Toys R Us To Close All 800 of Its US Stores ( 194

Toy store chain Toys R Us is reportedly planning to sell or close all 800 of its U.S. stores (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source), affecting as many as 33,000 jobs as the company winds down its operations after six decades. The Washington Post reports: The news comes six months after the retailer filed for bankruptcy. The company has struggled to pay down nearly $8 billion in debt -- much of it dating back to a 2005 leveraged buyout -- and has had trouble finding a buyer. There were reports earlier this week that Toys R Us had stopped paying its suppliers, which include the country's largest toy makers. On Wednesday, the company announced it would close all 100 of its U.K. stores. In the United States, the company told employees closures would likely occur over time, and not all at once, according to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations.

Former Equifax CIO Charged With Insider Trading ( 90

OffTheLip writes: Jun Ying, a former CIO with Equifax has been charged with insider trading by the US Department of Justice. From the linked article:

Wednesday's announcement marks the first criminal charge brought in one of the largest data breaches in history. Ying, the former chief information officer for Equifax's U.S. information-solutions business, used confidential information entrusted to him by the company to determine it had been hacked, according to a separate complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

ZDNet adds: According to a Justice Department statement, Ying sent a text message to a colleague two weeks before Equifax revealed the hack, in which he said the breach "sounds bad." Three days later, Ying searched the web to research the effect of Experian's 2015 own breach on its stock price. Later that day, Ying excised all his available stock options.


SEC Charges Theranos, CEO Elizabeth Holmes With 'Massive Fraud' ( 128

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: The SEC has charged Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes and Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani with fraud relating to the startup's fundraising activities. The company, as well as CEO Holmes and former president Balwani are said to have raised more than $700 million from investors through "an elaborate, years-long fraud." This involved making "false statements about the company's technology, business and financial performance." In a statement, the commission said that the company, and its two executives, misled investors about the capability of its blood testing technology. Theranos' big selling point was that its hardware could scan for a number of diseases with just a small drop of blood. Unfortunately, the company was never able to demonstrate that its system worked as well as its creators claimed.

The company and Elizabeth Holmes have already agreed to settle the charges leveled against them by the SEC. Holmes will have to pay a $500,000 fine and return 18.9 million shares in Theranos that she owned, as well as downgrading her super-majority equity into common stock. The CEO is now barred from serving as the officer or director of a public company for 10 years. In addition, if Theranos is liquidated or acquired, Holmes cannot profit from her remaining shareholding unless $750 million is handed back to defrauded investors. Balwani, on the other hand, is facing a federal court case in the Northern District of California where the SEC will litigate its claims against him.
Worth noting: the court still has to approve the deals between Holmes and Theranos, and neither party has admitted any wrongdoing.

Google Will Ban All Cryptocurrency-related Advertising ( 108

Google is cracking down on cryptocurrency-related advertising. From a report: The company is updating its financial services-related ad policies to ban any advertising about cryptocurrency-related content, including initial coin offerings (ICOs), wallets, and trading advice, Google's director of sustainable ads, Scott Spencer, told CNBC. That means that even companies with legitimate cryptocurrency offerings won't be allowed to serve ads through any of Google's ad products, which place advertising on its own sites as well as third-party websites. This update will go into effect in June 2018, according to a company post. "We don't have a crystal ball to know where the future is going to go with cryptocurrencies, but we've seen enough consumer harm or potential for consumer harm that it's an area that we want to approach with extreme caution," Scott said.

How Your Returns Are Used Against You At Best Buy, Other Retailers ( 198

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Wall Street Journal (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): At Best Buy, returning too many items within a short time can hurt a person's score, as can returning high-theft items such as digital cameras. Every time shoppers returns purchases to Best Buy, they are tracked by a company which has the power to override the store's touted policy and refuse to refund their money. That is because the electronics giant is one of several chains that have hired a service called The Retail Equation to score customers' shopping behavior and impose limits on the amount of merchandise they can return. Stores have long used generous return guidelines to lure more customers, but such policies also invite abuse. Retailers estimate 11% of their sales are returned, and of those, 11% are likely fraudulent returns, according to a 2017 survey of 63 retailers by the National Retail Federation. Return fraud or abuse occurs when customers exploit the return process, such as requesting a refund for items they have used, stolen or bought somewhere else. Inc. and other online players that have made it easy to return items have changed consumer expectations, adding pressure on brick-and-mortar chains. Some retailers monitor return fraud in-house, but Best Buy and others pay The Retail Equation to track and score each customer's return behavior for both in-store and online purchases. The service also works with Home Depot, J.C. Penney, Sephora and Victoria's Secret. Some retailers use the system only to assess returns made without a receipt. Best Buy uses The Retail Equation to assess all returns, even those made with a receipt.


Amazon Recalls 260,000 Portable Power Banks For Fire Hazard ( 31

Amazon is recalling 260,000 AmazonBasics portable power banks that can "overheat and ignite," according to a release by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The company has received more than 50 reports of the power banks overheating in the U.S., causing chemical burns and property damage. CNBC reports: "Consumers should immediately unplug and stop using the recalled power banks and contact Amazon for instructions on how to return the unit and receive a full refund," the release says. Amazon is contacting everyone who purchased one of the affected devices. The recall covers six versions of the AmazonBasics portable battery: 16,100 mAh; 10,000 mAh; 5,600 mAh; 2,000 mAh with micro USB cable; 3,000 mAh; and 3,000 mAh with USB micro cable.

'Women At Microsoft Are Sexualized By Their Male Managers,' Lawsuit Alleges ( 178

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: According to a newly unsealed court filing, women at Microsoft who work in technical jobs filed 238 internal complaints pertaining to gender discrimination or sexual harassment from 2010 through 2016. The new document was first reported Monday evening by Reuters. The figures were revealed as part of a proposed class-action lawsuit originally filed in 2015 (Moussouris v. Microsoft). The female plaintiffs argue that the company's internal rating system discriminates against women and disfavors professional advancement for women.

As part of the class certification process and civil discovery, Microsoft handed over years of records to the plaintiffs' lawyers. In the Monday-released filing, which was originally submitted to the court in October 2017, Moussouris' lawyer, Michael Subit, wrote that "Microsoft's Culture is Rife with Sexual Harassment" before continuing: "Company records indicate that women at Microsoft are sexualized by their male managers and coworkers, leading to a substantial number of incidents of alleged sexual harassment, and even several incidents of sexual assault, that often go unpunished." Specifically, Subit continued, Microsoft's internal unit (known as "ERIT") received 108 complaints of sexual harassment filed by female US-based technical employees, 119 complaints of gender discrimination, eight complaints of retaliation, and three complaints of pregnancy discrimination. Out of all of the claimed instances of gender discrimination, Microsoft's internal investigation only found that one such complaint was "founded."


Developers Love Trendy New Languages, But Earn More With Functional Programming: Stack Overflow's Annual Survey ( 109

Stack Overflow has released the results of its annual survey of 100,000 developers, revealing the most-popular, top-earning, and preferred programming languages. ArsTechnica: JavaScript remains the most widely used programming language among professional developers, making that six years at the top for the lingua franca of Web development. Other Web tech including HTML (#2 in the ranking), CSS (#3), and PHP (#9). Business-oriented languages were also in wide use, with SQL at #4, Java at #5, and C# at #8. Shell scripting made a surprising showing at #6 (having not shown up at all in past years, which suggests that the questions have changed year-to-year), Python appeared at #7, and systems programming stalwart C++ rounded out the top 10.

These aren't, however, the languages that developers necessarily want to use. Only three languages from the most-used top ten were in the most-loved list; Python (#3), JavaScript (#7), and C# (#8). For the third year running, that list was topped by Rust, the new systems programming language developed by Mozilla. Second on the list was Kotlin, which wasn't even in the top 20 last year. This new interest is likely due to Google's decision last year to bless the language as an official development language for Android. TypeScript, Microsoft's better JavaScript than JavaScript comes in at fourth, with Google's Go language coming in at fifth. Smalltalk, last year's second-most loved, is nowhere to be seen this time around. These languages may be well-liked, but it looks as if the big money is elsewhere. Globally, F# and OCaml are the top average earners, and in the US, Erlang, Scala, and OCaml are the ones to aim for. Visual Basic 6, Cobol, and CoffeeScript were the top three most-dreaded, which is news that will surprise nobody who is still maintaining Visual Basic 6 applications thousands of years after they were originally written.


A Startup is Pitching a Mind-Uploading Service That is '100 Percent Fatal' ( 246

The startup accelerator Y Combinator is known for supporting audacious companies in its popular three-month boot camp. There's never been anything quite like Nectome, though. From a report: Next week, at YC's "demo days," Nectome's cofounder, Robert McIntyre, is going to describe his technology for exquisitely preserving brains in microscopic detail using a high-tech embalming process. Then the MIT graduate will make his business pitch. As it says on his website: "What if we told you we could back up your mind?" So yeah. Nectome is a preserve-your-brain-and-upload-it company. Its chemical solution can keep a body intact for hundreds of years, maybe thousands, as a statue of frozen glass. The idea is that someday in the future scientists will scan your bricked brain and turn it into a computer simulation. That way, someone a lot like you, though not exactly you, will smell the flowers again in a data server somewhere.

This story has a grisly twist, though. For Nectome's procedure to work, it's essential that the brain be fresh. The company says its plan is to connect people with terminal illnesses to a heart-lung machine in order to pump its mix of scientific embalming chemicals into the big carotid arteries in their necks while they are still alive (though anesthetized). The company has consulted with lawyers familiar with California's two-year-old End of Life Option Act, which permits doctor-assisted suicide for terminal patients, and believes its service will be legal. The product is "100 percent fatal," says McIntyre. "That is why we are uniquely situated among the Y Combinator companies."


Larry Page's Flying Taxis, Now Exiting Stealth Mode ( 100

Google co-founder and Alphabet CEO Larry Page's autonomous flying taxi company Kitty Hawk on Tuesday unveiled its "fully electric, self-piloting flying taxi" called Cora. Since October, Cora has been seen moving through the skies over the South Island of New Zealand. It looks like a cross between a small plane and a drone, with a series of small rotor blades along each wing that allow it to take off like a helicopter and then fly like a plane. The New York Times reports: Now that project is about to go public: On Tuesday, Mr. Page's company and the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, will announce they have reached an agreement to test Kitty Hawk's autonomous planes as part of an official certification process. The hope is that it will lead to a commercial network of flying taxis in New Zealand in as soon as three years. The move is a big step forward in the commercialization of this technology, which even the most optimistic prognosticators had recently bet would take another decade to achieve. The decision to embrace the commercial use of flying taxis offers New Zealand an opportunity to leapfrog many developed countries in this area, and perhaps give it a head start over Silicon Valley, where much of the most innovative work has been taking place.

Lyft Says Its Revenue Is Growing Nearly 3x Faster Than Uber's ( 53

U.S. ride-sharing company Lyft says it passed $1 billion in revenue last year and that its revenue grew 168 percent year over year in the fourth quarter of 2017, almost three times faster than Uber's reported 61 percent growth. "Uber, of course, is still much larger than Lyft -- it generated a reported $7.5 billion in revenue last year and operates in many more cities and countries," notes Recode. "While its fourth-quarter growth may have been smaller than Lyft's percentage-wise, it was still almost certainly many times larger dollar-wise. Both companies are still unprofitable." From the report: But the big-picture reality is that despite Uber's head start, its early dominance, ability to raise massive amounts of financing, aggressive (often allegedly illegal) growth tactics, faster move into self-driving cars and everything else in its favor, it has not been able to destroy Lyft. Instead, Lyft capitalized somewhat on Uber's missteps and unsavory reputation, raised another $2 billion last year, gained market share, launched its first international market last year (Toronto) and seems poised to exist for the foreseeable future.

Trump Issues Order To Block Broadcom's Takeover of Qualcomm ( 227

Bloomberg reports that President Donald Trump issued an executive order today blocking Broadcom from acquiring Qualcomm, "scuttling a $117 billion deal that had been subject to U.S. government scrutiny on national security grounds." From the report: The president acted on a recommendation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which reviews acquisitions of American firms by foreign investors. The decision to block the deal was unveiled just hours after Broadcom Chief Executive Officer Hock Tan met with security officials at the Pentagon in a last-ditch effort to salvage the transaction. "There is credible evidence that leads me to believe that Broadcom Ltd." by acquiring Qualcomm "might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States," Trump said in the order released Monday evening in Washington.

Apple Seems OK With Currency Miners In the Mac App Store 38

Apple has yet to block a popular title in the Mac App Store that has openly embraced coin mining, prompting one to ask the question: does Apple allow apps in the Mac App Store if they clearly disclose that they will be mining cryptocurrency? Ars Technica reports: The app is Calendar 2, a scheduling app that aims to include more features than the Calendar app that Apple bundles with macOS. In recent days, Calendar 2 developer Qbix endowed it with code that mines the digital coin known as Monero. The xmr-stack miner isn't supposed to run unless users specifically approve it in a dialog that says the mining will be in exchange for turning on a set of premium features. If users approve the arrangement, the miner will then run. Users can bypass this default action by selecting an option to keep the premium features turned off or to pay a fee to turn on the premium features. If Calendar 2 isn't the first known app offered in Apple's official and highly exclusive App Store to do currency mining, it's one of the very few.

Comcast 'Blocks' an Encrypted Email Service: Yet Another Reminder Why Net Neutrality Matters ( 105

Zack Whittaker, writing for ZDNet: For about twelve hours earlier this month, encrypted email service Tutanota seemed to fall off the face of the internet for Comcast customers. Starting in the afternoon on March 1, people weren't sure if the site was offline or if it had been attacked. Reddit threads speculated about the outage. Some said that Comcast was actively blocking the site, while others dismissed the claims altogether. Several tweets alerted the Hanover, Germany-based encrypted messaging provider to the alleged blockade, which showed a "connection timed out" message to Comcast users. It was as if to hundreds of Comcast customers, Tutanota didn't exist. But as soon as users switched to another non-Comcast internet connection, the site appeared as normal. "To us, this came as a total surprise," said Matthias Pfau, co-founder of Tutanota, in an email. "It was quite a shock as such an outage shows the immense power [internet providers] are having over our Internet when they can block sites...without having to justify their action in any way," he said.

By March 2, the site was back, but the encrypted email provider was none the wiser to the apparent blockade. The company contacted Comcast for answers, but did not receive a reply. When contacted, a Comcast spokesperson couldn't say why the site was blocked -- or even if the internet and cable giant was behind it. According to a spokesperson, engineers investigated the apparent outage but found there was no evidence of a connection breakage between Comcast and Tutanota. The company keeps records of issues that trigger incidents -- but found nothing to suggest an issue. It's not the first time Comcast customers have been blocked from accessing popular sites. Last year, the company purposefully blocked access to internet behemoth for more than 13 hours.


Apple Must Explain Why It Doesn't Want You To Fix Your Own iPhone, California Lawmaker Says ( 195

A California state lawmaker says she hopes to make Apple explain specifically why it has opposed and lobbied against legislation that would make it easier for you to repair your iPhone and other electronics. Motherboard reports: Last week, California assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman announced that she plans to introduce right to repair legislation in the state, which would require companies like Apple, Microsoft, John Deere, and Samsung to sell replacement parts and repair tools, make repair guides available to the public, and would require companies to make diagnostic software available to independent shops. Public records show that Apple has lobbied against right to repair legislation in New York, and my previous reporting has shown that Apple has privately asked lawmakers to kill legislation in places like Nebraska. To this point, the company has largely used its membership in trade organizations such as CompTIA and the Consumer Technology Association to publicly oppose the bill. But with the right to repair debate coming to Apple's home state, Talamantes-Eggman says she expects the company to show up to hearings about the bill.

"Apple is a very important company in the state of California, and one I have a huge amount of respect for. But the onus is on them to explain why we can't repair our own things and what damage or danger it causes them," Talamantes-Eggman told me in a phone interview. Talamantes-Eggman told me that the bill she plans to introduce will apply to both consumer electronics as well as agricultural equipment such as tractors. Broadly speaking, the electronics industry has decided to go with an "authorized repair" model in which companies pay the original device manufacturer to become authorized to fix devices.


Data Breach Victims Can Sue Yahoo in the United States, Federal Judge Rules ( 13

Yahoo has been ordered by a federal judge to face much of a lawsuit in the United States claiming that the personal information of all 3 billion users was compromised in a series of data breaches. From a report: In a decision on Friday night, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California rejected a bid by Verizon Communications, which bought Yahoo's Internet business last June, to dismiss many claims, including for negligence and breach of contract. Koh dismissed some other claims. She had previously denied Yahoo's bid to dismiss some unfair competition claims.

[...] The plaintiffs amended their complaint after Yahoo last October revealed that the 2013 breach affected all 3 billion users, tripling its earlier estimate. Koh said the amended complaint highlighted the importance of security in the plaintiffs' decision to use Yahoo. 'Plaintiffs' allegations are sufficient to show that they would have behaved differently had defendants disclosed the security weaknesses of the Yahoo Mail System," Koh wrote. She also said the plaintiffs could try to show that liability limits in Yahoo's terms of service were "unconscionable," given the allegations that Yahoo knew its security was deficient but did little.


Coming Soon to a Front Porch Near You: Package Delivery Via Drone ( 110

After lagging behind other countries for years, commercial drones in the U.S. are expected to begin limited package deliveries within months, according to federal regulators and industry officials. [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; an alternative source was not immediately available] From a report: The momentum partly stems from stepped-up White House pressure, prompting closer cooperation between the government and companies such as seeking authorizations for such fledgling businesses. The upshot, according to these officials, is newfound confidence by both sides that domestic package-delivery services finally appear on the verge of taking off. Earlier promises of progress turned out to be premature. The green light could be delayed again if proponents can't overcome nagging security concerns on the part of local or national law-enforcement agencies. Proposed projects also may end up stymied if Federal Aviation Administration managers don't find creative ways around legislative and regulatory restrictions such as those mandating pilot training for manned aircraft. But some proponents of delivery and other drone applications "think they might be ready to operate this summer," Jay Merkle, a senior FAA air-traffic control official, said during a break at an unmanned-aircraft conference in Baltimore last week that highlighted the agency's pro-business approach.

Dial P for Privacy: The Phone Booth Is Back ( 110

As mobile phone use exploded and the pay phone was increasingly linked to crime, the booth began to disappear. But things are appear to be changing. From a report: Now, the phone booth -- or at least a variation of it -- is making a modest comeback. When the women-only club and work space The Wing opened its first location in the Flatiron neighborhood of Manhattan in October of 2016, the interior featured marble tables, pink velvet couches, and one small, windowless, reflective glass-doored room dubbed the Phone Booth. One year later, when another location of The Wing opened in Soho, eight built-in, glass-doored call rooms were included in the design. [...]

Other companies that have recently purchased Zenbooths include Volkswagen, Lyft, Meetup and Capital One. The Berkeley, Calif., company was launched in 2016, and its products range from $3,995 (for a standard one-person booth) to $15,995 (for a two-person "executive" booth). The one-person booth is a soundproof, eco-friendly, American-made box that's about 36 inches wide and 34 inches deep, with an insulated glass door, a ventilation fan, power outlets and a skylight -- and it can be assembled in roughly an hour. (It does not, however, contain an actual phone.) Sam Johnson, a co-founder of the company, said it produced "hundreds" of Zenbooths a month in 2017. This year, it's on track to quadruple that production. But he doesn't call them phone booths. "We're manufacturing quiet spaces and privacy," he said.

Zenbooth is not the only free-standing office phone booth in the game. Companies like Cubicall, Nomad, and TalkBox, among others, are offering up solutions to the modern office's privacy problem.


Amazon's Alexa Is Coming To an Office Near You ( 74

Amazon announced today that it's bringing its voice assistant into a range of business settings, big and small, like hotels and co-working spaces. From a report: While people always think of Amazon as a consumer company, it has shown itself time and again to have larger ambitions. This move could help it expand tis business services beyond its already popular Amazon Web services. In an interview, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels said that exposure to the workplace will improve Alexa by exposing it to new types of conversations. "The kind of language we use in our offices is sometimes radically different from the more conversational things we do in our(homes)," he told Axios. Alexa "will greatly improve by being exposed to different kinds of statements or conversations."

Intel Fights For Its Future ( 175

An anonymous reader shares a post: The Smartphone 2.0 era has destroyed many companies: Nokia, Blackberry, Palm... Will Intel be another victim, either as a result of the proposed Broadcom-Qualcomm combination, or as a consequence of a suicidal defense move? Intel sees the Qualcomm+Broadcom combination as an existential threat, an urgent one. But rather than going to the Feds to try and scuttle the deal through a long and uncertain process, Intel is rumored to be "working with advisors" (in plainer English, the company's Investment Bankers) on a countermove: acquire Broadcom. Why the sudden sense of urgency? What is the existential threat? And wouldn't the always risky move of combining two cultures, employees, and physical plants introduce an even greater peril?

To begin with, the threat to Intel's business isn't new; the company has been at risk for more than a decade. By declining Steve Jobs' proposal to make the original iPhone CPU in 2005, Intel missed a huge opportunity. The company's disbelief in Apple's ambitious forecast is belied by the numbers: More than 1.8 billion iOS devices have been sold thus far. Intel passed on the biggest product wave the industry has seen, bigger than the PC. Samsung and now TSMC manufacture iPhone CPUs. Just as important, there are billions of Android-powered machines, as well. One doesn't have to assume 100% share in the smartphone CPU market to see Intel's gigantic loss.

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