Web Summit Cancels Next Year's Rise, One of Asia's Largest Tech Conferences, Over Tension in Hong Kong
The ongoing tension in Hong Kong between the government and pro-democracy protesters continues to spill into the tech domain. From a report:
Rise, which is among the largest tech conferences in Asia, will not run next year as planned due to "the ongoing situation in Hong Kong," according to Web Summit, the Ireland-based company that organizes the show. The organizer said it is postponing the sixth edition of its annual conference, which is held in Hong Kong, to March 2021 from March 2020. Web Summit, which hosts similar large-scale conferences in other parts of the world, made the announcement today in an email to previous attendees. A spokesperson confirmed the veracity of the email to TechCrunch. "Over recent months, we have been monitoring the ongoing situation in Hong Kong. Our number one concern is the wellbeing, safety, and security of attendees at our events," it said in a statement. "Given the uncertainty of the situation by early 2020 and after consulting with experts and advisories, we have decided to postpone RISE until 2021."
Most Americans Think They're Being Constantly Tracked, Study Finds
An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review:
More than 60% of Americans think it's impossible to go through daily life without being tracked by companies or the government, according to a new Pew Research study. It's not just that Americans (correctly) think companies are collecting their data. They don't like it. About 69% of Americans are skeptical that companies will use their private information in a way they're comfortable with, while 79% don't believe that companies will come clean if they misuse the information. When it comes to who they trust, there are differences by race. About 73% of black Americans, for instance, are at least a little worried about what law enforcement knows about them, compared with 56% of white Americans. But among all respondents, more than 80% were concerned about what social-media sites and advertisers might know. Despite these concerns, more than 80% of Americans feel they have no control over how their information is collected.
US Workers Show Little Improvement In 21st Century Skills
A new government agency report found that U.S. workers are
failing to improve the skills needed to succeed in an increasingly global economy. Bloomberg reports:
The National Center for Education Statistics asked 3,300 respondents ages 16-to-65 to read simple passages and solve basic math problems. What the researchers found is that literacy, numeracy and digital problem-solving ability in the U.S. have stagnated over the past few years. Some 19% of the test-takers ranked at the lowest of three levels for literacy and 24% lacked basic digital problem-solving abilities. Meanwhile, a shocking 29% performed at the lowest level for numeracy, the same as findings from the previous study conducted in 2012-2014. Almost one in three couldn't correctly answer "how much gas is in a 24-gallon tank if the gas gauge reads three-quarters full."
There were a few bright spots among the research. Latino adults saw their overall scores improve in both literacy and digital problem solving. Some 35% ranked at the highest of three levels for the latter, up from 24% during the 2012-2014 survey period. In addition, high school graduation rates climbed 2 percentage-points to 14%, while the percentage of people with more than a high school diploma jumped 3 percentage-points to 48%.
Ghost Ships, Crop Circles, and Soft Gold: A GPS Mystery in Shanghai
An anonymous reader shares a report:
One night last summer, a ship called the MV Manukai arrived at the port of Shanghai. It would be the American container ship's last stop in China before making its long homeward journey to Long Beach, California. As the crew carefully maneuvered the 700-foot ship through the world's busiest port, its captain watched his navigation screens closely. They showed another ship steaming up the same channel at about seven knots (eight miles per hour). Suddenly, it disappeared from the display. Then it reappeared, then disappeared again. Eventually, mystified, the captain picked up his binoculars and scanned the dockside. The other ship had been stationary at the dock the entire time.
When it came time for the Manukai to head for its own berth, the bridge began echoing to multiple alarms. Both of the ship's GPS units had lost their signals, and its transponder had failed. Even a last-ditch emergency distress system could not get a fix. Now, new research shows the Manukai and thousands of other vessels in Shanghai are falling victim to a mysterious new weapon that can spoof GPS systems. Who could be behind it? The Chinese state? Or could it be daring and sophisticated sand thieves? Read MIT Technology Review story to find out more.
Fuel Cell Drone Makes An Epic Ocean Crossing
Earlier this week, a hydrogen-powered delivery drone
managed to make a one-hour, 43-minute ocean crossing. New Atlas reports:
The exercise was the result of a collaboration between Texas-based drone development company Guinn Partners, Georgia-based Skyfire Consulting, the U.S. Department of Health, and drone manufacturer Doosan Mobility Innovation -- the latter supplied the aircraft, a hydrogen fuel cell-powered DS30 octocopter. Utilizing its temperature-controlled payload system, the drone was used to transport live bacteria samples from a hospital on the Caribbean island of St. Croix to a testing facility on the neighboring island of St. Thomas. This involved crossing 43 miles (69 km) of open ocean. Upon successfully reaching its destination, the copter reportedly still had almost 30 minutes of flight time left on its fuel cell.
Germany Forces Apple To Let Other Mobile Wallet Services Use iPhone's NFC Chip
A new German law passed yesterday
requires Apple to allow other mobile payments services access to the iPhone's NFC chip for payments to allow them to fully compete with Apple Pay. 9to5Mac reports:
Apple initially completely locked down the NFC chip so that it could be used only by Apple Pay. It later allowed some third-party apps to use the chip but has always refused to do so for other mobile payment apps. Reuters reports that the law doesn't name Apple specifically, but would apply to the tech giant. The piece somewhat confusingly refers to access to the NFC chip by third-party payment apps as Apple Pay.
"A German parliamentary committee unexpectedly voted in a late-night session on Wednesday to force the tech giant to open up Apple Pay to rival providers in Germany," reports Reuters. "This came in the form of an amendment to an anti-money laundering law that was adopted late on Thursday by the full parliament and is set to come into effect early next year. The legislation, which did not name Apple specifically, will force operators of electronic money infrastructure to offer access to rivals for a reasonable fee." Apple says that the change would be harmful: "We are surprised at how suddenly this legislation was introduced. We fear that the draft law could be harmful to user friendliness, data protection and the security of financial information."
Google Cancels Weekly All-Hands Meetings Amid Growing Workplace Tensions
An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC:
Google is getting rid of one of its best-known workplace features: TGIF, its weekly all-hands meeting. The company confirmed to CNBC that it will instead hold monthly all-hands meetings that will be focused on business and strategy while holding separate town halls for "workplace issues." An email announcing the change was previously reported by The Verge.
Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin started TGIFs in 1999 as a forum where employees could regularly express concerns and discuss topics open and freely with management. At that time, the company was small enough to fit in a meeting room, but the all-hands continued to grow as the employee base grew -- until recently, that is. Page and Brin stopped attending regularly in 2019. A company spokesperson said that the meetings had recently become a bi-weekly instead of weekly occurrence. The new model comes as the company cracks down on the open work culture that's long been part of its identity of holding free discussion. Employees have increasingly voiced their concerns about everything from the handling of sexual harassment to government hires and contracts. In recent months, employees have leaked meeting notes to the media, which have shown growing tension between executives and workers. "In other places -- like TGIF -- our scale is challenging us to evolve," Pichai said in a memo to employees this week. "TGIF has traditionally provided a place to come together, share progress, and ask questions, but it's not working in its current form."
"We're unfortunately seeing a coordinated effort to share our conversations outside of the company after every TGIF," the note reportedly states. "I know this is new information to many of you, and it has affected our ability to use TGIF as a forum for candid conversations on important topics."
White House Unveils Rules Requiring Online Disclosure of Hospital Prices
schwit1 shares a report from The Hill:
The Trump administration on Friday unveiled new rules to require increased disclosure of health care prices, in a move officials said would drive down costs by increasing competition. One regulation would require hospitals to provide a consumer-friendly online page where prices are listed for 300 common procedures like X-rays and lab tests. A second regulation would require insurers to provide an online tool where people could compare their out-of-pocket costs at different medical providers before receiving treatment. The rule announced Friday affecting hospitals is a final rule, set to take effect Jan. 1, 2021. The rule for insurers is still a proposal that is not yet finalized.
"Hospitals and insurers will fight this. The last thing they want is consumers price shopping," adds schwit1.
MacBook Pro Teardown Confirms the New Keyboard Is Basically Just the Old, Good Keyboard
iFixit's teardown of the
new 16-inch MacBook Pro confirms that the keyboard
uses the more reliable scissor-style switches that Apple first introduced in its Magic Keyboards in 2015. The Verge reports:
The switches on the 16-inch MacBook Pro are so similar to the standalone keyboard, in fact, that iFixit's report says that keys are interchangeable between the two products. The change comes after a long, multiyear debate between Apple and customers over the butterfly switches, causing Apple to revamp the mechanism multiple times to block debris and add extra strength. Apple was also forced to acknowledge that the keyboards were problematic, and offered an extended warranty program for those laptops. Per iFixit, the new keys also have more travel when you press them (about 0.5 mm more), and the keycaps themselves are about 0.2 mm thicker compared to the much-maligned butterfly switches. The teardown also notes that the clips that attach the keycaps to the switches appear to be more reinforced to make it easier to remove or replace them down the line.
Supreme Court Will Hear Long-Running Google and Oracle Copyright Lawsuit
An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC:
The Supreme Court said on Friday that it will hear a dispute between tech giants Oracle and Google in a blockbuster case that could lead to billions of dollars in fines and shape copyright law in the internet era. The case concerns 11,500 lines of code that Google was accused of copying from Oracle's Java programming language. Google deployed the code in Android, now the most popular mobile operating system in the world. Oracle sued Google in 2010 alleging that the use of its code in Android violated copyright law.
Google won two victories in the lower courts but ultimately lost on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which ruled last year for Oracle. Oracle has previously said it is entitled to $9 billion in damages, though no official penalty has been set. Java was developed by Sun Microsystems, which Oracle purchased in a deal valued at $7.4 billion that was completed in 2010. Underlying the legal issues in the case is a technical dispute over the nature of the code that Google used. Google has said that the code was essentially functional -- akin to copying the placement of keys on a QWERTY keyboard. Oracle maintains that the code, part of Java's application programming interface, or API, is a creative product, "like the chapter headings and topic sentences of an elaborate literary work." A number of high-profile tech firms urged the top court to take the case in order to side with Google.
Hulu Boosts the Price of Its Live-TV Service
Hulu said Friday it will increase the price of its online cable TV alternative product
Hulu Live by $10 to $55 a month in what is the latest sign providers are having trouble making money on discounted packages of channels that rival cable. From a report:
Hulu Live, which offers about 60 channels such as ESPN and CNN, was first introduced two years ago. The price increase takes effect Dec. 18, the company said in a statement. So-called skinny bundles -- cheaper online alternatives to cable packages -- have struggled recently as budget-conscious consumers seem more willing to just cut out traditional cable networks entirely. Sony is shutting down its offering, PlayStation Vue, in January.
Xbox One November Update Arrives With Google Assistant, Gamertag Updates, More
Microsoft's November 2019 update for Xbox One consoles is now
headed out to everyone. From a report:
After a period of testing with Xbox Insiders, several new features are now rolling out to the public, including Google Assistant support, the option to use any Gamertag, text filters, and more. Perhaps the biggest update here is support for Google Assistant. While it doesn't run on your Xbox, Google Assistant support allows you to issue commands to control your Xbox from your phone or smart speaker. It works much like the Amazon Echo integration that hit Xbox consoles several months ago, letting you turn your Xbox on, launch games, and more with your voice. The Gamertag updates in the November 2019 update bring more choice to players on consoles. Microsoft announced a plan earlier this year to revamp Gamertags, allowing you to choose any name you want. If you pick a Gamertag that's already taken, you'll have a numbered suffix added to it. "With the November 2019 Xbox Update, these gamertag options are now supported on console, including profiles, friend lists, messages, Clubs, LFG and more," Microsoft says.
Billboards Love Streaming Wars Because That's Where Ads End Up
Streaming services are the hottest thing in entertainment these days. But when it comes to getting the word out about the newest offerings,
it's traditional media that often benefits. From a report:
Apple, Disney and other big tech and media giants are increasingly turning to outlets like TV, billboards and newspapers to promote their new online products. Spending on broadcast and cable ads by streaming services jumped 19% to $209 million over the past 10 weeks, according to data from researcher ISpot.TV. The biggest spender was Apple, which launched its Apple TV+ service on Nov. 1. It accounted for almost one-quarter of the spending, followed closely behind by Amazon.com , with $37 million in TV ad purchases.
"Television is the easiest place to find people who like TV," said Brian Wieser, global president of business intelligence for GroupM, the ad buying unit of WPP. Disney, which introduced its new Disney+ streaming service on Tuesday, relied heavily on its own networks for marketing. Ads ran on ESPN's Monday Night Football, while ABC aired the first episode of the service's new "High School Musical" series the Friday before the launch. The company also promoted the service on its radio network and in the hotel rooms at its theme parks.
Disney + and 'The Mandalorian' Are Driving People Back To Torrenting
An anonymous reader shares a report:
A simple glance at torrent websites shows that plenty of people are stealing from the brand new steaming services -- episodes of The Mandalorian and Dickinson all have hundreds or thousands of seeders and are among the most popular shows on torrent sites. I reached out specifically to Disney, Apple, and Netflix to ask what their policy was on going after pirated content, and haven't heard back, but it's obvious that these companies assume that at least some of their viewers aren't paying the full price for their services. Given that you can watch as many as six simultaneous streams with Apple TV+, and four with Disney+ and the top Netflix package, the more common form of piracy -- password sharing -- is built into the system. But for pirates who don't have any access to the legit services, what makes stealing content particularly appealing in this age is that there are few if any people who face consequences for the crime.
Since the discontinuation of the "six strikes" copyright policy in 2017, there's been lax enforcement of copyright laws. Rather than going after individuals for exorbitant fines for downloading a handful of songs like copyright holders did a decade ago, enforcement these days has focused on the providers of pirated content, with the much more efficient goal of taking down entire streaming sites rather than just a few of their visitors. Of course, as the continued resilience of The Pirate Bay shows, the current strategy isn't particularly effective at stopping piracy, either. But it does mean that those who only download already-stolen content are safer than they've ever been.
The Org That Doles Out .Org Websites Just Sold Itself To a For-Profit Company
Today, the Public Interest Registry (PIR), which maintains the .org top-level domain,
announced that it will be acquired by Ethos Capital, a private equity firm. From a report:
This move will make PIR, previously a non-profit domain registry, officially part of a for-profit company -- which certainly seems at odds with what .org might represent to some. Originally, ".org" was an alternative to the ".com" that was earmarked for commercial entities, which lent itself to non-profit use. That's not all: On June 30th, ICANN, the non-profit that oversees all domain names on the internet, agreed to remove price caps on rates for .org domain names -- which were previously pretty cheap. Seems like something a for-profit company might want. Removing price caps wasn't exactly a popular idea when it was first proposed on March 18th. According to Review Signal, only six of the more than 3,000 public comments on the proposal were in favor of the change.
Google Almost Made 100,000 Chest X-rays Public -- Until it Realized Personal Data Could Be Exposed
Two days before Google was set to publicly post more than 100,000 images of human chest X-rays, the tech giant got a call from the National Institutes of Health, which had provided the images:
Some of them still contained details that could be used to identify the patients, a potential privacy and legal violation. From a report:
Google abruptly canceled its project with NIH, according to emails reviewed by The Washington Post and an interview with a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But the 2017 incident, which has never been reported, highlights the potential pitfalls of the tech giant's incursions into the world of sensitive health data. Over the course of planning the X-ray project, Google's researchers didn't obtain any legal agreements covering the privacy of patient information, the person said, adding that the company rushed toward publicly announcing the project without properly vetting the data for privacy concerns. The emails about Google's NIH project were part of records obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request. Google's ability to uphold data privacy is under scrutiny as it increasingly inserts itself into people's medical lives. The Internet giant this week said it has partnered with health-care provider Ascension to collect and store personal data for millions of patients, including full names, dates of birth and clinical histories, in order to make smarter recommendations to physicians. But the project raised privacy concerns in part because it wasn't immediately clear whether patients had consented to have their files transferred from Ascension servers or what Google's intentions were.
Taiwan Stops Selling Huawei Phones That Identify It as Part of China
suspended sales of three Huawei smartphone models that identify Taiwan as part of China, striking a fresh blow in a long-running conflict over references to sovereignty. From a report:
Phone carriers were ordered to stop offering Huawei's P30, P3O Pro and Nova 5T models starting Thursday because their displays included the words "Taiwan, China" for time zones and contacts, said Peter Niou, a deputy director at the National Communications Commission in Taipei. The reference impairs Taiwan's "national dignity," Niou said. The halt adds Huawei to the list of global brands, from Coach and Givenchy to JPMorgan, that have had to respond to the sovereignty dispute between separately governed Taiwan and China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory. The two fashion brands, owned by companies in the U.S. and France, apologized to China's government after offering T-shirts that identified Taiwan as a country.
Apple To Remove Vaping Apps From Store
Amid growing health concerns over e-cigarettes, Apple will
remove all 181 vaping-related apps from its mobile App Store this morning, Axios reports. From a report:
The move comes after at least 42 people have died from vaping-related lung illness, per the CDC. Most of those people had been using cartridges containing THC, though some exclusively used nicotine cartridges. The company has never allowed the sale of vape cartridges directly from apps. But there were apps that let people control the temperature and lighting of their vape pens, and others provided vaping-related news, social networks and games.
A Jury of Random People Can Do Wonders For Facebook
Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder of Harvard's Berkman Klein Center, writes about how and why Facebook
might take inspiration from the U.S. jury system in reviewing the truth value of political ads. An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from the article:
What we need are ways for decisions about content to be made, as they inevitably must be when platforms rank and recommend content for us to see; for those decisions yet not to be too far-reaching or stiflingly consistent, so there is play in the joints; and for the deep stakes of those decisions to be matched by the gravity and reflectiveness of the process to make them. Facebook recently announced plans for an "independent oversight board," a tribunal that would render the company's final judgment on whether a disputed posting should be taken down. But far more than its own version of the Supreme Court, Facebook needs a way to tap into the everyday common sense of regular people. Even Facebook does not trust Facebook to decide unilaterally which ads are false and misleading. So if the ads are to be weighed at all, someone else has to render judgment.
In the court system, legislators write laws, and lawyers argue cases, but juries of ordinary people are typically the finders of fact and judges of what counts as "reasonable" behavior. This is less because a group of people plucked from the phone book is the best way to ascertain truth -- after all, we don't use that kind of group for any other fact-finding. Rather, it's because, when done honorably, with duties taken seriously, deliberation by juries lends legitimacy and credibility to the machinations of the legal system.
Physicists Irreversibly Split Photons By Freezing Them In a Bose-Einstein Condensate
Physicists from the University of Bonn and the University of Cologne have
succeeded in cooling photons down to a Bose-Einstein condensate, causing the light to collect in optical "valleys" from which it can no longer return. The findings have been
published in the journal Science. Phys.Org reports:
A light beam is usually divided by being directed onto a partially reflecting mirror: Part of the light is then reflected back to create the mirror image. The rest passes through the mirror. "However, this process can be turned around if the experimental set-up is reversed," says Prof. Dr. Martin Weitz from the Institute of Applied Physics at the University of Bonn. If the reflected light and the part of the light passing through the mirror are sent in the opposite direction, the original light beam can be reconstructed. The physicist investigates exotic optical quantum states of light. Together with his team and Prof. Dr. Achim Rosch from the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Cologne, Weitz was looking for a new method to generate optical one-way streets by cooling the photons: As a result of the smaller energy of the photons, the light should collect in valleys and thereby be irreversibly divided. The physicists used a Bose-Einstein condensate made of photons for this purpose, which Weitz first achieved in 2010, becoming the first to create such a "super-photon."
A beam of light is thrown back and forth between two mirrors. During this process, the photons collide with dye molecules located between the reflecting surfaces. The dye molecules "swallow" the photons and then spit them out again. "The photons acquire the temperature of the dye solution," says Weitz. "In the course of this, they cool down to room temperature without getting lost." By irradiating the dye solution with a laser, the physicists increase the number of photons between the mirrors. The strong concentration of the light particles combined with simultaneous cooling causes the individual photons to fuse to form a "super-photon," also known as Bose-Einstein condensate. "Perhaps quantum computers might one day use this method to communicate with each other and form a kind of quantum Internet," says Weitz.
The Black Death Plague Just Reappeared In China
At least two people in China are under close observation and
are receiving treatment for infections of the same plague that devastated Europe in the mid-1300s. The two confirmed cases originated in north China and were confirmed by doctors in Beijing earlier this week. From a report:
The pneumonic variant of the plague, which affects the lungs, can easily spread to others through the air. It is one of the three main forms of plague infection, alongside bubonic and septicemic, but it's believed that the pneumonic form was largely responsible for the rapid spread of plague during the Black Death pandemic that wiped out as much as half of Europe's population centuries ago. While it hasn't led to a full-scale pandemic for some time, plague -- a bacterial infection that is treated with antibiotics -- is known to persist in certain animal populations across Asia as well as the Americas and Africa. The pneumonic form, however, is rare and considered to be a more serious threat. It is almost always deadly if not promptly treated. China's
Xinhua news agency didn't provide many details on the condition of the two patients or if they had contact with others. The report simply notes that "relevant disease prevention and control measures have been taken."