The Almighty Buck

Bitcoin Plunges Below $12,000 To Six-Week Low Over Crackdown Fears (cnbc.com) 174

Bitcoin plunged to a six-week low Tuesday after comments from South Korea's finance minister renewed worries about a crackdown in one of the largest markets for digital currency trading. In a radio program interview, South Korean Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon said that "the shutdown of virtual currency exchanges is still one of the options" the government has. CNBC reports: Bitcoin dropped more than 17 percent to a low of $11,182.71 on Tuesday, falling below $12,000 for the first time since December 5, according to CoinDesk. CoinDesk's bitcoin price index tracks prices from cryptocurrency exchanges Bitstamp, Coinbase, itBit and Bitfinex. As of 12:13 p.m. ET, bitcoin was trading more than 13 percent lower at $11,759.73 a coin, according to CoinDesk. Trading in South Korean won accounted for about 4 percent of bitcoin trading volume, according to CryptoCompare. U.S. dollar-bitcoin trading had the largest share at 40 percent, the website showed. Other major digital currencies including ethereum and ripple also fell significantly. According to CoinMarketCap data, ethereum was trading at $1,051.83, down more than 20 percent in the last 24 hours, before lifting slightly to $1,117.72. Ripple fell almost 27 percent to $1.33 a token before recovering slightly to $1.36.
Software

'Very High Level of Confidence' Russia Used Kaspersky Software For Devastating NSA Leaks (yahoo.com) 232

bricko shares a report from Yahoo Finance: Three months after U.S. officials asserted that Russian intelligence used popular antivirus company Kaspersky to steal U.S. classified information, there are indications that the alleged espionage is related to a public campaign of highly damaging NSA leaks by a mysterious group called the Shadow Brokers. In August 2016, the Shadow Brokers began leaking classified NSA exploit code that amounted to hacking manuals. In October 2017, U.S. officials told major U.S. newspapers that Russian intelligence leveraged software sold by Kaspersky to exfiltrate classified documents from certain computers. (Kaspersky software, like all antivirus software, requires access to everything stored on a computer so that it can scan for malicious software.) And last week the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. investigators "now believe that those manuals [leaked by Shadow Brokers] may have been obtained using Kaspersky to scan computers on which they were stored." Members of the computer security industry agree with that suspicion. "I think there's a very high level of confidence that the Shadow Brokers dump was directly related to Kaspersky ... and it's very much attributable," David Kennedy, CEO of TrustedSec, told Yahoo Finance. "Unfortunately, we can only hear that from the intelligence side about how they got that information to see if it's legitimate."
Microsoft

Microsoft: We're Not Giving Up On Cortana (Even In Home Automation) (zdnet.com) 93

Microsoft is trying to fight back against perceptions that Cortana may be its next consumer-centric technology to face the chopping block. Yesterday, the company issued a press release touting recent wins for Cortana. Among these are the officially unveiled Johnson Controls' Cortana-powered thermostat (which goes on sale for $319 starting in March). ZDNet reports the "other recent Cortana device partners": Allwinner: This company has the Tech R16 Quad Core IoT solution (a reference design for device partners).
Synaptics: This ODM (original design manufacturer) and far-field voice processing vendor produces reference designs for consumer IoT, smart speakers, PC, and more that integrate Cortana.
TONLY: Another reference design vendor working with Microsoft on Cortana devices that make use of Skype.
Qualcomm: In addition to partnering with Microsoft on Windows-on-ARM "Always Connected" PCs, Qualcomm is building reference designs on its Smart Audio and Mesh Networking platforms that use Cortana.
"In addition to our currently supported home automation partners, we are announcing new partnerships with Ecobee, Geeni, Honeywell Lyric, IFTTT, LIFX, TP-Link Kasa, and Honeywell Total Connect Comfort. Cortana currently supports lights, outlets, switches, and thermostats across all providers," the spokesperson said.
Bitcoin

China Plans To Kill Most of the World's Bitcoin Mining Operations (bloomberg.com) 261

The Chinese government will end bitcoin mining operations in the country in the coming months in a move that could have a massive impact on the price of the world's biggest digital currency. From a report: China has been a central player in the development of bitcoin in recent years, but Beijing has spent the last six months cracking down on the cryptocurrency industry -- shutting down local exchanges and banning initial coin offerings. Leaked documents suggest the Chinese government plans an "orderly exit" for bitcoin mining operations in the coming weeks and months. In the documents, issued to the local offices of the internet-finance regulator, authorities were instructed to force mining operations out of business using measures linked to electricity pricing, land use, tax and environmental protection.
Businesses

Uber Is Selling Its Money-Losing Car Lease Business (engadget.com) 22

According to The Wall Street Journal, Uber is selling its Xchange Leasing unit to the car marketplace Fair.com. "It reportedly won't be a clean break," reports Engadget. "Uber will both take a stake in Fair and point would-be drivers to the site through its app. Fair, in return, will offer jobs to roughly 150 workers affected by the switch. Other companies in the running had included Avis Budget Group (yes, the car rental agency), activist investor Carl Icahn's self-titled Icahn Enterprises, Innovate Auto Finance and two capital investment firms."
Businesses

Wind Power Is Now The Cheapest Energy In India (bloombergquint.com) 54

An anonymous reader shares a report: Wind power prices fell to its lowest and below the cheapest solar tariffs in the fourth round of auctions, putting more pressure on turbine makers as developers are expected to negotiate already-falling equipment prices. State-run Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Ltd. auctioned 500-megawatt of grid-connected projects at as low as Rs 2.43 (3.8 cents) a unit. That was quoted by Actis-backed Sprng Energy that bid for 197.5-megawatt capacity and KP Energy that won 30 MW. That's lower than the lowest solar power tariffs of Rs 2.44 a unit discovered in May and 8 percent lower than wind power prices discovered in earlier national auctions in October, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. A decline in auction tariffs will put the manufacturers under even more pressure to innovate and meet the price expectations of developers, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said. Falling tariffs may lead to discovery of even lower bids in the national wind auctions scheduled for January, it added. India aims to auction 28-gigawatt wind projects by March 2020 to take it closer to the total targeted capacity of 60 GW by 2022. That's part of the plan to install 175 GW renewable energy capacity by 2022.
Bitcoin

Bitcoin's Rise May Reflect a Monumental Transfer of Trust From Human Institutions Backed By Gov't To Systems Reliant on Well-Tested Code, Says Tim Wu (nytimes.com) 365

Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia, writing for the New York Times: Yet as Bitcoin continues to grow, there's reason to think something deeper and more important is going on. Bitcoin's rise may reflect, for better or worse, a monumental transfer of social trust: away from human institutions backed by government and to systems reliant on well-tested computer code. It is a trend that transcends finance: In our fear of human error, we are putting an increasingly deep faith in technology (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled). What gives the Bitcoin bubble significance is that, like '90s tech, it is part of something much larger than itself. More and more we are losing faith in humans and depending instead on machines. The transformation is more obvious outside of finance. We trust in computers to fly airplanes, help surgeons cut into our bodies and simplify daily tasks, like finding our way home. In this respect, finance is actually behind: Where we no longer feel we can trust people, we let computer code take over. Bitcoin is part of this trend. It was, after all, a carnival of human errors and misfeasance that inspired the invention of Bitcoin in 2009, namely, the financial crisis. Banks backed by economically powerful nations had been the symbol of financial trustworthiness, the gold standard in the post-gold era. But they revealed themselves as reckless, drunk on other people's money, holding extraordinarily complex assets premised on a web of promises that were often mutually incompatible. To a computer programmer, the financial system still looks a lot like untested code with weak debugging that puts way too much faith in the idea that humans will behave properly. As with any bad software, it can be expected to crash when conditions change.
Bitcoin

Coinbase Wants Wall Street To Resolve Its Bitcoin Trust Issues (bloomberg.com) 49

In an effort to use digital money to reinvent finance, cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase is trying to legitimize itself by convincing big money managers to trust it enough to trade on its exchange. They need to "reassure regulators that bitcoin isn't a silk road for hackers, money launderers and tax evaders," reports Bloomberg. From the report: Despite the table tennis, Coinbase shows glimmers of maturity. More than 10 million customers have used the company since it began, though it recently quit updating the tally on its website. About $57 billion of digital currency has traded on the exchange so far this year. It doubled its staff in that time and expects to do so again in 2018. Ultimately, Coinbase plans to go public. The firm said it's prevailed against security threats, helping it avoid the fate of Mt. Gox, the world's biggest bitcoin exchange before shutting its doors in 2014 after $480 million of customer funds went bye-bye. Coinbase stores 98 percent of users' digital currencies in offline safe-deposit boxes. The remaining 2 percent, which is vulnerable because it's online, is covered by insurance. The company holds more than $10 billion in digital assets. Developing ties with banks is one of the biggest challenges. Coinbase doesn't publicly disclose its banking relationships, but a person familiar with the matter said the company is partnering with Cross River Bank, Metropolitan Bank and Silvergate Bank in the U.S.
Facebook

Russia-Linked Accounts Were Active on Facebook Ahead of Brexit (ft.com) 254

The Russia-linked troll farm that used Facebook to target Americans during last year's election was also active in the UK ahead of the Brexit vote (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source), the social media company has admitted. From a report: In a letter to the Electoral Commission, Facebook said accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency spent $0.97 for three ads in the days before the EU referendum. These ads appeared on approximately 200 news feeds in the UK before the country voted to leave the EU last year. For months the social media company has sidestepped questions from MPs and journalists about Russian interference through its platform in the UK. The concerns were fuelled by revelations this summer that Facebook had been weaponised by Russian entities before the election of US President Donald Trump. France and Germany have said their elections were also targeted. "We strongly support the Commission's efforts to regulate and enforce political campaign finance rules in the United Kingdom, and we take the Commission's request very seriously," Facebook said in the letter.
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Nears $17,000 After Climbing About $4,000 in Less Than a Day 464

As economists attempt to make sense of Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency rocketed above $17,000 for the first time moments ago, adding about $4,000 to its price in fewer than 24 hours. Security reporter Brian Krebs tweeted on Thursday, "Closing in on $17k per bitcoin now (mind you, it was almost at $16k less than an hour ago. This is totally fine." Late Wednesday, finance author Ben Carlson wrote: Bitcoin has achieved something I've always wanted to see in the stock mkt - a reverse 1987 (20% gain in a single day)
Businesses

Why 'Shark Tank' Investor Kevin O'Leary Refuses To Spend $2.50 On a Cup of Coffee (cnbc.com) 750

An anonymous reader shares a report: Kevin O'Leary has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in small businesses over the course of his tenure as a star and investor on ABC's "Shark Tank." But there is one business to which he refuses to fork over his hard-earned dollars: coffee shops. "Do I pay $2.50 for a coffee? Never, never, never do I do that," O'Leary tells CNBC Make It. "That is such a waste of money for something that costs 20 cents. I never buy a frape-latte-blah-blah-blah-woof-woof-woof for $2.50." Instead, he makes it at home. "I drink coffee, one cup every morning," he explains. "It costs about 18 cents to make it, and I invest the rest." That idea -- saving small sums and investing continually -- is central to O'Leary's personal finance advice. "The truth is, there is a lot of crap you don't need," he explains.
Education

Massive Financial Aid Data Breach Proves Stanford Lied For Years To MBAs (poetsandquants.com) 116

14 terabytes of "highly confidential" data about 5,120 financial aid applications over seven years were exposed in a breach at Stanford's Graduate School of Business -- proving that the school "misled thousands of applicants and donors about the way it distributes fellowship aid and financial assistance to its MBA students," reports Poets&Quants. The information was unearthed by a current MBA student, Adam Allcock, in February of this year from a shared network directory accessible to any student, faculty member or staffer of the business school. In the same month, on Feb. 23, the student reported the breach to Jack Edwards, director of financial aid, and the records were removed within an hour of his meeting with Edwards. Allcock, however, says he spent 1,500 hours analyzing the data and compiling an 88-page report on it...

Allcock's discovery that more money is being used by Stanford to entice the best students with financial backgrounds suggests an admissions strategy that helps the school achieve the highest starting compensation packages of any MBA program in the world. That is largely because prior work experience in finance is generally required to land jobs in the most lucrative finance fields in private equity, venture capital and hedge funds.

Half the school's students are awarded financial aid, and though Stanford always insisted it was awarded based only on need, the report concluded the school had been "lying to their faces" for more than a decade, also identifying evidece of "systemic biases against international students."

Besides the embarrassing exposure of their financial aid policies, there's another obvious lesson, writes Slashdot reader twentysixV. "It's actually way too easy for users to improperly secure their files in a shared file system, especially if the users aren't particularly familiar with security settings." Especially since Friday the university also reported another university-wide file-sharing platform had exposed "a variety of information from several campus offices, including Clery Act reports of sexual violence and some confidential student disciplinary information from six to 10 years ago."
Bitcoin

Nearly 4 Million Bitcoins Lost Forever, New Study Says (fortune.com) 218

An anonymous reader shares a report: According to new research from Chainalysis, a digital forensics firm that studies the bitcoin blockchain, 3.79 million bitcoins are already gone for good based on a high estimate -- and 2.78 million based on a low one. Those numbers imply 17% to 23% of existing bitcoins, which are today worth around $9,700 each, are lost. While others have speculated about the number of lost bitcoins, the Chainalysis findings are significant because they rely on a detailed empirical analysis of the blockchain, where all bitcoin transactions are recorded.
United Kingdom

Pornhub Owner May Become the UK's Gatekeeper of Online Porn (yahoo.com) 95

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Yahoo News: Mindgeek may be the most powerful company that you've never heard of, or at least, a company you'll claim never to have heard about in polite company. It's the conglomerate that owns some of the world's most visited porn sites, including Pornhub, RedTube and YouPorn. Far from simply being a popular and free way for people to consume adult content, it may soon have a powerful political role in the UK that will ensure its dominance for decades to come. That's because, within the next year, Mindgeek may become the principal gatekeeper between the country's internet users and their porn. In April, the UK passed the Digital Economy Act 2017, legislation that mandated that any website showing adult content must verify the ages of its visitors. It was pushed through in response to concerns that children were being corrupted by easy access to and exposure to adult content at an early age. Section 15(1) of the bill requires that "pornographic material" not be published online, on a "commercial basis," unless it is "not normally accessible by those under 18." The bill has several flaws, not least the number of vague proposals it contains, and the ad hoc definition of what pornography actually is. Section 17 of the same act outlined the creation of an "age-verification regulator," the digital equivalent of a bouncer standing between you and your porn. This gatekeeper will have the right, and duty, to demand you show proof of age, or else refuse you access. In addition, the body will be able to impose fines and enforcement notices on those who either neglect or circumvent the policy. [...] The Open Rights Group believes that the BBFC will then hand over the actual mechanisms of the age verification platform to a third party in the private sector. Mindgeek has had several conversations with officials and is currently pushing its own age verification platform, AgeID. If selected, this platform could become the principal wall between Britons and their pornography -- giving Mindgeek enormous power in the market.
Microsoft

Stop Using Excel, Finance Chiefs Tell Staffs (wsj.com) 273

Tatyana Shumsky, reporting for WSJ: Adobe's finance chief Mark Garrett says his team struggles keeping track of which jobs have been filled at the software company. The process can take days and requires finance staff to pull data from disparate systems that house financial and human-resources information into Microsoft's Excel spreadsheets. From there they can see which groups are hiring and how salary spending affects the budget. "I don't want financial planning people spending their time importing and exporting and manipulating data, I want them to focus on what is the data telling us," Mr. Garrett said. He is working on cutting Excel out of this process, he said. CFOs at companies including P.F. Chang's China Bistro, ABM Industries and Wintrust Financial are on a similar drive to reduce how much their finance teams use Excel for financial planning, analysis and reporting (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; an alternative source wasn't immediately available). Finance chiefs say the ubiquitous spreadsheet software that revolutionized accounting in the 1980s hasn't kept up with the demands of contemporary corporate finance units. Errors can bloom because data in Excel is separated from other systems and isn't automatically updated.
The Media

Net Neutrality is Essentially Unassailable, Argues Billionaire Barry Diller (broadcastingcable.com) 82

An anonymous reader quotes Yahoo Finance: The billionaire media mogul behind such popular sites as Expedia, Match.com and HomeAdvisor has a one-word forecast for traditional media conglomerates concerned about being replaced by tech giants: serfdom. "They, like everyone else, are kind of going to be serfs on the land of the large tech companies," IAC chairman Barry Diller said... That's because Google and Facebook not only have such massive user bases but also dominate online advertising. "Google and Facebook are consolidating," Diller said. "They are the only mass advertising mediums we have..." He expects Facebook, Google and maybe Amazon to face government regulation, simply because of their immense size. "At a certain point in size, you must," he said. "It's inevitable."

He did, however, outline one positive for Big Tech getting so gargantuan. Big Telecom no longer has the economic leverage to roll back today's net-neutrality norms, in which internet providers don't try to charge sites extra for access to their subscribers. "I think it's hard to overturn practically," he said. "It is the accepted system."

Even if the U.S. government takes moves to fight net neutrality, Diller told CNBC that "I think it is over... It is [the] practice of the world... You're still going to be able to push a button and publish to the world, without anybody in between asking you for tribute. I think that is now just the way things are done. I don't think it can be violated no matter what laws are back."
Google

CNBC: Google's New 'Pixel Buds' Suck (yahoo.com) 100

Google's new Pixel Buds "are really bad" and "not worth buying," according to CNBC's technology products editor: The stand-out feature of Google Pixel Buds is that they're supposed to be able to translate spoken languages in near real-time. In my real-world tests, however, that wasn't the case at all. I took the Pixel Buds out on the streets of Manhattan, speaking to a Hungarian waiter in Little Italy, multiple vendors in Chinatown and more. If you press the right earbud and say "help me speak Chinese," for example, the buds will launch Google Translate, you can speak what you'd like to ask someone in another language, and a voice will read out the translated speech through your smartphone's speakers. Then, when someone replies, you'll hear that response through the Pixel Buds.

The microphone on the Pixel Buds is really bad, so it barely picked up my voice queries that I wanted to translate. I stood on the side of the road in Chinatown repeating myself at least 10 times trying to get the phone to pick up my speech in order to begin translation. It barely worked, even if I took the buds out and spoke directly into the microphone on the right earbud, and often only translated half of what I was trying to ask. In a quiet place, I was able to allow someone to respond to me, after which I'd hear the English translation through the headphones. That was neat, but it barely ever actually worked that way. To mitigate this, I found it was just easier to manually open the Google translate app, speak into my phone's microphone, and then let someone else also speak right into my phone. This executed the translation nearly perfectly, and meant that I didn't need the Pixel Buds at all.

The article ends by answering the question, Should you buy them? "Nope. There's nothing I recommend about the Pixel Buds.

"They're cheap-feeling and uncomfortable, and you're better off using the Google Translate app on a phone instead of trying to fumble with the headphones while trying to translate a conversation. The idea is neat, but it just doesn't work well enough to recommend to anyone on any level."
Bitcoin

The Bitcoin Bubble (economist.com) 284

A reader shares an Economist article: More people will trade in Bitcoin and that means more demand, and thus the price should go up. But what is the appeal of Bitcoin? There are really three strands; the limited nature of supply; fears about the long-term value of fiat currencies in an era of quantitative easing; and the appeal of anonymity. The last factor makes Bitcoin appealing to criminals creating this ingenious valuation method for the currency of around $570. These three factors explain why there is some demand for Bitcoin but not the recent surge. The supply details have if anything deteriorated (rival cryptocurrencies are emerging); the criminal community hasn't suddenly risen in size; and there is no sign of general inflation. A possible explanation is the belief that blockchain, the technology that underlines Bitcoin, will be used across the finance industry. But you can create blockchains without having anything to do with Bitcoin; the success of the two aren't inextricably linked. A much more plausible reason for the demand for Bitcoin is that the price is going up rapidly. People are not buying Bitcoin because they intend to use it in their daily lives (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). People are buying Bitcoin because they expect other people to buy it from them at a higher price; the definition of the greater fool theory.
Businesses

Tesla Posts Biggest Quarterly Loss, Slashes Production of Model X and Model S (yahoo.com) 260

Tesla has reported the largest quarterly loss in its history, and said it was cutting production of its Model S and Model X vehicles. Here are the key third-quarter numbers with expectations via Bloomberg: Adjusted loss per share: -$2.92 (-$2.23 expected); Revenue: $2.98 billion ($2.39 billion expected); Free cash flow: -$1.4 billion (-$1.2 billion (expected). Yahoo News reports: The company said it plans to produce 10% fewer units of its Model S and Model X models in the fourth quarter and reallocate resources to the Model 3, its newest. Tesla expects to hit a Model 3 production rate of 5,000 vehicles per week by late Q1 2018. "While we continue to make significant progress each week in fixing Model 3 bottlenecks, the nature of manufacturing challenges during a ramp such as this makes it difficult to predict exactly how long it will take for all bottlenecks to be cleared or when new ones will appear," Tesla said in its statement. Tesla said in October that it produced only 260 vehicles, well below its target of 1,500. CEO Elon Musk said the Model 3 was "deep in production hell."
AI

Rise of the Machines Must Be Monitored, Say Global Finance Regulators (reuters.com) 53

A reader shares a report: Replacing bank and insurance workers with machines risks creating a dependency on outside technology companies beyond the reach of regulators, the global Financial Stability Board (FSB) said on Wednesday. The FSB, which coordinates financial regulation across the Group of 20 Economies (G20), said in its first report on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning that the risks they pose need monitoring. AI and machine learning refer to technology that is replacing traditional methods to assess the creditworthiness of customers, to crunch data, price insurance contracts and spot profitable trades across markets. There are no international regulatory standards for AI and machine learning, but the FSB left open whether new rules are needed.

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