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The Military

Leaked Emails Show Google Expected Military Drone AI Work To Grow Exponentially (theintercept.com) 84

In March, Google secretly signed an agreement with the Pentagon to provide cutting edge AI technology for drone warfare, causing about a dozen Google employees to resign in protest and thousands to sign a petition calling for an end to the contract. Google has since tried to quash the dissent, claiming that the contract was "only" for $9 million, according to the New York Times. Internal company emails obtained by The Intercept tell a different story: The September emails show that Google's business development arm expected the military drone artificial intelligence revenue to ramp up from an initial $15 million to an eventual $250 million per year. In fact, one month after news of the contract broke, the Pentagon allocated an additional $100 million to Project Maven [the endeavor designed to help drone operators recognize images captured on the battlefield]. The internal Google email chain also notes that several big tech players competed to win the Project Maven contract. Other tech firms such as Amazon were in the running, one Google executive involved in negotiations wrote. (Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.) Rather than serving solely as a minor experiment for the military, Google executives on the thread stated that Project Maven was "directly related" to a major cloud computing contract worth billions of dollars that other Silicon Valley firms are competing to win. The emails further note that Amazon Web Services, the cloud computing arm of Amazon, "has some work loads" related to Project Maven.
The Almighty Buck

Game Livestreaming Explodes, But Women Are Less Likely To Be Paid Than Men (venturebeat.com) 268

A new study by game research firm SuperData Research and payment company PayPal found that eSports and game videos are driving explosive growth in livestreams. But PayPal also found a gender imbalance in pay. Women are less likely to be paid for their streams than men. VentureBeat reports: PayPal said that 34 percent of livestream viewers in the U.S. have spent more than $50 on livestream content in the past few months. But despite the growth in spending, almost half of women content creators (43 percent globally, 47 percent in the U.S.) don't get paid for what they create. The U.S. had the largest gender pay gap of the countries surveyed: Almost half as many men (24 percent) do not get paid for content they create. Globally, active paying gamers polled shop across 14 different gaming platforms and nearly 30 different storefronts over the last three months, an incredible variety.

In the U.S., respondents surveyed purchased from 26 different gaming storefronts -- the third most in the world, behind Russia (27), and Australia and Canada (28 each). While Steam is highly popular among millennials globally (31 percent buy from Steam), GameStop was resoundingly popular, with 45 percent of U.S. millennial respondents reporting shopping there for gaming content. In most countries, in-game spending is within a few dollars of average spend on full games. Surprisingly, in-game spending is skewing higher among older U.S. players: those aged 35-and-over have spent $50 on average, compared to $40 for those aged 18 to 34. Meanwhile, younger gamers are spending more in full-game downloads: $63, versus $48 for gamers 35-and-over.

The Almighty Buck

De Beers To Sell Diamonds Made In a Lab (bloomberg.com) 415

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: De Beers, which almost single-handedly created the allure of diamonds as rare, expensive and the symbol of eternal love, now wants to sell you some party jewelry that is anything but. The company announced today that it will start selling man-made diamond jewelry at a fraction of the price of mined gems, marking a historic shift for the world's biggest diamond miner, which vowed for years that it wouldn't sell stones created in laboratories. The strategy is designed to undercut rival lab-diamond makers, who having been trying to make inroads into the $80 billion gem industry. De Beers will target younger spenders with its new diamond brand and try to capture customers that have been resistant to splurging on expensive jewelry. The company is betting that it can split the market -- with mined gems in luxury settings and engagement rings at the top, and lab-made fashion jewelry aimed at millennials at the bottom. "Lab grown are not special, they're not real, they're not unique. You can make exactly the same one again and again," Bruce Cleaver, chief executive officer of De Beers, said in an interview Tuesday. De Beers says the man-made diamonds will not compete with mined stones. It's so adamant about this that it will not grade them in the traditional way. "We're not grading our lab-grown diamonds because we don't think they deserve to be graded," Cleaver said. "They're all the same."

As for pricing, "The lab diamonds from De Beers will sell for about $800 a carat," reports Bloomberg. "A 1-carat man-made diamond sells for about $4,000 and a similar natural diamond fetches roughly $8,000."
Privacy

People Are Using Venmo To Spy On Cheating Spouses (marketwatch.com) 102

According to MarketWatch's Leslie Albrecht, people are using the peer-to-peer payment app Venmo to find out if their spouse is cheating. Some are even saying the app is more effective than Facebook at this sort of investigation. "What you're seeing on Instagram or Facebook is what they want you to see," said Abby Faber, a 19-year-old freshman at Indiana University. "They're edited pictures that they put up. But with Venmo, it's very normal casual interactions. It's what they were doing and spending money on." From the report: Some users seem to forget that their transactions are public by default, and their payment activity provides an unfiltered paper trail of what's really happening in their lives. In [Faber's] case, she checked up on her ex-boyfriend and saw he was spending money on pizza and the popular video game Fortnite -- and making regular payments to one girl, who Faber guessed is his new hook-up.

Venmo has had a social component since it launched in 2009. Users see a feed of both their own friends' payments and total strangers' activity every time they open the app, and it's easy to look up users. Exact amounts aren't listed, but you can see who's paying who and which words or emoji they use to describe the payment. The social feed is Venmo's "secret sauce," said Erin Mackey, a spokeswoman for Venmo and its parent company PayPal. In fact, it's usually the reason people are logging on. "Our most active users check Venmo daily and the average user checks Venmo two to three times per week -- and it's not for payments, but to see what their friends and family are doing."
The report mentions a settlement Venmo reached with the FTC last year over its public-by-default social component. The FTC accused (PDF) Venmo of "misleading" users about the fact that they needed to change two separate privacy settings to make their transactions completely private. "Venmo reached a settlement with the FTC, and a company spokesperson noted that users now have three options for controlling who can see their payments," reports MarketWatch.
Businesses

Intel Faces Age Discrimination Allegations Following Layoffs (engadget.com) 262

Intel is under investigation for potential age discrimination in its approach to layoffs initiated in 2016, according to a report. Engadget: The Wall Street Journal has learned that the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is investigating claims that Intel's large-scale layoffs discriminated against older employees. In a May 2016 round that cut 2,300 workers, for instance, the median age of those let go was 49 -- seven years older than those who remained. The EEOC hasn't decided whether or not it will file a class-action lawsuit against Intel, but the affected people will be free to pursue civil lawsuits if the regulator doesn't find enough evidence to pursue its own case. The EEOC isn't allowed to confirm or deny investigations. However, an Intel spokesperson categorically denied that age played a role.
Businesses

Star Citizen Video Game Launches $27,000 Players' Pack (bbc.com) 193

An anonymous reader shares a report: Crowdfunded space simulation game Star Citizen has launched its $27,000 Legatus Pack, which includes nearly all its spacecraft plus extras. Only players who have already spent $1,000 in the game can access the pack. Cloud Imperium, the creators of Star Citizen, has received more than $200m in crowdfunding since launching a Kickstarter campaign for it in 2012. According to its website it has more than two million players, although the game itself is still in development. Star Citizen aims to create a vast science fiction universe that can be explored in dozens of spaceships, with first-person space combat, all online and multi-player.
China

In China's Booming Tech Scene, Women Battle Sexism and Conservative Values (reuters.com) 225

In recent years, even as China's tech industry has boomed, many women say they make far less than their male counterpart for the same job. An anonymous reader shares a report: Reuters spoke to more than a dozen women -- and some men -- in the sector, from entry-level employees to executives, who described an industry where female engineers and coders battle against ingrained biases favoring men. "The traditional view is simply to think that women aren't suitable to be programmers," said Chen Bin, a former Microsoft engineer and the Beijing-based founder of Teach Girls Coding, a campaign to get more women into the sector. "Things are better now than ten years ago, but overall the number of women getting into tech is really small," he said.

China is not the only country where the tech industry has faced heat over a lack of diversity in the workplace. But unlike U.S. peers that have faced legal action over discrimination, including Uber, Alphabet's Google and Microsoft, Chinese technology companies are relatively opaque about gender issues. Most give little data on hiring and none of the industry leaders share the diversity reports that are now customary in the United States, shedding doubt on whether women in Chinese firms hold a comparable number of technical or leadership roles.

Businesses

London Launches World's First Contactless Payment Scheme For Street Performers (theverge.com) 162

An anonymous reader shares a report: Here's a casualty of the cashless society you might not have previously thought of: the humble street performer. After all, if more of us are paying our way with smartphones and contactless cards, how can we give spare change to musicians on the subway? London has one solution: a new scheme that outfits performers with contactless payment terminals. The project was launched this weekend by the city's mayor, Sadiq Khan, and is a collaboration with Busk In London (a professional body for buskers) and the Swedish payments firm iZettle (which was bought this month by PayPal for $2.2 billion). A select few performers have been testing iZettle's contactless readers on the streets for the past few weeks, and Khan now says the scheme will be rolled out across London's 32 boroughs.
EU

Europe Plans Ban on Plastic Cutlery, Straws and More (cnn.com) 628

Europe is proposing a ban on single-use plastic items such as cutlery, straws and cotton buds in a bid to clean up the oceans. From a report: The European Commission wants to ban 10 items that make up 70% of all litter in EU waters and on beaches. The list also includes plastic plates and drink stirrers. The draft rules were unveiled Monday but need the approval of all EU member states and the European Parliament. It could take three or four years for the rules to come into force. The legislation is not just about banning plastic products. It also wants to make plastic producers bear the cost of waste management and cleanup efforts, and it proposes that EU states must collect 90% of single-use plastic bottles by 2025 through new recycling programs.
GNOME

Mystery Donor Pledges $1 Million To The GNOME Foundation (betanews.com) 150

Brian Fagioli, writing for BetaNews: This week, The GNOME Foundation made a shocking revelation: a mystery donor has pledged $1 million dollars. We don't know who is promising the money -- it could be a rich man or woman, but more likely -- and this is pure speculation -- it is probably a company that benefits from GNOME, such as Red Hat or Canonical.

"An anonymous donor has pledged to donate up to $1,000,000 over the next two years, some of which will be matching funds. The GNOME Foundation is grateful for this donation and plans on using these funds to increase staff to streamline operations and to grow its support of the GNOME Project and the surrounding ecosystem. While the GNOME Foundation has maintained its position as a proponent of the GNOME Project, growth has been limited. With these funds, the GNOME Foundation will be able to expand and lead in the free software space," says The GNOME Foundation.

The Almighty Buck

Australian Bank's System Outage Leaves 9 Million Customers Without Cash (reuters.com) 132

An anonymous reader quotes Reuters: National Australia Bank on Saturday suffered what it described as a "nationwide outage" to some of its technology systems, leaving customers unable to access banking services or withdraw money. Customers took to social media to vent their frustrations, with some saying they were left unable to pay for groceries or refuel their cars...

National Australia Bank is one of Australia's four largest retail banks with a customer base of 9 million, according to its website... The Bank of New Zealand, a NAB subsidiary, also experienced outages on Saturday across New Zealand, but the spokesman was unable to confirm a connection between the two incidents.

United States

Ask Slashdot: Did Baby Boomers Break America? (time.com) 609

"Automation taking jobs is only one symptom of a larger problem," argues an anonymous Slashdot reader, sharing a link to this excerpt from Steven Brill's new book Tailspin, which seeks to identify "the people and forces behind America's fifty-year fall -- and those fighting to reverse it." The excerpt has this intriguing title: "How Baby Boomers Broke America." As my generation of achievers graduated from elite universities and moved into the professional world, their personal successes often had serious societal consequences. They upended corporate America and Wall Street with inventions in law and finance that created an economy built on deals that moved assets around instead of building new ones. They created exotic, and risky, financial instruments, including derivatives and credit default swaps, that produced sugar highs of immediate profits but separated those taking the risk from those who would bear the consequences. They organized hedge funds that turned owning stock into a minute-by-minute bet rather than a long-term investment... Regulatory agencies were overwhelmed by battalions of lawyers who brilliantly weaponized the bedrock American value of due process so that, for example, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule protecting workers from a deadly chemical could be challenged and delayed for more than a decade and end up being hundreds of pages long. Lawyers then contested the meaning of every clause while racking up fees of hundreds of dollars per hour from clients who were saving millions of dollars on every clause they could water down...

As government was disabled from delivering on vital issues, the protected were able to protect themselves still more. For them, it was all about building their own moats. Their money, their power, their lobbyists, their lawyers, their drive overwhelmed the institutions that were supposed to hold them accountable -- government agencies, Congress, the courts... That, rather than a split between Democrats and Republicans, is the real polarization that has broken America since the 1960s. It's the protected vs. the unprotected, the common good vs. maximizing and protecting the elite winners' winnings... [I]n a way unprecedented in history, they were able to consolidate their winnings, outsmart and co-opt the forces that might have reined them in, and pull up the ladder so more could not share in their success or challenge their primacy.

Brill argues that the unprotected need things like "a realistic shot at justice in the courts," writing that instead "the First Amendment became a tool for the wealthy to put a thumb on the scales of democracy." And he shares these statistics about the rest of America today:
  • For adults in their 30s, the chance of earning more than their parents dropped to 50% from 90% just two generations earlier.
  • In 2017, household debt had grown higher than the peak reached in 2008 before the crash, with student and automobile loans staking growing claims on family paychecks.
  • Although the U.S. remains the world's richest country, it has the third-highest poverty rate among the 35 nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development...

Has he identified the source of a societal malaise? Leave your own thoughts in the comments.

And is Brill's thesis correct? Did baby boomers break America?


Transportation

5.3M Cars Recalled Because 'Drivers May Not Be Able to Turn Off Cruise Control' (freep.com) 152

An anonymous reader quotes the Associated Press: Fiat Chrysler is recalling more than 5.3 million vehicles in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere because in rare but terrifying circumstances, drivers may not be able to turn off the cruise control. The company is warning owners not to use cruise control until the cars, SUVs and trucks can be fixed with a software update. Fiat Chrysler says the condition can occur if the cruise control accelerates at the same time an electrical short-circuit happens. But the brakes are designed to overpower the engine and the vehicles could still be stopped...

In the complaint filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an owner from Olathe, Kansas, said a 2017 Dodge Journey SUV rental vehicle was being driven about 70 miles per hour with the cruise control on when the windshield wipers came on by themselves and the throttle locked up. The owner, who was not identified in the agency's complaint database, wrote that the cruise control would not disengage by tapping the brakes or turning off the button. The driver was able to slam on the brakes and get the SUV to the side of the road. "It was still running at an engine speed to support 70 mph and fighting the brakes," the driver wrote. The engine stop button also wouldn't work, but the driver was able to halt the SUV and shift into park while the brakes "smoked significantly."

The recall "includes 15 Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler and Ram models from six model years" which have automatic transmissions and gas engines, according to the Associated Press -- 4.8 million in America, plus another 490,000 in Canada and "an undetermined number" in other countries.

You can check if your vehicle is affected by this (or any other) recall by entering its VIN number at NHTSA.gov. U.S. safety officials suggest checking whether your vehicle has been recalled "at least twice per year."
Movies

Most MoviePass Subscribers Have Gone To a Movie They Normally Would've Ignored (exstreamist.com) 45

Extremist surveyed 1,311 current self-reporting MoviePass subscribers and found that 82% of subscribers have gone to a movie they normally would have ignored. 13% of respondents said "No," while 5% were "Not Sure." From the report: While theaters are only reporting a slight uptick in foot traffic since MoviePass got popular, there is no denying that there are now more butts in seats of movies that otherwise might not get as much foot traffic. Perhaps the real winner in a world with MoviePass is the box office rake for "bad" movies. If you are a MoviePass subscriber, have you noticed yourself attending movies you otherwise wouldn't pay directly to see?
The Almighty Buck

Companies Are Using California Homes As Batteries To Power the Grid (qz.com) 208

"Companies like Tesla and SunRun are starting to bid on utility contracts that would allow them to string together dozens or hundreds of systems that act as an enormous reserve to balance the flow of electricity on the grid," reports Quartz. "Doing so would accelerate the grid's transformation from 20th century hub-and-spoke architecture to a transmission network moving electricity among thousands or millions of customers who generate and store their own power." From the report: In theory, networked home-solar-and-battery systems, acting in coordination over a single geographical area, could replace things like natural gas "peaker" plants need to help support the grid on a moment's notice. But it's an open question whether it makes financial sense. Kamath says renewable mandates could keep home solar-storage solutions for the grid going for a while, but the idea will have to prove itself on the market, perhaps by aggregating large areas, if it wants to seriously compete with existing energy assets.

SunRun told investors in 2017 that its pilot programs suggest it could competitively generate $2,000 worth of services by managing electricity flow back to the grid. The company has recently dropped its combative stance with utilities dragging their feet on accepting home solar. Instead, it's pursuing cooperation with the utilities now, in hopes of selling them home-based power. That would allow it grab a chunk of the billions being spent on modernizing the grid. "We don't want to be in a position of building two competing infrastructures," SunRun's Jurich said.

The Courts

Tesla Agrees To Settle Class Action Over Autopilot Billed As 'Safer' (reuters.com) 66

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Tesla on Thursday reached an agreement to settle a class action lawsuit with buyers of its Model S and Model X cars who alleged that the company's assisted-driving Autopilot system was "essentially unusable and demonstrably dangerous." The lawsuit said Tesla misrepresented on its website that the cars came with capabilities designed to make highway driving "safer." The Tesla owners said they paid an extra $5,000 to have their cars equipped with the Autopilot software with additional safety features such as automated emergency braking and side collision warning. The features were "completely inoperable," according to the complaint. Under the proposed agreement, class members, who paid to get the Autopilot upgrade between 2016 and 2017, will receive between $20 and $280 in compensation. Tesla has agreed to place more than $5 million into a settlement fund, which will also cover attorney fees.
Businesses

Apple Blocks Steam's Plan To Extend Its Video Games To iPhones (reuters.com) 202

Citing "business conflicts," Apple has blocked Steam's plans to distribute PC-based video games to iPhones. It's "a sign that Apple is serious about protecting its ability to take a cut of digital purchases made inside games on its mobile devices," reports Reuters. From the report: Steam, the dominant online store for downloaded games played on Windows PCs, had planned to release a free mobile phone app called Steam Link so that gamers could continue playing on their mobile phones while away from their desktop machines. But Apple has rejected the app, blocking its release, according to a statement from Steam's parent company, the Bellevue, Washington-based Valve. Steam did not give a precise reason for the App Store denials, saying only that Apple cited "business conflicts with app guidelines." But the conflict likely centers on what are known as in-app purchases or micro-transactions, in which gamers can spend small sums of money inside games to buy tokens, extra lives or others so-called digital goods. Lombardi said Steam disabled purchasing its iOS app but did not elaborate on how the change was made. Many analysts believe Apple could lose revenue if they allow Steam's app, which is essentially a store-within-a-store. "Apple takes a 30 percent cut of such purchases made within apps distributed through its App Store," Reuters notes. "[T]hose purchases are among the primary drivers of revenue in Apple's services business."
Businesses

Android Creator Puts Essential Up For Sale, Cancels Next Phone (bloomberg.com) 51

Bloomberg reports that Andy Rubin's Essential Products business is considering selling itself and has canceled development of a new smartphone. The news comes several months after numerous reports suggested that the Essential Phone's sales were tepid. From the report: The startup has hired Credit Suisse Group AG to advise on a potential sale and has received interest from at least one suitor, the people said. Essential is now actively shopping itself to potential suitors, one of the people said. The startup, part of Rubin's incubator Playground Global, has raised about $300 million from several investors, including Amazon, Tencent, and Redpoint Ventures. It was valued at $900 million to $1 billion about a year ago, according to an analysis by Equidate, which runs a market for private company stock.

The startup has spent more than $100 million on developing its first products, about a third of the money it raised to build the company, the people said. Current discussions are focused on a sale of the entire company, including its patent portfolio, hardware products like the original smartphone, an upcoming smart home device and a camera attachment for the phone. Essential's engineering talent, which includes those hired from Apple and Alphabet's Google, would likely be part of a deal. The company hasn't yet made a final decision on a sale, the people said.

Bitcoin

About $1.2 Billion in Cryptocurrency Stolen Since 2017 (reuters.com) 53

Criminals have stolen about $1.2 billion in cryptocurrencies since the beginning of 2017, as bitcoin's popularity and the emergence of more than 1,500 digital tokens have put the spotlight on the unregulated sector, according to estimates from the Anti-Phishing Working Group released on Thursday. From a report: The estimates were part of the non-profit group's research on cryptocurrency and include reported and unreported theft. "One problem that we're seeing in addition to the criminal activity like drug trafficking and money laundering using cryptocurrencies is the theft of these tokens by bad guys," Dave Jevans, chief executive officer of cryptocurrency security firm CipherTrace, told Reuters in an interview.
Linux

Robin "Roblimo" Miller, a Long-Time Voice of the Linux Community, Has Passed Away (wikipedia.org) 344

Reader rootmon writes: Our thoughts/prayers are with the family and friends of long time open source writer/journalist Robin "Roblimo" Miller who passed away this morning. Robin "Roblimo" Miller (born October 30, 1952) served as the Editor-in-Chief of Open Source Technology Group, the company which owned Slashdot, SourceForge.net, Freshmeat, Linux.com, NewsForge, and ThinkGeek between 2000 to 2008. Miller formerly owned Robin's Limousine, a small limo company based in Elkridge, Maryland, the origin of his online nickname. Miller is best known for his involvement with Slashdot, where he was not only the corporate editorial overseer but also Interview Editor.

As a freelancer, Miller wrote for a number of print and online publications including Time.com, Baltimore City Paper, American Medical News, Innkeeping World, Machine Design, The Baltimore Sun, and Rewired.com. Miller is the author of three books: The Online Rules of Successful Companies, Point -- Click Linux!, and Point -- Click OpenOffice.org, all published by Prentice Hall. His most recent ventures revolved around Internet-delivered video, including video software "tours" and tutorials on Linux.com and his recent "side" venture, Internet Video Promotion, Inc. Miller has been a judge for the Lulu Blooker Prize and is on the online advisory board of the Online Journalism Review of the Annenberg Center for Communication at the University of Southern California. (Biographical Info Quoted in Part from Wikipedia)
Further reading: Linux Journal: RIP Robin "Roblimo" Miller.

Remembering Miller, ZDNet journalist S. Vaughan-Nichols wrote, "He was funny, bright, quick with a quip, caring, and wise. I, and many others who had the pleasure of knowing him, will miss him enormously." Paul Jones, Clinical Professor at the School of Information & Library Science, and Director of ibiblio.org, wrote, "Robin taught me many things, besides the immense gift of his friendship, including 'the way to make money on the internet is to take on more than you spend.' Both funny and accurate in context and very much true to roblimo." Writer and engineer Emmett Initiative said, "He was my editor, which means he was my best friend and worst enemy. He was a kind and thoughtful man that made every writer around him at least 300% better. I already miss him."

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