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United States

China Chases Silicon Valley Talent Who Are Worried About Trump Presidency (cnbc.com) 391

China is trying to capitalize on President-elect Donald Trump's hardline immigration stance and vow to clamp down on a foreign worker visa program that has been used to recruit thousands from overseas to Silicon Valley. From a report on CNBC: Leading tech entrepreneurs, including Robin Li, the billionaire CEO of Baidu, China's largest search engine, see Trump's plans as a huge potential opportunity to lure tech talent away from the United States. The country already offers incentives of up to $1 million as signing bonuses for those deemed "outstanding" and generous subsidies for start-ups. Meanwhile, the Washington Post last month reported on comments made by Steve Bannon, who is now the president-elect's chief strategist, during a radio conversation with Trump in Nov. 2015. Bannon, the former Breitbart.com publisher, indicated that he didn't necessarily agree with the idea that foreign talent that goes to school in America should stay in America. "When two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia, I think ...," Bannon said, trailing off. "A country is more than an economy. We're a civic society."
Apple

Apple, Which Doesn't Reveal Watch Sales Data, Says Watch Sales Are Great (mashable.com) 106

Though several companies are struggling to sell their smartwatches, Apple CEO Tim Cook says sales of Apple Watch set a record during the first week of holiday shopping. Cook added that the current quarter is on track to be the best ever for the product. The only problem: The company, which loves to numbers do all the talking, won't disclose how many Apple Watch units were shipped or sold. From a report on Mashable: "During the first week of holiday shopping, our sell-through of Apple Watch was greater than any week in the product's history. And as we expected, we're on track for the best quarter ever for Apple Watch," Cook told Reuters in an email. This is not surprising: The company has never revealed any sales data for the Watch, bundling it with the "other products" category in its earnings reports. There have been quite a few attempts to extrapolate what this means in numbers, but the truth is that any of those attempts could be a few million units wrong either way.
Databases

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft Will Create 'Hash' Database To Remove Extremist Content (reuters.com) 240

bongey writes: Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft are teaming up to create a common database to flag extremist videos and pictures. The database is set to go live in 2017. The system will not automatically remove content. Reuters reports: "The companies will share 'hashes' -- unique digital fingerprints they automatically assign to videos or photos -- of extremist content they have removed from their websites to enable their peers to identify the same content on their platforms. 'We hope this collaboration will lead to greater efficiency as we continue to enforce our policies to help curb the pressing global issue of terrorist content online,' the companies said in a statement on Tuesday. Each company will decide what image and video hashes to add to the database and matching content will not be automatically removed, they said. The database will be up and running in early 2017 and more companies could be brought into the partnership."
Communications

Facebook Begins Asking Users To Rate Articles' Use of 'Misleading Language' (techcrunch.com) 112

Facebook is finally cracking down on the fake news stories that run rampant on its site and many other social media sites across the web. The company is rolling out a new feature in the form of a survey that asks users to rate articles' use of "misleading language." The feedback received will likely help Facebook train its algorithms to better detect misleading headlines. TechCrunch reports: The "Facebook Survey," noticed by Chris Krewson of Philadelphia's Billy Penn, accompanied (for him) a Philadelphia Inquirer article about the firing of a well-known nut vendor for publicly espousing white nationalist views. "To what extent do you think that this link's title uses misleading language?" asks the "survey," which appears directly below the article. Response choices range from "Not at all" to "Completely," though users can also choose to dismiss it or just scroll past. Facebook confirmed to TechCrunch that this is an official effort, though it did not answer several probing questions about how it works, how the data is used and retained, and so on. The company uses surveys somewhat like this to test the general quality of the news feed, and it has used other metrics to attempt to define rules for finding clickbait and fake stories. This appears to be the first direct coupling of those two practices: old parts doing a new job.
The Media

Are We Seeing Propaganda About Russian Propaganda? (rollingstone.com) 324

MyFirstNameIsPaul was one of several readers who spotted this disturbing instance of fake news about fake news. An anonymous reader writes: Last week the Washington Post described "independent researchers" who'd identified "more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda" that they estimated were viewed more than 200 million times on Facebook. But the researchers insisted on remaining anonymous "to avoid being targeted by Russia's legions of skilled hackers," and when criticized on Twitter, responded "Awww, wook at all the angwy Putinists, trying to change the subject -- they're so vewwy angwy!!"

The group "seems to have been in existence for just a few months," writes Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, calling the Post's article an "astonishingly lazy report". (Chris Hedges, who once worked on a Pulitzer Prize-winning team at the New York Times, even found his site Truthdig on the group's dubious list of over 200 "sites that reliably echo Russian propaganda," along with other long-standing sites like Zero Hedge, Naked Capitalism, and the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.) "By overplaying the influence of Russia's disinformation campaign, the report also plays directly into the hands of the Russian propagandists that it hopes to combat," complains Adrian Chen, who in 2015 documented real Russian propaganda efforts which he traced to "a building in St. Petersburg where hundreds of young Russians worked to churn out propaganda."

The Post's article was picked up by other major news outlets (including USA Today), and included an ominous warning that "The sophistication of the Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on 'fake news'."
Republicans

Of 8 Tech Companies, Only Twitter Says It Would Refuse To Help Build Muslim Registry For Trump (theintercept.com) 587

On the campaign trail last year, President-elect Donald Trump said he would consider requiring Muslim-Americans to register with a government database. While he has back-stepped on a number of campaign promises after being elected president, Trump and his transition team have recently resurfaced the idea to create a national Muslim registry. In response, The Intercept contacted nine of the "most prominent" technology companies in the United States "to ask if they would sell their services to help create a national Muslim registry." Twitter was the only company that responded with "No." The Intercept reports: Even on a purely hypothetical basis, such a project would provide American technology companies an easy line to draw in the sand -- pushing back against any effort to track individuals purely (or essentially) on the basis of their religious beliefs doesn't take much in the way of courage or conviction, even by the thin standards of corporate America. We'd also be remiss in assuming no company would ever tie itself to such a nakedly evil undertaking: IBM famously helped Nazi Germany computerize the Holocaust. (IBM has downplayed its logistical role in the Holocaust, claiming in a 2001 statement that "most [relevant] documents were destroyed or lost during the war.") With all this in mind, we contacted nine different American firms in the business of technology, broadly defined, with the following question: "Would [name of company], if solicited by the Trump administration, sell any goods, services, information, or consulting of any kind to help facilitate the creation of a national Muslim registry, a project which has been floated tentatively by the president-elect's transition team?" After two weeks of calls and emails, only three companies provided an answer, and only one said it would not participate in such a project. A complete tally is below.

Facebook: No answer. Twitter: "No," and a link to this blog post, which states as company policy a prohibition against the use, by outside developers, of "Twitter data for surveillance purposes. Period." Microsoft: "We're not going to talk about hypotheticals at this point," and a link to a company blog post that states that "we're committed to promoting not just diversity among all the men and women who work here, but [...] inclusive culture" and that "it will remain important for those in government and the tech sector to continue to work together to strike a balance that protects privacy and public safety in what remains a dangerous time." Google: No answer. Apple: No answer. IBM: No answer. Booz Allen Hamilton: Declined to comment. SRA International: No answer.

Government

Paris, Madrid, Athens, Mexico City Will Ban Diesel Vehicles By 2025 (bbc.com) 240

The mayors of four major global cities -- Paris, Mexico City, Madrid and Athens -- announced plans to stop the use of all diesel-powered cars and trucks by 2025. The leaders made their commitments in Mexico at a biennial meeting of city leaders. BBC reports: At the C40 meeting of urban leaders in Mexico, the four mayors declared that they would ban all diesel vehicles by 2025 and "commit to doing everything in their power to incentivize the use of electric, hydrogen and hybrid vehicles." "It is no secret that in Mexico City, we grapple with the twin problems of air pollution and traffic," said the city's mayor, Miguel Angel Mancera. "By expanding alternative transportation options like our Bus Rapid Transport and subway systems, while also investing in cycling infrastructure, we are working to ease congestion in our roadways and our lungs." Paris has already taken a series of steps to cut the impact of diesel cars and trucks. Vehicles registered before 1997 have already been banned from entering the city, with restrictions increasing each year until 2020. The use of diesel in transport has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, as concerns about its impact on air quality have grown. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that around three million deaths every year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Diesel engines contribute to the problem in two key ways -- through the production of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Very fine soot PM can penetrate the lungs and can contribute to cardiovascular illness and death. Nitrogen oxides can help form ground level ozone and this can exacerbate breathing difficulties, even for people without a history of respiratory problems. The diesel ban is hugely significant. Carmakers will look at this decision and know it's just a matter of time before other city mayors follow suit.
Security

The 'USB Killer' Has Been Mass Produced -- Available Online For About $50 (arstechnica.com) 237

New submitter npslider writes: The "USB Killer," a USB stick that fries almost everything that it is plugged into, has been mass produced -- available online for about $50. Ars Technica first wrote about this diabolical device that looks like a fairly humdrum memory stick a year ago. From the report: "The USB Killer is shockingly simple in its operation. As soon as you plug it in, a DC-to-DC converter starts drawing power from the host system and storing electricity in its bank of capacitors (the square-shaped components). When the capacitors reach a potential of -220V, the device dumps all of that electricity into the USB data lines, most likely frying whatever is on the other end. If the host doesn't just roll over and die, the USB stick does the charge-discharge process again and again until it sizzles. Since the USB Killer has gone on sale, it has been used to fry laptops (including an old ThinkPad and a brand new MacBook Pro), an Xbox One, the new Google Pixel phone, and some cars (infotainment units, rather than whole cars... for now). Notably, some devices fare better than others, and there's a range of possible outcomes -- the USB Killer doesn't just nuke everything completely." You can watch a video of EverythingApplePro using the USB Killer to fry a variety of electronic devices. It looks like the only real defense from the USB Killer is physically capping your ports.
United States

US Economy Added 178,000 Jobs in November; Unemployment Rate Drops To 4.6 Percent (washingtonpost.com) 529

The U.S. economy added 178,000 jobs in November, while the unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent from 4.9 percent the previous month, according to new government data released (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternate source) Friday morning. From a report on the Washington Post: Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News had expected U.S. employers to create 180,000 new jobs last month -- roughly in line with the average number added in the first 11 months of the year. The first release after a contentious election in which the candidates disputed the health and direction of the economy, the data showed a job market that is continuing to steadily strengthen from the recession. The unemployment rate fell to levels not seen since August 2007, before a bubble in the U.S. housing market began to burst. The fall was driven partly by the creation of new jobs, and partly by people retiring and otherwise leaving the labor force. The labor force participation rate ticked down to 62.7 percent. Average hourly earnings declined by 3 cents to $25.89. The decrease pared back large gains seen in October, but over the year average hourly earnings are still up 2.5 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.
The Almighty Buck

South Korea To Kill the Coin in Path Towards 'Cashless Society' (cnbc.com) 258

The central bank in South Korea, one of the world's most technologically advanced and integrated nations, is taking a major step in getting rid of coins in the nation in what is an attempt to become a cashless society. The first step is to get rid of the metal, a feat authorities hope to achieve by 2020. From a report on FT: The Bank of Korea on Thursday announced it will step up its efforts to reduce the circulation of coins, the highest denomination of which is worth less than $0.50. As part of the plan it wants consumers to deposit loose change on to Korea's ubiquitous "T Money" cards -- electronic travel passes that can be used to pay for metro fares, taxi rides and even purchases in 30,000 convenience stores. The proposals are just the latest step for a nation at the forefront of harnessing technology to make citizens' lives more convenient. Online shopping is the norm, as are mobile payments for the country's tech-savvy millennials. South Korea is already one of the least cash-dependent nations in the world. It has among the highest rates of credit card ownership -- about 1.9 per citizen -- and only about 20 percent of Korean payments are made using paper money, according to the BoK. But while convenience is at the crux of the central bank's plan, there are other considerations. The BoK spends more than $40m a year minting coins. There are also costs involved for financial institutions that collect, manage and circulate them.
Google

Google's New Public NTP Servers Provide Smeared Time (googleblog.com) 179

Google says it has built support for the leap second into the time servers that regulate all Google services. An anonymous reader shares a blogpost by Google:No commonly used operating system is able to handle a minute with 61 seconds, and trying to special-case the leap second has caused many problems in the past. Instead of adding a single extra second to the end of the day, we'll run the clocks 0.0014% slower across the ten hours before and ten hours after the leap second, and "smear" the extra second across these twenty hours. For timekeeping purposes, December 31 will seem like any other day. All Google services, including all APIs, will be synchronized on smeared time, as described above. You'll also get smeared time for virtual machines on Compute Engine if you follow our recommended settings. You can use non-Google NTP servers if you don't want your instances to use the leap smear, but don't mix smearing and non-smearing time servers.
Facebook

Social Media Is Killing Discourse Because It's Too Much Like TV (technologyreview.com) 220

Reader Joe_NoOne writes: Like TV, social media now increasingly entertains us, and even more so than television it amplifies our existing beliefs and habits. It makes us feel more than think, and it comforts more than challenges. The result is a deeply fragmented society, driven by emotions, and radicalized by lack of contact and challenge from outside. This is why Oxford Dictionaries designated "post-truth" as the word of 2016: an adjective "relating to circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals." Traditional television still entails some degree of surprise. What you see on television news is still picked by human curators, and even though it must be entertaining to qualify as worthy of expensive production, it is still likely to challenge some of our opinions (emotions, that is). Social media, in contrast, uses algorithms to encourage comfort and complaisance, since its entire business model is built upon maximizing the time users spend inside of it. Who would like to hang around in a place where everyone seems to be negative, mean, and disapproving? The outcome is a proliferation of emotions, a radicalization of those emotions, and a fragmented society. This is way more dangerous for the idea of democracy founded on the notion of informed participation. Now what can be done? Certainly the explanation for Trump's rise cannot be reduced to a technology- or media-centered argument. The phenomenon is rooted in more than that; media or technology cannot create; they can merely twist, divert, or disrupt. Without the growing inequality, shrinking middle class, jobs threatened by globalization, etc. there would be no Trump or Berlusconi or Brexit. But we need to stop thinking that any evolution of technology is natural and inevitable and therefore good. For one thing, we need more text than videos in order to remain rational animals. Typography, as Postman describes, is in essence much more capable of communicating complex messages that provoke thinking. This means we should write and read more, link more often, and watch less television and fewer videos -- and spend less time on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
Communications

The UK Is About to Legalize Mass Surveillance [Update] (vice.com) 394

From a report on Motherboard: On Tuesday, the UK is due to pass its controversial new surveillance law, the Investigatory Powers Act, according to the Home Office. The Act, which has received overwhelming support in both the House of Commons and Lords, formally legalizes a number of mass surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013. It also introduces a new power which will force internet service providers to store browsing data on all customers for 12 months. Civil liberties campaigners have described the Act as one of the most extreme surveillance laws in any democracy, while law enforcement agencies believe that the collection of browsing data is vital in an age of ubiquitous internet communications. "The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 will ensure that law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies have the powers they need in a digital age to disrupt terrorist attacks, subject to strict safeguards and world-leading oversight," a statement from the Home Office reads. Much of the Act gives stronger legal footing to the UK's various bulk powers, including "bulk interception," which is, in general terms, the collection of internet and phone communications en masse. In June 2013, using documents provided by Edward Snowden, The Guardian revealed that the GCHQ taps fibre-optic undersea cables in order to intercept emails, internet histories, calls, and a wealth of other data. Update: "Snooper's charter" bill has become the law. The home secretary said:"The Investigatory Powers Act is world-leading legislation, that provides unprecedented transparency and substantial privacy protection. "The government is clear that, at a time of heightened security threat, it is essential our law enforcement and security and intelligence services have the power they need to keep people safe. The internet presents new opportunities for terrorists and we must ensure we have the capabilities to confront this challenge. But it is also right that these powers are subject to strict safeguards and rigorous oversight."
Businesses

Yesterday Saw $3.3 Billion In Online Purchases (cmo.com) 66

Friday humanity set a new record for the most money ever spent online in a single day -- and the most ever purchased on mobile devices. An anonymous reader writes: Online sales reached $3.34 billion yesterday, up 11.3% from the same day last year, according to a new report from Adobe Digital Insights. And most of that traffic came from mobile devices. In fact, yesterday became "the first day to ever generate over a billion dollars in online sales from mobile devices," according to their report. Although 64% of online sales came from desktop computers, 55% of the traffic to shopping sites still came from mobile devices -- 45% from smartphones, and 10% from tablets. (Just three years ago, only 20% of Black Friday sales came from mobile devices.)

The top-grossing products appeared to be iPads and Macbooks, Microsoft's Xbox, and Samsung and LG TVs, while the top-grossing toys were electric scooters, drones, Nerf guns and LEGO sets. The products mostly likely to be "out of stock" yesterday included the new NES Classic and the Nintendo 3DS XL Solgaleo Lunala (black edition), the Playstation VR bundle (and the PS4 "Call of Duty: Black Ops" bundle), and the Xbox One S bundle for Madden NFL 17.

The day after Black Friday is now being touted as "Small Business Saturday," a tradition started in 2010 when American Express partnered with the non-profit National Trust for Historic Preservation (and some civic-minded groups in Boston) to encourage people to shop in their local brick-and-mortar stores. American Express reported a $1.7 billion increase in sales on Small Business Saturday in 2015, "with 95 million customers reporting shopping small at local retailers, salons, restaurants and more."
Mars

An Underground Ice Deposit On Mars Is Bigger Than New Mexico (popularmechanics.com) 113

schwit1 quotes a report from Popular Mechanics: A single underground deposit of ice on Mars contains about as much water as there is in Michigan's Lake Superior, according to new research from NASA. The deposit rests in the mid-northern latitudes of the Red Planet, specifically in the Utopia Planitia region. Discovered by the Shallow Subsurface Radar (SHARD) instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the deposit is "more extensive in area than the state of New Mexico," according to a NASA press release. It ranges in thickness from about 260 feet to about 560 feet, and has a composition that's 50 to 85 percent water ice, with what appears to be dust or larger rocky particles mixed in as well. None of the ice is exposed to the surface. At various points the dirt covering it is in between 3 and 33 feet thick.

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