Education

A Well-Known Expert On Student Loans Is Not Real (chronicle.com) 18

mi shares a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education: Drew Cloud is everywhere. The self-described journalist who specializes in student-loan debt has been quoted in major news outlets, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and CNBC, and is a fixture in the smaller, specialized blogosphere of student debt. But he's a fiction, and "his" site -- an invention of a student-loan refinancing company.

"Drew Cloud is a pseudonym that a diverse group of authors at Student Loan Report, LLC use to share experiences and information related to the challenges college students face with funding their education," wrote Nate Matherson, CEO of LendEDU (the company that owns Cloud's website, The Student Loan Report). Before that admission, however, Cloud had corresponded at length with many journalists, pitching them stories and offering email interviews, many of which were published. When The Chronicle attempted to contact him through the address last week, Cloud said he was traveling and had limited access to his account. He didn't respond to additional inquiries. And on Monday, as The Chronicle continued to seek comment, Cloud suddenly evaporated. His once-prominent placement on The Student Loan Report had been removed. His bylines were replaced with "SLR Editor." Matherson confirmed on Tuesday that Cloud was an invention. Pressed on whether he regretted deceiving news organizations with a fake source, Matherson said Cloud "was created as a way to connect with our readers (ex. people struggling to repay student debt) and give us the technical ability to post content to the Wordpress website."

Crime

Belgium Declares Video Game Loot Boxes Gambling and Therefore Illegal (arstechnica.com) 121

The Belgian Gaming Commission has reviewed several big video games and found that randomized loot boxes in at least three of the titles count as "games of chance," and publishers could therefore be subject to fines and prison sentences under the country's gaming legislation. Ars Technica reports: A statement by Belgian Minister of Justice Koen Geens (machine translation) identifies loot boxes in Overwatch, FIFA 18, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive as meeting the criteria for that "game of chance" definition: i.e., "there is a game element [where] a bet can lead to profit or loss and chance has a role in the game." The Commission also looked at Star Wars: Battlefront II and determined that the recent changes EA made to the game means it "no longer technically forms a game of chance." Beyond that simple definition, the Gaming Commission expressed concern over games that draw in players with an "emotional profit forecast" of randomized goods, where players "buy an advantage with real money without knowing what benefit it would be." The fact that these games don't disclose the odds of receiving specific in-game items is also worrisome, the Commission said. The three games noted above must remove their loot boxes or be in criminal violation of the country's gaming legislation, Geens writes. That law carries penalties of up to 800,000EU (~$973,680) and five years in prison, which can be doubled if "minors are involved." But Geens says he wants to start a "dialogue" with loot box providers to "see who should take responsibility where."
Transportation

Ford To Stop Selling Every Car In North America But the Mustang, Focus Active (techcrunch.com) 240

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Ford today announced it will phase out most cars it sells in North America. According to its latest financial release, the auto giant "will transition to two vehicles" -- the Mustang and an unannounced vehicle, the Focus Active, being the only traditional cars it sells in the region. Ford sees 90 percent of its North America portfolio in trucks, utilities and commercial vehicles. Citing a reduction in consumer demand and product profitability, Ford is in turn not investing in the next generation of sedans. The Taurus is no more. The press release also talks about a new type of vehicle, though it sounds like a crossover. This so-called white space vehicle will "combine the best attributes of cars and utilities, such as higher ride height, space and versatility." Currently, Ford sells six sedans and coupes in North America: the Fiesta, Focus, Fusion, C-Max, Mustang and Taurus. This lineup hits multiple segments, from the compact Fiesta to the mid-size Focus, C-Max and Fusion to the full-size Taurus. The Mustang stands alone as the lone coupe.
Medicine

Medicare To Require Hospitals To Post Prices Online (pbs.org) 102

An anonymous reader quotes a report from PBS: Medicare will require hospitals to post their standard prices online and make electronic medical records more readily available to patients, officials said Tuesday. The program is also starting a comprehensive review of how it will pay for costly new forms of immunotherapy to battle cancer. Hospitals are required to disclose prices publicly, but the latest change would put that information online in machine-readable format that can be easily processed by computers. It may still prove to be confusing to consumers, since standard rates are like list prices and don't reflect what insurers and government programs pay.

Likewise, many health care providers already make computerized records available to patients, but starting in 2021 Medicare would base part of a hospital's payments on how good a job they do. Using electronic medical records remains a cumbersome task, and the Trump administration has invited technology companies to design secure apps that would let patients access their records from all their providers instead of having to go to different portals.
Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, also announced Medicare is starting a comprehensive review of how it will pay for a costly new form of immunotherapy called CAR-T. It's an expensive gene therapy that turbocharges a patient's own immune system cells to attack cancer. The cost for such a procedure can exceed $370,000 per patient.
Bitcoin

Nasdaq 'Would Consider' Creating a Crypto Exchange, Says CEO (coindesk.com) 36

The CEO of Nasdaq suggested Wednesday that the company could open a cryptocurrency exchange in the future. From a report: The subject came up in an interview with CNBC, during which CEO Adena Friedman expressed openness to the idea. "Certainly Nasdaq would consider becoming a crypto exchange over time," Friedman remarked, adding: "If we do look at it and say 'it's time, people are ready for a more regulated market,' for something that provides a fair experience for investors... I believe that digital currencies will continue to persist it's just a matter of how long it will take for that space to mature. Once you look at it and say, 'do we want to provide a regulated market for this?' Certainly Nasdaq would consider it."
Windows

E-Waste Innovator Will Go To Jail For Making Windows Restore Disks That Only Worked With Valid Licenses (gizmodo.com) 388

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Washington Post: California man Eric Lundgren, an electronic waste entrepreneur who produced tens of thousands of Windows restore disks intended to extend the lifespan of aging computers, lost a federal appeals court case in Miami after it ruled "he had infringed Microsoft's products to the tune of $700,000," the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. Per the Post, the appeals court ruled Lundgren's original sentence of 15 months in prison and a $50,000 fine would stay, despite the software being freely available online and only compatible with valid Windows licenses: "The appeals court upheld a federal district judge's ruling that the disks made by Eric Lundgren to restore Microsoft operating systems had a value of $25 apiece, even though they could be downloaded free and could be used only on computers with a valid Microsoft license. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit initially granted Lundgren an emergency stay of his prison sentence, shortly before he was to surrender, but then affirmed his original 15-month sentence and $50,000 fine without hearing oral argument in a ruling issued April 11." All told, the court valued 28,000 restore disks he produced at $700,000, despite testimony from software expert Glenn Weadock that they were worth essentially zero.
Yahoo!

SEC Issues $35 Million Fine Over Yahoo Failing To Disclose Data Breach (theverge.com) 35

Altaba, the company formerly known as Yahoo, will have to pay a $35 million fine for failing to disclose a 2014 data breach in which hackers stole info on over 500 million accounts. "The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced today that Altaba, which contains Yahoo's remains, agreed to pay the fine to settle charges that it misled investors by not informing them of the hack until September 2016, despite known of it as early as December 2014," reports The Verge. From the report: The SEC goes on to admonish Yahoo for its failure to disclose the breach to investors, saying that the agency wouldn't "second-guess good faith exercises of judgment" but that Yahoo's decisions were "so lacking" that a fine was necessary. Yahoo isn't being fined for having poor security practices, not informing users, or really anything related to the hack happening. The SEC is just mad that investors weren't told about it, because -- as Yahoo even noted in filings to investors -- data breaches can have financial impacts and legal implications. With a breach this large, the SEC believes that was obviously a real risk. "Public companies should have controls and procedures in place to properly evaluate cyber incidents and disclose material information to investors," Jina Choi, director of the SEC's San Francisco Regional Office, said in a statement. The SEC released guidance to public companies on what to disclose about data breaches earlier this year, which could help to avoid similar situations in the future.
Piracy

Netflix, Amazon, and Major Studios Try To Shut Down $20-Per-Month TV Service (arstechnica.com) 209

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Netflix, Amazon, and the major film studios have once again joined forces to sue the maker of a TV service and hardware device, alleging that the products are designed to illegally stream copyrighted videos. The lawsuit was filed against the company behind Set TV, which sells a $20-per-month TV service with more than 500 channels.

"Defendants market and sell subscriptions to 'Setvnow,' a software application that Defendants urge their customers to use as a tool for the mass infringement of Plaintiffs' copyrighted motion pictures and television shows," the complaint says. Besides Netflix and Amazon, the plaintiffs are Columbia Pictures, Disney, Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, and Warner Bros. The complaint was filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The companies are asking for permanent injunctions to prevent further distribution of Set TV software and devices, the impoundment of Set TV devices, and for damages including the defendants' profits.

Advertising

Facebook Sued Over Fake Ads (theguardian.com) 62

shilly writes: British finance expert Martin Lewis is suing Facebook for defamation, after a year of trying to persuade the company to stop accepting scam ads featuring his name and image. Facebook insists that he report to them every time he spots a scam; he wants them to check with him before they take money for an ad featuring his name or picture, so he can tell them if it's legit or not. "Lewis said he would not profit from any damages won, which he would donate to charities combating fraud, but that he hoped the action would prompt the site to stamp out scam adverts," reports The Guardian.
Music

The Music Industry Had a Fantastic 2017, Driven by Streaming Revenues (fastcompany.com) 79

An anonymous reader shares a report: Global recorded music revenues soared by $1.4 billion in 2017 largely due to the increased adoption of music streaming services among consumers, reports the Music Industry Blog. Global recorded music revenues reached $17.4 billion in 2017, putting it just a hair below 2008's $17.7 billion in revenues. That means that most of the decline in recorded music revenues over the past 10 years has now been reversed. Streaming was the largest driver of that growth, accounting for 43% of all revenues. In 2017 streaming revenues surged by 39%, topping out at $7.4 billion.
Software

Dutch Study Finds Some Video Game Loot Boxes Broke the Law (vice.com) 90

The Netherlands Gaming Authority has published a study it conducted of 10 video games that reward players with loot boxes, packages players can sometimes buy with real money that contain random-in game rewards, and found that 4 of the 10 games it studied violated the Dutch Gaming Act. "It determined that loot boxes are, in general, addictive and that four of the games allowed players to trade items they'd won outside of the game, which means they've got a market value," reports Motherboard. From the report: According to the study, the authorities picked games "based on their popularity on a leading Internet platform that streams videos of games and players." Motherboard has reached out to the Gaming Authority for clarification on both the games it picked (the study doesn't name them) and the method by which it picked them, but did not receive an immediate reply. However, Twitch is the most popular way gamers watch others play and it's a good bet that Twitch is how the Gaming Authority focused its attention. Six of the ten games the Gaming Authority studied aren't in violation of Dutch law. "With these games, there is no opportunity to sell the prizes won outside of the game," the press release said. "This means that the goods have no market value and these loot boxes do not satisfy the definition of a prize in Section 1 of the Betting and Gaming Act."

The four others though offer the opportunity for players to trade items outside of the game and therefore meet the the Netherlands definition of gambling. To come into compliance, those games need to make their loot boxes less interesting to open. The Gaming Authority wants the companies to "remove the addiction-sensitive elements ('almost winning' effects, visual effects, ability to keep opening loot boxes quickly one after the other and suchlike)...and to implement measures to exclude vulnerable groups or to demonstrate that the loot boxes on offer are harmless."

Government

Could We Fund a Universal Basic Income with Universal Basic Assets? (fastcompany.com) 408

Universal Basic Incomes aren't really the issue, argues Fast Company staff writer Ben Schiller. "It's how you find $2 trillion to pay for it." One answer may come in the form of "universal basic assets" (UBA). UBA can mean a fund of publicly-owned infrastructure or revenue streams -- like Alaska's Permanent Fund which pays residents up to $2,000 a year from state oil taxes. Or, it can mean actual assets that drive down the cost of living, like tuition-free education and free public broadband. There are lots of proposals going around now that fall into these two camps...

Entrepreneur Peter Barnes has called for the creation of a Sky Trust that would both limit the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and provide revenue from carbon taxes. These "carbon dividends" solve two problems at once: income inequality and climate change. He would also tax corporations for using natural resources, on the thinking that the atmosphere, minerals and fresh water around us represent a "joint inheritance." He would also tax speculative financial transactions and use of the electromagnetic spectrum. The U.K. think-tank IPPR recently proposed a similar "sovereign wealth fund owned by and run in the interests of citizens." It would finance the fund with "a scrip tax of up to 3% requiring businesses to issue equity to the government, or pay a tax of equivalent value," sales of land owned by the U.K. monarchy, and higher inheritance taxes.

Blockchain can help. Blockchain technology could offer a way to divide publicly-owned infrastructure so it's genuinely publicly-owned. We could issue tokenized securities in the assets around us giving everyone a stake in their environment. Then they could trade those tokens on exchanges, like they were cryptocurrencies, or use the tokens as collateral on loans.

Businesses

Many Amazon Warehouse Workers are on Food Stamps (theintercept.com) 417

Many of Amazon's warehouse workers have to buy their groceries with food stamps through America's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, reports the Intercept. In Arizona, new data suggests that one in three of the company's own employees depend on SNAP to put food on the table. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, the figure appears to be around one in 10. Overall, of five states that responded to a public records request for a list of their top employers of SNAP recipients, Amazon cracked the top 20 in four.

Though the company now employs 200,000 people in the United States, many of its workers are not making enough money to put food on the table... "The average warehouse worker at Walmart makes just under $40,000 annually, while at Amazon would take home about $24,300 a year," CNN reported in 2013. "That's less than $1,000 above the official federal poverty line for a family of four."

In addition Amazon uses temp workers who may also be on food stamps, notes the article, adding that in 2017 Amazon received $1.2 billion in state and local subsidies, while effectively paying no federal income tax.

"The American people are financing Amazon's pursuit of an e-commerce monopoly every step of the way: first, with tax breaks, subsidies, and infrastructure improvements meant to lure fulfillment centers into town, and later with federal transfers to pay for warehouse workers' food."
The Almighty Buck

What Happens When Restaurants Go Cashless (usatoday.com) 468

There's a new trend starting: restaurants that won't accept cash. USA Today reports: Restaurant owners say ordering is faster from customers who slap down plastic instead of dollars, cutting a few seconds out of the process. But most of the benefits appear to accrue to the restaurants: less time taken counting bills, reduced pilferage, no armored-car fees or fear of stickups. It's a risky strategy. For starters, upscale Millennials -- among the most coveted of diners because of their youth and affluence -- prefer to pay in cash, according to Bankrate.com data. Also, more than a third of Americans between the ages of 18 and 37 do not have a credit card. For customers, patronizing restaurants that don't take cash means one less payment option when they need a quick meal during an all-too-short lunch hour. Plus, it raises questions about whether it discriminates against cardless teens and the poor... A committee in Chicago is weighing Alderman Edward Burke's proposed requirement that merchants accept cash. Massachusetts has had a Discrimination Against Cash Buyers rule on the books since 1978... Lana Swartz, co-editor of the book Paid: Tales of Dongles, Checks, and Other Money Stuff, says "One of the cornerstones of American capitalism is everyone's money is equal."
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports: Many business owners would rather be cashless. Cash actually costs money -- banks charge fees for cash deposits and to handle coins... And counting and checking cash and preparing it for deposit takes up time a manager could spend with staff or customers... Millions of consumers use little or no cash. In a survey released last month by the financial services company Capital One, only 21 percent of 2,000 people questioned said cash was their most common way to pay for things. But going cashless isn't a slam-dunk. Some customers who want to use cash point to a statement on paper money: "This note is legal tender for all debts public and private." However, the Federal Reserve says on its website that private companies can make their own policies about cash unless there is a state law saying otherwise.
One Houston restauranteur changed his mind about going cashless, saying "You can't compete if you think you're going to create a whole set of rules and expect people to follow them." One Chicago restauranteur admits that "it has generated the most negative pushback of anything we've ever done," estimating revenue fell 2% just from angry cash customers who never returned.

But he persisted because his eight restaurants had experienced six burglaries, break-ins or armed robberies over the last eight years -- and got "dozens and dozens" of counterfeit bills from customers -- while by going cashless, he no longer has to pay for bank fees and armored car pickups.
The Internet

Lycos Finally Discontinues Its Free Email Service (lycos.com) 49

Long-time Slashdot reader williamyf writes: You may think of it as the end of an era, or as the final nail in the coffin. Today Lycos, one of the pioneering web portals of the '90s, notified all it's users that "On May 15th, 2018, we will no longer be offering free Lycos Mail accounts." They have been very upfront about the reason:

"Q: Why are you doing this?

A: Providing mailboxes costs us money, and we no longer make enough from ads to support the cost of the mailboxes."


At it's heyday, Lycos was acquired by Terra Networks (a division of Telefonica), then sold to Daum Communications in Korea and then to Ybrant Digital in India. The search engine and other parts (like Angelfire, Tripod and Gamesville) continue working. In the meantime, instructions are provided to download all your mail via POP3 for offline archiving, or to upgrade to Paid Accounts.

Earth

Lyft Announces It Will Make All Rides Carbon Neutral (cnn.com) 37

Lyft announced it will spend millions of dollars to make all its rides carbon neutral. An anonymous reader quotes CNN Money: The San Francisco-based ride-hailing company announced Thursday that it will pay for a range of environmentally beneficial projects to compensate for the emissions from the millions of car journeys it provides every week. The tactic, known as carbon offsets, is a way for Lyft to do something about climate change without changing its business model. Lyft will fund initiatives including forestry projects, renewable energy ventures and capturing emissions from landfills.

The efforts will put Lyft among the 10 largest voluntary offset programs in the world, according to 3Degrees, the renewable energy company Lyft is partnering with to find suitable projects... Lyft will track how many miles its drivers cover -- and the make and model of their vehicles -- to calculate exactly how many emissions it must offset. The company will not limit itself just to the carbon footprint from when passengers are in Lyft vehicles, but will also include the mileage its drivers rack up on their way to pick people up.

Lyft co-founder John Zimmer believes that within their first year they'll offset over a million metric tons of carbon -- "equivalent to planting tens of millions of trees or taking hundreds of thousands of cars off the road."

Zimmer told CNN that "With great scale comes great responsibility."
The Almighty Buck

Wells Fargo Agrees to $1 Billion Fine Over Home and Auto Loan Abuses (reuters.com) 64

Wells Fargo got hit with a $1 billion fine Friday -- the largest ever issued by America's consumer protection agency. An anonymous reader quotes Reuters: Taken together, the mortgage and auto programs ensnared more than 600,000 customers and will require nearly $300 million in refunds, the bank has said. The programs allowed Wells Fargo to earn fees from unneeded car insurance and penalties on mortgage paperwork that the bank had botched. For homebuyers, Wells Fargo promised to "rate lock" or freeze the interest rate for borrowers who got their mortgage paperwork finished within a few weeks. When that deadline slipped and it was the bank's fault, Wells Fargo could blame the customer. The penalty for late mortgage paperwork often topped $1000, according to a borrower lawsuit...

Drivers stung by insurance fees were wrongly pushed into policies that they did not need... Insurers working for Wells Fargo pushed policies onto more than 500,000 customers who already had coverage, the bank has said.

The penalty comes 18 months after Wells Fargo "admitted it opened sham accounts for customers -- a practice that likely ensnared millions...

Wells Fargo agreed to the new $1 billion fine "without admitting or denying wrongdoing."
The Almighty Buck

Kurzweil Predicts Universal Basic Incomes Worldwide Within 20 Years (hackernoon.com) 306

Google's director of engineering Ray Kurzweil made a startling prediction at the 2018 TED conference. Hacker Noon reports: "In the early 2030s, we'll have universal basic income in the developed world, and worldwide by the end of the 2030s. You'll be able to live very well on that. The primary concern will be meaning and purpose," he said onstage at the annual event...

Kurzweil believes that by 2029, computers will have human-level intelligence. It's not inconceivable then that AI will be distributing UBI to humans based on algorithms that are capable of crunching numbers in ways we cannot follow. Indeed, what we call the "State" in even just 10 years time may have been transformed by AI and blockchain tech in a way whereby even our experience of consensus decision making and democracy itself may have evolved.

AI

AI Will Wipe Out Half the Banking Jobs In a Decade, Experts Say 111

Experts in the industry say that current advances in artificial intelligence and automation could replace as many as half the nation's financial services workers over the next decade, though it will take a big investment to make that happen. The Mercury News reports: "Unless banks deal with the performance issues that AI will cause for ultra-large databases, they will not be able to take the money gained by eliminating positions and spend it on the new services and products they will need in order to stay competitive," James D'Arezzo, CEO of Glendale-based Condusiv Technologies, said. Intensive hardware upgrades are often cited as an answer to the problem, but D'Arezzo said that's prohibitively expensive.

Speaking to an audience last year in Frankfurt, Germany, Deutsche Bank CEO John Cryan predicted a "bonfire" of industry jobs as automation moves forward. "In our bank we have people doing work like robots," he said. "Tomorrow we will have robots behaving like people. It doesn't matter if we as a bank will participate in these changes or not, it is going to happen." Increased processing power, cloud storage and other developments are making many tasks possible that once were considered too complex for automation, according to Cryan. D'Arezzo, whose company works to improve existing software performance, said the financial industry is being swamped by "a tsunami of data," including new compliance requirements for customer privacy and constantly changing bank regulations.
Bhagwan Chowdhry, a professor of finance and economics at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, offers a less bleak view of the future. "Technology will eliminate some jobs that are repetitive and require less human judgment," he said, "But I think they will get replaced by other jobs that humans are better at. Anything that requires judgment is something humans will continue to do. We are not good at multiplying 16-digit numbers, but we're good at judging people and detecting if someone is telling the truth."
Businesses

Qualcomm Cutting 1,500 Jobs At Its California Offices (reuters.com) 31

As part of its promise to investors to cut annual costs by $1 billion, Qualcomm is cutting 1,500 jobs across multiple divisions at its offices in California. Reuters reports: The company, which has about 33,800 employees as of Sept.24, informed about its job cut plans in California in a regulatory notice that was filed with the state on April 18. Qualcomm said it plans to cut 1,231 jobs in its San Diego office and 269 from its San Jose and Santa Clara offices in the state. Though the company first considered cost reductions without layoffs, it concluded that job cuts are needed to support long-term growth and success, a Qualcomm spokesperson said on Wednesday.

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