Data Storage

Google, Bing, Yahoo Data Retention Doesn't Improve Search Quality, Study Claims (theregister.co.uk) 38

A new paper released on Monday via the National Bureau of Economic Research claims that retaining search log data doesn't do much for search quality. "Data retention has implications in the debate over Europe's right to be forgotten, the authors suggest, because retained data undermines that right," reports The Register. "It's also relevant to U.S. policy discussions about privacy regulations." From the report: To determine whether retention policies affected the accuracy of search results, Chiou and Tucker used data from metrics biz Hitwise to assess web traffic being driven by search sites. They looked at Microsoft Bing and Yahoo! Search during a period when Bing changed its search data retention period from 18 months to 6 months and when Yahoo! changed its retention period from 13 months to 3 months, as well as when Yahoo! had second thoughts and shifted to an 18-month retention period. According to Chiou and Tucker, data retention periods didn't affect the flow of traffic from search engines to downstream websites. "Our findings suggest that long periods of data storage do not confer advantages in search quality, which is an often-cited benefit of data retention by companies," their paper states. Chiou and Tucker observe that the supposed cost of privacy laws to consumers and to companies may be lower than perceived. They also contend that their findings weaken the claim that data retention affects search market dominance, which could make data retention less relevant in antitrust discussions of Google.
Entertainment

Sonos To Launch a Wireless Speaker That Would Support Multiple Voice Assistants (yahoo.com) 33

Sonos, a mid- to high-end speaker manufacturer, released an updated privacy policy for its speakers that almost certainly confirms that the company will release a speaker with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant built into the device in the near term. From a report: Though many devices that integrate with Alexa have been announced and are starting to come to market, this is one of the higher-profile examples and could be instructive for smart-speaker designers. The company first announced its intention to add voice-assistant integration to its speakers over a year ago, but didn't give any specific time frame for that step. And an FCC filing from the company that surfaced a few weeks ago showed that it is looking into systems that would support multiple voice assistants, so a user could potentially have the option to choose between Amazon's Alexa or Google's Assistant, depending on what other devices they own and what platform they prefer.
Apple

Apple Explains Face ID On-stage Failure (bbc.com) 189

Apple has explained why its new facial recognition feature failed to unlock a handset at an on-stage demo (see around the 1:35:58 mark here) at the iPhone X's launch on Tuesday. From a report: The company blamed the Face ID glitch on a lockout mechanism triggered by staff members moving the device ahead of its unveil. Apple's software chief dealt with the hiccup by moving on to a back-up device, which worked as intended. But the hitch was widely reported. "People were handling the device for [the] stage demo ahead of time and didn't realise Face ID was trying to authenticate their face," an unnamed company representative is quoted as saying by Yahoo's David Pogue. "After failing a number of times, because they weren't Craig [Federighi], the iPhone did what it was designed to do, which was to require his passcode."
Businesses

Union Power Is Putting Pressure on Silicon Valley's Tech Giants (bloomberg.com) 116

An anonymous reader writes: Organized labor doesn't rack up a lot of wins these days, and Silicon Valley isn't most people's idea of a union hotbed. Nonetheless, in the past three years unions have organized 5,000 people who work on Valley campuses. Among others, they've unionized shuttle drivers at Apple, Tesla, Twitter, LinkedIn, EBay, Salesforce.com, Yahoo!, Cisco, and Facebook; security guards at Adobe, IBM, Cisco, and Facebook; and cafeteria workers at Cisco, Intel, and, earlier this summer, Facebook. The workers aren't technically employed by any of those companies. Like many businesses, Valley giants hire contractors that typically offer much less in the way of pay and benefits than the tech companies' direct employees get. Among other things, such arrangements help companies distance themselves from the way their cafeteria workers and security guards are treated, because somebody else is cutting the checks. Silicon Valley Rising, a coalition of unions and civil rights, community, and clergy groups heading the organizing campaign, says its successes have come largely from puncturing that veneer of plausible deniability. That means directing political pressure, media scrutiny, and protests toward the tech companies themselves. "Everybody knows that the contractors will do what the tech companies say, so we're focused on the big guys," says Ben Field, a co-founder of the coalition who heads the AFL-CIO's South Bay Labor Council. Labor leaders say their efforts have gotten some tech companies to cut ties with an anti-union contractor, intervene with others to ease unionization drives, and subsidize better pay for contract workers. "If you want to get people to buy your product, you don't want them to feel that buying your product is contributing to the evils of the world," says Silicon Valley Rising co-founder Derecka Mehrens, who directs Working Partnerships USA, a California nonprofit that advocates for workers. Tech companies have been image-conscious and closely watched of late, she says, and the coalition is "being opportunistic."
Communications

The Only Safe Email is Text-Only Email (theconversation.com) 174

Sergey Bratus, Research Associate Professor of Computer Science, Dartmouth College, and Anna Shubina, Post-doctoral Associate in Computer Science, Dartmouth College write: The real issue is that today's web-based email systems are electronic minefields filled with demands and enticements to click and engage in an increasingly responsive and interactive online experience. It's not just Gmail, Yahoo mail and similar services: Desktop-computer-based email programs like Outlook display messages in the same unsafe way. Simply put, safe email is plain-text email -- showing only the plain words of the message exactly as they arrived, without embedded links or images. Webmail is convenient for advertisers (and lets you write good-looking emails with images and nice fonts), but carries with it unnecessary -- and serious -- danger, because a webpage (or an email) can easily show one thing but do another. Returning email to its origins in plain text may seem radical, but it provides radically better security. Even the federal government's top cybersecurity experts have come to the startling, but important, conclusion that any person, organization or government serious about web security should return to plain-text email (PDF).
Earth

What's Causing The Hurricanes? (yahoo.com) 440

An anonymous reader quotes AFP: Hurricane Irma, now taking aim at Florida, has stunned experts with its sheer size and strength, churning across the ocean with sustained Category 5 winds of 183 miles per hour (295 kilometers per hour) for more than 33 hours, making it the longest-lasting, top-intensity cyclone ever recorded. Meanwhile Jose, a Category 4 on the Saffir Simpson scale of 1 to 5, is fast on the heels of Irma, pummeling the Caribbean for the second time in the span of a few days. Many have wondered what is contributing to the power and frequency of these extreme storms. "Atlantic hurricane seasons over the years have been shaped by many complex factors," said Jim Kossin, a NOAA hurricane scientist at the University of Wisconsin. "Those include large scale ocean currents, air pollution -- which tends to cool the ocean down -- and climate change"...

Some think a surge in industrial pollution after World War II may have produced more pollutant particles that blocked the Sun's energy and exerted a cooling effect on the oceans. "The pollution reduced a lot of hurricane activity," said Gabriel Vecchi, professor of geosciences at Princeton University's Environmental Institute. Pollution began to wane in the 1980s due to regulations such as the Clean Air Act, allowing more of the Sun's rays to penetrate the ocean and provide warming fuel for storms. Vecchi said the "big debate" among scientists is over which plays a larger role -- variations in ocean currents or pollution cuts. There is evidence for both, but there isn't enough data to answer a key question...

The burning of fossil fuels, which spew greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and warm the Earth, can also be linked to a rise in extreme storms in recent years. Warmer ocean temperatures yield more moisture, more rainfall, and greater intensity storms. "It is not a coincidence that we're seeing more devastating hurricanes," climatologist Michael Mann of Penn State University told AFP in an email. "Over the past few years, as global sea surface temperatures have been the warmest on record, we've seen the strongest hurricanes -- as measured by peak sustained winds -- globally, in both Southern and Northern Hemisphere, in both Pacific and now, with Irma, the open Atlantic," he added. "The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle. We're seeing them play out in real time, and the past two weeks have been a sadly vivid example."

Privacy

Equifax Breach is Very Possibly the Worst Leak of Personal Info Ever (arstechnica.com) 401

The breach Equifax reported Thursday is very possibly is the most severe of all for a simple reason: the breath-taking amount of highly sensitive data it handed over to criminals. Dan Goodin of ArsTechnica writes: By providing full names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and, in some cases, driver license numbers, it provided most of the information banks, insurance companies, and other businesses use to confirm consumers are who they claim to be. The theft, by criminals who exploited a security flaw on the Equifax website, opens the troubling prospect the data is now in the hands of hostile governments, criminal gangs, or both and will remain so indefinitely. Hacks hitting Yahoo and other sites, by contrast, may have breached more accounts, but the severity of the personal data was generally more limited. And in most cases the damage could be contained by changing a password or getting a new credit card number. What's more, the 143 million US people Equifax said were potentially affected accounts for roughly 44 percent of the population. When children and people without credit histories are removed, the proportion becomes even bigger. That means well more than half of all US residents who rely the most on bank loans and credit cards are now at a significantly higher risk of fraud and will remain so for years to come. Besides being used to take out loans in other people's names, the data could be abused by hostile governments to, say, tease out new information about people with security clearances, especially in light of the 2015 hack on the US Office of Personnel Management, which exposed highly sensitive data on 3.2 million federal employees, both current and retired. Meanwhile, if you accept Equifax's paltry "help" you forfeit the right to sue the company, it has said. In its policy, Equifax also states that it won't be helping its customers fix hack-related problems.

UPDATE (9/9/17): Equifax has now announced that "the arbitration clause and class action waiver included in the Equifax and TrustedID Premier terms of use does not apply to this cybersecurity incident."

Bloomberg reported on Friday that a class action seeking to represent 143 million consumers has been filed, and it alleges the company didn't spend enough on protecting data. The class-action -- filed by the firm Olsen Daines PC along with Geragos & Geragos, a celebrity law firm known for blockbuster class actions -- will seek as much as $70 billion in damages nationally.
Verizon

Verizon Up Offers Rewards in Exchange For Customers' Personal Information (wsj.com) 74

An anonymous reader shares a report: A new Verizon rewards program, Verizon Up, provides credits that wireless subscribers can use for concert tickets, movie premieres and phone upgrades. But it comes with a catch: Customers must give the carrier access to their web-browsing history, app usage and location data, which Verizon says it uses to personalize the rewards and deliver targeted advertising as its customers browse the web. The trade-off is part of Verizon's effort to build a digital advertising business to compete with web giants Facebook and Google, which often already possess much of the same customer information. Even though Congress earlier this year dismantled tough privacy regulations on telecommunications providers, Verizon still wants customers to opt-in to its most comprehensive advertising program, called Verizon Selects. Data collected under the program is shared with Oath, the digital-media unit Verizon created when it bought AOL and Yahoo. Since access to data from customers could make it easier to tailor ads to their liking, Verizon hopes the information will help it gain advertising revenue to offset sluggish growth in its cellular business.See a current list of Verizon plans here.
Businesses

Billionaire Brothers Want to Build a Cheaper Rival to Slack (bloomberg.com) 93

Saritha Rai, writing for Bloomberg: A teenage entrepreneur who became a millionaire by 20 before sharing a billion-dollar fortune at 36, Bhavin Turakhia isn't afraid to think big. Now he's putting $45 million of his own money into building a rival to Slack and other office messaging platforms. Flock, a cloud-based team collaboration service, has attracted 25,000 enterprise users and customers including Tim Hortons, Whirlpool and Princeton University. It's a market that has already drawn interest from global technology giants Facebook, Amazon.com and Microsoft. This time last year, few had heard of Bhavin and his younger brother Divyank. That changed when they sold their advertising technology company Media.net, with customers including Yahoo, CNN and the New York Times, to a Chinese consortium for $900 million. The all-cash deal catapulted the duo from mere millionaires into the ranks of the super-rich. "I want to make Flock bigger and better than anything I've built before," Bhavin Turakhia, wearing his signature dark Levi's T-shirt and Puma sweatpants, said at his Bangalore offices.
The Courts

As Prosecutors Submit Evidence, WannaCry Hero's Legal Fund Returns All Donations (buzzfeed.com) 172

An anonymous reader quote BuzzFeed: The vast majority of money raised to pay for the legal defense of beloved British cybersecurity researcher Marcus Hutchins was donated with stolen or fake credit card numbers, and all donations, including legitimate ones, will be returned, the manager of the defense fund says. Lawyer Tor Ekeland, who managed the fund, said at least $150,000 of the money collected came from fraudulent sources, and that the prevalence of fraudulent donations effectively voided the entire fundraiser. He said he'd been able to identify only about $4,900 in legitimate donations, but that he couldn't be certain even of those. "I don't want to take the risk, so I just refunded everything," he said.
Two days later, Hutchins posted the following on Twitter. "When sellouts are talking shit about the 'infosec community' remember that someone I'd never met flew to Vegas to pay $30K cash for my bail."

Hutchins is facing up to 40 years in prison, and at first was only allowed to leave his residence for four hours each week. Thursday a judge lifted some restrictions so that Hutchins is now allowed to travel to Milwaukee, where his employer is located. According to Bloomberg, government prosecutors complain Hutchins now "has too much freedom while awaiting trial and may skip the country."

Clickthrough for a list of the evidence government prosecutors submitted to the court this week.
Yahoo!

Alleged Yahoo Hacker Will Be Extradited To The US (tucson.com) 45

An anonymous reader quotes the AP: A Canadian man accused in a massive hack of Yahoo emails agreed Friday to forgo his extradition hearing and go face the charges in the United States. Karim Baratov was arrested in Hamilton, Ontario, in March under the Extradition Act after U.S. authorities indicted him and three others, including two alleged officers of Russia's Federal Security Service. They are accused of computer hacking, economic espionage and other crimes.

An extradition hearing for the 22-year-old Baratov had been scheduled for early September, but he signed documents before a Canadian judge Friday agreeing to waive it. His lawyer, Amedeo DiCarlo, said that does not amount to an admission of guilt... U.S. law enforcement officials call Baratov a "hacker-for-hire" paid by members of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, considered the successor to the KGB of the former Soviet Union.

Yahoo also believes that attack -- which breached at least 500 million Yahoo accounts in 2014 -- was perpetrated by "a state-sponsored actor." The CBC reports that Baratov lives alone in a large, new house in an expensive subdivision. "His parents either bought him the house," one neighbor told the CBC, "or he's getting money somewhere else, because he doesn't seem to work all day; he just drives up and down the street."

The CBC also reports that Baratov's Facebook page links to a Russian-language site "which claims to offer a number of services, including servers for rent in Russia, protection from distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, and domain names in China."
Google

Bing is 'Bigger Than You Think', Says Microsoft (onmsft.com) 220

Microsoft said this week that Bing is "bigger than you think" and provided some numbers that could be a surprise to many. The company claims that fully one-third of searches in the US are powered by Bing, either directly or through Yahoo or AOL (both of which provide results generated by Microsoft). From a report: With 9% market share worldwide and 12 billion monthly searches, almost half of that (5 billion) comes from the United States where Bing has 33% market share.
Google

From Google To Yahoo, Tech Grapples With White Male Discontent (bloomberg.com) 577

Reader joshtops shares a Bloomberg report: Google isn't the only Silicon Valley employer being accused of hostility to white men. Yahoo and Tata Consultancy Services were already fighting discrimination lawsuits brought by white men before Google engineer James Damore ignited a firestorm -- and got himself fired -- with an internal memo criticizing the company's diversity efforts and claiming women are biologically less suited than men to be engineers. The Yahoo case began last year when two men sued, claiming they'd been unfairly fired after managers allegedly manipulated performance evaluations to favor women. They claim Marissa Mayer approved the review process and was involved in their terminations, and last month a judge ordered the former chief executive be deposed. TCS, meanwhile, is fighting three men who claim the Mumbai-based firm discriminates against non-Indians at its U.S. offices.
Google

Brits Look at Google and Facebook Every 210 Seconds, Says Survey (theregister.co.uk) 26

Ad companies Facebook and Google slurp one in every three and a half minutes that Britons spend online, according to a survey. From a report: This, says audience metrics company Verto Analytics, accounts for 17 per cent of British adults' time online, the equivalent of 42.7 million days a month across Google, YouTube and Gmail. Similarly, Facebook-owned sites, including the ad-driven data-mining website itself, Instagram and WhatsApp, account for 11 per cent of time online, or a relatively paltry 28.4 million days. "Google and Facebook's share of internet time and ad revenue is staggering considering the hundreds of thousands of websites that exist," said Hannu Verkasalo, CEO of Verto Analytics, in a canned statement. The Verto survey also found that of the top 10 websites used in the UK, the sole British one was the BBC. Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, "Oath" (the new name for the merged Yahoo-AOL beastie), eBay and Twitter were the others, along with Activision Blizzard.
Verizon

Verizon's New Rewards Program Lets It Track Your Browsing History (theverge.com) 84

The new "Verizon Up" rewards program released this week by Big Red awards users a credit for every $300 they spend on their Verizon bill that can be redeemed toward various rewards. The only catch is that Verizon requires you to enroll in Verizon Selects, a program that allows the company to track a huge chunk of your personal data. The Verge reports: That includes web browsing, app usage, device location, service usage, demographic info, postal or email address, and your interests. Furthermore, that data gets shared with Verizon's newly formed Oath combination (aka AOL and Yahoo), plus with "vendors and partners" who work with Verizon. Which is kind of a long list of people who have access to what feels like a fairly significant amount of your data. It's worth noting that Verizon has been operating under these terms and conditions for a while with an earlier rewards program called "Smart Rewards," which also required users to opt in to the Verizon Selects tracking program. But that doesn't make it any better that this is the trade-off you're forced to make to take advantage of the rewards.
Mozilla

Mozilla Launches Experimental Voice Search, File-Sharing and Note-Taking Tools For Firefox (techcrunch.com) 74

Firefox has just launched three new Test Pilot experiments that bring voice search, built-in note taking and a tool for sending large files to the browser. From a report: While the new voice search, which currently works on the Google, Yahoo and DuckDuckGo homepages, and note-taking features are browser plugins, the new Send tool is web-based and allows anybody -- no matter which browser they use -- to send files up to 1GB in size. It encrypts the file as it is uploaded and gives you a link you can share with your friends and co-workers. Files are automatically deleted after one download or after one day. That's not exactly the most novel concept (and Mozilla has often been criticized for diverting its attention from its core competencies), but the built-in encryption and the open-source nature of the tool do make up for that.
Privacy

Facial Recognition Could Be Coming To Police Body Cameras (defenseone.com) 180

schwit1 quotes a report from Defense One: Even if the cop who pulls you over doesn't recognize you, the body camera on his chest eventually just might. Device-maker Motorola will work with artificial intelligence software startup Neurala to build "real-time learning for a person of interest search" on products such as the Si500 body camera for police, the firm announced Monday. Italian-born neuroscientist and Neurala founder Massimiliano Versace has created patent-pending image recognition and machine learning technology. It's similar to other machine learning methods but far more scalable, so a device carried by that cop on his shoulder can learn to recognize shapes and -- potentially faces -- as quickly and reliably as a much larger and more powerful computer. It works by mimicking the mammalian brain, rather than the way computers have worked traditionally.

Versace's research was funded, in part, by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA under a program called SyNAPSE. In a 2010 paper for IEEE Spectrum, he describes the breakthrough. Basically, a tiny constellation of processors do the work of different parts of the brain -- which is sometimes called neuromorphic computation -- or "computation that can be divided up between hardware that processes like the body of a neuron and hardware that processes the way dendrites and axons do." Versace's research shows that AIs can learn in that environment using a lot less code.

Chrome

Popular Chrome Extension Sold To New Dev Who Immediately Turns It Into Adware (bleepingcomputer.com) 187

An anonymous reader writes: A company is going around buying abandoned Chrome extensions from their original developers and converting these add-ons into adware. The latest case is the Particle for YouTube Chrome extension, a simple tool that allows users to change the UI and behavior of some of YouTube's standard features. Because Google was planning major changes to YouTube's UI, the extension's original author decided to retire it and create a new one. This is when the a mysterious company approached the original author and offered to buy the extension from him for a price of his choosing. The original dev says he gave them a high price, but the company agreed to pay right away, but only after the dev signed an non-disclosure agreement preventing him from talking about the company or the transaction. Soon after the sale, the company issued an update that included code for injecting rogue ads on websites such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, Amazon, eBay, and Booking.com. Users also found other Chrome extensions that were also bought by the same company and had also been turned into adware, such as "Typewriter Sounds" and "Twitch Mini Player." According to some other Chrome extension devs, there are many companies willing to pay large sums of money for taking over legitimate Chrome extensions.
Bug

Data Glitch Sets Tech Company Stock Prices At $123.47 (theverge.com) 52

For one moment on Monday evening, the prices of several stocks on Nasdaq -- including those of Amazon, Apple, eBay, Google, and Microsoft -- were all priced exactly the same, $123.47. From a report: In a statement obtained by the Financial Times, Nasdaq said the culprit was "improper use of test data" that was picked up by third party financial data providers. The exchange said it was "working with third party vendors to resolve this matter." The issue was replicated across major financial websites, including Bloomberg, Google Finance, and Yahoo Finance, and it's not known when it all started.
Transportation

Colombian Airline Wants To Make Passengers Stand (yahoo.com) 249

An anonymous reader writes Budget airline VivaColombia is considering plans to remove all seats from its planes and make passengers stand. They hope the move will drive down fares by allowing them to squeeze more passengers into each flight, opening up air travel to working class Colombians and budget holidaymakers. The no-frills carrier announced last week that it is adding 50 new Airbus 320s to its fleet to capitalise on the country's growing tourist market. The new planes will have more seats and lower running costs with the first one going into service at the start of 2018. VivaColombia's founder and CEO William Shaw told the Miami Herald the airline was looking into vertical travel options. He said: "There are people out there right now researching whether you can fly standing up -- we're very interested in anything that makes travel less expensive." He added: "Who cares if you don't have an inflight entertainment system for a one-hour flight? Who cares that there aren't marble floors... or that you don't get free peanuts?"

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