitive that they would often communicate only verbally about it and would not take written notes during high-level meetings to reduce the paper trail, two sources said. Only a few hundred of Google's 88,000 workforce were briefed about the censorship plan. Some engineers and other staff who were informed about the project were told that they risked losing their jobs if they dared to discuss it with colleagues who were themselves not working on Dragonfly.

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US Life Expectancy Falls Further

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday released data that shows life expectancy fell by one-tenth of a year, to 78.6 years (Warning: source paywalled; alternative source), pushed down by the sharpest annual increase in suicide in nearly a decade and a continued rise in deaths from opioid drugs. "Influenza, pneumonia and diabetes also factored into last year's increase," The Wall Street Journal adds. From the report: Economists and public-health experts consider life expectancy to be an important measure of a nation's prosperity. The 2017 data paint a dark picture of health and well-being in the U.S., reflecting the effects of addiction and despair, particularly among young and middle-aged adults, as well as diseases plaguing an aging population and people with lower access to health care. The U.S. has lost three-tenths of a year in life expectancy since 2014, a stunning reversal for a developed nation, and lags far behind other wealthy nations. Life expectancy is 84.1 years in Japan and 83.7 years in Switzerland, first and second in the most-recent ranking by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The U.S. ranks 29th. White men and women fared the worst, along with black men, all of whom experienced increases in death rates. Death rates rose in particular for adults ages 25 to 44, and suicide rates are highest among people in the nation's most rural areas. On the other hand, deaths declined for black and Hispanic women, and remained the same for Hispanic men. As drug and suicide mortality has risen, deaths from heart disease, the nation's leading killer, went down only slightly, failing to offset the increases in mortality from other causes and prolonging another worrisome trend.

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Floyd Mayweather, DJ Khaled Charged For Illegally Touting Crypto Offerings

The Securities and Exchange Commission is charging DJ Khaled and professional boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr for failing to disclose that they were paid promotional fees to tout fraudulent initial coin offerings. The Verge reports: According to the SEC, this is the first time that individuals have faced charges involving ICOs. The Commission is accusing Mayweather of failing to disclose a $100,000 promotional payment and DJ Khaled with a $50,000 one. Both celebrities received these promotional fees from Centra Tech, Inc. earlier this year. Neither Mayweather nor Khaled have admitted to or denied the Commission's findings, but both have agreed to pay back what they had received to promote the ICO and are facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional penalties each. "These cases highlight the importance of full disclosure to investors," said SEC Enforcement Division co-director Stephanie Avakian. "With no disclosure about the payments, Mayweather and Khaled's ICO promotions may have appeared to be unbiased, rather than paid endorsements."

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Your 4K Netflix Streaming Is On a Collision Course With Your ISP’s Data Caps

Household bandwidth consumption is soaring thanks to video streaming, new data suggests, and American consumers are about to run face-first into broadband usage limits and overage fees that critics say are unnecessary and anti-competitive. Motherboard reports: Cisco's 2018 Visual Networking Index (VNI) -- an annual study that tracks overall internet bandwidth consumption to identify future trends -- predicts that global IP traffic is expected to reach 396 exabytes per month by 2022. Cisco's report claims that's more traffic than has crossed global networks throughout the entire history of the internet thus far. The majority of this data growth is video; Cisco found that 75 percent of global internet traffic was video last year, up from 63 percent just two years earlier. Cisco says this number could climb to 82 percent in 2022, with 22 percent of overall video consumption coming from bandwidth-intensive 4K streaming. The problem: As monthly household bandwidth consumption soars courtesy of 4K Netflix streaming and other new services, many broadband users are likely to run into usage caps and overage fees that jack up their monthly rates. The report mentions Comcast imposes a terabyte usage cap on all of its service areas except the Northeast, but users can pay an additional $50 per month to avoid such limits.

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Democrats Demand Info On Law Enforcement’s Use of Amazon Facial Recognition Tool

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: A group of Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Thursday saying that the company's previous explanations to Congress about its Rekognition software were inadequate. Democratic lawmakers expressed concern about the potential threat the technology poses to civil liberties in the hands of police. "Facial recognition technology may one day serve as a useful tool for law enforcement officials working to protect the American public and keep us safe," the letter reads. "However, at this time, we have serious concerns that this type of product has significant accuracy issues, places disproportionate burdens on communities of color, and could stifle Americans' willingness to exercise their First Amendment rights in public." In the letter on Thursday, the Democratic members requested that Amazon provide them with results from accuracy tests of the Rekognition software. They also asked again for information on their government clients and if they audited law enforcement's use of facial recognition to ensure that its not being employed in violation of civil rights law. "Customer trust, privacy, and security are our top priorities at AWS," Michael Punke, Amazon's vice president for global public policy, wrote in response. "We have long been committed to working with federal and state legislatures to modernize outdated laws to enhance the privacy and security of our customers by preventing law enforcement from accessing data without a warrant."

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‘The Supremacy of Japanese Cars Has Been 40-Plus Years In the Making’

American business journalist Joe Nocera writes in a Bloomberg article about "how badly things have deteriorated for the U.S. car makers," after the recent news that both General Motors and Ford will soon be exiting the sedan market in the country. Slashdot reader gollum123 shares the report: Much of the analysis about Ford and GM's exit from the sedan market stressed that sedan sales have lost ground in recent years "as consumers have gravitated toward pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles," as the New York Times put it. If you look at the historical sales figures of the top Japanese sedans, you'll see a small decline in recent years, but nothing like the big drop-off in sales that have hammered the American companies. So in addition to the overall decline in sedan sales, there is a second, largely overlooked, dynamic taking place: Americans have only stopped buying American sedans, not Japanese sedans. The American car companies now say they are going to count on profits from trucks and SUVs while moving toward autonomous and all-electric vehicles. They had better hope that transition takes place quickly. I couldn't help noticing that while the top three selling vehicles in the U.S. are, indeed, American-made trucks, No. 4 on the list is Nissan's top SUV, the Rogue, the sales of which have gone from 18,000 in 2007 to 403,000 last year. No. 5 is a Toyota SUV, the Rav4 (407,000 in 2017). No. 6 is the Honda CR-V (378,000). And the leading American SUV? It's the Chevy Equinox. Last year, Chevrolet sold 290,000 of them -- 100,000 fewer than the Toyota Camry.

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Starbucks Says It Will Start Blocking Porn On Its Stores’ Wi-Fi In 2019

Starbucks announced that it will start blocking pornography viewing on its stores' Wi-Fi starting in 2019. "A Starbucks representative told NBC News that the viewing of 'egregious content' over its stores' Wi-Fi has always violated its policy, but the company now has a way to stop it," reports NBC News. From the report: "We have identified a solution to prevent this content from being viewed within our stores and we will begin introducing it to our U.S. locations in 2019," the company representative said. The announcement was first reported by Business Insider and comes after a petition from internet-safety advocacy group Enough is Enough garnered more than 26,000 signatures. The nonprofit launched a porn-free campaign aimed at McDonald's and Starbucks in 2014, and it says that while McDonald's "responded rapidly and positively," Starbucks did not. In a letter that [Enough is Enough CEO Donna Rice Hughes] said she received from Starbucks over the summer, the company vowed to address the issue "once we determine that our customers can access our free Wi-Fi in a way that also doesn't involuntarily block unintended content." Starbucks has not released details about how it plans to restrict the viewing of pornographic sites or illegal content over its Wi-Fi. In response, the vice president of YouPorn responded by sending a memo to staff banning Starbucks products from company offices starting Jan. 1, 2019.

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Microsoft Wins $480 Million Military Contract To Bring HoloLens To Battlefield

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Microsoft has won a $480 million contract to develop an augmented reality system for use in combat and military training for the U.S. Army. Called Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS), formerly Heads Up Display (HUD) 3.0, the goal of the project is to develop a headset that gives soldiers -- both in training and in combat -- an increase in "Lethality, Mobility, and Situational Awareness." The ambitions for the project are high. Authorities want to develop a system with a goggle or visor form factor -- nothing mounted on a helmet -- with an integrated 3D display, digital cameras, ballistic laser, and hearing protection. The system should provide remote viewing of weapon sights to enable low risk, rapid target acquisition, perform automated or assisted target acquisition, integrate both thermal and night vision cameras, track soldier vitals such as heart and breathing rates, and detect concussions. Over the course of IVAS's development, the military will order an initial run of 2,550 prototypes, with follow-on production possibly in excess of 100,000 devices.

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DOJ Made Secret Arguments To Break Crypto, Now ACLU Wants To Make Them Public

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Earlier this year, a federal judge in Fresno, California, denied prosecutors' efforts to compel Facebook to help it wiretap Messenger voice calls. But the precise legal arguments that the government made, and that the judge ultimately rejected, are still sealed. On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union formally asked the judge to unseal court dockets and related rulings associated with this ongoing case involving alleged MS-13 gang members. ACLU lawyers argue that such a little-charted area of the law must be made public so that tech companies and the public can fully know what's going on. In their new filing, ACLU lawyers pointed out that "neither the government's legal arguments nor the judge's legal basis for rejecting the government motion has ever been made public." The attorneys continued, citing a "strong public interest in knowing which law has been interpreted" and referencing an op-ed published on Ars on October 2 as an example. The ACLU argued that the case is reminiscent of the so-called "FBI v. Apple" legal showdown -- whose docket and related filings were public -- where the government made novel arguments in an attempt to crack the encryption on a seized iPhone. Those legal questions were never resolved, as the government said the day before a scheduled hearing that it had found a company to assist in its efforts. "Moreover, the sealing of the docket sheet in this case impermissibly prevents the public from knowing anything about the actions of both the judiciary and the executive in navigating a novel legal issue, which has the potential to reoccur in the future," the ACLU's attorneys continued. "The case involves the executive branch's attempt to force a private corporation to break the encryption and other security mechanisms on a product relied upon by the public to have private conversations. The government is not just seeking information held by a third party; rather, it appears to be attempting to get this Court to force a communications platform to redesign its product to thwart efforts to secure communications between users."

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Japan Researchers Develop Automated Technique For Anime Colorization Using Deep Learning

Japanese researchers have developed a technique for automatic colorization in anime production. "To promote efficiency and automation in anime production, the research team focused on the possibility of automating the colorization of trace images in the finishing process of anime production," reports Brightsurf. "By integrating the anime production technology and know-how of IMAGICA GROUP and OLM Digital with the machine learning, computer graphics and vision technology of NAIST, the research team succeeded in developing the world's first technique for automatic colorization of Japanese anime production." From the report: After the trace image cleaning in a pre-processing step, automatic colorization is performed according to the color script of the character using a deep learning-based image segmentation algorithm. The colorization result is refined in a post-process step using voting techniques for each closed region. This technique will be presented at SIGGRAPH ASIA 2018, an international conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques, to be held in Tokyo, Japan on Dec. 4-7. While this technique is still in the preliminary research stage, the research team will further improve its accuracy and validate it in production within the anime production studio. The product of this will be available for commercialization from 2020.

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Amazon Is Launching Pay-As-You-Go Cloud Computing In Space

At its annual re:Invent conference in Seattle this week, Amazon unveiled a service that lets owners of satellites rent time on Amazon-managed ground stations to send and receive data from orbit. "The service, called AWS Ground Station, works in much the same way as Amazon's well-established business for tapping computing capacity via the cloud," reports MIT Technology Review. From the report: According to an AWS blog post, big businesses with a large number of satellites typically build and operate their own ground stations at a cost of a million dollars or more for each one. Smaller companies that can't afford their own often end up signing inflexible, long-term contracts with third parties that own and run such stations. The new service will let satellite operators get access to a ground station at short notice on a pay-as-you-go basis. Those who know how much capacity they will need well in advance can book ahead and pay less for downlink time. AWS is kicking off with a pair of ground stations and says it will have a total of a dozen up and running by the middle of next year. It will monitor how demand develops before deciding how many more stations to add.

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Researchers Develop Hydrogel-Based Electrodes For Brain Implants

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: Hydrogels are physical and chemical polymer networks capable of retaining large quantities of liquid in aqueous conditions without losing their dimensional stability. They are used in a whole host of applications, and in combination with other components and they acquire specific properties such as electrical conductivity. The Materials + Technology research group in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Environment of the UPV/EHU's Faculty of Engineering selected a biopolymer that had not previously been used for applications of this type: starch. They created the hydrogel for use in neural interfaces. "Due to the fact that electrodes of neural interfaces made of platinum or gold are rigid, they require conductive polymer coatings to bring their flexibility closer to that of neural tissue. Right now, however, smaller devices are required that offer better mechanical, electrical and biological properties," explained the researcher. The hydrogels "address these demands very well." To provide the hydrogel with electrical conductivity, they used graphene. "It provides electrical properties that are highly suited to the hydrogel, but this also has a drawback: It is not easily stabilized in water. We used extracts of salvia to overcome this obstacle and to render the graphene stable in an aqueous medium. These extracts also make the hydrogel even more suitable, if that is possible, for use in medicine as it also has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties." The researchers used "click chemistry" to produce the hydrogel. "Unlike other means of synthesis, click chemistry does not tend to use catalysts in the reactions; in addition, no by-products are generated and they are high-performance reactions."

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IBM Aims To Meld AI With Human Resources With Watson Suite

PolygamousRanchKid shares a report from ZDNet (with some commentary): IBM has launched a unit designed for human resources to better find talent and recruit using artificial intelligence. The company is wrapping its latest HR effort, dubbed IBM Talent & Transformation, which includes select Watson services. According to IBM, its suite of AI tools can help HR become a growth engine to enable digital transformation. AI can be used to revamp workflow, employee engagement, recruitment and retention while providing a more diverse workforce. (I can still program Fortran; I learned it from Forman S. Acton -- does that make me diverse enough?) Big Blue's Talent & Transformation suite includes a Watson Talent Suite that rolls up behavioral science, AI and psychology and applies it to HR. (Sounds like the recipe for The Apocalypse to me.) IBM Garage, which serves as a test bed to meld HR, AI and culture, will also be available. (Garage? It sounds like the creepy CRISPR basement of a mad scientist to me.)

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Justice Department Indicts Two Iranians Over SamSam Ransomware Attacks

Two Iranian officials have been indicted by U.S. federal prosecutors for creating and deploying the notorious SamSam ransomware, which exploits a deserialization vulnerability in Java-based servers. TechCrunch reports: Faramarz Shahi Savandi, 34, and Mohammad Mehdi Shah Mansouri, 27, were indicted by a federal grand jury in New Jersey on Monday on several counts of computer hacking and fraud charges. The case was unsealed Wednesday, shortly before a press conference announcing the charges by U.S. deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. In total, SamSam has generated some $6 million in proceeds to date -- or 1,430 bitcoin at today's value. In a separate announcement, the Treasury said it had imposed sanctions against two bitcoin addresses associated with the ransomware. The department said the two addresses processed more than 7,000 transactions used to collect ransom demands from victims. "The Iranian defendants allegedly used hacking and malware to cause more than $30 million in losses to more than 200 victims," said Rosenstein. "According to the indictment, the hackers infiltrated computer systems in ten states and Canada and then demanded payment. The criminal activity harmed state agencies, city governments, hospitals, and countless innocent victims." One of the victims was the City of Atlanta, which was knocked offline earlier this year and spent a projected $2.6 million in recovery. "It was later discovered that the city's computers had long been vulnerable to leaked exploits developed by the National Security Agency -- later stolen and leaked online for anyone to use," reports TechCrunch.

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Dell Says It Detected A Security Breach Earlier This Month, But Financial Data Was Not Exposed

An anonymous reader quotes writes: "Hardware giant Dell announced today a security breach that took place earlier this month, on November 9," reports ZDNet. "Dell says it detected an unauthorized intruder (or intruders) 'attempting to extract Dell.com customer information' from its systems, such as customer names, email addresses, and hashed passwords." These are accounts used for shopping on the official website and the official support forums. "Though it is possible some of this information was removed from Dell's network, our investigations found no conclusive evidence that any was extracted," the company said in a press release, also adding that hackers didn't target payment card or any other sensitive customer information. After it detected the breach, Dell initiated a password reset for all Dell.com customer accounts. The company also said it notified law enforcement and hired a digital forensics firm to perform an independent investigation.

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Microsoft Releases Windows 10 Build 18290 With Start Menu Improvements

DarkRookie2 shares a report a report about Windows 10 Build 18290 for Insiders, which comes with a number of improvements and additions. BetaNews reports: The most noticeable change is to the Start menu which gets a touch of Fluent design, making it look more attractive. Icons have also been added to the power and user menus. The Search and Cortana areas have been given a bit of a cleanup as well. Also new in this build is an option in the Date & Time Settings that will let you manually synchronize your clock with the time server. If you suspect your PC clock might be showing the wrong time, this will let you check and correct the problem if you're right. You can now also check to see which app is using your microphone (just hover over the microphone icon to see), and when your PC has an update that requires a reboot, you'll now be informed via an orange Windows Update indicator in the system tray.

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Elon Musk’s Boring Company Cancels Los Angeles Tunnel Following Lawsuit

Elon Musk's Boring Company has settled a lawsuit preventing the company from building a tunnel beneath the 405 freeway in Los Angeles. "[T]he cancellation of the Westside tunnel project is a major blow to Musk's grand plan in the City of Angels," reports Gizmodo. From the report: The Los Angeles Times reports that the project's demise began shortly after the Boring Company obtained a preliminary exemption to skip California's environmental review process and start digging. The city's authorities have been friendly to Musk's plans, but a group of residents in the Westside area filed an environmental suit in May alleging that the tunnel violates state law. The crux of the group's argument was that the Westside tunnel is part of a larger project that the company outlined with a map late last year. According to the suit, California law forbids the approval of individual facets of a larger project, stating that a full environmental review can't "be evaded by chopping large projects into smaller pieces that taken individually appear to have no significant environmental impacts." The Westside group did not get a ruling on its lawsuit; instead, it seems the two parties settled. The Boring Company did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Gizmodo, but it sent a statement to NBC News that reads: "The parties (The Boring Company, Brentwood Residents Coalition, Sunset Coalition, and Wendy-Sue Rosen) have amicably settled the matter of Brentwood Residents Coalition et al. v. City of Los Angeles (TBC -- The Boring Company). The Boring Company is no longer seeking the development of the Sepulveda test tunnel and instead seeks to construct an operational tunnel at Dodger Stadium."

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After 12 Draws and a Day of Tiebreakers, Magnus Carlsen Beats Fabiano Caruana To Win World Chess Championship

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: After three weeks, 12 straight draws and a day of tiebreakers, Norway's Magnus Carlsen finally retained the world chess championship in London on Wednesday with a victory against Fabiano Caruana (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source), his American challenger. Carlsen's victory came in what amounted to sudden-death chess: a scheduled series of four so-called rapid games in which the players started with 25 minutes to make their moves. The speedier pace of the games, after the far more deliberate matchups of the previous three weeks, meant players were more likely to make blunders. And that increased the chance of a victory by one player. Carlsen won the first two games, then closed out Caruana in Game 3. Caruana, 26, was bidding to become the first American champion since Bobby Fischer beat Boris Spassky to win the world title in 1972. The famously cantankerous Fischer forfeited his title in 1975 amid a dispute with the world chess federation, and the sport has been dominated by Russians and Eastern Europeans in the decades since then. The tiebreaker result was not a shock. While Carlsen, 27, and Caruana, 26, are closely matched in longer conventional chess games, known as classical chess, Carlsen had been considered the favorite in the tiebreaker because he has had better rapid chess results than Caruana. "It was the first time in the history of the world championship, which dates to the 1800s, that regulation play ended with every game a draw," the report notes.

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Music Industry Asks US Government To Reconsider Website Blocking

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TorrentFreak: At the start of this decade, U.S. lawmakers drafted several controversial bills to make it easier for copyright holders to enforce their rights online. These proposals, including SOPA and PIPA, were met with fierce resistance from the public as well as major technology companies. They feared that the plans, which included pirate site-blocking measures, went too far. In the many years that followed, the "site blocking" issue was avoided like the plague. The aversion was mostly limited to the U.S., as website blocking became more and more common abroad, where it's one of the entertainment industries' preferred anti-piracy tools. Emboldened by these foreign successes, it appears that rightsholders in the U.S. are now confident enough to bring the subject up again, albeit very gently. Most recently the site-blocking option was mentioned in a joint letter (PDF) from the RIAA and the National Music Publishers' Association (NMPA), which contained recommendations to the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC) Vishal Amin. The IPEC requested input from the public on the new version of its Joint Strategic Plan for Intellectual Property Enforcement. According to the music industry groups, website blocking should be reconsidered an anti-piracy tool. "There are several changes that should be made legislatively to help legal authorities and third parties better protect intellectual property rights," the music groups write. "These include fixing the DMCA, making it a felony to knowingly engage in unauthorized streaming of copyrighted works, and investigating the positive impact that website blocking of foreign sites has in other jurisdictions and whether U.S. law should be revised accordingly." "As website blocking has had a positive impact in other countries without significant unintended consequences, the U.S. should reconsider adding this to its anti-piracy tool box," the RIAA and NMPA write.

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Lowe’s To Sell Off Its ‘Under-Performing’ Iris Smart Home Automation Business

CIStud shares a report from CE Pro: Giant home improvement retailer Lowe's is giving up on the smart home market. The company announced its "difficult decision" to exit the home automation market and is seeking a buyer for its Iris Smart Home business as part of a "strategic reassessment." The announcement is part of multiple other maneuvers by Lowe's that include closing its Orchard Supply Hardware business, dumping its Alacrity Renovation Service, shutting down all its locations in Mexico, and shutting more than 50 locations in the U.S. and Canada. Lowe's Iris was hailed as the only entry-level home automation system that handled ZigBee, Z-Wave and Wi-Fi when it came out in 2012. Speaking to investors, president and CEO Marvin Ellison [lumped Lowe's Iris in with other initiatives as an] "underperforming... non-core business."

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France To Close Four Coal-Fired Power Plants By 2022, 14 Nuclear Reactors By 2035

Socguy shares a report from CleanTechnica: French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech on Tuesday in which he announced a raft of new energy policies, including a promise to close the country's remaining four coal-fired power plants by 2022 and 14 of the country's 900 MW first-generation nuclear reactors by 2035. "The generation capacity will be replaced with wind and solar," adds Slashdot reader Socguy. The closure of the 14 nuclear reactors will reduce nuclear's contribution to the energy mix from its current level of 75% to 50% by 2035. "I would have liked to be able to do it as early as 2025, as provided for by the Energy Transition Law," Macron added, "but it turned out, after pragmatic expertise, that this figure brandished as a political totem was in fact unattainable. We therefore decided to maintain this 50% cap, but by postponing the deadline to 2035."

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Amazon Starts Selling Software To Mine Patient Health Records

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Wall Street Journal: Amazon is starting to sell software to mine patient medical records (Warning: source paywalled; alternative source) for information that doctors and hospitals could use to improve treatment and cut costs, the latest move by a big technology company into the health care industry. The software can read digitized patient records and other clinical notes, analyze them and pluck out key data points, Amazon says. The company is expected to announce the launch Tuesday. Amazon Web Services, the company's cloud-computing division, has been selling such text-analysis software to companies outside medicine for use in areas such as travel booking, customer support and supply-chain management. The technology's health-care application is the newest effort by Amazon to tap into the lucrative market. Amazon officials say the company's software developers trained the system using a process known as deep learning to recognize all the ways a doctor might record notes. "We're able to completely, automatically look inside medical language and identify patient details," including diagnoses, treatments, dosage and strengths, "with incredibly high accuracy," said Matt Wood, general manager of artificial intelligence at Amazon Web Services. During testing, the software performed on par or better than other published efforts, and can extract data on patients' diseases, prescriptions, lab orders and procedures, said Taha Kass-Hout, a senior leader with Amazon's health-care and artificial intelligence efforts. The project is called Amazon Comprehend Medical, which "allows developers to process unstructured medical text and identify information such as patient diagnosis, treatments, dosages, symptoms and signs, and more," according to a blog post. Dr. Kass-Hout says Amazon Web Services won't see the data processed by its algorithms, "which will be encrypted and unlocked by customers who have the key," reports WSJ.

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Large Genetic Study Finds First Genes Connected With ADHD

A paper published in Nature Genetics this week looked at genetic data from more than 50,000 people, finding 12 different regions of DNA that seemed to play a role in increasing ADHD risk. Ars Technica reports: This evidence comes from a genome-wide association study, or GWAS: a close look at how the DNA of people with ADHD differs from those without. Geneticist Ditte Demontis and her colleagues used data from more than 20,000 people with ADHD, comparing them to a control group of 35,000 people without an ADHD diagnosis. They found 304 points where tiny differences in DNA -- like single letter swaps -- were distributed across their two groups in a statistically telling way. If any of those variants were very close together, the researchers counted them as representing the same stretch of DNA, grouping them together into 12 important regions. There were correlations between the genetic risk for ADHD and a range of other conditions, including depression and anorexia. That ties in with the idea that genetic variation might be important in a way that plays out system-wide. Some of the genes they identified are also known to be involved in other neurological conditions, including speech and learning disabilities, depression, and schizophrenia.

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Uber Fined Nearly $1.2 Million By Dutch, UK Over 2016 Data Breach

British and Dutch authorities fined Uber a combined $1.17 million for a 2016 data breach that exposed the personal details of millions of customers. "The U.K.'s Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) announced a $491,284 fine against the ride-sharing company for 'failing to protect customers' personal information during a cyber attack' in October and November of 2016," reports CNBC. "The Dutch Data Protection Authority imposed its own $679,257 penalty for the same incident." From the report: The 2016 cyberattack allowed hackers to access the personal details, including full names, email addresses and phone numbers, of 2.7 million Uber customers in the U.K. and 174,000 in the Netherlands, authorities said. The U.K.'s ICO said the cyberattack represented a "serious breach" of the country's Data Protection Act of 1998 by exposing customers and drivers to increased risk of fraud. The Dutch regulator said it was fining Uber because it did not report the breach within the country's mandated 72-hour window. In September, Uber agreed to pay $148 million to settle claims related to the 2016 data breach to states across the U.S. and Washington, D.C. In a statement Tuesday, an Uber spokesperson said the company is "pleased to close this chapter on the data incident from 2016."

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Customer Service Agents Might Be Able To See What You’re Typing In Real Time

Gizmodo is warning that some customer service agents might be able to see what you're typing in real time. A reader sent them a transcript from a conversation they had with a mattress company after the agent responded to a message he hadn't sent yet. From the report: Something similar recently happened to HmmDaily's Tom Scocca. He got a detailed answer from an agent one second after he hit send. Googling led Scocca to a live chat service that offers a feature it calls "real-time typing view" to allow agents to have their "answers prepared before the customer submits his questions." Another live chat service, which lists McDonalds, Ikea, and Paypal as its customers, calls the same feature "message sneak peek," saying it will allow you to "see what the visitor is typing in before they send it over." Salesforce Live Agent also offers "sneak peak." This particular magic trick happens thanks to JavaScript operating in your browser and detecting what's happening on a particular site in real time. It's also how companies capture information you've entered into web forms before you've hit submit. Companies could lessen the creepiness by telling people their typing is seen in real time or could eliminate the send button altogether. So if you don't want to be monitored or send secret messages to agents, put your phone on mute while on hold and copy/paste messages from another document to your customer service chatbox. And in general, be nice to customer service agents. It's not their fault.

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Urban Massage Data Breach Exposed Sensitive Comments On Its Creepy Clients

An anonymous reader shares a report from TechCrunch: Urban Massage, a popular massage startup that bills itself as providing "wellness that comes to you," has leaked its entire customer database. The London, U.K.-based startup -- now known as just Urban -- left its Google-hosted ElasticSearch database online without a password, allowing anyone to read hundreds of thousands of customer and staff records. Anyone who knew where to look could access, edit or delete the database. It's not known how long the database was exposed or if anyone else had accessed or obtained the database before it was pulled. It's believed that the database was exposed for at least a few weeks. Urban pulled the database offline after TechCrunch reached out. Among the records included thousands of complaints from workers about their clients. The records included specific complaints -- from account blocks for fraudulent behavior, abuse of the referral system and persistent cancelers. But, many records also included allegations of sexual misconduct by clients -- such as asking for "massage in genital area" and requesting "sexual services from therapist." Others were marked as "dangerous," while others were blocked due to "police enquiries." Each complaint included a customer's personally identifiable information -- including their name, address and postcode and phone number.

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YouTube To Make New Originals Available For Free, Ad-Supported Viewing

YouTube is removing the paywall for its original programming. Starting next year, the company will move to make all of its new original programming available for free for anyone to watch. "With the change, YouTube is moving toward more mainstream celebrity-driven and creator-based reality fare, while it will continue to greenlight scripted productions," reports Variety. From the report: Until now, YouTube Originals have mainly been available on its YouTube Premium subscription service, although YouTube also has expanded the shows and movies it makes available on an ad-supported basis. The company calls the new YouTube Originals strategy its "Single Slate," which will combine ad-supported and subscription VOD programming initiatives that by 2020 will provide free windows for all YouTube users. Some original productions will remain behind the paywall, including season 2 of "Cobra Kai," an offshoot of the "Karate Kid" movies. Moving forward, YouTube Premium will include early access to original, exclusive content as a reason to pay for the service. YouTube has faced stiff competition in trying to lure paying customers with original content against the likes of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, which spend far more on content. "As we look to 2019, we will continue to invest in scripted programming and shift to make our YouTube Originals ad supported to meet the growing demand of a more global fanbase," a YouTube rep said in a statement. "This next phase of our originals strategy will expand the audience of our YouTube Original creators, and provide advertisers with incredible content that reaches the YouTube generation."

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Google To Open Project Fi To iPhone, Samsung, and OnePlus

Google's Project Fi mobile service will reportedly be adding support for Samsung, OnePlus, and iPhones. "More handsets from existing Fi partners LG and Motorola will also gain Fi support," reports The Verge. "The iPhone experience is apparently 'in beta,' which is a sign that users might run into bugs or be left without some of Fi's features." From the report: The lineup of "Fi-ready" compatible phones -- those that Google says have been fully optimized for the network -- is fairly short: Google is currently selling the Pixel 3, 3 XL, 2 XL, LG G7, LG V35, Moto G6, and Moto X4 (Android One edition) directly through its Project Fi website. And although Google is apparently about to widen support and officially allow more devices onto Fi, those "Fi-friendly" phones will still offer the best overall user experience for subscribers, according to the report. It's not yet entirely clear what that means, but we should know more once Google makes a proper announcement. Either way, adding that pool of popular hardware will allow for many more consumers to give the service a shot and see if the pricing model and performance are preferable over Fi's larger competitors.

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China Expands Research Funding, Luring US Scientists and Students

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: In the past decade or so, China has been expanding its commitment to scientific research, and it shows. Chinese researchers now produce more scientific publications than U.S. scientists do, and the global ratings of Chinese universities are rising. Five years ago [professor of chemistry at the University of California, San Diego, JaySiegel] became dean of the school of pharmaceutical science and technology at Tianjin University. He says the university president recruited him to build an undergraduate program that would attract students from all over -- not just China. Siegel says the program is taught entirely in English. There's another aspect of getting a pharmaceutical science degree at Tianjin that Siegel expects students from throughout the world to find particularly attractive: The Chinese government plans to offer scholarships to cover the cost for students who enroll. Siegel says this is all part of China's effort to attract international scientists. Of course, there are some drawbacks with working in China. There are internet restrictions, making it difficult to reach certain websites; English isn't spoken throughout most of the country, posing a problem for many foreign visitors; and free speech isn't the same concept as it is in the United States. With that said, "There's no interference politically on the science," says Greg Herczeg, an astronomer at the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University. "We've had no political restrictions," says Siegel. "I know that people talk about them being out there, and I've heard rumors of things. But, for us personally, I would have to say no, I've not had that experience."

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Comcast Raises Cable TV Bills Again — Even If You’re Under Contract

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Comcast is raising its controversial "Broadcast TV" and "Regional Sports Network" fees again on January 1, with the typical total price going from $14.50 to $18.25 a month. The newly raised broadcast TV fee will be $10 a month, and the sports fee will be $8.25 a month, Cord Cutters News reported last week. The new fee sizes are confirmed in a Comcast price list for the Atlanta market. The new price hikes will take effect in most of Comcast's regional markets across the U.S. on January 1, but some cities will get the increase later in 2019, a Comcast spokesperson told Ars. The fee sizes can vary by city based on which stations are available, so in some cases they could be less than $10 and $8.25, Comcast said. The fees, which have become common in the industry, are controversial because they are not included in Comcast's advertised prices and because Comcast imposes fee increases even on customers who are under contract. The broadcast and sports fee increases will also be applied to customers who pay Comcast's promotional rates, which typically last one year, Comcast told Ars. Equipment rental fees are rising, too. Comcast last year raised its modem rental fee from $10 to $11 a month. The new price list for January 1 lists an "Internet/Voice Equipment Rental" fee as $13. Comcast confirmed to Ars that the modem rental fee is rising $2 a month. Customers can avoid that fee by purchasing their own modem.

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Dictionary.com Picks ‘Misinformation’ As Word of the Year

Misinformation was chosen Monday as Dictionary.com's word of the year. "Jane Solomon, a linguist-in-residence at Dictionary, said in a recent interview that her site's choice of 'mis' over 'dis' was deliberate, intended to serve as a 'call to action' to be vigilant in the battle against fake news, flat earthers and anti-vaxxers, among other conduits," reports CBS News. From the report: It's the idea of intent, whether to inadvertently mislead or to do it on purpose, that the Oakland, California-based company wanted to highlight. The company decided it would go high when others have spent much of 2018 going low. "The rampant spread of misinformation is really providing new challenges for navigating life in 2018," Solomon told The Associated Press ahead of the word of the year announcement. "Misinformation has been around for a long time, but over the last decade or so the rise of social media has really, really changed how information is shared. We believe that understanding the concept of misinformation is vital to identifying misinformation as we encounter it in the wild, and that could ultimately help curb its impact." "Disinformation would have also been a really, really interesting word of the year this year, but our choice of misinformation was very intentional," she said. "Disinformation is a word that kind of looks externally to examine the behavior of others. It's sort of like pointing at behavior and saying, 'THIS is disinformation.' With misinformation, there is still some of that pointing, but also it can look more internally to help us evaluate our own behavior, which is really, really important in the fight against misinformation. It's a word of self-reflection, and in that it can be a call to action. You can still be a good person with no nefarious agenda and still spread misinformation." Some of the runners-up include "representation," "self-made," and "backlash."

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Google Is Being Vague With Disclosure In Early Real-World Duplex Calls

A small group of Pixel owners in "select" U.S. cities are able to use Google's new Duplex feature to automatically make voice calls to restaurants and other businesses on their behalf. Referencing a demo from VentureBeat, The Verge notes that "the exchange between Duplex and a restaurant on the other side of the call is raising some early concerns about transparency." From the report: [Y]ou'll notice that Duplex never identifies itself as a robot. It never tells the person taking the call that they're interacting with an automated system. "Hi, I'm calling to make a reservation for a client. I'm calling from Google, so the call may be recorded," is what Duplex says to begin the conversation. And that little bit -- about the call coming "from Google" and potentially being recorded -- is the only disclosure that it ever provides. From then on, Duplex handles the requested dinner reservation smoothly. This disclosure doesn't match up with a promotional video for Duplex that Google posted to YouTube back in June. In that example (embedded below), Duplex makes it very clear that it's a bot. "Hi, I'm the Google Assistant calling to make a reservation for a client. This automated call will be recorded." That's a much better approach. You're talking to the Google Assistant. It's an automated call, and it is being recorded; no maybes about it. The report notes that some Duplex calls -- such as the one VentureBeat included in their demo -- are actually handled by a human. "When a human operator at Google places a Duplex call, they don't necessarily disclose anything about Google Assistant or note it's an automated call," reports The Verge. "Because it's not. Not entirely, anyway. Google's Duplex tests involve a mix of the two; some are led by Googlers, while others let the AI steer. The majority of calls are the latter and automated, from what I'm told."

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ISS Marks 20 Years Orbiting Earth With Longest Timelapse Ever Made In Space

AmiMoJo writes: The International Space Station has been in orbit for 20 years, with the first module Zarya (Russian for "dawn") being launched on the 20th of November in 1998. To celebrate, the European Space Agency (ESA) has released the longest timelapse video made in space to date. "Captured by German astronaut Alexander Gerst, the time-lapse takes you on two trips around the world with labels marking countries that pass through the frame," reports PetaPixel. "Traveling at 28,800 km/h (17896 mph), it takes the station just 90 minutes to orbit the Earth. 21,375 individual photos shot on October 6th went into the video, which is played back at 12.5 times faster than real time."

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Trump Suggests US Could Slap 10 Percent Tax On iPhones, Laptops From China

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: President Donald Trump suggested he could place a 10 percent tariff on iPhones and laptops imported from China, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Monday. He also said it's "highly unlikely" that he would delay an increase in tariffs from 10 percent to 25 percent on Jan. 1, just four days before a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. "Maybe. Maybe. Depends on what the rate is," the president said to The Wall Street Journal about the possible iPhone and laptop tariffs. "I mean, I can make it 10 percent, and people could stand that very easily."

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IBM CEO Joins Apple In Blasting Data use By Silicon Valley Firms

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty joined a growing chorus of tech executives lambasting web platforms, like Google and Facebook, over their collection of user data and urged governments to target regulation at those companies. Bloomberg reports: Without naming company names, Rometty pointed to the "irresponsible handling of personal data by a few dominant consumer-facing platform companies" as the cause of a "trust crisis" between users and tech companies, according to an advanced copy of her remarks. Rometty's comments, given at a Brussels event with top EU officials Monday, echoed recent statements by Apple CEO Tim Cook, who in October slammed Silicon Valley rivals over their use of data, equating their services to "surveillance." IBM meanwhile has seen revenue decline since Rometty took the CEO role in 2012, largely due to falling sales in existing hardware, software and services offerings. She has since been trying to steer IBM toward more modern businesses, such as the cloud, artificial intelligence, and security software. Seeking to separate IBM -- which operates primarily at a business-to-business level -- from the troubled tech companies, Rometty said governments should target regulation at consumer-facing web platforms, like social media firms and search engines. In particular, Rometty pushed for more measures around the transparency of artificial intelligence as well as controversial rules around platform liability.

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Amazon Launches Cloud-Based Robotics Testing Platform

Amazon is launching AWS RoboMaker, a cloud-based service that utilizes the open-source software Robot Operating System (ROS) to offer developers a place to develop and test robotics applications. TechCrunch reports: RoboMaker essentially serves as a platform to help speed up the time-consuming robotics development process. Among the tools offered by the service are Amazon's machine learning technologies and analytics that help create a simulation for real-world robotics development. The system can also be used to help manage fleet deployment for warehouse-style robotics designed to work in tandem. "AWS RoboMaker automatically provisions the underlying infrastructure and it downloads, compiles, and configures the operating system, development software, and ROS," the company writes. "AWS RoboMaker's robotics simulation makes it easy to set up large-scale and parallel simulations with pre-built worlds, such as indoor rooms, retail stores, and racing tracks, so developers can test their applications on-demand and run multiple simulations in parallel."

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GM To Idle Five Factories In North America, Cut More Than 14,000 Jobs As It Focuses On Autonomous, Electric Vehicles

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Chicago Tribune: General Motors will cut up to 14,000 workers in North America and put five plants up for possible closure as it abandons many of its car models and restructures to cut costs and focus more on autonomous and electric vehicles. The reduction includes about 8,000 white-collar employees, or 15 percent of GM's North American white-collar workforce. Some will take buyouts while others will be laid off. Four factories in the U.S. and one in Canada could be shuttered by the end of 2019 if the automaker and its unions don't come up with an agreement to allocate more work to those facilities, GM said in a statement Monday. Another two will close outside North America. The company has marked a sedan plant in Detroit, a compact car plant in Ohio, and another assembly plant outside Toronto for possible closure. Also at risk are two transmission plants, one outside Detroit and another in Baltimore. GM CEO Mary Barra said the company is "still hiring people with expertise in software and electric and autonomous vehicles, and many of those who will lose their jobs are now working on conventional cars with internal combustion engines," reports Dallas News. "Barra said the industry is changing rapidly and moving toward electric propulsion, autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing, and GM must adjust with it." The restructuring comes as the U.S. and North American auto markets are shifting away from cars toward SUVs and trucks. "In October, almost 65 percent of new vehicles sold in the U.S. were trucks or SUVs," reports Chicago Tribune. "It was about 50 percent cars just five years ago."

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Cyber Monday Is Set To Be a $7.8 Billion Day, Breaking Online Records

According to Adobe Analytics, shoppers are expected to spend $7.8 billion on Cyber Monday, 18.3 percent more than in 2017. "The sweet spot will fall between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. EST, Adobe says, when it's anticipated shoppers will spend $1.6 billion -- about $200 million more than what retailers would see during a typical whole day any other time of the year," reports USA Today. From the report: But at a time when shoppers can buy products ranging from dolls to detergent by tapping on a tablet or smart phone, Black Friday and even Thanksgiving are gaining on Cyber Monday to become banner days for online shopping. Retailers saw $6.22 billion in digital sales on Black Friday, 23.6 percent more than last year and the most ever on that day, Adobe says. Meanwhile, Thanksgiving Day experienced the biggest single-day surge in online shopping history, leaping 28 percent over the holiday in 2017 to $3.7 billion. Smartphones are increasingly the shopping gadget of choice. Mobile sales were expected to total more than $2 billion on Monday, Adobe says. And the more than $1 billion in smartphone sales on Thanksgiving were a record for that day. Besides enabling shoppers to make purchases any time, anywhere, shopping via smartphone has also taken off because it's become simpler and faster.

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Lawmakers Introduce Bill To Stop Bots From Ruining Holiday Shopping

Democrats have proposed the "Stopping Grinch Bots Act" to make it illegal to use bots to shop online and also outlaw reselling items purchased by bots. "Lawmakers label them 'Grinch' bots because, during the holiday season, resellers use them to buy inventory of highly coveted toys that can be resold at highly inflated prices," reports CNET. "Often times, these bots are so quick that they can purchase entire stocks of items before people can even add them to their carts." From the report: Sens. Tom Udall, Richard Blumenthal and Chuck Schumer along with Rep. Paul Tonko made the announcement on Black Friday. While the proposed legislation is focused around the holiday season and toys, the Grinch Bots act would apply to all retailers online. Toys aren't the only items that resellers online send swarms of bots to. Security researchers noted that bots designed to buy rare sneakers are a persistent issue, as developers will create AI to buy shoes from companies like Nike and Adidas as quickly as possible. The proposed bill leaves it open for security researchers to use bots on retailer websites to find vulnerabilities. "Middle class folks save up -- a little here, a little there -- working to afford the hottest gifts of the season for their kids but ever-changing technology and its challenges are making that very difficult. It's time we help restore an even playing field by blocking the bots," said Schumer, a Democrat from New York, in a statement.

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Latest Windows 10 Update Breaks Windows Media Player, Win32 Apps In General

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The important data loss bug that interrupted the rollout of the Windows 10 October 2018 Update, version 1809, may be fixed, but it turns out there are plenty of other weird problems with the release. As spotted by Paul Thurrott, the update also breaks the seek bar in Windows Media Player when playing "specific files." Microsoft does promise to fix the bug, but the timeframe is vaguely open-ended: it will be "in an upcoming release." Also in the "how did that happen" category comes another bug: some Win32 programs can't be set as the default program for a given file type. So if you want certain files to always open in Notepad, for example, you're currently out of luck. A fix for this is promised by the end of the month. Setting default program associations is something that's been in Windows for 20-something years, so it's a little alarming that it should be broken. On top of this, there continue to be complaints that Windows 10 version 1809 doesn't work with iCloud, and machines with the iCloud client are currently blacklisted to prevent them from receiving the 1809 update. It's not immediately clear whose fault this one is -- it could be Microsoft's, but it's also possible that Apple is to blame.

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Most Americans Don’t Think Social Networks Are Good For the World, Survey Finds

A new survey from Axios finds that a majority of Americans don't think social networks are good for the world. An anonymous reader shares the key findings: Silicon Valley has a big and growing problem: Americans have rising concerns with its most popular products and a growing majority wants big social media companies regulated, according to new poll conducted by Survey Monkey for "Axios on HBO." In the past year, there has been a 15-point spike in the number of people who fear the federal government won't do enough to regulate big tech companies -- with 55% now sharing this concern. In that same period, there was a 14-point increase in those who feel technology has hurt democracy and free speech. The biggest spike has been among Republicans, presumably because of increased concern about perceived censorship of conservative voices on social media. About 40% of Americans still feel that social media is a net positive for society. Overall, 65% of people say smartphones have made their quality of life better. The study also found that nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents say they sleep with their phone in or next to their bed; and that jumps to 73% among millennials. Also, "More than half (51%) say smartphones are the hardest technology for most people to live without," reports Axios. "And that jumps to 67% among millennials."

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New Web App Uses Machine Learning To Analyze, Repair Your Technical Resume

CV Compiler is a new web app that uses machine learning to analyze and repair your technical resume, "allowing you to shine to recruiters at Google, Yahoo and Facebook," reports TechCrunch. "The app essentially checks your resume and tells you what to fix and where to submit it," reports TechCrunch. "It's been completely bootstrapped thus far and they're working on new and improved machine learning algorithms while maintaining a library of common CV fixes." From the report: "There are lots of online resume analysis tools, but these services are too generic, meaning they can be used by multiple professionals and the results are poor and very general. After the feedback is received, users are often forced to buy some extra services," said Andrew Stetsenko. "In contrast, the CV Compiler is designed exclusively for tech professionals. The online review technology scans for keywords from the world of programming and how they are used in the resume, relative to the best practices in the industry." The product was born out of Stetsenko's work at GlossaryTech, a Chrome extension that helps users understand tech terms. He used a great deal of natural language processing and keyword taxonomy in that product and, in turn, moved some of that to his CV service. "We found that many job applications were being rejected without even an interview, because of the resumes. Apparently, 10 seconds is long enough for a recruiter to eliminate many candidates," he said.

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Nearby Star Is Sun’s Long-Lost Sibling

The Bad Astronomer writes: A nearby star, HD 186302, was almost certainly born from the same cloud of gas the Sun was 4.6 billion years ago. Astronomers have found it has an almost identical chemical composition as the Sun, is on a similar orbit around the Milky Way, and has the same age (within uncertainties). Interestingly, it's only 184 light years away, implying statistically many more such stars are waiting to be discovered.

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First Ever Plane With No Moving Parts Takes Flight

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The first ever "solid state" plane, with no moving parts in its propulsion system, has successfully flown for a distance of 60 meters, proving that heavier-than-air flight is possible without jets or propellers. The flight represents a breakthrough in "ionic wind" technology, which uses a powerful electric field to generate charged nitrogen ions, which are then expelled from the back of the aircraft, generating thrust. Steven Barrett, an aeronautics professor at MIT and the lead author of the study published in the journal Nature, said the inspiration for the project came straight from the science fiction of his childhood. In the prototype plane, wires at the leading edge of the wing have 600 watts of electrical power pumped through them at 40,000 volts. This is enough to induce "electron cascades", ultimately charging air molecules near the wire. Those charged molecules then flow along the electrical field towards a second wire at the back of the wing, bumping into neutral air molecules on the way, and imparting energy to them. Those neutral air molecules then stream out of the back of the plane, providing thrust. The end result is a propulsion system that is entirely electrically powered, almost silent, and with a thrust-to-power ratio comparable to that achieved by conventional systems such as jet engines. "I was a big fan of Star Trek, and at that point I thought that the future looked like it should be planes that fly silently, with no moving parts -- and maybe have a blue glow," said Barrett. "But certainly no propellers or turbines or anything like that. So I started looking into what physics might make flight with no moving parts possible, and came across a concept known as the ionic wind, which was first investigated in the 1920s." "This didn't make much progress in that time. It was looked at again in the 1950s, and researchers concluded that it couldn't work for aeroplanes. But I started looking into this and went through a period of about five years, working with a series of graduate students to improve fundamental understanding of how you could reduce ionic winds efficiently, and how that could be optimized."

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Paralyzed Individuals Operate Tablet With Brain Implant

Last year, a study from the BrainGate consortium reported that a brain-computer interface (BCI) enabled a paralyzed man to type up to eight words per minute via thoughts alone. Now, according to new results from a BrainGate2 clinical trial, the same BCI was used to help three participants operate an off-the-shelf tablet. IEEE Spectrum reports: All three participants suffer from weakness or loss of movement in their arms due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also called Lou Gehrig's disease) or spinal cord injury. Each received the brain implant, an array of microelectrodes, as part of the BrainGate2 clinical trial. For this particular study, decoded neural signals from the implant were routed through an industry-standard Human Interface Device protocol, providing a virtual mouse. That "mouse" was paired to a Google Nexus 9 tablet via Bluetooth. Each participant was asked to try out seven common apps on the tablet: email, chat, web browser, video sharing, music streaming, a weather program and a news aggregator. The researchers also asked the users if they wanted any additional apps, and subsequently added the keyboard app, grocery shopping on Amazon, and a calculator. The participants made up to 22 point-and-click selections per minute and typed up to 30 characters per minute in email and text programs. What's more, all three participants really enjoyed using the tablet.

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Apple iPhone Supplier Foxconn Planning Deep Cost Cuts

Foxconn, Apple's biggest assembler of iPhones, is planning to cut $2.9 billion from expenses in 2019 as it faces "a very difficult and competitive year." According to Bloomberg, citing an internal company memo, "The iPhone business will need to reduce expenses by [about $900 million] next year and the company plans to eliminate about 10 percent of non-technical staff." For reference, Foxconn's spending in the past 12 months is about $6.7 billion. From the report: Foxconn assembles everything from iPhones and laptop computers to Sony PlayStations at factories in China and around the world. Foxconn has been hit by a slowing smartphone market, while trade tensions with the U.S. add to global uncertainty. The company will conduct an in-depth review of managers with an annual compensation of more than $150,000, according to the memo. Other cuts include a planned [$433 million] reduction in expenses at Foxconn Industrial Internet Co., its Shanghai-listed offshoot. "The review being carried out by our team this year is no different than similar exercises carried out in past years to ensure that we enter into each new year with teams and budgets that are aligned with the current and anticipated needs of our customers, our global operations and the market and economic challenges of the next year or two," Foxconn said in a statement to Bloomberg.

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Google Assistant iOS Update Lets You Say ‘Hey Siri, OK Google’

The Google Assistant app on iOS has been updated to allow you to launch it on your iPhone by saying "Hey Siri, OK Google." As TechCrunch notes, you will need to open the app to set up a new Siri Shortcut for the Google Assistant in order for this to work. From the report: As the name suggests, Siri Shortcuts lets you record custom phrases to launch specific apps or features. By default, Google suggests the phrase "OK Google." You can choose something shorter, or "Hey Google," for instance. After setting that up, you can summon Siri and use this custom phrase to launch Google's app. You may need to unlock your iPhone or iPad to let iOS open the app. The Google Assistant app then automatically listens to your query. Again, you need to pause and wait for the app to appear before saying your query.

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Some Amazon Employees Bought NYC Condos Before News of HQ2 Location Emerged, Says WSJ Report

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: At least two Amazon employees reportedly purchased condos in a New York City neighborhood before news emerged that the area had been picked to host the company's second headquarters. The employees decided to buy units in a new 11-story condo building in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens just before the first reports of Amazon's HQ2 location were released this month, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. While employees of companies are barred from buying or selling stocks based on information that has not yet been made public, lawyers told the Journal that they were unaware of any such ban affecting real estate transactions. There are no exact numbers on how many units have gone into contract in the Long Island City area since the announcement, but the Journal reports that one brokerage firm sold nearly 150 units just last week, 15 times its normal volume. Earlier this month, Amazon announced plans to split its second headquarters evenly between New York's Long Island City and Arlington County's Crystal City neighborhoods.

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Microsoft, Google and Qualcomm Working On Chrome For Windows On ARM

Microsoft and Google engineers appear to be working on a Chrome browser running on Windows on ARM. "9to5Google has spotted various commits by Microsoft engineers assisting with the development of Chrome for Windows 10 on ARM," reports The Verge. "The details follow claims by a Qualcomm executive last month that the chip maker was working on an ARM version of Chrome for Windows 10." From the report: A native ARM version of Chrome would make a lot of sense for Qualcomm, Microsoft, and Google. Chrome is one of the most popular desktop apps available on Windows 10, and without a native version for ARM it's difficult to take ARM-powered Windows 10 devices seriously for many. However, it was only last year that Microsoft pulled Google's Chrome installer from the Windows Store, because it violated store policies. Those policies restrict rival browsers to using Microsoft's own Edge rendering engine, specifically that "products that browse the web must use the appropriate HTML and JavaScript engines provided by the Windows Platform." Microsoft also blocked similar browser apps for Windows 8. Unless Microsoft relaxes its rules then this native Chrome support for Windows on ARM won't be found in the Windows Store. Microsoft and Google's work could still help improve performance for Electron-based apps like Slack and Visual Studio Code which rely on parts of Chromium.

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‘Relatively Few’ Twitter Bots Were Needed To Spread Misinformation and Overwhelm Fact Checkers, Study Finds

A new study conducted by Indian University researchers found that "relatively few accounts are responsible for a large share of the traffic that carries misinformation," with just 6 percent of Twitter accounts identified as bots responsible for 31 percent of "low-credibility" content. "Bots amplify the reach of low-credibility content, to the point that it is statistically indistinguishable from that of fact-checking articles," researchers wrote. NBC News reports: The study analyzed 14 million tweets that linked to more than 400,000 articles from May 2016 until the end of March 2017. Of those articles, 389,569 were from "low credibility sources" that had been repeatedly flagged by fact-checking organizations for containing misinformation, as well as 15,053 articles that originated from "fact-checking sources." Of that sample, over 13.6 million tweets linked to "low-credibility sources" and around 1.1 million tweets linked to known fact-checking sources, leading researchers to attribute greater virality with "fake news." To achieve maximum exposure, the study found that "social bots" used two methods to manipulate users into trusting the linked article's validity. "First, bots are particularly active in amplifying content in the very early spreading moments, before an article goes 'viral,'" researchers wrote. "Second, bots target influential users through replies and mentions." Users struggled to differentiate bots from other human users, as humans "have retweeted bots who post low-credibility content almost as much as they retweet other humans," according to the researchers. The researchers noted that social media platforms have moved to address the spread of misinformation by bots, but said "their effectiveness is hard to evaluate."

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Ajit Pai Isn’t Saying Whether ISPs Deliver the Broadband Speeds You Pay For

An anonymous reader shares a report from Ars Technica, written by Jon Brodkin: Nearly two years have passed since the Federal Communications Commission reported on whether broadband customers are getting the Internet speeds they pay for. In 2011, the Obama-era FCC began measuring broadband speeds in nearly 7,000 consumer homes as part of the then-new Measuring Broadband America program. Each year from 2011 to 2016, the FCC released an annual report comparing the actual speeds customers received to the advertised speeds customers were promised by Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, AT&T, and other large ISPs. But the FCC hasn't released any new Measuring Broadband America reports since Republican Ajit Pai became the commission chairman in January 2017. Pai's first year as chair was the first time the FCC failed to issue a new Measuring Broadband America report since the program started -- though the FCC could release a new report before his second year as chair is complete. For more than three months, Ars has been trying to find out whether the FCC is still analyzing Measuring Broadband America data and whether the FCC plans to release any more measurement reports. SamKnows, the measurement company used by the FCC for this program, told Ars that Measuring Broadband America is still active and that a new report is forthcoming, hopefully next month. But whether the report is released is up to the FCC, and Chairman Pai's public relations office has ignored our questions about the program. Because of Pai's office's silence, we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request on August 13 for internal emails about the Measuring Broadband America program and for broadband speed measurement data since January 2017. By law, the FCC and other federal agencies have 20 business days to respond to public records requests. The FCC has denied Ars' request for "expedited processing," which "was warranted because the broadband measuring data is out of data, depriving American consumers of crucial information when they purchase broadband access," writes Brodkin. The FCC said, "we are not persuaded that the records you request are so urgent that our normal process will not provide them in a timely manner."

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NYC Subway, Bus Services Have Entered ‘Death Spiral,’ Experts Say

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) warned last week that without a major infusion of cash, [New York City's subway and bus services] will have to drastically cut service or increase fares on the system that carries millions of New Yorkers around the city. The system's financial straits have gotten worse in part because it has fewer riders, and is collecting less money in fares. Expected passenger revenue over a five-year period has dropped by $485 million since July. "They've entered this death spiral," said Benjamin Kabak, who runs the transit website Second Avenue Sagas. "The subway service and the bus service has become unreliable enough for people to stop using it. If people aren't using it, there's less money, and they have to keep raising fares without delivering better service." The authority is proposing a fare hike that would take effect in March. One option would raise the basic fare for a ride to $3 from the current $2.75. Another option would leave the base fare the same but increase the cost of monthly passes and eliminate bonuses for riders. They are also proposing $41 million a year in service cuts, mainly increasing the time between trains and buses on some routes. And, if approved, the plan would delay the launch of faster bus routes. The proposed cuts "will still leave the MTA with massive deficits, expected to hit nearly $1 billion a year by 2022," the report says. "To tackle those deficits, officials say they would have to cut service more drastically, or raise fares by an additional 15%."

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Ford Patents a Way To Remove ‘New Car Smell’

Ford has filed a patent for a method of eliminating the new car smell after a vehicle has been purchased. In the U.S., "new car smell" is beloved, but in China, customers find the odor disgusting. From a report: While the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office hasn't issued a ruling on the "vehicle odor remediation" patent application, and Ford hasn't committed to moving forward with the project, the paperwork explains what creates the odor so many Americans like: That new car smell is caused by volatile organic compounds given off by leather, plastic and vinyl. Chemicals used to attach and seal car parts may also contribute to the odor. People notice odors when compounds are released, which occurs when a car sits in high temperatures. Ford scientists describe baking the car until the odor disappears, which happens after compounds are released. The process described in the patent involves parking the car in the sun, opening the windows slightly, and optionally turning the engine, heater and fan on.The system includes special software and various air quality sensors, and works only when fitted to a driverless or semi-autonomous vehicle. A lot of technology is involved in the patent application. The car would determine whether conditions are right to expel compounds, and the car would drive itself to a place in the sun and bake away the offensive odor.

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Elon Musk Renames Big Falcon Rocket To ‘Starship’

On Twitter, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that the transportation portion of the company's Big Falcon Spaceship (BFS), will now be called Starship, while the booster portion will be called Super Heavy. The Verge reports: Plans for the 387-foot Big Falcon Rocket were officially revealed back in September. Eventually, the company hopes that it will replace the company's existing Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, and Dragon rockets. The craft is currently being developed at the Port of Los Angeles, at an expected cost of $5 billion and will be capable of taking up to 100 tons of cargo or 100 passengers as far as Mars. SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said the company hopes to start doing uncrewed launch tests of the new rocket in late 2019. If all goes well, Musk believes that this could be followed by an initial uncrewed flight to Mars in 2022 with a crewed flight taking place as early as 2024. A mission to fly around the moon with a private passenger on board is planned for 2023. However, given that the Falcon Heavy took nearly twice as long to complete as expected, and that only five percent of SpaceX's resources are currently spent on the Starship, it's best to view these plans as an aspiration.

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Human Images From World’s First Total-Body Scanner Unveiled

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Medical Xpress: EXPLORER, the world's first medical imaging scanner that can capture a 3-D picture of the whole human body at once, has produced its first scans. The brainchild of UC Davis scientists Simon Cherry and Ramsey Badawi, EXPLORER is a combined positron emission tomography (PET) and X-ray computed tomography (CT) scanner that can image the entire body at the same time. Because the machine captures radiation far more efficiently than other scanners, EXPLORER can produce an image in as little as one second and, over time, produce movies that can track specially tagged drugs as they move around the entire body. EXPLORER will have a profound impact on clinical research and patient care because it produces higher-quality diagnostic PET scans than have ever been possible. EXPLORER also scans up to 40 times faster than current PET scans and can produce a diagnostic scan of the whole body in as little as 20-30 seconds. Alternatively, EXPLORER can scan with a radiation dose up to 40 times less than a current PET scan, opening new avenues of research and making it feasible to conduct many repeated studies in an individual, or dramatically reduce the dose in pediatric studies, where controlling cumulative radiation dose is particularly important.

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Court Again Rules That Cable Giants Can’t Weaponize the First Amendment

Charter has been using the argument that their First Amendment rights are being violated as it fights off state lawsuits for its poor service. "It recently tried to use the First Amendment card again in a legal battle with Byron Allen's Entertainment Studios Networks (ESN), which recently accused Charter of violating the Civil Rights Act of 1866 by refusing to carry TV channels run by the African-American-owned ESN," reports Techdirt. "While Charter tried to have the suit dismissed by claiming that the First Amendment prohibits such claims because an ISP enjoys 'editorial discretion,' the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit didn't agree." From the report: The court noted that while ISPs and cable companies do enjoy some First Amendment protection, it doesn't apply here, just like it didn't apply in the net neutrality fight: "As part of its defense, Charter had told the court that by choosing which channels to carry, the company was engaging in a form of editorial discretion protected by the First Amendment. Therefore, it said, the court would have to use a stricter standard to evaluate Entertainment Studios' claim of a legal violation -- a standard that might result in the claim being rejected. The Ninth Circuit said otherwise, saying that just because Charter engages in corporate speech when it selects which channels to carry does not 'automatically' require the court to use the tougher standard." As a result, the court is letting the case move forward. For its part, ESN's discrimination complaint alleges that its complaint is based on more than just having its channel withheld from the company's cable lineup: "The opinion on Charter's motion to dismiss also marks a victory for the 25-year-old programming firm founded by comedian Byron Allen, which bought the Weather Channel in March and accused Charter executives in court of hurling racist insults at Allen and other black Americans in numerous encounters. In one alleged instance, Charter chief executive Tom Rutledge called Allen, who is black, 'boy' at an industry conference and advised him to change his behavior, according to court documents. In another alleged example, the court said, Charter's senior executive in charge of programming, Allan Singer, approached a group of black protesters outside Charter's offices to tell them to 'get off of welfare.'"

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Elon Musk’s Extracurricular Antics Reportedly Spark a NASA Safety Probe At SpaceX

The recent interview Elon Musk conducted with Joe Rogan, where Musk took one puff from a marijuana cigarette after a lengthy conversation around AI, social media and space, is prompting a NASA safety probe at SpaceX. The Washington Post reports that NASA was not amused with Musk's antics and has "ordered a safety review of SpaceX and Boeing as a response to the colorful chief executive's shenanigans," reports TechCrunch. From the report: In an interview, NASA associate administrator for human exploration, William Gerstenmaier, told the Post that the review will begin next year and would examine the "safety culture" of both Boeing and SpaceX. Rather than focus on the safety of the actual rockets, the Post said that the review would look at the hours employees work, drug policies, leadership and management styles, and the responsiveness of both companies to safety concerns from employees. The review is going to be led by the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance within NASA, which has conducted similar probes before, according to the Post report. According to the NASA official, the process could be "pretty invasive," with the potential for hundreds of interviews with employees at every level and across all locations where the companies operate. At stake is the potential $6.8 billion in contracts the two companies received in 2014 to revive crewed missions to space. SpaceX grabbed $2.6 billion from NASA for the program, while the remainder went to Boeing. In a statement given to the Post, SpaceX said, "We couldn't be more proud of all that we have already accomplished together with NASA, and we look forward to returning human spaceflight capabilities to the United States."

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US Wireless Data Prices Are Among the Most Expensive On Earth

A new study from Finnish research firm Rewheel has found that U.S. wireless consumers pay some of the highest prices for mobile data in the developed world. The mobile data market in the U.S. has the fifth most expensive price per gigabyte smartphone plans among developed nations, and was the most expensive for mobile data overall. Motherboard reports: While the report notes that mobile data prices have dropped 11 percent during the last six months in the States, U.S. mobile data pricing remained significantly higher than 41 countries in the European Union and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Normally, having four major wireless carriers helps boost competition, in turn lowering prices. But the Rewheel report was quick to note that the often stunted level of competition seen in U.S. wireless is more akin to countries where there's just three major players. Meanwhile, a monopoly over business data connectivity generally keeps consumer mobile prices high. According to the FCC's own data, 73 percent of the special access market (which feeds everything from ATMs to cellular towers) is controlled by one ISP. This varies depending on the market, but it's usually AT&T, Verizon, or CenturyLink. These high prices to connect to cellular towers then impact pricing for the end user and smaller competitors, those same competitors and consumer groups have long argued. Another area where prices were high: mobile hotspots. The report found that Verizon charges users $710 per month for its 100 gigabyte mobile hotspot plan. That same plan costs between $11 and $23 per month in several European countries.

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Ajit Pai Wants To Raise Rural Broadband Speeds From 10Mbps To 25Mbps

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Federal Communications Commission is planning to raise the rural broadband standard from 10Mbps to 25Mbps in a move that would require faster Internet speeds in certain government-subsidized networks. The FCC's Connect America Fund (CAF) distributes more than $1.5 billion a year to AT&T, CenturyLink, and other carriers to bring broadband to sparsely populated areas. Carriers that use CAF money to build networks must provide speeds of at least 10Mbps for downloads and 1Mbps for uploads. The minimum speed requirement was last raised in December 2014. Today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he's proposing raising that standard from 10Mbps/1Mbps to 25Mbps/3Mbps. "[W]'re recognizing that rural Americans need and deserve high-quality services by increasing the target speeds for subsidized deployments from 10/1 Mbps to 25/3 Mbps," Pai wrote in a blog post that describes agenda items for the FCC's December 12 meeting. "[T]he program should support high-quality services; rural Americans deserve services that are comparable to those in urban areas," Pai also wrote. The new speeds "will apply to future projects but won't necessarily apply to broadband projects that are already receiving funding," Ars notes. "For ongoing projects, the FCC will use incentives to try to raise speeds. More money will be offered to carriers that agree to upgrade speeds to 25Mbps/3Mbps, a senior FCC official said in a conference call with reporters."

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Ford Eyes Use of Customers’ Personal Data To Boost Profits

According to industry-watchers, Ford is looking to profit off the data it can collect from its 100 million customers. In addition to the data collected from its infotainment systems and mobile apps, "Ford's CEO recently suggested that the data collected by the company's financial services arm also represents a valuable, low-overhead asset," reports Threatpost. From the report: "We have 100 million people in vehicles today that are sitting in Ford blue-oval vehicles," said Ford CEO Jim Hackett during a Freakonomics Radio podcast. "The issue in the vehicle, see, is: We already know and have data on our customers. By the way, we protect this securely; they trust us. We know what people make. How do we know that? It's because they borrow money from us. And when you ask somebody what they make, we know where they work, you know. We know if they're married. We know how long they've lived in their house because these are all on the credit applications. We've never ever been challenged on how we use that. And that's the leverage we got here with the data." The comments, which were amplified by several auto-industry sources and the Detroit Free Press, sparked alarm in the Twitterverse. Against the backdrop of privacy disasters at Facebook and other stalwarts of the internet economy, the fear for many is that Ford sees selling access to consumers based on their lifestyle as a way forward. Is Ford considering selling consumer data as a revenue stream? Hackett stopped short of saying that -- and indeed, the data could instead simply be useful to the company internally, as a way to increase the value (and profit) of its other businesses.

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Tumblr Removed From Apple’s App Store Over Child Porn Issues

Tumblr has reportedly been removed from Apple's App Store due to child pornography issues. "The app has been missing from the store since November 16th, but until now the reason for its absence was unclear -- initially Tumblr simply said it was 'working to resolve the issue with the iOS app,'" reports The Verge. "However, after Download.com approached Tumblr with sources claiming that the reason was related to the discovery of child pornography on the service, the Yahoo-owned social media network issued a new statement confirming the matter." From the report: In its updated statement, Tumblr said that while every image uploaded to the platform is "scanned against an industry database of child sexual abuse material" to filter out explicit images, a "routine audit" discovered content that was absent from the database, allowing it to slip through the filter. Although Tumblr says the content was immediately removed, its app continues to be unavailable on the App Store. It's still available in the Google Play store for Android users, however.

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Democrats Intend To Probe Ivanka Trump’s Use of Personal Email In Next Congress

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ABC News: Amid reports that first daughter and White House senior advisor Ivanka Trump exchanged hundreds of official government business emails using a personal email account, top Democrats on Capitol Hill "want to know if Ivanka complied with the law" and in the next Congress plan to continue their investigation of the Presidential Records Act and Federal Records Act. Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat who's in line to become the next chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee next year, promises any potential investigation into Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump's emails won't be like the "spectacle" Republicans led in the Clinton email probe. The Oversight committee has jurisdiction over records and transparency laws, and Cummings helped write an update to the Presidential and Federal Records Acts that was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2014. That measure mandates that every federal employee, including the President, forward any message about official business sent using a private account to the employee's official email account within 20 days. "We launched a bipartisan investigation last year into White House officials' use of private email accounts for official business, but the White House never gave us the information we requested," Cummings, D-Md., noted. "We need those documents to ensure that Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and other officials are complying with federal records laws and there is a complete record of the activities of this Administration. My goal is to prevent this from happening again -- not to turn this into a spectacle the way Republicans went after Hillary Clinton. My main priority as Chairman will be to focus on the issues that impact Americans in their everyday lives."

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Nine Out of Every 10 Silicon Valley Jobs Pays Less Than In 1997, Report Finds

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Mercury News: Nine out of every 10 Silicon Valley jobs pays less now than when Netflix first launched in 1997, despite one of the nation's strongest economic booms and a historically low unemployment rate that outpaces the national average. While tech workers have thrived, employees in the middle of Silicon Valley's income ladder have been hit hardest as their inflation-adjusted wages declined between 12 and 14 percent over the past 20 years, according to a study from UC Santa Cruz's Everett Program for Technology and Social Change and the labor think tank Working Partnership USA, which examined the economic impact of technology companies. Technology workers saw a median wage increase of 32 percent over the past 20 years, the study found. But Silicon Valley workers in virtually all other areas lost ground during that time. Across all jobs, wages for even the highest-paid 10 percent increased just under 1 percent, the study found. Meanwhile, the region's economy has been booming. Since 2001, the amount of money generated per Silicon Valley resident -- the area's per person GDP -- has grown 74 percent, the study found. That's more than five times faster than the equivalent national growth. Also, a smaller percentage of wealth is going to workers. "In 2001, about 64 percent of the money generated in Silicon Valley went to workers," reports Mercury News. "By 2016, that was down to 60 percent. The drop translated to $9.6 billion -- about $8,480 in potential pay and benefits per worker -- that instead went to investors and owners, according to the study."

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Instagram Is Cracking Down On Services That Sell Likes, Followers

Instagram will be cutting down on the services that let you buy followers or likes. Starting Monday, Instagram says it will no longer allow "inauthentic likes, follows and comments from accounts that use third-party apps to boost their popularity." That includes buying "Likes" and followers, and paying for other engagement generated by apps that require a user's Instagram login details in order to operate on their behalf. Recode reports: Instagram says it "built machine learning tools" to help detect accounts growing artificially. The move is not retroactive, so Instagram won't be removing "Likes" or followers that accounts have already garnered. It's just going to prevent them in the future. Instagram doesn't list any specific apps or services on its blog post, so it's tough to tell which third-party services will be impacted by this. This kind of activity has been against Instagram's Terms of Service for a while, so it's not entirely clear why Instagram wants to crack down on this now. Here's a logical guess though: Facebook is under more pressure than ever to police the activity on its platforms, given all that has happened with Facebook and Russian election meddling since 2016.

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NASA Chooses the Landing Site For Its Mars 2020 Rover Mission

Five years and sixty potential locations later, NASA has chosen the Jezero Crater as the landing site for its Mars 2020 rover mission. "Slated to launch in July the Mars 2020 rover mission will touch down at the Jezero Crater as NASA's exploration of the Red Planet enters its next phase," reports TechCrunch. From the report: The rover will be looking for signs of habitable conditions -- and past microbial life -- while also collecting rock and soil samples that will be stored in a cache on the Martian surface. "The landing site in Jezero Crater offers geologically rich terrain, with landforms reaching as far back as 3.6 billion years old, that could potentially answer important questions in planetary evolution and astrobiology," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, in a statement. "Getting samples from this unique area will revolutionize how we think about Mars and its ability to harbor life." The crater is located on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator, with some of the oldest and most scientifically interesting landscapes Mars has to offer, according to NASA scientists. Mission scientists believe the 28-mile-wide crater once held an ancient river delta, and could have collected and preserved organic molecules and other potential signs of microbial life from the water and sediments that flowed into the crater. NASA thinks it can collect up to five different kinds of Martian rock, including clays and carbonates that may preserve indicators of past life. There's also the hope that minerals have been swept into the crater over the last billion years which Rover could also collect.

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Norwegian Company Plans To Power Their Cruise Ships With Dead Fish

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Waste fish parts will be used to power ships in a new initiative to use green energy for polluting cruise liners. The leftovers of fish processed for food and mixed with other organic waste will be used to generate biogas, which will then be liquefied and used in place of fossil fuels by the expedition cruise line Hurtigruten. Hurtigruten operates a fleet of 17 ships, and by 2021 aims to have converted at least six of its vessels to use biogas, liquefied natural gas -- a fossil fuel, but cleaner than many alternatives -- and large battery packs, capable of storing energy produced from renewable sources. Biogas can be generated from most forms of organic waste by speeding up and harnessing the natural decomposition process to capture the methane produced. Organic waste is produced by all food industries but is frequently disposed of in landfill, where it contributes to greenhouse gas emissions as it decomposes. Hurtigruten is currently building three new hybrid-powered cruise ships in Norway, to be delivered in the next three years.

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Half-Life Celebrates 20th Anniversary With Fan-Made ‘Black Mesa: Xen’ Trailer

On Monday, developer Crowbar Collective released the first trailer for Black Mesa: Xen, the final act of its long running remake of Valve's 1998 game Half-Life, which marked its 20-year anniversary on the same day. "The finale of Half-Life put hero Gordon Freeman in an alien world, and Black Mesa: Xen's upgraded graphics and redesign makes the original's muddy palette look vibrant and strange," reports Motherboard. "It looks just as exciting as it did at the time of the original game's release." From the report: When Valve unleashed Half-Life, it changed video games forever. The first person shooter from what was then a relatively unknown company starred a silent scientist beating down alien headcrabs and shooting human Marines in a novel sci-fi adventure. It was a triumph. Shortly after, in 2003, the Crowbar Collective began work on a remake that would come to be known as Black Mesa. Fan communities routinely reimagine their favorite video games, often as modifications, or mods, of the originals. Black Mesa began life as a free mod for Half-Life 2, but grew into a proper remake. Crowbar Collective added new voice work, changed animations, and tweaked the original game in hundreds of ways big and small. Black Mesa: Xen has a target release date of early 2019.

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Ivanka Trump Used Personal Account For Emails About Government Business

The Washington Post is reporting that Ivanka Trump used a personal email account to send hundreds of emails last year to White House aids, Cabinet officials and her assistants. Many of the emails were "in violation of federal records rules," the report says. Ivanka's practices are reminiscent of the personal email account Hillary Clinton used as secretary of state. From the report: White House ethics officials learned of Trump's repeated use of personal email when reviewing emails gathered last fall by five Cabinet agencies to respond to a public records lawsuit. That review revealed that throughout much of 2017, she often discussed or relayed official White House business using a private email account with a domain that she shares with her husband, Jared Kushner. Some aides were startled by the volume of Ivanka Trump's personal emails -- and taken aback by her response when questioned about the practice. Trump said she was not familiar with some details of the rules, according to people with knowledge of her reaction. A spokesperson for Ivanka Trump's attorney and ethics counsel, Abbe Lowell, "acknowledged that the president's daughter occasionally used her private email before she was briefed on the rules, but he said none of her messages contained classified information," reports Washington Post. "While transitioning into government, after she was given an official account but until the White House provided her the same guidance they had given others who started before she did, Ms. Trump sometimes used her personal account, almost always for logistics and scheduling concerning her family," he said in a statement. He went on to say that her email use was different than that of Clinton. "Ms. Trump did not create a private server in her house or office, no classified information was ever included, the account was never transferred at Trump Organization, and no emails were ever deleted," Mirijanian said.

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New Experimental Lockheed Supersonic Jet Starts Production

Lockheed Martin's X-59 Quiet Supersonic Technology aircraft is officially in "the manufacturing phase," bringing the company "one step closer to enabling supersonic travel for passengers around the world." The experimental jet was awarded a contract from NASA earlier this year as it is capable of flying at supersonic speeds without creating loud supersonic booms. Currently, commercial supersonic aircraft are banned from flying over land because of the noise and potential damage the booms may cause. WTOP reports: "The long, slender design of the aircraft is the key to achieving a low sonic boom," said Peter Iosifidis, Low Boom Flight Demonstrator program manager at Lockheed Martin. "As we enter into the manufacturing phase, the aircraft structure begins to take shape, bringing us one step closer to enabling supersonic travel for passengers around the world," he said. Lockheed expects to conduct its first flight in 2021 and gather community response data on the acceptability of the "quiet sonic boom" the plane creates. NASA will use that information to establish an acceptable commercial supersonic noise standard to overturn current regulations banning supersonic travel over land. The X-59 will cruise at a speed of about 940 mph and an altitude of 55,000 feet. Lockheed says it will create a sound about as loud as a car door closing, instead of a deafening sonic boom.

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Google Patents Motorized, Omnidirectional VR Sneakers

Google has patented motorized, omnidirectional virtual-reality sneakers that may solve the "limited space" problem associated with the interactive computer-generated experience. Ars Technica reports: Google's patent describes what are essentially motorized VR roller skates that will let the user walk normally while the motors and wheels work to negate your natural locomotion and keep you inside the VR safe zone. As the patent puts it, Google's new kicks will let you walk "seemingly endlessly in the virtual environment" while keeping you in one spot in real life. Google's shoe solution would track the user's feet, just like how VR controllers are tracked today. The tracking would know when you're too close to the virtual walls of your VR area, and the system would wheel you back into place. Patents are always written to give the broadest possible coverage of an idea, but Google's patent shows normal wheels, tracks, and even omnidirectional mecanum wheels as possible wheels for the VR shoe bottoms. Omnidirectional wheels would be great, as they would allow you to do things like sidestep, while still having your position corrected by the shoes.

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Bitcoin Falls Below $5,000 For First Time Since October 2017

The value of Bitcoin has hit a new low of $4,951, bringing the total value of all Bitcoin in existence to below $87 billion. Much of the turmoil can be attributed to the split of Bitcoin Cash on November 15th. The Bitcoin offshoot has been split into two different cryptocurrencies, which are now in competition with each other. The BBC reports: Bitcoin exchange Kraken said in a blog post that it regarded one of the two new Bitcoin Cash crypto-currencies -- Bitcoin SV -- as "an extremely risky investment." At its peak, in November 2017, it briefly hit $19,783 - which means the price has fallen by about 75%. After the excitements of last year when the price soared to nearly $20,000 and then tumbled, Bitcoin has been rather dull and stable for much of 2018, settling between $6,000 and $7,000.

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Southeast Asia’s Digital Economy To Triple To $240 Billion By 2025, Says Google Report

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: It may sit in the shade of China and India, but tech has real growth potential in Southeast Asia. Home to a cumulative 650 million people, the region's digital economy is forecast to triple in size and reach $240 billion over the next seven years, according to Google's third "e-Conomy SEA" report. The annual study, which is authored by Google and Singapore sovereign fund Temasek and is arguably the most comprehensive research program for tech in Southeast Asia, has raised its estimation for the size of the digital economy in 2025 from an initial $200 billion after seeing the region reach "an inflection point." Southeast Asia has 350 million internet users across its six largest countries -- that's more than the entire U.S. population -- and the latest data suggests its internet economy will reach $72 billion this year, up from $50 billion last year and $19.1 billion in 2015. Online travel accounts for the majority of that revenue ($30 billion) ahead of e-commerce ($23 billion), online media ($11 billion) and ride-hailing ($8 billion), and that rough breakdown is likely to be maintained up until 2025, according to the report. Indonesia, the world's fourth largest country by population, is forecast to hit $100 billion by 2025, ahead of Thailand ($43 billion) and Vietnam ($33 billion), with strong growth forecast across the board. Indonesia and Vietnam, in particular, have seen their respective digital economies more than triple since 2015, according to the data.

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The Boring Company’s First Tunnel Is All Dug Up

Elon Musk has tweeted images of his tunnel-boring machine with the caption "Congratulations @BoringCompany on completing the LA/Hawthorne tunnel! Cutting edge technology!" The update comes a couple weeks after Musk showed off the Boring Company's LA tunnel and said it was "on track" for an opening party on December 10th. Ars Technica reports: The tunnel appears to end at what The Boring Company calls "O'Leary Station," which is located on a piece of commercial property that The Boring Company purchased in Hawthorne. This location is close to, but not the same as, the location for which The Boring Company recently received approval to build a tunnel entrance within a residential garage. "O'Leary Station" references a SpaceX/Boring Company employee who recently passed away. The Hawthorne tunnel is just a test tunnel for The Boring Company, which also plans to complete a second, 3.6-mile, one-way tunnel from Los Angeles Metro to Dodger Stadium. Eventually, the company wants to dig a tunnel in Chicago between O'Hare International Airport and the city's downtown.

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Mars Opportunity Rover Appears To Contact Earth; Turns Out To Be a False Alarm

dmoberhaus writes: NASA's Mars Opportunity rover appeared to briefly make contact with the agency's Deep Space Network on Thursday afternoon after 5 months of silence. In June, a dust storm took Opportunity offline and every attempt to bring the rover back to life has failed. NASA scientists were hoping that seasonal winds that sweep the planet from November to February might blow the dust off of Opportunity's solar panels. Was this the rover's first attempt trying to get back into contact with Earth? Update 11/17/18: No. It turns out that the data received by the Deep Space Network was not from the Opportunity rover. "Today [the Deep Space Network website] showed what looked like a signal from Opportunity," JPL said in a tweet. "As much as we'd like to say this was an #OppyPhoneHome moment, further investigation shows these signals were not an Opportunity transmission. Test data or false positives can make it look like a given spacecraft is active on [the Deep Space Network website]. Our work to reestablish comms continues."

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Some Birds Are Excellent Tool-Makers

brindafella writes: Veterinary scientists from Viena have shown that Goffin's cockatoos can do an excellent job of remaking cardboard into tools to get rewards. This follows on from earlier experiments with the New Caledonian crow that can select tools for its purposes. So, birds are definitely not "bird-brained." "[The study] tells us that the cockatoos' mind is highly flexible and that they can modify their solution to a problem in order to save effort," said Alice Auersperg, a cognitive biologist at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna and lead author of the paper. The Australian Broadcast Company explains how the study was conducted: "[S]ix trained birds were given a piece of cardboard and placed in front of a cage that had food accessible through a small hole, but placed at different distances away. The birds used their beak to cut strips of cardboard they then used to reach the food. Importantly, when the food was close, the birds made a shorter strip. When it was far away, they made a longer strip. But when the researchers made the hole in the cage smaller, only one of the birds was able to fashion their cardboard tool to be narrow enough to fit through the hole. The successful bird was the only female in the group, and the researchers think she was able to do this because her beak was small enough to make a narrow tool."

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Facebook Filed a Patent To Predict Your Household’s Demographics Based On Family Photos

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BuzzFeed News: Facebook has submitted a patent application for technology that would predict who your family and other household members are, based on images and captions posted to Facebook, as well as your device information, like shared IP addresses. The application, titled "Predicting household demographics based on image data," was originally filed May 10, 2017, and made public today. The system Facebook proposes in its patent application would use facial recognition and learning models trained to understand text to help Facebook better understand whom you live with and interact with most. The technology described in the patent looks for clues in your profile pictures on Facebook and Instagram, as well as photos of you that you or your friends post. It would note the people identified in a photo, and how frequently the people are included in your pictures. Then, it would assess information from comments on the photos, captions, or tags (#family, #mom, #kids) -- anything that indicates whether someone is a husband, daughter, cousin, etc. -- to predict what your family/household actually looks like. According to the patent application, Facebook's prediction models would also analyze "messaging history, past tagging history, [and] web browsing history" to see if multiple people share IP addresses (a unique identifier for every internet network). A Facebook spokesperson said in response to the story, "We often seek patents for technology we never implement, and patents should not be taken as an indication of future plans."

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EFF, MuckRock Partner To See How Local Police Are Trading Your Car’s Location

v3rgEz writes: The Electronic Frontier Foundation and transparency non-profit MuckRock helped file over a thousand public records requests, looking into how local police departments were trading away sensitive data on where you drive and park, picked up by their use of automated license plate recognition devices. They've just published the results of those requests, including looking at how hundreds of departments freely share that data with hundreds of other organizations -- often with no public oversight. Explore the data yourself, or, if your town isn't yet in their database, requests its information free on MuckRock and they'll file a request for it. "[Automated license plate readers (ALPR)] are a combination of high-speed cameras and optical character recognition technology that can identify license plates and turn them into machine-readable text," reports the EFF. "What makes ALPR so powerful is that drivers are required by law to install license plates on their vehicles. In essence, our license plates have become tracking beacons. After the plate data is collected, the ALPR systems upload the information to a central a database along with the time, date, and GPS coordinates. Cops can search these databases to see where drivers have traveled or to identify vehicles that visited certain locations. Police can also add license plates under suspicion to 'hot lists,' allowing for real-time alerts when a vehicle is spotted by an ALPR network."

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Bill Godbout, Early S-100 Bus Pioneer, Perished In the Camp Wildfire

evanak writes: Bill Godbout was one of the earliest and most influential supports of the S-100 bus in the mid-1970s. He passed away last week due to the Camp wildfire in Concow, California, according to a Vintage Computer Federation blog post. More than 50 other people also died in the fires, but chances are Mr. Godbout was the only one with a license to fly blimps. "Godbout was born October 2, 1939," the blog post reads. "He talked about his introduction to computing in an interview with InfoWorld magazine for their February 18, 1980 issue. 'My first job out of college was with IBM. I served a big-system apprenticeship there, but I think the thing that really triggered [my interest] was the introduction of the 8008 by Intel,' he said. 'I was fascinated that you could have that kind of capability in a little 18-pin package.'" Godbout's family has set up a GoFundMe campaign to support their needs in this difficult time.

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People Sensitive To Caffeine’s Bitter Taste Drink More Coffee, Study Finds

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: A team of researchers conducted their analysis using data stored in something called the UK Biobank. More than 500,000 people have contributed blood, urine and saliva samples to the biobank, which scientists can use to answer various research questions. The volunteers also filled out questionnaires asking a variety of health-related questions, including how much coffee they drink. Part of what determines our sensitivity to bitter substances is determined by the genes we inherit from our parents. So the researchers used genetic analysis of samples from the biobank to find people who were more or less sensitive to three bitter substances: caffeine, quinine (think tonic water) and a chemical called propylthiouracil that is frequently used in genetic tests of people's ability to taste bitter compounds. Then they looked to see if people sensitive to one or more of these substances drank more or less coffee than people who were not sensitive. To the researchers' surprise, people who were more sensitive to caffeine reported increased coffee consumption compared with people who were less sensitive. The result was restricted to the bitterness of caffeine. People sensitive to quinine and propylthiouracil -- neither of which is in coffee -- tended to drink less coffee. The effect of increased caffeine sensitivity was small: it only amounted to about two tablespoons more coffee per day. But by analyzing so many samples, the researchers were able to detect even small differences like that. The reason may be that people "learn to associate that bitter taste with the stimulation that coffee can provide," says one of the study authors.

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Apple’s Siri May Soon Process Voice Locally On a Device, No Cloud Required

Proudrooster writes: "Apple wants Siri to become more useful to users when not connected to the internet, including the possibility of an offline mode that does not rely on a backend server to assist with voice recognition or performing the required task, one that would be entirely performed on the user's device," reports Apple Insider. Just give it 10 years and everything old is new again. Siri will join the ranks of Ford/Microsoft Sync and Intel Edison. Do any other phones/cars/speakers have this option right now? The new capabilities are outlined in a recently-published patent application that describes an "Offline personal assistant." "Rather than connected to Apple's servers, the filing suggests the speech-to-text processing and validation could happen on the device itself," reports Apple Insider. "On hearing the user make a request, the device in question will be capable of determining the task via onboard natural language processing, working out if the requested task as it hears it is useful, then performing it. "

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Hacker Says They Compromised ProtonMail; ProtonMail Calls BS

A hacker going by the name AmFearLiathMor is claiming to have hacked ProtonMail and stolen "significant" amounts of data. They have posted a ransom demand to an anonymous Pastebin but it reads like a prank, as it states that the alleged hackers have access to underwater drone activity and treaty violations in Antarctica. Lawrence Abrams writes via BleepingComputer: According to the message, a hacker going by the name AmFearLiathMor makes quite a few interesting claims such as hacking ProtonMail's services and stealing user's email, that ProtonMail is sending their user's decrypted data to American servers, and that ProtonMail is abusing the lack of Subresource Integrity (SRI) use to purposely and maliciously steal their user's passwords. After reading the Pastebin message (archive.is link), which is shown in its entirety below minus some alleged keys, and seeing the amount of claims, the first thing that came to mind was a corporate version of the sextortion scams that have been running rampant lately. As I kept reading it, though, it just felt like a joke. ProtonMail posted on Twitter that this is a hoax and that there is no evidence that anything states is true. The encrypted email service provided a statement to BleepingComputer: "We believe this extortion attempt is a hoax, and we have seen zero evidence to suggest otherwise. Not a single claim made is true and many of the claims are unsound from a technical standpoint. We are aware of a small number of ProtonMail accounts that have been compromised as a result of those individual users falling for phishing attempts. However, there is zero evidence of a breach of our infrastructure."

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Mark Shuttleworth Reveals Ubuntu 18.04 Will Get a 10-Year Support Lifespan

At the OpenStack Summit in Berlin last week, Ubuntu Linux founder Mark Shuttleworth said in a keynote that Ubuntu 18.04 Long Term Support (LTS) support lifespan would be extended from five years to 10 years. "I'm delighted to announce that Ubuntu 18.04 will be supported for a full 10 years," said Shuttleworth, "In part because of the very long time horizons in some of industries like financial services and telecommunications but also from IoT where manufacturing lines for example are being deployed that will be in production for at least a decade." ZDNet reports: Ubuntu 18.04 released in April 2018. While the Ubuntu desktop gets most of the ink, most of Canonical's dollars comes from server and cloud customers. It's for these corporate users Canonical first extended Ubuntu 12.04 security support, then Ubuntu 14.04's support, and now, preemptively, Ubuntu 18.04. In an interview after the keynote, Shuttleworth said Ubuntu 16.04, which is scheduled to reach its end of life in April 2021, will also be given a longer support life span. When it comes to OpenStack, Shuttleworth promised again to support versions of OpenStack dating back to 2014's IceHouse. Shuttleworth said, "What matters isn't day two, what matters is day 1,500." He also doubled-down on Canonical's promise to easily enable OpenStack customers to migrate from one version of OpenStack to another. Generally speaking, upgrading from one version of OpenStack is like a root canal: Long and painful but necessary. With Canonical OpenStack, you can step up all the way from the oldest supported version to the newest one with no more than a second of downtime.

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Virginia To Produce 25K-35K Additional CS Grads As Part of Amazon HQ2 Deal

theodp writes: Developers! Developers! Developers! To make good on the proposal that snagged it a share of the Amazon HQ2 prize, the State of Virginia is also apparently on the hook for doubling the annual number of graduates with computer science or closely related degrees, with a goal to add 25,000 to 35,000 graduates (Amazon's HQ2 RFP demanded info on "education programs related to computer science"). To do that, the state will establish a performance-based investment fund for higher education institutions to expand their bachelor's degree programs, and spend up to $375 million on George Mason University's Arlington campus and a new Virginia Tech campus in Alexandria. The state will also spend $50 million on STEM + CS education in public schools and expanding internships for higher education students. Amazon is certainly focused on boosting the ranks of software engineer types. Earlier this month, Amazon launched Amazon Future Engineer, a program that aims to teach more than 10 million students a year how to code, part of a $50 million Amazon commitment to computer science education that was announced last year at a kickoff event for the Ivanka Trump-led White House K-12 CS Initiative. And on Wednesday, Amazon-bankrolled Code.org -- Amazon is a $10+ million Diamond Supporter of the nonprofit; CS/EE grad Jeff Bezos is a $1+ million Gold Supporter -- announced it has teamed with Amazon Future Engineer to build and launchHour of Code: Dance Party, a signature tutorial for this December's big Hour of Code (powered by AWS in 2017), which has become something of a corporate infomercial (Microsoft recently boasted "learners around the world have completed nearly 100 million Minecraft Hour of Code sessions"). Students participating in the Dance Party tutorial, Code.org explained, can choose from 30 hits like Katy Perry's "Firework" and code interactive dance moves and special effects as they learn basic CS concepts. "The artists whose music is used in this tutorial are not sponsoring or endorsing Amazon as part of licensing use of their music to Code.org," stresses a footnote in Code.org's post. So, don't try to make any connections between Katy Perry's Twitter endorsement of the Code.org/Amazon tutorial later that day and those same-day follow-up Amazon and Katy Perry tweets touting their new exclusive Amazon Music streaming deal, kids!

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BlackBerry Buys Cybersecurity Firm Cylance For $1.4 Billion

wiredmikey shares a report from SecurityWeek: BlackBerry on Friday announced that it has agreed to acquire endpoint security firm Cylance for $1.4 billion in cash. "We plan on immediately expanding the capabilities across BlackBerry's 'chip-to-edge' portfolio, including QNX, our safety-certified embedded OS that is deployed in more than 120 million vehicles, robot dogs, medical devices, and more," a BlackBerry company spokesperson told SecurityWeek. "Over time, we plan to integrate Cylance technology with our Spark platform, which is at the center of our strategy to ensure data flowing between endpoints (in a car, business, or smart city) is secured, private, and trusted." Cylance has raised roughly $300 million in funding [prior being acquired]. BlackBerry describes the "Spark platform" as a secure chip-to-edge communications platform "designed for ultra-security and industry-specific safety-certifications, such as ISO 26262 in automobiles."

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