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Businesses

Uber Hires Former Google Search Chief Amit Singhal As SVP of Engineering (techcrunch.com)

The former Senior Vice President of Search and employee number 176 at Google has joined the ride-hailing company Uber as SVP of Engineering. TechCrunch is reporting that "Singhal will be heading up the Maps and Marketplace departments at Uber, while also advising CEO Travis Kalanick and Uber VP of Engineering and Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski on their efforts to build out the company's self-driving technology." From the report: The last time we in tech news circles heard from Singhal, he was saying goodbye after a 15-year career at Google, in a farewell letter that felt a lot like a retirement announcement. Singhal wrote that he was leaving to "see what kind of impact [he could] make philanthropically" and to"spend more time with [his] family," in an effort to "define [his] next fifteen years." Now, a little under a year later, Singhal is back in an executive role -- this time at a much younger company, but still at one of the most influential technology firms in the world. So how did Singhal get from there to here? Well, for starters, Singhal did throw himself into philanthropic pursuits, focusing on the Singhal Foundation established by him and his wife Shipa, which aims to deliver access to high quality education for kids who normally wouldn't be able to attend top schools, and which began with a focus on the city of Jodhpur, in India. Singhal met Travis Kalanick through a mutual friend, which sparked a series of conversations between the search expert and the famous founder about Uber, its goals and its technical challenges. The combination of the scope of both Uber's potential impact, and the extent of the engineering hurdles it faces in achieving its aims were what drew Singhal in; he is, after all, a true engineer at heart, and mountainous technical challenges attract skilled engineers like nothing else. "This company is not only doing things that are amazing, this company also has some of the toughest computer science challenges that I have seen in my career of 25 years," Singhal told me. "Those computer science challenges for a computer science geek are just intriguing -- you give a geek a puzzle, they can't drop it; they need to solve the puzzle. That's how it felt to me."
Education

New Senate Bill Would Give US Grads Preference In Receiving H-1B Visas (computerworld.com) 24

dcblogs quotes a report from Computerworld: A new bill in Congress would give foreign students who graduate from U.S. schools priority in getting an H-1B visa. The legislation also "explicitly prohibits" the replacement of American workers by visa holders. This bill, the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act, was announced Thursday by its co-sponsors, U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), longtime allies on H-1B reform. Grassley is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which gives this bill an immediate big leg up in the legislative process. This legislation would end the annual random distribution, via a lottery, of H-1B visas, and replace it with a system to give priority to certain types of students. Foreign nationals in the best position to get one of the 85,000 H-1B visas issued annually will have earned an advanced degree from a U.S. school, have a well-paying job offer, and have preferred skills. The specific skills weren't identified, but will likely be STEM-related. "Congress created these programs to complement America's high-skilled workforce, not replace it," said Grassley, in a statement. "Unfortunately, some companies are trying to exploit the programs by cutting American workers for cheaper labor."
AI

Elite Scientists Have Told the Pentagon That AI Won't Threaten Humanity (vice.com) 66

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: A new report authored by a group of independent U.S. scientists advising the U.S. Dept. of Defense (DoD) on artificial intelligence (AI) claims that perceived existential threats to humanity posed by the technology, such as drones seen by the public as killer robots, are at best "uninformed." Still, the scientists acknowledge that AI will be integral to most future DoD systems and platforms, but AI that could act like a human "is at most a small part of AI's relevance to the DoD mission." Instead, a key application area of AI for the DoD is in augmenting human performance. Perspectives on Research in Artificial Intelligence and Artificial General Intelligence Relevant to DoD, first reported by Steven Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists, has been researched and written by scientists belonging to JASON, the historically secretive organization that counsels the U.S. government on scientific matters. Outlining the potential use cases of AI for the DoD, the JASON scientists make sure to point out that the growing public suspicion of AI is "not always based on fact," especially when it comes to military technologies. Highlighting SpaceX boss Elon Musk's opinion that AI "is our biggest existential threat" as an example of this, the report argues that these purported threats "do not align with the most rapidly advancing current research directions of AI as a field, but rather spring from dire predictions about one small area of research within AI, Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)." AGI, as the report describes, is the pursuit of developing machines that are capable of long-term decision making and intent, i.e. thinking and acting like a real human. "On account of this specific goal, AGI has high visibility, disproportionate to its size or present level of success," the researchers say.
Encryption

Lavabit Is Relaunching (theintercept.com) 27

The encrypted email service once used by whistleblower Edward Snowden is relaunching today. Ladar Levison, the founder of the encrypted email service Lavabit, announced on Friday that he's relaunching the service with a new architecture that fixes the SSL problem and includes other privacy-enhancing features as well, such as one that obscures the metadata on emails to prevent government agencies like the NSA and FBI from being able to find out with whom Lavabit users communicate. In addition, he's also announcing plans to roll out end-to-end encryption later this year. The Intercept provides some backstory in its report: In 2013, [Levison] took the defiant step of shutting down the company's service rather than comply with a federal law enforcement request that could compromise its customers' communications. The FBI had sought access to the email account of one of Lavabit's most prominent users -- Edward Snowden. Levison had custody of his service's SSL encryption key that could help the government obtain Snowden's password. And though the feds insisted they were only after Snowden's account, the key would have helped them obtain the credentials for other users as well. Lavabit had 410,000 user accounts at the time. Rather than undermine the trust and privacy of his users, Levison ended the company's email service entirely, preventing the feds from getting access to emails stored on his servers. But the company's users lost access to their accounts as well. Levison, who became a hero of the privacy community for his tough stance, has spent the last three years trying to ensure he'll never have to help the feds break into customer accounts again. "The SSL key was our biggest threat," he says.
Businesses

Apple Sues Qualcomm For Roughly $1 Billion Over Royalties (cnbc.com) 19

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: Apple is suing Qualcomm for roughly $1 billion, saying Qualcomm has been "charging royalties for technologies they have nothing to do with." The suit follows the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's lawsuit against Qualcomm earlier this week over unfair patent licensing practices. Apple says that Qualcomm has taken "radical steps," including "withholding nearly $1 billion in payments from Apple as retaliation for responding truthfully to law enforcement agencies investigating them." Apple added, "Despite being just one of over a dozen companies who contributed to basic cellular standards, Qualcomm insists on charging Apple at least five times more in payments than all the other cellular patent licensors we have agreements with combined." Apple also alleges that once it began cooperating with Korean authorities' antitrust investigation of Qualcomm, the company withheld $1 billion in retaliation. Korean regulators fined Qualcomm $854 million for unfair trade practices in December.
AT&T

Despite Glitches, AT&T's DirecTV Now Hits 200,000 Subscribers in Its First Month (techcrunch.com) 18

AT&T's new live TV streaming service DirecTV Now has been off to a shaky start in terms of performance, but that hasn't stemmed the flow of sign-ups, AT&T reports. The company said the service added more than 200,000 subscribers in its first month of operations. From a report on TechCrunch: These details were included in an SEC filing for the quarter ending on December 31, 2016. DirecTV Now launched on November 30, 2016. The filing also notes the additions only include paying customers. To be clear, there's no free tier for DirecTV Now, but the company has been offering free trials so customers can kick the tires before committing to a subscription plan. Of course, it's not entirely surprising that DirecTV Now was able to gain so many customers in such a short period of time. On paper, at least, the service sounds compelling.
Sony

Sony Is Weighing a Sale of Film, TV Business (nypost.com) 27

Sony could be exploring the sale of its film and television unit just a week after announcing the departure of Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton. From a report: Tokyo's Sony Corp. is listening to bank pitches about a potential sale of its film and TV operations, several sources told The Post. "Every bank is pushing pitches," said one person familiar with the process. Another confirmed that banks have paid a flurry of visits to Tokyo to advise on a sale of Sonyâ(TM)s film and TV business. The Post was first to report that the Japanese owners were ready to listen to bid proposals if they had the right number attached. CBS CEO Leslie Moonves has long signaled interest in acquiring the asset, though several Chinese bidders could be in the wings. Sony CEO Kaz Hirai has denied any intent to sell the firm during the five years he's been in the top slot at the company. Still, he has not appointed a successor to Lynton, despite knowing of his intention to depart for some time. That has sparked speculation that there may be no position to fill.
Android

Galaxy S7 Display Defaults To Full HD After Nougat Update, But You Can Switch Back (androidcentral.com) 12

An anonymous reader writes: Samsung's new display scaling options change the default resolution of the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge. The Nougat update to the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge introduces a new display scaling option that lets you reduce the screen resolution as a way to conserve battery life. With the update, you can now choose between three modes -- WQHD (2560x1440), FHD (1920x1080), and HD (1280x720). While it's a nifty feature to have, the display on the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge is automatically defaulting to Full HD for those that have installed the update. Fortunately, you can easily switch back to the native Quad HD resolution by navigating to Settings -> Display.
Windows

Microsoft Targets Chrome Users With Windows 10 Pop-up Ad (pcmag.com) 107

Google Chrome users on Windows 10 are apparently being treated to a new experience: a pop-up ad. From a PCMag report: If you have Chrome installed and the icon present on the Windows Taskbar, chances are you're going to start seeing a pop-up advert appear suggesting you install Microsoft's Personal Shopping Assistant Chrome extension. Microsoft touts it as "Your smart shopping cart across the web." Opting to install the extension results in Microsoft monitoring which products you've searched for and viewed while using Chrome, and then offering to compare those products to find the best price. There's also alerts when prices change, and the ability to track products across all your devices. Of course, Microsoft will make money if you opt to purchase any products using the Assistant.
Businesses

Amazon Launches Virtual 'Dash' Buttons For One-Click Buying From the Homepage (recode.net) 22

Amazon's Dash Buttons, those tiny, physical gadgets, make buying products from the online retailer easier when you're not in front of a computer. Now the company is taking that idea back to its digital storefront. From a report on Recode: The new virtual Dash buttons started appearing on the Amazon.com homepage and the Amazon app home screen on Thursday night. The company is automatically creating ones for items you recently ordered or order often. An order is placed with one click or tap on the digital button. An Amazon spokesperson said Prime members can create a virtual one-click button for tens of millions of products available for Prime delivery. "Add to your Dash buttons" is now an option on the product page of all eligible products. Virtual Dash buttons are free to use, while the physical ones cost $4.99. A spokesperson said the idea for the virtual shortcuts came from the success of the physical buttons and is not connected to the reported expiration of the Amazon patent for one-click purchases.
Democrats

Donald Trump Is Sworn In As the 45th US President (reuters.com) 1061

Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday, succeeding Barack Obama and taking control of a divided country in a transition of power that he has declared will lead to "America First" policies at home and abroad. Reuters reports: As scattered protests erupted elsewhere in Washington, Trump raised his right hand and put his left on a Bible used by Abraham Lincoln and repeated a 35-word oath of office from the U.S. Constitution, with U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts presiding.
Businesses

Uber Will Pay $20 Million For Exaggerating Drivers' Earnings (engadget.com) 57

Uber is paying $20 million to settle allegations that it duped people into driving for its ride-hailing service with false promises about how much they would earn and how much they would have to pay to finance a car. From a report: The FTC claimed that Uber was advertising an annual median income of over $90,000 per year for uberX drivers in New York and more than $74,000 for uberX drivers in San Francisco. But, as the commission found out, less than 10 percent of all drivers in those cities actually make that much. The complaint also alleges that Uber was inflating the hourly earnings on job boards like Craigslist. New drivers who financed a new car through Uber's Vehicle Solutions Program found out the company's claims were too good to be true as well. Although Uber told new drivers they would be able to lease a new car for around $119 per week, the actual lease rates never dipped below $200 from late 2013 to April 2015. And, despite its promise of delivering "the best financing options available," it turns out that Uber's rates were actually worse than consumers with similar credit scores could have gotten elsewhere. Adding insult to overpriced injury, Uber tacked on mileage limits to lease agreements that were advertised with unlimited mileage.
Japan

Japan is Testing USB Phone Charging Stations in Public Transport Buses (thenextweb.com) 58

According to Japanese news outlet IT Media, a public transport bus in the Tokyo area has introduced, and is currently testing, USB charging stations for commuter phones and tablets. From a report: While the local Bureau of Transportation hasn't formally announced or confirmed the trials, numerous passengers so far have reported seeing the charging ports. The service runs free of charge, with at least five of these wall-mounted charging hotspots placed inside the bus. According to reports, the service is currently available solely in a single bus. It remains unclear how long testing will continue or whether it will eventually roll out to more buses. Japan isn't the only country to have offered phone charging stations in public transport vehicles. Last September, London also equipped a limited number of busses with USB chargers. Similarly, Singapore ran trials with wall-mounted phone chargers on at least 10 buses in September last year.
Security

Top Security Researchers Ask The Guardian To Retract Its WhatsApp Backdoor Report (technosociology.org) 63

Earlier this month The Guardian reported what it called a "backdoor" in WhatsApp, a Facebook-owned instant messaging app. Some security researchers were quick to call out The Guardian for what they concluded was irresponsible journalism and misleading story. Now, a group of over three dozen security researchers including Matthew Green and Bruce Schneier (as well as some from companies such as Google, Mozilla, Cloudflare, and EFF) have signed a long editorial post, pointing out where The Guardian's report fell short, and also asking the publication to retract the story. From the story: The WhatsApp behavior described is not a backdoor, but a defensible user-interface trade-off. A debate on this trade-off is fine, but calling this a "loophole" or a "backdoor" is not productive or accurate. The threat is remote, quite limited in scope, applicability (requiring a server or phone number compromise) and stealthiness (users who have the setting enabled still see a warning; "even if after the fact). The fact that warnings exist means that such attacks would almost certainly be quickly detected by security-aware users. This limits this method. Telling people to switch away from WhatsApp is very concretely endangering people. Signal is not an option for many people. These concerns are concrete, and my alarm is from observing what's actually been happening since the publication of this story and years of experience in these areas. You never should have reported on such a crucial issue without interviewing a wide range of experts. The vaccine metaphor is apt: you effectively ran a "vaccines can kill you" story without interviewing doctors, and your defense seems to be, "but vaccines do kill people [through extremely rare side effects]."
China

Viral Chinese Selfie App Meitu, Valued at Over $5 Billion, Phones Home With Personal Data (theregister.co.uk) 77

The Meitu selfie horrorshow app going viral through Western audiences is a privacy nightmare, researchers say. The app, which has been featured on several popular outlets including the NYTimes, USA Today, and NYMag, harvests information about the devices on which it runs, includes invasive advertising tracking features and is just badly coded. From a report: But worst of all, the free app appears to be phoning some to share personal data with its makers. Meitu, a Chinese production, includes in its code up to three checks to determine if an iPhone handset is jailbroken, according to respected forensics man Jonathan Zdziarski, a function to grab mobile provider information, and various analytics capabilities. Zdziarski says the app also appears to build a unique device profile based in part on a handset's MAC address. "Meitu is a throw-together of multiple analytics and marketing/ad tracking packages, with something cute to get people to use it," Zdziarski says. Unique phone IMEI numbers are shipped to dozens of Chinese servers, malware researcher FourOctets found. The app, which was valued at over $5 billion last year due its popularity, seeks access to device and app history; accurate location; phone status; USB, photos, and files storage read and write; camera; Wifi connections; device ID & call information; full network access, run at startup, and prevent device from sleeping on Android phones.

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