With New Security and Free Internet Issues, What Did the TikTok Deal Really Achieve?
Though the U.S. government
averted a shutdown of TikTok through a new Oracle/Walmart partnership, that leaves much bigger questions unresolved. The biggest issue may be that banning apps "
defeats the original intent of the internet," argues the New York TImes. "And that was to create a global communications network, unrestrained by national borders."
"The vision for a single, interconnected network around the globe is long gone," Jason Healey, a senior research scholar at Columbia University's School for International and Public Affairs and an expert on cyber conflict. "All we can do now is try to steer toward optimal fragmentation."
But the Times also asks whether the TikTok agreement fails even at its original goal of protecting the app from foreign influence:
The code and algorithms are the magic sauce that Beijing now says, citing its own national security concerns, may not be exported to to a foreign adversary... Microsoft's bid went further: It would have owned the source code and algorithms from the first day of the acquisition, and over the course of a year moved their development entirely to the United States, with engineers vetted for "insider threats." So far, at least, Oracle has not declared how it would handle that issue. Nor did President Trump in his announcement of the deal. Until they do, it will be impossible to know if Mr. Trump has achieved his objective: preventing Chinese engineers, perhaps under the influence of the state, from manipulating the code in ways that could censor, or manipulate, what American users see.
Other questions also remain, including America's larger policy towards other apps like Telegram made by foreign countries. Even Amy Zegart, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and Stanford's Freeman-Spogli Institute, complains to the Times that "bashing TikTok is not a China strategy. China has a multi-prong strategy to win the tech race. It invests in American technology, steals intellectual property and now develops its own technology that is coming into the U.S... And yet we think we can counter this by banning an app. The forest is on fire, and we are spraying a garden hose on a bush."
And another article in the Times argues that the TikTok agreement
doesn't even eliminate Chinese ownership of the app:
Under the initial terms, ByteDance still controls 80 percent of TikTok Global, two people with knowledge of the situation have said, though details may change. ByteDance's chief executive, Zhang Yiming, will also be on the company's board of directors, said a third person. And the government did not provide specifics about how the deal would answer its security concerns about TikTok...
A news release published by Walmart on Saturday on its website — then edited later — captured the chaos. "This unique technology eliminates the risk of foreign governments spying on American users or trying to influence them with disinformation," the company said. "Ekejechb ecehggedkrrnikldebgtkjkddhfdenbhbkuk."
Could Open Source Licensing Stop Big Pharma Profiteering On Taxpayer-Funded Covid-19 Vaccines?
Two professors at the University of Massachusetts have co-authored a new essay explaining how open source licensing "could keep Big Pharma from making huge profits off taxpayer-funded research" in the international, multi-billion-dollar race for a Covid-19 vaccine:
The invention of the "General Public License," sometimes referred to as a viral or reciprocal license, meant that should an improvement be made, the new software version automatically inherits the same license as its parent. We believe that in a time of a global pandemic, a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine should be licensed with General Public License-like properties...
Fortunately, some pharmaceutical companies, national governments, nonprofits like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and international organizations like the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Initiatives — which supports vaccine development — are putting policies in place that embrace openness and sharing rather than intellectual property protection. Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Initiatives officials have stated that all of their funding agreements require that "appropriate vaccines are first available to populations when and where they are needed to end an outbreak or curtail an epidemic, regardless of ability to pay." That's an important start.
However, when there is a safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine, the U.S. and other national governments need to create contractual agreements with firms that provide fair and reasonable funding to cover their costs or even some reasonable profit margin while still mandating the open sharing of the processes for vaccine production, quality assurance and rapid global distribution.
Bill Gates vs. Steve Jobs: the Books They Recommended
Slashdot has featured "
the 61 books Elon Musk has recommended on Twitter" as well as the
41 books Mark Zuckerberg recommended on Facebook. Both lists were compiled by a slick web site (with Amazon referrer codes) called "Most Recommended Books." But they've also created pages showing books recommended
by over 400 other public figures —
incuding Bill Gates and
the late Steve Jobs — which provide surprisingly revealing glimpses into the minds of two very different men.
Here's some of the highlights...
Browser Extension uMatrix Ends Active Development
Hmmmmmm quotes Ghacks:
Raymond Hill, known online as gorhill, has set the status of the uMatrix GitHub repository to archived; this means that it is read-only at the time and that no updates will become available.
The uMatrix extension is available for several browsers including Firefox, Google Chrome, and most Firefox and Chromium-based browsers. It is a privacy and security extensions for advanced users that provides firewall-like capabilities when it is installed...
Hill suggests that developers could fork the extension to continue development under a new name. There is also the chance that Hill might resume development in the future but there is no guarantee that this is going to happen.
For now, uMatrix is no longer in active development.
Maybe CS Class Isn't the Best Way To Expose Most Kids To CS
Long-time Slashdot reader
"If we want all students to learn computer science (CS for All), we have to go to where the students are," writes University of Michigan Grand Valley State University CS Professor Mark Guzdial. "Unfortunately, that's not computer science class. In most US states, less than 5% of high school students take a course in computer science.
"Programming is applicable and useful in many domains today, so one answer is to use programming in science, mathematics, social studies, and other non-CS classes. We take programming to where the students are, and hope to increase their interest and knowledge about CS."
America's National Science Foundation (NSF) was intrigued enough by this idea to fund Creating Adoptable Computing Education Integrated into Social Studies Classes, a three-year project created by Guzdial and Grand Valley State University history professor Tamara Shreiner, a project which "aims to provide more students computing education by integrating programming activities into social studies classes and to use the computing to enhance students' data literacy." Along the same lines, the NSF has also greenlighted Northwestern University's CS professor Marcelo Worsley's Computational Thinking and Physical Computing in Physical Education for this fall, which will bring computer science to K-5 gym classes.
While the tech giants have lobbied for billions in spending on "rigorous" K-12 CS courses, could it be that the best "CS class" for most K-12 students is no CS class?
America's Air Force Secretly Designed, Built, and Flew a Brand-New Fighter Jet
"The U.S. Air Force revealed this week that it has
secretly designed, built, and tested a new prototype fighter jet," reports
According to Defense News, the Air Force developed the new fighter in about a year — a staggeringly short amount of time by modern standards. The Air Force first developed a virtual version of the jet, and then proceeded to build and fly a full-sized prototype, complete with mission systems... It took the Air Force just one year to get to the point with the "Next Generation Air Dominance" (NGAD) fighter that it reached in 10 years with the F-35.
The Air Force designed the NGAD to ensure the service's "air dominance" in future conflicts versus the fighters of potential adversaries. The new fighter, then, is almost certainly optimized for air-to-air combat. It's a safe bet the fighter uses off-the-shelf avionics, engines, and weapons borrowed from other aircraft, such as the F-35 and F/A-18E/F...
If the Air Force and industry can design a new fighter in one year, it could come up with all sorts of cool new planes. This could encourage the development of more exotic, riskier designs that contractors would not otherwise want to devote a full decade to develop. The ability to fail — or succeed — faster will drive innovation in the world of fighter jets in ways not seen for a half century or more.
"We are ready to go and build the next-generation aircraft in a way that has never happened before," says Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, in an interview with
Should the Air Force move to buy NGAD in the near term, it will be adding a challenger to the F-35 and F-15EX programs, potentially putting those programs at risk. And because the advanced manufacturing techniques that are critical for building NGAD were pioneered by the commercial sector, the program could open the door for new prime contractors for the aircraft to emerge — and perhaps give SpaceX founder Elon Musk a shot at designing an F-35 competitor.
"I have to imagine there will be a lot of engineers — maybe famous ones with well-known household names with billions of dollars to invest — that will decide starting the world's greatest aircraft company to build the world's greatest aircraft with the Air Force is exactly the kind of inspiring thing they want to do as a hobby or even a main gig," Roper said.
Are Tesla's Data-Gathering Cars Secretly Improving Autopilot's Algorithms?
"When the history of autonomous cars is written, the winner will be Tesla," speculates long-time technology pundit Robert Cringely. "
Heck, I think they've already won."
But his article includes a disclaimer that it's "based pretty much on logic, not knowledge, which is to say I might again be too frigging stupid to read, much less write."
Tesla has more than a million data-gathering devices on the roads. We call them cars. Tesla cars have no LIDAR but they have eight cameras and RADAR. Every night all those cars wirelessly report their driving data back to Tesla. I would love to know how Tesla decided what to put in those reports. Given the limited bandwidth LTE connection involved, it can't be a complete data dump. They have to pick and choose what to report. And what does Tesla do with the reports? I think it comes down to algorithms, mapping, and exceptions. They are logically trying to improve their algorithms, improve their maps, but mainly — after having already parsed billions of miles of driving data — they are looking for exceptional events that are testing their algorithms in ways never seen before...
Tesla has a dual processor system in their cars — two completely distinct computers. Why...? Because every night is an A-B test for Tesla — a test that is running on your car. One processor is driving the car (or following the driver's actions if Autopilot isn't being used, which is most of the time) with production software while the second processor is running beta software, simulating the drive, and noting discrepancies between the two software versions. Multiply this times a million cars per night. Whether Autopilot is used or not doesn't matter: the evolution of the software continues. And it's finished when the beta software stops improving and the outcome shows the only difference between human and Autopilot driving is that Autopilot does it better. Continue for another month or year or decade just to confirm your results, then announce that full autonomous mode is available. That is exactly where I believe Tesla has been heading for as long as those two-processor cars have been on the road.
Tesla's autonomous driving software could be ready right now for all we know. Elon certainly hints at this from time to time in his tweets. And THAT's why I believe Tesla has already won the autonomous driving war, because they have real cars facing real exceptions that you won't find in a simulation, and their dual processor system knows what it knows.
Yes, I reached out to Tesla about this last week. They still haven't replied.
Again, Cringely wants that this is "based pretty much on logic, not knowledge, which is to say I might again be too frigging stupid to read, much less write."
US Judge Blocks Attempt to Ban WeChat
"The popular Chinese messaging and payments app WeChat looks like it might still be available in the U.S. beyond Sunday night, after all," reports the
U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler of San Francisco stopped the Trump administration from forcing Apple and Alphabet to take the Tencent Holdings' messaging app offline for downloading by late Sunday, according to a report from Reuters. The decision — which also blocks other restrictions imposed by the U.S. government on the app — follows the U.S. Commerce Department's move on Friday to virtually eliminate access to the application and impair its ability to function, in part by prohibiting companies from distributing or maintaining it and blocking financial transactions over the app in the U.S...
The order also stated that the Commerce Department's orders "burden substantially more speech than is necessary to serve the government's significant interest in national security, especially given the lack of substitute channels for communication."
Chinese Intelligence Compiles 'Vast Database' About Millions Around the World
Australia's national public broadcaster ABC reports:
A Chinese company with links to Beijing's military and intelligence networks has been amassing a vast database of detailed personal information on thousands of Australians, including prominent and influential figures. A database of 2.4 million people, including more than 35,000 Australians, has been leaked from the Shenzhen company Zhenhua Data which is believed to be used by China's intelligence service, the Ministry of State Security. Zhenhua has the People's Liberation Army and the Chinese Communist Party among its main clients.
Information collected includes dates of birth, addresses, marital status, along with photographs, political associations, relatives and social media IDs. It collates Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and even TikTok accounts, as well as news stories, criminal records and corporate misdemeanours. While much of the information has been "scraped," some profiles have information which appears to have been sourced from confidential bank records, job applications and psychological profiles.
The company is believed to have sourced some of its information from the so-called "dark web". One intelligence analyst said the database was "Cambridge Analytica on steroids", referring to the trove of personal information sourced from Facebook profiles in the lead up to the 2016 US election campaign. But this data dump goes much further, suggesting a complex global operation using artificial intelligence to trawl publicly available data to create intricate profiles of individuals and organisations, potentially probing for compromise opportunities.
Zhenhua Data's chief executive Wang Xuefeng, a former IBM employee, has used Chinese social media app WeChat to endorse waging "hybrid warfare" through manipulation of public opinion and "psychological warfare"....
The database was leaked to a US academic, who worked with Canberra cyber security company Internet 2.0 and "was able to restore 10 per cent of the 2.4 million records for individuals...
"Of the 250,000 records recovered, there are 52,000 on Americans, 35,000 Australians, 10,000 Indian, 9,700 British, 5,000 Canadians, 2,100 Indonesians, 1,400 Malaysia and 138 from Papua New Guinea."
Is Momentum Growing for Universal Basic Incomes?
"A successful basic-income trial in Stockton, California, has
inspired a chain of similar pilots in other cities," reports Business Insider:
The city council of Saint Paul, Minnesota, voted to approve funding for a pilot there on Wednesday. The program is set to begin this fall and will give up to 150 low-income families $500 per month for up to 18 months — no strings attached... "I think there's a budding realization that not only is this a good thing for us to try, but that we may not have any other option," St. Paul mayor Melvin Carter said on a Wednesday press call...
"We're obviously seeing an unprecedented crisis in our communities across our country," Carter said. "We're coming to a recognition that we don't have a funding problem. We have a priorities problem."
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced he was
donating $3 million to a coalition of "Mayors for a Guaranteed Income." The group currently has 25 mayors -- two who are already overseeing pilot programs in their own cities -- while Chicago, Newark, and Atlanta "have created task forces to help design their programs," and the mayor of Pittsburgh would like to launch one of their own by the end of the year.
In another article, Business Insider created
a map showing the locations of 48 basic income programs that have happened around the world (based on data from the Stanford Basic Income Lab). But they also provide this summary of their current state:
So is basic income the real deal or a pipe dream? The results are still unclear. Some, like the initial pilots for Uganda's Eight program, were found to result in significant multipliers on economic activity and well-being. Other programs, however, returned mixed results that made further experimentation difficult. Finland's highly-touted pilot program decreased stress levels of recipients across the board, but didn't positively impact work activity.
The biggest difficulty has been in keeping programs going and securing funding. Ontario's three-year projects were prematurely cancelled in 2018 before they could be completed and assessed, and the next stages of Finland's program are in limbo. Likewise in the U.S., start-up incubator Y Combinator has been planning a $60M basic income study program, but can't proceed until funding is secured.
You Can Microwave This Notebook When It's Full - Then Reuse It Again
A new product wants to upgrade the act of taking notes in a spiral-bound notebook — with
the resuable "Rocketbook Wave Smart Notebook":
You can write on it using any Pilot Frixion pen, marker, or highlighter, and once you're done, you can scan the notes, doodles, and drawings into the Rocketbook app to store them in a cloud. Used up all of its pages? No problem. Make sure you've scanned all your notes, and then throw your notebook into the microwave. Yes, the microwave. Throwing it into the microwave will erase everything you've written from the notebook.
To avoid getting into the science of it, let's just call it magic.
The notebook's pages are designed with grids, so it's perfect for either writing or drawing, and they actually feel like real paper, so you'll still feel the joy of handwriting. That's really a thing. Ask anyone who journals. Inside the app, you can use the smart search to quickly find something in your notes, according to date or a search term.
Could Smart Technology Help Save the World's Honey Bees?
CNN Business reports:
Climate change, intensive agriculture, and the use of pesticides and fungicides in farming is ravaging the world's bees. Commercial beekeepers in the United States lost 44% of their managed colonies in 2019, according to research from the University of Maryland. Now, technology startups are developing smart devices that give beekeepers access to detailed information about the state of their hives, aiming to reduce losses and improve bee health.
Among them is Ireland's ApisProtect, which has just launched a sensor that alerts beekeepers if there is a problem in their hives. The small internet-connected sensor is placed under the roof of the beehive and measures a number of metrics including temperature, humidity, sound and movement. Data from the sensor is sent via the cloud to ApisProtect's HQ in Cork, Ireland, where the data is processed, analyzed and then sent back to the beekeeper...
With bees in demand for a booming pollination industry, there are a number of other startups promoting new technologies, including Pollenity in Bulgaria, Arnia in the United Kingdom and BeeHero in Israel.Pollenity was founded in 2015 by Sergey Petrov and has raised $1.2 million in funding. Its Beebot smart sensor device is aimed at small and hobbyist beekeepers, and it is also working with six universities from across Europe on an EU-funded research project called HIVEOPOLIS. The project aims to improve the welfare of bees by reinventing hives using a number of technologies, including a robot bee capable of "dancing" to direct the hive's swarm.
"The robot bee will tell the other bees where to go to find nectar and pollen," Petrov says. "Not only will this direct them to certain fields for pollination but also navigate the bees away from dangerous areas, like where pesticides are being used."
US Teens Are Being Paid to Spread Disinformation on Social Media
The Washington Post covered "a sprawling yet secretive campaign that experts say evades the guardrails put in place by social media companies to limit online disinformation of the sort used by Russia" during America's last presidential campaign in 2016.
According to four people with knowledge of the effort, "
Teenagers, some of them minors, are being paid to pump out the messages..."
The campaign draws on the spam-like behavior of bots and trolls, with the same or similar language posted repeatedly across social media. But it is carried out, at least in part, by humans paid to use their own accounts, though nowhere disclosing their relationship with Turning Point Action or the digital firm brought in to oversee the day-to-day activity. One user included a link to Turning Point USA's website in his Twitter profile until The Washington Post began asking questions about the activity. In response to questions from The Post, Twitter on Tuesday suspended at least 20 accounts involved in the activity for "platform manipulation and spam." Facebook also removed a number of accounts as part of what the company said is an ongoing investigation...
The months-long effort by the tax-exempt nonprofit is among the most ambitious domestic influence campaigns uncovered this election cycle, said experts tracking the evolution of deceptive online tactics. "In 2016, there were Macedonian teenagers interfering in the election by running a troll farm and writing salacious articles for money," said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab. "In this election, the troll farm is in Phoenix...."
The messages — some of them false and some simply partisan — were parceled out in precise increments as directed by the effort's leaders, according to the people with knowledge of the highly coordinated activity, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect the privacy of minors carrying out the work... The messages have appeared mainly as replies to news articles about politics and public health posted on social media. They seek to cast doubt on the integrity of the electoral process, asserting that Democrats are using mail balloting to steal the election — "thwarting the will of the American people," they alleged. The posts also play down the threat from covid-19, which claimed the life of Turning Point's co-founder Bill Montgomery in July...
By seeking to rebut mainstream news articles, the operation illustrates the extent to which some online political activism is designed to discredit the media. While Facebook and Twitter have pledged to crack down on what they have labeled coordinated inauthentic behavior, in Facebook's case, and platform manipulation and spam, as Twitter defines its rules, their efforts falter in the face of organizations willing to pay users to post on their own accounts, maintaining the appearance of independence and authenticity.
One parent even said their two teenagers had been posting the messages since June as "independent contractors" — while being paid less than minimum wage.
Newly-Released Trove of Recordings from the 1980s Includes Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak
"Steve Jobs is now known for revolutionizing just about every part of the tech world, but
back in 1988, he was perhaps best known for getting fired," remembers SFGate:
In his first product reveal since his dismissal from Apple in 1985, Jobs unveiled a new project called NeXT at a meeting of the Boston Computer Society. An audio recording of the event was unearthed and released as part of a trove of early tech recordings released by Charles Mann, as reported in an extensive feature by Fast Company...
Computing advances included a UNIX operating system that allows multi-tasking, a one million pixel display, CD quality sound and a then unprecedented 256 MB of storage. The computer would be completely built by robots rather than a human assembly line, which he said resulted in a defect rate 10 times lower than its competitors. The partnership with academia makes even more sense once you consider the price-tag of $6,500.
Fast Company's tech editor Harry McCracken was at the 1988 event, and quotes Jobs as saying "The Macintosh architecture is going to peak next year sometime. And that means that there's enough cracks in the wall already, and enough limitations to the architecture, that the Mac's pretty much going to be everything it's ever going to be sometime next year."
are available on Soundcloud, but the full trove of tech recordings includes 200 full hours of audio and 16 more of video (available on a USB drive
for $59.95) showing luminaries from the early days of personal technology. "In 1985, for instance, a month after Commodore
announced its groundbreaking Amiga computer in New York City, president Tom Rattigan came to Boston to show it to BCS members and argue that it left the Mac in the dust." Other recordings include Dan Bricklin, co-creator of VisiCalc, Osborne computer designer Adam Osborne, and investor Esther Dyson, McCracken writes:
Jobs is on three recordings — one from his first Apple tenure, and two from NeXT. Bill Gates is on five. There are folks who were already legends (mobile-computing visionary Alan Kay, marketer extraordinaire Regis McKenna) and up-and-comers (budding PC tycoon Michael Dell, age 23). Everyone from Sony cofounder Akio Morita to psychedelics advocate and part-time technologist Timothy Leary is represented; just the Apple-related material, including CEO John Sculley talking about the company in the 21st century and Hypercard creator Bill Atkinson demoing his brainchild, is a feast...
The audio of Jobs's NeXT demo at the BCS — and dozens of other recordings — exist solely because Mann realized more than 35 years ago that the talks going on at computer user-group meetings and conferences were history in the making... In May 1982, the BCS hosted Applefest, an Apple II-centric fair that featured already-iconic Apple cofounders Jobs and Wozniak as keynote speakers. In this excerpt, fielding a question from the audience, they talk about software copy protection. Woz does so from a technical bent; Jobs, who speaks of a future involving low prices and convenient electronic distribution, sounds like he was thinking about the App Store decades before it appeared. This is rare, rare stuff; if you know of even one other example of surviving audio or video of Jobs and Wozniak talking about Apple together, I'd love to hear about it.
Last-Minute TikTok Deal Averts Shutdown
"President Donald Trump said Saturday he's given his 'blessing' to a proposed deal that would see the popular video-sharing app TikTok
partner with Oracle and Walmart and form a U.S. company," reports CBS News:
Mr. Trump has targeted Chinese-owned TikTok for national security and data privacy concerns in the latest flashpoint in the rising tensions between Washington and Beijing. The president's support for a deal comes just a day after the Commerce Department announced restrictions that if put in place could eventually make it nearly impossible for TikTok's legions of younger fans to use the app. Mr. Trump said if completed the deal would create a new company likely to be based in Texas...
TikTok said Oracle and Walmart could acquire up to a cumulative 20% stake in the new company in a financing round to be held before an initial public offering of stock, which Walmart said could happen within the next year. Oracle's stake would be 12.5%, and Walmart's would be 7.5%, the companies said in separate statements. The deal will make Oracle responsible for hosting all TikTok's U.S. user data and securing computer systems to ensure U.S. national security requirements are satisfied. Walmart said it will provide its ecommerce, fulfillment, payments and other services to the new company. "We are pleased that the proposal by TikTok, Oracle, and Walmart will resolve the security concerns of the U.S. administration and settle questions around TikTok's future in the U.S.," TikTok said in a statement.
"According to a source close to the matter, ByteDance would keep the rest of the shares,"
reports a public TV station in Australia. "But since the Chinese company is 40 per cent owned by American investors, TikTok would eventually be majority American-owned."
Today America's Treasury Department told CBS that the deal still needs to close with Oracle and Walmart, and those documents and conditions then need to be approved by government regulatory. But because of today's announcement, "the department said Saturday that it will delay the barring of TikTok from U.S. app stores until Sept. 27 at 11:59 p.m."