By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
An anonymous reader shares a report: For years, India has wanted foreign companies to thrive in the country. When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power in 2014, one of its early major pushes was to formulate plans and structure incentives to attract foreign investment. In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled plans to liberalize the foreign investment rules. He also visited the U.S. and met with top Silicon Valley executives, nearly all of whom subsequently expanded their commitments in India. It further introduced lofty incentives to encourage companies to participate in Make in India and Digital India, a set of state-run initiatives to drive job growth in the nation.
[...] But over the past year, in the run-up to the general elections in May, the Indian government has unveiled -- and in many cases, enforced -- a wave of sweeping changes. It now dictates how foreign companies handle and make use of Indian user data and other aspects of how ecommerce platforms operate, and it is working on introducing greater oversight for technology platforms. [...] Lobby groups that represent U.S. companies and industry watchers say they see an extreme shift from the "warm, welcoming, collaborative" approach the government exhibited in 2014. "In the past year or so, the engagement has been combative, with abrupt, disruptive policy changes that are being held without consultation, and, unusually, with absolutely no room for negotiation or even deadline extensions -- as we saw with data localisation and FDI in ecommerce," Prasanto K Roy, a technology and policy analyst, told VentureBeat. The story also looks at how much revenue Silicon Valley companies that count India as one of their biggest markets is generating there. Spoiler alert: it's very little.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
Reader theodp writes: Thanks to software, Bill and Melinda Gates report in their 2019 Annual Letter, textbooks are becoming obsolete. Bill writes: "I read more than my share of textbooks. But it's a pretty limited way to learn something. Even the best text can't figure out which concepts you understand and which ones you need more help with. It certainly can't tell your teacher how well you grasped last night's assigned reading. But now, thanks to software, the standalone textbook is becoming a thing of the past" (if so, it'll be a 60-year overnight success!). The Gates are putting their money where their mouths are -- their education investments include look-Ma-no-textbooks Khan Academy and Code.org. Code.org, whose AP Computer Science Principles course for high schools "does not require or follow a textbook", boasted in its just-released Annual Report that 38% of all AP CS exam takers in 2018 came from "Code.org Computer Science Principles classrooms," adding that it had spent $24.2 million of its donors' money on curriculum and its Code Studio learning platform (30,300 hours of coursework), another $46.7 million to prepare 87,000 new K-12 CS teachers, $12.4 million on Marketing, and $6.9 million on Government Affairs. So, do we still need textbooks?Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's food-fight department
The Washington Post reports on why some U.S. cities are restricting the spread of discount "dollar stores":
Residents fear the stores deter other business, especially in neighborhoods without grocers or options for healthy food. Dollar stores rarely sell fresh produce or meats, but they undercut grocery stores on prices of everyday items, often pushing them out of business...Grocery stores run on thin profit margins -- usually between 1 and 3 percent. And they employ more workers than dollar stores to keep perishable food stocked.
"It's no longer the big-box grocery store" that threatens local businesses, said David Procter, a Kansas State University professor who studies rural grocery stores. "But it's the discount retailer that's coming to town and setting up shop right across the street."
"As the stores cluster in low-income neighborhoods," the Post writes, "their critics worry they are not just a response to poverty -- but a cause."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's not-saved-by-the-bell department
In the hunt for potential acts of student violence, "schools are increasingly turning to artificial intelligence-backed solutions," reports USA Today.
Bark Technologies, Gaggle.Net, and Securly Inc. are three companies that employ AI and machine learning to scan student emails, texts, documents, and in some cases, social media activity. They look for warning signs of cyber bullying, sexting, drug and alcohol use, depression, and to flag students who may pose a violent risk not only to themselves, but classmates. When potential problems are found, and depending on the severity, school administrators, parents -- and under the most extreme cases -- law enforcement officials, are alerted. In the fall of 2017, Bark ran a test pilot with 25 schools. "We found some pretty alarming issues, including a bombing and school shooting threat," says Bark chief parent officer, Titania Jordan....
The Bark product [which monitors more than 25 social media platforms] is free to schools in the U.S. for perpetuity. The company says it can afford to give the service away to schools, because of the money it makes from a version aimed at parents... Bark is currently used in more than 1,100 school districts, covering 2.6 million children. If it detects something that is considered exceedingly severe such as a child abduction or school shooting threat, the issue is escalated to the FBI. According to Jordan, Bark sends out between 35,000 and 55,000 alerts each day, many just instances of profanity. But 16 plausible school shootings have been reported to the FBI since Bark launched its school product last February, she says.
The article notes these solutions have three major limitations:
"A school can't police a student's smartphone or other devices outside the ones it issued, unless the student signed into a social media, or other account, using the email or credentials the school provided."
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's fugitives-from-justice department
A 44-year-old living in Maine has just been arrested and charged with committing a murder when he was 18, the Washington Post reports:
The April 1993 slaying of Sophie Sergie, an Alaska Native, was one of the state's most notorious cold cases until Friday, when authorities announced that DNA genealogical mapping helped triangulate a genetic match... Police recovered the suspect's DNA from Sergie's body. At the time, the district court filing said, DNA processing technology had not been introduced in Alaska. A DNA profile confirming the suspect as male was uploaded in 2000, but it did not match anyone in the FBI's database. The case went dormant for years...
Then the alleged "Golden State Killer" was captured [after searching commercial online genealogy databases for relatives who matched DNA found at a crime scene]. The publicity of the feat, state troopers said, sparked the idea for investigators in the Sergie case. Why not try the same? A forensic genealogist prepared a report on Dec. 18, comparing the suspect's genetic material from the crime scene to likely relatives. A woman's DNA profile emerged in the search. Investigators found their link: She was an aunt of Downs's.
Downs had been a student at the college where the murder took place. He's also been charged with sexual assault -- and with being a fugitive from justice for the last 25 years.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's fake-medical-news department
"As a disturbing number of measles outbreaks crop up around the United States, Facebook is facing challenges combating widespread misinformation about vaccinations on its platform," reported the Washington Post Wednesday, saying Facebook "has become a haven for the anti-vaccination movement" and that "the rise of 'anti-vaxx' Facebook groups is overlapping with a resurgence of measles" in the U.S.
Facebook has publicly declared that fighting misinformation is one of its top priorities. But when it comes to policing misleading content about vaccinations, the site faces a thorny challenge. The bulk of anti-vaccination content doesn't violate Facebook's community guidelines for inciting "real-world harm," according to a spokesperson, and the site's algorithms often promote unscientific pages or posts about the issue...
Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, recently met with Facebook strategists about dealing with public health issues, including misinformation about vaccines, on the platform... "Facebook isn't responsible for changing quacks but they do have an opportunity to change the way information is served up." But Facebook's algorithms often promote anti-vaccination content over widely accepted, scientifically backed posts or pages about vaccinations. A recent investigation from the Guardian found that Facebook search results regarding vaccines were "dominated by anti-vaccination propaganda...." Facebook also accepted advertising revenue from Vax Truther, Anti-Vaxxer, Vaccines Revealed and Michigan for Vaccine Choice, among others, according to another investigation from the Guardian [which found Facebook even offers the ability to target 900,000 users that Facebook has helpfully identified as interested in "vaccine controversies."]
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's giant-leaps-for-mankind department
Nine private spaceflight companies are bidding on contracts to deliver robotic NASA payloads to the moon -- and Thursday NASA said they'd like them to start flying "this calendar year."
Discover magazine reports NASA envisions this "as the first step toward returning to the moon, this time for good."
The first tasks will be to practice launching and landing on the moon, as well as answering questions about its surface... They will test habitation for future crewed missions. They'll prove that they can collect materials from the lunar surface and return them to space or Earth. And they'll establish communication networks between robots on the moon's surface, way stations in lunar orbit, and mission control on Earth.
But NASA also wants to deploy demo technology that can mine the moon's resources "to pave the way for human settlement," Space.com reports:
The main lunar resource to be exploited, at least initially, is water. The lunar surface has lots of this stuff, locked up as ice on the permanently shadowed floors of polar craters. This water will aid lunar settlement and further exploration, and not just by slaking astronauts' thirst, NASA officials say. Water can also be split into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen, the chief components of rocket fuel.
The Commercial Lunar Payload Services program is just part of NASA's broad moon-exploration plan, which prioritizes an open architecture that encourages cooperation with many commercial and international partners. (Indeed, NASA wants to be the commercial landers' first, but not only, customer.) One of the most critical pieces of this plan is a small space station, called the Gateway, which NASA aims to start building in lunar orbit in 2022. Gateway will be a hub for many kinds of lunar exploration, including sorties to the surface by landers both crewed and uncrewed.
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's everyone-leave-the-room department
The Guardian reports: Bruno Ganz, the Swiss actor who played Adolf Hitler in the film Downfall, has died in Zurich at the age of 77, his agent announced. The actor became internationally renowned for his 2004 portrayal of the German dictator's final days inside his Berlin bunker. In a Guardian review of Downfall Rob Mackie described Ganz as "the most convincing screen Hitler yet: an old, bent, sick dictator with the shaking hands of someone with Parkinson's, alternating between rage and despair in his last days in the bunker...." It is widely believed to be the cinematic footage most often shared online, as well as the cause of one of the world's most productive internet memes.
They're referring to "One climactic scene featuring a Ganz tour de force" that was "relentlessly parodied in widespread 'Hitler Finds Out...' videos, featuring anachronistic subtitles depicting his rage and fury over topical, mundane, or banal events and trivial gossip," explains long-time Slashdot reader Freshly Exhumed:
The spread of the meme was aided inestimably by the Streisand Effect caused when the production company, Constantin Films began sending DMCA takedown notices to YouTube. Eventually the company relented as the parodies constituted strong fair use cases.
When the director of the film was asked about the parodies, he admitted that "I think I've seen about 145 of them! Of course, I have to put the sound down when I watch. Many times the lines are so funny, I laugh out loud, and I'm laughing about the scene that I staged myself! You couldn't get a better compliment as a director."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's lobbyists-versus-legislation department
"New Hampshire lawmakers got an early taste last week of the arguments that manufacturing, technology and telecommunications lobbyists will use to try to hobble and defeat right to repair legislation in 16 states this year," writes long-time Slashdot reader chicksdaddy.
The Security Ledger reports:
Curious children could find themselves dismembered by run-away washing machines. A phalanx of illegally modified lawn tractors and leaf blowers will belch pollution in defiance of the EPA, darkening the sky... At least, that's the scene painted by representatives from some of the U.S.'s biggest industry groups. At a hearing before the New Hampshire House of Representatives Committee on Commerce and Consumer Affairs February 5, they painted a dire picture of the consequences of passing a proposed Digital Fair Repair Act, HB 462, saying the proposed legislation would stifle commerce, leave New Hampshire consumers vulnerable to cyber crime and even physical harm at the hands of clueless owners and inexperienced or unethical repair professionals.
"There is a lot at stake when it comes to Right to Repair, and you could feel those stakes in the room," wrote Nathan Proctor, the head of the right to repair campaign at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), in an email statement. "Legislators have their work cut out for them sifting through all the frantic opposition and their deceptive, and at times bizarre, arguments," he wrote.
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's video-voices department
Bruce Perens co-founded the Open Source Initiative with Eric Raymond -- and he's also Slashdot reader #3872.
Bruce Perens writes: Here's the IBM ad used to open their Think 2019 conference, featuring Buzz Aldrin, Arianna Huffington, Janelle Monae, Miaym Bialik, and astonishingly: me. Interesting of IBM to have an ad including Open Source, security, and data rights as human rights!
Web version with subtitles. Version used to open the Think conference, on Youtube.. "I would like to make open source software the standard..." Perens says in the video, adding "Let's champion data rights as human rights," and asking "How do we bake security into everything we do?" But it's a montage of different speakers who each begin their comments by saying "Dear Tech," offering open letters with their hopes for the entire industry.
"Let's use blockchain to help reduce poverty."
"Let's use IoT to help victims of natural disasters."
"I feel like you have the potential to do so much more."
"Are you working for all of us, or just a few of us?"Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's I-see-what-you-did-there department
Long-time Slashdot reader kbahey writes: The increased reliance on machine-learning techniques used by thousands of scientists to analyze data, is producing results that are misleading and often completely wrong, according to the BBC.
Dr. Genevera Allen from Rice University in Houston said that the increased use of such systems was contributing to a "crisis in science".
She warned scientists that if they didn't improve their techniques they would be wasting both time and money. Her research was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington.
This is the oft-discussed 'reproducibility problem' in modern science.
The BBC writes that this irreproducibility happens when experiments "aren't designed well enough to ensure that the scientists don't fool themselves and see what they want to see in the results." But machine learning now has apparently become part of the problem.
Dr. Allen asks "If we had an additional dataset would we see the same scientific discovery or principle...? Unfortunately the answer is often probably not.âRead Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's show-me-the-data department
Remember when America's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported Tesla's Autopilot reduced crashes by 40%? Two years later the small research and consulting firm Quality Control Systems (QCS) finally obtained the underlying data -- and found flaws in the methodology "serious enough to completely discredit the 40 percent figure," reports Ars Technica, "which Tesla has cited multiple times over the last two years."
The majority of the vehicles in the Tesla data set suffered from missing data or other problems that made it impossible to say whether the activation of Autosteer increased or decreased the crash rate. But when QCS focused on 5,714 vehicles whose data didn't suffer from these problems, it found that the activation of Autosteer actually increased crash rates by 59 percent...
NHTSA undertook its study of Autopilot safety in the wake of the fatal crash of Tesla owner Josh Brown in 2016. Autopilot -- more specifically Tesla's lane-keeping function called Autosteer -- was active at the time of the crash, and Brown ignored multiple warnings to put his hands back on the wheel. Critics questioned whether Autopilot actually made Tesla owners less safe by encouraging them to pay less attention to the road. NHTSA's 2017 finding that Autosteer reduced crash rates by 40 percent seemed to put that concern to rest. When another Tesla customer, Walter Huang, died in an Autosteer-related crash last March, Tesla cited NHTSA's 40 percent figure in a blog post defending the technology. A few weeks later, Tesla CEO Elon Musk berated reporters for focusing on stories about crashes instead of touting the safety benefits of Autopilot....
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's 80-years-in-prison department
20-year-old Timothy Dalton Vaughn from Winston-Salem, N.C now faces 80 years in federal prison, reports KrebsOnSecurity.com:
Federal authorities this week arrested a North Carolina man who allegedly ran with a group of online hooligans that attacked Web sites (including this one), took requests on Twitter to call in bomb threats to thousands of schools, and tried to frame various online gaming sites as the culprits. In an ironic twist, the accused -- who had fairly well separated his real life identity from his online personas -- appears to have been caught after a gaming Web site he frequented got hacked...
[T]he real-life identity of HDGZero remained a mystery...as there was little publicly available information at the time connecting that moniker to anyone. That is, until early January 2019, when news broke that hackers had broken into the servers of computer game maker BlankMediaGames and made off with account details of some 7.6 million people who had signed up to play "Town of Salem," the company's browser-based role playing game. That stolen information has since been posted and resold in underground forums. A review of the leaked BlankMediaGames user database shows that in late 2018, someone who selected the username "hdgzero" signed up to play Town of Salem... The data also shows this person registered at the site using a Sprint mobile device with an Internet address that traced back to the Carolinas.
This week America's Justice Department released an indictment of Vaughn and co-conspirator George Duke-Cohan for spoofed bomb threat emails to more than 2,400 schools, according to Krebs, adding that the government also alleges the two reported a fake hijacking of an airline bound for the United States. "That flight, which had almost 300 passengers on board, was later quarantined for four hours in San Francisco pending a full security check."
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's join-us-now-and-share-the-dating-apps department
"I've been making the argument that everything is a free software issue for a few months now," writes the campaigns manager for the Free Software Foundation, in a new essay sharing thoughts on "the issues proprietary technology poses in dating and maintaining romantic relationships":
The essay also warns about the proprietry software used for restaurant reservations, ride-sharing apps, and chat applications. (Not to mention the non-free software behind gift shopping on Amazon.) And even if you decide on a romantic evening at home, "you might find yourself tempted by freedom-disrespecting, DRM-supporting streaming services like Hulu and Netflix...."
"These are all proprietary tools, and the act of using them restricts our freedoms. When the ways we connect with one another are proprietary, we're trusting our secrets, intimacies, and relationships to technology we cannot trust."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's fixer-uppers department
This weekend the BBC reports on the site of the Chernobyl nuclear plant explosion -- where "robotic cranes are dismantling 33-year-old, radioactive wreckage" -- investigating an area of more than 4,000 square kilometres [2,485 square miles] that's been abandoned since 1986. "That could be about to change..."
An anonymous reader summarizes their report:
"Every community within a 30km radius [18.9 miles] of the plant was evacuated and abandoned; no one was allowed to return here to live." Yet the BBC visits a tiny community of 15 who reclaimed their homes in 1986 -- part of a population of 200 "self-settlers" deep in the exclusion zone, "an ageing population cut off from the rest of the country.... Almost every family forced to leave here was given an apartment in a nearby town or city. For Maria and her [88-year-old] mother, though, this cottage, with the garden wrapped around it, was home. They refused to abandon it. 'We weren't allowed to come back, but I followed my mum.'"
Parts of the exclusion zone in Ukraine and Belarus have become "a post-human nature reserve", home to prowling wolves and dozens of wild horses. Yet Professor Jim Smith from the UK's University of Portsmouth explains that "Most of the area of the exclusion zone gives rise to lower radiation dose rates than many areas of natural radioactivity worldwide." In fact, the abandoned nuclear-worker city of Pripyat was recently deemed safe to visit for short periods, "and has now become one of Ukraine's most talked about tourist attractions. An estimated 60,000 people visited the exclusion zone last year, keen to witness the dramatic decay."
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By BeauHD from Slashdot's planning-for-the-future department
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanual has released a roadmap for transitioning to 100% renewable energy by 2035 and to an electric Chicago Transit Authority bus fleet by 2040. The move is especially noteworthy as there are 11 nuclear reactors in operation in Illinois. From a report: Yesterday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled the Resilient Chicago plan, which with action number 38 commits to "transition to 100% clean, renewable energy in buildings community-wide by 2035." The deadline for all city government buildings to be powered solely by renewables, first established in 2017, has been brought forward to 2025. The policy has been introduced as part of environmental group the Sierra Club's "Ready for 100" campaign, and Chicago is the largest city to join the effort to date. (Editor's note: While Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has announced his city is on a path to 100% renewable energy, it is not clear if the formal goal is 100% renewable or 100% zero-carbon, and LA is not included in the Sierra Club's Ready for 100 list.)
The language of the Resilient Chicago text says "clean, renewable energy," and the Sierra Club does not include nuclear as part of its Ready to 100 campaign. The new policy is a particularly interesting move for Emanuel, once considered one of the more pro-nuclear politicians in the Democratic Party, and a man who brokered the deal that created Exelon. Were Chicago to include nuclear in a 2035 target, it would require either buying power from existing plants instead of investing in new generation, or starting new nuclear plants within six years. Given the high cost of nuclear compared to wind and solar, few decision makers are contemplating that option.Read Replies (0)