Google

Google Joins Apple in Condemning the Repeal of the Clean Power Plan (theverge.com) 119

An anonymous reader shares a report: Google filed a public comment today criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to roll back the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era policy that aims to cut power plant pollution. With its comment, Google joins Apple in arguing that keeping the policy is a good deal for the US. Google's comment, which it shared with The Verge, lays out what it called a strong economic case for the Clean Power Plan.It says that the plan would encourage utilities and companies like Google to keep investing in renewable energy -- which Google says is getting cheaper, is desired by both consumers and investors, and is a good source of jobs.
China

Chinese Journalist Banned From Flying, Buying Property Due To 'Social Credit Score' (cbslocal.com) 365

schwit1 shares a report from CBS Local: China is rolling out a high-tech plan to give all of its 1.4 billion citizens a personal score, based on how they behave. But there are consequences if a score gets too low, and for some that's cause for concern. When Liu Hu recently tried to book a flight, he was told he was banned from flying because he was on the list of untrustworthy people. Liu is a journalist who was ordered by a court to apologize for a series of tweets he wrote and was then told his apology was insincere. "I can't buy property. My child can't go to a private school," he said. "You feel you're being controlled by the list all the time." And the list is now getting longer as every Chinese citizen is being assigned a social credit score -- a fluctuating rating based on a range of behaviors. It's believed that community service and buying Chinese-made products can raise your score. Fraud, tax evasion and smoking in non-smoking areas can drop it.
Education

Kazakhstan Is Changing Its Alphabet From Cyrillic To Latin-Based Style Favored By the West (bbc.com) 232

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: The Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan is changing its alphabet from Cyrillic script to the Latin-based style favored by the West. The change, announced on a blustery Tuesday morning in mid-February, was small but significant -- and it elicited a big response. The government signed off on a new alphabet, based on a Latin script instead of Kazakhstan's current use of Cyrillic, in October. But it has faced vocal criticism from the population -- a rare occurrence in this nominally democratic country ruled by Nazarbayev's iron fist for almost three decades. In this first version of the new alphabet, apostrophes were used to depict sounds specific to the Kazakh tongue, prompting critics to call it "ugly." The second variation, which Kaipiyev liked better, makes use of acute accents above the extra letters. So, for example, the Republic of Kazakhstan, which would in the first version have been Qazaqstan Respy'bli'kasy, is now Qazaqstan Respyblikasy, removing the apostrophes. The BBC article goes on to explain the economics of such a change, citing a restuarant owner that marketed his business using the first version of the alphabet. "All his marketing materials, the labelling on napkin holders and menus, and even the massive sign outside the building will have to be replaced," reports the BBC. "In his attempt to get ahead by launching in the new alphabet, [the owner] had not predicted that the government would revise it. He thinks it will cost about $3,000 to change the spelling of the name on everything to the new version, Sabiz." The full transition to the Latin-based script is expected to be completed by 2025, impacting this owner and many other small business owners.
Medicine

Medicare To Require Hospitals To Post Prices Online (pbs.org) 146

An anonymous reader quotes a report from PBS: Medicare will require hospitals to post their standard prices online and make electronic medical records more readily available to patients, officials said Tuesday. The program is also starting a comprehensive review of how it will pay for costly new forms of immunotherapy to battle cancer. Hospitals are required to disclose prices publicly, but the latest change would put that information online in machine-readable format that can be easily processed by computers. It may still prove to be confusing to consumers, since standard rates are like list prices and don't reflect what insurers and government programs pay.

Likewise, many health care providers already make computerized records available to patients, but starting in 2021 Medicare would base part of a hospital's payments on how good a job they do. Using electronic medical records remains a cumbersome task, and the Trump administration has invited technology companies to design secure apps that would let patients access their records from all their providers instead of having to go to different portals.
Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, also announced Medicare is starting a comprehensive review of how it will pay for a costly new form of immunotherapy called CAR-T. It's an expensive gene therapy that turbocharges a patient's own immune system cells to attack cancer. The cost for such a procedure can exceed $370,000 per patient.
Government

More FISA Orders Were Denied During President Trump's First Year in Office Than in the Court's 40-Year History (zdnet.com) 249

In its first year, the Trump administration kept one little-known courtroom in the capital busy. From a report: A secretive Washington DC-based court that oversees the US government's foreign spy programs denied more surveillance orders during President Donald Trump's first year than in the court's 40-year history, according to newly released figures. Annual data published Wednesday by the US Courts shows that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court last year denied 26 applications in full, and 50 applications in part. That's compared to 21 orders between when the court was first formed in 1978 and President Barack Obama's final year in office in 2016.
Businesses

EPA Proposes Limits To Science Used In Rulemaking (reuters.com) 310

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule on Tuesday that would limit the kinds of scientific research it can use in crafting regulations, an apparent concession to big business that has long requested such restrictions. Under the new proposals, the EPA will no longer be able to rely on scientific research that is underpinned by confidential medical and industry data. The measure was billed by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt as a way to boost transparency for the benefit of the industries his agency regulates. But scientists and former EPA officials worry it will hamstring the agency's ability to protect public health by putting key data off limits.

The EPA has for decades relied on scientific research that is rooted in confidential medical and industry data as a basis for its air, water and chemicals rules. While it publishes enormous amounts of research and data to the public, the confidential material is held back. Business interests have argued the practice is tantamount to writing laws behind closed doors and unfairly prevents them from vetting the research underpinning the EPA's often costly regulatory requirements. They argue that if the data cannot be published, the rules should not be adopted. But ex-EPA officials say the practice is vital.

Businesses

Patent 'Death Squad' System Upheld by US Supreme Court (bloomberg.com) 90

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld an administrative review system that has helped Google, Apple and other companies invalidate hundreds of issued patents. From a report: The justices, voting 7-2, said Tuesday a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office review board that critics call a patent "death squad" wasn't unconstitutionally wielding powers that belong to the courts. Silicon Valley companies have used the system as a less-expensive way to ward off demands for royalties, particularly from patent owners derided as "trolls" because they don't use their patents to make products. Drugmakers and independent inventors complain that it unfairly upends what they thought were established property rights. "It came down to this: Is the patent office fixing its own mistakes or is the government taking property?" said Wayne Stacy, a patent lawyer with Baker Botts. "They came down on the side of the patent office fixing its own mistakes." The ruling caused shares to drop in companies whose main source of revenue -- their patents -- are under threat from challenges. VirnetX, which is trying to protect almost $1 billion in damages it won against Apple, dropped as much as 12 percent. The patent office has said its patents are invalid in a case currently before an appeals court.
Government

US Government Weighing Sanctions Against Kaspersky Lab (cyberscoop.com) 99

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CyberScoop: The U.S. government is considering sanctions against Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab as part of a wider round of action carried out against the Russian government, according to U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the matter. The sanctions would be a considerable expansion and escalation of the U.S. government's actions against the company. Kaspersky, which has two ongoing lawsuits against the U.S. government, has been called "an unacceptable threat to national security" by numerous U.S. officials and lawmakers.

Officials told CyberScoop any additional action against Kaspersky would occur at the lawsuits' conclusion, which Kaspersky filed in response to a stipulation in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that bans its products from federal government networks. If the sanctions came to fruition, the company would be barred from operating in the U.S. and potentially even in U.S. allied countries.

Google

Google Accused of Showing 'Total Contempt' for Android Users' Privacy (bleepingcomputer.com) 99

On the heels of a terse privacy debate, Google may have found another thing to worry about: its attempt to rethink the traditional texting system. From a report: Joe Westby is Amnesty International's Technology and Human Rights researcher. Recently, in response to Google's launch of a new messaging service called "Chat", Westby argued that Google, "shows total contempt for Android users' privacy."

"With its baffling decision to launch a messaging service without end-to-end encryption, Google has shown utter contempt for the privacy of Android users and handed a precious gift to cybercriminals and government spies alike, allowing them easy access to the content of Android users' communications. Following the revelations by CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden, end-to-end encryption has become recognized as an essential safeguard for protecting people's privacy when using messaging apps. With this new Chat service, Google shows a staggering failure to respect the human rights of its customers," Westby contended. Westby continued, saying: "In the wake of the recent Facebook data scandal, Google's decision is not only dangerous but also out of step with current attitudes to data privacy."

The Internet

Net Neutrality Is Over Monday, But Experts Say ISPs Will Wait To Screw Us (inverse.com) 240

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Inverse: Parts of the Federal Communication Commission's repeal of net neutrality is slated to take effect on April 23, causing worry among internet users who fear the worst from their internet service providers. However, many experts believe there won't be immediate changes come Monday, but that ISPs will wait until users aren't paying attention to make their move. "Don't expect any changes right out of the gate," Dary Merckens, CTO of Gunner Technology, tells Inverse. Merckens specializes in JavaScript development for government and business, and sees why ISPs would want to lay low for a while before enacting real changes. "It would be a PR nightmare for ISPs if they introduced sweeping changes immediately after the repeal of net neutrality," he says.

While parts of the FCC's new plan will go into effect on Monday, the majority of the order still doesn't have a date for when it will be official. Specific rules that modify data collection requirements still have to be approved by the Office of Management and Budget, and the earliest that can happen is on April 27. Tech experts and consumer policy advocates don't expect changes to happen right away, as ISPs will likely avoid any large-scale changes in order to convince policymakers that the net neutrality repeal was no big deal after all.

Crime

UK Teen Who Hacked CIA Director Sentenced To 2 Years In Prison (gizmodo.com) 150

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: A British teenager who gained notoriety for hacking a number of high profile United States government employees including former CIA director John Brennan and former director of intelligence James Clapper was sentenced Friday to two years in prison. Eighteen-year-old Kane Gamble pleaded guilty to 10 separate charges, including eight counts of "performing a function with intent to secure unauthorized access" and two counts of "unauthorized modification of computer material," the Guardian reported.

Gamble, otherwise known by his online alias Cracka, was 15 at the time that he started his hacking campaigns. The alleged leader of a hacking group known as Crackas With Attitude (CWA), Gamble made it a point to target members of the U.S. government. The young hacker's group managed to successfully gain access to ex-CIA director John Brennan's AOL email account. The group hacked a number of accounts belonging to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, including his personal email, his wife's email, and his phone and internet provider account. The hackers allegedly made it so every call to Clapper's home phone would get forwarded to the Free Palestine Movement.

Power

White House Reportedly Exploring Wartime Rule To Help Coal, Nuclear (arstechnica.com) 307

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: According to reports from Bloomberg and E&E News, the Trump Administration has been exploring another way to help coal and nuclear generators: the Defense Production Act of 1950. The Act was passed under President Truman. Motivated by the Korean War, it allows the president broad authority to boost U.S. industries that are considered a priority for national security. On Thursday, E&E News cited sources that said "an interagency process is underway" at the White House to examine possible application of the act to the energy industry. The goal would be to give some form of preference to coal and nuclear plants that are struggling to compete with cheap natural gas.

If the DOE decides not to invoke Section 202(c), the president may turn to the Defense Production Act. According to a 2014 summary report (PDF) from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the act would allow the president to "demand priority for defense-related products," "provide incentives to develop, modernize, and expand defense productive capacity," and establish "a voluntary reserve of trained private sector executives available for emergency federal employment," among other powers. (Some even more permissive applications of the Act were terminated in 1957.) Using the Act to protect coal and nuclear facilities would almost certainly be more controversial, as the link between national defense and keeping uneconomic coal generators running is not well-established.
The Administration could apply the Act to "provide or guarantee loans to industry" for material-specific deliveries and production. "The president may also authorize the purchase of 'industrial items or technologies for installation in government or private industrial facilities,'" reports Ars.
Facebook

Silicon Valley Investors Wants to Fund a 'Good For Society' Facebook Replacement (calacanis.com) 215

Silicon Valley angel investor Jason Calacanis just announced the "Openbook Challenge," a competition to create a replacement for Facebook.

"Over the next three months, 20 finalists will compete for seven $100,000 incubator grants," explains long-time Slashdot reader reifman. "Their goal is to find startups with a sustainable business model e.g. subscriptions, reasonable advertising, cryptocurrency. etc. And they want it to be 'good for society.'"

Jason Calacanis writes: All community and social products on the internet have had their era, from AOL to MySpace, and typically they're not shut down by the government -- they're slowly replaced by better products. So, let's start the process of replacing Facebook... We already have two dozen quality teams cranking on projects and we hope to get to 100...

This is not an idea or business plan competition. We're looking for teams that can actually build a better social network, and we'll be judging teams primarily based upon their ability to execute... Keep in mind, that while ideas really matter, Zuckerberg has shown us, execution matters more.

Calacanis has even created a discussion group for the competition...on Facebook. And his announcement includes a famous quote from Mark Zuckerberg.

"Don't be too proud to copy."
Government

Could We Fund a Universal Basic Income with Universal Basic Assets? (fastcompany.com) 409

Universal Basic Incomes aren't really the issue, argues Fast Company staff writer Ben Schiller. "It's how you find $2 trillion to pay for it." One answer may come in the form of "universal basic assets" (UBA). UBA can mean a fund of publicly-owned infrastructure or revenue streams -- like Alaska's Permanent Fund which pays residents up to $2,000 a year from state oil taxes. Or, it can mean actual assets that drive down the cost of living, like tuition-free education and free public broadband. There are lots of proposals going around now that fall into these two camps...

Entrepreneur Peter Barnes has called for the creation of a Sky Trust that would both limit the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and provide revenue from carbon taxes. These "carbon dividends" solve two problems at once: income inequality and climate change. He would also tax corporations for using natural resources, on the thinking that the atmosphere, minerals and fresh water around us represent a "joint inheritance." He would also tax speculative financial transactions and use of the electromagnetic spectrum. The U.K. think-tank IPPR recently proposed a similar "sovereign wealth fund owned by and run in the interests of citizens." It would finance the fund with "a scrip tax of up to 3% requiring businesses to issue equity to the government, or pay a tax of equivalent value," sales of land owned by the U.K. monarchy, and higher inheritance taxes.

Blockchain can help. Blockchain technology could offer a way to divide publicly-owned infrastructure so it's genuinely publicly-owned. We could issue tokenized securities in the assets around us giving everyone a stake in their environment. Then they could trade those tokens on exchanges, like they were cryptocurrencies, or use the tokens as collateral on loans.

Facebook

NYT: Lynchings Around the World are Linked To Facebook Posts (bostonglobe.com) 171

An anonymous reader quotes the New York Times: Riots and lynchings around the world have been linked to misinformation and hate speech on Facebook, which pushes whatever content keeps users on the site longest -- a potentially damaging practice in countries with weak institutions and histories of social instability. Time and again, communal hatreds overrun the newsfeed unchecked as local media are displaced by Facebook and governments find themselves with little leverage over the company. Some users, energized by hate speech and misinformation, plot real-world attacks.

A reconstruction of Sri Lanka's descent into violence, based on interviews with officials, victims and ordinary users caught up in online anger, found that Facebook's newsfeed played a central role in nearly every step from rumor to killing. Facebook officials, they say, ignored repeated warnings of the potential for violence, resisting pressure to hire moderators or establish emergency points of contact... Sri Lankans say they see little evidence of change. And in other countries, as Facebook expands, analysts and activists worry they, too, may see violence.

A Facebook spokeswoman countered that "we remove such content as soon as we're made aware of it," and said they're now trying to expand those teams and investing in "technology and local language expertise to help us swiftly remove hate content." But one anti-hate group told the Times that Facebook's reporting tools are too slow and ineffective.

"Though they and government officials had repeatedly asked Facebook to establish direct lines, the company had insisted this tool would be sufficient, they said. But nearly every report got the same response: the content did not violate Facebook's standards."
Businesses

Many Amazon Warehouse Workers are on Food Stamps (theintercept.com) 420

Many of Amazon's warehouse workers have to buy their groceries with food stamps through America's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, reports the Intercept. In Arizona, new data suggests that one in three of the company's own employees depend on SNAP to put food on the table. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, the figure appears to be around one in 10. Overall, of five states that responded to a public records request for a list of their top employers of SNAP recipients, Amazon cracked the top 20 in four.

Though the company now employs 200,000 people in the United States, many of its workers are not making enough money to put food on the table... "The average warehouse worker at Walmart makes just under $40,000 annually, while at Amazon would take home about $24,300 a year," CNN reported in 2013. "That's less than $1,000 above the official federal poverty line for a family of four."

In addition Amazon uses temp workers who may also be on food stamps, notes the article, adding that in 2017 Amazon received $1.2 billion in state and local subsidies, while effectively paying no federal income tax.

"The American people are financing Amazon's pursuit of an e-commerce monopoly every step of the way: first, with tax breaks, subsidies, and infrastructure improvements meant to lure fulfillment centers into town, and later with federal transfers to pay for warehouse workers' food."
Power

Can Tesla's Batteries Power Puerto Rico? (electrek.co) 87

An anonymous reader quotes Electrek: Almost 1 million ratepayers of the Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority on the island of Puerto Rico were reportedly without power Wednesday during an island-wide blackout. But a few hundred locations with Tesla Energy storage systems were able to keep the lights on, according to CEO Elon Musk... Some of those locations include very critical services. For example, Tesla deployed a series of Powerpack systems on the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra for a sanitary sewer treatment plant, the Arcadia water pumping station, the Ciudad Dorada elderly community, the Susan Centeno hospital, and the Boys and Girls Club of Vieques. Furthermore, the automaker's energy division also deployed a solar+battery system at a hospital in Puerto Rico...

It was also reported that the Puerto Rican government was considering Tesla's plan for a series of microgrids to help bring back power on a larger scale. The government has confirmed that they "presented several projects in remote areas that would allow entire communities to be more independent" and they also "presented a proposal to the Authority for Public-Private Partnerships for the deployment of a large-scale battery system designed to help stabilize the entire Puerto Rico electricity network."

The proposal, involving de-centralized local solar farms, "should prove more resilient to natural disaster," Electrek reported earlier, adding " and of course, it would be a lot cleaner than their currently mostly fossil fuel-based power generation." Already Tesla batteries are "live and delivering power" at 662 locations, Elon Musk tweeted Wednesday.

Meanwhile, CNN reports that one Puerto Rico resident spent three weeks building his own solar power system using $7,500 in parts -- which will ultimately prove cheaper than the $350 a month he was spending to run a gas generator (and waiting as long as six hours in the long gas lines).

They're not revealing his name "because he's concerned someone may try to steal his new system."
The Almighty Buck

Kurzweil Predicts Universal Basic Incomes Worldwide Within 20 Years (hackernoon.com) 306

Google's director of engineering Ray Kurzweil made a startling prediction at the 2018 TED conference. Hacker Noon reports: "In the early 2030s, we'll have universal basic income in the developed world, and worldwide by the end of the 2030s. You'll be able to live very well on that. The primary concern will be meaning and purpose," he said onstage at the annual event...

Kurzweil believes that by 2029, computers will have human-level intelligence. It's not inconceivable then that AI will be distributing UBI to humans based on algorithms that are capable of crunching numbers in ways we cannot follow. Indeed, what we call the "State" in even just 10 years time may have been transformed by AI and blockchain tech in a way whereby even our experience of consensus decision making and democracy itself may have evolved.

Government

Senate Confirms Climate Denier With No Scientific Credentials To Head NASA (nytimes.com) 525

On Thursday, the Senate confirmed Trump's NASA nominee Jim Bridenstine, seven and a half months after being nominated to lead the agency. "The Senate confirmed Mr. Bridenstine, an Oklahoma congressman, as the new NASA administrator in a stark partisan vote: 50 Republicans voting for him and 47 Democrats plus two independents against," reports The New York Times. "The vote lasted more than 45 minutes as Republicans waited for Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona to cast his lot." Slashdot reader PeopleAquarium writes about some of Bridenstine's anti-LGBT and non-scientific views: Bridenstine ran a planetarium once, and peddled a debunked argument made by climate change skeptics, claiming that global temperatures "stopped rising 10 years ago." He said "the people of Oklahoma are ready to accept" an apology from then-President Barack Obama for what Bridenstine called a "gross misallocation" of funds for climate change research instead of weather forecasting. In further news, our rockets will now be coal powered, and gay people aren't allowed in space.
Government

Government Accidentally Releases Documents On 'Psycho-Electric' Weapons (popularmechanics.com) 91

schwit1 shares a report from Popular Mechanics: The government has all kinds of secrets, but only a true conspiracy theorist might suspect that "psycho-electric weapons" are one of them. So it's odd that MuckRock, a news organization that specializes in filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with state and federal government bodies, received mysterious documents about mind control, seemingly by accident. Journalist Curtis Waltman was writing to the Washington State Fusion Center (WSFC), a joint operation between Washington State law enforcement and the federal government to request information about Antifa and white supremacist groups. He got responses to the questions he asked, but also a file titled "EM effects on human body.zip." At least some of the images appear to be part of an article in Nexus magazine describing a 1992 lawsuit brought by one John St. Clair Akewi against the NSA. Akewi claimed that the NSA had the "ability to assassinate U.S. citizens covertly or run covert psychological control operations to cause subjects to be diagnosed with ill mental health" and was documenting their alleged methods.

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