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Interview: Ask CEO Anant Agarwal About edX and the Future of Online Education 55

Anant Agarwal is a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and the CEO of edX. A massive open online course platform founded by MIT and Harvard, edX offers numerous courses on a wide variety of subjects. As of 2014 edX had more than 4 million students taking more than 500 courses online. The organization has developed open-source software called Open edX that powers edX courses and is freely available online. Mr. Agarwal has agreed to take some time out of his schedule and answer your questions about edX and the future of learning. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
The Internet

Spotify To Launch New Video Product This Week ( 9

An anonymous reader writes: After first announcing the introduction of a video streaming service in May last year, Spotify is finally launching the feature this week. The Swedish company has taken its time tinkering with the new product and beta testing it on groups for months, readying it for its widespread rollout. Not all of the video content will be music-related – keeping the product's potential wide open to different verticals. Spotify has already confirmed partnerships with the BBC, Vice Media, Maker Studios, ESPN, and Comedy Central, among other popular brands. Initially, the video service will only be available in the mobile version of the Spotify app for consumers in the U.S., the UK, Germany and Sweden. It will roll out on Android first, before arriving on iOS a week later. It is also expected to be an ad-free feature at launch, but it is doubtful that it will remain like this for long.
United States

Why 6 Republican Senators Think You Don't Need Faster Broadband ( 522

itwbennett writes: Broadband in the United States still lags behind similar service in other industrialized countries, so Congress made broadband expansion a national priority, and it offers subsidies, mostly in rural areas, to help providers expand their offerings,' writes Bill Snyder. And that's where an effort by the big ISPs and a group of senators to change the definition of broadband comes in. Of course, the ISPs want the threshold to be as low as possible so it's easier for them to qualify for government subsidies. In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, dated January 21, 2016, the senators called the current broadband benchmark of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream 'arbitrary' and said that users don't need that kind of speed anyway. '[W]e are aware of few applications that require download speeds of 25 Mbps.' the senators wrote, missing the simple fact that many users have multiple connected devices.
The Internet

How a DIY Network Plans To Subvert Time Warner Cable's NYC Internet Monopoly ( 90

Jason Koebler writes: Toppling a telecom monopoly is the dream of many Americans, but the folks at NYC Mesh are actually doing something about it. On any given weekend, Brian Hall and his fellow organizers can be found around the city, installing directional Wi-Fi routers on rooftops. Anyone in the city who lives near another person on the network is welcome to join, and NYC Mesh volunteers will help you install a rooftop router. The network is still small, but it has partnered with two internet exchanges to install "super nodes" that have a range of several miles and are connected directly to the backbone of the internet.

German Court: "Sharing" Your Amazon Purchases Is Spamming ( 195

An anonymous reader writes: A court in Germany has ruled that the 'Share' links which Amazon provides to customers directly after making a purchase at the site are unlawful. The "Share" functionality provides buttons which allow the consumer to signal a new purchase via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or email. The court, ratifying an earlier decision made at a lower court, declared that emails initiated via the Share function constitute "unsolicited advertising and unreasonable harassment."
The Internet

Google Exec Says Isis Must Be Locked Out of the Open Web ( 208

An anonymous reader writes with this story about Director of Google Ideas Jared Cohen and his talk with the Royal Institute of International Affairs about stopping terrorists online. Cohen contends that the best way to fight them online is to keep them confined to the dark web. The Guardian reports: "Google's head of ideas, tasked with building tools to fight oppression, has said that to stop Isis being able to publicize itself on the internet requires forcing Isis from the open web. During a talk with the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House, Jared Cohen said that it will not be possible to stop terrorists such as Isis from using Tor and the dark web. The key to stopping the terrorist group from propagating online is therefore to hound them from the traditional web – that which can be indexed by search engines. Cohen said: 'What is new is that they're operating without being pushed back in the same internet we all enjoy. So success looks like Isis being contained to the dark web.'"
The Almighty Buck

World Bank Says Internet Technology May Widen Inequality ( 133 writes: Somini Sengupta writes in the NY Times that a new report from the World Bank concludes that the vast changes wrought by Internet technology have not expanded economic opportunities or improved access to basic public services but stand to widen inequalities and even hasten the hollowing out of middle-class employment. "Digital technologies are spreading rapidly, but digital dividends — growth, jobs and services — have lagged behind," says the bank in a news release announcing the report. "If people have the right skills, digital technology will help them become more efficient and productive, but if the right skills are lacking, you'll end up with a polarized labor market and more inequality," says Uwe Deichmann. Those who are already well-off and well-educated have been able to take advantage of the Internet economy, the report concludes pointedly, but despite the expansion of Internet access, 60 percent of humanity remains offline. According to the report, in developed countries and several large middle-income countries, technology is automating routine jobs, such as factory work, and some white-collar jobs. While some workers benefit, "a large share" of workers get pushed down to lower-paying jobs that cannot be automated. "What we're seeing is not so much a destruction of jobs but a reshuffling of jobs, what economists have been calling a hollowing out of the labor market. You see the share of mid-level jobs shrinking and lower-end jobs increasing."

The report adds that in the developing world digital technologies are not a shortcut to development, though they can accelerate it if used in the right way. "We see a lot of disappointment and wasted investments. It's actually quite shocking how many e-government projects fail," says Deichmann. "While technology can be extremely helpful in many ways, it's not going to help us circumvent the failures of development over the last couple of decades. You still have to get the basics right: education, business climate, and accountability in government."


Netflix Decides To Crack Down On VPN Users ( 249

An anonymous reader writes: Netflix have announced they'll be taking further steps to ensure users are not circumventing geo-restrictions. David Fullagar, Vice President of Content Delivery and Architecture at Netflix says "Some members use proxies or "unblockers" to access titles available outside their territory. To address this, we employ the same or similar measures other firms do. This technology continues to evolve and we are evolving with it. That means in coming weeks, those using proxies and unblockers will only be able to access the service in the country where they currently are. This announcement comes just days after Netflix Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt said that a VPN blocking policy might be impossible to enforce."

Universal To License Music To SoundCloud In Streaming Deal ( 49

An anonymous reader writes: Universal Music Group has agreed to license its music to online audio platform SoundCloud – a major step for the popular startup, which has struggled to receive legitimate recognition in the industry. SoundCloud will enjoy access to Universal material, including work from top global artists signed to the label such as Adele, Taylor Swift and Kanye West. Conversely Universal will be able to access SoundCloud's advertising, analytics and data tools with the aim of increasing revenue streams and bolstering fan/artist engagement.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF: T-Mobile "Binge On" Is Just Throttling of All Data ( 227

onedobb writes: Tests confirm that when Binge On is enabled, T-Mobile throttles all HTML5 video streams to around 1.5Mps, even when the phone is capable of downloading at higher speeds, and regardless of whether or not the video provider enrolled in Binge On. This is the case whether the video is being streamed or being downloaded—which means that T-Mobile is artificially reducing the download speeds of customers with Binge On enabled, even if they're downloading the video to watch later. It also means that videos are being throttled even if they're being watched or downloaded to another device via a tethered connection.

Firefox Will Support Non-Standard CSS For WebKit Compatibility ( 132

RoccamOccam writes: Mozilla developers have discussed a plan to implement support for a subset of non-standard CSS prefixes used in WebKit. Mozilla developer Daniel Holbert says: "A good chunk of the web today (and particularly the mobile web) effectively relies on -webkit prefixed CSS properties & features. We wish we lived in a world where web content always included standards-based fallback (or at least multiple-vendor-prefixed fallback), but alas, we do not live in that world. To be successful at rendering the web as it exists, we need to add support for a list of frequently-used -webkit prefixed CSS properties & features."

18 Million Targeted Voter Records Exposed By Database Error ( 75

itwbennett writes: Last week, a database containing 191 million voter records was exposed because of a misconfigured database that no on wants to claim ownership of. Around the same time, a second, smaller database containing fewer than 57 million records similar to those previously discovered was also found by researcher Chris Vickery. But the second database also includes 18 million records that hold targeted demographic information. And as was the case with the previous voter database, no one wants to claim ownership.
The Internet

When Hacking Vigilantism Infringes On Free Speech ( 229

An anonymous reader writes: I'm inclined to agree with the suggestion people make that the web is like the Wild West, but that's not to say we have reached the same conclusion for the same reasons. For me, the web — like the Wild West — is not a world filled with danger, but one occupied by vigilantes. As a proponent of free speech, I find this concerning. One of the most highly-lauded of vigilantes is the disparate group marching under the ragged banner of Anonymous.

One of its taglines is 'We Are Anonymous', a phrase that can be uttered by anyone, as there is no membership process — if you say you are part of Anonymous, you are part of Anonymous. The group is not, for the most part, organized. Individuals and factions can fight for or against whatever cause they want, just like real-world vigilante groups. But Anonymous is not alone. There are hacking collectives and other online crusaders who see fit to take the law into their own hands. This is might sound wonderful, but it's not necessarily a good thing. As New World Hackers demonstrate, attacks can target the wrong people and restrict free speech.


Discogs Turns Record Collectors' Obsessions Into Big Business 31 writes: Ben Sisario writes at the NYT that Discogs has built one of the most exhaustive collections of discographical information in the world, and with 24 million items for sale, (eBay's music section lists 11 million) Discogs is on track to do nearly $100 million in business by the end of the year. One of Discog's secrets is the use of Wikipedia's model of user-generated content with historical data cataloged by thousands of volunteer editors in extreme detail. The site's entry for the Beatles' White Album, for instance, contains 309 distinct versions of the record, including its original releases in countries like Uruguay, India and Yugoslavia — in mono and stereo configurations — and decades of reissues, from Greek eight-tracks to Japanese CDs. "There's a record-collector gene," says Kevin Lewandowski. "Some people want to know every little detail about a record."

The site, once run from a computer in Lewandowski's closet and originally restricted to electronic music, has grown rapidly. "It took about six months working nights and weekends on Discogs, and I launched it in November 2000. It was very simplistic compared to what it is now, but it started growing right away." Discogs now has 37 employees around the world, 20 million online visitors a month and three million registered users. Lewandowski, who is the sole owner of Discogs, says he had no interest in selling the business. He has watched other players enter the field over the last 15 years, including Amazon, which in 2008 introduced SoundUnwound, a Wikipedia-like site for music that was quietly shut down four years later. Discogs may have survived because of the innovation of its marketplace, giving collectors an incentive to expand the database with every imaginable detail. "I want it to go on forever," says Lewandowski.

Can Web Standards Make Mobile Apps Obsolete? ( 225

nerdyalien writes: There's a litany of problems with apps. There is the platform lock-in and the space the apps take up on the device. Updating apps is a pain that users often ignore, leaving broken or vulnerable versions in use long after they've been allegedly patched. Apps are also a lot of work for developers—it's not easy to write native apps to run on both Android and iOS, never mind considering Windows Phone and BlackBerry. What's the alternative? Well, perhaps the best answer is to go back to the future and do what we do on desktop computers: use the Web and the Web browser.

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