Businesses

How To Tame the Tech Titans (economist.com) 27

dryriver shares an opinion piece from The Economist: Not long ago, being the boss of a big Western tech firm was a dream job. As the billions rolled in, so did the plaudits: Google, Facebook, Amazon and others were making the world a better place. Today these companies are accused of being BAADD -- big, anti-competitive, addictive and destructive to democracy. Regulators fine them, politicians grill them and one-time backers warn of their power to cause harm. Much of this techlash is misguided. The presumption that big businesses must necessarily be wicked is plain wrong. Apple is to be admired as the world's most valuable listed company for the simple reason that it makes things people want to buy, even while facing fierce competition. Many online services would be worse if their providers were smaller. Evidence for the link between smartphones and unhappiness is weak. Fake news is not only an online phenomenon.

But big tech platforms, particularly Facebook, Google and Amazon, do indeed raise a worry about fair competition. That is partly because they often benefit from legal exemptions. Unlike publishers, Facebook and Google are rarely held responsible for what users do on them; and for years most American buyers on Amazon did not pay sales tax. Nor do the titans simply compete in a market. Increasingly, they are the market itself, providing the infrastructure (or "platforms") for much of the digital economy. Many of their services appear to be free, but users "pay" for them by giving away their data. Powerful though they already are, their huge stockmarket valuations suggest that investors are counting on them to double or even triple in size in the next decade. There is thus a justified fear that the tech titans will use their power to protect and extend their dominance, to the detriment of consumers (see article). The tricky task for policymakers is to restrain them without unduly stifling innovation.

The Internet

Ajit Pai's FCC Can't Admit Broadband Competition Is a Problem (dslreports.com) 48

An anonymous reader quotes a report from DSLReports: While the FCC is fortunately backing away from a plan that would have weakened the standard definition of broadband, the agency under Ajit Pai still can't seem to acknowledge the lack of competition in the broadband sector. Or the impact this limited competition has in encouraging higher prices, net neutrality violations, privacy violations, or what's widely agreed to be some of the worst customer service of any industry in America. The Trump FCC had been widely criticized for a plan to weaken the standard definition of broadband from 25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up, to include any wireless connection capable of 10 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up. Consumer advocates argued the move was a ham-fisted attempt to try and tilt the data to downplay the industry's obvious competitive and coverage shortcomings. They also argued that the plan made no coherent sense, given that wireless broadband is frequently capped, often not available (with carrier maps the FCC relies on falsely over-stating coverage), and significantly more expensive than traditional fixed-line service.

In a statement (pdf), FCC boss Ajit Pai stated the agency would fortunately be backing away from the measure, while acknowledging that frequently capped and expensive wireless isn't a comparable replacement for fixed-line broadband. "The draft report maintains the same benchmark speed for fixed broadband service previously adopted by the Commission: 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload," stated Pai. "The draft report also concludes that mobile broadband service is not a full substitute for fixed service. Instead, it notes there are differences between the two technologies, including clear variations in consumer preferences and demands." That's the good news. The bad news: the FCC under Pai's leadership continues to downplay and ignore the lack of competition in the sector, and the high prices and various bad behaviors most people are painfully familiar with.

Businesses

Google CEO Sundar Pichai Says He Does Not Regret Firing James Damore (theverge.com) 172

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Google CEO Sundar Pichai responded today to the firing of employee James Damore over his controversial memo on workplace diversity, stating that while he does not regret the decision, he regrets that people misunderstood it as a politically motivated event. Speaking in a live conversation with journalist and Recode co-founder Kara Swisher, MSNBC host Ari Melber, and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki in San Francisco, Pichai said that the decision to fire Damore was about ensuring women at Google felt like the company was committed to creating a welcoming environment.

"I regret that people misunderstand that we may have made this for a political belief one way or another," Pichai said. "It's important for the women at Google, and all the people at Google, that we want to make a inclusive environment." When pressed by Swisher on the issue of regret, Pichai stated more definitively, "I don't regret it." Wojcicki, who has spoken publicly about how Damore's memo affected her personally, followed up with, "I think it was the right decision."

Security

Security Breaches Don't Affect Stock Price, Study Suggests (schneier.com) 22

Computer security professional Bruce Schneier highlights the key findings of a study that suggests security breaches don't affect stock price. The study has been published in the Journal of Information Privacy and Security. From the report: -While the difference in stock price between the sampled breached companies and their peers was negative (1.13%) in the first 3 days following announcement of a breach, by the 14th day the return difference had rebounded to + 0.05%, and on average remained positive through the period assessed.

-For the differences in the breached companies' betas and the beta of their peer sets, the differences in the means of 8 months pre-breach versus post-breach was not meaningful at 90, 180, and 360 day post-breach periods.

-For the differences in the breached companies' beta correlations against the peer indices pre- and post-breach, the difference in the means of the rolling 60 day correlation 8 months pre- breach versus post-breach was not meaningful at 90, 180, and 360 day post-breach periods.

-In regression analysis, use of the number of accessed records, date, data sensitivity, and malicious versus accidental leak as variables failed to yield an R2 greater than 16.15% for response variables of 3, 14, 60, and 90 day return differential, excess beta differential, and rolling beta correlation differential, indicating that the financial impact on breached companies was highly idiosyncratic.

-Based on returns, the most impacted industries at the 3 day post-breach date were U.S. Financial Services, Transportation, and Global Telecom. At the 90 day post-breach date, the three most impacted industries were U.S. Financial Services, U.S. Healthcare, and Global Telecom.

Privacy

Trump Signs Surveillance Extension Into Law (thehill.com) 73

President Trump took to Twitter this afternoon to announce that he has signed a six-year renewal of a powerful government surveillance tool. "Just signed 702 Bill to authorize foreign intelligence collection," Trump tweeted. "This is NOT the same FISA law that was so wrongly abused during the election. I will always do the right thing for our country and put the safety of the American people first!" The Hill reports: Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which the Senate voted to renew with a few small tweaks this week, allows the U.S. to spy on foreigners overseas. The intelligence community says the program is a critical tool in identifying and disrupting terror plots. But the broader surveillance law, which governs U.S. spying on foreigners, has become politically entangled with the controversy over the federal investigation into Trump's campaign and Russia. Some Republicans have claimed that the FBI inappropriately obtained a politically motivated FISA warrant to spy on Trump during the transition and on Friday, Capitol Hill was consumed with speculation about a four-page memo produced by House Intelligence Committee Republicans that some GOP lawmakers hinted contained evidence of such wrongdoing.
Facebook

Facebook Will Now Ask Users To Rank News Organizations They Trust (recode.net) 104

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Recode: Facebook is doing a very un-Facebooky thing: It's going to start declaring that some news sources you see in your Facebook feed are better than others, and act accordingly. But Facebook being Facebook, it's going about it in the most Facebooky way possible: It's going to rely on users -- not the super-smart people who work at Facebook -- to figure out which of those sources are better. Mark Zuckerberg says the move is part of an effort to prioritize "news that is trustworthy, informative, and local," within the network and suggests that there will be more announcements to come. The one he describes today will prioritize what kind of news sources pop up in your Facebook News Feed, and will reward ones that Facebook thinks are "broadly trusted," based on user polls, so it can "build a sense of common ground." Facebook is also using today's news to refine last week's roll-out: Zuckerberg says the previously announced changes will reduce the amount of news stories people see in their feed to 4 percent, down from 5 percent.
Security

Top Bug Hunters Make 2.7 Times More Money Than an Average Software Engineer (bleepingcomputer.com) 55

An anonymous reader shares a report: A survey of 1,700 bug bounty hunters registered on the HackerOne platform reveals that top white-hat hackers make on average 2.7 times more money than the average salary of a software engineer in the same country. The reported numbers are different for each country and may depend on a bug bunter's ability to find bugs, but the survey's results highlight the rising popularity of bug hunting as a sustainable profession, especially in less developed countries, where it can help talented programmers live a financially care-free life. According to HackerOne's report, it pays to be a vulnerability researcher in India, where top bug hunters can make 16 times more compared to the average salary of a software engineer. Other countries where bug hunting can assure someone a comfortable living are Argentina (x15.6), Egypt (x8.1), Hong Kong (x7.6), the Philippines (x5.4), and Latvia (x5.2).
Education

Tim Cook: 'I Don't Want My Nephew on a Social Network' (theguardian.com) 85

Tim Cook, speaking at Harlow college in Essex, shared his views on the limits on technology and social media he feels should be imposed on kids. He said: "I don't believe in overuse [of technology]. I'm not a person that says we've achieved success if you're using it all the time," he said. "I don't subscribe to that at all." Even in computer-aided courses, such as graphic design, technology should not dominate, he said. "There are are still concepts that you want to talk about and understand. In a course on literature, do I think you should use technology a lot? Probably not." The 57-year old chief executive, who took the reins at Apple after the death of Steve Jobs in 2011, said the company cared deeply about children outside the classroom. "I don't have a kid, but I have a nephew that I put some boundaries on. There are some things that I won't allow; I don't want them on a social network."
Businesses

BMW's Apple CarPlay Annual Fee is Next-level Gouging (cnet.com) 200

BMW announced this week that the company plans to shift Apple CarPlay infotainment support from a one-time fee to a subscription service. Tim Stevens, writing about the implications of the move for CNET: While GM and other manufacturers happily include Apple's CarPlay service for free even on their most attainable models, BMW and plenty of others have levied upgrade fees to enable CarPlay, or bundled the service inside pricey packages of widgets you may or may not want. That, sadly, is par for this margin-rich golf course, but when we learned this week that BMW would change from a single, up-front fee to an annual fee, in my mind that changed everything. Instead of a one-time, $300 fee, starting on 2019 models BMW will charge $80 annually for the privilege of accessing Apple's otherwise totally free CarPlay service. You do get the first year free, much like your friendly neighborhood dealer of another sort, but after that it's pay up or have your Lightning cable metaphorically snipped.

On the surface this is pretty offensive, and it seemed like something must be driving this. The official word from BMW is that this is a change that will save many (perhaps most) BMW owners money. Indeed, the vehicle segments where BMW plays are notorious for short-term leases, and those owning the car for only a few years will save money over that one-time $300. But still, the notion of paying annually for something that's free rubbed me the wrong way. And, based on the feedback we saw from the article, it rubbed a lot of you the wrong way, too.

Businesses

China's Smartphone Maker OnePlus Says Up To 40,000 Customers Were Affected by Credit Card Security Breach (theverge.com) 8

sqorbit writes: OnePlus, a manufacturer of an inexpensive smartphone meant to compete with the iPhone, states that data from 40,000 customers credit card information was stolen while purchasing phones from its website. Even as the company has just confirmed the breach, it says the the script stealing information had been running since November. It is not clear whether this was a remote attack or the attack happened from within the company. Credit purchases on the OnePlus site have been suspended and will remain that way while an investigation takes place. [...] Earlier this week, OnePlus had temporarily shut down credit card payments on its website following reports that customers' payment details were stolen after they bought goods through its online store. The company says it's disabling credit card payments "as a precaution," but will still be accepting purchases through PayPal. The investigation began after a poll posted by users on OnePlus' forums found that many customers had experienced the same problem.
Businesses

Instant Messaging Company Snap Threatens Jail Time for Leakers (cheddar.com) 90

An anonymous reader shares a report: Snap has a simple message to its employees: leak information and you could be sued or even jailed. The chief lawyer and general counsel of Snapchat's parent company, Michael O'Sullivan, sent a threatening memo to all employees last week just before The Daily Beast published an explosive story with confidential user metrics about how certain Snapchat features are used. "We have a zero-tolerance policy for those who leak Snap Inc. confidential information," O'Sullivan said in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by Cheddar. "This applies to outright leaks and any informal 'off the record' conversations with reporters, as well as any confidential information you let slip to people who are not authorized to know that information."
Businesses

Amazon is Raising the Price of Prime Monthly Memberships by Nearly 20 Percent (recode.net) 150

Amazon is boosting the price of its monthly Prime membership fees for new and existing members by nearly 20%. The online retailer said Friday its annual membership fee of $99 will not change. From a report: The increase comes less than two years after Amazon first introduced the monthly payment option as a way to attract new Prime members who either couldn't afford the annual membership of $99, which is not increasing, or didn't want to commit to using the service continuously. Prime is the engine at the center of the Amazon commerce machine -- Prime members buy from Amazon more frequently than non-Prime members and also spend more, hence why Amazon introduced the monthly option to lure new members. So if the company is raising the fee, you can bet that it discovered the current $10.99 was just not sustainable.
Power

US Tests Nuclear Power System To Sustain Astronauts On Mars (reuters.com) 174

Initial tests in Nevada on a compact nuclear power system designed to sustain a long-duration NASA human mission on the inhospitable surface on Mars have been successful and a full-power run is scheduled for March, officials said on Thursday. Reuters reports: National Aeronautics and Space Administration and U.S. Department of Energy officials, at a Las Vegas news conference, detailed the development of the nuclear fission system under NASA's Kilopower project. Months-long testing began in November at the energy department's Nevada National Security Site, with an eye toward providing energy for future astronaut and robotic missions in space and on the surface of Mars, the moon or other solar system destinations. A key hurdle for any long-term colony on the surface of a planet or moon, as opposed to NASA's six short lunar surface visits from 1969 to 1972, is possessing a power source strong enough to sustain a base but small and light enough to allow for transport through space. NASA's prototype power system uses a uranium-235 reactor core roughly the size of a paper towel roll. The technology could power habitats and life-support systems, enable astronauts to mine resources, recharge rovers and run processing equipment to transform resources such as ice on the planet into oxygen, water and fuel. It could also potentially augment electrically powered spacecraft propulsion systems on missions to the outer planets.
Businesses

Amazon Picks 20 Finalists For 'HQ2' Second Headquarters Location (nbcnews.com) 198

bigpat writes: Amazon took in hundreds of proposals and narrowed it down to twenty places for its "second" headquarters, with up to 50,000 new jobs promised in the next 15 years and millions of square feet of office and research space. The cities include: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Montgomery County, Maryland, Nashville, Newark, NJ, New York City, Northern Virginia, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Toronto and Washington D.C. Amazon said that it will now work with the candidate locations to examine their proposals more closely and request additional information to "evaluate the feasibility of a future partnership that can accommodate our hiring plans as well as benefit our employees and the local community." The company said it would make its decision later in 2018.
Communications

Ask Slashdot: How Would You Explain Einstein's Theories To a Nine-Year-Old? 279

SiggyRadiation writes: A few days ago, my 9-year-old son asked me why Albert Einstein was so famous. I decided not just to start with the famous formula E=mc^2, because that just seemed to be the easy way out. So I tried to explain what mass and energy are. Then I asked him to try to explain gravity to me. The earth pulls at you because it has a lot of mass. But how can the earth influence your body, pull your feet to the ground, without actually touching you? Why is it that one thing (the earth) can influence something else (you) without actually being connected? Isn't that weird? Einstein figured out how energy, mass and gravity work and are related to each other. This is where our conversation ended.

Afterwards I thought: this might be a nice question to ask on Slashdot; how would I continue this discussion to explain it to him further? Of course, with the goal of further feeding his interest in physics.
Security

Senate Passes Bill Renewing NSA's Internet Surveillance Program (reuters.com) 94

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

2017 Among Warmest Years On Record (npr.org) 184

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

Microsoft Tries To Write the Book On AI (axios.com) 56

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

US Doctors Plan To Treat Cancer Patients Using CRISPR (technologyreview.com) 51

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

Software 'No More Accurate Than Untrained Humans' At Predicting Recidivism (theguardian.com) 161

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

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

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