China

Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument (cnet.com) 54

Abstract of a study: The Chinese government has long been suspected of hiring as many as 2,000,000 people to surreptitiously insert huge numbers of pseudonymous and other deceptive writings into the stream of real social media posts, as if they were the genuine opinions of ordinary people. Many academics, and most journalists and activists, claim that these so-called "50c party" posts vociferously argue for the government's side in political and policy debates. As we show, this is also true of the vast majority of posts openly accused on social media of being 50c. Yet, almost no systematic empirical evidence exists for this claim, or, more importantly, for the Chinese regime's strategic objective in pursuing this activity. In the first large scale empirical analysis of this operation, we show how to identify the secretive authors of these posts, the posts written by them, and their content. We estimate that the government fabricates and posts about 448 million social media comments a year. In contrast to prior claims, we show that the Chinese regime's strategy is to avoid arguing with skeptics of the party and the government, and to not even discuss controversial issues. From a CNET article, titled, Chinese media told to 'shut down' talk that makes country look bad: Being an internet business in China appears to be getting tougher. Chinese broadcasters, including social media platform Weibo, streamer Acfun and media company Ifeng were told to shut down all audio and visual content that cast the country or its government in bad light, China's State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television posted on its website on Thursday, saying they violate local regulations. "[The service providers] broadcast large amounts of programmes that don't comply with national rules and propagate negative discussions about public affairs. [The agency] has notified all relevant authorities and ... will take measures to shut down these programmes and rectify the situation," reads the statement.
Businesses

Trump Plans To Dismantle Obama-Era 'Startup Visa' (arstechnica.com) 201

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A regulation from the Obama administration that would have allowed foreign-born entrepreneurs who raise investor cash to build their startups in the U.S. won't be allowed to go into effect. The Department of Homeland Security will file an official notice to delay the International Entrepreneur Rule for eight months. The intention is to eliminate the rule entirely, according to sources briefed on the matter who spoke to The Wall Street Journal. The decision isn't final, and a DHS spokesperson told the WSJ that the department "cannot speculate" on the outcome of the review. The International Entrepreneur Rule, signed by former President Obama days before he left office in January, doesn't offer a visa but rather a type of "parole" that would allow immigrants to stay in the U.S. temporarily as long as they meet certain requirements. In order to qualify, a foreign entrepreneur has to raise at least $250,000 from well-known U.S. investors. The rule grants a stay in the U.S. of 30 months, which can be extended for an additional 30 months. Founders can't apply for a green card during that time. DHS has estimated about 3,000 entrepreneurs would qualify under the rule.
Government

The US Government Wants To Permanently Legalize the Right To Repair (vice.com) 121

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: In one of the biggest wins for the right to repair movement yet, the U.S. Copyright Office suggested Thursday that the U.S. government should take actions to make it legal to repair anything you own, forever -- even if it requires hacking into the product's software. Manufacturers -- including John Deere, Ford, various printer companies, and a host of consumer electronics companies -- have argued that it should be illegal to bypass the software locks that they put into their products, claiming that such circumvention violated copyright law. Thursday, the U.S. Copyright Office said it's tired of having to deal with the same issues every three years; it should be legal to repair the things you buy -- everything you buy -- forever. "The growing demand for relief under section 1201 has coincided with a general understanding that bona fide repair and maintenance activities are typically non infringing," the report stated. "Repair activities are often protected from infringement claims by multiple copyright law provisions." "The Office recommends against limiting an exemption to specific technologies or devices, such as motor vehicles, as any statutory language would likely be soon outpaced by technology," it continued.
Businesses

Wireless and Drone Execs Praised President Trump as He Pledged To Cut Down Regulations (recode.net) 75

U.S. President Donald Trump offered support for emerging technologies including unmanned aerial vehicles and next-generation wireless networks in a meeting on Thursday with the chiefs of AT&T and General Electric and other business leaders. From a report: For the likes of AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, the public audience with Trump offered an opportunity to continue nudging the U.S. government -- including in a scheduled, private session with the leader of the Federal Communications Commission earlier Thursday -- to cut back on restrictions that make it difficult for AT&T and other telecom giants to grow their footprint and deploy the new technologies, such as 5G wireless. Speaking with Recode later Thursday, Marcelo Claure, the chief executive of Sprint, said that he and others in his industry had emphasized to Trump that the government must help them deploy new tools like small cells -- essentially, mini cell towers that improve wireless connectivity. Trump, for his part, promised Thursday to cut down on "too many years of excessive government regulation" to enable innovators and investments to offer new cutting-edge tools in health care, science, medicine and communication. "We have had regulation that's been so bad, so out of line that it's really hurt our country," he said.
Software

NSA Opens GitHub Account, Lists 32 Projects Developed By the Agency (thehackernews.com) 62

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hacker News: The National Security Agency (NSA) -- the United States intelligence agency which is known for its secrecy and working in the dark -- has finally joined GitHub and launched an official GitHub page. GitHub is an online service designed for sharing code amongst programmers and open source community, and so far, the NSA is sharing 32 different projects as part of the NSA Technology Transfer Program (TTP), while some of these are "coming soon." "The NSA Technology Transfer Program (TTP) works with agency innovators who wish to use this collaborative model for transferring their technology to the commercial marketplace," the agency wrote on the program's page. "OSS invites the cooperative development of technology, encouraging broad use and adoption. The public benefits by adopting, enhancing, adapting, or commercializing the software. The government benefits from the open source community's enhancements to the technology." Many of the projects the agency listed are years old that have been available on the Internet for some time. For example, SELinux (Security-Enhanced Linux) has been part of the Linux kernel for years.
Transportation

South Korea Signs On To Build Full-Scale Hyperloop System (newatlas.com) 133

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) has partnered with the South Korean government and local universities to build the world's first full-scale Hyperloop system. "The agreement was actually signed back in January but only revealed this week, and sees HTT team up with the South Korean government's department of technological innovation and infrastructure, along with the Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building (KICT) and Hanyang University," reports New Atlas. From the report: It involves the construction of a full-scale testbed, licensing of HTT's vacuum tube, levitation, propulsion and battery technologies along with the co-development of safety standards and regulations. The agreement is a multi-year partnership intended to build a new transportation system for South Korea, one which will be known as the HyperTube Express and carry passengers between Seoul and Busan in under 20 minutes, compared to the current three-hour drive. HTT may be setting out to build the world's first Hyperloop but it is no guarantee, with fellow startups Arrivo and Hyperloop One also moving full-steam ahead with their plans. The latter in particular seems to be making solid progress, recently showing off a full-scale test track in Nevada and forming agreements with Russia, Finland and Dubai to explore the feasibility of a Hyperloop in those countries. It's too early to tell who will be first out of the gate, but the competition is certainly heating up.
Security

Facial Recognition Is Coming To US Airports (theverge.com) 145

Facial recognition systems will be coming to U.S. airports in the very near future. "Customs and Border Protection first started testing facial recognition systems at Dulles Airport in 2015, then expanded the tests to New York's JFK Airport last year," reports The Verge. "Now, a new project is poised to bring those same systems to every international airport in America." From the report: Called Biometric Exit, the project would use facial matching systems to identify every visa holder as they leave the country. Passengers would have their photos taken immediately before boarding, to be matched with the passport-style photos provided with the visa application. If there's no match in the system, it could be evidence that the visitor entered the country illegally. The system is currently being tested on a single flight from Atlanta to Tokyo, but after being expedited by the Trump administration, it's expected to expand to more airports this summer, eventually rolling out to every international flight and border crossing in the U.S. U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Larry Panetta, who took over the airport portion of the project in February, explained the advantages of facial recognition at the Border Security Expo last week. "Facial recognition is the path forward we're working on," Panetta said at the conference. "We currently have everyone's photo, so we don't need to do any sort of enrollment. We have access to the Department of State records so we have photos of U.S. Citizens, we have visa photos, we have photos of people when they cross into the U.S. and their biometrics are captured into [DHS biometric database] IDENT."
Government

Trump Promises a Federal Technology Overhaul To Save $1 Trillion (technologyreview.com) 376

New submitter threc shares a report from MIT Technology Review: The tech world descended on Washington, D.C. yesterday to attend a tech summit at the White House. According to MIT Technology Review associate editor Jamie Condliffe: "Trump suggested he might relax his stance on immigration as a way to get tech leaders to help his cause. 'You can get the people you want,' he told the assembled CEOs. That sweetener may be a response to a very vocal backlash in the tech world against the administration's recent travel bans. Trump may hope that his business-friendly stance will offer enough allure: if tech giants scratch his back, he may later deign to scratch theirs." The report continues: "'Our goal is to lead a sweeping transformation of the federal government's technology that will deliver dramatically better services for citizens,' said Trump at the start of his meeting with the CEOs, according to the Washington Post. 'We're embracing big change, bold thinking, and outsider perspectives.' The headline announcement from the event was Trump's promise to overhaul creaking government computing infrastructure. According to Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and advisor, there's much to be done: federal agencies have over 6,000 data centers that could be consolidated, for instance, while the 10 oldest networks in use by the government are all at least 39 years old. The upgrade, said Trump, could save the country $1 trillion over the next 10 years."
Earth

Sweden Passes Bill To Become Carbon Neutral By 2045 (newscientist.com) 218

Sweden is the first country to significantly upgrade its carbon ambitions since the Paris accord in 2015. The country has passed a new bill committing to cut its net carbon emissions to zero by 2045. New Scientist reports: The law was drawn up by a cross-party committee and passed with an overwhelming majority in parliament by 254 votes to 41. The legislation establishes an independent Climate Policy Council and requires an action plan to be updated every four years. Sweden had previously committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. It already gets 83 per cent of its electricity from nuclear energy and hydropower, having met its 2020 target of 50 per cent renewable energy eight years ahead of schedule. To achieve carbon-neutral status, the country will focus on reducing emissions from transport by increasing the use of biofuels and electric vehicles. It plans to cut domestic emissions by at least 85 per cent, and offset remaining emissions by planting trees or investing in projects abroad.
Government

Tim Cook Told Trump Tech Employees Are 'Nervous' About Immigration (cnbc.com) 325

Behind the scenes at the White House tech CEO meeting, Apple CEO Tim Cook told President Donald Trump that technology employees are "nervous" about the administration's approach to immigration, CNBC reports, citing a source familiar with the exchange. From the report: The source said the president told the CEOs on Monday that the Senate's health-care bill needs "more heart." That would be a second known instance of the president criticizing the GOP plan in private meetings. To that, the source said, Cook replied that the immigration approach by the administration also "needs more heart." Cook cited the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which is under review by the Trump administration. He also said people in tech and their co-workers were nervous about their status, and added that it "would be great" if the president could "send them a signal." Here's what executives of Amazon, Google, and Microsoft said.
The Internet

Cable Lobby Tries To Stop State Investigations Into Slow Broadband (arstechnica.com) 82

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Broadband industry lobby groups want to stop individual states from investigating the speed claims made by Internet service providers, and they are citing the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules in their effort to hinder the state-level actions. The industry attempt to undercut state investigations comes a few months after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against Charter and its Time Warner Cable (TWC) subsidiary that claims the ISP defrauded and misled New Yorkers by promising Internet speeds the company knew it could not deliver. NCTA-The Internet & Television Association and USTelecom, lobby groups for the cable and telecom industries, last month petitioned the Federal Communications Commission for a declaratory ruling that would help ISPs defend themselves against state-level investigations. The FCC should declare that advertisements of speeds "up to" a certain level of megabits per second are consistent with federal law as long as ISPs meet their disclosure obligations under the net neutrality rules, the groups said. There should be a national standard enforced by the FCC instead of a state-by-state "patchwork of inconsistent requirements," they argue. Another cable lobby group, the American Cable Association (ACA), asked the FCC to approve the petition in a filing on Friday. An FCC ruling in favor of the petition wouldn't completely prevent states from filing lawsuits, but such a ruling would make it far more difficult for the states to protect consumers from false speed claims.
Social Networks

Supreme Court Rules Sex Offenders Can't Be Barred From Social Media (gizmodo.com) 114

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: In a unanimous decision today, the Supreme Court struck down a North Carolina law that prevents sex offenders from posting on social media where children might be present, saying it "impermissibly restricts lawful speech." In doing so, the Supreme Court asserted what we all know to be true: Posting is essential to the survival of the republic. The court ruled that to "foreclose access to social media altogether is to prevent the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights." The court correctly noted that "one of the most important places to exchange views is cyberspace." The North Carolina law was ruled to be overly broad, barring "access to what for many are the principal sources for knowing current events, checking ads for employment, speaking and listening in the modern public square, and otherwise exploring the vast realms of human thought and knowledge."
Government

Using Texts as Lures, Government Spyware Targets Mexican Journalists and Their Families (nytimes.com) 54

Mexico's most prominent human rights lawyers, journalists and anti-corruption activists have been targeted by advanced spyware sold to the Mexican government on the condition that it be used only to investigate criminals and terrorists, reports the New York Times. From the report: The targets include lawyers looking into the mass disappearance of 43 students (alternative source), a highly respected academic who helped write anti-corruption legislation, two of Mexico's most influential journalists and an American representing victims of sexual abuse by the police. The spying even swept up family members, including a teenage boy. Since 2011, at least three Mexican federal agencies have purchased about $80 million worth of spyware created by an Israeli cyberarms manufacturer. The software, known as Pegasus, infiltrates smartphones to monitor every detail of a person's cellular life -- calls, texts, email, contacts and calendars. It can even use the microphone and camera on phones for surveillance, turning a target's smartphone into a personal bug.
Government

198 Million Americans Hit By 'Largest Ever' Voter Records Leak (zdnet.com) 119

Political data gathered on more than 198 million US citizens was exposed this month after a marketing firm contracted by the Republican National Committee stored internal documents on a publicly accessible Amazon server, reports say. From a ZDNet article: It's believed to be the largest ever known exposure of voter information to date. The various databases containing 198 million records on American voters from all political parties were found stored on an open Amazon S3 storage server owned by a Republican data analytics firm, Deep Root Analytics. UpGuard cyber risk analyst Chris Vickery, who found the exposed server, verified the data. Through his responsible disclosure, the server was secured late last week, and prior to publication. This leak shines a spotlight on the Republicans' multi-million dollar effort to better target potential voters by utilizing big data. The move largely a response to the successes of the Barack Obama campaign in 2008, thought to have been the first data-driven campaign. Further reading: Republican Data-Mining Firm Exposed Personal Information for Virtually Every American Voter - The Intercept; The RNC Files: Inside the Largest US Voter Data Leak - Upguard; Data on 198M voters exposed by GOP contractor Data On 198M Voters Exposed By GOP Contractor - The Hill.
Businesses

Amazon Plans Cuts to Shed Whole Foods' Pricey Image (bloomberg.com) 311

When Amazon completes its acquisition of Whole Foods Market, Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos will try to keep the grocer's reputation for premium fresh foods while cutting prices to shed its "Whole Paycheck" image. From a report: Amazon expects to reduce headcount and change inventory to lower prices and make Whole Foods competitive with Wal-Mart Stores and other big-box retailers, according to a person with knowledge of the company's grocery plans. That included potentially using technology to eliminate cashiers. Amazon, known for its competitive prices, is trying to attract more low- and middle-income shoppers with its grocery push. The Seattle-based company already offers discounted Amazon Prime memberships for people receiving government assistance and is part of a pilot program to deliver groceries to food-stamp recipients.
United States

Louisville's Fiber Internet Expansion Opposed By Koch Brothers Group (usatoday.com) 230

Slashdot reader simkel shared an article from the Courier-Journal: A group affiliated with the Koch brothers' powerful political network is leading an online campaign against Mayor Greg Fischer's $5.4 million proposal to expand Louisville's ultra-fast internet access... Critics argue that building roughly 96 miles of fiber optic cabling is an unnecessary taxpayer giveaway to internet service providers, such as Google Fiber, which recently announced plans to begin building its high-speed network in the city. "Fundamentally, we don't believe that taxpayers should be funding broadband or internet systems," said David Williams, president of the taxpayers alliance, which is part of industrialists Charles and David Koch's political donor network... The group says $5.4 million is a misuse of taxpayer funds when the city has other needs, such as infrastructure and public safety.
To shore up public support, the mayor has begun arguing that high-speed connectivity would make it cheaper to install crime-monitoring cameras in violent neighborhoods.
Twitter

Tableau Software Drops Its 'Twitter Crowd Favorite' Data Viz Contests (tableau.com) 21

theodp writes: As part of its 'Iron Viz' data visualization contests that lead up to its annual conferences, Tableau Software ($4.8B market cap) has awarded $500 gift cards to 'Twitter Crowd Favorites', contestants whose data viz draw the most 'votes' (tagged Tweets) on Twitter. But no more. As it expanded Iron Viz eligibility to China, Tableau said it 'just didn't seem fair' to allow popular voting in its worldwide contests since the Chinese government blocks citizens' Twitter use. "As Chinese authors join the contest," the Tableau Public blog explained, "we have to say goodbye to the Twitter Crowd Favorite. Twitter is blocked in mainland China and it wouldn't be fair for our Chinese contestants." And the latest Iron Viz Contest FAQs confirm the change: "Q. I heard there won't be a Crowd Favorite prize, is that true? A. Absolutely true. China is among the new countries who can take part in the Iron Viz, and Twitter doesn't work in mainland China. The usual Twitter Popular Vote just didn't seem fair."
This XKCD comic still has my all-time favorite data visualizations.
The Military

Pentagon Cyberweapons 'Disappointing' Against ISIS (nytimes.com) 118

An anonymous reader quotes the New York Times: It has been more than a year since the Pentagon announced that it was opening a new line of combat against the Islamic State, directing Cyber Command, then six years old, to mount computer-network attacks... "In general, there was some sense of disappointment in the overall ability for cyberoperations to land a major blow against ISIS," or the Islamic State, said Joshua Geltzer, who was the senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council until March. "This is just much harder in practice than people think..."

Even one of the rare successes against the Islamic State belongs at least in part to Israel, which was America's partner in the attacks against Iran's nuclear facilities. Top Israeli cyberoperators penetrated a small cell of extremist bombmakers in Syria months ago, the officials said. That was how the United States learned that the terrorist group was working to make explosives that fooled airport X-ray machines and other screening by looking exactly like batteries for laptop computers... The information helped prompt a ban in March on large electronic devices in carry-on luggage on flights from 10 airports in eight Muslim-majority countries to the United States and Britain.

Citing military officials, the Times also reports that "locking Islamic State propaganda specialists out of their accounts -- or using the coordinates of their phones and computers to target them for a drone attack -- is now standard operating procedure."
Government

Snowden's Former Employer Under Criminal Investigation For Fraudulent Billing (boozallen.com) 43

McGruber writes: Booz Allen Hamilton, the contracting firm that was Edward Snowden's employer when he leaked classified information from the NSA has announced that it is under a federal civil and criminal investigation of its billing practices. The disclosure in a regulatory filing sent shares of parent company Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. tumbling $7.33, or 18.6 percent, to $32 in Friday trading.
The Almighty Buck

Air Force Budget Reveals How Much SpaceX Undercuts Launch Prices (arstechnica.com) 95

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In 2014, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report on cost estimates for the U.S. Air Force's program to launch national security payloads, which at the time consisted of a fleet of rockets maintained and flown entirely by United Launch Alliance (ULA). The report was critical of the non-transparent nature of ULA's launch prices and noted that the government "lacked sufficient knowledge to negotiate fair and reasonable launch prices" with the monopoly. At around the same time, the new space rocket company SpaceX began to aggressively pursue the opportunity to launch national security payloads for the government. SpaceX claimed to offer a substantially lower price for delivering satellites into various orbits around Earth. But because of the lack of transparency, comparing prices was difficult. The Air Force recently released budget estimates for fiscal year 2018, and these include a run out into the early 2020s. For these years, the budget combines the fixed price rocket and ELC contract costs into a single budget line. (See page 109 of this document). They are strikingly high. According to the Air Force estimate, the "unit cost" of a single rocket launch in fiscal year 2020 is $422 million, and $424 million for a year later. SpaceX sells basic commercial launches of its Falcon 9 rocket for about $65 million. But, for military launches, there are additional range costs and service contracts that add tens of millions of dollars to the total price. It therefore seems possible that SpaceX is taking a loss or launching at little or no profit to undercut its rival and gain market share in the high-volume military launch market. Elon Musk retweeted the article, adding "$300M cost diff between SpaceX and Boeing/Lockheed exceeds avg value of satellite, so flying with SpaceX means satellite is basically free."

Slashdot Top Deals