By BeauHD from Slashdot's wishful-thinking department
The GitHub repository at "996.ICU" in China has been calling out tech companies in the country that pressure their employees to work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days per week. "Since it went up last month, the page has been starred over 229,000 times, making it one of the most popular GitHub repositories on the site," reports PC Magazine. "But now a group of Microsoft employees are worried the Chinese government will force their employer to take the page down. So in response, they've been circulating an internal letter, urging Microsoft to stand up to any potential pressure to censor the GitHub page." From the report: "We encourage Microsoft and GitHub, companies which firmly believe in a healthy work-life balance, to keep the 996.ICU GitHub repository uncensored and available to everyone," reads the letter, which was shared with PCMag and started circulating internally on Sunday.
The GitHub repository now hosts a list of over 140 Chinese companies that allegedly demand their employees work 60 hours a week. Many foreign media outlets have also reported on the protest page. But reportedly, some attempts have been made to censor mention of the 996.ICU repository within China. Domestic browsers from Tencent, Qihoo 360, and Xiaomi recently prevented users from visiting the GitHub page, according to Abacus. It's why a group of Microsoft employees based largely in the U.S. decided to circulate a protest letter calling on Redmond to protect the GitHub page from censorship. Microsoft hasn't commented, but the company's two other web properties, Bing and LinkedIn, "have been forced to comply with the country's strict censorship demands," the report notes.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's systematic-meddling department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas has forced out three senior researchers with ties to China. The move comes amid nationwide investigations by federal officials into whether researchers are pilfering intellectual property from U.S. research institutions and running "shadow laboratories" abroad, according to a joint report by Science magazine and the Houston Chronicle. The National Institutes of Health began sending letters to the elite cancer center last August regarding the conduct of five researchers there. The letters discussed "serious violations" of NIH policies, including leaking confidential NIH grant proposals under peer review to individuals in China, failing to disclose financial ties in China, and other conflicts of interest. MD Anderson moved to terminate three of those researchers, two of whom resigned during the termination process. The center cleared the fourth and is still investigation the fifth. MD Anderson isn't the only institution dealing with this issue. The NIH sent similar letters to at least three other institutions, according to reporting by Science and the Houston Chronicle. Some advocates expressed concern over what they considered racial profiling while other researchers worried that such efforts to protect intellectual property would actually backfire. "These are the top talents foreign countries have been trying to recruit unsuccessfully," said Steven Pei, a University of Houston professor critical of the actions by MD Anderson. "We are now pushing them out of the Texas Medical Center, out of Houston, out of Texas, and out of the U.S. It seems we're helping foreign countries to accomplish what they could not do by themselves. We are hurting the American competitiveness."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's free-but-you-have-to-find-it department
ProPublica reports on the shady tactics TurboTax and other tax software companies use to prevent most Americans from filing their taxes for free. According to an agreement with the IRS, tax software companies are supposed to offer a "Free File" product to Americans making less than $66,000 a year. From the report: Here's what happened when we went looking. Our first stop was Google. We searched for "irs free file taxes." And we thought we found what we were looking for: Ads from TurboTax and others directing us to free products. The first link looked promising. It contained the word "free" five times! We clicked and were relieved to see that filing for free was guaranteed. We started the process by creating the profile of a TaskRabbit house cleaner who took in $29,000. We entered extensive personal information. TurboTax asked us to click through more than a dozen questions and prompts about our finances. After all of that, only then did we get the bad news: TurboTax revealed this wasn't going to be free at all. Turns out the house cleaner didn't qualify because he is a independent contractor. The charge? $119.99.
Then we tried with a second scenario. We went back to TurboTax.com and clicked on "FREE Guaranteed." This time, we went through the process as a Walgreens cashier without health insurance, entering personal information and giving the company lots of sensitive data. Again, TurboTax told us we had to pay -- this time because there's an extra form if you don't have insurance. The charge? $59.99. But wait. Are the house cleaner and the cashier not allowed to prepare and file their taxes for free because of their particular tax situations? No! According to the agreement between the IRS and the companies, anyone who makes less than $66,000 can prepare and file their taxes for free. After doing some digging in the source code, ProPublica found that TurboTax had branded them as "Non Free File Alliance" or NONFFA.
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By BeauHD from Slashdot's let's-make-a-deal department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Charter Communications won't be kicked out of New York after all. Nine months after a New York government agency ordered Charter to leave the state over its alleged failure to comply with merger conditions, state officials have announced a settlement that will let Charter stay in New York in exchange for further broadband expansions. The settlement will enforce a new version of the original merger conditions and require a $12 million payment, about half of which could help other ISPs deploy broadband.
The State Public Service Commission (PSC) had voted in July 2018 to revoke its approval of Charter's 2016 purchase of Time Warner Cable (TWC), saying Charter failed to meet interim deadlines for broadband-expansion requirements. The order, which came just a month after a $2 million fine, would have required Charter to sell the TWC system to another provider. But the PSC never enforced the merger revocation order as it repeatedly granted deadline extensions to Charter while the sides held settlement talks. The result is a proposed settlement between Charter and the state Department of Public Service (DPS) that was announced Friday. "Pursuant to the agreement, Charter would expand its network to provide high-speed broadband service to 145,000 residences and businesses entirely in Upstate New York; the network expansion would be completed by September 30, 2021 in accordance with a schedule providing frequent interim enforceable milestone requirements; and Charter will pay $12 million to expand broadband service to additional unserved and underserved premises," a DPS statement said.
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By msmash from Slashdot's growing-tension department
Two employee activists at Google say they have been retaliated against for helping to organize a walkout among thousands of Google employees in November, and are planning a "town hall" meeting on Friday for others to discuss alleged instances of retaliation. Wired: In a message posted to many internal Google mailing lists Monday, Meredith Whittaker, who leads Google's Open Research, said that after Google disbanded its external AI ethics council on April 4, she was told that her role would be "changed dramatically." Whittaker said she was told that, in order to stay at the company, she would have to "abandon" her work on AI ethics and her role at AI Now Institute, a research center she cofounded at New York University.
Claire Stapleton, another walkout organizer and a 12-year veteran of the company, said in the email that two months after the protest she was told she would be demoted from her role as marketing manager at YouTube and lose half her reports. After escalating the issue to human resources, she said she faced further retaliation. "My manager started ignoring me, my work was given to other people, and I was told to go on medical leave, even though I'm not sick," Stapleton wrote. After she hired a lawyer; the company conducted an investigation and seemed to reverse her demotion. "While my work has been restored, the environment remains hostile and I consider quitting nearly every day," she wrote.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
Luminary, a $100 million venture-backed podcasting company, will debut its service tomorrow. It offers two tiers to customers: subscription-based shows without ads or podcasts for free but deal with ads as a price. But it has already ruffled some feathers. From a report: When it rolls out to the public on iOS, Android, and the web, Luminary's podcast app will be missing some of the industry's biggest shows, including The New York Times's The Daily and Gimlet Media shows like Reply All and Homecoming. Shows by Anchor's network of smaller creators won't be on the app, nor will series from Parcast, both of which are owned by Spotify. By withholding their shows, the Times and Spotify are setting Luminary up to fail -- or at least struggle to get off on the right foot with users. It certainly seems like the first shot fired in the inevitable premium podcast war and could destabilize one of the first buzzy, well-funded entrants before it can make a dent in the industry. The decisions that happen now will reshape the way podcasts are distributed in the future.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's security-woes department
A popular hotspot finder app for Android exposed the Wi-Fi network passwords for more than two million networks. From a report: The app, downloaded by thousands of users, allowed anyone to search for Wi-Fi networks in their nearby area. The app allows the user to upload Wi-Fi network passwords from their devices to its database for others to use. That database of more than two million network passwords, however, was left exposed and unprotected, allowing anyone to access and download the contents in bulk. Sanyam Jain, a security researcher and a member of the GDI Foundation, found the database and reported the findings to TechCrunch. We spent more than two weeks trying to contact the developer, believed to be based in China, to no avail. Eventually we contacted the host, DigitalOcean, which took down the database within a day of reaching out. "We notified the user and have taken the [server] hosting the exposed database offline," a spokesperson told TechCrunch.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
As Apple and Amazon compete for a greater share of consumer dollars and attention, they also have a particularly intimate business relationship: Apple is spending more than $30 million a month on Amazon's cloud, CNBC reported Monday, citing citing people familiar with the matter. From the report: Apple's cloud expenditure reflects the company's determination to deliver online services like iCloud quickly and reliably, even if it must depend on a rival to do so. [...] In a February job posting, Apple said it was looking for someone who could "lead and architect our growing AWS footprint." Indeed, that expenditure is on track to expand. At the end of March, Apple's spending was on track to average more than $30 million per month in the first quarter of 2019. That would be more than 10 percent higher than a year earlier, according to two people familiar with the spending. If Apple's AWS use stays at those levels for the rest of 2019, its annual spending would exceed $360 million. Apple spent approximately $350 million in 2018, one of these people said.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's shape-of-things-to-come department
The European Parliament voted last week to interconnect a series of border-control, migration, and law enforcement systems into a gigantic, biometrics-tracking, searchable database of EU and non-EU citizens. From a report: This new database will be known as the Common Identity Repository (CIR) and is set to unify records on over 350 million people. Per its design, CIR will aggregate both identity records (names, dates of birth, passport numbers, and other identification details) and biometrics (fingerprints and facial scans), and make its data available to all border and law enforcement authorities.
Its primary role will be to simplify the jobs of EU border and law enforcement officers who will be able to search a unified system much faster, rather than search through separate databases individually. "The systems covered by the new rules would include the Schengen Information System, Eurodac, the Visa Information System (VIS) and three new systems: the European Criminal Records System for Third Country Nationals (ECRIS-TCN), the Entry/Exit System (EES) and the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS)," EU officials said last week.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's manufacturing-machines department
elainerd (Slashdot reader #94,528) shares an article from The Next Web:
Scientists from Cornell University have successfully constructed DNA-based machines with incredibly life-like capabilities. These human-engineered organic machines are capable of locomotion, consuming resources for energy, growing and decaying, and evolving. Eventually they die.
That sure sounds a lot like life, but Dan Luo, professor of biological and environmental engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell, who worked on the research, says otherwise. He told The Stanford Chronicle, "We are introducing a brand-new, lifelike material concept powered by its very own artificial metabolism. We are not making something that's alive, but we are creating materials that are much more lifelike than have ever been seen before." Just how lifelike? According to the research they're on par with biologically complex organisms such as mold.... "Dynamic biomaterials powered by artificial metabolism could provide a previously unexplored route to realize 'artificial' biological systems with regenerating and self-sustaining characteristics."
Basically, the Cornell team grew their own robots using a DNA-based bio-material, observed them metabolizing resources for energy, watched as they decayed and grew, and then programmed them to race against each other... Lead author on the team's paper, Shogo Hamada, told The Stanford Chronicle that "ultimately, the system may lead to lifelike self-reproducing machines."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's cutting-classes department
"I want to just take my Chromebook back and tell them I'm not doing it anymore," said Kallee Forslund, 16, a 10th grader in Wellington.
The New York Times reports on a "rebellion" that started in Kansas against an online "personalized learning" program funded by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, and developed by Facebook engineers -- including a classroom walk-out, a sit-in, and parent protests at public school board meetings.
Read the Times' pay-walled original article or this free alternate version. Some highlights:
Eight months earlier, public schools near Wichita had rolled out a web-based platform and curriculum from Summit Learning... Many families in the Kansas towns, which have grappled with underfunded public schools and deteriorating test scores, initially embraced the change. Under Summit's program, students spend much of the day on their laptops and go online for lesson plans and quizzes, which they complete at their own pace. Teachers assist students with the work, hold mentoring sessions and lead special projects. The system is free to schools. The laptops are typically bought separately.
Then, students started coming home with headaches and hand cramps. Some said they felt more anxious. One child began having a recurrence of seizures. Another asked to bring her dad's hunting earmuffs to class to block out classmates because work was now done largely alone. "We're allowing the computers to teach and the kids all looked like zombies," said Tyson Koenig, a factory supervisor in McPherson, who visited his son's fourth-grade class. In October, he pulled the 10-year-old out of the school. In a school district survey of McPherson middle school parents released this month, 77 percent of respondents said they preferred their child not be in a classroom that uses Summit. More than 80 percent said their children had expressed concerns about the platform...
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's it's-go-time department
CNN tells the story of 24-year-old "social media influencer" Rossi Lorathio Adams II who'd wanted his domain to be the slogan of his social media sites (which at one point had over a million followers on Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter). Unfortunately, that domain was already owned by another man in Iowa -- but Adams came up with a solution:
In June 2017, Adams enlisted his cousin to break into the domain owner's home and force him to transfer it. The cousin drove to the domain owner's house and provided a demand note [which contained "a series of directions on how to change an Internet domain name from the domain owner's GoDaddy account to one of Adams' GoDaddy accounts."] After entering the home, the intruder grabbed the victim's arm and ordered him to connect his computer to the internet. He put the firearm against the victim's head and ordered him to follow the instructions.
"Fearing for his life, the victim quickly turned to move the gun away from his head. The victim then managed to gain control of the gun," court records show. The victim shot the intruder multiple times and called the police. The intruder, Adams' cousin Sherman Hopkins Jr., was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year. Now it's Adams' turn. He will remain in custody pending sentencing. He faces a maximum 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's to-agree-press-1 department
Fast Company shares an essay from an anthropologist who researches human agency, algorithms, AI, and automation in the context of social systems:
With the advent of computational tools for quantitative measurement and metrics, and the development of machine learning based on the big data developed by those metrics, organizations, Amazon among them, started to transition through a period of what I refer to as "extreme data analysis," whereby anything and anyone that can be measured, is. This is a problem. Using counting, metrics, and implementation of outcomes from extreme data analysis to inform policies for humans is a threat to our well-being, and results in the stories we are hearing about in the warehouse, and in other areas of our lives, where humans are too often forfeiting their agency to algorithms and machines. Unfortunately, after decades of building this quantitative scaffolding, a company such as Amazon has pretty much baked it into their infrastructure and their culture....
As the world continues to automate things, processes, and services, humans are put in positions where we must constantly adapt, since at the moment, automation cannot, and does not, cooperate with us outside of its pre-programmed repertoire. Thus, in many instances we must do the yielding of our agency and our choices, to the algorithms or robots, to reach the cooperative outcomes we require.... If every process is eventually automated and restricts human agency, while simultaneously requiring our servitude to function, we will be pinned to the wall with no choices, nothing left to give, and no alternatives for coping with it.
One example provided was the Amazon worker who complained the warehouse temperatures were always kept too hot -- to accommodate the needs of Amazon's robots. But the article argues we also forfeit agency "Every time we use a computer, or any computationally based device...
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