Programming

'Coding Is Not Fun, It's Technically and Ethically Complex' (qz.com) 298

An anonymous reader shares an article: For starters, the profile of a programmer's mind is pretty uncommon. As well as being highly analytical and creative, software developers need almost superhuman focus to manage the complexity of their tasks. Manic attention to detail is a must; slovenliness is verboten. Coding isn't the only job that demands intense focus. But you'd never hear someone say that brain surgery is "fun," or that structural engineering is "easy." When it comes to programming, why do policymakers and technologists pretend otherwise? For one, it helps lure people to the field at a time when software (in the words of the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen) is "eating the world" -- and so, by expanding the labor pool, keeps industry ticking over and wages under control. Another reason is that the very word "coding" sounds routine and repetitive, as though there's some sort of key that developers apply by rote to crack any given problem. It doesn't help that Hollywood has cast the "coder" as a socially challenged, type-first-think-later hacker, inevitably white and male, with the power to thwart the Nazis or penetrate the CIA. Insisting on the glamor and fun of coding is the wrong way to acquaint kids with computer science. It insults their intelligence and plants the pernicious notion in their heads that you don't need discipline in order to progress. As anyone with even minimal exposure to making software knows, behind a minute of typing lies an hour of study. It's better to admit that coding is complicated, technically and ethically. Computers, at the moment, can only execute orders, to varying degrees of sophistication. So it's up to the developer to be clear: the machine does what you say, not what you mean. More and more "decisions" are being entrusted to software, including life-or-death ones: think self-driving cars; think semi-autonomous weapons; think Facebook and Google making inferences about your marital, psychological, or physical status, before selling it to the highest bidder. Yet it's rarely in the interests of companies and governments to encourage us to probe what's going on beneath these processes.
Programming

Java Creator James Gosling Joins Amazon Web Services (geekwire.com) 90

The legendary computer scientist and founder of Java, James Gosling, is joining forces with Amazon Web Services. Gosling made the announcement today on Facebook saying that he's "starting a new Adventure" with the cloud computing juggernaut as a Distinguished Engineer. GeekWire reports: Gosling wrote Java, one of the most widely used programming languages in the history of computing, while at Sun Microsystems in the early 1990s. After leaving Sun following its acquisition by Oracle, Gosling did a short stint at Google before settling in for almost six years at Liquid Robotics, which is working on an autonomous boat called the Wave Glider. He likely ruffled a few feathers in Seattle last year after speaking out about fears of cloud vendor lock-in. "You get cloud providers like Amazon saying: 'Take your applications and move them to the cloud.' But as soon as you start using them you're stuck in that particular cloud," he said at IP Expo according to The Inquirer, echoing the sentiment of some skeptical IT organizations burned by enterprise vendors in the past.
Social Networks

Mark Zuckerberg Is Working On a Way To Connect You To People You 'Should' Know (recode.net) 138

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Sunday shared some of what he has learned from his early trips around the country. Recode adds: The actual crux of the post comes later when Zuckerberg writes why he's taking on this new challenge. Basically: He's not running for office, he wants to find ways to strengthen Facebook's "community." Mark said, "I also think this is an area where Facebook can make a difference. Some of you have asked if this challenge means I'm running for public office. I'm not. I'm doing it to get a broader perspective to make sure we're best serving our community of almost 2 billion people at Facebook and doing the best work to promote equal opportunity at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. In many ways, relationships are the most important things in our lives -- whether we're trying to form healthy habits, stay out of trouble, or find better opportunities. And yet, research shows the average American has fewer than three close friends we can turn to for support." To make that difference Zuckerberg is talking about, he said that Facebook is helping people find people they already know but is also working on a way to connect you with people that you should know like mentors.
Social Networks

Facebook Flooded With 'Sextortion' and Revenge Porn, Files Reveal (theguardian.com) 54

An anonymous reader writes: Facebook had to assess nearly 54,000 potential cases of revenge pornography and "sextortion" on the site in a single month, according to a leaked document. Figures shared with staff reveal that in January Facebook had to disable more than 14,000 accounts related to these types of sexual abuse -- and 33 of the cases reviewed involved children. The company relies on users to report most abusive content, meaning the real scale of the problem could be much greater. But the Guardian has been told that moderators find Facebook's policies on sexual content the hardest to follow. "Sexual policy is the one where moderators make most mistakes," said a source. "It is very complex." Facebook admitted this was a high priority area and that it was using "image-matching" software to stop explicit content getting on to the site. It also acknowledged it was difficult to draw a line between acceptable and unacceptable sexual content.
Social Networks

Facebook and Twitter 'Harm Young People's Mental Health' (theguardian.com) 120

Instagram and Snapchat are really bad for young people's mental health, according to research by two health organisations. Virtually all major social media platforms have a negative impact on the well-being of 14-24-year-olds, the study adds. Instagram was the worst -- followed by Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter. From a report on The Guardian: Instagram has the most negative impact on young people's mental wellbeing, a survey of almost 1,500 14- to 24-year-olds found, and the health groups accused it of deepening young people's feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. The survey, published on Friday, concluded that Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter are also harmful. Among the five only YouTube was judged to have a positive impact. The four platforms have a negative effect because they can exacerbate children's and young people's body image worries, and worsen bullying, sleep problems and feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness, the participants said.
Google

Google To Launch a Jobs Search Engine In the US (techcrunch.com) 27

At its I/O 2017 conference, Google announced that it's launching a jobs search engine in the U.S. that will focus on a wide variety of jobs -- from entry-level and service industry positions to high-end professional jobs. The service will also use machine learning and artificial intelligence to better understand how jobs are classified and related, among other things. TechCrunch reports: In a few weeks, Google will begin to recognize when U.S. users are typing job search queries into Google Search, and will then highlight jobs that match the query. However, Google is not necessarily taking on traditional job search service providers with this launch -- instead, it's partnering with them. The company said that Google for Jobs will initially partner with LinkedIn, Facebook, Careerbuilder Monster, Glassdoor, and other services. The search engine will have a number of tools that will help you find the right jobs for you. For example, you'll be able to filter jobs by location, title, category or type, date posted or whether it's full or part-time, among other things. The service will also show applicants things like commute time, to help them figure out if the job is too far away to consider. What makes the service interesting is that it's leveraging Google's machine learning smarts to understand how job titles are related and cluster them together.
Social Networks

Facebook Now Battles Clickbait On a Post-by-Post Basis (engadget.com) 45

Facebook is taking further steps to decrease the reach and prevalence of clickbait headlines on its social network. Facebook says it will target clickbait on an individual post level and not just by analyzing the bulk posts of a page. It will also look at two distinct signals: whether a headline "withholds information or if it exaggerates information separately." From a report: This should "more precisely" downplay the number of misleading stories cluttering your timeline, the social network says. Moreover, it's promising a more exacting approach when it looks at individual headlines. Until now, Facebook examined clickbait titles in a holistic way: it looked for both the exaggerated language ("you have to see this!") and deliberate attempts to withhold info ("eat this every day").
Facebook

EU Fines Facebook $122 Million Over Misleading Information On WhatsApp Deal (siliconrepublic.com) 31

On Thursday, the European Union's powerful antitrust chief fined Facebook 110 million euros, or about $122 million, for giving misleading statements during the company's $19 billion acquisition of the internet messaging service WhatsApp in 2014. From a report: During the review process, the EC discussed the possibility of Facebook matching its users' accounts with WhatsApp users' accounts, to which Facebook replied that it "would be unable to establish reliable automated matching" between the two. Since then, though, the company has found a way, and it seems pretty straightforward. Unhappy with this, the EC today revealed a "proportionate and deterrent fine." How it acts as a deterrent, however, is unclear. Facebook was at risk of a fine totalling 1 percent of its turnover, which would have been closer to 200 million euros, but the figure was lower due to its compliance during the investigation. "The commission has found that, contrary to Facebook's statements in the 2014 merger review process, the technical possibility of automatically matching Facebook and WhatsApp users' identities already existed in 2014, and that Facebook staff were aware of such a possibility," the EC said.
Communications

Google's Balloons Connect Flood-hit Peru (bbc.com) 16

An anonymous reader writes: "Tens of thousands" of Peruvians have been getting online using Project Loon, the ambitious connectivity project from Google's parent company, Alphabet. Project Loon uses tennis court-sized balloons carrying a small box of equipment to beam internet access to a wide area below. The team told the BBC they had been testing the system in Peru when serious floods hit in January, and so the technology was opened up to people living in three badly-hit cities. Until now, only small-scale tests of the technology had taken place. Project Loon is in competition with other attempts to provide internet from the skies, including Facebook's Aquila project which is being worked on in the UK. Project Loon recently announced it had figured out how to use artificial intelligence (AI) to "steer" the balloons by raising or lowering them to piggy-back weather streams. It was this discovery that enabled the company to use just a "handful" of balloons to connect people in Lima, Chimbote, and Piura. The balloons were launched from the US territory of Puerto Rico before being guided south.
United States

The Tech Sector Is Leaving the Rest of the US Economy In Its Dust (theverge.com) 155

Yesterday afternoon, the S&P 500 closed at a record high, and is up over $1.5 trillion since the start of 2017. "And the companies doing the most to drive that rally are all tech firms," reports The Verge. "Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft make up a whopping 37 percent of the total gains." From the report: All of these companies saw their share prices touch record highs in recent months. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the U.S. economy, which grew at a rate of less than 1 percent during the first three months of this year. That divide is the culmination of a long-term trend, according to a recent report featured in The Wall Street Journal: "In digital industries -- technology, communications, media, software, finance and professional services -- productivity grew 2.7% annually over the past 15 years...The slowdown is concentrated in physical industries -- health care, transportation, education, manufacturing, retail -- where productivity grew a mere 0.7% annually over the same period." There is no industry where these players aren't competing. Music, movies, shipping, delivery, transportation, energy -- the list goes on and on. As these companies continue to scale, the network effects bolstering their business are strengthening. Facebook and Google accounted for over three-quarters of the growth in the digital advertising industry in 2016, leaving the rest to be divided among small fry like Twitter, Snapchat, and the entire American media industry. Meanwhile Apple and Alphabet have achieved a virtual duopoly on mobile operating systems, with only a tiny sliver of consumers choosing an alternative for their smartphones and tablets.
Facebook

European Privacy Regulators Take Coordinated Action Against Facebook 53

An anonymous reader writes: European privacy regulators from as number of countries has made a coordinated action against Facebook for violating data protection laws. The French CNIL has sanctioned Facebook with a 150,000 EUR fine, and the regulator from Netherlands is considering a similar action. Regulators are concerned with new privacy policies of Facebook, lack of transparency, cookie handling and tracking Facebook users on third-party sites -- all without user knowledge or control. Such coordinated move is unprecedented in the history of European data protection regulators.
Facebook

ZeniMax Is Suing Samsung After Winning Its Case Against Oculus (cnn.com) 78

Games company ZeniMax successfully sued Facebook-owned Oculus for $500 million earlier this year, and now it has a new target in sight: Samsung. The company has filed a new lawsuit over Samsung's Gear VR headset, claiming that "Samsung knowingly profited from Oculus technology that was first developed at ZeniMax, then misappropriated by Oculus executive John Carmack," reports The Verge. From the report: Carmack, whose company id Software was acquired by ZeniMax in 2009, was one of the driving forces behind the Gear VR. While the headset was released by Samsung, it's described as "powered by Oculus," with heavy software optimizations developed by Carmack. But the lawsuit alleges that Carmack owed much of his success at Oculus to software he developed as part of a team at ZeniMax. Among other things, the Texas court filing claims that Carmack secretly brought Oculus (and former ZeniMax) employee Matt Hooper into id Software's offices to develop an "attack plan" for mobile VR, which Oculus would later take to Samsung. The Samsung Gear VR was also built on some of the same code as the Oculus Rift, which was the subject of ZeniMax's earlier lawsuit. ZeniMax's basic argument is that Samsung would have been aware of the lawsuit against Oculus, which was filed during the initial development of the Gear VR. But "Samsung continued to develop the Gear VR with full knowledge of ZeniMax's allegations and without obtaining any right or permission from ZeniMax to use any of its copyrights or other confidential information." The new lawsuit officially accuses Samsung of copyright infringement for using ZeniMax VR code in the Gear VR, as well as trade secret misappropriation, unfair competition, and unjust enrichment.
Communications

FCC Suspends Net Neutrality Comments, As Chairman Pai Mocks 'Mean Tweets' (gizmodo.com) 184

An anonymous reader writes:Thursday the FCC stopped accepting comments as part of long-standing rules "to provide FCC decision-makers with a period of repose during which they can reflect on the upcoming items" before their May 18th meeting. Techdirt wondered if this time to reflect would mean less lobbying from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, but on Friday Pai recorded a Jimmy Kimmel-style video mocking mean tweets, with responses Gizmodo called "appalling" and implying "that anyone who opposes his cash grab for corporations is a moron."

Meanwhile, Wednesday The Consumerist reported the FCC's sole Democrat "is deploying some scorched-earth Microsoft Word table-making to use FCC Chair Ajit Pai's own words against him." (In 2014 Pai wrote "A dispute this fundamental is not for us five, unelected individuals to decide... We should also engage computer scientists, technologists, and other technical experts to tell us how they see the Internet's infrastructure and consumers' online experience evolving.") But Pai seemed to be mostly sticking to friendlier audiences, appearing with conservative podcasters from the Taxpayer Protection Alliance, the AEI think tank and The Daily Beast.

The Verge reports the flood of fake comments opposing Net Neutrality may have used names and addresses from a breach of 1.4 billion personal information records from marketing company River City Media. Reached on Facebook Messenger, one woman whose named was used "said she hadn't submitted any comments, didn't live at that address anymore and didn't even know what net neutrality is, let alone oppose it."

Techdirt adds "If you do still feel the need to comment, the EFF is doing what the FCC itself should do and has set up its own page at DearFCC.org to hold any comments."
Businesses

Amazon Is the 2nd Most Popular App Among Teens, Says Study (cnbc.com) 56

An anonymous reader writes: When it comes to apps they're using these days, teens and millennials say Snapchat is king -- no surprise there. But second place? It's not Instagram: It's Amazon. This is according to a survey -- The 2017 Love List Brand Affinity Index, run by Conde Nast and Goldman Sachs -- that asked 2,345 U.S. millennial and Gen Z shoppers about their fashion, retail and consumer preferences. The survey skewed towards younger consumers. One question asked which apps they were using currently that they weren't using a few months ago: Snapchat and Amazon came in first and second. (Other popular apps -- Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest -- came in third, fourth and fifth respectively.) "Users are looking for efficiency, speed and convenience, and Amazon hits all those buckets," said Conde Nast chief marketing officer Pam Drucker Mann told CNBC. On a side note, it appears people generally don't have many gripes with Amazon. Early results of our poll from Wednesday suggests Amazon is the last company (of the five tech giants) whose services people are keen on ditching. Also, regardless of how some of us feel about Snapchat, the company seems to be a hit among teenagers.
Facebook

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel Is Not Afraid of Facebook (recode.net) 42

An anonymous reader writes: Snap CEO Evan Spiegel addressed on Wednesday what many have been hoping he would address for months: What he thinks about Facebook and the fact the social giant is copying all of Snapchat's best features. On Snap's Q1 earnings call Wednesday, Spiegel was asked bluntly: "Does Facebook scare you? Why or why not?" Spiegel laughed. Then talked about how important it is to be creative. Then said this: "At the end of the day, just because Yahoo, for example, has a search box, it doesn't mean they're Google." Fun fact: Yahoo is an investor in Snap.
Advertising

Facebook Downranks News Feed Links To Crappy Sites Smothered In Ads (techcrunch.com) 95

Facebook's New Feed algorithm is targeting links that send people to crappy websites filled with advertisements. According to their blog post, Facebook defines a "low-quality site" as one "containing little substantive content, and that is covered in disruptive, shocking or malicious ads." TechCrunch reports: The change could help Facebook fight fake news, as fakers are often financially motivated and blanket their false information articles in ads. High-quality sites may see a slight boost in referral traffic, while crummy sites will see a decline as the update rolls out gradually over the coming months. Facebook tells me that the change will see it refuse an immaterial number of ad impressions that earned it negligible amounts of money, so it shouldn't have a significant impact on Facebook's revenue. Facebook product manager for News Feed Greg Marra tells me Facebook made the decision based on surveys of users about what disturbed their News Feed experience. One pain point they commonly cited was links that push them to "misleading, sensational, spammy, or otherwise low-quality experiences... [including] sexual content, shocking content, and other things that are going to be really disruptive." Today's change is important because if users don't trust the content on the other side of the links and ads they see in News Feed, they'll click them less. That could reduce Facebook's advertising revenue and the power it derives from controlling referral traffic. Getting sent to a low-quality, shocking site from News Feed could also frustrate users and cause them to end their Facebook browsing session, depriving the social network of further ad views, engagement and content sharing.
Google

'Google Is As Close To a Natural Monopoly As the Bell System Was In 1956' (promarket.org) 248

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ProMarket: In terms of market share and profit margins, the big digital platforms, particularly Google and Facebook, enjoy an astounding level of dominance. Google, in effect the world's largest media company, has an 88 percent market share in search advertising. Facebook (including Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp) controls over 70 percent of social media on mobile devices. Together, the two firms received 85 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising in the first quarter of 2016. Amazon has an over 70 percent share in the e-book market. Along with Apple and Microsoft, they are now the most valuable companies (in terms of market capitalization) in the world. The rise of digital platforms has had profound political, economic, and social effects, not least of which on the creators of content. While the internet brought immense benefits to consumers of content, the so-called "creative class" -- authors, journalists, filmmakers, musicians, artists -- has been particularly ravaged by the digital economy. This ravaging, and its roots in the monopolization of content delivery and data in the hands of a few digital giants, are at the heart of the new book Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy by media scholar Jonathan Taplin. In the book, Taplin explores the way in which the internet came to be dominated by a handful of monopoly platforms, and the subsequent capturing of regulators that has since all but ensured their dominance would not be challenged in court. In an interview with ProMarket, Taplin said in response to a question: "I would say Google is as close to a natural monopoly as the Bell System was in 1956. If you came to me and said 'Hey, I want to start a company to compete with Google in search,' I would say you're out of your mind and don't waste your energy or your time or your money, there's just no way. Classic economics would say that if there's a business in which there are 35 percent net margins, that would attract a huge amount of new capital to capture some of that, and none of that has happened. That tells you there's something wrong."
Google

Slashdot Asks: Which Tech Giant You Can't Live Without? 269

In this week's column of NYTimes, Farhad Manjoo writes about the five largest technology companies in the world: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, the parent company of Google. As he notes, these companies have become the most powerful firms of any kind, essentially inescapable for any consumer or business that wants to participate in the modern world. This brings us to two questions:
1. Of the five aforementioned companies, tell us one whose services you don't need for work and for personal use. (In short, the company that doesn't matter to you.) Here's a poll where you can cast your vote.
2. On the same note, which company's services and products you can't ditch (for work / personal use)?
Opera

Opera Rethinks What a Browser In 2017 Should Do: Adds Quick Access To WhatsApp, Telegram, Messenger in v45 (theverge.com) 99

Opera says it has been working on a complete redesign of its desktop browser for a few months. Codenamed "Reborn", the new version of the browser focuses on one feature that it thinks many people desire in 2017: a way to stay connected with friends and be able to swiftly share things. The Verge adds: The latest addition is a messaging sidebar built directly into the browser interface. From the sidebar, users can log into their WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram accounts, and chat with friends and family without ever leaving Opera itself. [...] But as with previous updates, there's a lingering feeling that this new feature is a little bit too superficial. While it is nice to have access to chat apps in the browser window, their inclusion makes for a crowded interface.
Facebook

Facebook Must Delete Hate Postings Worldwide, Rules Austrian Court (reuters.com) 364

An Austrian court has ruled that Facebook must delete hate speech postings worldwide. "The case -- brought by Austria's Green party over insults to its leader -- has international ramifications as the court ruled the postings must be deleted across the platform and not just in Austria, a point that had been left open in an initial ruling," reports Reuters. From the report: The case comes as legislators around Europe are considering ways of forcing Facebook, Google, Twitter and others to rapidly remove hate speech or incitement to violence. Facebook's lawyers in Vienna declined to comment on the ruling, which was distributed by the Greens and confirmed by a court spokesman, and Facebook did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Strengthening the earlier ruling, the Viennese appeals court ruled on Friday that Facebook must remove the postings against Greens leader Eva Glawischnig as well as any verbatim repostings, and said merely blocking them in Austria without deleting them for users abroad was not sufficient. The court added it was easy for Facebook to automate this process. It said, however, that Facebook could not be expected to trawl through content to find posts that are similar, rather than identical, to ones already identified as hate speech. The Greens hope to get the ruling strengthened further at Austria's highest court. They want the court to demand Facebook remove similar - not only identical - postings, and to make it identify holders of fake accounts. The Greens also want Facebook to pay damages, which would make it easier for individuals in similar cases to take the financial risk of taking legal action.

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