Shanika Gunaratna, writing for CBS News: Snapchat and Skype are falling short in protecting users' privacy -- a failure that puts users' "human rights at risk," according to a report by the organization Amnesty International. Snapchat and Skype received dismal grades in a new set of rankings released by Amnesty that specifically evaluate how popular messaging apps use encryption to protect users' private communications. In the report, Amnesty is trying to elevate encryption as a human rights necessity, due to concerns that activists, opposition politicians and journalists in some countries could be put in grave danger if their communications on popular messaging apps were compromised. "Activists around the world rely on encryption to protect themselves from spying by authorities, and it is unacceptable for technology companies to expose them to danger by failing to adequately respond to the human rights risks," Sherif Elsayed-Ali, head of Amnesty's technology and human rights team, said in a statement. "The future of privacy and free speech online depends to a very large extent on whether tech companies provide services that protect our communications, or serve them up on a plate for prying eyes."Microsoft's Skype received 40 out of 100. WhatsApp fared at 73, and Apple scored 67 out of 100 for its iMessage and FaceTime apps. BlackBerry, Snapchat, and China's Tencent did 30 out of 100.
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AT&T has been secretly spying on its own customers, the Daily Beast reports. The revelation comes days after the top carrier announced plans to purchase Time Warner. The report claims that AT&T ran a program called Project Hemisphere through which it analyzed cellular data from the company's call records to determine where a given individual is located and with whom they are speaking. The New York Times reported about the program's existence in 2013, but it was described as a "partnership" between A&T and the government for fighting narcotics trafficking. But today's report, which cites several classifed documents, claims that AT&T used Hemisphere for a range of other functions -- and always without a warrant. From the report:Hemisphere is a secretive program run by AT&T that searches trillions of call records and analyzes cellular data to determine where a target is located, with whom he speaks, and potentially why. [...] Hemisphere isn't a "partnership" but rather a product AT&T developed, marketed, and sold at a cost of millions of dollars per year to taxpayers. No warrant is required to make use of the company's massive trove of data, according to AT&T documents, only a promise from law enforcement to not disclose Hemisphere if an investigation using it becomes public. These new revelations come as the company seeks to acquire Time Warner in the face of vocal opposition saying the deal would be bad for consumers. While telecommunications companies are legally obligated to hand over records, AT&T appears to have gone much further to make the enterprise profitable, according to ACLU technology policy analyst Christopher Soghoian. "Companies have to give this data to law enforcement upon request, if they have it. AT&T doesn't have to data-mine its database to help police come up with new numbers to investigate," Soghoian said. AT&T has a unique power to extract information from its metadata because it retains so much of it. The company owns more than three-quarters of U.S. landline switches, and the second largest share of the nation's wireless infrastructure and cellphone towers, behind Verizon. AT&T retains its cell tower data going back to July 2008, longer than other providers. Verizon holds records for a year and Sprint for 18 months, according to a 2011 retention schedule obtained by The Daily Beast.
Samsung is stepping up its brand damage limitation efforts in the wake of the flaming battery disaster of the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone by offering owners of the recalled device in South Korea the ability to upgrade to a Galaxy S8 or Note 8 device next year if they trade in their Note 7 for a Galaxy S7 now. TechCrunch adds:The offer implies Samsung is not in fact intending to retire the Note brand name for good, despite it now being associated with smoldering batteries and exploding smartphones. A cause for the battery overheating problem, which affected some replacement Note 7 devices as well as a number of original devices, has yet to be conclusively identified by the company. Users in its home country who opt for the upgrade program will only need to pay half the price of a Galaxy S7 in order to exchange to an S8 or Note 8 next year -- so they're being offered next year's flagship Samsung phablet at around half price. The company is presumably hoping brand loyalty to the Note can begin at home, although it's possible it might extent the offer to other markets.
An anonymous reader writes: In the arms race to build self-driving vehicles, Uber-owned Otto just reached a landmark milestone by completing the first-ever commercial cargo run for a self-driving truck. On October 20, the self-driving truck left Fort Collins, Colorado at 1 a.m. and drove itself 120 miles on I-25 to Colorado Springs. The driver, who has to be there to help the truck get on and off the interstate exit ramps, moved to the backseat alongside a crowd of transportation officials to watch the historic ride. 2,000 cases of Budweiser beer filled the trailer. "We're just thrilled. We do think this is the future of transportation," James Sembrot, senior director of logistics strategy at Anheuser-Busch, told Business Insider.
The stars have finally aligned for WiGig, an ultra-fast, short-range wireless network. The Wi-Fi Alliance has launched a certification process for WiGig products, which it claims, can go as fast as 8Gbps. The technology was first announced in 2009, and it is based on IEEE 802.11ad standard that is supported by many new products. CNET adds:That speed is good enough to replace network cables today. And tomorrow, WiGig should be good for beaming high-resolution video from your phone to your 4K TV or linking a lightweight virtual-reality headset to its control computer. VR and its cousin, augmented reality, work better when you don't have a thick cable tethering your head to a PC. New speed is especially helpful when conventional wireless networks clog up. We're all streaming video at higher resolutions, hooking up new devices like cars and security cameras to the network, and getting phones for our kids. Another complication: Phones using newer mobile data networks can barge in on the same radio airwaves that Wi-Fi uses. Saturation of regular Wi-Fi radio channels "will create a demand for new spectrum to carry this traffic," said Yaron Kahana, manager of Intel's WiGig product line. "In three years we expect WiGig to be highly utilized for data transfer." WiGig and Wi-Fi both use unlicensed radio spectrum available without government permission -- 2.4 gigahertz and 5GHz in the case of Wi-Fi. Unlicensed spectrum is great, but airwaves are already often crowded. WiGig, though, uses the 60GHz band that's unlicensed but not so busy. You will want to check for WiGig sticker in the next gear you purchase.
An anonymous reader writes: Planet Nine - the undiscovered planet at the edge of the solar system that was predicted by the work of Caltech's Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown in January 2016 -- appears to be responsible for the unusual tilt of the Sun, according to a new study. The large and distant planet may be adding a wobble to the solar system, giving the appearance that the Sun is tilted slightly. "Because Planet Nine is so massive and has an orbit tilted compared to the other planets, the solar system has no choice but to slowly twist out of alignment," says Elizabeth Bailey, a graduate student at Caltech and lead author of a study announcing the discovery. All of the planets orbit in a flat plane with respect to the Sun, roughly within a couple degrees of each other. That plane, however, rotates at a six-degree tilt with respect to the Sun -- giving the appearance that the Sun itself is cocked off at an angle. Until now, no one had found a compelling explanation to produce such an effect. "It's such a deep-rooted mystery and so difficult to explain that people just don't talk about it," says Brown, the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Planetary Astronomy.
The average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere hit the symbolic level of 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in 2015 and has continued to surge in 2016, according to the World Meteorological Organization. From a report on Time:Scientists say humans may need to take some carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to stop global warming. The carbon dioxide concentration is unlikely to dip below the 400 ppm mark for at least several decades, even with aggressive efforts to reduce global carbon emissions, according to the WMO report, which confirms similar findings reported last month. Carbon dioxide can last in the atmosphere for thousands of years without efforts to remove it. "The year 2015 ushered in a new era of optimism and climate action," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, referring to the landmark Paris Agreement to address climate change. "The real elephant in the room is carbon dioxide, which remains in the atmosphere for thousands of years and in the oceans for even longer."
At the Wall Street Journal's WSJD Live conference, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella admitted that Microsoft has largely failed in making a dent in the mobile hardware business. Nadella, who took over the command of Microsoft from Steve Ballmer in February 2014, however added that the company is now focused on doing well in new categories and also building new categories. He said:We clearly missed the mobile phone, there's no question. Our goal now is to make sure we grow new categories. We have devices which are phones today but the place where we are focused on, given where the market is, is what is the unique thing that our phone can do. We have a phone that in fact can replace your PC, the same way we have a tablet that can replace your laptop. Those are the categories that we want to go create. If anything, the lesson learned for us, was thinking of PC as the hub for all things for all time to come. It was perhaps one for the bigger mistakes we made.
MojoKid writes: As we quickly approach the November 8th elections, email leaks from the Clinton camp continue to loom over the presidential candidate. The latest data dump from WikiLeaks shines a light on emails between Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, John Podesta and Facebook Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg. In one email exchange, dated June 6th, 2015, Sandberg expresses her desire for Clinton to become president, writing to Podesta, "And I still want HRC to win badly. I am still here to help as I can." While that was a private exchange, Sandberg also made her zest for seeing Clinton as the 45th President of the United States publicly known in a Facebook post on July 28th of this year. None of that is too shocking when you think about it. Sandberg has every right to endorse whichever candidate she wants for president. However, a later exchange between Sandberg and Podesta showed that Mark Zuckerberg was looking to get in on the action a bit, and perhaps curry favor with Podesta and the Clinton camp in shaping public policy. Donald Trump has long claimed that Clinton is too cozy with big businesses, and one cannot dismiss the fact that Facebook has a global user base of 1.7 billion users. When you toss in the fact that Facebook came under fire earlier this year for allegedly suppressing conservative news outlets in the Trending News bar, questions begin to arise about Facebook's impartiality in the political race. The report also notes that Sandberg is at the top of the list when it comes to picks for Treasury Secretary, if Clinton wins the election. In an interview with Politico, David Segal, executive director for Demand Progress, said "[Sandberg] is a proxy for this growing problem that is the hegemony of five to ten major Silicon Valley platforms." Lina Khan, a fellow with the Open Markets Program at the New American think tank adds: "If a senior Cabinet member is from Facebook, at worst it could directly interfere [in antitrust actions]. But even in the best of cases there's a real worry that it will have a chilling effect on good-faith antitrust efforts to scrutinize potential anti-competitive implications of dominant tech platforms."
Harvard University researchers have successfully 3D printed the first heart-on-a-chip with integrated sensors that are capable of measuring the beating of the heart. Gizmodo reports: The printed organ is made of synthetic material designed to mimic the structure and function of native tissue. It is not designed to replace failing human organs, but it can be used for scientific studies, something that is expected to rapidly increase research on new medicine. The medical breakthrough may also allow scientists to rapidly design organs-on-chips to match specific disease properties or even a patient's cells. Organs-on-chips, also known by the more technical name microphysiological systems, replicate the structure and function of living human organs. Each is made of a translucent, flexible polymer that lets scientists replicate biological environments of living organs. The chips are also clear so that the scientists can see an inner-working into how the organs work. A large part of the breakthrough was actually developing six different printable inks capable of integrating sensors within the tissue being printed. In one continuous printing process, the team 3D printed materials into a heart-on-a-chip with integrated sensors. The sensors were capable of measuring the beating of the heart. The new study has been published today in Nature Materials.
An anonymous reader quotes a report from ABC News: Telling little fibs leads down a slippery slope to bigger lies -- and our brains adapt to escalating dishonesty, which makes deceit easier, a new study shows. Neuroscientists at the University College London's Affective Brain Lab put 80 people in scenarios where they could repeatedly lie and get paid more based on the magnitude of their lies. They said they were the first to demonstrate empirically that people's lies grow bolder the more they fib. The researchers then used brain scans to show that our mind's emotional hot spot -- the amygdala -- becomes desensitized or used to the growing dishonesty, according to a study published online Monday in the journal Nature Neuroscience. And during this lying, brain scans that show blood supply and activity at the amygdala decrease with increasing lies, said study co-author and lab director Tali Sharot. "The more we lie, the less likely we are to have an emotional response" -- say, shame or guilt -- "that accompanies it," Sharot said. Garrett said he suspects similar escalation factors happen in the "real world," which would include politics, infidelity and cheating, but he cautioned that this study was done in a controlled lab setting so more research would be needed to apply it to other situations. The study found that there is a segment of people who don't lie and don't escalate lies, but Sharot and Garrett weren't able to determine how rare those honest people are. It also found that people lie more when it benefits both them and someone else than when they just profit alone.
Last year, Consumer Reports withdrew its recommendation for the Tesla Model S after investigating its reliability. Today, the nonprofit organization released its 2016 Car Reliability Survey and found that, while the Tesla Model S has become more reliable, the Tesla Model X has proved to be unreliable overall. CNNMoney reports: CEO Elon Musk admitted that he wished he hadn't put so much new, complex technology on [the Model X] all at once when he unveiled the model last year. Apparently, he was right to worry. The Model X's complicated "falcon wing" doors have been a big trouble spot, said Jake Fisher, head of Consumer Reports' car testing unit. Even the front doors, which have electric motors that let them open on their own, have been a headache for customers, he added. As a result, Tesla ranks among the "Less Reliable" brands on Consumer Reports' list. The SUV's dependability is rated as "Much worse than average." Still, overall owner satisfaction with the vehicle is rated as "Excellent." For a long time, "dependability problems" have tended to be relatively trivial, said Fisher, as the industry has perfected the major mechanical aspects of the cars. In recent years, the problems have stemmed from the more high-tech additions to the newest cars, like the computer screens that work with phone, navigation and entertainment features, said Fisher. But now, with tougher fuel economy rules pushing more complex transmission technologies, dependability issues are once again starting to involve fundamental mechanical components. New eight- and nine-speed transmissions as well as dual-clutch and continuously variable transmissions have been suffering problems at a higher-than-average rate, Fisher said. It's been years since new car buyers would have to worry about things that could actually render their vehicle undrivable. But those concerns are coming back, Fisher said. As for the Model S, Consumer Reports says "Tesla's Model S has improved to average reliability, which now makes the electric car one of our recommended models."
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Twitter Inc. is planning widespread job cuts, to be announced as soon as this week, according to people familiar with the matter. The company may cut about 8 percent of the workforce, or about 300 people, the same percentage it did last year when co-founder Jack Dorsey took over as chief executive officer, the people said. Planning for the cuts is still fluid and the number could change, they added. An announcement about the job reductions may come before Twitter releases third-quarter earnings on Thursday, one of the people said. Twitter, which loses money, is trying to control spending as sales growth slows. The company recently hired bankers to explore a sale, but the companies that had expressed interest in bidding -- Salesforce.com Inc., The Walt Disney Co. and Alphabet Inc. -- later backed out from the process. Twitter's losses and 40 percent fall in its share price the past 12 months have made it more difficult for the company to pay its engineers with stock. That has made it harder for Twitter to compete for talent with giant rivals like Alphabet Inc.'s Google and Facebook Inc. Reducing employee numbers would relieve some of this pressure.
According to a study by IHS Markit this month, in the last two years Netflix's spending on original content rose from $2.38 billion to $4.91 billion. The company has invested big in original programming -- and it looks to be paying off. The folks over at AllFlicks have found that Netflix's subscriber base prefers Netflix's original content to that of its syndicated content. AllFlicks reports: Netflix user ratings show that Netflix's subscriber base prefers Netflix's original content to its syndicated content. Netflix originals sport an average rating of 3.85 stars out of five; all other content averages 3.47 stars. That means that user ratings for Netflix originals are 11% higher, on average, than user ratings for syndicated content. Netflix does best in the documentaries category, where users rate non-original content, on average, at 3.54. Netflix's documentaries average 4.07 stars, a pretty impressive showing. Netflix's TV shows do the worst, but still edge their other TV show content by 5.7%. It's possible that the frequent reviewers among Netflix's user base differ from the user base as a whole, but there's not a lot of reason to doubt the raw data here. The Netflix originals and non-originals were both reviewed on the same service and using the same rating system, yet originals consistently outperformed the rest of the content.