By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
Facebook has been ordered to curb its data collection practices in Germany after a landmark ruling on Thursday that the world's largest social network abused its market dominance to gather information about users without their consent. From a report: The order applies to data collected by Facebook-owned platforms like WhatsApp and Instagram, but also third-party sources that Facebook uses to flesh out its advertising profiles, including those of non-users. The Bundeskartellamt, or Federal Cartel Office (FCO), has given Facebook one month to appeal the landmark decision, which comes after a three-year investigation. If the appeal fails, the tech company will have to ensure these data sources are not combined without consent within the next four months. Although the ruling only applies within Germany, the decision could influence regulators in other countries. Gizmodo adds: Facebook insists that combining all of that data is actually great. In fact, the company says, it's keeping everyone safe from stuff like terrorism and child abuse. From Facebook's statement this morning: "Facebook has always been about connecting you with people and information you're interested in. We tailor each person's Facebook experience so it's unique to you, and we use a variety of information to do this -- including the information you include on your profile, news stories you like or share and what other services share with us about your use of their websites and apps. Using information across our services also helps us protect people's safety and security, including, for example, identifying abusive behavior and disabling accounts tied to terrorism, child exploitation and election interference across both Facebook and Instagram."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's sneaky-bastards department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Many major companies, like Air Canada, Hollister and Expedia, are recording every tap and swipe you make on their iPhone apps. In most cases you won't even realize it. And they don't need to ask for permission. You can assume that most apps are collecting data on you. Some even monetize your data without your knowledge. But TechCrunch has found several popular iPhone apps, from hoteliers, travel sites, airlines, cell phone carriers, banks and financiers, that don't ask or make it clear -- if at all -- that they know exactly how you're using their apps. Worse, even though these apps are meant to mask certain fields, some inadvertently expose sensitive data.
By BeauHD from Slashdot's complex-cognitive-thinking department
According to a new study published in the journal Science Advances, researchers from Australia and France have shown that bees can perform simple arithmetic, adding and subtracting small numbers by studying color-coded shapes. CNET reports: To test the buzzers' ability to perform arithmetic, the team used a three-chambered maze shaped like a Y, training bees to enter through a hole into a small chamber where they would see their first stimulus: blue or yellow shapes on a plain, grey background. The number of shapes varied between 1 and 5 and the color of the shapes told the bee whether it needed to add one (blue) or subtract one (yellow) from the initial number. The bee then flew into a subsequent chamber which presented both a correct option and an incorrect option. To train the bees, the correct option rewarded the critters with a drop of tasty sugar solution -- a delightful dessert for the bee. On the other hand, selecting the incorrect solution resulted in a nasty drop of quinine -- like a slab of Brussels sprouts slathered in chocolate.
The testing procedure itself focused on 14 bees undergoing four tests of 10 choices. The tests themselves were "non-reinforced," so they didn't receive reward or punishment when selecting their "answers" during testing. Because the bees were subjected to two answers each time, the expectation is that -- purely by chance -- they would select the correct answer 50 percent of the time. But the bees performed significantly better than chance would predict, selecting the correct answer around 65 percent of the time.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's trouble-trends department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Global warming could temporarily hit 1.5C above pre-industrial levels for the first time between now and 2023, according to a long-term forecast by the Met Office. Meteorologists said there was a 10% chance of a year in which the average temperature rise exceeds 1.5C, which is the lowest of the two Paris agreement targets set for the end of the century. Until now, the hottest year on record was 2016, when the planet warmed 1.11C above pre-industrial levels, but the long-term trend is upward. In the five-year forecast released on Wednesday, the Met Office highlights the first possibility of a natural El Niño combining with global warming to exceed the 1.5C mark. Climatologists stressed this did not mean the world had broken the Paris agreement 80 years ahead of schedule because international temperature targets are based on 30-year averages. Although it would be an outlier, scientists said the first appearance in their long-term forecasts of such a "temporary excursion" was worrying, particularly for regions that are usually hard hit by extreme weather related to El Nino. This includes western Australia, South America, south and west Africa, and the Indian monsoon belt.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's coming-to-a-browser-near-you department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: After a year of secret preparations, Mozilla has publicly announced plans today to implement a "site isolation" feature, which works by splitting Firefox code in isolated OS processes, on a per-domain (site) basis. The concept behind this feature isn't new, as it's already present in Chrome, since May 2018. Currently, Firefox comes with one process for the browser's user interface, and a few (two to ten) processes for the Firefox code that renders the websites. With Project Fission (as this was named), Firefox split processes will change, and a separate one will be created for each website a user is accessing. This separation will be so fine-grained that just like in Chrome, if there's an iframe on the page, that iframe will receive its own process as well, helping protect users from threat actors that hide malicious code inside iframes (HTML elements that load other websites inside the current website). This is the same approach Chrome has taken with its "Site Isolation."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's next-gen-tech department
Researchers from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, have developed a new method of harvesting electricity from body heat to power wearable devices. "The new, wearable thermoelectric generator is also sourced from non-toxic and non-allergenic substances, making it a viable candidate for wearable technology," reports IEEE Spectrum. Furthermore, "the substrate on which the generator is built is plain old cotton fabric." From the report: More precisely, it's a vapor-deposited strip of cotton fabric -- coated with a material called, brace yourself, "persistently p-doped poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene)" a.k.a. PEDOT-Cl. One end of the fabric touches a person's skin and is thus at a person's body temperature. The other end, ideally, is exposed to the open air. The greater the difference in temperature between the two ends, the greater the electrical output. [...] The innovation here was to vapor deposit their polymer only onto the surface of the cotton fibers -- and not soak the entire cloth in the polymer.
By keeping the semiconducting material on the surface, they could allow for charge to flow through the material while still thermally insulating one end of the generator from the other. This stems from the competing demands of a good thermoelectric conductor. The ideal material must somehow keep one side hot and the other side cold -- in other words, the material must be thermally insulating. However, it must at the same time conduct electrons. Electrical current needs to flow, or it's not a very good generator. With this vapor deposition trick, she says, "The polymer can be really, really electrically conductive." And PEDOT-Cl fills that bill. However, because the polymer is only coated on the outer surface of the cotton fibers, the bulk of the material (i.e. the cotton) is still able to perform its thermally insulating role. The research has been published in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's connecting-the-dots department
Reddit is about to get a huge new round of investment of up to $300 million. As Gizmodo points out, "the first $150 million is reportedly expected to come from the Chinese tech giant Tencent, the first ever Asian technology company to pass a $500 billion market value." The investment is complicated since Reddit is banned in China via the Great Firewall of China. Also, "Tencent is not merely a resident of China's internet -- the company is one of the most important architects of the Great Firewall," reports Gizmodo. "It's an interesting source of cash for a Silicon Valley company whose product is essentially speech." From the report: Tencent is, at great cost and ultimately for great profit, literally reinventing censorship in China. The Great Firewall was not built by the Communist Party in Beijing, it's built by the tech giants all around China. This opaque but clearly powerful relationship between the $500 billion company and the Chinese government raises interesting and unanswered questions about Tencent's forays into the West, including questions about Reddit's future.
The pending Chinese investment in Reddit, a social media company with relatively little Chinese-language community, is a richer twist on that old tale, and it's a part of Tencent's expanding global investment strategy. The Chinese company owns about 12 percent of Snap, for instance, even though Snapchat is banned in China. Tencent also owns a piece of the chat app Discord even though, you guessed it, Discord is blocked in China. If Tencent does kick in $150 million on a nearly $3 billion valuation for Reddit, as TechCrunch reports, it will be interesting if we ever find out exactly what it means. What kind of influence and position, if any, will Tencent gain at Reddit? Neither company responded to Gizmodo's questions.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's stranger-things department
A world-first study has called for the mass retraction of more than 400 scientific papers on organ transplantation, amid fears the organs were obtained unethically from Chinese prisoners. The Guardian reports: The Australian-led study exposes a mass failure of English language medical journals to comply with international ethical standards in place to ensure organ donors provide consent for transplantation. The study was published on Wednesday in the medical journal BMJ Open. Its author, the professor of clinical ethics Wendy Rogers, said journals, researchers and clinicians who used the research were complicit in "barbaric" methods of organ procurement.
"There's no real pressure from research leaders on China to be more transparent," Rogers, from Macquarie University in Sydney, said. "Everyone seems to say, 'It's not our job.' The world's silence on this barbaric issue must stop." A report published in 2016 found a large discrepancy between official transplant figures from the Chinese government and the number of transplants reported by hospitals. While the government says 10,000 transplants occur each year, hospital data shows between 60,000 to 100,000 organs are transplanted each year. The report provides evidence that this gap is being made up by executed prisoners of conscience.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's words-of-wisdom department
Tim O'Reilly, writing for Quartz: The pursuit of monopoly has led Silicon Valley astray. Look no further than the race between Lyft and Uber to dominate the online ride-hailing market. Both companies are gearing up for their IPOs in the next few months. Street talk has Lyft shooting for a valuation between $15 and $30 billion dollars, and Uber valued at an astonishing $120 billion dollars. Neither company is profitable; their enormous valuations are based on the premise that if a company grows big enough and fast enough, profits will eventually follow.
Most monopolies or duopolies develop over time, and have been considered dangerous to competitive markets; now they are sought after from the start and are the holy grail for investors. If LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and entrepreneur Chris Yeh's new book Blitzscaling is to be believed, the Uber-style race to the top (or the bottom, depending on your point of view) is the secret of success for today's technology businesses. Blitzscaling promises to teach techniques that are "the lightning fast path to building massively valuable companies." Hoffman and Yeh argue that in today's world, it's essential to "achieve massive scale at incredible speed" in order to seize the ground before competitors do. By their definition, blitzscaling (derived from the blitzkrieg or "lightning war" strategy of Nazi general Heinz Guderian) "prioritizes speed over efficiency," and risks "potentially disastrous defeat in order to maximize speed and surprise."
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By msmash from Slashdot's fighting-back department
Ahead of India's national elections later this year, WhatsApp is trying to wrangle bulk messaging and suspicious accounts. From a report: At a press briefing in New Delhi early today, company executives said they have built a machine learning system to detect and weed out users who engage in inappropriate behavior, such as sending bulk messages and creating multiple accounts with the sole purpose of spreading questionable content on the platform. Automated suspicious accounts and people who seek to create havoc are barred from the platform at various stages -- at the time of registration, while messaging, and when they are reported by others, the company's executives said.
Overall, WhatsApp bans about 2 million accounts on its platform each month, a spokesperson said. To address this issue, a machine learning system uses learnings from the company's past dealings with problematic accounts and from specific scenarios engineers followed when taking down accounts, said Matt Jones, a software engineer at WhatsApp. This machine learning system has reached a level of sophistication that allows it to ban 20 percent of bad accounts at the time of registration, according to the company. Seventy-five percent of the 2 million accounts WhatsApp bans in a month are handled without human intervention or a report filed by a user, said Carl Woog, a spokesperson for WhatsApp.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's for-the-record department
The string of hotter-than-average annual temperatures continued in 2018, as Earth experienced its fourth-hottest year on record, according to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [PDF]. From a report: Also in 2018, the United States suffered 14 weather and climate disasters with costs surpassing $1 billion during a warmer- and wetter-than-average year, NOAA reports. Global temperatures across land and sea were 1.42 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, making 2018 the fourth-warmest year since record-keeping began in 1880, NOAA said in a report Thursday. In a separate report, NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies said global temperatures were 1.5 degrees above the 1951 to 1980 mean, also the fourth highest going back to 1880.
The 2-degrees Fahrenheit increase in global temperatures since the late 19th century has been driven largely by growing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from human activity, said the institute's director, Gavin Schmidt. The conclusion reaffirms NASA's long-established finding that man-made emissions are driving climate change, which President Donald Trump and some senior administration officials frequently challenge. By both agencies' measures, Earth has now recorded its five hottest annual average temperatures in the past five years. "2018 is yet again an extremely warm year on top of a long-term global warming trend," Schmidt said in a press release.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
A growing number of technology companies are trying to manufacture their own chips, cutting their reliance on Intel and other chip providers. This week Adobe pondered making a similar move. From a report: At an internal innovation conference on Tuesday, Adobe CTO Abhay Parasnis posed the matter as a question for his colleagues, noting the significant increases in performance from chips designed specifically for specialized tasks, like machine learning. "Do we need to become an ARM licensee?" he said, referring to the company whose underlying chip design is used across a wide range of devices, including computers, servers and phones.
"I don't have the answer, but it is something we are going to have to pay attention to." Later on Tuesday, Parasnis told Axios that there are a range of ways that Adobe could get deeper into silicon. "ARM does afford a model for a software company to package its technology much closer to silicon," he said, adding Adobe could do that without literally making its own chips, including by partnering with an existing chipmaker.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's security-woes department
Linuz Henze, a credible researcher, has revealed an exploit that in a single button press can reveal the passwords in a Mac's keychain. From a report: Keychain is where macOS stores most of the passwords used on the machine, ranging from iMessage private encryption keys to certificates, secured notes, Wi-Fi, and other Apple hardware passwords, app passwords, and web passwords. A pre-installed app called Keychain Access enables users to view the entire list of stored items, unlocking each one individually by repeatedly entering the system password, but Henze's KeySteal exploit grabs everything with a single press of a "Show me your secrets" button.
While the demo is run on a 2014 MacBook Pro without Apple's latest security chips, Henze says that it works "without root or administrator privileges and without password prompts, of course." It appears to work on the Mac's login and system keychains, but not iCloudâ(TM)s keychain. Generally, white hat security researchers publicly reveal flaws like this only after informing the company and giving it ample time to fix the issues. But Henze is refusing to assist Apple because it doesn't offer paid bug bounties for macOS.Read Replies (0)