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Businesses

Amazon Wins $1.5 Billion Tax Dispute Over IRS (reuters.com) 39

Amazon.com on Thursday won a more than $1.5 billion tax dispute with the Internal Revenue Service over transactions involving a Luxembourg unit more than a decade ago. From a report: Judge Albert Lauber of the U.S. Tax Court rejected a variety of IRS arguments, and found that on several occasions the agency abused its discretion, or acted arbitrarily or capriciously. Amazon's ultimate tax liability from the decision was not immediately clear. The world's largest online retailer has said the case involved transactions in 2005 and 2006, and could boost its federal tax bill by $1.5 billion plus interest. It also said a loss could add "significant" tax liabilities in later years. Amazon made just $2.37 billion of profit in 2016, four times what it made in the four prior years combined, on revenue of $136 billion.
Movies

Hollywood Producer Blames Rotten Tomatoes For Convincing People Not To See His Movie (vanityfair.com) 182

An anonymous reader shares a VanityFair report: These days, it takes less than 60 seconds to know what the general consensus on a new movie is -- thanks to Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregator site that designates a number score to each film based on critical and user reviews. Although this may be convenient for moviegoers not necessarily interested in burning $15 on a critically subpar film, it is certainly not convenient for those Hollywood directors, producers, backers, and stars who toiled to make said critically subpar film. In fact, the site may be "the worst thing that we have in today's movie culture" -- at least according to Brett Ratner, the Rush Hour director/producer who recently threw the financial weight of his RatPac Entertainment behind Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Sure, the blockbuster made over $850 million worldwide in spite of negative reviews ... but just think of how much more it could have made had it not had a Rotten Tomatoes score of 27 percent! Last week, while speaking at the Sun Valley Film Festival, Ratner said, "The worst thing that we have in today's movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes. I think it's the destruction of our business."
Twitter

Twitter Considers Premium Version After 11 Years As a Free Service (reuters.com) 74

Twitter is considering whether or not to build a premium version of its site for select users. It's unclear what the cost would be at this time, but it's very possible it could be in the form of a subscription. Reuters reports: Like most other social media companies, Twitter since its founding 11 years ago has focused on building a huge user base for a free service supported by advertising. Last month it reported it had 319 million users worldwide. Twitter is conducting a survey "to assess the interest in a new, more enhanced version of Tweetdeck," which is an existing tool that helps users navigate the network, spokeswoman Brielle Villablanca said in a statement on Thursday. She went on: "We regularly conduct user research to gather feedback about people's Twitter experience and to better inform our product investment decisions, and we're exploring several ways to make Tweetdeck even more valuable for professionals." There was no indication that Twitter was considering charging fees from all its users. Word of the survey had earlier leaked on Twitter, where a journalist affiliated with the New York Times posted screenshots of what a premium version of Tweetdeck could look like. That version could include "more powerful tools to help marketers, journalists, professionals, and others in our community find out what is happening in the world quicker," according to one of the screenshots posted on the account @andrewtavani.
Advertising

YouTube Loses Major Advertisers Over Offensive Videos (rollingstone.com) 204

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Rolling Stone: Verizon, AT&T, Johnson & Johnson and other major companies have pulled advertisements from YouTube after learning they were paired with videos promoting extremism, terrorism and other offensive topics, The New York Times reports. Among the other companies involved are pharmaceutical giant GSK, HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland and L'Oreal, amounting to a potential loss of hundreds of millions of dollars to the Google-owned company. The boycott began last week after a Times of London investigation spurred many major European companies to pull their ads from YouTube. American companies swiftly followed, even after Google promised Tuesday to work harder to block ads on "hateful, offensive and derogatory" videos. Like AT&T, most companies are only pulling their ads from YouTube and will continue to place ads on Google's search platforms, which remain the biggest source of revenue for Google's parent company, Alphabet. Still, the tech giant offered up a slew of promises to assuage marketers and ensure them that they were fixing the problems on YouTube. Due to the massive number of videos on YouTube -- about 400 hours of video is posted each minute -- the site primarily uses an automated system to place ads. While there are some failsafes in place to keep advertisements from appearing alongside offensive content, Google's Chief Business Officer Philipp Schindler wrote in a blog post that the company would hire "significant numbers" of employees to review YouTube videos and mark them as inappropriate for ads. He also said Google's latest advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning will help the company review and flag large swaths of videos.
Canada

Canada To Tax Ride-Sharing Providers Like Uber (www.cbc.ca) 61

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government announced plans to tax ride-sharing providers like Uber for the first time. According to CBC, the latest consumer tax changes included in Wednesday's federal budget "will add to the cost of Uber rides while ending a public-transit credit." The idea behind the decision is to "help level the playing field and create tax fairness." From the report: The proposed levy on Uber and other ride-hailing services would for the first time impose GST/HST on fares, in the same way they are charged on traditional taxi services. The change will broaden the definition of a taxi business to ensure Uber and other web-based ride-hailing services are required to charge and remit GST/HST, adding to the cost of each trip. The effect on federal revenues will be modest, just $3 million in additional revenue in 2017-18, but the budget suggests the measure is to help level the playing field and create tax fairness. The non-refundable public transit tax credit -- a so-called boutique tax credit introduced by the previous Conservative government -- will be phased out on July 1. The credit enabled public transit users to apply 15 per cent of their eligible expenses on monthly passes and other fares toward reducing the amount of tax they owe. Ending that tax break is expected to save Ottawa more than $200 million a year. Of course, Uber Canada isn't so fond of the idea, calling it a "tax on innovation" that would hurt Uber drivers and users. The company said in a statement: "At a time when Canadians spend far too much time stuck in traffic -- and people should be encouraged to leave their cars at home, take public transit, and share rides -- we should be supporting policies that make sustainable transportation more affordable, not more expensive. Federal tax laws already offer small business owners a break on collecting sales tax, but unfairly exclude taxi drivers. The best way to support taxi drivers and level the playing field is to extend the same exemption to them."
The Internet

SixXS IPv6 Tunnel Provider Is Shutting Down (sixxs.net) 43

yakatz writes: SixXS started providing IPv6 tunnels in 1999 to try to break the "chicken-and-egg" problem of IPv6 adoption. After 18 years, the service is shutting down. The cited reasons are:

1) growth has been stagnant
2) many ISPs offer IPv6
3) some ISPs have told customers that they don't need to provide IPv6 connectivity because the customer can just use a tunnel from SixXS

This last reason in particular made the SixXS team think they are doing more harm than good in the fight for native IPv6, so they will be shutting down on June 6.

Businesses

The Compulsive Patent Hoarding Disorder (thehindu.com) 34

An anonymous reader shares an article: It takes money to make money. CSIR-Tech, the commercialisation arm of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), realised this the hard way when it had to shut down its operations for lack of funds. CSIR has filed more than 13,000 patents -- 4,500 in India and 8,800 abroad -- at a cost of $7.6 million over the last three years. Across years, that's a lot of taxpayers' money, which in turn means that the closing of CSIR-Tech is a tacit admission that its work has been an expensive mistake -- a mistake that we tax-paying citizens have paid for. Recently, CSIR's Director-General Girish Sahni claimed that most of CSIR's patents were "bio-data patents", filed solely to enhance the value of a scientist's resume and that the extensive expenditure of public funds spent in filing and maintaining patents was unviable. CSIR claims to have licensed a percentage of its patents, but has so far failed to show any revenue earned from the licences. This compulsive hoarding of patents has come at a huge cost. If CSIR-Tech was privately run, it would have been shut down long ago. Acquiring Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) comes out of our blind adherence to the idea of patenting as an index of innovation. The private sector commercializes patents through the licensing of technology and the sale of patented products to recover the money spent in R&D. But when the funds for R&D come from public sources, mimicking the private sector may not be the best option.
Microsoft

Microsoft's OneDrive Web App Crippled With Performance Issues On Linux and Chrome OS (theregister.co.uk) 110

Iain Thomson, reporting for The Register: Plenty of Linux users are up in arms about the performance of the OneDrive web app. They say that when accessing Microsoft's cloudy storage system in a browser on a non-Windows system -- such as on Linux or ChromeOS -- the service grinds to a barely usable crawl. But when they use a Windows machine on the same internet connection, speedy access resumes. Crucially, when they change their browser's user-agent string -- a snippet of text the browser sends to websites describing itself -- to Internet Explorer or Edge, magically their OneDrive access speeds up to normal on their non-Windows PCs. In other words, Microsoft's OneDrive web app slows down seemingly deliberately when it appears you're using Linux or some other Windows rival. This has been going on for months, and complaints flared up again this week after netizens decided enough is enough. When gripes about this suspicious slowdown have cropped up previously, Microsoft has coldly reminded people that OneDrive for Business is not supported on Linux, thus the crap performance is to be expected. But when you change the user-agent string of your browser on Linux to match IE or Edge, suddenly OneDrive's web code runs fine. The original headline of the story is, "Microsoft loves Linux so much, its OneDrive web app runs like a dog on Windows OS rivals".
Businesses

Intel Creates AI Group, Aims For More Focus (zdnet.com) 11

Intel's artificial intelligence efforts have been scattered over many different units but are now being united into a single operating group. The Artificial Intelligence Products Group will focus on the development of chips and software products tied to machine learning, algorithms, and deep learning. From a report: The company has been repositioning via acquisitions to focus on Internet of Things to autonomous vehicles. The upshot is that Intel is trying to build a data center to IoT stack powered by its processors. In a blog post, Rao outlined how the Artificial Intelligence Products Group will work across multiple units. Part of the group's remit will be to bring AI costs down and forge standards. Rao said the group will combine engineering, labs, software, and hardware from its portfolio.
Businesses

Studios Flirt With Offering Movies Early in Home for $30 (variety.com) 124

It looks like Hollywood studios are not kidding around the concept of making the movies available in the home mere weeks after their theatrical debuts. Variety has a new report this week that claims that six out of seven Hollywood studios are in discussions. From the report: However, the companies, particularly Fox and Warner Bros., are showing greater flexibility about timing. Initially, Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara had kicked off negotiations with exhibitors by offering to cut them in on a percentage of digital revenues if they agreed to let them debut films on-demand for $50 a rental some 17 days after they opened. Currently, most major movies are only made available to rent some 90 days after their release. Some studios offer films for sale electronically roughly 70 days after their bow in theaters. Other studios, particularly Fox and Universal, felt that $50 was too steep a price to ask consumers to pay. They are now trying to get exhibitors to agree to a plan that would involve a lower priced premium on-demand option that was made available at a slightly later date, according to three studio insiders and two exhibition insiders. Fox and Warner Bros., for instance, are considering making films available between 30 to 45 days after their opening, but at $30 a rental, a price they believe won't give customers sticker shock. Universal, which is seen as being the most aggressive negotiator in these talks, would like the home entertainment debut to remain in the 20-day range.
Movies

18 To 24-Year-Olds Are Hitting the Big Screen at Lower Rates (fastcompany.com) 209

An anonymous reader shares a report: For data and movie geeks, the MPAA's latest "Theatrical Market Statistics" report is a wealth of information about the health of the movie business. The big picture: 246 million people went to the movies in the United States and Canada last year, a 2% increase from the year before. But dig into the trends and things start to get a little more interesting. For instance, looking at per capita attendance broken down by age group shows 18- to 24-year-olds are hitting the big screen at lower rates than they were in 2012, although they saw an uptick last year.
Businesses

The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself to Death (newyorker.com) 443

Writing for The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino documents stories of several people -- a nine-month pregnant Lyft driver, for instance -- who contribute to companies that work on the model of gig economy. Through these tales, Tolentino underscores an increasingly growing pattern in the Silicon Valley (and elsewhere) where companies offer hard-labor contracts to people, pay them peanuts (with little liabilities), and yet find a reason to celebrate their business and encourage more to come onboard. From the article: Fiverr, which had raised a hundred and ten million dollars in venture capital by November, 2015, has more about the "In Doers We Trust" campaign on its Web site. In one video, a peppy female voice-over urges "doers" to "always be available," to think about beating "the trust-fund kids," and to pitch themselves to everyone they see, including their dentist. A Fiverr press release about "In Doers We Trust" states, "The campaign positions Fiverr to seize today's emerging zeitgeist of entrepreneurial flexibility, rapid experimentation, and doing more with less. It pushes against bureaucratic overthinking, analysis-paralysis, and excessive whiteboarding." This is the jargon through which the essentially cannibalistic nature of the gig economy is dressed up as an aesthetic. No one wants to eat coffee for lunch or go on a bender of sleep deprivation -- or answer a call from a client while having sex, as recommended in the video. It's a stretch to feel cheerful at all about the Fiverr marketplace, perusing the thousands of listings of people who will record any song, make any happy-birthday video, or design any book cover for five dollars. I'd guess that plenty of the people who advertise services on Fiverr would accept some "whiteboarding" in exchange for employer-sponsored health insurance. At the root of this is the American obsession with self-reliance, which makes it more acceptable to applaud an individual for working himself to death than to argue that an individual working himself to death is evidence of a flawed economic system. The contrast between the gig economy's rhetoric (everyone is always connecting, having fun, and killing it!) and the conditions that allow it to exist (a lack of dependable employment that pays a living wage) makes this kink in our thinking especially clear.
Businesses

A Lithuanian Phisher Tricked Two Big US Tech Companies Into Wiring Him $100 Million (theverge.com) 124

According to a recent indictment from the U.S. Department of Justice, a 48-year-old Lithuanian scammer named Evaldas Rimasauskas managed to trick two American technology companies into wiring him $100 million. He was able to perform this feat "by masquerading as a prominent Asian hardware manufacturer," reports The Verge, citing court documents, "and tricking employees into depositing tens of millions of dollars into bank accounts in Latvia, Cyprus, and numerous other countries." From the report: What makes this remarkable is not Rimasauskas' particular phishing scam, which sounds rather standard in the grand scheme of wire fraud and cybersecurity exploits. Rather, it's the amount of money he managed to score and the industry from which he stole it. The indictment specifically describes the companies in vague terms. The first company is "multinational technology company, specializing in internet-related services and products, with headquarters in the United States," the documents read. The second company is a "multinational corporation providing online social media and networking services." Both apparently worked with the same "Asia-based manufacturer of computer hardware," a supplier that the documents indicate was founded some time in the late '80s. What's more important is that representatives at both companies with the power to wire vast sums of money were still tricked by fraudulent email accounts. Rimasauskas even went so far as to create fake contracts on forged company letterhead, fake bank invoices, and various other official-looking documents to convince employees of the two companies to send him money. Rimasauskas has been charged with one count of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, and aggravated identity theft. In other words, he faces serious prison time of convicted -- each charge of wire fraud and laundering carries a max sentence of 20 years. The court documents don't reveal the names of the two companies. Though, one could surely think of a few candidates that would fit the descriptions provided in the court documents.
Power

Japanese Company Develops a Solar Cell With Record-Breaking 26%+ Efficiency (arstechnica.com) 121

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The silicon-based cells that make up a solar panel have a theoretical efficiency limit of 29 percent, but so far that number has proven elusive. Practical efficiency rates in the low-20-percent range have been considered very good for commercial solar panels. But researchers with Japanese chemical manufacturer Kaneka Corporation have built a solar cell with a photo conversion rate of 26.3 percent, breaking the previous record of 25.6 percent. Although it's just a 2.7 percent increase in efficiency, improvements in commercially viable solar cell technology are increasingly hard-won. Not only that, but the researchers noted in their paper that after they submitted their article to Nature Energy, they were able to further optimize their solar cell to achieve 26.6 percent efficiency. That result has been recognized by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). In the Nature Energy paper, the researchers described building a 180.4 cm2 cell using high-quality thin-film heterojunction (HJ) -- that is, layering silicon within the cell to minimize band gaps where electron states can't exist. Controlling heterojunctions is a known technique among solar cell builders -- Panasonic uses it and will likely incorporate it into cells built for Tesla at the Solar City plant in Buffalo, and Kaneka has its own proprietary heterojunction techniques. For this record-breaking solar cell, the Kaneka researchers also placed low-resistance electrodes toward the rear of the cell, which maximized the number of photons that collected inside the cell from the front. And, as is common on many solar cells, they coated the front of the cell with a layer of amorphous silicon and an anti-reflective layer to protect the cell's components and collect photons more efficiently.
DRM

W3C Erects DRM As Web Standard (theregister.co.uk) 217

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has formally put forward highly controversial digital rights management as a new web standard. "Dubbed Encrypted Media Extensions (EME), this anti-piracy mechanism was crafted by engineers from Google, Microsoft, and Netflix, and has been in development for some time," reports The Register. "The DRM is supposed to thwart copyright infringement by stopping people from ripping video and other content from encrypted high-quality streams." From the report: The latest draft was published last week and formally put forward as a proposed standard soon after. Under W3C rules, a decision over whether to officially adopt EME will depend on a poll of its members. That survey was sent out yesterday and member organizations, who pay an annual fee that varies from $2,250 for the smallest non-profits to $77,000 for larger corporations, will have until April 19 to register their opinions. If EME gets the consortium's rubber stamp of approval, it will lock down the standard for web browsers and video streamers to implement and roll out. The proposed standard is expected to succeed, especially after web founder and W3C director Sir Tim Berners-Lee personally endorsed the measure, arguing that the standard simply reflects modern realities and would allow for greater interoperability and improve online privacy. But EME still faces considerable opposition. One of its most persistent vocal opponents, Cory Doctorow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, argues that EME "would give corporations the new right to sue people who engaged in legal activity." He is referring to the most recent controversy where the W3C has tried to strike a balance between legitimate security researchers investigating vulnerabilities in digital rights management software, and hackers trying to circumvent content protection. The W3C notes that the EME specification includes sections on security and privacy, but concedes "the lack of consensus to protect security researchers remains an issue." Its proposed solution remains "establishing best practices for responsible vulnerability disclosure." It also notes that issues of accessibility were ruled to be outside the scope of the EME, although there is an entire webpage dedicated to those issues and finding solutions to them.
The Internet

'Dig Once' Bill Could Bring Fiber Internet To Much of the US (arstechnica.com) 168

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: If the U.S. adopts a "dig once" policy, construction workers would install conduits just about any time they build new roads and sidewalks or upgrade existing ones. These conduits are plastic pipes that can house fiber cables. The conduits might be empty when installed, but their presence makes it a lot cheaper and easier to install fiber later, after the road construction is finished. The idea is an old one. U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) has been proposing dig once legislation since 2009, and it has widespread support from broadband-focused consumer advocacy groups. It has never made it all the way through Congress, but it has bipartisan backing from lawmakers who often disagree on the most controversial broadband policy questions, such as net neutrality and municipal broadband. It even got a boost from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who has frequently clashed with Democrats and consumer advocacy groups over broadband -- her "Internet Freedom Act" would wipe out the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules, and she supports state laws that restrict growth of municipal broadband. Blackburn, chair of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, put Eshoo's dig once legislation on the agenda for a hearing she held yesterday on broadband deployment and infrastructure. Blackburn's opening statement (PDF) said that dig once is among the policies she's considering to "facilitate the deployment of communications infrastructure." But her statement did not specifically endorse Eshoo's dig once proposal, which was presented only as a discussion draft with no vote scheduled. The subcommittee also considered a discussion draft that would "creat[e] an inventory of federal assets that can be used to attach or install broadband infrastructure." Dig once legislation received specific support from Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who said that he is "glad to see Ms. Eshoo's 'Dig Once' bill has made a return this Congress. I think that this is smart policy and will help spur broadband deployment across the country."
AT&T

17,000 AT&T Workers Go On Strike In California and Nevada (fortune.com) 154

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Fortune: Approximately 17,000 workers in AT&T's traditional wired telephone business in California and Nevada walked out on strike on Wednesday, marking the most serious labor action against the carrier in years. The walkout -- formally known as a grievance strike -- occurred after AT&T changed the work assignments of some of the technicians and call center employees in the group, the Communications Workers of America union said. The union would not say how long the strike might last. A contract covering the group expired last year and there has been little progress in negotiations over sticking points like the outsourcing of call center jobs overseas, stagnant pay, and rising health care costs. The union said it planned to file an unfair labor charge with the National Labor Relations Board over the work assignment changes. "A walkout is not in anybody's best interest and it's unfortunate that the union chose to do that," an AT&T spokesman told Fortune. "We're engaged in discussion with the union to get these employees back to work as soon as possible."
Security

Ebay Asks Users To Downgrade Security (krebsonsecurity.com) 71

Ebay has started to inform customers who use a hardware key fob when logging into the site to switch to receiving a one-time code sent via text message. The move from the company, which at one time was well ahead of most e-commerce companies in providing more robust online authentication options, is "a downgrade to a less-secure option," say security reporter Brian Kerbs. He writes: In early 2007, PayPal (then part of the same company as Ebay) began offering its hardware token for a one-time $5 fee, and at the time the company was among very few that were pushing this second-factor (something you have) in addition to passwords for user authentication. I've still got the same hardware token I ordered when writing about that offering, and it's been working well for the past decade. Now, Ebay is asking me to switch from the key fob to text messages, the latter being a form of authentication that security experts say is less secure than other forms of two-factor authentication (2FA). The move by Ebay comes just months after the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) released a draft of new authentication guidelines that appear to be phasing out the use of SMS-based two-factor authentication.
Television

Cord-Cutting Isn't Nearly as Significant as Cable Providers Make It Out To Be (cnbc.com) 140

From a report on CNBC: Despite legacy media's anxieties about cord-cutting, data suggest that the phenomenon isn't nearly as significant as cable providers make it out to be. In its 11th annual "Digital Democracy Survey," Deloitte found that the percentage of American households that subscribe to paid television services has remained relatively stable since 2012, even as adoption of streaming services has accelerated. In its survey of 2,131 consumers, Deloitte said two-thirds of respondents reported they have kept their TV subscriptions because they're bundled with their internet plan. Kevin Westcott, vice chairman and U.S. media and entertainment leader at Deloitte, told CNBC that bundling seems to be a huge deterrent for cord cutting.
Businesses

Patents Are A Big Part Of Why We Can't Own Nice Things (eff.org) 242

An anonymous reader shares an EFF article: Today, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could allow companies to keep a dead hand of control over their products, even after you buy them. The case, Impression Products v. Lexmark International, is on appeal from the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, who last year affirmed its own precedent allowing patent holders to restrict how consumers can use the products they buy. That decision, and the precedent it relied on, departs from long established legal rules that safeguard consumers and enable innovation. When you buy something physical -- a toaster, a book, or a printer, for example -- you expect to be free to use it as you see fit: to adapt it to suit your needs, fix it when it breaks, re-use it, lend it, sell it, or give it away when you're done with it. Your freedom to do those things is a necessary aspect of your ownership of those objects. If you can't do them, because the seller or manufacturer has imposed restrictions or limitations on your use of the product, then you don't really own them. Traditionally, the law safeguards these freedoms by discouraging sellers from imposing certain conditions or restrictions on the sale of goods and property, and limiting the circumstances in which those restrictions may be imposed by contract. But some companies are relentless in their quest to circumvent and undermine these protections. They want to control what end users of their products can do with the stuff they ostensibly own, by attaching restrictions and conditions on purchasers, locking down their products, and locking you (along with competitors and researchers) out. If they can do that through patent law, rather than ordinary contract, it would mean they could evade legal limits on contracts, and that any one using a product in violation of those restrictions (whether a consumer or competitor) could face harsh penalties for patent infringement.

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