Crime

Facebook Is a 'Living, Breathing Crime Scene,' Says Former Tech Insider (nbcnews.com) 125

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: With more than 2 billion users, Facebook's reach now rivals that of Christianity and exceeds that of Islam. However, the network's laser focus on profits and user growth has come at the expense of its users, according to one former Facebook manager who is now speaking out against the social platform. "One of the things that I saw consistently as part of my job was the company just continuously prioritized user growth and making money over protecting users," the ex-manager, Sandy Parakilas, who worked at Facebook for 16 months, starting in 2011, told NBC News. During his tenure at Facebook, Parakilas led third-party advertising, privacy and policy compliance on Facebook's app platform. "Facebook is a living, breathing crime scene for what happened in the 2016 election -- and only they have full access to what happened," said Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google. His work centers on how technology can ethically steer the thoughts and actions of the masses on social media and he's been called "the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience" by The Atlantic magazine.

In response to the comments, Facebook issued a statement saying it is a "vastly different company" from when it was founded. "We are taking many steps to protect and improve people's experience on the platform," the statement said. "In the past year, we've worked to destroy the business model for false news and reduce its spread, stop bad actors from meddling in elections, and bring a new level of transparency to advertising. Last week, we started prioritizing meaningful posts from friends and family in News Feed to help bring people closer together. We have more work to do and we're heads down on getting it done."

Bitcoin

Bitcoin Watchers Running Out of Explanations Blame Slump on Moon (bloomberg.com) 151

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."
Social Networks

Twitter Hits Back Again at Claims That Its Employees Monitor Direct Messages (techcrunch.com) 160

From a report on TechCrunch: Twitter is pushing back against claims made by conservative activist group Project Veritas that its employees monitor private user data, including direct messages. In a statement to BuzzFeed News, a Twitter representative said "we do not proactively review DMs. Period. A limited number of employees have access to such information, for legitimate work purposes, and we enforce strict access protocols for those employees." Last week, Project Veritas, which produces undercover sting operations that purportedly expose liberal biases at media companies and other organizations, posted footage that appeared to show Twitter engineers claiming that teams of employees look at users' private data. One engineer seemed to say that Twitter can hand over President Donald Trump's data, including deleted tweets and direct messages, to the Department of Justice.
Music

Is Pop Music Becoming Louder, Simpler and More Repetitive? (bbc.co.uk) 474

dryriver writes: The BBC has posted a very interesting article that investigates whether people claiming all over the internet that "pop music just isn't what it used to be" are simply growing old, or if there actually is objective science capable of backing up this claim of a "steady decline in music quality." The findings from five different studies are quoted; the findings from the fourth study is especially striking:


1. Pop music has become slower -- in tempo -- in recent years and also "sadder" and less "fun" to listen to.
2. Pop music has become melodically less complex, using fewer chord changes, and pop recordings are mastered to sound consistently louder (and therefore less dynamic) at a rate of around one decibel every eight years.
3. There has been a significant increase in the use of the first-person word "I" in pop song lyrics, and a decline in words that emphasize society or community. Lyrics also contain more words that can be associated with anger or anti-social sentiments.
4. 42% of people polled on which decade has produced the worst pop music since the 1970s voted for the 2010s. These people were not from a particular aging demographic at all -- all age groups polled, including 18-29 year olds, appear to feel unanimously that the 2010s are when pop music became worst. This may explain a rising trend of young millennials, for example, digging around for now 15-30 year-old music on YouTube frequently. It's not just the older people who listen to the 1980s and 1990s on YouTube and other streaming services it seems -- much younger people do it too.
5. A researcher put 15,000 Billboard Hot 100 song lyrics through the well-known Lev-Zimpel-Vogt (LZV1) data compression algorithm, which is good at finding repetitions in data. He found that songs have steadily become more repetitive over the years, and that song lyrics from today compress 22% better on average than less repetitive song lyrics from the 1960s. The most repetitive year in song lyrics was 2014 in this study.

Conclusion: There is some scientific evidence backing the widely voiced complaint -- on the internet in particular -- that pop music is getting worse and worse in the 2000s and the 2010s. The music is slower, melodically simpler, louder, more repetitive, more "I" (first-person) focused, and more angry with anti-social sentiments. The 2010s got by far the most music quality down votes with 42% from people polled on which decade has produced the worst music since the 1970s.

Google

Google's Museum App Finds Your Fine Art Doppelganger (engadget.com) 66

The latest update to the Google Arts & Culture app now lets you take a selfie, and using image recognition, finds someone in its vast art collection that most resembles you. It will then present you and your fine art twin side-by-side, along with a percentage match, and let you share the results on social media. Engadget reports: The app, which appears to be unfortunately geo-restricted to the United States, is like an automated version of an article that circulated recently showing folks standing in front of portraits at museums. In many cases, the old-timey people in the paintings resemble them uncannily, but, other than in rare cases, that's not the case at all with Google's app. Google matched me with someone who doesn't look like me in the slightest, a certain Sir Peter Francois Bourgeois, based on a painting hanging in Dulwich Picture Gallery. Taking a buzz around the internet, other folks were satisfied with their matches, some took them as a personal insult, and many were just plain baffled, in that order.
Privacy

India To Add Facial Authentication For Its Aadhaar Card Security (reuters.com) 20

India will build facial recognition into its national identity card in addition to fingerprints after a series of breaches in the world's biggest biometric identification programme, the government said on Monday. From a report: A local newspaper reported this month that access to the "Aadhaar" database which has identity details of more than 1 billion citizens was being sold for just $8 on social media. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which issues the identity cards, said it would add face recognition software as an additional layer of security from July. Card holders will be required to match their photographs with that stored in the data base for authentication in addition to fingerprints and iris scans, the agency said in a statement.
Cellphones

Fake 'Inbound Missile' Alert Sent To Every Cellphone in Hawaii (chicagotribune.com) 224

"Somebody sent out a false emergency alert to all cell phones in Hawaii saying, 'BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL'," writes Slashdot reader flopwich, adding "Somebody's had better days at work." The Associated Press reports: In a conciliatory news conference later in the day, Hawaii officials apologized for the mistake and vowed to ensure it will never happen again. Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi said the error happened when someone hit the wrong button. "We made a mistake," said Miyagi. For nearly 40 minutes, it seemed like the world was about to end in Hawaii, an island paradise already jittery over the threat of nuclear-tipped missiles from North Korea...

On the H-3, a major highway north of Honolulu, vehicles sat empty after drivers left them to run to a nearby tunnel after the alert showed up, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. Workers at a golf club huddled in a kitchen fearing the worst... The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted there was no threat about 10 minutes after the initial alert, but that didn't reach people who aren't on the social media platform. A revised alert informing of the "false alarm" didn't reach cellphones until 38 minutes later, according to the time stamp on images people shared on social media.

EU

Is Finland's Universal Basic Income Trial Too Good To Be True? (theguardian.com) 534

It was one year ago that Finland began giving money to 2,000 unemployed people -- roughly $652 a month (€560 or £475). But have we learned anything about universal basic incomes? An anonymous reader quotes the Guardian: Amid this unprecedented media attention, the experts who devised the scheme are concerned it is being misrepresented. "It's not really what people are portraying it as," said Markus Kanerva, an applied social and behavioural sciences specialist working in the prime minister's office in Helsinki. "A full-scale universal income trial would need to study different target groups, not just the unemployed. It would have to test different basic income levels, look at local factors. This is really about seeing how a basic unconditional income affects the employment of unemployed people."

While UBI tends often to be associated with progressive politics, Finland's trial was launched -- at a cost of around €20m (£17.7m or $24.3 million) -- by a centre-right, austerity-focused government interested primarily in spending less on social security and bringing down Finland's stubborn 8%-plus unemployment rate. It has a very clear purpose: to see whether an unconditional income might incentivise people to take up paid work. Authorities believe it will shed light on whether unemployed Finns, as experts believe, are put off taking up a job by the fear that a higher marginal tax rate may leave them worse off. Many are also deterred by having to reapply for benefits after every casual or short-term contract... According to Kanerva, the core data the government is seeking -- on whether, and how, the job take-up of the 2,000 unemployed people in the trial differs from a 175,000-strong control group -- will be "robust, and usable in future economic modelling" when it is published in 2019.

Although the experiment may be impacted by all the hype it's generating, according to the Guardian. "One participant who hoped to start his own business with the help of the unconditional monthly payment complained that, after speaking to 140 TV crews and reporters from as far afield as Japan and Korea, he has simply not been able to find the time."
Government

Will Facial Recognition in China Lead To Total Surveillance? (washingtonpost.com) 122

schwit1 shares a new Washington Post article about China's police and security state -- including the facial recognition cameras allow access to apartment buildings. "If I am carrying shopping bags in both hands, I just have to look ahead and the door swings open," one 40-year-old woman tells the Post. "And my 5-year-old daughter can just look up at the camera and get in. It's good for kids because they often lose their keys." But for the police, the cameras that replaced the residents' old entry cards serve quite a different purpose. Now they can see who's coming and going, and by combining artificial intelligence with a huge national bank of photos, the system in this pilot project should enable police to identify what one police report, shared with The Washington Post, called the "bad guys" who once might have slipped by... Banks, airports, hotels and even public toilets are all trying to verify people's identities by analyzing their faces. But the police and security state have been the most enthusiastic about embracing this new technology.

The pilot in Chongqing forms one tiny part of an ambitious plan, known as "Xue Liang," which can be translated as "Sharp Eyes." The intent is to connect the security cameras that already scan roads, shopping malls and transport hubs with private cameras on compounds and buildings, and integrate them into one nationwide surveillance and data-sharing platform... At the back end, these efforts merge with a vast database of information on every citizen, a "Police Cloud" that aims to scoop up such data as criminal and medical records, travel bookings, online purchase and even social media comments -- and link it to everyone's identity card and face.

Social Networks

Snapchat's Big Redesign Bashed In 83 Percent of User Reviews (techcrunch.com) 113

The new Snapchat redesign that jams Stories in between private messages is not receiving a whole lot of praise. "In the few countries including the U.K., Australia, and Canada where the redesign is widely available, 83 percent of App Store reviews (1,941) for the update are negative with one or two stars, according to data by mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower," reports TechCrunch. "Just 17 percent, or 391 of the reviews, give it three to five stars." From the report: The most referenced keywords in the negative reviews include "new update," "Stories," and "please fix." Meanwhile, Snapchat's Support Twitter account has been busy replying to people who hate the update and are asking to uninstall it, noting "It's not possible to revert to a previous version of Snapchat," and trying to explain where Stories are to confused users. Hopes were that the redesign could boost Snapchat's soggy revenue, which fell short of Wall Street earnings expectations in Q3 and led to a loss of $443 million. The redesign mixes Stories, where Snapchat shows ads but which have seen stagnation in sharing rates amidst competition from Instagram Stories, into the more popular messaging inbox, where Snapchat's ephemeral messaging is more differentiated and entrenched.
Facebook

Facebook Overhauls News Feed in Favor of 'Meaningful Social Interactions' (theguardian.com) 95

Facebook said late Thursday it will begin to prioritize posts in the News Feed from friends and family over public content and posts from publishers. The company will also move away from using "time spent" on the platform as a metric of success and will instead focus on "engagement" with content, such as comments. From a report: The social media platform will de-prioritize videos, photos, and posts shared by businesses and media outlets, which Zuckerberg dubbed "public content," in favor of content produced by a user's friends and family. "The balance of what's in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do -- help us connect with each other," Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post announcing the change. "We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren't just fun to use, but also good for people's well-being."
News

The Invented Language That Found a Second Life Online (bbc.com) 225

More than 100 years after it was invented, Esperanto is spoken by relatively few people. But the internet has brought new life to this intriguing, invented language. From a report: Since it [Esperanto] was first proposed in a small booklet written by Ludwik L Zamenhof in 1887, it has evolved into the quintessential invented language, the liveliest and most popular ever created. But, many would tell you, Esperanto is a failure. More than a century after it was created, its current speaker base is just some two million people -- a geeky niche, not unlike the fan base of any other obscure hobby.

[...] Learning Esperanto used to be a solitary quest. You could practise it by sitting for weeks with a book and a dictionary, figuring out the rules and memorising the words. But there was usually no professor to correct your mistakes or polish your pronunciation. That's how Anna Lowenstein taught herself Esperanto in her teenage years, after becoming frustrated with the oddities of the French she was learning in school. In the last page of her textbook, there was an address for the British Esperanto Association. She sent a letter, and some time later was invited to a meeting of young speakers in St Albans.

The global community that Lowenstein was joining was put together via snail mail, paper magazines and yearly meetings. [...] Newer generations are not as patient, and they don't have to be. Unlike most of their elders, who rarely had the chance to speak Esperanto, today's speakers can use the language every day online. Even old computer communication services like Usenet had Esperanto-speaking hubs, and a lot of pages and chat rooms sprouted in the early days of the Web. Today, the younger segment of the Esperantio is keen on using social media: they gather around several groups in Facebook and Telegram, a chat service.

China

Apple To Transfer Chinese iCloud Operations To Chinese Firm (bbc.com) 72

Apple's iCloud services in mainland China will be operated by a Chinese company from next month, the tech giant has confirmed, though Apple will still have access to all data stored on iCloud. The company said it had made the move to comply with the country's cloud computing regulations. iCloud accounts registered outside of China are not affected. BBC reports: The Chinese cyber security rules, introduced in July last year, include a requirement for companies to store all data within China. The firm, Guizhou on the Cloud Big Data (GCBD), is owned by the Guizhou provincial government in southern China. Guizhou is where Apple opened a $1 billion data center last year to meet the regulations. iCloud data will be transferred from February 28, Apple said. Customers living in mainland China who did not want to use iCloud operated by GCBD were given the option to terminate their account. Apple said the "partnership" with GCBD would allow it to "improve the speed and reliability of our iCloud services products while also complying with newly passed regulations that cloud services be operated by Chinese companies." It added that Apple had "strong data privacy and security protections in place and no backdoors will be created into any of our systems." However, some on social media have said the step gives Beijing more opportunity to monitor its citizens and others living in the country.
Facebook

WhatsApp Security Flaws Could Be Exploited To Covertly Add Members To Group Chats (iacr.org) 29

A group of crytopgraphers from Germany's Ruhr University Bochum have uncovered flaws in WhatsApp's security that compromise the instant messaging service's end-to-end encryption. WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, has over one billion active users. In a paper published last week, "More is Less: On the End-to-End Security of Group Chats in Signal, WhatsApp, and Threema," anyone who controls WhatsApp's servers, including company employees, can covertly add members to any group -- a claim that might not bode well with privacy enthusiasts. From the paper: The described weaknesses enable attacker A, who controls the WhatsApp server or can break the transport layer security, to take full control over a group. Entering the group however leaves traces since this operation is listed in the graphical user interface. The WhatsApp server can therefore use the fact that it can stealthily reorder and drop messages in the group. Thereby it can cache sent messages to the group, read their content first and decide in which order they are delivered to the members. Additionally the WhatsApp server can forward these messages to the members individually such that a subtly chosen combination of messages can help it to cover the traces. Further reading: Wired.
XBox (Games)

Xbox One Adds New Achievement, Do Not Disturb Features In Previous Update (gamespot.com) 38

A Preview alpha build is now available for some Xbox One users who take part in the Insiders Program, which allows players to test out new system and game features before they go live to the public. This build contains several new features, such as the Next Achievements feature and a Do Not Disturb feature. GameSpot reports: The biggest addition coming for Xbox Insiders is the Next Achievements feature in the guide. Now, those who test new features and games from Xbox One will be able sort a cross-games list of upcoming Achievements. This way, you can easily see which Achievements you're closest to and quickly launch the game to achieve them. You can also sort your Achievements by how rare they are.

There are also a few tweaks to social settings. A Do Not Disturb online status is coming, which will suppress notifications and let your friends know you're unavailable at the moment. Comments on community posts are also getting an adjustment, and soon you'll be able to peek at the most recent comment and see who has liked your comments. The Narrator is also now able to read large amounts of text.

Bitcoin

Kodak Announces Its Own Cryptocurrency, Watches Stock Price Skyrocket (theverge.com) 135

Kodak has joined the cryptocurrency craze by launching its own KodakCoin, a cryptocurrency for photographers. As soon as the news was announced, Kodak's stock (KODK) jumped more than 60 percent. The Verge reports: KodakCoins will work as tokens inside the new blockchain-powered KodakOne rights management platform. The platform will supposedly create a digital ledger of rights ownership that photographers can use to register and license new and old work. Both the platform and cryptocurrency are supposed to "empower photographers and agencies to take greater control in image rights management," according to the press release. The digital currency is meant to create a new economy for photographers to receive payment and sell work on a secure platform. But while Kodak's proposed blockchain-powered platform and virtual coin sound good on paper, it's not clear why the photography company needs to use blockchain to achieve its goals, rather than just create another social media platform instead. It appears that Kodak, like the other tea and vape companies that received media attention last month for making the abrupt leap to blockchain, could just be trying to capitalize on the current cryptocurrency mania.
Facebook

Facebook Dives into Home Device Market with Video Chat Product Named 'Portal', Report Says (cheddar.com) 46

An anonymous reader shares a report: Facebook is about to jump into the consumer hardware business in a big way with a video chat device named "Portal," which will put it in direct competition with Amazon's hugely popular line of Echo voice-controlled devices, Cheddar has learned. The device is designed to work in the home and represents Facebook's first serious foray into selling consumer hardware, people familiar with the matter said. Rather than position the device as a smart assistant akin to Amazon's Echo speakers, Facebook intends to pitch Portal as a way for families and friends to stay connected through video chatting and other social features. Facebook plans a formal product introduction in early May at its annual developer conference and hopes to ship the device in the second half of 2018.
Google

James Damore Sues Google For Allegedly Discriminating Against Conservative White Men (theverge.com) 1171

An anonymous reader shares a report: The author of the controversial memo that upended Google in August is suing the company, alleging that white, male conservatives are systematically discriminated against by Google. James Damore was fired as an engineer after a manifesto questioning the benefits of diversity programs was widely passed around the company. In a new lawsuit, he and another fired engineer claim that "employees who expressed views deviating from the majority view at Google on political subjects raised in the workplace and relevant to Google's employment policies and its business, such as 'diversity' hiring policies, 'bias sensitivity,' or 'social justice,' were/are singled out, mistreated, and systematically punished and terminated from Google, in violation of their legal rights."
Businesses

Apple Should Address Youth Phone Addiction, Say Two Large Investors (reuters.com) 159

Two large Apple shareholders, Jana Partners and the California State Teachers' Retirement System, are urging Apple to take steps to address what they say is a growing problem of young people getting addicted to Apple's iPhones, Jana partner Charles Penner said. From a report: Jana, a leading activist shareholder, and CalSTRS, one of the nation's largest public pension plans, delivered a letter to Apple on Saturday asking the company to consider developing software that would allow parents to limit children's phone use, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier on Sunday. Jana and CalSTRS also asked Apple to study the impact of excessive phone use on mental health, according to the publication. Jana and CalSTRS together control about $2 billion worth of Apple shares, the Journal reports.
Networking

Can Mesh Networks Save a Dying Web? (thenextweb.com) 201

From an anonymous reader: "The web is dying, but mesh networks could save it," writes open source hacker Andre Staltz. He warns that Facebook, Google, and Amazon plan to "grow beyond browsers, creating new virtual contexts where data is created and shared," and predicts the next wave of walled gardens will be a "social internet" bypassing the web altogether. "The Web may die like most other technologies do, simply by becoming less attractive than newer technologies."

He wants to build a mobile mesh web that works with or without internet access to reach the four billion people currently offline, adding that all the tools we need are already in our hands: smartphones, peer-to-peer protocols, and mesh networks. His vision? "Novel peer-to-peer protocols such as IPFS and Dat help replace HTTP and make the web a content-centered cyberspace... Browsers can be made to work like that, and although it's a small tweak to how the web works, it has massive effects on social structures in cyberspace... Now that we have experience with some of the intricacies of the social web, we can reinvent it to put people first without intermediate companies... We can actually beat the tech giants at this game by simply giving local and regional connectivity to people in developing countries. With mobile apps that are built mesh-first, the smartphones would make up self-organizing self-healing mobile ad-hoc networks... In internet-less regions, there is potential for scaling quickly, and through that, we can spawn a new industry around peer-to-peer wireless mesh networks."

He cites mega-projects "to rescue the web from the internet", which include progress on peer-to-peer and mesh networking protocols, followed by adoption on smartphones (and then a new wave of apps) -- plus a migration of existing web content to the new protocols, "to fix the overutilization of the wirenet and the underutilization of airnets, bringing balance to the wire-versus-air dichotomy, providing choice in how data should travel in each case...But it can only happen if the web takes a courageous step towards its next level."

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