Software

'The Year That Software Bugs Ate the World' (fastcompany.com) 49

FastCompany's harrymcc writes: It's not like there's ever a year that isn't rife with stories about buggy software. But 2017 seems to have had an unusually rich supply of software flaws that fouled up major products -- from Twitter to iOS 11 to the Google Pixel 2 -- in ways that were very noticeable and sometimes even funny. Sample this: A nagging flaw in Google's Play Services software for Android causes Gmail to demand access to "body sensors" before it will let users send email. Android Police's Artem Russakovskii discovers that his Mini is recording audio 24/7 and storing it on Google's servers. I rounded up a bunch of them over at Fast Company.
Google

Google's Record Fine of $2.8 Billion Was a 'Deterrent,' EU Says (bloomberg.com) 49

The European Union was aiming for a "deterrent effect" on Google and other technology giants when it ordered the Android-maker to pay 2.4 billion euros ($2.8 billion) for breaching antitrust law over how it displays shopping ads. From a report: Regulators weighed "the need to ensure that the fine has a sufficiently deterrent effect not only on Google and Alphabet but also on undertakings of a similar size and with similar resources," the European Commission said in a 215-page document laying out details of its seven-year investigation into the company. The "particularly large" revenue of Google's parent, Alphabet, also determined the size of the fine, the EU said. The penalty, levied in June, was more than double an earlier 1 billion-euro fine on Intel and came with a threat of more daily fines for Google if it didn't comply with an order to offer equal treatment to rival shopping-comparison services. Big numbers for big technology names have been a theme for EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who ordered Apple Inc. to pay back some 13 billion euros in taxes last year.
Google

Google Reveals the Most-Trending Searches of 2017 (google.com) 46

"Google's annual list of the most popular searches is here, offering a peek into what people are really thinking about," writes CNN. An anonymous reader quotes their report: This year, you wanted to know more about one of the most powerful storms on record, the devastating Hurricane Irma. But you were also curious about [hip hop artist] Cardi B. and Unicorn Frappuccinos... Like 2017 itself, this year's top searches skew a little darker than usual, but are punctuated with some whimsy and positive moments. The top trending searches in the U.S. were Irma, Matt Lauer, Tom Petty, the Super Bowl and the Las Vegas shooting.

To determine the most popular trending searches, Google looked at its trillions of queries, filtered out spam and repeats, and identified searches that had the highest uptick in traffic compared with the previous year. It breaks them into categories like news, memes, and recipes (beef stroganoff was a hit).

Surprisingly there were more searches for 'iPhone 8" than for 'iPhone X," though those were the top two most-searched consumer technology products. (Followed by Nintendo Switch, Samsung Galaxy S8, and Xbox One X.) Other top searches this year included "What is net neutrality?" as well as questions about what bitcoin is, how to buy it, and the latest bitcoin prices. And one of the 10 most-searched phrases of the year was "fidget spinner."

Google uploaded an inspiring video to YouTube stating "This year more than ever we asked how." To dramatic music, the examples it gives include "How to calm a dog during a storm," "How to help Puerto Rico," "How to make a protest sign" -- and "How to move forward."
Microsoft

Windows 10 Bundled a Password Manager with a Security Flaw (bleepingcomputer.com) 48

An anonymous reader writes: A Google security researcher has found and helped patch a severe vulnerability in Keeper, a password manager application that Microsoft has been bundling with some Windows 10 distributions this year... "This is a complete compromise of Keeper security, allowing any website to steal any password," Tavis Ormandy, the Google security researcher said, pointing out that the password manager was still vulnerable to a same vulnerability he reported in August 2016, which had apparently been reintroduced in the code.

Based on user reports, Microsoft appears to have been bundling Keeper as part of Windows 10 Pro distributions since this past summer.

The article reports that Keeper issued a fix -- browser extension version 11.4 -- within less than 24 hours.
Google

Google News Will Purge Sites Masking Their Country of Origin (bloomberg.com) 150

An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg: Google moved to strip from its news search results publications that mask their country of origin or intentionally mislead readers, a further step to curb the spread of fake news that has plagued internet companies this year. To appear in Google News results, websites must meet broad criteria set out by the company, including accurately representing their owners or primary purposes. In an update to its guidelines released Friday, the search giant added language stipulating that publications not "engage in coordinated activity to mislead users."

Additionally the new rules read: "This includes, but isn't limited to, sites that misrepresent or conceal their country of origin or are directed at users in another country under false premises." A popular tactic for misinformation campaigns is to pose as a credible U.S. news outlet. Russian Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-backed organization, used that technique to reach an audience of nearly 500,000 people, spread primarily through Twitter accounts, Bloomberg reported earlier.

DRM

Why Linux HDCP Isn't the End of the World (collabora.com) 133

"There is no reason for the open-source community to worry..." writes Daniel Stone, who heads the graphics team at open-source consultancy Collabora. mfilion quotes Collabora.com: Recently, Sean Paul from Google's ChromeOS team, submitted a patch series to enable HDCP support for the Intel display driver. HDCP is used to encrypt content over HDMI and DisplayPort links, which can only be decoded by trusted devices... However, if you already run your own code on a free device, HDCP is an irrelevance and does not reduce freedom in any way....

HDCP support is implemented almost entirely in the hardware. Rather than adding a mandatory encryption layer for content, the HDCP kernel support is dormant unless userspace explicitly requests an encrypted link. It then attempts to enable encryption in the hardware and informs userspace of the result. So there's the first out: if you don't want to use HDCP, then don't enable it! The kernel doesn't force anything on an unwilling userspace.... HDCP is only downstream facing: it allows your computer to trust that the device it has been plugged into is trusted by the HDCP certification authority, and nothing more. It does not reduce user freedom, or impose any additional limitations on device usage.

The Courts

Here's the Letter Alleging Uber Spied on Individuals For Competitive Intelligence (recode.net) 37

The judge in the $1.9 billion civil suit between Google-parent company Alphabet's self-driving car unit Waymo and Uber released the letter of a disgruntled former employee -- former Uber security officer Richard Jacobs -- on Friday, laying bare a number of explosive allegations against the ride-hailing company that include corporate espionage, unlawful surveillance, illegal wiretapping, bribery of foreign officials, and illicit hacking. From a report: The letter read: "This program, formerly known as the Strategic Services Group, under Nick Gicinto, collected intelligence and conducted unauthorized surveillance, including unauthorized recording of private conversations against executives from competitor firms, such as DiDi Chuxing and against its own employees and contractors at the Autonomous Technologies Group in Pittsburgh." Jacobs testified in court and walked back some of the allegations made in the letter, which was written by his attorney, Clayton Halunen. Days later, Uber's new chief legal officer Tony West issued a directive to employees to stop surveilling individuals, which Recode first reported. In a separate note to staff Khosrowshahi (current CEO of Uber) said the letter detailed enough to "merit serious concern." While Jacobs, Padilla (Uber's general counsel) and other employees addressed some of the claims made within the letter -- confirming the use of Wickr for business-related communications -- the letter itself had not been made public before Friday evening. The document prepared by Jacobs' attorney also claimed Uber was using some of these surveillance tactics on Alphabet's self-driving arm, Waymo. However, during his testimony, Jacobs walked that allegation back.
Chrome

Chrome 64 Beta Adds Sitewide Audio Muting, Pop-Up Blocker, Windows 10 HDR Video (9to5google.com) 43

Chrome 64 is now in beta and it has several new features over version 63. In addition to a stronger pop-up blocker and support for HDR video playback when Windows 10 is in HDR mode, Chrome 64 features sitewide audio muting to block sound when navigating to other pages within a site. 9to5Google reports: An improved pop-up blocker in Chrome 64 prevents sites with abusive experiences -- like disguising links as play buttons and site controls, or transparent overlays -- from opening new tabs or windows. Meanwhile, as announced in November, other security measures in Chrome will prevent malicious auto-redirects. Beginning in version 64, the browser will counter surprise redirects from third-party content embedded into pages. The browser now blocks third-party iframes unless a user has directly interacted with it. When a redirect attempt occurs, users will remain on their current page with an infobar popping up to detail the block. This version also adds a new sitewide audio muting setting. It will be accessible from the permissions dropdown by tapping the info icon or green lock in the URL bar. This version also brings support for HDR video playback when Windows 10 is in HDR mode. It requires the Windows 10 Fall Creator Update, HDR-compatible graphics card, and display. Meanwhile, on Windows, Google is currently prototyping support for an operating system's native notification center. Other features include a new "Split view" feature available on Chrome OS. Developers will also be able to take advantage of the Resize Observer API to build responsive sites with "finger control to observe changes to sizes of elements on a page."
AI

Google Is Shutting Down Project Tango (androidpolice.com) 36

Google announced that it is ending support for Project Tango, the company's first attempt to bring a solid augmented-reality experience to the average user. The project used an array of cameras and sensors to accurately map 3D areas, causing the devices support Tango to be relatively large and expensive. Android Police reports: The first Tango device put into production was the "Peanut" phone, which was given to early access partners in 2014. Then came the "Yellowstone" 7-inch tablet, which was initially sold for $1,024 before a massive price drop to $512. The only other devices with Project Tango were the Lenovo Phab2 Pro, which wasn't a very good phone to start off with, and the ZenFone AR. This move isn't entirely surprising, now that Google is working on a software-only solution called ARCore. Not only is ARCore similar to Tango in functionality, but it doesn't require specialized hardware like Tango does.
AT&T

ISPs Won't Promise To Treat All Traffic Equally After Net Neutrality (theverge.com) 219

An anonymous reader writes: The FCC voted to put an end to net neutrality, giving internet providers free rein to deliver service at their own discretion. There's really only one condition here: internet providers will have to disclose their policies regarding "network management practices, performance, and commercial terms." So if ISPs want to block websites, throttle your connection, or charge certain websites more, they'll have to admit it. We're still too far out to know exactly what disclosures all the big ISPs are going to make -- the rules (or lack thereof) don't actually go into effect for another few months -- but many internet providers have been making statements throughout the year about their stance on net neutrality, which ought to give some idea of where they'll land. We reached out to 10 big or notable ISPs to see what their stances are on three core tenets of net neutrality: no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization. Not all of them answered, and the answers we did get are complicated. [The Verge reached out to Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Charter (Spectrum), Cox, Altice USA (Optimum and SuddenLink), and Google Fi and Google Fiber.]

Many ISPs say they support some or all of these core rules, but there's a big caveat there: for six of the past seven years, there have been net neutrality rules in place at the FCC. That means all of the companies we checked with have had to abide by the no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization rules. It means that they can say, and be mostly correct in saying, that they've long followed those rules. But it is, on some level, because they've had to. What actually matters is which policies ISPs say they'll keep in the future, and few are making commitments about that. In fact, all of the companies we contacted (with the exception of Google) have supported the FCC's plan to remove the current net neutrality rules. None of the ISPs we contacted will make a commitment -- or even a comment -- on paid fast lanes and prioritization. And this is really where we expect to see problems: ISPs likely won't go out and block large swaths of the web, but they may start to give subtle advantages to their own content and the content of their partners, slowly shaping who wins and loses online.
Comcast: Comcast says it currently doesn't block, throttle content, or offer paid fast lanes, but hasn't committed to not doing so in the future.
AT&T: AT&T has committed to not blocking or throttling websites in the future. However, its stance around fast lanes is unclear.
Verizon: Verizon indicates that, at least in the immediate future, it will not block legal content. As for throttling and fast lanes, the company has no stance, and even seems to be excited to use the absence of rules to its advantage.
T-Mobile: T-Mobile makes no commitments to not throttle content or offer paid fast lanes and is unclear on its commitment to not blocking sites and services. It's already involved in programs that advantage some services over others.
Sprint: Sprint makes no commitments on net neutrality, but suggests it doesn't have plans to offer a service that would block sites.
Charter (Spectrum): Charter doesn't make any guarantees, but the company indicates that it's currently committed to not blocking or throttling customers.
Cox: Cox says it won't block or throttle content, even without net neutrality. It won't make commitments on zero-rating or paid fast lanes.
Altice USA (Optimum and SuddenLink): Altice doesn't currently block or throttle and suggests it will keep those policies, though without an explicit commitment. The company doesn't comment on prioritizing one service over another.
Google Fi and Google Fiber: Google doesn't make any promises regarding throttling and paid prioritization. However, it is the only company to state that it believes paid prioritization would be harmful.
Google

Google Is Using Light Beam Tech To Connect Rural India To the Internet (techcrunch.com) 67

Google is preparing to use light beams to bring rural areas of the planet online after it announced to a planned rollout in India. From a report: The firm is working with a telecom operator in Indian state Andhra Pradesh, home to over 50 million people, to use Free Space Optical Communications (FSOC), a technology that uses beams of light to deliver high-speed, high-capacity connectivity over long distances. Now partner AP State FiberNet will introduce 2,000 FSOC links starting from January to add additional support to its network backbone in the state. The Google project is aimed at "critical gaps to major access points, like cell-towers and WiFi hotspots, that support thousands of people," Google said. The initiative ties into a government initiative to connect 12 million households to the internet by 2019, the U.S. firm added.
AI

Samsung Targets First Half of 2018 for Smart Speaker (bloomberg.com) 64

An anonymous reader shares a report: Samsung is aiming to introduce a smart speaker in the first half of 2018, entering a crowded field of voice-controlled devices from Amazon, Apple and Alphabet, people briefed on the plans said. The device by the South Korean technology giant will have a strong focus on audio quality and the management of connected home appliances such as lights and locks, said the people, who asked not to be identified talking about private plans. The gadget will run Bixby, Samsung's digital assistant that rivals Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. It will also synchronize with TVs, Galaxy smartphones and other Samsung devices, the people also said. The upcoming speaker, the report claims, will be priced at about $200.
Crime

DOJ Confirms Uber Is Being Investigated For Criminal Behavior (arstechnica.com) 34

A newly released letter from the Department of Justice has formally acknowledged that federal prosecutors have an open criminal investigation into Uber. Ars Technica reports: Late last month, as part of the proceedings in the high-profile and ongoing Waymo v. Uber trade secrets lawsuit, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said that on November 22 he had received a letter from San Francisco-based federal prosecutors. It is very unusual for a judge in a civil case to be apprised of a pending criminal investigation involving one of the litigants. In a separate November 28 letter sent to Judge Alsup, Acting U.S. Attorney Alex Tse asked that the first letter not be made public. The judge unsealed both letters on Wednesday. The first letter was signed by two prosecutors, Matthew Parrella and Amie Rooney. Those attorneys are assigned to the Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property (CHIP) Unit at the United States Attorney's Office in San Jose. [T]he letter could mean Uber and/or its current or former employees may be under investigation for possible crimes under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a longstanding anti-hacking law.
Google

NASA, Google Spot Eighth Planet in Solar System Rivaling Ours (cnet.com) 68

An anonymous reader shares a report: Google isn't just good for finding cat videos on the internet. The search giant's machine learning technology is also helping search the universe for planets outside our solar system. NASA on Thursday revealed the discovery of blazing-hot exoplanet Kepler-90i thanks to the use of a Google neural network trained to identify planets from the NASA Kepler space telescope's data. It's the eighth planet discovered in the Kepler-90 system, which ties it with our own solar system for the most known planets around a single star. Kepler-90 is a sun-like star located around 2,545 light-years from us.
Businesses

Amazon Will Resume Selling Apple TV, Google's Chromecast (axios.com) 55

Ina Fried, reporting for Axios: Amazon confirmed Thursday that it will again sell the Apple TV set-top box and Google Chromecast dongle. The company had stopped selling the devices amid disputes with both giants. There's a lot of frenemy stuff at play here, with Google, Apple and Amazon all selling their own streaming devices, but also looking to offer their own services on one another's devices. Apple doesn't offer its programing on rival devices, but does move a lot of hardware through Amazon.
IT

Internet Traffic To Major Tech Firms Mysteriously Rerouted To Russia (securityweek.com) 105

wiredmikey writes: Internet traffic to some of the world's largest tech firms was briefly rerouted to Russia earlier this week in what appeared to be a Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) attack. Internet monitoring service BGPmon noticed that 80 IP prefixes for organizations such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, NTT Communications, Twitch and Riot Games had been announced by a Russian Autonomous System (AS).

It happened twice on Tuesday and each time it only lasted for roughly three minutes. The first event took place between 04:43 and 04:46 UTC, and the second between 07:07 and 07:10 UTC. Despite being short-lived, BGPmon said the incidents were significant, including due to the fact that the announcements were picked up by several peers and some large ISPs, such as Hurricane Electric and Zayo in the U.S., Telstra in Australia, and NORDUnet, which is a joint project of several Nordic countries. The incident is rather suspicious, as the prefixes that were affected are all high profile destinations, as well as several more specific prefixes that aren't normally seen on the Internet.

Businesses

Google and Facebook 'Must Pay For News' From Which They Make Billions (yahoo.com) 166

Internet giants such as Google and Facebook must pay copyright charges for using news content on their platforms, nine European press agencies said. These giant platforms, news agencies said, make vast profits from news content on their platforms. The call comes at a time when the EU is debating a directive to make Facebook, Google, Twitter and other major players pay for the millions of news articles they use or link to. From a report: "Facebook has become the biggest media in the world," the agencies said in a plea published in the French daily Le Monde. "Yet neither Facebook nor Google have a newsroom... They do not have journalists in Syria risking their lives, nor a bureau in Zimbabwe investigating Mugabe's departure, nor editors to check and verify information sent in by reporters on the ground." The agencies argued, "access to free information is supposedly one of the great victories of the internet. But it is a myth."
Businesses

Disney Makes Deal for 21st Century Fox, Reshaping Entertainment Landscape (nytimes.com) 170

Disney is going all in for its upcoming fight with Netflix and other streaming giants. The Walt Disney Company said Thursday that it had reached a deal to buy most of the assets of 21st Century Fox, the conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch, in an all-stock transaction valued at roughly $52.4 billion. From a report: To complete the integration, a legacy-defining task, Robert A. Iger, Disney's chief executive, agreed to renew his contract for a fourth time, delaying retirement from July 2019 to the end of 2021. While the merger still requires approval by antitrust regulators -- and the Justice Department recently moved to block a big media company from becoming even bigger -- the once unthinkable acquisition promises to reshape Hollywood and Silicon Valley. It is the biggest counterattack from a traditional media company against the tech giants that have aggressively moved into the entertainment business. Disney now has enough muscle to become a true competitor to Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook in the fast-growing realm of online video. Alternative source: Variety.
AI

Google To Open AI Center In China Despite Search Ban (bbc.com) 38

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Google is deepening its push into artificial intelligence (AI) by opening a research center in China, even though its search services remain blocked in the country. Google said the facility would be the first its kind in Asia and would aim to employ local talent. In a blog post on the company's website, Google said the new research center was an important part of its mission as an "AI first company." "Whether a breakthrough occurs in Silicon Valley, Beijing or anywhere else, [AI] has the potential to make everyone's life better for the entire world," said Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist at Google Cloud AI and Machine Learning. The research center, which joins similar facilities in London, New York, Toronto and Zurich, will be run by a small team from its existing office in Beijing. The tech giant operates two offices in China, with roughly half of its 600 employees working on global products, company spokesperson Taj Meadows told the AFP news agency. But Google's search engine and a number of other services are banned in China. The country has imposed increasingly strict rules on foreign companies over the past year, including new censorship restrictions.
Earth

Almost 45 Million Tons of E-waste Discarded Last Year (apnews.com) 176

A new study claims 44.7 million metric tons (49.3 million tons) of TV sets, refrigerators, cellphones and other electrical good were discarded last year, with only a fifth recycled to recover the valuable raw materials inside. From a report: The U.N.-backed study published Wednesday calculates that the amount of e-waste thrown away in 2016 included a million tons of chargers alone. The U.S. accounted for 6.3 million metric tons, partly due to the fact that the American market for heavy goods is saturated. The original study can be found here (PDF; Google Drive link).

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