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United States

US Congressmen Reveal Thousands of Facebook Ads Bought By Russian Trolls (mercurynews.com) 309

An anonymous reader writes: Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday released about 3,400 Facebook ads purchased by Russian agents around the 2016 presidential election on issues from immigration to gun control, a reminder of the complexity of the manipulation that Facebook is trying to contain ahead of the midterm elections. The ads, which span from mid-2015 to mid-2017, illustrate the extent to which Kremlin-aligned forces sought to stoke social, cultural and political unrest on one of the Web's most powerful platforms. With the help of Facebook's targeting tools, Russia's online army reached at least 146 million people on Facebook and Instagram, its photo-sharing service, with ads and other posts, including events promoting protests around the country...

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said lawmakers would continue probing Russia's online disinformation efforts. In February, Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russia and the 2016 election, indicted individuals tied to the IRA for trying to interfere in the presidential race. "They sought to harness Americans' very real frustrations and anger over sensitive political matters in order to influence American thinking, voting and behavior," Schiff said in a statement. "The only way we can begin to inoculate ourselves against a future attack is to see first-hand the types of messages, themes and imagery the Russians used to divide us...."

The documents released Thursday also reflect that Russian agents continued advertising on Facebook well after the presidential election... They marketed a page called Born Liberal to likely supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the data show, an ad that had more than 49,000 impressions into 2017. Together, the ads affirmed the fears of some lawmakers, including Republicans, that Russian agents have continued to try to influence U.S. politics even after the 2016 election. Russian agents also had created thousands of accounts on Twitter, and in January, the company revealed that it discovered more than 50,000 automated accounts, or bots, with links to Russia.

Social Networks

Klout's Score Drops to Zero as It Announces Plans to Close Down (gizmodo.com) 44

Once upon a time, Klout had 100 million users, Gizmodo reports. But now... You probably haven't experienced the crippling anxiety of thinking about increasing your Klout score in quite some time. As of May 25, you won't have ever have to do it again. On Thursday, the social ranking company announced to its 708,000 Twitter followers (meh) that it will be shutting down.

Klout was founded in 2008 as a way for social media users to gauge their "influence." Through some algorithmic voodoo the service would snoop through your social media presence and spit out your "Klout Score" -- a number between 1 and 100 that determined how much you are worth as a social human being.

Lithium Technologies (Klout's parent company) annouced that their acquisition "provided Lithium with valuable artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities but Klout as a standalone service is not aligned with our long-term strategy."

But Lithium also announced plans to launch "a new social impact scoring methodology based on Twitter" sometime in the future.
Google

Google Executive Addresses Horrifying Reaction To Uncanny AI Tech (bloomberg.com) 205

The most talked-about product from Google's developer conference earlier this week -- Duplex -- has drawn concerns from many. At the conference Google previewed Duplex, an experimental service that lets its voice-based digital assistant make phone calls and write emails. In a demonstration on stage, the Google Assistant spoke with a hair salon receptionist, mimicking the "ums" and "hmms" pauses of human speech. In another demo, it chatted with a restaurant employee to book a table. But outside Google's circles, people are worried; and Google appears to be aware of the concerns. From a report: "Horrifying," Zeynep Tufekci, a professor and frequent tech company critic, wrote on Twitter about Duplex. "Silicon Valley is ethically lost, rudderless and has not learned a thing." As in previous years, the company unveiled a feature before it was ready. Google is still debating how to unleash it, and how human to make the technology, several employees said during the conference. That debate touches on a far bigger dilemma for Google: As the company races to build uncanny, human-like intelligence, it is wary of any missteps that cause people to lose trust in using its services.

Scott Huffman, an executive on Google's Assistant team, said the response to Duplex was mixed. Some people were blown away by the technical demos, while others were concerned about the implications. Huffman said he understands the concerns. Although he doesn't endorse one proposed solution to the creepy factor: Giving it an obviously robotic voice when it calls. "People will probably hang up," he said.

[...] Another Google employee working on the assistant seemed to disagree. "We don't want to pretend to be a human," designer Ryan Germick said when discussing the digital assistant at a developer session earlier on Wednesday. Germick did agree, however, that Google's aim was to make the assistant human enough to keep users engaged. The unspoken goal: Keep users asking questions and sharing information with the company -- which can use that to collect more data to improve its answers and services.

Twitter

One of the Worst Jobs in America: Responding To Irate Tweets From New York City Subway Riders (wsj.com) 98

Every day, the frustrations of New York City subway riders spew out in the form of 2,500 often profanity-laced tweets directed at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. From a report: "Thanks @MTA for making sure we can't buy metrocards AGAIN," wrote @itzMzLori, 31-year-old beauty blogger Lori Tenn, who found her card machine closed. "I swear I f-ing hate y'all." The job of taking this vitriol -- and offering measured responses -- falls to the social-media team behind @MTA and @NYCTSubway. The two Twitter accounts for the agency that manages the New York City subway, bus and commuter rail system have more than two million often angry followers. "We're New Yorkers, we have thick skins, but we're human," said Molly Washam, an even-keeled 30-year-old. "We do sometimes gather around the monitor to see the meanest thing someone could come up with that day."

To stay calm, she said she does yoga, and recently tried a pottery class. Rampant subway delays and breakdowns in recent years are making the work more intense. A 2017 report by the New York City comptroller found weekday subway delays rose 83% between 2013 and 2016. The agency has begun a modernization plan to make improvements, including upgrading the signaling system and hiring more subway workers. New Yorkers' response to repairs? "Really @MTA, More of your Bs complications," wrote @MattMercadoNYC, rider Matt Mercado, 34, of the Bronx. "You pick Thursday AND Friday for these 'Required Repairs'??!?" "We know they might not mean everything they're saying," said Sarah Meyer, the MTA's customer-service chief. But, "I can't personally change the signaling system."

Facebook

Social Media Copies Gambling Methods 'To Create Psychological Cravings' (theguardian.com) 80

Social media platforms are using the same techniques as gambling firms to create psychological dependencies and ingrain their products in the lives of their users, experts warn. From a report: These methods are so effective they can activate similar mechanisms as cocaine in the brain, create psychological cravings and even invoke "phantom calls and notifications" where users sense the buzz of a smartphone, even when it isn't really there. "Facebook, Twitter and other companies use methods similar to the gambling industry to keep users on their sites," said Natasha Schull, the author of Addiction by Design, which reported how slot machines and other systems are designed to lock users into a cycle of addiction. "In the online economy, revenue is a function of continuous consumer attention -- which is measured in clicks and time spent."
iMac

Apple's iMac Turns 20 Years Old (cnn.com) 127

Twenty years ago on May 6, 1998, Steve Jobs unveiled the iMac for the first time. Current CEO Tim Cook shared footage from the event on Twitter Sunday. It shows Jobs describing the $1,299 iMac as an impossibly futuristic device. CNNMoney reports: "The whole thing is translucent, you can see into it. It's so cool," Jobs gushes. He points to a handle that allows the computer's owner to easily lift the device, which is about the size of a modern microwave oven. He takes a jab at the competition: "The back of this thing looks better than the front of the other guy's, by the way." In January 1999, less than a year after the iMac's debut, Apple more than tripled its quarterly profit.

The San Francisco Chronicle declared Apple was "cashing in on insatiable demand for its new space-age iMac computer." For the next decade, Jobs kept the new "i" products coming. Today, the iMac is in its seventh generation and is virtually unrecognizable from its ancestor. An Apple spokesperson notes an "iMac today consumes up to 96% less energy in sleep mode than the first generation."
Some of the original iMac's tech specs include: PowerPC G3 processor clocked at 233MHz, 15-inch display with 1,024x768 resolution, two USB ports and Ethernet with a built-in software modem, 4GB hard drive, 32MB of RAM (expandable to 128MB), 24x CD-ROM drive, built-in stereo speakers with SRS sound, Apple-designed USB keyboard and mouse, and Mac OS 8.1.
Cloud

Microsoft Is Moving Kinect to the Cloud (theverge.com) 37

At the annual Build conference, Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella announced that Kinect is moving to the cloud. "Kinect, when we first launched it in 2010, was a speech-first, gaze-first, vision-first device. It was used in gaming, and then, later on, it came to the PC, and it was used in many applications: medical, industrial, robotics, education," said Nadella. "We've been inspired by what developers have done, and since Kinect, we've made a tremendous amount of progress when it comes to some of the foundational technologies in HoloLens. So we're taking those advances and packaging them up as Project Kinect for Azure." The Verge reports: It's big news after the depth camera and microphone accessory that originally debuted on the Xbox 360 was basically declared dead last October when Microsoft stopped manufacturing it. Alex Kipman, a technical fellow at Microsoft, explained in a LinkedIn blog post that Project Kinect for Azure would combine the depth sensor with Azure AI services that could help developers make devices that will be more precise "with less power consumption." Kipman also notes that AI deep learning on depth images could lead to "cheaper-to-deploy AI algorithms" that require smaller networks to operate.
Facebook

Facebook Survey Suggests Continuing US Loyalty After Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal (bbc.com) 103

A Reuters/Ipsos survey found that Facebook users in the U.S. remain loyal to the site, despite the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal that exposed the data of 87 million users. The survey "found no clear loss or gain in use since then," reports the BBC. From the report: Conducted online, the Reuters/Ipsos survey questioned 2,194 American adults between April 26 and April 30. The poll has a margin of error of three percentage points. Some 64% percent said they used Facebook at least once a day, down slightly from the 68% recorded in a similar poll in late March, soon after the Cambridge Analytica story broke. Asked if they were aware of their current privacy settings, 74% of Facebook users said they were, and 78% said they knew how to change them. Among Twitter users, this was 55% and 58%, while for Instagram users, it was 60% and 65%.
Facebook

Facebook Exec Admits 'No Real Understanding' for the Scope of Fake News (mercurynews.com) 219

Three executives from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube appeared at Stanford to discuss free speech in the social media age, with one law professor raising concerns about how the online giants are curating their services. All three tech executives talked about increasing transparency and authenticity. But all acknowledge that nothing is foolproof and political speech in particular is most difficult to regulate, if it should be at all. "That puts a lot of control in the hands of the companies sitting here in term of what kind of speech is allowed to have the global reach," said Juniper Downs, YouTube's global head of public policy and government relations. "That is a responsibility we take very seriously and something we owe to the public and a civil society...."

Facebook is making information available on its platform to researchers to help understand the effect of Facebook usage on elections. Still, Facebook's Vice President of Public Policy Elliot Schrage urged caution. "There is no agreement whatsoever on the prevalence of false news and fake propaganda on our platform," he said. "We have no real understanding of what the scope of misinformation is." He suggested that despite these chaotic times, "I do think we should be pretty modest and circumspect in the approaches we take." Social media companies need to find creative ways to improve the spread of information, Schrage said. But it won't be easy. "No one company," he said, "is going to solve this problem."

Transportation

Tesla Stock Plunged After Elon Musk's 'Bizarre' Conference Call (wired.com) 269

A recent Bloomberg article describes Elon Musk's "bizarre" conference call on Wednesday -- and its aftermath on Wall Street. Elon Musk told investors not to buy Tesla Inc. shares if they can't stomach volatility. They got the message. The comments -- part of a bizarre, heated conference call after the close Wednesday -- sent the electric-car maker's stock plunging. Tesla fell as much as 8.6 percent Thursday after the chief executive officer rejected analysts' questions on another quarter in which the company burned more than $1 billion in cash.
Investors had shorted a total of more than 40 million shares by Thursday -- the most ever in Tesla history -- and despite a rise in Tesla's stock price on Friday, they shorted 500,000 more shares.

Wired argues that Musk "clearly is avoiding some hard questions about Tesla's financial viability. But it's equally true that the call exposed how limited Wall Street can be about visions for the future and what it takes to create new templates for doing old things." This clash was highlighted by Musk's response to "sober questions by respected Wall Street analysts" like Toni Sacconaghi.

Musk brushed him off, sniping that "bonehead, boring questions are not cool." To add insult to that injury, Musk then fielded questions from a YouTube user, who proceeded to dominate a call normally open only to significant Wall Street analysts. That did not sit well with the Street, and Sacconaghi lambasted Musk the next day on CNBC with the rather clever jab, "This is a financial analyst call, this is not a TED talk."

Friday, Musk returned fire, with tweets asserting that the question was boneheaded because the analyst already knew the answer and was asking purely to advocate a negative thesis about the company.

But Barron's replayed the conference call, and argued that Musk was mistaken, reporting that "the analyst wanted to know about capital requirements, not expenditures."
Bug

Microsoft's 'Meltdown' Patch For Windows 10 Contains a Fatal Flaw (bleepingcomputer.com) 106

An anonymous reader quotes BleepingComputer: Microsoft's patches for the Meltdown vulnerability have had a fatal flaw all these past months, according to Alex Ionescu, a security researcher with cyber-security firm Crowdstrike. Only patches for Windows 10 versions were affected, the researcher wrote today in a tweet. Microsoft quietly fixed the issue on Windows 10 Redstone 4 (v1803), also known as the April 2018 Update, released on Monday.

"Welp, it turns out the Meltdown patches for Windows 10 had a fatal flaw: calling NtCallEnclave returned back to user space with the full kernel page table directory, completely undermining the mitigation," Ionescu wrote. Ionescu pointed out that older versions of Windows 10 are still running with outdated and bypass-able Meltdown patches.

Wednesday Microsoft issued a security update, but it wasn't to backport the "fixed" Meltdown patches for older Windows 10 versions. Instead, the emergency update fixed a vulnerability in the Windows Host Compute Service Shim (hcsshim) library (CVE-2018-8115) that allows an attacker to remotely execute code on vulnerable systems.

Facebook

Tens of Thousands of Malicious Apps Use Facebook's APIs (threatpost.com) 28

Slashdot reader lod123 quotes ThreatPost: At least 25,936 malicious apps are currently using one of Facebook's APIs, such as a login API or messaging API. These allow apps to access a range of information from Facebook profiles, like name, location and email address. Trustlook discovered the malicious apps using a formula, which created a risk score for apps based on more than 80 pieces of information for each app, including permissions, libraries, risky API calls and network activity... A malicious app (with a risk score above 7) "might be doing things such as capturing pictures and audio when the app is closed, or making an unusually large amount of network calls," a spokesperson told Threatpost...

To be fair, Facebook is not the only company with its APIs embedded in malicious applications... "The problem, for the most part, is that this is data that is provided when their login is used elsewhere. The API is simply passing through intelligence it has gathered from their profile," said Chris Roberts, chief security architect at Acalvio, via email. "LinkedIn, Google and Twitter, among others, have similarly flawed APIs that can be used to harvest information both about you (the target) and possibly associated individuals...depending upon queries and other developer privileges that are being exploited."

A Trustlook spokesperson summarized their position after the report. "Just as Coke does not want its ads running on certain websites, Facebook should not want malicious app developers using its APIs."
Social Networks

'Follow-Up To Vine' Gets Delayed For 'Indefinite Amount of Time' (theverge.com) 16

Late last year, Vine's co-founder, Dom Hofmann, said he was working on "a follow-up to Vine," after the six-second video social media app was shut down by Twitter in October. "I'm going to work on a follow-up to vine. i've been feeling it myself for some time and have seen a lot of tweets, dms, etc.," Hofmann tweeted at the time. Well, several months have passed and we have learned that Vine v2 will be postponed for an "indefinite amount of time" while Hofmann figures out funding and logistical hurdles. The Verge reports: The announcement, made on the v2 forums and reposted this morning by the official v2 Twitter handle, is a disappointing but understanding turn of events. Back in January, Hofmann suggested the app may launch as soon as this summer, which was an ambitious timetable. Now, Hofmann says that, despite the immense interest in his project, he has to take the time to make sure it doesn't fall apart before continuing. He cites a need for substantial venture funding to get v2 off the ground after initially thinking he may be able to self-fund it. "Long story short, in order to work, the v2 project needs to operate as a company with sizable external funding, probably from investors," Hofmann writes. "This is difficult because I already run an early-stage company (Innerspace VR, a creative immersive entertainment studio he founded after selling Vine to Twitter years ago) that is in the middle of development. Very few backers would be happy with the split attention, and I wouldn't be either. This is potentially solvable, but it's going to take time for the space and resources to become available."
It's funny.  Laugh.

HTC Teases Its Next Flagship Smartphone. Too Bad, the Photo Shows Parts of an iPhone 6. (anandtech.com) 58

HTC has begun to ramp up marketing campaign for its next major smartphone release, teasing that they will be making a proper announcement on May 23rd. From a report: In an email sent to the press this morning and posted on their website, HTC posted a photo of neatly laid out phone components, with the text "Coming Soon... A phone that is more than the sum of its specs." The photo and the announcement give a May 23rd date for more details. AnandTech has added an update to the story, (Via DaringFireball ): As pointed out by a reader, these aren't new components. Or even components of an HTC phone. Rather they're a disassembled iPhone 6...
Twitter

Twitter Says Glitch Exposed 'Substantial' Number of Users' Passwords In Plain Text (reuters.com) 107

Twitter is urging its more than 330 million users to change their passwords after a glitch exposed some in plain text on its internal computer network. Reuters is first to report the news: The social network said an internal investigation had found no indication passwords were stolen or misused by insiders, but that it urged all users to consider changing their passwords "out of an abundance of caution." The blog did not say how many passwords were affected. Here's what Twitter has to say about the bug: "We mask passwords through a process called hashing using a function known as bcrypt, which replaces the actual password with a random set of numbers and letters that are stored in Twitter's system. This allows our systems to validate your account credentials without revealing your password. This is an industry standard. Due to a bug, passwords were written to an internal log before completing the hashing process. We found this error ourselves, removed the passwords, and are implementing plans to prevent this bug from happening again."

The social networking service is asking users to change their password "on all services where you've used this password." You can do so via the password settings page.
Programming

One Of LLVM's Top Contributors Quits Development Over Code of Conduct, Outreach Program (phoronix.com) 1235

Rafael Avila de Espindola is the fifth most active contributor to LLVM with more than 4,300 commits since 2006, but now he has decided to part ways with the project. From a report: Rafael posted a rather lengthy mailing list message to fellow LLVM developers today entitled I am leaving llvm. He says the reason for abandoning LLVM development after 12 years is due to changes in the community. In particular, the "social injustice" brought on the organization's new LLVM Code of Conduct and its decision to participate in this year's Outreachy program to encourage women and other minority groups to get involved with free software development. "I am definitely sad to lose Rafael from the LLVM project, but it is critical to the long term health of the project that we preserve an inclusive community. I applaud Rafael for standing by his personal principles, this must have been a hard decision," Chris Lattner, tweeted Thursday.
Facebook

Facebook Reaches Its Natural Conclusion As A Dating App (buzzfeed.com) 199

Facebook will soon include a dating feature in its service, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced at the company's F8 developer conference in San Jose Tuesday. From a report: The service will throw Facebook into a sphere it's long been adjacent to but never entered. The social network already has online dating's critical ingredient, a robust graph of people's connection, and services like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge have been built on top of it. Now, it's getting into the dating game itself.

"There are 200 million people on Facebook who list themselves as single, so clearly there's something to do here," Zuckerberg said. "Today, we are announcing a new set of features coming soon, around dating." The feature will be opt-in, and will not match users with people they're already friends with.
Update: Facebook has clarified that married people too can use the dating service.
Facebook

Facebook Is Investigating a Claim That an Employee Used His Position To Stalk Women (vice.com) 61

Facebook is investigating a claim that an employee potentially used access granted by their job to stalk women online, the social media giant confirmed in a statement to Motherboard on Monday. From the report: "Although we can't comment on any individual personnel matters, we are aware of the situation and investigating," a Facebook spokesperson wrote in an email. The claim came from Jackie Stokes, founder of Spyglass Security, in a tweet posted Monday. "I've been made aware that a security engineer currently employed at Facebook is likely using privileged access to stalk women online. I have Tinder logs. What should I do with this information?" Stokes' tweet read. In a follow-up tweet, Stokes wrote multiple senior Facebook employees had reached out over the claim. Stokes told Motherboard in a Twitter direct message that she provided the relevant details to Alex Stamos, Facebook's chief security officer.
Communications

Senate Democrats Plan To Force Vote On Net Neutrality (engadget.com) 167

Senator Edward J. Markey tweeted earlier today that Democrats will force a floor vote to restore net neutrality rules on May 9th. "[Democrats] had the signatures in favor of restoring the rules since January, along with a companion House bill (with 80 co-sponsors)," reports Engadget. "Senator Edward J. Markey also introduced a formal Congressional Review Act 'resolution of disapproval' in February." From the report: Of course, this last-ditch attempt to save net neutrality can only help congressional supporters of as they move into mid-term elections. "We're in the homestretch in the fight to save net neutrality," Senator Chuck Schumer said in a statement. "Soon, the American people will know which side their member of Congress is on: fighting for big corporations and ISPs or defending small business owners, entrepreneurs, middle-class families and every-day consumers." Still, even if the Senate passes the Democrat's proposal, notes Politico, it's unlikely it would get through the House or avoid a Trump veto. Also taking place on May 9, net neutrality activists and websites like Etsy, Tumblr, Postmates, Foursquare and Twilio will post "red alerts" to protest the FCC's effort to roll back net neutrality protections.
Twitter

Twitter Sold Data Access To Cambridge Analytica-Linked Researcher (bloomberg.com) 52

Facebook is clearly the company most affected by the Cambridge Analytica data sharing scandal, but that doesn't leave other social networks completely unscathed. Bloomberg: Twitter sold data access to the Cambridge University academic who also obtained millions of Facebook users' information that was later passed to a political consulting firm without the users' consent. Aleksandr Kogan, who created a personality quiz on Facebook to harvest information later used by Cambridge Analytica, established his own commercial enterprise, Global Science Research (GSR). That firm was granted access to large-scale public Twitter data, covering months of posts, for one day in 2015, according to Twitter. "In 2015, GSR did have one-time API access to a random sample of public tweets from a five-month period from December 2014 to April 2015," Twitter said in a statement to Bloomberg. "Based on the recent reports, we conducted our own internal review and did not find any access to private data about people who use Twitter." The company has removed Cambridge Analytica and affiliated entities as advertisers. Twitter said GSR paid for the access; it provided no further details.

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