China

How Does Chinese Tech Stack Up Against American Tech? 114

The Economist: China's tech leaders love visiting California, and invest there, but are no longer awed by it [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. By market value the Middle Kingdom's giants, Alibaba and Tencent, are in the same league as Alphabet and Facebook. New stars may float their shares in 2018-19, including Didi Chuxing (taxi rides), Ant Financial (payments) and Lufax (wealth management). China's e-commerce sales are double America's and the Chinese send 11 times more money by mobile phones than Americans, who still scribble cheques.

The venture-capital (VC) industry is booming. American visitors return from Beijing, Hangzhou and Shenzhen blown away by the entrepreneurial work ethic. Last year the government decreed that China would lead globally in artificial intelligence (AI) by 2030. The plan covers a startlingly vast range of activities, including developing smart cities and autonomous cars and setting global tech standards. Like Japanese industry in the 1960s, private Chinese firms take this "administrative guidance" seriously.
Security

Phishing Attack Scores Credentials For More Than 50,000 Snapchat Users (theverge.com) 11

An anonymous reader quotes an exclusive report from The Verge: In late July, Snap's director of engineering emailed the company's team in response to an unfolding privacy threat. A government official from Dorset in the United Kingdom had provided Snap with information about a recent attack on the company's users: a publicly available list, embedded in a phishing website named klkviral.org, that listed 55,851 Snapchat accounts, along with their usernames and passwords. The attack appeared to be connected to a previous incident that the company believed to have been coordinated from the Dominican Republic, according to emails obtained by The Verge. Not all of the account credentials were valid, and Snap had reset the majority of the accounts following the initial attack. But for some period of time, thousands of Snapchat account credentials were available on a public website. According to a person familiar with the matter, the attack relied on a link sent to users through a compromised account that, when clicked, opened a website designed to mimic the Snapchat login screen.
Businesses

Labor Board Says Google Could Fire James Damore For Anti-Diversity Memo (theverge.com) 567

According to a recently disclosed letter from the U.S. National Labor Relations Board, Google didn't violate labor laws by firing engineer James Damore for a memo criticizing the company's diversity program. "The lightly redacted statement is written by Jayme Sophir, associate general counsel of the NLRB's division of advice; it dates to January, but was released yesterday, according to Law.com," reports The Verge. "Sophir concludes that while some parts of Damore's memo was legally protected by workplace regulations, 'the statements regarding biological differences between the sexes were so harmful, discriminatory, and disruptive as to be unprotected.'" From the report: Damore filed an NLRB complaint in August of 2017, after being fired for internally circulating a memo opposing Google's diversity efforts. Sophir recommends dismissing the case; Bloomberg reports that Damore withdrew it in January, and that his lawyer says he's focusing on a separate lawsuit alleging discrimination against conservative white men at Google. NLRB records state that its case was closed on January 19th. In her analysis, Sophir writes that employers should be given "particular deference" in trying to enforce anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, since these are tied to legal requirements. And employers have "a strong interest in promoting diversity" and cooperation across different groups of people. Because of this, "employers must be permitted to 'nip in the bud' the kinds of employee conduct that could lead to a 'hostile workplace,'" she writes. "Where an employee's conduct significantly disrupts work processes, creates a hostile work environment, or constitutes racial or sexual discrimination or harassment, the Board has found it unprotected even if it involves concerted activities regarding working conditions."
Government

Facebook Must Stop Tracking Belgian Users, Court Rules (mercurynews.com) 83

Facebook must stop tracking Belgian users' surfing outside the social network and delete data it's already gathered, or it will face fines of 250,000 ($312,000) euros a day, a Belgian court ruled. From a report: Facebook "doesn't sufficiently inform" clients about the data it gathers on their broader web use, nor does it explain what it does with the information or say how long it stores it, the Brussels Court of First Instance said in a statement. The social network is coming under increasing fire in Europe, with a high-profile German antitrust probe examining whether it unfairly compels users to sign up to restrictive privacy terms. Belgium's data-protection regulators have targeted the company since at least 2015 when a court ordered it to stop storing non-users' personal data.
Encryption

Two Years After FBI vs Apple, Encryption Debate Remains (axios.com) 170

It's been two years since the FBI and Apple got into a giant fight over encryption following the San Bernardino shooting, when the government had the shooter's iPhone, but not the password needed to unlock it, so it asked Apple to create a way inside. What's most surprising is how little has changed since then. From a report: The encryption debate remains unsettled, with tech companies largely opposed and some law enforcement agencies still making the case to have a backdoor. The case for strong encryption: Those partial to the tech companies' arguments will note that cyberattacks and hacking incidents have become even more common, with encryption serving as a valuable way to protect individuals' personal information. The case for backdoors: Criminals are doing bad stuff and when devices are strongly encrypted they can do it in what amounts to the perfect dark alley, completely hidden from public view.
Crime

Electronics-Recycling Innovator Faces Prison For Extending Computers' Lives 279

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."
Transportation

Bloomberg Starts Tracking Tesla Model 3 Production (bloomberg.com) 52

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.
Twitter

Pro-Gun Russian Bots Flood Twitter After Parkland Shooting (wired.com) 680

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.

United Kingdom

UK Blames Russia For Cyber Attack, Says Won't Tolerate Disruption (reuters.com) 142

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.
Android

FBI, CIA, and NSA: Don't Use Huawei Phones (cnbc.com) 231

The heads of six top U.S. intelligence agencies told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday they would not advise Americans to use products or services from Chinese smartphone maker Huawei. "The six -- including the heads of the CIA, FBI, NSA and the director of national intelligence -- first expressed their distrust of Apple-rival Huawei and fellow Chinese telecom company ZTE in reference to public servants and state agencies," reports CNBC. From the report: "We're deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don't share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks," FBI Director Chris Wray testified. "That provides the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure," Wray said. "It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage."

In a response, Huawei said that it "poses no greater cybersecurity risk than any ICT vendor." A spokesman said in a statement: "Huawei is aware of a range of U.S. government activities seemingly aimed at inhibiting Huawei's business in the U.S. market. Huawei is trusted by governments and customers in 170 countries worldwide and poses no greater cybersecurity risk than any ICT vendor, sharing as we do common global supply chains and production capabilities."

Government

Kaspersky Lab Sues Over Second Federal Ban (axios.com) 97

Cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab has filed a lawsuit targeting the second of two federal bans on its wares. The latest suit goes after language in a defense law explicitly blocking the purchase of Kaspersky products. An earlier suit targets a Homeland Security directive doing the same. From a report: The bigger picture: With the White House reluctant to institute additional sanctions on Russia, White House Cyber Czar Rob Joyce pointed to Kaspersky as an example of the Trump administration taking Russia seriously. While Kaspersky isn't alleged to be involved in the election hacks of 2016, it's hard not to see the actions against the firm in the context of deteriorated relations with Moscow, as part of a growing spat between the two countries.
Earth

Trump Administration Wants To Fire 248 Forecasters At the National Weather Service (fortune.com) 523

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Fortune: After a year that saw over $300 million in damages from hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters, the Trump administration is proposing significant cuts to the National Weather Service (NWS) and hopes to eliminate the jobs of 248 weather forecasters. The idea, which is part of the 2019 fiscal budget proposal and caught the agency by surprise, is being derided by the NWS's labor union, which says the cuts will impact the reliability of future weather forecasts and warnings. All totaled, the Weather Service faces cuts of $75 million in the initial proposal. Some or all of those cuts could be jettisoned before the bill is voted upon. "We can't take any more cuts and still do the job that the American public needs us to do -- there simply will not be the staff available on duty to issue the forecasts and warnings upon which the country depends," said Dan Sobien, the president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

Further reading: The Washington Post
Advertising

Huawei Got People To Write Fake Reviews For An Unreleased Phone (theverge.com) 39

As spotted by 9to5Google, Huawei has apparently posted fake reviews on Best Buy for its new Mate 10 Pro, which is available for pre-order in the U.S. despite not having any deals with U.S. carriers. "The fake reviews, which are exclusively on the Best Buy website, are likely the result of a contest Huawei ran on Facebook," reports The Verge. From the report: On January 31st, the company posted to a Facebook group with over 60,000 members, asking for people to leave comments on the Best Buy pre-sale page in exchange for a chance to beta test a Mate 10 Pro. The original post has been deleted, but 9to5Google obtained a screenshot before it went down. "Tell us how to why (sic) you WANT to own the Mate 10 Pro in the review section of our pre-sale Best Buy retail page," the post states. On the Best Buy site, there are currently 108 reviews for the phone, 103 of which were written on or after January 31st, the day Huawei posted the contest. Many of the comments directly reference not having any actual hands-on experience with the product itself, but give the phone a five star rating. "I can't wait to get my hands on this phone and demonstrate how amazing it is to people," reads one. "This device looks exciting and beautiful and it would be amazing to have a chance to beta test it," another reads. It seems Huawei is betting that loads of high ratings early on will make people trust the product and lead to higher sales. That's all well and good except that these types of reviews are strictly against Best Buy policy, as 9to5Google points out. "Huawei's first priority is always the consumer and we encourage our customers to share their experiences with our devices in their own voice and through authentic conversation," a Huawei representative told The Verge in a statement. "While there are reviews from beta testers with extensive knowledge of the product, they were in no way given monetary benefits for providing their honest opinions of the product. However, we are working to remove posts by beta testers where it isn't disclosed they participated in the review program."
The Internet

Trump's Infrastructure Plan Has No Dedicated Money For Broadband (arstechnica.com) 103

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: President Trump's new 10-year plan for "rebuilding infrastructure in America" doesn't contain any funding specifically earmarked for improving Internet access. Instead, the plan sets aside a pool of funding for numerous types of infrastructure projects, and broadband is one of the eligible categories. The plan's $50 billion Rural Infrastructure Program lists broadband as one of five broad categories of eligible projects.

Eighty percent of the program's $50 billion would be "provided to the governor of each state." Governors would take the lead in deciding how the money would be spent in their states. The other 20 percent would pay for grants that could be used for any of the above project categories. Separately, broadband would be eligible for funding from a proposed $20 billion Transformative Projects Program, along with transportation, clean water, drinking water, energy, and commercial space. Trump's plan would also add rural broadband facilities to the list of eligible categories for Private Activity Bonds, which allow private projects to "benefit from the lower financing costs of tax-exempt municipal bonds." The plan would also let carriers install small cells and Wi-Fi attachments without going through the same environmental and historical preservation reviews required for large towers.

Businesses

Bill Gates: Tech Companies Inviting Government Intervention (axios.com) 150

In an interview with Axios on Tuesday, Bill Gates warned Apple and other tech giants that they risk the kind of nightmarish government intervention that once plagued his Microsoft if they act arrogantly. Axios reports: The big picture: "The companies need to be careful that they're not ... advocating things that would prevent government from being able to, under appropriate review, perform the type of functions that we've come to count on." Asked if he sees instances of that now, Gates replied: "Oh, absolutely." Why it matters: With the Big Tech companies feeling they're suddenly drawing unfair scrutiny, this is Microsoft's co-founder saying they're bringing some of the problems on themselves, by resisting legitimate oversight.
China

US Senators Voice Concern Over Chinese Access To Intellectual Property (reuters.com) 115

Leaders of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee said on Tuesday they were concerned about what they described as China's efforts to gain access to sensitive U.S. technologies and intellectual property through Chinese companies with government ties. From a report: Senator Richard Burr, the committee's Republican chairman, cited concerns about the spread of foreign technologies in the United States, which he called "counterintelligence and information security risks that come prepackaged with the goods and services of certain overseas vendors. The focus of my concern today is China, and specifically Chinese telecoms (companies) like Huawei and ZTE that are widely understood to have extraordinary ties to the Chinese government," Burr said. Senator Mark Warner, the committee's Democratic vice chairman, said he had similar concerns. "I'm worried about the close relationship between the Chinese government and Chinese technology firms, particularly in the area of commercialization of our surveillance technology and efforts to shape telecommunications equipment markets," Warner said.
The Courts

Comcast Sues Vermont Over Conditions On New License Requiring the Company To Expand Its Network (vtdigger.org) 180

An anonymous reader quotes a report from VTDigger: Cable television giant Comcast is suing the Vermont Public Utility Commission over the panel's decision to require the company to expand its network and step up support for community access TV if it wants to continue doing business in Vermont. A key issue is the services Comcast must provide to local community access systems that carry municipal government and school board meetings and other local events. The 26 community access systems have been pushing -- against resistance by Comcast -- for high-definition video, greater ability to operate from remote locations, and inclusion in the interactive program guides that Comcast customers can use to decide what to watch. The PUC -- formerly known as the Public Service Board -- in January issued a new 11-year permit for Comcast to operate in Vermont. In July the panel rejected the company's request to drop some of the conditions attached to the permit.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Burlington, Comcast argued that the PUC "exceeded its authority under federal and Vermont law" by imposing "numerous conditions on Comcast's continued cable operations in the state that are arbitrary, unprecedented and will ultimately harm local cable subscribers by resulting in millions of dollars in increased cable costs." It said the commission "did so despite overwhelming record evidence that Vermont cable subscribers do not want to incur any additional costs or fees for the kinds of conditions imposed" in the commission's January order.

EU

Daylight Saving Time Isn't Worth It, European Parliament Members Say (arstechnica.com) 425

AmiMoJo shares a report from Ars Technica: Earlier this week, the European Parliament voted 384 to 153 to review whether Daylight Saving Time is actually worth it. Although the resolution it voted on was non-binding, the majority reflected a growing dissatisfaction with a system that has been used by the U.S., Canada, most of Europe, and regions in Asia, Africa, and South America for decades. The resolution asked the European Commission to review the costs and benefits of Daylight Saving Time. If the EU were to abolish Daylight Saving Time, it would need approval of the majority of EU member states and EU Parliament members.

"We think that there's no need to change the clocks," Ireland Member of European Parliament (MEP) Sean Kelly said to Deutsche Welle. "It came in during World War One, it was supposed to be for energy savings -- the indications are that there are very few energy savings, if any -- and there are an awful lot of disadvantages to both human beings and animals that make it outdated at this point."

Government

Trump's New Infrastructure Plan Calls For Selling Off Two Airports (politico.com) 405

The Trump administration has released an infrastructure plan on Monday that proposes that the federal government considers selling off Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport. According to Trump's blueprint, the administration wants to allow federal agencies to divest assets if they "can demonstrate an increase in value from the sale would optimize the taxpayer value for federal assets." It also includes the George Washington and Baltimore Washington parkways, the Washington Aqueduct and the transmission assets of the Tennessee Valley Authority and Bonneville Power Administration on the list for "potential divesture." Politico reports: State and local agencies or the private sector may be better at managing assets currently owned by the federal government, the administration argues, and federal agencies should be able to "identify appropriate conditions under which sales would be made." They should also "delineate how proceeds would be spent." Under the administration's proposal, federal agencies would have to complete an analysis demonstrating an "increase in value from divestiture." Though technically owned by the federal government, both airports are operated by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority under a long-term lease agreement. The 53-page infrastructure plan lays out a vision to turn $200 billion in federal money into $1.5 trillion for fixing America's infrastructure by leveraging local and state dollars and private investment. "The White House says its plan will create $1.5 trillion for repairing and upgrading America's infrastructure," reports CNNMoney. "Only $200 billion of that, however, would come from direct federal spending. The rest is supposed to come from state and local governments, which are expected to match any federal allocation by at least a four-to-one ratio. States have gradually assumed more of the responsibility for funding infrastructure in recent years, and the White House says it wants to accelerate that trend."

As for how the money would be split up, the plan says that half of the new federal money, $100 billion, "would be parceled out as incentives to local government entities," reports CNNMoney. "An additional $20 billion would go toward 'projects of national significance' that can 'lift the American spirit,'" while another $50 billion will be designated "for rural block grants, most of which will be given to states according to a formula based on the miles of rural roads and the rural population they have," reports CNNMoney. "The rest of the money would support other infrastructure-related undertakings..."
ISS

The Trump Administration is Moving To Privatize the International Space Station: Report (techcrunch.com) 235

The Trump administration is planning to privatize the international space station instead of simply decommissioning the orbiting international experiment in 2024, The Washington Post reports. From a report: According to a document obtained by the Post, the current administration is mulling handing the International Space Station off to private industry instead of de-orbiting it as NASA "will expand international and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit." The Post also reported that the administration was looking to request $150 million in fiscal year 2019 "to enable the development and maturation of commercial entities and capabilities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS -- potentially including elements of the ISS -- are operational when they are needed." The U.S. government has already spent roughly $100 billion to build and operate the space station as part of an international coalition that also includes the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the Russian Space Agency.

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