How Amazon Became Corporate America's Nightmare ( 242

Zorro shares a report from Bloomberg that details Amazon's rapid growth in the last three years: Amazon makes no sense. It's the most befuddling, illogically sprawling, and -- to a growing sea of competitors -- flat-out terrifying company in the world. It sells soap and produces televised soap operas. It sells complex computing horsepower to the U.S. government and will dispatch a courier to deliver cold medicine on Christmas Eve. It's the third-most-valuable company on Earth, with smaller annual profits than Southwest Airlines Co., which as of this writing ranks 426th. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos is the world's richest person, his fortune built on labor conditions that critics say resemble a Dickens novel with robots, yet he has enough mainstream appeal to play himself in a Super Bowl commercial. Amazon was born in cyberspace, but it occupies warehouses, grocery stores, and other physical real estate equivalent to 90 Empire State Buildings, with a little left over. The company has grown so large and difficult to comprehend that it's worth taking stock of why and how it's left corporate America so thoroughly freaked out. Executives at the biggest U.S. companies mentioned Amazon thousands of times during investor calls last year, according to transcripts -- more than President Trump and almost as often as taxes. Other companies become verbs because of their products: to Google or to Xerox. Amazon became a verb because of the damage it can inflict on other companies. To be Amazoned means to have your business crushed because the company got into your industry. And fear of being Amazoned has become such a defining feature of commerce, it's easy to forget the phenomenon has arisen mostly in about three years.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

New Bill In Congress Would Bypass the Fourth Amendment, Hand Your Data To Police ( 247

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Medium: Lawmakers behind a new anti-privacy bill are trying to sneak it through Congress by attaching it to the must-pass government spending bill. The CLOUD Act would hand police in the U.S., and other countries, extreme new powers to obtain and monitor data directly from tech companies instead of requiring a warrant and judicial review. Congressional leadership will decide whether the CLOUD Act gets attached to the omnibus government spending bill sometime this week, potentially as early as tomorrow... If passed, this bill would give law enforcement the power to go directly to tech companies, no matter where they or their servers are, to obtain our data. They wouldn't need a warrant or court oversight, and we'll be left with no protections to ensure law enforcement isn't violating our rights. A recent report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains how the CLOUD Act circumvents the Fourth Amendment. "This new backdoor for cross-border data mirrors another backdoor under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, an invasive NSA surveillance authority for foreign intelligence gathering," reports the EFF. "That law, recently reauthorized and expanded by Congress for another six years, gives U.S. intelligence agencies, including the NSA, FBI, and CIA, the ability to search, read, and share our private electronic messages without first obtaining a warrant. The new backdoor in the CLOUD Act operates much in the same way. U.S. police could obtain Americans' data, and use it against them, without complying with the Fourth Amendment."

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.

Sri Lanka Accuses Facebook of Failing To Control Hate Speech That Contributed To Deadly Riots ( 73

The Sri Lankan government is accusing Facebook of failing to control rampant hate speech that it says contributed to anti-Muslim riots last week that left three people dead and the country under a state of emergency. The accusations come after the country blocked Facebook and several other platforms last week in an effort to prevent the spread of hate speech. The Guardian reports: On Thursday Fernando, along with the Sri Lankan prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and communications officials, will meet a Facebook team that has flown to Colombo. The Sri Lankans will demand a new, faster system for taking down posts flagged as a national security risk by agencies in the country. "Facebook is not reacting as fast as we have wanted it to react," Fernando said. "In the past it has taken various number of days to review [flagged posts] or even to take down the pages." On Tuesday he highlighted a tweet from a user who claimed to have reported a Facebook post in the Sinhala language that read "Kill all Muslims, don't even let an infant of the dogs escape." The user claimed he received a reply six days later saying the post did not contravene a specific Facebook community standard. The extremist leader Amith Weerasinghe, who was arrested last week in Kandy after being accused of helping to instigate the violence, had amassed nearly 150,000 followers on his Facebook page before it was taken down last week.

China's Anti-Pollution Initiative Produces Stellar Results ( 84

hackingbear writes: China has declared war on its pollution -- one of the worst on the planet -- and now appears to be winning. Popular Mechanics reports: "Over the past four years, pollution in China's major cities has decreased by an average of 32 percent, with some cities seeing an even bigger drop, according to professor Michael Greenstone of the Energy Policy Institute. This decline comes after several aggressive policies implemented by the Chinese government, including prohibiting the building of new coal plants, forcing existing plants to reduce their emissions, lowering the amount of automobile traffic, and closing down some steel mills and coal mines. Some cities, like Beijing, have achieved even greater reductions in air pollution. Beijing has seen a 35 percent drop in particulates, while the city of Shijiazhuang saw a 39 percent drop. China has prioritized pollution reduction in these cities, with the government spending over $120 billion in Beijing alone."

Trump's Pick for New CIA Director Is Career Spymaster ( 313

An anonymous reader shares a AP report: President Donald Trump's choice to be the first female director of the CIA is a career spymaster who once ran an agency prison in Thailand where terror suspects were subjected to a harsh interrogation technique that the president has supported. Trump tweeted Tuesday that CIA Director Mike Pompeo will replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and that he has selected Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo. Haspel, the current deputy CIA director, also helped carry out an order that the agency destroy its waterboarding videos. That order prompted a lengthy Justice Department investigation that ended without charges. Haspel, who has extensive overseas experience, briefly ran a secret CIA prison where accused terrorists Abu Zubayadah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri were waterboarded in 2002, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

US Navy Under Fire In Mass Software Piracy Lawsuit ( 121

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TorrentFreak: In 2011 and 2012, the U.S. Navy began using BS Contact Geo, a 3D virtual reality application developed by German company Bitmanagement. The Navy reportedly agreed to purchase licenses for use on 38 computers, but things began to escalate. While Bitmanagement was hopeful that it could sell additional licenses to the Navy, the software vendor soon discovered the U.S. Government had already installed it on 100,000 computers without extra compensation. In a Federal Claims Court complaint filed by Bitmanagement two years ago, that figure later increased to hundreds of thousands of computers. Because of the alleged infringement, Bitmanagement demanded damages totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. In the months that followed both parties conducted discovery and a few days ago the software company filed a motion for partial summary judgment, asking the court to rule that the U.S. Government is liable for copyright infringement. According to the software company, it's clear that the U.S. Government crossed a line. In its defense, the U.S. Government had argued that it bought concurrent-use licenses, which permitted the software to be installed across the Navy network. However, Bitmanagement argues that it is impossible as the reseller that sold the software was only authorized to sell PC licenses. In addition, the software company points out that the word "concurrent" doesn't appear in the contracts, nor was there any mention of mass installations. The full motion brings up a wide range of other arguments as well which, according to Bitmanagement, make it clear that the U.S. Government is liable for copyright infringement.

ACLU Sues TSA Over Electronic Device Searches ( 115

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration over its alleged practices of searching the electronic devices of passengers traveling on domestic flights. "The federal government's policies on searching the phones, laptops, and tablets of domestic air passengers remain shrouded in secrecy," ACLU Foundation of Northern California attorney Vasudha Talla said in a blog post. "TSA is searching the electronic devices of domestic passengers, but without offering any reason for the search," Talla added. "We don't know why the government is singling out some passengers, and we don't know what exactly TSA is searching on the devices. Our phones and laptops contain very personal information, and the federal government should not be digging through our digital data without a warrant." TechCrunch reports: The lawsuit, which is directed toward the TSA field offices in San Francisco and its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, specifically asks the TSA to hand over records related to its policies, procedures and/or protocols pertaining to the search of electronic devices. This lawsuit comes after a number of reports came in pertaining to the searches of electronic devices of passengers traveling domestically. The ACLU also wants to know what equipment the TSA uses to search, examine and extract any data from passengers' devices, as well as what kind of training TSA officers receive around screening and searching the devices. The ACLU says it first filed FOIA requests back in December, but TSA "subsequently improperly withheld the requested records," the ACLU wrote in a blog post today.

'Slingshot' Malware That Hid For Six Years Spread Through Routers 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: Security researchers at Kaspersky Lab have discovered what's likely to be another state-sponsored malware strain, and this one is more advanced than most. Nicknamed Slingshot, the code spies on PCs through a multi-layer attack that targets MikroTik routers. It first replaces a library file with a malicious version that downloads other malicious components, and then launches a clever two-pronged attack on the computers themselves. One, Canhadr, runs low-level kernel code that effectively gives the intruder free rein, including deep access to storage and memory; the other, GollumApp, focuses on the user level and includes code to coordinate efforts, manage the file system and keep the malware alive. Kaspersky describes these two elements as "masterpieces," and for good reason. For one, it's no mean feat to run hostile kernel code without crashes. Slingshot also stores its malware files in an encrypted virtual file system, encrypts every text string in its modules, calls services directly (to avoid tripping security software checks) and even shuts components down when forensic tools are active. If there's a common method of detecting malware or identifying its behavior, Slingshot likely has a defense against it. It's no wonder that the code has been active since at least 2012 -- no one knew it was there. Recent MikroTik router firmware updates should fix the issue. However, there's concern that other router makers might be affected.

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.

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.

YouTube, the Great Radicalizer ( 211

Zeynep Tufekci, writing for the New York Times: Before long, I was being directed to videos of a leftish conspiratorial cast, including arguments about the existence of secret government agencies and allegations that the United States government was behind the attacks of Sept. 11. As with the Trump videos, YouTube was recommending content that was more and more extreme than the mainstream political fare I had started with. Intrigued, I experimented with nonpolitical topics. The same basic pattern emerged. Videos about vegetarianism led to videos about veganism. Videos about jogging led to videos about running ultramarathons. It seems as if you are never "hard core" enough for YouTube's recommendation algorithm. It promotes, recommends and disseminates videos in a manner that appears to constantly up the stakes. Given its billion or so users, YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century.

This is not because a cabal of YouTube engineers is plotting to drive the world off a cliff. A more likely explanation has to do with the nexus of artificial intelligence and Google's business model. (YouTube is owned by Google.) For all its lofty rhetoric, Google is an advertising broker, selling our attention to companies that will pay for it. The longer people stay on YouTube, the more money Google makes. What keeps people glued to YouTube? Its algorithm seems to have concluded that people are drawn to content that is more extreme than what they started with -- or to incendiary content in general. Is this suspicion correct? Good data is hard to come by; Google is loath to share information with independent researchers. But we now have the first inklings of confirmation, thanks in part to a former Google engineer named Guillaume Chaslot. Mr. Chaslot worked on the recommender algorithm while at YouTube. He grew alarmed at the tactics used to increase the time people spent on the site. Google fired him in 2013, citing his job performance. He maintains the real reason was that he pushed too hard for changes in how the company handles such issues.


EPA's Science Advisory Board Has Not Met in 6 Months ( 212

The U.S. EPA Science Advisory Board has not met in at least six months, and some of its members say it's being sidelined to avoid getting in the way of agency Administrator Scott Pruitt's anti-regulatory agenda, Scientific American reported this week. From the report: Agency officials say the lapse isn't intentional and that it's just the result of delayed paperwork. That has prevented the group from meeting because there weren't enough members to make a quorum. The board, which typically has about 45 members, is tasked by Congress to evaluate the science used by EPA to craft policy. The full board has not met since August, nor has it had any conference calls or votes. In the past, members would have had multiple interactions during that time period, said William Schlesinger, a board member who is an emeritus professor of biogeochemistry at Duke University. "I guess the Science Advisory Board still exists; I guess I'm still on it," he said. "I think the answer is maybe they're giving it what we used to call the 'pocket veto': If you don't meet, then the scientists are not a pain, because they don't have a forum."

Report Says Radioactive Monitors Failed at Nuclear Plant ( 83

A new report says mistakes and mismanagement are to blame for the exposure of workers to radioactive particles at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state. From the report: Contractor CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation on Thursday released its evaluation of what went wrong in December during demolition of the nuclear reservation's highly contaminated Plutonium Finishing Plant. The Tri-City Herald reports the study said primary radioactive air monitors used at a highly hazardous Hanford project failed to detect contamination. Then, when the spread of contamination was detected, the report said steps taken to contain it didn't fully work.

At least 11 Hanford workers checked since mid-December inhaled or ingested small amounts of radioactive particles. Private and government vehicles were contaminated with radioactive particles. The sprawling site in southeastern Washington contains more than 50 million gallons of radioactive and toxic wastes in underground storage tanks. It's owned by the U.S. Department of Energy, which hires private contractors to manage the cleanup work. Hanford was established during World War II and made the plutonium for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. The 560-square mile site also made most of the plutonium for the nation's nuclear arsenal during the Cold War.


Feds Bust CEO Allegedly Selling Custom BlackBerry Phones To Sinaloa Drug Cartel ( 115

An anonymous reader shares a Motherboard report: For years, a slew of shadowy companies have sold so-called encrypted phones, custom BlackBerry or Android devices that sometimes have the camera and microphone removed and only send secure messages through private networks. Several of those firms allegedly cater primarily for criminal organizations.Now, the FBI has arrested the owner of one of the most established companies, Phantom Secure, as part of a complex law enforcement operation, according to court records and sources familiar with the matter. "FBI are flexing their muscle," one source familiar with the secure phone industry, and who gave Motherboard specific and accurate details about the operation before it was public knowledge, said. Motherboard granted the sources in this story anonymity to talk about sensitive developments in the secure phone trade. The source said the Phantom operation was carried out in partnership with Canadian and Australian authorities.

Are The Alternatives Even Worse Than Daylight Saving Time? ( 322

The New York Times notes an important caveat to Florida's recently-approved law observing daylight savings time year-round: it specifies that their change will only go into effect if "the United States Congress amends 15 U.S.C. s. 260a to authorize states to observe daylight saving time year-round."

"In other words: Even if the governor signs the bill, nothing will happen now... States can choose to exempt themselves from daylight saving time -- Arizona and Hawaii do -- but nothing in federal law allows them to exempt themselves from standard time." Meanwhile one California legislator exploring the idea of year-round standard time discovered that "youth sports leagues and families worried that a year-round early sunset would shut down their kids' after-school games." But the Times also acknowledges problems in the current system. "In parts of Maine, for example, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the sun sets before 4 p.m. -- more than an hour earlier than it does in Detroit, at the other end of the Eastern time zone." So is there a better alternative?

An anonymous reader quotes Business Insider: has a unique suggestion. Their proposal has only two time zones in the continental U.S. that are two hours apart, which The Atlantic calls "a simple plan to fix [DST]"... Johns Hopkins University professors Richard Henry and Steven Hanke have come up with yet another possible fix: worldwide adoption of a single time zone. They argue that the internet has eliminated the need for discrete time zones across the globe, so we might as well just do away with them...

No plan will satisfy everyone. But that doesn't mean daylight-saving time is good. The absence of major energy-saving benefits from DST -- along with its death toll, health impacts, and economic ramifications -- are reason enough to get rid of the ritual altogether.

The article associates Daylight Saving Time with "a spike in heart attacks, increased numbers of work injuries, automobile accidents, suicides, and more." And in addition, it also blames DST for an increased use of gasoline and air conditioners -- adding that it will also "rob humanity of billions of hours of sleep like an evil spacetime vampire."

Chinese Police Begin Tracking Citizens With Face-Recognizing Smart Glasses ( 112

An anonymous reader quotes Reuters: At a highway check point on the outskirts of Beijing, local police are this week testing out a new security tool: smart glasses that can pick up facial features and car registration plates, and match them in real-time with a database of suspects. The AI-powered glasses, made by LLVision, scan the faces of vehicle occupants and the plates, flagging with a red box and warning sign to the wearer when any match up with a centralized "blacklist".

The test -- which coincides with the annual meeting of China's parliament in central Beijing -- underscores a major push by China's leaders to leverage technology to boost security in the country... Wu Fei, chief executive of LLVision, said people should not be worried about privacy concerns because China's authorities were using the equipment for "noble causes", catching suspects and fugitives from the law. "We trust the government," he told Reuters at the company's headquarters in Beijing.

This weekend while China's President Xi Jinping is expected to push through a reform allowing him to stay in power indefinitely, Reuters reports that the Chinese goverment is pushing the use of cutting-edge technology "to track and control behavior that goes against the interests of the ruling Communist Party online and in the wider world... A key concern is that blacklists could include a wide range of people stretching from lawyers and artists to political dissidents, charity workers, journalists and rights activists...

"The new technologies range from police robots for crowd control, to drones to monitor border areas, and artificially intelligent systems to track and censor behavior online," Reuters reports, citing one Hong Kong researcher who argues that China now sees internet and communication technologies "as absolutely indispensable tools of social and political control."

Lawmakers Continue Fighting For Net Neutrality in the US Senate, Courts, and States ( 57

Here's the latest developments in the ongoing fight over net neutrality rules:
  • CNET reports that Democrats in the Senate "have been pushing to use the Congressional Review Act to roll back the FCC's repeal of net neutrality rules. They've gotten the support of 50 senators for the measure, including one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine. Sen. John Kennedy from Louisiana , who's been undecided in his support of the CRA bill, was being courted by Democrats as the tie-breaking vote to pass the measure in the Senate...

    "On Wednesday, Kennedy introduced a piece of legislation that would ban companies like AT&T and Comcast from slowing down or blocking access to websites or internet services. But the bill wouldn't prevent these broadband and wireless companies from offering paid prioritization, which many critics fear could lead to so-called internet 'fast lanes.'"
  • The Associated Press reports that on Monday, Washington became the first state to set up its own net-neutrality requirements. But they add that governors in five states -- Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Montana and Vermont -- "have signed executive orders related to net-neutrality issues, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Montana's order, for instance, bars telecommunications companies from receiving state contracts if they interfere with internet traffic or favor higher-paying sites or apps."


FCC Accuses Stealthy Startup of Launching Rogue Satellites 128

Back in January, the FCC pulled permission from Silicon Valley startup Swarm Technologies to launch four satellites into space after what it says was an "apparent unauthorized launch." IEEE Spectrum reports that the unauthorized launch consisted of four experimental satellites that the FCC had decided were too small to be noticed in space -- and hence pose an unacceptable risk of collision -- but which the company may have launched anyway, using a rocket based in India. The federal regulator has since issued a letter to Swarm revoking its authorization for a follow-up mission to launch four new, larger versions of its "SpaceBee" satellites. From the report: Swarm was founded in 2016 by one engineer who developed a spacecraft concept for Google and another who sold his previous company to Apple. The SpaceBees were built as technology demonstrators for a new space-based Internet of Things communications network. Swarm believes its network could enable satellite communications for orders of magnitude less cost than existing options. It envisages the worldwide tracking of ships and cars, new agricultural technologies, and low cost connectivity for humanitarian efforts anywhere in the world. The four SpaceBees would be the first practical demonstration of Swarm's prototype hardware and cutting-edge algorithms, swapping data with ground stations for up to eight years.
The FCC told the startup that the agency would assess "the impact of the applicant's apparent unauthorized launch and operation of four satellites... on its qualifications to be a Commission licensee." If Swarm cannot convince the FCC otherwise, the startup could lose permission to build its revolutionary network before the wider world even knows the company exists. An unauthorized launch would also call into question the ability of secondary satellite "ride-share" companies and foreign launch providers to comply with U.S. space regulations.

China's Alibaba is Investing Huge Sums in AI Research and Resources -- and It Is Building Tools To Challenge Google and Amazon ( 30

Alibaba is already using AI and machine learning to optimize its supply chain, personalize recommendations, and build products like Tmall Genie, a home device similar to the Amazon Echo. China's two other tech supergiants, Tencent and Baidu, are likewise pouring money into AI research. The government plans to build an AI industry worth around $150 billion by 2030 and has called on the country's researchers to dominate the field by then. But Alibaba's ambition is to be the leader in providing cloud-based AI. From a report: Like cloud storage (think Dropbox) or cloud computing (Amazon Web Services), cloud AI will make powerful resources cheaply and readily available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection, enabling new kinds of businesses to grow. The real race in AI between China and the US, then, will be one between the two countries' big cloud companies, which will vie to be the provider of choice for companies and cities that want to make use of AI. And if Alibaba is anything to go by, China's tech giants are ready to compete with Google, Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft to serve up AI on tap. Which company dominates this industry will have a huge say in how AI evolves and how it is used.

[...] There have been other glimpses of Alibaba's progress in AI lately. Last month a research team at the company released an AI program capable of reading a piece of text, and answering simple questions about that text, more accurately than anything ever built before. The text was in English, not Chinese, because the program was trained on the Stanford Question Answering Dataset (SQuAD), a benchmark used to test computerized question-and-answer systems. [...] One advantage China's tech companies have over their Western counterparts is the government's commitment to AI. Smart cities that use the kind of technology found in Shanghai's metro kiosks are likely to be in the country's future. One of Alibaba's cloud AI tools is a suite called City Brain, designed for tasks like managing traffic data and analyzing footage from city video cameras.

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