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Industry & Technology

Study finds quarter of climate change tweets from bots

BBC Technology News - 7 hours 17 min ago
Researchers at Brown University found bots were far more likely to post tweets denying climate change.

Review: Time travel and murder combine in HBO’s riveting Beforeigners series

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 11:20pm

Beforeigners trailer.

Two police detectives from wildly different time periods must learn to work together to solve a murder in Beforeigners, a riveting blend of science fiction and police procedural from HBO Europe that is already poised to become one of the standout shows of the year. Like Netflix's Ragnarok, it is a Norwegian TV series that draws heavily on the history and mythology of the region. But Beforeigners eschews the supernatural, and the campier teen soap elements, to deliver a thoughtful, moving, and often quite ribald and funny tale of various worlds colliding.

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

Series creators Eilif Skodvin and Anne Bjørnstad wanted to follow up their successful series Lilyhammer with a science fiction story built around the idea of refugees arriving from different historical periods rather than different countries, and they combined the concept with a hard-boiled murder mystery. They've cited District 9 and The Leftovers among their influences, along with classic novels like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's 1984.

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Google faces state lawsuit alleging misuse of schoolkids’ private data

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 10:57pm

Enlarge / Students use Google Suite apps on computers in a classroom in Groton, Mass. on May 11, 2016. (credit: David L. Ryan | The Boston Globe | Getty Images)

Adults who use Google products and services tend to know, at least on some background level, that the cost for access to "free" tools is paid in data. Google also provides low- and no-cost hardware and software tools to students and educators in school districts nationwide, and one state now says that children are also paying that privacy price, in violation of the law.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a lawsuit (PDF) alleging Google's collection and use of data from schoolchildren in his state is in violation violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and New Mexico's Unfair Practices Act.

COPPA, one of the few US federal laws protecting data privacy, imposes certain restrictions on the collection and use of personal data associated with children under age 13. Under the law, websites, apps, and digital platforms that collect data from young users are required to post a privacy policy and have parents consent to it, to give parents the option to opt out of having their children's information shared with third parties, to let parents review their children's data, and to follow sound data storage and retention policies. The suit accuses Google of deliberately deceiving school districts and parents with regards to its data policies. A platform explicitly designed for use in elementary and middle schools, by schoolchildren, is by definition going to be associated with children under age 13.

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California man arrested on charges his DDoSes took down candidate’s website

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 10:35pm

Enlarge (credit: US Air Force)

A California man has been arrested on charges he used distributed denial-of-service attacks to take down the website of a Congressional candidate whose rival employed his wife.

Arthur Jan Dam, 32, of Santa Monica, was arrested by FBI agents on Thursday. According to a criminal complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court, Dam DDoSed the website of a candidate that The Intercept reported was running against Katie Hill in the 2018 primary election. Hill won by fewer than 3,000 votes and went on to flip a Republican-held seat in the general election. Hill later resigned after nude photos of her were published without her consent.

Dam, who The Intercept reported was married to Hill fundraiser Kelsey O’Hara, allegedly staged four attacks that took down the website of Bryan Caforio, Hill's rival candidate in the primary. The candidate spent from $27,000 to $30,000 in response to the 21-hour outages and also experienced a reduction of campaign contributions. Rolling Stone reported on the attacks in the September 2018 election. The FBI has not uncovered any evidence that either Hill or Dam’s wife had any involvement in the attacks, prosecutors said in a release. Friday's complaint didn't identify either the candidates or Dam's wife.

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Trump report bizarrely claims net neutrality repeal raised incomes $50B a year

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 9:27pm

Enlarge / President Donald Trump at a "Make America Great Again" rally in Phoenix, Arizona, on August 22, 2017. (credit: Getty Images | AFP Contributor)

A new White House report claims without convincing evidence that eliminating consumer-protection rules in the broadband industry has boosted real incomes by tens of billions of dollars per year. Including a supposed improvement to "consumer welfare," the report claims an annual benefit of more than $100 billion from killing net neutrality and privacy rules.

The February 2020 "Economic Report of the President" claims that "the Trump Administration's 'Restoring Internet Freedom' order will increase real incomes by more than $50 billion per year and consumer welfare by almost $40 billion per year." That's in reference to the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality rules and its related deregulation of the broadband industry.

The White House report also claims a decision by Congress and President Trump to eliminate broadband privacy rules created "additional real income of about $11 billion per year." That financial benefit will double over the years, the report claims, saying that "After 5 to 10 years when these effects are fully realized, the total impact on real incomes is estimated to be $22 billion."

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It’s the hosts versus the rest of humanity in new trailer for Westworld S3 [Updated]

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 8:28pm

The original trailer for HBO’s Westworld S3.

The hidden trailer for forthcoming third season of HBO's Westworld.

It has been a long wait, but HBO just dropped a full trailer for the third season of Westworld, HBO's Emmy-award-winning science fiction series. And it looks like we're in for another wild, mind-bending ride through multiple dystopian timelines.

(Warning: major spoilers for the first two seasons of Westworld below.)

The titular Westworld is one of six immersive theme parks owned and operated by a company called Delos Inc. The park is populated with a "cast" of very human-looking androids, called hosts. The park's well-heeled visitors can pretty much do whatever they like to the hosts and don't generally view the hosts as anything more than unfeeling props in their private dramas. But the hosts' creator/co-founder and park director of Westworld, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), "awakens" a host named Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) to true sentience. S1 concluded with a bloody massacre, as the reprogrammed hosts rise up to take revenge on the guests. 

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Facebook offers to pay users for their voice recordings

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 7:33pm

Enlarge (credit: Chesnot | Getty Images)

Facebook is offering to pay its users for personal information including recordings of their own voice, in a rare example of internet companies directly compensating people for collecting their data.

The recordings, made through its new market research app Viewpoints, will help to train the speech recognition system that powers Facebook’s Portal devices, which rival Amazon’s Echo speakers and its Alexa virtual assistant.

Makers of smart speakers including Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google faced criticism last year when it emerged that they were routinely sending users’ voice recordings to human moderators, without revealing the practice to customers or obtaining their consent.

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An extended interview with Atrus himself, Myst creator Rand Miller

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 7:17pm

Video shot by Justin Wolfson, edited by Aulistar Mark. Transcript is still processing and will be posted as soon as it's ready (should be within 24 hours).

A couple of weeks back after running our War Stories piece on Oddworld, we took a chance and published an extended cut of the interview with Oddworld creator Lorne Lanning. Readers responded very well to the extended interview, so we're doing it again—this time with Myst creator Rand Miller.

To produce our War Stories video on Myst and its CD-ROM-based design challenges, we spent more or less the entire day at the Cyan offices in beautiful Washington state, where Rand and his team were the very soul of hospitality (they even insisted on buying coffee for the crew while we were shooting). The pastoral setting—everything looked so much like Myst island!—brought out the storyteller in Rand and, as usually happens with these things, we got way more stories and tales of game design out of him than we ever could have crammed into a 15-minute video.

So here we are, with Rand unleashed. Hear more about the creative process behind The Manhole and the magical tool that was HyperCard! See Rand talk about Cosmic Osmo and the transition from black and white to color game design! Feel the... uh... OK, there's no tactile component to this whole deal, so you'll have to come up with something on your own to feel. (Maybe grab a Myst box and give it a squeeze, or, you know, whatever you're into.)

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Google cracks down on location-tracking Android apps

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 6:50pm

Enlarge (credit: Ron Amadeo)

Alongside the launch of the Android 11 Developer Preview, Google announced a plan to crack down on Android apps that request the user's location in the background. Just as we saw with Google's pushback against apps that use the accessibility APIs for things that aren't accessibility related, Google will be flexing the power it has over the Play Store and manually reviewing apps that request location data in the background.

Writing about the new policy, Google says, "As we took a closer look at background location usage, we found that many of the apps that requested background location didn’t actually need it. In fact, many of these apps could provide the same user experience by only accessing location when the app is visible to the user." The company says that apps on the Play Store will soon be evaluated by humans to see if the apps actually need the background location permissions they are requesting. Google lays out the following criteria for requesting background location:

Later this year, we will be updating Google Play policy to require that developers get approval if they want to access location data in the background. Factors that will be looked at include:

  • Does the feature deliver clear value to the user?
  • Would users expect the app to access their location in the background?
  • Is the feature important to the primary purpose of the app?
  • Can you deliver the same experience without accessing location in the background?

All apps will be evaluated against the same factors, including apps made by Google, and all submissions will be reviewed by people on our team.

The blog post also lists a timeline for the new location rules:

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CDC didn’t want 14 coronavirus patients flown to US—it was overruled

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 6:37pm

Enlarge / Jumbo jets arrived to evacuate US citizens from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, with people quarantined onboard due to fears of the new COVID-19 coronavirus, at the Haneda airport in Tokyo on February 16, 2020. - The number of people who have tested positive for the new coronavirus on a quarantined ship off Japan's coast has risen to 355, the country's health minister said. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP) (Photo by KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images) (credit: Getty | KAZUHIRO NOGI)

Health officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not want 14 people who had tested positive for the new coronavirus to be flown back to the US, among hundreds of other uninfected people—but the CDC experts were overruled by officials at the US State Department, according to a report by The Washington Post.

On Sunday, February 16, the 14 positive people flew from Japan to the US on State Department-chartered planes. They were among over 300 others, all evacuees from the luxury cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, which had an explosive outbreak of COVID-19 cases.

The cruise ship, initially carrying 3,711 passengers and crew, had been quarantined in Yokohama, Japan since February 3, after a former passenger tested positive on February 1. But the quarantine efforts failed to curb the spread of the virus on board, and case counts steadily climbed during the 14-day confinement. Even in the last days, health officials in Japan were still reporting dozens of new cases.

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A weed dealer’s $59M lesson: Don’t hide Bitcoin keys with a fishing rod

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 6:37pm

Enlarge / If only it were this easy to catch lost Bitcoin credentials. (credit: Cravetiger / Getty Images)

In a world where various mass breachers dictate the use of strong, randomized passwords more than ever, reliable and secure credentials management is paramount in 2020. One Irish drug dealer has evidently learned this lesson the hard way.

This week, the Irish Times reported the sad tale of Clifton Collins, a 49-year-old cannabis grower from Dublin. Collins quietly grew and sold his product for 12 years, and he amassed a small fortune by using some of that revenue to buy bitcoins around 2011 and 2012 before the price of the cryptocurrency soared. But in 2017, state authorities on a routine overnight patrol spotted and then arrested Collins with an estimated $2,171 of cannabis in his car. The man quickly earned himself a five-year jail sentence.

According to the Times: as part of authorities' investigation, Ireland's Criminal Assets Bureau discovered and confiscated 12 Bitcoin wallets belonging to Collins totaling nearly $59 million (reportedly the biggest financial case in CAB's 25-year-history). There was only one problem—CAB couldn't access the accounts because Collins had lost the keys.

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Onward film review: Pixar rolls a 20, nails homage to D&D-styled adventure

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 6:00pm

Enlarge / Ian (left, voiced by Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) don't always get along as brothers, but in Onward, they must join forces to figure out a magical mystery. (credit: Pixar)

Pixar's latest feature-length film, Onward, doesn't reach US theaters until March 6, and it's rare for us at Ars Technica to review a film so far in advance of its launch. When we do, it's usually for good reason.

In Onward's case, that's because we haven't seen a film so easy to recommend to Ars Technica readers in years. We know our average demographic: parents and older readers who are deeply fluent in decades of nerd culture and who appreciate films that offer genuine laughs, likable characters, and tightly sewn logic in family-friendly fashion without compromising the dialogue, plot, or heart—or beating an original, previously beloved franchise into the ground. Pixar has come out screaming with a film that feels focus-tested for that exact audience, and I'm already eager to attend the film again in two weeks.

“Historically based adventure simulator”

We've seen our fair share of fantasy genre satires and comedies, but Onward delivers the most fully fledged, top-to-bottom homage to the fantasy genre since Monty Python and the Holy Grail sent up all things King Arthur. To be clear, Pixar's newest universe of characters draws more from the Dungeons & Dragons well of magical, class-based adventuring with its own twist.

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Google sued by New Mexico over claims it spies on US students

BBC Technology News - February 21, 2020 - 5:56pm
Pupils in New Mexico allegedly have had their online data tracked, says the state's attorney general.

The House wants to know what Ring is doing with footage from your house

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 5:48pm

Enlarge / The house is watching you watch it. (credit: Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images)

Almost 1,000 police and sheriff departments around the country have partnership agreements with Ring, Amazon's home surveillance subsidiary. These arrangements are now drawing scrutiny from a division of the House Oversight Committee, which wants to know what, exactly, Ring is up to.

For starters, Congress wants a list of every police deal Ring actually has, the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy wrote in a letter (PDF) dated February 19.

After that, the Subcommittee wants to know... well, basically everything. The request for information asks for documentation relating to "all instances in which a law enforcement agency has requested video footage from Ring," as well as full lists of all third-party firms that get any access to Ring users' personal information or video footage. Ring is also asked to send over copies of every privacy notice, terms of service, and law enforcement guideline it has ever had, as well as materials relating to its marketing practices and any potential future use of facial recognition.

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AT&T loses key ruling in class action over unlimited-data throttling

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 5:34pm

Enlarge / AT&T sponsor logo on the backdrop of the 31st Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala in Palm Springs, California, on January 2, 2020. (credit: Getty Images | Chris Delmas)

AT&T's mandatory-arbitration clause is unenforceable in a class-action case over AT&T's throttling of unlimited data, a panel of US appeals court judges ruled this week.

The nearly five-year-old case has gone through twists and turns, with AT&T's forced-arbitration clause initially being upheld in March 2016. If that decision had stood, the customers would have been forced to have any complaints heard individually in arbitration.

But an April 2017 decision by the California Supreme Court in a different case effectively changed the state's arbitration law, causing a US District Court judge to revive the class action in March 2018.

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Weeks after launch, Nvidia’s GeForce Now attracts a million streaming gamers

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 5:21pm

Enlarge / A million gamers are part of GeForce Now now.

Nvidia announced this week that over a million people have signed up to use GeForce Now to stream games from Nvidia's central servers. The announcement comes just a couple of weeks after Nvidia first opened the service up to the general public.

Those user numbers were no doubt helped by the presence of GeForce Now's free service tier, which limits rendering quality and restricts play sessions to a single hour. Subscribers for the paid version of the service are also currently inside a free 90-day "introductory period"—it's unclear how many of those trial users will continue to pay $5 a month once it expires.

Those caveats aside, the quick trip to a million users represents a strong start for Nvidia's entry into an increasingly crowded streaming gaming field. For context, Sony reported a million subscribers for its $60/year PlayStation Now streaming service as of last November, almost five years after it launched. Google hasn't discussed user numbers for Stadia, but there are some early signs that not many early adopters are even making use of the platform's free games (though the company did have trouble satisfying all its initial pre-orders late last year).

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Scientists discover powerful antibiotic using AI

BBC Technology News - February 21, 2020 - 5:03pm
Researchers claim it could be used to kill some of the world's deadliest bacteria.

Get ready for price hikes up to 10% annually after sale of .org registry

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 4:52pm

Enlarge (credit: DenisKot / Getty)

The nonprofit Internet Society attracted widespread condemnation late last year after announcing it was going to sell off the Public Interest Registry, a subsidiary that administers the .org domain, to a private equity firm called Ethos Capital. People were particularly alarmed because the move came shortly after ICANN removed price caps on registration and renewal fees for .org domains. That opened the prospect of big price hikes in the coming years.

In a Friday press release, Ethos Capital announced it would voluntarily commit to limit price hikes for the next eight years. But under the new rules, Ethos Capital would still be able to raise prices by 10 percent a year—which would more than double prices over the next eight years. Ethos framed this as a concession to the public, and strictly speaking, a 10 percent price hike limit is better for customers than completely uncapped fees. But 10 percent annual increases are still massive—far more than inflation or plausible increases in the cost of running the infrastructure powering the .org registry.

For comparison, ICANN recently announced that Verisign, the company that administers the .com domain, will be allowed to raise prices by 7 percent per year over the next decade, except for a two-year "pause" after four years of hikes. Those changes, adding up to a 70-percent price hike over 10 years, was enough to trigger alarm among domain registrars who must pass these fees on to their customers.

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Nintendo: Animal Crossing fans upset by cloud restrictions

BBC Technology News - February 21, 2020 - 4:31pm
Nintendo confirms its new Animal Crossing game will not let players save progress to the cloud.

SpaceX pushing iterative design process, accepting failure to go fast

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 3:08pm

Activity Thursday at SpaceX's launch site near Boca Chica Beach.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk said Thursday the company is "driving hard" toward an orbital flight of the company's Starship vehicle this year.

It has not been decided yet whether this orbital launch will take place from the company's new facility near Boca Chica Beach in South Texas, a site at Cape Canaveral in Florida, or perhaps even an ocean-based launch platform. The company is pressing ahead with all three options in parallel. The orbital mission would involve a future iteration of Starship with six Raptor engines, Musk said.

Since late November, when the very first prototype of a Starship vehicle was damaged during a pressurization test, SpaceX employees have been working on a new version of the vehicle dubbed SN1, for serial number 1. The company has gone with this nomenclature because Musk envisions building the large spaceships rapidly, with each new iteration improving on the last—be it through smoother manufacturing processes, shedding unneeded mass, improving performance, or more.

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