United States

Household Products Now Rival Cars As a Source of Air Pollution, Say Scientists (theguardian.com) 85

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Household cleaners, paints and perfumes have become substantial sources of urban air pollution as strict controls on vehicles have reduced road traffic emissions, scientists say. Researchers in the US looked at levels of synthetic "volatile organic compounds", or VOCs, in roadside air in Los Angeles and found that as much came from industrial and household products refined from petroleum as from vehicle exhaust pipes. The compounds are an important contributor to air pollution because when they waft into the atmosphere, they react with other chemicals to produce harmful ozone or fine particulate matter known as PM2.5. Ground level ozone can trigger breathing problems by making the airways constrict, while fine airborne particles drive heart and lung disease. Writing in the journal Science, De Gouw and others report that the amount of VOCs emitted from household and industrial products is two to three times higher than official US estimates suggest. The result is surprising since only about 5% of raw oil is turned into chemicals for consumer products, with 95% ending up as fuel.

Electronics-Recycling Innovator Faces Prison For Extending Computers' Lives 288

schwit1 shares a report from Los Angeles Times: Prosecutors said 33-year-old [Eric Lundgren, an electronic-waste recycling innovator] ripped off Microsoft by manufacturing 28,000 counterfeit discs with the company's Windows operating system on them. He was convicted of conspiracy and copyright infringement, which brought a 15-month prison sentence and a $50,000 fine. In a rare move though, a federal appeals court has granted an emergency stay of the sentence, giving Lundgren another chance to make his argument that the whole thing was a misunderstanding. Lundgren does not deny that he made the discs or that he hoped to sell them. But he says this was no profit-making scheme. By his account, he just wanted to make it easier to extend the usefulness of secondhand computers -- keeping more of them out of the trash.

The case centers on "restore discs," which can be used only on computers that already have the licensed Windows software and can be downloaded free from the computer's manufacturer, in this case Dell. The discs are routinely provided to buyers of new computers to enable them to reinstall their operating systems if the computers' hardware fails or must be wiped clean. But they often are lost by the time used computers find their way to a refurbisher. Lundgren said he thought electronics companies wanted the reuse of computers to be difficult so that people would buy new ones. He thought that producing and selling restore discs to computer refurbishers -- saving them the hassle of downloading the software and burning new discs -- would encourage more secondhand sales. In his view, the new owners were entitled to the software, and this just made it easier. The government, and Microsoft, did not see it that way. Federal prosecutors in Florida obtained a 21-count indictment against Lundgren and his business partner, and Microsoft filed a letter seeking $420,000 in restitution for lost sales. Lundgren claims that the assistant U.S. attorney on the case told him, "Microsoft wants your head on a platter and I'm going to give it to them."

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Is Under Investigation Over $3.9 Billion Media Deal 145

According to a report in The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled), Ajit Pai and the FCC approved a set of rules in 2017 to allow television broadcasters to increase the number of stations they own. Weeks after the rules were approved, Sinclair Broadcasting announced a $3.9 billion deal to buy Tribune Media. PC Gamer reports: The deal was made possible by the new set of rules, which subsequently raised some eyebrows. Notably, the FCC's inspector general is reportedly investigating if Pai and his aides abused their position by pushing for the rule changes that would make the deal possible, and timing them to benefit Sinclair. The extent of the investigation is not clear, nor is how long it will take. However, it does bring up the question of whether Pai had coordinated with Sinclair, and it could force him to publicly address the topic, which he hasn't really done up to this point.

Legislators first pushed for an investigation into this matter last November. At the time, a spokesman for the FCC representing Pai called the allegations "baseless" and alluded to it being a partisan play by those who oppose the chairman. "For many years, Chairman Pai has called on the FCC to update its media ownership regulations," the FCC spokesman said. "The chairman is sticking to his long-held views, and given the strong case for modernizing these rules, it's not surprising that those who disagree with him would prefer to do whatever they can to distract from the merits of his proposals."

Bloomberg Starts Tracking Tesla Model 3 Production (bloomberg.com) 55

WindBourne writes: Tesla is producing their Model 3, but is apparently tired of answering critics about production. So, they quit telling. Now, Bloomberg has an active tracker that shows the total production and deliveries, along with the production per week, which is probably more important. In fact, they are now up to 1,025 Model 3s per week, and it is apparent that Tesla is growing by leaps and bounds on this as parts of the manufacturing line are converted to full robotics. Bloomberg reportedly tracks Tesla's production via Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs), which are unique strings of digits displayed on every new car sold in the U.S., along with "data from official U.S. government resources, social media reports, and direct communication with Tesla owners." While the company is now building approximately 1,025 Model 3 vehicles a week, Bloomberg estimates that Tesla has manufactured a total of 7,438 Model 3s so far.

Pro-Gun Russian Bots Flood Twitter After Parkland Shooting (wired.com) 705

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Wired: In the wake of Wednesday's Parkland, Florida school shooting, which resulted in 17 deaths, troll and bot-tracking sites reported an immediate uptick in related tweets from political propaganda bots and Russia-linked Twitter accounts. Hamilton 68, a website created by Alliance for Securing Democracy, tracks Twitter activity from accounts it has identified as linked to Russian influence campaigns. On RoBhat Labs' Botcheck.me, a website created by two Berkeley students to track 1500 political propaganda bots, all of the top two-word phrases used in the last 24 hours -- excluding President Trump's name -- are related to the tragedy: School shooting, gun control, high school, Florida school. The top hashtags from the last 24 hours include Parkland, guncontrol, and guncontrolnow.

While RoBhat Labs tracks general political bots, Hamilton 68 focuses specifically on those linked to the Russian government. According to the group's data, the top link shared by Russia-linked accounts in the last 48 hours is a 2014 Politifact article that looks critically at a statistic cited by pro-gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety. Twitter accounts tracked by the group have used the old link to try to debunk today's stats about the frequency of school shootings. Another top link shared by the network covers the "deranged" Instagram account of the shooter, showing images of him holding guns and knives, wearing army hats, and a screenshot of a Google search of the phrase "Allahu Akbar." Characterizing shooters as deranged lone wolves with potential terrorist connections is a popular strategy of pro-gun groups because of the implication that new gun laws could not have prevented their actions. Meanwhile, some accounts with large bot followings are already spreading misinformation about the shooter's ties to far-left group Antifa, even though the Associated Press reported that he was a member of a local white nationalist group. The Twitter account Education4Libs, which RoBhat Labs shows is one among the top accounts tweeted at by bots, is among the prominent disseminators of that idea.


Google To Kill Off 'View Image' Button In Search 153

Google is removing the "view image" button that appeared when you clicked on a picture, which allowed you to open the image alone. The provision to remove the button is part of a deal Google has made with stock-photo agency Getty to end their legal battle. The Register reported last week that the two companies announced a partnership that "will allow Google to continue carrying Getty-owned photographs in its image and web search results." The Verge reports: The change is essentially meant to frustrate users. Google has long been under fire from photographers and publishers who felt that image search allowed people to steal their pictures, and the removal of the view image button is one of many changes being made in response. The intention seems to be either stopping people from taking an image altogether or driving them through to the website where the image is found, so that the website can serve ads and get revenue and so people are more likely to see any associated copyright information. That's great news for publishers, but it's an annoying additional step for someone trying to find a picture. Now you'll have to wait for a website to load and then scroll through it to find the image. Websites sometimes disable the ability to right click, too, which would make it even harder for someone to grab a photo they're looking for.

In addition to removing the "view image" button, Google has also removed the "search by image" button that appeared when you opened up a photo, too. This change isn't quite as big, however. You'll still be able to do a reverse image search by dragging the image to the search bar, and Google will still display related images when you click on a search result. The button may have been used by people to find un-watermarked versions of images they were interested in, which is likely part of why Google pulled it.

Windows 10 Compatibility Issues Forcing US Air Force To Scrap a Significant Number of Computers (betanews.com) 151

The US Department of Defense has decreed that the Air Force must complete its migration to Windows 10 by March 31 2018. From a report: Failure to do so will result in any systems not running Microsoft's latest operating system being denied access to the Air Force Network. However, because Windows 10 is not compatible with many of the Air Force's existing systems, a significant number of computers will need to be replaced in order to hit the deadline.

119,000 Passports, Photo IDs of FedEx Customers Found On Unsecured Amazon Server (gizmodo.com) 34

FedEx left scanned passports, drivers licenses, and other documentation belonging to thousands of its customers exposed on a publicly accessible Amazon S3 server, reports Gizmodo. "The scanned IDs originated from countries all over the world, including the United States, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Japan, China, and several European countries. The IDs were attached to forms that included several pieces of personal information, including names, home addresses, phone numbers, and zip codes." From the report: The server, discovered by researchers at the Kromtech Security Center, was secured as of Tuesday. According to Kromtech, the server belonged to Bongo International LLC, a company that aided customers in performing shipping calculations and currency conversations, among other services. Bongo was purchased by FedEx in 2014 and renamed FedEx Cross-Border International a little over a year later. The service was discontinued in April 2017. According to Kromtech, more than 119,000 scanned documents were discovered on the server. As the documents were dated within the 2009-2012 range, its unclear if FedEx was aware of the server's existence when it purchased Bongo in 2014, the company said.
The Internet

France's Telecom Regulator Thinks Net Neutrality Should Also Apply To Devices 38

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: The ARCEP, France's equivalent of the FCC in the U.S., wants to go beyond telecommunications companies. While many regulatory authorities have focused on carriers and internet service providers, the French authority thinks Google, Apple, Amazon and all the big tech companies also need their own version of net neutrality. The ARCEP just published a thorough 65-page report about the devices we use every day. The report says that devices give you a portion of the internet and prevent an open internet. "With net neutrality, we spend all our time cleaning pipes, but nobody is looking at faucets," ARCEP president Sebastien Soriano told me. "Everybody assumes that the devices that we use to go online don't have a bias. But if you want to go online, you need a device just like you need a telecom company."

Now that net neutrality has been laid down in European regulation, the ARCEP has been looking at devices for the past couple of years. And it's true that you can feel you're stuck in an ecosystem once you realize you have to use Apple Music on an Apple Watch, or the Amazon Echo assumes you want to buy stuff on Amazon.com when you say "Alexa, buy me a tooth brush." Voice assistants and connected speakers are even less neutral than smartphones. Game consoles, smartwatches and connected cars all share the same issues. The ARCEP doesn't think we should go back to computers and leave our phones behind. This isn't a debate about innovation versus regulation. Regulation can also foster innovation. "This report has listed for the first time ever all the limitations you face as a smartphone user," Soriano said. "By users, we mean both consumers and developers who submit apps in the stores."

Uber CEO: We Could Be Profitable -- We Just Don't Want To Be (fastcompany.com) 106

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said he's not worried that his company lost $4.5 billion last year and claimed the company could "turn the knobs" to be profitable if it wanted to -- it just doesn't. From a report: Khosrowshahi made the comments at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco this week where he explained that if Uber did turn those knobs to be an immediately profitable company it would "sacrifice growth and sacrifice innovation." He also spoke optimistically about the impact self-driving cars will have on transportation costs.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF Urges US Copyright Office To Reject Proactive 'Piracy' Filters (torrentfreak.com) 55

TorrentFreak: As entertainment companies and Internet services spar over the boundaries of copyright law, the EFF is urging the US Copyright Office to keep "copyright's safe harbors safe." In a petition just filed with the office, the EFF warns that innovation will be stymied if Congress goes ahead with a plan to introduce proactive 'piracy' filters at the expense of the DMCA's current safe harbor provisions. [...] "Major media and entertainment companies and their surrogates want Congress to replace today's DMCA with a new law that would require websites and Internet services to use automated filtering to enforce copyrights. "Systems like these, no matter how sophisticated, cannot accurately determine the copyright status of a work, nor whether a use is licensed, a fair use, or otherwise non-infringing. Simply put, automated filters censor lawful and important speech," the EFF warns.

Coinbase is Erratically Overcharging Some Users and Emptying Their Bank Accounts 144

A growing number of Coinbase customers are complaining that the cryptocurrency exchange withdrew unauthorized money out of their accounts. From a report: In some cases, this drained their linked bank accounts below zero, resulting in overdraft charges. In a typical anecdote posted on Reddit, one user said they purchased Bitcoin, Ether, and Litecoin for a total of $300 on February 9th. A few days later, the transactions repeated five times for a total of $1,500, even though the user had not made any more purchases. That was enough to clear out this user's bank account, they said, resulting in fees. [...] Coinbase representatives have been responding to similar complaints on Reddit for about two weeks, but the volume of complaints seems to have spiked over the last 24 hours. Similar complaints have popped up on forums and Twitter.

Gmail Go, a Lightweight Version of Google's Email App, Launched on Android (techcrunch.com) 55

Google has added a notable addition to its line of "Go" edition apps -- the lightweight apps designed primarily for emerging markets -- with the launch of Gmail Go. From a report: The app, like others in the Go line, takes up less storage space on users' smartphones and makes better use of mobile data compared with the regular version of Gmail. The app also offers standard Gmail features like multiple account support, conversation view, attachments, and push notifications for new messages. It also prioritizes messages from friends and family first, while categorizing promotional and social emails in separate tabs, as Gmail does. But like other Go apps, Gmail Go doesn't consume as much storage space on the device. In fact, according to numerous reports, Gmail Go clocked in at a 9.51 MB download, and takes up roughly 25 MB of space on a device, compared with Gmail's 20.66 MB download, and 47 MB storage space.

AI is Helping Seismologists Detect Earthquakes They'd Otherwise Miss (theverge.com) 32

Using the same tools we use for voice detection, scientists are uncovering tiny earthquakes hidden in the data. From The Verge: Oklahoma never used to be known for its earthquakes. Before 2009, the state had roughly two quakes of magnitude three and above each year. In 2015, this tally rocketed to more than 900, though it's calmed since, falling to 304 last year. This sudden increase is thought to be caused by the disposal of wastewater by the state's booming fracking industry, and it's caught seismologists off-guard. As a historically quake-free area, Oklahoma doesn't have enough equipment to detect and locate all of these quakes, making it hard to investigate their root cause. The solution proposed by Perol and his colleagues from Harvard University's engineering and earth sciences departments is to use artificial intelligence to amplify the sensitivity of the state's earthquake detectors, otherwise known as seismographs. In a paper published today in the journal Science Advances, they show how effective this technique is -- capable of detecting 17 times more earthquakes than older methods in a fraction of the time. The method is similar to the voice detection software used by digital assistants like Alexa and Siri.

Hey Microsoft, Stop Installing Apps On My PC Without Asking (howtogeek.com) 511

Chris Hoffman, writing for How To Geek: I'm getting sick of Windows 10's auto-installing apps. Apps like Facebook are now showing up out of nowhere, and even displaying notifications begging for me to use them. I didn't install the Facebook app, I didn't give it permission to show notifications, and I've never even used it. So why is it bugging me? Windows 10 has always been a little annoying about these apps, but it wasn't always this bad. Microsoft went from "we pinned a few tiles, but the apps aren't installed until you click them" to "the apps are now automatically installed on your PC" to "the automatically installed apps are now sending you notifications." It's ridiculous.

Researchers Warn of Extraterrestrial Hacks (vice.com) 16

dmoberhaus writes: An astronomer and astrophysicist have published a new paper to arXiv examining possible scenarios where an extraterrestrial message received on Earth is malicious. This ranges from unsubstantiated threats ('We'll supernova your sun!') to super advanced AI that promises the cure for cancer but takes over the world with microbots. The ideas are pretty far out there, but serve to underscore the inherent risk with SETI efforts. Nevertheless, the researchers argue that the benefits of establishing contact with ET far outweigh the risks .

Snapchat Petition Attracts One Million Signatures (bbc.com) 51

One million people have signed a petition calling on Snapchat to roll back its latest redesign. From a report: The changes were intended to separate interactions with friends from branded content -- including that of celebrities and influencers. Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel wrote in a blog post that he believed blurring the two had contributed to the rise of fake news. However, thousands of Snapchat users say that the new layout is hard to use. Nic Rumsey, who set up the petition, wrote that some are using Virtual Private Network (VPN) apps -- which use servers abroad to mask the location of a device -- in order to access the older version of the platform: "That's how annoying this update has become," he said. "Many 'new features' are useless or defeat the original purposes Snapchat has had for the past years." The petition, posted on the change.org website, is one of several appealing to Snapchat to revert to its previous state.
United Kingdom

UK Blames Russia For Cyber Attack, Says Won't Tolerate Disruption (reuters.com) 143

Britain blamed Russia on Thursday for a cyber-attack last year, publicly pointing the finger at Moscow for spreading a virus which disrupted companies across Europe including UK-based Reckitt Benckiser. From a report: Russia denied the accusation, saying it was part of "Russophobic" campaign it said was being waged by some Western countries. The so-called NotPetya attack in June started in Ukraine where it crippled government and business computers before spreading around the world, halting operations at ports, factories and offices. Britain's foreign ministry said the attack originated from the Russian military. "The decision to publicly attribute this incident underlines the fact that the UK and its allies will not tolerate malicious cyber activity," the ministry said in a statement. "The attack masqueraded as a criminal enterprise but its purpose was principally to disrupt," it said.

MIT Develops New Chip That Reduces Neural Networks' Power Consumption by Up to 95 Percent (mit.edu) 55

MIT researchers have developed a special-purpose chip that increases the speed of neural-network computations by three to seven times over its predecessors, while reducing power consumption 94 to 95 percent. From a report: That could make it practical to run neural networks locally on smartphones or even to embed them in household appliances. "The general processor model is that there is a memory in some part of the chip, and there is a processor in another part of the chip, and you move the data back and forth between them when you do these computations," says Avishek Biswas, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science, who led the new chip's development. "Since these machine-learning algorithms need so many computations, this transferring back and forth of data is the dominant portion of the energy consumption. But the computation these algorithms do can be simplified to one specific operation, called the dot product. Our approach was, can we implement this dot-product functionality inside the memory so that you don't need to transfer this data back and forth?"

Ubuntu Wants To Collect Data About Your System -- Starting With 18.04 LTS (fossbytes.com) 207

In an announcement on Ubuntu mailing list, Will Cooke, on behalf of the Ubuntu Desktop team, announced Canonical's plans to collect some data related to the users' system configuration and the packages installed on their machines. From a report: Before you read anything further, it's important to note that users will have the option to opt-out of this data collection. The company plans to add a checkbox to the installer, which would be checked by default. The option could be like: "Send diagnostics information to help improve Ubuntu." As per your convenience, you can opt-out during the installation. An option to do the same will also be made available in the Privacy panel of GNOME Settings. With this data collection, the team wishes to improve the daily experiences of the Ubuntu users. It's worth noting that the collected data will be sent over encrypted connections and no IP addresses will be tracked. To be precise, the collected data will include: flavour and version of Ubuntu, network connectivity or not, CPU family, RAM, disk(s) size, screen(s) resolution, GPU vendor and model, OEM manufacturer, location (based on the location selection made during install), no IP information, time taken for Installation, auto-login enabled or not, disk layout selected, third party software selected or not, download updates during install or not, livePatch enabled or not.

Windows 10 Is Adding an Ultimate Performance Mode For Pros (engadget.com) 151

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: When you're creating 3D models or otherwise running intensive tasks, you want to wring every ounce of performance out of your PC as possible. It's a good thing, then, that Microsoft has released a Windows 10 preview build in the Fast ring that includes a new Ultimate Performance mode if you're running Pro for Workstations. As the name implies, this is a step up for people for whom even the High Performance mode isn't enough -- it throws power management out the window to eliminate "micro-latencies" and boost raw speed. You can set it yourself, but PC makers will have the option of shipping systems with the feature turned on. Ultimate Performance isn't currently available for laptops or tablets, but Microsoft suggests that could change.

Cryptocurrency Miners Are 'Limiting' the Search For Alien Life Now (vice.com) 135

Since the latest graphics processing units (GPUs) are so popular with cryptocurrency miners, the SETI project -- short for "Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence" -- can't find the graphics cards it needs to expand its operations. The SETI@home project helps provide some computing power, as it involves thousands of volunteers who turn the power of their computers over to the project, but it's only a portion of the SETI project's total computing power. Motherboard reports: Searching the stars is intense work that "uses radio telescopes to listen for narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space." Analyzing all of the data from these telescopes uses a lot of computing power. "We'd like to use the latest GPUs and we can't get 'em," Dan Werthimer, chief scientist of SETI, told the BBC. "That's limiting our search for extraterrestrials." Manufacturers such as Nvidia are struggling to keep up with demand for graphics cards. It recently told investors it would rise to meet its manufacturing challenge while focusing on its core market -- gamers. It even suggested vendors limit purchases of graphics cards from individual buyers in an effort to stop miners from buying up all the cards. "This is a new problem, it's only happened on orders we've been trying to make in the last couple of months," Werthimer told the BBC. "We've got the money, we've contacted the vendors, and they say, 'we just don't have them.'"

SpaceX Hits Two Milestones In Plan For Low-Latency Satellite Broadband (arstechnica.com) 82

SpaceX is about to launch two demonstration satellites, and it is on track to get the Federal Communications Commission's permission to offer satellite internet service in the U.S. "Neither development is surprising, but they're both necessary steps for SpaceX to enter the satellite broadband market," reports Ars Technica. "SpaceX is one of several companies planning low-Earth orbit satellite broadband networks that could offer much higher speeds and much lower latency than existing satellite internet services." From the report: Today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed approving SpaceX's application "to provide broadband services using satellite technologies in the United States and on a global basis," a commission announcement said. SpaceX would be the fourth company to receive such an approval from the FCC, after OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat. "These approvals are the first of their kind for a new generation of large, non-geostationary satellite orbit, fixed-satellite service systems, and the Commission continues to process other, similar requests," the FCC said today. SpaceX's application has undergone "careful review" by the FCC's satellite engineering experts, according to Pai. "If adopted, it would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies," Pai said.

Separately, CNET reported yesterday that SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch on Saturday will include "[t]he first pair of demonstration satellites for the company's 'Starlink' service." The demonstration launch is confirmed in SpaceX's FCC filings. One SpaceX filing this month mentions that a secondary payload on Saturday's Falcon 9 launch will include "two experimental non-geostationary orbit satellites, Microsat-2a and -2b." Those are the two satellites that SpaceX previously said would be used in its first phase of broadband testing.

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