Bill Gates: Cryptocurrency Is 'Rare Technology That Has Caused Deaths In a Fairly Direct Way' ( 161

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: During a recent "Ask Me Anything" session on Reddit, the Microsoft co-founder said that the main feature of cryptocurrencies is the anonymity they provide to buyers, and Gates thinks that can actually be harmful. "The government's ability to find money laundering and tax evasion and terrorist funding is a good thing," he wrote. "Right now, cryptocurrencies are used for buying fentanyl and other drugs, so it is a rare technology that has caused deaths in a fairly direct way." When a Reddit user pointed out that plain cash can also be used for illicit activities, Gates said that crypto stands out because it can be easier to use. "Yes -- anonymous cash is used for these kinds of things, but you have to be physically present to transfer it, which makes things like kidnapping payments more difficult," he wrote. Gates also warned that the wave of speculation surrounding cryptocurrencies is "super risky for those who go long."

ESRB Introducing 'In-Game Purchases' Label in Response To Loot Box Controversy ( 97

The Entertainment Software Rating Board will begin labeling video games that contain in-game purchases, a response to lawmakers who have noticed the outcry over so-called loot crate systems and have signaled a willingness to legislate them. From a report: The labeling will "be applied to games with in-game offers to purchase digital goods or premiums with real world currency," the ESRB said in a news release this morning, "including but not limited to bonus levels, skins, surprise items (such as item packs, loot boxes, mystery awards), music, virtual coins and other forms of in-game currency, subscriptions, season passes and upgrades (e.g., to disable ads)." The label will appear separate from the familiar ESRB rating label (T-for-Teen, M-for-Mature, etc.) and not inside it. Additionally, the ESRB has begun an awareness campaign meant to highlight the controls available to parents whose households have a video game console.

China To Crack Down on Cryptocurrency Trading Loophole ( 41

China is opening a new front in its battle against cryptocurrencies, targeting platforms that allow the nation's investors to trade digital assets on overseas exchanges, Bloomberg reported Tuesday citing people familiar with the matter said. From a report: Regulators are planning to scrutinize the Chinese bank and online-payment accounts of businesses and individuals suspected of facilitating trades on offshore cryptocurrency venues, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. The accounts' owners could have their assets frozen or be blocked from the domestic financial system, the people said. The measures are designed to cut off one of the few remaining avenues for Chinese citizens to buy digital assets. While the country was once home to the world's most active cryptocurrency exchanges, authorities banned the venues last year and have since moved to block access to platforms that offer exchange-like services.
The Courts

Volkswagen Settles Diesel Emissions Lawsuit Right Before Trial Set To Begin ( 74

Volkswagen settled a major diesel emissions class action lawsuit brought by hundreds of vehicle owners right before the case was set to go to trial. "The German auto giant's U.S. division settled the lawsuit brought by a North Carolina man and over 300 other owners of diesel cars who allege fraud and unfair trade practices," reports The Verge. From the report: The trial could have featured testimony from current and former VW executives and would likely have caused a spate of bad press for the automaker regarding the Dieselgate scandal. Since it first broke in 2015, the controversy has led to the resignation of VW's CEO, seen a handful of executives sentenced to jail, and resulted in billions of dollars in fines and settlements. VW is being sued by some consumers after it admitted to using software to cheat on diesel emissions tests, sparking the biggest scandal to hit the auto industry in decades. David Doar, the North Carolina man along with more than 300 other U.S. VW diesel owners, rejected settlement offers from a 2016 class action that would have reimbursed them for the value of their vehicles. Nearly all U.S. owners of affected VW vehicles agreed to take part in a $25 billion settlement in 2016, which included buyback offers and additional compensation for about 500,000 owners. But according to Reuters, some 2,000 owners have opted out, and most are pursuing separate claims seeking additional compensation.

'Satoshi' Craig Wright Is Being Sued For $10 Billion For Stealing His Partner's Bitcoin ( 92

Craig Wright, the nChain chief scientist who previously claimed to be the pseudonymous bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto, is being sued for a whopping $10 billion for stealing $5 billion in bitcoin from a former business partner. CoinDesk reports: The lawsuit is being brought by Ira Kleiman on behalf of the estate of his brother, Dave, who has been linked to the earliest days of bitcoin. Kleiman, a forensic computer investigator and author, passed away in 2013 following a battle with MRSA. At the heart of the new lawsuit, according to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on Feb. 14, is an alleged hoard of more than 1.1 million bitcoins, which Ira Kleiman's lawyers say is worth in excess of $10 billion. He is being represented by Boies Schiller Flexner LLP.

Wright, court records show, has been accused of allegedly conducting "a scheme against Dave's estate to seize Dave's bitcoins and his rights to certain intellectual property associated with the Bitcoin technology." "As part of this plan, Craig forged a series of contracts that purported to transfer Dave's assets to Craig and/or companies controlled by him. Craig backdated these contracts and forged Dave's signature on them," attorneys for the plaintiff wrote. Included alongside the complaint are a number of additional filings, including the business registration for a firm called W&K Info Defense Research LLC, in which Kleiman and Wright were business partners. In addition to the roughly 1.1 million bitcoins, Ira Kleiman is also seeking compensation for the intellectual property his lawyers claim arose from the partnership between his deceased brother and Wright.

United States

The American Midwest Is Quickly Becoming a Blue-Collar Version of Silicon Valley ( 171

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: The economic engine of Silicon Valley seems to have driven right by the midwest. America's urban coastal cities have enjoyed an explosion in their technology sectors. New York's Silicon Alley and Boston's biotech corridor are world-class incubators of talent and startups. Austin (Texas), Seattle (Washington), Washington, D.C, and even Miami Beach claim a piece of the digital economy (and Silicon-something monikers). But what about Columbus and Indianapolis and Kansas City? After years in the doldrums, their fortunes are rising. Venture capital firms are setting up shop. Startups are clustering in old industrial strongholds. But the region's tech sectors look different than their coastal cousins. The midwest is seeing the rise of "mid-tech."

Alongside the traditional high-flying software jobs that are plentiful in Silicon Valley, mid-tech jobs, loosely defined as tech jobs requiring less than a college degree, are growing fast in the Midwest. While not an official designation, mid-tech jobs can be defined as skilled tech work that doesn't require a college degree: just intense, focused training on the job or in vocational programs like those of blue-collar trades of the industrial past. [...] Mid-tech jobs composed more than a quarter of all tech employment in major midwestern metropolitan areas, including Columbus, Ohio; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Missouri; Detroit, Michigan; Nashville, Tennessee; and Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota-Wisconsin. More than 100,000 people were employed in such jobs in these cities alone. That proportion never cracked 20% in Bay Area metropolises, the heart of Silicon Valley. While the analyses did not include all cities, it reveals the tech sector's evolution in the Midwest along different lines than Silicon Valley.
The findings come from the Brookings Institute, a nonprofit public policy research group, which crunched data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. High and mid-tech jobs in midwestern cities also grew at an annual compounded rate of about 5%. What do these jobs look like? "In Kentucky, the technical skills once applied to things like calculating blast trajectories in mines are going into Javascript," reports Quartz. "The software firm Interapt has set up a training program in Eastern Kentucky to turn former coal miners and others with technical aptitude into software developers."

Tesla Deploys Over 300 Powerwalls To Give Hawaiian School Kids AC ( 147

Fred Lambert reports via Electrek: As part of a state initiative, Tesla deployed over 300 Powerwalls in schools to cool down hot classrooms in Hawaii. Hawaii has a problem with hot temperatures in public classrooms that is affecting students negatively. The problem was so significant that the Hawaii State Department of Education had to intervene. They put together a $100 million fund, which has already helped cool down 1,190 classrooms to date, with contracts set for more than 1,300 classrooms, according to The Garden Island. In order to roll out the program without significantly increasing energy costs for public schools, they partnered with Tesla to pair Powerwalls with solar power to reduce the impact of running the air conditioners in classrooms across the state. It also resulted in an interesting learning opportunity about renewable energy and energy storage for students.

Automated Cars Are Not Able To Use the Automated Car Wash ( 150

schwit1 shares a report from The Truth About Cars: [T]he simple task of washing a self-driving car is far more complicated than one might expect, as anything other than meticulous hand washing a big no-no. Automated car washes could potentially dislodge expensive sensors, scratch them up, or leave behind soap residue or water spots that would affect a camera's ability to see. According to CNN, automakers and tech firms have come up with a myriad of solutions to this problem -- though a man with a rag and some water appears to be the most popular. Toyota, Aptiv, Drive.AI, May Mobility, and Uber have all said they use rubbing alcohol, water, or glass cleaner to manually wash the sensors, before carefully finishing the job with a microfiber cloth. While it's more than just a little ironic that these automated vehicles require gobs of attention and pampering from human hands just to function correctly, some companies are working on a way around it. General Motors' Cruise has said it will design and implement sensor-cleaning equipment in production vehicles.

Trump Administration Cracks Down On H-1B Visa Abuse ( 252

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNN Money: The Trump administration is cracking down on companies that get visas for foreign workers and farm them out to employers. Some staffing agencies seek hard-to-get H-1B visas for high-skilled workers, only to contract them out to other companies. There's nothing inherently illegal about contracting out visa recipients, but the workers are supposed to maintain a relationship with their employers, among other requirements. In some cases, outsourcing firms flood the system with applicants. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency said in a new policy memo released Thursday it will require more information about H-1B workers' employment to ensure the workers are doing what they were hired for. Companies will have to provide specific work assignments, including dates and locations, to verify the "employer-employee" relationship between the company applying for an H-1B and its visa recipient.

H-1B visas are valid for three years and can be renewed for another three years. The USCIS says it may limit the length of the visa to shorter than three years based the information an employer provides. For example, if an employer can't prove the H-1B holder is "more likely than not" needed for the full three years, the government might issue the visa for fewer than three years. The memo also says the administration wants to prevent employee "benching." That's when firms bring on H-1B visa holders but don't give them work and don't pay them the required wages while they wait for jobs.

The Almighty Buck

Is Cryptocurrency Threatening Earnings at Bank of America? ( 49

An anonymous reader quotes The Next Web: One of the world's largest financial institutions admitted in its annual report that cryptocurrency is a looming threat to its business model. According to a report filed with the SEC by Bank of America, "Clients may choose to conduct business with other market participants who engage in business or offer products in areas we deem speculative or risky, such as cryptocurrencies. Increased competition may negatively affect our earnings by creating pressure to lower prices or credit standards on our products and services requiring additional investment to improve the quality and delivery of our technology and/or reducing our market share, or affecting the willingness of clients to do business with us."

Bitcoin Exchange Accidentally Allowed Customers To Buy Coins For $0 ( 51

AmiMoJo writes: "A system glitch at cryptocurrency exchange site Zaif enabled users to obtain digital money for free, with one apparently "purchasing" Bitcoin valued at $20,000,000,000,000 and then attempting to cash in on it..." according to the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. "The glitch, which lasted for 18 minutes from 5:40 p.m. to 5:58 p.m. on Feb. 16, affected Zaif's price calculation system, enabling customers to buy cryptocurrencies for nothing."

CoinDesk adds that "At least one customer attempted to resell their bitcoin, but the large amount of the cryptocurrency offered soon drew attention even outside the exchange. The firm later cancelled the transactions and corrected the users' balances. However, a source suggests that the correction is still being agreed with one of the seven users who attempted to transfer the free bitcoin away from the Zaif platform."

The Courts

BuzzFeed Unmasks Mastermind Who Urged Peter Thiel To Destroy Gawker ( 156

One day in 2011 a 26-year-old approached Peter Thiel and said "Look, I think if we datamined Gawker's history, we could find weak points that we could exploit in the court of law," according to the author of a new book. An anonymous reader quotes BuzzFeed News: Peter Thiel's campaign to ruin Gawker Media was conceived and orchestrated by a previously unknown associate who served as a middleman, allowing the billionaire to conceal his involvement in the bankrolling of lawsuits that eventually drove the New York media outlet into bankruptcy. BuzzFeed News has confirmed the identity of that mystery conspirator, known in Thiel's inner circle as "Mr. A," with multiple sources who said that he provided the venture capitalist and Facebook board member with a blueprint to covertly attack Gawker in court. That man, an Oxford-educated Australian citizen named Aron D'Souza, has few known connections to Thiel, but approached him in 2011 with an elaborate proposal to use a legal strategy to wipe out the media organization. That plot ultimately succeeded... D'Souza was aware of Thiel's public comments likening Valleywag to al-Qaeda, and presented a brazen idea: Pay someone or create a company to hire lawyers to go after Gawker.
TechCrunch reported earlier this month that Gawker's old posts "will be captured and saved by the non-profit Freedom of the Press Foundation," which was co-founded in 2012 by the late John Perry Barlow. But in addition, the Gawker estate "continues to threaten possible legal action against Thiel, and hopes to begin discovery to examine the billionaire's motivations for secretly funding his legal war," the article concludes. If a New York bankruptcy court approves, and if the process "unearths anything of meaning, the estate may have grounds to sue Thiel on the grounds of tortious interference, the use of legal means to purposely disrupt a business.

"To head that off, Thiel bid for the remaining Gawker assets -- including the flapship domain, its archive, and outstanding legal claims, like those against himself -- though Holden has made it known that he may block any sale to Thiel, no matter how much the venture capitalist is willing to bid."

Dropbox Files To Go Public 41

Ten years after its launch, Dropbox has filed to go public. The cloud storage company has been around since 2007 and has raised more than $600 million in funding. TechCrunch reports: We knew that it had already filed confidentially, but the company has now unveiled its filing, meaning the actual IPO is likely very soon, probably late March. The company says it will be targeting a $500 million fundraise, but this number is usually just a placeholder. The filing shows that Dropbox had $1.1 billion in revenue last year. This compares to $845 million in revenue the year before and $604 million for 2015. The company is not yet profitable, having lost nearly $112 million last year. This shows significantly improved margins when compared to losses of $210 million for 2016 and $326 million for 2015. Dropbox has been cash flow positive since 2016.

Tesla Will Supply Free Charging Stations To Office Parking Lots 39

Tesla has unveiled a new "workplace charging" program today, which offers businesses free Tesla wall connectors and will also cover installation, provided they meet certain qualifications set forth by the California carmaker. "Tesla won't cover the cost of operating the charging stations, and the company says there could be other permitting, construction, zoning, or labor costs," reports The Verge. From the report: The workplace charging stations will be compatible with all Tesla cars, but not with other EVs, and they won't show up on publicly available Tesla charging maps. The wall chargers are 240 volts, or "Level 2," which is capable of topping off a battery pack in a handful of hours, though the company says the charge rate will vary by location depending on the infrastructure available.
The Courts

Manafort Left an Incriminating Paper Trail Because He Couldn't Figure Out How to Convert PDFs to Word Files ( 189

There are two types of people in this world: those who know how to convert PDFs into Word documents and those who are indicted for money laundering. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is the second kind of person , Slate reports. From the report: Back in October, a grand jury indictment charged Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates with a variety of crimes, including conspiring "to defraud the United States." On Thursday, special counsel Robert Mueller filed a new indictment against the pair, substantially expanding the charges. As one former federal prosecutor told the Washington Post, Manafort and Gates' methods appear to have been "extensive and bold and greedy with a capital 'G,' but ... not all that sophisticated." One new detail from the indictment, however, points to just how unsophisticated Manafort seems to have been. Here's the relevant passage from the indictment. I've bolded the most important bits:

Manafort and Gates made numerous false and fraudulent representations to secure the loans. For example, Manafort provided the bank with doctored [profit and loss statements] for [Davis Manafort Inc.] for both 2015 and 2016, overstating its income by millions of dollars. The doctored 2015 DMI P&L submitted to Lender D was the same false statement previously submitted to Lender C, which overstated DMI's income by more than $4 million. The doctored 2016 DMI P&L was inflated by Manafort by more than $3.5 million. To create the false 2016 P&L, on or about October 21, 2016, Manafort emailed Gates a .pdf version of the real 2016 DMI P&L, which showed a loss of more than $600,000. Gates converted that .pdf into a "Word" document so that it could be edited, which Gates sent back to Manafort. Manafort altered that "Word" document by adding more than $3.5 million in income. He then sent this falsified P&L to Gates and asked that the "Word" document be converted back to a .pdf, which Gates did and returned to Manafort. Manafort then sent the falsified 2016 DMI P&L .pdf to Lender D.
So here's the essence of what went wrong for Manafort and Gates, according to Mueller's investigation: Manafort allegedly wanted to falsify his company's income, but he couldn't figure out how to edit the PDF.

Airlines Won't Dare Use the Fastest Way to Board Planes ( 310

An anonymous reader writes: You've arrived at the airport early. You have already selected the perfect seat. You've employed all possible tricks for making the check-in and security processes zoom by. But there's still some blood-pressure-raising chaos you can't avoid: boarding. From impatient fellow travelers who are determined to beat you onto the plane to passengers who insist on jamming their too-big carry-ons into overhead bins, making your way to your seat can be straight-up hellish -- and Wired's Alex Davies offers up a cheery explanation of why the situation is unlikely to improve any time soon. It's not that airlines aren't trying. In fact, United is in the middle of a months-long test at LAX that involves splitting its five groups of passengers into two lines, instead of five, to see whether that will make boarding less painful. But there are some basic measures that airlines could be taking to speed things up -- offering free baggage check, for instance, or cutting down on early boarding perks -- if they weren't so worried about their bottom lines. "The question for the airlines, then, is not how to get everyone onto a plane as quickly as possible," Davies writes. "It's how to get everyone onto a plane as quickly as possible while still charging them extra for bags, doting on the regular customers, and maintaining the system that, like all class structures, serves whoever built it."

Venezuela Says Its Cryptocurrency Raised $735 Million -- But It's a Farce ( 89

Earlier this week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro claimed that a new state-sponsored cryptocurrency called the petro raised $735 million on the first day of its sale. ArsTechnica dives deep on the matter to suggest that it's all a farce. From the report: The government hasn't provided any way to independently verify that $735 million figure. And there's reason to doubt almost everything the Venezuelan government has said about the project. Moreover, there's little reason to believe that the petro will maintain its value over time. The Venezuelan government has portrayed petro tokens as backed by Venezuela's vast oil reserves, but they're not. The government is merely promising to accept tax payments in petros at a government-determined exchange rate linked to oil prices. Given the Venezuelan government's history of manipulating exchange rates, experts say investors should be wary of this arrangement. Moreover, the petro scheme has been opposed by opposition legislators in Venezuela's opposition-controlled legislature. They say that the Maduro government is essentially issuing oil-backed debt, and legally that can't be done without approval from the legislature. If Maduro falls from power in the future, his successor might refuse to honor petro redemptions.

Uber Will 'Invest Aggressively' In India And Southeast Asia, CEO Says ( 22

Pranav Dixit, writing for BuzzFeed News: Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber's CEO of six months, said on Thursday that the ride-hailing service would continue to invest aggressively in both Southeast Asia and India, where the company is losing money and faces strong competition from local players like Grab and Ola. Uber has been slow to expand its presence in India and Southeast Asia, allowing competitors to quickly gain ground. Singapore's Grab, for instance, claimed to have 95% of the country's ride-hailing market share last year. And Ola, Uber's Indian rival, currently operates in 110 cities against Uber's 29 cities. Ola does 1 billion rides annually, compared to Uber, which announced in mid-2017 that it completed 500 million total rides in the country in its first four years of operations. "We expect to lose money in Southeast Asia and expect to invest aggressively in terms of marketing, subsidies, etc.," Khosrowshahi told reporters in India, which is Uber's fastest-growing market outside the United States, and where he is currently on his first official tour. While Uber's India operation is not yet profitable, it does account for 10% of Uber's rides globally.

Uber Launches 'Express Pool' To Get More Riders To Share Rides ( 63

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Recode: Uber is beginning to roll out a cheaper version of its ride-sharing UberPool service, called Express Pool. The service, which was being tested in Boston and San Francisco, is now available in Los Angeles, San Diego and Denver, and will launch in Miami, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., tomorrow. The idea is that Express Pool, which requires riders to walk a little to meet their driver -- and then again to their destination after being dropped off -- will make shared rides more efficient. If it works, it should both increase the number of rides that drivers can give and also make those shared trips faster for passengers. The new service tests a thesis Uber has long had: Lower prices means higher utilization, and higher utilization means more money -- both for drivers and for Uber. Also that road congestion is bad and the solution is to share more rides. Those are the same theories that sparked the creation of the original UberPool service, which requires a little less walking. But the hope is that this will make it easier to match more passengers and therefore lose less money on each shared ride.

Poland's Central Bank Accused of Paying YouTubers To Make Videos That Attack the Legitimacy of Cryptocurrencies ( 76

Poland's central bank has been accused of hiring YouTubers to "start a smear campaign" against cryptocurrencies in the country, Business Insider reports. From the story: According to Business Insider Poland, the Narodowy Bank Polski spent around 91,000 zloty ($27,300) on a marketing campaign designed to attack the legitimacy of cryptocurrencies. The money was spent on platforms including Google and Facebook, but was also used to pay a Polish Youtube partner network called Gamellon. The Gamellon network reportedly represents many of Poland's top YouTubers, including popular prankster Marcin Dubiel. In December, Dubiel published a video titled "STRACILEM WSZYSTKIE PIENIADZE?!" -- which loosely translates as "I LOST ALL MY MONEY?!" In the satirical video, Dubiel invests all his money in a fake cryptocurrency called Dubielcoin, gets rich, but then sees its value plunge and loses everything. It has racked up over 500,000 views.

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