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Russian Fake News Ecosystem Targets Syrian Human Rights Workers
Posted by News Fetcher on May 12 '18 at 08:31 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's agenda-following department:
chicksdaddy shares a report from The Security Ledger: Kremlin linked news sites like RT and Sputnik figure prominently in an online disinformation campaign portraying Syrian humanitarian workers ("White Helmets") as terrorists and crisis actors, according to an analysis (PDF) by researchers at University of Washington and Harvard. An online "echosystem" of propaganda websites including Russia backed news outlets Sputnik and RT is attacking the credibility of humanitarian workers on the ground in rebel occupied Syria, according to a new analysis by researchers at The University of Washington and Harvard University. Online rumors circulated through so called "alternative" media sites have attacked the Syrian Civil Defense (aka "White Helmets") as "crisis actors" and Western agents working on behalf of the U.S. and NATO. Statistical analysis of the online rumors reveal a tight network of websites sharing nearly identical content via Twitter and other social media platforms, wrote Kate Starbird. Starbird is an Assistant Professor of Human Centered Design & Engineering at University of Washington and a leading expert on so-called "crisis informatics." In activity reminiscent of the disinformation campaigns that roiled the U.S. Presidential election in 2016, articles by what Starbird describes as "a few prominent journalists and bloggers" writing for self described "alternative" news sites like 21stCenturyWire, GlobalResearch, MintPressNews, and ActivistPost are picked up by other, smaller and more niche websites including both left- and right-leaning partisan news sites, "clickbait sites," and conspiracy theory websites. Government funded media outlets from Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Russia figure prominently in the Syrian disinformation campaign, Starbird's team found. In particular, "Russian government-funded media outlets (i.e. SputnikNews and RT) play a prominent and multi-faceted role within this ecosystem," she wrote.

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Scientists To Grow 'Mini-Brains' Using Neanderthal DNA
Posted by News Fetcher on May 12 '18 at 07:10 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's brain-in-a-jar department:
Scientists will grow small amounts of tissue, known as brain organoids, from human stem cells that have been edited to contain "Neanderthalized" versions of several genes. "The lentil-sized organoids, which are incapable of thoughts or feelings, replicate some of the basic structures of an adult brain," reports The Guardian. "They could demonstrate for the first time if there were meaningful differences between human and Neanderthal brain biology." From the report: The latest work focuses on differences in three genes known to be crucial for brain development. Using the editing technique Crispr, changes have been introduced into human stem cells to make them closer to Neanderthal versions. The stem cells are coaxed using chemical triggers to become neurons, which spontaneously clump together and self-organize into miniature brain-like structures that grow to a few millimeters in diameter. The lack of any sensory input means the internal wiring is haphazard and varies from one blob to the next. The scientists will compare the Neanderthalized organoids and the fully human ones to assess the speed at which the stem cells divide, develop and organize into three-dimensional brain structures and whether the brain cells wire up differently. The work won't reveal which species is "smarter," but could hint at differences in the ability to plan, socialize and use language.

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The Tech Used To Monitor Inmate Calls Is Able To Track Civilians Too
Posted by News Fetcher on May 12 '18 at 05:50 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's off-label-use department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Daily Beast: Securus Technologies' programs are used in thousands of prisons and detention centers nationwide to track calls to inmates, but the company's offerings are also capable of tracking and geolocating people's cellphones without any warrant or oversight, The New York Times reports. Securus obtains location information though data from major cellphone providers the same way marketers do. It also advertises the technology to law-enforcement agencies as a tool to find murder suspects, missing people, and those at-large -- but the feature can easily be abused for access to millions of cellphone users.

One Missouri sheriff used the service at least 11 times between 2014 and 2017, and secretly tracked state highway patrol members and a judge, prosecutors said. While the company said it "required customers to upload a legal document" to certify the location lookup, the Federal Communications Commission claims Securus did not "conduct any review of surveillance requests" -- giving law enforcement tracking power without verification of approval or oversight.

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Microsoft To Replace Surface Pro 4 Tablets Affected By Screen Flickering
Posted by News Fetcher on May 12 '18 at 03:10 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's flickergate department:
Microsoft is unable to find a software or firmware fix for Surface Pro 4 tablets affected by screen flickering, so it's launching a replacement program for them. Any Surface Pro 4 units experiencing the problem will be covered for up to three years from the time of original purchase. The Verge reports: The annoying flickering has been well-documented on Microsoft's support forums, with some users taking drastic steps like putting their Surface Pro 4 in a freezer to temporarily fix the issue. Back in February, Microsoft said it was closely monitoring the situation, and the company came to the conclusion that there's no convenient fix. Some customers have already paid for a screen replacement to stop the flickering since the problem typically arises when a machine is out of warranty; Microsoft says they'll be "offered a refund." The company notes that this three-year coverage doesn't extend to other problems your Surface Pro might experience outside the warranty period; it only applies to the screen issue. Replacement devices are refurbished -- not brand new -- Surface Pro 4s.

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Google's 'Duplex' System Will Identify Itself When Talking To People, Says Google
Posted by News Fetcher on May 11 '18 at 11:10 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's eerily-realistic department:
Google's "Duplex" AI system was the most talked about product at Google I/O because it called into question the ethics of an AI that cannot easily be distinguished from a real person's voice. The service lets its voice-based digital assistant make phone calls and write emails for you, causing many to ask if the system should come with some sort of warning to let the other person on the line know they are talking to a computer. According to Business Insider, "a Google spokesperson confirmed [...] that the creators of Duplex will 'make sure the system is appropriately identified' and that they are 'designing this feature with disclosure built-in.'" From the report: Here's the full statement from Google: "We understand and value the discussion around Google Duplex -- as we've said from the beginning, transparency in the technology is important. We are designing this feature with disclosure built-in, and we'll make sure the system is appropriately identified. What we showed at I/O was an early technology demo, and we look forward to incorporating feedback as we develop this into a product."

Google CEO Sundar Pichai preemptively addressed ethics concerns in a blog post that corresponded with the announcement earlier this week, saying: "It's clear that technology can be a positive force and improve the quality of life for billions of people around the world. But it's equally clear that we can't just be wide-eyed about what we create. There are very real and important questions being raised about the impact of technology and the role it will play in our lives. We know the path ahead needs to be navigated carefully and deliberately -- and we feel a deep sense of responsibility to get this right." In addition, several Google insiders have told Business Insider that the software is still in the works, and the final version may not be as realistic (or as impressive) as the demonstration.

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Tesla's Giant Battery In Australia Reduced Grid Service Cost By 90 Percent
Posted by News Fetcher on May 11 '18 at 08:30 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's energy-star-certified department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Electrek: Tesla's giant Powerpack battery in Australia has been in operation for about 6 months now and we are just starting to discover the magnitude of its impact on the local energy market. A new report now shows that it reduced the cost of the grid service that it performs by 90% and it has already taken a majority share of the market. It is so efficient that it reportedly should have made around $1 million in just a few days in January, but Tesla complained last month that they are not being paid correctly because the system doesn't account for how fast Tesla's Powerpacks start discharging their power into the grid.

The system is basically a victim of its own efficiency, which the Australian Energy Market Operator confirmed is much more rapid, accurate and valuable than a conventional steam turbine in a report published last month. Now McKinsey and Co partner Godart van Gendt presented new data at the Australian Energy Week conference in Melbourne this week and claimed that Tesla's battery has now taken over 55% of the frequency control and ancillary services (FCAS) services and reduced cost by 90%. "In the first four months of operations of the Hornsdale Power Reserve (the official name of the Tesla big battery, owned and operated by Neoen), the frequency ancillary services prices went down by 90 percent, so that's 9-0 per cent," said Gendt via Reneweconomy. "And the 100MW battery has achieved over 55 percent of the FCAS revenues in South Australia. So it's 2 percent of the capacity in South Australia achieving 55 percent of the revenues in South Australia."

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NASA Will Send Helicopter To Mars To Test Otherworldly Flight
Posted by News Fetcher on May 11 '18 at 05:51 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's heavier-than-air department:
NASA is sending a small, autonomous rotorcraft to Mars via the agency's Mars 2020 rover mission, currently scheduled to launch in July 2020. NASA says the goal of the mission is to "demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet." BBC reports: Its design team spent more than four years shrinking a working helicopter to "the size of a softball" and cutting its weight to 1.8kg (4lbs). It is specifically designed to fly in the atmosphere of Mars, which is 100 times thinner than Earth's. NASA describes the helicopter as a "heavier-than-air" aircraft because the other type -- sometimes called an aerostat -- refers to aircraft like balloons and blimps. The helicopter's two blades will spin at close to 3,000 revolutions a minute, which NASA says is about 10 times faster than a standard helicopter on Earth.

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Google Is Building a Pixel-Branded Smartwatch, Says Report
Posted by News Fetcher on May 11 '18 at 05:51 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's harmonic-convergence department:
Prolific technology leaker Evan Blass received a tip yesterday that Google could unveil a Pixel watch at its annual hardware event later this year. Wear OS didn't get any serious stage time at Google I/O this week, so it's likely to be covered in more detail at the next event. Furthermore, Qualcomm revealed on Tuesday that they are launching a new smartwatch system on a chip (SoC) this fall too. VentureBeat reports: WinFuture concurs that a Google smartwatch is coming, and adds that it will be available in three models, codenamed Ling, Triton, and Sardine. The German publication does not know how the three Pixel watches might differ (presumably either size, connectivity, or finish -- and of course, price).

This is not the first time we've heard about a potential "Pixel-branded watch." Still, this time around is hard to ignore when it comes from Blass, and just two days after Pankaj Kedia, Qualcomm's senior director of wearables, told Wareable that Wear OS smartwatches from several partners would arrive by the holidays, preceded by new chips announced this fall "alongside a lead smartwatch." It all lines up.

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SpaceX Successfully Launches Satellite With New Upgraded 'Block 5' Falcon 9 Rocket
Posted by News Fetcher on May 11 '18 at 04:30 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's new-kid-on-the-block department:
Thelasko shares a report from The Verge: This afternoon, SpaceX landed the most powerful version yet of its Falcon 9 rocket, after launching the vehicle from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The so-named Block 5 upgrade took off from the company's launchpad at Kennedy Space Center, sending a communications satellite into orbit for Bangladesh and then touched down on one of the company's drone ships in the Atlantic. It was the 25th successful rocket landing for SpaceX, and the 14th on one of the company's drone ships.

It also marks the first launch of the Block 5, the vehicle that will carry humans to space for NASA. The Block 5 is meant to be SpaceX's most reusable rocket yet, with many upgrades put in place that negate the need for extensive refurbishment between flights. In fact, the first Block 5 rockets will eventually be able to fly up to 10 times without the need for any maintenance after landings, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said during a pre-launch press conference. Ideally, once one of these rocket lands, SpaceX will turn it horizontal, attach a new upper stage and nose cone on top, turn it vertical on the launchpad, fill it with propellant, and then launch it again. Musk noted that the vehicles would need some kind of moderate maintenance after the 10-flight mark, but it's possible that each rocket could fly up to 100 times in total.

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Microsoft Turned Customers Against the Skype Brand
Posted by News Fetcher on May 11 '18 at 04:30 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's love-hate-relationship department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Since acquiring Skype from private equity investors, Microsoft has refocused the online calling service on the corporate market, a change that has made Skype less intuitive and harder to use, prompting many Skypers to defect to similar services operated by Apple, Google, Facebook and Snap. The company hasn't updated the number of Skype users since 2016, when it put the total at 300 million. Some analysts suspect the numbers are flat at best, and two former employees describe a general sense of panic that they're actually falling. The ex-Microsofters, who requested anonymity to discuss confidential statistics, say that as late as 2017 they never heard a figure higher than 300 million discussed internally.

Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella has repeatedly said he wants the company's products to be widely used and loved. By turning Skype into a key part of its lucrative Office suite for corporate customers, Microsoft is threatening what made it appealing to regular folks in the first place. [...] Focusing on corporations was a reasonable strategy and one shared by Skype's prior management. Originally [former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer] and company pledged to let Skype operate independently from Lync, Microsoft's nascent internet phone service for corporations. But two years later the company began merging the two into Skype for Business and folded that into Office. Today, Microsoft is using Skype for Business to help sell subscriptions to its cloud-based Office 365 and steal customers from Cisco. Microsoft has essentially turned Skype into a replacement for a corporate telephone system -- with a few modern features borrowed from instant messaging, artificial intelligence and social networking. In closing, Bloomberg argues "the complexity of the corporate software (security, search, and the ability to host town halls) crowds out the simplicity consumers prefer (ease-of-use and decent call quality)."

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YouTube Rolls Out New Tools To Help You Stop Watching
Posted by News Fetcher on May 11 '18 at 03:10 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's shot-in-the-foot department:
At its Google I/O conference this week, YouTube announced a series of new controls that will allow users to set limits on their viewing, and then receive reminders telling them to "take a break." "The feature is rolling out now in the latest version of YouTube's app, along with others that limit YouTube's ability to send notifications, and soon, one that gives users an overview of their binge behavior so they can make better-informed decisions about their viewing habits," reports TechCrunch. From the report: With "Take a Break," available from YouTube's mobile app Settings screen, users can set a reminder to appear every 15, 30, 60, 90 or 180 minutes, at which point the video will pause. You can then choose to dismiss the reminder and keep watching, or close the app.

Also new is a feature that lets you disable notification sounds during a specified time period each day -- say, for example, from bedtime until the next morning. When users turn on the setting to disable notifications, it will, by default, disable them from 10 PM to 8 AM local time, but this can be changed. Combined with this is an option to get a scheduled digest of notifications as an alternative. And YouTube is preparing to roll out a "time watched profile" that will appear in the Account menu and display your daily average watch time, and how long you've watched YouTube videos today, yesterday and over the past week, along with a set of tools to help you manage your viewing habits.

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Earth's 'Bigger, Older Cousin' Maybe Doesn't Even Exist
Posted by News Fetcher on May 11 '18 at 03:10 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's never-ending-quest department:
Ever since astronomers started to detect planets beyond our solar system, they've been trying to find another world just like Earth. And few years ago, they announced that they'd found a planet that was the closest match yet -- Kepler-452b. Trouble is, some astronomers now say it's not possible to know for sure that this planet actually exists. From a report: "There's new information that we can now quantify which tells us something that we didn't know before," says Fergal Mullally, who used to be an astronomer on the science team for NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. In 2015, NASA declared that Kepler-452b was the first near-Earth-sized planet orbiting in the "habitable" zone around a star very similar to our sun. The space agency called it Earth's "bigger, older cousin," and scientists were so enthusiastic that one began quoting poetry at a news conference. The original science wasn't shoddy, Mullally says. It's just that, since then, researchers have learned more about the telescope's imperfections.

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'Father of GPS' Receives the IEEE Medal of Honor
Posted by News Fetcher on May 11 '18 at 01:50 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's game-changing department:
"A former paperboy from Wisconsin passionate about maps led the team in the Air Force responsible for designing the navigation system we use everyday," writes Slashdot reader dkatana. IoT Times reports: At the IEEE honors ceremony today in San Francisco, Bradford Parkinson, a retired Air Force colonel who spent his life between maps and navigation systems, will be awarded the 2018 IEEE Medal of Honor, "For fundamental contributions to and leadership in developing the design and driving the early applications of the Global Positioning System." The current Global Positioning System (GPS) did not exist until 1995, just 22 years ago, and the engineer who led the project for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) was Mr. Parkinson.

Parkinson, whose first job was delivering newspapers, had a passion for maps. He used those maps when canoeing to navigate the lakes and streams of Minnesota, aided by a hand compass. When he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1957 with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering, he joined the Air Force to study navigation systems. In 1960, when his superiors saw his engineering potential, they sent him to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue graduate studies. He became a protegee of Charles Stark (Doc) Draper, the father of inertial navigation, who was teaching at MIT at the time. Draper was the lead engineer developing the computer systems for NASA's Apollo program. [...] It was in 1972 when his path on inertial navigation collided with satellite systems. He had been recently promoted to colonel when he received a call from another colonel who was part of the Air Force inertial guidance "mafia." He moved to Los Angeles and joined the group, a bunch of Air Force engineers from MIT. Then Parkinson asked to work on the Air Force 621B program, the genesis of GPS.

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AI Trained To Navigate Develops Brain-Like Location Tracking
Posted by News Fetcher on May 11 '18 at 01:50 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's rise-of-the-machines department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Now that DeepMind has solved Go, the company is applying DeepMind to navigation. Navigation relies on knowing where you are in space relative to your surroundings and continually updating that knowledge as you move. DeepMind scientists trained neural networks to navigate like this in a square arena, mimicking the paths that foraging rats took as they explored the space. The networks got information about the rat's speed, head direction, distance from the walls, and other details. To researchers' surprise, the networks that learned to successfully navigate this space had developed a layer akin to grid cells. This was surprising because it is the exact same system that mammalian brains use to navigate. More DeepMind experiments showed that only the neural networks that developed layers that "resembled grid cells, exhibiting significant hexagonal periodicity (gridness)," could navigate more complicated environments than the initial square arena, like setups with multiple rooms. And only these networks could adjust their routes based on changes in the environment, recognizing and using shortcuts to get to preassigned goals after previously closed doors were opened to them. The study has been reported in the journal Science.

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The $100B Bet: The Meaning of the Vision Fund
Posted by News Fetcher on May 11 '18 at 12:30 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
Two years ago, if you had asked experts to identify the most influential person in technology, you would have heard some familiar names: Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Alibaba's Jack Ma or Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. Today there is a new contender: Masayoshi Son. The founder of SoftBank, a Japanese telecoms and internet firm, has put together an enormous investment fund that is busy gobbling up stakes in the world's most exciting young companies. The Vision Fund is disrupting both the industries in which it invests and other suppliers of capital [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; an alternative source wasn't immediately available]. From a report: But even if the fund ends up flopping, it will have several lasting effects on technology investing. The first is that the deployment of so much cash now will help shape the industries of the future. Mr Son is pumping money into "frontier technologies" from robotics to the internet of things. He already owns stakes in ride-hailing firms such as Uber; in WeWork, a co-working company; and in Flipkart, an Indian e-commerce firm that was this week sold to Walmart. In five years' time the fund plans to have invested in 70-100 technology unicorns, privately held startups valued at $1bn or more. Its money, often handed to entrepreneurs in multiples of the amounts they initially demand and accompanied by the threat that the cash will go to the competition if they balk, gives startups the wherewithal to outgun worse-funded rivals. Mr Son's bets do not have to pay off for him to affect the race. Mr Son's second impact will be on the venture-capital industry. To compete with the Vision Fund's pot of moolah, and with the forays of other unconventional investors, incumbents are having to bulk up.

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London Plans To Ban Junk Food Advertising On Public Transport
Posted by News Fetcher on May 11 '18 at 12:30 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's setting-precedence department:
Junk food advertising could be banned from the entire Transport for London network under proposals announced by Mayor Sadiq Khan, as he tries to tackle rising levels of childhood obesity in the city. From a report: "I want to reduce the influence and pressure that can be put on children and families to make unhealthy choices," Khan said in a statement announcing the proposals to ban advertisements for unhealthy food and drink on London's trains, buses and bus shelters. The mayor also proposed a ban on new hot food takeaway stores opening within 400 meters of schools. London has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in Europe -- nearly 40 percent of 10-11 year-olds in the capital are overweight or obese, according to the statement. Children from poorer areas are disproportionately affected by the "obesity epidemic," Khan said, adding that young people from Barking and Dagenham in East London are almost twice as likely to be overweight as children from the upmarket Richmond neighborhood.

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Microsoft Works To Port Ubuntu To Windows ARM
Posted by News Fetcher on May 11 '18 at 11:10 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department:
Billly Gates shares a report: It was this time last year that Microsoft announced that it was bringing Ubuntu to the Windows Store (now the Microsoft Store), along with other Linux distributions. If you check out the app in the Store now though, you'll find that it only works on x64 devices, meaning that you can't run it on any of the new Windows 10 on ARM PCs. That's all about to change though. In a session at Microsoft's Build 2018 developer conference today called Windows 10 on ARM for Developers, the company showed off Ubuntu running on an ARM PC, with the app coming from the Microsoft Store. It will finally support ARM64 PCs, although x86 devices are still out of luck.

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Malicious Apps Get Back on the Play Store Just by Changing Their Name
Posted by News Fetcher on May 11 '18 at 11:10 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's lol department:
Malicious Android apps that have been previously reported to Google are showing up again on company's marquee Play Store with new names, security researchers are reporting. BleepingComputer: Seven of these apps have been "rediscovered," said Symantec in a report published yesterday. The company's experts say the author of the original malicious apps didn't do anything special, but only changed the app's names, without making modifications to the code, and re-uploaded the apps on the Play Store from a new developer account under a new name. Symantec says it detected seven of these re-uploaded apps on the Play Store, which it re-reported to Google's security team and had them taken down again.

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North Korean Hackers Are Now Developing iPhone Spy Tools
Posted by News Fetcher on May 11 '18 at 09:50 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's shape-of-things-to-come department:
An anonymous reader shares a report: Probing the bowels of what he believed to be North Korean hacking architecture, American cybersecurity researcher Darien Huss found an outlier: iPhone software. It appeared at first glance to be a fairly mundane program, a mobile device management (MDM) tool. Such apps are typically used for businesses to remotely monitor and control employees' phones. But, according to Huss, it's most likely one of, if not the only, example of North Korean spyware for Apple's smartphone. It's unlikely the MDM app was anything other than malicious, said Huss, an employee of cybersecurity company Proofpoint. Tellingly, it was located on a server believed to contain other hacking tools, in particular those for Microsoft Windows, that he'd linked to one of the bigger North Korean hacking groups, the researcher explained to Forbes. If the iPhone tool is indeed a piece of spyware, Huss hasn't seen it used yet. He believes it's currently in development by that North Korean-linked hacker crew, though Proofpoint declined to provide additional details on his research.

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Facebook Plans To Create Its Own Cryptocurrency: Report
Posted by News Fetcher on May 11 '18 at 09:50 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department:
Facebook is "very serious" about launching its own cryptocurrency, news outlet Cheddar reported Friday. It's not the first time the idea of a Facebook coin has been floated, but it seems more apparent now in wake of Facebook's reshuffled executive structure and newly formed blockchain group. From the report: Facebook started studying blockchain almost a year ago, when a member of its corporate development team, Morgan Beller, began looking at how the social platform could use the emerging technology. At the time, Beller was the only Facebook employee devoted to studying blockchain, the digital and decentralized ledger that underpins cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. Her work was thrust into the spotlight this week when Facebook announced that the vice president in charge of the Messenger app, David Marcus, would lead a new team to "explore how to best leverage blockchain across Facebook, starting from scratch."

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