BBC Click's Paul Carter looks at some of the week's best technology news stories.
The motor industry is trying to reduce its carbon footprint in a number of innovative ways.
Microsoft has reported its financial results for the final quarter of the 2019 fiscal year. The tech giant saw notable gains in sales for Azure in its Intelligent Cloud division and for Surface in the More Personal Computing unit.
Revenue for the the company reached $33.7 billion, an increase of 12% from the last quarter of 2018. Microsoft’s operating income rose 20% to $12.4 billion while net income jumped 49% to $13.2 billion, with earnings of $1.71 per share.
Each of Microsoft’s three reporting segments saw its revenue grow compared with the fourth quarter of the previous year. The Intelligent Cloud group saw the biggest jump, rising 19% to $11.4 billion.
In a swift 3-0 vote Thursday, a panel of judges in a New York federal appeals court upheld the August 2017 conviction of Martin Shkreli. The infamous ex-pharmaceutical CEO is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence for fraud stemming from what prosecutors had described as a Ponzi-like scheme.
Shkreli, 36, must continue to serve his sentence and also still forfeit more than $7.3 million in assets, the judges affirmed.
The judges’ ruling came just three weeks after hearing arguments in the appeal—rather than the normal period of months, Bloomberg notes. The ruling was also an unusually short seven pages.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called for a federal investigation into FaceApp, saying the Russian-operated mobile application "could pose national security and privacy risks for millions of US citizens."
FaceApp for iOS and Android has been around since 2017 but just recently went viral as celebrities and many other people used it to alter photographs to make themselves look 20 years older. This has raised privacy concerns, as Americans are uploading photographs and device-related data to a service operated by a company based in Russia. The image alterations performed by FaceApp—which calls itself an "AI Face Editor"—are done on the company's servers instead of on user devices.
The app now warns users that "Each photo you select for editing will be uploaded to our servers for image processing and face transformation."
David Marcus, the head of Facebook's new Calibra payments division, appeared before two hostile congressional committees this week with a simple message: Facebook knows policymakers are concerned about Libra, and Facebook won't move forward with the project until their concerns are addressed.
While he didn't say so explicitly, Marcus' comments at hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday represented a dramatic shift in Facebook's conception of Libra. In Facebook's original vision, Libra would be an open and largely decentralized network, akin to Bitcoin. The core network would be beyond the reach of regulators. Regulatory compliance would be the responsibility of exchanges, wallets, and other services that are the "on ramps and off ramps" to the Libra ecosystem.
Facebook now seems to recognize its original vision was a non-starter with regulators. So this week Marcus sketched out a new vision for Libra—one in which the Libra Association will shoulder significant responsibility for ensuring compliance with laws relating to money laundering, terrorist financing, and other financial crimes.
San Diego Comic Con's tentpole Thursday morning panel, dedicated to the Paramount and Skydance film Terminator: Dark Fate, saw an interruption from another big face at that combined film company: Tom Cruise. Tom, apparently, couldn't let Arnold Schwarzenegger have all the fun, as he used the opportunity to reveal the first public footage of next year's Top Gun: Maverick.
The two-minute trailer is at its most impressive when we see Cruise continuing his streak for performing his own stunts, as he's established in so many Mission: Impossible films up until now. Unless Cruise and company have figured out a whole new level of CGI and green-screen trickery, that sure looks like the actor himself piloting an F-18 as it takes off from a Naval aircraft carrier at sea—and then pulling some serious Gs while flying over a snowy mountainside in formation.
In terms of plot, we see a face-off with a rear admiral played by actor Ed Harris. Harris is angry about Cruise's unwillingness to retire after "30-plus years of service" and his continued status as a Navy captain. "You should at least be a two-star admiral by now," Harris says. Eventually, Harris insists that "your kind is headed for extinction," which might hint to the Navy's increased emphasis on automation or remotely controlled crafts.
I've got a history with Internet scammers. I've spent hours on the phone with tech support scammers, and I've hunted down bot networks spreading fake news. But for some reason, I've lately become a magnet for an entirely different sort of scammer—a kind that uses social media platforms to run large-scale wire-fraud scams and other confidence games. Based on anecdotal evidence, Twitter has become their favorite platform for luring in suckers.
Recently, Twitter's security team has been tracking a large amount of fraudulent activity coming out of Africa, including "romance schemes"—wherein the fraudster uses an emotional appeal of friendship or promised romance to lure a victim into a scam. Thousands of accounts involved in the ongoing campaign have been suspended. But that has hardly put a dent in the efforts of scammers, who move on to set up new accounts and run new scams. And there are dozens of other fraud games being played out on Twitter and other platforms.
I've been gathering anecdotal data from a number of such accounts as they've attempted to prepare me for a lure. They follow a fairly easy-to-spot pattern for anyone who has tracked identity scams. But the scale of these efforts goes far beyond what you'd expect from what are (to those in the know) recognizable cons. This suggests that there's a high level of sophistication to this latest wave of fakers.
A vast, gray expanse loomed just a few hundred meters below as Neil Armstrong peered out his tiny window. From inside the spidery lunar lander, a fragile cocoon with walls only about as thick as construction paper, the Apollo 11 commander finally had a clear view of where the on-board computer had directed him to land.
He did not like what he saw there. A big crater. Boulders strewn all around. A death trap.
To make matters worse, Eagle had limited fuel reserves. If Armstrong couldn’t find a safe landing site soon, he would have to ditch the bottom half of the lander and burn like hell for lunar orbit in a dangerous and risky abort procedure. Otherwise, he and Buzz Aldrin would not only become the first humans to land on the Moon, they’d become the first humans to die there, too.Apollo: The Greatest Leap
Pennywise the demonic clown gleefully inflicts all manner of psychological and physical torment on the grown-up members of the Losers Club in a new trailer for IT Chapter Two. The trailer was shown during New Line Cinema's "ScareDiego" event, a prelude to San Diego Comic-Con that has been happening annually for the last three years.
(Some spoilers for first film and novel below.)
Set in 1989, IT essentially adapted half of King's original novel, telling the story of a group of misfit kids calling themselves "The Losers Club." The kids discover their small town of Derry is home to an ancient, trans-dimensional evil that awakens every 27 years to prey mostly on children by taking the form of an evil clown named Pennywise. Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) loses his little brother, Georgie, to Pennywise, and the group decides to take on Pennywise and drive him into early hibernation, where he will hopefully starve. But Beverly (Sophia Lillis) has a vision warning that Pennywise will return on schedule in 27 years, and they must be ready to fight him anew.
Greetings, Arsians! Just when the Dealmaster thinks Prime Day is over, the deals pull him back in. Today, we're bringing you a roundup of (mostly) leftover deals that are still live from Amazon's technically expired sales event and the various sales other retailers ran alongside it.
While the vast majority of Prime Day's better offers have drifted away—and while the majority of Prime Day's offers as a whole were middling—there are a handful of worthwhile discounts that are still kicking, including offers on a bunch of board games we like, the latest Apple AirPods, a handful of laptops and headphones, and game consoles like the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One S. Best of all, you don't need to be a Prime member to take advantage of the majority of them.
We'll delve into more detail for a couple of particular highlights below, where you can check out the rest of the rundown.
Update 4:06pm ET: Dropbox says this was a mistake. "We recently announced a new desktop app experience that is now currently available in Early Access. Due to an error, some users were accidentally exposed to the new app for a short period of time. The issue has been resolved, though there might be a short lag for some users to see resolution. We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused."
Original Post: Hey Dropbox users, how has Dropbox been for you lately? Major changes are coming to the Dropbox desktop app. The company announced its "New Desktop Experience" in June, and previously it was opt-in. Recently, though, a number of users on Twitter and at the Ars Orbiting HQ have reported silently being "upgraded" to this radically different version of Dropbox.
This new version of Dropbox wants to be... a file manager? Instead of the minimal sync app, the Dropbox icon now opens a big, multi-panel, blue and white window showing all your Dropbox files. It kind of looks like Slack, if Slack was a file manager. You can now "star" folders as important so they show up in the left panel (again, like a Slack chat room). The middle panel shows your Dropbox files, and the right panel shows a file preview with options for comments and sharing. You can search for files, sort by name or date, and do all the usual file operations like cut, copy, and paste. It's a file manager.
The last couple years have seen devastating and record-setting wildfires in California, leaving many in the region to wonder what to expect in the future. Elsewhere in the US West, research has found that fires were increasing due to a combination of climate change and other human activities, which exacerbate both the fires and the damage they cause. But California is a different beast from much of the West and requires its own analysis.
A new study from a team led by Park Williams and John Abatzoglou—also the scientists behind a recent study of western US fires—uses government records of California wildfire areas going back to 1972, along with weather data and climate model simulations. The work breaks California into four different regions based on vegetation. The coast is split into a forested northern section, separate central and southern shrublands, and the forested Sierra Nevada rounding out the list.Big changes
Overall, the average area burned by fires each year in California has increased by a factor of five since 1972—a remarkable increase. However, this is mostly due to an even larger increase in the forested parts of the state, as the central and southern coastal regions haven’t really seen an increase.
In our 5,000 word piece on "DataSpii," we explained how researcher Sam Jadali spent tens of thousands of dollars investigating the murky Internet ecosystem of browser extensions that collect and share your Web history. Those histories could end up at sites like Nacho Analytics, where they can reveal personal or corporate data.
Here, we want to offer more detail for the technically curious reader on exactly how these browser extensions work—and how they were discovered.Obscurity
Discovering which browser extensions were responsible for siphoning up this data was a months-long task. Why was it so difficult? In part because the browser extensions appeared to obscure exactly what they were doing. Both Hover Zoom and SpeakIt!, for instance, waited more than three weeks after installation on Jadali’s computers to begin collection. Then, once collection started, it was carried out by code that was separate from the extensions themselves.
When we use browsers to make medical appointments, share tax returns with accountants, or access corporate intranets, we usually trust that the pages we access will remain private. DataSpii, a newly documented privacy issue in which millions of people’s browsing histories have been collected and exposed, shows just how much about us is revealed when that assumption is turned on its head.
DataSpii begins with browser extensions—available mostly for Chrome but in more limited cases for Firefox as well—that, by Google's account, had as many as 4.1 million users. These extensions collected the URLs, webpage titles, and in some cases the embedded hyperlinks of every page that the browser user visited. Most of these collected Web histories were then published by a fee-based service called Nacho Analytics, which markets itself as “God mode for the Internet” and uses the tag line “See Anyone’s Analytics Account.”
Web histories may not sound especially sensitive, but a subset of the published links led to pages that are not protected by passwords—but only by a hard-to-guess sequence of characters (called tokens) included in the URL. Thus, the published links could allow viewers to access the content at these pages. (Security practitioners have long discouraged the publishing of sensitive information on pages that aren't password protected, but the practice remains widespread.)
The House of Commons' Science and Technology raises concerns about accuracy and bias.
Passengers reportedly paid 100 times more than they should have after Uber's payments system goes awry.
Conspiracy theories surround the Moon landings but BBC Click seeks to dispel some of the myths.
The number of likes is a measure of how well content is doing on the social media platform.