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Facebook

Facebook Confirms Data-Sharing Deals With Chinese Tech Firms (wsj.com) 39

Facebook confirmed this week that it struck data partnerships with at least four Chinese electronics firms, including Huawei, a telecommunications-equipment maker that U.S. officials view as a potential tool for state-sponsored spying. WSJ: The four partnerships are among the roughly 60 that Facebook struck with device manufacturers starting in 2007 so they could recreate the Facebook service on their devices, a Facebook spokeswoman said. As of Tuesday, more than half of those partnerships have been wound down, the spokeswoman added. The social-media company said it plans to wind down its data-sharing partnership with Huawei by the end of the week. It isn't clear when Facebook will end partnerships with the three other companies: Lenovo, the world's largest personal-computer maker; Oppo, a smartphone maker; and Chinese electronics conglomerate TCL.
Operating Systems

tvOS 12 Brings Dolby Atmos Support, Zero Sign-In, and TV App Improvements (macworld.com) 47

If you're using an Apple TV as your main streaming box, you will be happy to know several big improvements are coming to the platform. Macworld reports of what's new in tvOS 12: With tvOS 12, Dolby Atmos comes to the Apple TV 4K. All you need for full 3D immersive audio is an Atmos-supporting sound bar or receiver. This makes Apple TV 4K the only streaming media box to be certified for both Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos.

One of the best features of tvOS 11 is called Single Sign-on. You add your TV provider's login information to your Apple TV device. If an app supports Single Sign-on, you can log in with your TV provider with just a few taps. It's a big step forward, but still a little bit of a pain. With tvOS 12, Apple makes the whole process totally seamless with Zero Sign-on. Here's how it works: If your TV provider is your Internet provider (a very common occurrence here in the United States), and your Apple TV is connected to the Internet through that provider, you sign in automatically to any Apple TV app your provider gives you access to. Just launch the app, and you're signed in, no passwords or configuration needed at all.

Apple's breathtaking 4K video screensavers, called "Aerials," is one of those minor delights that Apple TV 4K users can't get enough of. In tvOS 12, they get better. You can tap the remote to see the location at which the Aerial was filmed. A new set of Aerials is the star of the show, however. Called "Earth," these are stunning videos from space, taken by astronauts at the International Space Station.
Furthermore, the TV app will provide live content from select TV providers; Charter Spectrum will support the app with live channels and content later this year. Apple is also now allowing third-party home control systems' remotes to control your Apple TV (including Siri).
Security

MyHeritage, a DNA Testing and Ancestry Service, Announces Data Breach of Over 92 Million Account Details (vice.com) 117

Joseph Cox, reporting for Motherboard: Unfortunately for customers of MyHeritage, a genealogy and DNA testing service, a researcher uncovered 92 million account details related to the company sitting on a server, according to an announcement from MyHeritage. The data relates to users who signed up to MyHeritage up to and including October 26, 2017 -- the date of the breach -- the announcement adds. Users of the Israeli-based company can create family trees and search through historical records to try and uncover their ancestry. In January 2017, Israeli media reported the company has some 35 million family trees on its website. In all, the breach impacted 92,283,889 users, according to MyHeritage's disclosure.
China

Micron, Samsung, Hynix Investigated By China Over Antitrust Violations (yahoo.com) 38

hackingbear shares a report from Yahoo Finance: Micron Technology Inc., the largest U.S. maker of computer memory chips, said Chinese regulatory authority representatives visited its offices in that country, potentially opening another front in a growing trade dispute between the world's two largest economies. Chinese media reported that Samsung and SK Hynix also received visits from local regulators seeking information. Micron got about half of its sales from China last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. China has been spending heavily on attempts to boost its domestic supply of semiconductors and lessen a bill that has exceeded the cost of oil imports. "In 2015, Qualcomm, another U.S. chip giant currently under antitrust investigation in Europe, paid near $1 billion to settle its antitrust matter in China," notes Slashdot reader hackingbear.
Businesses

American Tech Giants Are Making Life Tough For Startups (economist.com) 142

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Economist: Venture capitalists, such as Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures, who was an early investor in Twitter, now talk of a "kill-zone" around the giants. Once a young firm enters, it can be extremely difficult to survive. Tech giants try to squash startups by copying them, or they pay to scoop them up early to eliminate a threat. The idea of a kill-zone may bring to mind Microsoft's long reign in the 1990s, as it embraced a strategy of "embrace, extend and extinguish" and tried to intimidate startups from entering its domain. But entrepreneurs' and venture capitalists' concerns are striking because for a long while afterwards, startups had free rein. [...] Venture capitalists are wary of backing startups in online search, social media, mobile and e-commerce. It has become harder for startups to secure a first financing round. According to Pitchbook, a research company, in 2017 the number of these rounds were down by around 22% from 2012 (see chart).

The wariness comes from seeing what happens to startups when they enter the kill-zone, either deliberately or accidentally. Snap is the most prominent example; after Snap rebuffed Facebook's attempts to buy the firm in 2013, for $3 billion, Facebook cloned many of its successful features and has put a damper on its growth. A less known example is Life on Air, which launched Meerkat, a live video-streaming app, in 2015. It was obliterated when Twitter acquired and promoted a competing app, Periscope. Life on Air shut Meerkat down and launched a different app, called Houseparty, which offered group video chats. This briefly gained prominence, but was then copied by Facebook, seizing users and attention away from the startup.
The Economist goes on to state three reasons why the kill-zone is likely to stay: "First, the giants have tons of data to identify emerging rivals faster than ever before. Recruiting is a second tool the giants will use to enforce their kill zones. A third reason that startups may struggle to break through is that there is no sign of a new platform emerging which could disrupt the incumbents, even more than a decade after the rise of mobile."
Businesses

Microsoft's Interest In Buying GitHub Draws Backlash From Developers 256

The supposed acquisition of popular code repository GitHub by Microsoft has drawn an unprecedented backlash from the developer community. Over the weekend, after Bloomberg reported that the two companies could make the announcement as soon as Monday, hundreds of developers took to forums and social media to express their disappointment, with many saying that they would be leaving the platform if the deal goes through.

So why so much outrage? In a conversation with Slashdot, software developer and student Sean said that he believes a deal of such capacity would be bad for the open source community. "They've shown time and time again that they can't be trusted," he said. Sean and many other believe that Microsoft would eventually start telemetry program on the code repository. "Aside from Microsoft not being trustworthy to the open source community, I'm sure they'll add tracking and possibly even ads to all the sites within GitHub. As well as possibly use it to push LinkedIn (which they own)," he said. Ryan Hoover, the founder of ProductHunt, wrote on Sunday, "Anecdotally, the developer community is very unapproving of this move. I'm curious how Microsoft manages this and how GitHub changes (or doesn't change)." Even as Microsoft has "embraced" the open source community in the recent years (under the leadership of Mr. Nadella), for many developers, it will take time -- if at all -- to forget the company's past closed-ecosystem approach. Just this weekend, a developer accused Microsoft of stealing his code.

A petition that seeks to "stop Microsoft from buying Github" had garnered support from more than 400 developers. Prominent developer Andre Staltz said, "If you're still optimistic about the Microsoft-GitHub acquisition, consider this: They didn't ask your opinion not even a single bit, even though it was primarily your commits, stars, and repositories which made GH become a valuable platform." More importantly, if the comments left on Slashdot, Reddit, and HackerNews, places that overwhelmingly count developers and other IT industry experts among their audience, are anything to go by, Microsoft better has a good plan on how it intends to operate GitHub after the buyout. Security reporter Catalin Cimpanu said, "LinkedIn has turned into a slow-loading junk after the Microsoft acquisition. I can only imagine what awaits GitHub." On his part, Mat Velloso, who is technical advisor to CTO at Microsoft, said, "I don't think people understand how many of us at Microsoft love GitHub to the bottom of our hearts. If anybody decided to mess with that community, there would be a riot to say the least."

Jacques Mattheij: Companies that are too big to fail and that lose money are a dangerous combination, people have warned about GitHub becoming as large as it did as problematic because it concentrates too much of the power to make or break the open source world in a single entity, moreso because there were valid questions about GitHubs financial viability. The model that GitHub has -- sell their services to closed source companies but provide the service for free for open source groups -- is only a good one if the closed source companies bring in enough funds to sustain the model. Some sort of solution should have been found -- preferably in collaboration with the community -- not an 'exit' to one of the biggest sharks in the tank. So, here is what is wrong with this deal and why anybody active in the open source community should be upset that Microsoft is going to be the steward of this large body of code. For starters, Microsoft has a very long history of abusing its position vis-a-vis open source and other companies. I'm sure you'll be able to tell I'm a cranky old guy by looking up the dates to some of these references, but 'new boss, same as the old boss' applies as far as I'm concerned. Yes, the new boss is a nicer guy but it's the same corporate entity. Update: It's official. Microsoft has acquired GitHub for a whopping sum of $7.5B.
Microsoft

Microsoft Sticks With Controversial 'GVFS' Name Despite Backlash (medium.com) 203

New submitter DuroSoft writes: It has been over a year since Microsoft unveiled its open source GVFS (Git Virtual File System) project, designed to make terabyte-scale repositories, like it's own 270GB Windows source code, manageable using Git. The problem is that the GNOME project already has a virtual file system by the name of GVfs that has been in use for years, with hundreds of threads on Stack Overflow, etc. Yet Microsoft's GVFS has already surpassed GVfs in Google and is causing confusion. To make matters worse, Microsoft has officially refused to change the name, despite a large public backlash on GitHub and social media, and despite pull requests providing scripts that can change the name to anything Microsoft wants. Is this mere arrogance on Microsoft's part, laziness to do a quick Google search before using a name, or is it something more sinister?
AI

Meet Norman, the Psychopathic AI (bbc.com) 109

A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created a psychopathic algorithm named Norman, as part of an experiment to see what training artificial intelligence on data from "the dark corners of the net" would do to its world view. Unlike most "normal" algorithms by AI, Norman does not have an optimistic view of the world. BBC reports: The software was shown images of people dying in gruesome circumstances, culled from a group on the website Reddit. Then the AI, which can interpret pictures and describe what it sees in text form, was shown inkblot drawings and asked what it saw in them. These abstract images are traditionally used by psychologists to help assess the state of a patient's mind, in particular whether they perceive the world in a negative or positive light. Norman's view was unremittingly bleak -- it saw dead bodies, blood and destruction in every image. Alongside Norman, another AI was trained on more normal images of cats, birds and people. It saw far more cheerful images in the same abstract blots.

The fact that Norman's responses were so much darker illustrates a harsh reality in the new world of machine learning, said Prof Iyad Rahwan, part of the three-person team from MIT's Media Lab which developed Norman. "Data matters more than the algorithm. "It highlights the idea that the data we use to train AI is reflected in the way the AI perceives the world and how it behaves."

IT

Are Tech Conferences Overrated? (cnn.com) 109

"The tech industry has reached a maximum saturation point for conferences, summits and forums," writes CNN's senior media reporter, sharing his general disillusionment after Recode's recent Code Conference: But even at their best, these events fail to generate truly significant news because executives have been media-trained to the point of impenetrability... [S]peakers like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and Spotify CEO Daniel Ek have mastered the art -- there should be a German word for it -- of speaking for 30+ minutes without saying much of consequence or going beyond their comfort zone... [I]n two days, nothing was said on stage that fundamentally changed the existing narrative for any of these companies... Business executives are more strategic and more cautious than ever in how they speak publicly. The business media needs to be equally strategic in pushing them to say more.
He argues that the best things about conferences happen offstage, when attendees network and talk among themselves. Is that your experience, Slashdot readers?

Share your own thoughts in the comments. Are tech conferences overrated?
NASA

NASA Wants 40 Social Media Users To Attend SpaceX's Next Launch (nasa.gov) 23

An anonymous reader quotes NASA.gov: Social media users are invited to register to attend the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon spacecraft from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This launch, currently targeted for late June, will be the next commercial cargo resupply services mission to the International Space Station... A maximum of 40 social media users will be selected to attend this two-day event, and will be given access similar to news media.
Besides viewing and photographing the launch, the 40 selected participants will also:
  • Tour NASA facilities at Kennedy Space Center
  • Speak with representatives from NASA and SpaceX
  • Speak with researchers about investigations heading to the orbiting microgravity laboratory
  • Meet fellow space enthusiasts who are active on social media

Applications must be received by Wednesday at noon EDT.


Classic Games (Games)

Atari Launches Linux Gaming Box Starting at $199 (linux.com) 75

An anonymous reader quotes Linux.com: Attempts to establish Linux as a gaming platform have failed time and time again, with Valve's SteamOS being the latest high-profile casualty. Yet, Linux has emerged as a significant platform in the much smaller niche of retro gaming, especially on the Raspberry Pi. Atari has now re-emerged from the fog of gaming history with an Ubuntu-based Atari VCS gaming and media streaming console aimed at retro gamers. In addition to games, the Atari VCS will also offer Internet access and optional voice control. With a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, the system can be used as a standard Linux computer.

The catch is that the already delayed systems won't ship until July 2019... By the launch date, Atari plans to have "new and exclusive" games for download or streaming, including "reimagined classic titles from Atari and other top developers," as well as multi-player games. The Atari VCS Store will also offer video, music and other content... The hardware is not open source, and the games will be protected with HDCP. However, the Ubuntu Linux stack based on Linux kernel 4.10 is open source, and includes a "customizable Linux UX." A Linux "sandbox" will be available for developing or porting games and apps. Developers can build games using any Linux compatible gaming engine, including Unity, Unreal Engine, and Gamemaker. Atari also says that "Linux-based games from Steam and other platforms that meet Atari VCS hardware specifications should work."

Atari boasts this will be their first device offering online multi-player experiences, and the device will also come pre-loaded with over 100 classic Atari games.

An Indiegogo campaign this week seeking $100,000 in pre-orders has already raised over $2.2 million from 8808 backers.
Youtube

YouTube's Top Creators Are Burning Out and Breaking Down En Masse (polygon.com) 308

Polygon reports of several prominent YouTube creators who are struggling with burnout. The cause can be attributed to "constant changes to the platform's algorithm, unhealthy obsessions with remaining relevant in a rapidly growing field and social media pressures [that] are making it almost impossible for top creators to continue creating at the pace both the platform and audience want," reports Polygon. From the report: Three weeks ago, Bobby Burns, a YouTuber with just under one million subscribers, sat down on a rock in Central Park to talk about a recent mental health episode. One week ago, Elle Mills, a creator with more than 1.2 million subscribers, uploaded a video that included vulnerable footage during a breakdown. Six days ago, Ruben "El Rubius" Gundersen, the third most popular YouTuber in the world with just under 30 million subscribers, turned on his camera to talk to his viewers about the fear of an impending breakdown and his decision to take a break from YouTube. Burns, Mills and Gundersen aren't alone. Erik "M3RKMUS1C" Phillips (four million subscribers), Benjamin "Crainer" Vestergaard (2.7 million subscribers) and other top YouTubers have either announced brief hiatuses from the platform, or discussed their own struggles with burnout, in the past month. Everyone from PewDiePie (62 million subscribers) to Jake Paul (15.2 million subscribers) have dealt with burnout. Lately, however, it seems like more of YouTube's top creators are coming forward with their mental health problems. In closing, Polygon's Julia Alexander writes: "YouTube offers no clear support system for creators, nor is it clear if the company has offered professional help to some of its top creators who've made their burnout public. Instead, YouTube's only direct reaction is a playlist dedicated to burnout and mental health. The creators are essentially working until they no longer physically can, and apologizing to their fans after believing they've failed. Polygon has reached out to YouTube for more information about services that are provided to creators. The only way to beat burnout is to take breaks. Unfortunately, for many YouTubers, those breaks are rarely planned."
IT

Visa Card Payment Systems Go Down Across Europe (bleepingcomputer.com) 108

Catalin Cimpanu, reporting for BleepingComputer: The Visa card payment system is currently down across Europe. Users across the continent have reported problems during the day when attempting to make payments using their Visa cards. A Visa spokesperson confirmed the outage but did not reveal any other details, such as its cause or its scale. Bank social media accounts also confirmed the outage and informed customers of the issue. Users across the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Romania, and Hungary have confirmed problems with payments, but the problems are believed to affect all European countries.
Businesses

Facebook, Amazon, and Hundreds of Companies Post Targeted Job Ads That Screen Out Older Workers (vox.com) 169

Older workers are accusing Facebook, Ikea, and hundreds of other companies for discriminating against job seekers in their 50s and 60s through targeted job ads posted on Facebook. From a report: The Communications Workers of America, a labor union representing 700,000 media workers across the country, added the companies to a class-action lawsuit on Tuesday, which was filed in California federal court in December. In its original complaint, the labor union accused Amazon, T-Mobile, and Cox Media Group of doing the same thing. The case, Bradley v. T-Mobile, has major implications for US employers, who routinely buy job ads on Facebook to reach users. The plaintiffs argue that Amazon, T-Mobile, Ikea, Facebook, and hundreds of other companies target the ads so they are only seen by younger Facebook users.

The lawsuit revolves around Facebook's unique business model, which lets advertisers micro-target the network's users based on their interests, city, age, and other demographic information. In the past, equal rights advocates have sued Facebook for accepting ads that discriminate against consumers based on their religion, race, and gender. Facebook has argued that the company is not legally responsible when other companies buy ads that violate the law.

Youtube

America's Teens Are Choosing YouTube Over Facebook (bloomberg.com) 78

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Three years ago, Facebook was the dominant social media site among U.S. teens, visited by 71 percent of people in that magic, trendsetting demographic. Not anymore. Now only 51 percent of kids ages 13-17 use Facebook, according to Pew Research Center. The world's largest social network has finally been eclipsed in popularity by YouTube, Snapchat and Facebook Inc.-owned Instagram. Alphabet Inc.'s YouTube is the most popular, used by 85 percent of teens, according to Pew.

Instagram is slightly more popular than Snapchat overall, Pew said, with 72 percent of respondents saying they use the photo-sharing app, compared with Snapchat's 69 percent. But Snap Inc. is holding its own, despite Instagram's frequent parroting of its features. About one-third of the survey's respondents said they visit Snapchat and YouTube most often, while 15 percent said Instagram is their most frequent destination. Meanwhile, only 10 percent of teens said Facebook is their most-used online platform. The Pew analysis was based on a survey of 1,058 parents who have a teenager from 13 to 17, as well as interviews with 743 teens themselves.
The survey also found that 99% of teens own a smartphone or have access to one, and 45% said they're online "on a near-constant basis."
Software

Google's In-House Incubator Made a Waze-Like App For the New York City Subway (theverge.com) 28

Google's in-house startup incubator Area 120 has developed a new app to help New York City subway commuters avoid delays. An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The app, called Pigeon, is live on Apple's App Store, but access is still limited to those with an invitation code. Its developers say the app can help commuters choose routes that avoid delays and crowds other users report. Google Maps and the MTA's own website already provide information on what trains aren't working. But Pigeon will also allow users to post specific comments and note annoying incidents, such as loud street performers. It sounds more like a social media app for New Yorkers to commiserate on their miserable commutes.

After you download Pigeon, it'll prompt you to allow location services multiple times. Once inside the app, there are cute pigeons all over the subway map, but tapping on them right away doesn't seem to do anything. The app's functionality is extremely reliant on what people report (hence the large purple Report button at the bottom of the screen). Pigeon's traffic reports sound just like Google's Waze app but exclusively for the New York subway system.

Businesses

Consumers' Privacy Concerns Not Backed By Their Actions (betanews.com) 194

Ian Barker, writing for BetaNews: A large majority of people say they are concerned about their online privacy, but this is not reflected in their actions according to a new study. The survey from Blue Fountain Media reveals that 90 percent of respondents are very concerned about their internet privacy and 48 percent wish 'more was being done about it.' Yet despite this 60 percent of those polled happily download apps without reading terms and conditions, and close to 20 percent still download apps even when they have read the terms and don't like them. A third of those polled say they would delete an app that tracks their whereabouts, but 50 percent say whether they would do so depends how much they like the app. Interestingly less than 10 percent believe an app that tracks their location is actually useful to them.
China

Alibaba Co-founder Says Many Americans 'Want To Stop China' From Upgrading Its Tech (cnbc.com) 213

With the threat of Trump's ever-looming trade war with China and his administration's sanctions on Chinese companies like ZTE, it's hard to remember a more contentious period between the two countries in recent times. Adding fuel to the conversation, an Alibaba co-founder alleged that many Americans want to stop China from upgrading its technology and from becoming more innovative. From a report: Chinese media outlets have repeatedly asserted that American complaints about the tech sector are really just efforts to slow the country's rise as a global power. "There's nothing wrong with a country wanting to upgrade its own manufacturing sector, go higher tech, be more innovative," Tsai said. "But then, from the Chinese perspective, what we're seeing is there are a lot of people in America that want to stop China from doing that." After three decades of producing low-end manufacturing goods, Tsai said, China recognizes the need to develop better technology, upgrade its manufacturing sector and focus more on value-added areas like robotics, aeronautics and high-tech medical equipment.
Google

Google Promises Ethical Principles To Guide Development of Military AI (theverge.com) 154

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Google is drawing up a set of guidelines that will steer its involvement in developing AI tools for the military, according to a report from The New York Times. What exactly these guidelines will stipulate isn't clear, but Google says they will include a ban on the use of artificial intelligence in weaponry. The principles are expected to be announced in full in the coming weeks. They are a response to the controversy over the company's decision to develop AI tools for the Pentagon that analyze drone surveillance footage.

Internal emails obtained by the Times show that Google was aware of the upset this news might cause. Chief scientist at Google Cloud, Fei-Fei Li, told colleagues that they should "avoid at ALL COSTS any mention or implication of AI" when announcing the Pentagon contract. "Weaponized AI is probably one of the most sensitized topics of AI -- if not THE most. This is red meat to the media to find all ways to damage Google," said Li. But Google never ended up making the announcement, and it has since been on the back foot defending its decision. The company says the technology it's helping to build for the Pentagon simply "flags images for human review" and is for "non-offensive uses only." The contract is also small by industry standards -- worth just $9 million to Google, according to the Times.

The Internet

Mary Meeker's 2018 Internet Trends Report (recode.net) 33

Mary Meeker has published her anticipated internet trends report of 2018. This year, the Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner released 284 slides in rapid succession, covering everything from smartphone behavior in the U.S. to tech company competition in China. Some takeaways: 1. 2017 was the first year in which smartphone unit shipments didn't grow at all. As more of the world become smartphone owners, growth has been harder and harder to come by. The same goes for internet user growth, which rose 7 percent in 2017, down from 12 percent the year before. With more than half the world online, there are fewer people left to connect.
2. People, however, are still increasing the amount of time they spend online. U.S. adults spent 5.9 hours per day on digital media in 2017, up from 5.6 hours the year before. Some 3.3 of those hours were spent on mobile, which is responsible for overall growth in digital media consumption.
3. Despite the high-profile releases of $1,000 iPhones and Samsung Galaxy Notes, the global average selling price of smartphones is continuing to decline.
4. Mobile payments are becoming easier to complete. China continues to lead the rest of the world in mobile payment adoption, with over 500 million active mobile payment users in 2017.
5. Voice-controlled products like Amazon Echo are taking off. The Echo's installed base in the U.S. grew from 20 million in the third quarter of 2017 to more than 30 million in the fourth quarter.
6. Tech companies are facing a "privacy paradox." They're caught between using data to provide better consumer experiences and violating consumer privacy.
The most popular courses on learning platform Coursera last year were (in descending order): Machine Learning (Stanford), Neural Networks & Deeper Learning (Deeplearning.ai), Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help You Master Tough Subjects (UC San Diego), Introduction to Mathematical Thinking (Stanford), Bitcoin & Cryptocurrency Technologies (Princeton), Programming for Everybody (University of Michigan), Algorithms, Part I (Princeton), English for Career Development (University of Pennsylvania), Neural Networks / Machine Learning (University of Toronto), and Financial Markets (Yale).

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