Security

Senate Passes Bill Renewing NSA's Internet Surveillance Program (reuters.com) 43

From a report: The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a bill to renew the National Security Agency's warrantless internet surveillance program for six years and with minimal changes, overcoming objections from civil liberties advocates that it did too little to safeguard the privacy of Americans. From a report on CNET: The programs, known as Prism and Upstream, allow the NSA to collect online communications of foreigners outside the US. Prism collects these communications from internet services, and Upstream taps into the internet's infrastructure to capture information in transit. Some communications from Americans and others in the US are collected in the process. The vote Thursday renews the programs for six years. The House approved a bill renewing the programs last week. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden first revealed the programs by leaking information about them to journalists in 2013. After the news coverage, the administration of President Barack Obama declassified much information about the programs.
NASA

2017 Among Warmest Years On Record (npr.org) 124

2017 was among the warmest years on record, according to new data released by NASA and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. From a report: The planet's global surface temperature last year was second warmest since 1880, NASA says. NOAA calls it the third warmest year on record, due to slight variation in the ways that they analyze temperatures. Both put 2017 behind 2016's record temperatures. And "both analyses show that the five warmest years on record have all taken place since 2010," NASA said in a press release. The trend is seen most dramatically in the Arctic, NASA says, as sea ice continues to melt.
Microsoft

Microsoft Tries To Write the Book On AI (axios.com) 42

When it comes to the ethics and impact of artificial intelligence, Microsoft is literally trying to write the book. From a report: The Future Computed: Artificial Intelligence and its Role in Society is being made available in digital form tonight, with a forward from longtime lawyer Brad Smith and AI/Research chief Harry Shum. Why it matters: Now is the time when a lot of key decisions are being made about how AI will work and the rules that will govern its development. But the discussion has largely been taking place within the tech sector. Axios chatted with Smith and Shum about the book, AI in general and the questions we all should be grappling with. So, why write a book? Smith: There has been a lot of discussion in the tech sector, as you know. But we think that there's an important role to play in trying to take what the tech sector is talking about and broadening the dialogue.
United States

US Doctors Plan To Treat Cancer Patients Using CRISPR (technologyreview.com) 45

An anonymous reader shares a report: The first human test in the U.S. involving the gene-editing tool CRISPR could begin at any time and will employ the DNA cutting technique in a bid to battle deadly cancers. Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania say they will use CRISPR to modify human immune cells so that they become expert cancer killers, according to plans posted this week to a directory of ongoing clinical trials. The study will enroll up to 18 patients fighting three different types of cancer -- multiple myeloma, sarcoma, and melanoma -- in what could become the first medical use of CRISPR outside China, where similar studies have been under way. An advisory group to the National Institutes of Health initially gave a green light to the Penn researchers in June 2016, but until now it was not known whether the trial would proceed.
Crime

Software 'No More Accurate Than Untrained Humans' At Predicting Recidivism (theguardian.com) 145

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The credibility of a computer program used for bail and sentencing decisions has been called into question after it was found to be no more accurate at predicting the risk of reoffending than people with no criminal justice experience provided with only the defendant's age, sex and criminal history. The algorithm, called Compas (Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions), is used throughout the U.S. to weigh up whether defendants awaiting trial or sentencing are at too much risk of reoffending to be released on bail. Since being developed in 1998, the tool is reported to have been used to assess more than one million defendants. But a new paper has cast doubt on whether the software's predictions are sufficiently accurate to justify its use in potentially life-changing decisions.

The academics used a database of more than 7,000 pretrial defendants from Broward County, Florida, which included individual demographic information, age, sex, criminal history and arrest record in the two year period following the Compas scoring. The online workers were given short descriptions that included a defendant's sex, age, and previous criminal history and asked whether they thought they would reoffend. Using far less information than Compas (seven variables versus 137), when the results were pooled the humans were accurate in 67% of cases, compared to the 65% accuracy of Compas. In a second analysis, the paper found that Compas's accuracy at predicting recidivism could also be matched using a simple calculation involving only an offender's age and the number of prior convictions.

Businesses

Tim Cook Says Power Management Feature In Older iPhones Will Be Able To Be Turned Off In Future Update (macrumors.com) 141

In an interview with Rebecca Jarvis of ABC News, Apple CEO Tim Cook touched on the ongoing controversy over power management features in older iPhones. He says that a future update will allow customers to turn off the power management feature that has caused older iPhones to slow down. Mac Rumors reports: According to Cook, when the power management features were first introduced in iOS 10.2.1, Apple did explain what was going on, but following the controversy, he believes Apple should have been clearer. The company did indeed mention that the shutdown issue was caused by uneven power delivery and explained that its power management system had been tweaked, but there was no clear notice that it could cause devices to operate more slowly at times. Cook says Apple "deeply apologizes" to customers who thought the company had other motivations. Apple is introducing better battery monitoring features in a future iOS update, and Cook says Apple will also allow customers to turn off the power management feature, which is new information that the company has not previously shared. The majority of the interview was focused on the announcements that Apple made today. The company plans to contribute $350 billion in the U.S. economy over the next five years, as well as issue employees a bonus of $2,500 of restricted stock units following the introduction of the new U.S. tax law.
Privacy

Amazon Won't Say If It Hands Your Echo Data To the Government (zdnet.com) 104

Zack Whittaker reports via ZDNet of how Amazon still won't say whether or not it hands your Echo data to the government -- three years after the Echo was first released. From the report: Amazon has a transparency problem. Three years ago, the retail giant became the last major tech company to reveal how many subpoenas, search warrants, and court orders it received for customer data in a half-year period. While every other tech giant had regularly published its government request figures for years, spurred on by accusations of participation in government surveillance, Amazon had been largely forgotten. Eventually, people noticed and Amazon acquiesced. Since then, Amazon's business has expanded. By its quarterly revenue, it's no longer a retail company -- it's a cloud giant and a device maker. The company's flagship Echo, an "always listening" speaker, collects vast amounts of customer data that's openly up for grabs by the government. But Amazon's bi-annual transparency figures don't want you to know that. In fact, Amazon has been downright deceptive in how it presents the data, obfuscating the figures in its short, but contextless, twice-yearly reports. Not only does Amazon offer the barest minimum of information possible, the company has -- and continues -- to deliberately mislead its customers by actively refusing to clarify how many customers, and which customers, are affected by the data demands it receives.
Transportation

LAPD Is Not Using the Electric BMWs It Announced In 2016 (cbslocal.com) 125

mi shares a report from CBS Los Angeles: "In a 2016 well-choreographed press conference, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck got out of an electric BMW driven by Mayor Garcetti to tout the city's ambitious project [to provide electric cars for the department]," reports CBS Los Angeles. "The cost: $10.2 million, which includes charging stations." However, the cars have seen very little use. With the monthly lease payment of a little more than $418, one vehicle ends up costing taxpayers over $15 a mile to use. Some of the use they do get is improper too, alleges CBS Los Angeles, citing footage captured from several hidden cameras. "We followed someone after leaving the downtown police garage; they went to the drive-through at Yoshinoya," reports CBS. "On another day, someone drove from downtown LA to Loyola Marymount University in West LA, picked up someone who appeared to be a student, and went to lunch." The deputy chief is looking into what CBS found and says the cars are to be used for business only.
Businesses

Apple Gives Employees $2,500 Bonuses After New Tax Law (bloomberg.com) 254

Apple told employees that it's issuing a bonus of $2,500 of restricted stock units, following the introduction of the new U.S. tax law. "The iPhone maker will begin issuing grants to most employees worldwide in the coming months," reports Bloomberg. Apple also announced today that it would bring back most of its cash from overseas and spend $30 billion in the U.S. over the next five years. From the report: Apple confirmed the bonuses in response to a Bloomberg inquiry Wednesday. The Cupertino, California-based company joins a growing list of American businesses that have celebrated the introduction of corporate-friendly tax law with one-time bonuses for staff. AT&T, Comcast, JetBlue, and Wal-Mart also said they were giving bonuses.
Google

Project Fi Creates Its Own Version of An Unlimited Plan (theverge.com) 58

Google's Project Fi mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) has launched a new feature called Bill Protection that will cap your $10 per GB data bill at $60 a month, while still allowing you to use as much data as you want, essentially creating its own version of an unlimited data plan. The Verge reports: Prior to today, Project Fi users were charged $10 per GB no matter how much data they used, which could become quite costly for heavy users. Bill Protection should help alleviate those worries for most users. Google says those who use up to 15GB of data in a month won't experience any throttling, but if they cross that threshold -- Google says less than 1 percent of its users pass that mark -- they will "experience slower data" with speeds going down to 256kbps. If you don't want to be throttled when you pass 15GB in a month, Google says you can pay the usual $10 per GB to opt out of the slower speeds. It also noted that Bill Protection for Project Fi users on group plans will kick in at different usage levels, depending on the size of your group.
Youtube

YouTube Toughens Advert Payment Rules (bbc.com) 131

YouTube is introducing tougher requirements for video publishers who want to make money from its platform. From a report: In addition, it has said staff will manually review all clips before they are added to a premium service that pairs big brand advertisers with popular content. The moves follow a series of advertiser boycotts and a controversial vlog that featured an apparent suicide victim. One expert said that the Google-owned service had been slow to react. "Google presents the impression of acting reactively rather than proactively," said Mark Mulligan, from the consultancy Midia Research.

[...] The first part of the new strategy involves a stricter requirement that publishers must fulfil before they can make money from their uploads. Clips will no longer have adverts attached unless the publisher meets two criteria -- that they have: at least 1,000 subscribers; and more than 4,000 hours of their content viewed by others within the past 12 months.

Businesses

Apple Says It Will 'Contribute' $350 Billion in the US Economy Over the Next 5 Years (cnbc.com) 159

Apple said on Wednesday it will invest $350 billion in the U.S. economy over the next five years, touting the creation of 20,000 new jobs and a new campus thanks, in part, to the prospect of tax reform. From a report: The company said it expects tax repatriation payments of about $38 billion, indicating that it will bring a portion of its $250 billion overseas cash back to the U.S. As of November, the company had $268.9 billion in cash, both domestically and overseas. The job creation will focus on direct employment, but also suppliers and its app business, which it had already planned to grow substantially. "We have a deep sense of responsibility to give back to our country and the people who help make our success possible," chief executive Tim Cook said in a statement.
Mozilla

Mozilla Restricts All New Firefox Features To HTTPS Only (bleepingcomputer.com) 235

An anonymous reader shares a report: In a groundbreaking statement earlier this week, Mozilla announced that all web-based features that will ship with Firefox in the future must be served on over a secure HTTPS connection (a "secure context"). "Effective immediately, all new features that are web-exposed are to be restricted to secure contexts," said Anne van Kesteren, a Mozilla engineer and author of several open web standards. This means that if Firefox will add support for a new standard/feature starting tomorrow, if that standard/feature carries out communications between the browser and an external server, those communications must be carried out via HTTPS or the standard/feature will not work in Firefox. The decision does not affect already existing standards/features, but Mozilla hopes all Firefox features "will be considered on a case-by-case basis," and will slowly move to secure contexts (HTTPS) exclusively in the future.
Businesses

Turning Soybeans Into Diesel Fuel Is Costing Us Billions (npr.org) 248

This year, trucks and other heavy-duty motors in America will burn some 3 billion gallons of diesel fuel that was made from soybean oil. They're doing it, though, not because it's cheaper or better, but because they're required to, by law. From a report: The law is the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS. For some, especially Midwestern farmers, it's the key to creating clean energy from American soil and sun. For others -- like many economists -- it's a wasteful misuse of resources. And the most wasteful part of the RFS, according to some, is biodiesel. It's different from ethanol, a fuel that's made from corn and mixed into gasoline, also as required by the RFS. In fact, gasoline companies probably would use ethanol even if there were no law requiring it, because ethanol is a useful fuel additive -- at least up to a point. That's not true of biodiesel. "This is an easy one, economically. Biodiesel is very expensive, relative to petroleum diesel," says Scott Irwin, an economist at the University of Illinois, who follows biofuel markets closely. He calculates that the extra cost for biodiesel comes to about $1.80 per gallon right now, meaning that the biofuel law is costing Americans about $5.4 billion a year.
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Watchers Running Out of Explanations Blame Slump on Moon (bloomberg.com) 152

If regulatory concerns aren't enough to explain Bitcoin's 50 percent slump from its record high reached last month, how about blaming it on the moon? An anonymous reader writes: The Lunar New Year, which marks the first day of the year in the Chinese calendar, is being cited by some as contributing to Bitcoin's slump as Asian traders cash out their cryptocurrencies to travel and buy gifts for the holiday that starts Feb. 16 this year. The festivity is celebrated not just in China, but in other Asian countries including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea and Thailand. "The January drop is a recurring theme in cryptocurrencies as people celebrating the Chinese New Year, aka Lunar New Year, exchange their crypto for fiat currency," said Alexander Wallin, chief executive officer of trading social network SprinkleBit in New York. "The timing is about four to six weeks before the lunar year, when most people make their travel arrangements and start buying presents."
Businesses

'No One Wants Your Used Clothes Anymore' (bloomberg.com) 310

An anonymous reader shares a report: For decades, the donation bin has offered consumers in rich countries a guilt-free way to unload their old clothing. In a virtuous and profitable cycle, a global network of traders would collect these garments, grade them, and transport them around the world to be recycled, worn again, or turned into rags and stuffing. Now that cycle is breaking down. Fashion trends are accelerating, new clothes are becoming as cheap as used ones, and poor countries are turning their backs on the secondhand trade. Without significant changes in the way that clothes are made and marketed, this could add up to an environmental disaster in the making. [...] The tide of secondhand clothes keeps growing even as the markets to reuse them are disappearing. From an environmental standpoint, that's a big problem. Already, the textile industry accounts for more greenhouse-gas emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined; as recycling markets break down, its contribution could soar. The good news is that nobody has a bigger incentive to address this problem than the industry itself.
Businesses

Within Next Five Years Your Pizzas Will Probably Be Delivered by Autonomous Cars, Domino's Pizza CEO Says (thestreet.com) 207

In an interview with The Street, Domino's Pizza outgoing CEO Patrick Doyle said in three to five years at the earliest he expects driverless cars and voice orders to shift the way the world orders pizza. From the report: "We have been investing in natural voice for ordering for a few years. We rolled that out in our own apps before Amazon launched Alexa and Alphabet launched Google Home...[and] we are making investments...to understand how consumers will want to interact with autonomous vehicles and pizza delivery," Doyle said.
Earth

Salmonella Probably Killed the Aztecs (theguardian.com) 125

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: In 1545 disaster struck Mexico's Aztec nation when people started coming down with high fevers, headaches and bleeding from the eyes, mouth and nose. Death generally followed in three or four days. Within five years as many as 15 million people -- an estimated 80% of the population -- were wiped out in an epidemic the locals named "cocoliztli." The word means pestilence in the Aztec Nahuatl language. Its cause, however, has been questioned for nearly 500 years. On Monday scientists swept aside smallpox, measles, mumps, and influenza as likely suspects, identifying a typhoid-like "enteric fever" for which they found DNA evidence on the teeth of long-dead victims.

Scientists now say they have probably unmasked the culprit. Analysing DNA extracted from 29 skeletons buried in a cocoliztli cemetery, they found traces of the salmonella enterica bacterium, of the Paratyphi C variety. It is known to cause enteric fever, of which typhoid is an example. The Mexican subtype rarely causes human infection today. Many salmonella strains spread via infected food or water, and may have travelled to Mexico with domesticated animals brought by the Spanish, the research team said.
The study has been published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
The Military

America's Fastest Spy Plane May Be Back -- And Hypersonic (bloomberg.com) 283

A Lockheed Skunk Works executive implied last week at an aerospace conference that the successor to one of the fastest aircraft the world has seen, the SR-71 Blackbird, might already exist. Previously, Lockheed officials have said the successor, the SR-72, could fly by 2030. Bloomberg reports: Referring to detailed specifics of company design and manufacturing, Jack O'Banion, a Lockheed vice president, said a "digital transformation" arising from recent computing capabilities and design tools had made hypersonic development possible. Then -- assuming O'Banion chose his verb tense purposely -- came the surprise. "Without the digital transformation, the aircraft you see there could not have been made," O'Banion said, standing by an artist's rendering of the hypersonic aircraft. "In fact, five years ago, it could not have been made." Hypersonic applies to speeds above Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. The SR-71 cruised at Mach 3.2, more than 2,000 mph, around 85,000 feet.

"We couldn't have made the engine itself -- it would have melted down into slag if we had tried to produce it five years ago," O'Banion said. "But now we can digitally print that engine with an incredibly sophisticated cooling system integral into the material of the engine itself and have that engine survive for multiple firings for routine operation." The aircraft is also agile at hypersonic speeds, with reliable engine starts, he said. A half-decade before, he added, developers "could not have even built it even if we conceived of it."

The Internet

Lawsuit Filed By 22 State Attorneys General Seeks To Block Net Neutrality Repeal (techcrunch.com) 339

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: A lawsuit filed today by the attorneys general of 22 states seeks to block the Federal Communications Commission's recent controversial vote to repeal Obama era Net Neutrality regulations. The filing is led by New York State Attorney General Schneiderman, who called rollback a potential "disaster for New York consumers and businesses, and for everyone who cares about a free and open internet." The letter, which was filed in the United States District Court of Appeals in Washington, is cosigned by AGs from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Washington DC.

"An open internet -- and the free exchange of ideas it allows -- is critical to our democratic process," Schneiderman added in an accompanying statement. "The repeal of net neutrality would turn internet service providers into gatekeepers -- allowing them to put profits over consumers while controlling what we see, what we do, and what we say online."

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