Businesses

Former CenturyLink Employee Accuses Company of Running a Wells Fargo-Like Scheme (bloomberg.com) 61

A former CenturyLink employee has filed a lawsuit this week claiming she was fired for "blowing the whistle on the telecommunications company's high-pressure sales culture that left customers paying millions of dollars for accounts they didn't request," reports Bloomberg. From the report: The plaintiff, Heidi Heiser, worked from her home for CenturyLink as a customer service and sales agent from August 2015 to October 2016. The suit claims she was fired days after notifying Chief Executive Officer Glen Post of the alleged scheme during a companywide question-and-answer session held on an internal message board. The complaint alleges CenturyLink "allowed persons who had a personal incentive to add services or lines to customer accounts to falsely indicate on the CenturyLink system the approval by a customer of new lines or services." This would sometimes result in charges that hadn't been authorized by customers, according to the complaint. Heiser's complaint alleges that she became increasingly concerned about what she observed at CenturyLink after news of Wells Fargo & Co.'s regulatory troubles broke in September. In that case, Wells Fargo employees opened deposit and credit card accounts without customers' consent to earn incentives and meet sales goals. Without admitting wrongdoing, Wells Fargo ended up firing more than 5,000 employees and agreeing to pay $185 million in fines, in addition to compensating customers for fees related to the unauthorized accounts. The complaint likens what Heiser said CenturyLink sales agents did to the Wells Fargo scandal and estimated the alleged unauthorized fees amounted to "many millions" of dollars. She says her concerns were bolstered by posts she had read on review websites.
Security

You Can Hack Some Mazda Cars With a USB Flash Drive (bleepingcomputer.com) 52

An anonymous reader writes: "Mazda cars with next-gen Mazda MZD Connect infotainment systems can be hacked just by plugging in a USB flash drive into their dashboard, thanks to a series of bugs that have been known for at least three years," reports Bleeping Computer. "The issues have been discovered and explored by the users of the Mazda3Revolution forum back in May 2014. Since then, the Mazda car owner community has been using these 'hacks' to customize their cars' infotainment system to tweak settings and install new apps. One of the most well-designed tools is MZD-AIO-TI (MZD All In One Tweaks Installer)." Recently, a security researcher working for Bugcrowd has put together a GitHub repository that automates the exploitation of these bugs. The researcher says an attacker can copy the code of his GitHub repo on a USB flash drive, add malicious scripts and carry out attacks on Mazda cars. Mazda said the issues can't be exploited to break out of the infotainment system to other car components, but researchers disagreed with the company on Twitter. In the meantime, the car maker has finally plugged the bugs via a firmware update released two weeks ago.
Medicine

Watchdog Report Finds Alarming 20 Percent of Baby Food Tested Contains Lead (arstechnica.com) 192

According to an analysis released Thursday by the nonprofit advocacy group, the Environmental Defense Fund, twenty percent of 2,164 baby foods sampled between 2003 and 2013 by the Food and Drug Administration tested positive for lead. Ars Technica reports: Lead is a neurotoxin. Exposure at a young age can permanently affect a developing brain, causing lifelong behavioral problems and lower IQ. Though the levels in the baby food were generally below what the FDA considers unsafe, the agency's standards are decades old. The latest research suggests that there is no safe level of lead for children. Yet the Environmental Protection Agency this year has estimated that more than five percent of U.S. children (more than a million) get more than the FDA's recommended limit of lead from their diet. The products most often found to contain lead were fruit juices, root vegetable-based foods, and certain cookies, such as teething biscuits, the EDF reports. Oddly, the presence of lead was more common in baby foods than in the same foods marketed for adults. For instance, only 25 percent of regular apple juice tested positive for lead, while 55 percent of apple juices marketed for babies contained lead. Overall, only 14 percent of adult foods tested contained lead. The findings come from data collected in the FDA's annual survey of foods, called the Total Diet Survey, which the agency has run since the 1970s. Each year, the agency samples 280 types of foods from three different cities across the country, tracking nutrients, metals, pesticides, and other contaminants.
Security

Firm Responsible For Mirai-Infected Webcams Hires Software Firm To Make Its Products More Secure (securityledger.com) 18

chicksdaddy writes from a report via The Security Ledger: After seeding the globe with hackable DVRs and webcams, Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co., Ltd. of Hangzhou, China will be working with the U.S. firm Synopsys to "enhance the security of its Internet of Things (IoT) devices and solutions." Dahua, based in Hangzhou, China said it will with Mountain View based Synopsys to "enhance the security of its Internet of Things (IoT) devices and solutions." In a joint statement, the companies said Dahua will be adopting secure "software development life cycle (SDLC) and supply chain" practices using Synopsys technologies in an effort to reduce the number of "vulnerabilities that can jeopardize our products," according to a statement attributed to Fu Liquan, Dahua's Chairman, The Security Ledger reports. Dahua's cameras and digital video recorders (DVRs) figured prominently in the Mirai botnet, which launched massive denial of service attacks against websites in Europe and the U.S., including the French web hosting firm OVH, security news site Krebsonsecurity.com and the New Hampshire based managed DNS provider Dyn. Cybercriminals behind the botnet apparently exploited an overflow vulnerability in the web interface for cameras and DVRs to gain access to the underlying Linux operating system and install the Mirai software, according to research by the firm Level3. In March, Dahua was called out for another, serious vulnerability in eleven models of video recorders and IP cameras. Namely: a back door account that gave remote attackers full control of vulnerable devices without the need to authenticate to the device. The flaw was first disclosed on the Full Disclosure mailing list and described as "like a damn Hollywood hack, click on one button and you are in."
Piracy

Alleged KickassTorrents Owner Considers 'Voluntary Surrender' To the US (torrentfreak.com) 59

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TorrentFreak: Earlier this year a Polish court ruled that Artem Vaulin, the alleged owner of the defunct torrent site KickassTorrents, can be extradited to the United States. The decision came as a disappointment to the defense team, which quickly announced an appeal. Vaulin has since been released on bail and currently resides in a Warsaw apartment. His release has made it easier to communicate with his attorneys in the United States, who have started negotiations with the U.S. Government. While the extradition appeal is still ongoing, it now appears that under the right conditions Vaulin might consider traveling to the United States voluntarily, so he can "resolve" the pending charges. This is what the defense team states in a motion for a status conference (pdf), which was submitted earlier this week.
Earth

Coal Market Set To Collapse Worldwide By 2040 As Solar, Wind Dominate (bloomberg.com) 375

Jess Shankleman reports via Bloomberg: Solar power, once so costly it only made economic sense in spaceships, is becoming cheap enough that it will push coal and even natural-gas plants out of business faster than previously forecast. That's the conclusion of a Bloomberg New Energy Finance outlook for how fuel and electricity markets will evolve by 2040. The research group estimated solar already rivals the cost of new coal power plants in Germany and the U.S. and by 2021 will do so in quick-growing markets such as China and India. The scenario suggests green energy is taking root more quickly than most experts anticipate. It would mean that global carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels may decline after 2026, a contrast with the International Energy Agency's central forecast, which sees emissions rising steadily for decades to come.

The report also found that through 2040:
-China and India represent the biggest markets for new power generation, drawing $4 trillion, or about 39 percent all investment in the industry.
-The cost of offshore wind farms, until recently the most expensive mainstream renewable technology, will slide 71 percent, making turbines based at sea another competitive form of generation.
-At least $239 billion will be invested in lithium-ion batteries, making energy storage devices a practical way to keep homes and power grids supplied efficiently and spreading the use of electric cars.
-Natural gas will reap $804 billion, bringing 16 percent more generation capacity and making the fuel central to balancing a grid that's increasingly dependent on power flowing from intermittent sources, like wind and solar.

Wireless Networking

T-Mobile Rolling Out 600 MHz Low-Band Wireless (yahoo.com) 47

s122604 quotes a report from Yahoo Finance: T-Mobile, the third largest U.S. national wireless operator, has decided to roll out 600 MHz wireless spectrum in its footprints by this summer. Low-band spectrum is essential for wireless operators as the signals can be transmitted over longer distances and through brick-and-mortar walls in cities. Smartphones for this radio frequency are likely to be made available by Samsung and other manufacturers this summer.
AI

Samsung's Bixby Voice Assistant Is Finally Coming to the US -- But Only As a Preview (techcrunch.com) 21

When the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ went on sale in the North American market, it was missing one of its most touted features -- the Bixby smart assistant. Technically, it was available on launch day but its voice functionality was missing due to issues with the English language version, thus rendering the dedicated Bixby button on the side of the S8 and S8+ nearly useless. Today, Bixby Voice is finally making its stateside debut -- but only as a preview. TechCrunch reports: The company is positioning this is a "sneak peak" for the feature that was initially planned to debut on its new flagship phones. Starting this week, a select number of Galaxy S8 and S8+ can sign up to be among the first in the U.S. to test it out. From the sound of it, Samsung's still working on some tweaks here, using this limited launch to basically do some public beta testing. The company didn't have a lot to say about the closed launch, aside from reiterating some of its grandiose plans for making Bixby, "an integral part of our connected ecosystem," according to the company's CTO.
Microsoft

You Can't Open the Microsoft Surface Laptop Without Literally Destroying It (vice.com) 313

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Microsoft's latest Surface Laptop may have earned glowing reviews from certain sections of the tech press, but don't tell that to iFixit. The company, which provides repair tools and manuals for popular gadgets like the iPhone and PlayStation, has handed the Surface Laptop a score of 0 out of 10 in terms of user repairability, stating definitively that the laptop "is not meant to be opened or repaired; you can't get inside without inflicting a lot of damage." iFixit's detailed teardown illustrates just how difficult it is to open the Surface. For starters, there are no screws, proprietary or otherwise, on the outside of the laptop. Instead, the laptop is literally welded together using a type of "plastic soldering" that is rare to see in consumer electronics. Anyone hoping to get inside the "beautifully designed and crafted" computer will have to pry it open with a knife or dedicated pick in order to defeat Microsoft's plastic welding. Whether or not it's actually worth going through the trouble of defeating said welding is another matter, given that the "glue-filled monstrosity," as iFixit dubs the laptop, has none of the user-upgradeable parts you'd want to see in a PC, like memory or storage.

"It literally can't be opened without destroying it," the repair company concludes. "If we could give it a -1 out of 10, we would," iFixit said in an emailed statement on Friday. "It's a Russian nesting doll from hell with everything hidden under adhesive and plastic spot welds. It is physically impossible to nondestructively open this device."

Android

Google Adds Android App Support To Additional Chromebooks (digitaltrends.com) 13

An anonymous reader shares an article: The list of Chromebooks that can officially run Android apps has been a bit limited, but that's changing. Google on Thursday updated its list of Chromebooks that now have official support, and 16 new machines have been added. They include: Acer Chromebook 11 N7 (C731, C731T), Acer Chromebook 15 (CB3-532), Asus Chromebook C202SA, ASUS Chromebook C300SA/C301SA, CTL NL61 Chromebook, Dell Chromebook 11 (3180), Dell Chromebook 11 Convertible (3189), Dell Chromebook 13 (3380), HP Chromebook 11 G5 EE, HP Chromebook 13 G1, Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook, Lenovo N23 Yoga Chromebook, Lenovo N22 Chromebook, Lenovo N23 Chromebook, Samsung Chromebook 3, and Mercer Chromebook NL6D.
Australia

Movie Piracy Cost Australian Network 'Hundreds of Millions of Dollars' (theaustralian.com.au) 119

Film television piracy and illegal downloads are partly to blame for Australian broadcaster Ten Network's woes, according to Village Roadshow co-chief executive Graham Burke. From a report: He said piracy had cost Ten "hundreds of millions of dollars" in potential advertising revenue because of lower ratings resulting from pirated versions of films supplied by 21st Century Fox under an onerous output deal with the Hollywood studio. He said copies of Fox's Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Revenant and The Peanuts Movie were stolen last year and shared illegally via a piracy website. "Piracy is a much bigger channel and an illicit economy than the three main commercial networks combined. It is ripping off viewers from legitimate, taxpaying enterprises," Mr Burke said. "The product that Ten is buying from 21st Century Fox and is now arriving have been pirated out of sight."
Businesses

Atari CEO Confirms the Company Is Working On a New Game Console (venturebeat.com) 91

Dean Takahashi, reporting for VentureBeat: Atari CEO Fred Chesnais told GamesBeat in an exclusive interview that his fabled video game company is working on a new game console. In doing so, the New York company might be cashing in on the popularity of retro games and Nintendo's NES Classic Edition, which turned out to be surprisingly popular for providing a method to easily play old games like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda in HD on a TV. Last week, Atari began teasing a new product called the Ataribox. The video released on a non-Atari web site showed a picture of some kind of hardware product, but many people wondered if the teaser was fake. Others had no idea what the video was showing about a "brand new Atari product years in the making."
Earth

Life On Mars: Elon Musk Reveals Details of His Colonisation Vision 229

Elon Musk has put his Mars-colonization vision to paper, and you can read it for free. SpaceX's billionaire founder and CEO published the plan, which he unveiled at a conference in Mexico in September 2016, in the journal New Space. From a report: The paper outlines early designs of the gigantic spacecraft, designed to carry 100 passengers, that he hopes to construct. "The thrust level is enormous," the paper states. "We are talking about a lift-off thrust of 13,000 tons, so it will be quite tectonic when it takes off." Creating a fully self-sustained civilisation of around one million people -- the ultimate goal -- would take 40-100 years according to the plans. Before full colonisation takes place, though, Musk needs to entice the first pioneers to pave the way.
Facebook

Facebook Exposes Employee Data To Terrorists (theguardian.com) 50

An anonymous reader writes: The Guardian is reporting that Facebook accidentally exposed the personal information of the moderators that remove terrorist content to the groups that posted that very content. From the article it looks like 6 of them actually had their profiles viewed. From the article, "The security lapse affected more than 1,000 workers across 22 departments at Facebook who used the company's moderation software to review and remove inappropriate content from the platform, including sexual material, hate speech and terrorist propaganda."

What are Facebook's responsibilities here?


Businesses

Amazon Says It Won't Replace Whole Foods Cashiers With Computers... Yet (cnbc.com) 109

An anonymous reader shares a report: Amazon said it has no current plans to automate the jobs of cashiers in Whole Foods stores after it finishes acquiring the grocery chain. It also isn't planning any layoffs, according to a spokesperson. There is some speculation, however, that Amazon may change its plans and use new technology inside of Whole Foods locations. Commenting on Amazon's announcement from earlier today, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner said, "Only one company on earth can buy grocery chain, be rumored to buy enterprise software company & in both cases be lauded for strategic vision."
Iphone

The Size of iPhone's Top Apps Has Increased by 1,000% in Four Years (sensortower.com) 128

Research firm Sensor Tower shares an analysis: As the minimum storage capacity of iPhone continues to increase -- it sits at 32 GB today on the iPhone 7, double the the iPhone 5S's 16 GB circa 2013 -- it's not surprising that the size of apps themselves is getting larger. In fact, Apple raised the app size cap from 2 GB to 4 GB in early 2015. What's surprising is how much faster they're increasing in size compared to device storage itself. According to Sensor Tower's analysis of App Intelligence, the total space required by the top 10 most installed U.S. iPhone apps has grown from 164 MB in May 2013 to about 1.8 GB last month, an 11x or approximately 1,000 percent increase in just four years. [...] Of the top 10 most popular U.S. iPhone apps, the minimum growth we saw in app size since May 2013 was 6x for both Spotify and Facebook's Messenger. As the chart above shows, other apps, especially Snapchat, have grown considerably more. In fact, Snapchat is more than 50 times larger than it was four years ago, clocking in at 203 MB versus just 4 MB at the start of the period we looked at. It's not the largest app among the top 10, however. That distinction goes to Facebook, which, at 388 MB, is 12 times larger than it was in May 2013 when it occupied 32 MB. It grew by about 100 MB in one update during September of last year.
Entertainment

Bat-Signal Shines In LA In Honour of Batman Star Adam West (bbc.com) 58

From a BBC report: LA's skyline has been lit up with the Bat-Signal to honour Batman star Adam West, who died last week. Mayor Eric Garcetti and LA Police chief Charlie Beck were expected to be at the public event at City Hall, which started about 21:00 local time (05:00 BST). The signal originated in the DC Comics strip as a sign that the caped crusader was needed to save the day. Animated comedy Family Guy will also honour West this weekend.
Government

Putin Claims Russia Proposed a Cyber War Treaty In 2015 But the Obama Admin Ignored Them (qz.com) 193

An anonymous reader writes: Russian president Vladimir Putin (who denies any Russian part in the hacking) claims the Obama administration ignored a proposal in 2015 that might have avoided all of this. His administration suggested working out a cyber treaty with the US but was ignored by Obama officials, Putin told film director Oliver Stone in Showtime's four-part series broadcast this week. "A year and a half ago, in fall 2015, we made proposal to our American partners that we work through these issues and conclude a treaty on the rules of behavior in this sphere," he said in Stone's documentary The Putin Interviews. "The American side was silent, they didn't reply to us."
Education

Mathematical Biology Is Our Secret Weapon In the Fight Against Disease (scientificamerican.com) 57

An anonymous reader shares excerpts from a Scientific American article: In recent years, increasingly detailed experimental procedures have lead to a huge influx in the biological data available to scientists. This data is being used to generate hypotheses about the complexity of previously abstruse biological systems. In order to test these hypotheses, they must be written down in the form of a model which can be interrogated to determine whether it correctly mimics the biological observations. Mathematics is the natural language in which to do this. In addition, the advent of, and subsequent increase in, computational ability over the last 60 years has enabled us to suggest and then interrogate complex mathematical models of biological systems. The realisation that biological systems can be treated mathematically, coupled with the computational ability to build and investigate detailed biological models, has led to the dramatic increase in the popularity of mathematical biology. Maths has become a vital weapon in the scientific armoury we have to tackle some of the most pressing questions in medical, biological and ecological science in the 21st century. By describing biological systems mathematically and then using the resulting models, we can gain insights that are impossible to access though experiments and verbal reasoning alone. Mathematical biology is incredibly important if we want to change biology from a descriptive into a predictive science -- giving us power, for example, to avert pandemics or to alter the effects of debilitating diseases.
Google

EU Poised To Fine Google More Than $1 Billion in Antitrust Case (marketwatch.com) 102

Google is braced for a fine of potentially more than 1bn euro ($1.18 billion) as Brussels prepares to make the first of three antitrust decisions on the search group's practices, the first sanction by a leading competition regulator on the way it operates. From a report: The penalty, expected to be announced in the coming weeks, could exceed the record 1.1 billion euro bill slapped on Intel, in 2009 for anti-competitive behavior in the computer-chip market, the two people told The Times. The European Commission's antitrust body declined to comment to MarketWatch on the FT report, but referred to the latest steps taken in the case against Google. In July last year, the commission reiterated its conclusion that the search giant had "abused its dominant position by systematically favoring its comparison shopping service in its search result pages." Google and its parent company Alphabet were then given 10 weeks to respond to the findings. Reuters reported last month that Google had attempted to settle the dispute with the EU three times in the last six years, but the sides had failed to reach a compromise.
Businesses

Amazon To Buy Whole Foods Market For $13.7 Billion (usatoday.com) 198

Amazon said Friday it would buy Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion as the giant internet retailer makes a deeper push into the grocery space. From a report: Amazon has dabbled in brick-and-mortar operations, experimenting with a bookstore that opened in New York last month and plans to open "no-checkout" convenience stores. But the Whole Foods acquisition represents a dramatic departure from its early business model founded on online retailing and related technology. Grocery retail is a notoriously thin-profit-margin business. And Whole Foods -- often derided as "Whole Paycheck" -- has struggled in recent years to keep up with emerging competitors that are expanding nationwide with cheaper items. Traditional grocery stores have also widened their organic food selections in hopes of retaining customers who are increasingly looking to eat healthily.
Patents

Amazon Granted a Patent That Prevents In-Store Shoppers From Online Price Checking (theverge.com) 465

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Amazon's long been a go-to for people to online price compare while shopping at brick-and-mortars. Now, a new patent granted to the company could prevent people from doing just that inside Amazon's own stores. The patent, titled "Physical Store Online Shopping Control," details a mechanism where a retailer can intercept network requests like URLs and search terms that happen on its in-store Wi-Fi, then act upon them in various ways. The document details in great length how a retailer like Amazon would use this information to its benefit. If, for example, the retailer sees you're trying to access a competitor's website to price check an item, it could compare the requested content to what's offered in-store and then send price comparison information or a coupon to your browser instead. Or it could suggest a complementary item, or even block content outright. Amazon's patent also lets the retailer know your physical whereabouts, saying, "the location may be triangulated utilizing information received from a multitude of wireless access points." The retailer can then use this information to try and upsell you on items in your immediate area or direct a sales representative to your location.
Math

The Quirky Habits of Certified Science Geniuses (bbc.com) 190

dryriver shares a report from the BBC: Celebrated inventor and physicist Nikola Tesla swore by toe exercises -- every night, he'd repeatedly "squish" his toes, 100 times for each foot, according to the author Marc J Seifer. While it's not entirely clear exactly what that exercise involved, Tesla claimed it helped to stimulate his brain cells. The most prolific mathematician of the 20th Century, Paul Erdos, preferred a different kind of stimulant: amphetamine, which he used to fuel 20-hour number benders. When a friend bet him $500 that he couldn't stop for a month, he won but complained "You've set mathematics back a month." Newton, meanwhile, bragged about the benefits of celibacy. When he died in 1727, he had transformed our understanding of the natural world forever and left behind 10 million words of notes; he was also, by all accounts, still a virgin (Tesla was also celibate, though he later claimed he fell in love with a pigeon). It's common knowledge that sleep is good for your brain -- and Einstein took this advice more seriously than most. He reportedly slept for at least 10 hours per day -- nearly one and a half times as much as the average American today (6.8 hours). But can you really slumber your way to a sharper mind? Many of the world's most brilliant scientific minds were also fantastically weird. From Pythagoras' outright ban on beans to Benjamin Franklin's naked "air baths," the path to greatness is paved with some truly peculiar habits.
Space

New Evidence That All Stars Are Born In Pairs (phys.org) 90

InfiniteZero shares a report from Phys.Org: Did our sun have a twin when it was born 4.5 billion years ago? Almost certainly yes -- though not an identical twin. And so did every other sun-like star in the universe, according to a new analysis by a theoretical physicist from UC Berkeley and a radio astronomer from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory at Harvard University. The new assertion is based on a radio survey of a giant molecular cloud filled with recently formed stars in the constellation Perseus, and a mathematical model that can explain the Perseus observations only if all sunlike stars are born with a companion. "We ran a series of statistical models to see if we could account for the relative populations of young single stars and binaries of all separations in the Perseus molecular cloud, and the only model that could reproduce the data was one in which all stars form initially as wide (more than 500 astronomical units) binaries," said co-author Steven Stahler, a UC Berkeley research astronomer. "These systems then either shrink or break apart within a million years." The study has been published in April on the arXiv server.

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