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Bitcoin

Bitcoin Hits Highest Levels In Almost Three Years (reuters.com) 73

Digital currency bitcoin hit its highest levels in almost three years on Friday, extending gains since India sparked a cash shortage by removing high-denomination bank notes from circulation a month ago. From a report on Reuters: Bitcoin was trading as high as $774 on the New York-based itBit exchange, up almost 1 percent on the day and the highest since February 2014, having climbed almost 9 percent in the past month. It has climbed around 80 percent so far this year, far exceeding its 35 percent rise in 2015.
Privacy

Watchdog Group Claims Smart Toys Are Spying On Kids (mashable.com) 68

The Center for Digital Democracy has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission warning of security and privacy holes associated with a pair of smart toys designed for children. Mashable reports: "This complaint concerns toys that spy," reads the complaint, which claims the Genesis Toys' My Friend Cayla and i-QUE Intelligent Robot can record and collect private conversations and offer no limitations on the collection and use of personal information. Both toys use voice recognition, internet connectivity and Bluetooth to engage with children in conversational manner and answer questions. The CDD claims they do all of this in wildly insecure and invasive ways. Both My Friend Cayla and i-QUE use Nuance Communications' voice-recognition platform to listen and respond to queries. On the Genesis Toy site, the manufacturer notes that while "most of Cayla's conversational features can be accessed offline," searching for information may require an internet connection. The promotional video for Cayla encourages children to "ask Cayla almost anything." The dolls work in concert with mobile apps. Some questions can be asked directly, but the toys maintain a constant Bluetooth connection to the dolls so they can also react to actions in the app and even appear to identify objects the child taps on on screen. While some of the questions children ask the dolls are apparently recorded and sent to Nuance's servers for parsing, it's unclear how much of the information is personal in nature. The Genesis Privacy Policy promises to anonymize information. The CDD also claims, however, that My Friend Cayla and i-Que employ Bluetooth in the least secure way possible. Instead of requiring a PIN code to complete pairing between the toy and a smartphone or iPad, "Cayla and i-Que do not employ... authentication mechanisms to establish a Bluetooth connection between the doll and a smartphone or tablet. The dolls do not implement any other security measure to prevent unauthorized Bluetooth pairing." Without a pairing notification on the toy or any authentication strategy, anyone with a Bluetooth device could connect to the toys' open Bluetooth networks, according to the complaint.
Music

Vinyl Records Outsold Digital Downloads In the UK Last Week (adweek.com) 188

Sales of vinyl outstripped those of downloaded music for the first time since the advent of digital downloads last week in the UK. From a report on AdWeek: The U.K.-based Entertainment Retailers Association, or ERA, said Monday that Britons spent 2.4 million pounds ($3.03 million) on the old-school wax last week while only doling out 2.1 million pounds ($2.65 million) for digital downloads. Vinyl Factory, a website dedicated to records, reported that those numbers represent a big change from the same week in 2015, when just 1.2 million pounds was spent on records compared with 4.4 million on digital downloads. That's a 100 percent year-over-year increase in vinyl sales and also the first time that vinyl album sales have bested digital downloads over a weeklong period in years, per Vinyl Factory. The surge in vinyl sales could be attributed to the popularity of vinyl as a Christmas gift and the growing number of retailers. You know it's a gift because, as BBC adds: But 48% of those surveyed said they did not play the vinyl they bought -- while 7% did not even own a turntable.
Databases

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft Will Create 'Hash' Database To Remove Extremist Content (reuters.com) 256

bongey writes: Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft are teaming up to create a common database to flag extremist videos and pictures. The database is set to go live in 2017. The system will not automatically remove content. Reuters reports: "The companies will share 'hashes' -- unique digital fingerprints they automatically assign to videos or photos -- of extremist content they have removed from their websites to enable their peers to identify the same content on their platforms. 'We hope this collaboration will lead to greater efficiency as we continue to enforce our policies to help curb the pressing global issue of terrorist content online,' the companies said in a statement on Tuesday. Each company will decide what image and video hashes to add to the database and matching content will not be automatically removed, they said. The database will be up and running in early 2017 and more companies could be brought into the partnership."
Software

Windows 10 'Home Hub' Is Microsoft's Response To Amazon Echo and Google Home (mashable.com) 101

Microsoft's response to the Amazon Echo and Google Home is Home Hub, a software update for Windows 10's Cortana personal assistant that turns any Windows PC into a smart speaker of sorts. Mashable reports: Microsoft's smart digital assistant Cortana can already answer your queries, even if the PC's screen is locked. The Home Hub is tied to Cortana and takes this a few steps further. It would add a special app with features such as calendar appointments, sticky notes and shopping lists. A Home Hub-enabled PC might have a Welcome Screen, a full-screen app that displays all these, like a virtual fridge door. Multiple users (i.e. family members) could use the Home Hub, either by authenticating through Windows Hello or by working in a family-shared account. Cortana would get more powerful on Home Hub; it could, for example, control smart home devices, such as lights and locks. And even though all of this will work on any Windows 10 device -- potentially making the PC the center of your smart home experience -- third-party manufacturers will be able to build devices that work with Home Hub. You can read Windows Central's massive report here. Do note that Home Hub is not official and individual features could change over time. The update is slated for 2017.
Power

Engineers Explain Why the Galaxy Note 7 Caught Fire (digitaltrends.com) 285

Engineers with manufacturing technology company Instrumental tore apart a Galaxy Note 7 to try and figure out what may have caused some devices to overheat and explode, causing Samsung to recall and eventually cancel all Galaxy Note 7 devices. In their damning new report, the engineers discovered the root of the problem appears to be that the battery is too tightly packed inside the body of the Note 7. Digital Trends reports: They discovered the battery was so tightly packed inside the Galaxy Note 7's body that any pressure from battery expansion, or stress on the body itself, may squeeze together layers inside the battery that are never supposed to touch -- with explosive results. Batteries swell up under normal use, and we place stress on a phone's body by putting it our pocket and sitting down, or if it's dropped. Tolerances for battery expansion are built into a smartphone during design, and Instrumental notes Samsung used "a super-aggressive manufacturing process to maximize capacity." In other words, the Galaxy Note 7 was designed to be as thin and sleek as possible, while containing the maximum battery capacity for long use, thereby better competing against rival devices such as the iPhone 7 Plus and improving on previous Note models. The report speculates that any pressure placed on the battery in its confined space may have squeezed together positive and negative layers inside the cell itself, which were thinner than usual in the Note 7's battery already, causing them to touch, heat up, and eventually in some cases, catch fire. Delving deeper into the design, the engineers say the space above a battery inside a device needs a "ceiling" that equates to approximately 10 percent of the overall thickness. The Galaxy Note 7 should have had a 0.5mm ceiling; it had none.
Microsoft

How Microsoft Lost In Court Over Windows 10 Upgrades (digitaltrends.com) 121

In June a California woman successfully sued Microsoft for $10,000 over forced Windows 10 upgrades, and she's now written a 58-page ebook about her battle (which she's selling for $9.99). But an anonymous Slashdot reader shares another inspiring story about a Texas IT worker and Linux geek who got Microsoft to pay him $650 for all the time that he lost. "Worley built a Windows 7 machine for his grandfather, who has Alzheimer's Disease, [customized] to look like Windows XP, an operating system his grandfather still remembered well..." writes Digital Trends. "But thanks to Microsoft's persistent Windows 10 upgrade program, Worley's grandfather unknowingly initiated the Win 10 upgrade by clicking the 'X' to close an upgrade window." After Worley filed a legal "Notice of Dispute," Microsoft quickly agreed to his demand for $650, which he donated to a non-profit focusing on Alzheimer's patients.

But according to the article, that's just the beginning, since Worley now "hopes people impacted by the forced Windows 10 upgrade will write a complaint to Microsoft demanding a settlement for their wasted time and money in repairing the device," and on his web page suggests that if people don't need the money, they should give it to charities fighting Alzheimer's. "If Microsoft isn't going to wake up and realize that lobbing intentionally-tricky updates at people who don't need and can't use them actively damages not only the lives of the Alzheimer's sufferer, but those of their whole family, then let's cure the disease on Microsoft's dime so their tactics and those of companies that will follow their reckless example aren't as damaging."

Worley suggests each Notice of Dispute should demand at least $50 per hour from Microsoft, adding "If recent history holds steady they might just write you a check!"
Transportation

Mercedes Unveils Digital Headlights That Project Street Signs, Markings Onto the Road Ahead (newatlas.com) 65

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Atlas: Mercedes has just announced a conceptual new set of lamps that can not only adapt their light distribution to cater to the environment, but can project high-res visual aids onto the road ahead, such as makeshift zebra crossings for nearby pedestrians. The new system is dubbed Digital Light and features two million pixels that, with the help of algorithms and sensors that analyze the vehicle's surroundings, can each adjust their individual brightness depending on the scenario. An example of this might be a partial dimming to avoid blinding a cyclist. We have seen this kind of adaptive lighting technology before in systems developed by Fraunhofer and indeed Mercedes itself, although tuning it to control millions of pixels individually does appear to be new territory. But where the Digital Light system gets quite interesting is with the ability to project different objects onto the road. Imagine you are rolling up to an intersection in a foreign city with unfamiliar streets signs and the car, having collected the necessary information, projects a stop sign onto the road out ahead. Perhaps just as practical is the ability to shoot out strips of light that represent the precise width of the car, which could be pretty hand just as you try to squeeze through that extremely narrow gap. For what it's worth, Mercedes says it has already fitted it to a number of demo vehicles and reckons it will be on the road "in the near future."
Security

Destructive Hacks Strike Saudi Arabia, Posing Challenge to Trump (bloomberg.com) 184

State-sponsored hackers have conducted a series of destructive attacks on Saudi Arabia over the last two weeks, erasing data and wreaking havoc in the computer banks of the agency running the country's airports and hitting five additional targets, according to two people familiar with an investigation into the breach. From a report on Bloomberg: Saudi Arabia said after inquiries from Bloomberg News that "several" government agencies were targeted in attacks that came from outside the kingdom, according to state media. Although a probe by Saudi authorities is still in its early stages, the people said digital evidence suggests the attacks emanated from Iran. That could present President-elect Donald Trump with a major national security challenge as he steps into the Oval Office. The use of offensive cyber weapons by a nation is relatively rare and the scale of the latest attacks could trigger a tit-for-tat cyber war in a region where capabilities have mushroomed ever since an attack on Saudi Aramco in 2012.
Movies

British Film Institute To Digitize 100,000 Old TV Shows Before They Disappear (bbc.com) 124

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Thousands of British TV programs are to be digitized before they are lost forever, the British Film Institute says. Anarchic children's show Tiswas and The Basil Brush Show are among the programs in line for preservation. The initiative was announced as part of the BFI's five-year strategy for 2017-2022. "Material from the 70s and early 80s is at risk," said Heather Stewart, the BFI's creative director. "It has a five or six-year shelf life and if we don't do something about it will just go, no matter how great the environment is we keep it in. "Our job is make sure that things are there in 200 years' time." The BFI has budgeted $14.3 million of Lottery funding towards its goal of making the UK's entire screen heritage digitally accessible. This includes an estimated 100,000 of the "most at-risk" British TV episodes and clips held on obsolete video formats. The list includes "early children's programming, little-seen dramas, regional programs and the beginnings of breakfast television." The issue for the BFI, Ms Stewart added, was also to do with freeing up storage space. "We have a whole vault which is wall-to-wall video. If we digitized it, it would be in a robot about the size of a wardrobe," she said.
Privacy

Uber Wants To Track Your Location Even When You're Not Using the App, Here's Why (businessinsider.com) 131

With the most recent update to Uber's ride-hailing app, the company has begun requesting users if they are willing to share their location data with Uber app even while the app is not in use. The company says it plans to use the data gained to improve user experience -- including offering improved pick-up times and locations. From an article on Business Insider: In August the company moved away from using Google Maps for its service and began using its own mapping technology. Google's lack of accuracy in many non-Western countries led to increased friction between consumers and drivers. This means the company needs to boost the amount of location data it has. Location data could also be used to provide new channels of revenue for the digital platform. This could include serving ads of local businesses or recommending nearby places of interest to users. Mobile marketing, which relies on accurate location data is a rapidly growing industry and could serve as a revenue windfall for Uber in the years ahead as it faces increasing competition. In fact, revenue from location-targeted mobile ads is expected to grow at an annualized rate of almost 34% between 2014 and 2019, surpassing $18 billion, according to a forecast from BIA/Kelsey.
Privacy

China Pilots a System That Rates Citizens on 'Social Credit Score' To Determine Eligibility For Jobs, Travel (technologyreview.com) 204

Speculations have turned out be true. The Chinese government is now testing systems that will be used to create digital records of citizens' social and financial behavior. In turn, these will be used to create a so-called social credit score, which will determine whether individuals have access to services, from travel and education to loans and insurance cover. Some citizens -- such as lawyers and journalists -- will be more closely monitored. From a report on MIT Technology Review: Planning documents apparently describe the system as being created to "allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step." The Journal claims that the system will at first log "infractions such as fare cheating, jaywalking and violating family-planning rules" but will be expanded in the future -- potentially even to Internet activity. Some aspects of the system are already in testing, but there are some challenges to implementing such a far-reaching apparatus. It's difficult to centralize all that data, check it for accuracy, and process it, for example -- let alone feed it back into the system to control everyday life. And China has data from 1.4 billion people to handle.
Businesses

GoPro Slashes 15% of Workforce, Shuts Down Entertainment Division (variety.com) 94

GoPro has announced that it will lay off more than 200 employees and freeze hiring, amounting to a reduction of about 15% of its workforce. As part of the restructuring, the company is also shutting down its entertainment division. In addition, the company said president Tony Bates will be leaving the company. From a report on Variety: Also Wednesday, GoPro also said Black Friday camera unit sales were up more than 35% year-over-year at leading U.S. retailers. GoPro said its Hero5 Black camera has been the best-selling digital-imaging device in the U.S. since it launched Oct. 2, citing NPD Group data. GoPro shares climbed more than 4% in premarket trading Wednesday on the news. The move appears to spell the end of the struggling company's ambitions to branch out beyond device sales into the entertainment biz, which had included plans to produce original shows. The GoPro entertainment unit has been led by Ocean MacAdams, who previously held programming posts at MTV, Warner Music Group, and the Madison Square Garden Co., after Zander Lurie left in January to become CEO of SurveyMonkey. The division at one point had about 200 staffers, including Bill McCullough, who produced award-winning sports documentaries for HBO, and Joe Lynch, who previously led Time Inc.'s live-streaming initiatives.
Canada

The Internet Archive Is Building a Canadian Copy To Protect Itself From Trump (theverge.com) 590

The Internet Archive, a digital library nonprofit that preserves billions of webpages for the historical record, is building a backup archive in Canada after the election of Donald Trump. The Verge adds: Today, it began collecting donations for the Internet Archive of Canada, intended to create a copy of the archive outside the United States. "On November 9th in America, we woke up to a new administration promising radical change," writes founder Brewster Kahle. "It was a firm reminder that institutions like ours, built for the long-term, need to design for change. For us, it means keeping our cultural materials safe, private and perpetually accessible. It means preparing for a web that may face greater restrictions. It means serving patrons in a world in which government surveillance is not going away; indeed it looks like it will increase."
Communications

The UK Is About to Legalize Mass Surveillance [Update] (vice.com) 394

From a report on Motherboard: On Tuesday, the UK is due to pass its controversial new surveillance law, the Investigatory Powers Act, according to the Home Office. The Act, which has received overwhelming support in both the House of Commons and Lords, formally legalizes a number of mass surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013. It also introduces a new power which will force internet service providers to store browsing data on all customers for 12 months. Civil liberties campaigners have described the Act as one of the most extreme surveillance laws in any democracy, while law enforcement agencies believe that the collection of browsing data is vital in an age of ubiquitous internet communications. "The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 will ensure that law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies have the powers they need in a digital age to disrupt terrorist attacks, subject to strict safeguards and world-leading oversight," a statement from the Home Office reads. Much of the Act gives stronger legal footing to the UK's various bulk powers, including "bulk interception," which is, in general terms, the collection of internet and phone communications en masse. In June 2013, using documents provided by Edward Snowden, The Guardian revealed that the GCHQ taps fibre-optic undersea cables in order to intercept emails, internet histories, calls, and a wealth of other data. Update: "Snooper's charter" bill has become the law. The home secretary said:"The Investigatory Powers Act is world-leading legislation, that provides unprecedented transparency and substantial privacy protection. "The government is clear that, at a time of heightened security threat, it is essential our law enforcement and security and intelligence services have the power they need to keep people safe. The internet presents new opportunities for terrorists and we must ensure we have the capabilities to confront this challenge. But it is also right that these powers are subject to strict safeguards and rigorous oversight."
AI

Amazon Said to Plan Premium Alexa Speaker With Large Screen (bloomberg.com) 84

Amazon's Echo speakers have garnered a lot of interest over the past few months. Many people believe that they like Amazon Echo because of how easy it's to operate -- there is no display, you talk with Alexa, Amazon's digital assistant, which is reasonably good at understanding your queries. But in what seems like a deviation from the idea that made Echos so popular, Amazon is reportedly working on an Echo-like speaker, only this time it is more premium and has a 7-inch display, too. From a report on Bloomberg: The new device will have a touchscreen measuring about seven inches, a major departure from Amazon's existing cylindrical home devices that are controlled and respond mostly through the company's voice-based Alexa digital assistant, according to two people familiar with the matter. This will make it easier to access content such as weather forecasts, calendar appointments, and news, the people said. The latest Amazon speaker will be larger and tilt upwards so the screen can be seen when it sits on a counter and the user is standing, one of the people said.
Businesses

CNN Acquires Social-Video Startup Beme, Co-Founded By YouTube Star Casey Neistat (variety.com) 62

CNN announced Monday that it has purchased video-sharing app Beme, and will work with its founder, Casey Neistat, to build a new media brand next year focused on storytelling for a younger audience. Casey Neistat is a YouTube celebrity and tech entrepreneur who launched Beme last year. Variety reports: CNN said the new venture that it's forming out of the acquisition -- aimed at reaching millennial viewers with the street cred of Neistat's reporting and commentary -- will launch in the summer of 2017. All 11 of Beme's employees will join CNN; the cable news network will be shutting down Beme, which had garnered more than 1 million downloads. New York-based filmmaker Neistat, who has more than 5.8 million subscribers on YouTube, announced earlier this month on his channel that he would be suspending his personal vlog to focus on new projects, one of which turns out is the pact with CNN. His daily vlog dispatches cover current political and news events as well as action sequences like his viral "Snowboarding With the NYPD" video last winter. Led by Hackett, formerly VP of engineering at Yahoo's Tumblr, Beme's development team will "build technology to enable the new company and also develop mobile video capabilities for CNN's portfolio of digital properties," according to the Turner-owned cable news network. Neistat, 35, will lead the new venture's "editorial vision" as executive producer. CNN said it will employ its global resources to launch the new media brand, and plans to hire dozens of producers, builders, developers, designers and content creators for the new company. CNN said the new Beme-based company will operate as a standalone business under the CNN Digital umbrella.
China

Microsoft Confirms Its Chinese-Language Chatbot Filters Certain Topics (fortune.com) 19

Microsoft's Chinese-language AI chat bot filters certain topics, the company confirmed Monday, although it did not clarify whether that included interactions deemed politically sensitive. From a report on Fortune: Last week, CNNMoney and China Digital Times reported that Xiaoice would not directly respond to questions surrounding topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese state. References to the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 or "Steamed Bun Xi," a nickname of Chinese President Xi Jinping, would draw evasive answers or non sequiturs from the chat bot, according to the report. "Am I stupid? Once I answer you'd take a screengrab," read one answer to a question that contained the words "topple the Communist Party." Even the mention of Donald Trump, the American President-elect, drew an evasive response from the chat bot, according to reports. "I don't want to talk about it," Xiaoice said, reports CNN Money. In response to inquiries from Fortune, Microsoft confirmed that there was some filtering around Xiaoice's interaction. "We are committed to creating the best experience for everyone chatting with Xiaoice," a Microsoft spokesperson tells Fortune. "With this in mind, we have implemented filtering on a range of topics." The tech giant did not further elaborate to which specific topics the filtering applied.
Google

Online Pranksters Mock Trump's $149 Christmas Ornament, Rename Trump Tower on Google Maps (yahoo.com) 524

An anonymous reader quotes a Digital Trends story about a suspicious malfunction on Google Maps: At some point yesterday, Donald Trump's Fifth Avenue home was given a rather unceremonious rechristening, and a search for "Trump Tower" revealed a pin for "Dump Tower" instead. It was rather tricky to find for some, and required zooming in on the building itself at just the right angle (which is perhaps how the culprit got away with the stunt in the first place). At a separate angle, someone else (or perhaps the same person) transliterated the skyscraper's name in Russian Cyrillic, perhaps meant to be a jab at Trump's alleged ties to President Vladimir Putin and company... While the team [at Google Maps] managed to put out this first fire, another quickly arose to take its place (as is often the case on the internet), and later in the day on Saturday, Trump International Hotel and Tower in Columbus Circle was renamed Dump International Hotel and Tower. Meanwhile, another anonymous reader writes: Earlier this week Donald Trump emailed his supporters selling a $149 collectible "Make America Great Again" Christmas ornament finished with 14k gold, to raise money for both his campaign and the Republican party. But Yahoo News reports that it's now getting some suspicious negative (and politically-charged) reviews on its page on Amazon. ("One Star. "It tried to put my nativity figures into an internment camp.") And another reviewer even wrote a satirical story about how their family decided on the ornament for the tree. "During our family meeting we overwhelmingly chose the other ornament but somehow we still ended up with this one. We're not sure what happened."
Businesses

Yesterday Saw $3.3 Billion In Online Purchases (cmo.com) 66

Friday humanity set a new record for the most money ever spent online in a single day -- and the most ever purchased on mobile devices. An anonymous reader writes: Online sales reached $3.34 billion yesterday, up 11.3% from the same day last year, according to a new report from Adobe Digital Insights. And most of that traffic came from mobile devices. In fact, yesterday became "the first day to ever generate over a billion dollars in online sales from mobile devices," according to their report. Although 64% of online sales came from desktop computers, 55% of the traffic to shopping sites still came from mobile devices -- 45% from smartphones, and 10% from tablets. (Just three years ago, only 20% of Black Friday sales came from mobile devices.)

The top-grossing products appeared to be iPads and Macbooks, Microsoft's Xbox, and Samsung and LG TVs, while the top-grossing toys were electric scooters, drones, Nerf guns and LEGO sets. The products mostly likely to be "out of stock" yesterday included the new NES Classic and the Nintendo 3DS XL Solgaleo Lunala (black edition), the Playstation VR bundle (and the PS4 "Call of Duty: Black Ops" bundle), and the Xbox One S bundle for Madden NFL 17.

The day after Black Friday is now being touted as "Small Business Saturday," a tradition started in 2010 when American Express partnered with the non-profit National Trust for Historic Preservation (and some civic-minded groups in Boston) to encourage people to shop in their local brick-and-mortar stores. American Express reported a $1.7 billion increase in sales on Small Business Saturday in 2015, "with 95 million customers reporting shopping small at local retailers, salons, restaurants and more."

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