Businesses

Anatomy of a Moral Panic: Reports About Amazon Suggesting 'Bomb-Making Items' Were Highly Misleading (idlewords.com) 23

Maciej Ceglowski, a Polish-American web developer, has demolished a news story from earlier this week in which a British outlet Channel 4 suggested that Amazon's algorithm-driven suggestions were helping people find items that are required to make bombs. Multiple credible news outlets picked the story, including The New York Times, Reuters, BBC, and CNBC. We ran an excerpt from the New York Times' article, which included a newsworthy response from Amazon that it was reviewing its website, on Slashdot. In reality what was happening was, Ceglowski wrote, the items Amazon suggested would help high school chemistry students with their experiments. From his blog: The 'common chemical compound' in Channel 4's report is potassium nitrate, an ingredient used in curing meat. If you go to Amazon's page to order a half-kilo bag of the stuff, you'll see the suggested items include sulfur and charcoal, the other two ingredients of gunpowder. [...] The Channel 4 piece goes on to reveal that people searching for 'another widely available chemical' are being offered the ingredients for thermite, a mixture of metal powders that when ignited "creates a hazardous reaction used in incendiary bombs and for cutting through steel." In this case, the 'widely available chemical' is magnesium ribbon. If you search for this ribbon on Amazon, the site will offer to sell you iron oxide (rust) and aluminum powder, which you can mix together to create a spectacular bit of fireworks called the thermite reaction. The thermite reaction is performed in every high school chemistry classroom, as a fun reward for students who have had to suffer through a baffling unit on redox reactions. [...] When I contacted the author of one of these pieces to express my concerns, they explained that the piece had been written on short deadline that morning, and they were already working on an unrelated article. The author cited coverage in other mainstream outlets (including the New York Times) as justification for republishing and not correcting the assertions made in the original Channel 4 report. The real story in this mess is not the threat that algorithms pose to Amazon shoppers, but the threat that algorithms pose to journalism. By forcing reporters to optimize every story for clicks, not giving them time to check or contextualize their reporting, and requiring them to race to publish follow-on articles on every topic, the clickbait economics of online media encourage carelessness and drama. This is particularly true for technical topics outside the reporter's area of expertise. And reporters have no choice but to chase clicks.
Red Hat Software

Red Hat Pledges Patent Protection For 99 Percent of FOSS-ware (theregister.co.uk) 42

Red Hat says it has amassed over 2,000 patents and won't enforce them if the technologies they describe are used in properly-licensed open-source software. From a report: The company has made more or less the same offer since 2002, when it first made a "Patent Promise" in order to "discourage patent aggression in free and open source software." Back then the company didn't own many patents and claimed its non-enforcement promise covered 35 per cent of open-source software. The Promise was revised in order to reflect the company's growing patent trove and to spruce up the language it uses to make it more relevant. The revised promise "applies to all software meeting the free software or open source definitions of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) or the Open Source Initiative (OSI)." [...] It's not a blank cheque. Hardware isn't covered and Red Hat is at pains to point out that "Our Promise is not an assurance that Red Hat's patents are enforceable or that practicing Red Hat's patented inventions does not infringe others' patents or other intellectual property." But the company says 99 percent of FOSS software should be covered by the Promise.
Businesses

Apple's Latest Products Get Rare Mixed-Bag Reviews, Muted Reception (bloomberg.com) 119

Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg: Despite the strength of its brand, Apple occasionally releases a product to mediocre reviews -- remember the original Apple TV or Apple Watch? But reviewers have rarely been as grumpy as this month, when Apple unveiled its collection of new gadgets for the holidays. "I can't think of a single compelling reason to upgrade [to iPhone 8, or iPhone 8 Plus] from an iPhone 7 [which was launched last year]," wrote Nilay Patel of The Verge. Another potential sign of trouble: the iPhone 8 models didn't sell out during pre-orders, another rare occurrence for Apple phones. [...] Reviewing the new Apple Watch Series 3 model, The Wall Street Journal's Joanna Stern wrote "On the AT&T-connected models, the cellular connection dropped, calls were often choppy and Siri sometimes failed to connect. On the one that ran on T-Mobile, I experienced several dropped connections." The Verge's Lauren Goode noticed a serious connection issue as well, saying the device "would appear to pick up a single bar of some random Wi-Fi signal, and hang on that, rather than switching to LTE." [...] Reviewing the Apple TV 4K, The Verge's Patel noted the device's high price, a lack of 4K support in major apps including YouTube, and a lack of support for the Dolby Atmos audio standard. Reuters reported on Friday: Hundreds of people usually gather at Apple's Sydney city store with queues winding down the town's main street, George Street, when there is a new product release. But there were fewer than 30 people lining up before the store opened on Friday, according to a Reuters witness. While the number of people queuing up outside Apple stores have dropped over the years with many opting for online purchases, the weak turnout for the latest iPhone has partly been due to poor reviews. Over at Financial Times, Tim Bradshaw reports: "I think demand is down from last year, for no other reason than you have another flagship phone," said Neil Cybart, an Apple analyst at Above Avalon. "A portion of the iPhone launch demand is not materialising quite yet." That could leave this weekend's initial sales lower than at any point since the iPhone 6 first launched in 2014, Mr Cybart added. Apple's decision to increase prices for the iPhone 8 compared with last year's model and a less aggressive launch push by mobile carriers could also affect demand.
Communications

T-Mobile, Sprint Close To Agreeing Deal Terms (reuters.com) 57

From a report: T-Mobile US is close to agreeing tentative terms on a deal to merge with peer Sprint Corp, people familiar with the matter said on Friday, a major breakthrough in efforts to merge the third and fourth largest U.S. wireless carriers. The development follows more than four months of on-and-off talks this year between T-Mobile and Sprint, and comes as the U.S. telecommunications sector seeks ways to tackle investments in 5G technology that will greatly enhance wireless data transfer speeds.
Businesses

London Has Decided To Ban Uber (recode.net) 141

Johana Bhuiyan, writing for Recode: Transport for London, the taxi regulating service in London, announced today that it would not be renewing Uber's license to operate because of concerns over the company's "lack of corporate responsibility" in relation to public safety issues. The ride-hail company, which launched in London in 2012, is appealing the TfL's decision and will be allowed to continue to operate until a court makes a decision on that appeal. That process could take months. London is a significant market for Uber: The company says there are 40,000 drivers and 3.5 million riders on its platform in London. And like New York City, it is one of the most regulated markets where Uber operates. Unlike most markets across the U.S., Uber drivers in London and New York City are required to participate in government administered background checks.
The Almighty Buck

Why You Shouldn't Imitate Bill Gates If You Want To Be Rich (bbc.com) 240

dryriver writes: BBC Capital has an article that debunks the idea of "simply doing what highly successful people have done to get rich," because many of those "outliers" got rich under special circumstances that are not possible to replicate. An excerpt: "Even if you could imitate everything Gates did, you would not be able to replicate his initial good fortune. For example, Gates's upper-class background and private education enabled him to gain extra programming experience when less than 0.01% of his generation then had access to computers. His mother's social connection with IBM's chairman enabled him to gain a contract from the then-leading PC company that was crucial for establishing his software empire. This is important because most customers who used IBM computers were forced to learn how to use Microsoft's software that came along with it. This created an inertia in Microsoft's favor. The next software these customers chose was more likely to be Microsoft's, not because their software was necessarily the best, but because most people were too busy to learn how to use anything else. Microsoft's success and marketshare may differ from the rest by several orders of magnitude but the difference was really enabled by Gate's early fortune, reinforced by a strong success-breeds-success dynamic."
Space

Most Powerful Cosmic Rays Come From Galaxies Far, Far Away (space.com) 81

A new study finds the highest-energy cosmic rays to bombard Earth come from galaxies far, far away. Space.com reports: The sun emits relatively low-energy cosmic rays. However, for more than 50 years, scientists have also detected ultra-high-energy cosmic rays, ones far beyond the capability of any particle accelerator on Earth to generate. One way to discover the origins of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays is to study their directions of travel. However, ultra-high-energy cosmic rays only rarely strike Earth's atmosphere, with one hitting any given area about the size of a soccer field about once per century, the researchers said. In order to detect ultra-high-energy cosmic rays, scientists look for the spray of electrons, photons and other particles that result when ultra-high-energy cosmic rays hit the top of Earth's atmosphere. Each of these showers contains more than 10 billion particles, which fly downward in a disk shaped like a giant plate miles wide, according to the statement. Scientists examined the sprays from ultra-high-energy cosmic rays using the largest cosmic-ray observatory yet: the Pierre Auger Observatory built in the western plains of Argentina in 2001. It consists of an array of 1,600 particle detectors deployed in a hexagonal grid over 1,160 square miles (3,000 square kilometers), an area comparable in size to Rhode Island. A connected set of telescopes is also used to see the dim fluorescent light the particles in the sprays emit at night.

The researchers analyzed data collected between 2004 and 2016. During these 12 years, the scientists detected more than 30,000 ultra-high-energy cosmic rays. If ultra-high-energy cosmic rays came from the Milky Way, one might perhaps expect them to come from all across the sky, or perhaps mostly from the direction of the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center. However, the researchers saw that ultra-high-energy cosmic rays mostly came from a broad area of sky about 90 degrees away from the direction of the Milky Way's core.

The Almighty Buck

Tesla Discontinues Its Most Affordable Model S (engadget.com) 86

Tesla will be discontinuing its cheapest Model S option, the Model S 75, this Sunday. What that means is that the all-wheel-drive version -- the 75D -- will take its place as the low-end Model S sedan, currently listed at a starting price of $74,500. Engadget reports: The move to discontinue the Model S 75 was first announced by Tesla in July after it dropped the price by $5,000 a few months earlier. The removal of the model from Tesla's offerings follows its discontinuation of the Model S 60 and 60D vehicles in April, which at the time were the least expensive Model S options available. As well as streamlining its EV line and making all Model S options all-wheel-drive, knocking off the low-end Model S vehicles is also likely being done to carve out a bigger separation between the Model 3 and Model S lines. Custom orders for the Model S 75 will be taken until Sunday, September 24th and the pre-configured versions will be available for purchase until inventory runs out.
EU

EU Paid For Report That Said Piracy Isn't Harmful -- And Tried To Hide Findings (thenextweb.com) 143

According to Julia Reda's blog, the only Pirate in the EU Parliament, the European Commission in 2014 paid the Dutch consulting firm Ecorys 360,000 euros (about $428,000) to research the effect piracy had on sales of copyrighted content. The final report was finished in May 2015, but was never published because the report concluded that piracy isn't harmful. The Next Web reports: The 300-page report seems to suggest that there's no evidence that supports the idea that piracy has a negative effect on sales of copyrighted content (with some exceptions for recently released blockbusters). The report states: "In general, the results do not show robust statistical evidence of displacement of sales by online copyright infringements. That does not necessarily mean that piracy has no effect but only that the statistical analysis does not prove with sufficient reliability that there is an effect. An exception is the displacement of recent top films. The results show a displacement rate of 40 per cent which means that for every ten recent top films watched illegally, four fewer films are consumed legally."

On her blog, Julia Reda says that a report like this is fundamental to discussions about copyright policies -- where the general assumption is usually that piracy has a negative effect on rightsholders' revenues. She also criticizes the Commissions reluctance to publish the report and says it probably wouldn't have released it for several more years if it wasn't for the access to documents request she filed in July.
As for why the Commission hadn't published the report earlier, Reda says: "all available evidence suggests that the Commission actively chose to ignore the study except for the part that suited their agenda: In an academic article published in 2016, two European Commission officials reported a link between lost sales for blockbusters and illegal downloads of those films. They failed to disclose, however, that the study this was based on also looked at music, ebooks and games, where it found no such connection. On the contrary, in the case of video games, the study found the opposite link, indicating a positive influence of illegal game downloads on legal sales. That demonstrates that the study wasn't forgotten by the Commission altogether..."
Encryption

Distrustful US Allies Force Spy Agency To Back Down In Encryption Fight (reuters.com) 99

schwit1 shares a report from Reuters: An international group of cryptography experts has forced the U.S. National Security Agency to back down over two data encryption techniques it wanted set as global industry standards, reflecting deep mistrust among close U.S. allies. In interviews and emails seen by Reuters, academic and industry experts from countries including Germany, Japan and Israel worried that the U.S. electronic spy agency was pushing the new techniques not because they were good encryption tools, but because it knew how to break them. The NSA has now agreed to drop all but the most powerful versions of the techniques -- those least likely to be vulnerable to hacks -- to address the concerns.
Firefox

Firefox For iOS Gets Tracking Protection, Firefox Focus For Android Gets Tabs 27

An anonymous reader quotes a report from VentureBeat: Mozilla today released Firefox 9.0 for iOS and updated Firefox Focus for Android. The iOS browser is getting tracking protection, improved sync, and iOS 11 compatibility. The Android privacy browser is getting tabs. You can download the former from Apple's App Store and the latter from Google Play. This is the first time Firefox has offered tracking protection on iOS, and Nick Nguyen, vice president of product at Mozilla, notes that it's finally possible "thanks to changes by Apple to enable the option for 3rd party browsers." This essentially means iPhone and iPad users with Firefox and iOS 11 will have automatic ad and content blocking in Private Browsing mode, and the option to turn it on in regular browsing. This is the same feature that's available in Firefox for Android, Windows, Mac, and Linux, as well as the same ad blocking technology used in Firefox Focus for Android and iOS.
The Almighty Buck

Bitcoin Futures-Based ETF Likely To Be Approved in the US (thestreet.com) 57

The race is on: who will be the first to launch a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund in the United States? From a report, shared by a reader: In Europe, there is already a Bitcoin exchange traded note (ETN) available to investors. In the U.S., it is widely anticipated a Bitcoin ETF will be be approved by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) very soon. In Europe, ETNs are designed to track the movement of Bitcoin against the U.S. dollar. The ETNs are Bitcoin Tracker One, which is traded in Swedish krona and Bitcoin Tracker EURO, which is traded in euro. Both ETNs are issued by XBT Provider AB and traded on Nasdaq OMX (Stockholm). Dave Nadig, CEO of ETF.com and previously the director of ETFs at FactSet Research Systemsm believes we can expect to see Bitcoin Futures-based ETF launched in the U.S. by the end of this year. "Yes, you can already trade a derivative in Europe, an exchange traded note which tracks Bitcoin," Nadig adds. "Then the race in the U.S. is the race to see what gets approval first. Will it be a Bitcoin future or a straight up Bitcoin holding ETF? My bet is that we will see Bitcoin futures approved fairly quickly."
Businesses

Google Buys Part of HTC's Smartphone Team For $1.1 Billion (betanews.com) 92

BrianFagioli shares a report from BetaNews: Today, a deal finally happens, but Google didn't buy HTC outright. Strangely, as the deal is laid out, the search giant has seemingly bought HTC employees. Yes, for $1.1 billion, the search giant has sort of purchased human beings -- plus it gets access to some intellectual property. HTC gets a much-needed big influx of cash. "Google and HTC Corporation today announced a definitive agreement under which certain HTC employees -- many of whom are already working with Google to develop Pixel smartphones -- will join Google. HTC will receive $1.1 billion in cash from Google as part of the transaction. Separately, Google will receive a non-exclusive license for HTC intellectual property (IP). The agreement is a testament to the decade-long strategic relationship between HTC and Google around the development of premium smartphones," says HTC.
Education

Computer Science Degrees Aren't Returning On Investment For Coders, Research Finds (theregister.co.uk) 370

According to a new survey, coders with a bachelor's degree in computer science only earn 3,000 British Pounds (BP) more a year than those who don't have one. The survey of 4,700 developers in the UK was conducted by Stack Overflow, a community site frequented by developers for answers to technical questions. The Register reports the findings: This is despite the average degree now costing 9,000 BP a year in tuition fees alone. Average student debt is now more than 50,000 BP, according the Institute of Fiscal Studies. The research found that the median salary of those who did not have higher education was 35,000 BP per year, while those who gained a bachelor's degree earned 38,000 BP and postgraduates took home 42,000 BP. It found that 48 per cent of developers with less than four years of professional experience currently hold a Computer Science-related undergraduate degree, while 49 per cent had completed an online course instead. The research also found that JavaScript developers were most in demand, with almost 27 per cent of jobs advertised on Stack Overflow now requiring this skill, followed by Java (22 per cent), Python (16 per cent), C# (15 per cent) and ReactJS (9 per cent).
Youtube

More Are Paying To Stream Music, But YouTube Still Holds the Value Gap (theregister.co.uk) 43

An anonymous reader shares a report: With Google's user-generated content loophole firmly in lawmaker's sights, global music trade body IFPI has published new research looking at demand for music streaming. The research confirms YouTube's pre-eminence as the world's de facto jukebox. 46 percent of on-demand music streaming is from Google's video website. 75 percent of internet users use video streaming to hear music. The paid-for picture is bullish: 50 percent of internet users have paid for licensed music in the last six months, in one form or another, of which 53 per are 13- to 15-year-olds. Audio streaming is split between 39 percent who stream for free and 29 percent who pay. [...] So what's the problem? European policy makers have become convinced by the "value gap" argument: compensation doesn't reflect usage. Google finds itself with a unique advantage here, thanks to YouTube's "user-generated content" exception, as we explained last year.
Earth

Seismologist Explains Mexico's Back-To-Back Earthquakes (theverge.com) 50

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The second major earthquake to strike Mexico in less than two weeks has caused catastrophic damage in the country's capital. The magnitude 7.1 temblor started at around 1:15PM -- cracking highways, collapsing buildings, and, so far, killing more than 200 people. Less than two weeks ago on September 7th (local time), a magnitude 8.1 quake struck roughly 400 miles southeast from today's. It's not common to hear of such strong earthquakes happening back-to-back so close to one another, says John Bellini, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "Usually you don't have large ones in the same general region right away," Bellini says. "But in highly [seismically] active regions of the world, it can happen."

Mexico qualifies as highly active. The country sits at the boundary of three pieces of the Earth's crust that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle -- called tectonic plates. Today's quake originated on a fault within the Cocos plate, which is on Mexico's western edge. "Whether or not faults rupture depends on the kind of stress that builds up," Bellini says. The Cocos plate scoots rapidly under the continental crust of the North American plate, which "builds up the stress and strain at a faster rate," Bellini says. "So you're liable to have more frequent earthquakes because of that." Mexico City is especially prone to severe damage because of the ground it sits on -- an ancient lakebed that quivers like jello, Bellini says. When earthquake waves pass through it, it jiggles, magnifying the vibrations. "So the reason that Mexico City seems susceptible to more damage is because of this amplification effect of the lake bed," Bellini says.

Earth

Mathematical Formula Predicts Global Mass Extinction Event in 2100 (vice.com) 379

Kate Lunau, writing for Motherboard: A new paper in Science Advances finds that a mass extinction period mirroring ones from our planet's ancient past could be triggered when humanity adds a certain amount of carbon to the oceans, which are home to the majority of all plants and animals on our planet. The paper pegs that amount at 310 gigatons. According to lead author Daniel Rothman of MIT, based on projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we're on course to hit that number by 2100. After that, we enter "unknown territory." [...] Previous mass extinctions have happened over the course of thousands or millions of years, but the period of change we're in right now has lasted centuries at best, making it hard to compare them. Although plenty of experts say Earth is already experiencing a sixth mass extinction, that remains "a scientific question," Rothman, who is professor of geophysics in the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, told me. Once our planet hits the threshold he identified in this paper, he explained, it will kickstart changes that will "amplify" everything that came before. These same changes, to reiterate, have been associated with all previous mass extinctions on Earth.
Security

Equifax Has Been Sending Consumers To a Fake Phishing Site for Almost Two Weeks (gizmodo.com) 154

An anonymous reader shares a Gizmodo report (condensed for space): For nearly two weeks, the company's official Twitter account has been directing users to a fake lookalike website. After announcing the breach, Equifax directed its customers to equifaxsecurity2017.com, a website where they can enroll in identity theft protection services and find updates about how Equifax is handing the "cybersecurity incident." But the decision to create "equifaxsecurity2017" in the first place was monumentally stupid. The URL is long and it doesn't look very official -- that means it's going to be very easy to emulate. To illustrate how idiotic Equifax's decision was, developer Nick Sweeting created a fake website of his own: securityequifax2017.com. (He simply switched the words "security" and "equifax" around.) As if to demonstrate Sweeting's point, Equifax appears to have been itself duped by the fake URL. The company has directed users to Sweeting's fake site sporadically over the past two weeks. Gizmodo found eight tweets containing the fake URL dating back to September 9th.
Power

Hurricane Maria Knocks Out Power To Entire Island of Puerto Rico (cnn.com) 71

An anonymous reader writes: Hurricane Maria's eye has left Puerto Rico, but the mammoth storm is still lashing the island with devastating winds. Maria weakened to a Category 3 hurricane Wednesday afternoon, hurling winds of 115 mph. But hurricane-force gusts topping 74 mph still extend over much of Puerto Rico, the National Hurricane Center said. Maria's brute force wiped out electricity to the entire island. "We are 100% without power," a spokesman for the Puerto Rico governor's office said Wednesday. The storm also ripped trees out of the ground and caused widespread flooding. "This is total devastation," said Carlos Mercader, a spokesman for Puerto Rico's governor. "Puerto Rico, in terms of the infrastructure, will not be the same. ... This is something of historic proportions." Maria is expected to dump a total of 12 to 18 inches of rain on Puerto Rico before barreling toward the Dominican Republic starting Wednesday night.
Businesses

Waymo Wants Uber to Pay $2.6 Billion Over Alleged Trade Secret Theft (reuters.com) 25

Alphabet's Waymo unit is seeking about $2.6 billion from Uber for the alleged theft of one of several trade secrets in a lawsuit over self-driving cars, a lawyer for Uber said on Wednesday. From a report: Uber attorney Bill Carmody disclosed the figure in a hearing in federal court in San Francisco, where both companies are discussing whether a trial in the case will begin next month. Waymo has asserted claims that Uber stole several of its trade secrets. The total amount of Waymo's damages request was not publicly disclosed at the hearing on Wednesday. Waymo claimed in a lawsuit earlier this year that former engineer Anthony Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 confidential files before leaving to set up a self-driving truck company, which Uber acquired soon after.

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