Europe Plans Special Tax For Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon ( 253

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Register: Bruno Le Maire, France's minister for the economy, has revealed that a plan to levy a special tax on Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon will soon be revealed by European authorities. Le Maire told French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche "A European directive will be unveiled in the coming weeks, the minister reveals, and it will mark a considerable step forward." The minister told the paper that a tax of between two and six per cent has been considered, with the proposal to be "closer to two than six." The proposed tax will be levied on the four companies' turnover, rather than profits. Taxing turnover is hoped to offer a simple way to tax the companies, as all use legal-but-cynical ways to minimize their taxable income. Le Maire added that a turnover tax is seen as being quick to implement and that the four companies know they're going to have to pay more tax in Europe, so may be amenable to such an arrangement.

Spotify Is Cracking Down On Users Pirating Premium-Like Service ( 83

People who access Spotify using hacked apps that remove some of the restrictions placed on free accounts are receiving warning emails from the company. Noting that "abnormal activity" has been observed from the user's software, Spotify warns that future breaches could result in suspension or even termination of a user's account. TorrentFreak reports: "We detected abnormal activity on the app you are using so we have disabled it. Don't worry -- your Spotify account is safe," the email from Spotify reads. "To access your Spotify account, simply uninstall any unauthorized or modified version of Spotify and download and install the Spotify app from the official Google Play Store. If you need more help, please see our support article on Reinstalling Spotify." While the email signs off with a note thanking the recipient for being a Spotify user, there is also a warning. "If we detect repeated use of unauthorized apps in violation of our terms, we reserve all rights, including suspending or terminating your account," Spotify writes.

Frequency Deviations In Continental Europe Are Causing Electric Clocks To Run Behind By 5 Minutes ( 251

elgatozorbas shares a short note from the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E): Apparently the Continental European Power System has been off since mid-January, causing some clocks to run behind by 5 minutes. How common are these mains-frequency synchronized clocks anyway, and why are they built that way? "The power deviations have led to a slight drop in the electric frequency," reports ENTSO-E. "This in turn has also affected those electric clocks that are steered by the frequency of the power system and not by a quartz crystal... All actions are taken by the transmission system operators (TSOs) of Continental Europe and by ENTSO-E to resolve the situation."

Apple Is Reportedly Making Its Own High-End Noise-Cancelling Headphones ( 87

Apple is planning to push into the high-end audio market with the launch of noise-cancelling, over-ear headphones. The cans are expected to launch at the end of this year and will rival headsets from market leaders like Bose and even the company's own Beats by Dre brand. Bloomberg reports: Work on the Apple headset has been on-and-off over the past year. The company encountered similar problems with the HomePod during its development, including multiple redesigns, according to the people. It's possible Apple will redesign the headphones again before launch, or scrap the project altogether, they warned, asking not to be identified discussing private development work.

Google Unveils 72-Qubit Quantum Computer With Low Error Rates ( 76

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Tom's Hardware: Google announced a 72-qubit universal quantum computer that promises the same low error rates the company saw in its first 9-qubit quantum computer. Google believes that this quantum computer, called Bristlecone, will be able to bring us to an age of quantum supremacy. In a recent announcement, Google said: "If a quantum processor can be operated with low enough error, it would be able to outperform a classical supercomputer on a well-defined computer science problem, an achievement known as quantum supremacy. These random circuits must be large in both number of qubits as well as computational length (depth). Although no one has achieved this goal yet, we calculate quantum supremacy can be comfortably demonstrated with 49 qubits, a circuit depth exceeding 40, and a two-qubit error below 0.5%. We believe the experimental demonstration of a quantum processor outperforming a supercomputer would be a watershed moment for our field, and remains one of our key objectives."

According to Google, a minimum error rate for quantum computers needs to be in the range of less than 1%, coupled with close to 100 qubits. Google seems to have achieved this so far with 72-qubit Bristlecone and its 1% error rate for readout, 0.1% for single-qubit gates, and 0.6% for two-qubit gates. Quantum computers will begin to become highly useful in solving real-world problems when we can achieve error rates of 0.1-1% coupled with hundreds of thousand to millions of qubits. According to Google, an ideal quantum computer would have at least hundreds of millions of qubits and an error rate lower than 0.01%. That may take several decades to achieve, even if we assume a "Moore's Law" of some kind for quantum computers (which so far seems to exist, seeing the progress of both Google and IBM in the past few years, as well as D-Wave).


Oculus Rift Is Now the Most Popular VR Headset On Steam ( 60

The Oculus Rift has overtaken the HTC Vive on the monthly Steam hardware survey for the first time since the launch of both headsets in early 2016. VentureBeat reports: The survey is entirely optional and scans a user's PC for various hardware components, including any VR headsets that may be connected. After a few months of catching up to Vive, the Rift was neck-and-neck with its rival in January's survey with 0.9 percent between the two. However, February saw Oculus step past HTC; Rift took 47.31 percent of the total hardware use, and Vive fell to 45.38 percent, leaving just under 2 percent between them. It's still a tight race, then, but this is the first time Rift has managed to surpass Vive. Again, this is in no way confirmation that the Oculus Rift has sold more units than the HTC Vive, as neither headset has had official sales figures released, but it's the best shot we've got at gauging the market share right now. Rift also took the "Most Popular Headset" space in Steam's individual listings for the second time ever.

Rhode Island Bill Would Impose Fee For Accessing Online Porn ( 503

If a recently introduced bill passes the General Assembly this session, Rhode Island residents will have to pay a $20 fee to access sexually explicit content online. The bill, introduced by Sen. Frank Ciccone (D-Providence) and Sen. Hanna Gallo (D-Cranston), would require internet providers to digitally block "sexual content and patently offensive material." Consumers could then deactivate that block for a fee of $20. The Providence Journal reports: Each quarter the internet providers would give the money made from the deactivation fees to the state's general treasurer, who would forward the money to the attorney general to fund the operations of the Council on Human Trafficking, according to the bill's language. If online distributors of sexual content do not comply with the filter, the attorney general or a consumer could file a civil suit of up to $500 for each piece of content reported, but not blocked, according to the bill.

Six Tech Companies Filing Net Neutrality Lawsuit ( 31

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: Six technology companies, including Kickstarter, Foursquare and Etsy, have launched a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in an effort to preserve net neutrality rules. The companies, which also include Shutterstock, Expa and Automattic, on Monday filed their petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The companies join Vimeo and Mozilla, as well as several state attorneys general who have also filed lawsuits against the FCC in support of the net neutrality rules. Like the other lawsuits, their new case hinges on the Administrative Procedure Act, which they argue prevents the FCC from "arbitrary and capricious" redactions to already existing policy. "Already, over 30,000 Etsy sellers participated in the FCC's public comment process, and tens of thousands more reached out to Congress in support of net neutrality. Now we're bringing their stories and experiences to the courts," said Althea Erickson, head of advocacy and impact at Etsy.

Ubisoft is Using AI To Catch Bugs in Games Before Devs Make Them ( 126

AI has a new task: helping to keep the bugs out of video games. From a report: At the recent Ubisoft Developer Conference in Montreal, the French gaming company unveiled a new AI assistant for its developers. Dubbed Commit Assistant, the goal of the AI system is to catch bugs before they're ever committed into code, saving developers time and reducing the number of flaws that make it into a game before release. "I think like many good ideas, it's like 'how come we didn't think about that before?'," says Yves Jacquier, who heads up La Forge, Ubisoft's R&D division in Montreal. His department partners with local universities including McGill and Concordia to collaborate on research intended to advance the field of artificial intelligence as a whole, not just within the industry.

La Forge fed Commit Assistant with roughly ten years' worth of code from across Ubisoft's software library, allowing it to learn where mistakes have historically been made, reference any corrections that were applied, and predict when a coder may be about to write a similar bug. "It's all about comparing the lines of code we've created in the past, the bugs that were created in them, and the bugs that were corrected, and finding a way to make links [between them] to provide us with a super-AI for programmers," explains Jacquier.


Remote Work is Going To Keep Increasing, Study Says ( 108

Freelancing website Upwork has published its annual Future Workforce Report, which explores hiring behaviors of over 1,000 U.S. managers. It finds: As companies struggle to fill the skills gap, they're embracing agile, remote teams to get work done. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of companies today have remote workers, yet a majority lack remote work policies.

Companies have the resources, but lack the policies to support remote work: While companies feel confident they have the resources in place to support remote work, many lack a formal policy. Sixty-four percent of hiring managers feel that their company has the resources and processes in place to support a remote workforce, yet the majority (57 percent) lack a remote work policy.
Companies with work-from-home policies have become more lenient & inclusive: As companies increasingly embrace remote work, they're evolving their work-from-home policies. Nearly half (45%) of hiring managers said their company's work-from-home policy has changed in the past five years, with 60 percent saying it has become more lenient and inclusive. This increased inclusivity is making it easier for companies to find the talent they need. Over half (52%) of hiring managers that work at companies with work-from-home policies believe hiring has become easier in the past year.
Findings indicate remote work is likely to become the new normal: Over half (55%) of hiring managers agree that remote work has become more commonplace as compared to three years ago. Five times as many hiring managers expect more of their team to work remotely in the next ten years than expect less.


Microsoft To Offer Governments Local Version of Azure Cloud Service ( 28

Microsoft on Monday said it will soon make it possible for government clients to run its cloud technology on their own servers as part of a concerted effort to make Azure more appealing to local and federal agencies. From a report: The pairing of Azure Stack, Microsoft's localized cloud product, and Azure Government, the government-tailored version of Microsoft's cloud, comes as competition against Inc for major clients in the public sector ramps up. The new offering, which will be made available in mid-2018, is designed to appeal to governments and agencies with needs for on-premise servers, such as in a military operation or in an embassy abroad, said Tom Keane, Microsoft Azure's head of global infrastructure.

The Oscar-Winning Special Effects of Blade Runner 2049 ( 107

On Sunday, 'Blade Runner 2049' won the Oscar for the movie with the best visual effects. BBC spoke to Richard Hoover, the visual effects supervisor at Framestore which was one of the companies responsible for the movie's special effects.

Further reading: How 'Blade Runner 2049' VFX Supervisor John Nelson Brought Rachael & Pic's Holograms To Life (Deadline); Behind the breathtaking visual effects of 'Blade Runner 2049' (Digital Trends); How Blade Runner 2049's VFX team made K's hologram girlfriend (Wired).

Mysterious $15,000 'GrayKey' Promises To Unlock iPhone X For The Feds ( 106

Thomas Fox-Brewster, reporting for Forbes: Just a week after Forbes reported on the claim of Israeli U.S. government manufacturer Cellebrite that it could unlock the latest Apple iPhone models, another service has emerged promising much the same. Except this time it comes from an unkown entity, an obscure American startup named Grayshift, which appears to be run by long-time U.S. intelligence agency contractors and an ex-Apple security engineer. In recent weeks, its marketing materials have been disseminated around private online police and forensics groups, offering a $15,000 iPhone unlock tool named GrayKey, which permits 300 uses. That's for the online mode that requires constant connectivity at the customer end, whilst an offline version costs $30,000. The latter comes with unlimited uses. Another ad showed Grayshift claiming to be able to unlock iPhones running iOS 10 and 11, with iOS 9 support coming soon. It also claims to work on the latest Apple hardware, up to the iPhone 8 and X models released just last year. In a post from one private Google group, handed to Forbes by a source who asked to remain anonymous, the writer indicated they'd been demoed the technology and that it had opened an iPhone X.

Do Neural Nets Dream of Electric Sheep? ( 201

An anonymous reader shares a post: If you've been on the internet today, you've probably interacted with a neural network. They're a type of machine learning algorithm that's used for everything from language translation to finance modeling. One of their specialties is image recognition. Several companies -- including Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Facebook -- have their own algorithms for labeling photos. But image recognition algorithms can make really bizarre mistakes. Microsoft Azure's computer vision API added the above caption and tags. But there are no sheep in the image. None. I zoomed all the way in and inspected every speck. It also tagged sheep in this image. I happen to know there were sheep nearby. But none actually present. Here's one more example. In fact, the neural network hallucinated sheep every time it saw a landscape of this type. What's going on here?

Are neural networks just hyper-vigilant, finding sheep everywhere? No, as it turns out. They only see sheep where they expect to see them. They can find sheep easily in fields and mountainsides, but as soon as sheep start showing up in weird places, it becomes obvious how much the algorithms rely on guessing and probabilities. Bring sheep indoors, and they're labeled as cats. Pick up a sheep (or a goat) in your arms, and they're labeled as dogs.


Facebook Asks Users: Should We Allow Men To Ask Children For Sexual Images? ( 386

Alex Hern, writing for The Guardian: Facebook has admitted it was a "mistake" to ask users whether paedophiles requesting sexual pictures from children should be allowed on its website. On Sunday, the social network ran a survey for some users asking how they thought the company should handle grooming behaviour. "There are a wide range of topics and behaviours that appear on Facebook," one question began. "In thinking about an ideal world where you could set Facebook's policies, how would you handle the following: a private message in which an adult man asks a 14-year-old girl for sexual pictures." The options available to respondents ranged from "this content should not be allowed on Facebook, and no one should be able to see it" to "this content should be allowed on Facebook, and I would not mind seeing it." A second question asked who should decide the rules around whether or not the adult man should be allowed to ask for such pictures on Facebook. Options available included "Facebook users decide the rules by voting and tell Facebook" and "Facebook decides the rules on its own."

China's Xiaomi Confirms It Will Enter US Smartphone Market By the End of This Year or Early Next Year ( 61

Sensing an opening, Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi says it plans to enter the U.S. smartphone market in late 2018 or 2019. From a report: The news comes just several weeks after rival Huawei, which appeared to have a head start, had its hopes dashed when a partnership with AT&T was scuttled. While both companies said the parting was mutual, the decision came after intense political blowback from U.S. politicians who worried that Huawei's technology poses security risks for U.S. businesses and customers. Today, the Wall Street Journal reported that Xiaomi chair Lei Jun told one of its reporters: "We've always been considering entering the U.S. market. We plan to start entering the market by end 2018, or by early 2019." In general, while Chinese tech companies have become massive primarily by succeeding on their home turf, they are facing challenges in exporting that success to Western markets.

Windows Phone 8.1 Users Are Having Trouble Downloading Apps From the Store ( 64

An anonymous reader shares a report: While Microsoft ended mainstream support for Windows Phone 8.1 more than six months ago, there are some users that still utilize the platform as their daily driver. Although the company's overall mobile initiative isn't faring too well either, most users on older platforms are still there because they prefer it over the competition or weren't offered an upgrade path to Windows 10 Mobile. However, it now appears that Windows Phone 8.1 users are facing some unforeseen problems with the Store - and no, it isn't regarding the dearth of apps. According to reports, people on the platform have been unable to download apps from the Store since yesterday. Hundreds of people over in Windows phone Facebook groups, Reddit, and Microsoft support forums are complaining that they are being hit with error code 80070020 when attempting to download apps from the Store using their Windows Phone 8.1 devices. We have confirmed the presence of the issue on our devices too.

Tencent's WeChat Hits 1 Billion Milestone as Lunar New Year Boosts Monthly Active Users ( 25

WeChat hit the milestone of one billion monthly active users during the Lunar New Year in February, a "remarkable number" according to Tencent Holdings chief executive Pony Ma Huateng who disclosed the figure at a Two Sessions media briefing in Beijing on Monday. From a report: The user numbers are up from 980 million in the third quarter of 2017, as reported in Tencent's third quarter results. More than 688 million WeChat users sent or received digital versions of hongbao, the traditional Chinese red packet containing cash and given as a gift during the new year holiday season, pushing the monthly active users of WeChat hongbao to 800 million, Ma revealed on Saturday, as reported by Chinese tech media 36Kr.
The Internet

Google Fiber Is a Faint Echo of the Disruption We Were Promised ( 173

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Some eight years on and Google Fiber's ambitions are just a pale echo of the disruptive potential originally proclaimed by the company. While Google Fiber did make some impressive early headway in cities like Austin, the company ran into numerous deployment headaches. Fearing competition, incumbent ISPs like AT&T and Comcast began a concerted effort to block the company's access to essential utility poles, even going so far as to file lawsuits against cities like Nashville that tried to expedite the process. Even in launched markets, customer uptake wasn't quite what executives were expecting. Estimates peg Google Fiber TV subscribers at fewer than 100,000, thanks in large part to the cord cutting mindset embraced by early adopters. Broadband subscriber tallies (estimated as at least 500,000) were notably better, but still off from early company projections. Even without anti-competitive roadblocks, progress was slow. Digging up city streets and burying fiber was already a time-consuming and expensive process. And while Google has tried to accelerate these deployments via something called "microtrenching" (machines that bury fiber an inch below roadways), broadband deployment remains a rough business. It's a business made all the rougher by state and local regulators and lawmakers who've been in the pockets of entrenched providers like Comcast for the better part of a generation.

Levi Strauss Replaces Human Sanding With Automated Lasers ( 237

_Sharp'r_ writes: Stressing jeans used to require 300 to 400 workers with sandpaper all day. Now Levi Strauss does a better job by shooting their new jeans with computer-guided lasers in intricate patterns generated in CAD systems. Along the way, they save water and "will cut the number of chemicals it uses to produce jeans from 1,000 to a few dozen," reports Bloomberg.

Thieves Steal 600 Powerful Bitcoin-Mining Computers In Iceland ( 88

The Associated Press reports of a Bitcoin heist in Iceland where thieves stole some 600 computers used to "mine" bitcoin and other virtual currencies. "Some 11 people were arrested, including a security guard, in what Icelandic media have dubbed the 'Big Bitcoin Heist,'" reports the Associated Press. From the report: The powerful computers, which have not yet been found, are worth almost $2 million. But if the stolen equipment is used for its original purpose -- to create new bitcoins -- the thieves could turn a massive profit in an untraceable currency without ever selling the items. Three of four burglaries took place in December and a fourth took place in January, but authorities did not make the news public earlier in hopes of tracking down the thieves. Police tracking the stolen computers are monitoring electric consumption across the country in hopes the thieves will show their hand, according to an industry source who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to speak to the media. Unusually high energy usage might reveal the whereabouts of the illegal bitcoin mine. Authorities this week called on local internet providers, electricians and storage space units to report any unusual requests for power.

New LTE Attacks Can Snoop On Messages, Track Locations, and Spoof Emergency Alerts ( 28

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: A slew of newly discovered vulnerabilities can wreak havoc on 4G LTE network users by eavesdropping on phone calls and text messages, knocking devices offline, and even spoofing emergency alerts. Ten attacks detailed in a new paper by researchers at Purdue University and the University of Iowa expose weaknesses in three critical protocol operations of the cellular network, such as securely attaching a device to the network and maintaining a connection to receive calls and messages. Those flaws can allow authentication relay attacks that can allow an adversary to connect to a 4G LTE network by impersonating an existing user -- such as a phone number. Although authentication relay attacks aren't new, this latest research shows that they can be used to intercept message, track a user's location, and stop a phone from connecting to the network. By using common software-defined radio devices and open source 4G LTE protocol software, anyone can build the tool to carry out attacks for as little as $1,300 to $3,900, making the cost low enough for most adversaries. The researchers aren't releasing the proof-of-concept code until the flaws are fixed, however.

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