United States

The Trump Administration Just Voted To Repeal the US Government's Net Neutrality Rules (recode.net) 420

The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to dismantle landmark rules regulating the businesses that connect consumers to the internet, granting broadband companies power to potentially reshape Americans' online experiences. The agency scrapped so-called net neutrality regulations that prohibited broadband providers from blocking websites or charging for higher-quality service or certain content. The federal government will also no longer regulate high-speed internet delivery as if it were a utility, like phone services. From a report: Under the leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai -- and with only the backing of the agency's Republican members -- the repeal newly frees telecom companies from federal regulation, unravels a signature accomplishment of the Obama administration and shifts the responsibility of overseeing the web to another federal agency that some critics see as too weak to be effective. In practice, it means the U.S. government no longer will have rules on its books that require internet providers to treat all web traffic equally. The likes of AT&T and Verizon will be limited in some ways -- they can face penalties if they try to undermine their rivals, for example -- but they won't be subject to preemptive, bright-line restrictions on how they manage their networks. Meanwhile, the FCC's repeal will open the door for broadband providers to charge third parties, like tech giants, for faster delivery of their web content.
News

Wine Glasses Are Seven Times Larger Than They Used To Be (theguardian.com) 191

An anonymous reader shares a report: Our Georgian and Victorian ancestors may have enjoyed a Christmas tipple but -- judging by the size of the glasses they used -- they probably drank less wine than we do today. Scientists at the University of Cambridge have found that the capacity of wine glasses has ballooned nearly seven-fold over the past 300 years, rising most sharply in the last two decades in line with a surge in wine consumption. Wine glasses have swelled in size from an average capacity of 66ml in the early 1700s to 449ml today, the study reveals -- a change that may have encouraged us to drink far more than is healthy. Indeed, a typical wine glass 300 years ago would only have held about a half of today's smallest "official" measure of 125ml.
Businesses

Google and Facebook 'Must Pay For News' From Which They Make Billions (yahoo.com) 147

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."
News

Almost 100 Million People a Year 'Forced To Choose Between Food and Healthcare' (theguardian.com) 331

Almost 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty each year because of debts accrued through healthcare expenses. From a report: A report, published by the World Health Organization and the World Bank this week, found the poorest and most vulnerable people are routinely forced to choose between healthcare and other necessities for their household, including food and education, subsisting on $1.90 a day. Researchers found that more than 122 million people around the world are forced to live on $3.10 a day, the benchmark for "moderate poverty," due to healthcare expenditure. Since 2000, this number has increased by 1.5% a year. A total of 800 million people spend more than 10% of their household budgets on "out-of-pocket" health expenses, defined as costs not covered by insurance. Almost 180 million people spend a quarter or more, a population increasing at a rate of almost 5% per year, with women among those worst affected.
Communications

FCC's Own Chief Technology Officer Warned About Net Neutrality Repeal (politico.com) 140

Margaret Harding McGill, reporting for Politico: The Federal Communications Commission's own chief technology officer expressed concern Wednesday about Republican Chairman Ajit Pai's plan to repeal the net neutrality rules, saying it could lead to practices that are "not in the public interest." In an internal email to all of the FCC commissioner offices, CTO Eric Burger, who was appointed by Pai in October, said the No. 1 issue with the repeal is concern that internet service providers will block or throttle specific websites, according to FCC sources who viewed the message. "Unfortunately, I realize we do not address that at all," Burger said in the email. "If the ISP is transparent about blocking legal content, there is nothing the [Federal Trade Commission] can do about it unless the FTC determines it was done for anti-competitive reasons. Allowing such blocking is not in the public interest."
Power

Solar Power and Batteries Are Encroaching On Natural Gas In Energy Production (electrek.co) 150

Socguy writes: The relentless downward march in cost of both solar and battery storage is poised to displace 10GW worth of natural gas peaker plant electricity production in the U.S. by 2027. Already we are seeing the net cost of combined solar and batteries cheaper than the equivalent natural gas peaker plant. Some particularly aggressive estimates from major energy companies predict that we may not see another natural gas peaker plant built in the U.S. after 2020. GE has already responded to the weakness in the gas turbine market by laying off 12,000 workers. Further reading available via Greentech Media.
Cloud

Trump Administration Calls For Government IT To Adopt Cloud Services (reuters.com) 198

According to Reuters, The White House said Wednesday the U.S. government needs a major overhaul of information technology systems and should take steps to better protect data and accelerate efforts to use cloud-based technology. The report outlined a timeline over the next year for IT reforms and a detailed implementation plan. One unnamed cloud-based email provider has agreed to assist in keeping track of government spending on cloud-based email migration. From the report: The report said the federal government must eliminate barriers to using commercial cloud-based technology. "Federal agencies must consolidate their IT investments and place more trust in services and infrastructure operated by others," the report found. Government agencies often pay dramatically different prices for the same IT item, the report said, sometimes three or four times as much. A 2016 U.S. Government Accountability Office report estimated the U.S. government spends more than $80 billion on IT annually but said spending has fallen by $7.3 billion since 2010. In 2015, there were at least 7,000 separate IT investments by the U.S. government. The $80 billion figure does not include Defense Department classified IT systems and 58 independent executive branch agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency. The GAO report found some agencies are using systems that have components that are at least 50 years old.
Open Source

Avast Launches Open-Source Decompiler For Machine Code (techspot.com) 101

Greg Synek reports via TechSpot: To help with the reverse engineering of malware, Avast has released an open-source version of its machine-code decompiler, RetDec, that has been under development for over seven years. RetDec supports a variety of architectures aside from those used on traditional desktops including ARM, PIC32, PowerPC and MIPS. As Internet of Things devices proliferate throughout our homes and inside private businesses, being able to effectively analyze the code running on all of these new devices becomes a necessity to ensure security. In addition to the open-source version found on GitHub, RetDec is also being provided as a web service.

Simply upload a supported executable or machine code and get a reasonably rebuilt version of the source code. It is not possible to retrieve the exact original code of any executable compiled to machine code but obtaining a working or almost working copy of equivalent code can greatly expedite the reverse engineering of software. For any curious developers out there, a REST API is also provided to allow third-party applications to use the decompilation service. A plugin for IDA disassembler is also available for those experienced with decompiling software.

Software

T-Mobile Is Becoming a Cable Company (engadget.com) 89

T-Mobile has revealed that it's launching a TV service in 2018, and that is has acquired Layer3 TV (a company that integrates TV, streaming and social networking) to make this happen. The company thinks people are ditching cable due to the providers, not TV itself. Engadget reports: It claims that it can "uncarrier" TV the way it did with wireless service, and has already targeted a few areas it thinks it can fix: it doesn't like the years-long contracts, bloated bundles, outdated tech and poor customer service that are staples of TV service in the U.S. T-Mobile hasn't gone into detail about the functionality of the service yet. How will it be delivered? How much will it cost? Where will it be available? And will this affect the company's free Netflix offer? This is more a declaration of intent than a concrete roadmap, so it's far from certain that the company will live up to its promises. Ultimately, the move represents a big bet on T-Mobile's part: that people like TV and are cutting the cord based on a disdain for the companies, not the service. There's a degree of truth to that when many Americans are all too familiar with paying ever-increasing rates to get hundreds of channels they don't watch. However, there's no guarantee that it'll work in an era when many people (particularly younger people) are more likely to use Netflix, YouTube or a streaming TV service like Sling TV.
The Almighty Buck

Patreon Scraps New Service Fee, Apologizes To Users (theverge.com) 61

Patreon has decided to halt its plans to add a service fee to patrons' pledges, a proposed update that angered many users. "We're going to press pause," CEO Jack Conte tells The Verge. "Folks have been adamant about the problems with the new system, and so basically, we have to solve those problems first." The company plans to work with creators on a plan that will solve issues with the current payment system, but won't create major new problems in their stead. From the report: Conte published a blog post laying out the core problems, alongside an apology. "Many of you lost patrons, and you lost income. No apology will make up for that, but nevertheless, I'm sorry," it reads. "We recognize that we need to be better at involving you more deeply and earlier in these kinds of decisions and product changes. Additionally, we need to give you a more flexible product and platform to allow you to own the way you run your memberships. I know it will take a long time for us to earn back your trust. But we are utterly devoted to your success and to getting you sustainable, reliable income for being a creator."

Conte says that any new system will need to take the popularity of small pledges into account, and preserve the benefits of aggregation. It will also need to give artists more autonomy, rather than announcing a sweeping overall change directly to users. "The overwhelming sentiment was that we overstepped our bounds" with the non-negotiable fee, he says. "I agree, we messed that up. We put ourselves between the creator and their fans and we basically told them how to run their business, and that's not okay." Webcomic creator Jeph Jacques previously quoted Conte as saying Patreon "absolutely fucked up that rollout."

Education

Universities Spend Millions on Accessing Results of Publicly Funded Research (theconversation.com) 75

Mark C. Wilson, a senior lecturer at Department of Computer Science, University of Auckland, writing for The Conversation: University research is generally funded from the public purse. The results, however, are published in peer-reviewed academic journals, many of which charge subscription fees. I had to use freedom of information laws to determine how much universities in New Zealand spend on journal subscriptions to give researchers and students access to the latest research -- and I found they paid almost US$15 million last year to just four publishers. There are additional costs, too. Paywalls on research hold up scientific progress and limit the publicâ(TM)s access to the latest information.
Earth

Almost 45 Million Tons of E-waste Discarded Last Year (apnews.com) 171

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).
Businesses

No Matter What Happens With Net Neutrality, an Open Internet Isn't Going Anywhere, Says Former FCC Chairman (recode.net) 174

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) 125

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) 65

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.
Space

Why Meteoroids Explode Before Hitting the Earth (qz.com) 57

According to a new study from Purdue University, scientists have figured out why meteoroids explode before hitting the Earth. "The research, published in the December issue of the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science, shows that as meteoroids plunge, the high-pressure air they push against find its way into the objects' pores and cracks, forcing their bodies apart from the inside," reports Quartz. "The result is a kind of detonation that looks like an explosion." From the report: To explain the astrophysics, researchers focused their work on a widely viewed February 2013 meteoroid explosion place over Chelyabinsk, Russia, a city of 1.1 million north of the Kazakhstan border. Researchers ran a computer program that allowed for them to simulate what happened to the meteoroid in the atmosphere. "Our simulations reveal a previously unrecognized process in which the penetration of high-pressure air into the body of the meteoroid greatly enhances the deformation and facilitates the breakup of meteoroids similar to the size of Chelyabinsk," the study states. The researchers added that while the air pressure is effective at breaking apart small meteoroids, larger ones would likely withstand the force as they come to Earth.
The Almighty Buck

The Silicon Valley Paradox: One In Four People Are At Risk of Hunger (theguardian.com) 360

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) 460

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.
Businesses

Trump Signs Into Law US Government Ban on Kaspersky Lab Software (reuters.com) 138

President Donald Trump signed into law on Tuesday legislation that bans the use of Kaspersky Lab within the U.S. government, capping a months-long effort to purge the Moscow-based antivirus firm from federal agencies amid concerns it was vulnerable to Kremlin influence. From a report: The ban, included as part of a broader defense policy spending bill that Trump signed, reinforces a directive issued by the Trump administration in September that civilian agencies remove Kaspersky Lab software within 90 days. The law applies to both civilian and military networks. "The case against Kaspersky is well-documented and deeply concerning. This law is long overdue," said Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who led calls in Congress to scrub the software from government computers. She added that the company's software represented a "grave risk" to U.S. national security.
Bitcoin

SEC Shuts Down Munchee ICO (techcrunch.com) 43

The Securities and Exchange Commission has shut down Munchee, a company that built a $15 million token sale. According to TechCrunch, "The Munchee ICO aimed to fund the MUN coin, a payment system for restaurant reviews." However, the company "received a cease and desist from the SEC on December 11" because it constituted the offer and sale of unregistered securities. From the report: Within the SECs findings they noted that Munchee touted itself as a "utility" token which means that the company believed the MUN token would be primarily used within the Munchee ecosystem and not be used to fund operations. However, thanks to an application of the Howey Test (a Supreme Court finding that essentially states that any instrument with the expectation of return is an investment vehicle), the SEC found the Munchee was actually releasing a security masquerading as a utility. "Munchee offered MUN tokens in order to raise capital to build a profitable enterprise," read the SEC notice. "Munchee said that it would use the offering proceeds to run its business, including hiring people to develop its product, promoting the Munchee App, and ensuring 'the smooth operation of the MUN token ecosystem.'" The stickiest part? Munchee claimed that its coins would increase in value thanks to a convoluted process of growth.

In short, Munchee was undone by two things: depending on the token sale as a vehicle to raise cash for operations and using the typically spammy and scammy marketing efforts most ICO floggers use now, tactics taken directly from affiliate marketing handbooks. Fortunately, Munchee was able to return all $15 million to the 40 investors that dumped their coins into scheme.

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