Businesses

Disney Makes Deal for 21st Century Fox, Reshaping Entertainment Landscape (nytimes.com) 16

Disney is going all in for its upcoming fight with Netflix and other streaming giants. The Walt Disney Company said Thursday that it had reached a deal to buy most of the assets of 21st Century Fox, the conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch, in an all-stock transaction valued at roughly $52.4 billion. From a report: To complete the integration, a legacy-defining task, Robert A. Iger, Disney's chief executive, agreed to renew his contract for a fourth time, delaying retirement from July 2019 to the end of 2021. While the merger still requires approval by antitrust regulators -- and the Justice Department recently moved to block a big media company from becoming even bigger -- the once unthinkable acquisition promises to reshape Hollywood and Silicon Valley. It is the biggest counterattack from a traditional media company against the tech giants that have aggressively moved into the entertainment business. Disney now has enough muscle to become a true competitor to Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook in the fast-growing realm of online video. Alternative source: Variety.
AI

Google To Open AI Center In China Despite Search Ban (bbc.com) 34

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Google is deepening its push into artificial intelligence (AI) by opening a research center in China, even though its search services remain blocked in the country. Google said the facility would be the first its kind in Asia and would aim to employ local talent. In a blog post on the company's website, Google said the new research center was an important part of its mission as an "AI first company." "Whether a breakthrough occurs in Silicon Valley, Beijing or anywhere else, [AI] has the potential to make everyone's life better for the entire world," said Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist at Google Cloud AI and Machine Learning. The research center, which joins similar facilities in London, New York, Toronto and Zurich, will be run by a small team from its existing office in Beijing. The tech giant operates two offices in China, with roughly half of its 600 employees working on global products, company spokesperson Taj Meadows told the AFP news agency. But Google's search engine and a number of other services are banned in China. The country has imposed increasingly strict rules on foreign companies over the past year, including new censorship restrictions.
Earth

Almost 45 Million Tons of E-waste Discarded Last Year (apnews.com) 168

A new study claims 44.7 million metric tons (49.3 million tons) of TV sets, refrigerators, cellphones and other electrical good were discarded last year, with only a fifth recycled to recover the valuable raw materials inside. From a report: The U.N.-backed study published Wednesday calculates that the amount of e-waste thrown away in 2016 included a million tons of chargers alone. The U.S. accounted for 6.3 million metric tons, partly due to the fact that the American market for heavy goods is saturated. The original study can be found here (PDF; Google Drive link).
Android

Andy Rubin's Essential Phone Considered Anything But (theregister.co.uk) 116

An anonymous reader shares a report: Andy Rubin's ambitions to create a new consumer electronics ecosystem are floundering at base camp. Sales of Essential's phone, which forms a key part of the strategy, are tepid. Google Play reports a mere 50,000 download of Essential's Camera app so far, the Android Police blog notes. This doesn't paint the full picture, but it can be assumed a fairly complete one, barring a few brush strokes. Essential launched in the US with support from Sprint, at a recommended SIM-free retail price of $699. After reported sales of just five thousand in the first month, this was slashed to $499 and could be grabbed for $399 in the post-Thanksgiving sales. As devices from different manufacturers proliferate in the home, Rubin has alluded to "a new operating system so it can speak all those protocols and it can do it securely and privately." But rather than launching a new software platform he's had to launch hardware.
Businesses

Net Neutrality Protests Move Online, Yet Big Tech Is Quiet (nytimes.com) 70

The New York Times: Protests to preserve net neutrality, or rules that ensure equal access to the internet, migrated online on Tuesday, with numerous online companies posting calls on their sites for action to stop a vote later this week. Reddit, Etsy and Kickstarter were among the sites warning that the proposal at the Federal Communications Commission to roll back so-called net neutrality rules would fundamentally change the way the internet is experienced. Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site, cleared its entire home screen for a sparse white screen reading "Defend Net Neutrality" in large letters. Reddit, the popular online message board, pushed in multiple ways on its site for keeping the rules, including a pop-up box on its home screen. But the online protests also highlighted how the biggest tech companies, such as Facebook and Google, have taken a back seat in the debate about protecting net neutrality (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; syndicated source), rules that prohibit internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast from blocking or slowing sites or for charging people or companies for faster speeds of particular sites. For the most part, the large tech companies did not engage in the protest on Tuesday. In the past, the companies have played a leading role in supporting the rules.
IT

Tech Support Scammers Invade Spotify Forums To Rank in Search Engines (bleepingcomputer.com) 33

Tech support scammers have been aggressively posting on Spotify forums to inject their phone numbers in a bid to vastly improve their odds of showing up on Google and Bing search results, a new report claims. And that bet seems to be working. From the report: They do this by submitting a constant stream of spam posts to the Spotify forums, whose pages tend to rank well in Google. While this behavior causes the Spotify forums to become harder to use for those who have valid questions, the bigger problem is that it allows tech support scammers to rank extremely well and trick unknowing callers into purchasing unnecessary services and software. BleepingComputer was alerted to this problem by security researcher Cody Johnston who started to see an alarming amount of tech support scam phone numbers being listed in Google search results through indexed Spotify forum posts. The tech support scams being posted to Spotify include Tinder, Linksys, AOL, Turbotax, Coinbase, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Norton, McAfee and more.
Businesses

Why Google and Amazon Are Hypocrites (om.blog) 239

Amazon earlier this month responded to Google's decision to remove YouTube from all Fire TV products and the Echo Show. Google says it's taking this extreme step because of Amazon's recent delisting of new Nest products (like Nest Secure and the E Thermostat) and the company's long-running refusal to sell Chromecast or support Google Cast in any capacity. Veteran journalist Om Malik writes: This smacks of so much hypocrisy that I don't even know where to start. The two public proponents of network neutrality and anything but neutral about each other's services on each other's platforms. They can complain about the cable companies from blocking their content and charging for fast lanes. The irony isn't lost on me even a wee bit. They are locked in a battle to collect as much data about us -- what we shop, what we see, what we do online and they do so under the guise of offering us services that are amazing and wonderful. They don't talk about what they won't do with our data, instead, they bicker and distract. So to think that these purveyors of hyper-capitalism will fight for interests of consumers is not only childish, it is foolish. We as end customers need to figure out who is speaking on our behalf when it comes to the rules of the Internet.
AI

AI-Assisted Fake Porn Is Here and We're All Screwed (vice.com) 283

New submitter samleecole shares a report from Motherboard: There's a video of Gal Gadot having sex with her stepbrother on the internet. But it's not really Gadot's body, and it's barely her own face. It's an approximation, face-swapped to look like she's performing in an existing incest-themed porn video. The video was created with a machine learning algorithm, using easily accessible materials and open-source code that anyone with a working knowledge of deep learning algorithms could put together. It's not going to fool anyone who looks closely. Sometimes the face doesn't track correctly and there's an uncanny valley effect at play, but at a glance it seems believable. It's especially striking considering that it's allegedly the work of one person -- a Redditor who goes by the name 'deepfakes' -- not a big special effects studio that can digitally recreate a young Princess Leia in Rouge One using CGI. Instead, deepfakes uses open-source machine learning tools like TensorFlow, which Google makes freely available to researchers, graduate students, and anyone with an interest in machine learning. Anyone could do it, and that should make everyone nervous.
Music

Apple Buys Shazam To Boost Apple Music (bloomberg.com) 36

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Apple agreed to acquire music-identification service Shazam, taking ownership of one of the first apps to demonstrate the power of the iPhone, recognizing songs after hearing just a few bars of a tune. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but a person familiar with the situation said Apple is paying about $400 million for the U.K.-based startup. That would be one of Apple's largest acquisitions ever, approaching the size of its 1996 purchase of Next Computer Inc. which brought co-founder Steve Jobs back to the company. That transaction would be worth more than $600 million in today's dollars. The Shazam app uses the microphone on a smartphone or computer to identify almost any song playing nearby, then points users to places they can listen to it in future, such as Apple Music or Google's YouTube.

"Apple Music and Shazam are a natural fit, sharing a passion for music discovery and delivering great music experiences to our users," Apple said in an emailed statement on Monday. "We have exciting plans in store, and we look forward to combining with Shazam upon approval of today's agreement. Since the launch of the App Store, Shazam has consistently ranked as one of the most popular apps for iOS," Apple also said. "Today, it's used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, across multiple platforms." The acquisition would help Apple embed that capability more deeply into its music offerings. The company's digital assistant Siri gained Shazam integration in 2014, so users could ask it what song is playing in the background.

Google

Google Releases Tool To Help iPhone Hackers (vice.com) 52

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, writing for Motherboard: Google has released a powerful tool that can help security researchers hack and find bugs in iOS 11.1.2, a very recent version of the iPhone operating system. The exploit is the work of Ian Beer, one of the most prolific iOS bug hunters, and a member of Google Project Zero, which works to find bugs in all types of software, including that not made by Google. Beer released the tool Monday, which he says should work for "all devices." The proof of concept works only for those devices he tested -- iPhone 7, 6s and iPod touch 6G -- "but adding more support should be easy," he wrote. Last week, Beer caused a stir among the community of hackers who hack on the iPhone -- also traditionally known as jailbreakers -- by announcing that he was about to publish an exploit for iOS 11.1.2. Researchers reacted with excitement as they realized the tool would make jailbreaking and security research much easier.
NASA

Google's Machine Learning Is Analyzing Data From NASA's Kepler Space Telescope (nasa.gov) 27

NASA writes: NASA will host a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EST Thursday, Dec. 14, to announce the latest discovery made by its planet-hunting Kepler space telescope. The discovery was made by researchers using machine learning from Google. Machine learning is an approach to artificial intelligence, and demonstrates new ways of analyzing Kepler data... When Kepler launched in March 2009, scientists didn't know how common planets were beyond our solar system. Thanks to Kepler's treasure trove of discoveries, astronomers now believe there may be at least one planet orbiting every star in the sky.
Space.com adds: Kepler spots alien worlds by noticing the tiny brightness dips they cause when they cross the face of their host star from the spacecraft's perspective. Kepler is the most accomplished planet hunter in history. It has found more than 2,500 confirmed alien worlds -- about 70 percent of all known exoplanets -- along with a roughly equal number of "candidates" that await confirmation by follow-up observations or analyses. The vast majority of these discoveries have come via observations that Kepler made during its original mission, which ran from 2009 to 2013. Study of these data sets is ongoing; over the past few years, researchers have used improved analysis techniques to spot many exoplanets in data that Kepler gathered a half-decade ago or more.
Space.com describes Thursday's announcement as an exoplanet discovery. (Earlier they reported on the discovery of "a possibly habitable alien world" about 2.2 times the size of earth orbiting a dwarf star "within the range of distances where liquid water could exist on a world's surface".)

Slashdot reader schwit1 points out that other less-credible sites speculate NASA's announcement will be "a major discovery about life beyond earth."
IOS

Top iOS Apps of 2017: Bitmoji Beats Snapchat, YouTube, and Facebook Messenger (cnn.com) 27

An anonymous reader quotes CNN: Apple has unveiled its list of most downloaded iOS apps of the year, and topping the list is free custom emoji app Bitmoji... Bitmoji soared to the top of the list, thanks to an integration with Snapchat. (Snapchat's parent company acquired Bitmoji last year for an unknown amount)... Users must download the Bitmoji app to use it with Snapchat.

Fittingly, the main Snapchat app took second place, despite a tough year on Wall Street that was attributed to slow user growth. Snapchat was the most downloaded app of 2016. Google's YouTube took the number three spot this year, while Facebook's Messenger and Instagram placed fourth and fifth, respectively.

Toys

Ask Slashdot: Are There Any Good Smartwatches Or Fitness Trackers? 250

"What's your opinion on the current state of smartwatches?" asks long-time Slashdot reader rodrigoandrade. He's been researching both smartwatches and fitness trackers, and shares his own opinions: - Manufacturers have learnt from Moto 360 that people want round smartwatches that actually look like traditional watches, with a couple of glaring exceptions....

- Android Wear 2.0 is a thing, not vaporware. It's still pretty raw (think of early Android phones) but it works well. The LG Sport Watch is the highest-end device that supports it.

- LTE-enabled smartwatches finally allow you to ditch your smartphone, if you wish. Just pop you nano SIM in it and party on. The availability is still limited to a few SKUs in some countries, and they're ludicrously expensive, but it's getting there.

Keep reading for his assessment of four high-end choices -- and share your own opinions in the comments.
Bug

Google Glitch Took Thousands of Chromebooks Offline (geekwire.com) 77

Slashdot reader Bismillah was the first to notice stories about Chromebooks going offline. GeekWire reports: Tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of Google Chromebooks, widely prized by schools due to their low cost and ease of configuration, were reported to be offline for several hours on Tuesday. The apparent cause? A seemingly botched WiFi policy update pushed out by Google that caused many Chromebooks to forget their approved network connection, leaving students disconnected.
Google eventually issued a new network policy without the glitch -- but not everyone was satisfied. The Director of Technology at one school district complains Google waited three and a half hours before publicly acknowledging the problem -- adding that "manually joining a WiFi network on 10,000+ Chromebooks is a nightmare."
Android

Google Puts Android Accessibility Crackdown On Hold (slashgear.com) 28

Last month, Google issued a warning to Android app developers that they will no longer be able to access Android accessibility service functions in their apps, unless they can demonstrate that those functions are specifically used to help users with "disabilities." Since a lot of password managers use the Accessibility API, as well as poplar apps like Tasker automation and Greenify battery saver, there was a large amount of backlash from developers and users alike. According to SlashGear, Google is putting the Android accessibility crackdown on hold. From the report: Google has now sent another email that basically says "we'll think about it." It is evaluating "responsible and innovative use" of those services on a case to case basis. It is also requiring developers to explicitly inform users why they are asking for accessibility permissions rather than just informing them. This, of course, puts a heavier burden on Google, as it has to be more involved in the screening of apps rather than just rely on good ol' machine learning and automation. Developers and users probably won't mind, if it means still having access to those features that make Android a platform above all the rest.
Chrome

Chrome 63 Offers Even More Protection From Malicious Sites, Using Even More Memory (arstechnica.com) 63

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: To further increase its enterprise appeal, Chrome 63 -- which hit the browser's stable release channel yesterday -- includes a couple of new security enhancements aimed particularly at the corporate market. The first of these is site isolation, an even stricter version of the multiple process model that Chrome has used since its introduction. Chrome uses multiple processes for several security and stability reasons. On the stability front, the model means that even if a single tab crashes, other tabs (and the browser itself) are unaffected. On the security front, the use of multiple processes makes it much harder for malicious code from one site to steal secrets (such as passwords typed into forms) of another. [...]

Naturally, this greater use of multiple processes incurs a price; with this option enabled, Chrome's already high memory usage can go up by another 15 to 20 percent. As such, it's not enabled by default; instead, it's intended for use by enterprise users that are particularly concerned about organizational security. The other new capability is the ability for administrators to block extensions depending on the features those extensions need to use. For example, an admin can block any extension that tries to use file system access, that reads or writes the clipboard, or that accesses the webcam or microphone. Additionally, Google has started to deploy TLS 1.3, the latest version of Transport Layer Security, the protocol that enables secure communication between a browser and a Web server. In Chrome 63, this is only enabled between Chrome and Gmail; in 2018, it'll be turned on more widely.

Android

Android 8.0 Oreo For Android Wear Released (9to5google.com) 9

According to a Google developer, Android 8.0 Oreo is rolling out to Android Wear devices starting today. The developer said "timing is determined by each watch's manufacturer." 9to5Google notes that there are "no major redesigns with Oreo for the wearable platform," but there are some useful tweaks. From the report: There is a new option to disable touch-to-wake called "Touch lock" in Settings that Google positions as being useful in wet conditions. Google has added the ability to control the strength of vibrations for incoming notifications. Referred to as the "Vibration pattern," options include Normal, Long, and Double. Meanwhile, there is now a toggle to manually enable the "Battery saver," instead of having to wait until the device hits a low charge. This mode disables Vibration, Location services, Wi-Fi & mobile usage, Data & app updates, and the Always-on display. Meanwhile, the update includes notification channels for apps that should provide more granular user control. Google also shared that Wear is now available in seven new countries and languages: Belgium (Dutch), Czech Republic (Czech), El Salvador (Spanish), Honduras (Spanish), Nigeria (English), Paraguay (Spanish), and Portugal (Portuguese).
Google

Inside Oracle's Cloak-and-dagger Political War With Google (recode.net) 84

schwit1 shares a Recode report: The story that appeared in Quartz this November seemed shocking enough on its own: Google had quietly tracked the location of its Android users, even those who had turned off such monitoring on their smartphones. But missing from the news site's report was another eyebrow-raising detail: Some of its evidence, while accurate, appears to have been furnished by one of Google's fiercest foes: Oracle. For the past year, the software and cloud computing giant has mounted a cloak-and-dagger, take-no-prisoners lobbying campaign against Google, perhaps hoping to cause the company intense political and financial pain at a time when the two tech giants are also warring in federal court over allegations of stolen computer code. Since 2010, Oracle has accused Google of copying Java and using key portions of it in the making of Android. Google, for its part, has fought those claims vigorously. More recently, though, their standoff has intensified. And as a sign of the worsening rift between them, this summer Oracle tried to sell reporters on a story about the privacy pitfalls of Android, two sources confirmed to Recode.
Google

Google's Mobile Search Results Now Include Videos Of Celebrities Answering Your Questions (techcrunch.com) 63

Google is testing a new feature that will allow celebrities and other notable figures to answer users' search queries directly in the form of "selfie" videos posted in the Google Search results. From a report: The company says this program is initially being piloted on mobile with a handful of people for now, including Priyanka Chopra, Will Ferrell, Tracee Ellis Ross, Gina Rodriguez, Kenan Thompson, Allison Williams, Nick Jonas, Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, Seth MacFarlane, Jonathan Yeo and Dominique Ansel. Of course, the celebs aren't answering users' queries in real-time. Instead, Google has had them pre-record their videos in response to what it already knows are some of fans' most-asked questions typed into the Google search box.
Businesses

Judge Dismisses Lawsuit That Claims Google Paid Female Employees Less Than Male Colleagues (cnn.com) 254

A California judge has rejected a class action claim against Google for alleged gender inequity. In September, three female Google employees filed a lawsuit against Google, claiming the search giant "engaged in systemic and pervasive pay and promotion discrimination." They sought class action status on behalf of women who have worked at Google in California for the past four years. CNN reports: This week, a judge rejected their request to make the suit a class action. A judge ruled that the class was "overbroad," stating that it "does not purport to distinguish between female employees who may have valid claims against Google based upon its alleged conduct from those who do not." Jim Finberg, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said his clients plan to file an amended complaint seeking class action certification. He said it will address the court's ruling and make "clear that Google violates the California Equal Pay Act throughout California and throughout the class period by paying women less than men for substantially equal work in nearly every job classification."

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