By EditorDavid from Slashdot's hiring-liars department
Why are there so many five-star reviews for an iPhone charger on Amazon with a voltage irregularity that can cause permanent damage? "It's sad to imagine how many shoppers spotted this $13.99 charger pack on Amazon's first-page results and fell for the thousands of positive reviews and the algorithmically-generated endorsement from a platform that people trust more than religion," reports The Hustle.
A spot-check confirmed that "10 of the 22 first-page results on Amazon for 'iPhone charger' were products with thousands of 5-star reviews, all unverified and posted within a few days of each other," and they've now investigated "the underbelly of Amazon's fake-review economy" and "how such a product, peddled by a ragtag troupe of e-commerce scammers, managed to game one of the world's premier technology companies."
The fake Amazon review economy is a thriving market, ripe with underground forums, "How To Game The Rankings!" tutorials, and websites with names like (now-defunct) "amazonverifiedreviews.com." But the favored hunting grounds for sellers on the prowl is Amazon's fellow tech behemoth, Facebook. In a recent two-week period, I identified more than 150 private Facebook groups where sellers openly exchange free products (and, in many cases, commissions) for 5-star reviews, sans disclosures. A sampling of 20 groups I analyzed collectively have more than 200,000 members. These groups seem to be in the midst of an online Gold Rush: Most are less than a year old, and in the past 30 days have attracted more than 50,000 new users... One stay-at-home mom from Kentucky told me she makes $200-300 per month leaving positive reviews for things like sleep masks, light bulbs, and AV cables...
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's doing-the-waves department
West Virginia University assistant professor Zachariah Etienne is launching "a global volunteer computing effort" analyzing gravitational waves from colliding black holes, reports Phys.org:
"As our gravitational wave detectors become more sensitive, we're going to need to greatly expand our efforts to understand all of the information encoded in gravitational waves from colliding binary black holes," Etienne said. "We are turning to the general public to help with these efforts, which involve generating unprecedented numbers of self-consistent simulations of these extremely energetic collisions. This will truly be an inclusive effort, and we especially hope to inspire the next generation of scientists in this growing field of gravitational wave astrophysics."
His team -- and the scientific community in general -- needs computing capacity to run the simulations required to cover all possibilities related to the properties and other information contained in gravitational waves. "Each desktop computer will be able to perform a single simulation of colliding black holes," said Etienne. By seeking public involvement through use of vast numbers of personal desktop computers, Etienne and others hope to dramatically increase the throughput of the theoretical gravitational wave predictions needed to extract information from observations of the collisions.
Etienne and his team are building a website with downloadable software based on the same Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, or BOINC, system used for the SETI@Home project and other scientific applications. The free middleware system is designed to help harness the processing power of thousands of personal computers across the globe. The West Virginia team has named their project BlackHoles@Home and expects to have it up and running later this year.
They have already established a website where the public can begin learning more about the effort.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's moo-moo-here department
A herd of dairy cows in the U.K. "are enjoying the benefits of 5G connectivity before you," reports Reuters:
For the cows, among the 5G-connected gadgets they are wearing is a collar that controls a robotic milking system. When the cow feels ready to be milked it will approach machine gates that will automatically open. The device recognizes the individual to precisely latch on to its teats for milking, while the cow munches on a food reward. At the government-funded Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre (Agri-EPI Centre) in Shepton Mallet, in southwest England, around 50 of the 180-strong herd is fitted with the 5G smart collars and health-monitoring ear tags.
But -- why?! The Verge explains:
According to Reuters, Cisco is testing infrastructure for the eventual global rollout of 5G that could be used by various industries that are not traditionally in the tech bubble but are still dependent on increasingly sophisticated hardware and software. That includes farming. In this case, Cisco is trying out 5G in three rural locations...
It makes a whole lot of sense when you think about it: farms are large and spread-out spaces, and cows are often shuffled between grazing grounds and areas of the farm where they can be more easily milked and checked on. With the 5G collars, Cisco says farmers can keep tabs on the animals at all times of the day without having to physically trek out to observe the cows up close... The future is wonderful and weird, and farmers have access to it before you and I because without them, we all starve.
"We can connect every cow, we can connect every animal on this farm," Cisco's Nick Chrissos told Reuters, in what may be the strangest boast a Cisco executive has ever uttered in public. "That's what 5G can do for farming -- really unleash the power that we have within this farm, everywhere around the UK and everywhere around the world."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's quitting-times department
An anonymous reader quotes Reuters:
Richard Liu, the founder of Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com Inc, has weighed in on an ongoing debate about the Chinese tech industry's grueling overtime work culture, lamenting that years of growth had increased the number of "slackers" in his firm who are not his "brothers...." Liu, who started the company that would become JD.com in 1998, in the note spoke about how in the firm's earliest days he would set his alarm clock to wake him up every two hours to ensure he could offer his customers 24-hour service -- a step he said was crucial to JD's success...
The '996' work schedule, which refers to a 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. workday, six days a week, has in particular become the target of online debate and protests on some coding platforms, where workers have swapped examples of excessive overtime demands at some firms. Liu said JD did not force its staff to work the "996" or even a "995" overtime schedule. "But every person must have the desire to push oneself to the limit!" he said.
JD disputed reports that the company would be cutting up to 8% of its workforce, but did say "We're getting back to those roots as we seek, develop and reward staff who share the same hunger and values... JD.com is a competitive workplace that rewards initiative and hard work, which is consistent with our entrepreneurial roots."
JD's investors include Walmart and Google.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's boxes-with-smiles department
An anonymous reader quotes Motherboard:
In response to Amazon packages being stolen from people's doorsteps, police departments around the country have set up sting operations that use fake packages bugged with GPS trackers to find and arrest people who steal packages. Internal emails and documents obtained by Motherboard via a public records request show how Amazon and one police department partnered to set up one of these operations.
The documents obtained by Motherboard -- which include an operations plan and internal emails between Amazon and the Hayward, California Police Department -- show that Amazon's "national package theft team" made several calls to the Hayward Police Department and sent the department packages, tape, and stickers that allowed the department to set up a "porch pirate" operation in November and December of 2018... Several other cities around the country -- including Aurora, Colorado; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Jersey City, New Jersey; and Hayward, California -- have also conducted porch pirate sting operations aided by Amazon. Jersey City, New Jersey -- like Hayward, California -- put GPS-tracking devices inside the dummy packages. Aurora and Albuquerque, meanwhile, used doorbell cameras from Ring -- which is owned by Amazon -- to capture video footage and surveil for theft.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's I-am-not-a-number department
schwit1 writes: Nearly everything we buy, how we buy, and where we're buying from is secretly fed into AI-powered verification services that help companies guard against credit-card and other forms of fraud, according to the Wall Street Journal.
More than 16,000 signals are analyzed by a service called Sift, which generates a "Sift score" ranging from 1 to 100. The score is used to flag devices, credit cards and accounts that a vendor may want to block based on a person or entity's overall "trustworthiness" score, according to a company spokeswoman.
From the Sift website: "Each time we get an event be it a page view or an API event we extract features related to those events and compute the Sift Score. These features are then weighed based on fraud we've seen both on your site and within our global network, and determine a user's Score. There are features that can negatively impact a Score as well as ones which have a positive impact."
The system is similar to a credit score except there's no way to find out your own Sift score.
Factors which contribute to one's Sift score (per the WSJ):
Is the account new?Are there are a lot of digits at the end of an email address?Is the transaction coming from an IP address that's unusual for your account?Is the transaction coming from a region where there are a lot of hackers, such as China, Russia or Eastern Europe?Is the transaction coming from an anonymization network?Is the transaction happening at an odd time of day?Has the credit card being used had chargebacks associated with it?Is the browser different from what you typically use?Is the device different from what you typically use?Is the cadence of the way you typed out your password typical for you? (tracked by some advanced systems)Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's unlock-screens department
A "limited" number of users of Microsoft's webmail services -- which include Hotmail, Outlook.com, and MSN -- "had their accounts compromised, TechCrunch reports.
"We addressed this scheme, which affected a limited subset of consumer accounts, by disabling the compromised credentials and blocking the perpetrators' access," said a Microsoft spokesperson in an email. According to an email Microsoft has sent out to affected users, malicious hackers were potentially able to access an affected user's e-mail address, folder names, the subject lines of e-mails, and the names of other e-mail addresses the user communicates with -- "but not the content of any e-mails or attachments," nor -- it seems -- login credentials like passwords. Microsoft is still recommending that affected users change their passwords regardless.
The breach occurred between January 1 and March 28, Microsoft's letter to users said. The hackers got into the system by compromising a customer support agent's credentials, according to the letter. Once identified, those credentials were disabled. Microsoft told users that it didn't know what data was viewed by the hackers or why, but cautioned that users might as a result see more phishing or spam emails as a result.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's unfriending department
On May 30th, Facebook's shareholder's will vote on whether to remove Mark Zuckerberg as chairman of the board, reports Business Insider:
Business Insider broke the news of the proposal in July last year after revealing the plans of activist shareholder Trillium Asset Management, which had grown tired of the "mishandling" of scandals including the Cambridge Analytica data breach. Responding to the proposal in the SEC filing, Facebook called on investors to vote it down. "We believe our board of directors is functioning effectively under its current structure, and that the current structure provides appropriate oversight protections," Facebook said...
The chance of it becoming a reality is extremely slim, despite it being backed by investors that control around $3 billion of Facebook stock. A similar proposal in 2017 was popular among independent investors but was crushed because of Zuckerberg's voting power. This is because of Facebook's dual-class share structure. Class B shares have 10 times the voting power of class A shares, and it just so happens that Zuckerberg owns more than 75% of class B stock. It means he has more than half of the voting power at Facebook....
Facebook will almost certainly get its way. But the two investor proposals mark continued dissatisfaction among shareholders about the way Facebook is run following a year from hell for the company. It also shows that investors continue to believe that Zuckerberg has too much power.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's search-results department
"When law enforcement investigations get cold, there's a source authorities can turn to for location data that could produce new leads: Google."
An anonymous reader quotes CNET:
Police have used information from the search giant's Sensorvault database to aid in criminal cases across the country, according to a report Saturday by The New York Times. The database has detailed location records from hundreds of millions of phones around the world, the report said. It's meant to collect information on the users of Google's products so the company can better target them with ads, and see how effective those ads are. But police have been tapping into the database to help find missing pieces in investigations.
Law enforcement can get "geofence" warrants seeking location data. Those kinds of requests have spiked in the last six months, and the company has received as many as 180 requests in one week, according to the report.... For geofence warrants, police carve out a specific area and time period, and Google can gather information from Sensorvault about the devices that were present during that window, according to the report. The information is anonymous, but police can analyze it and narrow it down to a few devices they think might be relevant to the investigation. Then Google reveals those users' names and other data, according to the Times...
[T]he AP reported last year that Google tracked people's location even after they'd turned off location-sharing on their phones.
Google's data dates back "nearly a decade," the Times reports -- though in a statement, Google's director of law enforcement and information security insisted "We vigorously protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement." (The Times also interviewed a man who was arrested and jailed for a week last year based partly on Google's data -- before eventually being released after the police found a more likely suspect.)
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's satellite-launching-planes department
"Stratolaunch, the aerospace venture founded by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, sent the world's biggest airplane into the air today for its first flight test," report GeekWire.
The twin-fuselage plane, which incorporates parts from two Boeing 747 jumbo jets and has a world-record wingspan of 385 feet, took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California for a flight that lasted two and a half hours. For more than seven years, Stratolaunch has been working with Mojave-based Scaled Composites on the project, which aims to use the plane as a flying launch pad for orbital-class rockets. The first flight test had been anticipated for months. "We finally did it," Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd said today during a briefing.
Stratolaunch's plane, which has been nicknamed Roc after a giant mythical bird, took off at 6:58 a.m. PT and went through a series of in-flight maneuvers, including roll doublets, yawing maneuvers, pushovers and pull-ups, steady heading side slips and simulated landing approach exercises. Stratolaunch said it reached a maximum speed of 189 mph and maximum altitude of 17,000 feet.... The plan ahead calls for further tests over the next 12 to 18 months, with the aim of getting the plane fully certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. Stratolaunch has already struck a deal to use Northrop Grumman's Pegasus XL rocket to send payloads weighing as much as 816 pounds (370 kilograms) to low Earth orbit...
Stratolaunch's air-launch system is designed to carry multiple rockets up to an altitude of about 40,000 feet, and then drop them into the air to fire up their rocket engines. The advantage of such a system is that it can take off from any runway that's long enough to accommodate the plane, fly around bad weather if need be, and launch a satellite into any orbital inclination.
Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd said their team had dedicated the flight to Paul Allen.
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's frightened-by-fragmentation department
"I believe that, as Microsoft keeps moving Windows to a Desktop-as-a-Service model, Linux will be the last traditional PC desktop operating system standing," writes ZDNet contributing editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols.
"But that doesn't mean I'm blind to its problems."
First, even Linus Torvalds is tired of the fragmentation in the Linux desktop. In a recent [December 2018] TFiR interview with Swapnil Bhartiya, Torvalds said, "Chromebooks and Android are the path toward the desktop." Why? Because we don't have a standardized Linux desktop. For example, better Linux desktops, such as Linux Mint, provide an easy way to install applications, but under the surface, there are half-a-dozen different ways to install programs. That makes life harder for developers. Torvalds wishes "we were better at having a standardized desktop that goes across the distributions."
Torvalds thinks there's been some progress. For software installation, he likes Flatpak. This software program, like its rival Snap, lets you install and maintain programs across different Linux distros. At the same time, this rivalry between Red Hat (which supports Flatpak) and Canonical (which backs Snap) bugs Torvalds. He's annoyed at how the "fragmentation of the different vendors have held the desktop back." None of the major Linux distributors -- Canonical, Red Hat, SUSE -- are really all that interested in supporting the Linux desktop. They all have them, but they're focused on servers, containers, the cloud, and the Internet of Things (IoT). That's, after all, is where the money is.
Linux desktop distros "tend to last for five or six years and then real life gets in the way of what's almost always a volunteer effort..." the article argues. "It is not easy building and supporting a Linux desktop. It comes with a lot of wear and tear on its developers with far too little reward."
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's move-slower-and-break-less department
On the technology podcast Recode Decode, America's Speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, said that Silicon Valley's self-regulating days "probably should be" over. Recode reports:
Pelosi said Silicon Valley is abusing the privilege of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which says that internet companies are not responsible for what is posted on their platforms. "230 is a gift to them, and I don't think they are treating it with the respect that they should," she said. "And so I think that that could be a question mark and in jeopardy.... For the privilege of 230, there has to be a bigger sense of responsibility on it, and it is not out of the question that that could be removed."
Asked about Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren's proposal to break up Amazon, Google, and Facebook, Pelosi said she had not studied it closely. Instead, she more cautiously suggested that some agglomerations of power may be worth breaking up. "I know there could be some clear lines that we see in our community, of companies that maybe could be easily broken up without having any impact, one on the other," she said. "I'm a big believer in the antitrust laws, I think that's very important for us to have them and to use them, and to subject those who should be subjected to it. "Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's run-time-errors department
An anonymous reader quotes the Guardian:
A judge in Ecuador has jailed a Swedish software developer whom authorities believe is a key member of WikiLeaks and close to Julian Assange, while prosecutors investigate charging him with hacking as part of an alleged plot to "destabilise" the country's government. Ola Bini, 36, was ordered to held in preventive detention on Saturday pending possible cyber-attack charges and his bank accounts were frozen. Prosecutors were examining dozens of hard drives and other material he had in his possession, according to local media reports...
On Thursday, Ecuador's interior minister, Maria Paula Romo, said they had identified a "key member of WikiLeaks" who was "close to Mr Julian Assange". Secret visitors' logs seen by the Guardian show that Bini was one of Assange's many visitors in Ecuador's embassy in Knightsbridge, west London.... Speaking to local media on Thursday, Romo said Ecuador was at risk of cyber attack, hinting Wikileaks could retaliate for the termination of Assange's asylum. She added the government did not want the country "to turn into an international [cyber] piracy centre"...
Last week, the government of president Lenin Moreno, 66, accused WikiLeaks of being involved in a campaign implicating Moreno and his family in corruption. Moreno, who has long expressed his unhappiness over Assange's asylum status, complained that "photos of my bedroom, what I eat and how my wife and daughters and friends dance" had been circulating on social media.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's overstaying-your-welcome department
The BBC reports that Ecuador's foreign minister Jose Valencia has been sharing complaints about Julian Assange's conduct during his stay in Ecuador's embassy -- for example, that Julian Assange "damaged the facilities by riding his skateboard and playing football, despite being told not to do so."
Cleaning staff, Mr Valencia said, had described "improper hygienic conduct" throughout Assange's stay, an issue that a lawyer had attributed to "stomach problems". One unnamed senior Ecuadorean official told AP news agency that other issues included "weeks without a shower" and a "dental problem born of poor hygiene". Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo then complained that Assange had been allowed to do things like "put faeces on the walls of the embassy and other behaviours of that nature...."
Assange's stay at the embassy cost Ecuador some $6.5m (£5m) from 2012 to 2018, Mr Valencia said.
NPR reports that Julian Assange's cat also "arguably played a small role in Ecuador's decision to end its asylum agreement," citing remarks from Ecuador President Lenin Moreno:
Moreno explained that Assange treated his hosts disrespectfully; late last year the embassy implemented a series of rules for Assange, including a requirement to be responsible for the "well-being, food, hygiene and proper care of your pet." If Assange didn't, the embassy threatened to put the cat in a shelter. In other words, it is likely that Assange didn't effectively clean up after his cat's own wiki-leaks...
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's rocketman department
At a flat-earth conference in May, Mad Mike Hughes will announce details of "an Antarctic expedition with the goal of reaching the edge of the world...to prove once and for all that this Earth is flat." But before that, he's heading for outer space.
An anonymous reader quotes PhillyVoice:
If you recognize the name Mad Mike Hughes, it's likely because he strapped himself into a rocket last March and traveled three-tenths of a mile into the heavens in the name of Flat Earth awareness. (See for yourself!) Well, nearly a year to the date after that momentous achievement, the limousine-driving daredevil and gubernatorial candidate has announced he's building upon the lessons learned last year and pushing the limits even further...
We caught up with him Thursday afternoon on the phone from California where he was "putting decals on the rocket right now!" Before any sort of Antarctica excursion, he's planning for a May 9 launch either in New Mexico "or the middle of the ocean if the government tries to stop me..." He hopes to reach the Kármán line, some 62.8 miles above Earth where space begins. "That way, we'll see what shape this rock really is," he said.
"More people will watch this than those who watched the fake moon landing. It will be an incredible, incredible event. People will see what I'm seeing for three hours up there and back and they'll be able to make up their own minds.... I'm the only guy capable of actually proving what shape this rock is, and that's by going up into space to do it."
The Science Channel is now filming Hughes' progress. (Here's a slick trailer for an upcoming documentary called "Rocketman".)
And Hughes says he's also claimed the legal entities that famous people are operating under, including Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Warren Buffett, putting these powerful people in a precarious position because now "they can't even exist..."
"I have a lot of court cases going on."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's hear-hear department
An anonymous reader quotes Vice:
On Wednesday, the Illinois State Senate passed the Keep Internet Devices Safe Act, a bill that would ban manufacturers of devices that can record audio from doing so remotely without disclosing it to the customer. But after lobbying from trade associations that represent the interests of Google, Amazon -- makers of the microphone-enabled Google Home and Alexa smart speakers, respectively -- and Microsoft, among other companies, the interests of big tech won out... In its current, neutered form, the bill provides exclusive authority to the Attorney General to enforce the Act, which means regular citizens won't be able to bring forward a case regarding tech giants recording them in their homes.
Ars Technica notes the move comes after Amazon admitted thousands of their employees listen to Alexa recordings -- "something not mentioned in Echo's terms of service or FAQ pages."
Vice points out that sometimes those recordings are shared "even after users opt out of having their data used in the program."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's using-the-Force department
The teaser trailer for Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker has been viewed 13,665,350 times since its release Friday.
Collider reminds us that while George Lucas oversaw the original Star Wars trilogy and worked on its prequel trilogy, the final three movies in the franchise had moved ahead without direct involvement from the 74-year-old director:
To recap, Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012, setting Kathleen Kennedy as the new head of Lucasfilm and handing over his treatments for Episode VII, Episode VIII, and Episode IX -- the final three films in his Skywalker saga. Kennedy and J.J. Abrams reportedly threw out much of what Lucas handed over (much to the Star Wars director's chagrin) in favor of charting their own path, and Lucas has been pretty mum on the new direction of Star Wars under Disney thus far -- save for high praise heaped on Rogue One and a visit to the set of Solo after Ron Howard took over the director's chair.
But it appears everything has come full circle, as Abrams revealed at Star Wars Celebration in an interview with IGN that when he signed on to direct Star Wars 9, he consulted Lucas before beginning work on the script. "This movie had a very, very specific challenge, which was to take eight films and give an ending to three trilogies, and so we had to look at, what is the bigger story? We had conversations amongst ourselves, we met with George Lucas before writing the script," Abrams revealed...
Having seen the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker trailer, this makes sense. The film looks to be leaning heavily on the original trilogy given the inclusion of that medal, the Death Star, and of course the return of Emperor Palpatine. And given Abrams' comments here, it sounds like he was very strongly thinking about Star Wars 9 as a conclusion to the entire Star Wars saga.
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's background-processes department
Microsoft "has been quietly lobbying against Right to Repair legislation, which would prevent Microsoft from penalizing customers when they open up their devices," claims MSPoweruser:
The state representative hedged that "I can't confirm or deny this, because I have not seen a smoking gun."
But he also told his interviewer that to paint a discouraging picture of the landscape after passage of the bill, "Microsoft was going around telling our members that they wouldn't sell Surface Tablets in Washington any longer."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's into-the-void department
An anonymous reader quotes Reuters:
China's largest stock images provider, Visual China Group, shut its website and apologized on Friday after it falsely claimed copyright of images such as the first photo of a black hole and China's national flag. The company, which partners with U.S. photo agency Getty Images, said in a post on its official Weibo account the incident revealed its weak management and that it was cooperating with authorities investigating the matter. Shares in the company slumped by the maximum 10 percent allowed. The topic "Visual China apologises" was among the most-read items on China's Twitter-like Weibo platform on Friday, with over 250 million views...
The country's leaders have pledged to do more to protect intellectual property rights amid complaints by the United States and other key trading partners about the theft of such assets. Elliot Papageorgiou, the Shanghai-based head of the IP practice at law firm Clyde & Co., said Visual China's use of the black hole image was embarrassing due to the photo's high profile. "It comes at an inconvenient time because China is trying hard to get recognition for some positive steps it is taking to protect intellectual property," he said.
The company had claimed to have received authorization for using the photo -- though not for commercial purposes -- from the European Southern Observatory. But today the government-owned China Daily newspaper notes that "The European Southern Observatory, responding to questions from the National Business Daily in an email, said Visual China never contacted it for any purpose regarding the image. It said Visual China did not need to ask for authorization to reproduce the image provided the credit was clear and visible, but 'the behavior of using the so-called authorization as a copyright to sell the image in China and profit from it is illegal...'"
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