Shareholders Sue Alphabet's Board For Role In Allegedly Covering Up Sexual Misconduct By Senior Execs
An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC:
Attorneys in San Francisco representing an Alphabet shareholder are suing the board of directors for allegedly covering up sexual misconduct claims against top executives. The suit comes months after an explosive New York Times report detailed how Google shielded executives accused of sexual misconduct, either by keeping them on staff or allowing them amicable departures. For example, Google reportedly paid Android leader Andy Rubin a $90 million exit package, despite asking for his resignation after finding sexual misconduct claims against him credible.
The new lawsuit, filed in California's San Mateo County, asserts claims for breach of fiduciary duty, abuse of control, unjust enrichment, and waste of corporate assets. The attorneys say the lawsuit is the result of "an extensive original investigation into non-public evidence" and produced copies of internal Google minutes from board of directors meetings. "The Directors' wrongful conduct allowed the illegal conduct to proliferate and continue," the suit reads. "As such, members of Alphabet's Board were knowing and direct enablers of the sexual harassment and discrimination."
Procter and Gamble Unveils New Device That Aims To Remove Signs of Aging
In a video for the BBC, technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones
uses Procter and Gamble's new device to maker him look younger. Called Opte, the device scans the skin and precisely applies tiny amounts of make-up to remove age spots, burst blood vessels and other blemishes. Opte has a camera in it that captures 200 frames per second and processes that data by looking at the difference of the color of your skin. It then sends it to a microprocessor and 120 thermal inkjet printers print the product directly on your skin. The company says it works with all skin colors via three different cartridges: light, medium, and dark. Procter and Gamble is planning to release the device in late 2019 or 2020.
Software Patents Poised To Make a Comeback Under New Patent Office Rules
Ben Klemens writes via Ars Technica:
A landmark 2014 ruling by the Supreme Court called into question the validity of many software patents. In the wake of that ruling, countless broad software patents became invalid, dealing a blow to litigation-happy patent trolls nationwide. But this week the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) proposed new rules that would make it easier to patent software. If those rules take effect, it could take us back to the bad old days when it was easy to get broad software patents -- and to sue companies that accidentally infringe them.
The Federal Circuit Appeals Court is the nation's highest patent court below the Supreme Court, and it is notoriously patent friendly. Ever since the Supreme Court's 2014 ruling, known as Alice v. CLS Bank, the Federal Circuit has worked to blunt the ruling's impact. In a 2016 ruling called Enfish, the Federal Circuit ruling took a single sentence from the Supreme Court's 2014 ruling and used it as the legal foundation for approving more software patents. This legal theory, known as the "technical effects doctrine," holds that software that improves the functioning of a computer should be eligible for a patent. A version of this rule has long held sway in Europe, but it has only recently started to have an impact in U.S. law.
This week, the Patent Office published a new draft of the section on examining software and other potentially abstract ideas in its Manual of Patent Examination Procedure (MPEP). This is the official document that helps patent examiners understand and interpret relevant legal principles. The latest version, drawing on recent Federal Circuit rulings, includes far tighter restrictions on what may be excluded from patentability. This matters because there's significant evidence that the proliferation of software patents during the 1990s and 2000s had a detrimental impact on innovation -- precisely the opposite of how patents are supposed to work.
Netflix Password Sharing May Soon Be Impossible Due To New AI Tracking
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Independent:
A video software firm has come up with a way to prevent people from sharing their account details for Netflix and other streaming services with friends and family members. UK-based Synamedia unveiled the artificial intelligence software at the CES 2019 technology trade show in Las Vegas, claiming it could save the streaming industry billions of dollars over the next few years. The AI system developed by Synamedia uses machine learning to analyze account activity and recognize unusual patterns, such as account details being used in two locations within similar time periods. The idea is to spot instances of customers sharing their account credentials illegally and offering them a premium shared account service that will authorize a limited level of password sharing. The company said it is already carrying out trials with a number of pay-TV operators but did not reveal which ones.
Nest Competitor Ring Reportedly Gave Employees Full Access To Customers' Live Camera Feeds
allowed employees to access customers' live camera feeds, according to a report from
The Intercept. "Ring's engineers and executives have 'highly privileged access' to live camera feeds from customers' devices," reports 9to5Google. "This includes both doorbells facing the outside world, as well as cameras inside a person's home. A team tasked with annotating video to aid in object recognition captured 'people kissing, firing guns, and stealing.'" From the report:
U.S. employees specifically had access to a video portal intended for technical support that reportedly allowed "unfiltered, round-the-clock live feeds from some customer cameras." What's surprising is how this support tool was apparently not restricted to only employees that dealt with customers. The Intercept notes that only a Ring customer's email address was required to access any live feed.
According to the report's sources, employees had a blase attitude to this potential privacy violation, but noted that they "never personally witnessed any egregious abuses." Meanwhile, a second group of Ring employees working on R&D in Ukraine had access to a folder housing "every video created by every Ring camera around the world." What's more, these employees had a "corresponding database that linked each specific video file to corresponding specific Ring customers." Also bothersome is Ring's reported stance towards encryption. Videos in that bucket were unencrypted due to the costs associated with implementation and "lost revenue opportunities due to restricted access." In response to the report, Ring said: "We have strict policies in place for all our team members. We implement systems to restrict and audit access to information. We hold our team members to a high ethical standard and anyone in violation of our policies faces discipline, including termination and potential legal and criminal penalties. In addition, we have zero tolerance for abuse of our systems and if we find bad actors who have engaged in this behavior, we will take swift action against them."
15 Years After Announcing the 1GB SD Card, Lexar Unveils 1TB SD Card
Lexar has just
unveiled the first commercially available 1-terabyte SD card. "Lexar's Professional 633x line of SDHC and SDXC UHS-I cards [...] is now listed for sale in capacities from 16GB all the way up to the flagship 1TB," reports The Verge. "That card claims read speeds of up to 95MB/s and write speeds of 70MB/s, though it's only rated as V30/U3, which guarantees sustained write performance of 30MB/s." Unfortunately, you'll pay a premium price of $499.99 for the new 1TB SD card, which is more than the cost of two 512GB cards. Still, the convenience may be worth it.
Joey Lopez, Senior Marketing Manager of Lexar,
said in a statement: "Almost fifteen years ago, Lexar announced a 1GB SD card. Today, we are excited to announce 1TB of storage capacity in the same convenient form factor. As consumers continue to demand greater storage for their cameras, the combination of high-speed performance with a 1TB option now offers a solution for content creators who shoot large volumes of high-resolution images and 4K video."
Amazon is Working on Game Streaming Service, Report Says
Amazon is looking to get into game streaming, joining its tech titan contemporaries Microsoft and Google, according to a report from The Information. From a report:
Amazon is reportedly developing its own game streaming service, and it is talking to publishers about distributing games on its platform. Citing "two people briefed on the plans," The Information reports that the service likely won't launch until next year at the earliest.
Malware Found Preinstalled On Some Alcatel Smartphones
An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet:
A weather app that comes preinstalled on Alcatel smartphones contained malware that surreptitiously subscribed device owners to premium phone numbers behind their backs. The app, named "Weather Forecast-World Weather Accurate Radar," was developed by TCL Corporation, a Chinese electronics company that among other things owns the Alcatel, BlackBerry, and Palm brands. The app is one of the default apps that TCL installs on Alcatel smartphones, but it was also made available on the Play Store for all Android users --where it had been downloaded and installed more than ten million times. But at one point last year, both the app included on some Alcatel devices and the one that was available on the Play Store were compromised with malware. How the malware was added to the app is unclear. TCL has not responded to phone calls requesting comment made by ZDNet this week. The app
reportedly harvested users' data and sent it to China. It collected geographic locations, email addresses, and IMEI codes, which it sent back to TCL.
Upstream, a UK-based mobile security firm, also found that "the malicious code hidden inside the app would also attempt to subscribe users to premium phone numbers that incurred large charges on users' phone bills," reports ZDNet. "All in all, the company says it detected and blocked over 27 million transaction attempts across seven markets, which would have created losses of around $1.5 million to phone owners if they hadn't been blocked."
Upstream notes that most of the behavior they've seen originated only from two types of smartphones: Pixi 4 and A3 Max models.
Amazon Watchers Say the Company Has Accelerated Its Efforts To Sell Its Own Products -- and That's Worrying Regulators Around the World
By selling more products of its own, Amazon is becoming a competitor to the outside manufacturers it hosts on its platform -- and
that's worrying regulators around the world. From a report:
Governments have rarely tried to rein in Amazon's ambitions, allowing it to avoid most of the recent scrutiny directed at other large tech platforms. But the increased focus on Amazon's house-brand offerings suggests it may now be Amazon's turn. Driving the news: Amazon built a robust business as a participant in its own marketplace when it saw growth stall in stateside e-commerce, which is why holiday shoppers might have seen Amazon-owned brands like Happy Belly for food or Solimo for household goods when they browsed the site last year. It created more "private label" products, from its AmazonBasics line to brands for fashion and furniture, that are in-house versions of things others sell on the site. It struck deals with outside manufacturers to sell their products exclusively. Critics say Amazon uses its sales data to find fruitful areas where it can produce generic versions of already-popular products.
Ocean Warming is Accelerating Faster Than Thought, New Research Finds
Scientists say the warming of the world's oceans is
accelerating more quickly than previously thought, a finding with dire implications for climate change given that almost all of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases ends up stored there. From a report:
A new analysis, published Thursday in the journal Science, found that the oceans are heating up 40 percent faster on average than a United Nations panel estimated five years ago. The researchers also concluded that ocean temperatures have broken records for several straight years. "2018 is going to be the warmest year on record for the Earth's oceans," said Zeke Hausfather, an energy systems analyst at the independent climate research group Berkeley Earth and an author of the study. "As 2017 was the warmest year, and 2016 was the warmest year." As the planet has warmed, the oceans have provided a critical buffer, slowing the effects of climate change by absorbing 93 percent of the heat trapped by human greenhouse gas emissions. But the escalating water temperatures are already killing off marine ecosystems, raising sea levels and making hurricanes more destructive.
T-Mobile Begins Verifying Calls To Protect Against Spam
T-Mobile is beginning to roll out support for call verification technology, which will
confirm that a phone call is actually coming from the number listed on caller ID. From a report:
Now, if one T-Mobile subscriber calls another T-Mobile subscriber, the person receiving the call will see a message saying "Caller Verified" if they have a supported phone. Unfortunately, there's only one supported phone -- Samsung Galaxy Note 9 -- for the time being. Call verification won't put a stop to spammy phone calls, but it will start to help people identify which calls are actually coming from real people. As anyone with a phone knows, spammers have relentlessly spoofed local phone numbers in recent years, making it appear that you're getting an incoming call from someone you may know. Call verification is meant to combat that.
Some Nevada Governments Are Using Blockchain For Public Records
Some northern Nevada counties are using blockchain, the online ledger best known for helping secure virtual currencies such as bitcoin,
to store digital versions of government records like birth and marriage certificates. From a report:
The Reno Gazette-Journal reports that as of December in Washoe County, about 950 couples had received secure digital marriage certificates to home computers and smartphones since the program debuted in April 2018. The newspaper found that Elko County is trying similar technology for certified digital birth certificates. Phil Dhingra at San Francisco-based Titan Seal said the Washoe County digital marriage certificate program uses the Ethereum blockchain because it has computing power that makes it hard to hack. He said he believes the number of digital certificates per year in the United States could at least match the billions of paper records that get a certificate or embossed seal of some kind.
Linux systemd Affected by Memory Corruption Vulnerabilities, No Patches Yet
Major Linux distributions are vulnerable to three bugs in systemd, a Linux initialization system and service manager in widespread use,
California-based security company Qualys said late yesterday. From a report:
The bugs exist in 'journald' service, tasked with collecting and storing log data, and they can be exploited to obtain root privileges on the target machine or to leak information. No patches exist at the moment. Discovered by researchers at Qualys, the flaws are two memory corruption vulnerabilities (stack buffer overflow - CVE-2018-16864, and allocation of memory without limits - CVE-2018-16865) and one out-of-bounds error (CVE-2018-16866). They were able to obtain local root shell on both x86 and x64 machines by exploiting CVE-2018-16865 and CVE-2018-16866. The exploit worked faster on the x86 platform, achieving its purpose in ten minutes; on x64, though, the exploit took 70 minutes to complete. Qualys is planning on publishing the proof-of-concept exploit code in the near future, but they did provide details on how they were able to take advantage of the flaws.
Nvidia CEO Trashes AMD's New GPU: 'The Performance Is Lousy'
An anonymous reader shares a report:
Yesterday, AMD announced a new graphics card, the $700 Radeon VII, based on its second-generation Vega architecture. The GPU is the first one available to consumers based on the 7nm process. Smaller processes tend to be faster and more energy efficient, which means it could theoretically be faster than GPUs with larger processes, like the first generation Vega GPU (14nm) or Nvidia's RTX 20-series (12nm). I say "could," because so far Nvidia's RTX 20-series has been speedy in our benchmarks. From the $1,000+ 2080 Ti down to $350 2060 announced Sunday, support ray tracing. This complex technology allows you to trace a point of light from a source to a surface in a digital environment. What it means in practice is video games with hyperrealistic reflections and shadows.
It's impressive technology, and Nvidia has touted it as the primary reason to upgrade from previous generation GPUs. AMD's GPUs, notably, do not support it. And at a round table Gizmodo attended with Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang he jokingly dismissed AMD's Tuesday announcement, claiming the announcement itself was "underwhelming" and that his company's 2080 would "crush" the Radeon VII in benchmarks. "The performance is lousy," he said of the rival product. When asked to comment about these slights, AMD CEO Lisa Su told a collection of reporters, "I would probably suggest he hasn't seen it." When pressed about his comments, especially his touting of ray tracing she said, "I'm not gonna get into it tit for tat that's just not my style."
Windows 7 Users Who Installed January Update Report Network Issues; Some Say the Update Has Also Incorrectly Flagged Their OS License as 'Not Genuine'
Windows 7 admins are feeling the pain of Microsoft's latest updates in this week's Patch Tuesday releases. From a report:
Users who've installed this Tuesday's KB4480970 cumulative January update have been complaining of network connectivity issues on those devices based on a network that uses the SMBv2 file sharing protocol. Microsoft released its update to fix several identified vulnerabilities, including a remote execution flaw in PowerShell and to add robustness against side-channel attacks like those targeting the Meltdown and Spectre flaws. But a number of users immediately complained of networking issues, with Microsoft confirming there are now three known problems with the January patch. The other issues comprise an authentication error, and a file-sharing issue affecting some user accounts. ZDNet adds:
Regarding the 'Not Genuine' Windows 7 error, Microsoft confirms that "some users are reporting the KMS Activation error, 'Not Genuine', 0xc004f200 on Windows 7 devices". "We are aware of this incident and are presently investigating it. We will provide an update when available," writes Microsoft on both KB4480960 and KB4480970.
Google Wins Round in Fight Against Global Right To Be Forgotten
Google shouldn't have to apply the so-called right to be forgotten globally, an adviser to the EU's top court said in a boost for the U.S. giant's fight with a French privacy regulator over where to draw the line between privacy and freedom of speech. From a report:
While backing Google's stance, Advocate General Maciej Szpunar of the EU Court of Justice said that search engine operators must take every measure available to remove access to links to outdated or irrelevant information about a person on request. The Luxembourg-based court follows such advice in a majority of its final rulings, which normally come a few months after the opinions.
Google has been fighting efforts led by France's privacy watchdog to globalize the right to be forgotten, which was created by the EU court in a landmark ruling in 2014, without defining how, when and where search engine operators should remove links. This has triggered a wave of legal challenges. The Alphabet unit currently removes such links EU-wide and since 2016 it also restricts access to such information on non-EU Google sites when accessed from the EU country where the person concerned by the information is located -- referred to as geo-blocking. This approach was backed by Szpunar.
How Cartographers For the US Military Inadvertently Created a House of Horrors in South Africa
Kashmir Hill, reporting at Gizmodo:
The visitors started coming in 2013. The first one who came and refused to leave until he was let inside was a private investigator named Roderick. He was looking for an abducted girl, and he was convinced she was in the house. John S. and his mother Ann live in the house, which is in Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa and next to Johannesburg. They had not abducted anyone, so they called the police and asked for an officer to come over. Roderick and the officer went through the home room by room, looking into cupboards and under beds for the missing girl. Roderick claimed to have used a "professional" tracking device "that could not be wrong," but the girl wasn't there. This was not an unusual occurrence. John, 39, and Ann, 73, were accustomed to strangers turning up at their door accusing them of crimes; the visitors would usually pull up maps on their smartphones that pointed at John and Ann's backyard as a hotbed of criminal activity.
[...] The outline of this story might sound familiar to you if you've heard about this home in Atlanta, or read about this farm in Kansas, and it is, in fact, similar: John and Ann, too, are victims of bad digital mapping. There is a crucial difference though: This time it happened on a global scale, and the U.S. government played a key role. [...] Technologist Dhruv Mehrotra crawled MaxMind's free database for me and plotted the locations that showed up most frequently. Unfortunately, John and Ann's house must have just missed MaxMind's cut-off for remediation. Theirs was the 104th most popular location in the database, with over a million IP addresses mapped to it.
Taking the Smarts Out of Smart TVs Would Make Them More Expensive
In a wide-ranging interview, Nilay Patel of
The Verge speaks with Bill Baxter, chief technology officer of Vizio, about what the company thinks of some TV vendors adding support for Apple's AirPlay 2, and other things. A
remarkable exchange on the business of data collection and selling:
Nilay Patel: I guess I have a philosophical question. You guys are committed to low price points and you often beat the industry at those price points. Can you hit those price points without the additional data collection that TV does if you don't have an ad business or a data business on top of the TV?
Bill Baxter: So that's a great question. Actually, we should have a beer and have a long, long chat about that. So look, it's not just about data collection. It's about post-purchase monetization of the TV. This is a cutthroat industry. It's a 6-percent margin industry, right? I mean, you know it's pretty ruthless. You could say it's self-inflicted, or you could say there's a greater strategy going on here, and there is. The greater strategy is I really don't need to make money off of the TV. I need to cover my cost.
And then I need to make money off those TVs. They live in households for 6.9 years -- the average lifetime of a Vizio TV is 6.9 years. You would probably be amazed at the number of people come up to me saying, "I love Vizio TVs, I have one" and it's 11 years old. I'm like, "Dude, that's not even full HD, that's 720p." But they do last a long time and our strategy -- you've seen this with all of our software upgrades including AirPlay 2 and HomeKit -- is that we want to make things backward compatible to those TVs. So we're continuing to invest in those older TVs to bring them up to feature level comparison with the new TVs when there's no hardware limitation that would otherwise prevent that.
And the reason why we do that is there are ways to monetize that TV and data is one, but not only the only one. It's sort of like a business of singles and doubles, it's not home runs, right? You make a little money here, a little money there. You sell some movies, you sell some TV shows, you sell some ads, you know. It's not really that different than The Verge website.
Patel: One sort of Verge-nerd meme that I hear in our comments or on Twitter is "I just want a dumb TV. I just want a panel with no smarts and I'll figure it out on my own." But it sounds like that lifetime monetization problem would prevent you from just making a dumb panel that you can sell to somebody.
Baxter: Well, it wouldn't prevent us, to be honest with you. What it would do is, we'd collect a little bit more margin at retail to offset it. Again, it may be an aspirational goal to not have high margins on our TV business because I can make it up downstream. On the other hand, I'm actually aggregating that monetization across a large number of users, some of which opt out. It's a blended revenue model where, in the end, Vizio succeeds, but you know, it's not wholly dependent on things like data collection.
So You Automated Your Coworkers Out of a Job
Automation is too often presented as a faceless, monolithic phenomenon -- but it's a human finger that ultimately pulls the trigger. Someone has to initiate the process that automates a task or mechanizes a production line. To write or procure the program that makes a department or a job redundant. And that's not always an executive, or upper-, or even middle management -- in fact, it's very often not. Sometimes it's a junior employee, or a developer, even an intern.
In a series of interviews with coders, technicians, and engineers who've automated their colleagues out of work -- or, in one case, been put in a position where they'd have to do so and decided to quit instead -- I've attempted to produce a snapshot of life on the messy front lines of modern automation. (Some names have been changed to protect the identities of the automators.) We've heard plenty of forecasting about the many jobs slated to be erased, and we've seen the impacts on the communities that have lost livelihoods at the hands of automation, but we haven't had many close up looks at how all this unfolds in the office or the factory floor.
AWS Launches Fully-Managed Document Database Service
An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet:
Amazon Web Services (AWS) has announced a fully-managed document database service, building the Amazon DocumentDB (with MongoDB compatibility) to support existing MongoDB workloads. The cloud giant said developers can use the same MongoDB application code, drivers, and tools as they currently do to run, manage, and scale workloads on Amazon DocumentDB. Amazon DocumentDB uses an SSD-based storage layer, with 6x replication across three separate Availability Zones. This means that Amazon DocumentDB can failover from a primary to a replica within 30 seconds, and supports MongoDB replica set emulation so applications can handle failover quickly. Each MongoDB database contains a set of collections -- similar to a relational database table -- with each collection containing a set of documents in BSON format. Amazon DocumentDB is compatible with version 3.6 of MongoDB and storage can be scaled from 10 GB up to 64 TB in increments of 10 GB. The new offering implements the MongoDB 3.6 API that allows customers to use their existing MongoDB drivers and tools with Amazon DocumentDB. In a separate report, TechCrunch's Frederic Lardinois says AWS is "
giving open source the middle finger" by "taking the best open-source projects and re-using and re-branding them without always giving back to those communities."
"The wrinkle here is that MongoDB was one of the first companies that aimed to put a stop to this by re-licensing its open-source tools under a new license that explicitly stated that companies that wanted to do this had to buy a commercial license," Frederic writes. "Since then, others have followed."
"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so it's not surprising that Amazon would try to capitalize on the popularity and momentum of MongoDB's document model," MongoDB CEO and president Dev Ittycheria told us. "However, developers are technically savvy enough to distinguish between the real thing and a poor imitation. MongoDB will continue to outperform any impersonations in the market."
Blue Gems In Teeth Illuminate Women's Hidden Role In Medieval Manuscripts
The jaw bone of a woman who died around 1000-1200 AD has specks of precious lapis lazuli (mineral) in the plaque of her teeth. This indicates that this woman would have licked the brush used in preparing precious illuminated manuscripts at the women's monastery in Dalheim in western Germany. The study by researchers from German-based Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and Britain's University of York showed that women, as well as men, were part of the production of the valuable manuscripts. "The researchers said this challenged long-held beliefs that women had played little role in the European Middle Ages in producing literary and written texts which came largely from religious institutions," reports the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "Researcher Christina Warinner said this finding from the 11th century was unprecedented in showing more women were literate, educated and encouraged to read at that time."
Wireless Tech Company Finds Way To Charge Drones In Flight
Global Energy Transmission (GET) co-founder William Kallamn says his wireless tech company has
found a way to create a "power cloud" that can charge a drone while it's in flight. "The system comprises a ground-based power station with a frame of wires positioned in a roughly circular shape," reports Futurism. "When turned on, this creates an electromagnetic field in the air near the station. A drone equipped with a special antennae charges by flying into the range of the power cloud." From the report:
Eight minutes of charge time translates to 30 minutes of flight. One of GET's power stations and two customized drones, each capable of carrying 7 kilograms (15.4 pounds), currently costs $120,000. It's hard to overstate the potential for drones to change our world, but for seemingly every positive use for the machines (package delivery, search and rescue operations), there's a negative one to consider (military weaponry, citizen surveillance). So, sure, a drone that never needs to land would be amazingly beneficial for moviemaking and sports coverage -- two uses Kallman notes in [an interview with entertainment vlogger David Fordham] -- but it's hard to imagine military or government officials wouldn't be highly interested in GET's drone charging tech as well.