United States

Justices Ponder Need For Warrant For Cellphone Tower Data (apnews.com) 200

An anonymous reader shares a report: Like almost everyone else in America, thieves tend to carry their cellphones with them to work. When they use their phones on the job, police find it easier to do their jobs. They can get cellphone tower records that help place suspects in the vicinity of crimes, and they do so thousands of times a year. Activists across the political spectrum, media organizations and technology experts are among those arguing that it is altogether too easy for authorities to learn revealing details of Americans' lives merely by examining records kept by Verizon, T-Mobile and other cellphone service companies. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court hears its latest case about privacy in the digital age. At issue is whether police generally need a warrant to review the records. Justices on the left and right have recognized that technology has altered privacy concerns. The court will hear arguments in an appeal by federal prison inmate Timothy Carpenter. He is serving a 116-year sentence after a jury convicted him of armed robberies in the Detroit area and northwestern Ohio.
Google

Google Seeks To Defuse Row With Russia Over Website Rankings (reuters.com) 71

An anonymous reader shares a report: Google does not change its search algorithm to re-rank individual websites, it said in a letter to Russia's communications watchdog, after Moscow expressed concerns the search engine might discriminate against Russian media. The Roskomnadzor watchdog said earlier this month it would seek clarification from Google over whether it intentionally placed articles from Russian news websites Sputnik and Russia Today lower in search results. Responding to a question about Sputnik articles at a conference earlier in November, Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said Google was working to give less prominence to "those kinds of websites" as opposed to delisting them.
Youtube

YouTube To Implement New Guidelines To Protect Minors From Disturbing Content (cnet.com) 95

YouTube will be implementing five new rules to protect minors from disturbing content. They include removing ads from inappropriate videos and blocking predatory comments from videos that feature minors. CNET reports: The new guidelines are as follows:

-Tougher application of Community Guidelines and faster enforcement through technology
-Removing ads from inappropriate videos targeting families
-Blocking inappropriate comments on videos featuring minors
-Providing guidance for creators who make family-friendly content
-Engaging and learning from experts

These rules follow recent reports that expose fundamental flaws in YouTube algorithms and screening protocol, which fail to recognize or pull down videos that feature disturbing imagery but are aimed at children for monetization purposes. Videos featuring children doing innocuous activities like exercising are also riddled with predatory or sexual comments from viewers, something YouTube is attempting to curb with its new guidelines.

Beer

Study Finds Different Types of Alcohol Can Determine Different Moods (bbc.com) 156

A new study published in the journal BMJ Open says different types of alcoholic drinks change and shape your mood in different ways. For example, spirits may make you feel angry, sexy or tearful, while red wine or beer may make you feel relaxed. The researchers questioned nearly 30,000 people aged 18-34 from 21 different countries for the study. BBC reports: The anonymous online survey, which recruited respondents via newspaper and magazine adverts and social media, found:

-Red wine appeared to make people more lethargic than white wine
-Respondents were most likely to report feeling relaxed when drinking red wine or beer
-More than 40% said drinking spirits made them feel sexy
-Over half said drinking spirits also gave them energy and confidence
-But around a third said they felt aggressive when drinking spirits
-Drinking spirits was more likely than all other drink types to be associated with feelings of aggression, illness, restlessness and tearfulness
-Men were significantly more likely than women to associate feelings of aggression with all types of alcohol, particularly heavier drinkers

Prof Bellis from Public Health Wales NHS Trust said the setting in which the alcohol was consumed was an important factor that the study tried to take into consideration by asking about drinking at home and outside of the home. He said the way different drinks are marketed and promoted might encourage people to select certain drinks to suit different moods, but that this could backfire if it triggered negative emotions. He also said the study revealed a difference between men and women's emotional relationship with different alcoholic drinks.

Bitcoin

We'll Never Legalize Bitcoin, Says Russian Minister (siliconangle.com) 55

An anonymous reader shares a report: In yet another backflip worthy of the Moscow Circus, a Russian minister has said that the country will never legalize bitcoin, just seven months after another government minister said it was considering making it legal. Minister of Communications and Mass Media Nikolai Nikiforov made the statement this week, saying that "bitcoin is a foreign project for using blockchain technology, the Russian law will never consider bitcoin as a legal entity in the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation." Recognizing that blockchain technology is separate to bitcoin, Nikiforov went on to say that "I think that it is quite possible to use blockchain technology and the use of various digital tokens." Those tokens may constitute a Russian-issued cryptocurrency. TASS reported that "Russia's Communication Ministry has submitted to the government the document containing technical details related to cryptocurrencies adoption."
Earth

Russia Detects a Significant Radiation Spike In Mountains Close To Soviet-Era Nuclear Plant (nytimes.com) 125

According to a report via The New York Times, Russia said that it had detected a significant radiation spike in the Ural Mountains, close to a sprawling Soviet-era nuclear plant still remembered as the site of an accident 60 years ago. Russia did however reject suggestions that it was the source of a radioactive cloud that hovered over Europe. From the report: The location of the spike -- in the Chelyabinsk region near the border with Kazakhstan -- has been identified by French and German nuclear safety institutions as a potential source for a concentration of a radioactive isotope called ruthenium 106 detected in the air in late September above several European countries. But nuclear energy authorities in Moscow insisted Monday that still-higher levels of atmospheric contamination had been detected outside Russia, in southeastern Europe. Reports of the elevated radiation levels over Western Europe raised alarms, but nuclear safety authorities in France and Germany said there was no threat to human health or to the environment -- an assurance repeated on Tuesday by Moscow. The Russian state weather service Roshydromet said it had found what the Russian news media described as "extremely high pollution" at two monitoring facilities within a 62-mile radius of the Mayak nuclear reprocessing and isotope production plant. A weather station in the town of Argayash recorded ruthenium 106 levels that were 986 times higher than a month earlier, the state weather agency said. A second station at Novogorny detected levels 440 times higher. Ruthenium 106, which does not occur naturally and has a half-life of about a year, is used for medical purposes.

For weeks, Russian officials had denied the French and German accusations. Citing the results of its own air monitoring on European territory, Moscow pointed to high radiation levels over Romania, Italy and Ukraine, insisting that there had been only a negligible presence of ruthenium 106 on Russian territory. On Tuesday, even after the Russian agency acknowledged the radiation spike in the Urals, Maxim Yakovenko, the head of Roshydromet, said in a statement that higher levels of contamination had been detected in Romania than in Russia. "The published data is not sufficient to establish the location of the pollution source," he said. The authorities at Mayak denied in a news release on Tuesday that the plant had contributed to the increased levels of ruthenium 106 and insisted that there was no threat to human beings.

Businesses

Russia To Act Against Google if Sputnik, RT Get Lower Search Rankings (reuters.com) 192

Paresh Dave and Jack Stubbs, reporting for Reuters: The Kremlin will take action against Alphabet's Google if articles from Russian news websites Sputnik and Russia Today are placed lower in search results, the Interfax news service cited Russia's chief media regulator as saying on Tuesday. Alexander Zharov, head of media regulator Roskomnadzor, said his agency sent a letter to Google on Tuesday requesting clarification on comments Saturday by Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt about how the Russian websites would be treated in search, according to Interfax. "We will receive an answer and understand what to do next," Interfax quoted Zharov as saying. "We hope our opinion will be heard, and we won't have to resort to more serious" retaliatory measures.
Bitcoin

An Ethereum Startup Just Vanished After People Invested $374K (vice.com) 190

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: A startup on the Ethereum platform vanished from the internet on Sunday after raising $374,000 USD from investors in an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) fundraiser. Confido is a startup that pitched itself as a blockchain-based app for making payments and tracking shipments. It sold digital tokens to investors over the Ethereum blockchain in an ICO that ran from November 6 to 8. During the token sale, Confido sold people bespoke digital tokens that represent their investment in exchange for ether, Ethereum's digital currency. But on Sunday, the company unceremoniously deleted its Twitter account and took down its website. A company representative posted a brief comment to the company's now-private subforum on Reddit, citing legal problems that prevent the Confido team from continuing their work. The same message was also posted to Medium but quickly deleted.

"Right now, we are in a tight spot, as we are having legal trouble caused by a contract we signed," the message stated (a cached version of the Medium post is viewable). "It is likely that we will be able to find a solution to rectify the situation. However, we cannot assure you with 100% certainty that we will get through this." The message was apparently written by Confido's founder, one Joost van Doorn, who seems to have no internet presence besides a now-removed LinkedIn profile. Even the Confido representative on Reddit doesn't seem to know what's going on, though, posting hours after the initial message, "Look I have absolutely no idea what has happened here. The removal of all of our social media platforms and website has come as a complete surprise to me." Confido tokens had a market cap of $10 million last week, before the company disappeared, but now the tokens are worthless. And investors are crying foul.

Google

Eric Schmidt Says Google News Will 'Engineer' Russian Propaganda Out of the Feed (vice.com) 356

Justin Ling, writing for Motherboard: Eric Schmidt, Executive Chariman of Alphabet, says the company is working to ferret out Russian propaganda from Google News after facing criticism that Kremlin-owned media sites had been given plum placement on the search giant's news and advertising platforms. "We're well aware of this one, and we're working on detecting this kind of scenario you're describing and deranking those kinds of sites," Schmidt said, after being asked why the world's largest search company continued to classify the Russian sites as news. Schmidt, in an interview at the Halifax International Security Forum over the weekend, name-checked two state-owned enterprises. "It's basically RT and Sputnik," Schmidt added. "We're well aware and we're trying to engineer the systems to prevent it."
Spam

Spam Is Back (theoutline.com) 154

Jon Christian, writing for The Outline: For a while, spam -- unsolicited bulk messages sent for commercial or fraudulent purposes -- seemed to be fading away. The 2003 CAN-SPAM Act mandated unsubscribe links in email marketing campaigns and criminalized attempts to hide the sender's identity, while sophisticated filters on what were then cutting-edge email providers like Gmail buried unwanted messages in out-of-sight spam folders. In 2004, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates told a crowd at the World Economic Forum that "two years from now, spam will be solved." In 2011, cybersecurity reporter Brian Krebs noted that increasingly tech savvy law enforcement efforts were shutting down major spam operators -- including SpamIt.com, alleged to be a major hub in a Russian digital criminal organization that was responsible for an estimated fifth of the world's spam. These efforts meant that the proportion of all emails that are spam has slowly fallen to a low of about 50 percent in recent years, according to Symantec research.

But it's 2017, and spam has clawed itself back from the grave. It shows up on social media and dating sites as bots hoping to lure you into downloading malware or clicking an affiliate link. It creeps onto your phone as text messages and robocalls that ring you five times a day about luxury cruises and fictitious tax bills. Networks associated with the buzzy new cryptocurrency system Ethereum have been plagued with spam. Facebook recently fought a six-month battle against a spam operation that was administering fake accounts in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. Last year, a Chicago resident sued the Trump campaign for allegedly sending unsolicited text message spam; this past November, ZDNet reported that voters were being inundated with political text messages they never signed up for. Apps can be horrid spam vectors, too. Repeated mass data breaches that include contact information, such as the Yahoo breach in which 3 billion user accounts were exposed, surely haven't helped. Meanwhile, you, me, and everyone we know is being plagued by robocalls.

Google

Critics Debate Autism's Role in James Damore's Google Memo (themarysue.com) 353

James Damore "wants you to know he isn't using autism as an excuse," reports a Silicon Valley newspaper, commenting on the fired Google engineer's new interview with the Guardian. But they also note that "he says being on the spectrum means he 'sees things differently'," and the weekend editor at the entertainment and "geek culture" site The Mary Sue sees a problem in the way that interview was framed. It's the author of this Guardian article, not James Damore himself, who makes the harmful suggestion that Damore's infamous Google memo and subsequent doubling-down are somehow caused by his autism... It frames autism as some sort of basic decency deficiency, rather than a neurological condition shared by millions of people.... This whole article is peppered with weird suggestions like this, suggestions which detract from an otherwise interesting piece.. All these weird suggestions that autism and misogyny/bigotry are somehow tied (as if autistic feminists didn't exist) do unfortunately detract from one of the article's great points.

Having worked at a number of companies large and small, I can at least anecdotally confirm that their diversity training rarely includes a discussion of neurodiversity, and when it does, it's not particularly empathetic or helpful... Many corporate cultures are plainly designed for neurotypical extroverts and no one else -- and that should change. I really do think Lewis meant well in pointing that out. But the other thing that should change? The way the media scapegoats autism as a source of anti-social behavior.

The Media

Net Neutrality is Essentially Unassailable, Argues Billionaire Barry Diller (broadcastingcable.com) 82

An anonymous reader quotes Yahoo Finance: The billionaire media mogul behind such popular sites as Expedia, Match.com and HomeAdvisor has a one-word forecast for traditional media conglomerates concerned about being replaced by tech giants: serfdom. "They, like everyone else, are kind of going to be serfs on the land of the large tech companies," IAC chairman Barry Diller said... That's because Google and Facebook not only have such massive user bases but also dominate online advertising. "Google and Facebook are consolidating," Diller said. "They are the only mass advertising mediums we have..." He expects Facebook, Google and maybe Amazon to face government regulation, simply because of their immense size. "At a certain point in size, you must," he said. "It's inevitable."

He did, however, outline one positive for Big Tech getting so gargantuan. Big Telecom no longer has the economic leverage to roll back today's net-neutrality norms, in which internet providers don't try to charge sites extra for access to their subscribers. "I think it's hard to overturn practically," he said. "It is the accepted system."

Even if the U.S. government takes moves to fight net neutrality, Diller told CNBC that "I think it is over... It is [the] practice of the world... You're still going to be able to push a button and publish to the world, without anybody in between asking you for tribute. I think that is now just the way things are done. I don't think it can be violated no matter what laws are back."
Google

'I See Things Differently': James Damore on his Autism and the Google Memo (theguardian.com) 682

"James Damore opens up about his regrets -- and how autism may have shaped his experience of the world," writes the west coast bureau chief for the Guardian. An anonymous reader quotes their report: The experience has prompted some introspection. In the course of several weeks of conversation using Google's instant messaging service, which Damore prefers to face-to-face communication, he opened up about an autism diagnosis that may in part explain the difficulties he experienced with his memo. He believes he has a problem understanding how his words will be interpreted by other people... It wasn't until his mid-20s, after completing research in computational biology at Princeton and MIT, and starting a PhD at Harvard, that Damore was diagnosed with autism, although he was told he had a milder version of the condition known as "high-functioning autism"...

Damore argues that Google's focus on avoiding "micro-aggressions" is "much harder for someone with autism to follow". But he stops short of saying autistic employees should be given more leniency if they unintentionally offend people at work. "I wouldn't necessarily treat someone differently," he explains. "But it definitely helps to understand where they're coming from." I ask Damore if, looking back over the last few months, he feels that his difficult experience with the memo and social media may be related to being on the spectrum. "Yeah, there's definitely been some self-reflection," he says. "Predicting controversies requires predicting what emotional reaction people will have to something. And that's not something that I excel at -- although I'm working on it."

Crime

Apple Is Served A Search Warrant To Unlock Texas Church Gunman's iPhone (nydailynews.com) 450

An anonymous reader quotes the New York Daily News: Authorities in Texas served Apple with a search warrant in order to gain access to the Sutherland Springs church shooter's cellphone files. Texas Ranger Kevin Wright obtained the warrant last week, according to San Antonio Express-News.

Investigators are hoping to gain access to gunman Devin Patrick Kelley's digital photos, messages, calls, videos, social media passwords, address book and data since January 2016. Authorities also want to know what files Kelley stored in his iCloud account.

Fast Company writes that "it's very likely that Apple will give the Rangers the same answer it gave the FBI in 2016 (in effect, hell no!)... That may be why, in the Texas case, the FBI and the Rangers didn't even bother calling Apple, but rather went straight to court."
Medicine

Study of 500,000 Teens Suggests Association Between Excessive Screen Time and Depression (vice.com) 128

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Depression and suicide rates in teenagers have jumped in the last decade -- doubling between 2007 and 2015 for girls -- and the trend suspiciously coincides with when smartphones became their constant companions. A recent study places their screen time around nine hours per day. Another study, published on Tuesday, suggests that suicide and depression could be connected to the rise of smartphones, and increased screen time. Around 58 percent more girls reported depression symptoms in 2015 than in 2009, and suicide rates rose 65 percent. Smack in the middle of that window of time, smartphones gained market saturation.

In Twenge's new study, published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, the researchers looked at two samples: a nationally representative survey by ongoing study "Monitoring the Future" out of the University of Michigan, which is administered annually to 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, and the Centers for Disease Control's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, a sample of high school students administered by the CDC every other year. (Both surveys began in 1991.) Altogether, over 500,000 young people were included. The study authors examined trends in how teens used social media, the internet, electronic devices (including gaming systems and tablets), and smartphones, as well as how much time they spent doing non-screen activities like homework, playing sports, or socializing. Comparing these to publicly available data on mental health and suicide for these ages between 2010 and 2017 showed "a clear pattern linking screen activities with higher levels of depressive symptoms/suicide-related outcomes and non-screen activities with lower levels," the researchers wrote in the study. All activities involving screens were associated with higher levels of depression or suicide and suicidal thinking, and activities done away from a screen were not.

The Military

Massive US Military Social Media Spying Archive Left Wide Open In AWS S3 Buckets (theregister.co.uk) 85

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Register: Three misconfigured AWS S3 buckets have been discovered wide open on the public internet containing "dozens of terabytes" of social media posts and similar pages -- all scraped from around the world by the U.S. military to identify and profile persons of interest. The archives were found by veteran security breach hunter UpGuard's Chris Vickery during a routine scan of open Amazon-hosted data silos, and these ones weren't exactly hidden. The buckets were named centcom-backup, centcom-archive, and pacom-archive. CENTCOM is the common abbreviation for the U.S. Central Command, which controls army operations in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. PACOM is the name for U.S. Pacific Command, covering the rest of southern Asia, China and Australasia.

"For the research I downloaded 400GB of samples but there were many terabytes of data up there," he said. "It's mainly compressed text files that can expand out by a factor of ten so there's dozens and dozens of terabytes out there and that's a conservative estimate." Just one of the buckets contained 1.8 billion social media posts automatically fetched over the past eight years up to today. It mainly contains postings made in central Asia, however Vickery noted that some of the material is taken from comments made by American citizens. The databases also reveal some interesting clues as to what this information is being used for. Documents make reference to the fact that the archive was collected as part of the U.S. government's Outpost program, which is a social media monitoring and influencing campaign designed to target overseas youths and steer them away from terrorism.

Businesses

A Hacker 'Hero' Has Been Banned From Cyber Conferences After Decades Of Inappropriate Behavior (buzzfeed.com) 346

Several readers share a report: John Draper, a prankster hero to an early generation of hackers, used his status at cybersecurity conferences to arrange private meetings with teenage fans and a reporter where he touched them inappropriately, multiple men have told BuzzFeed News. The allegations are the latest in what has become in recent weeks an explosion of sexual misconduct reports that have roiled a seemingly endless list of industries, from Hollywood to the news media to the Alabama Senate race. As in many of those other cases, Draper's actions were well known to at least a core of people who had regular contact with him. Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak told BuzzFeed News that Steve Jobs once told him that Draper, an early associate, once asked Jobs to sit on Draper's back in the 1970s, an offer Wozniak said Jobs declined as being "out of the ordinary." But in the hacking world, where unusual behavior is accepted and often celebrated, there were few official steps taken to prevent Draper's overtures to unsuspecting fans. Volunteers who worked the annual DEF CON hacking conventions in Las Vegas recalled that one of their responsibilities was to separate Draper from his teenage followers. Draper's behavior drew attention at other conventions as well, where he was a frequent presence. Brandon Creighton, a long-standing volunteer at hacker conferences who was familiar with rumors about Draper, recalled escorting him from a private party after ToorCon in San Diego in 2007, though exactly why was not clear.
Social Networks

Report Claims That 18 Nation's Elections Were Impacted By Social Engineering Last Year (bbc.com) 235

sqorbit writes: Independent watchdog group Freedom House released a report that claims that 18 nation's elections were "hacked." Of the 65 countries that Freedom House monitors, 30 appear to be using social media in order to affect elections by attempting to control online discussions. The report covers fake news posts, paid online opinion writers and trolling tactics. Other items in the report speak to online censorship and VPN blocking that blocks information within countries to interfere with elections. The report says net freedom could be aided by: large-scale programs that showed people how to spot fake news; putting tight controls on political adverts; and making social media giants do more to remove bots and tune algorithms to be more objective.
Businesses

FCC Repeals Decades-Old Rules Blocking Broadcast Media Mergers (variety.com) 146

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Washington Post (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): Federal regulators rolled back decades-old rules on Thursday, making it far easier for media outlets to be bought and sold -- potentially leading to more newspapers, radio stations and television broadcasters being owned by a handful of companies. The regulations, eliminated in a 3-to-2 vote by the Federal Communications Commission, were first put in place in the 1970s to ensure that a diversity of voices and opinions could be heard on the air or in print. But now those rules represent a threat to small outlets that are struggling to survive in a vastly different media world, according to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. One long-standing rule repealed Thursday prevented one company in a given media market from owning both a daily newspaper and a TV station. Another rule blocked TV stations in the same market from merging with each other if the combination would leave fewer than eight independently owned stations. The agency also took aim at rules restricting the number of TV and radio stations that any media company could simultaneously own in a single market. A major beneficiary of the deregulatory moves, analysts say, is Sinclair, a conservative broadcasting company that is seeking to buy up Tribune Media for $3.9 billion.
Twitter

Jack Dorsey Responds To Serial Killer Who Found His Victims Through Suicidal Twitter Posts (nhk.or.jp) 73

AmiMoJo shares a report from NHK WORLD: Twitter's CEO is reacting to a grisly case in Japan where a suspected serial killer allegedly found his victims through their suicidal posts on the social media platform. In an interview with NHK, Jack Dorsey said it is unrealistic and impossible to remove suicidal tweets. But he said he hoped Twitter could become a tool for prevention. Last month, the dismembered bodies of 9 people were found in 27-year-old Takahiro Shiraishi's apartment near Tokyo. Police say he admitted to the killings. They believe he preyed on people who posted about wanting to kill themselves on Twitter. Recently, Twitter updated its rules regarding posts about self-harm: "You may not promote or encourage suicide or self-harm. When we receive reports that a person is threatening suicide or self-harm, we may take a number of steps to assist them, such as reaching out to that person and providing resources such as contact information for our mental health partners."

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