By msmash from Slashdot's something-everyone-agrees-on department
The FCC voted unanimously today to allow carriers to block robocalls by default, setting the stage for the major carriers to take action against the surge of unwanted automated calls that basically everyone hates. From a report: The agency also voted to move forward on a proposed rule that would require carriers to adopt the SHAKEN / STIR caller ID authentication system if they don't do it themselves by year-end. Ajit Pai, a Republican, has called robocalls the "scourge of civilization," while Geoffrey Starks, a Democrat, said that the unwanted calls have "changed the fabric of our culture." The vote comes just two weeks after FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed the blocking rule, which he said was designed to give carriers "certainty" about whether automatic blocking was allowed or not. Carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile have offered robocall-blocking services for a while, but they were opt-in. In an op-ed published on USA Today, Pai said, "I hate robocalls as much as you do." He added, "If Americans can agree on anything these days, it's that they're fed up with robocalls. The scam calls. The calls from foreign countries at 2 a.m. The deceptive caller ID 'spoofing,' which happens when a caller falsifies caller ID information to make it look as if they're calling from your area code."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
Players will have to pay $129.99 up front and $9.99 a month, on top of individual game purchase costs, when Google's previously announced Stadia game-streaming service launches in November. From a report: A free tier will be available some time in 2020, as will a paid subscription tier that doesn't require the upfront purchase. The Stadia Founder's Edition and its contingent Stadia Pro subscription will be the only way to get access to the Stadia service when it launches, Google announced today. That $129.99 package, available for pre-order on the Google Store right now, will include: A Stadia controller in "limited-edition night blue", a Chromecast Ultra, a three months of Stadia Pro service and a three-month "buddy pass" to give to a friend, and first dibs on claiming a "Stadia Name".
After the first three months, Stadia Pro users will have to pay $9.99 a month to maintain their membership. For that price, they will get access to Google's highest-quality streams, at up to 4K/60fps with high-dynamic range (HDR) and 5.1 surround sound. In 2019, users will not be able to sign up for Stadia Pro without investing in the Founder's Edition hardware package, and Founder's Edition packages will only be available "in limited quantities and for a limited time."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's taking-a-stand department
Microsoft has quietly pulled from the internet its database of 10 million faces [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source], which has been used to train facial recognition systems around the world, including by military researchers and Chinese firms such as SenseTime and Megvii. From a report: The database, known as MS Celeb, was published in 2016 and described by the company as the largest publicly available facial recognition data set in the world, containing more than 10m images of nearly 100,000 individuals. The people whose photos were used were not asked for their consent, their images were scraped off the web from search engines and videos under the terms of the Creative Commons license that allows academic reuse of photos.
Microsoft, which took down the database days after the FT reported on its use by companies, said: "The site was intended for academic purposes. It was run by an employee that is no longer with Microsoft and has since been removed." Two other data sets have also been taken down since the FT report was published in April, including the Duke MTMC surveillance data set built by Duke University researchers, and a Stanford University data set called Brainwash.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's tussle-continues department
YouTube will reconsider its harassment policies and may update them, the company said in a new blog post. The statement was apparently prompted by public pressure on the company after a conflict between two YouTubers: Carlos Maza, who hosts for Vox, and Stephen Crowder, a conservative media personality. From a report: In response to backlash, YouTube has convened a blue-ribbon commission and appears to be hoping everyone will stop screaming. YouTube has promised to consult journalists, experts, creators, and those who have experienced harassment as the company tries to figure out how to update its policies. Last week, Maza tweeted a very viral thread about how Crowder had targeted him for harassment, calling him -- among other epithets -- a "lispy sprite," a "little queer," and a "gay Latino from Vox." Maza's target was YouTube; he wanted to know why the company hadn't responded to the derogatory remarks Crowder made about Maza's sexuality and ethnicity, as can be seen in a supercut posted by Maza.
Last night, YouTube said Crowder's homophobic harassment didn't violate any of its policies, and that Crowder's videos would stay up. Earlier today, YouTube said that it would remove ads from Crowder's videos, a process known as "demonetization" among YouTubers. But Crowder's demonetization isn't permanent; according to YouTube, Crowder can once again make money from ads if he "addresses all of the issues with his channel."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's major-security-holes department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: A critical remote command execution (RCE) security flaw impacts over half of the Internet's email servers, security researchers from Qualys have revealed today. The vulnerability affects Exim, a mail transfer agent (MTA), which is software that runs on email servers to relay emails from senders to recipients. According to a June 2019 survey of all mail servers visible on the Internet, 57% (507,389) of all email servers run Exim -- although different reports would put the number of Exim installations at ten times that number, at 5.4 million.
In a security alert shared with ZDNet earlier today, Qualys, a cyber-security firm specialized in cloud security and compliance, said it found a very dangerous vulnerability in Exim installations running versions 4.87 to 4.91. The vulnerability is described as a remote command execution -- different, but just as dangerous as a remote code execution flaw -- that lets a local or remote attacker run commands on the Exim server as root. Qualys said the vulnerability can be exploited instantly by a local attacker that has a presence on an email server, even with a low-privileged account. lBut the real danger comes from remote hackers exploiting the vulnerability, who can scan the internet for vulnerable servers, and take over systems. The vulnerability was patched with Exim 4.92, on February 10, 2019, "but at the time the Exim team released v4.92, they didn't know they fixed a major security hole," reports ZDNet.
"This was only recently discovered by the Qualys team while auditing older Exim versions. Now, Qualys researchers are warning Exim users to update to the 4.92 version to avoid having their servers taken over by attackers."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's behind-the-scenes department
When you type in a URL to your browser and press "enter," your browser sends that name to a network of computers called the Domain Name System (DNS), which converts it into IP addresses. These numbers are what allow your browser to find the right server on the internet and connect to it. When you navigate to a website, you are trusting a handful of organizations that have been charged with keeping the DNS working and secure.
"To people like Steven McKie, a developer for and investor in an open-source project called the Handshake Network, this centralized power over internet naming makes the internet vulnerable to both censorship and cyberattacks," reports MIT technology review. "Handshake wants to decentralize it by creating an alternative naming system that nobody controls. In doing so, it could help protect us from hackers trying to exploit the DNS's security weaknesses, and from governments hoping to use it to block free expression." From the report: The system would be based on blockchain technology, meaning it would be software that runs on a widely distributed network of computers. In theory, it would have no single point of failure and depend on no human-run organization that could be corrupted or co-opted. Handshake's software is a heavily modified version ("fork") of Bitcoin, and just as Bitcoin's network of miners protects the cryptocurrency from manipulation and makes it virtually impossible for authorities to shut down, a similar network could keep a permanent, censorship-resistant record of internet names. The Handshake team is far from the first to try to create a decentralized naming system for the web. But unlike previous efforts, Handshake isn't trying to replace DNS but work with it.
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By BeauHD from Slashdot's it's-about-time department
Boston Dynamics is about to launch its first ever commercial product -- a quadrupedal robot named Spot. The Verge reports: Spot is currently being tested in a number of "proof-of-concept" environments, Boston Dynamics' CEO Marc Raibert told The Verge, including package delivery and surveying work. And although there's no firm launch date for the commercial version of Spot, it should be available within months, said Raibert, and certainly before the end of the year. "We're just doing some final tweaks to the design," said the CEO. "We've been testing them relentlessly."
Rather than selling the robot as a single-use tool, it's positioning it as a "mobility platform" that can be customized by users to complete a range of tasks. A Spot robot mounted with 3D cameras can map environments like construction sites, identifying hazards and work progress. When equipped with a robot arm, it has even greater flexibility, able to open doors and manipulate objects. At Re:MARS, a Spot with a robot arm used it to pick up items, including a cuddly toy that was then offered to a flesh-and-blood police dog. The dog was unimpressed with the robot, but happy, at least, to receive the toy. Raibert says it's this "athletic intelligence" that Boston Dynamics will be selling through its robots. Think of it like Amazon's AWS business, but instead of offering computing power on tap, its robotic mobility. How much will Spot cost? Raibert only said that the commercial version will be "much less expensive than prototypes [and] we think they'll be less expensive than other peoples' quadrupeds."
He did, however, reveal that the company had already found some paying customers, including construction companies in Japan who are testing Spot as a way to oversee the progress of work on sites.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's tiny-insect-brains department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: Researchers have trained honeybees to match a character to a specific quantity, revealing they are able to learn that a symbol represents a numerical amount. The discovery, from the same Australian-French team that found bees get the concept of zero and can do simple arithmetic, also points to new approaches for bio-inspired computing that can replicate the brain's highly efficient approach to processing. Associate Professor Adrian Dyer said while humans were the only species to have developed systems to represent numbers, like the Arabic numerals we use each day, the research shows the concept can be grasped by brains far smaller than ours.
In a Y-shaped maze, individual bees were trained to correctly match a character with a number of elements. They were then tested on whether they could apply their new knowledge to match the character to various elements of the same quantity (in the same way that '2' can represent two bananas, two trees or two hats). A second group was trained in the opposite approach, matching a number of elements with a character. While both could grasp their specific training, the different groups were unable to reverse the association and work out what to do when tested with the opposite (character-to-number or number-to-character). As for what this means, Dr. Scarlett Howard, the researcher who conducted the experiment, said: "This suggests that number processing and understanding of symbols happens in different regions in bee brains, similar to the way separate processing happens in the human brain. Our results show honeybees are not at the same level as the animals that have been able to learn symbols as numbers and perform complex tasks. But the results have implications for what we know about learning, reversing tasks, and how the brain creates connections and associations between concepts."
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By BeauHD from Slashdot's more-normal-than-previously-thought department
sciencehabit writes from a report via Science Magazine: Four years ago, when experimenters spotted pentaquarks -- exotic, short-lived particles made of five quarks -- some physicists thought they had glimpsed the strong nuclear force, which binds the atomic nucleus, engaging in a bizarre new trick. New observations have now expanded the zoo of pentaquarks, but suggest a tamer explanation for their structure. The findings, from the Large Hadron Collider beauty experiment (LHCb), a particle detector fed by the LHC at CERN, the European particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, suggest pentaquarks are not bags of five quarks binding in a new way, but are more like conventional atomic nuclei, with a particle called a baryon that contains three quarks bound to another called a meson, which has two. Researchers say it's too early to say which model of pentaquarks is correct, but the new observations move the needle toward the molecular picture. The study has been published in the journal Physical Review Letters.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's joined-forces department
Microsoft and Oracle announced a new alliance today that will see the two companies directly connect their clouds over a direct network connection so that their users can then move workloads and data seamlessly between the two. This alliance goes a bit beyond just basic direct connectivity and also includes identity interoperability. TechCrunch reports: This kind of alliance is relatively unusual between what are essentially competing clouds, but while Oracle wants to be seen as a major player in this space, it also realizes that it isn't likely to get to the size of an AWS, Azure or Google Cloud anytime soon. For Oracle, this alliance means that its users can run services like the Oracle E-Business Suite and Oracle JD Edwards on Azure while still using an Oracle database in the Oracle cloud, for example. With that, Microsoft still gets to run the workloads and Oracle gets to do what it does best (though Azure users will also continue be able to run their Oracle databases in the Azure cloud, too).
For now, the direct interconnect between the two clouds is limited to Azure US East and Oracle's Ashburn data center. The two companies plan to expand this alliance to other regions in the future, though they remain mum on the details. It'll support applications like JD Edwards EnterpriseOne, E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft, Oracle Retail and Hyperion on Azure, in combination with Oracle databases like RAC, Exadata and the Oracle Autonomous Database running in the Oracle Cloud.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's showing-low-profit-customers-the-door department
With internet service growing faster and more profitable, subscribers are becoming expendable, meaning pay-TV companies no longer need to entice customers who are threatening to quit with discounts and special offers. Bloomberg reports: Over the past few years, pay-TV stocks have suffered wicked swings as investors reacted to growing subscriber losses. But they've recovered as the companies shift their focus to lucrative broadband services. Comcast, the largest U.S. cable provider, is up 22% this year and Charter is up 36% to a 21-month high, outpacing the 12% gain for the S&P 500. That's despite accelerating pay-TV subscriber losses at both companies last quarter.
"It used to be when customers would call and said, "I'm thinking of cutting the cord,' they'd throw all sort of promotions to keep them from leaving," said Craig Moffett, an industry analyst at MoffettNathanson LLC. "Now they're saying, 'Goodbye, it's been fun, enjoy the broadband subscription.'" Cable One Inc., a smaller cable company with about 305,000 residential video customers, even helps cord cutters choose between online alternatives like YouTube TV or Hulu's live TV service, according to Moffett. [C]able executives are now focused on what they call "profitable" or "high-quality" video subscribers and less interested in cutting deals. The report also says that pay-TV providers are making up for the lost revenue by charging everyone more.
"As customers drop pay TV, cable companies will actually see their profit margins widen," reports Bloomberg. "That's because much of their pay-TV revenue goes right to channel owners, like Disney and its ESPN, in the form of subscriber fees. Fueled by expensive sports rights, those fees are even rising faster than cable TV bills, hurting profits for companies like DirecTV and Comcast." Those who cancel cable TV typically upgrade to faster, more expensive internet, which is far more profitable for companies.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's more-the-merrier department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Google has employed its network of street-view vehicles to also measure street-level air quality in recent years, through an initiative it calls "Project Air View." Today, it's making available to scientists and researcher organizations more of the resulting data from that ongoing initiative. The company is releasing an updated version of its air quality data set that includes information collected with partner Aclima's environmental sensors gathered between 2017 and 2018. The combined data cache includes info from the SF Bay and San Joaquin Valley area, originally starting in 2016, along with the additional two years' worth of data for those areas as well as for other parts of California, and other major cities, including Houston, Salt Lake City, Copenhagen, London and Amsterdam.
All told, Google's mapping data set for air quality now includes info covering more than 140,000 miles and 7,000 hours of combined driving time spanning 2016 through 2018. That's a significant base upon which to build a study of the trajectory of air quality changes over time, and Google plans to not only continue this program, but expand it with additional coverage for more cities globally, including in Asia, Africa and South America.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's behind-the-scenes department
jader3rd shares a report from The Seattle Times: After more than two decades battling internet hoaxes, retouched photos, and other fake news, David Mikkelson, co-founder of Snopes, faces a much larger and more existential adversary. Since 2017, Mikkelson has been locked in a nasty legal dispute with former business associates over control of Snopes, the pioneering fact-checking website that Mikkelson launched with a former wife in 1994 and which he now runs with his current wife from their house in Tacoma. The dispute, which is playing out in the California courts, has generated claims and counterclaims of financial mismanagement, conspiracy and embezzlement. Mikkelson stands accused of, among other things, using company funds for 'lavish' vacations, while he in turn levels accusations of fraud. It has also been so costly that, by Mikkelson's account, Snopes and its parent company, Bardav, might have gone under without help from GoFundMe campaigns, and Snopes hasn't been able to operate at full capacity, even as demand for internet fact-checking grows by the week.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's almost-ready-for-primetime department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from VentureBeat: Google today launched the fourth Android Q beta with final Android Q APIs and the official SDK. If you're a developer, this is your fourth Android Q preview, and you can start testing your apps against this release by downloading it from developer.android.com/preview. The preview includes system images for the Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL, Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL, Pixel 3a, Pixel 3a XL, and the official Android Emulator. If you're already enrolled in the beta program, you'll automatically get the update to Beta 4. Like Beta 3, Google is also bringing Android Q Beta 4 to third-party phones "over the coming weeks." The Beta 4 doesn't bring many new features -- it's more about finalizing what was already added, such as the additional privacy and security features, multitasking bubbles, and system-wide dark mode.
Google is however "opening publishing on Google Play to apps that are compiled against, or optionally targeting, API 29," the report adds. "You can thus now push updates to users through Google Play to test your app's compatibility, including on devices running Android Q Beta 4."Read Replies (0)