New York Councilman Proposes Bill That Would Grant NYC Workers 'Right To Disconnect' ( 4

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: New York City councilman Rafael Espinal released a "Right to Disconnect" bill on Thursday, advocating for the rights of employees to stop answering work-related emails and other digital messages, like texts, after official work hours. "Our work lives have spilled into our personal lives because of technology," he told me. "It's time we unblur and strike a clear line." Brooklyn-based Espinal said he got the idea from France, where a bill passed early last year by the Ministry of Labor requires companies of over 50 employees to define out-of-office email rules. He wanted to create a similar guideline so that workers would not be penalized for disconnecting after work hours. But that's France -- known for joie de vivre -- and this is New York, known for not sleeping.

Answering work emails after work hours, or during weekends, or on vacation, has become par for the course here, and across the US. Statistics rarely account for the extra hours spent managing post-office work -- by most official counts, Americans work the same number of hours -- around 39 to 47 per week -- just as we did in the 1950s. But those of us living it know this isn't true: technology has completely changed the way we work, and burnout is rampant among American workers. If Espinal were able to implement the bill, it would face similar challenges to its European counterparts. Critics say the legislation in France has no teeth, and companies are still allowed to define their own guidelines, leaving room for exploitation. And the New York version of the "Right to Disconnect" bill includes exemptions for jobs that require 24-hour on-call periods.

Social Networks

My Cow Game Extracted Your Facebook Data ( 47

Ian Bogost, writing for The Atlantic: Already in 2010, it felt like a malicious attention market where people treated friends as latent resources to be optimized. Compulsion rather than choice devoured people's time. Apps like FarmVille sold relief for the artificial inconveniences they themselves had imposed. In response, I made a satirical social game called Cow Clicker. Players clicked a cute cow, which mooed and scored a "click." Six hours later, they could do so again. They could also invite friends' cows to their pasture, buy virtual cows with real money, compete for status, click to send a real cow to the developing world from Oxfam, outsource clicks to their toddlers with a mobile app, and much more. It became strangely popular, until eventually, I shut the whole thing down in a bovine rapture -- the "cowpocalypse." It's kind of a complicated story.

But one worth revisiting today, in the context of the scandal over Facebook's sanctioning of user-data exfiltration via its application platform. It's not just that abusing the Facebook platform for deliberately nefarious ends was easy to do (it was). But worse, in those days, it was hard to avoid extracting private data, for years even, without even trying. I did it with a silly cow game. Cow Clicker is not an impressive work of software. After all, it was a game whose sole activity was clicking on cows. I wrote the principal code in three days, much of it hunched on a friend's couch in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I had no idea anyone would play it, although over 180,000 people did, eventually. And yet, if you played Cow Clicker, even just once, I got enough of your personal data that, for years, I could have assembled a reasonably sophisticated profile of your interests and behavior. I might still be able to; all the data is still there, stored on my private server, where Cow Clicker is still running, allowing players to keep clicking where a cow once stood, before my caprice raptured them into the digital void.


CDs, Vinyl Are Outselling Digital Downloads For the First Time Since 2011 ( 96

Digital downloads had a short run as the top-selling format in the music industry. It took until 2011, a decade after the original iPod came out, for their sales surpass those of CDs and vinyl records, and they were overtaken by music streaming services just a few years later. Now, digital downloads are once again being outsold by CDs and vinyl, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. From a report: The RIAA released its 2017 year-end revenue report on Thursday, showing that revenue from digital downloads plummeted 25 percent to $1.3 billion over the previous year. Revenue from physical products, by contrast, fell just 4 percent to $1.5 billion. Overall, the music industry grew for a second year straight. And with $8.7 billion in total revenue, it's healthier than it has been since 2008, according to the report. Nearly all of the growth was the result of the continued surge in paid music subscription services like Spotify and Apple Music. Those services grew by more than 50 percent to $5.7 billion last year and accounted for nearly two-thirds of the industry's revenue. Physical media accounted for 17 percent, while digital downloads made up just 15 percent.

World's Largest Animal Study On Cell Tower Radiation Confirms Cancer Link ( 219

capedgirardeau shares a report from Digital Journal: Researchers with the renowned Ramazzini Institute (RI) in Italy announce that a large-scale, lifetime study (PDF) of lab animals exposed to environmental levels of cell tower radiation developed cancer. The RI study also found increases in malignant brain (glial) tumors in female rats and precancerous conditions including Schwann cells hyperplasia in both male and female rats. A study of much higher levels of cell phone radiofrequency (RF) radiation, from the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP), has also reported finding the same unusual cancer called Schwannoma of the heart in male rats treated at the highest dose.

The Ramazzini study exposed 2448 Sprague-Dawley rats from prenatal life until their natural death to "environmental" cell tower radiation for 19 hours per day (1.8 GHz GSM radiofrequency radiation (RFR) of 5, 25 and 50 V/m). RI exposures mimicked base station emissions like those from cell tower antennas, and exposure levels were far less than those used in the NTP studies of cell phone radiation. "All of the exposures used in the Ramazzini study were below the U.S. FCC limits. These are permissible exposures according the FCC. In other words, a person can legally be exposed to this level of radiation. Yet cancers occurred in these animals at these legally permitted levels. The Ramazzini findings are consistent with the NTP study demonstrating these effects are a reproducible finding," explained Ronald Melnick PhD, formerly the Senior NIH toxicologist who led the design of the NTP study on cell phone radiation now a Senior Science Advisor to Environmental Health Trust (EHT). "Governments need to strengthen regulations to protect the public from these harmful non-thermal exposures."


Facebook Gave Data About 57 Billion Friendships To Academic ( 114

Before Facebook suspended Aleksandr Kogan from its platform for the data harvesting "scam" at the centre of the unfolding Cambridge Analytica scandal, the social media company enjoyed a close enough relationship with the researcher that it provided him with an anonymised, aggregate dataset of 57bn Facebook friendships. From a report: Facebook provided the dataset of "every friendship formed in 2011 in every country in the world at the national aggregate level" to Kogan's University of Cambridge laboratory for a study on international friendships published in Personality and Individual Differences in 2015. Two Facebook employees were named as co-authors of the study, alongside researchers from Cambridge, Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. Kogan was publishing under the name Aleksandr Spectre at the time. A University of Cambridge press release on the study's publication noted that the paper was "the first output of ongoing research collaborations between Spectre's lab in Cambridge and Facebook." Facebook did not respond to queries about whether any other collaborations occurred. "The sheer volume of the 57bn friend pairs implies a pre-existing relationship," said Jonathan Albright, research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. "It's not common for Facebook to share that kind of data. It suggests a trusted partnership between Aleksandr Kogan/Spectre and Facebook."
United States

US Spending Bill Contains CLOUD Act, a Win For Tech and Law Enforcement ( 116

The 2,232 page spending bill released Wednesday by House and Senate leaders includes the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data [CLOUD] Act, which provides a legal framework for law enforcement to request data from overseas servers. The CLOUD Act currently sits high atop the wish list of tech firms, law enforcement and even foreign nations. Axios reports: The Supreme Court is currently mulling a case determining whether the Department of Justice had the right to force Microsoft to produce client emails stored on a server in Ireland without permission from Ireland's government. Microsoft fears the DOJ will force it to violate the laws of Ireland. The DOJ hopes to avoid the often years long process of abiding by treaties dealing with evidence. But both have publicly urged lawmakers to render the pending decision moot by passing the CLOUD act, a way to streamline the treaty process for requesting digital data.

The CLOUD Act provides a framework for reciprocal treaties for nations to request data from computers located within each other's borders. It also provides a mechanism for a Microsoft to take a law enforcement demand to court if it would force them to violate another country's rules. But when neither apply, law enforcement will be able to demand files in accordance with U.S. law.


Twitter CEO Says Bitcoin Will Be the World's 'Single Currency' In 10 Years ( 254

In a recent interview with The Times, Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey said he believes that bitcoin will become the world's single currency within 10 years. "The world ultimately will have a single currency, the internet will have a single currency," said Dorsey. "I personally believe that it will be bitcoin." Dorsey went on to say that the transition would happen "probably over ten years, but it could go faster." The Verge reports: That Dorsey is a fan of bitcoin isn't too surprising, though. In addition to serving as the CEO of Twitter, Dorsey is also the CEO of Square, which recently added the option to buy and sell Bitcoin directly from the Square Cash app. The company also released an illustrated children's story touting the benefits of the digital currency. As for Dorsey himself, he's gone on the record in an interview with The Verge's own Lauren Goode about the benefits of bitcoin as a currency, describing it as the "next big unlock" for the world of finance. (Dorsey owns an unspecified amount of the cryptocurrency.)

Google Is Buying Innovative Camera Startup Lytro For $40 Million ( 35

According to TechCrunch, Google is acquiring Lytro, the imaging startup that began as a ground-breaking camera company for consumers before pivoting to use its depth-data, light-field technology in VR. From the report: One source described the deal as an "asset sale" with Lytro going for no more than $40 million. Another source said the price was even lower: $25 million and that it was shopped around -- to Facebook, according to one source; and possibly to Apple, according to another. A separate person told us that not all employees are coming over with the company's technology: some have already received severance and parted ways with the company, and others have simply left. Assets would presumably also include Lytro's 59 patents related to light-field and other digital imaging technology. The sale would be far from a big win for Lytro and its backers. The startup has raised just over $200 million in funding and was valued at around $360 million after its last round in 2017, according to data from PitchBook. Its long list of investors include Andreessen Horowitz, Foxconn, GSV, Greylock, NEA, Qualcomm Ventures and many more. Rick Osterloh, SVP of hardware at Google, sits on Lytro's board. A pricetag of $40 million is not quite the exit that was envisioned for the company when it first launched its camera concept, and in the words of investor Ben Horowitz, "blew my brains to bits."

Russia Secretly Helped Venezuela Launch a Cryptocurrency To Evade US Sanctions ( 105

According to an exclusive report by Time, Russia helped Venezuelan officials create the world's first state-backed cryptocurrency to skirt U.S. sanctions. The cryptocurrency was launched in late February and was banned by the Trump administration earlier this week. From the report: The new cryptocurrency, a form of digital cash that is supposedly linked to the value of Venezuela's oil reserves, was launched on Feb. 20 during a ceremony in the presidential palace in Caracas. Nicolas Maduro, the socialist leader of Venezuela, declared that it would serve as a kind of "kryptonite" against the power of the U.S government, which he sarcastically referred to as "Superman." Sitting in the front row at that ceremony were two of Maduro's Russian advisers, Denis Druzhkov and Fyodor Bogorodsky, whom the President thanked for aiding his fight against American "imperialism." Both men have ties to major Russian banks and billionaires close to the Kremlin. But they were not the most senior Russians involved. According to an executive at a Russian state bank who deals with cryptocurrencies, senior advisers to the Kremlin have overseen the effort in Venezuela, and President Vladimir Putin signed off on it last year. "People close to Putin, they told him this is how to avoid the sanctions," says the executive, who spoke to TIME on condition of anonymity. "This is how the whole thing started."

Ask Slashdot: I Want To Get Into Comic Books, But Where Do I Start? 209

An anonymous reader writes: Hi fellow readers. I don't recall reading many comic books as a kid (mostly because I could not afford them), but of late, I have been considering giving that a shot. I wanted to ask if you had any tips to share. Do I start with paperback editions, or do I jump directly into digital? Also, could you recommend a few good sci-fic comic book series? Thanks in advance!

Hackathons Are Dystopian Events That Dupe People Into Working For Free, Say Sociologists ( 155

An anonymous reader writes: That's the conclusion that two sociologists came to after observing seven hackathons over the period of one year, reports Wired. In "Hackathons As Co-optation Ritual: Socializing Workers and Institutionalizing Innovation in the 'New' Economy," sociologists Sharon Zukin and Max Papadantonakis argue that companies use the allure of hackathons to get people to work for free. They says sponsors fuel the "romance of digital innovation by appealing to the hackers' aspiration to be multi-dimensional agents of change" when in fact the hackathons are just a means of labor control.

Facebook Hires Firm To Conduct Forensic Audit of Cambridge Analytica Data ( 137

After it was revealed that political data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, harvested personal data from more than 50 million Facebook users, the social media company has been scrutinized for not better protecting its users. Today, CBS News reports that Facebook has recently hired Stroz Friedberg, a digital forensics firm, to conduct an audit of Cambridge Analytica. According to a press release issued by Facebook on Monday, Cambridge Analytica has agreed to "comply and afford the firm complete access to their servers and systems." From the report: The social network said it asked Christopher Wylie and University of Cambridge professor Aleksandr Kogan to submit to an audit. Facebook says Kogan has verbally agreed to participate, but Wylie has declined. Wylie is a former employee of Cambridge Analytica who described the company's use of illicit data in interviews late last week. Cambridge Analytica, Kogan and Wylie were banned from Facebook on Friday. Cambridge Analytica did not immediately confirm that it had agreed to comply with the audit. The firm has denied the allegations that it improperly collected and used the data. A spokeswoman for Stroz Friedberg declined to comment on the firm's involvement with an audit.

"We are moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of these claims," Facebook officials said in a statement. "We remain committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people's information. We also want to be clear that today when developers create apps that ask for certain information from people, we conduct a robust review to identify potential policy violations and to assess whether the app has a legitimate use for the data. We actually reject a significant number of apps through this process. This is part of a comprehensive internal and external review that we are conducting to determine the accuracy of the claims that the Facebook data in question still exists. If this data still exists, it would be a grave violation of Facebook's policies and an unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments these groups made."


Trump Bans Venezuela's New National Cryptocurrency ( 169

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday banning any transactions within the United States involving any digital currency issued by, for, or on behalf of the Government of Venezuela. The order applies to U.S. citizens as well as anyone within the United States, and includes cryptocurrency issued on or after January 9. President Trump's order is in response to recent attempts by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's regime to "circumvent U.S. sanctions by issuing a digital currency," the White House said in a statement. Venezuela launched its oil-backed cryptocurrency in February to help pull the country out of a continuing economic crisis. President Maduro said each petro token will be backed by one barrel of the state's national petroleum. Maduro also said roughly 100 million tokens would be issued -- estimated to be worth around $6 billion. Bitcoin prices dropped about $200 to around $8,388, according to Coinbase, following the order.

Twitter Will Ban Most Cryptocurrency-Related Ads ( 35

An anonymous reader writes: Twitter plans to ban most cryptocurrency-related ads in the next few weeks, as Sky News first reported and a source confirms to Axios. Why it matters: The recent boom in cryptocurrencies and digital tokens has unsurprisingly attracted some fraudsters. Twitter is following in the footsteps of Facebook and Google, though it's been having its own problems with accounts promoting scams.

FedEx Embraces More Robots Without Firing Humans ( 95

An anonymous reader shares a report: As soon as the first robot arrived at a FedEx shipping hub in the heart of North Carolina tobacco country early last year, talk of pink slips was in the air. Workers had been driving the "tuggers" that navigated large and irregular items across the vast concrete floor of the 630,000-square-foot freight depot since it opened in 2011. Their initial robotic colleague drew a three-dimensional digital map of the place as it tugged freight around. A few months later, three other robots -- nicknamed Lucky, Dusty and Ned in a nod to the movie "iThree Amigos!" -- arrived, using the digital map to get around on their own. By March, they were joined by two others, Jefe and El Guapo. Horns honking and warning lights flashing, the autonomous vehicles snaked through the hub, next to about 20 tuggers that still needed humans behind the wheel. [...] But what has happened at the FedEx hub may be a surprise to people who fear that they are about to be replaced by a smart machine: a robot might take your role, but not necessarily your job. Yes, the robots replaced a few jobs right away. And in time, they will replace about 25 jobs in a facility that employs about 1,300 people. But the hub creates about 100 new jobs every year -- and a robot work force still seems like the distant future.

The Road to Deep Decarbonization ( 160

Michael Liebreich, writing for Bloomberg New Energy Finance: In the past fifteen years we have witnessed several pivotal points along the route towards clean energy and transport. In 2004, renewables were poised for explosive growth; in 2008, the world's power system started to go digital; in 2012, it became clear that EVs would take over light ground transportation. Today I believe it is the turn of sectors that have resisted change so far -- heavy ground transportation, industry, chemicals, heat, aviation and shipping, agriculture. One after the other, or more likely as a tightly-coupled system, they are all going to go clean during the coming decades.

Astonishing progress is being made on super-efficient industrial processes, connected and shared vehicles, electrification of air transport, precision agriculture, food science, synthetic fuels, industrial biochemistry, new materials like graphene and aerogels, energy and infrastructure blockchain, additive manufacturing, zero-carbon building materials, small nuclear fusion, and so many other areas. These technologies may not be cost-competitive today, but they all benefit from the same fearsome learning curves as we have seen in wind, solar and batteries. In addition, in the same way that ubiquitous sensors, cloud and edge-of-grid computing, big data and machine learning have enabled the transformation of our electrical system, they will unlock sweeping changes to the rest of our energy, transportation and industrial sectors.

The Internet

Say Goodbye To the Information Age: It's All About Reputation Now ( 193

An anonymous reader shares an essay on Aeon magazine by Gloria Origgi, an Italian philosopher and a tenured senior researcher at CNRS : We are experiencing a fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship to knowledge. From the 'information age', we are moving towards the 'reputation age', in which information will have value only if it is already filtered, evaluated and commented upon by others. Seen in this light, reputation has become a central pillar of collective intelligence today. It is the gatekeeper to knowledge, and the keys to the gate are held by others. The way in which the authority of knowledge is now constructed makes us reliant on what are the inevitably biased judgments of other people, most of whom we do not know.

[...] The paradigm shift from the age of information to the age of reputation must be taken into account when we try to defend ourselves from 'fake news' and other misinformation and disinformation techniques that are proliferating through contemporary societies. What a mature citizen of the digital age should be competent at is not spotting and confirming the veracity of the news. Rather, she should be competent at reconstructing the reputational path of the piece of information in question, evaluating the intentions of those who circulated it, and figuring out the agendas of those authorities that leant it credibility.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

North Carolina Police Obtained Warrants Demanding All Google Users Near Four Crime Scenes ( 214

An anonymous reader quotes the public records reporter from North Carolina TV station WRAL: In at least four investigations last year -- cases of murder, sexual battery and even possible arson at the massive downtown fire in March 2017 -- Raleigh police used search warrants to demand Google accounts not of specific suspects, but from any mobile devices that veered too close to the scene of a crime, according to a WRAL News review of court records... The demands Raleigh police issued for Google data [in two homicide cases] described a 17-acre area that included both homes and businesses... The account IDs aren't limited to electronics running Android. The warrant includes any device running location-enabled Google apps, according to Raleigh Police Department spokeswoman Laura Hourigan...

On March 16, 2017, a five-alarm fire ripped through the unfinished Metropolitan apartment building on West Jones Street... About two months later, Raleigh police obtained a search warrant for Google account IDs that showed up near the block of the Metropolitan between 7:30 and 10 p.m. the night of the fire... In addition to anonymized numerical identifiers, the warrant calls on Google to release time stamped location coordinates for every device that passed through the area. Detectives wrote that they'd narrow down that list and send it back to the company, demanding "contextual data points with points of travel outside of the geographical area" during an expanded timeframe. Another review would further cull the list, which police would use to request user names, birth dates and other identifying information of the phones' owners.

"Do people understand that in sharing that information with Google, they're also potentially sharing it with law enforcement?" asks a former Durham prosecutor who directs the North Carolina Open Government Coalition at Elon University. And Stephanie Lacambra, criminal defense staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, also criticized the procedure. "To just say, 'Criminals commit crimes, and we know that most people have cell phones,' that should not be enough to get the geo-location on anyone that happened to be in the vicinity of a particular incident during a particular time." She believes that without probable cause the police department is "trying to use technology as a hack for their job... It does not have to be that we have to give up our privacy rights in order to participate in the digital revolution."

Nathan Freed Wessler, staff attorney with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, put it succinctly. "At the end of the day, this tactic unavoidably risks getting information about totally innocent people."

Amazon Alexa's 'Brief Mode' Makes the Digital Assistant Way Less Chatty ( 25

A new update is rolling out to Amazon Echo devices that gives users the option to make Alexa respond with a short, beeping sound rather than her customary "OK." Reddit users reported seeing the new feature this week. CNET reports: You access the Brief Mode in the Amazon Alexa app's Settings Menu under "Alexa Voice Responses." You can also ask your Alexa-enabled device to turn on the Brief Mode. Once the setting is enabled, you can ask Alexa to control devices to which she is connected and she will respond with beeps rather than "OK" to let you know that she received and completed the task. Don't want to completely quiet Alexa down? Amazon also rolled out a "Follow-Up Mode" last week that's designed to let you will let you talk to Alexa more naturally. That mode will let you make successive requests without needing to use Alexa's wake word between each command.

'They'll Squash You Like a Bug': How Silicon Valley Keeps a Lid on Leakers ( 99

The public image of Silicon Valley's tech giants is all colourful bicycles, ping-pong tables, beanbags and free food, but behind the cartoonish facade is a ruthless code of secrecy. From a report: They rely on a combination of Kool-Aid, digital and physical surveillance, legal threats and restricted stock units to prevent and detect intellectual property theft and other criminal activity. However, those same tools are also used to catch employees and contractors who talk publicly, even if it's about their working conditions, misconduct or cultural challenges within the company. While Apple's culture of secrecy, which includes making employees sign project-specific NDAs and covering unlaunched products with black cloths, has been widely reported, companies such as Google and Facebook have long put the emphasis on internal transparency.

Zuckerberg hosts weekly meetings where he shares details of unreleased new products and strategies in front of thousands of employees. Even junior staff members and contractors can see what other teams are working on by looking at one of many of the groups on the company's internal version of Facebook. "When you first get to Facebook you are shocked at the level of transparency. You are trusted with a lot of stuff you don't need access to," said Evans, adding that during his induction he was warned not to look at ex-partners' Facebook accounts.

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