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Why It's So Hard To Trust Facebook
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 01:01 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's dubious department:
Brian Stelter, writing for CNN: Why won't Facebook show the public the propagandistic ads that a so-called Russian troll farm bought last year to target American voters? That lack of transparency is troubling to many observers. "Show us the ads Zuck!" Silicon Valley entrepreneur Jason Calacanis wrote on Twitter when The Washington Post reported on the surreptitious ad buys on Wednesday. Calacanis said Facebook was "profiting off fake news," echoing a widely held criticism of the social network. It was only the latest example of Facebook's credibility problem. For a business based on the concept of friendship, it's proving to be a hard company to trust. On the business side, Facebook's metrics for advertisers have been error-prone, to say the least. Analysts and reporters have repeatedly uncovered evidence of faulty data and measurement mistakes. Facebook's opaqueness has also engendered mistrust in the political arena. Conservative activists have accused the company of censoring right-wing voices and stories. Liberal activists have raised alarms about its exploitation of personal information to target ads. And the news business is worried about the spread of bogus stories and hoaxes on the site. Some critics have even taken to calling Facebook a "surveillance company," seeking to reframe the business the social network is in -- not networking but ad targeting based on monitoring of users. Over at The Verge, Casey Newton documents inconsistencies in Facebook's public remarks over its role in the outcome of the presidential election last year. Newton says Facebook's shifting Russian ads stories and unwillingness to disclose information citing laws (which seem to imply otherwise) are damaging its credibility.

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Could 'Re-Engineering' Earth Help Ease the Hurricane Threat?
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 01:01 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's mission-saving-the-planet department:
As hurricanes continue to increase in frequency and intensity, a $10-billion-a-year project proposes injecting sulfate into the atmosphere to cool down the Earth and reduce the number of hurricanes by 50% for a staggering 50 years. From a report: In an attempt to combat climate change, a multinational team of scientists are working on a plan to literally re-engineer the Earth in order to cool it down and reduce the impact of storm systems. For example, a team led by John Moore, who is the head of China's geoengineering research program, is studying how shading sulfate aerosols that are dispersed into the stratosphere could help cool the planet and reduce the number of hurricane occurrences. In an interview with Popular Mechanics, outlining how the plan works, Moore asserts, "We're basically mimicking a volcano and saying we're going to put 5 billion tons of sulfates a year into the atmosphere 20 kilometers high, and we'll do that for 50 years." In their current research model, in which the scientists tested a senario where the sulfate injection is doubled over time, the team found that incidences of Katrina-level hurricanes could be maintained (they would be kept at the same rate that we currently see) and that storm surges, which is the rise in seawater level that is caused solely by a storm, could be mitigated by half. The researchers noted that the volcanic eruption in 1912 of Katmai in Alaska "loaded the Northern Hemisphere with aerosol [sulfates], and [was] followed by the least active hurricane season on record." Moore explains that warmer waters can spark and fuel hurricanes, and cooling them with shading sulfates reduces the size and intensity of these hurricanes.

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Mexican Tax Refund Site Left 400GB of Sensitive Customer Info Wide Open
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 11:41 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's security-woes department:
Mexican VAT refund site MoneyBack exposed sensitive customer information online as a result of a misconfigured database. From a report: A CouchDB database featuring half a million customers' passport details, credit card numbers, travel tickets and more was left publicly accessible, security firm Kromtech reports. More than 400GB of sensitive information could be either downloaded or viewed because of a lack of access controls before the system was recently secured.

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Are We Being Watched? Tens of Other Worlds Could Spot the Earth
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 11:41 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's flip-it department:
A group of scientists from Queen's University Belfast and the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany have turned exoplanet-hunting on its head, in a study that instead looks at how an alien observer might be able to detect Earth using our own methods. From a report: They find that at least nine exoplanets are ideally placed to observe transits of Earth, in a new work published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Thanks to facilities and missions such as SuperWASP and Kepler, we have now discovered thousands of planets orbiting stars other than our Sun, worlds known as 'exoplanets.' The vast majority of these are found when the planets cross in front of their host stars in what are known as 'transits,' which allow astronomers to see light from the host star dim slightly at regular intervals every time the planet passes between us and the distant star. In the new study, the authors reverse this concept and ask, "How would an alien observer see the Solar System?" They identified parts of the distant sky from where various planets in our Solar System could be seen to pass in front of the Sun - so-called 'transit zones' -- concluding that the terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) are actually much more likely to be spotted than the more distant 'Jovian' planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune), despite their much larger size. To look for worlds where civilisations would have the best chance of spotting our Solar System, the astronomers looked for parts of the sky from which more than one planet could be seen crossing the face of the Sun. They found that three planets at most could be observed from anywhere outside of the Solar System, and that not all combinations of three planets are possible.

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VR's Tough Demand: Your Undivided Attention
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 10:21 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's one-perspective department:
Ina Fried, writing for Axios: If you want to know why virtual reality hasn't taken off, you might want to blame our addiction to smartphones. Why? While the power of VR is to be transported into an immersive experience, consumers will demand a lot out of something that makes them give up Twitter and Facebook, even for a few minutes. One perspective: "It has to be a really compelling reason to get you to give up all that," Shauna Heller, a former Oculus worker who now consults on VR projects, said Thursday at the Mobile Future Forward conference near Seattle. "There aren't just a ton of those reasons just yet."

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A Few Bad Scientists Are Threatening To Topple Taxonomy
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 10:21 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's what's-happening department:
From a report: To study life on Earth, you need a system. Ours is Linnaean taxonomy, the model started by Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus in 1735. Linnaeus's two-part species names, often Latin-based, consist of both a genus name and a species name, i.e. Homo sapiens. Like a library's Dewey Decimal system for books, this biological classification system has allowed scientists around the world to study organisms without confusion or overlap for nearly 300 years. But, like any library, taxonomy is only as good as its librarians -- and now a few rogue taxonomists are threatening to expose the flaws within the system. Taxonomic vandals, as they're referred to within the field, are those who name scores of new taxa without presenting sufficient evidence for their finds. Like plagiarists trying to pass off others' work as their own, these glory-seeking scientists use others' original research in order to justify their so-called "discoveries." "It's unethical name creation based on other people's work," says Mark Scherz, a herpetologist who recently named a new species of fish-scaled gecko. "It's that lack of ethical sensibility that creates that problem." The goal of taxonomic vandalism is often self-aggrandizement. Even in such an unglamorous field, there is prestige and reward -- and with them, the temptation to misbehave. "If you name a new species, there's some notoriety to it," Thomson says. "You get these people that decide that they just want to name everything, so they can go down in history as having named hundreds and hundreds of species." The problem may be getting worse, thanks to the advent of online publishing and loopholes in the species naming code. With vandals at large, some researchers are less inclined to publish or present their work publicly for fear of being scooped, taxonomists told me. "Now there's a hesitation to present our data publically, and that's how scientists communicate," Thomson says. "The problem that causes is that you don't know who is working on what, and then the scientists start stepping on each other's toes."

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Fake Facebook 'Like' Networks Exploited Code Flaw To Create Millions of Bogus 'Likes'
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 09:01 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's fakebook department:
A thriving ecosystem of websites that allow users to automatically generate millions of fake "likes" and comments on Facebook has been documented by researchers at the University of Iowa. From a report: Working with a computer scientist at Facebook and one in Lahore, Pakistan, the team found more than 50 sites offering free, fake "likes" for users' posts in exchange for access to their accounts, which were used to falsely "like" other sites in turn. The scientists found that these "collusion networks" run by spammers have managed to harness the power of one million Facebook accounts, producing as many as 100 million fake "likes" on the systems between 2015 and 2016. A large number of "likes" can push a posting up in Facebook's algorithm, making it more likely the post will be seen by more people and also making it seem more legitimate.

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At Burning Man While Your Startup Burns
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 09:01 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's priorities department:
There's a difference between clearing your head, and ditching your dying startup to do drugs in the desert. From a report: Whether you're going to Burning Man, Ibiza, SXSW, or some big international tech conference, the message you send is the same. If your startup isn't succeeding, you're skipping out on the dirty work while hoping some miracle revelation or networking connection will save you. And it probably won't. For those less familiar, Burning Man is when 70,000 people build a temporary city of tents and RVs in the Nevada desert where no money is exchanged, and instead everyone seeks to gift strangers with giant art installations, workshops, food, drinks, and celebrations. But I get a sinking feeling when I notice or hear about the leaders of a struggling startup trying to dance or dose away their troubles. Being out of a contact for several days to a week since there's no reliable cellular connection and a stigma against phone use creates a decision-making bottleneck that can slow down your company. Ex-Oculus founder Palmer Luckey here points out how juice presser startup Juicero's founder Doug Evans took off to Burning Man for week. That's despite the company recently admitting it needed to lower prices after Bloomberg reporters revealed you could simply squeeze Juicero juice packs by hand without the $400 machine. In the middle of that week Evans was at Burning Man, Juicero announced it would suspend sales of its juicer and juice packs as it desperately tries to find an acquirer. While Evans handed over the CEO title to former Coca-Cola exec Jeff Dunn late last year, the company told TechCrunch "Evans is Juicero's full time Founder and Chairman of the Board and very active within the company."

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Seoul Is Reinventing Itself As a Techno-Utopia
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 07:41 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's stepping-up department:
mirandakatz writes: Seoul is struggling: Its birth rate is at an all-time low, college graduates are having enormous trouble finding jobs, and trust in government is not high. But South Korea is also, in many ways, cutting edge -- and it wants to use that future-thinking power to build its capital into a techno-utopia. As Susan Crawford details at Backchannel, that begins with a powerful data analysis tool known as the "The Digital Civic Mayor's Office." Crawford writes that "this dashboard seemed like a potential green shoot of democracy -- a city doing what it can to show citizens why government should be trusted and that their quality of life, including the quality of the air they breathe, the prices of the apples they eat, and the traffic jams they face daily, is important."

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Mexico's Strongest Quake in Century Strikes Off Southern Coast
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 07:41 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's breaking-news department:
An earthquake described by Mexico's president as the country's strongest in a century has struck off the southern coast, killing at least 33 people. From a report: The quake, which President Enrique Pena Nieto said measured 8.2, struck in the Pacific, about 87km (54 miles) south-west of Pijijiapan. Severe damage has been reported in Oaxaca and Chiapas states. A tsunami warning was initially issued for Mexico and other nearby countries, but later lifted. The quake, which struck at 23:50 local time on Thursday (04:50 GMT Friday), was felt hundreds of miles away in Mexico City, with buildings swaying and people running into the street. The tremors there were reported to have lasted up to a minute. President Pena Nieto said about 50 million Mexicans would have felt the tremor and that the death toll might rise.

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Equifax Breach is Very Possibly the Worst Leak of Personal Info Ever
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 06:21 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's massive-implications department:
The breach Equifax reported Thursday is very possibly is the most severe of all for a simple reason: the breath-taking amount of highly sensitive data it handed over to criminals. Dan Goodin of ArsTechnica writes: By providing full names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and, in some cases, driver license numbers, it provided most of the information banks, insurance companies, and other businesses use to confirm consumers are who they claim to be. The theft, by criminals who exploited a security flaw on the Equifax website, opens the troubling prospect the data is now in the hands of hostile governments, criminal gangs, or both and will remain so indefinitely.
Hacks hitting Yahoo and other sites, by contrast, may have breached more accounts, but the severity of the personal data was generally more limited. And in most cases the damage could be contained by changing a password or getting a new credit card number. What's more, the 143 million US people Equifax said were potentially affected accounts for roughly 44 percent of the population. When children and people without credit histories are removed, the proportion becomes even bigger. That means well more than half of all US residents who rely the most on bank loans and credit cards are now at a significantly higher risk of fraud and will remain so for years to come. Besides being used to take out loans in other people's names, the data could be abused by hostile governments to, say, tease out new information about people with security clearances, especially in light of the 2015 hack on the US Office of Personnel Management, which exposed highly sensitive data on 3.2 million federal employees, both current and retired.

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Google Is Apparently Ready To Buy Smartphone Maker HTC
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 06:21 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's buy-and-sell department:
According to a Taiwanese news outlet called Commercial Times, Google is in the final stages of acquiring all or part of smartphone maker HTC. CNBC reports: The report seems fishy, since Google has already been down this road, but there's a reason why Google might be interested in HTC. The Taiwanese company builds the Google Pixel, which means it could be a good fit for Google as it continues to cater to consumers with its "Pixel" smartphone brand. Here's where it sounds off base: Google acquired Motorola Mobility and then sold it off just a couple of years later. Why repeat that move? Commercial Times said HTC's poor financial position and Google's desire to "perfect [the] integration of software, content, hardware, network, cloud, [and] AI," is the driving force behind Google's interest. The news outlet said Google may make a "strategic investment" or "buy HTC's smartphone R&D team" which suggests that the VR team would exist as its own.

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IBM To Invest $240 Million To Develop AI Research Lab With MIT
Posted by News Fetcher on September 08 '17 at 02:20 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's powers-combined department:
IBM will spend $240 million over 10 years to develop an artificial intelligence research lab with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pooling the organizations' resources as competition intensifies to produce breakthroughs in the field. Bloomberg reports: The MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab will fund projects in four broad areas, including creating better hardware to handle complex computations and figuring out applications of AI in specific industries, the Armonk, New York-based company said Thursday in a statement. While IBM has always conducted long-term research internally, it decided AI was such a vast field that it needed to reach out for talent and ideas, said John Kelly, the head of International Business Machines Corp.'s research and cognitive solutions groups, which includes Watson products. While researchers will focus on long-term innovations in artificial intelligence, IBM will also be looking for developments -- a new medical imaging algorithm, say -- that it can immediately plug into its existing products. Big Blue expects to see results that boost its Watson-branded AI business in the next year or two, Kelly said. The plan is to change the focus and number of teams as needed to produce results, he said. The partnership underscores IBM's focus on building a business selling AI software, a strategy that requires clients to adopt such products and the company to develop offerings that add actual business value and are competitive with juggernauts in artificial intelligence, including Microsoft Corp. and Alphabet. IBM and MIT will jointly own the intellectual property that results from the projects conducted together. The company also has the option to buy out MIT for full ownership, Kelly said.

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SpaceX Rocket Launches X-37B Space Plane On Secret Mission, Aces Landing
Posted by News Fetcher on September 07 '17 at 11:40 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's top-secret department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Space.com: The fifth mystery mission of the U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane is now underway. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the robotic X-37B lifted off today (Sept. 7) at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. About 2.5 minutes into the flight, the Falcon 9's two stages separated. While the second stage continued hauling the X-37B to orbit, the first stage maneuvered its way back to Earth, eventually pulling off a vertical touchdown at Landing Zone 1, a SpaceX facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is next door to KSC. The Air Force is known to possess two X-37Bs, both of which were built by Boeing. The uncrewed vehicles look like NASA's now-retired space shuttle orbiters, but are much smaller; each X-37B is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 9.6 feet (2.9 m) tall, with a payload bay the size of a pickup truck bed. For comparison, the space shuttles were 122 feet (37 m) long, with 78-foot (24 m) wingspans. Like the space shuttle, the X-37B launches vertically and comes to back to Earth horizontally, in a runway landing. Together, the two X-37Bs have completed four space missions, each of which has set a new duration standard for the program. Exactly what the X-37B did during those four missions, or what it will do during the newly launched OTV-5, is a mystery; most X-37B payloads and activities are classified.

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Bug In Windows Kernel Could Prevent Security Software From Identifying Malware
Posted by News Fetcher on September 07 '17 at 07:41 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's security-issues department:
An anonymous reader writes: "Malware developers can abuse a programming error in the Windows kernel to prevent security software from identifying if, and when, malicious modules have been loaded at runtime," reports Bleeping Computer. "The bug affects PsSetLoadImageNotifyRoutine, one of the low-level mechanisms some security solutions use to identify when code has been loaded into the kernel or user space. The problem is that an attacker can exploit this bug in a way that PsSetLoadImageNotifyRoutine returns an invalid module name, allowing an attacker to disguise malware as a legitimate operation. The issue came to light earlier this year when enSilo researchers were analyzing the Windows kernel code. Omri Misgav, Security Researcher at enSilo and the one who discovered the issue, says the bug affects all Windows versions released since Windows 2000. Misgav's tests showed that the programming error has survived up to the most recent Windows 10 releases." In an interview, the researcher said Microsoft did not consider this a security issue. Bug technical details are available here.

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Spinning Metal Sails Could Slash Fuel Consumption, Emissions On Cargo Ships
Posted by News Fetcher on September 07 '17 at 06:21 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's lean-and-mean department:
sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: U.K. soccer star David Beckham was known for "bending" his free kicks over walls of defenders and around sprawling goal tenders, thanks to a physical force called the Magnus effect. Now, the physics behind such curving kicks is set to be used to propel ocean ships more efficiently. Early next year, a tanker vessel owned by Maersk, the Danish transportation conglomerate, and a passenger ship owned by Viking Line will be outfitted with spinning cylinders on their decks. Mounted vertically and up to 10 stories tall, these "rotor sails" could slash fuel consumption up to 10%, saving transportation companies hundreds of thousands of dollars and cutting soot-causing carbon emissions by thousands of tons per trip. Rotor sails rely on a bit of aerodynamics known as the Magnus effect. In the 1850s, German physicist Heinrich Gustav Magnus noticed that when moving through air a spinning object such as a ball experiences a sideways force. The force comes about as follows. If the ball were not spinning, air would stream straight past it, creating a swirling wake that would stretch out directly behind the ball like the tail of a comet. The turning surface of a spinning ball, however, drags some air with it. The rotation deflects the wake so that it comes off the ball at an angle, closer to the side of the ball that's rotating into the oncoming air. Thanks to Isaac Newton's third law that every action must have an equal and opposite reaction, the deflected wake pushes the ball in the opposite direction, toward the side of the ball that's turning away from the oncoming air. Thus, the spinning ball gets a sideways shove.

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The Google Drive App For PC, Mac Is Being Shut Down In March
Posted by News Fetcher on September 07 '17 at 05:01 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's end-of-the-line department:
Google announced in a blog post today that the Google Drive app for desktop will be shut down. The Verge reports: Support will be cut off on December 11th and the app will shut down completely on March 12th, 2018. Users who are still running the Drive app will start seeing notifications in October that it's "going away," and the company will steer customers towards one of two replacements depending on whether they're a consumer or business user. Google Drive the service isn't going anywhere. You can still access it from the web, smartphone apps, and either of the software options mentioned below. Google now has two fairly new software tools for backing up your data and/or accessing files in the cloud. There's Backup and Sync, the all-encompassing consumer app that replaces both the standalone Google Drive and Google Photos Uploader apps. It offers essentially the same functionality as Drive and works much the same way. And on the enterprise side, Google has rolled out Drive File Streamer, which saves space on your local drive while providing access to "all of your Google Drive files on demand, directly from your computer."

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Following Cheating Scandals, Harvard Dean of Undergrad Ed Visits CS50 Class and Tells Students Not To Cheat
Posted by News Fetcher on September 07 '17 at 05:01 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's sneak-peek department:
theodp writes: After a flood of cheating cases roiled Harvard's Computer Science 50: "Introduction to Computer Science I" last year, Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay Harris implored students in the course not to cheat on assignments at an orientation session Wednesday night. Course head David Malan, the Harvard Crimson reports, spent the last five minutes of the orientation session fielding questions from students confused about the course's collaboration policy and whether or not CS50 enrollees are allowed to use code found online. He told them never to Google solutions, and never to borrow a friend's work. Last week, CS50 students were informed via a CS50 FAQ that they are also now "encouraged" to physically attend the course's taped weekly lectures. In an essay last year, Prof. Malan had questioned the value of saying everyone should attend every lecture. Attendance is now also expected at every discussion section until the first mid-semester exam. In case you're curious, the estimated sticker price for attending Harvard College during the 2017-2018 school year is $69,600-$73,600 (health insurance sold separately).

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Facebook Finds a New Service To Copy: Tinder
Posted by News Fetcher on September 07 '17 at 03:41 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's beta-features department:
An anonymous reader shares a report from Motherboard, written by Jacob Dube: Facebook is trying out a new feature that connects users on its Messenger chat platform, but only if they both accept. It looks a lot like Tinder, except it only appears to be connecting people who are already friends with each other. While using Facebook on my phone Wednesday night, I was greeted by a notification that said "[Name redacted] and 15 others may want to meet up with you this week." When I opened the link, I was taken to a page with photos of my Facebook friends and a question: "Want to meet up with [name redacted] this week?" It indicated that my response would be private unless we both said yes. Tap "No Thanks," and that's the end of it. The feature seems to be in beta, and, though it is currently available to me and a few of my friends in Canada, the rest of Motherboard was unable to access it. It's unclear what the feature might be called. It's not hard to see the similarity between the feature and dating apps like Tinder or Bumble, but the Facebook feature seems to connect you only to people you already know, and could have already reached on the Messenger app. The feature didn't just show me potential love interests, however. It also displayed some of my friends, indicating that it might be used to encourage people who are already friends on Facebook to hang out IRL. "People often use Facebook to make plans with their friends," a Facebook spokesperson told Motherboard in an email. "So, we're running a very small test in the Facebook app to make that easier. We look forward to hearing people's feedback." The test is reportedly limited to a small number of users in parts of Toronto and New Zealand, on iOS and Android.

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Disney Is Pulling Star Wars and Marvel Films From Netflix
Posted by News Fetcher on September 07 '17 at 03:41 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's subscribe-to-save department:
Disney CEO Bob Iger announced on Thursday that his company will pull the full catalog of films from the Star Wars franchise and Marvel universe from Netflix after 2019. Last month, Disney announced it would be pulling a number of Disney titles from the Netflix catalog, but left the door open to keeping the Star Wars franchise and Marvel films. That door has since been slammed shut, "choosing instead to use movies like Iron Man, Captain America, and the forthcoming Star Wars: Episode IX as a draw to a new Disney-owned streaming service," reports Ars Technica. From the report: It's not clear exactly which films are affected by Iger's announcement. A Netflix spokesperson told The Verge last month that "we continue to do business with the Walt Disney Company on many fronts, including our ongoing deal with Marvel TV." That refers to a collaboration between Disney and Netflix to produce several live-action television series based on lesser-known Marvel characters Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage. Some of those series are still being actively developed. It's a high-risk gamble for Disney. It makes sense for Disney to bring its best-known franchises back under its own roof to give the Disney streaming service the best possible chance of success. But Disney is leaving a lot of money on the table by not doing a deal with Netflix or one of its competitors. It could be an expensive mistake if the Disney streaming service doesn't get traction.

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