Author Archives: msmash

US Investigators Probing Years of WikiLeaks Activities, Report Says

WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange are the subject of a long-running criminal investigation in the U.S., Reuters reported on Friday, citing sources familiar with the matter. Investigators have dug into the website's activities going back years, people who have been in contact with witnesses in the case say. From the report: American investigators are gathering information and pursuing witnesses involved in both recent WikiLeaks disclosures and the website's large-scale postings of U.S. military and diplomatic messages over several years from 2010. Officially, U.S. authorities have issued no public comments about the status of Wikileaks-related investigations. But a document which U.S. authorities said was mistakenly filed in open court in an unrelated case last November alluded to a sealed U.S. criminal complaint against Assange, though the document does not provide specifics regarding which laws U.S. prosecutors believe Assange violated.

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Robot Squeezes Suspected Nuclear Fuel Debris in Fukushima Reactor

A robot outfitted with remotely controlled pinchers poked at debris that's suspected to contain molten nuclear fuel at the bottom of one of Fukushima's nuclear reactors, World Nuclear News reports. From a report: The poking and prodding is part of the ongoing cleanup effort at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power plant, the site of a major nuclear accident in 2011. The dextrous robot was dangled into the Unit 2 reactor on February 13th, according to a news release from the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Unit 2 is one of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant that overheated after a massive earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011, which caused the reactor core to melt. TEPCO suspects that radioactive fuel may have melted through the bottom of the reactor vessel to fall into the containment structure surrounding it. The company has to find the radioactive debris and figure out how to remove them, so TEPCO has been sending in a series of robots to scout out the reactors. It's a dangerous journey that some of the robots haven't survived.

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Copyright Office Refuses Registration for ‘Fresh Prince’ Star Alfonso Ribeiro’s “Carlton Dance”

The U.S. Copyright Office is skeptical about Fresh Prince of Bel-Air actor Alfonso Ribeiro's ownership claim over the signature "Carlton Dance," which became famous after a 1991 episode of the Will Smith series. From a report: In correspondence last month that was surfaced on Wednesday in California federal court, Saskia Florence, a supervisory registration specialist in the Office's Performing Arts Division, told Ribeiro's attorney that registration must be refused because his claimed "choreographic work" was a "simple dance routine." [...] Take-Two Interactive, publisher of the game NBA 2K, is now seizing upon the refusal in support of the argument that movements for the "Carlton Dance" are not protectable. Ribeiro is suing Take-Two as well as the publisher of Fortnite over special features that allow game players to have their avatars perform the dance. In a dismissal brief, Kirkland & Ellis attorney Dale Cendali makes some of the same arguments she did earlier in the week in an attempt to reject a similar lawsuit over Fortnite from the rapper 2 Milly. But there are particular contentions specifically directed at Ribeiro's claim.

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An Insect-bot Mimics Desert Ants by Looking at the Sky To Navigate

From a report: A new robot can navigate without GPS, using the same light-sensing abilities as desert ants. Desert ants survive in searingly hot conditions in the Sahara. They sometimes have just a few minutes to forage for food before they risk burning to death. As a result, they are very efficient navigators, using bands of polarized light, invisible to humans, to get around. They also carefully count their steps. These two tactics help to keep them alive. AntBot: The bot, described this week in Science Robotics, is fitted with UV light sensors that can detect polarized light from the sun. This is known as a "celestial compass" and is designed to mimic the way desert ants see the sun's light. This helps it work out the direction it's going in. The robot also counts its steps, much like its desert muse. In tests, it successfully managed to complete an outdoor homing task, where it was required to go to several checkpoints and then return to a fixed location within a range of 14 meters.

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Amazon Will Pay $0 in Federal Taxes on $11.2 Billion Profits

Those wondering how many zeros Amazon, which is valued at nearly $800 billion, has to pay in federal taxes might be surprised to learn that its check to the IRS will read exactly $0.00. From a report: According to a report published by the Institute on Taxation and Economic (ITEP) policy Wednesday, the e-tail/retail/tech/entertainment/everything giant won't have to pay a cent in federal taxes for the second year in a row. This tax-free break comes even though Amazon almost doubled its U.S. profits from $5.6 billion to $11.2 billion between 2017 and 2018. To top it off, Amazon actually reported a $129 million 2018 federal income tax rebate -- making its tax rate -1%.

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NASA’s SPHEREx Mission Will Investigate the Origins of the Universe

NASA announced this week that it will create the Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer: SPHEREx for short. It'll look at how our universe has changed, and how common the ingredients of life are in the Milky Way. From a report: The space agency is aiming for a 2023 launch and has already earmarked $242 million for the project, not including launch costs, which is supposed to last for at least two years. Once SPHEREx is already in orbit, it will observe and collect data on over 300 million galaxies, some as far as 10 billion light-years away from Earth, and 100 million stars in our own Milky Way every six months. It will use technologies adapted from Earth satellites and Mars spacecraft to survey the sky in optical and near-infrared light. Since it will use 96 wavelengths in all, it will give NASA a way to create an extremely detailed sky map with a resolution that's much, much higher than previous ones.

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Venezuela’s Government Appears To be Trying To Hack Activists With Phishing Pages

Hackers allegedly working for the embattled Venezuelan government tried to trick activists into giving away their passwords to popular services such as Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, and others, according to security researchers. From a report: Last week, the Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido called for citizens to volunteer with the goal of helping international humanitarian organizations deliver aid into the country. President Nicolas Maduro is refusing to accept aid and has erected blocks across a border bridge with Colombia with the military's help. The volunteer efforts were organized around the website voluntariosxvenezuela.com. A week later, on February 11 someone registered an almost identical domain, voluntariosvenezuela[.]com. And on Wednesday, users in Venezuela who were trying to visit the original and official VoluntariosxVenezuela website were redirected to the newer one, according to security firm Kaspersky Lab, as well as Venezuelan users on Twitter.

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Interviews: Ask Social Network Minds.com CEO and Founder Bill Ottman a Question

As you may have noticed, Facebook is not cool anymore. The social juggernaut has been mired in controversies -- infamous privacy scandals or company's ruthless "grow fast and break things" approach to gain users, to name a few. Luckily enough, some people are trying to build new social networks and are coming up with interesting original ideas. Minds.com is one such social network. The open source social network, which has been operational since 2012, works on a point-earning/exchange system to give users full control over the reach of their posts. One of the complaints people have with Facebook and Twitter is that they feel their posts are not being seen by all of their friends. Minds.com lets users earn points and then trade those points to boost their posts on the platform. Users earn tokens by being active on the platform and engaging in uploading, voting, commenting and other similar activities. They can then use these tokens, which can be exchanged within the platform, to boost the reach of their posts. The company last year launched a cryptocurrency reward program based on the ethereum blockchain for all users on the platform. Minds says it does not determine what should be censored. Users are free to post whatever they want. (You can follow us on Minds.) We are excited to announced that Minds founder and chief executive Bill Ottman has agreed to do an interview with us. If you have a question about Minds.com for him or his take on the current social networking space, feel free to ask it in the comments section below.

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Visa, Mastercard Mull Increasing Fees For Processing Transactions: Report

Visa and Mastercard, the two biggest U.S. card networks, are preparing to increase certain fees levied on U.S. merchants for processing transactions that will kick in this April, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, citing people familiar with the matter. From a report: Some of the changes relate to so-called interchange fees, the report said. Interchange fees are what merchants pay to banks when consumers use a credit or a debit card to make a purchase from their store. Fees that Mastercard and Visa charge financial institutions, such as banks, for processing card payments on behalf of merchants are also set to increase, the report said.

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After Calls For an Edit Button, Twitter Says it is Considering a ‘Clarification’ Feature

Despite years-long calls from power users for an "edit" button, Twitter is considering how it could enable 'clarifications' of tweets, CEO Jack Dorsey said Thursday at Goldman Sachs' tech conference in San Francisco. From a report: "One of the concepts we're thinking about is clarifications," Dorsey said, saying that it could function similarly to a quote tweet. "Kind of like retweet with comment.. to add some context and some color on what they might have tweeted, or what they might have meant." People already often use the quote tweet option for this kind of thing, but the two tweets may not always have the same reach, Dorsey noted. But if the person had opted to "clarify" that tweet, then the original tweet could always appear with the subsequent clarification. Dorsey cautioned that the feature is still just something the company is thinking about, not necessarily something that would launch. But he said such a feature could help people feel more comfortable with Twitter.

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Nvidia CEO Foresees a Great Year for PC Gaming Laptops

Nvidia has predicted that the year ahead would be a good one for the company, with demand for laptop gaming gear remaining strong. From a report: Looking forward, Huang said it would be a big year for gaming laptops, as Nvidia knows that more than 40 Turing-based gaming laptops (based on the GeForce RTX 2060) are poised to launch during the year. Those laptops use mid-range RTX cards based on graphics processing units (GPUs) using Nvidia's new Turing architecture -- the GeForce RTX graphics cards that can do real-time ray tracing -- that are battery efficient. Huang acknowledged that visibility is limited. I asked him if cloud gaming would be a disruptive force during the year. But he noted that Nvidia had been providing its own cloud gaming solution, GeForce Now, with relatively little impact on the market for three years. So he said it remains to be seen if cloud gaming and the "Netflix of games" would make an impact on the market. In the meantime, he said that gaming laptops would launch.

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New AI Fake Text Generator May Be Too Dangerous To Release, Say Creators

An anonymous reader shares a report: The creators of a revolutionary AI system that can write news stories and works of fiction -- dubbed "deepfakes for text" -- have taken the unusual step of not releasing their research publicly, for fear of potential misuse. OpenAI, an nonprofit research company backed by Elon Musk, says its new AI model, called GPT2 is so good and the risk of malicious use so high that it is breaking from its normal practice of releasing the full research to the public in order to allow more time to discuss the ramifications of the technological breakthrough. At its core, GPT2 is a text generator. The AI system is fed text, anything from a few words to a whole page, and asked to write the next few sentences based on its predictions of what should come next. The system is pushing the boundaries of what was thought possible, both in terms of the quality of the output, and the wide variety of potential uses. When used to simply generate new text, GPT2 is capable of writing plausible passages that match what it is given in both style and subject. It rarely shows any of the quirks that mark out previous AI systems, such as forgetting what it is writing about midway through a paragraph, or mangling the syntax of long sentences. Feed it the opening line of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four -- "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen" -- and the system recognizes the vaguely futuristic tone and the novelistic style, and continues with: "I was in my car on my way to a new job in Seattle. I put the gas in, put the key in, and then I let it run. I just imagined what the day would be like. A hundred years from now. In 2045, I was a teacher in some school in a poor part of rural China. I started with Chinese history and history of science."

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No Link Between Violent Video Games and Increased Aggression in Teens, Study Finds

A new study from the Oxford Internet Institute claims to have found no link between time spent playing violent video games, and increased aggressive behavior teen teenagers. From a report: Published in Royal Society Open Science, the study is "one of the most definitive to date" according to the University of Oxford. While many studies have previously made similar and contrary claims, lead researcher professor Andrew Przybylski said the "idea that violent video games drive real-world aggression is a popular one, but it hasn't tested very well over time". According to the university, this study is set apart from previous work by preregistration, where researchers publish their hypothesis, methods and analysis technique before beginning research. "Part of the problem in technology research is that there are many ways to analyze the same data, which will produce different results," said Przybylski. "A cherry-picked result can add undue weight to the moral panic surrounding video games. The registered study approach is a safeguard against this." This was supported by co-author Dr Netta Weinstein from Cardiff University who said: "Our findings suggest that researcher biases might have influenced previous studies on this topic, and have distorted our understanding of the effects of video games."

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Facebook Security Keeps a Detailed ‘Lookout’ List of Threats, Including Users and Former Employees, and Can Track Their Location

An anonymous reader shares a report: In early 2018, a Facebook user made a public threat on the social network against one of the company's offices in Europe. Facebook picked up the threat, pulled the user's data and determined he was in the same country as the office he was targeting. The company informed the authorities about the threat and directed its security officers to be on the lookout for the user. "He made a veiled threat that 'Tomorrow everyone is going to pay' or something to that effect," a former Facebook security employee told CNBC. The incident is representative of the steps Facebook takes to keep its offices, executives and employees protected, according to nine former Facebook employees who spoke with CNBC. The company mines its social network for threatening comments, and in some cases uses its products to track the location of people it believes present a credible threat. Several of the former employees questioned the ethics of Facebook's security strategies, with one of them calling the tactics "very Big Brother-esque." Other former employees argue these security measures are justified by Facebook's reach and the intense emotions it can inspire. The company has 2.7 billion users across its services. That means that if just 0.01 percent of users make a threat, Facebook is still dealing with 270,000 potential security risks. [...] One of the tools Facebook uses to monitor threats is a "be on lookout" or "BOLO" list, which is updated approximately once a week. The list was created in 2008, an early employee in Facebook's physical security group told CNBC. It now contains hundreds of people, according to four former Facebook security employees who have left the company since 2016. Facebook notifies its security professionals anytime a new person is added to the BOLO list, sending out a report that includes information about the person, such as their name, photo, their general location and a short description of why they were added. In recent years, the security team even had a large monitor that displayed the faces of people on the list, according to a photo CNBC has seen and two people familiar, although Facebook says it no longer operates this monitor.

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‘This Person Does Not Exist’ Website Uses AI To Create Realistic Yet Horrifying Faces

A website that uses AI -- Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) -- to generate photos of people who do not exist is circulating on social media and forums this week. A news writeup adds: Every time the site is refreshed, a shockingly realistic -- but totally fake --picture of a person's face appears. Uber software engineer Phillip Wang created the page to demonstrate what GANs are capable of, and then posted it to the public Facebook group "Artificial Intelligence & Deep Learning" on Tuesday. The underlying code that made this possible, titled StyleGAN, was written by Nvidia and featured in a paper that has yet to be peer-reviewed. This exact type of neural network has the potential to revolutionize video game and 3D-modeling technology, but, as with almost any kind of technology, it could also be used for more sinister purposes.

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Developers Accuse Sony of ‘Playing Favorites’ With PS4’s Cross-Platform Support

After years of fighting the idea, Sony announced last September it is finally bringing "cross-platform gameplay, progression, and commerce" to the PlayStation Network, with Fortnite as the first example. Months later, the company's efforts have yet to gain wide traction and now we may have identified the bottleneck: Sony. Several major third-party developers have accused the company of standing in the way of letting the PS4 versions of their games play nicely with other platforms. ArsTechnica reports: "We just launched Wargroove with crossplay between PC, Switch, and Xbox," Chucklefish CEO Finn "Tiy" Brice wrote on the ResetEra forums. "We made many requests for crossplay (both through our [Sony] account manager and directly with higher-ups) all the way up until release month. We were told in no uncertain terms that it was not going to happen." Brice's comments came days after new Hi-Rez Studios CEO Stew Chisam tweeted at Sony that the studio was "ready to go when you are" for cross-play on Smite, Paladins, and Realm Royale. "It's time to stop playing favorites and tear down the crossplay/progression wall for everyone," he said. In a follow-up tweet, Chisam explained that Xbox/Switch cross-play has led to a direct improvement in the Paladins online user experience, including reduced wait times, more balanced matchmaking, and fewer "bad" matches overall. Brice's comments in particular come in direct response (and contradiction) to a recent Game Informer interview in which Sony Interactive Entertainment chairman Shawn Layden said that cross-play was open to pretty much any PS4 developer that wants it.

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JPMorgan Chase Announces JPM Coin, Becomes First Big US Bank With Own Cryptocurrency

J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon called bitcoin a fraud in September 2017 and said, "You can't have a business where people can invent a currency out of thin air and think that people who are buying it are really smart." By January 2018 he had walked the remarks back but said he still was "not interested that much in the subject at all." In February 2018, J.P. Morgan called cryptocurrencies "risk factors" to its business, something it never previously said. And now J.P. Morgan has become the first U.S. bank to offer its own cryptocurrency. From a report: But don't expect it to become an investment vehicle -- at least for now. The cryptocurrency, called "JPM Coin," is intended for the bank's wholesale payments business that moves $6 trillion around the world daily. As long-time former banker and now cryptocurrency industry figure Alan Silbert said of Dimon in a January 2018 tweet, "Backpedaling is the first step in the program towards walking the path."

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Amazon Pulls Out of Planned New York City Campus

As expected, Amazon said on Thursday that it was canceling plans to build a corporate campus in New York City [The link may be paywalled; alternative source]. From a report: The company had planned to build a sprawling complex in Long Island City, Queens, in exchange for nearly $3 billion in state and city incentives. But the deal had run into fierce opposition from local lawmakers who criticized providing subsidies to one of the world's richest companies. Amazon said the deal would have created more than 25,000 jobs.

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The Internet, Divided Between the US and China, Has Become a Battleground

The global internet is splitting in two. From a report: One side, championed in China, is a digital landscape where mobile payments have replaced cash. Smartphones are the devices that matter, and users can shop, chat, bank and surf the web with one app. The downsides: The government reigns absolute, and it is watching -- you may have to communicate with friends in code. And don't expect to access Google or Facebook. On the other side, in much of the world, the internet is open to all. Users can say what they want, mostly, and web developers can roll out pretty much anything. People accustomed to China's version complain this other internet can seem clunky. You must toggle among apps to chat, shop, bank and surf the web. Some websites still don't seem to be designed with smartphones in mind. The two zones are beginning to clash with the advent of the superfast new generation of mobile technology called 5G. China aims to be the biggest provider of gear underlying the networks, and along with that it is pushing client countries to adopt its approach to the web -- essentially urging some to use versions of the "Great Firewall" that Beijing uses to control its internet and contain the West's influence. Battles are popping up around the world as Chinese tech giants try to use their market power at home to expand abroad, something they've largely failed to do so far. Some Silicon Valley executives worry the divergence risks giving Chinese companies an advantage in new technologies such as artificial intelligence, partly because they face fewer restrictions over privacy and data protection. Further reading: Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt Predicts the Internet Will Split in Two By 2028 -- and One Part Will Be Led By China.

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Africa’s Black Panthers Emerge From a Century in the Shadows

An anonymous reader shares a report: It's a scientific coup to warm the heart of any superhero fan: the first documented sightings of a black panther in Africa in about 100 years [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source], not far from where Marvel places the fictional setting of its Oscar-nominated "Black Panther." A team from the Institute for Conservation Research of the San Diego Zoo Global and the Loisaba Conservancy in Kenya confirmed the existence of black leopards -- as the animals are also known -- in Laikipia County, an area north of Nairobi, Kenya's capital. "It is certain black panthers have been there all along, but good footage that could confirm it has always been absent until now," Nicholas Pilfold, a biologist at the San Diego institute, said in an Instagram post. "Black panthers are uncommon, only about 11 percent of leopards globally are black," he added. "But black panthers in Africa are extremely rare."

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Open Source Project Aims To Make Ubuntu Usable on Arm-Powered Windows Laptops

A group of programmers and device hackers are working to bring proper support for Ubuntu to Arm-powered Windows laptops, starting with first-generation Snapdragon 835 systems, like the HP Envy x2 and Asus NovaGo. From a report: The aarch64-laptops project provides prebuilt images for the aforementioned notebook PCs, as well as the Lenovo Miix 630. Although Ubuntu and other Linux distributions support aarch64 (ARMv8) by default, various obstacles including the design and configuration of Qualcomm Snapdragon processors make these default images not practically usable. The aarch64-laptops project developers are aiming to address these difficulties, though work is still ongoing. Presently, the TouchPad does not work properly on the Asus, with all three lacking proper support for on-board storage and Wi-Fi, which rely on UFS support. According to their documentation, this is being worked on upstream.

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Man With 3-D-Printed Gun Had Hit List of Lawmakers, US Says

A Dallas man was sentenced to eight years in prison on Wednesday after the authorities caught him with a partially 3-D-printed rifle and what federal prosecutors described as a hit list of lawmakers in his backpack. From a report: The man, Eric Gerard McGinnis, had been under a court order that prohibited him from possessing a firearm when he was discovered to have had the partially printed AR-15-style rifle in July 2017, according to a statement from the United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Texas. Mr. McGinnis, 43, was charged with possession of an unregistered firearm and possession of ammunition by a prohibited person, prosecutors said. A jury later convicted him on both counts. Prosecutors said in their statement that police officers had arrested Mr. McGinnis after hearing three shots he had apparently fired in a wooded area just outside of Dallas. They also discovered a list in his backpack labeled "9/11/2001 list of American Terrorists." The list included the office and home addresses of "several federal lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican," the statement said. Prosecutors did not reveal the names on Mr. McGinnis's list, but at the sentencing hearing on Wednesday they disclosed that a forensic analysis of his electronic devices suggested that Mr. McGinnis "had a strong interest" in James T. Hodgkinson, the man who the authorities say shot and wounded Representative Steve Scalise and several others at a congressional baseball practice in June 2017.

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FCC Chairman Warns of ‘Regulatory Intervention’ as He Criticizes Carriers’ Anti-Robocall Plans

The Federal Communications Commission will consider "regulatory intervention" if the major telecommunications carriers don't set up a system this year to stop spoofed robocalls, FCC chairman Ajit Pai said Wednesday. "It's time for carriers to implement robust caller ID authentication," Pai said in a statement, noting that some companies have already committed to carrying out protocols, known as the SHAKEN/STIR framework, in 2019. A report adds: Pai sent letters to major wireless carriers in November demanding that they adopt industry-wide frameworks to crackdown on the practice of "spoofing," where robocallers mask a call's origin with a fraudulent number on their caller ID. On Wednesday, the FCC chair followed up with another demand that they implement caller authentication systems this year and a threat over the repercussions if they don't comply. You can read responses from carriers FCC's website.

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Left To Their Own Devices, Pricing Algorithms Resort To Collusion

Reader schwit1 shares a report: When you're browsing online, who sets the prices? An algorithm, most likely. A study from 2015 showed that a third of all items on Amazon [PDF] had prices set by an algorithm, and chances are that percentage has only risen. A new study shows how easy it would be for price-setting algorithms to learn to collude with each other and keep prices at a disadvantage for customers. This sort of collusion would stem from a certain type of algorithm, the researchers say. Reinforcement algorithms learn through trial and error. In the simplest terms, a walking robot would take a step, fall, and try again. These algorithms have often been used to teach algorithms to win games like Go. "From the antitrust standpoint," say professors Emilio Calvano, Giacomo Calzolari, and others from the University of Bologna in Italy, "the concern is that these autonomous pricing algorithms may independently discover that if they are to make the highest possible profit, they should avoid price wars. That is, they may learn to collude even if they have not been specifically instructed to do so, and even if they do not communicate with one another."

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Most Online ‘Terms of Service’ Are Incomprehensible To Adults, Study Finds

Two law professors analyzed the sign-in terms and conditions of 500 popular US websites, including Google and Facebook, and found that more than 99 percent of them were "unreadable," far exceeding the level most American adults read at, but are still enforced. From a report: According to a new paper published on SSRN (Social Science Research Network), the average readability level of the agreements reviewed by the researchers was comparable to articles in academic journals. "While consumers are legally expected or presumed to read their contracts, businesses are not required to write readable ones. This asymmetry -- and its potential consequences -- puzzled us," wrote co-author Samuel Becher, a law professor at Victoria University of Wellington, in an email to Motherboard.

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NASA’s Mars Rover Opportunity Concludes a 15-Year Mission

For more than 14 years, the Opportunity rover crawled up and down craters, snapped pictures of a strange landscape and revealed surprising glimpses into the distant past of Mars. On Wednesday, NASA announced that Opportunity, the longest-lived robot ever sent from Earth to the surface of another planet, is dead. The New York Times: "It is therefore that I am standing here with a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude that I declare the Opportunity mission is complete," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science. That ends a mission of unexpected endurance: it was designed to last only three months. Opportunity provided scientists a close-up view of Mars that they had never seen: finely layered rocks that preserved ripples of flowing water several billion years ago, a prerequisite for life. The steady stream of photographs and data from Opportunity -- as well as its twin, Spirit, which survived until 2010 -- also brought Mars closer to people on Earth. Because the rovers continued so much longer than expected, NASA has now had a continuous robotic presence on Mars for more than 15 years. That streak seems likely to continue for many more years. A larger, more capable rover, Curiosity, arrived in 2012, and NASA is planning to launch another in 2020. Live telecast here.

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Former Apple Lawyer Who Was Supposed To Keep Employees From Insider Trading Has Been Charged With Insider Trading

The SEC Wednesday charged a former Apple executive with insider trading. From a report: Gene Levoff, senior director of corporate law and corporate secretary until September, "traded on material nonpublic information about Apple's earnings three times during 2015 and 2016," according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey. "Levoff also had a previous history of insider trading, having traded on Apple's material nonpublic information at least three additional times in 2011 and 2012. For the trading in 2015 and 2016, Levoff profited and avoided losses of approximately $382,000," the complaint says. Levoff's position at Apple granted him insider access to not-yet-public earnings results and briefings on iPhone sales, the complaint says. On more than one occasion, he disobeyed the company's "blackout" period for stock transactions, selling or buying stock worth tens of millions of dollars, according to the SEC.

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China and India Lead the Way in Greening

hackingbear writes: The world is literally a greener place than it was twenty years ago, and data from NASA satellites has revealed a counterintuitive source for much of this new foliage. A new study shows that China and India -- the world's most populous countries -- are leading the increase in greening on land. The effect comes mostly from ambitious tree-planting programs in China and intensive agriculture in both countries. Ranga Myneni of Boston University and colleagues first detected the greening phenomenon in satellite data from the mid-1990s, but they did not know whether human activity was a chief cause. The research team found that global green leaf area has increased by 5 percent since the early 2000s, an area equivalent to all of the Amazon rainforests. At least 25 percent of that gain came in China. "China and India account for one-third of the greening, but contain only 9 percent of the planet's land area covered in vegetation," said lead author Chi Chen of Boston University. "That is a surprising finding, considering the general notion of land degradation in populous countries from overexploitation." China's outsized contribution to the global greening trend comes in large part from its programs to conserve and expand forests (about 42 percent of the greening contribution). These programs were developed in an effort to reduce the effects of soil erosion, air pollution, and climate change.

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You Can Now Run Windows 10 on the Raspberry Pi 3

Raspberry Pi is finally ready for the full Windows 10 experience. From a report: A new installer lets you put Windows 10 on Arm, including the Pi. And it's made by the same people who got Windows 10 on Arm onto Lumia 950 and 950 XL handset. You can find the Github page here, in which developer Jose Manuel Nieto Sanchez call the tool "super easy to use" and "no-hassle." It requires a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B or B+, a microSD card (he recommends an A1 rating) and a Windows 10ARM64 image, which is linked to from the page where you get the download instructions.

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Swiss E-voting Trial Offers $150,000 in Bug Bounties To Hackers

The Swiss government is offering bug bounties of up to CHF 50,000 (around $50,000) to anyone who can expose vulnerabilities in its internet-based e-voting system in a test later this month. From a report: In total, 150,000 CHF (around $150,000) will be up for grabs for any white hat hackers who register for the "Public Intrusion Test" (PIT). The Swiss Post system will be open for a dummy election between February 24th and March 24th, the length of a typical Swiss federal vote, during which time any registered "white hat" hackers will be free to discover and report vulnerabilities. This PIT comes as the Swiss government is planning to expand its e-voting capabilities by October 2019 to two thirds of the 26 cantons that make up the Swiss Confederation. The country has conducted more than 300 trials of e-voting systems over the past 14 years, but current rules limit the amount of electronic votes to 10 percent of the total for referendums and 30 percent for constitutional amendments. However, the expansion plans have been met by opposition by politicians who claim current e-voting systems are insecure, expensive, and prone to manipulation.

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Amazon Wants Alexa To Read Blog Posts and Broadcast Church Sermons

Amazon's Alexa Skills Blueprints are free online templates that let you create custom Alexa tricks without needing to code. Now, the online retailer is giving those blueprints some new tricks of their own. From a report: Announced in a blog post Wednesday morning, the newest Skill Blueprints are "built specifically for content creators, bloggers, and organizations so they can reach anyone with an Alexa-enabled device." Skills created with any of Amazon's blueprints can now be submitted to Amazon for certification and publication in the Alexa app's Skills Store in the US. "Keep your skill personal to Alexa-enabled devices associated with your Amazon account, share it with friends and family, or publish it so anyone can discover, use and review your skill," Amazon says. That open approach might help bolster the number of Alexa skills available in the Alexa app.

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Google Plans Cheaper Smartphone To Draw Users Into Internet Empire

Google plans to unveil its first lower-priced smartphone this year as part of an aggressive push into hardware that it hopes will draw more users into its ecosystem, Nikkei Asian Review reported Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter. From a report: The U.S. internet giant is moving quickly to exploit the troubles currently besetting Apple, which has suffered disappointing sales of its new premium iPhone as consumers migrate to cheaper models and global smartphone sales tumble, industry sources say. Google's new smartphone will be its first non-premium model aimed at price-sensitive customers and those in emerging markets. It is expected to be priced lower than Apple's cheapest iPhone, the XR, which starts at $749. The latest model in Google's own Pixel range, released last October, started at $799. Midrange to highend phones are priced at between $150 and $700, while low end models sell for less than $150, industry sources said. The new phone will be the spearhead of Google's drive to expand the hardware using its operating systems. New products planned for this year include smart speakers, wearables and web cameras, sources familiar with the company's plans told the Nikkei Asian Review. Google also plans to launch a new premium phone in its Pixel range, as usual.

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Favourite Player’s Injured? Get a Refund

An anonymous reader shares a report: Any sports fan will know, or at least appreciate, the disappointment of going to watch your team only to find that a top player has been left out. But what if you could pay an extra bit of money for your ticket -- say, 5-15% on top of the normal price -- and insure the cost of your ticket against such a situation? If your favourite player does not play, for whatever reason, you get your money back. That's the intriguing premise behind Fansure, a start-up currently based in Belmont, California. When I spoke to the firm's marketing manager, Tara Fan, she explained it in the context of a basketball game: "Some tickets are $300-$400 to go to a game. Typically, you're paying that to see someone like LeBron James, or Kevin Durant, or someone like that." It works like this: You buy the ticket as normal. Then, at least 48 hours before the game, you go to Fansure, and you pay them an added percentage. The amount reflects what Fansure thinks is the likelihood of your selected player appearing or not. Someone like Durant for instance, rarely misses a game for the Golden State Warriors and so the premium would be relatively low. "It would only be, I would say, 8% of your ticket price," Ms Fan explained. "It's like... $30 to cover a $400 ticket. And so that's where the benefit rolls out." If Durant plays, you've wasted your $30, which Fansure pockets. If he doesn't, you still get to go and enjoy the game, and Fansure will refund you the entire amount of the ticket (but keeps the bit you paid for insurance).

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How Hard is it To Have a Conversation on Twitter? So Hard Even the CEO Can’t Do It.

An anonymous reader shares a report: Twitter wants to be the place for the most important public conversations online. It still has some serious work to do. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Recode co-founder Kara Swisher agreed to conduct an interview Tuesday on Twitter, and it had all the makings of a great read: The CEO of one of the most influential and controversial tech platforms in the world taking questions from one of the industry's most ferocious reporters. The only problem? No one could follow along. Despite the public interview, and a dedicated hashtag (#karajack) for the event, it didn't take long before the dozens of tweets between the two started to get confusing. They were listed out of order, other users started chiming in, and there was no way to properly follow the conversation thread. Swisher's questions about Twitter's complex abuse policies, and Dorsey's subsequent responses, were floating around my timeline along with the regular tech news and opinions I always look at. If you wanted to find a permanent thread of the chat, you had to visit one of either Kara or Jack's pages and continually refresh. It made for a difficult and confusing experience. Dorsey even admitted so himself. "I am going to start a NEW thread to make it easy for people to follow (@waltmossberg just texted me that it is a "chaotic hellpit")," Swisher tweeted, referencing Recode's other co-founder, the now-retired Walt Mossberg. "Ok. Definitely not easy to follow the conversation," Dorsey replied. "Exactly why we are doing this. Fixing stuff like this will help I believe."

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Square CEO Jack Dorsey Says Bitcoin’s Lightning Is Coming To Cash App

An anonymous reader shares a report: A bitcoin scaling solution called the lightning network may soon come to Square's Cash App for mobile payments. Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey, an investor in the bitcoin-oriented startup Lightning Labs, recently announced during an interview with podcaster Stephan Livera that there are plans to integrate the scaling technology with Square's mobile app. "It's not an 'if,' it's more of a 'when,' and how do we make sure that we're getting the speed that we need and the efficiency," Dorsey told Livera, adding: "We don't think it stops at buying and selling [bitcoin]. We do want to help make happen the currency aspect."

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Ubisoft And Mozilla Announce AI Coding Assistant Clever-Commit

Video game publisher Ubisoft is working with Mozilla to develop an AI coding assistant called Clever-Commit, head of Ubisoft La Forge Yves Jacquier announced during DICE Summit 2019 on Tuesday. From a report: Clever-Commit reportedly helps programmers evaluate whether or not a code change will introduce a new bug by learning from past bugs and fixes. The prototype, called Commit-Assistant, was tested using data collected during game development, Ubisoft said, and it's already contributing to some major AAA titles. The publisher is also working on integrating it into other brands. "Working with Mozilla on Clever-Commit allows us to support other programming languages and increase the overall performances of the technology. Using this tech in our games and Firefox will allow developers to be more productive as they can spend more time creating the next feature rather than fixing bugs. Ultimately, this will allow us to create even better experiences for our gamers and increase the frequency of our game updates," said Mathieu Nayrolles, technical architect, data scientist, and member of the Technological Group at Ubisoft Montreal.

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‘You’ve Won $72 Million and a Mercedes Benz’: Phone Scammer Gets 6 Years in Prison After He Made the Mistake of Calling William Webster, Ex-FBI and CIA Director

Reader McGruber writes: The Washington Post has an amusing story about phone scammer Keniel A. Thomas, who made the mistake of calling William H. Webster. Thomas told 90-year-old Webster that he had won $72 million and a new Mercedes Benz in the Mega Millions lottery, but that he needed to send $50,000 in taxes and fees to get his money. Thomas also told Webster he'd done his research on the top winner. "You're a great man," the scammer cajoled. "You was a judge, you was an attorney, you was a basketball player, you were in the U.S. Navy, homeland security. I know everything about you. I even seen your photograph, and I seen your precious wife." Thomas's research didn't turn up everything. He didn't learn that the man he was calling was the former director of the FBI and the CIA, the only person ever to hold both jobs. And he didn't know that Webster would call him back the next day with the FBI listening in. Thomas was arrested in late 2017, after he landed in New York on a flight from Jamaica. He pleaded guilty in October and faced a prison term of 33 to 41 months under federal sentencing guidelines. But with Webster and his wife in the courtroom, Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell on Friday added another 2 years to Thomas's sentence, giving him nearly six years to serve. Howell said that the scam qualified as "organized criminal activity" and that Thomas posed "a threat to a family member of the victim."

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In China, Some Teachers Are Using AI To Grade Homework

A Beijing-based online education start-up has developed an artificial intelligence-powered maths app that can check children's arithmetic problems through the simple snap of a photo. Based on the image and its internal database, the app automatically checks whether the answers are right or wrong. From a report: Known as Xiaoyuan Kousuan, the free app launched by the Tencent Holdings-backed online education firm Yuanfudao, has gained increasing popularity in China since its launch a year ago and claims to have checked an average of 70 million arithmetic problems per day, saving users around 40,000 hours of time in total. Yuanfudao is also trying to build the country's biggest education-related database generated from the everyday experiences of real students. Using this, the six-year-old company -- which has a long line of big-name investors including Warburg Pincus, IDG Capital and Matrix Partners China -- aims to reinvent how children are taught in China. "By checking nearly 100 million problems every day, we have developed a deep understanding of the kind of mistakes students make when facing certain problems," said Li Xin, co-founder of Yuanfudao -- which means "ape tutor" in Chinese -- in a recent interview. "The data gathered through the app can serve as a pillar for us to provide better online education courses."

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Samsung’s Android Browser Hits 1 Billion Downloads, More Than Firefox and Opera Combined

An anonymous reader shares a report: Samsung's mobile internet browser, if you ask its users, is pretty great. A lot of folks even say it's better than Chrome. That appreciation has manifested in the app hitting a very exclusive Play Store milestone: Samsung Internet Browser now has more than one billion installs. That impressive figure puts the browser's install base ahead of those of Firefox and Opera combined. Now, there are a couple of caveats here: for one, Samsung's browser comes pre-loaded on Samsung devices, of which each activation counts as an "install." What's more, both Firefox's and Opera's Play Store listings report that each browser has "100,000,000+" installs, which, because of the somewhat silly way figures are reported on Android's app marketplace, means their combined installs total anywhere between 200 million and 999,999,998. Still, though, Samsung's browser is on more devices than the both of 'em.

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Apple Fails To Block Porn and Gambling ‘Enterprise’ Apps

Facebook and Google were far from the only developers openly abusing Apple's Enterprise Certificate program meant for companies offering employee-only apps. A TechCrunch investigation uncovered a dozen hardcore pornography apps and a dozen real-money gambling apps that escaped Apple's oversight. From the report: The developers passed Apple's weak Enterprise Certificate screening process or piggybacked on a legitimate approval, allowing them to sidestep the App Store and Cupertino's traditional safeguards designed to keep iOS family friendly. Without proper oversight, they were able to operate these vice apps that blatantly flaunt Apple's content policies. The situation shows further evidence that Apple has been neglecting its responsibility to police the Enterprise Certificate program, leading to its exploitation to circumvent App Store rules and forbidden categories.

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Lufthansa Sues Passenger Who Missed His Flight in an Apparent Bid To Clamp Down on ‘Hidden City’ Trick

Airline Lufthansa has sued a passenger, who didn't show up for the last leg of his ticketed journey, in an apparent bid to clamp down on "hidden city" trick. From a report: The practice involves passengers leaving their journey at a layover point, instead of making a final connection. For instance, someone flying from New York to San Francisco could book a cheaper trip from New York to Lake Tahoe with a layover in San Francisco and get off there, without bothering to take the last leg of the flight. According to a court document, an unnamed male passenger booked a return flight from Oslo to Seattle, which had a layover in Frankfurt. The passenger used all legs of the outbound flight, but did not catch the Frankfurt to Oslo return flight. He instead flew on a separate Lufthansa reservation from Frankfurt to Berlin. The report adds that a Berlin district court dismissed the case in December last year, but the airline company is now appealing that verdict. Worth noting here that United Airlines has also tried its luck on this front -- to no dice.

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Xiaomi’s Popular Electric Scooter M365 Can Be Hacked To Speed Up or Stop

The fleets of electric scooters that have inundated cities are alarming enough as is. Now add cybersercurity concerns to the list: Researchers from the mobile security firm Zimperium are warning that Xiaomi's popular M365 scooter model has a worrying bug. From a report: The flaw could allow an attacker to remotely take over any of the scooters to control crucial things like, ahem, acceleration and braking. Rani Idan, Zimperium's director of software research, says he found and was able to exploit the flaw within hours of assessing the M365's security. His analysis found that the scooters contain three software components: battery management, firmware that coordinates between hardware and software, and a Bluetooth module that lets users communicate with their scooter via a smartphone app. The latter leaves the devices woefully exposed. Idan quickly found that he could connect to the scooter via Bluetooth without being asked to enter a password or otherwise authenticate. From there, he could go a step further and install firmware on the scooter without the system checking that this new software was an official, trusted Xiaomi update. This means that an attacker could easily put malware on a scooter, giving herself full command over it. "I was able to control any of the scooter features without authentication and install malicious firmware," Idan says. "An attacker could brake suddenly, or accelerate a person into traffic, or whatever the worst case scenario you can imagine."

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IBM’s AI Loses To a Human Debater

The subject under debate was whether the government should subsidize preschools. But the real question was whether a machine called IBM Debater could out-argue a top-ranked human debater. The answer, on Monday night, was no. CNET: Harish Natarajan, the grand finalist at the 2016 World Debating Championships, swayed more among an audience of hundreds toward his point of view than the AI-powered IBM Debater did toward its. Humans, at least those equipped with with degrees from Oxford and Cambridge universities, can still prevail when it comes to the subtleties of knowledge, persuasion and argument. It wasn't a momentous headline victory like we saw when IBM's Deep Blue computers beat the best human chess player in 1997 or Google's AlphaGo vanquish the world's best human players of the ancient game of Go in 2017. But IBM still showed that artificial intelligence can be useful in situations where there's ambiguity and debate, not just a simple score to judge who won a game. "What really struck me is the potential value of IBM Debater when [combined] with a human being," Natarajan said after the debate. IBM's AI was able to dig through mountains of information and offer useful context for that knowledge, he said.

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Tobacco Use is Soaring Among US Kids, Driven By E-cigarettes

Public health officials Monday said there's a growing epidemic of tobacco products currently used by children -- 4.9 million high school and middle school kids used tobacco products in 2018 up from 3.6 million in 2017 -- mainly due to a growth in e-cigarette usage. From a report: For the fifth year in a row, e-cigs were the most popular product amongst high school students, but in 2018 it reached unprecedented epidemic levels, with the addition of another 1.5 million kids, said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Current users" are defined as people who've used a tobacco product in past 30 days. "Frequent users" are defined as people who've used the product for more than 20 out of the past 30 days.

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Software Engineer Loses Life Savings in Quadriga Imbroglio

Tong Zou wasn't a stereotypical crypto bro bent on accumulating flashy trophies such as Lamborghinis when he deposited his life savings into Quadriga CX's digital exchange. The 30-year-old software engineer, who'd been working in California for seven years, just wanted to save a few bucks on transfer fees after deciding to move to Vancouver. It proved to be a C$560,000 ($422,000) mistake. From a report: "It's all my savings, so I'm just living on what little I have left and trying to start over," Zou said in a phone interview Friday from Vancouver, where he has been living out of an AirBnB for the past month. "It pretty much took everything away from me." Zou is one of Quadriga's 115,000 clients who are out of luck after the sudden death of the firm's founder left C$190 million in cryptocurrencies protected by his passwords unretrievable. The exchange has halted operations and was granted protection from creditors on Feb. 5 in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax.

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Young People Who Play Video Games Have Higher Moral Reasoning Skills

An anonymous reader shares a report: Young people who play video games, including violent titles, display more developed moral reasoning skills than their non-gaming peers, a study has found. Researchers from Bournemouth University asked 166 adolescents aged between 11 and 18-years old about their video game habits and questions designed to measure their moral development -- the thought process behind determining what is right or wrong. The children and teenagers who said they played more video games from a wide variety of genres had increased moral reasoning scores, including titles containing violent content. Violent games were found to have a positive relationship with moral reasoning while mature content was more likely to produce a negative one, the report published in published in journal Frontiers in Psychology found.

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Hawaii Lawmakers Chewing on Ban of Plastic Utensils, Bottles and Food Containers

Plastic bags are out. Plastic straws are on their way out. Now Hawaii lawmakers want to take things a big step further. From a report: They're considering an outright ban on all sorts of single-use plastics common in the food and beverage industry, from plastic bottles to plastic utensils to plastic containers. Senate Bill 522 has already passed through two committees and is on its way to two more. Supporters say it's an ambitious and broad measure that would position Hawaii as a leader in the nation -- and ensure that Hawaii's oceans have a fighting chance as the global plastic pollution problem worsens. But others worry about the practicality of such a proposal.

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It’s the Real World — With Google Maps Layered on Top

Google has started to roll out augmented reality navigation feature in its Maps app for some users. The company told the Wall Street Journal that the walking-focused feature will be available shortly, but only to Local Guides (community reviewers) at first. The feature will need "more testing" before it's available to everyone else, Google said. Still, this suggests AR route-finding is much closer to becoming a practical reality. Google Maps uses GPS to get a basic idea of where you are, and then relies on the camera to get a much more exact location with 3D arrows hovering over the places you need to turn. Notably, though, Google doesn't want you to rely too heavily on AR to get around.

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Developer Releases Windows 95 OS as an App For Windows 10, macOS and Linux

Mark Wycislik-Wilson, writing for BetaNews: Last year, developer Felix Rieseberg released Windows 95 as an Electron app to let 90s computer users relive their younger years. Now he's back with a second version of the Windows 95 app, and it's even better than ever -- gaming classics such as Doom and Wolfenstein3D are now included, for starters! Based on the Electron framework, Windows 95 2.0 is written in JavaScript, and is essentially a 500MB standalone virtual machine. The original release was lacking in a number of areas -- such as no sound or internet access. This second release is described as a "big update" and includes a web browser in the form of Netscape Navigator 2.0.

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Mars One is Dead

The company that aimed to put humanity on the red planet has met an unfortunate, but wholly-expected end. Engadget reports: Mars One Ventures, the for-profit arm of the Mars One mission was declared bankrupt back in January, but wasn't reported until a keen-eyed Redditor found the listing. It was the brainchild of Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp, previously the founder of green energy company Ampyx Power. Lansdorp's aim was to start a company that could colonize one of our nearest neighbors. Mars One was split into two ventures, the non-profit Mars One Foundation and the for-profit Mars One Ventures. The Swiss-based Ventures AG was declared bankrupt by a Basel court on January 15th and was, at the time, valued at almost $100 million. Mars One Ventures PLC, the UK-registered branch, is listed as a dormant company with less than $25,000 in its accounts. There is no data available on the non-profit Mars One Foundation, which funded itself by charging its commercial partner licensing fees. Speaking to Engadget, Bas Lansdorp said that the Foundation is still operating, but won't be able to act without further investment. Lansdorp declined to give further comment beyond saying that he was working with other parties "to find a solution."

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Please Stop Using Internet Explorer, Microsoft Says

Microsoft cybersecurity expert Chris Jackson recently published a post on the official Windows IT Pro blog, titled "The perils of using Internet Explorer as your default browser." Jackson urges users that it's time to stop using its old web browser, a product Microsoft officially discontinued in 2015. From a report: In his post, Jackson explains how Microsoft customers still ask him Internet Explorer related questions for their business. The fact of the matter is that while most average internet users have moved on to Google Chrome, Firefox, or Microsoft's Edge, some businesses are still working with older web apps or sites that were designed for Internet Explorer. Instead of updating its tech, many companies have chosen to just keep using the various enterprise compatibility modes of Microsoft's old web browser. But, Jackson says "enough is enough." It's time to event stop calling Internet Explorer a web browser.

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Where Does a Tip To an Amazon Driver Go? In Some Cases, Toward the Driver’s Base Pay

Amazon at times dips into the tips earned by contracted delivery drivers to cover their promised pay, a Los Angeles Times review of emails and receipts reveals. From the report: Amazon guarantees third-party drivers for its Flex program a minimum of $18 to $25 per hour, but the entirety of that payment doesn't always come from the company. If Amazon's contribution doesn't reach the guaranteed wage, the e-commerce giant makes up the difference with tips from customers, according to documentation shared by five drivers. In emails to drivers, Amazon acknowledges it can use "any supplemental earnings" to meet the promised minimum should the company's own contribution fall short. "We add any supplemental earnings required to meet our commitment that delivery partners earn $18-$25 per hour," the company wrote in multiple emails reviewed by The Times. Only drivers who deliver for Amazon's grocery service or its Prime Now offering -- which brings household goods to customers in two hours or less -- can receive tips through the company's app. Amazon insists that drivers receive the entirety of their tips but declined to answer questions from The Times about whether it uses those tips to help cover the drivers' base pay.

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Facebook Acquires Visual Shopping Startup To Bolster AI Work

Facebook says it has acquired visual shopping and artificial intelligence startup GrokStyle in a move to bolster the social-media company's own AI work. From a report: GrokStyle's technology, which was integrated into Ikea's mobile app, was simple in practice. A user takes a picture of a piece of furniture and the technology would match it to similar products that could be purchased online. On its website, GrokStyle said it is "winding down" its business, but that it is "moving on as a team" along with its technology. The company didn't disclose it's joining Facebook.

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Mars Lander Seismometer Gets Protective Shield

Nasa's InSight Mars lander has placed a domed shield over its seismometer, completing that instrument's deployment. From a report: The seismometer will look for evidence of ongoing seismic activity on the red planet to provide data about the deep interior of Mars. This will help scientists determine how the planet formed. The seismometer, called the seismic experiment for interior structure (Seis), is the lander's highest priority science instrument. It is needed to complete about three-quarters of the mission's scientific objectives. The spacecraft touched down on 26 November 2018. On 19 December, a robotic arm picked up the instrument from its storage position and placed it on the martian surface about 1.6 metres away from the spacecraft.

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Finland Basic Income Trial Left People ‘Happier But Jobless’

Giving jobless people in Finland a basic income for two years did not lead them to find work, researchers said. From a report: From January 2017 until December 2018, 2,000 unemployed Finns got a monthly flat payment of $685. The aim was to see if a guaranteed safety net would help people find jobs, and support them if they had to take insecure gig economy work. While employment levels did not improve, participants said they felt happier and less stressed. When it launched the pilot scheme back in 2017, Finland became the first European country to test out the idea of an unconditional basic income. It was run by the Social Insurance Institution (Kela), a Finnish government agency, and involved 2,000 randomly-selected people on unemployment benefits. It immediately attracted international interest - but these results have now raised questions about the effectiveness of such schemes.

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Facing Opposition, Amazon Reconsiders NY Headquarters Site: Report

Amazon.com is reconsidering its plan to bring 25,000 jobs to a new campus in New York City following a wave of opposition from local politicians, The Washington Post reported Friday [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source], citing two people familiar with the company's thinking. From the report: The company has not leased or purchased office space for the project, making it easy to withdraw its commitment. Unlike in Virginia -- where elected leaders quickly passed an incentive package for a separate headquarters facility -- final approval from New York state is not expected until 2020. Tennessee officials have also embraced Amazon's plans to bring 5,000 jobs to Nashville, which this week approved $15.2 million in road, sewer and other improvements related to that project. Amazon executives have had internal discussions recently to reassess the situation in New York and explore alternatives, said the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about the company's perspective.

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Feeding an Appetite-Suppressing Human Drug To Mosquitos Make Them Lose Their Attraction To Blood By Around 80%: Study

From Nature magazine: Female Aedes aegypti, like other mosquito species, feed on blood to get the protein they need to produce their eggs, and spread diseases such as dengue in the process. But once the mosquitoes have had their blood fix, they stop biting until they've laid their eggs several days later. Leslie Vosshall, a neurobiologist at the Rockefeller University in New York City, wondered whether she could hijack this biological process to switch off a mosquito's appetite. Previous research had suggested that a mosquito's desire to feed is controlled by neuropeptides, molecules used by the nervous system to communicate. Vosshall and her team suspected that neuropeptide Y (NPY) receptors might be particularly important, because they form part of the molecular pathway involved in food-seeking behaviour for many animals -- including humans. Some human appetite-suppressant drugs already target the NPY receptors, so Vosshall decided to take a "completely zany" approach: feed these drugs to mosquitoes and see what happens. The method worked: mosquitoes that fed on a solution containing NPY-activating drugs were much less likely to approach a human-scented 'lure' than were the control group, and their appetites remained suppressed for two days. Further reading: A New Way to Keep Mosquitoes From Biting.

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AI Hears Your Anger in 1.2 Seconds

MIT Media Lab spinoff Affectiva's neural network, SoundNet, can classify anger from audio data in as little as 1.2 seconds regardless of the speaker's language -- just over the time it takes for humans to perceive anger. From a report: Affectiva's researchers describe it ("Transfer Learning From Sound Representations For Anger Detection in Speech") in a newly published paper [PDF] on the preprint server Arxiv.org. It builds on the company's wide-ranging efforts to establish emotional profiles from both speech and facial data, which this year spawned an AI in-car system codeveloped with Nuance that detects signs of driver fatigue from camera feeds. In December 2017, it launched the Speech API, which uses voice to recognize things like laughing, anger, and other emotions, along with voice volume, tone, speed, and pauses. SoundNet consists of a convolutional neural network -- a type of neural network commonly applied to analyzing visual imagery -- trained on a video dataset. To get it to recognize anger in speech, the team first sourced a large amount of general audio data -- two million videos, or just over a year's worth -- with ground truth produced by another model. Then, they fine-tuned it with a smaller dataset, IEMOCAP, containing 12 hours of annotated audiovisual emotion data including video, speech, and text transcriptions.

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Sprint Sues AT&T Over 5G Branding

Sprint Corp sued AT&T late on Thursday, saying it is misleading consumers into believing that they are using fifth generation wireless network, known as 5G, a technology that has not yet been widely deployed. From a report: AT&T customers are seeing "5G E" logo on their mobile devices in over 400 markets. Although users are still using 4G network, AT&T is calling it 5G Evolution, a faster version of its existing network and a first step on the road to 5G. 5G can offer data speeds up to 50 or 100 times faster than 4G networks.

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Attacking a Pay Wall That Hides Public Court Filings

The federal judiciary has built an imposing pay wall around its court filings, charging a preposterous 10 cents a page for electronic access to what are meant to be public records. A pending lawsuit could help tear that wall down. From a report: The costs of storing and transmitting data have plunged, approaching zero. By one estimate, the actual cost of retrieving court documents, including secure storage, is about one half of one ten-thousandth of a penny per page. But the federal judiciary charges a dime a page to use its service, called Pacer (for Public Access to Court Electronic Records). The National Veterans Legal Services Program and two other nonprofit groups filed a class action in 2016 seeking to recover what they said were systemic overcharges. "Excessive Pacer fees inhibit public understanding of the courts and thwart equal access to justice, erecting a financial barrier that many ordinary citizens are unable to clear," they wrote. The suit accuses the judicial system of using the fees it charges as a kind of slush fund, spending the money to buy flat-screen televisions for jurors, to finance a study of the Mississippi court system and to send notices in bankruptcy proceedings.

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Google Chrome 73 To Officially Support Multimedia Keys on Your Keyboard

Google Chrome 73, scheduled for release next month, will be the first version of Chrome that will officially support the multimedia keys that some users have on their desk and laptop keyboards, ZDNet reports. From the report: Support for multimedia keys will initially be available for Chrome on Chrome OS, macOS, and Windows, while support for Linux will come later (unspecified date). Users will be able to control both audio and video content played in Chrome, including skipping through playlists. Initial support is planned for multimedia keys such as "play," "pause," "previous track," "next track," "seek backward," and "seek forward." Key presses will be supported at the Chrome level, not the tab level, meaning that multimedia buttons will work regardless if the Chrome browser is in the operating system's foreground or background (minimized).

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Apple Releases iPhone Update To Fix Group FaceTime Eavesdropping Bug

Apple on Thursday released iOS 12.1.4, an iPhone update that fixes a Group FaceTime bug that allowed users to eavesdrop on each other. The update is a available for the iPhone 5S and later, iPad Air and later, and iPod touch 6th generation. From a report: Last week, Apple turned off Group FaceTime after a bug was identified that allowed iPhone users to call another device via the FaceTime video chat service and hear audio on the other end before the recipient had answered the call. It essentially turned any iPhone into a hot mic without the user's knowledge. Apple on Friday said it'd fixed the vulnerability on its servers and that it'd issue a software update to re-enable Group FaceTime. Apple also apologized to users who were affected and said it takes the security of its products "extremely seriously."

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Countries With Zero Rating Have More Expensive Wireless Broadband Than Countries Without It

A comprehensive multi-year study by the non-profit Epicenter.works, comparing the 30 member countries of the European Union (EU) on net neutrality enforcement, has found that zero rating business practices by wireless carriers have increased the cost of wireless data compared to countries without zero rating. From a report: This directly contradicts all of the assertions by major wireless carriers that their zero rating practices are "free data" for consumers. Based on the evidence, zero rating not only serves as a means to enhance ISPs' power over the Internet, but it's also how they charge consumers more money for wireless service. Zero rating was originally going to be banned by the FCC under the General Conduct Rule, but when the FCC changed leadership the agency promptly green lighted and encouraged the industry to engage in zero rating practices before it began its repeal of net neutrality.

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LibreOffice 6.2 Brings New Interfaces, Performance Improvements To the Open Source Office Suite

An anonymous reader shares a report: New interface styles and feature improvements are available in version 6.2 of LibreOffice -- the most popular open-source office suite -- released Thursday by The Document Foundation. As with any software update, bug fixes and feature enhancements are present, making this release a significant upgrade, particularly for users coming from Microsoft Office, or working with files created with those programs. LibreOffice now supports SVG-based icons for toolbars in the Breeze, Colibre, and Elementary icon sets as an experimental feature, to better support HiDPI displays increasingly found in notebook PCs. The Elementary icon set was also improved significantly, adding a 32px PNG version, and fixing inconsistencies between the 16, 24, and 32px versions, as well as adding more icons across the set to prevent reverting to defaults. In LibreOffice 6.2, the "Tabbed" interface is now available for Writer, Calc, Impress, and Draw, and is considered sufficiently stable to be a default option. This interface mimics the oft-maligned "Ribbon interface" in Office 2007. The "traditional" Office-style toolbar is default, though the Tabbed interface can be enabled through the "View > User Interface" menus.

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A Hole Opens Up Under Antarctic Glacier — Big Enough To Fit Two-Thirds of Manhattan

Scientists have discovered an enormous void under an Antarctic glacier, sparking concern that the ice sheet is melting faster than anyone had realized -- and spotlighting the dire threat posed by rising seas to coastal cities around the world, including New York City and Miami. From a report: The cavity under Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica is about six miles long and 1,000 feet deep -- representing the loss of 14 billion tons of ice. It was discovered after an analysis of data collected by Italian and German satellites, as well as NASA's Operation IceBridge, a program in which aircraft equipped with ice-penetrating radar fly over polar regions to study the terrain. The discovery is described in a paper published Jan. 30 in the journal Science Advances. The researchers expected to see significant loss of ice, but the scale of the void came as a shock.

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Microsoft Brings AI-Powered Background Blurring To Skype

A few months after adding background blurring to its Teams tool, Microsoft has brought the same option to Skype on the desktop. From a report: The feature serves two purposes. Firstly it helps to focus attention on the person that is speaking, but secondly -- and perhaps more importantly -- it hides any untidiness (or secrets) that may be going on behind the speaker. It's another push from Microsoft to move people away from Skype Classic to Skype 8. Background blurring makes use of artificial intelligence to pick out the subject of a video, having been trained to detect hair, hands and arms.

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Raspberry Pi Gets Its Own Brick-and-Mortar Retail Store

The Raspberry Pi, believe it or not, now has its very own retail store. From a report: Located on the first floor of the Grand Arcade in Cambridge, U.K., the Raspberry Pi Store is open through the day, every day, and sells everything from Raspberry Pi microcomputers and accessories, to branded coffee mugs, soft toys, and more. [...] Despite its popularity -- more than 19 million Raspberry Pi units have been sold since 2012 -- the Raspberry Pi still feels a little niche to merit its own dedicated retail store. Indeed, most people who would be interested in building their own electronic gadgets from scratch are likely well-versed in the wonders of online retail. But conversely, that is likely the same reason why the Raspberry Pi Foundation wants its own space in the physical retail realm: it needs a new audience.

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Apple Removes Useless ‘Do Not Track’ Feature From Latest Beta Versions of Safari

In the release notes for Safari 12.1, the new version of Apple's browser installed in iOS 12.2, Apple says that it is removing support for the "Do Not Track" feature, which is now outdated. From a news writeup: "Removed support for the expired Do Not Track standard to prevent potential use as a fingerprinting variable," the release note reads. The same feature was also removed from Safari Technology Preview today, Apple's experimental macOS browser, and it is not present in the macOS 10.14.4 betas. According to Apple, Do Not Track is "expired" and support is being eliminated to prevent its use as, ironically, a fingerprinting variable for tracking purposes. It is entirely up to the advertising companies to comply with the "Do Not Track" messaging, and it has no actual function beyond broadcasting a user preference.

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Facebook Ordered To Stop Combining WhatsApp and Instagram Data Without Consent in Germany; Company Says It Needs That Data To Fight Terrorism and Child Abuse

Facebook has been ordered to curb its data collection practices in Germany after a landmark ruling on Thursday that the world's largest social network abused its market dominance to gather information about users without their consent. From a report: The order applies to data collected by Facebook-owned platforms like WhatsApp and Instagram, but also third-party sources that Facebook uses to flesh out its advertising profiles, including those of non-users. The Bundeskartellamt, or Federal Cartel Office (FCO), has given Facebook one month to appeal the landmark decision, which comes after a three-year investigation. If the appeal fails, the tech company will have to ensure these data sources are not combined without consent within the next four months. Although the ruling only applies within Germany, the decision could influence regulators in other countries. Gizmodo adds: Facebook insists that combining all of that data is actually great. In fact, the company says, it's keeping everyone safe from stuff like terrorism and child abuse. From Facebook's statement this morning: "Facebook has always been about connecting you with people and information you're interested in. We tailor each person's Facebook experience so it's unique to you, and we use a variety of information to do this -- including the information you include on your profile, news stories you like or share and what other services share with us about your use of their websites and apps. Using information across our services also helps us protect people's safety and security, including, for example, identifying abusive behavior and disabling accounts tied to terrorism, child exploitation and election interference across both Facebook and Instagram."

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Google Now Pays More Money in EU Fines Than it Pays in Taxes

An anonymous reader writes: Google owner Alphabet has reported annual and quarterly revenues up again, largely on the back of increasing market share in online advertising. The company reported fourth quarter revenues up 22 per cent to $39.28 billion, while annual revenues were up 23 per cent to $136.8 billion. And the company also took the time to separate out "European Commission fines" in its consolidated statements of income in the company's accounts. These increased from $2.7 billion in 2017 to $5.1 billion in 2018, with a further 50 million euro already set to be added to the bill for its first quarter and 2019 accounts, thanks to French data protection authority CNIL.That fine compares to a provision for income taxes of just $4.2 billion for 2018, or 12 per cent of its pre-tax income. Net income for the full year increased by a 143 per cent from $12.67 billion to $30.74 billion thanks largely to a radically lower provision for income taxes - down from $14.5 billion to just $4.2 billion. The company attributed this tax boost down to the US Tax Act of 2017, which had depressed net income in 2017. This had "resulted in additional tax expense of $9.9 billion in the fourth quarter of 2017, primarily due to the one-time transition tax on accumulated foreign subsidiary earnings and deferred tax effects", the company claimed in its earnings release.

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Call for Retraction of 400 Scientific Papers On Organ Transplantation Amid Fears That Organs Came From Chinese Prisoners

A world-first study has called for the mass retraction of more than 400 scientific papers on organ transplantation, amid fears the organs were obtained unethically from Chinese prisoners. The Guardian reports: The Australian-led study exposes a mass failure of English language medical journals to comply with international ethical standards in place to ensure organ donors provide consent for transplantation. The study was published on Wednesday in the medical journal BMJ Open. Its author, the professor of clinical ethics Wendy Rogers, said journals, researchers and clinicians who used the research were complicit in "barbaric" methods of organ procurement. "There's no real pressure from research leaders on China to be more transparent," Rogers, from Macquarie University in Sydney, said. "Everyone seems to say, 'It's not our job.' The world's silence on this barbaric issue must stop." A report published in 2016 found a large discrepancy between official transplant figures from the Chinese government and the number of transplants reported by hospitals. While the government says 10,000 transplants occur each year, hospital data shows between 60,000 to 100,000 organs are transplanted each year. The report provides evidence that this gap is being made up by executed prisoners of conscience.

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‘The Fundamental Problem With Silicon Valley’s Favorite Growth Strategy’

Tim O'Reilly, writing for Quartz: The pursuit of monopoly has led Silicon Valley astray. Look no further than the race between Lyft and Uber to dominate the online ride-hailing market. Both companies are gearing up for their IPOs in the next few months. Street talk has Lyft shooting for a valuation between $15 and $30 billion dollars, and Uber valued at an astonishing $120 billion dollars. Neither company is profitable; their enormous valuations are based on the premise that if a company grows big enough and fast enough, profits will eventually follow. Most monopolies or duopolies develop over time, and have been considered dangerous to competitive markets; now they are sought after from the start and are the holy grail for investors. If LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and entrepreneur Chris Yeh's new book Blitzscaling is to be believed, the Uber-style race to the top (or the bottom, depending on your point of view) is the secret of success for today's technology businesses. Blitzscaling promises to teach techniques that are "the lightning fast path to building massively valuable companies." Hoffman and Yeh argue that in today's world, it's essential to "achieve massive scale at incredible speed" in order to seize the ground before competitors do. By their definition, blitzscaling (derived from the blitzkrieg or "lightning war" strategy of Nazi general Heinz Guderian) "prioritizes speed over efficiency," and risks "potentially disastrous defeat in order to maximize speed and surprise." Many of these businesses depend on network effects, which means that the company that gets to scale first is likely to stay on top. So, for startups, this strategy typically involves raising lots of capital and moving quickly to dominate a new market, even when the company's leaders may not know how they are going to make money in the long term. This premise has become doctrine in Silicon Valley. But is it correct? And is it good for society? I have my doubts. Imagine, for a moment, a world in which Uber and Lyft hadn't been able to raise billions of dollars in a winner-takes-all race to dominate the online ride-hailing market. How might that market have developed differently?

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WhatsApp on How It’s Fighting Bulk Messaging and Suspicious Accounts

Ahead of India's national elections later this year, WhatsApp is trying to wrangle bulk messaging and suspicious accounts. From a report: At a press briefing in New Delhi early today, company executives said they have built a machine learning system to detect and weed out users who engage in inappropriate behavior, such as sending bulk messages and creating multiple accounts with the sole purpose of spreading questionable content on the platform. Automated suspicious accounts and people who seek to create havoc are barred from the platform at various stages -- at the time of registration, while messaging, and when they are reported by others, the company's executives said. Overall, WhatsApp bans about 2 million accounts on its platform each month, a spokesperson said. To address this issue, a machine learning system uses learnings from the company's past dealings with problematic accounts and from specific scenarios engineers followed when taking down accounts, said Matt Jones, a software engineer at WhatsApp. This machine learning system has reached a level of sophistication that allows it to ban 20 percent of bad accounts at the time of registration, according to the company. Seventy-five percent of the 2 million accounts WhatsApp bans in a month are handled without human intervention or a report filed by a user, said Carl Woog, a spokesperson for WhatsApp.

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2018 Was Earth’s Fourth-Hottest Year on Record: NOAA and NASA Report

The string of hotter-than-average annual temperatures continued in 2018, as Earth experienced its fourth-hottest year on record, according to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [PDF]. From a report: Also in 2018, the United States suffered 14 weather and climate disasters with costs surpassing $1 billion during a warmer- and wetter-than-average year, NOAA reports. Global temperatures across land and sea were 1.42 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, making 2018 the fourth-warmest year since record-keeping began in 1880, NOAA said in a report Thursday. In a separate report, NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies said global temperatures were 1.5 degrees above the 1951 to 1980 mean, also the fourth highest going back to 1880. The 2-degrees Fahrenheit increase in global temperatures since the late 19th century has been driven largely by growing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from human activity, said the institute's director, Gavin Schmidt. The conclusion reaffirms NASA's long-established finding that man-made emissions are driving climate change, which President Donald Trump and some senior administration officials frequently challenge. By both agencies' measures, Earth has now recorded its five hottest annual average temperatures in the past five years. "2018 is yet again an extremely warm year on top of a long-term global warming trend," Schmidt said in a press release.

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Microsoft Really Doesn’t Want You To Buy Office 2019

An anonymous reader shares a report: Microsoft today launched a marketing campaign pitting Office 2019 and Office 365 against each other. The goal? To prove Office 2019 isn't worth buying -- you and your company should go with Office 365 instead. In a series of three videos, twins Jeremy and Nathan calculate the differences in Excel, Cynni and Tanny present their findings in PowerPoint, while Scott and Sean type it out in Word. The ads are cringe-worthy, to say the least, but they do get the point across. When Microsoft announced Office 2019 in September 2017, the company said the productivity suite was "for customers who aren't yet ready for the cloud." And when Microsoft launched Office 2019 in September 2018, the company promised it wouldn't be the last: "We're committed to another on-premises release in the future." And yet, Microsoft would much rather you join the ranks of Office 365's 33.3 million subscribers. If you must, Office 2019 is available for purchase. But Office 365 is really what the company wants you to buy.

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Gmail is Now Blocking 100 Million Extra Spam Messages Every Day With AI

Google has recruited its in-house machine learning framework, TensorFlow, to help train additional spam filters for Gmail users. With the new filters in place as of last month, the company claims Gmail is now blocking an extra 100 million spam messages every day. From a report: In the context of Gmail's 1 billion-plus users, this isn't necessarily a huge gain -- it works out as one extra blocked spam email per 10 users -- but Google says Gmail already blocks 99.99 percent of spam, so working out what constitutes that last sliver of a percentage is hard.

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Adobe is Considering Whether it Wants To Design Its Own Chips

A growing number of technology companies are trying to manufacture their own chips, cutting their reliance on Intel and other chip providers. This week Adobe pondered making a similar move. From a report: At an internal innovation conference on Tuesday, Adobe CTO Abhay Parasnis posed the matter as a question for his colleagues, noting the significant increases in performance from chips designed specifically for specialized tasks, like machine learning. "Do we need to become an ARM licensee?" he said, referring to the company whose underlying chip design is used across a wide range of devices, including computers, servers and phones. "I don't have the answer, but it is something we are going to have to pay attention to." Later on Tuesday, Parasnis told Axios that there are a range of ways that Adobe could get deeper into silicon. "ARM does afford a model for a software company to package its technology much closer to silicon," he said, adding Adobe could do that without literally making its own chips, including by partnering with an existing chipmaker.

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Researcher Reveals a Severe, Unpatched Mac Password Flaw To Protest Apple Bug Bounty

Linuz Henze, a credible researcher, has revealed an exploit that in a single button press can reveal the passwords in a Mac's keychain. From a report: Keychain is where macOS stores most of the passwords used on the machine, ranging from iMessage private encryption keys to certificates, secured notes, Wi-Fi, and other Apple hardware passwords, app passwords, and web passwords. A pre-installed app called Keychain Access enables users to view the entire list of stored items, unlocking each one individually by repeatedly entering the system password, but Henze's KeySteal exploit grabs everything with a single press of a "Show me your secrets" button. While the demo is run on a 2014 MacBook Pro without Apple's latest security chips, Henze says that it works "without root or administrator privileges and without password prompts, of course." It appears to work on the Mac's login and system keychains, but not iCloudâ(TM)s keychain. Generally, white hat security researchers publicly reveal flaws like this only after informing the company and giving it ample time to fix the issues. But Henze is refusing to assist Apple because it doesn't offer paid bug bounties for macOS.

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A Flaw Found in E-Ticketing Systems Used By at Least Eight Airlines Could Be Exploited To Access Sensitive Information About Travelers

Eight airlines, including Southwest, use e-ticketing systems that could allow hackers to access sensitive information about travelers merely by intercepting emails, according to research published Wednesday by the mobile security company Wandera. From a news writeup: Researchers at security and data management company Wandera have uncovered a vulnerability affecting a number of e-ticketing systems that could allow third parties to view, and in some cases even change, a user's flight booking details, or print their boarding passes. The problem affects a number of major airlines including Southwest, Air France, KLM and Thomas Cook. All of these have sent unencrypted check-in links to passengers. On clicking these links, a passenger is directed to a site where they are logged in automatically to the check-in for their flight, and in some cases they can then make changes to their booking.

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China Hacked Norway’s Visma To Steal Client Secrets, Investigators Say

A prolific espionage group, which the U.S. government believes is Chinese, compromised billion-dollar business service provider Visma in 2018, according to a report by Recorded Future, a threat intelligence firm. From a report: The attack was part of what Western countries said in December is a global hacking campaign by China's Ministry of State Security to steal intellectual property and corporate secrets, according to Recorded Future. China's Ministry of State Security has no publicly available contacts. The foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment, but Beijing has repeatedly denied any involvement in cyber-enabled spying. Visma took the decision to talk publicly about the breach to raise industry awareness about the hacking campaign, which is known as Cloudhopper and targets technology service and software providers in order reach their clients. Cyber security firms and Western governments have warned about Cloudhopper several times since 2017 but have not disclosed the identities of the companies affected.

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Internet is Getting More Civil, a Study by Microsoft Says

While social media may feel like a trash heap at times, Microsoft released a new study on Tuesday that claims civility is spreading on the Internet... at least slightly. From a report: Microsoft's Digital Civility Index fell two points, to 66, in 2018, signaling that Internet users around the world are treating each other slightly better, although there's still plenty of room for improvement. The closer the index is to zero, the more civil people are toward each other. The survey measured the perceptions of teens and adults in 22 countries about their online experiences and the risks they face when spending time online. If the news that the internet is apparently becoming more civil comes as a surprise, U.S. readers may want to hold onto their seats. The civility index in the U.S. fell ten points in the past year to 51, showing the biggest improvement, according to a blog post from Microsoft.

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Samsung Cancels Partnership With Counterfeit Supreme Brand

An anonymous reader writes: Back in December, Samsung took the stage at one of its Chinese product launches and announced it was partnering with "Supreme," the popular skateboard fashion brand. The announcement was made with all the usual tech launch pomp and circumstance, with the CEO of "Supreme" coming on Samsung's stage to talk about the collaboration. The only problem: this was a Supreme counterfeiter called "Supreme Italia." The announcement was met with widespread ridicule online, as "Samsung the Apple copycat" had teamed up with a Supreme copycat. Samsung initially defended the deal, but after seeing the online reaction, the company started "reconsidering" its counterfeit collaboration. Now, two months after announcing the deal, Samsung is walking away.

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Bots That Collect Airline Compensation For Passengers

You have read about bots that fight parking tickets. But what about all those flights that get delayed, canceled or overbooked? Could you a bot look into that? From a report: AirHelp, a Europe-based company that assists people in pursuing such claims, today announced two new bots to further automate its operations and sift through the monumental number of requests it receives. AirHelp provides a free website people can use to determine if they are eligible for a refund from their airline. Founded in 2013 as a Y Combinator-backed startup, AirHelp claims to have aided more than 7 million people in processing airline compensation worth almost $930 million in total. The company, which operates in 30 countries, including the U.S., only takes a cut when a customer has been successfully reimbursed by the airline. Naturally, it receives a high volume of claims. To sift through these, in 2016 it began working on bots to automate parts of its screening and analysis. The company launched two bots -- Herman and Lara -- and today it is adding AgA and Docky to the mix. AgA (short for Agent's Assistant) and Docky will help the company with customer service and automatic assessment of claims. AirHelp says it has been testing these bots internally since last year and that they have already assessed 30 percent of claims it receives with 95 percent accuracy. [...] AirHelp's new bots would complement Herman, which mimics the work of a legal agent and looks after 100 percent of cases requiring legal actions, and Lara, which assesses 60 percent of all cases that get past Herman's virtual desk.

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Ask Slashdot: Are Custom Android ROMS Still a Thing?

Thelasko writes: Reading Kashmir Hill's series Goodby Big Five on Gizmodo made me consider switching to a custom Android ROM like LineageOS again. The Gizmodo articles make it seem that most phones are so locked down it is almost impossible to do. My last experience with custom ROMs confirmed that to be true for me. Is anyone having success? Why is LineageOS making builds for 185 devices if no one can use them?

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‘You Need To Be Very, Very Cautious’: US Warns European Allies Not To Use Chinese Gear For 5G Networks

The United States sees the European Union as its top priority in a global effort to convince allies not to buy Huawei equipment for next-generation mobile networks, a U.S. State Department Official said on Tuesday. From a report: After meetings with the European Commission and the Belgian government in Brussels, U.S. officials are set to take a message to other European capitals that the world's biggest telecommunications gear maker poses a security risk, said the official, who declined to be named. "We are saying you need to be very, very cautious and we are urging folks not to rush ahead and sign contracts with untrusted suppliers from countries like China," the official said. The United States fears China could use the equipment for espionage -- a concern that Huawei Technologies says is unfounded. The push to sideline Huawei in Europe, one of its biggest markets, is likely to deepen trade frictions between Washington and Beijing.

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Facebook Now Lets Everyone Unsend Messages For 10 Minutes

Facebook has finally made good on its promise to let users unsend chats after TechCrunch discovered Mark Zuckerberg had secretly retracted some of his Facebook Messages from recipients. From a report: Today Facebook Messenger globally rolls out "Remove for everyone" to help you pull back typos, poor choices, embarrassing thoughts, or any other message. For up to 10 minutes after sending a Facebook Message, the sender can tap on it and they'll find the delete button has been replaced by "Remove for you", but there's now also a "Remove for everyone" option that pulls the message from recipients' inboxes. They'll see an alert that you removed a message in its place, and can still flag the message to Facebook who'll retain the content briefly to see if its reported. The feature could make people more comfortable having honest conversations or using Messenger for flirting since they can second guess what they send, but it won't let people change ancient history. The company abused its power by altering the history of Zuckerberg's Facebook's messages in a way that email or other communication mediums wouldn't allow.

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IBM Completes Blockchain Trial Tracking a 28-Ton Shipment of Oranges

IBM recently completed a trial of blockchain technology to track a shipment of mandarin oranges from China to Singapore. From a report: Announced last week, 28 tons of mandarin oranges, or 3,000 cartons containing approximately 108,000 fruits, were delivered ahead of Chinese New Year celebration on Feb. 5 (mandarin oranges are a symbol of prosperity, IBM explained). The main shipping document, the bill of lading, was recorded on a blockchain. This document serves as a proof of ownership of goods, as a receipt of goods and a contract of the shipment, and normally it's mailed to all parties involved in the shipment, including banks providing trade financing. For the pilot, IBM created an electronic bill of lading, or e-BL, which helped reduce and speed up administrative processes "to just one second" as the document flow is automated, the company claims -- while the standard paper-based procedure takes five to seven days. "By using the e-BL, we have seen how the entire shipment process can be simplified and made more transparent with considerable cost savings," Tay Khiam Back, the chairman and CEO of fruit importer Hupco, said in a press release.

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DuckDuckGo Warns that Google Does Not Respect ‘Do Not Track’ Browser Setting

DuckDuckGo cautions internet users that companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter, do not respect the "Do Not Track" setting on web browsers. From a report: According to DuckDuckGo's research, over 77% of US adults are not aware of that fact. The "Do Not Track" (DNT) setting on browsers sends signals to web services to stop tracking a user's activity. However, the DNT setting is only a voluntary signal which websites are not obligated to respect. "It can be alarming to realize that Do Not Track is about as foolproof as putting a sign on your front lawn that says "Please, don't look into my house" while all of your blinds remain open."

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Chrome Can Tell You if Your Passwords Have Been Compromised

An anonymous reader shares a report: Given the frequency of hacks and data leaks these days, chances are good at least one of your passwords has been released to the wild. A new Chrome extension released by Google today makes it a little easier to stay on top of that: Once installed, Password Checkup will simply sit in your Chrome browser and alert you if you enter a username / password combination that Google "knows to be unsafe." The company says it has a database of 4 billion credentials that have been compromised in various data breaches that it can check against. When the extension detects an insecure password, it'll prompt you with a big red dialog box to immediately update your info. It's handy, but users might wonder exactly what Google can see -- to that end, Google says that the extension "never reveal[s] this personal information."

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The World’s Biggest Spice Company is Using AI To Find New Flavors

After 130 years, it can be hard to come up with new flavors, so the world's largest spice company is becoming the latest food producer to turn to artificial intelligence for help. From a report: McCormick -- the maker of Old Bay and other seasonings, spices and condiments -- hopes the technology can help it tantalize taste buds. It worked with IBM Research to build an AI system trained on decades worth of data about spices and flavors to come up with new flavor combinations. The Baltimore, Maryland-based company plans to bring its first batch of AI-assisted products to market later this year. The line of seasoning mixes, called One, for making one-dish meals, includes flavors such as Tuscan Chicken and Bourbon Pork Tenderloin. Hamed Faridi, McCormick's chief science officer, told CNN Business that using AI cuts down product development time, and that the company plans to use the technology to help develop all new products by the end of 2021.

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Google Tests ‘Never-Slow Mode’ for Speedier Browsing

At some point in the future, Chrome may gain a new feature, dubbed 'Never-Slow Mode', which would trim heavy web pages to keep browsing fast. From a report: The prototype feature is referenced in a work-in-progress commit for the Chromium open-source project. With Never-Slow Mode enabled, it would "enforce per-interaction budgets designed to keep the main thread clean." The design document for Never-Slow Mode hasn't been made public. However, the feature's owner, Chrome developer Alex Russell, has provided a rough outline of how it would work to speed up web pages with large scripts. "Currently blocks large scripts, sets budgets for certain resource types (script, font, css, images), turns off document.write(), clobbers sync XHR, enables client-hints pervasively, and buffers resources without 'Content-Length' set," wrote Russell.

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Apple Just Endorsed AT&T’s Fake 5G E Network

There are no 5G iPhones, and there probably won't be 5G iPhones for a while. But that isn't stopping Apple and AT&T: they are reportedly rolling out AT&T's fake "5G E" branding with its upcoming iOS 12.2 update. From a report: Much like when the two companies pulled this scam with 4G and LTE back in 2012, if you can't beat them, you roll out a software update to make it look like you did even though the phones and network are still exactly the same. Multiple users on Twitter are now reporting that they're seeing the new 5G E icon on devices running the latest iOS 12.2 beta 2, which was released earlier today. The new icon isn't there for everyone, presumably because it will only appear in cities where AT&T's 5G Evolution network -- the company's intentionally misleading name for its LTE network that it seems to hope customers will confuse for actual, next-generation 5G networks -- is active.

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Firefox To Block Auto-Playing Audio Starting March 2019

An anonymous reader writes: Starting with Firefox 66 -- scheduled for release on March 19, 2019 -- Mozilla plans to block auto-playing audio on both desktop and mobile -- a feature it began to test on Nightly builds last year. The new rule will apply to any website that plays audio without user interaction in advance -- such as a user clicking a button. The audio autoplay ban will apply to both HTML5 audio and video elements used for media playback in modern browsers, meaning Firefox will block sound coming from both ads and video players, the most common sources of such abuse. Mozilla's move comes almost a year after Chrome took a similar decision to block all auto-playing sound by default with the release of Chrome 66 in April 2018. Microsoft similarly announced plans to block auto-playing sounds in Edge, but the feature never made it to production.

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Xbox Live Will Soon Connect Players on Android, iOS and Switch

Microsoft is getting ready to release an important software development kit (SDK) that will allow game developers to integrate Xbox Live into any titles that run across PC, Xbox, iOS, Android, and Nintendo Switch. From a report: A Microsoft session at the upcoming Game Developers Conference mentions that Xbox Live will soon have a cross-platform developer kit that integrates the service into Android, iOS and Switch games. You'd have your achievements, clubs, friends list and "more" while on the move, and could pick up on some experiences where you left off. The session will provide a "first look" at the kit. You shouldn't expect titles to support Xbox Live for a while, even if the software toolbox is complete by the time GDC starts.

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Google Brings Instant Tethering To 3rd-Party Chromebooks

Google today rolled out Instant Tethering to third-party Chromebooks. Fifteen additional Chromebook models and over 30 cell phone models now support the feature. The move is part of Google's strategy of bringing Chrome OS and Android closer together. From a report: Tethering requires switching on your hotspot that uses your phone's mobile data, connecting to it from your other device by entering the password, and disconnecting when you're done. Instant Tethering skips those steps by putting you through an initial set-up process and then just showing a notification with a Connect button when your Chromebook detects that it has no Wi-Fi access. As long as tethering is enabled on your mobile data plan, and you have the data to spare, your Chromebook can always be online. Instant Tethering will also automatically disconnect if it detects 10 minutes of no activity.

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Ajit Pai Loses in Court — Judges Overturn Gutting of Tribal Broadband Program

A federal appeals court has overturned Ajit Pai's attempt to take broadband subsidies away from tribal residents. From a report: The Pai-led Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 in November 2017 to make it much harder for tribal residents to obtain a $25-per-month Lifeline subsidy that reduces the cost of Internet or phone service. The change didn't take effect because in August 2018, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit stayed the FCC decision pending appeal. The same court followed that up on Friday last week with a ruling that reversed the FCC decision and remanded the matter back to the commission for a new rule-making proceeding. [...] The Pai FCC's 2017 decision would have limited the $25 subsidy to "facilities-based" carriers -- those that build their own networks -- making it impossible for tribal residents to use the $25 subsidy to buy telecom service from resellers. The move would have dramatically limited tribal residents' options for purchasing subsidized service, but the FCC claimed it was necessary in order to encourage carriers to build their own networks.

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‘The World Might Actually Run Out of People’

An anonymous reader shares a report: By 2050 there will be 9 billion carbon-burning, plastic-polluting, calorie-consuming people on the planet. By 2100, that number will balloon to 11 billion, pushing society into a Soylent Green scenario. Such dire population predictions aren't the stuff of sci-fi; those numbers come from one of the most trusted world authorities, the United Nations. But what if they're wrong? Not like, off by a rounding error, but like totally, completely goofed? That's the conclusion Canadian journalist John Ibbitson and political scientist Darrel Bricker come to in their newest book, Empty Planet, due out February 5th. After painstakingly breaking down the numbers for themselves, the pair arrived at a drastically different prediction for the future of the human species. "In roughly three decades, the global population will begin to decline," they write. "Once that decline begins, it will never end." But Empty Planet is not a book about statistics so much as it is about what's driving the choices people are making during the fastest period of change in human history.

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Google’s Live Transcribe and Sound Amplifier Aim To Help the Hard of Hearing

Google wants to make Android phones powerful tools for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. From a report: On Monday, the search giant released two new services, Live Transcribe and Sound Amplifier, aimed at helping people who have trouble hearing communicate more easily. Live Transcribe does exactly what its name suggests -- it uses your phone's mic to automatically generate captions that appear on your screen. With Sound Amplifier, you can use your phone and a set of headphones to improve the clarity of the speech around you. To develop the new products, Google said it worked with Gallaudet University, the private school in Washington, DC for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

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The UK’s CO2 Emissions Have Fallen 38% Since 1990, Faster Than Any Other Major Developed Country

The UK's CO2 emissions peaked in the year 1973 and have declined by around 38% since 1990, faster than any other major developed country. From a report: The most significant factors include a cleaner electricity mix based on gas and renewables instead of coal, as well as falling demand for energy across homes, businesses and industry. Declines in the UK's CO2 have persisted despite an economic recovery from the financial crisis a decade ago. Where earlier reductions were largely negated by rising imports, the past decade has seen genuine cuts in the amount of CO2 for which the UK is responsible. The factors driving emission reductions will likely continue into the future as the UK's remaining coal use is phased out by 2025.

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Frozen Train Tracks? Set ‘Em on Fire

It might look dangerous, but flames have kept switches moving and rails intact for a century. From a report: As if the horrors of the polar vortex were not already enough -- temperatures that look like typos, Canada Goose robbers, and something called frost quakes -- the nation's railroad system took a turn for the apocalyptic this week, too. Rails broke in three different places between Baltimore and Washington on Thursday, causing severe delays. Amtrak canceled dozens of trains passing through Chicago, and viral videos appeared to show commuter tracks in the city on fire. Of course, the tracks themselves were not burning -- they are made out of steel, prized for its tendency to rarely go up in flames. But the sight is still dramatic. The videos of the fires in Chicago last week show flames smoldering in patches of melted snow around the tracks. Fires have been employed on railroads -- and remained the preferred fix for many a winter hazard -- for most of their roughly two-century history. While railroads have developed impressive tools for dealing with snow on the tracks, extreme temperatures remain a challenge. Though steel is flame-resistant, it's subject to cold, which can jam up railroads' many moving parts. When cold weather does wreak havoc on railroads, lighting fires on train tracks can serve a couple of uses. One is to thaw the switches that determine which track a train goes down, which is what Metra, the Chicagoland commuter-rail authority, said was going on this week. Switches are moving parts, and if ice gets into them, they can freeze in place. There are various types of switch heaters, which might use electric current or gas to melt ice -- or even an open gas flame, which is what's appearing in the Metra videos. Where there aren't switch heaters, crews might use temporary torchlike devices with a flame, the railroad equivalent of the smudge pots farmers use to keep citrus groves and apple orchards from freezing on cold nights.

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Mozilla Halts Rollout of Firefox 65 on Windows Platform After Antivirus Issue

Mozilla has halted the rollout of v65 update to Firefox browser on Windows platform after learning about an issue with certain antivirus products. Users of Firefox 65, an update which was released last week, reported seeing "Your connection is not secure" error warnings when visiting popular sites. From a report: The issue mostly affected Firefox 65 users running AVG or Avast antivirus. The message appeared when users visited an HTTPS website and stated the 'Certificate is not trusted because the issuer is unknown' and that 'The server might not be sending the inappropriate intermediate certificates'. The problem, reported on Mozilla's bug report page and first spotted by Techdows, is due to the HTTPS-filtering feature in Avast and AVG antivirus. Avast owns AVG. The bug prevented users from visiting any HTTPS site with Firefox 65. To limit the impact on users, Mozilla decided to temporarily halt all automatic updates on Windows. In the meantime, Avast, which owns AVG, released a new virus engine update that completely disabled Firefox HTTPS filtering in Avast and AVG products. HTTPS filtering remains enabled on other browsers.

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Attorneys General in Six States Are Now Investigating Facebook’s Data Practices, Report Says

At least six state attorneys general have launched investigations into Facebook, Bloomberg is reporting. From a report: Two distinct groups have formed, according to Bloomberg's report: Pennsylvania and Illinois have joined Connecticut in an investigation of "existing allegations," though the report does not mention what those are. Officials in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, "which were already known to be probing Facebook, are seeking to uncover any potential unknown violations," a source told the news agency. Bloomberg reported that a Facebook vice president of public policy, Will Castleberry, spun the news as the attorneys general just wanting to help Facebook out by suggesting new privacy initiatives or something. "We're having productive conversations with attorneys general on this important topic," Castleberry wrote in an email to Bloomberg. "Many officials have approached us in a constructive manner, focused on solutions that ensure all companies are protecting people's information, and we look forward to continuing to work with them."

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2018 Was the ‘Worst Year Ever’ For Smartphone Shipments

2018 was the worst year ever for smartphone shipments, according to the latest figures from research firm IDC. It means Apple isn't the only company fighting to keep people interested in buying new phones every year. From a report: IDC said 1.4 billion smartphones were sold in 2018, marking a 4.1 percent decline for the year in an industry that's accustomed to rapid growth. In 2014, as well, 1.4 billion phones were shipped, which means the industry seems to have regressed about 5 years. Shipments shrank 4.9 percent for the fourth quarter of 2018, IDC said. Apple said earlier this week that iPhone revenues were 15 percent lower than last year. CEO Tim Cook said the strengthened dollar, an economic slowdown in China, lower subsidies on phones and its battery replacement program contributed to the drop in sales. Samsung phone shipments declined 5.5 percent and Apple's slipped 11.5 percent during the quarter, IDC said. But Huawei, which was able to capitalize on China, saw a 33.6 percent bump in shipments. Chinese vendors Oppo and Xiaomi also increased shipments, IDC said.

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A Look at the Number of Languages Popular Voice Assistant Services Support

An anonymous reader shares a report: Contrary to popular Anglocentric belief, English isn't the world's most-spoken language by total number of native speakers -- nor is it the second. In fact, the West Germanic tongues rank third on the list, followed by Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese, Bengali, and Russian. (Mandarin and Spanish are first and second, respectively.) Surprisingly, Google Assistant, Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, and Microsoft's Cortana recognize only a relatively narrow slice of these. Google Assistant: With the addition of more than 20 new languages in January, the Google Assistant took the crown among voice assistants in terms of the number of tongues it understands. It's now conversant in 30 languages in 80 countries, up from 8 languages and 14 countries in 2017. Apple's Siri: Apple's Siri, which until January had Google Assistant beat in terms of sheer breadth of supported languages, comes in a close second. Currently, it supports 21 languages in 36 countries and dozens of dialects for Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Microsoft's Cortana: Cortana, which made its debut at Microsoft's Build developer conference in April 2013 and later came to Windows 10, headphones, smart speakers, Android, iOS, Xbox One, and even Alexa via a collaboration with Amazon, might not support as many languages as Google Assistant and Siri. Still, it has come a long way in six years. Amazon's Alexa: Alexa might be available on over 150 products in 41 countries, but it understands the fewest languages of any voice assistant: English (Australia, Canada, India, UK, and US), French (Canada, France), German, Japanese (Japan), and Spanish (Mexico, Spain). Samsung's Bixby: Samsung's Bixby -- the assistant built into the Seoul, South Korea company's flagship and midrange Galaxy smartphone series and forthcoming Galaxy Home smart speaker -- is available in 200 markets globally but only supports a handful of languages in those countries: English, Chinese, German, French, Italian, Korean, and Spanish.

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Microsoft’s Moving Xbox Ad Was the Best Thing About the Super Bowl

Mark Serrels, writing for CNET: Super Bowl 53 has come and gone and, for me at least, there was one clear highlight. This Microsoft commercial. [...] Essentially a commercial for Microsoft's Xbox Adaptive Controller, this ad follows up on an earlier ad from the Christmas period, which highlights young kids with limited mobility playing video games. It's incredible. It tells the story of kids with limited mobility and their love for video games. All kids love video games and if you're a person with limited mobility, video games can often provide a pathway to experiences that are often difficult in the real world. But in some cases, particular types of limited mobility can make even the games themselves difficult to play -- which is where the Xbox Adaptive Controller comes in.

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College Student Who Stole More Than $5 Million in Cryptocurrency By SIM Swapping Gets 10 Years in Prison — First Person To Be Sentenced For the Crime

A 20-year-old college student who was accused of stealing more than $5 million in cryptocurrency in a slew of SIM hijacking attacks is the first person to be sentenced for the crime. From a report: A college student who stole more than $5 million in cryptocurrency by hijacking the phone numbers of around 40 victims pleaded guilty and accepted a plea deal of 10 years in prison, Motherboard has learned. Joel Ortiz accepted the plea deal last week, Erin West, the Deputy District Attorney in Santa Clara County, California, told Motherboard during a meeting on Thursday. The authorities believe Ortiz is the first person to be convicted of a crime for SIM swapping, an increasingly popular and damaging hack. The prosecutors and agents who have been investigating these hacks celebrated the conviction, and said they hope that this will serve as an example for the other alleged criminals who have already been arrested, as well as the ones who have yet to be caught. "We think justice has been served. And hopefully this is a strong message to that community," Samy Tarazi, one of the agents who investigated the Ortiz case, told me. Ortiz is one af a handful of SIM swappers who have been arrested in the last year for hijacking phone numbers and using them to then hack into emails, social media accounts, and online Bitcoin wallets.

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Pirate Bay ‘Promotion’ Increases Post-Release Box Office Revenue, Study Shows

New research suggests that post-release movie piracy through The Pirate Bay is linked to increased box revenue. The counter-intuitive finding is driven by word-of-mouth promotion. The effect, which does not apply to pre-release piracy, results in rather interesting policy implications. From a report: Hollywood's general logic is that piracy hurts box office revenues. However, there is also some evidence of positive effects through word-of-mouth promotion. Using the Pirate Bay downtime as a natural experiment, the researchers tried to find out if thatâ(TM)s indeed the case. "It is natural to focus on the downsides of piracy for movie makers -- and these can be significant -- but many will be interested to note that piracy can have an upside," Professor Shijie Lu informs TF. Through their research, Lu and his co-authors Xin Wang and Neil Bendle, investigated the effect of this "buzz" in detail. They published their findings in a paper titled "Does Piracy Create Online Word-of-Mouth? An Empirical Analysis in Movie Industry." Movies shared on The Pirate Bay are the main focus. The researchers use the Pirate Bay downtime following the 2014 raid to measure its impact on word-of-mouth promotion and box office revenues. Based on a sample of hundreds of movie torrents and data from most popular movie review sites, Lu and his colleagues estimated this effect. Their results are rather intriguing. First off, the findings clearly show a negative effect of pre-release piracy on box office sales. This result is consistent with previous studies and an increase in "buzz" doesn't do enough to offset the negative effect. [...] This changes when the researchers look at post-release piracy. That is, piracy which occurs after a film has premiered at the box office. In this case, there's a positive effect on box office revenue through an increase in word-of-mouth promotion (WOM).

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The World’s Fastest Supercomputer Breaks an AI Record

Along America's west coast, the world's most valuable companies are racing to make artificial intelligence smarter. Google and Facebook have boasted of experiments using billions of photos and thousands of high-powered processors. But late last year, a project in eastern Tennessee quietly exceeded the scale of any corporate AI lab. It was run by the US government. From a report: The record-setting project involved the world's most powerful supercomputer, Summit, at Oak Ridge National Lab. The machine captured that crown in June last year, reclaiming the title for the US after five years of China topping the list. As part of a climate research project, the giant computer booted up a machine-learning experiment that ran faster than any before. Summit, which occupies an area equivalent to two tennis courts, used more than 27,000 powerful graphics processors in the project. It tapped their power to train deep-learning algorithms, the technology driving AI's frontier, chewing through the exercise at a rate of a billion billion operations per second, a pace known in supercomputing circles as an exaflop. "Deep learning has never been scaled to such levels of performance before," says Prabhat, who leads a research group at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. His group collaborated with researchers at Summit's home base, Oak Ridge National Lab. Fittingly, the world's most powerful computer's AI workout was focused on one of the world's largest problems: climate change. Tech companies train algorithms to recognize faces or road signs; the government scientists trained theirs to detect weather patterns like cyclones in the copious output from climate simulations that spool out a century's worth of three-hour forecasts for Earth's atmosphere.

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Google Play Store Now Open For Progressive Web Apps

Maximiliano Firtman: Chrome 72 for Android shipped the long-awaited Trusted Web Activity feature, which means we can now distribute PWAs in the Google Play Store! I played with the feature for a while, digging into the APIs and here you have a summary of what's going on, what to expect and how to use it today. Chrome 72 for Android is now shipping from the Play Store to all users and this version included Trusted Web Activity (TWA), that in a nutshell is a way to open Chrome in standalone mode (without any toolbar or Chrome UI) within the scope of our own native Android package. Let me start saying that the publishing process is not straightforward as it should be (such as "enter your URL" in the Play Console and it's done). It's also not a way to use the currently available WebAPK and publish it in the store. It's a Java API that communicates through services with Chrome and seem to be in the early stages, so there is a lot of manual work to do yet today.

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Bitcoin is Worth Less Than the Cost To Mine It

The production-weighted cash cost to create one Bitcoin averaged around $4,060 globally in the fourth quarter, according to analysts with JPMorgan Chase & Co. With Bitcoin itself currently trading below $3,600, that doesn't look like such a good deal. However, there's a big spread around the average, meaning that there are clear winners and losers. From a report: Low-cost Chinese miners are able to pay much less -- the estimate is around $2,400 per Bitcoin -- by leveraging direct power purchasing agreements with electricity generators such as aluminum smelters looking to sell excess power generation, JPMorgan analysts led by Natasha Kaneva said in a wide-ranging Jan. 24 report about cryptocurrencies spearheaded by Joyce Chang. Electricity tends to be the biggest cost for miners, needed to run the high-powered computer rigs used to process data blocks to earn Bitcoin. "The drop in Bitcoin prices from around $6,500 throughout much of October to below $4,000 now has increasingly pushed margins further and further negative for just about every region except low-cost Chinese miners," the analysts said, offering the caveat that their cost estimates may be skewed to the high side due to spotty data and conservative efficiency assumptions. The cost figures exclude equipment. "The drop in Bitcoin prices from around $6,500 throughout much of October to below $4,000 now has increasingly pushed margins further and further negative for just about every region except low-cost Chinese miners," the analysts said, offering the caveat that their cost estimates may be skewed to the high side due to spotty data and conservative efficiency assumptions. The cost figures exclude equipment. With margins negative, it's expected more high-cost producers will be forced to drop out, the analysts said.

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A Coalition of Giant Brands is About To Change How We Shop Forever, With a New Zero-Waste Platform

In the not-too-distant future -- as soon as this spring, if you live in or near New York City or Paris -- you'll be able to buy ice cream or shampoo in a reusable container. When you're done eating a tub of Haagen-Dazs, you'll toss the sleek stainless steel package in your personal reuse bin instead of your trash can. Then it will be picked up for delivery back to a cleaning and sterilization facility so that it can be refilled with more ice cream for another customer. From a report: Loop, a new zero-waste platform from a coalition of major consumer product companies, will launch its first pilots this year. "While recycling is critically important, it is not going to solve waste at the root cause," says Tom Szaky, CEO and cofounder of TerraCycle, a company that is known for recycling hard-to-recycle materials, and one of the partners behind the project. "We run what is today the world's largest supply chain on ocean plastic, collecting it and going into Unilever and Procter & Gamble products and so on," Szaky says. "But every day, more and more gets put in the ocean, so no matter how much we clean the ocean, we're never going to solve the problem. That's really where Loop emerged ... To us, the root cause of waste is not plastic, per se, it's using things once, and that's really what Loop tries to change as much as possible."

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As the Chase For New Elements Slows, Scientists Focus on Deepening Their Understanding of the Superheavy Ones They Already Know

From a report: The quest to extend the periodic table is not over, but it is grinding to a halt. Since Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev published his periodic table 150 years ago, researchers have been adding elements to it at the average rate of one every two or three years. Having found all the elements that are stable enough to persist naturally, researchers started to create their own, and are now up to element 118, oganesson. Although they still hope to find more, they agree that prospects of venturing beyond element 120 are dim. "We're reaching the area of diminishing returns in the synthesis of new elements, at least with our current level of technology," says Jacklyn Gates, who works on heavy-element chemistry at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. As a result, research on the edge of the periodic table is shifting focus. Rather than chasing new elements, scientists are going back to deepen their understanding of the superheavy ones -- roughly speaking, those with an atomic number above 100 -- that they have already made. Studying the chemical properties of these elements could show whether the most massive ones obey the organizing principle of the table -- which sorts elements into groups with similar behaviours on the basis of periodically recurring patterns of chemical reactivity. And although the heaviest elements decay in less than the blink of an eye, researchers still hope that they might arrive at the fabled 'island of stability': a hypothesized region of element-land where some superheavy isotopes -- atoms that have the same number of protons in their nucleus, but differing numbers of neutrons -- might exist for minutes, days or even longer.

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Homebrew 2.0 is Here With Official Support For Linux and Windows

Homebrew, a popular package manager for macOS, has released version 2.0 with official support for Linux and Windows 10 (with Windows Subsystem Linux). Cross-platform setup scripts just got a whole lot easier. Other highlights: Homebrew does not run on OS X Mountain Lion (10.8) and below. For 10.4 - 10.6 support, see Tigerbrew. This has allowed us to remove large amounts of legacy code. Homebrew does not migrate old, pre-1.0.0 installations from the Homebrew/legacy-homebrew (formerly Homebrew/homebrew repository. This has allowed us to delete legacy code that dealt with migrations from old versions. Homebrew does not have any formulae with options in Homebrew/homebrew-core. Options will still be supported and encouraged by third-party taps. This change allows us to better focus on delivering binary packages rather than options. Formulae with options had to be built from source, could not be tested on our CI system and provided a disproportionate support burden on our volunteer maintainers.

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Rich Kids Are Cheating in School With Apple Watches

An anonymous reader shares a report: There is, however, one demographic that has embraced the Apple Watch with open arms: tech-savvy, upper middle-class teens and tweens. The watch is a convenient workaround for classroom cell-phone bans; it can be used for everything from texting to cheating on tests. [...] Julia Rubin, a former middle-school teacher at a private school in New York City, said that when the Apple Watch first came out in 2014, a handful of students got them as presents for the holidays. When Rubin asked her school's principal to ban the watches the same way the school banned cell phones, she refused. In addition to kids texting during class, there is growing concern that smart watches could be used to help kids cheat during exams. In fact, there is a wealth of YouTube videos showing teens how to do precisely that, usually with the disclaimer that they are only sharing this information "for entertainment purposes." [...] Nikias Molina, 20, is a Spanish vlogger who runs the YouTube channel Apple World. A slender, dark-haired kid with braces and a slight European accent, Molina posted a 2018 video showing subscribers how to use various apps on the Apple Watch to cheat on exams. As he demonstrates in the video and explained to me, there are apps you can download onto the Apple Watch to save PDFs, but the most common method is to take a photo of a cheat sheet and pull it up on the Apple Watch, which doesn't require internet accessibility. The response to the video was mixed -- "students were thanking me [in the comments], and teachers were hating on me" -- but the video racked up more than 115,000 views.

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FCC Struggles To Convince Judge That Broadband Isn’t ‘Telecommunications’

A Federal Communications Commission lawyer faced a skeptical panel of judges on Friday as the FCC defended its repeal of net neutrality rules and deregulation of the broadband industry. From a report: FCC General Counsel Thomas Johnson struggled to explain why broadband shouldn't be considered a telecommunications service, and struggled to explain the FCC's failure to protect public safety agencies from Internet providers blocking or slowing down content. Oral arguments were held on Friday in the case, which is being decided by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Throttling of firefighters' data plans played a major role in today's oral arguments. Of the three judges, Circuit Judge Patricia Millett expressed the most skepticism of Johnson's arguments, repeatedly challenging the FCC's definition of broadband and its disregard for arguments made by public safety agencies. She also questioned the FCC's claim that the net neutrality rules harmed broadband investment. Circuit Judge Robert Wilkins also expressed some skepticism of FCC arguments, while Senior Circuit Judge Stephen Williams seemed more amenable to FCC arguments.

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Facebook Brings Express Wi-Fi To Ghana, Quietly Expands Free Basics To Morocco and Laos

More than a year after Facebook commercially launched Express Wi-Fi in five markets, it is ready to bring the connectivity service to the sixth: Ghana. From a report: In partnership with telecom operator Vodafone Ghana, Facebook today launched Express Wi-Fi, part of Internet.org initiative, in the suburban communities of the Western African nation. The service, available locally in Nima, James Town, Kanda, Pig Farm, and Abossey Okine in the capital city Accra, will aim to offer "carrier-grade Wi-Fi" to people living in some remote communities that lack fiber optic cables. Ever since India booted Free Basics in early 2016, Facebook has seemingly grown cautious about its connectivity efforts. The company has stopped updating the social media page and press page of Internet.org. Last year, we learned that Facebook had quietly pulled Internet.org from a handful of emerging markets. In recent months, however, it has quietly expanded Internet.org to two new markets -- Morocco (in North Africa) and Laos (in Southeast Asia).

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Americans Are Lining Up To Work For Amazon For $15 an Hour

One of the most important takeaways from Amazon's 2018 fourth-quarter and full-year earnings report, released Jan. 31, had little to do with the usual financial results. Amazon disclosed in the report that it received a record 850,000 work applications for hourly jobs in the US in October 2018 after announcing it would raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour starting Nov. 1. From a report: The company said that was more than double its previous record for job applications received in a single month. Amazon said the new $15 minimum affects more than 250,000 employees in the US and 17,000 employees in the UK (where the increase was 10.50 pound in the London area and 9.50 pound everywhere else), plus more than 200,000 workers who were hired for the holiday season. As of Dec. 31, Amazon had 647,500 full- and part-time employees, up 14% from the same period a year earlier.

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Robot Combines Vision and Touch To Learn the Game of Jenga

In the basement of MIT's Building 3, a robot is carefully contemplating its next move. It gently pokes at a tower of blocks, looking for the best block to extract without toppling the tower, in a solitary, slow-moving, yet surprisingly agile game of Jenga. From a report: The robot, developed by MIT engineers, is equipped with a soft-pronged gripper, a force-sensing wrist cuff, and an external camera, all of which it uses to see and feel the tower and its individual blocks. As the robot carefully pushes against a block, a computer takes in visual and tactile feedback from its camera and cuff, and compares these measurements to moves that the robot previously made. It also considers the outcomes of those moves -- specifically, whether a block, in a certain configuration and pushed with a certain amount of force, was successfully extracted or not. In real-time, the robot then "learns" whether to keep pushing or move to a new block, in order to keep the tower from falling. Details of the Jenga-playing robot are published in the journal Science Robotics. Alberto Rodriguez, the Walter Henry Gale Career Development Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, says the robot demonstrates something that's been tricky to attain in previous systems: the ability to quickly learn the best way to carry out a task, not just from visual cues, as it is commonly studied today, but also from tactile, physical interactions.

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Apple Will Store Russian User Data Locally, Possibly Decrypt on Request: Report

After resisting local government's mandates for years, Apple appears to have agreed to store Russian citizens' data within the country, a report says. From a report: According to a Foreign Policy report, Russia's telecommunications and media agency Roskomnadzor has confirmed that Apple will comply with the local data storage law, which appears to have major implications for the company's privacy initiatives. Apple's obligations in Russia would at least parallel ones in China, which required it turn over Chinese citizens' iCloud data to a partially government-operated data center last year. In addition to processing and storing Russian citizens' data on servers physically within Russia, Apple will apparently need to decrypt and produce user data for the country's security services as requested.

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New Net Neutrality Bill Headed To Congress

Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) said today he would "soon" introduce a bill to permanently reinstate the net neutrality rules that were repealed by the Federal Communications Commission, led by chairman Ajit Pai, in 2017. From a report: Markey's announcement comes as a federal court is set to hear oral arguments over the FCC's repeal of net neutrality regulations in 2017. Markey, who is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, has previously introduced a bill that would permanently reinstate net neutrality as a member of the House of Representatives, although the measure ultimately failed. It's unclear when the bill would be formally introduced, but Markey said it was imminent. "We will soon lay down a legislative marker in the Senate in support of net neutrality to show the American people that we are on their side in overwhelming supporting a free and open internet." Further reading: Net Neutrality Repeal at Stake as Key Court Case Starts: Oral arguments are set to begin Friday in the most prominent lawsuit challenging the federal government's repeal of broadband access rules known as net neutrality. The Federal Communications Commission approved the rules in 2015 to ensure internet users equal and open access to all websites and services. The commission, under new leadership, rolled the rules back in 2017. The plaintiffs in the suit to be argued Friday, led by the internet company Mozilla and supported by 22 state attorneys general, say the commission lacked a sound legal reason for scrapping the regulations. The government is expected to argue that the rules were repealed because of the burden they imposed on broadband providers like Verizon and Comcast.

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Binance Users Can Now Pay for Cryptocurrency With Credit Cards

Binance, the world's largest cryptocurrency exchange based on trading volume, now lets users spend money they don't have thanks to the additional support for credit cards from Visa and Mastercard. From a report: The exchange announced Thursday that it has partnered with Israel-based payments processing firm Simplex to enable purchases with Visa and MasterCard credit cards. At launch, the exchange is supporting credit card purchase for bitcoin (BTC), ether (ETH), litecoin (LTC) and XRP. These can then be traded against up to 151 other tokens offered by the exchange. "The crypto industry is still in its early stages and most of the world's money is still in fiat," said Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao. "Building fiat gateways is what we need now to grow the ecosystem, increase adoption and introduce crypto to more users."

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Canada’s Telco Bell Tried To Have VPNs Banned During NAFTA Negotiations

Telecom company Bell urged the Canadian government to formulate rules that would make some VPN services illegal in the country ahead of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations. The rationale behind the request? It doesn't want people in the country to use VPNs to access the US catalog of some streaming services like Netflix. TechDirt, quotes a paywalled report: "In its submission, Bell argued that Canadians accessing content from a US service with a VPN 'unjustly enriches the US service, which has not paid for the Canadian rights' but nonetheless makes that content available to Canadians. Bell's media arm reportedly spends millions on content for it streaming service, Crave TV, which allows Canadians to stream content from American networks such as HBO and Showtime." Again though, it's not the VPN doing that. And if you want to stop users from flocking to better content catalogs elsewhere on the continent, you should focus your ire on the things causing that to happen -- like increasingly dated and absurd geo-viewing restrictions, and your own substandard content offerings that fail to adequately match up.

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Ubisoft Apologizes for The Division 2 Email Promising a ‘Real Government Shutdown’

Ubisoft, the game studio behind upcoming title "Tom Clancy's The Division 2", has apologized for an email that made light of the U.S. government shutdown that ended a week ago. From a report: Ubisoft sent out a marketing email for The Division 2 earlier Thursday which prompted a quick retraction. The email was an invitation to the game's private beta, with the subject line: "Come see what a real government shutdown looks like in the Private Beta". Not long after the email was issued, the publisher sent a retraction. "A marketing email promoting Tom Clancy's The Division 2 was sent in error today. This was a grave breakdown in process and we apologize for this error and the offensive subject line of the email. We recognize the very real impact of the United States government shut down on thousands of people and did not intend to make light of the situation."

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New Site Exposes How Apple Censors Apps in China

A new website exposes the extent to which Apple cooperates with Chinese government internet censorship, blocking access to Western news sources, information about human rights and religious freedoms, and privacy-enhancing apps that would circumvent the country's pervasive online surveillance regime. The Intercept: The new site, AppleCensorship.com , allows users to check which apps are not accessible to people in China through Apple's app store, indicating those that have been banned. It was created by researchers at GreatFire.org, an organization that monitors Chinese government internet censorship. In late 2017, Apple admitted to U.S. senators that it had removed from its app store in China more than 600 "virtual private network" apps that allow users to evade censorship and online spying. But the company never disclosed which specific apps it removed -- nor did it reveal other services it had pulled from its app store at the behest of China's authoritarian government.

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Apple Says It Will Fix The FaceTime Bug That Allows You To Access Someone’s iPhone Camera And Microphone Before They Pick Up

Apple said Friday morning that it had a fix for a bug discovered in Apple's video and audio chat service FaceTime this week, which had allowed callers to access the microphone and front-facing video camera of the person they were calling, even if that person hadn't picked up. The security issue is fixed on its servers, the company said, but the iPhone software update to re-enable the feature for users won't be rolled out until next week. From a report: "We have fixed the Group FaceTime security bug on Apple's servers and we will issue a software update to re-enable the feature for users next week," Apple said in an emailed statement to BuzzFeed News. "We thank the Thompson family for reporting the bug. We sincerely apologize to our customers who were affected and all who were concerned about this security issue. We appreciate everyone's patience as we complete this process."

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How Many<nobr> <wbr></nobr>.com Domain Names Are Unused?

Christopher Forno, CTO at Singapore Data Company writes: When looking for .com names, I've been frustrated by how many are already taken but appear to be unused. It can feel like people are registering every pronounceable combination of letters in every major language, and even the unpronounceable short ones. Is there rampant domain speculation, or do I just think of the same names as everyone else? Let's look at the data. There are currently 137 million .com domain names registered. Of these, roughly 1/3 are in use (businesses, personal websites, email, etc.), another 1/3 appear to be unused, and the last 1/3 are used for a variety of speculative purposes. I started by crawling a random sample of the domains from the top-level .com DNS zone file, until reaching 100,000 valid domains. [...] For most categories I've included a random sample of screenshots from that category, excluding redundant ones: Content (31% or ~43 million), Ads (23% or ~31 million), No Web Server (11% or ~16 million), Empty (9.2% or ~13 million), For Sale (7.1% or ~9.8 million), Error (5.7% or ~7.9 million), Parked (4.8% or ~6.5 million), Gambling (3.0% or ~4 million), Mail (2.6% or ~3.5 million), Redirect (1.1% or ~1.6 million), Private (0.64% or ~0.9 million), and Porn (0.59% or ~0.8 million).

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In France, Comic Books Are Serious Business

It's a big year for comic book anniversaries. Batman's 80th is this year, and Asterix is turning 60. But at the Angouleme International Comics Festival in France, which finished on Sunday, there was a sense that the form's best days may be yet to come -- in the French-speaking world, at least. From a report: "It's a kind of golden age," said Jean-Luc Fromental, a comic book author who also runs a graphic-novel imprint for the publisher Denoel. "There has never been so much talent. There have never been so many interesting books published." There are now more comic books published annually in France and Belgium than ever before, according to the festival's artistic director, Stephane Beaujean. "The market has risen from 700 books per year in the 1990s to 5,000 this year," he said in an interview. "I don't know any cultural industry which has had that kind of increase." Research by the market research company GfK, released to coincide with the festival, showed that turnover in the comic book industry in those two countries alone reached 510 million euros, or around $580 million, in 2018. The bumper year in France and Belgium contrasts with a mixed situation worldwide. Comichron, a website that reports on comic book sales in the United States, where the market is worth around $1 billion, says that sales there are declining. But in terms of respect and recognition, comics are on the way up.

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UltraViolet Digital Movie Locker is Shutting Down

UltraViolet, one of the entertainment industry's first attempts at creating a comprehensive digital locker service, is shutting down on July 31st. Users should link their libraries to the service of at least one retailer which can then be used to access their films and TV shows after the shutdown. From a report: UltraViolet's days were numbered ever since Disney, the only major Hollywood studio not to join, launched its expanded Movies Anywhere locker service in 2017. Not only did it offer broad studio support, but it could also be connected to major digital retailers like iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play, unlike UltraViolet. Additional resources: How to safeguard your UltraViolet library.

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Apple Blocks Google From Running Its Internal iOS Apps

Apple has now shut down Google's ability to distribute its internal iOS apps, following a similar shutdown that was issued to Facebook earlier this week. From a report: A person familiar with the situation tells The Verge that early versions of Google Maps, Hangouts, Gmail, and other pre-release beta apps have stopped working today, alongside employee-only apps like a Gbus app for transportation and Google's internal cafe app.

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Prisons Across the US Are Quietly Building Databases of Incarcerated People’s Voice Prints

In New York and other states across the country, authorities are acquiring technology to extract and digitize the voices of incarcerated people into unique biometric signatures, known as voice prints. From a report: Prison authorities have quietly enrolled hundreds of thousands of incarcerated people's voice prints into large-scale biometric databases. Computer algorithms then draw on these databases to identify the voices taking part in a call and to search for other calls in which the voices of interest are detected. Some programs, like New York's, even analyze the voices of call recipients outside prisons to track which outsiders speak to multiple prisoners regularly. Corrections officials representing the states of Texas, Florida, and Arkansas, along with Arizona's Yavapai and Pinal counties; Alachua County, Florida; and Travis County, Texas, also confirmed that they are actively using voice recognition technology today. And a review of contracting documents identified other jurisdictions that have acquired similar voice-print capture capabilities: Connecticut and Georgia state corrections officials have signed contracts for the technology Authorities and prison technology companies say this mass biometric surveillance supports prison security and fraud prevention efforts. But civil liberties advocates argue that the biometric buildup has been neither transparent nor consensual. Some jurisdictions, for example, limit incarcerated people's phone access if they refuse to enroll in the voice recognition system, while others enroll incarcerated people without their knowledge. Once the data exists, they note, it could potentially be used by other agencies, without any say from the public.

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Amazon Begins Pulling Products From Its India Site as Local Government’s Strict New Policies Go Into Effect

An anonymous reader writes: Amazon and Walmart have been dealt a big blow in India, one of their most important markets, after the local government today declined a request to extend the deadline for the implementation of revised rules regarding how foreign ecommerce platforms sell goods and conduct business in the country. The local government, which revised its ecommerce policies late December, prohibit Amazon and Flipkart from selling goods from companies in which they have a stake. The two companies were hoping the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, the government agency that issued the revised policies, would extend the February 1 deadline. But efforts to gain more time were unsuccessful. (At around 6:50 p.m. local time -- 8.20 a.m. Pacific, the government said it won't be extending the deadline.) Under the current laws, foreign-owned ecommerce companies are not allowed to sell directly to customers (in other words, to operate under an inventory-based model of ecommerce). Instead, they can only provide a marketplace that acts as "an information technology platform" and serves as a facilitator between "buyer and seller." To bypass this restriction, both Amazon and Flipkart, which sold a majority stake to Walmart last year, have acquired stakes in some of the biggest third-party sellers in the country. For instance, Amazon owns stake in parent companies of Cloudtail India and Appario Retail, while Flipkart until recently controlled WS Retail, the largest seller on its platform. The local government's revised policies fixed that loophole. Starting at 1.30 am Friday local time, several Amazon-owned products, including select Echo smart speakers, as well as some travel bags, batteries, and chargers under Basics brand, have become unavailable on Amazon's website.

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Many Windows 10 Users Unable To Connect To Windows Update Service

For the past two days, some Windows 10 users from around the world have been reporting that they are unable to connect to Windows Update. When they attempt to do so, Windows 10 will complain that they are unable to connect to the update service. From a report: We first learned about this problem yesterday when our member Opera contacted us stating that they, and many others, were having issues connecting to Windows Update. When they tried updating, Windows would report that it could not connect to the update service. The wording of the error, shown below, indicates that this is an Internet connectivity issue, but others are not so sure. "We couldn't connect to the update service. We'll try again later, or you can check now. If it still doesn't work, make sure you're connected to the Internet" Unfortunately, there is no clear cut answer as to what is causing this issue and some feel it is related to a botched Windows Defender update and others state that this could be a DNS issue.

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Criminals Are Tapping Into the Phone Network Backbone to Empty Bank Accounts

Sophisticated hackers have long exploited flaws in SS7, a protocol used by telecom companies to coordinate how they route texts and calls around the world. Those who exploit SS7 can potentially track phones across the other side of the planet, and intercept text messages and phone calls without hacking the phone itself. From a report: This activity was typically only within reach of intelligence agencies or surveillance contractors, but now Motherboard has confirmed that this capability is much more widely available in the hands of financially-driven cybercriminal groups, who are using it to empty bank accounts. So-called SS7 attacks against banks are, although still relatively rare, much more prevalent than previously reported. Motherboard has identified a specific bank -- the UK's Metro Bank -- that fell victim to such an attack. The news highlights the gaping holes in the world's telecommunications infrastructure that the telco industry has known about for years despite ongoing attacks from criminals. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the defensive arm of the UK's signals intelligence agency GCHQ, confirmed that SS7 is being used to intercept codes used for banking. "We are aware of a known telecommunications vulnerability being exploited to target bank accounts by intercepting SMS text messages used as 2-Factor Authentication (2FA)," The NCSC told Motherboard in a statement. "Some of our clients in the banking industry or other financial services; they see more and more SS7- based [requests],â Karsten Nohl, a researcher from Security Research Labs who has worked on SS7 for years, told Motherboard in a phone call. "All of a sudden you have someone's text messages."

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Engineers Create a Robot That Can ‘Imagine’ Itself

Columbia Engineering researchers have made a major advance in robotics by creating a robot that learns what it is, from scratch, with zero prior knowledge of physics, geometry, or motor dynamics. Initially the robot does not know if it is a spider, a snake, an arm -- it has no clue what its shape is. After a brief period of "babbling," and within about a day of intensive computing, their robot creates a self-simulation. The robot can then use that self-simulator internally to contemplate and adapt to different situations, handling new tasks as well as detecting and repairing damage in its own body. From a report: The work is published today in Science Robotics. To date, robots have operated by having a human explicitly model the robot. "But if we want robots to become independent, to adapt quickly to scenarios unforeseen by their creators, then it's essential that they learn to simulate themselves," says Hod Lipson, professor of mechanical engineering, and director of the Creative Machines lab, where the research was done. For the study, Lipson and his PhD student Robert Kwiatkowski used a four-degree-of-freedom articulated robotic arm. Initially, the robot moved randomly and collected approximately one thousand trajectories, each comprising one hundred points. The robot then used deep learning, a modern machine learning technique, to create a self-model. The first self-models were quite inaccurate, and the robot did not know what it was, or how its joints were connected. But after less than 35 hours of training, the self-model became consistent with the physical robot to within about four centimeters. The self-model performed a pick-and-place task in a closed loop system that enabled the robot to recalibrate its original position between each step along the trajectory based entirely on the internal self-model. With the closed loop control, the robot was able to grasp objects at specific locations on the ground and deposit them into a receptacle with 100 percent success.

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Locast, a Free App Streaming Network TV, Would Love to Get Sued

Want to watch the Super Bowl and other network TV for free? A start-up called Locast will let you, and (so far) the big broadcasters aren't trying to stop it. From a report: On the roof of a luxury building at the edge of Central Park, 585 feet above the concrete, a lawyer named David Goodfriend has attached a modest four-foot antenna that is a threat to the entire TV-industrial complex. The device is there to soak up TV signals coursing through the air -- content from NBC, ABC, Fox, PBS and CBS. Once plucked from the ether, the content is piped through the internet and assembled into an app called Locast. It's a streaming service, and it makes all of this network programming available to subscribers in ways that are more convenient than relying on a home antenna: It's viewable on almost any device, at any time, in pristine quality that doesn't cut in and out. It's also completely free. If this sounds familiar, you might be thinking of Aereo, the Barry Diller-backed start-up that in 2012 threatened to upend the media industry by capturing over-the-air TV signals and streaming the content to subscribers for a fee -- while not paying broadcasters a dime. NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox banded together and sued, eventually convincing the Supreme Court that Aereo had violated copyright law. The clear implication for many: If you mess with the broadcasters, you'll file for bankruptcy and cost your investors more than $100 million. Mr. Goodfriend took a different lesson. A former media executive with stints at the Federal Communications Commission and in the Clinton administration, he wondered if an Aereo-like offering that was structured as a noncommercial entity would remain within the law. Last January, he started Locast in New York. The service now has about 60,000 users in Houston, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Dallas and Denver as well as New York, and will soon add more in Washington, D.C. Mr. Goodfriend, 50, said he hoped to cover the entire nation as quickly as possible. "I'm not stopping," he said. "I can't now." The comment is basically a dare to the networks to take legal action against him. By giving away TV, Mr. Goodfriend is undercutting the licensing fees that major broadcasters charge the cable and satellite companies -- a sum that will exceed $10 billion this year, according to the research firm Kagan S&P Global Market Intelligence. For cable customers, the traditional network channels typically add about $12 to a monthly bill.

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Mozilla Writes To European Commission About Facebook’s Lack of Ad Transparency

Mark Wilson writes: Facebook has been no stranger to controversy and scandal over the years, but things have been particularly bad over the last twelve months. The latest troubles find Mozilla complaining to the European Commission about the social network's lack of transparency, particularly when it comes to political advertising. Mozilla's Chief Operating Officer, Denelle Dixon, has penned a missive to Mariya Gabriel, the European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society. She bemoans the fact that Facebook makes it impossible to conduct analysis of ads, and this in turn prevents Mozilla from offering full transparency to European citizens -- something it sees as important in light of the impending EU elections.

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Intel’s Interim CEO Bob Swan Gets the Job Permanently

Intel has named interim CEO Robert Swan to the role on a permanent basis on Thursday while also naming a new interim chief financial officer. From a report: [Former CEO] Krzanich resigned last June under somewhat peculiar circumstances, after he was found to have engaged in a "consensual relationship" with an employee a while back. The relationship, which only came to light much later, violated an internal "non-fraternization policy" that applies to all senior managers. Swan began his career at General Electric and spent nine years as chief financial officer (CFO) of eBay. He later joined investment firm General Atlantic, before leaving to become Intel's CFO in 2016 -- a role he has continued to hold while serving as interim CEO.

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US, China Take the Lead in Race For AI: UN

China and the United States are ahead of the global competition to dominate artificial intelligence (AI), according to a study by the U.N. World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) published on Thursday. From a report: The study found U.S. tech giant IBM had by far the biggest AI patent portfolio, with 8,920 patents, ahead of Microsoft with 5,930 and a group of mainly Japanese tech conglomerates. China accounted for 17 of the top 20 academic institutions involved in patenting AI and was particularly strong in the fast growing area of "deep learning" - a machine-learning technique that includes speech recognition systems. "The U.S. and China obviously have stolen a lead. They're out in front in this area, in terms of numbers of applications, and in scientific publications," WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry told a news conference. U.S. President Donald Trump has accused China of stealing American innovations and technology and has slapped trade tariffs on $234 billion of Chinese goods to punish Beijing.

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Apple is Planning 3D Cameras for Next Year’s iPhones; Three Rear Cameras Setup For This Year’s Phone; and Dark Mode for iOS 13: Report

Apple plans to launch iPhones with a more-powerful 3-D camera as soon as next year, stepping up the company's push into augmented reality, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. From the report: The rear-facing, longer-range 3-D camera is designed to scan the environment to create three-dimensional reconstructions of the real world. It will work up to about 15 feet from the device, the people said. Apple's new system uses a laser scanner, rather than the existing dot-projection technology which doesn't work as well over longer distances, according to the people, who asked not to be identified discussing unreleased features. That's just one of many new features -- including a third, more advanced camera, enhanced photo-capture tools and a more powerful chip -- that Apple plans to include in coming generations of iPhones, the people said. [...] For 2019, Apple plans successors to the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max -- code-named D42 and D43 -- and an update to the iPhone XR, said the people. The larger of the new high-end iPhones will have three cameras on the back, and other handsets could eventually come with the upgraded system, too, the people said. [...] Apple's next operating system update, iOS 13, will include a dark mode option for easier nighttime viewing and improvements to CarPlay, the company's in-vehicle software.

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Xbox One Consoles Are Down

If you are having trouble getting your Xbox One online, you are not alone. Xbox One consoles around the world have stopped working. From a report: Xbox One owners are reporting major problems with their consoles online with displays being stuck on black screens at startup, games not loading, and errors when trying to login to Xbox Live. Microsoft is aware of the situation and has promised to give more information when they have it. Within a couple of hours, the official Xbox Support Twitter account updated everyone, saying that they have identified the problem and are working on fixing it. There is no estimate on how long it will take to fix. Bad week for Microsoft services continues. Update: The issue with Xbox Live appears to have been resolved.

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Google’s Also Peddling a Data Collector Through Apple’s Back Door

Facebook is not the only one abusing Apple's system for distributing employee-only apps to sidestep the App Store and collect extensive data on users. Google has been running an app called Screenwise Meter, which bears a strong resemblance to the app distributed by Facebook Research that has now been barred by Apple, TechCrunch reported Wednesday. From the report: In its app, Google invites users aged 18 and up (or 13 if part of a family group) to download the app by way of a special code and registration process using an Enterprise Certificate. That's the same type of policy violation that led Apple to shut down Facebook's similar Research VPN iOS app, which had the knock-on effect of also disabling usage of Facebook's legitimate employee-only apps -- which run on the same Facebook Enterprise Certificate -- and making Facebook look very iffy in the process. It needs to be pointed out that Google's app is relatively transparent about what it does and who runs it.

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Chrome 72 Arrives With Code Injection Blocking, New Developer Features

Following Mozilla's footsteps, Google has released Chrome 72 for Windows, Mac, and Linux. From a report: The release includes code injection blocking and new developer features. You can update to the latest version now using Chrome's built-in updater or download it directly from google.com/chrome. With over 1 billion users, Chrome is both a browser and a major platform that web developers must consider. In fact, with Chrome's regular additions and changes, developers often must make an effort to stay on top of everything available -- as well as what has been deprecated or removed -- most notably, Chrome 72 removes support for Chromecast setup on a computer. To set up a Chromecast, you'll now need to use a mobile device. As this isn't a major release, there aren't many new features to cover. Chrome 72 for Windows, however, blocks code injections, reducing crashes caused by third-party software. The initiative to block code injections in Chrome started last year, with warnings letting users know that Chrome was fighting back. Those warnings are now gone, and Chrome blocks code injections full stop. Further reading: All the Chromium-based browsers.

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Schools Are Locking Students’ Phones Away to Help With Concentration

Students at a California high school are getting less screen time since the school implemented a ban on cellphone use during the school day. From a report: After one teacher at San Lorenzo High School brought pouches, created by the tech start-up Yondr, into her classroom to lock away students' phones, the entire school began using them from the beginning of the school day at 8 a.m. until the end of the day at 3:10 p.m. According to a 2018 study from the Pew Research Center, more than half of teens said they felt loneliness, anxiety, or upset in the absence of a cellphone. The study also found that girls were more likely to feel these sentiments than boys. "If something feels weird about modern life to young kids who are dealing with a lot of angst and anxiety in general, maybe it has something to do with relating to the world primarily through a screen eight hours a day," Yondr's founder Graham Dugoni told CNBC. Students said they initially felt awkward and annoyed having their phones taken away during the school day, but added that they started to see more teens interacting with each other. One student added that not having a phone in class helped with concentration.

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Americans Got 26.3 Billion Robocalls Last Year, Up 46 Percent From 2017

Americans are now getting so many robo-calls on a regular basis that many are simply choosing not to answer the phone altogether. From a report: That's one big takeaway from a report [PDF] released Tuesday by Hiya, a Seattle-based spam-monitoring service that analyzed activity from 450,000 users of its app to determine the scope of unwanted robo-calling -- and how phone users react when they receive an automated call. Consistent with other analyses, Hiya's report found that the number of robo-calls is on the rise. Roughly 26.3 billion robo-calls were placed to U.S. phone numbers last year, Hiya said, up from 18 billion in 2017. One report last year projected that as many as half of all cellphone calls in 2019 could be spam. While many businesses have legitimate purposes for using robo-calls -- think package delivery services, home maintenance technicians and banks -- unwanted robo-calls represent a growing challenge for regulators and telecom companies. In its analysis of a month's worth of calling data, Hiya found that each of its app users reported an average of 10 unwanted robo-calls. Many more incoming calls, about 60 on average, were from unrecognized numbers or numbers not linked to a person in the recipient's address book.

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Electronics Are ‘the Fastest-Growing Waste Stream in the World’

Electronic waste is a growing threat to the environment. Thanks to the low cost of manufacturing, it's easier than ever for corporations to pump out millions of laptops, smart phones, internet of things devices, and other electronics. From a report: A new initiative combining the efforts of the United Nations and the World Economic Forum and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development wants to change that. The group formed the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE), and announced itself at Davos -- a yearly gathering of the world's wealthy elite -- where it released its first report. "E-waste is now the fastest-growing waste stream in the world," PACE's report said. "It is estimated this waste stream reached 48.5 million tonnes in 2018." Most of that waste comes from Europe and the United States and ends up in places like Nigeria and Hong Kong, which suffer the human and economic costs of disposing of the material. "The material value [of e-waste] alone is worth $62.5 billion, three times more than the annual output of the world's silver mines and more than the GDP of most countries," PACE's report [PDF] said.

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iRobot Unveils Terra, a Roomba Lawn Mower

Krystalo writes: iRobot is best known for making vacuum cleaner robots: the infamous Roomba lineup. But the company also makes mopping robots (Braava lineup), pool cleaning robots (Mirra lineup), a bot to help clean gutters, and even programmable robots (Create lineup). So, what's next for your home? A lawn mower robot. Queue the "get off my lawn" jokes.

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Mind-Altering Cat Parasite Linked To Schizophrenia in Largest Study Yet

Scientists claim they have found new evidence of a link between infection with the protozoan parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, and schizophrenia, in what is described as the largest study of its kind. From a report: T. gondii, a brain-dwelling parasite estimated to be hosted by at least 2 billion people around the world, doesn't create symptoms in most people who become infected -- but acute cases of toxoplasmosis can be dangerous. Healthy adults are generally thought to not be at risk from T. gondii infections, but children or people with suppressed immune systems can develop severe flu-like symptoms, in addition to blurred vision and brain inflammation. Pregnant women need to be careful too, as the parasite can cause foetal abnormalities or even miscarriage. Aside from the known physiological dangers, however, the stranger and more ambiguous risks associated with the parasite remain largely hypothetical -- although a huge body of research suggests something weird is going on. Causation remains very much disputable, but the brain-dwelling parasite -- commonly carried by cats and present in their faeces -- has been linked to a huge host of behaviour-altering effects. Virtually all warm-blooded animals are capable of being infected, and when T. gondii gets inside them, unusual things happen. In rodents, animals seemingly lose their inhibitions, becoming more exploratory and losing their aversion to cat odours.

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Apple Says It’s Banning Facebook’s Research App That Collects Users’ Personal Information

Facebook is at the center of another privacy scandal -- and this time it hasn't just angered users. It has also angered Apple. From a report: The short version: Apple says Facebook broke an agreement it made with Apple by publishing a "research" app for iPhone users that allowed the social giant to collect all kinds of personal data about those users, TechCrunch reported Tuesday. The app allowed Facebook to track users' app history, their private messages and their location data. Facebook's research effort reportedly targeted users as young as 13 years old. As of last summer, apps that collect that kind of data are against Apple's privacy guidelines. That means Facebook couldn't make this research app available through the App Store, which would have required Apple approval. Instead, Facebook apparently took advantage of Apple's "Developer Enterprise Program," which lets approved Apple partners, like Facebook, test and distribute apps specifically for their own employees. In those cases, the employees can use third-party services to download beta versions of apps that aren't available to the general public. Update: The Verge reports: Apple has shut down Facebook's ability to distribute internal iOS apps, from early releases of the Facebook app to basic tools like a lunch menu. A person familiar with the situation tells The Verge that early versions of Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and other pre-release "dogfood" (beta) apps have stopped working, as have other employee apps, like one for transportation. Facebook is treating this as a critical problem internally, we're told, as the affected apps simply don't launch on employees' phones anymore. Update 2: Apple says it shut down Facebook's app before the social company could voluntarily shut it down -- contrary to an earlier statement by Facebook, in which it said it was shutting down the app.

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China Will Attempt 30-Plus Launches in 2019, Including Crucial Long March 5 Missions

New submitter starmanaj shares a report: The main contractor for the Chinese space program is planning more than 30 launches in 2019, with major missions including the crucial return-to-flight of the heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket in July. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), announced Jan. 29 that it would aim to loft more than 50 spacecraft on 30-plus launches this year. Among these will be the third launch on the Long March 5, a 5-meter-diameter, 57-meter-tall heavy-lift launch vehicle which failed in its second flight in July 2017, delaying the Chang'e-5 lunar sample return mission and the construction of the Chinese Space Station. The mission will take place in July at the coastal Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan island, CASC vice president Yang Baohua said at a Jan. 29 news conference in Beijing, which also saw the release of a "Blue Book of China Aerospace Science and Technology Activities."

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Amazon To Fund CS Classes in Over 130 NYC High Schools

Amazon announced today a plan to fund computer science classes in more than 130 New York City area high schools. Specifically, Amazon will fund both introductory and Advanced Placement (AP) classes across all five NYC boroughs, including more than 30 schools in Queens, near its new headquarters. From a report: The courses will be supported by the Amazon Future Engineer program, whose stated goal is to bring more than 10 million kids to computer science per year, and fund computer science courses for over 100,000 underprivileged kids in 2,000 low-income high schools in the U.S. It also awards 100 students per year with four-year $10,000 scholarships and offers internships at Amazon. The funding for the New York area schools will cover preparatory lessons, tutorials and professional development for teachers, says Amazon, as well as offer sequenced and paced digital curriculum for students, and live online support for both teachers and students. All participating students will also receive a free membership to AWS Educate, which offers free computing power in the AWS Cloud for coding projects.

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Apple Was Notified About Major FaceTime Eavesdropping Bug Over a Week Ago

An anonymous reader writes: Twitter user MGT7500 tagged the official Apple Support account in a January 20 tweet claiming that her 14-year-old son discovered a "major security flaw" that allowed him to "listen in to your iPhone/iPad without your approval." The user also tagged Tim Cook on the issue in a follow-up tweet on January 21." Once the bug started making headlines on Monday, the Twitter user then shared additional tweets claiming that they had also emailed Apple's product security team over a week ago. A screenshot of the email was shared, and it appears the team did respond, but what they said is not visible in the screenshot. [...] All in all, there is evidence that Apple Support was tagged about an eavesdropping bug eight days before it made headlines, and if the rest of the tweets are truthful, the company was also alerted about the bug via several other avenues. The original story has been updated to include another example of a user -- John Meyer -- who has shared a video about the FaceTime bug that he says was recorded and sent to Apple on January 23.

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System76 Unveils ‘Darter Pro’ Linux Laptop With Choice of Ubuntu or Pop!_OS

An anonymous reader writes: Today, System76 unveiled its latest laptop -- the 15.6-inch (full-HD) "Darter Pro." It is thin, but not overly so -- it still has USB-A ports (thankfully). The computer is quite modern, however, as it also has a USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port. It supports Pop!_OS 18.04 LTS (64-bit), Pop!_OS 18.10 (64-bit), or Ubuntu 18.04 LTS (64-bit) operating system. It comes in two variants, with the following processor options: 8th Gen Intel Core i5-8265U: 1.6 up to 3.90 GHz -- 6MB Cache -- 4 Cores -- 8 Threads, or 8th Gen Intel Core i7-8565U: 1.8 up to 4.60 GHz -- 8MB Cache -- 4 Cores -- 8 Threads, with either coupled with Intel UHD Graphics 620 GPU, and up to 32GB Dual Channel DDR4 @ 2400 MHz, and M.2 SATA or PCIe NVMe SSD for storage. As for ports, there is USB 3.1 Type-C with Thunderbolt 3, 2 USB 3.0 Type-A, 1 x USB 2.0, SD Card Reader. The company says it will announce the pricing at a later stage,

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US Judge Rejects Yahoo Data Breach Settlement

A U.S. judge rejected Yahoo's proposed settlement with millions of people whose email addresses and other personal information were stolen in the largest data breach in history, faulting the Internet services provider for a lack of transparency. From a report: In a Monday night decision, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, said she could not declare the settlement "fundamentally fair, adequate and reasonable" because it did not say how much victims could expect to recover. Yahoo, now part of New York-based Verizon Communications, was accused of being too slow to disclose three breaches from 2013 to 2016 that affected an estimated 3 billion accounts. The settlement called for a $50 million payout, plus two years of free credit monitoring for about 200 million people in the United States and Israel with nearly 1 billion accounts.

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Meet the Guy Who Holds the Guinness World Record For Collecting Spreadsheets

harrymcc writes: Ariel Fischman, a financial advisor in Mexico City, has been using spreadsheet software for 30 years. And in recent years he's been collecting it: VisiCalc, 1-2-3, Excel, Quattro, and lesser lights in their once-familiar boxes, in a dizzying array of variants stretching back to the 1970s. Last year, Guinness World Records certified that his collection is without peer. I recently spoke to him about it -- starting with the obvious question -- Why spreadsheets? -- for Fast Company.

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JavaScript Overtakes Java As Most Popular Programming Language

An anonymous reader writes: Today, HackerRank released the 2019 edition of its annual Developer Skills Report (PDF), surveying over 71,000 software developers from more than 100 countries. Every single industry requires software developers, meaning competition for technical talent is fierce. The idea here is to help everyone from CEOs and executives to hiring managers and recruiters understand the developers they're pursuing. We've put together a quick video to summarize the results. HackerRank asked developers which programming languages they knew and which ones they wanted to learn. Seventy-three percent of developers said they knew JavaScript in 2018, up from 66 percent in 2017. JavaScript was 2018's most well-known language, compared to Java in 2017.

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Firefox 65 Arrives With Content Blocking Controls, and Support for WebP and AV1

Firefox 65, the latest version of Mozilla's web browser, is now available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android platforms. The release brings simplified Content Blocking controls for Enhanced Tracking Protection, support for WebP image support with the Windows client getting an additional feature: support for AV1 format. From a report: Across all platforms, Firefox can now handle Google's WebP image format. WebP supports both lossy and lossless compression and promises the same image quality as existing formats at smaller file sizes. Firefox 65 for desktop brings redesigned controls for the Content Blocking section to let users choose their desired level of privacy protection. You can access it by either clicking on the small "i" icon in the address bar and clicking on the gear on the right side under Content Blocking or by going to Preferences, Privacy & Security, and then Content Blocking. Next, Firefox now supports AV1, the royalty-free video codec developed by the Alliance for Open Media. AV1 improves compression efficiency by more than 30 percent over the codec VP9, which it is meant to succeed. Lastly, Firefox's new Task Manager page (just navigate to about:performance or find it under "Other" in the main menu) is complete. Introduced in Firefox 64, Task Manager now reports memory usage for tabs and add-ons.

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Amazon Prime Video Has More Movies, But Netflix Has Higher-Rated Films, Study Says

When you want to watch a movie, which streaming service truly delivers? If you want quality, opt for Netflix. If you prefer quantity, peruse Amazon Prime Video. From a report: That's the conclusion from Streaming Observer. The tech news website looked at all of the movies on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and HBO Now as of January 20 and analyzed the films' ratings on movie and TV review site Rotten Tomatoes. Also factored in: data from the streaming providers, as well as third-party search sites Reelgood and JustWatch. The site found Amazon had the most movies (17,461) -- four times that of Netflix (3,839) and many more times the amount on Hulu (2,336) and HBO (815). But Netflix had more movies -- 596, more than 15 percent of its library -- with a "Certified Fresh" rating from Rotten Tomatoes, a designation given to the best-reviewed films.

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A Bug in FaceTime Allows One To Access Someone’s iPhone Camera And Microphone Before They Answered the Call; Apple Temporarily Disables Group FaceTime Feature

Social media sites lit up today with anxious Apple users after a strange glitch in iPhone's FaceTime app became apparent. The issue: It turns out that an iPhone user can call another iPhone user and listen in on -- and access live video feed of -- that person's conversations through the device's microphone and camera -- even if the recipient does not answer the call. In a statement, Apple said it was aware of the bug and was working to release a fix later this week. In the meanwhile, the company has disabled Group calling functionality on FaceTime app. From a report: The issue was so serious that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, and even Andrew Cuomo, governor of the state of New York, weighed in and urged their followers to disable FaceTime. [...] That's bad news for a company that's been vocal about privacy and customer data protection lately. The timing couldn't be worse, given that Apple is set to host its earnings call for the October-December quarter of 2018 in just a matter of hours.

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Huawei Is Blocked in US, But Its Chips Power Cameras Everywhere

An anonymous reader shares a report: Pelco, a California-based security camera maker, set lofty sales targets last year for a model with sharper video resolution and other cutting-edge features. That was until Congress derailed its plans. In August, updated legislation barred the U.S. military and government from buying tech gear from firms deemed too close to authorities in China. When the bill surfaced, Pelco scrapped any thought of providing its new GPC Professional 4K camera to the U.S. government and lowered its sales goals. The reason: The device uses parts from HiSilicon, the chip division of Huawei. [...] Most of the focus is on Huawei telecom gear that helps run communications networks all over the world. But chips from the HiSilicon unit are also sparking concern because they power about 60 percent of surveillance cameras. That means Chinese chips process video from cameras that sit in places as varied as pizzerias, offices and banks across the U.S.

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Google Glass is Still Around

Google may have discontinued the sale of Google Glass years ago, but die hard fans have not given up. From a report: Glassholes still exist, just not as boogeymen haunting the tech section of your newspaper. There's a small group of fans still talking and updating and buying and selling on Reddit. Somebody who picked up a pair for $150 and wants help using the device to display sheet music; somebody with questions about installing an older operating system onto Glass Enterprise; another person looking for foldable frames; somebody else trying to fix a broken device; people looking to buy, as well as a number of people asking if it's even worth it to spend any money on the now-defunct tech. (Spoiler: survey says it's not.) There is also, weirdly, somebody asking if Google nixed Google Glass "because 'someone' was made aware of the book 'The Circle' by Dave Eggers?" Reading through the forum, it seems wrong to regard the dwindling frequenters of /r/googleglass as Glassholes. On the contrary, they seem to bust out their devices at incredibly appropriate moments. "I pretty much only use Glass for taking pictures/video while running/hiking or anywhere I don't have access to a phone or don't want to carry one," writes one Redditor. "It's a great way to capture highlights of a marathon, for instance, without having to stop and pull out a phone." "Text notifications. Phone calls whilst driving, pix and video while on the go," writes another.

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Amid Chaos Venezuelans Struggle To Find The Truth, Online

In Venezuela, where media is controlled by the government, figuring out what is truth, rumor or propaganda has always been difficult. NPR reports: In recent days it's gotten even more confusing. President Nicolas Maduro has refused to cede power to the opposition party. There have been widespread protests and looting -- and the rumor mill has been churning on social media. But many Venezuelans have found a way to use social media in their favor. Javier Rojo owns a pharmacy in the capital city of Caracas. As the chaos started, he gave his workers the day off, went home and turned on the TV -- only to find nothing was being reported. "Independent media has been gradually attacked or shut down over time," says professor Gregory Weeks, who teaches Latin American politics at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. "So that in general social media becomes the means by which you learn what's going on, on an ongoing basis." Back at his house, Rojo says he started getting messages on WhatsApp like this one from from one of his employees: "Tanks are rolling into the park. They are launching tear gas." But then, Rojo started receiving WhatsApp messages with rumors from people he doesn't even know. One man, who says his aunt's husband is a military officer, swore that Maduro has resigned. Professor Raisa Urribarri researches technology and politics at Universidad de Los Andes in Venezuela. She says it's hard to trace the origins of some messages in Venezuelan social media. They can be from panicked citizens, the opposition or the government.

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Apple Spent $60B on 9,000 American Suppliers in 2018, Supporting 450,000 Jobs

An anonymous reader shares a report: Well timed with a report from The New York Times today that explained why Apple is unlikely to manufacture more of its products in the United States, Apple has published a press release highlighting how several components it uses are manufactured by U.S. suppliers such as Finisar, Corning, and Broadcom. Apple says it spent $60 billion with 9,000 American component suppliers and companies in 2018, an increase of more than 10 percent from the year before. Apple says this spending supports more than 450,000 jobs in the United States.

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Windows Media Player Set To Lose a Feature on Windows 7

With Windows 7 reaching its end of life in less than a year, developers are likely to begin retiring features for the operating system. Kicking off the process of retiring features is Microsoft, which is retiring a feature in Windows Media Player, according to updated support documentation on its website. From a report: New metadata for music, TV shows and movies, will not be added to Windows Media Player. This means that additional information such as cover art, directors, actors, and more, will not display on Windows Media Player. This change also affects Windows Media Center on Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 8.1.

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Location Finds Bluetooth, Ultra-Wideband

An update of the Bluetooth specification released today enables location services accurate to within 10 centimeters thanks to a new direction-finding capability. From a report: It arrives as a separate draft standard is nearly ready for an even faster and more accurate capability using ultra-wideband (UWB) radio, geared for use in smartphones. Bluetooth 5.1 describes ways to determine location using multiple antennas at either the transmitter or receiver. It uses measures of signal phase and amplitude to measure location, though profiles for application developers are still being finished. In mid-March, the IEEE 802.15.4z standard for UWB should be in a stable draft form, opening the door for silicon designs. It enables location measures within a single centimeter and resolves in a nanosecond, a rate faster than Bluetooth. Smartphone giants Apple and Samsung have been active in the .4z meetings also attended by Huawei, leading some to suggest that the capability could be integrated in handsets within two years. NXP has also been active since the group started a year ago, giving rise to speculation that UWB could come into phones though an integrated NFC chip.

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NASA Making Renewed Efforts To Contact Mars Rover Opportunity

NASA is making a new, and perhaps final, attempt to restore contact with the Mars rover Opportunity, which has not communicated with the Earth for more than six months. From a report: The Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced Jan. 25 that it was transmitting a new set of commands to address what it acknowledged are "low-likelihood" events that could have kept the rover from contacting Earth. These new efforts are in addition to the months-long "sweep and beep" campaign of transmitting other commands and listening for a reply from the rover. The new commands address scenarios where the rover's primary X-band radio has failed or both the primary and backup X-band radios have failed, as well as cases where Opportunity's internal clock has an offset affecting its timing. The commands direct the rover to switch to the backup X-band radio or use its UHF transmitter to contact Earth, as well as resetting its clock. Those scenarios could explain why the rover has failed to contact Earth, but project officials acknowledge that those scenarios are unlikely. "A series of unlikely events would need to have transpired for any one of these faults to occur," JPL noted in the statement about the new campaign.

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A Tiny Screw Shows Why iPhones Won’t Be ‘Assembled in USA’

An anonymous reader shares a report: Despite a trade war between the United States and China and past admonishments from President Trump "to start building their damn computers and things in this country," Apple is unlikely to bring its manufacturing closer to home. A tiny screw illustrates why. [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source.] In 2012, Apple's chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, went on prime-time television to announce that Apple would make a Mac computer in the United States. It would be the first Apple product in years to be manufactured by American workers, and the top-of-the-line Mac Pro would come with an unusual inscription: "Assembled in USA." But when Apple began making the $3,000 computer in Austin, Tex., it struggled to find enough screws, according to three people who worked on the project and spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements. In China, Apple relied on factories that can produce vast quantities of custom screws on short notice. In Texas, where they say everything is bigger, it turned out the screw suppliers were not. Tests of new versions of the computer were hamstrung because a 20-employee machine shop that Apple's manufacturing contractor was relying on could produce at most 1,000 screws a day. The screw shortage was one of several problems that postponed sales of the computer for months, the people who worked on the project said. By the time the computer was ready for mass production, Apple had ordered screws from China.

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Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3+ Promises Better Performance, Starts at $25

The Raspberry Pi Foundation is adding a new device to its suite of miniature computers for industrial and enterprise customers. From a report: The charity today unveiled the Pi Compute Module 3+ (CM3+), successor to the two-year-old Compute Module 3 (CM3). The Pi Compute Module 3+ comes in four variants, starting at $25. The Raspberry Pi Compute Module is derived from the CM3 board but offers better thermal behavior under load. That's possible because of the Broadcom's 64-bit BCM2837B0 application processor, which was also used in last year's Raspberry Pi 3B+, and 1GB of LPDDR2 RAM. The difference between the four variants resides in their storage limits. The CM3+ Lite does not offer a built-in eMMC Flash, whereas other variants include 8GB ($30), 16GB ($35), and 32GB ($40) of eMMC Flash. These eMMC flash chips are more reliable and robust than normal SD cards, the foundation claims.

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Google Voice VoIP Calls Will Be Live For Everyone by Next Week

An anonymous reader shares a report: Google took a long, long break from Google Voice a while back. After letting the app fall into disrepair, Google expressed a renewed commitment to Voice in 2017. It has since announced a handful of feature updates, including VoIP calling in 2018. However, that feature never actually rolled out to everyone. Google's Scott Johnston says it's almost time, though. We know that some Voice users got VoIP calling as far back as September. Like far too many Google features lately, this is a server-side change and not controlled by an app update. For some unknown reason, Google has dragged its feet rolling it out to everyone. According to Johnston, things are back on track and the VoIP calling feature will be live for all users by next week.

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The Messy Truth About Infiltrating Computer Supply Chains

In October last year, Bloomberg Businessweek published an alarming story: Operatives working for China's People's Liberation Army had secretly implanted microchips into motherboards made in China and sold by U.S.-based Supermicro. While Bloomberg's story -- which has been challenged by numerous players -- may well be completely (or partly) wrong, the danger of China compromising hardware supply chains is very real, judging from classified intelligence documents, reports The Intercept. From the report: U.S. spy agencies were warned about the threat in stark terms nearly a decade ago and even assessed that China was adept at corrupting the software bundled closest to a computer's hardware at the factory, threatening some of the U.S. government's most sensitive machines, according to documents provided by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. The documents also detail how the U.S. and its allies have themselves systematically targeted and subverted tech supply chains, with the NSA conducting its own such operations, including in China, in partnership with the CIA and other intelligence agencies. The documents also disclose supply chain operations by German and French intelligence. What's clear is that supply chain attacks are a well-established, if underappreciated, method of surveillance -- and much work remains to be done to secure computing devices from this type of compromise. "An increasing number of actors are seeking the capability to target ... supply chains and other components of the U.S. information infrastructure," the intelligence community stated in a secret 2009 report. "Intelligence reporting provides only limited information on efforts to compromise supply chains, in large part because we do not have the access or technology in place necessary for reliable detection of such operations."

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Pay up or Sell up, ICANN Tells Failing New gTLD

ICANN has responded to a request for it to reduce the $25,000 annual fee it charges gTLD registries. The answer is no. From a report: That wholly unsurprising reply came in a letter from registry services director Russ Weinstein to John McCabe, CEO of failing new gTLD operator Who's Who Registry. McCabe, in November, had asked ICANN to reduce its fees for TLDs, such as its own .whoswho, that have zero levels of abuse. ICANN fees are the "single biggest item" in the company's budget, he said. His request coincided with ICANN commencing compliance proceedings against the company for failure to pay these fees. Weinstein wrote, in a letter [PDF] published today: "We sympathize with the financial challenges that some new gTLD registry operators may be facing in the early periods of these new businesses. New gTLD operators face a challenging task of building consumer awareness and this can and may take significant time and effort." But he goes on to point out that the $25,000-a-year fee was known to all applicants before they applied, and had been subject to numerous rounds of public comment before the Applicant Guidebook was finalized.

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YouTube To Curb Conspiracy Theory Video Recommendations

YouTube said today that it is retooling its recommendation algorithm that suggests new videos to users in order to prevent promoting conspiracies and false information, reflecting a growing willingness to quell misinformation on the world's largest video platform after several public missteps. From a report: These recommendations all too often serve up unsavory content: ludicrous conspiracy theories about mass-shooting events being staged, far-fetched proclamations that the moon landing never happened, and hare-brained notions that the Earth on which we live is, well, flat. Moving forward, YouTube promises that you'll see less of those kinds of videos. This is similar to moves it's made in the past to reduce clickbaity recommendations, or videos that are slight variations on something else you've watched. "We'll continue that work this year, including taking a closer look at how we can reduce the spread of content that comes close to -- but doesn't quite cross the line of -- violating our Community Guidelines," YouTube said in a blog post. "While this shift will apply to less than one percent of the content on YouTube, we believe that limiting the recommendation of these types of videos will mean a better experience for the YouTube community."

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Illinois Supreme Court Rules Against Six Flags in Lawsuit Over Fingerprint Scans, Says Actual Harm Unnecessary For Biometric Case

The family of a teenager whose fingerprint data was collected in 2014 when he bought a season pass to Six Flags Great America had the right to sue the amusement park company under an Illinois privacy law, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday. Chicago Tribune reports: The case is being closely watched by tech giants such as Facebook, who have pushed back against the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). The law requires companies collecting information such as facial, fingerprint and iris scans to obtain prior consent from consumers or employees, detailing how they'll use the data and how long the records will be kept. It also allows private citizens to sue, while other states let only the attorney general bring a lawsuit. The opinion, which overturns an appeals court ruling in favor of Six Flags, has the potential to effect biometrics lawsuits playing out in courtrooms across the country. The Illinois law is one of the strictest of its kind in the nation and has turned the state into a hotbed of lawsuits over alleged misuses of biometric data. Privacy experts say protecting that type of information is critical because, unlike a credit card or bank account number, it's permanent. The National Law Review adds: In short, individuals need not allege actual injury or adverse effect, beyond a violation of his/her rights under BIPA, in order to qualify as an "aggrieved" person and be entitled to seek liquidated damages, attorneys fees and costs, and injunctive relief under the Act. Potential damages are substantial as the BIPA provides for statutory damages of $1,000 per negligent violation or $5,000 per intentional or reckless violation of the Act. To date, no Illinois court has interpreted the meaning of "per violation," but the majority of BIPA suits have been brought as class actions seeking statutory damages on behalf of each individual affected.

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Budweiser, the World’s Largest Beer Maker, is Using Low-Cost Sensors and Machine Learning To Keep Beverages Flowing

The world's largest beer maker is using low-cost sensors and machine learning to predict when motors at a Fort Collins, Colo. brewery might malfunction. From a report: The Anheuser-Busch InBev SA plant was the first among the company's 350 beverage-making facilities to test whether wireless sensors that can detect ultrasonic sounds -- beyond the grasp of the human ear -- can be analyzed to predict when machines need maintenance. "You can start hearing days in advance that something will go wrong, and you'll know within hours when it'll fail. It's really, for us, very practical," said Tassilo Festetics, vice president of global solutions for the company. The project began about six months ago when Mr. Festetics's team installed 20 wireless sensors across three packaging lines motors to measure vibrations. The sounds picked up are transmitted in real time and then compared to a normal, functioning engine's sounds, which serve as a baseline and allow the program to identify anomalies. A key advantage is that the sensors are non-invasive and don't need to be placed inside a machine. Sensors have been used for predictive maintenance in the past, but they were unable to transmit information in real time. Advances in processing data at the edge of the network, referred to as edge computing, enables companies to collect and analyze real-time sensor data from machines.

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FBI Arrests Trump Associate Roger Stone Over His Communications With WikiLeaks

Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime informal adviser to President Trump, was charged as part of the special counsel investigation over his communications with WikiLeaks, the organization behind the release of thousands of stolen Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign, in an indictment unsealed Friday. From a report: Mr. Stone was charged with seven counts, including obstruction of an official proceeding, making false statements and witness tampering, according to the special counsel's office. F.B.I. agents arrested Mr. Stone before dawn on Friday at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and he was expected to appear in a federal courthouse there later in the morning. F.B.I. agents were also seen carting hard drives and other evidence from Mr. Stone's apartment in Harlem. The indictment is the first in months by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 election and possible coordination with Trump campaign associates. Citing details in emails and other forms of communications, the indictment suggests Mr. Trump's campaign knew about additional stolen emails before they were released and asked Mr. Stone to find out about them. Moments ago, Stone was released on a $250,000 bond.

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Caterers in China Are Using AI To Spot Unhygienic Cooks, Report Says

If you've ever harbored doubts about the hygiene of the cooks flipping your burger and frying your fries, you're definitely not the only one. From a report: Thepaper.cn reports that local authorities in eastern China have tapped artificial intelligence (AI) to clamp down on unsanitary cooks in kitchens -- and to reward those who adhere to best practices. According to the report, a camera-based system currently being piloted in the Zhejiang city of Shaoxing automatically recognizes "poor [sanitation] habits" and alerts managers to offending workers via a mobile app. It's reportedly the fruit of a six-year project -- Sunshine Kitchen -- that seeks to bring transparency to food preparation in catering, hotels, school cafeterias, and restaurants.

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Worrying Rise in Global CO2 Forecast for 2019

The level of climate-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is forecast to rise by a near-record amount in 2019, according to the Met Office. From a report: The increase is being fuelled by the continued burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of forests, and will be particularly high in 2019 due to an expected return towards El Nino-like conditions. This natural climate variation causes warm and dry conditions in the tropics, meaning the plant growth that removes CO2 from the air is restricted. Levels of the greenhouse gas have not been as high as today for 3-5m years, when the global temperature was 2-3C warmer and the sea level was 10-20 metres (32 to 64 feet) higher. Climate action must be increased fivefold to limit warming to the 1.5C rise above pre-industrial levels that scientists advise, according to the UN. But the past four years have been the hottest on record and global emissions are rising again after a brief pause.

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Neglected-Disease Research Funding Hits Record High

Reader schwit1 shares a report: Research funding for diseases that predominantly affect people living in poverty hit a record high in 2017, according to a report released on 23 January by Policy Cures Research, a global-health think tank in Sydney, Australia. At US$3.6 billion, investments into 'neglected' diseases were higher than in any year since 2007. A surge from 2016 to 2017 included a rise in funding to fight neglected diseases generally, as opposed to targeting individual maladies. Anna Doubell, director of research at Policy Cures Research, says that the launch of several trials testing new Ebola drugs, diagnostics and vaccines in response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa between 2014 and 2016 might be giving donors hope that investments into neglected diseases pay off. "The amount of progress made in a short period of time after the Ebola outbreak might have brought in optimism about what is possible," Doubell says.

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Zuckerberg Plans To Integrate WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's chief executive, plans to integrate the social network's messaging services -- WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger -- asserting his control over the company's sprawling divisions at a time when its business has been battered by scandals. The New York Times: The move, described by four people involved in the effort, requires thousands of Facebook employees to reconfigure how WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger function at their most basic levels. While all three services will continue operating as stand-alone apps, their underlying messaging infrastructure will be unified, the people said. Facebook is still in the early stages of the work and plans to complete it by the end of this year or in early 2020, they said. Mr. Zuckerberg has also ordered all of the apps to incorporate end-to-end encryption, the people said, a significant step that protects messages from being viewed by anyone except the participants in the conversation. After the changes take effect, a Facebook user could send an encrypted message to someone who has only a WhatsApp account, for example. Currently, that isn't possible because the apps are separate.

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Intel Is Working On A Vulkan Overlay Layer, Inspired By Gallium3D HUD

Aside from some out-of-tree experiments last year by one of Valve's developers on a RADV Vulkan HUD of similar nature to the popular Gallium HUD option, it turns out an Intel developer has recently been working on a Vulkan overlay layer to provide "Gallium HUD" inspired information. From a report: Lionel Landwerlin is the open-source Intel developer that has begun working on this Intel Vulkan driver "heads-up display" implemented as a Vulkan overlay layer. The code is intended to provide Vulkan swapchain information and various statistics of use to Vulkan driver developers and game developers. The code is under a merge request for Mesa but is considered experimental at this point. Particularly for multi-threaded Vulkan programs it may end up crashing in its current form.

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Microsoft Says Bing is Restored in China

Roughly a day after users in China began complaining that they were unable to access Bing, stoking fear that perhaps Microsoft's search engine is joining the long list of services that will not be permitted by the local government, Microsoft says it has fixed the situation. From a report: Bing is accessible in China again. In a statement, a Microsoft spokesperson said, "We can confirm that Bing was inaccessible in China, but service is now restored." Microsoft did not offer an explanation for Bing's outage, but in a televised interview with Fox News at the World Economic Forum, company president Brad Smith addressed the matter. He noted that this is not the first time Bing has faced an outage in China. "It happens periodically." He added, "You know, we operate in China pursuant to some global principles that's called the Global Network Initiative in terms of how we manage censorship demands and the like. There are times when there are disagreements, there are times when there are difficult negotiations with the Chinese government, and we're still waiting to find out what this situation is about."

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College Students Are Rushing in Record Numbers To Study Computer Science

Lured by the prospect of high-salary, high-status jobs, college students are rushing in record numbers to study computer science. Now, if only they could get a seat in class. An anonymous reader shares a report: On campuses across the country, from major state universities to small private colleges, the surge in student demand for computer science courses is far outstripping the supply of professors, as the tech industry snaps up talent. At some schools, the shortage is creating an undergraduate divide of computing haves and have-nots -- potentially narrowing a path for some minority and female students to an industry that has struggled with diversity. The number of undergraduates majoring in the subject more than doubled from 2013 to 2017, to over 106,000, while tenure-track faculty ranks rose about 17 percent, according to the Computing Research Association, a nonprofit that gathers data from about 200 universities. Economics and the promise of upward mobility are driving the student stampede. While previous generations of entrepreneurial undergraduates might have aspired to become lawyers or doctors, many students now are leery of investing the time, and incurring six-figure debts, to join those professions. By contrast, learning computing skills can be a fast path to employment, as fields as varied as agriculture, banking and genomics incorporate more sophisticated computing. While the quality of programs across the country varies widely, some computer science majors make six-figure salaries straight out of school. At the University of Texas at Austin, which has a top computer science program, more than 3,300 incoming first-year students last fall sought computer science as their first choice of major, more than double the number who did so in 2014.

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US Pressed Chinese Firms To Show One Example of When They Resisted Request For Data From Chinese Government, But They Have Never Done So: WSJ

The latest in the Huawei saga, which is increasing tension between the U.S. and China. WSJ reports about a remarkable event: Confronted with U.S. accusations of cyber espionage, Chinese companies and government officials often accuse Washington of hypocrisy, pointing to allegations in 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that the U.S. had been hacking into key Chinese networks for years. Western officials say systems of checks and balances in their countries allow for companies to challenge those demands, unlike in China. To further highlight that difference, U.S. officials have repeatedly pressed Chinese companies to demonstrate to them one example of a time they resisted a request for data from the Chinese government, but they have never done so, according to a person familiar with those conversations. U.S. intelligence officials have suggested at times that their views on Huawei are informed by definitive examples of malfeasance, though they have so far refused to share such evidence publicly. When the House Intelligence Committee in 2012 published an unclassified report naming Huawei as a security risk, it spoke generally about a lack of trust lawmakers placed in China but steered clear of providing concrete examples of the company being caught engaging in nefarious activity.

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New 3D Printing Technique Is 100 Times Faster Than Standard 3D Printers

A new 3D-printing technique could render a three-dimensional object in minutes instead of hours -- at up to 100 times current speeds. The experimental approach uses a vat of resin and some clever tricks with UV and blue LED lights (no lasers needed) to accelerate the printing process. From a report: The technique looks almost like a time-reverse film loop of an object dissolving in a reservoir of acid. But instead of acid, this reservoir contains a specially-designed resin that hardens when exposed to a particular shade of blue light. Crucially, that hardening (the technical term is polymerization) does not take place in the presence of a certain wavelength of UV light. The resin is also particularly absorbent at the wavelengths of both the blue and UV light. So the intensity of UV or blue light going in translates directly to the depth to which light will penetrate into the resin bath. The brighter the light beam, the further it penetrates and the further its effects (whether inhibiting polymerization in the case of UV light, or causing it in the case of blue light) will be felt in the bath along that particular light path. Timothy Scott, associate professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan, says the way to get a 3D-printed object out of this process is to send UV light through a glass-bottomed basin of resin. Then, at the same time, through that same glass window, send patterns of bright and dim blue light. If this printing process used only the blue light, it would immediately harden the first bit of resin it encounters in the basin -- the stuff just inside the glass. And so each successive layer of the object to be printed would need to be scraped or pulled off the window's surface -- a time-consuming and potentially destructive process.

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Microsoft Office Lands on the Mac App Store

The next time you open up a new Apple computer, go to the App Store to start downloading apps, and type in "Microsoft Office," you'll actually get something. From a report: Until now, anyone who wanted to use Microsoft Office and its popular Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote apps had to do so by going to Microsoft's website and downloading it all from there. Now, the are available on the Mac App Store as well, making it even easier for people to download and use.

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Trump Offered NASA Unlimited Funding To Put People on Mars by 2020, Report Says

From a report, based on a book by Cliff Sims, who worked as a communications official for Trump on his presidential campaign and in the West Wing: As the clock ticked down, Trump "suddenly turned toward the NASA administrator." He asked: "What's our plan for Mars?" Lightfoot explained to the president -- who, again, had recently signed a bill containing a plan for Mars -- that NASA planned to send a rover to Mars in 2020 and, by the 2030s, would attempt a manned spaceflight. "Trump bristled," according to Sims. He asked, "But is there any way we could do it by the end of my first term?" Sims described the uncomfortable exchange that followed the question, with Lightfoot shifting and placing his hand on his chin, hesitating politely and attempting to let Trump down easily, emphasizing the logistical challenges involving "distance, fuel capacity, etc. Also the fact that we hadn't landed an American anywhere remotely close to Mars ever." Sims himself was "getting antsy" by this point. With a number of points left to go over with the president, "all I could think about was that we had to be on camera in three minutes .. And yet we're in here casually chatting about shaving a full decade off NASA's timetable for sending a manned flight to Mars. And seemingly out of nowhere."

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Apple Has Dismissed More Than 200 Employees From Project Titan, its Autonomous Vehicle Group

Apple has dismissed just over 200 employees this week from Project Titan, its stealthy autonomous vehicle group, CNBC reports. From the report: An Apple spokesperson acknowledged the layoffs and said the company still sees opportunity in the space: "We have an incredibly talented team working on autonomous systems and associated technologies at Apple. As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple," the spokesperson said. "We continue to believe there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems, that Apple has unique capabilities to contribute, and that this is the most ambitious machine learning project ever."

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Google Urged the US To Limit Protection for Activist Workers

Google, whose employees have captured international attention in recent months through high-profile protests of workplace policies, has been quietly urging the U.S. government to narrow legal protection for workers organizing online. From a report: During the Obama administration, the National Labor Relations Board broadened employees' rights to use their workplace email system to organize around issues on the job. In a 2014 case, Purple Communications, the agency restricted companies from punishing employees for using their workplace email systems for activities like circulating petitions or fomenting walkouts, as well as trying to form a union. In filings in May 2017 and November 2018, obtained via Freedom of Information Act request, Alphabet's Google urged the National Labor Relations Board to undo that precedent. Citing dissents authored by Republican appointees, Google's attorneys wrote that the 2014 standard "should be overruled" and a George W. Bush-era precedent -- allowing companies to ban organizing on their employee email systems -- should be reinstated. In an emailed statement, a Google spokeswoman said, "We're not lobbying for changes to any rules." Rather, she said, Google's claim that the Obama-era protections should be overturned was "a legal defense that we included as one of many possible defenses" against meritless claims at the NLRB.

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Deadly Ebola Virus Is Found in Liberian Bat, Researchers Say

Long a suspected source of the virus, bats had not been confirmed as carriers of the lethal disease before. The discovery could help scientists learn more about how the virus infects humans. From a report: For the first time, the type of deadly Ebola virus responsible for recent epidemics in West and Central Africa has been found in a bat, Liberian health officials announced on Thursday. Scientists have long suspected that bats were a natural host of Ebola and a source of some human infections, but until now they had not found any bats that harbored the epidemic species, known as Zaire ebolavirus. Although the bat was found in Liberia, the country has not had any human cases of Ebola since 2016, and the bat was not associated with any illness in people. The finding is preliminary and not yet ready for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, the usual venue for presenting scientific discoveries. Only 20 percent of the bat's genome has been studied, and research on it is continuing. But because of its potential impact on public health, officials in Liberia wanted to share the information widely as soon as possible. "It's an incomplete study, a work in progress," said Simon J. Anthony, a virologist at Columbia University who has performed genetic analyses on samples from the infected bat. "It feels premature scientifically, but on the other hand, you have the public health aspect. We do have enough data to suggest to me that it is Ebola Zaire in this bat. We agree with our Liberian government partners that this information should be shared." Knowing which types of bat carry Ebola may help health officials prevent outbreaks by educating the public about how to prevent contact with the creatures, scientists said.

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We May Finally Know What Causes Alzheimer’s — and How To Stop It

We may finally have found the long-elusive cause of Alzheimer's disease: Porphyromonas gingivalis, the key bacteria in chronic gum disease. New Scientist: That's bad, as gum disease affects around a third of all people. But the good news is that a drug that blocks the main toxins of P. gingivalis is entering major clinical trials this year, and research published Wednesday shows it might stop and even reverse Alzheimer's. There could even be a vaccine. Alzheimer's is one of the biggest mysteries in medicine. As populations have aged, dementia has skyrocketed to become the fifth biggest cause of death worldwide. Alzheimer's constitutes some 70 per cent of these cases and yet, we don't know what causes it.

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YouTube TV Opens To the Whole US

Google is today expanding its premium YouTube TV streaming service to the majority of locations in the U.S., with the rest to follow shortly. From a report: At launch, YouTube TV was available through mobile apps in five markets. In the nearly two years since its introduction, it has arrived on the big screen via apps for Android TV and Xbox, as well as Apple TV and Roku, and expanded to 100 U.S. markets, covering 85 percent of households. Now it's landing in an additional 95 markets, which will extend this coverage to 98 percent of households. Other markets not yet covered will soon be added to the mix.

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Record Number of Americans See Climate Change As a Current Threat

An anonymous reader shares a report: More Americans are very worried about global warming and say the issue is personally important to them than ever before, according to a new poll released Tuesday. The polling may indicate that extreme weather events -- coupled with a series of grim scientific findings -- over the past year are starting to change peoples' minds about climate change, which could have significant implications for any significant climate legislation passing Congress. The key finding from the new survey from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication is that Americans increasingly view global warming as a present-day threat to them, rather than an issue that will affect future generations. Nearly half of Americans (46%) said they personally experienced the effects of global warming -- a 15-point spike since March 2015.

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France Will Hack Its Enemies Back, Its Defense Secretary Says

France's defence secretary Florence Parly had a declaration to make this week: "Cyber war has begun." And she said the Euro nation's military will use its "cyber arms as all other traditional weapons... to respond and attack," as well as setting up a military bug bounty program. From a report: Parly made her pledges during a speech to the Forum International de Cybersecurite (FIC) in the northern French town of Lille. Her speech was on a topic that most Western countries shy away from addressing directly in public. "The cyber weapon is not only for our enemies," said France's defence secretary this afternoon, speaking through a translator. "No. It's also, in France, a tool to defend ourselves. To respond and attack." Her remarks will be seen as moving the debate about offensive cyber capabilities -- not just so-called "active defence" but using infosec techniques as another weapon in the arsenal of state-on-state warfare -- to a new level.

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Google Commits $3.1 Million and Free Cloud APIs To Wikimedia

Google is expanding its support of Wikimedia, the parent company of Wikipedia, as the search giant chases the next billion users. From a report: At World Economic Forum this week, Google committed to offer Wikipedia an additional $3.1 million, along with providing several of its machine learning tools to the editors of Wikipedia at no cost, the companies said. Google.org, thanks in part to contributions from employees, will be giving $1.1 million to the Wikimedia Foundation and $2 million to the Wikimedia Endowment, an independent fund that supports Wikipedia and other long-term Wikimedia projects. As part of the announcement, the companies said they will be expanding Project Tiger, a joint initiative they launched in 2017 to increase the number of articles in underrepresented languages in India. They intend to provide editors with resources and insights to create new Wikipedia articles across 10 languages in India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The initiative is being rebranded as GLOW, which is supposed to stand for Growing Local Language Content on Wikipedia.

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Why Free Software Evangelist Richard Stallman is Haunted by Stalin’s Dream

Richard Stallman recently visited Mandya, a small town about 60 miles from Bengaluru, India, to give a talk. On the sidelines, Indian news outlet FactorDaily caught up with Stallman for an interview. In the wide-ranging interview, Stallman talked about companies that spy on users, popular Android apps, media streaming and transportation apps, smart devices, DRM, software backdoors, subscription software, and Apple and censorship. An excerpt from the interview: If you are carrying a mobile phone, it is always tracking your movements and it could have been modified to listen to the conversations around you. I call this product Stalin's dream. What would Stalin have wanted to hand out to every inhabitant of the former Soviet Union? Something to track that person's movements and listen to the person's conservations. Fortunately, Stalin could not do it because the technology didn't exist. Unfortunately for us, now it does exist and most people have been pressured or lured into carrying around such a Stalin's dream device, but not me. I am suspicious of new digital technology. I expect it to have new malicious functionalities. It has happened so many times that I have learned to expect this, so I have always checked before I start using some new digital technology. I asked to find out what is nasty about it and I found out these two things. It was something like 20 years ago, and I decided it was my duty as a citizen to refuse, regardless of whatever convenience it might offer me. To surrender my freedom in this way was failing to defend a free society. This is why I do not have a portable phone. I refuse to carry a portable phone. I never have one and unless things change, I never will. I do use portable phones, lots of different ones. If I needed to call someone right now, I would ask one of you, "Could you please make a call for me?" If I am on a bus and it is late and I need to tell somebody that I am going to arrive late, there is always some other passenger in the bus who will make a call for me or send a text for me. Practically speaking, it is not that hard.

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Hebei, a Northern Chinese Province, Unveils an App That Triggers a Notification When You’re Near Someone in Debt

China is gearing up to launch a social credit system in 2020, giving all citizens an identity number that will be linked to a permanent record. Like a financial score, everything from paying back loans to behaviour on public transport will be included. One aspect of this social credit system is a new app in the northern province of Hebei. From a report: According to the state-run newspaper China Daily, the Hebei-based app will alert people if there are in 500 metres of someone in debt. It's like being on Oxford Street and being able to work out everyone around you who was in debt. According to the financial charity, the Money Charity, the average UK household debt (including mortgages) was $76,000, in June last year. That's a lot of notifications.

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Meizu Unveils a Smartphone That Does Not Have Any Port, or a SIM Card Slot, or a Button, or Speaker Grill

Phone maker Meizu has announced a new phone called "Zero," which doesn't have a headphone jack, or a charging port, or a physical SIM card slot, or any buttons, or a speaker grill. From a report: It doesn't even come with a SIM card slot and buttons you'd usually see on a phone -- the only elements that disturb the surface of its all-display, 7.8mm-thick ceramic unibody are its 12MP and 20MP rear cameras and two pinholes. One is a microphone, while the other is for hard resets. To make up for the lack of ports, Meizu Zero will support Bluetooth 5.0 and a wireless USB connectivity that will reportedly be able to transfer files as fast as the USB 3.0 standard can. Zero's 5.99-inch QHD OLED screen will act as some sort of a giant speaker and earpiece replacement. It does have a big enough bezel for a 20MP front camera, but its fingerprint reader is completely on-screen. The device, which is powered by a Snapdragon 845 processor, relies on 18W wireless charging due to the lack of a charger port. And it may not have the usual physical buttons, but it does have pressure-sensing ones with haptic feedback on its borders.

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Europe Plans To Drill the Moon For Oxygen and Water by 2025

The European Space Agency hopes to be mining the moon for water and oxygen in six years' time. From a report: The agency took a big step toward this ambition by signing a deal with launch provider ArianeGroup on Monday. The one-year contract will see the company examine the possibility of mining regolith -- lunar soil and rock fragments that can yield oxygen and water, which could be very handy if you're trying to put a base on the moon. The mission would use an Ariane 64 launch vehicle. The European Space Agency (ESA) has already directed ArianeGroup, a joint venture between Airbus and Safran, to develop the craft, and its first test flight is anticipated in 2020. As for the lunar lander, that would come from the German startup PTScientists (which entertainingly stands for "Part-Time Scientists") -- the same outfit that aims to put the first mobile network on the moon.

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Hiring Based on Skills Instead of College Degrees is Vital for the Future, IBM CEO Says

What does the future of getting a job in the tech industry look like? According to the CEO of IBM, Ginni Rometty, it's important that tech companies focus on hiring people with valuable skills, not just people with college degrees. From a report: Rometty made the comments yesterday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The CEO said that technology's fast-moving pace here in the 21st century makes it harder for people to find jobs and has led to disillusionment with the future. "With the new technologies that are out there, I think there is a huge inclusion problem, meaning there's a large part of society that does not feel this is going to be good for their future," Rometty said. "Forget about whether it is or it isn't or what we believe. Therefore they feel very disenfranchised." [...] "So when it comes to education and skills, I think the government can't solve it alone," Rometty said. "I think businesses have to believe I'll hire for skills, not just their degrees or their diplomas. Because otherwise we'll never bridge this gap." "All of us are full of companies with university degrees, PhDs, you've got to make room for everyone in society in these jobs," Rometty said as other business leaders on the panel nodded their heads. She added, "We have a very serious duty about this. Because these technologies are changing faster with times than their skills are going to change. So it is causing this skill crisis. [...] We have to have a new paradigm. You would have to have new pathways that don't all include college education and you would have to have respect for that job -- not blue collar or white collar, I call it new collar."

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More Than Half of PC Applications Installed Worldwide Are Out-of-Date

Avast's PC Trends Report 2019 found [PDF] that users are making themselves vulnerable by not implementing security patches and keeping outdated versions of popular applications on their PCs. From a news report: The applications where updates are most frequently neglected include Adobe Shockwave (96%), VLC Media Player (94%) and Skype (94%). The report, which uses anonymized and aggregated data from 163 million devices across the globe, also found that Windows 10 is now installed on 40% of all PCs globally, which is fast approaching the 43% share held by Windows 7. However, 15% of all Windows 7 users and 9% of all Windows 10 users worldwide are running older and no longer supported versions of their product, for example, the Windows 7 Release to Manufacturing version from 2009 or the Windows 10 Spring Creators Update from early 2017.

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‘I Tried to Block Amazon From My Life. It Was Impossible.’

Kashmir Hill, a reporter at Gizmodo, spent weeks trying to avoid and block Amazon -- and every service that is owned by Amazon or uses Amazon's web services (AWS). She went to great lengths such as getting her own custom-built VPN. Turns out, it is impossible to keep Amazon off your life. An excerpt from the report: Launched in 2006, AWS has taken over vast swaths of the internet. My VPN winds up blocking over 23 million IP addresses controlled by Amazon, resulting in various unexpected casualties, from Motherboard and Fortune to the U.S. Government Accountability Office's website. (Government agencies love AWS, which is likely why Amazon, soon to be a corporate Cerberus with three "headquarters," chose Arlington, Virginia, in the D.C. suburbs, as one of them.) Many of the smartphone apps I rely on also stop working during the block.

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