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  • As UK Police Deploy Facial Recognition, Questions Raised About False Positives (2020/01/20 08:34)
    "When British police used facial recognition cameras to monitor crowds arriving for a soccer match in Wales, some fans protested by covering their faces," reports the Associated Press. "In a sign of the technology's divisiveness, even the head of a neighboring police force said he opposed it." The South Wales police deployed vans equipped with the technology outside Cardiff stadium this week as part of a long-running trial in which officers scanned people in real time and detained anyone blacklisted from attending for past misbehavior... The real-time surveillance being tested in Britain is among the more aggressive uses of facial recognition in Western democracies and raises questions about how the technology will enter people's daily lives. Authorities and companies are eager to use it, but activists warn it threatens human rights.... If the system flags up someone passing by, officers stop that person to investigate further, according to the force's website. Rights groups say this kind of monitoring raises worries about privacy, consent, algorithmic accuracy, and questions about about how faces are added to watchlists... The North Wales police commissioner, Arfon Jones, said using facial recognition to take pictures of soccer fans was a "fishing expedition." He also raised concerns about false positives.... "In laboratory conditions it's really effective," said University of Essex professor Pete Fussey. He monitored the London police trials, which also used NEC's system, and found a different outcome on the streets. He co-authored a report last year that said only eight of its 42 matches were correct. The London program has since been suspended. "The police tended to trust the algorithm most of the time, so if they trust the computational decision-making yet that decision-making is wrong, that raises all sorts of questions" about the accountability of the machine, he said. The article reports that 19,000 faces were scanned at a Spice Girls concert in May, and identified 15 people on a watchlist. Six of them were arrested. Nine others had been identified incorrectly. Read more of this story at Slashdot.
  • Opera Accused of Offering Predatory Loans Through Android apps (2020/01/20 04:34)
    "It's no secret that Opera isn't doing so well in the era of Chrome dominance," reports Android Police. "According to a report published by Hindenburg Research, the company's losses in browser revenue have apparently led it to create multiple loan apps with short payment windows and interest rates of ~365-876%, which are in violation of new Play Store rules Google enacted last year." The apps are aimed at India, Kenya and Nigeria, reports Engadget: The apps would claim to offer maximum annual percentage rate (APR) of 33 percent or less, but the actual rates were much higher, climbing to 438 percent in the case of OPesa. And while they publicly offered reasonable loan terms of 91 to 365 days, the real length was no more than 29 days (for OKash) and more often 15 days -- well under Google's 60-day minimum. The conditions only got worse for borrowers who missed their payments. Falling short by just a day could raise the APR as high as 876 percent. Also, the apps reportedly scraped phone contacts to harass family, friends and others with calls and texts in hopes this would pressure customers into paying up. These same notices often threatened legal action. Android Police points out that Opera became a public company in mid-2017, shortly after it was purchased by a China-based investor group. But since then, "Opera's market share has continued to fall, due to the increasing dominance of Chrome." Read more of this story at Slashdot.
  • Do Engineering Managers Need To Be 'Technical'? (2020/01/20 02:04)
    Will Larson has been an engineering leader at Digg, Uber, and Stripe, and last May published the book An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management. Recently he wrote a thoughtful essay asking, "Do engineering managers need to be technical?" exploring the industry's current thinking and arriving at a surprisingly thoughtful conclusion: Around 2010, with Google ascendant, product managers were finding more and more doors closed to them if they didn't have a computer science degree. If this policy worked for Google, it would work at least as well for your virality-driven, mobile-first social network for cats... [N]ow the vast majority of engineering managers come from software-engineering backgrounds. This is true both at the market-elected collection of technology companies known as FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) and at the latest crop of technology IPOs, like Fastly, Lyft, and Slack. While engineering management has not prioritized its own measurement, there is evidence that expert leadership works in some fields... If this is the case, modern technology companies are already well along the right path. This is where the story gets a bit odd. If we know that managers with technical skills outperform others, and we're already hiring managers with backgrounds as software engineers, why are we still worrying whether they're technical? If these folks have proven themselves as practitioners within their fields, what is there left to debate? This is an awkward inconsistency. The most likely explanation is that "being technical" has lost whatever definition it once had... It's uncomfortable to recognize that a distinction I relied upon so heavily for so long no longer means anything to me, but comfort has never been a good reason to get into management. With the term "not technical" unusable, I instead focus on the details. Is there a kind of technology that a given person is not familiar with? Were they uncomfortable, or did they lack confidence when describing a solution? Would I care about them knowing this detail if I didn't personally know it? Given their role in and relation to the project, was the project's success dependent on them knowing these details...? Looking forward to the next 30 years of management trends, only a few things seem certain: Managers should be technical, and the definition of technical will continue to change. Read more of this story at Slashdot.
  • 71-Year-Old William Gibson Explores 'Existing Level of Weirdness' For New Dystopian SciFi Novel (2020/01/20 00:42)
    71-year-old science fiction author William Gibson coined the word "cyberspace" in his 1984 novel Neuromancer. 36 years later he's back with an even more dystopian future in his new novel Agency. But in a surprisingly candid interview in the Daily Beast, Gibson says he prefers watching emerging new technologies first because "To use it is to be changed by it; you're not the same person." "I'm not someone who works from assumptions about where technology might be going. My method of writing is exploratory about that." That's certainly the case with Agency, Gibson's latest, a densely structured, complexly plotted novel that takes place in two separate time frames, which he refers to as "stubs," and has as one of its central characters an AI named Eunice, who is one part uploaded human consciousness and another part specialized military machine intelligence. In one stub it's 2017, a woman is in the White House, and Brexit never happened. But the threat of nuclear war nonetheless hovers over a conflict in the Middle East. In the other stub, it's 22nd century London after "the jackpot," a grim timeline of disasters that has reduced the Earth's population by 80 percent and left Britain to be ruled by "the klept," which Gibson describes as a "hereditary authoritarian government, [with its] roots in organized crime." Given these scenarios, it's no surprise to discover that the 71-year-old Gibson's latest work was heavily influenced by the 2016 election and the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the presidency. "The book I had been imagining had been a kind of a romp," says the U.S.-born Gibson down the phone line from his long-time home in Vancouver, B.C. "But then the election happened, and I thought, 'Uh-oh, my whole sense of the present is 24 hours out of date, and that's enough to make the book I've been working on kind of meaningless.' It took me a long time [to re-think and re-write the book], and I thought the weirdness factor of reality, finding some balance -- what can I do with the existing level of weirdness, and that level kept going up. I wanted to write a book that current events wouldn't have left by the time it got out, and I think Agency works...." "It's an interesting time for science fiction now," says Gibson, "because there are people writing contemporary fiction who are effectively writing science fiction, because the world they live in has become science fiction. Writing a contemporary novel today that doesn't involve concepts that wouldn't have been seen in science fiction 20 years ago is impossible. Unless it's an Amish novel." The Washington Post calls Gibson's new novel "engaging, thought-provoking and delightful," while the senior editor at Medium's tech site One Zero says it's the first time Gibson "has taken direct aim at Silicon Valley, at the industry and culture that has reorganized the world -- with some of his ideas propelling it." "The result is a blend of speculation and satire that any self-respecting denizen of the digital world should spend some time with." And they're also publishing an exclusive excerpt from the novel. Read more of this story at Slashdot.
  • 127 Tesla Owners Complain The Cars Accelerate On Their Own (2020/01/19 23:34)
    An anonymous reader quotes the Associated Press: The U.S. government's auto safety agency is looking into allegations that all three of Tesla's electric vehicle models can suddenly accelerate on their own. Brian Sparks of Berkeley, California, petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asking for an investigation. An agency document shows 127 owner complaints to the government that include 110 crashes and 52 injuries. The agency said it will look into allegations that cover about 500,000 Tesla vehicles including Model 3, Model S and Model X vehicles from the 2013 through 2019 model years. The agency's investigations office will evaluate the petition and decide if it should open a formal probe... Frank Borris, a former head of safety defect investigations for NHTSA, said the number of complaints cited in the petition is unusual and warrants further investigation. "The sheer number of complaints would certainly catch my eye," said Borris, who now runs an auto safety consulting business. Tesla owners communicate with other owners on Internet forums and social media, and that could influence the number of complaints, he said. He said the timing of the petition is good, because the agency needs to do a "deeper dive" into Tesla safety. Some of the unintended acceleration complaints, which have yet to be verified by NHTSA, allege that the cars' electronics malfunctioned. CNBC points out that Brian Sparks, the man asking for the investigation, "is currently shorting Tesla stock, but has hedged his bets and been long shares of Tesla in the past." Read more of this story at Slashdot.
  • Facebook Won't Put Ads in WhatsApp -- For Now (2020/01/19 22:34)
    Facebook "will no longer push through with its plans to sell ads on WhatsApp," writes Engadget, citing a report in the Wall Street Journal which says WhatsApp still "plans at some point to introduce ads to Status." Newsweek reports: WhatsApp is the only app in Facebook's suite of products free from ads, which make up a vast amount of the parent company's revenue, bringing in the majority of its $17.65 billion during Q3 last year. Like rival apps Snapchat or TikTok, advertising features prominently in Messenger and Instagram. But what does it mean for Facebook? The impact of a delayed WhatsApp ad roll-out will not only mean a financial hit, but may also disrupt how much ad data Facebook can possibly extract from users of the app's desktop and web versions. Currently, Facebook does not charge people for access to its products. Instead, it monetizes personal information by selling details about user preferences to companies for use in targeted ads. And there is clearly money to be made via mobile-based ads, which brought in about 94 percent of Facebook's total ad revenue during the third quarter of last year... "My assessment of this is it will be a delayed introduction of ads," social media consultant and commentator Matt Navarra told Newsweek today... "With the current climate of unrest surrounding data privacy and Facebook's plans to integrate its messaging apps backend, as well as the many legal battles they are facing, I suspect they are being cautious with yet more activity that could ruffle feathers at this time," Navarra told Newsweek. "But it's a case of when they do launch ads in WhatsApp, not if," he predicted. The ad strategy sparked clashes between Facebook executives and WhatsApp founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton, and became a factor in their departures from the firm. Koum and Acton, pro-privacy technologists, reportedly feared the app's encryption could be put at risk. Read more of this story at Slashdot.
  • Scientists Are Generating Oxygen from Simulated Moon Dust (2020/01/19 21:34)
    "European researchers are working on a system that can churn out breathable oxygen from simulated samples of moon dust," reports Gizmodo: "Being able to acquire oxygen from resources found on the Moon would obviously be hugely useful for future lunar settlers, both for breathing and in the local production of rocket fuel," explained Beth Lomax, a chemist from the University of Glasgow, in an European Space Agency (ESA) press release. Lomax, along with ESA research fellow Alexandre Meurisse, are currently plugging away at a prototype that could eventually lead to exactly that: oxygen production from lunar dust. They're currently testing their system at the Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory of the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), which is based in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. Their prototype is working, but adjustments will be required to make it suitable for use on the Moon, such as reducing its operating temperature.... Interestingly, ESTEC is not treating the metals as an unwanted byproduct. The team is currently looking into various ways of exploiting these metals in a lunar environment, such as transforming them into compounds for 3D printing. The European Space Agency points out that samples returned from the lunar surface were made up of 40-45% percent oxygen by weight. Read more of this story at Slashdot.
  • HBO's New Space Comedy Mocks 'Tech Bros in Charge' (2020/01/19 20:34)
    Engadget reports on a new tech-industry-in-space comedy premiering tonight on HBO: If you thought that HBO was done mocking technology companies now that Silicon Valley is done, think again. Avenue 5 is the channel's new sitcom, and one that asks the question: "What if tech bros were in charge of more than just our internet histories?'" The answer, at least according to the first half of the season, is that it won't be pretty -- or safe... The Avenue 5 is a large space liner that, in the words of cinematographer Eben Bolter, is designed after a vulgar space hotel that goes too far and "gets the details wrong". This Titanic-like vessel and its 5,000 passengers are on a routine jaunt through the solar system when a minor disaster strikes, and its course is altered. But this is space, where a small deviation changes the flight time from eight weeks to several years. The ship is owned by Herman Judd (Josh Gad) of the Judd Corporation, a self-regarding business magnate who, in Bolter's mind, has "only ever had one good idea." He's not quite an analog for the Bezoses and Musks you may be thinking of, but more a cracked-mirror version of both. Throughout the show, he attempts to impose his thinking on the crisis as if he was still in California, or wherever Silicon Valley moved after the show's alluded-to Huawei Wars. Early on, Judd is presented with the intractable problem of space physics, and he hopes to fix things as he did on Earth. He says, in the Jobsian tradition, that you can make something happen by making someone say that it can. The fight between visionary optimism and reality is harder when you're surrounded by an infinite vacuum, after all. Avenue 5's point seems to be that you can't simply blue-sky your way out of a crisis when reality keeps getting in the way. Read more of this story at Slashdot.
  • Telnet Passwords Leaked For More Than 500,000 Servers, Routers, and IoT Devices (2020/01/19 19:34)
    ZDNet is reporting on a security breach leaking "a massive list of Telnet credentials for more than 515,000 servers, home routers, and IoT (Internet of Things) 'smart' devices." The list, which was published on a popular hacking forum, includes each device's IP address, along with a username and password for the Telnet service, a remote access protocol that can be used to control devices over the internet... Some devices were located on the networks of known internet service providers (indicating they were either home router or IoT devices), but other devices were located on the networks of major cloud service providers... According to experts to who ZDNet spoke this week, and a statement from the leaker himself, the list was compiled by scanning the entire internet for devices that were exposing their Telnet port. The hacker then tried using (1) factory-set default usernames and passwords, or (2) custom, but easy-to-guess password combinations.... To our knowledge, this marks the biggest leak of Telnet passwords known to date. As ZDNet understands, the list was published online by the maintainer of a DDoS-for-hire (DDoS booter) service... When asked why he published such a massive list of "bots," the leaker said he upgraded his DDoS service from working on top of IoT botnets to a new model that relies on renting high-output servers from cloud service providers. Read more of this story at Slashdot.
  • Are Software Designers Ignoring The Needs of the Elderly? (2020/01/19 18:34)
    "[A]t the very time that it's become increasingly difficult for anyone to conduct their day to day lives without using the Net, some categories of people are increasingly being treated badly by many software designers," argues long-time Slashdot reader Lauren Weinstein: The victims of these attitudes include various special needs groups — visually and/or motor impaired are just two examples — but the elderly are a particular target. Working routinely with extremely elderly persons who are very active Internet users (including in their upper 90s!), I'm particularly sensitive to the difficulties that they face keeping their Net lifelines going. Often they're working on very old computers, without the resources (financial or human) to permit them to upgrade. They may still be running very old, admittedly risky OS versions and old browsers — Windows 7 is going to be used by many for years to come, despite hitting its official "end of life" for updates a few days ago. Yet these elderly users are increasingly dependent on the Net to pay bills (more and more firms are making alternatives increasingly difficult and in some cases expensive), to stay in touch with friends and loved ones, and for many of the other routine purposes for which all of us now routinely depend on these technologies.... There's an aspect of this that is even worse. It's attitudes! It's the attitudes of many software designers that suggest they apparently really don't care about this class of users much — or at all. They design interfaces that are difficult for these users to navigate. Or in extreme cases, they simply drop support for many of these users entirely, by eliminating functionality that permits their old systems and old browsers to function. He cites the example of Discourse, the open source internet forum software, which recently announced they'd stop supporting Internet Explorer. Weinstein himself hates Microsoft's browser, "Yet what of the users who don't understand how to upgrade? Who don't have anyone to help them upgrade? Are we to tell them that they matter not at all?" So he confronted Stack Exchange co-founder Jeff Atwood (who is also one of the co-founders of Discourse) on Twitter — and eventually found himself blocked. "Far more important though than this particular case is the attitude being expressed by so many in the software community, an attitude that suggests that many highly capable software engineers don't really appreciate these users and the kinds of problems that many of these users may have, that can prevent them from making even relatively simple changes or upgrades to their systems — which they need to keep using as much as anyone — in the real world." Read more of this story at Slashdot.



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