Open Source

Proprietary Software is the Driver of Unprecedented Surveillance: Richard Stallman (factor-tech.com) 112

From a wide-ranging interview of Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation, programming legend and recipient of at least 15 honorary doctorates and professorships: "The reason that we are subject now to more surveillance than there was in the Soviet Union is that digital technology made it possible," he says. "And the first disaster of digital technology was proprietary software that people would install and run on their own computers, and they wouldn't know what it was doing. They can't tell what it's doing. And that is the first injustice that I began fighting in 1983: proprietary software, software that is not free, that the users don't control." Here, Stallman is keen to stress, he doesn't mean free in the sense of not costing money -- plenty of free software is paid for -- but free in the sense of freedom to control. Software, after all, instructs your computer to perform actions, and when another company has written and locked down that software, you can't know exactly what it is doing. "You might think your computer is obeying you, when really its obeying the real master first, and it only obeys you when the real master says it's ok. With every program there are two possibilities: either the user controls the program or the program controls the users," he says. "It's free software if users control it. And that's why it respects their freedom. Otherwise it's a non-free, proprietary, user subjugating program."
Privacy

Why is this Company Tracking Where You Are on Thanksgiving? (theoutline.com) 88

Earlier this week, several publications published a holiday-themed data study about how families that voted for opposite parties spent less time together on Thanksgiving, especially in areas that saw heavy political advertising. The data came from a company called SafeGraph that supplied publications with 17 trillion location markets for 10 million smartphones. A report looks at the bigger picture: The data wasn't just staggering in sheer quantity. It also appears to be extremely granular. Researchers "used this data to identify individuals' home locations, which they defined as the places people were most often located between the hours of 1 and 4 a.m.," wrote The Washington Post. The researchers also looked at where people were between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day in order to see if they spent that time at home or traveled, presumably to be with friends or family. "Even better, the cellphone data shows you exactly when those travelers arrived at a Thanksgiving location and when they left," the Post story says. To be clear: This means SafeGraph is looking at an individual device and tracking where its owner is going throughout their day. A common defense from companies that creepily collect massive amounts of data is that the data is only analyzed in aggregate; for example, Google's database BigQuery, which allows organizations to upload big data sets and then query them quickly, promises that all its public data sets are "fully anonymized" and "contain no personally-identifying information." In multiple press releases from SafeGraph's partners, the company's location data is referred to as "anonymized," but in this case they seem to be interpreting the concept of anonymity quite liberally given the specificity of the data.
AI

Stanford Trains AI To Diagnose Pneumonia Better Than a Radiologist In Just Two Months (qz.com) 66

A new paper from Stanford University reveals how artificial intelligence algorithms can be quickly trained to diagnose pneumonia better than a radiologist. "Using 100,000 x-ray images released by the National Institutes of Health on Sept. 27, the research published Nov. 14 (without peer review) on the website ArXiv claims its AI can detect pneumonia from x-rays with similar accuracy to four trained radiologists," reports Quartz. From the report: That's not all -- the AI was trained to analyze x-rays for 14 diseases NIH included in the dataset, including fibrosis, hernias, and cell masses. The AI's results for each of the 14 diseases had fewer false positives and false negatives than the benchmark research from the NIH team that was released with the data. The paper includes Google Brain founder Andrew Ng as a co-author, who also served as chief scientist at Baidu and recently founded Deeplearning.ai. He's often been publicly bullish on AI's use in healthcare. These algorithms will undoubtedly get better -- accuracy on the ImageNet challenge rose from 75% to 95% in just five years -- but this research shows the speed at which these systems are built is increasing as well.
Social Networks

Report Claims That 18 Nation's Elections Were Impacted By Social Engineering Last Year (bbc.com) 205

sqorbit writes: Independent watchdog group Freedom House released a report that claims that 18 nation's elections were "hacked." Of the 65 countries that Freedom House monitors, 30 appear to be using social media in order to affect elections by attempting to control online discussions. The report covers fake news posts, paid online opinion writers and trolling tactics. Other items in the report speak to online censorship and VPN blocking that blocks information within countries to interfere with elections. The report says net freedom could be aided by: large-scale programs that showed people how to spot fake news; putting tight controls on political adverts; and making social media giants do more to remove bots and tune algorithms to be more objective.
Transportation

Virgin Hyperloop One Eyes India For Possible High-Speed Routes (theverge.com) 35

India is officially being added to the list of nations that have expressed interest in near-supersonic, tube-based travel. Virgin Hyperloop One "signed agreements with the governments of Maharashtra and Karnataka to begin studying the impact of a hyperloop in the region," reports The Verge. "The feasibility studies have implications for India's giant cities like Mumbai and Bangalore, as well as fast-growing urban centers like Pune and Nagpur." From the report: The agreements are signs that despite its lack of a commercial product or human-ready testing, Virgin Hyperloop One has shown a tenacity for securing agreements with willing government partners. The company recently announced 10 winning submissions in a long-running contest to find what it believes to be the best places to build the first hyperloop routes in the world. Ten teams across five countries (Mexico, India, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada) were picked from the original 2,600 submissions, and the routes range in size from about 200 to nearly 700 miles, depending on the location. Virgin Hyperloop One hasn't specified the length of the routes it would build in India -- to be sure, it remains possible that none of these proposed routes get built -- but it did tease some of the possibilities in terms of reduction in travel time. For example, it would take just 14 minutes to travel between Mumbai and the fast-growing city of Pune, a journey that currently takes up to three hours by car. Also, it could look at connecting Nagpur, which is in the easternmost part of Maharashtra, with Mumbai and Pune to vastly improve passenger and freight transportation.
Businesses

FCC Repeals Decades-Old Rules Blocking Broadcast Media Mergers (variety.com) 126

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Washington Post (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): Federal regulators rolled back decades-old rules on Thursday, making it far easier for media outlets to be bought and sold -- potentially leading to more newspapers, radio stations and television broadcasters being owned by a handful of companies. The regulations, eliminated in a 3-to-2 vote by the Federal Communications Commission, were first put in place in the 1970s to ensure that a diversity of voices and opinions could be heard on the air or in print. But now those rules represent a threat to small outlets that are struggling to survive in a vastly different media world, according to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. One long-standing rule repealed Thursday prevented one company in a given media market from owning both a daily newspaper and a TV station. Another rule blocked TV stations in the same market from merging with each other if the combination would leave fewer than eight independently owned stations. The agency also took aim at rules restricting the number of TV and radio stations that any media company could simultaneously own in a single market. A major beneficiary of the deregulatory moves, analysts say, is Sinclair, a conservative broadcasting company that is seeking to buy up Tribune Media for $3.9 billion.
Privacy

Federal Extreme Vetting Plan Castigated By Tech Experts (apnews.com) 151

An anonymous reader shares an Associated Press report: Leading researchers castigated a federal plan that would use artificial intelligence methods to scrutinize immigrants and visa applicants, saying it is unworkable as written and likely to be "inaccurate and biased" if deployed. The experts, a group of more than 50 computer and data scientists, mathematicians and other specialists in automated decision-making, urged the Department of Homeland Security to abandon the project, dubbed the "Extreme Vetting Initiative." That plan has its roots in President Donald Trump's repeated pledge during the 2016 campaign to subject immigrants seeking admission to the United States to more intense ideological scrutiny -- or, as he put it, "extreme vetting." Over the summer, DHS published a "statement of objectives" for a system that would use computer algorithms to scan social media and other material in order to automatically flag undesirable entrants -- and to continuously scan the activities of those allowed into the U.S.
Firefox

Firefox Will Block Navigational Data URIs as Part of an Anti-Phishing Feature (bleepingcomputer.com) 57

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: Mozilla will soon block the loading of data URIs in the Firefox navigation bar as part of a crackdown on phishing sites that abuse this protocol. The data: URI scheme (RFC 2397) was deployed in 1998 when developers were looking for ways to embed files in other files. What they came up with was the data: URI scheme that allows a developer to load a file represented as an ASCII-encoded octet stream inside another document. Since then, the URI scheme has become very popular with website developers as it allows them to embed text-based (CSS or JS) files or image (PNG, JPEG) files inside HTML documents instead of loading each resource via a separate HTTP request. This practice became hugely popular because search engines started ranking websites based on their page loading speed and the more HTTP requests a website made, the slower it loaded, and the more it affected a site's SERP position.
Security

Internal Kaspersky Investigation Says NSA Worker's Computer Was Infested with Malware (vice.com) 135

A reader shares a report: The personal computer of an NSA worker who took government hacking tools and classified documents home with him was infected with a backdoor trojan, unrelated to these tools, that could have been used by criminal hackers to steal the US government files, according to a new report being released Thursday by Kaspersky Lab in response to recent allegations against the company. The Moscow-based antivirus firm, which has been accused of using its security software to improperly grab NSA hacking tools and classified documents from the NSA worker's home computer and provide them to the Russian government, says the worker had at least 120 other malicious files on his home computer in addition to the backdoor, and that the latter, which had purportedly been created by a Russian criminal hacker and sold in an underground forum, was trying to actively communicate with a malicious command-and-control server during the time Kaspersky is accused of siphoning the US government files from the worker's computer. Costin Raiu, director of the company's Global Research and Analysis Team, told Motherboard that his company's software detected and prevented that communication but there was a period of time when the worker had disabled his Kaspersky software and left his computer unprotected. Raiu says they found evidence that the NSA worker may have been infected with a second backdoor as well, though they saw no sign of it trying to communicate with an external server so they don't know if it was active on his computer.
United States

Foreign Students Have Begun To Shun the United States (axios.com) 714

In a potential threat to future U.S. innovation, new international enrollment at U.S. colleges is down for the first time in more than a decade, according to a new report. From the report: It is the first hard sign that the Trump administration's rhetoric may be frightening away some of the world's best and brightest who traditionally have been drawn to settle and work in the U.S. Why it matters: "The Chinese whiz kid, if he can find a way to America, he'll come here. If you're good, you can make a lot of money," Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, tells Axios. "That whole set of incentives has always been tied to the immigrant stream, and we're severing that connection." By the numbers: The findings are from the Institute of International Education's annual Open Doors report and its smaller joint "snapshot" report on international enrollment. It found that new international student enrollment dropped by 3.3% for the 2016-2017 academic year, and by a far higher 6.9% in the Fall 2017 semester.
Space

Astronomers Find An Earth-Size World Just 11 Light Years Away (arstechnica.com) 166

Astronomers have discovered a planet 35 percent more massive than Earth in orbit around a red dwarf star just 11 light years from the Sun. "The planet, Ross 128 b, likely exists at the edge of the small, relatively faint star's habitable zone even though it is 20 times closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun," reports Ars Technica. "The study in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics finds the best estimate for its surface temperature is between -60 degrees Celsius and 20 degrees Celsius." From the report: This is not the closest Earth-size world that could potentially harbor liquid water on its surface -- that title is held by Proxima Centauri b, which is less than 4.3 light years away from Earth and located in the star system closest to the Sun. Even so, due to a variety of factors, Ross 128 b is tied for fourth on a list of potentially most habitable exoplanets, with an Earth Similarity Index value of 0.86. In the new research, astronomers discuss another reason to believe that life might be more likely to exist on Ross 128 b. That's because its parent star, Ross 128, is a relatively quiet red dwarf star, producing fewer stellar flares than most other, similar-sized stars such as Proxima Centauri. Such flares may well sterilize any life that might develop on such a world.
Chrome

Slashdot Asks: Have You Switched To Firefox 57? 517

Yesterday, Mozilla launched Firefox 57 for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS. It brings massive performance improvements as it incorporates the company's next-generation browser engine called Project Quantum; it also features a visual redesign and support for extensions built using the WebExtension API. Have you used Firefox's new browser? Does it offer enough to make you switch from your tried-and-true browser of choice? We'd love to hear your thoughts.
The Military

Russia Posts Video Game Screenshot As 'Irrefutable Proof' of US Helping IS (bbc.com) 126

Plus1Entropy shares a report from BBC, adding: "But when I asked Putin, he said they didn't do it": Russia's Ministry of Defense has posted what it called "irrefutable proof" of the U.S. aiding so-called Islamic State -- but one of the images was actually taken from a video game. The ministry claimed the image showed an IS convoy leaving a Syrian town last week aided by U.S. forces. Instead, it came from the smartphone game AC-130 Gunship Simulator: Special Ops Squadron. The ministry said an employee had mistakenly attached the photo. The Conflict Intelligence Team fact-checking group said the other four provided were also errors, taken from a June 2016 video which showed the Iraqi Air Force attacking IS in Iraq. The video game image seems to be taken from a promotional video on the game's website and YouTube channel, closely cropped to omit the game controls and on-screen information. In the corner of the image, however, a few letters of the developer's disclaimer can still be seen: "Development footage. This is a work in progress. All content subject to change."
Businesses

TechShop Announces Chapter 7 Bankruptcy; Closes All Locations 65

ewhac writes: To the shock and dismay of many, TechShop today announced the immediate closure of all of its U.S. locations and is entering Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings. Their homepage has been replaced with a PDF relating TechShop's history, and detailing the circumstances leading to shutting down the company. First launched ten years ago, TechShop was one of the first "shared maker spaces," a members-only machine and work shop where tinkerers, makers, inventors, and innovators were able to prototype their ideas, launch products, or even just fix their own stuff. Its closing will be a huge loss to the tech and maker communities.
The Internet

FCC Plans December Vote To Kill Net Neutrality Rules (bloomberg.com) 113

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: The U.S. Federal Communications Commission under its Republican chairman plans to vote in December to kill the net neutrality rules passed during the Obama era, said two people briefed on the plans. Chairman Ajit Pai in April proposed gutting the rules that he blamed for depressing investment in broadband, and said he intended to "finish the job" this year. The chairman has decided to put his proposal to a vote at the FCC next month, said the people. The agency's monthly meeting is to be held Dec. 14. The people asked not to be identified because the plan hasn't been made public. It's not clear what language Pai will offer to replace the rules that passed with only Democratic votes at the FCC in 2015. He has proposed that the FCC end the designation of broadband companies such as AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. as common carriers. That would remove the legal authority that underpins the net neutrality rules. One of the people said Pai may call for vacating the rules except for portions that mandate internet service providers inform customers about their practices. The current regulations forbid broadband providers from blocking or slowing web traffic, or from charging higher fees in return for quicker passage over their networks.

Slashdot Top Deals