Businesses

'Best of' Lists Are the Worst (theoutline.com) 84

Ann-Derrick Gaillot, a writer at The Outline, shares thoughts on listicles about best products in a genre. From the article: National websites with armies of writers are churning out best lists left and right, motivated by affiliate advertising more than the desire to share an opinion. Thanks to them all, I've gotten to try all the bests: just-ok restaurants, ineffective beauty products, slippers I guard with my life. [...] Articles claiming that something is the "best" should be rare, eyed with suspicion by the ever suspicious consumer. But they're not. I would have probably been alarmed to not find at least one article telling me where to find the best desk (wherever it still is). But with the race to find the best at the heart of so much media we consume today, such articles can only be trusted if they come from an established outlet with legitimacy, the same institutions that are slow and struggle to add marginalized people to their ranks.
Businesses

Monsanto Was Its Own Ghostwriter For Some Safety Reviews (bloomberg.com) 48

Reader schwit1 writes: Dozens of internal Monsanto emails, released on Aug. 1 by plaintiffs lawyers who are suing the company, reveal how Monsanto worked with an outside consulting firm to induce the scientific journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology to publish a purported independent review of Roundups health effects that appears to be anything but. The review, published along with four subpapers in a September 2016 special supplement, was aimed at rebutting the 2015 assessment by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen (PDF). That finding by the cancer-research arm of the World Health Organization led California last month to list glyphosate as a known human carcinogen. It has also spurred more than 1,000 lawsuits in state and federal courts by plaintiffs who claim they contracted non-Hodgkin lymphoma from Roundup exposure. Monsanto disclosed that it paid Intertek Group Plc consulting unit to develop the review supplement, entitled An Independent Review of the Carcinogenic Potential of Glyphosate. But that was the extent of Monsantos involvement, the main article said. The Expert Panelists were engaged by, and acted as consultants to, Intertek, and were not directly contacted by the Monsanto Company, according to the reviews Declaration of Interest statement. Neither any Monsanto company employees nor any attorneys reviewed any of the Expert Panels manuscripts prior to submission to the journal.
The Internet

Indian ISPs Appear To Be Blocking Access To Internet Archive (bit.ly) 24

An anonymous reader writes: Several Internet service providers in India have blocked access to Internet Archive -- a non-profit organisation that runs Wayback Machine, a massive archive of webpages dating back to over a decade -- Indian outlet NDTV reported Tuesday. Some subscribers of Airtel, Aircel, and Act Internet, among other carriers, are seeing a DoT notification when they attempt to access Internet Archive. The notification reads, 'Your requested URL has been blocked as per the directions received from Department of Telecommunications, Government of India.' Popularly known as time-warping tool, Internet Archive's Way Back Machine has made copies of over three billion pages over the years. In the age of ephemeral media, Way Back Machine has become a cultural phenomenon, serving as a permanent registrar of popular websites and other webpages.
Google

Google's Other Ugly Secret: Some Managers Keep Blacklists (inc.com) 754

Last week a controversial internal memo written by a concerned Google employee was going viral within the company. The memo, titled "PC Considered Harmful" and since dubbed "the Google manifesto" on social media, argued two points: First, that Google has become an ideological echo chamber where anyone with centrist or right-of-center views fears to speak their mind. Second, that part of the tech industry's gender gap can be attributed to biological differences between men and women. The person who wrote the memo has since been fired, but the internal tussle has revealed one more thing. The Inc reports: The contentious internal discussion revived a concern dating back to 2015: An unknown number of Google managers maintain blacklists of fellow employees, evidently refusing to work with those people. The blacklists are based on personal experiences of others' behavior, including views expressed on politics, social justice issues, and Google's diversity efforts. Inc. reviewed screenshots documenting several managers attesting to this practice, both in the past and currently, explicitly using the term "blacklist." The screenshots were shared by a Google employee who requested anonymity due to having signed an NDA. In additional screenshots, one Google employee declared his intent to quit if Damore were not fired, and another said that he would refuse to work with Damore in any capacity. A Google spokesperson told Inc. that the practice of keeping blacklists is not condoned by upper management, and that Google employees who discriminate against members of protected classes will be terminated. It's not clear whether that principle applies in Damore's case. Although political affiliation is a protected class according to California labor law, the views expressed in the manifesto and echoed by others who oppose political correctness do not seem to merit legal protection.
Patents

'Podcasting Patent' Is Totally Dead, Appeals Court Rules (arstechnica.com) 30

A federal appeals court affirmed the April 2015 inter partes review (IPR) ruling -- a process that allows anyone to challenge a patent's validity at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office -- that invalidated the so-called "podcasting patent." "That process was held by a company called Personal Audio, which had threatened numerous podcasts with lawsuits in recent years," reports Ars Technica. From the report: Back in 2013, Personal Audio began sending legal demand letters to numerous podcasters and companies, like Samsung, in an apparent attempt to cajole them into a licensing deal, lest they be slapped with a lawsuit. Some of those efforts were successful: in August 2014, Adam Carolla paid about $500,000. As Personal Audio began to gain more public attention, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, however, stepped in and said that it would challenge Personal Audio's US Patent No. 8,112,504, which describes a "system for disseminating media content representing episodes in a serialized sequence." In the end, EFF raised over $76,000, more than double its initial target.

[T]he history of Personal Audio dates to the late 1990s, when founder Jim Logan created a company seeking to create a kind of proto-iPod digital music player. But his company flopped. Years later, Logan turned to lawsuits to collect money from those investments. He sued companies over both the "episodic content" patent, as well as a separate patent, which Logan and his lawyers said covered playlists. He and his lawyers wrung verdicts or settlements from Samsung and Apple.

Network

Data Cap Analysis Found Almost 200 ISPs Imposing Data Limits in the US (arstechnica.com) 41

An anonymous reader shares a report: BroadbandNow, a broadband provider search site that gets referral fees from some ISPs, has more than 2,500 home internet providers in its database. BroadbandNow's team looked through the ISPs' websites to generate a list of those with data caps. The data cap information was "pulled directly from ISP websites," BroadbandNow Director of Content Jameson Zimmer told Ars. BroadbandNow, which is operated by a company called Microbrand Media, plans to keep tracking the data caps over time in order to examine trends, he said. The listed caps range from 3GB to 3TB per month. That 3GB cap seemed like it couldn't be accurate, so we called the ISP, a small phone company called NTCNet in Newport, New York. A person answering the phone confirmed that the company lists 3GB as its cap, but said it is not enforced and that customers' usage isn't monitored. The cap is essentially a placeholder in case the ISP needs to enforce data limits in the future. [...] BroadbandNow excluded mobile providers from its list of ISPs with data caps, since caps are nearly universal among cellular companies. The list of 196 providers with caps includes 89 offering fixed wireless service, 45 fiber ISPs, 35 DSL ISPs, 63 cable ISPs, and two satellite providers. Some offer Internet service using more than one technology. Some of the providers are tiny, with territories covering just 100 or a few hundred people.
Games

Ask Slashdot: Are Interactive Computing Devices Addictive? 98

This question came from two things noticed by Slashdot reader dryriver:

"Myself and just about every other kid I was friends with in the 1980s were definitely addicted to computers when we were young, and stayed that way until we reached college."

"There is increasing concern about everybody from young kids to people 60+ staring into smartphone, tablet computer and laptop screens for hours and hours every day and not partaking in other activities they used to before the "glowing screen" hooked them."

His question: Are interactive computing devices, whether networked or not, addictive in nature? What kind of applications appear to be the most addictive? (AAA games? Casual games? Social media? Texting?) And could the addiction have something to do with "Neuroplasticity", the fact that doing an activity over and over again each day that you place great importance in, and pay great attention to, can actually rewire the neurons in your brain?
Nicholas Carr once argued that "We're training ourselves, through repetition, to be facile skimmers, scanners, and message-processors -- important skills, to be sure -- but, perpetually distracted and interrupted, we're not training ourselves in the quieter, more attentive modes of thought." Slashdot readers seem uniquely qualified to address this, so leave your own attentive thoughts in the comments. Are interactive computing devices addictive?
Communications

Is Microsoft Hustling Us With 'White Spaces'? (wired.com) 65

rgh02 writes: Microsoft recently announced their plan to deploy unused television airwaves to solve the digital divide in America. And while the media painted this effort as a noble one, at Backchannel, Susan Crawford reveals the truth: "Microsoft's plans aren't really about consumer internet access, don't actually focus on rural areas, and aren't targeted at the US -- except for political purposes." So what is Microsoft really up to?
The article's author believes Microsoft's real game is "to be the soup-to-nuts provider of Internet of Things devices, software, and consulting services to zillions of local and national governments around the world. Need to use energy more efficiently, manage your traffic lights, target preventative maintenance, and optimize your public transport -- but you're a local government with limited resources and competence? Call Microsoft."

The article argues Microsoft wants to bypass mobile data carriers who "will want a pound of flesh -- a percentage -- in exchange for shipping data generated by Microsoft devices from Point A to Point B... [I]n many places, they are the only ones allowed to use airwave frequencies -- spectrum -- under licenses from local governments for which they have paid hundreds of millions of dollars."
Social Networks

FBI Tracked 'Fake News' Believed To Be From Russia On Election Day (cnn.com) 352

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNN: The FBI monitored social media on Election Day last year in an effort to track a suspected Russian disinformation campaign utilizing "fake news," CNN has learned. In the months leading up to Election Day, Twitter and Facebook were the feeding grounds for viral "news" stories floating conspiracies and hoaxes, many aimed at spreading negative false claims about Hillary Clinton. On Election Day, dozens of agents and analysts huddled at a command center arrayed with large monitoring screens at the FBI headquarters in Washington watching for security threats, according to multiple sources. That included analysts monitoring cyber threats, after months of mounting Russian intrusions targeting every part of the US political system, from political parties to policy think-tanks to state election systems. On this day, there was also a group of FBI cyber and counterintelligence analysts and investigators watching social media. FBI analysts had identified social media user accounts behind stories, some based overseas, and the suspicion was that at least some were part of a Russian disinformation campaign, according to two sources familiar with the investigation.
Google

Google in Talks To Transform Its Instant News Articles Into a Snapchat Rival (cnbc.com) 15

Google is talking to several publishers about a technology that's similar to Snapchat, according to a Friday report in The Wall Street Journal. From the report: The technology, dubbed "Stamp," could be revealed as soon as next week and contain content from Vox Media, CNN, Mic, the Washington Post and Time, the Journal reported. Stamp is a word play on Google's faster-loading "AMP" articles (the news stories that appear at the top of the page after a Google search), and the "st" in "stories." Snapchat's disappearing publisher content is in a section of the app called "Discover." The ephemeral feature of Snapchat is something Facebook has also mimicked with a feature called "Stories." The report comes on the heels of another report on Business Insider earlier this week which claimed that Google has been trying to acquire Snapchat for sometime. The company, according to a report, offered Snapchat $30 billion.
Businesses

Monsanto Leaks Suggest It Tried To Kill Cancer Research On Roundup Weed Killer (rt.com) 242

Danny Hakim reports via The New York Times (Warning: article may be paywalled; alternate source): Documents released Tuesday in a lawsuit against Monsanto raised new questions about the company's efforts to influence the news media and scientific research and revealed internal debate over the safety of its highest-profile product, the weed killer Roundup. The active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, is the most common weed killer in the world and is used by farmers on row crops and by home gardeners. While Roundup's relative safety has been upheld by most regulators, a case in federal court in San Francisco continues to raise questions about the company's practices and the product itself.

The documents underscore the lengths to which the agrochemical company goes to protect its image. Documents show that Henry I. Miller, an academic and a vocal proponent of genetically modified crops, asked Monsanto to draft an article for him that largely mirrored one that appeared under his name on Forbes's website in 2015. Mr. Miller could not be reached for comment. A similar issue appeared in academic research. An academic involved in writing research funded by Monsanto, John Acquavella, a former Monsanto employee, appeared to express discomfort with the process, writing in a 2015 email to a Monsanto executive, "I can't be part of deceptive authorship on a presentation or publication." He also said of the way the company was trying to present the authorship: "We call that ghost writing and it is unethical." Mr. Miller's 2015 article on Forbes's website was an attack on the findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization that had labeled glyphosate a probable carcinogen, a finding disputed by other regulatory bodies. In the email traffic, Monsanto asked Mr. Miller if he would be interested in writing an article on the topic, and he said, "I would be if I could start from a high-quality draft." The article appeared under Mr. Miller's name, and with the assertion that "opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own." The magazine did not mention any involvement by Monsanto in preparing the article.

The Courts

NotPetya Ransomware Victims Preparing Lawsuit Against Ukrainian Software Firm (bleepingcomputer.com) 25

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Bleeping Computer: The Juscutum Attorneys Association, a Ukrainian law firm, is rallying NotPetya victims to join a collective lawsuit against Intellect-Service LLC, the company behind the M.E.Doc accounting software -- the point of origin of the NotPetya ransomware outbreak. The NotPetya ransomware spread via a trojanized M.E.Doc update, according to Microsoft, Bitdefender, Kaspersky, Cisco, ESET, and Ukrainian Cyber Police. A subsequent investigation revealed that Intellect-Service had grossly mismanaged the hacked servers, which were left without updates since 2013 and were backdoored on three different occasions. On Tuesday, Ukrainian Cyber Police confirmed that M.E.Doc servers were backdoored on three different occasions in an official document. The company is now using this document as the primary driving force behind its legal action. Juscutum says that victims must pay all court fees, must provide evidence or help with the collection of evidence, and agree to a 30% cut in the case of any awarded damages. The lawsuit is in its incipient stages. Juscutum representatives are currently spreading their message and encouraging victims to join the lawsuit via social media posts and articles in local Ukrainian press.
Cloud

Apple's Adoption Of HEVC Will Drive A Massive Increase In Encoding Costs Requiring Cloud Hardware Acceleration (streamingmedia.com) 203

An anonymous reader shares a report: For the last 10 years, H.264/AVC has been the dominant video codec used for streaming but with Apple adopting H.265/HEVC in iOS 11 and Google heavily supporting VP9 in Android, a change is on the horizon. Next year the Alliance for Open Media will release their AV1 codec which will again improve video compression efficiency even further. But the end result is that the codec market is about to get very fragmented, with content owners soon having to decide if they need to support three codecs (H.264, H.265, and VP9) instead of just H.264 and with AV1 expected to be released in 2019. As a result of what's take place in the codec market, and with better quality video being demanded by consumers, content owners, broadcasters and OTT providers are starting to see a massive increase in encoding costs. New codecs like H.265 and VP9 need 5x the servers costs because of their complexity. Currently, AV1 needs over 20x the server costs. The mix of SD, HD and UHD continues to move to better quality: e.g. HDR, 10-bit and higher frame rates. Server encoding cost to move from 1080p SDR to 4K HDR is 5x. 360 and Facebook's 6DoF video are also growing in consumption by consumers which again increases encoding costs by at least 4x. If you add up all these variables, it's not hard to do the math and see that for some, encoding costs could increase by 500x over the next few years as new codecs, higher quality video, 360 video and general demand increases.
China

China Is Perfecting a New Method For Suppressing Dissent On the Internet (vox.com) 151

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Vox: The art of suppressing dissent has been perfected over the years by authoritarian governments. For most of human history, the solution was simple: force. Punish people severely enough when they step out of line and you deter potential protesters. But in the age of the internet and "fake news," there are easier ways to tame dissent. A new study by Gary King of Harvard University, Jennifer Pan of Stanford University, and Margaret Roberts of the University of California San Diego suggests that China is the leading innovator on this front. Their paper, titled "How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, Not Engaged Argument," shows how Beijing, with the help of a massive army of government-backed internet commentators, floods the web in China with pro-regime propaganda. What's different about China's approach is the content of the propaganda. The government doesn't refute critics or defend policies; instead, it overwhelms the population with positive news (what the researchers call "cheerleading" content) in order to eclipse bad news and divert attention away from actual problems. This has allowed the Chinese government to manipulate citizens without appearing to do so. It permits just enough criticism to maintain the illusion of dissent and only acts overtly when fears of mass protest or collective action arise.
Crime

Man Used DDoS Attacks On Media To Extort Them To Remove Stories (itwire.com) 34

New submitter troublemaker_23 shares a report from iTWire: A 32-year-old man from Seattle who was arrested for mounting a series of distributed denial of service attacks on businesses in Australia, the U.S. and Canada, wanted articles about himself removed from various news sites, including Fairfax Media. According to an FBI chargesheet filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas (Dallas Division), Kamyar Jahanrakhshan tried to get articles removed from the Sydney Morning Herald, a site for legal articles known as Leagle.com, Metronews.ca, a Canadian news website, CBC in Canada and Canada.ca. The chargesheet, filed by FBI special agent Matthew Dosher, said Jahanrakhshan migrated to the U.S. in 1991 and took U.S. citizenship; he then moved to Canada about four years later and became a permanent resident there. He had a conviction for second degree theft in Washington state in 2005 and this was vacated in August 2011; he also had a 2011 conviction for fraud and obstruction in Canada. In each case, Jahanrakhshan, who was deported back to the U.S. as a result of the Canada crime, launched DDoS attacks on the news websites and then contacted them. Further reading: Ars Technica
Software

Cable Giants Step Up Piracy Battle By Interrogating Montreal Software Developer (www.cbc.ca) 185

New submitter wierzpio writes: In more news about TVAddons, Canadian cable companies used a civil search warrant to visit the owner and developer of TVAddons, a library of hundreds of apps known as add-ons that allow people easy access to pirated movies, TV shows, and live TV. According to Adam Lackman, founder of TVAddons and defendant in the copyright lawsuit launched by the television giants, "The whole experience was horrifying. It felt like the kind of thing you would have expected to have happened in the Soviet Union." During the 16 hour-long visit, he was interrogated, denied the right not to answer the questions, and denied the right to consult his answers with his lawyer, who was present. His personal possessions were seized. Adam is fighting back (link to Indiegogo fundraising page) and already the judge declared the search warrant "null and void." "I am of the view that its true purpose was to destroy the livelihood of the defendant, deny him the financial resources to finance a defense to the claim made against him," the judge wrote. "The defendant has demonstrated that he has an arguable case that he is not violating the [Copyright] Act," the judge continued, adding that by the plaintiffs' own estimate, only about one per cent of Lackman's add-ons were allegedly used to pirate content. Lackman's belongings still haven't been returned, and he can't acess the TVAddons website or its social media accounts, which were also seized. "Bell, Rogers and Videotron has appealed the court decision and a Federal Court of Appeal judge has ruled that until the appeal can be hard, Lackman will get nothing back," reports cbc.ca.
Censorship

Joining Apple, Amazon's China Cloud Service Bows To Censors (nytimes.com) 51

Days after Apple yanked anti-censorship tools off its app store in China, another major American technology company is moving to implement the country's tough restrictions on online content. From a report: A Chinese company that operates Amazon's cloud-computing and online services business there said on Tuesday that it told local customers to cease using any software that would allow Chinese to circumvent the country's extensive system of internet blocks (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). The company, called Beijing Sinnet Technology and operator of the American company's Amazon Web Services operations in China, sent one round of emails to customers on Friday and another on Monday. "If users don't comply with the guidance, the offered services and their websites can be shut down," said a woman surnamed Wang who answered a Sinnet service hotline. "We the operators also check routinely if any of our users use these softwares or store illegal content." Ms. Wang said the letter was sent according to recent guidance from China's Ministry of Public Security and the country's telecom regulator. Amazon did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting comment. The emails are the latest sign of a widening push by China's government to block access to software that gets over the Great Firewall -- the nickname for the sophisticated internet filters that China uses to stop its people from gaining access to Facebook, Google and Twitter, as well as foreign news media outlets.
Facebook

Facebook Is Working On a Video Chat Device (bloomberg.com) 86

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Facebook Inc. is working on a video chat device for the home -- the first major hardware product from its experimental Building 8 lab. Featuring a laptop-sized touchscreen, the device represents a new product category and could be announced as soon as next spring's F8 developer conference, according to people familiar with the matter. They say the large screen and smart camera technology could help farflung people feel like they're in the same room, which aligns with Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg's mission of bringing Facebook users closer together. The device is in the prototype phase but is already being tested in people's homes. Geared to the living room, the video chat device will feature a wide-angle camera lens, microphones and speakers that are all powered by artificial intelligence to boost performance, the people said. A version of the device in testing includes a thin, vertical stand that holds a large touchscreen measuring between 13 and 15 inches diagonally, the people said. Facebook has considered running a version of the Android operating system on its device instead of building its own core operating system, according to the people. Facebook is testing a feature that would allow the camera to automatically scan for people in its range and lock onto them, one of the people said. Facebook is also working on a standalone smart speaker to compete with the Amazon Echo and Google Home, reports Bloomberg. The social media giant is "hiring Apple veterans to help create a Siri-style voice assistant that would run on both devices."
Security

Hackers Can Turn Amazon Echo Into a Covert Listening Device (helpnetsecurity.com) 114

Orome1 shares a report from Help Net Security: New research released by MWR InfoSecurity reveals how attackers can compromise the Amazon Echo and turn it into a covert listening device, without affecting its overall functionality. Found to be susceptible to a physical attack, which allows an attacker to gain a root shell on the Linux Operating Systems and install malware, the Amazon Echo would enable hackers to covertly monitor and listen in on users and steal private data without their permission or knowledge. By removing the rubber base at the bottom of the Amazon Echo, the research team could access the 18 debug pads and directly boot into the firmware of the device, via an external SD card, and install persistent malware without leaving any physical evidence of tampering. This gained them remote root shell access and enabled them to access the "always listening" microphones. Following a full examination of the process running on the device and the associated scripts, MWR's researchers investigated how the audio media was being passed and buffered between the processes and the tools used to do so. Then they developed scripts that leveraged tools embedded on the device to stream the microphone audio to a remote server without affecting the functionality of the device itself. The raw data was then sampled via a remote device, where a decision could then be made as to play it out of the speakers on the remote device or save the audio as a WAV file. The vulnerability has been confirmed to affect the 2015 and 2016 editions of the device. The 2017 edition of the Amazon Echo is not vulnerable to this physical attack. The smaller Amazon Dot model also does not carry the vulnerability. More technical details can be found here.
Social Networks

Iranians Use 'Cute Photographer' Profile To Hack Targets In Middle East (securityledger.com) 39

chicksdaddy shares a report from The Security Ledger: Hackers working on behalf of the government of Iran are using alluring social media profiles featuring a young, English photographer to entice and then compromise the systems of high value targets in the oil and gas industry, according to a report by Dell Secureworks. In a report released on Thursday, Secureworks' Counter Threat Unit (CTU) said that it observed an extensive phishing campaign beginning in January and February 2017 that used a polished social media profile of a young, English woman using the name "Mia Ash" to conduct highly targeted spear-phishing and social engineering attacks against employees of Middle Eastern and North Africa firms in industries like telecommunications, government, defense, oil and financial services. The attacks are the work of an advanced persistent threat group dubbed COBALT GYPSY or "Oil Rig" that has been linked to other sophisticated attacks. The attacks, which spread across platforms including LinkedIn and Facebook, as well as email, were highly successful. In some cases, the attacks lasted months -- and long after the compromise of the employee -- with the targets engaged in a flirtation with a woman they believed was a young, attractive female photographer. The Mia Ash persona is a fake identity based loosely on a real person -- a Romanian photographer and student who has posted her work prolifically online. According to a report by Security Ledger, the persona was created specifically with the goal of performing reconnaissance on and establishing relationships with employees of targeted organizations. Victims were targeted with the PupyRAT Trojan, an open source, cross-platform remote access trojan (RAT) used to take control of a victim's system and harvest credentials like logins and passwords from victims, and lured with malware-laden documents such as "photography surveys" (really?). One target was even instructed to make sure to open the document from work because it will "work better," Secureworks said.

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