Facebook

Russia-Linked Accounts Were Active on Facebook Ahead of Brexit (ft.com) 23

The Russia-linked troll farm that used Facebook to target Americans during last year's election was also active in the UK ahead of the Brexit vote (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source), the social media company has admitted. From a report: In a letter to the Electoral Commission, Facebook said accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency spent $0.97 for three ads in the days before the EU referendum. These ads appeared on approximately 200 news feeds in the UK before the country voted to leave the EU last year. For months the social media company has sidestepped questions from MPs and journalists about Russian interference through its platform in the UK. The concerns were fuelled by revelations this summer that Facebook had been weaponised by Russian entities before the election of US President Donald Trump. France and Germany have said their elections were also targeted. "We strongly support the Commission's efforts to regulate and enforce political campaign finance rules in the United Kingdom, and we take the Commission's request very seriously," Facebook said in the letter.
Android

Andy Rubin's Essential Phone Considered Anything But (theregister.co.uk) 28

An anonymous reader shares a report: Andy Rubin's ambitions to create a new consumer electronics ecosystem are floundering at base camp. Sales of Essential's phone, which forms a key part of the strategy, are tepid. Google Play reports a mere 50,000 download of Essential's Camera app so far, the Android Police blog notes. This doesn't paint the full picture, but it can be assumed a fairly complete one, barring a few brush strokes. Essential launched in the US with support from Sprint, at a recommended SIM-free retail price of $699. After reported sales of just five thousand in the first month, this was slashed to $499 and could be grabbed for $399 in the post-Thanksgiving sales. As devices from different manufacturers proliferate in the home, Rubin has alluded to "a new operating system so it can speak all those protocols and it can do it securely and privately." But rather than launching a new software platform he's had to launch hardware.
Businesses

Net Neutrality Protests Move Online, Yet Big Tech Is Quiet (nytimes.com) 37

The New York Times: Protests to preserve net neutrality, or rules that ensure equal access to the internet, migrated online on Tuesday, with numerous online companies posting calls on their sites for action to stop a vote later this week. Reddit, Etsy and Kickstarter were among the sites warning that the proposal at the Federal Communications Commission to roll back so-called net neutrality rules would fundamentally change the way the internet is experienced. Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site, cleared its entire home screen for a sparse white screen reading "Defend Net Neutrality" in large letters. Reddit, the popular online message board, pushed in multiple ways on its site for keeping the rules, including a pop-up box on its home screen. But the online protests also highlighted how the biggest tech companies, such as Facebook and Google, have taken a back seat in the debate about protecting net neutrality (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; syndicated source), rules that prohibit internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast from blocking or slowing sites or for charging people or companies for faster speeds of particular sites. For the most part, the large tech companies did not engage in the protest on Tuesday. In the past, the companies have played a leading role in supporting the rules.
Businesses

No Matter What Happens With Net Neutrality, an Open Internet Isn't Going Anywhere, Says Former FCC Chairman (recode.net) 96

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) 54

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) 45

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) 45

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) 257

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) 354

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.
Social Networks

Instagram Will Now Let You Follow Hashtags In Your Main Feed (theverge.com) 20

"Up until now, there were two ways to interact with a hashtag," reports The Verge. "You could click through a hashtag on a post, or you could search for a specific tag in the Explore section of the app." Today, Instagram is adding a new way to interact with a hashtag: the ability to follow hashtags so you can see top posts and Stories about a topic on your home page. From the report: You can now "follow" a hashtag the same way you would follow an account. Instagram's algorithms will then pick and choose some of the highlights from that collection and surface them in your main feed. It's a fundamental change to one of the largest social media platforms in the world, elevating your interest in adorable dogs or expensive automobiles to equal status with your friends and family. By contrast, the posts injected into my main feed based on the hashtags I chose to follow (#modernart, #bjj, #ancient) felt carefully curated. There is a lot of variety, even within those categories, but you can train the algorithm on what you do and don't like. Engage with the post by leaving a heart or a comment, and Instagram will assume you want more. Click the menu button on the top right of the post, and you can downvote the offending image by asking Instagram not to show you similar content for that hashtag again. After a few days of this, the art in my feed, both martial and modern, felt fine-tuned to my taste.
Businesses

Trump Signs Into Law US Government Ban on Kaspersky Lab Software (reuters.com) 123

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.
Twitter

Twitter Officially Launches 'Threads,' a New Feature For Easily Posting Tweetstorms (techcrunch.com) 37

New submitter FatdogHaiku writes: For those people that must use multiple tweets to rant (or educate) on Twitter, a feature called "Threads" is being rolled out to aid in creating "tweetstorms" (i.e. gang tweets). Given how tweetstorms are normally used, how about we call them twitphoons? TechCrunch explains just how easy to use the new threads feature is: "There's now a new plus ('+') button in the composer screen where you can type out your series of tweets. Each line represents one tweet, with a character limit of 280 as per usual. You can also add the same amount of media -- like GIFs, images, videos, and more -- to any individual tweet in the thread, as you could on Twitter directly. When you're finished with one tweet, you just tap in the space below to continue your thread. While writing out your tweetstorm, you can go back and edit the tweets at any time as they're still in draft format. When you're ready to post, you tap the 'Tweet all' button at the top to send the stream to Twitter. (Twitter will pace the tweets' posting a bit so they don't all hit at once.)"

"In addition, another handy feature allows you to go back and update a thread by adding new tweets after it already posted," adds TechCrunch. "To do so, you'll write out the new tweet after tapping the 'Add another Tweet' button. This lets you continue to update a thread forever -- something Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey already does with his own threads, for example. Twitter tells us there's currently a limit of 25 entries in a thread, but that number may be subject to change depending on how the feature is adopted by the wider user base."
Businesses

Former Uber Employees Have Gone Into Debt To Hang Onto Shares They Can't Sell (qz.com) 62

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: Uber employees are lining up to sell their stock to Japanese technology giant SoftBank, which will buy up to 17% of outstanding shares for $33 each. The price represents a 30% discount to Uber's last valuation, of nearly $70 billion, but for current and former employees, the SoftBank tender offer is a rare chance to convert paper wealth into actual cash. To qualify for the tender offer, participants must have at least 10,000 Uber shares and be "accredited investors," an SEC designation (pdf) for wealthy individuals. Current Uber employees can't sell more than half of their stake; there are no restrictions on former employees. The deal is on the table until Dec. 28, and could fall through if there aren't enough shares on offer for SoftBank and a small consortium of other investors to purchase at least a 14% stake in the company.

Working at a successful startup is often viewed as a quick path to prosperity, but the reality is more complicated. Startups tend to offer equity packages, typically in the form of stock options, to compensate for below-market salaries. But as companies like Uber have stayed private longer, most employees haven't been able to get rich from those shares. Quite the opposite, some former Uber employees have gone into debt to hang onto shares they still can't sell.

Databases

Searchable Database of 1.4 Billion Stolen Credentials Found On Dark Web (itworldcanada.com) 66

YVRGeek shares a report from IT World Canada: A security vendor has discovered a huge list of easily searchable stolen credentials in cleartext on the dark web, which it fears could lead to a new wave of cyber attacks. Julio Casal, co-founder of identity threat intelligence provider 4iQ, which has offices in California and Spain, said in a Dec. 8 blog his firm found the database of 1.4 billion username and password pairs while scanning the dark web for stolen, leaked or lost data. He said the company has verified at least a group of credentials are legitimate. What is alarming is the file is what he calls "an aggregated, interactive database that allows for fast (one second response) searches and new breach imports." For example, searching for "admin," "administrator" and "root" returned 226,631 passwords of admin users in a few seconds. As a result, the database can help attackers automate account hijacking or account takeover. The dump file was 41GB in size and was found on December 5th in an underground community forum. The total amount of credentials is 1,400,553,869.
Bitcoin

SEC Shuts Down Munchee ICO (techcrunch.com) 41

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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