Facebook

Russia-Linked Accounts Were Active on Facebook Ahead of Brexit (ft.com) 121

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.
Android

Andy Rubin's Essential Phone Considered Anything But (theregister.co.uk) 64

An anonymous reader shares a report: Andy Rubin's ambitions to create a new consumer electronics ecosystem are floundering at base camp. Sales of Essential's phone, which forms a key part of the strategy, are tepid. Google Play reports a mere 50,000 download of Essential's Camera app so far, the Android Police blog notes. This doesn't paint the full picture, but it can be assumed a fairly complete one, barring a few brush strokes. Essential launched in the US with support from Sprint, at a recommended SIM-free retail price of $699. After reported sales of just five thousand in the first month, this was slashed to $499 and could be grabbed for $399 in the post-Thanksgiving sales. As devices from different manufacturers proliferate in the home, Rubin has alluded to "a new operating system so it can speak all those protocols and it can do it securely and privately." But rather than launching a new software platform he's had to launch hardware.
Businesses

Net Neutrality Protests Move Online, Yet Big Tech Is Quiet (nytimes.com) 54

The New York Times: Protests to preserve net neutrality, or rules that ensure equal access to the internet, migrated online on Tuesday, with numerous online companies posting calls on their sites for action to stop a vote later this week. Reddit, Etsy and Kickstarter were among the sites warning that the proposal at the Federal Communications Commission to roll back so-called net neutrality rules would fundamentally change the way the internet is experienced. Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site, cleared its entire home screen for a sparse white screen reading "Defend Net Neutrality" in large letters. Reddit, the popular online message board, pushed in multiple ways on its site for keeping the rules, including a pop-up box on its home screen. But the online protests also highlighted how the biggest tech companies, such as Facebook and Google, have taken a back seat in the debate about protecting net neutrality (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; syndicated source), rules that prohibit internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast from blocking or slowing sites or for charging people or companies for faster speeds of particular sites. For the most part, the large tech companies did not engage in the protest on Tuesday. In the past, the companies have played a leading role in supporting the rules.
Businesses

No Matter What Happens With Net Neutrality, an Open Internet Isn't Going Anywhere, Says Former FCC Chairman (recode.net) 145

Michael K. Powell, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, writing for Recode: With an ounce of reflection, one knows that none of this will come to pass, and the imagined doom will join the failed catastrophic predictions of Y2K and massive snow storms that fizzle to mere dustings -- all too common in Washington, D.C. Sadly, rational debate, like Elvis, has left the building. The vibrant and open internet that Americans cherish isn't going anywhere. In the days, weeks and years following this vote, Americans will be merrily shopping online for the holidays, posting pictures on Instagram, vigorously voicing political views on Facebook and asking Alexa the score of the game. Startups and small business will continue to hatch and flourish, and students will be online, studiously taking courses. Time will prove that the FCC did not destroy the internet, and our digital lives will go on just as they have for years. This confidence rests on the fact that ISPs highly value the open internet and the principles of net neutrality, much more than some animated activists would have you think. Why? For one, because it's a better way of making money than a closed internet.
AI

What Does Artificial Intelligence Actually Mean? (qz.com) 83

An anonymous reader writes: A new bill (pdf) drafted by senator Maria Cantwell asks the Department of Commerce to establish a committee on artificial intelligence to advise the federal government on how AI should be implemented and regulated. Passing of the bill would trigger a process in which the secretary of commerce would be required to release guidelines for legislation of AI within a year and a half. As with any legislation, the proposed bill defines key terms. In this, we have a look at how the federal government might one day classify artificial intelligence. Here are the five definitions given:

A) Any artificial systems that perform tasks under varying and unpredictable circumstances, without significant human oversight, or that can learn from their experience and improve their performance. Such systems may be developed in computer software, physical hardware, or other contexts not yet contemplated. They may solve tasks requiring human-like perception, cognition, planning, learning, communication, or physical action. In general, the more human-like the system within the context of its tasks, the more it can be said to use artificial intelligence.
B) Systems that think like humans, such as cognitive architectures and neural networks.
C) Systems that act like humans, such as systems that can pass the Turing test or other comparable test via natural language processing, knowledge representation, automated reasoning, and learning.
D) A set of techniques, including machine learning, that seek to approximate some cognitive task.
E) Systems that act rationally, such as intelligent software agents and embodied robots that achieve goals via perception, planning, reasoning, learning, communicating, decision-making, and acting.

AMD

AMD Is Open-Sourcing Their Official Vulkan Linux Driver (phoronix.com) 53

An anonymous reader writes: While many of you have likely heard of the "RADV" open-source Vulkan driver, it's been a community-written driver up to this point in the absence of AMD's official, cross-platform Vulkan driver being open-source. That's now changed with AMD now open-sourcing their official Vulkan driver. The code drop is imminent and they are encouraging the use of it for quick support of new AMD hardware, access to the Radeon GPU Profiler, easy integration of AMD Vulkan extensions, and enabling third-party extensions. For now at least it does provide better Vulkan performance than RADV but the RADV developers have indicated they plan to continue development of their Mesa-based Vulkan driver.
The Almighty Buck

The Silicon Valley Paradox: One In Four People Are At Risk of Hunger (theguardian.com) 288

Zorro shares a report from The Guardian: One in four people in Silicon Valley are at risk of hunger, researchers at the Second Harvest food bank have found. Using hundreds of community interviews and data modeling, a new study suggests that 26.8% of the population -- almost 720,000 people -- qualify as "food insecure" based on risk factors such as missing meals, relying on food banks or food stamps, borrowing money for food, or neglecting bills and rent in order to buy groceries. Nearly a quarter are families with children. "We call it the Silicon Valley paradox," says Steve Brennan, the food bank's marketing director. "As the economy gets better we seem to be serving more people." Since the recession, Second Harvest has seen demand spike by 46%. The bank is at the center of the Silicon Valley boom -- both literally and figuratively. It sits just half a mile from Cisco's headquarters and counts Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg among its major donors. But the need it serves is exacerbated by this industry's wealth; as high-paying tech firms move in, the cost of living rises for everyone else.

The scale of the problem becomes apparent on a visit to Second Harvest, the only food bank serving Silicon Valley and one of the largest in the country. In any given month it provides meals for 257,000 people -- 66m pounds of food last year. Because poverty is often shrouded in shame, their clients' situations can come as a surprise. "Often we think of somebody visibly hungry, the traditional homeless person," Brennan said. "But this study is putting light on the non-traditional homeless: people living in their car or a garage, working people who have to choose between rent and food, people without access to a kitchen."

Government

Trump Signs Law Forcing Drone Users To Register With Government (thehill.com) 381

President Trump signed a sweeping defense policy bill into law on Tuesday that will allow the government to require recreational drone users to register their model aircraft. This comes after a federal court ruled in May that Americans no longer have to register non-commercial drones with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) "because Congress had said in a previous law that the FAA can't regulate model aircraft," reports The Hill. From the report: In December 2015, the FAA issued an interim rule requiring drone hobbyists to register their recreational aircraft with the agency. The rule -- which had not been formally finalized -- requires model aircraft owners to provide their name, email address and physical address; pay a $5 registration fee; and display a unique drone ID number at all times. Those who fail to comply could face civil and criminal penalties. While Congress directed the FAA to safely integrate drones into the national airspace in a 2012 aviation law, lawmakers also included a special exemption to prevent model aircraft from being regulated. A D.C.-based appeals court cited the 2012 law in its ruling striking down the FAA drone registry, arguing that recreational drones count as model aircraft and that the registry counts as a rule or regulation.
Social Networks

Instagram Will Now Let You Follow Hashtags In Your Main Feed (theverge.com) 22

"Up until now, there were two ways to interact with a hashtag," reports The Verge. "You could click through a hashtag on a post, or you could search for a specific tag in the Explore section of the app." Today, Instagram is adding a new way to interact with a hashtag: the ability to follow hashtags so you can see top posts and Stories about a topic on your home page. From the report: You can now "follow" a hashtag the same way you would follow an account. Instagram's algorithms will then pick and choose some of the highlights from that collection and surface them in your main feed. It's a fundamental change to one of the largest social media platforms in the world, elevating your interest in adorable dogs or expensive automobiles to equal status with your friends and family. By contrast, the posts injected into my main feed based on the hashtags I chose to follow (#modernart, #bjj, #ancient) felt carefully curated. There is a lot of variety, even within those categories, but you can train the algorithm on what you do and don't like. Engage with the post by leaving a heart or a comment, and Instagram will assume you want more. Click the menu button on the top right of the post, and you can downvote the offending image by asking Instagram not to show you similar content for that hashtag again. After a few days of this, the art in my feed, both martial and modern, felt fine-tuned to my taste.
Twitter

Twitter Officially Launches 'Threads,' a New Feature For Easily Posting Tweetstorms (techcrunch.com) 39

New submitter FatdogHaiku writes: For those people that must use multiple tweets to rant (or educate) on Twitter, a feature called "Threads" is being rolled out to aid in creating "tweetstorms" (i.e. gang tweets). Given how tweetstorms are normally used, how about we call them twitphoons? TechCrunch explains just how easy to use the new threads feature is: "There's now a new plus ('+') button in the composer screen where you can type out your series of tweets. Each line represents one tweet, with a character limit of 280 as per usual. You can also add the same amount of media -- like GIFs, images, videos, and more -- to any individual tweet in the thread, as you could on Twitter directly. When you're finished with one tweet, you just tap in the space below to continue your thread. While writing out your tweetstorm, you can go back and edit the tweets at any time as they're still in draft format. When you're ready to post, you tap the 'Tweet all' button at the top to send the stream to Twitter. (Twitter will pace the tweets' posting a bit so they don't all hit at once.)"

"In addition, another handy feature allows you to go back and update a thread by adding new tweets after it already posted," adds TechCrunch. "To do so, you'll write out the new tweet after tapping the 'Add another Tweet' button. This lets you continue to update a thread forever -- something Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey already does with his own threads, for example. Twitter tells us there's currently a limit of 25 entries in a thread, but that number may be subject to change depending on how the feature is adopted by the wider user base."
Businesses

Former Uber Employees Have Gone Into Debt To Hang Onto Shares They Can't Sell (qz.com) 65

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: Uber employees are lining up to sell their stock to Japanese technology giant SoftBank, which will buy up to 17% of outstanding shares for $33 each. The price represents a 30% discount to Uber's last valuation, of nearly $70 billion, but for current and former employees, the SoftBank tender offer is a rare chance to convert paper wealth into actual cash. To qualify for the tender offer, participants must have at least 10,000 Uber shares and be "accredited investors," an SEC designation (pdf) for wealthy individuals. Current Uber employees can't sell more than half of their stake; there are no restrictions on former employees. The deal is on the table until Dec. 28, and could fall through if there aren't enough shares on offer for SoftBank and a small consortium of other investors to purchase at least a 14% stake in the company.

Working at a successful startup is often viewed as a quick path to prosperity, but the reality is more complicated. Startups tend to offer equity packages, typically in the form of stock options, to compensate for below-market salaries. But as companies like Uber have stayed private longer, most employees haven't been able to get rich from those shares. Quite the opposite, some former Uber employees have gone into debt to hang onto shares they still can't sell.

Databases

Searchable Database of 1.4 Billion Stolen Credentials Found On Dark Web (itworldcanada.com) 67

YVRGeek shares a report from IT World Canada: A security vendor has discovered a huge list of easily searchable stolen credentials in cleartext on the dark web, which it fears could lead to a new wave of cyber attacks. Julio Casal, co-founder of identity threat intelligence provider 4iQ, which has offices in California and Spain, said in a Dec. 8 blog his firm found the database of 1.4 billion username and password pairs while scanning the dark web for stolen, leaked or lost data. He said the company has verified at least a group of credentials are legitimate. What is alarming is the file is what he calls "an aggregated, interactive database that allows for fast (one second response) searches and new breach imports." For example, searching for "admin," "administrator" and "root" returned 226,631 passwords of admin users in a few seconds. As a result, the database can help attackers automate account hijacking or account takeover. The dump file was 41GB in size and was found on December 5th in an underground community forum. The total amount of credentials is 1,400,553,869.
Businesses

Ajit Pai Offers No Data For Latest Claim That Net Neutrality Hurt Small ISPs (arstechnica.com) 201

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: With days to go before his repeal of net neutrality rules, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai issued a press release about five small ISPs that he says were harmed by the rules. Pai "held a series of telephone calls with small Internet service providers across the country -- from Oklahoma to Ohio, from Montana to Minnesota," his press release said. On these calls, "one constant theme I heard was how Title II had slowed investment," Pai said. But Pai's announcement offered no data to support this assertion. So advocacy group Free Press looked at the FCC's broadband deployment data for these companies and found that four of them had expanded into new territory. The fifth didn't expand into new areas but it did start offering gigabit Internet service. These expansions happened after the FCC imposed its Title II net neutrality rules. (Title II is the statute that the FCC uses to enforce net neutrality rules and regulate common carriers.)
IT

Tech Support Scammers Invade Spotify Forums To Rank in Search Engines (bleepingcomputer.com) 32

Tech support scammers have been aggressively posting on Spotify forums to inject their phone numbers in a bid to vastly improve their odds of showing up on Google and Bing search results, a new report claims. And that bet seems to be working. From the report: They do this by submitting a constant stream of spam posts to the Spotify forums, whose pages tend to rank well in Google. While this behavior causes the Spotify forums to become harder to use for those who have valid questions, the bigger problem is that it allows tech support scammers to rank extremely well and trick unknowing callers into purchasing unnecessary services and software. BleepingComputer was alerted to this problem by security researcher Cody Johnston who started to see an alarming amount of tech support scam phone numbers being listed in Google search results through indexed Spotify forum posts. The tech support scams being posted to Spotify include Tinder, Linksys, AOL, Turbotax, Coinbase, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Norton, McAfee and more.
Facebook

We've Toned Down the 'Destroying Society' Shtick, Facebook Insists (theregister.co.uk) 101

Facebook has taken the unusual step of responding to comments by former VP Chamath Palihapitiya that the social media giant was "destroying how society works." Palihapitiya said that executives ignored cautionary instincts when creating Facebook, and he now regretted the consequences. In a statement, Facebook said: Chamath has not been at Facebook for over 6 years. When Chamath was at Facebook we were focused on building new social media experiences and growing Facebook around the world. Facebook was a very different company back then, and as we have grown, we have realized how our responsibilities have grown too. We take our role very seriously and we are working hard to improve. We've done a lot of work and research with outside experts and academics to understand the effects of our service on well-being, and we're using it to inform our product development. We are also making significant investments more in people, technology and processes, and -- as Mark Zuckerberg said on the last earnings call -- we are willing to reduce our profitability to make sure the right investments are made.
Transportation

Inside Faraday Future's Financial House of Cards (theverge.com) 44

Sean O'Kane, reporting for The Verge: When Faraday Future emerged from stealth mode in 2015, it promised to transform the car industry with an American-made luxury electric vehicle that would someday be fully autonomous, maybe even sold through a subscription service. As we learned at CES 2017, the company was taking aim at Tesla with a car -- the FF91 -- that was designed to dazzle, with a 0-60 time of 2.4 seconds as jaw-dropping as the proposed $180,000 price tag. Since then, though, Faraday Future has been more focused on survival than speed. The Verge has learned from multiple sources about the nature of the company's financial plight. While Faraday Future posed as the newest California electric car startup that attracted top auto industry talent, 10 former employees and one person close to the company say the behavior and business practices of its chief investor have brought business to a halt. Also read: Everything wrong with Faraday Future's "Tesla killer"
Businesses

Why Google and Amazon Are Hypocrites (om.blog) 236

Amazon earlier this month responded to Google's decision to remove YouTube from all Fire TV products and the Echo Show. Google says it's taking this extreme step because of Amazon's recent delisting of new Nest products (like Nest Secure and the E Thermostat) and the company's long-running refusal to sell Chromecast or support Google Cast in any capacity. Veteran journalist Om Malik writes: This smacks of so much hypocrisy that I don't even know where to start. The two public proponents of network neutrality and anything but neutral about each other's services on each other's platforms. They can complain about the cable companies from blocking their content and charging for fast lanes. The irony isn't lost on me even a wee bit. They are locked in a battle to collect as much data about us -- what we shop, what we see, what we do online and they do so under the guise of offering us services that are amazing and wonderful. They don't talk about what they won't do with our data, instead, they bicker and distract. So to think that these purveyors of hyper-capitalism will fight for interests of consumers is not only childish, it is foolish. We as end customers need to figure out who is speaking on our behalf when it comes to the rules of the Internet.
IOS

Apple's Alleged Throttling of Older iPhones With Degraded Batteries Causes Controversy (macrumors.com) 162

An anonymous reader shares a report: A Reddit post over the weekend has drawn a flurry of interest after an iPhone 6s owner reported that a battery replacement significantly increased the device's performance running iOS 11. The ensuing discussion thread, also picked up by readers in the MacRumors forum, has led to speculation that Apple intentionally slows down older phones to retain a full day's charge if the battery has degraded over time. According to TeckFire, the author of the original Reddit post, their iPhone had been very slow after updating to iOS 11, especially compared to their brother's iPhone 6 Plus, so they decided to do some research with GeekBench and battery life apps, and ended up replacing the battery.
The Internet

129 Million Americans Can Only Get Internet Service From Companies That Have Violated Net Neutrality (vice.com) 140

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Based on the Federal Communications Commission's own data, the Institute for Local Self Reliance found that 129 million Americans only have one option for broadband internet service in their area, which equals about 40 percent of the country. Of those who only have one option, roughly 50 million are limited to a company that has violated net neutrality in some way. Of Americans who do have more than one option, 50 million of them are left choosing between two companies that have both got shady behavior on their records, from blocking certain access to actively campaigning against net neutrality.

Aside from being a non-ideal situation for consumers like me, this lack of competition is another dock against the FCC's plan to repeal net neutrality rules later this week. In arguing against net neutrality rules, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has repeatedly cited a free market as just as capable of ensuring internet freedom as government regulations. "All we are simply doing is putting engineers and entrepreneurs, instead of bureaucrats and lawyers, back in charge of the internet," Pai said on Fox News's "Fox & Friends," in November. "What we wanted to do is return to the free market consensus that started in the Clinton administration and that served the internet economy in America very well for many years." But how can market competition regulate an industry when more than a third of the market has no competition at all, and even those that do have to choose between options that don't uphold net neutrality?

Education

France To Ban Mobile Phones In Schools (theguardian.com) 187

The French government is planning to ban students from using mobile phones in the country's primary, junior and middle schools. While children will be permitted to bring their phones to school, they will not be allowed to get them out at any time until they leave, even during breaks. The Guardian reports: Jean-Michel Blanquer, the French education minister, said the measure would come into effect from the start of the next school year in September 2018. It will apply to all pupils from the time they start school at age of six -- up to about 15 when they start secondary school. Blanquer said some education establishments already prohibited pupils from using their mobiles. "Sometimes you need a mobile for teaching reasons [...] for urgent situations, but their use has to be somehow controlled," he told RTL radio. The minister said the ban was also a "public health message to families," adding: "It's good that children are not too often, or even at all, in front of a screen before the age of seven." The French headteachers' union was skeptical that the ban could be enforced.

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