Communications

Signal, WhatsApp Co-Founder Launch 'Open Source Privacy Technology' Nonprofit (thenextweb.com) 32

An anonymous reader quotes The Next Web:One of the first messaging services to offer end-to-end encryption for truly private conversations, Signal has largely been developed by a team that's never grown larger than three full-time developers over the years it's been around. Now, it's getting a shot in the arm from the co-founder of a rival app. Brian Acton, who built WhatsApp with Jan Koum into a $19 billion business and sold it to Facebook, is pouring $50 million into an initiative to support the ongoing development of Signal. Having left WhatsApp last fall, he's now free to explore projects whose ideals he agrees with, and that includes creating truly private online services.
"Starting with an initial $50,000,000 in funding, we can now increase the size of our team, our capacity, and our ambitions," wrote Signal founder Moxie Marlinspike (a former Twitter executive).

Acton will now also serve as the executive chairman of the newly-formed Signal Foundation, which according to its web site will "develop open source privacy technology that protects free expression and enables secure global communication."
The Courts

BuzzFeed Unmasks Mastermind Who Urged Peter Thiel To Destroy Gawker (buzzfeed.com) 146

One day in 2011 a 26-year-old approached Peter Thiel and said "Look, I think if we datamined Gawker's history, we could find weak points that we could exploit in the court of law," according to the author of a new book. An anonymous reader quotes BuzzFeed News: Peter Thiel's campaign to ruin Gawker Media was conceived and orchestrated by a previously unknown associate who served as a middleman, allowing the billionaire to conceal his involvement in the bankrolling of lawsuits that eventually drove the New York media outlet into bankruptcy. BuzzFeed News has confirmed the identity of that mystery conspirator, known in Thiel's inner circle as "Mr. A," with multiple sources who said that he provided the venture capitalist and Facebook board member with a blueprint to covertly attack Gawker in court. That man, an Oxford-educated Australian citizen named Aron D'Souza, has few known connections to Thiel, but approached him in 2011 with an elaborate proposal to use a legal strategy to wipe out the media organization. That plot ultimately succeeded... D'Souza was aware of Thiel's public comments likening Valleywag to al-Qaeda, and presented a brazen idea: Pay someone or create a company to hire lawyers to go after Gawker.
TechCrunch reported earlier this month that Gawker's old posts "will be captured and saved by the non-profit Freedom of the Press Foundation," which was co-founded in 2012 by the late John Perry Barlow. But in addition, the Gawker estate "continues to threaten possible legal action against Thiel, and hopes to begin discovery to examine the billionaire's motivations for secretly funding his legal war," the article concludes. If a New York bankruptcy court approves, and if the process "unearths anything of meaning, the estate may have grounds to sue Thiel on the grounds of tortious interference, the use of legal means to purposely disrupt a business.

"To head that off, Thiel bid for the remaining Gawker assets -- including the flapship domain Gawker.com, its archive, and outstanding legal claims, like those against himself -- though Holden has made it known that he may block any sale to Thiel, no matter how much the venture capitalist is willing to bid."
Facebook

Facebook's Mandatory Anti-Malware Scan Is Invasive and Lacks Transparency (wired.com) 53

Louise Matsakis, writing for Wired: The internet is full of Facebook users frustrated with how the company handles malware threats. For nearly four years, people have complained about Facebook's anti-malware scan on forums, Twitter, Reddit, and on personal blogs. The problems appear to have gotten worse recently. While the service used to be optional, Facebook now requires it if it flags your device for malware. And according to screenshots reviewed by WIRED from people recently prompted to run the scan, Facebook also no longer allows every user to select what type of device they're on. The malware scans likely only impact a relatively small population of Facebook's billions of users, some of whose computers may genuinely be infected. But even a fraction of Facebook's users still potentially means millions of impacted people.

The mandatory scan has caused widespread confusion and frustration; WIRED spoke to people who had been locked out of their accounts by the scan, or simply baffled by it, on four different continents. The mandatory malware scan has downsides beyond losing account access. Facebook users also frequently report that the feature is poorly designed, and inconsistently implemented. In some cases, if a different user logs onto Facebook from the same device, they sometimes won't be greeted with the malware message. Similarly, if the "infected" user simply switches browsers, the message also appears to occasionally go away.

Science

A Biohacker Regrets Publicly Injecting Himself With CRISPR (theatlantic.com) 129

Sarah Zhang, reporting for The Atlantic: When Josiah Zayner watched a biotech CEO drop his pants at a biohacking conference and inject himself with an untested herpes treatment, he realized things had gone off the rails. Zayner is no stranger to stunts in biohacking -- loosely defined as experiments, often on the self, that take place outside of traditional lab spaces. You might say he invented their latest incarnation: He's sterilized his body to "transplant" his entire microbiome in front of a reporter. He's squabbled with the FDA about selling a kit to make glow-in-the-dark beer. He's extensively documented attempts to genetically engineer the color of his skin. And most notoriously, he injected his arm with DNA encoding for CRISPR that could theoretically enhance his muscles -- in between taking swigs of Scotch at a live-streamed event during an October conference. (Experts say -- and even Zayner himself in the live-stream conceded -- it's unlikely to work.) So when Zayner saw Ascendance Biomedical's CEO injecting himself on a live-stream earlier this month, you might say there was an uneasy flicker of recognition.

Ascendance Bio soon fell apart in almost comical fashion. The company's own biohackers -- who created the treatment but who were not being paid -- revolted and the CEO locked himself in a lab. Even before all that, the company had another man inject himself with an untested HIV treatment on Facebook Live. And just days after the pants-less herpes treatment stunt, another biohacker who shared lab space with Ascendance posted a video detailing a self-created gene therapy for lactose intolerance. The stakes in biohacking seem to be getting higher and higher. "Honestly, I kind of blame myself," Zayner told me recently. He's been in a soul-searching mood; he recently had a kid and the backlash to the CRISPR stunt in October had been getting to him. "There's no doubt in my mind that somebody is going to end up hurt eventually," he said.

Bitcoin

Poland's Central Bank Accused of Paying YouTubers To Make Videos That Attack the Legitimacy of Cryptocurrencies (businessinsider.com) 75

Poland's central bank has been accused of hiring YouTubers to "start a smear campaign" against cryptocurrencies in the country, Business Insider reports. From the story: According to Business Insider Poland, the Narodowy Bank Polski spent around 91,000 zloty ($27,300) on a marketing campaign designed to attack the legitimacy of cryptocurrencies. The money was spent on platforms including Google and Facebook, but was also used to pay a Polish Youtube partner network called Gamellon. The Gamellon network reportedly represents many of Poland's top YouTubers, including popular prankster Marcin Dubiel. In December, Dubiel published a video titled "STRACILEM WSZYSTKIE PIENIADZE?!" -- which loosely translates as "I LOST ALL MY MONEY?!" In the satirical video, Dubiel invests all his money in a fake cryptocurrency called Dubielcoin, gets rich, but then sees its value plunge and loses everything. It has racked up over 500,000 views.
Facebook

Why Decentralization Matters (medium.com) 93

Chris Dixon has an essay about the long-term promise of blockchain-based networks to upend web-based businesses such as Facebook and Twitter. He writes: When they hit the top of the S-curve, their relationships with network participants change from positive-sum to zero-sum. The easiest way to continue growing lies in extracting data from users and competing with complements over audiences and profits. Historical examples of this are Microsoft vs Netscape, Google vs Yelp, Facebook vs Zynga, and Twitter vs its 3rd-party clients. Operating systems like iOS and Android have behaved better, although still take a healthy 30% tax, reject apps for seemingly arbitrary reasons, and subsume the functionality of 3rd-party apps at will. For 3rd parties, this transition from cooperation to competition feels like a bait-and-switch. Over time, the best entrepreneurs, developers, and investors have become wary of building on top of centralized platforms. We now have decades of evidence that doing so will end in disappointment. In addition, users give up privacy, control of their data, and become vulnerable to security breaches. These problems with centralized platforms will likely become even more pronounced in the future.
Social Networks

Facebook VP of Ads Criticised For Tweeting that Russian-bought Ads Had Not Been Designed to Sway the US Election (bbc.com) 263

Facebook's vice-president of adverts has been criticised for tweeting that Russian-bought ads had not been designed to sway the US election. From a report: Rob Goldman's tweet was retweeted by President Donald Trump. His view contradicted special counsellor Robert Mueller's recent indictments, in which 13 Russians were charged with meddling in the election via social media and other means. Mr Goldman is reported to have apologised to Facebook staff. In a series of tweets, Mr Goldman said that Russia's misinformation activity had been designed to "divide America" but added that "the majority of the Russian ad spend [on Facebook] happened after the election." However according to the indictment, the ads were only part of Russia's activity on the social-media platform. In the document, Facebook is mentioned 35 times. According to Wired, he sent a message to staff that read: "I wanted to apologise for having tweeted my own view about Russian interference without having it reviewed by anyone internally. The tweets were my own personal view and not Facebook's. I conveyed my view poorly. The special counsel has far more information about what happened [than] I do -- so seeming to contradict his statements was a serious mistake on my part."
IOS

Apple Updates All of Its Operating Systems To Fix App-crashing Bug (engadget.com) 70

It took a few days, but Apple already has a fix out for a bug that caused crashes on each of its platforms. From a report: The company pushed new versions of iOS, macOS and watchOS to fix the issue, which was caused when someone pasted in or received a single Indian-language character in select communications apps -- most notably in iMessages, Safari and the app store. Using a specific character in the Telugu language native to India was enough to crash a variety of chat apps, including iMessage, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook Messenger, Gmail and Outlook, though Telegram and Skype were seemingly immune.
Government

Vietnam's Internet is in Trouble (wapo.st) 121

The World Post: Vietnamese authorities have harped of late on the urgency of fighting cybersecurity threats and "bad and dangerous content." Yet the fight against either "fake news" or misinformation in Vietnam must not be used as a smoke screen for stifling dissenting opinions and curtailing freedom of speech [The link may be paywalled]. Doing so would only further stoke domestic cynicism in a country where the sudden expansion of space for free and open discussion has created a kind of high-pressure catharsis online. Other countries, including democratic states, are also scrambling to rein in toxic information online. But while Germany, for example, specifically targets hate speech and other extremist messaging that directly affects the masses, Vietnamese leaders are more fixated on content deemed detrimental to their own reputation and the survival of the regime.

The ruling Communist Party of Vietnam has repeatedly urged Facebook and Google to block "toxic" information that it said slandered and defamed Vietnamese leaders. Google sort of conformed by removing more than such 5,000 clips; Facebook also flagged about 160 anti-government accounts at the behest of the government.

IBM

IBM Sues Microsoft's New Chief Diversity Officer To Protect Diversity Trade Secrets (geekwire.com) 197

theodp writes: GeekWire reports that IBM has filed suit against longtime exec Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, alleging that her new position as Microsoft's chief diversity officer violates a year-long non-compete agreement, allowing Microsoft to use IBM's internal secrets to boost its own diversity efforts. A hearing is set for Feb. 22, but in the meantime, a U.S. District Judge has temporarily barred McIntyre from working at Microsoft. "IBM has gone to great lengths to safeguard as secret the confidential information that McIntyre possesses," Big Blue explained in a court filing, citing its repeated success (in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017) in getting the U.S. government to quash FOIA requests for IBM's EEO-1 Reports on the grounds that the mandatory race/ethnicity and gender filings represent "confidential proprietary trade secret information." IBM's argument may raise some eyebrows, considering that other tech giants -- including Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook -- voluntarily disclosed their EEO-1s years ago after coming under pressure from Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Congressional Black Caucus. In 2010, IBM stopped disclosing U.S. headcount data in its annual report as it accelerated overseas hiring.
Facebook

Facebook Plans To Use US Mail To Verify IDs of Election Ad Buyers (reuters.com) 122

Facebook will start using postcards sent by U.S. mail later this year to verify the identities and location of people who want to purchase U.S. election-related advertising on its site, a senior company executive said on Saturday. From a report: The postcard verification is Facebook's latest effort to respond to criticism from lawmakers, security experts and election integrity watchdog groups that it and other social media companies failed to detect and later responded slowly to Russia's use of their platforms to spread divisive political content, including disinformation, during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Businesses

Silicon Valley Singles Are Giving Up On the Algorithms of Love (washingtonpost.com) 242

The Washington Post: Melissa Hobley, an executive at the dating app OkCupid, hears the complaints about the apps [being unable to find good matches] regularly and thinks they get a bad rap. Silicon Valley workers "are in the business of scalable, quick solutions. And that's not what love is," Hobley said. "You can't hurry love. It's reciprocal. You're not ordering an object. You're not getting a delivery in less than seven minutes." Finding love, she added, takes commitment and energy -- and, yes, time, no matter how inefficiently it's spent.

"You have a whole city obsessed with algorithms and data, and they like to say dating apps aren't solving the problem," Hobley said. "But if a city is male-dominant, if a city is known for 16-hour work days, those are issues that dating apps can't solve." One thing distinguishes the Silicon Valley dating pool: The men-to-women ratio for employed, young singles in the San Jose metro area is higher than in any other major area. There were about 150 men for every 100 women, compared with about 125 to 100 nationwide, of never-married young people between 25 and 34 in San Jose, U.S. Census Bureau data from 2016 shows. That ratio permeates the economy here, all the way to the valley's biggest employers, which have struggled for years to bring more women into their ranks. Men make up about 70% of the workforces of Apple, Facebook and Google parent Alphabet, company filings show.

Privacy

Facebook Admits SMS Notifications Sent Using Two-Factor Number Was Caused by Bug (theverge.com) 50

Facebook has clarified the situation around SMS notifications sent using the company's two-factor authentication (2FA) system, admitting that the messages were indeed caused by a bug. From a report: In a blog post penned by Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos, the company says the error led it to "send non-security-related SMS notifications to these phone numbers." Facebook uses the automated number 362-65, or "FBOOK," as its two-factor authentication number, which is a secure way of confirming a user's identity by sending a numeric code to a secondary device like a mobile phone. That same number ended up sending users Facebook notifications without their consent. When users would attempt to get the SMS notifications to stop, the replies were posted to their own Facebook profiles as status updates.
Businesses

Most Cities Would Welcome a Tech Billionaire, But Peter Thiel? (bloomberg.com) 282

Sarah McBride, writing for Bloomberg: Tech billionaire Peter Thiel is moving to Los Angeles from San Francisco, adding another dose of legitimacy to a burgeoning startup scene in Southern California -- along with some controversy. The co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, Thiel runs Founders Fund, one of the more-respected venture capital firms in Silicon Valley. He comes with a little baggage, though, including his staunch support for President Donald Trump, his secretive funding of the legal battle between Hulk Hogan and Gawker.com, and comments some people say have been derogatory toward women. "I'm not sure why Peter Thiel believes he'll receive a warmer reception on the L.A. tech scene than he's had in Silicon Valley," said Tracy DiNunzio, chief executive officer of Tradesy, a fashion-reselling company based in Santa Monica, California. "Our venture and startup ecosystem is fairly left-leaning."
China

How Does Chinese Tech Stack Up Against American Tech? 173

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.
Education

Learning To Program Is Getting Harder (slashdot.org) 406

theodp writes: While Google suggests that parents and educators are to blame for why kids can't code, Allen Downey, Professor at Olin College argues that learning to program is getting harder . Downey writes: The fundamental problem is that the barrier between using a computer and programming a computer is getting higher. When I got a Commodore 64 (in 1982, I think) this barrier was non-existent. When you turned on the computer, it loaded and ran a software development environment (SDE). In order to do anything, you had to type at least one line of code, even if all it did was another program (like Archon). Since then, three changes have made it incrementally harder for users to become programmers:
1. Computer retailers stopped installing development environments by default. As a result, anyone learning to program has to start by installing an SDE -- and that's a bigger barrier than you might expect. Many users have never installed anything, don't know how to, or might not be allowed to. Installing software is easier now than it used to be, but it is still error prone and can be frustrating. If someone just wants to learn to program, they shouldn't have to learn system administration first.
2. User interfaces shifted from command-line interfaces (CLIs) to graphical user interfaces (GUIs). GUIs are generally easier to use, but they hide information from users about what's really happening. When users really don't need to know, hiding information can be a good thing. The problem is that GUIs hide a lot of information programmers need to know. So when a user decides to become a programmer, they are suddenly confronted with all the information that's been hidden from them. If someone just wants to learn to program, they shouldn't have to learn operating system concepts first.
3. Cloud computing has taken information hiding to a whole new level. People using web applications often have only a vague idea of where their data is stored and what applications they can use to access it. Many users, especially on mobile devices, don't distinguish between operating systems, applications, web browsers, and web applications. When they upload and download data, they are often confused about where is it coming from and where it is going. When they install something, they are often confused about what is being installed where. For someone who grew up with a Commodore 64, learning to program was hard enough. For someone growing up with a cloud-connected mobile device, it is much harder.
theodp continues: So, with the Feds budgeting $200 million a year for K-12 CS at the behest of U.S. tech leaders, can't the tech giants at least put a BASIC on every phone/tablet/laptop for kids?
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.
Social Networks

US Charges Russian Social Media Trolls Over Election Tampering (cnet.com) 502

The US Justice Department has filed charges against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian groups for interfering with the 2016 presidential election. From a report: In an indictment [PDF] released on Friday, the Justice Department called out the Internet Research Agency, a notorious group behind the Russian propaganda effort across social media. Employees for the agency created troll accounts and used bots to prop up arguments and sow political chaos during the 2016 presidential campaign. Facebook, Twitter and Google have struggled to deal with fake news, trolling campaigns and bots on their platforms, facing the scorn of Capitol Hill over their mishandlings. The indictment lists 13 Russian nationals tied to the effort.
Microsoft

Hey Microsoft, Stop Installing Apps On My PC Without Asking (howtogeek.com) 511

Chris Hoffman, writing for How To Geek: I'm getting sick of Windows 10's auto-installing apps. Apps like Facebook are now showing up out of nowhere, and even displaying notifications begging for me to use them. I didn't install the Facebook app, I didn't give it permission to show notifications, and I've never even used it. So why is it bugging me? Windows 10 has always been a little annoying about these apps, but it wasn't always this bad. Microsoft went from "we pinned a few tiles, but the apps aren't installed until you click them" to "the apps are now automatically installed on your PC" to "the automatically installed apps are now sending you notifications." It's ridiculous.
Facebook

Facebook Is Spamming Users Via Their 2FA Phone Numbers (mashable.com) 119

According to Mashable, Facebook account holder Gabriel Lewis tweeted that Facebook texted "spam" to the phone number he submitted for the purposes of 2-factor authentication. Lewis insists that he did not have mobile notifications turned on, and when he replied "stop" and "DO NOT TEXT ME," he says those messages showed up on his Facebook wall. From the report: Lewis explained his version of the story to Mashable via Twitter direct message. "[Recently] I decided to sign up for 2FA on all of my accounts including FaceBook, shortly afterwards they started sending me notifications from the same phone number. I never signed up for it and I don't even have the FB app on my phone." Lewis further explained that he can go "for months" without signing into Facebook, which suggests the possibility that Mark Zuckerberg's creation was feeling a little neglected and trying to get him back. According to Lewis, he signed up for 2FA on Dec. 17 and the alleged spamming began on Jan. 5. Importantly, Lewis isn't the only person who claims this happened to him. One Facebook user says he accidentally told "friends and family to go [to] hell" when he "replied to the spam."

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