'They'll Squash You Like a Bug': How Silicon Valley Keeps a Lid on Leakers ( 85

The public image of Silicon Valley's tech giants is all colourful bicycles, ping-pong tables, beanbags and free food, but behind the cartoonish facade is a ruthless code of secrecy. From a report: They rely on a combination of Kool-Aid, digital and physical surveillance, legal threats and restricted stock units to prevent and detect intellectual property theft and other criminal activity. However, those same tools are also used to catch employees and contractors who talk publicly, even if it's about their working conditions, misconduct or cultural challenges within the company. While Apple's culture of secrecy, which includes making employees sign project-specific NDAs and covering unlaunched products with black cloths, has been widely reported, companies such as Google and Facebook have long put the emphasis on internal transparency.

Zuckerberg hosts weekly meetings where he shares details of unreleased new products and strategies in front of thousands of employees. Even junior staff members and contractors can see what other teams are working on by looking at one of many of the groups on the company's internal version of Facebook. "When you first get to Facebook you are shocked at the level of transparency. You are trusted with a lot of stuff you don't need access to," said Evans, adding that during his induction he was warned not to look at ex-partners' Facebook accounts.


Android Wear Needs More Than a New Name To Fight Apple Watch ( 85

Less than two months before Google I/O, Google has rebranded its Android Wear watch platform to "Wear OS." The recent name change is part of a move to have its watches stand apart from Android, but it could also indicate that Google's smartwatch strategy is about to shift. Google may release a completely new Wear OS focused on the Google Assistant or a Google-branded smartwatch. Scott Stein writes via CNET that Android Wear needs more than a new name to fight the Apple Watch: The Apple Watch took over the top spot in global wearable sales recently, according to IDC, despite the fact that it's only compatible with iPhones. Fitbit just announced the Versa, a promising casual smartwatch that will interface with any iPhone or Android and starts at just $200. The wearable market is growing. But where is Google in that picture? The Fossil Group, maker of many of the Android Wear watch products last year, reported some promising numbers: "In 2017, Fossil Group nearly doubled its wearables business to more than $300 million, including 20 percent of watch sales in Q4," said Greg McKelvey, Fossil's chief strategy and digital officer, as part of Google's Wear OS announcement. So it sounds like Android Wear -- sorry, Wear OS -- is still in the game. But the problem, for me, is that I've never found Android Wear watches to be particularly great. Google relaunched Android Wear over a year ago with new software and added fitness smarts, plus standalone phone functions. But Apple's watch strategy has advanced faster, with better hardware. The Apple Watch S3 can be a phone, now. So can Samsung's Gear S3, which runs on Tizen. Google, meanwhile, stopped adding cellular functions to watches after the lackluster LG Watch Sport last year.

Google Will Prioritize Stories for Paying News Subscribers ( 36

Google users who subscribe to newspapers will find articles from those publications appearing higher in their search results, part of the tech giant's efforts to help media companies find and retain paying readers, Bloomberg reports, citing people familiar with the matter. From the report: The Alphabet unit will also begin sharing search data that show who's most likely to buy a subscription, said the people, who asked to be anonymous because they weren't authorized to speak publicly. Google executives plan to disclose specific details at an event in New York on March 20, according to the people. Google declined to comment. The moves could help publishers better target potential digital subscribers and keep the ones they've already got by highlighting stories from the outlets they're paying for. The initiative marks the latest olive branch from Silicon Valley in its evolving relationship with media companies.

Google's New 'Plus Codes' Are An Open Source, Global Alternative To Street Addresses ( 183

Google has developed a "simple and consistent addressing system that works across India and globally." Called "Plus Codes," the location-based digital addressing system is designed for people with addresses that are not easily located through conventional descriptors like street names or house numbers. That's half of the world's urban population, according to a World Bank estimate. 9to5Google reports: Notably, this open source solution composed of 10 characters works globally and can be incorporated by other products and platforms for free, with a developer page available here. It works offline and on print when overlaid as a grid on existing maps. Places that are close together share similar plus codes, while the system is identifiable by the "+" symbol in every address. "This system is based on dividing the geographical surface of the Earth into tiny 'tiled areas,' attributing a unique code to each of them," reports Google. "This code simply comprises a '6-character + City' format that can be generated, shared and searched by anyone -- all that's needed is Google Maps on a smartphone."

The first four characters are the area code, describing a region of roughly 100 x 100 kilometers. The last six characters are the local code, describing the neighborhood and the building, an area of roughly 14 x 14 meters -- about the size of one half of a basketball court. The area code is not needed when navigating within a town, while another optional character can be appended to provide additional accuracy down to a 3 x 3 meter region. Users of Google Maps in India will be able to easily find the plus code for any area in the app, while the mapping service along with Search will support the entry of the new coordinate system. Plus codes for any location can also be found with this tool.


How Your Returns Are Used Against You At Best Buy, Other Retailers ( 197

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Wall Street Journal (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): At Best Buy, returning too many items within a short time can hurt a person's score, as can returning high-theft items such as digital cameras. Every time shoppers returns purchases to Best Buy, they are tracked by a company which has the power to override the store's touted policy and refuse to refund their money. That is because the electronics giant is one of several chains that have hired a service called The Retail Equation to score customers' shopping behavior and impose limits on the amount of merchandise they can return. Stores have long used generous return guidelines to lure more customers, but such policies also invite abuse. Retailers estimate 11% of their sales are returned, and of those, 11% are likely fraudulent returns, according to a 2017 survey of 63 retailers by the National Retail Federation. Return fraud or abuse occurs when customers exploit the return process, such as requesting a refund for items they have used, stolen or bought somewhere else. Inc. and other online players that have made it easy to return items have changed consumer expectations, adding pressure on brick-and-mortar chains. Some retailers monitor return fraud in-house, but Best Buy and others pay The Retail Equation to track and score each customer's return behavior for both in-store and online purchases. The service also works with Home Depot, J.C. Penney, Sephora and Victoria's Secret. Some retailers use the system only to assess returns made without a receipt. Best Buy uses The Retail Equation to assess all returns, even those made with a receipt.


Sleeping In Rooms With Even a Little Light Can Increase Risk of Depression, Study Finds ( 176

Japanese researchers have found that even the slightest slither of light when trying to sleep could be linked to a heightened risk of depression, according to a new study published in The American Journal of Epidemiology. IFLScience reports: The reason behind this link is unclear, but the researchers believe it might be to do with the human circadian rhythm, the 24-hour cycle that tells us when to sleep and wake up, among other things, that is "programmed" by environmental factors. In the case of humans and many other creatures, light influences how much of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin is pumped into our bodies, meaning we feel awake when the Sun rises and get sleepy when the Sun sets. This system works like a charm when there's only sunlight, moonlight, and a campfire to think about. However, the modern world is beaming with almost constant exposure to artificial light. Light at night (LAN) in a bedroom -- even a flash of a digital clock or streetlight creeping in from a crack in the curtains -- could screw with our natural sleep/wake cycle. The team behind the recent study assessed the sleep of almost 900 elderly people with no signs of depression. They found that people who slept in a room with 5 lux of light or more at night showed a "significantly higher depression risk" than those who slept in a completely dark room. For perspective, a household room with its lights on is around 80 lux and 10 lux is a single candle from 0.3 meters (1 foot) away.

ACLU Sues TSA Over Electronic Device Searches ( 115

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration over its alleged practices of searching the electronic devices of passengers traveling on domestic flights. "The federal government's policies on searching the phones, laptops, and tablets of domestic air passengers remain shrouded in secrecy," ACLU Foundation of Northern California attorney Vasudha Talla said in a blog post. "TSA is searching the electronic devices of domestic passengers, but without offering any reason for the search," Talla added. "We don't know why the government is singling out some passengers, and we don't know what exactly TSA is searching on the devices. Our phones and laptops contain very personal information, and the federal government should not be digging through our digital data without a warrant." TechCrunch reports: The lawsuit, which is directed toward the TSA field offices in San Francisco and its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, specifically asks the TSA to hand over records related to its policies, procedures and/or protocols pertaining to the search of electronic devices. This lawsuit comes after a number of reports came in pertaining to the searches of electronic devices of passengers traveling domestically. The ACLU also wants to know what equipment the TSA uses to search, examine and extract any data from passengers' devices, as well as what kind of training TSA officers receive around screening and searching the devices. The ACLU says it first filed FOIA requests back in December, but TSA "subsequently improperly withheld the requested records," the ACLU wrote in a blog post today.

Apple Seems OK With Currency Miners In the Mac App Store 38

Apple has yet to block a popular title in the Mac App Store that has openly embraced coin mining, prompting one to ask the question: does Apple allow apps in the Mac App Store if they clearly disclose that they will be mining cryptocurrency? Ars Technica reports: The app is Calendar 2, a scheduling app that aims to include more features than the Calendar app that Apple bundles with macOS. In recent days, Calendar 2 developer Qbix endowed it with code that mines the digital coin known as Monero. The xmr-stack miner isn't supposed to run unless users specifically approve it in a dialog that says the mining will be in exchange for turning on a set of premium features. If users approve the arrangement, the miner will then run. Users can bypass this default action by selecting an option to keep the premium features turned off or to pay a fee to turn on the premium features. If Calendar 2 isn't the first known app offered in Apple's official and highly exclusive App Store to do currency mining, it's one of the very few.

University of Arizona Tracks Student ID Card Swipes To Detect Who Might Drop Out ( 103

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The University of Arizona is tracking freshman students' ID card swipes to anticipate which students are more likely to drop out. University researchers hope to use the data to lower dropout rates. (Dropping out refers to those who have left higher-education entirely and those who transfer to other colleges.) The card data tells researchers how frequently a student has entered a residence hall, library, and the student recreation center, which includes a salon, convenience store, mail room, and movie theater. The cards are also used for buying vending machine snacks and more, putting the total number of locations near 700. There's a sensor embedded in the CatCard student IDs, which are given to every student attending the university. Researchers have gathered freshman data over a three-year time frame so far, and they found that their predictions for who is more likely to drop out are 73 percent accurate. They also have plans to give academic advisers an online dashboard to look at student data in real time. "By getting their digital traces, you can explore their patterns of movement, behavior and interactions, and that tells you a great deal about them," Sudha Ram, a professor of management information systems who directs the initiative, said in a press release.

Apple Buys Texture, a 'Netflix For Magazines' App ( 43

Apple said on Monday it will acquire Texture, a digital magazine app, as the iPhone maker looks to fill the gap left by Facebook's pullback from news distribution. From a report: The deal is Apple's latest move to build out its content and services platform, coming just three months after it announced plans to acquire Shazam, the music recognition app, for around $400m. First launched in 2010, Texture has been described as "Netflix for magazines," as its $10-per-month subscription service provides unlimited access to more than 220 publications including People, the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, National Geographic and Vogue. Further reading: Recode.

What Image Should Represent All of Humanity On Wikipedia? ( 347

An anonymous reader writes: If aliens ever do come across the Pioneer spacecraft and make assumptions about the entire human species based on the man and woman etched onto the plaque it carries, this is what they will think of us: We all look like white people; we all look about 30ish years old; we do not wear clothes. It's a problem you encounter anytime you have to choose a few individuals to represent an entire group, and it's one that the editors of Wikipedia have debated for years: What image should grace the top of the "human" entry in the online dictionary?

The photo that's there now, after years of feverish debate, is of an Akha couple from a region of Thailand along the Mekong river. "The photo of the Akha couple remain humanity's type specimens on Wikipedia," writes author Ellen Airhart. "Just as a shriveled northeastern leopard frog at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology represents its whole species, so this couple stands for all of us."

Such musing about the taxonomic representation of the human species could actually have a big impact on our digital future. "Future scientists will have to teach computers, not aliens, to recognize the human image. Right now, software engineers program artificial intelligence to recognize people by feeding them millions of pictures of faces," she writes. "But whose faces? Computer scientists run into the same questions about gender, race, and culture that the Wikipedia editors encountered. Being able to use more than one photo expands the conversation but does not necessarily make it easier."


Netflix's Secrets to Success: Six Cell Towers, Dubbing and More ( 78

Variety gets access to the people at Netflix who take care of the tech: Netflix has its own cell towers. Netflix wants to test its app running on mobile devices under a variety of conditions available around the world, so the company decided to bring the operating equipment of six cell towers to its Los Gatos offices. "Minus the towers," quipped Scott Ryder, the company's director of mobile streaming. The cell tower equipment is housed in the company's mobile device lab, where they are joined by a number of cabinets that look like fancy Netflix-themed fridges, but in reality are Faraday cage-like boxes to suppress any outside interference, and also make sure that those experimental cell towers don't mess up phone reception on the rest of the campus. Each of these boxes can house dozens of devices, and emulate certain mobile or Wi-Fi conditions. "We can make a box look like India, we can make a box look like the Netherlands," Ryder said. Altogether, Netflix runs over 125,000 tests in its mobile lab every single day.[...]

Netflix just re-encoded its entire catalog, again. To optimize videos for mobile viewing, Netflix recently re-encoded its entire catalog on a per-scene basis. "We segment the videos into shots, we analyze the video per shot," said the company's director of video algorithms Anne Aaron. Now, an action scene in a show may stream at a higher bit rate than a scene featuring a slow monologue -- and users with limited bandwidth are set to save a lot of data. A few years back, 4 GB of mobile data would get you just about 10 hours of Netflix video, said Aaron. Now, members can watch up to 26 hours while consuming the same amount of data. Netflix previously re-encoded its entire catalog on a per-title basis, which already allowed it to stream animated shows at much lower bitrates than action movies with a lot of visual complexity. The next step for the company will be to adopt AV1, an advanced video codec developed by an alliance of companies that also includes Apple, Amazon, and Google. Aaron said Netflix could start streaming in AV1 before the end of this year, with Chrome browsers likely being first in line to receive AV1 streams.


Elon Musk: The Danger of AI is Much Greater Than Nuclear Warheads. We Need Regulatory Oversight Of AI Development. ( 322

Elon Musk has been vocal about the need for regulation for AI in the past. At SXSW on Sunday, Musk, 46, elaborated his thoughts. We're very close to seeing cutting edge technologies in AI, Musk said. "It scares the hell out of me," the Tesla and SpaceX showrunner said. He cited the example of AlphaGo and AlphaZero, and the rate of advancements they have shown to illustrate his point. He said: Alpha Zero can read the rules of any game and beat the human. For any game. Nobody expected that rate of improvement. If you ask those same experts who think AI is not progressing at the rate that I'm saying, I think you will find their betting average for things like Go and other AI advancements, is very weak. It's not good.

We will also see this with self driving. Probably by next year, self driving will encompass all forms of driving. By the end of next year, it will be at least 100 percent safer than humans. [...] The rate of improvements is really dramatic and we have to figure out some way to ensure that the advent of digital super intelligence is symbiotic with humanity. I think that's the single biggest existential crisis we face, and the most pressing one. I'm not generally an advocate of regulation -- I'm actually usually on the side of minimizing those things. But this is a case, where you have a very serious danger to the public. There needs to be a public body that has insight and oversight to ensure that everyone is developing AI safely. This is extremely important. The danger of AI is much greater than danger of nuclear warheads. By a lot.


Apple Files Patent For a Crumb-Resistant MacBook Keyboard ( 91

According to a patent application made public on Thursday, March 8, Apple could be developing a new MacBook keyboard designed to prevent crumbs and dust from getting those super-shallow MacBook keys stuck. "Liquid ingress around the keys into the keyboard can damage electronics. Residues from such liquids may corrode or block electrical contacts, getting in the way of key movement and so on," the patent application reads. Digital Trends reports: The application goes on to describe how those problems might be remedied: With the careful application of gaskets, brushes, wipers, or flaps that block gaps beneath keycaps. One solution would include a membrane beneath each key, effectively insulating the interior of the keyboard from the exterior, while another describes using each keypress as a "bellows" to force contaminants out of the keyboard. "A keyboard assembly [could include] a substrate, a key cap, and a guard structure extending from the key cap that funnels contaminants away from the movement mechanism," the patent application reads.

Trump Promises Copyright Crackdown As DoJ Takes Aim At Streaming Pirates ( 107

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TorrentFreak: Yesterday, a panel discussion on the challenges associated with piracy from streaming media boxes took place on Capitol Hill. Hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), "Unboxing the Piracy Threat of Streaming Media Boxes" (video) went ahead with some big name speakers in attendance, not least Neil Fried, Senior Vice President, Federal Advocacy and Regulatory Affairs at the MPAA. ITIF and various industry groups tweeted many interesting comments throughout the event. Kevin Madigan from Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property told the panel that torrent-based content "is becoming obsolete" in an on-demand digital environment that's switching to streaming-based piracy. "There's a criminal enterprise going on here that's stealing content and making a profit," Fried told those in attendance. "The piracy activity out there is bad, it's hurting a lot of economic activity & creators aren't being compensated for their work," he added.

And then, of course, we come to President Trump. Not usually that vocal on matters of intellectual property and piracy, yesterday -- perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not -- he suddenly delivered one of his "something is coming" tweets. "The U.S. is acting swiftly on Intellectual Property theft," Trump tweeted. "We cannot allow this to happen as it has for many years!" Given Trump's tendency to focus on problems overseas causing issues for companies back home, a comment by Kevin Madigan during the panel yesterday immediately comes to mind. "To combat piracy abroad, USTR needs to work with the creative industries to improve enforcement and target the source of pirated material," Madigan said.


Businesses Under Pressure To 'Consumerize' Logins ( 47

Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of IT leaders say their security teams are considering implementing consumer-grade access to cloud services for employees. From a report: According to the 2018 Identity and Access Management Index from digital security company Gemalto 54 percent of respondents believe that the authentication methods they implement in their businesses are not as good compared to those found on popular sites including Amazon and Facebook. Authentication methods applied in the consumer world can be applied to secure access to enterprise resources 70 percent of IT professionals believe. But despite this, 92 percent of IT leaders express concern about employees reusing personal credentials for work. This comes as 61 percent admit they are still not implementing two-factor authentication to allow access to their network, potentially leaving themselves vulnerable to cyber criminals.

Most Americans Think AI Will Destroy Other People's Jobs, Not Theirs ( 268

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of U.S. adults believe artificial intelligence will "eliminate more jobs than it creates," according to a Gallup survey. But, the same survey found that less than a quarter (23 percent) of people were "worried" or "very worried" automation would affect them personally. Notably, these figures vary depending on education. For respondents with only a four-year college degree or less, 28 percent were worried about AI taking their job; for people with at least a bachelor degree, that figure was 15 percent. These numbers tell a familiar story. They come from a Gallup survey of more than 3,000 individuals on automation and AI. New details were released this week, but they echo the findings of earlier reports. The newly released findings from Gallup's survey also show that by one measure, the use of AI is already widespread in the U.S. Nearly nine out of 10 Americans (85 percent) use at least one of six devices or services that use features of artificial intelligence, says Gallup. Eighty-four percent of people use navigation apps like Waze, and 72 percent use streaming services like Netflix. Forty-seven percent use digital assistants on their smartphones, and 22 percent use them on devices like Amazon's Echo.

Samsung's New TVs Are Almost Invisible ( 158

Mike Murphy reports via Quartz of Samsung's new top-of-the-line televisions announced at an event in New York today: Samsung's new QLED line of 4K TVs features a technology the company is calling "Ambient Mode." Before you mount the TV, you'll snap a picture of the wall it's going to hang on -- it doesn't matter if it's brick, wood, patterned wallpaper, or just a white wall -- and then after it's up, you can set that picture as the TV's background. The result is something that looks like a floating black rectangle mounted on a wall. Samsung even includes a digital version of the shadow this black rectangle would cast on the wall, as if there really wasn't a large LED panel sitting in the middle of the thin metal strips. There are five QLED models, with minor tweaks between them, ranging in size from 49 inches, up to an absolutely massive 88 inches. The televisions have a built-in timer so that the ambient setting will turn off after a while, in order to spare your electricity bill. Viewing the televisions before Samsung's event, the ambient really did appear to blend them into the walls at first blush. One, against a fake brick wall, was indistinguishable from what was behind it until you really got close up to the screen. The distinction on another, attempting to mimic a painted off-white wall, was a little more obvious. But that's not really the point -- the mode is just intended to give the illusion of invisibility between watching TV, and when you want to show off your new television to a visitor. Pricing isn't available but you can expect them to range from a few thousands dollars all the way up to $20,000 for the largest, sharpest models. Samsung also announced that it's partnering with The Weather Channel, The New York Times, and others to overlay content on the ambient TVs. They will also be able to control any smart device that can control to Samsung's SmartThings system, like Amazon Echoes, Ring doorbells, and Philips Hue Lights. Bixby is baked into the remote to help you search for content and cater to commands.

FBI Again Calls For Magical Solution To Break Into Encrypted Phones ( 232

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: FBI Director Christopher Wray again has called for a solution to what the bureau calls the "Going Dark" problem, the idea that the prevalence of default strong encryption on digital devices makes it more difficult for law enforcement to extract data during an investigation. However, in a Wednesday speech at Boston College, Wray again did not outline any specific piece of legislation or technical solution that would provide both strong encryption and allow the government to access encrypted devices when it has a warrant. A key escrow system, with which the FBI or another entity would be able to unlock a device given a certain set of circumstances, is by definition weaker than what cryptographers would traditionally call "strong encryption." There's also the problem of how to compel device and software makers to impose such a system on their customers -- similar efforts were attempted during the Clinton administration, but they failed. A consensus of technical experts has said that what the FBI has asked for is impossible. "I recognize this entails varying degrees of innovation by the industry to ensure lawful access is available," Wray said Wednesday. "But I just don't buy the claim that it's impossible. Let me be clear: the FBI supports information security measures, including strong encryption. Actually, the FBI is on the front line fighting cyber crime and economic espionage. But information security programs need to be thoughtfully designed so they don't undermine the lawful tools we need to keep the American people safe."

Bitcoin Dives After SEC Says Crypto Platforms Must Be Registered ( 81

Bitcoin slumped after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission reiterated that many online trading platforms for digital assets should register with the agency as exchanges. From a report: The largest cryptocurrency dropped as much as 8.6 percent to $9,864 after the SEC statement boosted concern that tightening regulation may limit trading. [...] "If a platform offers trading of digital assets that are securities and operates as an 'exchange,' as defined by the federal securities laws, then the platform must register with the SEC as a national securities exchange or be exempt from registration," the SEC said in the statement Wednesday.

Some of the largest cryptocurrency trading platforms, like Coinbase's GDAX, aren't registered as a national exchange with the SEC, and instead have money transmission licenses with separate states. In the case of Gemini, it's regulated by the New York State Department of Financial Services as a trust company, according to its website.

Slashdot Top Deals