By msmash from Slashdot's growing-scrutiny department
Across the technology industry, rank-and-file employees are demanding greater insight into how their companies are deploying the technology that they built. An anonymous reader shares a report: At Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Salesforce, as well as at tech start-ups, engineers and technologists are increasingly asking whether the products they are working on are being used for surveillance in places like China or for military projects in the United States or elsewhere. That's a change from the past, when Silicon Valley workers typically developed products with little questioning about the social costs. It is also a sign of how some tech companies, which grew by serving consumers and businesses, are expanding more into government work. And the shift coincides with concerns in Silicon Valley about the Trump administration's policies and the larger role of technology in government. "You can think you're building technology for one purpose, and then you find out it's really twisted," said Laura Nolan, 38, a senior software engineer who resigned from Google in June over the company's involvement in Project Maven, an effort to build artificial intelligence for the Department of Defense that could be used to target drone strikes. All of this has led to growing tensions between tech employees and managers. In recent months, workers at Google, Microsoft and Amazon have signed petitions and protested to executives over how some of the technology they helped create is being used. At smaller companies, engineers have begun asking more questions about ethics.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
Facebook on Monday unveiled a pair of smart speakers, complete with cameras and microphones, for your home. From a report: The devices, Portal and Portal+, directly challenge Amazon, Google and Apple in the fast-growing smart-speaker market with a unique approach that will emphasize video calling. It's Facebook's first hardware product outside the Oculus line of virtual-reality devices. To start a video call, users can say "Hey Portal, call ..." followed by the name of a connection on Facebook's Messenger service. These calls include entertaining augmented-reality features that can outfit users with cat hats or turn their living rooms into animated night clubs. Another feature is Smart Camera, which uses artificial intelligence and the devices' cameras to perfectly frame users on video as they move around while on a call. [...] Besides video calls, the Portal devices can stream music from Spotify, Pandora and Amazon Music and video from Facebook Watch. Not included at launch are services like Apple Music, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu or HBO Now. The devices come equipped with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant and the many skills available on that service, allowing them to ask questions like "What's the weather?" or "How are my teams doing?" [...] The company is taking preorders for the devices now and will begin shipping them early next month. The Portal, which features a 10-inch screen, is available for $199 while the Portal+, which has a long, 15.6-inch screen, is priced at $349. WashingtonPost reports that the device follows the person in their house: What's unique about Facebook's device is the tech it uses to make the video calls look good. Think of it as a personal cinematographer: A 12-megapixel camera -- equivalent to most phones -- identifies the shape of people within its 140-degree field of view and pans and zooms to make sure they're all always in the frame. You can wander around the room, do chores, Jazzercise, play with the kids or whatever. (Or, if you want, you can tap on the face of one person and the Portal camera will track just them.)Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's future-looks-noisy department
Speaking at the GeekWire Summit, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said the company is making rapid progress on the first operational self-driving airborne vehicles and that we could see them take to the skies in under five years. "Muilenburg laid out the company's vision for flying cars, as well as the importance of safety measures for the concept," reports GeekWire. "Muilenburg said the company is already building prototypes and expects them to fly within the year." From the report: "Imagine a future city that has three-dimensional highways, with flying taxis, flying cars," Muilenburg said. "That future is not that far away. In fact we are building the prototype vehicles today. We are also investing in the ecosystem that will allow that to operate safely and reliably as it must." The full vision of self-flying cars ferrying people through busy urban areas will take longer than five years to realize, Muilenburg said, but vehicles that start with more simple functions like cargo aren't far away.
The ecosystem to manage this new method of travel includes enhanced air traffic control. Earlier this year, Boeing teamed up with Austin-based SparkCognition to develop artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies for tracking and directing flying cars through traffic corridors. Muilenburg wouldn't say where these futuristic vessels would be tested, though he did say that the environment would be a "similar case" to Airbus' Vahana flying-taxi testing ground in Pendleton, Ore. Testing self-flying cars requires dedicated airspace and a slate of approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's survival-of-the-fittest department
In a 6,000-word leaked memo to Cheddar's Alex Heath, Snapchat's CEO Evan Spiegel attempts to revive employee morale with philosophy, tactics and contrition as Snap's share price sinks to an all-time low of around $8 -- half its IPO price and a third of its peak. TechCrunch reports: "The biggest mistake we made with our redesign was compromising our core product value of being the fastest way to communicate," Spiegel stresses throughout the memo regarding "Project Cheetah." It's the chat that made Snapchat special, and burying it within a combined feed with Stories and failing to build a quick-loading Android app have had disastrous consequences. Spiegel shows great maturity here, admitting to impatient strategic moves and outlining a cohesive path forward. There's no talk of Snapchat ruling the social app world here. He seems to understand that's likely out of reach in the face of Instagram's competitive onslaught. Instead, Snapchat is satisfied if it can help us express ourselves while finally reaching even meager profitability.
Snapchat may be too perceived as a toy to win enough adults, too late to win back international markets from the Facebook empire and too copyable by good-enough alternatives to grow truly massive. But if Snap can follow the Spiegel game plan, it could carve out a sustainable market through a small but loyal audience who want to communicate through imagery. The report goes on to highlight nine of the most interesting takeaways from the memo and why they're important. They include: "Apologizing for rushing the redesign; Chat is king; Snapchat must beat Facebook as best friends; Discover soars as Facebook Watch and IGTV stumble; But Discover is a mess; Aging up to earn money; Finally prioritizing developing markets; Fresh ideas, separate apps; and The freedom of profitability.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's sneaky-bastards department
Security researcher Brian Krebs highlights several clever methods scammers are using to obtain your personal information. In one example, someone used a fully-automated voice to try and scam "a cybersecurity professional with more than 30 years of experience" by greeting him with a four-note AT&T jingle, "followed by a recorded voice saying AT&T was calling to prevent his phone service from being suspended for non-payment." "It then prompted me to enter my security PIN to be connected to a billing department representative," Jon said. "My number was originally an AT&T number (it reports as Cingular Wireless) but I have been on T-Mobile for several years, so clearly a scam if I had any doubt. However, I suspect that the average Joe would fall for it." Krebs reports of another, more sophisticated scam attempted on Matt Haughey, the creator of the community Weblog MetaFilter and a writer at Slack: Haughey banks at a small Portland credit union, and last week he got a call on his mobile phone from an 800-number that matched the number his credit union uses. Actually, he got three calls from the same number in rapid succession. He ignored the first two, letting them both go to voicemail. But he picked up on the third call, thinking it must be something urgent and important. After all, his credit union had rarely ever called him. Haughey said he was greeted by a female voice who explained that the credit union had blocked two phony-looking charges in Ohio made to his debit/ATM card. She proceeded to then read him the last four digits of the card that was currently in his wallet. It checked out. Haughey told the lady that he would need a replacement card immediately because he was about to travel out of state to California. Without missing a beat, the caller said he could keep his card and that the credit union would simply block any future charges that weren't made in either Oregon or California.
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By BeauHD from Slashdot's target-acquired department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: In a lab just south of San Francisco I am looking at two blown-up images of microscope slides on a computer screen, side by side. The slides are the same cross-sections of mouse knees from a six-month-old and an 18-month-old animal. The older mouse's image has a splattering of little yellow dots, the younger barely any. That staining indicates the presence of so-called senescent cells -- "zombie cells" that are damaged and that, as a defense against cancer, have ceased to divide but are also resistant to dying. They are known to accumulate with age, as the immune system can no longer clear them, and as a result of exposure to cell-damaging agents such as radiation and chemotherapy. And they have been identified as a cause of aging in mice, at least partially responsible for most age-related diseases. Seeing the slides, it makes me worried about my own knees. "Tell us about it," says Pedro Beltran who heads the biology department at Unity Biotechnology, a 90 person-strong company trying to halt, slow or reverse age-associated diseases in humans by killing senescent cells.
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By BeauHD from Slashdot's consumers-caught-in-the-crossfire department
After ongoing discussions and proposals about new taxes and fees to compensate creators for "missed revenue," the Screen Composers Guild of Canada is calling for a copyright tax on all broadband data use above 15 gigabytes per month. TorrentFreak reports: A proposal from the Screen Composers Guild of Canada (SCGC), put forward during last week's Government hearings, suggests to simply add a levy on Internet use above 15 gigabytes per month. The music composers argue that this is warranted because composers miss out on public performance royalties. One of the reasons for this is that online streaming services are not paying as much as terrestrial broadcasters. The composers SCGC represents are not the big music stars. They are the people who write music for TV-shows and other broadcasts. Increasingly these are also shown on streaming services where the compensation is, apparently, much lower.
SCGC's solution to this problem is to make every Canadian pay an extra fee when they use over 15 gigabytes of data per month. This money would then be used to compensate composers and fix the so-called "value gap." As a result, all Internet users who go over the cap will have to pay more. Even those who don't watch any of the programs where the music is used. However, SCGC doesn't see the problem and believes that 15 gigabytes are enough. People who want to avoid paying can still use email and share photos, they argue. Those who go over the cap are likely streaming not properly compensated videos. SCGC writes: "[W]hen you're downloading and consuming over 15 gigabytes of data a month, you're likely streaming Spotify. You're likely streaming YouTube. You're likely streaming Netflix. So we think because the FANG companies will not give us access to the numbers that they have, we have to apply a broad-based levy. They're forcing us to."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's head-scratching department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Britain's national cyber security agency said on Friday it had no reason to doubt the assessments made by Apple and Amazon challenging a Bloomberg report that their systems contained malicious computer chips inserted by Chinese intelligence services. "We are aware of the media reports but at this stage have no reason to doubt the detailed assessments made by AWS and Apple," said the National Cyber Security Centre, a unit of Britain's eavesdropping agency, GCHQ. AWS refers to Amazon Web Services, the company's cloud-computing unit.
"The NCSC engages confidentially with security researchers and urges anybody with credible intelligence about these reports to contact us," it said. Apple's recently retired general counsel, Bruce Sewell, told Reuters he called the FBI's then-general counsel James Baker last year after being told by Bloomberg of an open investigation into Super Micro Computer, a hardware maker whose products Bloomberg said were implanted with malicious Chinese chips. "I got on the phone with him personally and said, 'Do you know anything about this?," Sewell said of his conversation with Baker. "He said, 'I've never heard of this, but give me 24 hours to make sure.' He called me back 24 hours later and said 'Nobody here knows what this story is about.'" The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said on Saturday that it too had no reason to doubt statements from companies that have denied the Bloomberg report.
"The Department of Homeland Security is aware of the media reports of a technology supply chain compromise," DHS said in a statement. "Like our partners in the UK, the National Cyber Security Center, at this time we have no reason to doubt the statements from the companies named in the story," it said.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's keep-it-coming department
Four years after Microsoft acquired Minecraft developer Mojang, the company has decided to open source some of Minecraft's Java code. According to Kotaku, Microsoft and Mojang released two parts of Minecraft's Java code in library form, so that "anyone can pick them up and use them in their own game," says Lead Engineer Nathan Adams. From the report: For now, there's just the two libraries: "Brigadier," a "command parser and dispatcher"; and "DataFixerUpper," designed for "incremental building, merging and optimization of data transformations ... [to convert] the game data for Minecraft: Java Edition between different versions of the game." While the news doesn't mean much for players, it will be a boon for interested programmers and developers, keen to see the guts of Minecraft. The plan is to open source more components in the future, though no time frame is specified. For now, if you want to check out Brigadier or DataFixerUpper, both can be found on Mojang's GitHub page.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's first-of-its-kind department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: An energy development group has been working for years to put together Ohio's first offshore wind project. That might sound odd for a state so far from the sea, but the benefits of offshore wind (strong, consistent gusts and relative proximity to major population centers) translate to wind turbines that are placed in freshwater, too. Consequently, an area eight miles off Ohio's Lake Erie coastline is slated to see six new 3.45 megawatt (MW) turbines as part of a 20.7MW pilot installation. On Thursday, the Department of Energy (DOE) issued an Environmental Assessment stating that proceeding with the plan would not cause any "impact to the human environment." In an additional finding published by the DOE this week, the department added that it did not believe that the offshore wind project would cause significant damage to migratory birds, either. Finally, the DOE proposed an unspecified amount of funding for the project, which will be the first freshwater offshore wind project in the US and one of the first offshore wind projects overall. The Lake Erie Energy Department Corporation (LEEDCo) and Norwegian investor Fred Olsen Renewables (FOR) will be developing the "Icebreaker" project, as the turbine installation has been called. "Interestingly, the turbines will be secured to the lake using a 'Mono Bucket' foundation, with a suction-based design that's similar to what's been used on offshore oil-drilling platforms in the North Sea," reports Ars. "The design, LEEDCo says, uses 'the best and lowest-cost technology for sites 25 meters and less.'"Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's world-domination department
"There are signs that Chromebooks are a bigger long-term threat to Microsoft than you might imagine," reports ITWorld, arguing that "long term, they'll likely be a serious competitor."
The reason? Chromebooks sell big in education. They've unseated the Mac in schools. Two years ago, for the first time, Chromebooks outsold Macs in schools. Schools are a great market for Google, but Chromebooks are also Trojan horses. Children and teens use them for schoolwork and more. And when they get Chromebooks, they also get free subscriptions to Google's G suite of apps. If kids grow up using G Suite and Chromebooks, there's a reasonable chance they'll use them when they get older.
Where I live, in Cambridge, Mass., the public Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School gives out free Chromebooks to every one of the more than 2,000 teens in the school, in a bid to close the digital divide between families who can afford to buy computers for their children and those who can't... Cambridge isn't unique. According to a 2017 article in The New York Times, "More than half the nation's primary- and secondary-school students -- more than 30 million children -- use Google education apps like Gmail and Docs... And Chromebooks, Google-powered laptops that initially struggled to find a purpose, are now a powerhouse in America's schools. Today they account for more than half the mobile devices shipped to schools...."
When students graduate, Google makes it easy for them to move all their mail and documents from their school accounts to their personal accounts. And schools sometimes even act as inadvertent salespeople for Google. The Times reports that some schools tell graduating seniors to move all their documents from their school to their personal accounts... The upshot of all this? Windows hardware continues to rule in enterprises. But Chromebooks may one day prove a serious competitor, as students make their way into the workforce.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's fraudulent-friend-requests department
An anonymous reader quotes NBC News:
"Every high-tech crime unit has one," said an officer who uses an undercover account to monitor gang members and drug dealers in New Jersey and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid having the account exposed or shut down. "It's not uncommon, but we don't like to talk about it too much." The proliferation of fake Facebook accounts and other means of social media monitoring -- including the use of software to crunch data about people's online activity -- illustrates a policing "revolution" that has allowed authorities to not only track people but also map out their networks, said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, senior counsel at New York University School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice....
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