Government

Trump White House Quietly Cancels NASA Research Verifying Greenhouse Gas Cuts (sciencemag.org) 290

Paul Voosen, reporting for Science magazine: You can't manage what you don't measure. The adage is especially relevant for climate-warming greenhouse gases, which are crucial to manage -- and challenging to measure. In recent years, though, satellite and aircraft instruments have begun monitoring carbon dioxide and methane remotely, and NASA's Carbon Monitoring System (CMS), a $10-million-a-year research line, has helped stitch together observations of sources and sinks into high-resolution models of the planet's flows of carbon. Now, President Donald Trump's administration has quietly killed the CMS, Science has learned.

The move jeopardizes plans to verify the national emission cuts agreed to in the Paris climate accords, says Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of Tufts University's Center for International Environment and Resource Policy in Medford, Massachusetts. "If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhering to the agreement," she says. Canceling the CMS "is a grave mistake," she adds.

Google

Google Broke Up a Vietnamese Con Scheme After an Employee Was Scammed Buying a Bluetooth Headset (cnbc.com) 58

A Google executive found a high-end Bluetooth headset selling at a steep discount on Google Shopping website earlier this year. He placed the order, but much to his surprise, the headset never arrived at his doorstep. He tried calling the seller, but it turned out that the number listed on the website was disconnected, and the merchant wasn't based in the US, as the website had indicated. Instead of kicking the seller off the website, Google launched an investigation and it soon realized the problem ran too deep. From a report: But instead of simply banning the bad actor from listing new products, Google Shopping's trust and safety team initiated a global probe that ultimately tracked down 5,000 merchant accounts wrapped up in a sophisticated scheme to defraud users. "I think we caught them right at the tip of when they were trying to scale up," Saikat Mitra, Google Shopping's director of trust and safety, told CNBC. The story, which Mitra is sharing publicly for the first time, reflects Google's never-ending battle against scams, a fight that requires engineers and their increasingly sophisticated machine learning tools.

It also illustrates the risks that consumers face as Google aggressively tries to win back product searches from Amazon and stay relevant in the future of e-commerce. Although Google Shopping may look like a marketplace, it really isn't. Amazon and eBay operate shopping platforms that connect sellers with buyers and offer protections like money-back guarantees. Google, by contrast, sends shoppers off its site after they click on an item, and thus has no visibility into what happens after the transaction.

Facebook

Facebook Is Investigating a Claim That an Employee Used His Position To Stalk Women (vice.com) 61

Facebook is investigating a claim that an employee potentially used access granted by their job to stalk women online, the social media giant confirmed in a statement to Motherboard on Monday. From the report: "Although we can't comment on any individual personnel matters, we are aware of the situation and investigating," a Facebook spokesperson wrote in an email. The claim came from Jackie Stokes, founder of Spyglass Security, in a tweet posted Monday. "I've been made aware that a security engineer currently employed at Facebook is likely using privileged access to stalk women online. I have Tinder logs. What should I do with this information?" Stokes' tweet read. In a follow-up tweet, Stokes wrote multiple senior Facebook employees had reached out over the claim. Stokes told Motherboard in a Twitter direct message that she provided the relevant details to Alex Stamos, Facebook's chief security officer.
Space

Jeff Bezos Says He Liquidates a $1 Billion of Amazon Stock Every Year To Pay For His Rocket Company Blue Origin (businessinsider.com) 96

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos spends a tiny fraction of his net worth to fund Blue Origin, the aerospace company he started in 2000. From a report: For a man worth $127 billion, that tiny fraction amounts to $1 billion a year, which he gets by liquidating Amazon stock, Bezos said at an Axel Springer awards event in Berlin, Germany, hosted by Business Insider's US editor-in-chief, Alyson Shontell. "The only way I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel," he said in an interview with Axel Springer CEO Mathias Dopfner. "Blue Origin is expensive enough to be able to use that fortune." Bezos said he planned to continue funding the company through that annual tradition long into the future. Bezos famously has numerous projects. He runs Amazon, owns The Washington Post, and is working on turning a mansion in Washington, DC, into a single-family home, to name a few. None of these, he said, are as relevant or as worthy of his money as Blue Origin, which he called "the most important work I'm doing."
Advertising

Zuckerberg: Facebook Doesn't Use Your Mic For Ad Targeting (engadget.com) 257

During today's joint hearing before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees, CEO Mark Zuckerberg fully denied the idea that Facebook listens in on your conversations via microphones to display relevant ads. Engadget reports: Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) asked him to answer "yes or no" whether Facebook used audio from personal devices to fill out its ad data, and Zuckerberg said no. The CEO explained that users can upload videos with audio in them, but not the kind of background spying that you've probably heard people talk about. Peters: "I have heard constituents say Facebook is mining audio from their mobile devices for the purpose of ad targeting. This speaks to the lack of trust we are seeing. I understand there are technical and logistical issues for that to happen. For the record, I hear it all the time, does Facebook use audio obtained from mobile devices to enrich personal information about its users?"

Zuckerberg: "We do not. Senator, Let me be clear on this. You are talking about the conspiracy theory passed around that we listen to what is going on on your microphone and use that. We do not do that. We do allow people to take videos on their device and share those. Videos also have audio. We do, while you are taking a video, record that and use that to make the service better by making sure that you have audio. That is pretty clear."
Businesses

Your Strategic Plans Probably Aren't Strategic, or Even Plans (hbr.org) 120

An anonymous reader shares a report: Unfortunately, while C-suite executives talk "strategy," they're often confused about what it means. Why this confusion? The problem starts with the word itself -- a scarily misunderstood concept in management and board circles. The most basic mix-up is between "objective," "strategy," and "action." (I see this frequently in published strategic plans as well.) Grasp this, I tell my audience, and your day will be well spent.

An "objective" is something you're trying to achieve -- a marker of the success of the organization. At the other end of the spectrum is "action." This occurs at the individual level -- a level that managers are presented with day after day. So naturally when they think "strategy" they focus on what they do. But this isn't strategy either. "Strategy" takes place between these two at the organization level and managers can't "feel" that in the same way. It's abstract. CEOs have an advantage here because only they have a total view of the organization.

The key to strategy is that it's the positioning of one business against others -- such GM against Ford and Toyota, for example. What exactly is positioning? It's placement on the strategic factors relevant to each key stakeholder group.

Social Networks

Instagram Suddenly Chokes Off Developers As Facebook Chases Privacy (techcrunch.com) 61

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Without warning, Instagram has broken many of the unofficial apps built on its platform. This weekend it surprised developers with a massive reduction in how much data they can pull from the Instagram API, shrinking the API limit from 5,000 to 200 calls per user per hour. Apps that help people figure out if their followers follow them back or interact with them, analyze their audiences or find relevant hashtags are now quickly running into their API limits, leading to broken functionality and pissed off users. Two sources confirmed the new limits to TechCrunch, and developers are complaining about the situation on StackOverflow. In a puzzling move, Instagram is refusing to comment on what's happening while its developer rate limits documentation site 404s. All it would confirm is that Instagram has stopped accepting submissions of new apps, just as Facebook announced it would last week following backlash over Cambridge Analytica. Developers tell me they feel left in the dark and angry that the change wasn't scheduled or even officially announced, preventing them from rebuilding their apps to require fewer API calls.
The Military

Military Documents Reveal How the US Army Plans To Deploy AI In Future Wars (thenextweb.com) 141

In a just-released white paper, the Army describes how it's working to make a battlefield network of machines and humans a reality. The Next Web reports: "Most of such intelligent things will not be too dissimilar from the systems we see on today's battlefield, such as unattended ground sensors, guided missiles (especially the fire-and-forget variety) and of course the unmanned aerial systems (UAVs)," reads the paper. "They will likely include physical robots ranging from very small size (such as an insect-scale mobile sensors) to large vehicle that can carry troops and supplies. Some will fly, others will crawl or walk or ride."

The paper was authored by the Army's chief of the Network Science Division of the Army Research Laboratory, Dr. Alexander Kott. It outlines the need to develop systems to augment both machines and people in the real world with artificially intelligent agents to defend the network: "In addition to physical intelligent things, the battlefield -- or at least the cyber domain of the battlefield -- will be populated with disembodied, cyber robots. These will reside within various computers and networks, and will move and acts in the cyberspace."

Kott takes pains to underscore the fact that the AI powering U.S. war efforts will need to be resilient in ways that today's AI simply isn't. He states: "The intelligent things will have to constantly think about an intelligent adversary that strategizes to deceive and defeat them. Without this adversarial intelligence, the battle things will not survive long enough to be useful." Ultimately, aside from outlining what the future battlefield will look like, the paper's conclusion is either disappointing or a giant relief, depending on your agenda: "Clearly, it is far beyond the current state of AI to operate intelligently in such an environments and with such demands. In particular, Machine Learning -- an area that has seen a dramatic progress in the last decade -- must experience major advances in order to become relevant to the real battlefield."

AI

AI Predicts Your Lifespan Using Activity Tracking Apps (engadget.com) 48

Russian scientists have crafted an AI-based algorithm that uses the activity tracking from smartphones and smartwatches to estimate your lifespan with far greater precision than past models. Engadget reports: The team used a convolutional neural network to find the "biologically relevant" motion patterns in a large set of U.S. health survey data and correlate that to both lifespans and overall health. It would look for not just step counts, but how often you switch between active and inactive periods -- many of the other factors in your life, such as your sleeping habits and gym visits, are reflected in those switches. After that, it was just a matter of applying the understanding to a week's worth of data from test subjects' phones. You can even try it yourself through Gero Lifespan, an iPhone app that uses data from Apple Health, Fitbit and Rescuetime (a PC productivity measurement app) to predict your longevity.
Advertising

Facebook Will No Longer Allow Third-Party Data For Targeting Ads (techcrunch.com) 58

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: In a surprise change, Facebook will give up one major data source that the company uses to help advertisers target relevant users on the platform. The company just announced that it will end a feature called Partner Categories, launched back in 2013 out of a partnership between Facebook and major data brokers. Third party data helps Facebook further atomize its user base into meaningful segments for advertisers.

Facebook confirmed to TechCrunch that the change is permanent, not a temporary precaution. In order to leverage the deep pool of data Facebook collects on users, the company mixes information that it obtains from users themselves (Pages a user liked, for instance) with information from advertisers (membership status in a loyalty program, for example) and with data obtained from third party providers. While Facebook feels comfortable with the integrity of its data sourcing within the first two categories, it feels less settled about dipping into these aggregate pools of third party data. The decision was issued in light of the company's recent privacy concerns over third-party data mishandling.

The Internet

Tumblr Has a Massive Creepshots Problem (vice.com) 122

After Reddit famously banned the creepshots sub-reddit, which shared non-consensual, revealing photos of women, Tumblr now has a slew of users pushing out similar photos across at least dozens of dedicated blogs, a Motherboard investigation has found. From the report: Simply typing 'creepshot' or related terms into Tumblr's built-in search function returns a steady stream of tagged posts, and Google queries easily reveal links to relevant Tumblr blogs. Motherboard found just under 70 Tumblr blogs focused on sharing creepshots, most with a bevy of content. In some cases, the Tumblrs also host 'upskirt' photos or videos, where a camera is deliberately, and stealthily, positioned to look up an unsuspecting person's skirt. Some of the subjects of these images, as well as many of the clothed creepshots, appear to be young, possibly teenagers.

"This is only the tip of the iceberg, there are probably hundreds of these accounts filming in high schools, college campuses, in malls, and on the streets. And Tumblr seems to not care at all about the problem," an anonymous tipster, who first alerted Motherboard to the issue, wrote in an email. One of the most popular creepshot Tumblrs has some 11,000 followers, and one of its posts has over 53,000 interactions linked to it, including reblogs, where the video or picture then appears on the user's own Tumblr, spreading the content further.

Hardware Hacking

ESR's Newest Project: An Open Hardware/Open Source UPS (ibiblio.org) 232

An anonymous reader writes: Last month Eric S. Raymond complained about his choices for a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply), adding that "This whole category begs to be disrupted by an open-hardware [and open-source] design that could be assembled cheaply in a makerspace from off-the-shelf components, an Arduino-class microcontroller, and a PROM...because it's possible, and otherwise the incentives on the vendors won't change." It could be designed to work with longer-lasting and more environmentally friendly batteries, using "EV-style intelligent battery-current sensors to enable accurate projection of battery performance" (along with a text-based alert system and a USB monitoring port).

Calling the response "astonishing," Raymond noted the emergence within a week of "the outlines of a coherent design," and in an update on GitLab reported that "The response on my blog and G+ was intense, almost overwhelming. It seems many UPS users are unhappy with what the vendors are pushing" -- and thus, the UPSide project was launched. "We welcome contributors: people with interest in UPSes who have expertise in battery technology, power-switching electronics, writing device-control firmware, relevant standards such as USB and the DMTF battery-management profile. We also welcome participation from established UPS and electronics vendors. We know that consumer electronics is a cutthroat low-margin business in which it's tough to support a real R&D team or make possibly-risky product bets. Help us, and then let us help you!"

There's already a Wiki with design documents -- plus a process document -- and Raymond says the project now even has a hardware lead with 30 years experience as a power and signals engineer, plus "a really sharp dev group. Half a dozen experts have shown up to help spec this thing, critique the design docs, and explain EE things to ignorant me." And he's already touting "industry participation! We have a friendly observer who's the lead software architect for one of the major UPS vendors." Earlier Raymond identified his role as "basically, product manager -- keeper of the requirements list and recruiter of talent" -- though he admits on his blog that he's already used a "cute hack" to create a state/action diagram for the system, "by writing a DSL to generate code in another DSL and provably correct equivalent C application logic."

He adds to readers of the blog that if that seems weird to you, "you must be new here."

Youtube

YouTube Is Full of Easy-To-Find Neo-Nazi Propaganda (vice.com) 378

An anonymous reader quotes an exclusive report from Motherboard: Through a software-aided investigation, Motherboard has found that while YouTube has managed to clamp down on Islamic extremists uploading propaganda, the video giant is still awash with videos supporting violent and established neo-Nazi organizations, even when, in some cases, users have reported the offending videos. Clips of neo-Nazi propaganda operations, hate-filled speeches, and extremists pushing for direct action have remained on the site for weeks, months, or years at a time. Arguably, many if not all of these videos may fall under YouTube's own policy on hate speech, which "refers to content that promotes violence against or has the primary purpose of inciting hatred against individuals or groups based on certain attributes," including race or ethnic origin, religion, and sexual orientation, according to the policy.

Motherboard built a tool to monitor YouTube and make a record of when the platform removed certain videos, and limited the clips to propaganda for established neo-Nazi and far-right terrorist organizations like Atomwaffen, rather than people in the so-called "alt-right." Most of the videos were discovered through simple YouTube searches of relevant organizations' names, or sometimes through the "recommended videos" sidebar after Motherboard had built up a browsing history of neo-Nazi material. For the sake of comparison, over a week-long period Motherboard also tracked pro-ISIS videos uploaded by the group's supporters and then distributed through a network of Telegram channels. Typically, YouTube removed these Islamic extremism videos in a matter of hours, including those that did not contain images of violence, but were instead speeches or other not directly violent content. But YouTube is playing catch up with neo-Nazi material. YouTube removed only two videos that Motherboard was monitoring: two identical clips of a speech from UK terrorist organization National Action.

The Courts

Manafort Left an Incriminating Paper Trail Because He Couldn't Figure Out How to Convert PDFs to Word Files (slate.com) 189

There are two types of people in this world: those who know how to convert PDFs into Word documents and those who are indicted for money laundering. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is the second kind of person , Slate reports. From the report: Back in October, a grand jury indictment charged Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates with a variety of crimes, including conspiring "to defraud the United States." On Thursday, special counsel Robert Mueller filed a new indictment against the pair, substantially expanding the charges. As one former federal prosecutor told the Washington Post, Manafort and Gates' methods appear to have been "extensive and bold and greedy with a capital 'G,' but ... not all that sophisticated." One new detail from the indictment, however, points to just how unsophisticated Manafort seems to have been. Here's the relevant passage from the indictment. I've bolded the most important bits:

Manafort and Gates made numerous false and fraudulent representations to secure the loans. For example, Manafort provided the bank with doctored [profit and loss statements] for [Davis Manafort Inc.] for both 2015 and 2016, overstating its income by millions of dollars. The doctored 2015 DMI P&L submitted to Lender D was the same false statement previously submitted to Lender C, which overstated DMI's income by more than $4 million. The doctored 2016 DMI P&L was inflated by Manafort by more than $3.5 million. To create the false 2016 P&L, on or about October 21, 2016, Manafort emailed Gates a .pdf version of the real 2016 DMI P&L, which showed a loss of more than $600,000. Gates converted that .pdf into a "Word" document so that it could be edited, which Gates sent back to Manafort. Manafort altered that "Word" document by adding more than $3.5 million in income. He then sent this falsified P&L to Gates and asked that the "Word" document be converted back to a .pdf, which Gates did and returned to Manafort. Manafort then sent the falsified 2016 DMI P&L .pdf to Lender D.
So here's the essence of what went wrong for Manafort and Gates, according to Mueller's investigation: Manafort allegedly wanted to falsify his company's income, but he couldn't figure out how to edit the PDF.
AI

Mitsubishi Electric Believes Its AI-enhanced Camera Systems Will Make Mirrors on Cars Obsolete (ieee.org) 169

In its annual R&D Open House on February 14, Mitsubishi Electric described the development of what it believes is the industry's highest-performance rendition of mirrorless car technology. From a report: According to the company, today's conventional camera-based systems featuring motion detection technology can detect objects up to about 30 meters away and identify them with a low accuracy of 14 percent. By comparison, Mitsubishi's new mirrorless technology extends the recognition distance to 100 meters with an 81 percent accuracy. "Motion detection can't see objects if they are a long distance away," says Kazuo Sugimoto, Senior Manager, at Mitsubishi Electric's Image Analytics and Processing Technology Group, Information Technology R&D Center in Kamakura, 55 km south of Tokyo. "So we have developed an AI-based object-recognition technology that can instantly detect objects up to about 100 meters away."

To achieve this, the Mitsubishi system uses two technology processes consecutively. A computational visual-cognition model first mimics how humans focus on relevant regions and extract object information from the background even when the objects are distant from the viewer. The extracted object data is then fed to Mitsubishi's compact deep learning AI technology dubbed Maisart. The AI has been taught to classify objects into distinct categories: trucks; cars; and other objects such as lane markings. The detected results are then superimposed onto video that appears on a monitor for the driver to view.

The Courts

Judge Won't Let FCC's Net Neutrality Repeal Stop Lawsuit Alleging Charter Throttled Netflix (hollywoodreporter.com) 33

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hollywood Reporter: [I]n the first significant decision referring to the repeal [of net neutrality] since FCC chairman Ajit Pai got his way, a New York judge on Friday ruled that the rescinding of net neutrality rules wasn't relevant to an ongoing lawsuit against Charter Communications. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed the lawsuit almost exactly a year ago today. It's alleged that Charter's Spectrum-TWC service promised internet speeds it knew it couldn't deliver and that Spectrum-TWC also misled subscribers by promising reliable access to Netflix, online content and online games. According to the complaint, the ISP intentionally failed to deliver reliable service in a bid to extract fees from backbone and content providers. When Netflix wouldn't pay, this "resulted in subscribers getting poorer quality streams during the very hours when they were most likely to access Netflix," and after Netflix agreed to pay demands, service "improved dramatically." This arguably is the kind of thing that net neutrality was supposed to prevent. And Charter itself pointed to the net neutrality repeal in a bid to block Schneiderman's claims that Charter had engaged in false advertising and deceptive business practices. New York Supreme Court Justice O. Peter Sherwood isn't sold.

He writes in an opinion that the FCC's order "which promulgates a new deregulatory policy effectively undoing network neutrality, includes no language purporting to create, extend or modify the preemptive reach of the Transparency Rule," referring to how ISPs have to disclose "actual network performance." And although Charter attempted to argue that the FCC clarified its intent to stop state and local governments from imposing disclosure obligations on broadband providers that were inconsistent with FCC's rules, Sherwood notes other language from the "Restoring Internet Freedom Order" how states will "continue to play their vital role in protecting consumers from fraud, enforcing fair business practices... and generally responding to consumer inquiries and complaints."

AI

Microsoft Launches LinkedIn-Powered Resume Assistant For Office 365 Subscribers 23

Microsoft and LinkedIn have launched their Resume Assistant, a Word-integrated tool that aims to help you write your resume by suggesting work experience descriptions pulled from similar LinkedIn profiles and requirements from real job postings. "The feature is available to Microsoft Office 365 subscribers, but one does not need a LinkedIn account to use it," reports Quartz. From the report: What's more, when you're done, Resume Assistant promises to "surface relevant job opportunities for you directly within Microsoft Word." The tool is the newest product to come out of Microsoft's takeover of LinkedIn, the high price of which raised more questions than it answered. Industry analysts speculated that Microsoft might have more up its sleeve than just trying to snag more users -- offering companies an entire hiring, learning, and training package, perhaps.
Facebook

Facebook Is Testing a Dislike Button (thedailybeast.com) 146

Ever since the inception of the Like button, Facebook users have been asking for a "dislike" button. Today, Facebook is testing a "downvote" button with certain users in the comment section of posts within Facebook groups and on old Facebook memories content. The Daily Beast reports: The feature appears to give users the ability to downrank certain comments. This is the first time Facebook has tested anything similar to a "dislike" button and it could theoretically allow for content that's offensive or relevant to be pushed to the bottom of a comment feed. In 2016, citing Facebook executives, Bloomberg said a dislike button "had been rejected on the grounds that it would sow too much negativity" to the platform. It's unclear how widely the dislike button is being tested. Facebook regularly tests features with small subsets of users that never end up rolling out to the broader public. Most users currently are only able to either Like or Reply to comments in a thread. The downvote option could have radical implications on what types of discussions and comments flourish on the platform. While it could theoretically be used to de-rank inflammatory or problematic comments, it could also easily be used as a tool for abuse.
Google

Google Enables Pixel Visual Core For Better Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp Photos (theverge.com) 22

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Google's Pixel Visual Core, the hidden image-processing chip inside the Pixel 2 family of phones, is getting an update today that lets it work its machine learning magic in third-party apps. Already enabled via Android 8.1 for the Pixel 2's main camera app, the Visual Core is now going to be operational within any other camera app that employs the relevant Google APIs. That means your Instagram photography and Snapchat Stories will get the benefit of the same improvements in processing speed and efficiency. I have been using a Google Pixel 2 XL since before the Android 8.1 update that initially flipped the Visual Core to being active, and I can't say I've noticed a huge difference in the speed or operation of the camera. It was sterling before 8.1, and it's been the same since. But the way Google explains it, the Visual Core is likely to be more helpful and impressive in third-party apps because it will allow the company to run its proprietary HDR+ algorithm in those other apps: "Pixel Visual Core is built to do heavy-lifting image processing while using less power, which saves battery. That means we're able to use that additional computing power to improve the quality of your pictures by running the HDR+ algorithm."
Space

In the Search for Alien Life, 'Everyone Is an Astrobiologist' (scientificamerican.com) 41

Mary Voytek, NASA's senior scientist for astrobiology, likes to tell other researchers that "everyone is an astrobiologist; they just don't know it yet." From a report: What she means is that answering the question currently at the heart of astrobiology -- Does life exist beyond Earth? -- requires input from an incredibly wide range of disciplines, including astrophysics, geology, exoplanet science, planetary science, chemistry and various subfields of biology.

On the plus side, that means astrobiologists have a lot of resources to draw on. But it also means that people like Voytek have to deal with a flood of relevant information coming in from all of those scientific fields and figure out how to get scientists from those disciplines to work together. Voytek and other NASA representatives discussed how they are dealing with that information influx, and the interdisciplinary nature of the field, at the Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe meeting, hosted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, here at the University of California, Irvine this week.

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