Bitcoin

Coinbase Wants Wall Street To Resolve Its Bitcoin Trust Issues (bloomberg.com) 48

In an effort to use digital money to reinvent finance, cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase is trying to legitimize itself by convincing big money managers to trust it enough to trade on its exchange. They need to "reassure regulators that bitcoin isn't a silk road for hackers, money launderers and tax evaders," reports Bloomberg. From the report: Despite the table tennis, Coinbase shows glimmers of maturity. More than 10 million customers have used the company since it began, though it recently quit updating the tally on its website. About $57 billion of digital currency has traded on the exchange so far this year. It doubled its staff in that time and expects to do so again in 2018. Ultimately, Coinbase plans to go public. The firm said it's prevailed against security threats, helping it avoid the fate of Mt. Gox, the world's biggest bitcoin exchange before shutting its doors in 2014 after $480 million of customer funds went bye-bye. Coinbase stores 98 percent of users' digital currencies in offline safe-deposit boxes. The remaining 2 percent, which is vulnerable because it's online, is covered by insurance. The company holds more than $10 billion in digital assets. Developing ties with banks is one of the biggest challenges. Coinbase doesn't publicly disclose its banking relationships, but a person familiar with the matter said the company is partnering with Cross River Bank, Metropolitan Bank and Silvergate Bank in the U.S.
Communications

Norway Becomes First Country To Switch Off FM Radio (thelocal.no) 173

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Local Norway: Norway on Wednesday completed its transition to digital radio, becoming the first country in the world to shut down national broadcasts of its FM radio network despite some grumblings. As scheduled, the country's most northern regions and the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic switched to Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) in the late morning, said Digitalradio Norge (DRN) which groups Norway's public and commercial radio. The transition, which began on January 11th, allows for better sound quality, a greater number of channels and more functions, all at a cost eight times lower than FM radio, according to authorities. The move has however been met with some criticism linked to technical incidents and claims that there is not sufficient DAB coverage across the country. In addition, radio users have complained about the cost of having to buy new receivers or adapters, usually priced around 100 to 200 euros. Currently, fewer than half of motorists (49 percent) are able to listen to DAB in their cars, according to DRN figures. According to a study cited by local media, the share of Norwegians who listen to the radio on a daily basis has dropped by 10 percent in one year, and public broadcaster NRK has lost 21 percent of its audience.
Canada

Canadian Cellphone Bills Are Some of the Highest In the World, Says Report (straight.com) 176

Freshly Exhumed shares a report from Straight: A report released this week by the Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (ISED) confirms that Canada ranks among the top three most costly countries for mobile wireless plans. Comparing the U.K, Italy, France, Australia, Japan, and the U.S. on six tiers of pricing -- which looked at talk-time, texts, and data -- the document shows that Canada has the most expensive mid-range and higher-tier plans in the world. "It is unacceptable that Canadians continue to pay ever-rising prices year after year for something as critical as mobile communications services," said Katy Anderson, Digital Rights Advocate at OpenMedia.
Bitcoin

Feds Moving Quickly To Cash in on Seized Bitcoin, Now Worth $8.4 Million (arstechnica.com) 141

A federal judge in Utah has agreed to let the US government sell off a seized cache of over 513 bitcoins (BTC) and 512 Bitcoin Cash (BCH). At current prices, that would yield approximately $8.4 million for the bitcoins and nearly $1 million for the BCH. From a report: In a court filing, prosecutors noted that due to the volatility of the Bitcoin market, both coins risk losing value. Both the BTC and the BCH have already been transferred to government-controlled wallets. The new round of seized digital currency belonged to a Utah man named Aaron Shamo, whom prosecutors say led a multimillion-dollar ring of counterfeit pharmaceuticals, including oxycodone and alprazolam that were sold on Dark Web marketplaces. Shamo was arrested over a year ago -- his trial has not yet been scheduled. On Tuesday, US District Judge Dale Kimball allowed the sale to proceed. Once sold, the money would go to an account held at the Treasury Executive Office for Asset Forfeiture.
AI

Samsung Targets First Half of 2018 for Smart Speaker (bloomberg.com) 63

An anonymous reader shares a report: Samsung is aiming to introduce a smart speaker in the first half of 2018, entering a crowded field of voice-controlled devices from Amazon, Apple and Alphabet, people briefed on the plans said. The device by the South Korean technology giant will have a strong focus on audio quality and the management of connected home appliances such as lights and locks, said the people, who asked not to be identified talking about private plans. The gadget will run Bixby, Samsung's digital assistant that rivals Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. It will also synchronize with TVs, Galaxy smartphones and other Samsung devices, the people also said. The upcoming speaker, the report claims, will be priced at about $200.
Communications

Someone Used Wet String To Get a Broadband Connection (vice.com) 77

dmoberhaus shares a Motherboard report: A UK techie with a sense of humor may have found an alternative to expensive corporate broadband cables: some wet string. It's an old joke among network technicians that it's possible to get a broadband connection with anything, even if it's just two cans connected with some wet string. As detailed in a blog post by Adrian Kennard, who runs an ISP called Andrews & Arnold in the UK, one of his colleagues took the joke literally and actually established a broadband connection using some wet string. Broadband is a catch-all term for high speed internet access, but there are many different kinds of broadband internet connections. For example, there are fiber optic connections that route data using light and satellite connections, but one of the most common types is called an asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), which connects your computer to the internet using a phone line. Usually, broadband connections rely on wires made of a conductive substances like copper. In the case of the Andrews & Arnold technician, however, they used about 6 feet of twine soaked in salt water (better conductivity than fresh water) that was connected to alligator clips to establish the connection. According to the BBC, this worked because the connection "is not really about the flow of current." Instead, the string is acting as a guide for an electromagnetic wave -- the broadband signal carrying the data -- and the medium for a waveguide isn't so important.
Botnet

Mirai IoT Botnet Co-Authors Plead Guilty (krebsonsecurity.com) 33

Three hackers responsible for creating the massive Mirai botnet that knocked large swathes of the internet offline last year have pleaded guilty. Brian Krebs reports: The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday unsealed the guilty pleas of two men (Editor's note: three men) first identified in January 2017 by KrebsOnSecurity as the likely co-authors of Mirai, a malware strain that remotely enslaves so-called "Internet of Things" devices such as security cameras, routers, and digital video recorders for use in large scale attacks designed to knock Web sites and entire networks offline (including multiple major attacks against this site). Entering guilty pleas for their roles in developing and using Mirai are 21-year-old Paras Jha from Fanwood, N.J. and Josiah White, 20, from Washington, Pennsylvania. Jha and White were co-founders of Protraf Solutions LLC, a company that specialized in mitigating large-scale DDoS attacks. Like firemen getting paid to put out the fires they started, Jha and White would target organizations with DDoS attacks and then either extort them for money to call off the attacks, or try to sell those companies services they claimed could uniquely help fend off the attacks. Editor's note: The story was updated to note that three men have pleaded guilty. -- not two as described in some reports.
Businesses

No Matter What Happens With Net Neutrality, an Open Internet Isn't Going Anywhere, Says Former FCC Chairman (recode.net) 176

Michael K. Powell, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, writing for Recode: With an ounce of reflection, one knows that none of this will come to pass, and the imagined doom will join the failed catastrophic predictions of Y2K and massive snow storms that fizzle to mere dustings -- all too common in Washington, D.C. Sadly, rational debate, like Elvis, has left the building. The vibrant and open internet that Americans cherish isn't going anywhere. In the days, weeks and years following this vote, Americans will be merrily shopping online for the holidays, posting pictures on Instagram, vigorously voicing political views on Facebook and asking Alexa the score of the game. Startups and small business will continue to hatch and flourish, and students will be online, studiously taking courses. Time will prove that the FCC did not destroy the internet, and our digital lives will go on just as they have for years. This confidence rests on the fact that ISPs highly value the open internet and the principles of net neutrality, much more than some animated activists would have you think. Why? For one, because it's a better way of making money than a closed internet.
Music

Apple Buys Shazam To Boost Apple Music (bloomberg.com) 36

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Apple agreed to acquire music-identification service Shazam, taking ownership of one of the first apps to demonstrate the power of the iPhone, recognizing songs after hearing just a few bars of a tune. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but a person familiar with the situation said Apple is paying about $400 million for the U.K.-based startup. That would be one of Apple's largest acquisitions ever, approaching the size of its 1996 purchase of Next Computer Inc. which brought co-founder Steve Jobs back to the company. That transaction would be worth more than $600 million in today's dollars. The Shazam app uses the microphone on a smartphone or computer to identify almost any song playing nearby, then points users to places they can listen to it in future, such as Apple Music or Google's YouTube.

"Apple Music and Shazam are a natural fit, sharing a passion for music discovery and delivering great music experiences to our users," Apple said in an emailed statement on Monday. "We have exciting plans in store, and we look forward to combining with Shazam upon approval of today's agreement. Since the launch of the App Store, Shazam has consistently ranked as one of the most popular apps for iOS," Apple also said. "Today, it's used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, across multiple platforms." The acquisition would help Apple embed that capability more deeply into its music offerings. The company's digital assistant Siri gained Shazam integration in 2014, so users could ask it what song is playing in the background.

Bitcoin

Bitcoin Futures Surge In First Day Of Trading (npr.org) 64

On their first day of trading, bitcoin futures surged past $18,000, adding to a streak for the digital currency that began the year at just $1,000 and has nearly tripled in value over the past month alone. From a report: Reuters reports that bitcoin futures, traded through the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), saw January contracts, which opened at $15,460 in New York on Sunday evening, leap to a high of $17,170 during Asian hours. Trading, which began at 6 p.m. ET (5 p.m. CT), was so intense that halts designed to cool volatility were triggered twice on the CBOE. The halts are "not surprising based on the volatility of the underlying [asset]. The futures are behaving as expected and designed," Tom Lehrkinder, senior analyst at consulting firm Tabb Group, was quoted by CNBC as saying.
Bitcoin

About 40 Percent of Bitcoin Is Held By 1,000 Users. If a Few of Them Want To Sell, That Could Tank Values (bloomberg.com) 241

On Nov. 12, someone moved almost 25,000 bitcoins, worth about $159 million at the time, to an online exchange. The news soon rippled through online forums, with bitcoin traders arguing about whether it meant the owner was about to sell the digital currency. From a report on Bloomberg: Holders of large amounts of bitcoin are often known as whales. And they're becoming a worry for investors. They can send prices plummeting by selling even a portion of their holdings. And those sales are more probable now that the cryptocurrency is up nearly twelvefold from the beginning of the year. About 40 percent of bitcoin is held by perhaps 1,000 users; at current prices, each may want to sell about half of his or her holdings, says Aaron Brown, former managing director and head of financial markets research at AQR Capital Management. What's more, the whales can coordinate their moves or preview them to a select few. Many of the large owners have known one another for years and stuck by bitcoin through the early days when it was derided, and they can potentially band together to tank or prop up the market.
Bitcoin

Bank of America Wins Patent For Crypto Exchange System (coindesk.com) 52

New submitter psnyder shares a report from CoinDesk: [The patent] outlined a potential cryptocurrency exchange system that would convert one digital currency into another. Further, this system would be automated, establishing the exchange rate between the two currencies based on external data feeds. The patent describes a potential three-part system, where the first part would be a customer's account and the other two would be accounts owned by the business running the system. The user would store their chosen cryptocurrency through the customer account. The second account, referred to as a "float account," would act as a holding area for the cryptocurrency the customer is selling, while the third account, also a float account, would contain the equivalent amount of the cryptocurrency the customer is converting their funds to. That third account would then deposit the converted funds back into the original customer account for withdrawal. The proposed system would collect data from external information sources on cryptocurrency exchange rates, and use this data to establish its own optimal rate. The patent notes this service would be for enterprise-level customers, meaning that if the bank pursues this project, it would be offered to businesses.
Bitcoin

'Bitcoin Could Cost Us Our Clean-Energy Future' (grist.org) 468

An anonymous reader shares an article: Bitcoin wasn't intended to be an investment instrument. Its creators envisioned it as a replacement for money itself -- a decentralized, secure, anonymous method for transferring value between people. But what they might not have accounted for is how much of an energy suck the computer network behind bitcoin could one day become. Simply put, bitcoin is slowing the effort to achieve a rapid transition away from fossil fuels. What's more, this is just the beginning. Given its rapidly growing climate footprint, bitcoin is a malignant development, and it's getting worse. Digital financial transactions come with a real-world price: The tremendous growth of cryptocurrencies has created an exponential demand for computing power. As bitcoin grows, the math problems computers must solve to make more bitcoin (a process called "mining") get more and more difficult -- a wrinkle designed to control the currency's supply. Today, each bitcoin transaction requires the same amount of energy used to power nine homes in the U.S. for one day. And miners are constantly installing more and faster computers. Already, the aggregate computing power of the bitcoin network is nearly 100,000 times larger than the world's 500 fastest supercomputers combined. The total energy use of this web of hardware is huge -- an estimated 31 terawatt-hours per year. More than 150 individual countries in the world consume less energy annually. And that power-hungry network is currently increasing its energy use every day by about 450 gigawatt-hours, roughly the same amount of electricity the entire country of Haiti uses in a year.
Piracy

Not Even Free TV Can Get People To Stop Pirating Movies and TV Shows (qz.com) 221

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: Since the internet made it easier to illegally download and stream movies and TV shows, Hollywood struggled with people pirating its works online. About $5.5 billion in revenue was lost to piracy globally last year, Digital TV Research found (pdf), and it's expected to approach $10 billion by 2022. Streaming-video services like Netflix and Hulu have made it more affordable to access a wide-range of titles from different TV networks and movie studios. But the availability of cheap content online has done little to curb piracy, according to research published in Management Science (paywall) last month. Customers who were offered free subscriptions to a video-on-demand package (SVOD) were just as likely to turn to piracy to find programming as those without the offering, researchers at Catolica Lisbon School of Business & Economics and Carnegie Mellon University found.

The researchers partnered with an unnamed internet-service provider -- in a region they chose not to disclose -- to offer customers who were already prone to piracy an on-demand package for free for 45 days. About 10,000 households participated in the study, and about half were given the free service. The on-demand service was packaged like Netflix or Hulu in layout, appearance, and scope of programming, but was delivered through a TV set-top box. It had a personalized recommendation engine that surfaced popular programming based on what those customers were already watching illegally through BitTorrent logs, which were obtained from a third-party firm. The study found that while the participants watched 4.6% more TV overall when they had the free on-demand service, they did not stop using BitTorrent to pirate movies and TV shows that were not included in the offering.

Censorship

Apple, Google CEOs Bring Star Power as China Promotes Censorship (bloomberg.com) 38

An anonymous reader shares a Bloomberg report: Apple's Tim Cook and Google's Sundar Pichai made their first appearances at China's World Internet Conference, bringing star power to a gathering the Chinese government uses to promote its strategy of tight controls online. Apple's chief executive officer gave a surprise keynote at the opening ceremony on Sunday, calling for future internet and AI technologies to be infused with privacy, security and humanity. The same day, one of China's most-senior officials called for more aggressive government involvement online to combat terrorism and criminals. Wang Huning, one of seven men on China's top decision-making body, even called for a global response team to go well beyond its borders. It was Cook's second appearance in China in two months, following a meeting with President Xi Jinping in October. The iPhone maker has most of its products manufactured in the country and is trying to regain market share in smartphones against local competitors such as Huawei. "The theme of this conference -- developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits -- is a vision we at Apple share," Cook said. "We are proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace."
Businesses

People Have Spent Over $1M Buying Virtual Cats on the Ethereum Blockchain (techcrunch.com) 128

Launched a few days ago, CryptoKitties is essentially like an digital version of Pokemon cards but based on the Ethereum blockchain. And like most viral sensations that catch on in the tech world, it's blowing up fast. From a report, shared by an anonymous reader: Built by Vancouver and San Francisco-based design studio AxiomZen, the game is the latest fad in the world of cryptocurrency and probably soon tech in general. People are spending a crazy amount of real money on the game. So far about $1.3M has been transacted, with multiple kittens selling for ~50 ETH (around $23,000) and the "genesis" kitten being sold for a record ~246 ETH (around $113,000). This third party site tracks the largest purchases made to date on the game. And like any good viral sensation prices are rising and fluctuating fast. Right now it will cost you about .03 ETH, or $12 to buy the least expensive kitten in the game. So now we have people using Ether, an asset with arguably little tangible utility -- to purchase an asset with unarguably zero tangible utility. Welcome to the internet in 2017.
The Internet

From the Arctic's Melting Ice, an Unexpected Digital Hub (nytimes.com) 67

Cecilia Kang, reporting for the New York Times: This is one of the most remote towns in the United States, a small gravel spit on the northwest coast of Alaska, more than 3,700 miles from New York City. Icy seas surround it on three sides, leaving only an unpaved path to the mainland. Getting here from Anchorage, about 700 miles away, requires two flights. Roads do not connect the two places. Basics like milk and bread are delivered by air, and gas is brought in by barge during the summer. Needless to say, this is not the sort of place you expect to be a hub of the high-tech digital world. But in a surprising, and bittersweet, side effect of global warming -- and of the global economy -- one of the fastest internet connections in America is arriving in Point Hope, giving the 700 or so residents their first taste of broadband speed. The new connection is part of an ambitious effort by Quintillion, a five-year old company based in Anchorage, to take advantage of the melting sea ice to build a faster digital link between London and Tokyo. High-speed internet cables snake under the world's oceans, tying continents together and allowing email and other bits of digital data sent from Japan to arrive quickly in Britain. Until recently, those lines mostly bypassed the Arctic, where the ice blocked access to the ships that lay the cable. But as the ice has receded, new passageways have emerged, creating a more direct path for the cable -- over the earth's northern end through places like the Chukchi Sea -- and helping those emails move even move quickly. Quintillion is one of the companies laying the new cable, and Point Hope is one of the places along its route.
The Almighty Buck

Nobel Prize-Winning Economist Says Bitcoin 'Ought to be Outlawed' (cnn.com) 461

Bitcoin "is drawing harsh criticism from Wall Street investment firms," writes Slashdot reader rmdingler -- and even from some prominent economists. CNN reports: The harshest assessment came from Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, who said that bitcoin "ought to be outlawed. Bitcoin is successful only because of its potential for circumvention," he told Bloomberg TV. "It doesn't serve any socially useful function." Robert Shiller, who won a Nobel for his work on bubbles, said the currency appeals to some investors because it has an "anti-government, anti-regulation feel. It's such a wonderful story," he said at a conference in Lithuania, according to Bloomberg. "If it were only true."

Wall Street titans were getting in on the action, too. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein told Bloomberg that the currency serves as "a vehicle for perpetrating fraud." Billionaire investor Carl Icahn said on CNBC that it "seems like a bubble." The digital currency previously attracted the derision of JPMorgan boss Jamie Dimon, who called it a "fraud" that would "eventually blow up." Warren Buffett has warned of a "real bubble."

Wednesday the price of bitcoin shot past $11,000 -- just ten days after rising past $8,000.
Bitcoin

Blockchains Are Poised To End the Password Era (technologyreview.com) 129

schwit1 shares a report from MIT Technology Review: Blockchain technology can eliminate the need for companies and other organizations to maintain centralized repositories of identifying information, and users can gain permanent control over who can access their data (hence "self-sovereign"), says Drummond Reed, chief trust officer at Evernym, a startup that's developing a blockchain network specifically for managing digital identities. Self-sovereign identity systems rely on public-key cryptography, the same kind that blockchain networks use to validate transactions. Although it's been around for decades, the technology has thus far proved difficult to implement for consumer applications. But the popularity of cryptocurrencies has inspired fresh commercial interest in making it more user-friendly.

Public-key cryptography relies on pairs of keys, one public and one private, which are used to authenticate users and verify their encrypted transactions. Bitcoin users are represented on the blockchain by strings of characters called addresses, which are derived from their public keys. The "wallet" applications they use to hold and exchange digital coins are essentially management systems for their private keys. Just like a real wallet, they can also hold credentials that serve as proof of identification, says Reed. Using a smartphone or some other device, a person could use a wallet-like application to manage access to these credentials. But will regular consumers buy in? Technologists will need to create a form factor and user experience compelling enough to convince them to abandon their familiar usernames and passwords, says Meltem Demirors, development director at Digital Currency Group, an investment firm that funds blockchain companies. The task calls for reinforcements, she says: "The geeks are working on it right now, but we need the designers, we need the sociologists, and we need people who study ethics of technology to participate."

Businesses

Disney Sues Redbox, Hoping To Block Digital Movie Sales (marketwatch.com) 285

phalse phace writes: About 1 month ago, Redbox started selling through their kiosks slips of paper with codes on them that lets the buyer download a digital copy of a Disney movie.But Disney says that's a no-no and this week it sued Redbox in an attempt to stop the code sales. According to Marketwatch: "Walt Disney sued Redbox on Thursday in an attempt to stop the DVD rental company from selling digital copies of its movies. Privately held Redbox last month began offering consumers codes they can use to download a digital copy of a Disney movie. Redbox charges between $7.99 and $14.99 for slips of paper with the codes to download Disney films such as "Cars 3" and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." That is less than those movies cost to buy and download from Apple's iTunes Store. Redbox is only offering digital copies of Disney movies because it doesn't have a distribution arrangement with the studio and buys retail copies of its discs to rent to customers. Those retail DVDs come with digital download codes."

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