United States

US Product Safety Commission Warns That Some Fidget Spinners Explode (cnn.com) 97

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNN: Fidget spinners are supposed to be calming and fun, especially for students struggling to focus. But after some dangerous incidents involving the popular gizmos, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued new fidget spinner safety guidance for consumers and businesses. There have been a handful of choking incidents reported with the toys, as well as two instances of battery-operated spinners catching on fire and another incident in which a fidget spinner melted, the agency said. No deaths have been reported. The agency also issued safety guidance on battery-operated fidget spinners. Consumers should always be present when the product is charging, never charge it overnight and always use the cable it came with, the statement said. Users should unplug their spinner immediately once it's fully charged and make sure they have working smoke detectors in their home.

"As the agency investigates some reported incidents associated with this popular product, fidget spinner users or potential buyers should take some precautions," Ann Marie Buerkle, acting chief of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said in a statement. "Keep them from small children; the plastic and metal spinners can break and release small pieces that can be a choking hazard; and older children should not put fidget spinners in their mouths." Fidget spinners should be kept away from children under the age of 3, the statement said.

United States

Wisconsin Won't Break Even On Foxconn Plant Deal For Over Two Decades (theverge.com) 309

Last month, Foxconn announced plans to build a $10 billion factory in southeastern Wisconsin in exchange for $3 billion in tax breaks. While the factory was heralded as a big win for President Trump and Governor Scott Walker, a report issued last week says the plan is looking less and less like a good deal for the state. In the report, Wisconsin's Legislative Fiscal Bureau said that the state wouldn't break even on its investment until 2043 -- and that's in an absolute best-case scenario. The Verge reports: How many workers Foxconn actually hires, and where Foxconn hires them from, would have a significant impact on when the state's investment pays off, the report says. The current analysis assumes that "all of the construction-period and ongoing jobs associated with the project would be filled by Wisconsin residents." But the report says it's likely that some positions would go to Illinois residents, because the factory would be located so close to the border. That would lower tax revenue and delay when the state breaks even. And that's still assuming that Foxconn actually creates the 13,000 jobs it claimed it might create, at the average wage -- just shy of $54,000 -- it promised to create them at. In fact, the plant is only expected to start with 3,000 jobs; the 13,000 figure is the maximum potential positions it could eventually offer. If the factory offers closer to 3,000 positions, the report notes, "the breakeven point would be well past 2044-45."
Businesses

Watch Out Ticketmaster: Amazon In Talks To Offer Event Ticketing In US (reuters.com) 67

According to Reuters, Amazon is seeking to partner with U.S. venue owners to sell event tickets -- a move that could loosen Ticketmaster's powerful grip on the lucrative ticketing business. From the report: The Seattle-based company sees the U.S. ticketing market as ripe for attack. Consumers dislike ticket fees, and venue owners, sports leagues and teams want more distributors for their tickets as they seek to boost sales. Access to tickets could be another means to lure members to the Amazon Prime shopping club. For music acts and sports teams, selling tickets through Amazon could help sell their merchandise. Currently Ticketmaster, owned by Live Nation Entertainment, is the exclusive seller of primary tickets for many top venues in the United States. Would-be challengers have struggled to compete in the face of Ticketmaster's strong relationships with the operators of major U.S. sports stadiums, arenas, concert halls and other venues. Amazon has had success with ticketing in Britain, where it has been selling seats to West End shows since 2015, even outselling Ticketmaster for some events, according to one of the sources, who owns venues in that country. It is less common for venues in Britain to have an exclusive ticket provider.
Earth

Global Investment Firm Warns 7.8 Degrees of Global Warming Is Possible (vice.com) 291

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: A leading British global investment firm has a warning for its clients: If we keep consuming oil and gas at current rates, our planet is on course to experience a rise in global average temperatures of nearly 8 Celsius (14 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. This would make Earth basically uninhabitable for humans. Although this is the darkest scenario we've seen so far, there's reason for cautious optimism: the new projections point out that it's unlikely investors will simply ignore this risk, meaning that our present level of fossil fuel consumption could decrease. Still, by current climate research standards, this is a pretty wild number. It is four times as high as the "safe limit" for increasing temperatures caused by climate change, internationally recognized to be around 2 Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. Schroders, the British investment firm which controls assets worth $542 billion, released this forecast as part of a range of potential scenarios in its "Climate Progress Dashboard" in late July.
Moon

Moon Had Magnetic Field At Least a Billion Years Longer Than Thought, Says Study (theguardian.com) 41

While the moon has no global magnetic field nowadays, it did have one in the past and researchers believe it lasted at least a billion years longer than previously thought. The Guardian reports: Between 4.25 billion and 3.56 billion years ago, the lunar magnetic field was similar to that of the Earth. The field is thought to have been generated by the churning movement of fluids within the moon's molten core -- a sort of lunar dynamo. But scientists have long puzzled over when the magnetic field disappeared, with previous research unable to tell whether the field had disappeared completely by 3.19 billion years ago or had lingered on in a weaker form. Writing in the journal Science Advances, Sonia Tikoo, a planetary scientist and co-author of the research from Rutgers University, and colleagues from the University of California, Berkeley and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, describe how they set about unpicking the conundrum by analyzing a lunar rock brought back by the Apollo 15 mission in 1971. The sample contains fragments of basalt that had broken off larger rocks. According to a dating technique based on the ratio of different isotopes of argon, the basalt formed from lava flows about 3.3 billion years ago. These fragments are bound together in the sample by a glassy material, which the team say probably formed when some of the basalt melted following a meteorite impact. The researchers dated the formation of the glassy material to between 1 billion and 2.5 billion years ago. Crucially, the impact also melted iron-containing grains within the basalt. These crystalized again within the glassy material as it quickly cooled, capturing a record of the magnetic field of the moon at that time.
Facebook

Facebook Is Cracking Down On Deceptive Ads For Porn, Diet Pills (adweek.com) 90

According to Adweek, the next target in Facebook's efforts to keep its News Feed clean is cloaking -- a technique used by "bad actors" to circumvent Facebook's review processes and show content to people that violates Facebook's Community Standards and Advertising Policies. For example, they will set up web pages so that when a Facebook reviewer clicks a link to check whether it's consistent with Facebook's policies, they are taken to a different web page than when someone using the Facebook app clicks that same link. "Facebook product management director Rob Leathern and software engineer Bobbie Chang described in a Newsroom post how 'bad actors' -- such as those promoting diet pills, pornography or muscle-building scams -- attempt to game the social network's review processes," reports Adweek. From the report: Leathern and Chang said Facebook has removed "thousands" of offenders from its platform over the past few months, and any advertisers or pages that are caught cloaking will be banned, as well. Facebook is using artificial intelligence in its anti-cloaking efforts, expanding efforts by human reviewers to identify, capture and verify incidents of cloaking and revising its policies. Pages that are not engaging in these practices should see no impact in their referral traffic.
Crime

UK Wants To Criminalize Re-Identification of Anonymized User Data (bleepingcomputer.com) 120

An anonymous reader writes: European countries are currently implementing new data protection laws. Recently, despite leaving the European Union, the United Kingdom has expressed intent to implement the law called General Data Protection Regulation. As an extension, the UK wants to to ban re-identification (with a penalty of unlimited fines), the method of reversing anonymization, or pointing out the weakness of the used anonymisation process. One famous example was research re-identifying Netflix users from published datasets. By banning re-identification, UK follows the lead of Australia which is considering enacting similarly controversial law that can lead to making privacy research difficult or impossible. Privacy researchers express concerns about the effectiveness of the law that could even complicate security, a view shared by privacy advocates.
Movies

Disney Ditching Netflix Keeps Piracy Relevant (torrentfreak.com) 263

Yesterday, Disney announced its intent to pull its movies from Netflix and start its own streaming service. This upset many users across the web as the whole appeal of the streaming model becomes diluted when there are too many "Netflixes." TorrentFreak argues that "while Disney expects to profit from the strategy, more fragmentation is not ideal for the public" and that the move "keeps piracy relevant." From the report: Although Disney's decision may be good for Disney, a lot of Netflix users are not going to be happy. It likely means that they need another streaming platform subscription to get what they want, which isn't a very positive prospect. In piracy discussions, Hollywood insiders often stress that people have no reason to pirate, as pretty much all titles are available online legally. What they don't mention, however, is that users need access to a few dozen paid services, to access them all. In a way, this fragmentation is keeping the pirate ecosystems intact. While legal streaming services work just fine, having dozens of subscriptions is expensive, and not very practical. Especially not compared to pirate streaming sites, where everything can be accessed on the same site.
Businesses

Americans Are Dying Younger, Saving Corporations Billions (bloomberg.com) 274

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Steady improvements in American life expectancy have stalled, and more Americans are dying at younger ages. But for companies straining under the burden of their pension obligations, the distressing trend could have a grim upside: If people don't end up living as long as they were projected to just a few years ago, their employers ultimately won't have to pay them as much in pension and other lifelong retirement benefits. In 2015, the American death rate -- the age-adjusted share of Americans dying -- rose slightly for the first time since 1999. And over the last two years, at least 12 large companies, from Verizon to General Motors, have said recent slips in mortality improvement have led them to reduce their estimates for how much they could owe retirees by upward of a combined $9.7 billion, according to a Bloomberg analysis of company filings. "Revised assumptions indicating a shortened longevity," for instance, led Lockheed Martin to adjust its estimated retirement obligations downward by a total of about $1.6 billion for 2015 and 2016, it said in its most recent annual report.

Mortality trends are only a small piece of the calculation companies make when estimating what they'll owe retirees, and indeed, other factors actually led Lockheed's pension obligations to rise last year. Variables such as asset returns, salary levels, and health care costs can cause big swings in what companies expect to pay retirees. The fact that people are dying slightly younger won't cure corporate America's pension woes -- but the fact that companies are taking it into account shows just how serious the shift in America's mortality trends is.

Android

T-Mobile To Launch Its Own Branded Budget Smartphone (cnet.com) 16

In a throwback to a time when carriers differentiated themselves by branding and selling exclusive phones, T-Mobile announced Wednesday that it's launching its very own budget Android smartphone called the Revvl. CNET reports: The Revvl, which runs on Android Nougat, offers pretty basic specs: a 5.5 inch HD display, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. But it also throws in a fingerprint sensor and will cost T-Mobile customers just $5 a month with no down payment through the company's Jump! upgrade program. It goes on sale Thursday. In a blog post, T-Mobile COO Mike Sievert said the company is catering to those who want the latest smartphone technology but can't afford to pay for high-end devices.
The Internet

Maybe Americans Don't Need Fast Home Internet Service, FCC Suggests (arstechnica.com) 378

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via Ars Technica: Americans might not need a fast home Internet connection, the Federal Communications Commission suggests in a new document. Instead, mobile Internet via a smartphone might be all people need. The suggestion comes in the FCC's annual inquiry into broadband availability. Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act requires the FCC to determine whether broadband (or more formally, "advanced telecommunications capability") is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. If the FCC finds that broadband isn't being deployed quickly enough to everyone, it is required by law to "take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market."

The FCC found during George W. Bush's presidency that fast Internet service was being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion. But during the Obama administration, the FCC determined repeatedly that broadband isn't reaching Americans fast enough, pointing in particular to lagging deployment in rural areas. These analyses did not consider mobile broadband to be a full replacement for a home (or "fixed") Internet connection via cable, fiber, or some other technology. Last year, the FCC updated its analysis with a conclusion that Americans need home and mobile access. Because home Internet connections and smartphones have different capabilities and limitations, Americans should have access to both instead of just one or the other, the FCC concluded under then-Chairman Tom Wheeler.
The report goes on to add that with Republican Ajit Pai as chairman of the FCC, "the FCC seems poised to change that policy by declaring that mobile broadband with speeds of 10Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream is all one needs." Furthermore, "In doing so, the FCC could conclude that broadband is already being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion, and thus the organization would take fewer steps to promote deployment and competition."
Businesses

Apple Employees Rebelling Against Apple Park's Open Floor Plan, Report Says (neowin.net) 271

During a new episode of The Talk Show podcast on Daring Fireball, John Gruber touched on the topic of the open floor plans that Apple has implemented within its new campus, Apple Park. A WSJ profile of Jony Ive, where he talked about Apple Park, mentioned how programmers, engineers, and other employees had already expressed concerns about working in such an environment. Gruber shared what he has heard: I heard that when floor plans were announced, that there was some meeting with [Apple Vice President] Johny Srouji's team. He's in charge of Apple's silicon, the A10, the A11, all of their custom silicon. Obviously a very successful group at Apple, and a large growing one with a lot on their shoulders. When he [Srouji] was shown the floor plans, he was more or less just "F--- that, f--- you, f--- this, this is bulls---." And they built his team their own building, off to the side on the campus ... My understanding is that that building was built because Srouji was like, 'F--- this, my team isn't working like this.'"
Canada

An Image Site Is Victimizing Countless Women and Little Can Be Done (vice.com) 273

Allison Tierney, reporting for Vice: An international anonymous photo-sharing site where people post explicit photos without consent is playing host to the victimization of countless women. In the Canadian section of Anon-IB alone, there are currently over a hundred threads -- often organized by region, city, or calling out for nudes of a specific woman to be posted publicly. "Hamilton hoes," "Nanaimo Thread!," and "Markham wins" are some titles of Canadian threads. (Language used on the site equates the word "win" with sexually explicit photos of women.) Many major Canadian cities are represented on the site, and some threads even focus on women from specific schools. While it's a crime to share an "intimate image" of a person without their consent in Canada, sites that host this kind of activity don't necessarily fall under this. "[In terms of organizing content], is it criminal? No. Is it illegal? No," Toronto-based lawyer Jordan Donich, of Donich Law, told VICE. "It's a newer version of an older problem -- sites like these have been around for a long time." Anon-IB is not a new site; its current domain was registered to a "private person" in 2015 and ends in an ".ru." However, the site was initially up several years before 2015, going offline briefly in 2014.
Youtube

In Response To Anti-diversity Memo, YouTube CEO Says Sexism in Tech is 'Pervasive' (theverge.com) 642

An anonymous reader writes: YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has responded to the Google anti-diversity memo, writing in a column for Fortune that the questioning of women's abilities is "pervasive" in tech and that the memo is "yet another discouraging signal to young women who aspire to study computer science." Wojcicki opens by saying her daughter asked her, "Is it true that there are biological reasons why there are fewer women in tech and leadership?" Wojcicki says no, it's not true, but the question has still plagued her throughout her career. "I've had meetings with external leaders where they primarily addressed the more junior male colleagues. I've had my comments frequently interrupted and my ideas ignored until they were rephrased by men. No matter how often this all happened, it still hurt," she wrote. In the meanwhile, The Guardian reported on Wednesday that more than 60 current and former Google women employees are considering suing Google on the grounds of sexism and a pay gap.
Businesses

Monsanto Was Its Own Ghostwriter For Some Safety Reviews (bloomberg.com) 48

Reader schwit1 writes: Dozens of internal Monsanto emails, released on Aug. 1 by plaintiffs lawyers who are suing the company, reveal how Monsanto worked with an outside consulting firm to induce the scientific journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology to publish a purported independent review of Roundups health effects that appears to be anything but. The review, published along with four subpapers in a September 2016 special supplement, was aimed at rebutting the 2015 assessment by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen (PDF). That finding by the cancer-research arm of the World Health Organization led California last month to list glyphosate as a known human carcinogen. It has also spurred more than 1,000 lawsuits in state and federal courts by plaintiffs who claim they contracted non-Hodgkin lymphoma from Roundup exposure. Monsanto disclosed that it paid Intertek Group Plc consulting unit to develop the review supplement, entitled An Independent Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate. But that was the extent of Monsantos involvement, the main article said. The Expert Panelists were engaged by, and acted as consultants to, Intertek, and were not directly contacted by the Monsanto Company, according to the reviews Declaration of Interest statement. Neither any Monsanto company employees nor any attorneys reviewed any of the Expert Panels manuscripts prior to submission to the journal.
Google

Brits Look at Google and Facebook Every 210 Seconds, Says Survey (theregister.co.uk) 26

Ad companies Facebook and Google slurp one in every three and a half minutes that Britons spend online, according to a survey. From a report: This, says audience metrics company Verto Analytics, accounts for 17 per cent of British adults' time online, the equivalent of 42.7 million days a month across Google, YouTube and Gmail. Similarly, Facebook-owned sites, including the ad-driven data-mining website itself, Instagram and WhatsApp, account for 11 per cent of time online, or a relatively paltry 28.4 million days. "Google and Facebook's share of internet time and ad revenue is staggering considering the hundreds of thousands of websites that exist," said Hannu Verkasalo, CEO of Verto Analytics, in a canned statement. The Verto survey also found that of the top 10 websites used in the UK, the sole British one was the BBC. Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, "Oath" (the new name for the merged Yahoo-AOL beastie), eBay and Twitter were the others, along with Activision Blizzard.
Earth

Leaked Federal Climate Report Finds Link Between Climate Change, Human Activity (washingtonpost.com) 451

An anonymous reader shares a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): The average temperature in the United States has risen rapidly and drastically since 1980, and recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1,500 years, according to a sweeping federal climate change report awaiting approval by the Trump administration. The draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies, which has not yet been made public, concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. It directly contradicts claims by President Trump and members of his cabinet who say that the human contribution to climate change is uncertain, and that the ability to predict the effects is limited. "Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans," a draft of the report states. A copy of it was obtained by The New York Times. The authors note that thousands of studies, conducted by tens of thousands of scientists, have documented climate changes on land and in the air. "Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate change," they wrote. The report was completed this year and is a special science section of the National Climate Assessment, which is congressionally mandated every four years. The National Academy of Sciences has signed off on the draft report, and the authors are awaiting permission from the Trump administration to release it. "The report concludes that even if humans immediately stopped emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the world would still feel at least an additional 0.50 degrees Fahrenheit (0.30 degrees Celsius) of warming over this century compared with today," reports The New York Times. "The projected actual rise, scientists say, will be as much as 2 degrees Celsius." Given the Trump administration's stance on climate change, some of the scientists who worked on the report are concerned that the report will be suppressed.
Communications

Disney To Pull Its Movies From Netflix and Start Its Own Streaming Service (theverge.com) 268

Disney announced today that it will end its distribution deal with Netflix and launch its own streaming service in 2019. "The move is a real blow to Netflix, which secured a valuable streaming deal with Disney back in 2012 -- before streaming had really taken off," reports The Verge. "The deal only kicked into effect last year, so Netflix is barely seeing any benefit here." From the report: Netflix won't lose its Disney movies right away. Disney says it plans to cut Netflix off starting with the studio's 2019 films, and Netflix says it'll be able to keep all the Disney movies it gets through the end of that year. That means Netflix should be able to stream the next two Star Wars movies, but it'll miss out on the new trilogy's final installment. "We continue to do business with the Walt Disney Company on many fronts, including our ongoing deal with Marvel TV," said a spokesperson for Netflix. Disney's streaming service will be built off technology from BAMTech, the MLB-founded video streaming platform. Disney was already a major investor in BAMTech, and today it's making an even bigger investment -- of $1.58 billion -- giving it a 75 percent stake in the company. The acquisition still requires regulatory approval. The Disney-branded streaming service will be the "exclusive home in the U.S. for subscription-video-on-demand viewing," and will kick off with films including Toy Story 4 and the sequel to Frozen. "Original movies, TV shows, [and] short-form content" will be added to the service, and it'll be filled out with older movies from Disney and Pixar's catalog and shows from Disney's TV channels. The report also notes Disney plans to launch a streaming service exclusively for ESPN, targeted for launch early next year. "Disney is promising about '10,000 live regional, national, and international games and events a year,' with individual sports packages available as well," reports The Verge.
Security

The Man Who Wrote the Password Rules Regrets Doing So (gizmodo.com) 239

New submitter cdreimer writes: According to a report in The Wall Street Journal (Warning: source may be paywalled, alternative source), the author behind the U.S. government's password requirements regrets wasting our time on changing passwords so often. From the report: "The man who wrote the book on password management has a confession to make: He blew it. Back in 2003, as a midlevel manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Bill Burr was the author of 'NIST Special Publication 800-63. Appendix A.' The 8-page primer advised people to protect their accounts by inventing awkward new words rife with obscure characters, capital letters and numbers -- and to change them regularly. The document became a sort of Hammurabi Code of passwords, the go-to guide for federal agencies, universities and large companies looking for a set of password-setting rules to follow. The problem is the advice ended up largely incorrect, Mr. Burr says. Change your password every 90 days? Most people make minor changes that are easy to guess, he laments. Changing Pa55word!1 to Pa55word!2 doesn't keep the hackers at bay. Also off the mark: demanding a letter, number, uppercase letter and special character such as an exclamation point or question mark -- a finger-twisting requirement." "Much of what I did I now regret," Bill Burr told The Wall Street Journal. "In the end, [the list of guidelines] was probably too complicated for a lot of folks to understand very well, and the truth is, it was barking up the wrong tree."
The Military

North Korea Now Making Missile-Ready Nuclear Weapons, US Analysts Say (washingtonpost.com) 338

schwit1 shares a report from The Washington Post: North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, crossing a key threshold on the path to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power, U.S. intelligence officials have concluded in a confidential assessment. The new analysis completed last month by the Defense Intelligence Agency comes on the heels of another intelligence assessment that sharply raises the official estimate for the total number of bombs in the communist country's atomic arsenal. The U.S. calculated last month that up to 60 nuclear weapons are now controlled by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Some independent experts believe the number of bombs is much smaller. "The IC [intelligence community] assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles," the assessment states, in an excerpt read to The Washington Post. "It is not yet known whether the reclusive regime has successfully tested the smaller design, although North Korea officially last year claimed to have done so," reports The Washington Post.
Businesses

Top VPN Provider Accused of Sharing Customer Traffic With Online Advertisers (bleepingcomputer.com) 55

Catalin Cimpanu, reporting for BleepingComputer: On Monday, the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) -- a US-based privacy group -- filed a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) accusing one of today's largest VPN providers of deceptive trade practices. In a 14-page complaint, the CDT accuses AnchorFree -- the company behind the Hotspot Shield VPN -- of breaking promises it made to its users by sharing their private web traffic with online advertisers for the purpose of improving the ads shown to its users. In its complaint to the FTC, the CDT is not accusing Anchor Free of secretly injecting ads, as users are well aware of this practice, but of not respecting promises made to its customers. More specifically, the CDT says that AnchorFree does not respect a pledge made in marketing materials that it won't track or sell customer information.
Privacy

Game of Thrones Hackers Demand Ransom (bbc.com) 70

An anonymous reader shares a report: Hackers who have leaked Game of Thrones scripts and other data from entertainment company HBO have released a note demanding a ransom payment. In a new dump, they also published a script for the as yet unbroadcast fifth episode of the current series. Company documents and video episodes of other HBO shows were also shared. The hackers claim to have 1.5TB of data in total, but HBO has said it does not believe its email system has been compromised. Documents in the latest leak were marked "HBO is falling," according to the Wired news site, and included legal information, employment agreements and other company files. The Associated Press reports that some documents appeared to contain personal contact information for Game of Thrones actors.
Mozilla

Firefox 55 Arrives With WebVR on Windows, Performance Panel, and Click-to-Play Flash (venturebeat.com) 129

Mozilla today made available a new update to Firefox for Windows to introduce support for WebVR, that the company says, will enable desktop VR users to dive into web-based experiences with ease. Firefox 55 also includes performance panel, faster startup when restoring multiple tabs, a quicker way to search across various search engines, and click-to-play Flash by default. From a report: WebVR is an experimental JavaScript API that provides support for virtual reality devices, such as the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Google Cardboard. As its name implies, the technology is meant for browsers. If you find a web game or app that supports VR, just click the VR goggles icon visible on the web page to experience it using your VR headset. WebVR supports navigating and controlling VR experiences with handset controllers or your movements in physical space. [...] Firefox 55 also allows users to adjust the number of processes and how much resources they want to allocate to any of them. This setting is at the bottom of the General section in Options. In fact, if your computer has more than 8GB of RAM, Mozilla recommends "bumping up the number of content processes that Firefox uses" because it will make Firefox faster, though at the expense of using more memory. In its own tests on Windows 10, the company found that Firefox uses less memory than Chrome, even with eight content processes running.
Security

Forget the Russians: Corrupt, Local Officials Are the Biggest Threat To Elections (securityledger.com) 287

chicksdaddy writes: Do you think that shadowy Russian hackers are the biggest threat to the integrity of U.S. elections? Think again. It turns out the bad actors in U.S. elections may be a lot more "Senator Bedfellow" than "Fancy Bear," according to Bev Harris, the founder of Black Box Voting. "It's money," Harris told The Security Ledger. "There's one federal election every four years, but there are about 100,000 local elections which control hundreds of billions of dollars in contract signings." Those range from waste disposal and sanitation to transportation."There are 1,000 convictions every year for public corruption," Harris says, citing Department of Justice statistics. "Its really not something that's even rare in the United States." We just don't think that corruption is a problem, because we rarely see it manifested in the ways that most people associate with public corruption, like violence or having to pay bribes to receive promised services, Harris said. But it's still there.

How does the prevalence of public corruption touch election security? Exactly in the way you might think. "You don't know at any given time if the people handling your votes are honest or not," Harris said. "But you shouldn't have to guess. There should be a way to check." And in the decentralized, poorly monitored U.S. elections system, there often isn't. At the root of our current problem isn't (just) vulnerable equipment, it's also a shoddy "chain of custody" around votes, says Eric Hodge, the director of consulting at Cyber Scout, which is working with the Board of Elections in Kentucky and in other states to help secure elections systems. That includes where and how votes are collected, how they are moved and tabulated and then how they are handled after the fact, should citizens or officials want to review the results of an election. That lack of transparency leaves the election system vulnerable to manipulation and fraud, Harris and Hodge argue.

EU

Massive Solar Plant In the Sahara Could Help Keep the EU Powered (digitaltrends.com) 257

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Digital Trends: In the global race to ditch fossil fuel reliance for more renewable energy sources, Europe is already making some impressive strides. That is likely to ramp up considerably thanks to a new European Union plan to build a large solar plant in the Sahara desert -- with the ability to generate enough power to keep much of Europe juiced up. In all, the enormous solar farm aims to produce 4.5 gigawatts of power, which can then be transmitted across the Mediterranean from Tunisia to mainland Europe. TuNur's proposed solar farm utilizes an enormous quantity of mirrors to reflect sunlight onto a central collector, which uses molten salt to store the energy as heat. Three HVDC submarine cables will then transport the power to Europe. The first cable will link Tunisia and Malta, the second will link Tunisia to central Italy, and a third will link Tunisia to the south of France. "We are opening a new energy corridor to allow Europe to import cheap solar power from the Sahara on a massive scale," Daniel Rich, Chief Operating Officer of TuNur, the company behind the project, told Digital Trends. "This will help Europe meet its Paris Climate Agreement emissions reduction commitments quickly and cost effectively. It also will give a much-needed boost to the Tunisia economy through significant investment into the country, creation of thousands of jobs, new tax revenues, and the establishment of a new solar industry that can help support their future domestic demand."
Patents

'Podcasting Patent' Is Totally Dead, Appeals Court Rules (arstechnica.com) 30

A federal appeals court affirmed the April 2015 inter partes review (IPR) ruling -- a process that allows anyone to challenge a patent's validity at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office -- that invalidated the so-called "podcasting patent." "That process was held by a company called Personal Audio, which had threatened numerous podcasts with lawsuits in recent years," reports Ars Technica. From the report: Back in 2013, Personal Audio began sending legal demand letters to numerous podcasters and companies, like Samsung, in an apparent attempt to cajole them into a licensing deal, lest they be slapped with a lawsuit. Some of those efforts were successful: in August 2014, Adam Carolla paid about $500,000. As Personal Audio began to gain more public attention, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, however, stepped in and said that it would challenge Personal Audio's US Patent No. 8,112,504, which describes a "system for disseminating media content representing episodes in a serialized sequence." In the end, EFF raised over $76,000, more than double its initial target.

[T]he history of Personal Audio dates to the late 1990s, when founder Jim Logan created a company seeking to create a kind of proto-iPod digital music player. But his company flopped. Years later, Logan turned to lawsuits to collect money from those investments. He sued companies over both the "episodic content" patent, as well as a separate patent, which Logan and his lawyers said covered playlists. He and his lawyers wrung verdicts or settlements from Samsung and Apple.

Social Networks

First Evidence That Social Bots Play a Major Role In Spreading Fake News (technologyreview.com) 144

An anonymous reader writes: Researchers from Indiana University in Bloomington provide an answer for how social bots play a major role in spreading fake news. MIT Technology Review reports: "At issue is the publication of news that is false or misleading. So widespread has this become that a number of independent fact-checking organizations have emerged to establish the veracity of online information. These include snopes.com, politifact.com, and factcheck.org. These sites list 122 websites that routinely publish fake news. These fake news sites include infowars.com, breitbart.com, politicususa.com, and theonion.com. 'We did not exclude satire because many fake-news sources label their content as satirical, making the distinction problematic,' say researcher Chengcheng Shao and co. Shao and co then monitored some 400,000 claims made by these websites and studied the way they spread through Twitter. They did this by collecting some 14 million Twitter posts that mentioned these claims. At the same time, the team monitored some 15,000 stories written by fact-checking organizations and over a million Twitter posts that mention them. Next, Shao and co looked at the Twitter accounts that spread this news, collecting up to 200 of each account's most recent tweets. In this way, the team could study the tweeting behavior and work out whether the accounts were most likely run by humans or by bots. Having made a judgment on the ownership of each account, the team finally looked at the way humans and bots spread fake news and fact-checked news.

'Accounts that actively spread misinformation are significantly more likely to be bots,' say Shao and co. 'Social bots play a key role in the spread of fake news.' Shad and co say bots play a particularly significant role in the spread of fake news soon after it is published. What's more, these bots are programmed to direct their tweets at influential users. 'Automated accounts are particularly active in the early spreading phases of viral claims, and tend to target influential users,' say Shao and co."

AMD

AMD Confirms Linux 'Performance Marginality Problem' On Ryzen (phoronix.com) 120

An anonymous reader writes: Ryzen customers experiencing segmentation faults under Linux when firing off many compilation processes have now had their problem officially acknowledged by AMD. The company describes it as a "performance marginality problem" affecting some Ryzen customers and only on Linux. AMD confirmed Threadripper and Epyc processors are unaffected; they will be dealing with the issue on a customer-by-customer basis, and their future consumer products will see better Linux testing/validation. Ryzen customers believed to be affected by the problem can contact AMD Customer Care. Michael Larabel writes via Phoronix: "With the Ryzen segmentation faults on Linux they are found to occur with many, parallel compilation workloads in particular -- certainly not the workloads most Linux users will be firing off on a frequent basis unless intentionally running scripts like ryzen-test/kill-ryzen. As I've previously written, my Ryzen Linux boxes have been working out great except in cases of intentional torture testing with these heavy parallel compilation tasks. [AMD's] analysis has also found that these Ryzen segmentation faults aren't isolated to a particular motherboard vendor or the like, contrary to rumors/noise online due to the complexity of the problem."
Transportation

Pilotless Planes Could Save Airlines $35 Billion Per Year, But Passengers Aren't Willing To Fly In Them Yet (fortune.com) 313

An anonymous reader shares a report from Fortune: Autopilot is hardly a rarity in the world of commercial air travel. But when it comes to a fully automated flight, most people say "hard pass," at least for now. The pilotless plane could save airlines as much as $35 billion per year, according to a new survey from UBS, reducing the cost of highly skilled employees ($31 billion), related training ($3 billion), and fuel ($1 billion). The deployment of autonomous technology could result in significant fare cuts, an estimated one-tenth of the total in the U.S. And yet 54% of passengers refuse to board a remote-controlled plane, according to the survey of 8,000 air passengers. That sentiment will change over time, the investment bank notes. By the middle of the century, the majority may be willing. But UBS said passengers won't do it today, even if ticket prices were lower -- a big hurdle to airlines, which the bank estimates could see profits double by using the technology. Much like the automotive industry, most passengers don't realize that there are quite a few autonomous systems already in place on today's aircraft -- including those that land the plane.
Businesses

Can Elon Musk Be Weaned Off Government Support? (thehill.com) 270

mi shares an opinion piece written by Jenny Beth Martin via The Hill: A study published in 2015 by The Los Angeles Times revealed that just three of Musk's ventures -- SolarCity Corp. (which manufactured and installed solar energy systems before its 2016 merger with Tesla Motors Inc.), Tesla Motors Inc. (which manufactures electric vehicles), and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX (which builds rocket ships) -- had received $4.9 billion in government subsidies to that point in time. By now, Musk's various ventures have sucked well over $5 billion from government coffers. Worse: in order to induce car buyers to spend their money on electric vehicles, the federal government offers a $7,500 rebate on the purchase price. Some states enhance that rebate with rebates of their own. In California, for instance, purchasers of electric vehicles get a state-funded rebate of $2,500 more.

Slashdot reader mi asks: "Why are you and I subsidizing Elon Musk's products and when will his businesses be able to compete on their own?"

Youtube

YouTube Adds Mobile Chat, Because Google Doesn't Have Enough Messaging Apps (venturebeat.com) 25

Krystalo writes: YouTube today rolled out the ability to share videos with contacts directly in its mobile app for Android and iOS. Users can chat about shared videos using text, react with emoji, like messages with a heart, reply with other videos, and invite more friends to the conversation (up to a maximum of 30 people per group message). YouTube first started testing letting groups of users share and talk about videos in May 2016. The company then pushed the feature to Canada in January 2017 as a test, since Canadians share more videos online than any other nation. After some tweaks, the Google-owned company is now pushing it out to all its Android and iOS users. "We've been improving the feature since our experiments began last year," a YouTube spokesperson told VentureBeat. "For example, we've made changes to the chat visual; and we've made the video stick to the top of the chat when scrolling down, to allow replying and chatting while watching a video; and we'll continue making improvements." With the new update, YouTube has become yet another Google messaging app, on top of Android Messages, Allo, Duo, Hangouts Chat, and Hangouts Meet.
Network

Data Cap Analysis Found Almost 200 ISPs Imposing Data Limits in the US (arstechnica.com) 41

An anonymous reader shares a report: BroadbandNow, a broadband provider search site that gets referral fees from some ISPs, has more than 2,500 home internet providers in its database. BroadbandNow's team looked through the ISPs' websites to generate a list of those with data caps. The data cap information was "pulled directly from ISP websites," BroadbandNow Director of Content Jameson Zimmer told Ars. BroadbandNow, which is operated by a company called Microbrand Media, plans to keep tracking the data caps over time in order to examine trends, he said. The listed caps range from 3GB to 3TB per month. That 3GB cap seemed like it couldn't be accurate, so we called the ISP, a small phone company called NTCNet in Newport, New York. A person answering the phone confirmed that the company lists 3GB as its cap, but said it is not enforced and that customers' usage isn't monitored. The cap is essentially a placeholder in case the ISP needs to enforce data limits in the future. [...] BroadbandNow excluded mobile providers from its list of ISPs with data caps, since caps are nearly universal among cellular companies. The list of 196 providers with caps includes 89 offering fixed wireless service, 45 fiber ISPs, 35 DSL ISPs, 63 cable ISPs, and two satellite providers. Some offer Internet service using more than one technology. Some of the providers are tiny, with territories covering just 100 or a few hundred people.
Transportation

London is Using Optical Illusions To Make Cars Slow Down (fastcompany.com) 174

An anonymous reader shares a report: London has an interesting idea to curb speeding -- magic. The British capital has painted optical illusions on its streets as part of a pilot program to get drivers to slow down, podcast 99% Invisible notes. The idea is both pretty simple and pretty clever: use a little sleight of hand to paint the streets to look like they have speed bumps on them, but don't use finite city resources to actually build speed bumps into the road. The 18-month pilot program was launched in September of last year, according to the BBC, and the city is still determining whether the black-and-white stencils are as effective as actual bumps to deter drivers from exceeding 20mph (as if traffic in London ever goes faster than 20 mph).
Businesses

Netflix's First Takeover: a Comics Firm (bbc.com) 37

Netflix announced today that it is acquiring Mark Millar, a well-known name in the world of comics. As part of the deal, the on-demand streaming company said, it will be creating original movies and TV shows from the content. It's Netflix's first acquisition. From a report: Millarworld, founded by Mark Millar from Coatbridge, includes his portfolio of characters and stories such as Kick-Ass, Kingsman, and Old Man Logan. Mr Millar said he was still "blinking" over the news. He said it was only the third time a comic book purchase on this scale had ever happened, with Warner Bros buying DC Comics in 1968, and Disney buying Marvel in 2009. Mr Millar, who lives in Glasgow, started Millarworld as a creator-owned comic-book company nearly 15 years ago. He runs the company with his wife Lucy Millar. It is the first ever company acquisition in Netflix's history. The terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Mr Millar said: "I'm so in love with what Netflix is doing and excited by their plans. Netflix is the future and Millarworld couldn't have a better home."
Businesses

Amazon Owns a Whole Collection of Secret Brands (qz.com) 110

Mike Murphy, writing for Quartz: After decades of selling products -- and knowing exactly what people are buying, and when they are buying it -- Amazon has started cutting out the middle-man by selling self-produced items. Through its AmazonBasics house brand, it sells all sorts of small items, from iPhone chargers, to batteries, power strips -- even foam rollers, backpacks and washcloths. It's the sort of stuff that you might not be too brand loyal over -- who really minds whether it's a Duracell or a Panasonic battery? Amazon sees that a product is selling well, and may decide to work with manufacturers to make the product itself -- it's a tactic that is already worrying vendors, and can't bode well for partnerships in the long run. But those are the obvious instances. Now, Amazon is selling products across a wide array of categories, using a host of brands that do not exist outside the confines of amazon.com and do not make it clear that they are Amazon-made products. Trawling through over 800 trademarks that Amazon has either been awarded or applied for through the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Quartz identified 19 brands that are owned by Amazon and sell products or have product pages on amazon.com: Arabella, for lingerie products; Beauty Bar for cosmetics; Denali for tools; Franklin & Freeman for men's shoes; Happy Belly for fresh food; James & Erin for women's clothing; Lark & Ro for women's clothing; Mae for underwear; Mama Bear for baby products; Myhabit for consumer goods; North Eleven for women's clothing; NuPro for tech accessories; Pike Street for linen; Pinzon (by Amazon) for linen; Scout + Ro for kid's clothing; Single Cow Burger for frozen food; Small Parts for spare parts; Smart is Beautiful for clothing; and Strathwood for furniture.
Businesses

China Built the World's Largest Telescope, But Has No One To Run It (arstechnica.com) 122

An anonymous reader shares a report: China has built a staggeringly large instrument in the remote southern, mountainous region of the country called the Five hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST. The telescope measures nearly twice as large as the closest comparable facility in the world, the US-operated Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. According to the South China Morning Post, the country is looking for a foreigner to run the observatory because no Chinese astronomer has the experience of running a facility of such size and complexity. The Chinese Academy of Sciences began advertising the position in western journals and job postings in May, but so far there have been no qualified applicants. One reason is that the requirements are fairly strict: The candidate must have at least 20 years of previous experience in the field, and he or she must have taken a leading role in large-scale radio telescope project with extensive managerial experience. The candidate must also hold a professorship, or equally senior position, in a world-class research institute or university. Nick Suntzeff, an astronomer at Texas A&M University who helped lead the discovery of dark energy and is involved with construction of the optical Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile, said there are probably about 40 or so astronomers in the world who would qualify for such a job. Compared to other astronomy disciplines, radio astronomy is a relatively small field. "I am sure they will find someone," he said. "But most astronomers in the United States do not like to work abroad. It was hard to get people to apply to work in La Serena, something I could never understand, considering how beautiful it is and how nice the Chilean people are." Among the western community of astronomers there are also questions about the scientific purpose of the FAST telescope. As part of a recent National Science Foundation review of its facilities, US officials placed the similar Arecibo radio telescope near the bottom of its priorities list.
Australia

Buggy Software Made Us Miss Money Laundering Scam, Says Australian Bank (theregister.co.uk) 57

An anonymous reader shares a report: Australia's Commonwealth Bank has blamed a software update for a money laundering scam that saw criminals send over AU$70m (US$55m) offshore after depositing cash into automatic teller machines. News of the Bank's involvement in the laundering scam broke last week, when Australia's financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC announced that it had found over 53,500 occasions on which the Bank failed to submit reports on transactions over $10,000. All transactions of that value are reportable in Australia, as part of efforts to crimp the black economy, crime and funding of terrorism. The news was not a good look for the Bank (CBA), because most of the cash was deposited into accounts established with fake drivers licences. Worse still is that each failure of this type can attract a fine of AU$18m, leaving CBA open to a sanction that would kill it off. Today the bank has explained the reason for its failure: "a coding error" that saw the ATMs fail to create reports of $10,000+ transactions. The error was introduced in a May 2012 update designed to address other matters, but not repaired until September 2015.
Facebook

Inside the World of Silicon Valley's 'Coasters' -- the Millionaire Engineers Who Get Paid Gobs of Money and Barely Work (businessinsider.com) 226

Business Insider has explored what it calls the "least-secret secret" in the Valley -- "resters and vesters," or "coasters" referring to engineers who get paid big bucks without doing too much work, waiting for their stock to vest. From the report: Engineers can wind up in "rest and vest" jobs in a variety of ways. Manny Medina, the CEO of fast-growing Seattle startup Outreach, has been on all sides of it. He briefly was a coaster himself, and says he saw how Microsoft used it to great effect when he worked for the software giant. He has also tried to lure some "rest and vest" engineers to come work for him at his startup. Medina said he experienced the high-pay, no-work situation early in his career when he was a software engineer in grad school. He finished his project months early, and warned his company he would be leaving after graduation. They kept him on for the remaining months to train others on his software but didn't want him to start a new coding project. His job during those months involved hanging out at the office writing a little documentation and being available to answer questions, he recalls. "My days began at that point at 11 and I took long lunches," he laughs. "They didn't want you to build anything else, because anything you built would be maintained by someone else. But you have to stand by while they bring people up to speed." Years later, he landed at Microsoft and says he saw how Microsoft used high-paying jobs strategically, both within its engineering ranks and with its R&D unit, Microsoft Research. [...] "You keep engineering talent but also you prevent a competitor from having it and that's very valuable," he said. "It's a defensive measure." Another person confirmed the tactic, telling us, "That's Microsoft Research's whole model." At other companies it's less about defense and more about becoming indispensable. For instance, Facebook has a fairly hush bonus program called "discretionary equity" or "DE," said a former Facebook engineer who received it. "DE" is when the company hands an engineer a massive, extra chunk of restricted stock units, worth tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's a thank you for a job well done. It also helps keep the person from jumping ship because DE vests over time. These are bonus grants that are signed by top execs, sometimes even CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself. "At Facebook the 'OGs' [Original Gangsters] we know got DE," this former Facebook engineer said. OGs refer to engineers who worked at the company before the IPO. "Their Facebook stock quadruples and they don't leave. They are really good engineers, really indispensable. And then they start to pull 9-5 days," this person said.
United States

Net Neutrality Rollback Faces New Criticism From US Congress -- And 16 Million Comments (techcrunch.com) 147

An anonymous reader quotes TechCrunch's newest update on the FCC's attempt to gut net neutrality protections: 10 Representatives who helped craft the law governing the FCC itself have submitted an official comment on the proposal ruthlessly dismantling it... The FCC is well within its rights to interpret the law, and it doesn't have to listen to contrary comments from the likes of you and me. It does, however, have to listen to Congress -- "congressional intent" is a huge factor in determining whether an interpretation of the law is reasonable. And in the comment they've just filed, Representatives Pallon, Doyle et al. make it very clear that their intent was and remains very different from how the FCC has chosen to represent it.

"The law directs the FCC to look at ISP services as distinct from those services that ride over the networks. The FCC's proposal contravenes our intent... While some may argue that this distinction should be abandoned because of changes in today's market, that choice is not the FCC's to make. The decision remains squarely with those of us in Congress -- and we have repeatedly chosen to leave the law as it is."

In another letter Thursday, 15 Congressmen asked FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to extend the time period for comments. They note the proposed changes have received more than 16 million comments, more than four times the number of comments on any previous FCC item. The Hill reports that the previous record was 4 million comments -- during the FCC's last net neutrality proceeding in 2014 -- and "the lawmakers also noted that the comment period for approving net neutrality in 2014 was 60 days. Pai has only allowed a 30-day comment period for his plan to rollback the rules."
The Military

A US Spy Plane Has Been Flying Circles Over Seattle For Days (thedrive.com) 232

turkeydance shares Thursday's report from The Drive: A very unique U.S. Air Force surveillance aircraft has been flying highly defined circles over Seattle and its various suburbs for nine days now... The aircraft, which goes by the callsign "SPUD21" and wears a nondescript flat gray paint job with the only visible markings being a U.S. Air Force serial on its tail, is a CASA CN-235-300 transport aircraft that has been extensively modified... It is covered in a dizzying array of blisters, protrusions, humps and bumps. These include missile approach warning detectors and large fairings on its empennage for buckets of forward-firing decoy flares, as well as both microwave -- the dome antenna behind the wing and flat antenna modification in front of the wing -- and ultra high-frequency satellite communications -- the platter-like antenna behind the dome antenna. A communications intelligence suite also appears to be installed on the aircraft, with the antenna farm on the bottom of its fuselage being a clear indication of such a capability. But what's most interesting is the aircraft's apparent visual intelligence gathering installation...

This particular CN-235, with the serial 96-6042, is one of six that researchers commonly associated with the Air Force's top secret 427th Special Operations Squadron... The 427th occupies the same space with a host of other "black" U.S. military aviation elements, most of which are affiliated to some degree with Joint Special Operations Command and the Intelligence Community... [I]f the military placed the aircraft under civilian control to some degree and with an appropriate legal justification, the U.S. military could possibly fly it in support of a domestic operation or one focused on a foreign suspect or organization operating within the United States... It's also entirely possible, if not probable, that the aircraft could be involved in a realistic training exercise rather than an actual operation... The area could have simply provided a suitable urban area to test existing or new surveillance technologies, too, though this could spark serious privacy concerns if true.

Friday an Air Force Special Operations Command public affairs officer confirmed that the plane was one of theirs, describing its activity as "just a training mission," according to Russia Today.
Microsoft

High School Students Compete In 'Microsoft Office Championship' (latimes.com) 103

An anonymous reader writes: This week the L.A. Times described a 17-year-old from Virginia who'd spent several hours a day perfecting his technique in Microsoft Excel, "one of 150 students from 50 countries competing in the Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship" at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. "At stake: cash, prizes and the clout that comes with being the best in the world at Excel, PowerPoint or Word. 'I'm going to do my best to bring it home for the United States,' John said as he prepared for the competition."

Microsoft's VP of Worldwide Education said the event helps students "to become more employable to companies that build their businesses around the Microsoft suite." For example, the article points out, "Past winners have gone on to attend Ivy League colleges and even work at, yes, Microsoft... Delaware resident Anirudh Narayanan, 17, prepared all summer to compete in the Excel 2013 category, 'looking up obscure facts just in case I might need to know it during the test.' He's hoping the skills he honed will help him at Carnegie Mellon University, where he will begin studying economics in the fall. 'I make sure I do a minimum of five hours a week in Excel,' Anirudh said. 'Then for a while I'll be on YouTube watching videos about Excel.'"

John eventually won the first-place prize in the Excel category -- which was $7,000 and an Xbox.
Star Wars Prequels

Warner Music Files Copyright Claim on A Silent 'Star Wars' Video On YouTube (wired.com) 73

rgh02 writes: Earlier this summer, popular YouTube channel Auralnauts received some unfortunate news: Warner/Chappell had filed a monetization claim on their "Star Wars Minus Williams" video through YouTube's Content ID System. More than anything, the Auralnauts were confused -- the video the music company was claiming rights over didn't have any music in it at all.
In fact, the video is almost entirely silent, augmented with a few awkward coughs as Han Solo and Luke Skywalker plod noiselessly toward Princess Leia in a two-minute scene where they're awarded ceremonial medallions. Wired's article describes it as "a tongue-in-cheek tribute" to John Williams' Star Wars score for the film's final scene, also reporting that it had been online for almost three years before Warner/Chappell music publishing claimed rights to all money the video would receive: When I tried to get Warner/Chappell's side of this story, the company offered no comment. But apparently my reporting helped bring the "Star Wars Minus Williams" copyright dispute to an unexpectedly speedy resolution. When Koonce told his YouTube partner manager that a journalist had interviewed him, YouTube stepped in and removed the copyright claim against the video.
YouTube has also created a "Fair Use Protection" program covering legal costs for channels they believe are unfairly targeted with video takedown notices. But the article points out that 95% of the time music companies just chose YouTube's "monetize" option to claim the ad revenue rather than asking that a video be blocked -- and that last year YouTube paid the music industry $1 billion. (Though the music industry insists that amount is still below what they're receiving from streaming music services.)
Chrome

Browser Extensions Are Undermining Privacy (vortex.com) 82

pizzutz writes: Chrome's popular Web Developer plugin was briefly hijacked on Wednesday when an attacker gained control of the author's Google account and released a new version (0.49) which injected ads into web pages of more than a million users who downloaded the update. The version was quickly replaced with an uncompromised version (0.5) and all users are urged to update immediately.
Lauren Weinstein has a broader warning: While the browser firms work extensively to build top-notch security and privacy controls into the browsers themselves, the unfortunate fact is that these can be undermined by add-ons, some of which are downright crooked, many more of which are sloppily written and poorly maintained. Ironically, some of these add-on extensions and apps claim to be providing more security, while actually undermining the intrinsic security of the browsers themselves. Others (and this is an extremely common scenario) claim to be providing additional search or shopping functionalities, while actually only existing to silently collect and sell user browsing activity data of all sorts.
Lauren also warns about sites that "push users very hard to install these privacy-invasive, data sucking extensions" -- and believes requests for permissions aren't a sufficient safeguard for most users. "Expecting them to really understand what these permissions mean is ludicrous. We're the software engineers and computer scientists -- most users aren't either of these. They have busy lives -- they expect our stuff to just work, and not to screw them over."
Bug

The NSA Intercepted Microsoft's Windows Bug Reports (schneier.com) 52

Bruce Schneier writes on his security blog: Back in 2013, Der Spiegel reported that the NSA intercepts and collects Windows bug reports... "When Tailored Access Operations selects a computer somewhere in the world as a target and enters its unique identifiers (an IP address, for example) into the corresponding database, intelligence agents are then automatically notified any time the operating system of that computer crashes and its user receives the prompt to report the problem to Microsoft... this passive access to error messages provides valuable insights into problems with a targeted person's computer and, thus, information on security holes that might be exploitable for planting malware or spyware on the unwitting victim's computer..."

The article talks about the (limited) value of this information with regard to specific target computers, but I have another question: how valuable would this database be for finding new zero-day Windows vulnerabilities to exploit?

Microsoft

Microsoft and PayPal Add 'Send Money' Feature To Skype (paypal.com) 49

BrianFagioli quotes BetaNews: Microsoft has partnered with PayPal for a new way to transfer funds using Skype... "Today, we're excited to announce that PayPal is now partnering with Skype to allow users in 22 countries to send money to other Skype users with PayPal via their Skype mobile app. With over one billion Skype mobile downloads to date globally, users will be able to use PayPal directly from their Skype app to seamlessly send money in the moment...across the country or internationally," says John Kunze, VP of Xoom, PayPal.
It's part of a push to make it easier to share money, PayPal writes: Over the past year, we've partnered with Apple, Slack and Microsoft to enable peer-to-peer payments with PayPal and Venmo in more places and in more contexts where people are connecting online and on mobile, such as a voice command with Siri, in chat with iMessage and Slack, and in email via Microsoft's Outlook.com.
The Almighty Buck

'World of Warcraft' Game Currency Now Worth More Than Venezuelan Money (theblaze.com) 189

schwit1 quotes TheBlaze: Digital gold from Blizzard's massive multiplayer online game "World of Warcraft" is worth more than actual Venezuelan currency, the bolivar, according to new data. Venezuelan resident and Twitter user @KalebPrime first made the discovery July 14 and tweeted at the time that on the Venezuela's black market -- now the most-used method of currency exchange within Venezuela according to NPR -- you can get $1 for 8493.97 bolivars. Meanwhile, a "WoW" token, which can be bought for $20 from the in-game auction house, is worth 8385 gold per dollar. According to sites that track the value of both currencies, KalebPrime's math is outdated, and WoW gold is now worth even more than the bolivar.
That tweet has since gone viral, prompting @KalebPrime to joke that "At this rate when I publish my novel the quotes will read 'FROM THE GUY THAT MADE THE WOW GOLD > VENEZUELAN BOLIVAR TWEET.'"
Businesses

Wells Fargo Sued Again For Misbilling Car Owners And Veterans (reuters.com) 75

UnknowingFool writes: A new class action lawsuit from a former Wells Fargo customer claimed the bank charged loan customers for auto insurance they did not need. With auto loans, the bank often requires that full coverage auto insurance be bought when the loan is made. However, lead plaintiff Paul Hancock says that Wells Fargo charged him for auto insurance even though he informed them he already had an insurance policy with another company. Wells Fargo also charged him a late fee when he disputed the charge. Wells Fargo does not dispute that it did this to customers and has offered to refund $80 million to 570,000 customers who were charged for insurance. The lawsuit however is to recoup late fees, delinquency charges, and other fees that the refund would not cover.
NPR describes Wells Fargo actually repossessing the car of a man who was "marked as delinquent for not paying this insurance -- which he didn't want or need or even know about." Friday the bank also revealed the number of "potentially unauthorized accounts" from its earlier fake accounts scandal could be much higher than previous estimates -- and that they're now expecting their legal costs to exceed the $3.3 billion they'd already set aside.

And Reuters reports that the bank will also be paying $108 million "to settle a whistleblower lawsuit claiming it charged military veterans hidden fees to refinance their mortgages, and concealed the fees when applying for federal loan guarantees."
Social Networks

FBI Tracked 'Fake News' Believed To Be From Russia On Election Day (cnn.com) 352

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNN: The FBI monitored social media on Election Day last year in an effort to track a suspected Russian disinformation campaign utilizing "fake news," CNN has learned. In the months leading up to Election Day, Twitter and Facebook were the feeding grounds for viral "news" stories floating conspiracies and hoaxes, many aimed at spreading negative false claims about Hillary Clinton. On Election Day, dozens of agents and analysts huddled at a command center arrayed with large monitoring screens at the FBI headquarters in Washington watching for security threats, according to multiple sources. That included analysts monitoring cyber threats, after months of mounting Russian intrusions targeting every part of the US political system, from political parties to policy think-tanks to state election systems. On this day, there was also a group of FBI cyber and counterintelligence analysts and investigators watching social media. FBI analysts had identified social media user accounts behind stories, some based overseas, and the suspicion was that at least some were part of a Russian disinformation campaign, according to two sources familiar with the investigation.
Open Source

Linux Kernel Hardeners Grsecurity Sue Open Source's Bruce Perens (theregister.co.uk) 307

An anonymous reader shares a report from The Register: In late June, noted open-source programmer Bruce Perens [a longtime Slashdot reader] warned that using Grsecurity's Linux kernel security could invite legal trouble. "As a customer, it's my opinion that you would be subject to both contributory infringement and breach of contract by employing this product in conjunction with the Linux kernel under the no-redistribution policy currently employed by Grsecurity," Perens wrote on his blog. The following month, Perens was invited to court. Grsecurity sued the open-source doyen, his web host, and as-yet-unidentified defendants who may have helped him draft that post, for defamation and business interference. Grsecurity offers Linux kernel security patches on a paid-for subscription basis. The software hardens kernel defenses through checks for common errors like memory overflows. Perens, meanwhile, is known for using the Debian Free Software Guidelines to draft the Open Source Definition, with the help of others.

Grsecurity used to allow others to redistribute its patches, but the biz ended that practice for stable releases two years ago and for test patches in April this year. It offers its GPLv2 licensed software through a subscription agreement. The agreement says that customers who redistribute the code -- a right under the GPLv2 license -- will no longer be customers and will lose the right to distribute subsequent versions of the software. According to Perens, "GPL version 2 section 6 explicitly prohibits the addition of terms such as this redistribution prohibition." A legal complaint (PDF) filed on behalf of Grsecurity in San Francisco, California, insists the company's software complies with the GPLv2. Grsecurity's agreement, the lawsuit states, only applies to future patches, which have yet to be developed. Perens isn't arguing that the GPLv2 applies to unreleased software. Rather, he asserts the GPLv2, under section 6, specifically forbids the addition of contractual terms.

Robotics

MegaBots Is Finally Going To Take On Japan In the World's First Giant Robot Duel (qz.com) 38

A company called MegaBots released a video two years ago challenging a Japanese collective to a giant robot fight. About a week later, the Japanese group, Suidobashi Heavy Industry, agreed. Now, according to MegaBots co-founderes, Matt Oehrlein and Gui Cavalcanti, the battle is set to take place in September. Quartz reports: The battle would have happened a bit sooner, but apparently there have been "logistical issues at the originally-chosen venue," according to a release shared with Quartz by MegaBots. Unfortunately for fans hoping to see the battle in action -- presumably including those who backed the Kickstarter project to the tune of $550,000 to bring this robot to life -- the event will be closed to the public and recorded, for fears over the teams' ability to keep spectators safe. (One of the earliest conversations MegaBots had with Suidobashi was trying to figure out how the human pilots inside the robots would themselves "figure out how to not die.") Fans will be able to watch the fight on MegaBots' Facebook and YouTube sites, but it's not clear whether the fight will be live.

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