Businesses

Dark Side of Gig Economy: Some Instacart Workers Go On Strike Over Pay That Can Be as Low as $1 Per Hour (fastcompany.com) 5

From a report: Instacart shoppers and drivers -- the people who gather your groceries and deliver them to you after you order via the Instacart app -- are on strike. While independent contractors can't technically strike, via a Facebook group some of the company's thousands of employees have organized a "no delivery day" in the hopes of getting higher wages, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The strike is only taking place in a few of the 154 cities nationwide that Instacart operates in. The action may be small, but the grievances are big. While Instacart, the 5-year-old San Francisco startup, is valued at $3.4 billion, it allegedly pays its workers as little as $1 per order. Ars Technica has a great breakdown of all the issues surrounding how Instacart employees get paid and it's complex, with three different income streams coming together Voltron-like to form a wage. The result, though, is that some shoppers are being paid less than the federal minimum wage, like a Jackson, Miss., worker who put in a 19-hour week in Jackson, Mississippi, that paid out $37.75 (roughly $2/hour). That's far below the $14/hour wage that Ars Technica says Instacart is targeting.
Firefox

Another Tor Browser Feature Makes It Into Firefox: First-Party Isolation (bleepingcomputer.com) 24

An anonymous reader writes: Unbeknown to most users, Mozilla added a privacy-enhancing feature to the Firefox browser over the summer that can help users block online advertisers from tracking them across the Internet. The feature is named First-Party Isolation (FPI) and was silently added to the Firefox browser in August, with the release of Firefox 55. FPI works by separating cookies on a per-domain basis.

This is important because most online advertisers drop a cookie on the user's computer for each site the user visits and the advertisers loads an ad. With FPI enabled, the ad tracker won't be able to see all the cookies it dropped on that user's PC, but only the cookie created for the domain the user is currently viewing. This will force the ad tracker to create a new user profile for each site the user visits and the advertiser won't be able to aggregate these cookies and the user's browsing history into one big fat profile. This feature was first implemented in the Tor Browser, a privacy-focused fork of the Firefox browser managed by the Tor Project, where it is known as Cross-Origin Identifier Unlinkability. FPI was added to Firefox as part of the Tor Uplift project, an initiative to bolster the Firefox codebase with some of the Tor Browser's unique privacy-focused features. The feature is not enabled by default. Information on how to enable it is in the linked article.

AI

Deep Learning Is Eating Software (petewarden.com) 63

Pete Warden, engineer and CTO of Jetpac, shares his view on how deep learning is already starting to change some of the programming is done. From a blog post, shared by a reader last week: The pattern is that there's an existing software project doing data processing using explicit programming logic, and the team charged with maintaining it find they can replace it with a deep-learning-based solution. I can only point to examples within Alphabet that we've made public, like upgrading search ranking, data center energy usage, language translation, and solving Go, but these aren't rare exceptions internally. What I see is that almost any data processing system with non-trivial logic can be improved significantly by applying modern machine learning. This might sound less than dramatic when put in those terms, but it's a radical change in how we build software. Instead of writing and maintaining intricate, layered tangles of logic, the developer has to become a teacher, a curator of training data and an analyst of results. This is very, very different than the programming I was taught in school, but what gets me most excited is that it should be far more accessible than traditional coding, once the tooling catches up. The essence of the process is providing a lot of examples of inputs, and what you expect for the outputs. This doesn't require the same technical skills as traditional programming, but it does need a deep knowledge of the problem domain. That means motivated users of the software will be able to play much more of a direct role in building it than has ever been possible. In essence, the users are writing their own user stories and feeding them into the machinery to build what they want.
Hardware

The Secret to Tech's Next Big Breakthroughs? Stacking Chips (wsj.com) 57

Christopher Mims, writing for the Wall Street Journal: A funny thing is happening to the most basic building blocks of nearly all our devices. Microchips, which are usually thin and flat, are being stacked like pancakes (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled). Chip designers -- now playing with depth, not just length and width -- are discovering a variety of unexpected dividends in performance, power consumption and capabilities. Without this technology, the Apple Watch wouldn't be possible. Nor would the most advanced solid-state memory from Samsung, artificial-intelligence systems from Nvidia and Google, or Sony's crazy-fast next-gen camera. Think of this 3-D stacking as urban planning. Without it, you have sprawl -- microchips spread across circuit boards, getting farther and farther apart as more components are needed. But once you start stacking chips, you get a silicon cityscape, with everything in closer proximity.

The advantage is simple physics: When electrons have to travel long distances through copper wires, it takes more power, produces heat and reduces bandwidth. Stacked chips are more efficient, run cooler and communicate across much shorter interconnections at lightning speed, says Greg Yeric, director of future silicon technology for ARM Research, part of microchip design firm ARM.

Spam

Spam Is Back (theoutline.com) 102

Jon Christian, writing for The Outline: For a while, spam -- unsolicited bulk messages sent for commercial or fraudulent purposes -- seemed to be fading away. The 2003 CAN-SPAM Act mandated unsubscribe links in email marketing campaigns and criminalized attempts to hide the sender's identity, while sophisticated filters on what were then cutting-edge email providers like Gmail buried unwanted messages in out-of-sight spam folders. In 2004, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates told a crowd at the World Economic Forum that "two years from now, spam will be solved." In 2011, cybersecurity reporter Brian Krebs noted that increasingly tech savvy law enforcement efforts were shutting down major spam operators -- including SpamIt.com, alleged to be a major hub in a Russian digital criminal organization that was responsible for an estimated fifth of the world's spam. These efforts meant that the proportion of all emails that are spam has slowly fallen to a low of about 50 percent in recent years, according to Symantec research.

But it's 2017, and spam has clawed itself back from the grave. It shows up on social media and dating sites as bots hoping to lure you into downloading malware or clicking an affiliate link. It creeps onto your phone as text messages and robocalls that ring you five times a day about luxury cruises and fictitious tax bills. Networks associated with the buzzy new cryptocurrency system Ethereum have been plagued with spam. Facebook recently fought a six-month battle against a spam operation that was administering fake accounts in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. Last year, a Chicago resident sued the Trump campaign for allegedly sending unsolicited text message spam; this past November, ZDNet reported that voters were being inundated with political text messages they never signed up for. Apps can be horrid spam vectors, too. Repeated mass data breaches that include contact information, such as the Yahoo breach in which 3 billion user accounts were exposed, surely haven't helped. Meanwhile, you, me, and everyone we know is being plagued by robocalls.

Music

Stock Music Artists Aren't Always Happy About How Their Music Is Used (wired.com) 88

mirandakatz writes: If you're a stock music composer, you sign over the rights to whatever music you put up on a variety of hosting sites. That can get complicated -- especially when your music winds up being used to soundtrack hate speech. At Backchannel, Pippa Biddle dives into the knotty world of stock music, writing that stock music is 'a quick way for a talented musician to make a small buck. But there's a hidden cost: You lose control over where your work ends up. In hundreds, if not thousands, of cases, a tune becomes the backing track to hate speech or violent videos. Often such use violates the license the buyer agrees to when purchasing the track. But nobody reads the licenses -- and, more importantly, no one enforces them.'
Security

Security Problems Are Primarily Just Bugs, Linus Torvalds Says (iu.edu) 167

Linus Torvalds, in his signature voice: Some security people have scoffed at me when I say that security problems are primarily "just bugs." Those security people are f*cking morons. Because honestly, the kind of security person who doesn't accept that security problems are primarily just bugs, I don't want to work with. Security firm Errata Security has defended Linus's point of view.
Social Networks

We Can't Trust Facebook To Regulate Itself, Says Former Operations Manager (nytimes.com) 70

schwit1 shares an op-ed on the New York Times by Sandy Parakilas, a former operations manager on the platform team at Facebook: Sandy Parakilas led Facebook's efforts to fix privacy problems on its developer platform in advance of its 2012 initial public offering. What I saw from the inside was a company that prioritized data collection from its users over protecting them from abuse. As the world contemplates what to do about Facebook in the wake of its role in Russia's election meddling, it must consider this history. Lawmakers shouldn't allow Facebook to regulate itself. Because it won't (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). Facebook knows what you look like, your location, who your friends are, your interests, if you're in a relationship or not, and what other pages you look at on the web. This data allows advertisers to target the more than one billion Facebook visitors a day. It's no wonder the company has ballooned in size to a $500 billion behemoth in the five years since its I.P.O. The more data it has on offer, the more value it creates for advertisers. That means it has no incentive to police the collection or use of that data -- except when negative press or regulators are involved. Facebook is free to do almost whatever it wants with your personal information, and has no reason to put safeguards in place. The company just wanted negative stories to stop. It didn't really care how the data was used. Facebook took the same approach to this investigation as the one I observed during my tenure: react only when the press or regulators make something an issue, and avoid any changes that would hurt the business of collecting and selling data. This makes for a dangerous mix: a company that reaches most of the country every day and has the most detailed set of personal data ever assembled, but has no incentive to prevent abuse. Facebook needs to be regulated more tightly, or broken up so that no single entity controls all of its data. The company won't protect us by itself, and nothing less than our democracy is at stake.
Intel

Intel Planning To End Legacy BIOS Support By 2020, Report Says (phoronix.com) 87

Michael Larabel, writing for Phoronix: Intel is planning to end "legacy BIOS" support in their new platforms by 2020 in requiring UEFI Class 3 or higher. Making rounds this weekend is a slide deck from the recent UEFI Plugfest. Brian Richardson of Intel talked about the "last mile" barriers to removing legacy BIOS support from systems. By 2020, they will be supporting no less than UEFI Class 3, which means only UEFI support and no more legacy BIOS or CSM compatibility support mode. But that's not going to force on UEFI Secure Boot unconditionally: Secure Boot enabled is considered UEFI Class 3+. Intel hasn't removed legacy BIOS / CSM support yet due to many customers' software packages still relying upon legacy BIOS, among other reasons. Removing the legacy BIOS support will mitigate some security risks, needs less validation by vendors, allows for supporting more modern technologies, etc.
Google

Critics Debate Autism's Role in James Damore's Google Memo (themarysue.com) 226

James Damore "wants you to know he isn't using autism as an excuse," reports a Silicon Valley newspaper, commenting on the fired Google engineer's new interview with the Guardian. But they also note that "he says being on the spectrum means he 'sees things differently'," and the weekend editor at the entertainment and "geek culture" site The Mary Sue sees a problem in the way that interview was framed. It's the author of this Guardian article, not James Damore himself, who makes the harmful suggestion that Damore's infamous Google memo and subsequent doubling-down are somehow caused by his autism... It frames autism as some sort of basic decency deficiency, rather than a neurological condition shared by millions of people.... This whole article is peppered with weird suggestions like this, suggestions which detract from an otherwise interesting piece.. All these weird suggestions that autism and misogyny/bigotry are somehow tied (as if autistic feminists didn't exist) do unfortunately detract from one of the article's great points.

Having worked at a number of companies large and small, I can at least anecdotally confirm that their diversity training rarely includes a discussion of neurodiversity, and when it does, it's not particularly empathetic or helpful... Many corporate cultures are plainly designed for neurotypical extroverts and no one else -- and that should change. I really do think Lewis meant well in pointing that out. But the other thing that should change? The way the media scapegoats autism as a source of anti-social behavior.

Iphone

10-Year-Old Boy Cracks the Face ID On Both Parents' IPhone X (wired.com) 240

An anonymous reader writes: A 10-year-old boy discovered he could unlock his father's phone just by looking at it. And his mother's phone too. Both parents had just purchased a new $999 iPhone X, and apparently its Face ID couldn't tell his face from theirs. The unlocking happened immediately after the mother told the son that "There's no way you're getting access to this phone."

Experiments suggest the iPhone X was confused by the indoor/nighttime lighting when the couple first registered their faces. Apple's only response was to point to their support page, which states that "the statistical probability is different...among children under the age of 13, because their distinct facial features may not have fully developed. If you're concerned about this, we recommend using a passcode to authenticate." The boy's father is now offering this advice to other parents. "You should probably try it with every member of your family and see who can access it."

And his son just "thought it was hilarious."

Earth

Upsurge in Big Earthquakes Predicted for 2018 (theguardian.com) 76

hcs_$reboot writes: "Scientists say the number of severe quakes is likely to rise strongly next year because of a periodic slowing of the Earth's rotation," reports the Guardian. "They believe variations in the speed of Earth's rotation could trigger intense seismic activity, particularly in heavily populated tropical regions. Although such fluctuations in rotation are small -- changing the length of the day by a millisecond -- they could still be implicated in the release of vast amounts of underground energy, it is argued."

The theory goes that the slowdown creates a shift in the shape of the Earth's solid iron and nickel "inner core" which, in turn, impacts the liquid outer core on which the tectonic plates that form the Earth's crust rest. The impact is greater on the tectonic plates near some of the Earth's most populous regions along the Equator, home to about a billion people. Scientists from the University of Colorado looked at all earthquakes registering 7 and up on the Richter scale since the turn of the 20th century. In this timeframe, the researchers discovered five periods of significantly greater seismic activity.

The seismic activity follows a five-year period of slowing in the earth's rotatio, and "This link is particularly important because Earth's rotation began one of its periodic slowdowns more than four years ago," according to the article.

"The Earth is offering us a five-year heads-up on future earthquakes," says one of the researchers, adding "The inference is clear. Next year we should see a significant increase in numbers of severe earthquakes."
The Media

Net Neutrality is Essentially Unassailable, Argues Billionaire Barry Diller (broadcastingcable.com) 66

An anonymous reader quotes Yahoo Finance: The billionaire media mogul behind such popular sites as Expedia, Match.com and HomeAdvisor has a one-word forecast for traditional media conglomerates concerned about being replaced by tech giants: serfdom. "They, like everyone else, are kind of going to be serfs on the land of the large tech companies," IAC chairman Barry Diller said... That's because Google and Facebook not only have such massive user bases but also dominate online advertising. "Google and Facebook are consolidating," Diller said. "They are the only mass advertising mediums we have..." He expects Facebook, Google and maybe Amazon to face government regulation, simply because of their immense size. "At a certain point in size, you must," he said. "It's inevitable."

He did, however, outline one positive for Big Tech getting so gargantuan. Big Telecom no longer has the economic leverage to roll back today's net-neutrality norms, in which internet providers don't try to charge sites extra for access to their subscribers. "I think it's hard to overturn practically," he said. "It is the accepted system."

Even if the U.S. government takes moves to fight net neutrality, Diller told CNBC that "I think it is over... It is [the] practice of the world... You're still going to be able to push a button and publish to the world, without anybody in between asking you for tribute. I think that is now just the way things are done. I don't think it can be violated no matter what laws are back."
Medicine

First Ever Anti-Aging Gene Discovered In a Secluded Amish Community (newsweek.com) 139

"This is one of the first clear-cut genetic mutations in human beings that acts upon aging and aging-related disease," Dr. Douglas Vaughan, a medical researcher at Northwestern University, told Newsweek. schwit1 quotes Science Alert: As far as we know, it looks like the only community in the world known to harbour it is an Old Order Amish community living in Indiana... Vaughan's team tested 177 people from the Amish community of Berne, Indiana, and found 43 people with one mutated SERPINE1 gene copy. Compared to the general Amish population, these 43 people had a 10 percent longer lifespan, and 10 percent longer telomeres (the DNA-protecting structures at the ends of our chromosomes that unravel when the cells reach the end of their lifespans). They also showed lower incidence of diabetes and lower insulin fasting levels. On top of that, the study showed a small indication of lower blood pressure and potentially more flexible blood vessels.

"For the first time we are seeing a molecular marker of aging (telomere length), a metabolic marker of aging (fasting insulin levels) and a cardiovascular marker of aging (blood pressure and blood vessel stiffness) all tracking in the same direction in that these individuals were generally protected from age-related changes," said Vaughan. These people also had 50 percent lower PAI-1 levels than average. It's not known exactly how PAI-1 contributes to aging, but it does play a role in a process called cellular senescence. This is when cells are no longer able to replicate, so they just go dormant. This contributes to the effects of aging.

Earth

What They Don't Tell You About Climate Change (economist.com) 488

Countries are scrambling to limit the rise in the earth's temperature to just two degrees by the end of this century. But Slashdot reader dryriver shares an article titled "What They Don't Tell You About Climate Change." No, it is not that Climate Change is a hoax or that the climate science gets it all wrong and Climate Change isn't happening. According to the Economist, it is rather that "Fully 101 of the 116 models the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change uses to chart what lies ahead assume that carbon will be taken out of the air in order for the world to have a good chance of meeting the 2C target."

In other words, reducing carbon emissions around the world, creating clean energy from wind farms, driving electrical cars and so forth is not going to suffice to meet agreed upon climate targets at all. Negative emissions are needed. The world is going to overshoot the "maximum 2 degrees of warming" target completely unless someone figures out how to suck as much as 810 Billion Tonnes of carbon out of Earth's atmosphere by 2100 using some kind of industrial scale process that currently does not exist.

That breaks down to 1,785,742,000,000,000 pounds of CO2, "as much as the world's economy produces in 20 years," according to the Economist.

"Putting in place carbon-removal schemes of this magnitude would be an epic endeavour even if tried-and-tested techniques existed. They do not."

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