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Firefox

Firefox 51 Arrives With HTTP Warning, WebGL 2 and FLAC Support (venturebeat.com) 1

Reader Krystalo writes: Mozilla today launched Firefox 51 for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android. The new version includes a new warning for websites which collect passwords but don't use HTTPS, WebGL 2 support for better 3D graphics, and FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) playback. Mozilla doesn't break out the exact numbers for Firefox, though the company does say "half a billion people around the world" use the browser. In other words, itâ(TM)s a major platform that web developers target -- even in a world increasingly dominated by mobile apps.
Australia

Australia Plans Biometric Border Control (bbc.com) 19

The Australian government is planning to allow 90% of travellers to pass through passport control without human help by 2020. From a report: With a $100m budget, it has begun the search for technology companies that could provide biometric systems, such as facial, iris and fingerprint recognition. Head of border security John Coyne said it could be a "world first." But critics have questioned the privacy implications of such a system. "Biometrics are now going in leaps and bounds, and our ability to harness the power of big data is increasing exponentially," Mr Coyne told the Sydney Morning Herald. The department of border security hopes to pilot the "Seamless Traveller" project in Canberra this summer, with rollout to larger airports scheduled to be completed by spring 2019.
China

China Is Splashing $168 Million To Make It Rain (fortune.com) 41

China, the world's second largest economy, is pouring 1.5 billion yuan ($168 million) into a program aimed at making it rain in its usually arid northwestern region. From a report: No stranger to using technologies like cloud seeding to influence and even control weather patterns, China's top economic planners recently gave the go ahead for what will be one of the country's largest weather-modification projects, reports the South China Morning Post. According to the Post, a feasibility study by the country's meteorological agency concluded that the three-year program could see a rise in precipitation over an area of 960,000 sq km, or as much as 10% of the country's landmass. The multi-million dollar budget allocated by the National Development and Reform Commission will reportedly cover the cost for four new aircraft and updates to eight existing planes, nearly 900 rocket launch systems and over 1,800 digital control devices.
Books

Amazon Offers To Scrap Ebook Clauses To Settle EU Antitrust Probe (reuters.com) 10

U.S. online retailer Amazon has offered to alter its e-book contracts with publishers in a bid to end an EU antitrust probe and stave off a possible fine, the European Commission said on Tuesday. From a report: Amazon, the biggest e-book distributor in Europe, proposed to drop some clauses in its contracts so publishers will not be forced to give it terms as good as those for rivals, the Commission said. Such clauses relate to business models, release dates, catalogs of e-books, features of e-books, promotions, agency prices, agency commissions and wholesale prices. The Commission opened an investigation into the company's e-books in English and German in June 2015, concerned that such parity clauses make it harder for other e-book retailers to compete with Amazon by developing new and innovative products and services. The EU competition enforcer gave rivals and customers a month to provide feedback before it decides whether to accept the proposal. Under EU antitrust rules, such settlements mean no finding of infringement nor fines which could reach 10 percent of a company's global turnover.
Space

Five Google Lunar XPrize Teams Confirm They're Set For the Moon (cnet.com) 23

The Google Lunar XPrize (GLXP) teams are still soldiering on and, with the deadline now less than 12 months away, the XPrize Foundation has confirmed that five of those teams have signed launch contracts that that will allow them to launch to the moon by the end of the year. From a report on CNET: The GLXP is a $30 million purse of prizes open to independent teams from around the globe, with the overall goal of fostering the development of commercial space exploration. $20 million goes to the first team to successfully land a vehicle on the moon and then successfully cover a distance of 500 meters of lunar surface while streaming high-definition video back to the Earth. $5 million goes to the second team to do the same, while millions of dollars in other prizes are also up for grabs -- including bonuses for extra distance and visiting historic sites. The deadline? It currently stands at midnight, December 31 of 2017. Any team whose lander hasn't left the launchpad by then is automatically out of the running.
Microsoft

Vivaldi CEO: Stop Your Anti-Competitive Practices With Edge, Microsoft! (betanews.com) 128

Reader Mark Wilson writes: Microsoft is no stranger to pissing people off, particularly when it comes to Windows 10. There have been endless cries about forced updates, complaints about ads, moaning about privacy, and now the CEO of Vivaldi has lashed out at the company for its anti-competitive practices with Microsoft Edge. Jon von Tetzchner says that Microsoft has forgotten about the "actual real-life people that use technology in their daily lives." He takes particular umbrage at Windows 10's continued insistence of resetting the default browser to Edge. Indicating that his patience has now run out, von Tetzchner points to a 72-year-old friend who was confused by the change and unable to reverse things. He says that Microsoft is failing to respect the decisions made by users, and this is something that needs to stop.
Microsoft

Microsoft May Halt the Expansion of a UK Datacenter Due To Brexit (onmsft.com) 102

On Monday, Microsoft hosted an online event to discuss the impact of the UK's departure from the European Union on the tech industry. The company currently has two large datacentres in the UK, and it is expanding those in response to vigorous demand for cloud services. But Brexit could throw a spanner in the works. From a report: Microsoft's UK Government Affairs Manager Owen Larter said, "We're really keen to avoid import tariffs on any hardware. Going back to the datacenter example, we're looking to build out our datacenters at a pretty strong lick in the UK, because the market is doing very well. If all of a sudden there are huge import [tariffs] on server racks from China or from eastern Europe, where a lot of them are actually assembled, that might change our investment decisions and perhaps we build out our datacenters across other European countries." Simply put, if they cannot build in Britain, then they will build surrounding it. Currently, the data is shared freely between the EU countries without any issues. This is because they all have similar security between them. However, if the UK leaves the EU, then this could cause even more issues for Microsoft.
United States

IBM Promised Domestic Jobs, But is Firing Thousands of US Workers and Moving Some Jobs Overseas (siliconbeat.com) 125

As companies fall all over themselves to hype creation of U.S. jobs, IBM is catching flak for promising thousands of new ones while firing folks right and left. From a report: Company CEO Ginni Rometty said in a December USA Today op-ed that her firm would hire 25,000 people for U.S. positions in the next four years, 6,000 of them this year. "She didn't mention that International Business Machines Corp. was also firing workers and sending many of the jobs overseas," reports Bloomberg. Big Blue wrapped up its third round of 2016 firings -- or "resource actions" in IBM HR parlance -- in late November, and job losses for the year likely totaled in the thousands, current and former employees told Bloomberg. Many of the jobs were shipped to Asia and Eastern Europe, and the firings have continued into this year, employees said.
Government

Ask Slashdot: Can US Citizens Trust Government Data? (msn.com) 273

mmell writes: An editorial in the Washington Post and made publicly available via an MSN news feed has asked the question: "In the Trump administration era of 'alternative facts,' what happens to government data?" Given that Slashdot members (and readers) may represent a somewhat more in-the-know crowd on matters concerning data integrity and trustworthiness, I thought this would be a good place to ask: can we trust (or has anyone ever really trusted) government data? One might think government data would all be cut 'n' dried and not subject to manipulation, but I personally remember when government data back early in the Reagan presidency went from reporting nearly 15% unemployment nationwide to well under 6% by redefining what "unemployed" meant. So . . . has government data ever been trustworthy, and is it still so?
AI

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Acquires and Will Free Up Science Search Engine Meta (techcrunch.com) 58

tomhath quotes a report from TechCrunch: Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan's $45 billion philanthropy organization is making its first acquisition in order to make it easier for scientists to search, read and tie together more than 26 million science research papers. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is acquiring Meta, an AI-powered research search engine startup, and will make its tool free to all in a few months after enhancing the product. Meta's AI recognizes authors and citations between papers so it can surface the most important research instead of just what has the best SEO. It also provides free full-text access to 18,000 journals and literature sources. Meta co-founder and CEO Sam Molyneux writes that "Going forward, our intent is not to profit from Meta's data and capabilities; instead we aim to ensure they get to those who need them most, across sectors and as quickly as possible, for the benefit of the world."
Businesses

China Unseats US As Global Investment Leader In Financial Technology: Report (fortune.com) 106

Paul Fernhout writes: China has unseated North America as the global investment leader in financial technology, or "fintech," according to Citigroup's latest report on "digital disruption." The researchers attribute the power shift to the rise of what they term "Chinese dragons," an industry term for the biggest upstarts in Asia. Think of Ant Financial, the payments spinout of Alibaba, as well as Lu.com, JD Finance, and Qufenqi, emerging eastern juggernauts that are generally less familiar to consumers in the west. China accounted for more than half of all fintech investments globally in the first nine months of last year, the report said. Specifically in terms of venture capital, the country more than doubled its worldwide share of the investment category, rising to 46% of the global total versus just 19% the same period in 2015. The U.S., meanwhile, sunk to 41% of the global total from 56% during the same period in 2015, putting it behind China.
Math

Cervical Cancer Just Got Much Deadlier -- Because Scientists Fixed a Math Error (arstechnica.com) 140

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Cervical cancer is 77 percent more deadly for black women and 44 percent more deadly for white women than previously thought, researchers report today in the journal Cancer. But the lethal boosts aren't from more women actually dying than before -- they're from scientists correcting their own calculation error. In the past, their estimates didn't account for women who had undergone hysterectomies -- which almost always removes the cervix, and with it the risk of getting cervical cancer. We don't include men in our calculation because they are not at risk for cervical cancer and by the same measure, we shouldn't include women who don't have a cervix," Anne F. Rositch, the study's lead author and an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins told The New York Times. For the study, the researchers looked at national cervical cancer mortality data collected between 2000 to 2012. They also looked into national survey data on the prevalence of hysterectomies. Then, they used those figures to adjust the number of women at risk of dying of cervical cancer. The researchers found that black women have a mortality rate of 10.1 per 100,000. For white women, the rate is 4.7 per 100,000. Past estimates had those rates at 5.7 and 3.2, respectively. The new death rate for black women in the US is on par with that of developing countries. Though the new study wasn't designed to address racial disparities, experts speculate that the large difference reflects unequal access to preventative medicine and quality healthcare.
Transportation

South Korea Developing 'Near-Supersonic' Train Similar To Hyperloop (huffingtonpost.co.uk) 96

The South Korean government plans to unveil a high-speed train that can travel at near-supersonic speeds capable of cutting a five hour journey to just 30 minutes. It's reminiscent of the Hyperloop, a proposed mode of passenger and freight transportation that propels a pod-like vehicle through a near-vacuum tube at more than airline speed. Huffington Post UK reports: According to the Korea Railroad Research Institute, it plans to unveil a "hyper tube" format train in the "not too distant" future. Speaking to the South China Morning Post, the government-owned organization said: "We hope to create an ultra-fast train, which will travel inside a state-of-the-art low-pressure tube at lightning speeds, in the not-too-distant future. To that end, we will cooperate with associated institutes as well as Hanyang University to check the viability of various related technologies called the hyper-tube format over the next three years." While this sounds very similar to the low-pressure concept designed initially by Tesla founder Elon Musk it seems as though the KRRI wants to go even further and create a system that will leave Hyperloop looking like a Hornby set. By throwing all their resources at the project, South Korea is hoping to skip past maglev, a still-new propulsion system that uses electromagnets to actually levitate trains above the air. While this removes some of the friction that comes with using conventional wheels, it still doesn't remove the brick wall of friction that is air itself. By building a low-pressure tube however and placing the train inside it you can effectively create a train that could travel at eye-watering speeds.
Power

Two-Thirds of Americans Give Priority To Developing Alternative Energy Over Fossil Fuels (pewresearch.org) 265

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Pew Research Center: A new Pew Research Center survey finds that 65% of Americans give priority to developing alternative energy sources, compared with 27% who would emphasize expanded production of fossil fuel sources. Support for concentrating on alternative energy is up slightly since December 2014. At that time, 60% said developing alternative energy sources was the more important priority. There continue to be wide political differences on energy priorities. While a 2016 Pew Research Center survey found large majorities of Democrats and Republicans supported expanding both wind and solar energy, the new survey shows that Democrats remain far more likely than Republicans to stress that developing alternative energy should take priority over developing fossil fuel sources. About eight-in-ten (81%) Democrats and independents who lean to the Democratic Party favor developing alternative sources instead of expanding production from fossil fuel sources. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are closely divided: 45% say the more important priority should be developing alternative sources, while 44% say expanding production of oil, coal and natural gas should be given more priority. There also are differences in public priorities about energy by age. Americans under the age of 50 are especially likely to support alternative energy sources over expanding fossil fuels. About seven-in-ten (73%) of those ages 18 to 49 say developing alternative sources of energy should be the more important priority, while 22% say expanding production of fossil fuels should be the more important priority. Older adults are more divided in their views, though they also give more priority to alternatives. Among those 50 and older, 55% say alternative energy development is more important, while 34% say it's more important to expand production of fossil fuel energy sources.
United States

Yahoo Sale To Verizon Delayed After Hack Disclosures (securityweek.com) 10

wiredmikey quotes a report from SecurityWeek: Yahoo said Monday that the closing of a $4.8 billion deal to sell its core internet assets to U.S. telecom titan Verizon has been delayed several months. A close originally set for this quarter has been pushed into next quarter, and has been thrown into doubt following disclosures of two huge data breaches. Yahoo announced in September that hackers in 2014 stole personal data from more than 500 million of its user accounts. It admitted another cyberattack in December, this one dating from 2013, affecting over a billion users. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has opened an investigation into whether Yahoo should have informed investors sooner about the two major data breaches.

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