Businesses

Faster Flights Are Coming With New Satellite Tracking Technology (bloomberg.com) 34

An anonymous reader shares a report: The company that provides the U.K.'s air-traffic control service is taking a 10 percent stake in Aireon, a U.S. firm that's building a satellite-based tracking system and will offer commercial services to controllers starting next year. Aireon plans to use a constellation of 66 Iridium Communications. Next satellites in low Earth orbit to track aircraft. Iridium has 50 in orbit already, 47 of which are operational. Each carries equipment to offer aircraft position data to ground controllers.

Iridium plans to launch five additional satellites on May 22 from California, completing its full network later this year. Aireon said 70 percent of the world's airspace lacks satellite tracking or airline surveillance coverage, including most oceans and parts of Africa and Latin America.

Twitter

Twitter Will Start Hiding Tweets That 'Detract From the Conversation' (slate.com) 183

Yesterday, Twitter announced several new changes to quiet trolls and remove spam. According to Slate, the company "will begin hiding tweets from certain accounts in conversations and search results." In order to see them, you'll now have to scroll to the bottom of the conversation and click "Show more replies," or go into your search settings and choose "See everything." From the report: When Twitter's software decides that a certain user is "detract[ing] from the conversation," all of that user's tweets will be hidden from search results and public conversations until their reputation improves. And they won't know that they're being muted in this way; Twitter says it's still working on ways to notify people and help them get back into its good graces. In the meantime, their tweets will still be visible to their followers as usual and will still be able to be retweeted by others. They just won't show up in conversational threads or search results by default. The change will affect a very small fraction of users, explained Twitter's vice president of trust and safety, Del Harvey -- much less than 1 percent. Still, the company believes it could make a significant difference in the average user's experience. In early testing of the new feature, Twitter said it has seen a 4 percent drop in abuse reports in its search tool and an 8 percent drop in abuse reports in conversation threads.
Businesses

Senate Votes To Save Net Neutrality (gizmodo.com) 288

In a monumental decision that will resonate through election season, the U.S. Senate on Wednesday voted to reinstate the net neutrality protections the Federal Communications Commission decided to repeal late last year. From a report: For months, procedural red tape has delayed the full implementation of the FCC's decision to drop Title II protections that prevent internet service providers from blocking or throttling online content. Last week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai confirmed that the repeal of the 2015 Open Internet Order would go into effect on June 11. But Democrats put forth a resolution to use its power under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to review new regulations by federal agencies through an expedited legislative process. All 49 Democrats in the Senate supported the effort to undo the FCC's vote. Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska crossed party lines to support the measure. Further reading: ArsTechnica.
United States

Hacker Breaches Securus, the Company That Helps Cops Track Phones Across the US (vice.com) 68

Securus, the company which tracks nearly any phone across the US for cops with minimal oversight, has been hacked, Motherboard reported Wednesday. From the report: The hacker has provided some of the stolen data to Motherboard, including usernames and poorly secured passwords for thousands of Securus' law enforcement customers. Although it's not clear how many of these customers are using Securus's phone geolocation service, the news still signals the incredibly lax security of a company that is granting law enforcement exceptional power to surveill individuals. "Location aggregators are -- from the point of view of adversarial intelligence agencies -- one of the juiciest hacking targets imaginable," Thomas Rid, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University, told Motherboard in an online chat.
The Almighty Buck

Ecuador Spent $5 Million Protecting and Spying On Julian Assange, Says Report (theverge.com) 165

Citing reports from The Guardian and Focus Ecuador, The Verge reports that Ecuador's intelligence program spent at least $5 million "on an elaborate security and surveillance network around WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange." The intelligence program was known as "Operator Hotel," which began as "Operation Guest" when Assange took refuge in Ecuador's UK embassy in 2012. From the report: Operation Hotel has allegedly covered expenses like installing CCTV cameras and hiring a security team to "secretly film and monitor all activity in the embassy," including Assange's daily activities, moods, and interactions with staff and visitors. The Guardian estimates Ecuadorian intelligence agency Senain has spent at least $5 million on Assange-related operations, based on documents they reviewed. The report details attempts to improve Assange's public image and potentially smuggle him out of the embassy if he was threatened. But it also writes that relations between Assange and Ecuador have badly deteriorated over the past several years. In 2014, Assange allegedly breached the embassy's network security, reading confidential diplomatic material and setting up his own secret communications network.
Communications

US Cell Carriers Are Selling Access To Your Real-Time Phone Location Data (zdnet.com) 146

Four of the largest cell giants in the US are selling your real-time location data to a company that you've probably never heard about before. ZDNet: In case you missed it, a senator last week sent a letter demanding the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigate why Securus, a prison technology company, can track any phone "within seconds" by using data obtained from the country's largest cell giants, including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint, through an intermediary, LocationSmart. The story blew up because a former police sheriff snooped on phone location data without a warrant, according The New York Times. The sheriff has pleaded not guilty to charges of unlawful surveillance.

Yet little is known about how LocationSmart obtained the real-time location data on millions of Americans, how the required consent from cell user owners was obtained, and who else has access to the data. Kevin Bankston, director of New America's Open Technology Institute, explained in a phone call that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act only restricts telecom companies from disclosing data to the government. It doesn't restrict disclosure to other companies, who then may disclose that same data to the government. He called that loophole "one of the biggest gaps in US privacy law. The issue doesn't appear to have been directly litigated before, but because of the way that the law only restricts disclosures by these types of companies to government, my fear is that they would argue that they can do a pass-through arrangement like this," he said.
Further reading: The Tech Used To Monitor Inmate Calls Is Able To Track Civilians Too.
Communications

Wi-Fi Alliance's Wi-Fi EasyMesh Certification Aims To Standardize Mesh Networks (pcworld.com) 39

The Wi-Fi Certified EasyMesh program that the Wi-Fi Alliance announced today promises to do for mesh networks what the Alliance has long done for wireless networking gear in general: Assure consumers that they can build out wireless home networks without worrying if one brand of device will be compatible with another. From a report: The emergence of mesh networking somewhat undermined that effort, because every manufacturer pursued its own path. Wi-Fi is still Wi-Fi, so you don't need to worry that your smartphone, or media streamer, or home security camera will connect to your wireless router, regardless of brand. But if you buy a Linksys Velop router today, for example, you can buy only Linksys Velop access points if you want to expand your network to cover more areas of your home later. EasyMesh promises to bring to mesh networks the same interoperability assurances that conventional routers have long offered.
AI

AI Systems Should Debate Each Other To Prove Themselves, Says OpenAI (fastcompany.com) 56

tedlistens shares a report from Fast Company: To make AI easier for humans to understand and trust, researchers at the [Elon Musk-backed] nonprofit research organization OpenAI have proposed training algorithms to not only classify data or make decisions, but to justify their decisions in debates with other AI programs in front of a human or AI judge. In an experiment described in their paper (PDF), the researchers set up a debate where two software agents work with a standard set of handwritten numerals, attempting to convince an automated judge that a particular image is one digit rather than another digit, by taking turns revealing one pixel of the digit at a time. One bot is programmed to tell the truth, while another is programmed to lie about what number is in the image, and they reveal pixels to support their contentions that the digit is, say, a five rather than a six.

The image classification task, where most of the image is invisible to the judge, is a sort of stand-in for complex problems where it wouldn't be possible for a human judge to analyze the entire dataset to judge bot performance. The judge would have to rely on the facets of the data highlighted by debating robots, the researchers say. "The goal here is to model situations where we have something that's beyond human scale," says Geoffrey Irving, a member of the AI safety team at OpenAI. "The best we can do there is replace something a human couldn't possibly do with something a human can't do because they're not seeing an image."

The Internet

Russian Fake News Ecosystem Targets Syrian Human Rights Workers (securityledger.com) 259

chicksdaddy shares a report from The Security Ledger: Kremlin linked news sites like RT and Sputnik figure prominently in an online disinformation campaign portraying Syrian humanitarian workers ("White Helmets") as terrorists and crisis actors, according to an analysis (PDF) by researchers at University of Washington and Harvard. An online "echosystem" of propaganda websites including Russia backed news outlets Sputnik and RT is attacking the credibility of humanitarian workers on the ground in rebel occupied Syria, according to a new analysis by researchers at The University of Washington and Harvard University. Online rumors circulated through so called "alternative" media sites have attacked the Syrian Civil Defense (aka "White Helmets") as "crisis actors" and Western agents working on behalf of the U.S. and NATO. Statistical analysis of the online rumors reveal a tight network of websites sharing nearly identical content via Twitter and other social media platforms, wrote Kate Starbird. Starbird is an Assistant Professor of Human Centered Design & Engineering at University of Washington and a leading expert on so-called "crisis informatics."

In activity reminiscent of the disinformation campaigns that roiled the U.S. Presidential election in 2016, articles by what Starbird describes as "a few prominent journalists and bloggers" writing for self described "alternative" news sites like 21stCenturyWire, GlobalResearch, MintPressNews, and ActivistPost are picked up by other, smaller and more niche websites including both left- and right-leaning partisan news sites, "clickbait sites," and conspiracy theory websites. Government funded media outlets from Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Russia figure prominently in the Syrian disinformation campaign, Starbird's team found. In particular, "Russian government-funded media outlets (i.e. SputnikNews and RT) play a prominent and multi-faceted role within this ecosystem," she wrote.

Privacy

The Tech Used To Monitor Inmate Calls Is Able To Track Civilians Too (thedailybeast.com) 33

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Daily Beast: Securus Technologies' programs are used in thousands of prisons and detention centers nationwide to track calls to inmates, but the company's offerings are also capable of tracking and geolocating people's cellphones without any warrant or oversight, The New York Times reports. Securus obtains location information though data from major cellphone providers the same way marketers do. It also advertises the technology to law-enforcement agencies as a tool to find murder suspects, missing people, and those at-large -- but the feature can easily be abused for access to millions of cellphone users.

One Missouri sheriff used the service at least 11 times between 2014 and 2017, and secretly tracked state highway patrol members and a judge, prosecutors said. While the company said it "required customers to upload a legal document" to certify the location lookup, the Federal Communications Commission claims Securus did not "conduct any review of surveillance requests" -- giving law enforcement tracking power without verification of approval or oversight.

AI

Google's 'Duplex' System Will Identify Itself When Talking To People, Says Google (businessinsider.com) 77

Google's "Duplex" AI system was the most talked about product at Google I/O because it called into question the ethics of an AI that cannot easily be distinguished from a real person's voice. The service lets its voice-based digital assistant make phone calls and write emails for you, causing many to ask if the system should come with some sort of warning to let the other person on the line know they are talking to a computer. According to Business Insider, "a Google spokesperson confirmed [...] that the creators of Duplex will 'make sure the system is appropriately identified' and that they are 'designing this feature with disclosure built-in.'" From the report: Here's the full statement from Google: "We understand and value the discussion around Google Duplex -- as we've said from the beginning, transparency in the technology is important. We are designing this feature with disclosure built-in, and we'll make sure the system is appropriately identified. What we showed at I/O was an early technology demo, and we look forward to incorporating feedback as we develop this into a product."

Google CEO Sundar Pichai preemptively addressed ethics concerns in a blog post that corresponded with the announcement earlier this week, saying: "It's clear that technology can be a positive force and improve the quality of life for billions of people around the world. But it's equally clear that we can't just be wide-eyed about what we create. There are very real and important questions being raised about the impact of technology and the role it will play in our lives. We know the path ahead needs to be navigated carefully and deliberately -- and we feel a deep sense of responsibility to get this right." In addition, several Google insiders have told Business Insider that the software is still in the works, and the final version may not be as realistic (or as impressive) as the demonstration.

Space

SpaceX Successfully Launches Satellite With New Upgraded 'Block 5' Falcon 9 Rocket (theverge.com) 85

Thelasko shares a report from The Verge: This afternoon, SpaceX landed the most powerful version yet of its Falcon 9 rocket, after launching the vehicle from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The so-named Block 5 upgrade took off from the company's launchpad at Kennedy Space Center, sending a communications satellite into orbit for Bangladesh and then touched down on one of the company's drone ships in the Atlantic. It was the 25th successful rocket landing for SpaceX, and the 14th on one of the company's drone ships.

It also marks the first launch of the Block 5, the vehicle that will carry humans to space for NASA. The Block 5 is meant to be SpaceX's most reusable rocket yet, with many upgrades put in place that negate the need for extensive refurbishment between flights. In fact, the first Block 5 rockets will eventually be able to fly up to 10 times without the need for any maintenance after landings, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said during a pre-launch press conference. Ideally, once one of these rocket lands, SpaceX will turn it horizontal, attach a new upper stage and nose cone on top, turn it vertical on the launchpad, fill it with propellant, and then launch it again. Musk noted that the vehicles would need some kind of moderate maintenance after the 10-flight mark, but it's possible that each rocket could fly up to 100 times in total.

Youtube

YouTube Rolls Out New Tools To Help You Stop Watching (techcrunch.com) 26

At its Google I/O conference this week, YouTube announced a series of new controls that will allow users to set limits on their viewing, and then receive reminders telling them to "take a break." "The feature is rolling out now in the latest version of YouTube's app, along with others that limit YouTube's ability to send notifications, and soon, one that gives users an overview of their binge behavior so they can make better-informed decisions about their viewing habits," reports TechCrunch. From the report: With "Take a Break," available from YouTube's mobile app Settings screen, users can set a reminder to appear every 15, 30, 60, 90 or 180 minutes, at which point the video will pause. You can then choose to dismiss the reminder and keep watching, or close the app.

Also new is a feature that lets you disable notification sounds during a specified time period each day -- say, for example, from bedtime until the next morning. When users turn on the setting to disable notifications, it will, by default, disable them from 10 PM to 8 AM local time, but this can be changed. Combined with this is an option to get a scheduled digest of notifications as an alternative. And YouTube is preparing to roll out a "time watched profile" that will appear in the Account menu and display your daily average watch time, and how long you've watched YouTube videos today, yesterday and over the past week, along with a set of tools to help you manage your viewing habits.

Businesses

Florida Man Behind 100 Million Robocalls Hit With $120 Million FCC Fine (chicagotribune.com) 145

In a massive strike, the Federal Communications Commission issued a $120 million fine on a massive robocall spoofing operation it deemed a threat to public safety. From a report: The FCC announced Thursday morning that it would leverage the fine against Adrian Abramovich, a Miami man who the commission said made almost 100 million spoofed robocalls over a three-month period at the end of 2016. The FCC argued that Abramovich's operation made the phony calls to trick consumers into answering them and listening to his advertising messages. The fine was based on 80,000 spoofed calls the commission had verified.

A complaint filed by the FCC against Abramovich in June 2017 alleged he had broken the Truth in Caller ID Act -- which prohibits callers from falsifying caller ID information to disguise their identity with intent to harm or defraud -- in perpetrating "one of the largest -- and most dangerous -- illegal robocalling campaigns that the commission has ever investigated."

Google

Does Gmail's New 'Confidential Mode' Make It Easier to Phish? (vortex.com) 82

Gmail's new confidential mode lets its users create "expiration dates" for emails, or require recipients to provide an SMS passcode. (And Google also claims they've removed the option to forward, copy, download or print messages.)

But Slashdot reader Lauren Weinstein warns that Google is also opening up a new vector for phishing emails: The problem arises since non-Gmail users cannot directly receive Gmail confidential mode messages. Instead...when a Gmail user wants to send a non-Gmail user such a message, the non-Gmail user is instead sent a link, that when clicked takes them to Google's servers where they can read the confidential mode message in their browser.

The potential risks for any service that operates in this way are obvious. Those of us working on Internet security and privacy have literally spent many years attempting to train users to avoid clicking on "to read the message, click here" links in emails that they receive. Criminals have simply become too adept at creating fraudulent emails that lead to phishing and malware sites.

Businesses

FCC Says Net Neutrality Rules Will End On June 11 (reuters.com) 103

The Federal Communications Commission said in a notice Thursday that landmark 2015 U.S. open-internet rules will cease on June 11. From a report: The FCC in December repealed the Obama-era "net neutrality" rules, allowing internet providers to block or slow websites as long as they disclose the practice. The FCC said the new rules will take effect 30 days from Friday. An FCC spokeswoman confirmed the new rules will take effect on June 11. A group of states and others have sued to try to block the new rules from taking effect. The revised rules were a win for internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast but are opposed by internet firms like Facebook and Alphabet.
AI

Should Calls From Google's 'Duplex' System Include Initial Warning Announcements? (vortex.com) 276

Yesterday at its I/O developer conference, Google debuted "Duplex," an AI system for accomplishing real world tasks over the phone. "To show off its capabilities, CEO Sundar Pichai played two recordings of Google Assistant running Duplex, scheduling a hair appointment and a dinner reservation," reports Quartz. "In each, the person picking up the phone didn't seem to realize they were talking to a computer." Slashdot reader Lauren Weinstein argues that the new system should come with some sort of warning to let the other person on the line know that they are talking with a computer: With no exceptions so far, the sense of these reactions has confirmed what I suspected -- that people are just fine with talking to automated systems so long as they are aware of the fact that they are not talking to another person. They react viscerally and negatively to the concept of machine-based systems that have the effect (whether intended or not) of fooling them into believing that a human is at the other end of the line. To use the vernacular: "Don't try to con me, bro!" Luckily, there's a relatively simple way to fix this problem at this early stage -- well before it becomes a big issue impacting many lives.

I believe that all production environment calls (essentially, calls not being made for internal test purposes) from Google's Duplex system should be required by Google to include an initial verbal warning to the called party that they have been called by an automated system, not by a human being -- the exact wording of that announcement to be determined.

UPDATE (5/10/18): Google now says Duplex will identify itself to humans.
Music

Jay-Z's Tidal Accused of Faking Kanye West, Beyonce Streaming Numbers (qz.com) 43

Subscription music service Tidal has been accused of faking the streaming numbers for Kanye West and Beyonce. "Kanye West's 'The Life of Pablo,' which was the first album to go platinum primarily from streaming, and Beyonce's platinum record 'Lemonade' were released exclusively on Tidal for periods in 2016," reports Quartz. "By placing their albums on the fledgling platform, which was relaunched in 2015, both artists risked losing big paychecks." From the report: West's album was said to have been streamed 250 million times in the first 10 days on the service. And Beyonce's record was reportedly played 306 million times in 15 days. While it's not hard to believe Bey and Yeezy could hit those numbers, they rang false to some, as Tidal said it had 3 million members then. However, according to an in-depth investigation by Norwegian newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv (DN), Tidal has reportedly manipulated those streaming numbers, to potentially make the company appear more profitable or increase royalty payments to the artists at the expense of others on the service. This is something Tidal vigorously denies and says the DN report is part of a "smear campaign."

The DN's report investigated streaming numbers since 2017, when it reportedly obtained a hard drive of internal Tidal data with more than 1.5 billion of rows of user play logs. Those logs were from two periods -- from late January to early March, and mid April to early May -- totaling 65 days in 2016. Its reporters tracked down subscribers from the logs, and presented them with their apparent listening history, which the users said didn't add up.
"We have through advanced statistical analysis determined that there has in fact been a manipulation of the data at particular times. The manipulation appears targeted towards a very specific set of track IDs, related to two distinct albums," found the researchers (pdf) at NTNU's Center for Cyber and Information Security. "The manipulation likely originates from within the streaming service itself."
Security

Equifax's Data Breach By the Numbers: 146 Million Social Security Numbers, 99 Million Addresses, and More (theregister.co.uk) 69

Several months after the data breach was first reported, Equifax has published the details on the personal records and sensitive information stolen in the cybersecurity incident. The good news: the number of individuals affected by the network intrusion hasn't increased from the 146.6 million Equifax previously announced, but extra types of records accessed by the hackers have turned up in Mandiant's ongoing audit of the security breach," reports The Register. From the report: Late last week, the company gave the numbers in letters to the various U.S. congressional committees investigating the network infiltration, and on Monday, it submitted a letter to the SEC, corporate America's financial watchdog. As well as the -- take a breath -- 146.6 million names, 146.6 million dates of birth, 145.5 million social security numbers, 99 million address information and 209,000 payment cards (number and expiry date) exposed, the company said there were also 38,000 American drivers' licenses and 3,200 passport details lifted, too.

The further details emerged after Mandiant's investigators helped "standardize certain data elements for further analysis to determine the consumers whose personally identifiable information was stolen." The extra data elements, the company said, didn't involve any individuals not already known to be part of the super-hack, so no additional consumer notifications are required.

Communications

Are Two Spaces After a Period Better Than One? (arstechnica.com) 391

Researchers at Skidmore College conducted an eye-tracking experiment with 60 Skidmore students and found that two spaces at the end of a period slightly improved the processing of text during reading. Ars Technica reports the findings: Previous cognitive science research has been divided on the issue. Some research has suggested closer spacing of the beginning of a new sentence may allow a reader to capture more characters in their parafoveal vision -- the area of the retina just outside the area of focus, or fovea -- and thus start processing the information sooner (though experimental evidence of that was not very strong). Other prior research has inferred that an extra space prevents lateral interference in processing text, making it easier for the reader to identify the word in focus. But no prior research found by [study authors] Johnson, Bui, and Schmitt actually measured reader performance with each typographic scheme.

First, they divided their group of 60 research subjects by way of a keyboard task -- the subjects typed text dictated to them into a computer and were sorted into "one-spacers" (39 regularly put a single space between sentences) and "two-spacers" (21 hit that space bar twice consistently after a period). Every student subject used but a single space after each comma. Having identified subjects' proclivities, the researchers then gave them 21 paragraphs to read (including one practice paragraph) on a computer screen and tracked their eye movement as they read using an Eyelink 1000 video-based eye tracking system. [...] The "one-spacers" were, as a group, slower readers across the board (by about 10 words per minute), and they showed statistically insignificant variation across all four spacing practices. And "two-spacers" saw a three-percent increase in reading speed for paragraphs in their own favored spacing scheme.
The controversial part of the study has to do with the 14 point Courier New font that the researchers presented to the students. "Courier New is a fixed-width font that resembles typewritten text -- used by hardly anyone for documents," reports Ars. "Even the APA suggests using 12 point Times Roman, a proportional-width font. Fixed-width fonts make a double-space more pronounced."

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