Mozilla

Mozilla Slipped a 'Mr. Robot'-Promo Plugin Into Firefox and Users Are Pissed (gizmodo.com) 31

MarcAuslander shares a report from Gizmodo: Mozilla sneaked a browser plugin that promotes Mr. Robot into Firefox -- and managed to piss off a bunch of its privacy-conscious users in the process. The extension, called Looking Glass, is intended to promote an augmented reality game to "further your immersion into the Mr. Robot universe," according to Mozilla. It was automatically added to Firefox users' browsers this week with no explanation except the cryptic message, "MY REALITY IS JUST DIFFERENT THAN YOURS," prompting users to worry on Reddit that they'd been hit with spyware. Without an explanation included with the extension, users were left digging around in the code for Looking Glass to find answers. Looking Glass was updated for some users today with a description that explains the connection to Mr. Robot and lets users know that the extension won't activate without explicit opt-in.

Mozilla justified its decision to include the extension because Mr. Robot promotes user privacy. "The Mr. Robot series centers around the theme of online privacy and security," the company said in an explanation of the mysterious extension. "One of the 10 guiding principles of Mozilla's mission is that individuals' security and privacy on the internet are fundamental and must not be treated as optional. The more people know about what information they are sharing online, the more they can protect their privacy."

AI

Google Is Shutting Down Project Tango (androidpolice.com) 13

Google announced that it is ending support for Project Tango, the company's first attempt to bring a solid augmented-reality experience to the average user. The project used an array of cameras and sensors to accurately map 3D areas, causing the devices support Tango to be relatively large and expensive. Android Police reports: The first Tango device put into production was the "Peanut" phone, which was given to early access partners in 2014. Then came the "Yellowstone" 7-inch tablet, which was initially sold for $1,024 before a massive price drop to $512. The only other devices with Project Tango were the Lenovo Phab2 Pro, which wasn't a very good phone to start off with, and the ZenFone AR. This move isn't entirely surprising, now that Google is working on a software-only solution called ARCore. Not only is ARCore similar to Tango in functionality, but it doesn't require specialized hardware like Tango does.
Social Networks

Facebook Admits that Some Social Media Use Can Be Harmful (axios.com) 27

In a new installment of its "Hard Questions" series, Facebook acknowledged on Friday that social media can have negative effects on people, depending on how they use it. From a report: This might be the first public acknowledgment from the company that its product -- and category in general -- can have detrimental effects on people. Facebook is also addressing the topic shortly after two former executives publicly criticized the company for what they described as exploiting human psychology. Passive use of social media -- reading information without interacting with others -- makes people feel worse. Clicking on more links or "liking" more posts than the average user also leads to worse mental health, according to one study.
AT&T

ISPs Won't Promise To Treat All Traffic Equally After Net Neutrality (theverge.com) 124

An anonymous reader writes: The FCC voted to put an end to net neutrality, giving internet providers free rein to deliver service at their own discretion. There's really only one condition here: internet providers will have to disclose their policies regarding "network management practices, performance, and commercial terms." So if ISPs want to block websites, throttle your connection, or charge certain websites more, they'll have to admit it. We're still too far out to know exactly what disclosures all the big ISPs are going to make -- the rules (or lack thereof) don't actually go into effect for another few months -- but many internet providers have been making statements throughout the year about their stance on net neutrality, which ought to give some idea of where they'll land. We reached out to 10 big or notable ISPs to see what their stances are on three core tenets of net neutrality: no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization. Not all of them answered, and the answers we did get are complicated. [The Verge reached out to Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Charter (Spectrum), Cox, Altice USA (Optimum and SuddenLink), and Google Fi and Google Fiber.]

Many ISPs say they support some or all of these core rules, but there's a big caveat there: for six of the past seven years, there have been net neutrality rules in place at the FCC. That means all of the companies we checked with have had to abide by the no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization rules. It means that they can say, and be mostly correct in saying, that they've long followed those rules. But it is, on some level, because they've had to. What actually matters is which policies ISPs say they'll keep in the future, and few are making commitments about that. In fact, all of the companies we contacted (with the exception of Google) have supported the FCC's plan to remove the current net neutrality rules. None of the ISPs we contacted will make a commitment -- or even a comment -- on paid fast lanes and prioritization. And this is really where we expect to see problems: ISPs likely won't go out and block large swaths of the web, but they may start to give subtle advantages to their own content and the content of their partners, slowly shaping who wins and loses online.
Comcast: Comcast says it currently doesn't block, throttle content, or offer paid fast lanes, but hasn't committed to not doing so in the future.
AT&T: AT&T has committed to not blocking or throttling websites in the future. However, its stance around fast lanes is unclear.
Verizon: Verizon indicates that, at least in the immediate future, it will not block legal content. As for throttling and fast lanes, the company has no stance, and even seems to be excited to use the absence of rules to its advantage.
T-Mobile: T-Mobile makes no commitments to not throttle content or offer paid fast lanes and is unclear on its commitment to not blocking sites and services. It's already involved in programs that advantage some services over others.
Sprint: Sprint makes no commitments on net neutrality, but suggests it doesn't have plans to offer a service that would block sites.
Charter (Spectrum): Charter doesn't make any guarantees, but the company indicates that it's currently committed to not blocking or throttling customers.
Cox: Cox says it won't block or throttle content, even without net neutrality. It won't make commitments on zero-rating or paid fast lanes.
Altice USA (Optimum and SuddenLink): Altice doesn't currently block or throttle and suggests it will keep those policies, though without an explicit commitment. The company doesn't comment on prioritizing one service over another.
Google Fi and Google Fiber: Google doesn't make any promises regarding throttling and paid prioritization. However, it is the only company to state that it believes paid prioritization would be harmful.
Hardware

NVIDIA Titan V Benchmarks Show Volta GPU Compute, Mining and Gaming Strength (hothardware.com) 32

MojoKid shares a report from Hot Hardware: Although NVIDIA officially unveiled its Volta-based GV100 GPU a few months ago, the NVIDIA TITAN V featuring the GV100 began shipping just this past week. The card targets a very specific audience and is designed for professional and academic deep learning applications, which partly explains its lofty $3,000 price tag. Unlike NVIDIA's previous-gen consumer flagship, the TITAN Xp, the TITAN V is not designed for gamers. However, since it features NVIDIA's latest GPU architecture, it potentially foreshadows next-year's consumer-targeted GeForce cards that could possibly be based on Volta. The massive 21.1 billion transistor GV100 GPU powering the TITAN V has a base clock of 1,200MHz and a boost clock of 1,455MHz. The card has 12GB of HBM2 memory on-board that is linked to the GPU via a 3072-bit interface, offering up 652.8 GB/s of peak bandwidth, which is about 100GB/s more than a TITAN Xp. Other features of the GV100 include 5,120 single-precision CUDA cores, 2,560 double-precision FP64 cores, and 630 Tensor cores. Although the card is not designed for gamers, the fact remains that the TITAN V significantly outpaces every other graphics card in a variety of games with the highest image quality settings. In GPU compute workloads, the TITAN V is much more dominant and can offer many times the performance of a high-end NVIDIA TITAN Xp or AMD Radeon RX Vega 64. Finally, when it comes to Ethereum mining, NVIDIA's Titan V is far and away the fastest GPU on the planet currently.
Communications

Norway Becomes First Country To Switch Off FM Radio (thelocal.no) 94

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) 127

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.
Medicine

Contact Lens Startup Hubble Sold Lenses With a Fake Prescription From a Made-up Doctor (qz.com) 270

Alison Griswold, reporting for Quartz: The Hubble contacts sitting in front of me are everything the ads promised: two weeks' worth of soft, daily lenses in robin's-egg-blue packaging. They arrived promptly, one week after I placed an order on Hubble's website, and three days after the company notified me the contacts had shipped. The lenses were packed in cream-colored boxes and came with a five-step guide, illustrated in different shades of pastel. There's only one problem: I don't wear contacts, and I ordered these using a fake prescription from a made-up doctor. Hubble was founded in May 2016 as a direct-to-consumer contact lens brand -- the Warby Parker of contacts, if you will. The company aims to make buying contact lenses as cheap and easy as shopping on Amazon. It has fast become a star of New York's startup scene, raising more than $30 million from investors that include Founders Fund and Greycroft Partners. Its valuation tops $200 million. Since the service officially launched in November 2016, Hubble claims to have sold $20 million worth of lens subscriptions, and says it's growing 20% month over month. Hubble expanded to Canada in August and plans to be in the UK as early as January. Quick service, cheap contacts, and whimsical branding have made Hubble a speedy success. But in its rush to disrupt the consumer experience, Hubble also appears to be playing fast and loose with some basic consumer protections.
Google

Google Is Using Light Beam Tech To Connect Rural India To the Internet (techcrunch.com) 64

Google is preparing to use light beams to bring rural areas of the planet online after it announced to a planned rollout in India. From a report: The firm is working with a telecom operator in Indian state Andhra Pradesh, home to over 50 million people, to use Free Space Optical Communications (FSOC), a technology that uses beams of light to deliver high-speed, high-capacity connectivity over long distances. Now partner AP State FiberNet will introduce 2,000 FSOC links starting from January to add additional support to its network backbone in the state. The Google project is aimed at "critical gaps to major access points, like cell-towers and WiFi hotspots, that support thousands of people," Google said. The initiative ties into a government initiative to connect 12 million households to the internet by 2019, the U.S. firm added.
Businesses

Motherboard and VICE Are Building a Community Internet Network (vice.com) 121

In order to preserve net neutrality and the free and open internet, we must end our reliance on monopolistic corporations and build something fundamentally different: internet infrastructure that is locally owned and operated and is dedicated to serving the people who connect to it, writes Jason Koebler, editor-in-chief of Vice's Motherboard news outlet. He writes: The good news is a better internet infrastructure is possible: Small communities, nonprofits, and startup companies around the United States have built networks that rival those built by big companies. Because these networks are built to serve their communities rather than their owners, they are privacy-focused and respect net neutrality ideals. These networks are proofs-of-concept around the country that a better internet is possible. This week, Motherboard and VICE Media are committing to be part of the change we'd like to see. We will build a community network based at our Brooklyn headquarters that will provide internet connections for our neighborhood. We will also connect to the broader NYC Mesh network in order to strengthen a community network that has already decided the status quo isn't good enough. We are in the very early stages of this process and have begun considering dark fiber to light up, hardware to use, and organizations to work with, support, and learn from. To be clear and to answer a few questions I've gotten: This network will be connected to the real internet and will be backed by fiber from an internet exchange. It will not rely on a traditional ISP.
Movies

What Disney's Acquisition of Fox Means For the Future of Film and TV (qz.com) 120

Disney announced on Thursday it had reached a $52 billion deal to buy most of the assets of 21st Century Fox. It is "the biggest and most consequential media merger in an era of big and consequential media consolidation deals," reports Quartz. "The deal will have a lasting effect on film, television, and the internet." From the report: If the merger is approved, Disney will own: All of Fox's film studios (20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, and Fox 2000); Fox's television studio; FX Networks; National Geographic; Fox's stake in European broadcaster Sky; Fox's stake in North American streamer Hulu. Staying with the hollowed out 21st Century Fox is the Fox broadcast network, Fox News, Fox Sports, and Fox Business. With Fox's film and TV studios and its cable networks, Disney will acquire the rights to literally hundreds of popular television series and movies. (Some of which include Avatar, X-Men, Deadpool, Modern Family and The Simpsons.)

Imagine all of the properties mentioned above, plus all of Disney's existing franchises (Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, etc.) combined into one internet streaming service. You won't have to imagine for long, because that's pretty much exactly why Disney CEO Bob Iger was so keen on buying all of Fox's biggest assets. Disney plans to release a streaming entertainment service in 2019. It would have been quite formidable on its own, even without Fox's help, but now it will likely be the first true rival to Netflix in the streaming space. Before today, Disney, Fox, and Comcast (NBCUniversal) all shared equal 30% stakes in Hulu (Time Warner owns 10%). But when Disney takes over Fox's share of the streaming service, it will own 60%, becoming a controlling majority owner, relegating Comcast to minority owner in the process.

20th Century Fox, we hardly knew ye. Okay, that may be a bit premature, but it's clear that Fox's film business won't be the same if the merger is approved. The deal marks the first time in modern history that one major film studio has purchased another, eliminating one of the "big six," and essentially giving Disney control of two-thirds of Hollywood. (The other four major movie studios are Universal, Warner Bros., Paramount, and Sony.)

Bitcoin

A Cryptocurrency Without a Blockchain Has Been Built To Outperform Bitcoin (technologyreview.com) 175

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: Bitcoin isn't the only cryptocurrency on a hot streak -- plenty of alternative currencies have enjoyed rallies alongside the Epic Bitcoin Bull Run of 2017. One of the most intriguing examples is also among the most obscure in the cryptocurrency world. Called IOTA, it has jumped in total value from just over $4 billion to more than $10 billion in a little over two weeks. But that isn't what makes it interesting. What makes it interesting is that it isn't based on a blockchain at all; it's something else entirely. The rally began in late November, after the IOTA Foundation, the German nonprofit behind the novel cryptocurrency, announced that it was teaming up with several major technology firms to develop a "decentralized data marketplace."

Though IOTA tokens can be used like any other cryptocurrency, the protocol was designed specifically for use on connected devices, says cofounder David Sonstebo. Organizations collect huge amounts of data from these gadgets, from weather tracking systems to sensors that monitor the performance of industrial machinery (a.k.a. the Internet of things). But nearly all of that information is wasted, sitting in siloed databases and not making money for its owners, says Sonstebo. IOTA's system can address this in two ways, he says. First, it can assure the integrity of this data by securing it in a tamper-proof decentralized ledger. Second, it enables fee-less transactions between the owners of the data and anyone who wants to buy it -- and there are plenty of companies that want to get their hands on data.
The report goes on to note that instead of using a blockchain, "IOTA uses a 'tangle,' which is based on a mathematical concept called a directed acyclic graph." The team decided to research this new alternative after deciding that blockchains are too costly. "Part of Sonstebo's issue with Bitcoin and other blockchain systems is that they rely on a distributed network of 'miners' to verify transactions," reports MIT Technology Review. "When a user issues a transaction [with IOTA], that individual also validates two randomly selected previous transactions, each of which refer to two other previous transactions, and so on. As new transactions mount, a 'tangled web of confirmation' grows, says Sonstebo."
Crime

DOJ Confirms Uber Is Being Investigated For Criminal Behavior (arstechnica.com) 34

A newly released letter from the Department of Justice has formally acknowledged that federal prosecutors have an open criminal investigation into Uber. Ars Technica reports: Late last month, as part of the proceedings in the high-profile and ongoing Waymo v. Uber trade secrets lawsuit, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said that on November 22 he had received a letter from San Francisco-based federal prosecutors. It is very unusual for a judge in a civil case to be apprised of a pending criminal investigation involving one of the litigants. In a separate November 28 letter sent to Judge Alsup, Acting U.S. Attorney Alex Tse asked that the first letter not be made public. The judge unsealed both letters on Wednesday. The first letter was signed by two prosecutors, Matthew Parrella and Amie Rooney. Those attorneys are assigned to the Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property (CHIP) Unit at the United States Attorney's Office in San Jose. [T]he letter could mean Uber and/or its current or former employees may be under investigation for possible crimes under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a longstanding anti-hacking law.
Advertising

Facebook Will Introduce Ads As Videos Start Playing (recode.net) 72

Facebook is going to start running pre-roll ads on its "Watch" videos next year. While you won't see your News Feed full of video ads, you will start to see pre-rolls, which will run for up to six seconds, on videos in Facebook's "Watch" hub. Recode reports: Facebook launched its Watch hub earlier this year, using "mid-roll" ads (another ad format Facebook tried to avoid for a long time). The fact that they have added pre-rolls -- the format used around the web and the one advertisers are most comfortable with -- should be read as an admission that the mid-roll ads aren't generating significant revenue for Facebook or the publishers putting video into Watch. Speaking of those mid-roll ads: Facebook now says they won't appear until later in videos and they'll only run on longer videos. It says the ads (it calls them "ad breaks") can't run until a minute into a video, and they can only run if the video is at least three minutes long. At first, the ads could run after 20 seconds and on videos as short as 90 seconds.
The Internet

Lawmakers Are Fighting For Net Neutrality (theverge.com) 206

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Lawmakers and public officials are responding to the FCC's decision to gut net neutrality with promises of action. In the hours following the FCC hearing, officials from around the country announced lawsuits and bills intended to counter the FCC's decision. In New York, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said that he's leading a multi-state lawsuit to challenge the FCC's vote, though he didn't give further details on the suit or who would be joining him. Calling today's decision an "illegal rollback," he described it as giving "Big Telecom an early Christmas present."

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson also announced he would sue alongside Schneiderman and other attorneys general across the country, saying that he held "a strong legal argument" and that it was likely the government had failed to follow the law with this vote. Other officials from Santa Clara, California, including county supervisor Joe Simitian, are also suing the FCC to block the decision. "We believe the depth of your ideas should outweigh the depths of your pockets," Simitian said at a press conference.

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-CA) announced plans to introduce a bill to adopt net neutrality as a requirement in his state. He wrote in a Medium post, "If the FCC won't stand up for a free and open internet, California will."

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) tweeted that he will be submitting net neutrality legislation, saying that this was a decision better left to Congress. Coffman was the first Republican to ask the FCC to delay the vote, citing "unanticipated negative consequences" on Tuesday.
Furthermore, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) are supporting Sen. Ed Markey's (D-MA) plan to introduce a Congressional Review Act resolution to undo the FCC vote. Even Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who had previously announced on Twitter her support for Ajit Pai and the FCC, tweeted a video, saying, "We will codify the need for no blocking, no throttling, and making certain that we preserve that free and open internet." We're likely to see many others express their disappointment with the FCC's decision over the next few hours and days.
America Online

PSA: AIM Will Be Discontinued Tomorrow (fortune.com) 105

Cutting_Crew writes: Along with Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger and ICQ, I used AIM extensively (without an AOL subscription of course). AIM will finally come to a halt on December 15th, 2017, as reported a few months ago and explained in AOL fashion over on their website. I remember using AIM to keep in touch with friends, co-workers and yes, even tried dating back in the day using the "looking for love" feature not only available to AOL subscribers but also extended to AIM users as well. Any memories you want to share? Speak now, or forever hold your peace.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF: Accessing Publicly Available Information On the Internet Is Not a Crime (eff.org) 173

An anonymous reader quotes a report from EFF: EFF is fighting another attempt by a giant corporation to take advantage of our poorly drafted federal computer crime statute for commercial advantage -- without any regard for the impact on the rest of us. This time the culprit is LinkedIn. The social networking giant wants violations of its corporate policy against using automated scripts to access public information on its website to count as felony "hacking" under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a 1986 federal law meant to criminalize breaking into private computer systems to access non-public information.

EFF, together with our friends DuckDuckGo and the Internet Archive, have urged the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reject LinkedIn's request to transform the CFAA from a law meant to target "hacking" into a tool for enforcing its computer use policies. Using automated scripts to access publicly available data is not "hacking," and neither is violating a website's terms of use. LinkedIn would have the court believe that all "bots" are bad, but they're actually a common and necessary part of the Internet. "Good bots" were responsible for 23 percent of Web traffic in 2016. Using them to access publicly available information on the open Internet should not be punishable by years in federal prison. LinkedIn's position would undermine open access to information online, a hallmark of today's Internet, and threaten socially valuable bots that journalists, researchers, and Internet users around the world rely on every day -- all in the name of preserving LinkedIn's advantage over a competing service. The Ninth Circuit should make sure that doesn't happen.

Google

NASA, Google Spot Eighth Planet in Solar System Rivaling Ours (cnet.com) 65

An anonymous reader shares a report: Google isn't just good for finding cat videos on the internet. The search giant's machine learning technology is also helping search the universe for planets outside our solar system. NASA on Thursday revealed the discovery of blazing-hot exoplanet Kepler-90i thanks to the use of a Google neural network trained to identify planets from the NASA Kepler space telescope's data. It's the eighth planet discovered in the Kepler-90 system, which ties it with our own solar system for the most known planets around a single star. Kepler-90 is a sun-like star located around 2,545 light-years from us.
Businesses

Amazon Will Resume Selling Apple TV, Google's Chromecast (axios.com) 52

Ina Fried, reporting for Axios: Amazon confirmed Thursday that it will again sell the Apple TV set-top box and Google Chromecast dongle. The company had stopped selling the devices amid disputes with both giants. There's a lot of frenemy stuff at play here, with Google, Apple and Amazon all selling their own streaming devices, but also looking to offer their own services on one another's devices. Apple doesn't offer its programing on rival devices, but does move a lot of hardware through Amazon.
United States

The Trump Administration Just Voted To Repeal the US Government's Net Neutrality Rules (recode.net) 573

The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to dismantle landmark rules regulating the businesses that connect consumers to the internet, granting broadband companies power to potentially reshape Americans' online experiences. The agency scrapped so-called net neutrality regulations that prohibited broadband providers from blocking websites or charging for higher-quality service or certain content. The federal government will also no longer regulate high-speed internet delivery as if it were a utility, like phone services. From a report: Under the leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai -- and with only the backing of the agency's Republican members -- the repeal newly frees telecom companies from federal regulation, unravels a signature accomplishment of the Obama administration and shifts the responsibility of overseeing the web to another federal agency that some critics see as too weak to be effective. In practice, it means the U.S. government no longer will have rules on its books that require internet providers to treat all web traffic equally. The likes of AT&T and Verizon will be limited in some ways -- they can face penalties if they try to undermine their rivals, for example -- but they won't be subject to preemptive, bright-line restrictions on how they manage their networks. Meanwhile, the FCC's repeal will open the door for broadband providers to charge third parties, like tech giants, for faster delivery of their web content.

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