United States

Smartphones Are Killing Americans, But Nobody's Counting (bloomberg.com) 285

An anonymous reader shares a Bloomberg report: Over the past two years, after decades of declining deaths on the road, U.S. traffic fatalities surged by 14.4 percent. In 2016 alone, more than 100 people died every day in or near vehicles in America, the first time the country has passed that grim toll in a decade. Regulators, meanwhile, still have no good idea why crash-related deaths are spiking: People are driving longer distances but not tremendously so; total miles were up just 2.2 percent last year. Collectively, we seemed to be speeding and drinking a little more, but not much more than usual. Together, experts say these upticks don't explain the surge in road deaths. There are however three big clues, and they don't rest along the highway. One, as you may have guessed, is the substantial increase in smartphone use by U.S. drivers as they drive. From 2014 to 2016, the share of Americans who owned an iPhone, Android phone, or something comparable rose from 75 percent to 81 percent. The second is the changing way in which Americans use their phones while they drive. These days, we're pretty much done talking. Texting, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are the order of the day -- all activities that require far more attention than simply holding a gadget to your ear or responding to a disembodied voice. By 2015, almost 70 percent of Americans were using their phones to share photos and follow news events via social media. In just two additional years, that figure has jumped to 80 percent.
Chrome

Microsoft Edge Beats Chrome and Firefox in Malware-Blocking Tests (computerworld.com) 126

An anonymous reader quotes Computerworld:Microsoft's Edge easily beat rival browsers from Google and Mozilla in third-party tests of the behind-the-scenes services which power anti-malware warnings and malicious website-blocking... NSS Labs says Windows 10's default browser is better at blocking phishing and socially-engineered malware attacks than Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox... According to NSS Labs of Austin, Texas, Edge automatically blocked 92% of all in-browser credential phishing attempts and stymied 100% of all socially-engineered malware (SEM) attacks. The latter encompassed a wide range of attacks, but their common characteristic was that they tried to trick users into downloading malicious code. The tactics that SEM attackers deploy include links from social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and bogus in-browser notifications of computer infections or other problems.

Edge bested Chrome and Firefox by decisive margins. For instance, Chrome blocked 74% of all phishing attacks, and 88% of SEM attacks. Meanwhile, Firefox came in third in both tests, stopping just 61% of the phishing attacks and 70% of all SEM attempts... Both Chrome and Mozilla's Firefox rely on the Safe Browsing API (application programing interface), but historically, Mozilla's implementation has performed poorly compared to Google's. No shock: Google created the API. Edge also took top prize in blocking attacks from the get-go. In NSS's SEM attack testing, for example, the Microsoft browser stopped nearly every attempt from the first moments a new attack was detected. Chrome and Firefox, on the other hand, halted 75% and 54% of the brand-new attacks, respectively. Over a week's time, Chrome and Firefox improved their blocking scores, although neither reached Edge's impressive 99.8%.

The researchers spent three weeks continuously monitoring the browsers on Windows 10 computers. But in the real world, Edge runs on just 5% of all personal computers, while Firefox runs on 13% and Chrome on 60%.
Communications

Russia Reportedly Used Pokemon Go In an Effort To Inflame Racial Tensions (theverge.com) 210

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Russia's far-ranging campaign to promote dissension in the United States reportedly included an effort to weaponize Pokemon Go. CNN reported that in July 2016, a Tumblr page linked to Russia's now-notorious Internet Research Agency promoted a contest encouraging people sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement to play the game near famous sites of police brutality. Players were told to change their characters' names to the victims of those incidents -- an apparent effort to inflame racial tensions. The Tumblr page was linked to Do Not Shoot Us, a multi-platform campaign designed to mimic aspects of Black Lives Matter. (As CNN notes, the name plays on "hands up, don't shoot," one of the movement's slogans.) Do Not Shoot Us included a website, donotshoot.us, along with related pages on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. The Facebook page was one of 470 pages that were removed after the company determined that it was linked to Russian groups attempting to interfere in US politics.
Social Networks

How Facebook Outs Sex Workers (gizmodo.com) 634

An anonymous reader shares a Gizmodo report: Leila has two identities, but Facebook is only supposed to know about one of them. Leila is a sex worker. She goes to great lengths to keep separate identities for ordinary life and for sex work, to avoid stigma, arrest, professional blowback, or clients who might be stalkers (or worse). Her "real identity" -- the public one, who lives in California, uses an academic email address, and posts about politics -- joined Facebook in 2011. Her sex-work identity is not on the social network at all; for it, she uses a different email address, a different phone number, and a different name. Yet earlier this year, looking at Facebook's "People You May Know" recommendations, Leila (a name I'm using in place of either of the names she uses) was shocked to see some of her regular sex-work clients. Despite the fact that she'd only given Facebook information from her vanilla identity, the company had somehow discerned her real-world connection to these people -- and, even more horrifyingly, her account was potentially being presented to them as a friend suggestion too, outing her regular identity to them. Because Facebook insists on concealing the methods and data it uses to link one user to another, Leila is not able to find out how the network exposed her or take steps to prevent it from happening again. "We're living in an age where you can weaponize personal information against people"Kashmir Hill, the reporter who wrote the above story, a few weeks ago shared another similar incident.
Android

Failed Palo Alto Startup Pivots From Trying To Be an 'Android Killer' To Self-driving Tech (bizjournals.com) 71

A Palo Alto startup that stopped trying to be an "Android killer" last year after raising $185 million has apparently pivoted to developing autonomous vehicle technology. From a report: The company now known as Cyngn has changed its name from Cyanogen and recently got a permit to test its self-driving tech on California roads, according to a report Wednesday on Axios. It's being led by Lior Tal, the former chief operating officer who took over as CEO last fall when Kirt McMaster left. The rest of the startup's current team of about 30 people appear to have joined since the strategy shift, Axios reported, citing LinkedIn records. Some of them are former Facebook people, like Tal, and alumni of automakers who include Mercedes-Benz. No new funding has been disclosed for the reinvented company. It lists on its website investors who backed it before it pivoted, including Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark Capital, Redpoint Ventures, Index Ventures, Qualcomm and Chinese social networking company Tencent. The company was the center of acquisition talk in 2014, when companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Samsung and Yahoo expressed interest in the company.
Facebook

Facebook Announces $199 Oculus Go Standalone VR Headset (variety.com) 86

Facebook is going to ship a standalone VR headset called Oculus Go next year. The headset, which won't require a PC or phone to run, will be available early next year for $199. From a report: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg officially announced the new product during his keynote speech at Facebook's fourth Oculus Connect virtual reality (VR) developer conference in San Jose, Calif. Wednesday, where he framed the device as an important step towards bringing VR to the masses. "We want to get a billion people in virtual reality," Zuckerberg said. Facebook VP of VR Hugo Barra said that the company developed custom lenses for the headset, which allow for a wide field of view. The display is a fast-switch LCD screen with a resolution of 2560x1440 pixels, and it comes with integrated headphones. The company will be shipping first headsets to developers in November.
Facebook

Virtual Zuck Fails To Connect (bbc.com) 141

Rory Cellan-Jones, writing for BBC: It must have seemed like a good idea. As a taster for a big announcement about Oculus VR on Wednesday, send Mark Zuckerberg on a little virtual reality trip, including a stop in Puerto Rico. But the reviews are in -- and they are not good. The sight of Mr Zuckerberg using VR to survey the devastation of an island still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria may have been meant to convey Facebook's empathy with the victims. The fact that he was there in the form of a cartoon seemed to many the perfect visual metaphor for the gulf in understanding between Silicon Valley and the real world. Sure, he was talking about all the activities which his company had initiated to help the island, from helping people tell their families they were ok using Safety Check to sending Facebook employees to help restore connectivity. But cartoon Zuck showing us a 360 degree view of a flooded street before zipping back to a virtual California just seemed a little, well, crass. Is Facebook really concerned about the plight of Puerto Rico, or is it merely a handy backdrop to promote Oculus, whose sales have so far proved disappointing?
Advertising

Google Uncovers Russia-Bought Ads On YouTube, Gmail and Other Platforms (reuters.com) 345

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Google has discovered Russian operatives spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads on its YouTube, Gmail and Google Search products in an effort to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a person briefed on the company's probe told Reuters on Monday. The ads do not appear to be from the same Kremlin-affiliated entity that bought ads on Facebook, but may indicate a broader Russian online disinformation effort, according to the source, who was not authorized to discuss details of Google's confidential investigation. The revelation is likely to fuel further scrutiny of the role that Silicon Valley technology giants may have unwittingly played during last year's election. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow's goal was to help elect Donald Trump. Google has uncovered less than $100,000 in ad spending potentially linked to Russian actors, the source said.
It's funny.  Laugh.

Parody 'Subgenius' Religion Wants to Crowdfund An Alien-Contacting Beacon (gofundme.com) 78

In 1979 the followers of J. R. "Bob" Dobbs founded a satirical religion called the Church of the Subgenius. (Slackware Linux reportedly drew its name from the "pursuit of Slack", a comfort-seeking tenet of the 38-year-old parody religion.) Combining UFOs and conspiracy theories with some social critiques (and a few H.P. Lovecraft characters), the strange group is now re-emerging online with an official Facebook page -- and a slick new video channel.

In "Adventures in the Forbidden Sciences," former church CEO K'taden Legume announces that in January of 2016, "the Subgenius Foundation received an overdue bill for a storage locker in the Pacific Northwest registered under the name J. R. Dobbs. Behind the steel door was a freight elevator leading deep underground to what was long considered to be a myth: The church's long-abandoned forbidden science laboratories. Hidden in a forgotten cavern, packed floor-to-ceiling with thousands of crates dating back to the mid-19th century." Eighteen months of experimentation lead to clues about a flying saucer arriving on "the Black Day" -- and one last chance at eternal salvation and everlasting Slack: the construction of an alien-contacting beacon. Legume calls it "our best last hope for getting off of this planet. We have the tech. We have the moxie to do this, but to finish the beacon -- we need your help."

"The Beacon will be constructed by a team of 'Forbidden Scientists' led by former church CEO Dr. K'taden Legume," writes new Slashdot reader Ktaden Legume, touting a new $25,000 campaign to crowdfund the beacon's construction.

So far it's raised $294.
Youtube

YouTube Alters Algorithm To Promote News, Penalize Vegas Shooting Conspiracy Theories (usatoday.com) 372

An anonymous reader quotes USA Today: YouTube has changed its powerful search algorithm to promote videos from more mainstream news outlets in search results after people looking for details on the Las Vegas shooting were served up conspiracy theories and misinformation. YouTube confirmed the changes Thursday... In the days after the mass shooting, videos abounded on YouTube, some questioning whether the shooting occurred and others claiming law enforcement officials had deceived the public about what really happened...

Public outcry over YouTube videos promoting conspiracy theories is just the latest online flap for the major U.S. Internet companies. Within hours of the attack, Facebook and Google were called out for promoting conspiracy theories... Helping drive YouTube's popularity is the "Up next" column which suggests additional videos to viewers. The Wall Street Journal found incidents this week in which YouTube suggested videos promoting conspiracy theories next to videos from mainstream news sources. YouTube acknowledged issues with the "Up next" algorithm and said it was looking to promote more authoritative results there, too.

At least one video was viewed over a million times, and Slashdot reader Lauren Weinstein writes that "I've received emails from Google users who report YouTube pushing links to some of those trending fake videos directly to their phones as notifications." He's suggesting that from now on, YouTube's top trending videos should be reviewed by actual humans.
AI

Tim O'Reilly: Don't Fear AI, Fear Ourselves (wired.com) 72

Tim O'Reilly, publisher of geeky books, "seizes on this singular moment in history" for a futuristic new book of his own, according to this interview with Steven Levy. An anonymous reader writes: When it comes to artificial intelligence, O'Reilly sees a reason for optimism in the fact that we're already discussing biased algorithms. ("We had plenty of bias before but we couldn't see it.") O'Reilly ultimately believes AI won't take away our jobs, and even argues that we're defining it all wrong. "What we now call AI is just the next stage of us weaving our intelligence together into a greater whole. If you think about the internet as weaving all of us together, transmitting ideas, in some sense an AI might be the equivalent of a multi-cellular being and we're its microbiome, as opposed to the idea that an AI will be like the golem or the Frankenstein. If that's the case, the systems we are building today, like Google and Facebook and financial markets, are really more important than the fake ethics of worrying about some far future AI.

"We tend to be afraid of new technology and we tend to demonize it, but to me, you have to use it as an opportunity for introspection. Our fears ultimately should be of ourselves and other people."

O'Reilly calls financial markets "the first rogue AI," while also priasing innovators like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos for moving humankind in new and positive directions. And he also calls Uber "a good metaphor for what's right and wrong in tech" because of its clashes with both its drivers and city governments.

"It's interesting that Lyft, which has been both more cooperative in general and better to drivers, is gaining share. That indicates there's a competitive advantage in doing it right, and you can only go so far being an ass."
The Almighty Buck

Browsers Will Store Credit Card Details Similar To How They Save Passwords (bleepingcomputer.com) 182

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bleeping Computer: A new W3C standard is slowly creeping into current browser implementations, a standard that will simplify the way people make payments online. Called the Payment Request API, this new standard relies on users entering and storing payment card details inside browsers, just like they currently do with passwords. The API is also a godsend for the security and e-commerce industry since it spares store owners from having to store payment card data on their servers. This means less regulation and no more fears that an online store might expose card data when getting hacked. By moving the storage of payment card details in the browser, the responsibility of keeping these details safe is moved to the browser and the user. Browsers that support the Payment Request API include Google Chrome, who first added support for it in Chrome for Android 53 in August 2016, and added desktop support last month with the release of Chrome 61. Microsoft Edge also supports the Payment Request API since September 2016, but the feature requires that users register a Microsoft Wallet account before using it. Firefox and Safari are still working on supporting the API, and so are browser implementations from Facebook and Samsung, both eager to provide a simpler payment mechanism than the one in use today.
Security

Disqus Confirms Over 17.5 Million Email Addresses Were Stolen In 2012 Hack of Its Comments Tool (zdnet.com) 81

Disqus, a company that builds and provides a web-based comment plugin for news websites, said Friday that hackers stole more than 17.5 million email addresses in a data breach in July 2012. "About a third of those accounts contained passwords, salted and hashed using the weak SHA-1 algorithm, which has largely been deprecated in recent years in favor of stronger password scramblers," reports ZDNet. From the report: Some of the exposed user information dates back to 2007. Many of the accounts don't have passwords because they signed up to the commenting tool using a third-party service, like Facebook or Google. The theft was only discovered this week after the database was sent to Troy Hunt, who runs data breach notification service Have I Been Pwned, who then informed Disqus of the breach. The company said in a blog post, posted less than a day after Hunt's private disclosure, that although there was no evidence of unauthorized logins, affected users will be emailed about the breach. Users whose passwords were exposed will have their passwords force-reset. The company warned users who have used their Disqus password on other sites to change the password on those accounts.
Facebook

Facebook Removed References To Russia From Fake-News Report (arstechnica.com) 54

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Back in April, Facebook published a report called "Information Operations and Facebook" that detailed the company's efforts to combat fake news and other misinformation campaigns on the site. The report was released in the midst of an uproar over potential Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign. But the report doesn't mention Russia by name, saying only that Facebook's data "does not contradict" a January report by the Obama administration detailing Russian meddling in the election. On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the decision not to mention Russia was hotly debated inside Facebook. An earlier draft of the report discussed what Facebook knew at that time about Russian meddling, but that material was ultimately removed from the report before publication. "Some at Facebook pushed to not include a mention of Russia in the report because the company's understanding of Russian activity was too speculative, according to one of the people," according to the Journal.
America Online

Regulate Facebook Like AIM (vice.com) 105

New submitter gooddogsgotoheaven shares a report from Motherboard arguing why the U.S. government should regulate Facebook like AIM: Sixteen years ago, the FCC approved a merger between American Online and Time Warner, but with several conditions. As part of the deal, AOL was required to make its web portal compatible with other chat apps. The government stopped AOL from building a closed system where everyone had to use AIM, meaning it had to adopt interoperability -- the ability to be compatible with other computer systems. The FCC required AOL to be compatible with at least one instant messaging rival immediately after the merger went through. Within six months, the FCC required AOL to make its portal compatible with at least two other rivals, or face penalties. The FCC's decision changed how we communicate with each other on the internet. By forcing AIM to make room for competition, a range of messaging apps and services, as well as social networks emerged. Instead of being limited to AIM, people who used AOL's portal could choose other platforms.

If Facebook were forced to make room for other services on its platform in the same way AOL made room for other chat apps, new services could emerge. "Facebook has to allow people to access their relationships however they want through other businesses or tools that are not controlled by Facebook," Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, said. "Having them control and mediate the structure of those relationships -- that's not right." Of course, people can opt out of Facebook and choose to use other, smaller social networks. But those businesses are essentially unable to thrive because of the hold Facebook has on how we communicate online. All our friends and family are already on Facebook, and because the platform is not regulated to allow competition, it's incredibly difficult for other, newer ones to emerge.

Communications

Hello, Mobile Operators? This is Your Age of Disruption Calling (mckinsey.com) 43

Analysts at McKinsey & Company write: For the better part of a decade, telecom companies have suffered through declining revenues, cash flow, and return on investment just as tech companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and others have mushroomed by building their businesses on the operators' own infrastructure. While these tech visionaries have enjoyed well over $1 trillion in combined market-cap growth by innovating and thinking differently and adeptly, telecom companies have tried to compete by implementing the same old survival tactics: cutting costs, reducing the workforce, and timidly entering into new business adjacencies. The trouble is that playbook no longer applies. [...] We've seen this before in other capital-intensive industries. The airline industry, for example, despite incredible growth in travel during the early part of this century, destroyed economic value until 2015 when, for the first time, the industry-level average return on invested capital (ROIC) was just in excess of its cost of capital. This return to economic profitability was achieved through a combination of falling fuel prices; significant industry consolidation, especially in the United States; and the growth of ancillary revenues, such as checked-baggage fees. If global operators were to follow the airline industry's prior trajectory, the implications could be dramatic. That's not just for the operators that would see declining investment as capital and talent move into sectors with superior returns but also for current and future over-the-top (OTT) players, such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Netflix, who rely so heavily on the operators' networks and investments.
America Online

RIP AIM: AOL Instant Messenger Dies in December (usatoday.com) 117

It's the end of an era: as of December 15, AOL's Instant Messenger will no longer exist. From a report: In a statement from Oath, the new entity formed under Verizon combining AOL with the recently-acquired Yahoo, the service will be discontinued. "AIM tapped into new digital technologies and ignited a cultural shift, but the way in which we communicate with each other has profoundly changed," said Michael Albers, VP of Communications Product at Oath. AIM was a staple of personal computers since first launching in 1997, serving as a precursor to popular apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. However, AIM couldn't make the seamless transition to mobile, where most users rely on instant messaging services. Users will be able to manually download any images or files on AIM before the service shuts down. However, users won't be able to export or save their Buddy List, the group of contacts available on AIM.
Slashdot.org

20 Years of Stuff That Matters 726

Today we're marking Slashdot's 20th birthday. 20 years is a long time on the internet. Many websites have come and gone over that time, and many that stuck around haven't had any interest in preserving their older content. Fortunately, as Slashdot approaches its 163,000th story, we've managed to keep track of almost all our old postings - all but the first 2^10, or so. In addition to that, we've held onto user comments, the lifeblood of the site, from 1999 onward. As we celebrate Slashdot's 20th anniversary this month, we thought we'd take a moment to highlight a few of the notable or interesting stories and discussions that have happened here in the past decade and a half. This is part of our 20-year anniversary celebration, and we've set up a page to coordinate user meet-ups. We'll be continuing to run some special pieces throughout the month, so keep an eye out for those.

Read on for a trip down memory lane.

Update: Slashdot founder CmdrTaco has taken to Medium with some of his own Slashdot nostalgia.
Facebook

Facebook To Build $1 Billion Data Center In Virginia (cnn.com) 44

It's official: Facebook will be investing $1 billion in a new data center in Henrico County, which is just outside Richmond, Virginia. According to CNNMoney, Facebook is putting $750 million into construction and $250 million to multiple solar facilities that will power the data center. From the report: The investment is expected to create 100 full-time jobs. Facebook will receive about $19 million in state tax exemptions through 2035, according to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Facebook already has data centers in Oregon, North Carolina and Iowa. Centers in Fort Worth, Texas; Los Lunas, New Mexico; and New Albany, Ohio are currently under construction. "One of the many important factors in our search for a new data center location is being able to source clean and renewable energy. We also look for great partnerships within the local community, robust infrastructure ... and a strong pool of local talent," Rachel Peterson, Facebook's director of data center strategy, said in a statement.
Advertising

Facebook Fought Rules That Could Have Exposed Fake Russian Ads (bloomberg.com) 193

According to Bloomberg, Facebook has for years fought to avoid being transparent about who's behind election-related ads online. "Since 2011, Facebook has asked the Federal Election Commission for blanket exemptions from political advertising disclosure rules -- transparency that could have helped it avoid the current crisis over Russia ad spending ahead of the 2016 U.S. election," reports Bloomberg. From the report: Communications law requires traditional media like TV and radio to track and disclose political ad buyers. The rule doesn't apply online, an exemption that's helped Facebook's self-serve advertising business generate hundreds of millions of dollars in political campaign spots. When the company was smaller, the issue was debated in some policy corners of Washington. Now that the social network is such a powerful political tool, with more than 2 billion users, the topic is at the center of a debate about the future of American democracy. Back in 2011, Facebook argued for the exemption for the same reasons as internet search giant Google: its ads are too small and have a character limit, leaving no room for language saying who paid for a campaign, according to documents on the FEC's website. Some FEC commissioners agreed, while others argued that Facebook could provide a clickable web link to get more information about the ad.

Facebook wouldn't budge. It warned that FEC proposals for more political ad disclosure could hinder free speech in a 2011 opinion written by Marc Elias, a high-powered Democratic lawyer who later became general counsel for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign. Colin Stretch, a top Facebook lawyer, said the agency "should not stand in the way of innovation," and warned that such rules would quickly become obsolete. When it came time for the FEC to decide in June 2011, the agency's six commissioners split on a 3-3 vote. Facebook didn't get its exemption, so an advertiser using its platform was still subject to a 2006 ruling by the FEC requiring disclosure. But the company allowed ads to run without those disclaimers, leaving it up to ad buyers to comply.

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