Earth

Plastic Fibers Found In 83 Percent of World's Tap Water, Study Reveals (theguardian.com) 210

Robotron23 writes: Research published by Orb Media, a nonprofit journalism group, has revealed that microplastics have contaminated high proportions of drinking water and bottled water. Samples from the United States tested positive in 94% of instances, while Europe's contamination averages around 72%. Tests were undertaken at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, with lead researcher Dr. Anne Marie Mahon noting the risk of plastics carrying bacteria, and commenting: "In terms of fibers, the diameter is 10 microns across and it would be very unusual to find that level of filtration in our drinking water systems." As for the culprit, the report mentions the atmosphere as one obvious source, "with fibers shed by the everyday wear and tear of clothes and carpets." Another potential source is tumble dryers, "with almost 80% of U.S. households having dryers that usually vent to the open air." Overall, the investigation by Orb Media found that 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibers.
EU

Intel's $1.3 Billion Fine In Europe Requires Review, Court Says (nytimes.com) 72

cdreimer writes: According to a report in The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source), the Court of Justice in the European Union has ordered the lower courts to revisit the $1.3 billion anti-trust fine levied against Intel in 2009, giving hope to Google and other American technology firms to avoid being fined for being dominant in the EU markets. From the report: "The highest court in the European Union ordered on Wednesday that a $1.3 billion antitrust fine doled out against Intel nearly a decade ago be revisited, a ruling that could give hope to Google and other American technology giants facing challenges to their dominance in the region. The decision to send the case back to a lower court for re-examination is a blow to regional competition regulators, whose oversight of digital services has been among the world's most aggressive. It could also embolden American technology companies, which have long complained that antitrust officials in Europe target them unfairly, to challenge rulings and investigations against them. The move by the Court of Justice of the European Union raises the prospect that the 1.06 billion euro fine on Intel in 2009, equivalent to $1.26 billion at current exchange rates, could be reduced or scrapped entirely. The penalty -- at the time the largest of its kind -- was upheld by European courts in 2014 and will most likely be the subject of legal battles for years to come. That record fine was overtaken by a 2.4 billion euro penalty against Google in June. The Silicon Valley giant was accused of using its dominant position in online search to give preferential treatment to its internet shopping service over those of its rivals."
Google

Google Fiber Cuts Kansas City Resident's Internet Access Over 12 Cent Dispute (kansascity.com) 191

New submitter twentysixV writes: Google Fiber offered a seven-year internet service if you pay upfront for connecting to your house, including taxes and fees. Victoria Tane signed this deal: $300 to connect, plus $25.08 for taxes and fees. Google Fiber internally accounts it as ongoing recurring payments. Kansas then raises taxes. Instead of absorbing the tax increase for customers who paid upfront, Google Fiber books it to the customers. To punish the customer for now being late on paying 12 cents she was not aware she now owed for additional taxes, Google then cut her internet access. According to Kansas City News, Tane tried to pay but Google wouldn't take checks for less than $10. Google reportedly tried contacting her via emails and voice messages, but Tane never saw them. When asked about the incident, Google Fiber issued a statement: "As with any customer who has a balance due, we made repeated attempts to reach Ms. Tane to resolve the matter. Google Fiber values our customers, and we have since worked with Ms. Tane to restore her Fiber service." Google forgave the total, restored Tane's service in less than an hour and credited her account for $30, reports Kansas City News.
Transportation

Google's Street View Cars Are Now Giant, Mobile 3D Scanners (arstechnica.com) 42

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Google's got a hot new ride. The company has a new Street View car with updated cameras, and -- surprisingly -- a set of Lidar (Light, Detection and Ranging) cans! Google doesn't have anything up officially about this, but Wired has the scoop on the new vehicles. The camera system upgrade -- the first in eight years -- greatly improves the image quality while simplifying the rig. In the main ball, Google is down from 15 cameras to seven, making the whole package a lot smaller. These 20MP cameras are aimed all around the car, and the pictures they take are stitched together into a spherical image for Google Maps. There's more to the cars than just the ball though: there are also a pair of "HD" cameras that face directly left and right. These are dedicated to reading street signs, business names, and even posted store hours; those images are funneled to Google's cloud computers for visual processing. The end result of the new cameras will be prettier Street View shots, with higher resolution, better colors, and fewer stitching errors. The better images should also result in more data for Google's various visual feature-detection algorithms.

Wired's report focuses almost entirely on the new cameras, but I think the the most interesting additions are the two LIDAR pucks that hang just below the camera ball. These are the ubiquitous Velodyne VLP-16 "Puck" sensors, allowing the to car "see" in 3D in 360 degrees. These $8,000 Lidar sensors are most commonly used in autonomous car prototypes, so to see them on a Street View car is unexpected. Don't expect the Street View cars to start driving themselves anytime soon -- as Google Street View's Technical Program Manager Steve Silverman says in Wired's video, the Lidar sensors "are used to position us in the world."

AI

Hackers Can Take Control of Siri and Alexa By Whispering To Them in Frequencies Humans Can't Hear (fastcodesign.com) 116

Chinese researchers have discovered a vulnerability in voice assistants from Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Samsung, and Huawei. It affects every iPhone and Macbook running Siri, any Galaxy phone, any PC running Windows 10, and even Amazon's Alexa assistant. From a report: Using a technique called the DolphinAttack, a team from Zhejiang University translated typical vocal commands into ultrasonic frequencies that are too high for the human ear to hear, but perfectly decipherable by the microphones and software powering our always-on voice assistants. This relatively simple translation process lets them take control of gadgets with just a few words uttered in frequencies none of us can hear. The researchers didn't just activate basic commands like "Hey Siri" or "Okay Google," though. They could also tell an iPhone to "call 1234567890" or tell an iPad to FaceTime the number. They could force a Macbook or a Nexus 7 to open a malicious website. They could order an Amazon Echo to "open the backdoor." Even an Audi Q3 could have its navigation system redirected to a new location. "Inaudible voice commands question the common design assumption that adversaries may at most try to manipulate a [voice assistant] vocally and can be detected by an alert user," the research team writes in a paper just accepted to the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security.
Android

Android Oreo's Rollback Protection Will Block OS Downgrades (androidpolice.com) 119

jbernardo writes: Google is using the boiling frog method to exclude power users and custom ROMs from android. A new feature in Android 8.0 Oreo, called "Rollback Protection" and included in the "Verified Boot" changes, will prevent a device from booting should it be rolled back to an earlier firmware. The detailed information is here. As it rejects an image if its "rollback index" is inferior than the one in "tamper evident storage," any attempts to install a previous version of the official, signed ROM will make the device unbootable. Much like iOS (without the rollback grace period) or the extinct Lumias. It is explained in the recommended boot workflow and notes below, together with some other "smart" ideas.

Now, this might seem like a good idea at first, but let's just just imagine this on a PC. It would mean no easy rollback from windows 10 to 7 after a forced installation, and doing that or installing linux would mean a unreasonably complex bootloader unlocking, with all your data wiped. Add safetynet to the mix, and you would also be blocked from watching Netflix or accessing your banking sites if you dared to install linux or rollback windows. To add insult to injury, unlocked devices will stop booting for at least 10 seconds to show some paternalist message on how unlocking is bad for your health: "If the device has a screen and buttons (for example if it's a phone) the warning is to be shown for at least 10 seconds before the boot process continues." Now, and knowing that most if not all android bootloaders have vulnerabilities/backdoors, how can this be defended, even with the "security/think of the children" approach? This has no advantages other than making it hard for users to install ROMs or to revert to a previous official ROM to restore missing functionality.

Twitter

Twitter is Just Randomly Deleting People's Lists -- and No One Knows Why (theregister.co.uk) 115

Twitter has silently, and without warning, deleted reams of lists users have spent months curating. These lists are used by journalists, activists, and loads of other people, to organize and manage twits they follow and aggregate their tweets, links, photos, and videos, reports The Register. From the article: They are, in a way, personalized RSS feeds of information from the Twitter firehose. For the past several days, though, lists have been disappearing from folks' profiles with no notification, and no explanation from Twitter thus far. Some private, or locked, lists have been made public. Among those impacted by the cockup is Australian freelance journalist and Cryptoparty founder Asher Wolf, who said the issue appears to be tied those who use the mobile Twitter App. Switching to different platforms doesn't help, however.
Advertising

Facebook Sold Ads To Russian-Linked Accounts During Election (cnet.com) 138

Facebook announced on Wednesday that it sold $100,000 worth of ads to inauthentic accounts likely linked to Russia during the election. The ad spending spree took place between June of 2015 and May of 2017, and was associated with roughly 3,000 ads. CNET reports: "Our analysis suggests these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia," Alex Stamos, Facebook's chief security officer, wrote in a blog post. Facebook said it's continuing to investigate the issue and reported its findings to U.S. authorities.

Most of the ads and accounts didn't have to explicitly do with the election or either of the then-candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Instead, they were focused on divisive political topics, including LGBT issues, immigration and gun rights.

Chrome

Chrome 61 Arrives With JavaScript Modules, WebUSB Support (venturebeat.com) 115

The latest version of Google Chrome has launched, bringing a host of new developer features like JavaScript modules and WebUSB support. An anonymous Slashdot reader shares a report from VentureBeat: Google has launched Chrome 61 for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Additions in this release include JavaScript modules and WebUSB support, among other developer features. You can update to the latest version now using the browser's built-in silent updater or download it directly from google.com/chrome. Google also released Chrome 61 for Android today. In addition to performance and stability fixes, you can expect two new features: Translate pages with a more compact toolbar and pick images with an improved image picker.

Chrome now supports JavaScript modules natively via the new element, letting developers declare a script's dependencies. Modules are already popular in third-party build tools, which use them to bundle only the required scripts. Native support means the browser can fetch granular dependencies in parallel, taking advantage of caching, avoiding duplications across the page, and ensuring the script executes in the correct order, all without a build step. Google recommends these two blog posts for more information: ECMAScript modules in browsers and ES6 Modules in Depth. Speaking of JavaScript, Chrome 61 also upgrades the browser's V8 JavaScript engine to version 6.1. Developers can expect performance improvements and a binary size reduction. The WebUSB API meanwhile allows web apps to access user-permitted USB devices. This enables all the functionality provided by hardware peripherals such as keyboards, mice, printers, and gamepads, while still preserving the security guarantees of the web.

Power

Hackers Have Penetrated Energy Grid, Symantec Warns (fortune.com) 69

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Fortune: Hackers have been burrowing their way inside the critical infrastructure of energy and other companies in the U.S. and elsewhere, warns cybersecurity giant Symantec. In a new report, Symantec claims that the threat of cyberattack-induced power outages in the west has elevated from a theoretical concern to a legitimate one in recent months. "We're talking about activity we're seeing on actual operational networks that control the actual power grid," Eric Chien, technical director of security technology and response at Symantec, told Fortune on a call. Reports surfaced over the summer of hackers targeting staff at nuclear energy facilities with phishing attacks, designed to steal login credentials or install malware on machines. The extent of the campaign as well as the question of whether the attackers had breached operational IT networks, rather than merely administrative ones, was unclear at the time. Symantec is now erasing all doubt. "There are no more technical hurdles for them to cause some sort of disruption," Chien said of the hackers. "All that's left is really motivation." Symantec detailed its findings in a report released Wednesday morning. The paper tracks the exploits of a hacker group that Symantec has dubbed DragonFly 2.0, an outfit that the company says it has linked to an earlier series of attacks perpetrated between 2011 and 2014 by a group it dubbed DragonFly.
Facebook

Facebook Essentially Has Been Telling Advertisers It Can Reach More People Than Actually Exist, Analyst Finds (marketwatch.com) 117

Facebook claims its ads have the potential to reach more people than recent U.S. census data shows exist, and that's troublesome for one analyst, who thinks third-party measurement services stand to benefit. From a report: Recently, Pivotal Research Group analyst Brian Wieser was intrigued by a trade publication study in Australia that said Facebook was claiming to reach 1.7 million more 16- to 39-year olds than actually existed in the country, according to Australian census data. In reproducing the study for the U.S., Wieser said Facebook's Ads Manager claims it can potentially reach 41 million 18- to 24-year-olds, 60 million 25- to 34-year-olds, and 61 million 35- to 49-year-olds. The problem arises when Wieser pulls up U.S. Census data from a year ago, showing 31 million 18- to 24-year-olds, 45 million 25- to 34-year-olds, and 61 million 35- to 49-year-olds. The upshot: Where is Facebook getting the extra 25 million 18- to 34-year-olds that the U.S. census did not count? "Conversations with agency executives on this topic indicate to us that the gap between Facebook and census figures is not widely known," Wieser said. "While Facebook's measurement issues won't necessarily deter advertisers from spending money with Facebook, they will help traditional TV sellers justify existing budget shares and could restrain Facebook's growth in video ad sales on the margins."
AI

Executives Say AI Will Change Business, But Aren't Doing Much About It (axios.com) 76

American business executives expect artificial intelligence to have a large impact on their companies, but few are actually doing anything with AI, according to a new MIT- Boston Consulting Group survey. From a report: Key takeaways, per co-author and BCG senior partner Martin Reeves: Nearly 85% of the 3,000-plus executives surveyed expect AI will give them a competitive advantage But their adoption of AI isn't matching up: just 1 in 5 of the companies use AI in some way, and only 1 in 20 incorporate it extensively. "Less than 39% of all companies have an AI strategy in place," they wrote. The barriers for adoption include: access to data to train algorithms, an understanding of benefits to their business, a shortage of talent, competing investment priorities, security concerns, and a lack of support among leaders.
Transportation

India Just Might Be Getting a Hyperloop (wired.com) 149

California may have produced the horrorshow traffic that prompted Elon Musk to pitch the hyperloop, but it's hardly the only place eager to ditch cars for levitating pods hurtling through tubes at speeds approaching the sound barrier. India wants in, too. From a report: Today, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, one of the companies formed to realize Musk's vision of tube travel, announced it has signed a deal with the state of Andhra Pradesh, in southeast India. Working with the state's economic development board, HTT will spend six months studying possible routes for a hyperloop connecting the cities of Vijaywada and Amaravati -- a move that would transform a 27-mile, hour-long drive into a six-minute whoosh. And then, over an undisclosed period of time, the Los Angeles-based company says it will build the thing. The India deal is just the latest for HTT, which also plans to build networks of tubes in South Korea, Slovakia, and Abu Dhabi. But to make all -- or any -- of that happen, the company's 800 engineers (most of whom have day jobs and work on this in their spare time, in exchange for stock options) must first master the practical aspects of the hyperloop. That means building and maintaining a near-vacuum state across miles of tubes, propelling levitating pods through them, getting people or cargo into and out of those pods, and much more.
United States

House Passes Bill To Speed Deployment of Self-driving Cars (go.com) 176

The House voted Wednesday to speed the introduction of self-driving cars by giving the federal government authority to exempt automakers from safety standards not applicable to the technology, and to permit deployment of up to 100,000 of the vehicles annually over the next several years. From a report: The bill was passed by a voice vote. State and local officials have said it usurps their authority by giving to the federal government sole authority to regulate the vehicles' design and performance. States would still decide whether to permit self-driving cars on their roads. Automakers have complained that a patchwork of laws states have passed in recent years would hamper deployment of the vehicles, which they see as the future of the industry. Self-driving cars are forecast to dramatically lower traffic fatalities once they are on roads in significant numbers, among other benefits. Early estimates indicate there were more than 40,000 traffic fatalities last year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 94 percent of crashes involve human error.
EU

EU Presidency Calls For Massive Internet Filtering, Leaked Document Shows (edri.org) 236

An anonymous reader shares a report: A Council of the European Union document leaked by Statewatch on 30 August reveals that during the summer months, that Estonia (current EU Presidency) has been pushing the other Member States to strengthen indiscriminate internet surveillance, and to follow in the footsteps of China regarding online censorship. Standing firmly behind its belief that filtering the uploads is the way to go, the Presidency has worked hard in order to make the proposal for the new copyright Directive even more harmful than the Commission's original proposal, and pushing it further into the realms of illegality. According to the leaked document, the text suggests two options for each of the two most controversial proposals: the so-called "link tax" or ancillary copyright and the upload filter.
Communications

Like Netflix? T-Mobile Is Giving it Away For Free (cnet.com) 105

Roger Cheng, writing for CNET: T-Mobile and Netflix are new BFFs. The primary beneficiaries of this new friendship will be subscribers to T-Mobile's "One" unlimited data plans, many of whom will get access to Netflix for free, T-Mobile CEO John Legere said on an "Un-carrier Next" webcast video on Wednesday. But the freebie only works if you have at least two T-Mobile One unlimited data plans (single line customers are out of luck). The free Netflix access arrives on Sept. 12. The alliance is just the latest proof that the worlds of video and mobile are colliding. AT&T is in the process of buying Time Warner -- home of "Game of Thrones" and Batman -- so it can own more of the content you watch, and has bundled HBO for free to some of its higher end wireless customers. Verizon has invested in creating short-form video geared towards younger audiences and a mobile video service called Go90.The offer is for the T-Mobile ONE plan with 2+ lines. You can compare T-Mobile plans here.
Hardware

Researchers Find New Way To Build Quantum Computers (reuters.com) 53

An anonymous reader shares a report: Researchers in Australia have found a new way to build quantum computers which they say would make them dramatically easier and cheaper to produce at scale. Quantum computers promise to harness the strange ability of subatomic particles to exist in more than one state at a time to solve problems that are too complex or time-consuming for existing computers. The team from the University of New South Wales say they have invented a new chip design based on a new type of quantum bit, the basic unit of information in a quantum computer, known as a qubit. The new design would allow for a silicon quantum processor to overcome two limitations of existing designs: the need for atoms to be placed precisely, and allowing them to be placed further apart and still be coupled. Crucially, says project leader Andrea Mello, this so-called "flip-flop qubit" means the chips can be produced using the same device technology as existing computer chips.
AI

IBM Pitched Its Watson Supercomputer as a Revolution in Cancer Care. It's Nowhere Close (statnews.com) 108

IBM began selling Watson to recommend the best cancer treatments to doctors around the world three years ago. But is it really doing its job? Not so much. An investigation by Stat found that the supercomputer isn't living up to the lofty expectations IBM created for it. It is still struggling with the basic step of learning about different forms of cancer. Only a few dozen hospitals have adopted the system, which is a long way from IBM's goal of establishing dominance in a multibillion-dollar market. And at foreign hospitals, physicians complained its advice is biased toward American patients and methods of care. From the report: The interviews suggest that IBM, in its rush to bolster flagging revenue, unleashed a product without fully assessing the challenges of deploying it in hospitals globally. While it has emphatically marketed Watson for cancer care, IBM hasn't published any scientific papers demonstrating how the technology affects physicians and patients. As a result, its flaws are getting exposed on the front lines of care by doctors and researchers who say that the system, while promising in some respects, remains undeveloped. [...] Perhaps the most stunning overreach is in the company's claim that Watson for Oncology, through artificial intelligence, can sift through reams of data to generate new insights and identify, as an IBM sales rep put it, "even new approaches" to cancer care. STAT found that the system doesn't create new knowledge and is artificially intelligent only in the most rudimentary sense of the term.
Books

Lost Languages Discovered in One of the World's Oldest Continuously Run Libraries (smithsonianmag.com) 164

Saint Catherine's Monastery, a sacred Christian site nestled in the shadow of Mount Sinai, is home to one of the world's oldest continuously used libraries. Thousands of manuscripts and books are kept there -- some of which contain hidden treasures. An anonymous reader shares a report: Now, a team of researchers is using new technology to uncover texts that were erased and written over by the monks who lived and worked at the monastery. Many of these original texts were written in languages well known to researchers -- Latin, Greek, Arabic -- but others were inscribed in long-lost languages that are rarely seen in the historical record. Manuscripts with multiple layers of writing are known as palimpsests, and there are about 130 of them at St. Catherine's Monastery, according to the website of the Early Manuscript Electronic Library, which has been leading the initiative to uncover the original texts. With the rise of Islam in the 7th century, Christian sites in the Sinai Desert began to disappear, and Saint Catherine's found itself in relative isolation. Monks turned to reusing older parchments when supplies at the monastery ran scarce. To uncover the palimpsests' secret texts, researchers photographed thousands of pages multiple times, illuminating each page with different-colored lights. They also photographed the pages with light shining onto them from behind, or from an oblique angle, which helped "highlight tiny bumps and depressions in the surface," Gray writes. They then fed the information into a computer algorithm, which is able to distinguish the more recent texts from the originals.
Android

TrustZone Downgrade Attack Opens Android Devices To Old Vulnerabilities (bleepingcomputer.com) 45

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Bleeping Computer: An attacker can downgrade components of the Android TrustZone technology -- a secure section of smartphone CPUs -- to older versions that feature known vulnerabilities. The attacker can then use previously published exploit code to attack up-to-date Android OS versions. The research team proved their attack in tests on devices running the ARM TrustZone technology, such as Samsung Galaxy S7, Huawei Mate 9, Google Nexus 5, and Google Nexus 6. They replaced updated versions of the Widevine trustlet with an older version that was vulnerable to CVE-2015-6639, a vulnerability in Android's Qualcomm Secure Execution Environment (QSEE) -- Qualcomm's name for its ARM TrustZone version that runs on Qualcomm chips. This vulnerability allows attackers root level access to the TrustZone OS, which indirectly grants the attack control over the entire phone. The research paper is available here, and one of the researcher's authors explains the attack chain in an interview here.
Earth

A Powerful Solar Storm Is Bringing Hazards and Rare Auroras Our Way (fastcompany.com) 72

tedlistens shares a report from Fast Company: The Space Weather Prediction Center has upgraded a geomagnetic storm watch for September 6 and 7 to a level only occasionally seen, but scientists say it's nothing to be too alarmed about. They do recommend looking for an unusual display of the aurora -- the northern lights caused by a disturbance of the magnetosphere -- in areas of the U.S. not used to seeing them: "really in the upper tier of the United States," says Robert Rutledge, lead of operations at the center, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The storm could pose an "elevated radiation risk to passengers and crew in high-flying aircraft at far north or south latitudes," a NOAA warning says, and intermittently impact high frequency RF communications, which may require some transpolar flight routes to divert to lower geomagnetic latitudes (a shift that would cost the airlines more). There's a slim chance of isolated interfere with high-precision GPS readings, but those issues usually only tend to arise with stronger storms.

The so-called G3 level storm is the result of what's called a coronal mass ejection, where magnetic interactions on the sun launch part of its outer atmosphere of superheated plasma into space. When that burst of radiation gets near earth -- barreling toward us at a million miles per hour, it takes about two days to make the journey -- its magnetic field interacts with Earth's, Rutledge says. Northern U.S. and Canadian residents hoping to catch a glimpse of the aurora will get their best shot on Wednesday night and early Thursday, and the Space Weather Prediction Center posts 30-minute forecasts of the colorful sky phenomenon's intensity.

IBM

Lenovo Looks To Commemorate 25th Anniversary of IBM's Notebook Brand With Thinkpad 25 (theregister.co.uk) 132

New submitter Provocateur writes: Lenovo will be marking the 25th anniversary of IBM's well known notebook with the Thinkpad 25. Andrew Orlowski writes via The Register: "The long-awaited 'retro' Thinkpad will be based on the guts of a contemporary T470 laptop, Lenovo's business workhorse, according to a German certification site. Lenovo inherited IBM's notebook brand 12 years ago, and with it a design classic. However, in 2012 Lenovo saw fit to 'modernize' the iconic keyboard, along with other unwelcome changes. This didn't meet with approval from some stalwarts, who clung to the superior X220 and T420 lines, the last that you could buy with the 7 row QWERTY. Two years ago Lenovo's design chief Dave Hill acknowledged that some people 'would stand in line' for the classic version. In June, Hill confirmed that for the Thinkpad's 25th anniversary this year a retro edition would indeed be produced, which Hill promised 'will embody many of the things people asked for.'

The German certification site has found the 'Thinkpad 25' variant described as a Thinkpad T470 here (hat-tip to NoteBook Check). A Chinese notebook forum has a picture purporting to be the Thinkpad 25."

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