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Updated: 12 min 31 sec ago

Facebook Reportedly Hired a PR Firm That Wrote Negative Articles About Rivals, Pushed George Soros Conspiracy Theory

15 min 4 sec ago
According to a recently-published report in the New York Times, Facebook hired a public relations firm last year that wrote dozens of articles critical of rivals Google and Apple and pushed the idea that liberal financier George Soros was behind a growing anti-Facebook movement. "Facebook expanded its relationship with Definers Public Affairs in October 2017 after enduring a year's worth of external criticism over its handling of Russian interference on its social network," CNBC summarizes. From the report: The firm reportedly wrote articles that blasted Google and Apple while downplaying the impact of Russian interference on Facebook. Those articles were published on NTK Network, an affiliate of the firm whose content is often followed by politically conservative outlets, including Breitbart, the report says. Definers Public Affairs also reportedly pressed reporters to explore Soros' financial connections with groups that protested Facebook at Congressional hearings in July. Facebook's relationship with Definers Public Affairs were outlined as part of a broader report that looked at the company's handling of numerous scandals over the past three years, including Russian interference and the Cambridge Analytica scandal in March. Other revelations in the report include Sheryl Sandberg's apparent fury when former security chief told the board of directors in fall 2017 about the full extent of Russian interference on the platform, and Mark Zuckerberg ordering managers to use Android phones after Apple CEO Tim Cook criticized the company's approach to privacy earlier this year.

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Safari Tests 'Not Secure' Warning For Unencrypted Websites

55 min 4 sec ago
Similar to Chrome, Apple's Safari browser is testing a warning system for when users visit websites that aren't protected by HTTPS encryption. "The feature for now is only in Safari Technology Preview 70, a version of the web browser Apple uses to test technology it typically brings to the ordinary version of Safari," reports CNET. From the report: Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on its plans for bringing the warning to mainstream Safari. Apple's browser does warn you already if you have an insecure connection to a very sensitive website for typing in passwords or credit card numbers.

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Many Free Mobile VPN Apps Are Based In China Or Have Chinese Ownership

1 hour 37 min ago
A new study has found that more than half of the top free mobile VPN returned by Play Store and App Store searches are from developers based in China or with Chinese ownership, raising serious concerns about data privacy. "Our investigation uncovered that over half of the top free VPN apps either had Chinese ownership or were actually based in China, which has aggressively clamped down on VPN services over the past year and maintains an iron grip on the internet within its borders," said Simon Migliano, Head of Research at Metric Labs, a company that runs the Top10VPN portal. ZDNet reports: The researcher says he analyzed the top 20 free VPN apps that appear in searches for VPN apps on the Google and Apple mobile app stores, for both the US and UK locales. He says that 17 of the 30 apps he analyzed (10 apps appeared on both stores) had formal links to China, either being a legally registered Chinese entity or by having Chinese ownership, based on business registration and shareholder information Migliano shared with ZDNet. The expert says that 86 percent of the apps he analyzed had "unacceptable privacy policies." For example, some apps didn't say if they logged traffic, some apps appeared to use generic privacy policies that didn't even mention the term VPN, while some apps didn't feature a privacy policy at all. On top of this, other apps admitted in their policies to sharing data with third-parties, tracking users, and sending and sharing data with Chinese third-parties. Almost half of the free VPN apps also appeared to take the privacy policy as a joke, with some hosting the policy as a plain text file on Pastebin, AWS servers, or raw IP addresses, with no domain name. In addition, 64 percent of the apps also didn't bother setting up a dedicated website for their VPN service, operating strictly from the Play Store.

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Indiegogo 'Guaranteed Shipping' Will Ensure Refunds If Campaigns Fail

2 hours 20 min ago
Indiegogo will start offering "guaranteed shipping" on some crowdfunding campaigns through a pilot program starting next year. Creators who choose to partake in the pilot will promise to users that their product will be delivered. If they fail to fulfill that promise, supporters will get their money back. Engadget reports: Details on how the guaranteed shipping process will work are still pretty sparse, as Indiegogo plans to experiment with it. Creators will have to opt-in to the program. When they do, they will be given a "guaranteed shipping" badge or icon that will appear on their page to inform potential backers of the pledge. Per Indiegogo, in certain cases, some funds may be withheld from the creator until they can confirm that they will be able to ship their products on time. The guaranteed shipping option will likely be most viable for existing companies using Indiegogo's enterprise platform to test out new products.

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Mark Zuckerberg 'Not Able' To Attend International Disinformation Hearing

3 hours 4 sec ago
Mark Zuckerberg is "not able" to attend a joint disinformation hearing in London, Facebook says. "In a letter to the UK's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the company declined to say why Zuckerberg couldn't attend, but said it remains 'happy to cooperate' with the inquiry," reports CNET. "The letter also laid out some of the efforts Facebook has made over the last year in areas like fighting fake news and striving for transparency in political ads." From the report: Damian Collins, chair of the committee, is leading the charge and noted that the social network's response is "hugely disappointing." "The fact that he has continually declined to give evidence, not just to my committee, but now to an unprecedented international grand committee, makes him look like he's got something to hide," he said in an emailed statement." Facebook declined the initial invitation from the British and Canadian politicians in October, prompting them to send another with additional signatures from their Argentinian, Australian and Irish counterparts. This came after Zuckerberg turned down a spring invitation to give evidence to the UK Parliament about Facebook's role in the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, since he'd already answered questions from the European Union's Parliament and the U.S. Congress.

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Comcast Forced To Refund $700,000 To Customers Over Misleading Fees

3 hours 37 min ago
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Comcast has been forced to shell out $700,000 in refunds and cancel the debt of more than 20,000 Massachusetts customers after a state attorney general investigation found the company routinely jacks up consumer bills via a bevy of misleading fees. An investigation by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy found that Comcast routinely advertises one rate, then charges customers up to 40 percent more when the bill for service actually arrives. When shocked customers then tried to cancel or downgrade to cheaper broadband and TV plans, Healy's office found they were socked with a $240 fee for violating long-term contracts. Many users were promised a locked-in rate of $99, but hidden fees and surcharges quickly left many with service plans they couldn't afford, the AG said. Under the new settlement with Massachusetts, Comcast must forgive all outstanding debts for unpaid early termination fees and related late fees, clearly disclose all fees in future advertisements, and train the company's service reps to more clearly outline billing caveats. "Comcast stuck too many Massachusetts customers with lengthy, expensive contracts that left many in debt and others with damaged credit," Healy said in a statement. "Customers have a right to clear information about the products and services they buy. This settlement should encourage the entire cable and telecommunications industry to take a close look at their advertisements and make sure customers are getting a fair offer."

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Bitcoin Plummets Under $6,000 To a New Low For the Year

4 hours 15 min ago
Bitcoin's moment of relative stability ended abruptly Wednesday. The world's largest cryptocurrency hit its lowest level of the year, falling as much as 9 percent to a low of $5,640.36, according to CoinDesk. From a report: Bitcoin had been trading comfortably around the $6,400 range for the majority of the fall, a stark contrast from its volatile trading year. Other cryptocurrencies fared even worse on Wednesday. Ether fell as much as 13 percent while XRP, the third largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization, dropped 15 percent, according to CoinMarketCap.com. The rout is likely being spurred by uncertainty around bitcoin cash, according to founder and CEO of BKCM, Brian Kelly.

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Why is Antivirus Software Still a Thing?

4 hours 54 min ago
Antivirus has been around for more than 20 years. But do you still need it to protect yourself today? From a report: In general, you probably do. But there are caveats. If you are worried about your iPhone, there's actually no real antivirus software for it, and iOS is engineered to make it extremely difficult for hackers to attack users, especially at scale. In the case of Apple's computers, which run MacOS, there are fewer antiviruses, but given that the threat of malware on Mac is increasing ever so slightly, it can't hurt to run an AV on it. If you have an Android phone, on the other hand, an antivirus does not hurt -- especially because there have been several cases of malicious apps available on the Google Play Store. So, on Android, an antivirus will help you, according to Martijn Grooten, the editor of trade magazine Virus Bulletin. When it comes to computers running Windows, Grooten still thinks you should use an AV. "What antivirus is especially good at is making decisions for you," Grooten told Motherboard, arguing that if you open attachments, click on links, and perhaps you're not too technically savvy, it's good to have an antivirus that can prevent the mistakes you may make in those situations. For Grooten and Simon Edwards, the founder of SE Labs, a company that tests and ranks antivirus software, despite the fact that Windows' own antivirus -- called Defender -- is a good alternative, it's still worth getting a third-party one. "Even if [Defender] wasn't the best and it isn't the best, it's is still a lot better than having nothing," Edwards told Motherboard. Yet, "we do see a benefit in having paid for AV product."

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Climate Change is Making Hurricanes Even More Destructive, Research Finds

5 hours 35 min ago
Hurricane Harvey swamped Houston with seven days of pounding rain last August. When scientists went back to look at historical weather patterns, they reported Harvey dumped 20 percent more rain than it typically would have. The culprit: climate change. From a report: High-resolution climate simulations of 15 tropical cyclones in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans found that warming in the ocean and atmosphere increased rainfall by between 5% and 10%, although wind speeds remained largely unchanged. This situation is set to worsen under future anticipated warming, however. Researchers found that if little is done to constrain greenhouse gas emissions and the world warms by 3C to 4C this century then hurricane rainfall could increase by a third, while wind speeds would be boosted by as much as 25 knots. "Climate change has exacerbated rainfall and is set to enhance the wind speed," said Christina Patricola, who undertook the study with her Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory colleague Michael Wehner. "My hope is that this information can be used to improve our resilience to the kinds of extreme weather events we are going to have in the future." The research, published in the journal Nature, used climate models to see how factors such as air and ocean temperatures have influenced hurricanes. Projections into the future were then made, based upon various levels of planetary warming. The findings suggest that enormously destructive storms have already been bolstered by climate change and similar events in the future are on course to be cataclysmic.

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New Yorkers Protest Amazon HQ2: 'We Should Be Investing in Housing<nobr> <wbr></nobr>... Not in Helicopters'

6 hours 10 min ago
An anonymous reader shares a report: Shawn Dixon's life changed overnight. On Tuesday he was surprised to learn that Amazon plans to build a giant campus with room for thousands of high-paid workers on the same block as the small business he owns, Otis & Finn Barbershop. "We woke up yesterday with our whole world upside down," Dixon said. The announcement that one half of Amazon HQ2 is moving into his neighborhood -- Long Island City in Queens, New York -- motivated Dixon to attend a protest of Amazon's future campus Wednesday. He was joined by elected officials, labor leaders, and activists who gathered to speak out against the tax incentives, government subsidies and other perks -- including a helipad -- that New York is offering Amazon in exchange for the thousands of jobs the company promises to bring. "We're worried about our ability to stay in the neighborhood," Dixon said. "I'm not against growth and I'm not against Amazon but what I'm against is giving away all this money to one of the richest companies in the world when our schools are underfunded, we don't have schools in this neighborhood, the trains don't run here, and small business owners have no protections." The rally was organized by New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris, who represents the Queens neighborhood Amazon is moving into. "By the way, Amazon was coming here without all this money anyway," Gianaris said when he took the podium.

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United Nations Considers a Test Ban on Evolution-Warping Gene Drives

6 hours 48 min ago
Bill Gates wants to end malaria, and so he's particularly "energized" about gene drives, a technology that could wipe out the mosquitoes that spread the disease. Gates calls the new approach a "breakthrough," but some environmental groups say gene drives are too dangerous to ever use. From a report: Now the sides are headed for a showdown. In a letter circulated this week, scientists funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others are raising the alarm over what they say is an attempt to use a United Nations biodiversity meeting this week in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, to introduce a global ban on field tests of the technology. At issue is a draft resolution by diplomats updating the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which -- if adopted -- would call on governments to "refrain from" any release of organisms containing engineered gene drives, even as part of experiments. The proposal for a global gene-drive moratorium has been pushed by environmental groups that are also opposed to genetically modified soybeans and corn. They have likened the gene-drive technique to the atom bomb. In response, the Gates Foundation, based in Seattle, has been funding a counter-campaign, hiring public relations agencies to preempt restrictive legislation and to distribute today's letter. Many of its signatories are directly funded by the foundation. "This is a lobbying game on both sides, to put it bluntly," says Todd Kuiken, who studies gene-drive policy at North Carolina State University. (He says he was asked to sign the Gates letter but declined because he is a technical advisor to the UN.) New technology The gene-drive technique involves modifying a mosquito's DNA so that, when the insect breeds, it spreads a specific genetic change -- one that's bad for its survival.

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Researchers Discover Seven New Meltdown and Spectre Attacks

7 hours 35 min ago
A team of nine academics has revealed today seven new CPU attacks. The seven impact AMD, ARM, and Intel CPUs to various degrees. From a report: Two of the seven new attacks are variations of the Meltdown attack, while the other five are variations on the original Spectre attack -- two well-known attacks that have been revealed at the start of the year and found to impact CPUs models going back to 1995. Researchers say they've discovered the seven new CPU attacks while performing "a sound and extensible systematization of transient execution attacks" -- a catch-all term the research team used to describe attacks on the various internal mechanisms that a CPU uses to process data, such as the speculative execution process, the CPU's internal caches, and other internal execution stages. The research team says they've successfully demonstrated all seven attacks with proof-of-concept code. Experiments to confirm six other Meltdown-attacks did not succeed, according to a graph published by researchers.

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Google's Night Sight Feature Arrives For Pixel Phones

8 hours 13 min ago
Google on Wednesday started to roll out 'Night Sight', a much anticipated-feature to the Pixel smartphones that is designed to help users capture better photos in low-light conditions. From a report: Night Sight made a premature debut in October courtesy of a leaked app, but today marks the start of its official rollout. Beginning this week, Night Sight will come not only to the Pixel 3 and 3 XL, but to the Pixel 2 and original Pixel. And judging by our preliminary testing, it was well worth the wait. Further reading: Google gives the Pixel camera superhuman night vision

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ProtonVPN Passes 1 Million Users and Launches on iOS

8 hours 54 min ago
Encrypted email service provider ProtonMail has launched its standalone VPN app for iOS devices. From a report: The announcement comes more than a year after ProtonVPN launched globally for desktop users and 10 months after it landed on Android, so the iOS launch has been a long time coming. There is, of course, no shortage of VPN apps out there already, but ProtonMail has built a solid reputation in the encrypted communications realm since it was founded out of CERN in 2013. Following the launch of its privacy-focused email service nearly three years ago, the company subsequently added two-factor authentication (2FA), Tor support, an encrypted contacts manager, and of course a VPN service. ProtonMail offers various pricing tiers for ProtonVPN, ranging from free to $24 per month. Those who choose not to pay can access three countries' servers, with access on one device, but will have slower speeds, while the top $24/month tier offers access on 10 devices with server access in all available countries. In related news, ProtonMail said that ProtonVPN now has 1 million users globally.

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Russia Jammed GPS During Major NATO Military Exercise With US Troops

9 hours 36 min ago
The Russian military jammed GPS signals during a major NATO military exercise in Norway that involved thousands of US and NATO troops, the alliance said Wednesday, citing the Norwegian government. From a report: The NATO exercise, Trident Juncture, concluded Sunday and involved some 50,000 personnel. It was labeled the alliance's largest exercise since the Cold War. Non-NATO members Finland and Sweden also participated in the exercise. A spokesperson for the Norwegian ministry of defense acknowledged the jamming to CNN, which it said took place between October 16 and November 7, and said it would defer to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on further questions to Russian authorities. "Norway has determined that Russia was responsible for jamming GPS signals in the Kola Peninsula during Exercise Trident Juncture. Finland has expressed concern over possible jamming in Lapland," NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu told CNN Wednesday. "In view of the civilian usage of GPS, jamming of this sort is dangerous, disruptive and irresponsible," she added. Asked about the report of Russian jamming, NATO's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was aware of the reports but did not offer additional information. "We have seen there have been similar reports from Norway, and I cannot share more precise information with you," Stoltenberg said Sunday at a news conference marking the end of Trident Juncture.

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'Jeff Bezos is Wrong, Tech Workers Are Not Bullies'

10 hours 20 min ago
Silicon Valley employees have a right and duty to protest when we think projects are unethical, writes Laura Nolan, who recently left Google. From her opinion piece for Financial Times: Messrs Bezos and Bloomberg paint Amazon and Google as victims, pushed around by powerful employees who do not care about patriotism. This is absurd. Google and Amazon, and the DoD for that matter, are some of the most dominant institutions the world has known. Mr Bezos recently became the richest man in modern history. Mr Bloomberg is not far behind on the list of the world's wealthiest. Demanding that such power be held to account is common sense. Rank-and-file tech employees, by contrast, do not have the same leverage. Ordinary Amazon employees -- the median annual salary is less than Mr Bezos earns in 10 seconds -- have been aggressively discouraged from unionising. Microsoft fired a team of contract engineers after they voted to unionise and as yet there is no tech worker union. I believe Silicon Valley leaders have historically put profit ahead of employee livelihood and whatever perks these companies provide come at the discretion of bosses, and are less a reflection of individual merit than of employer convenience. It is significant, then, that over the past year we've seen a groundswell of worker dissent as thousands of employees at Google, Microsoft, Amazon and elsewhere have pushed back against projects and personnel decisions they consider unethical. I am part of this growing tech workers' movement. We believe we have a duty to resist the oppressive and unethical application of the powerful technology we build, and a right to know how our work is used.

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Scientists Acknowledge Key Errors in Study of How Fast the Oceans Are Warming

11 hours 4 sec ago
A major study claimed the oceans were warming much faster than previously thought. But researchers now say they can't necessarily make that claim. From a report: Two weeks after the high-profile study was published in the journal Nature, its authors have submitted corrections to the publication. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography, home to several of the researchers involved, also noted the problems in the scientists' work and corrected a news release on its website, which previously had asserted that the study detailed how the Earth's oceans "have absorbed 60 percent more heat than previously thought." "Unfortunately, we made mistakes here," said Ralph Keeling, a climate scientist at Scripps, who was a co-author of the study. "I think the main lesson is that you work as fast as you can to fix mistakes when you find them." The central problem, according to Keeling, came in how the researchers dealt with the uncertainty in their measurements. As a result, the findings suffer from too much doubt to definitively support the paper's conclusion about how much heat the oceans have absorbed over time. The central conclusion of the study -- that oceans are retaining ever more energy as more heat is being trapped within Earth's climate system each year -- is in line with other studies that have drawn similar conclusions. And it hasn't changed much despite the errors. But Keeling said the authors' miscalculations mean there is a much larger margin of error in the findings, which means researchers can weigh in with less certainty than they thought.

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Food Taste 'Not Protected By Copyright,' EU Court Rules

12 hours 40 min ago
An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: The taste of a food cannot be protected by copyright, the EU's highest legal authority has ruled in a case involving a Dutch cheese. The European Court of Justice said the taste of food was too "subjective and variable" for it to meet the requirements for copyright protection. The court was asked to rule in the case of a spreadable cream cheese and herb dip, Heksenkaas, produced by Levola. Levola argued another cheese, Witte Wievenkaas, infringed its copyright. The firm claimed that Heksenkaas was a work protected by copyright; it asked the Dutch courts to insist Smilde, the producers of Witte Wievenkaas, cease the production and sale of its cheese. The Court of Justice of the European Union was asked by Netherlands' court of appeal to rule on whether the taste of a food could be protected under the Copyright Directive. In order to quality for copyright, the taste of food must be capable of being classified as a "work" and has to meet two criteria: That it was an original intellectual creation; That there was an "expression" of that creation that makes it "identifiable with sufficient precision and objectivity." The court found that "the taste of a food product cannot be identified with precision and objectivity." It said it was "identified essentially on the basis of taste sensations and experiences, which are subjective and variable," citing age, food preferences and consumption habits as examples which could influence the taster.

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Netflix is Testing a Mobile-Only, $3 Subscription To Make Its Service More Affordable

12 hours 52 min ago
Netflix is testing a cut-price mobile-only subscription, priced as low as $3 for some, as it explores new packages aimed at widening its appeal in Asia and other emerging markets. TechCrunch: CEO Reed Hastings told Bloomberg last week that the company would test lower-priced packages and it hasn't taken long for those experiments to come to light. The first reports are from Malaysia, where Netflix quietly rolled out a mobile-only tier priced at RM17, or around $4, each month. That's half the price of the company's next cheapest package -- 'Basic' -- which retails for RM33, or around $7.90, per month in Malaysia. A Netflix spokesperson confirmed the Malaysia trial. They added that similar trials are "running in a few countries" although they declined to provide details. It remains to be seen if this new subscription tier will roll out to other parts of the world.

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Google Accused of 'Trust Demolition' Over Health App

13 hours 20 min ago
A privacy expert is criticizing Google for taking over a controversial health app developed by AI firm DeepMind. The app in question -- Streams -- was first used to send alerts in a London hospital but hit headlines for gathering data on 1.6 million patients without informing them. DeepMind now wants the app to become an AI assistant for nurses and doctors around the world. BBC reports: One expert described the move as "trust demolition." Lawyer and privacy expert Julia Powles, who has closely followed the development of Streams, responded on Twitter: "DeepMind repeatedly, unconditionally promised to 'never connect people's intimate, identifiable health data to Google.' Now it's announced... exactly that. This isn't transparency, it's trust demolition," she added.

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