Spam

Spam Is Back (theoutline.com) 147

Jon Christian, writing for The Outline: For a while, spam -- unsolicited bulk messages sent for commercial or fraudulent purposes -- seemed to be fading away. The 2003 CAN-SPAM Act mandated unsubscribe links in email marketing campaigns and criminalized attempts to hide the sender's identity, while sophisticated filters on what were then cutting-edge email providers like Gmail buried unwanted messages in out-of-sight spam folders. In 2004, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates told a crowd at the World Economic Forum that "two years from now, spam will be solved." In 2011, cybersecurity reporter Brian Krebs noted that increasingly tech savvy law enforcement efforts were shutting down major spam operators -- including SpamIt.com, alleged to be a major hub in a Russian digital criminal organization that was responsible for an estimated fifth of the world's spam. These efforts meant that the proportion of all emails that are spam has slowly fallen to a low of about 50 percent in recent years, according to Symantec research.

But it's 2017, and spam has clawed itself back from the grave. It shows up on social media and dating sites as bots hoping to lure you into downloading malware or clicking an affiliate link. It creeps onto your phone as text messages and robocalls that ring you five times a day about luxury cruises and fictitious tax bills. Networks associated with the buzzy new cryptocurrency system Ethereum have been plagued with spam. Facebook recently fought a six-month battle against a spam operation that was administering fake accounts in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. Last year, a Chicago resident sued the Trump campaign for allegedly sending unsolicited text message spam; this past November, ZDNet reported that voters were being inundated with political text messages they never signed up for. Apps can be horrid spam vectors, too. Repeated mass data breaches that include contact information, such as the Yahoo breach in which 3 billion user accounts were exposed, surely haven't helped. Meanwhile, you, me, and everyone we know is being plagued by robocalls.

The Media

Net Neutrality is Essentially Unassailable, Argues Billionaire Barry Diller (broadcastingcable.com) 79

An anonymous reader quotes Yahoo Finance: The billionaire media mogul behind such popular sites as Expedia, Match.com and HomeAdvisor has a one-word forecast for traditional media conglomerates concerned about being replaced by tech giants: serfdom. "They, like everyone else, are kind of going to be serfs on the land of the large tech companies," IAC chairman Barry Diller said... That's because Google and Facebook not only have such massive user bases but also dominate online advertising. "Google and Facebook are consolidating," Diller said. "They are the only mass advertising mediums we have..." He expects Facebook, Google and maybe Amazon to face government regulation, simply because of their immense size. "At a certain point in size, you must," he said. "It's inevitable."

He did, however, outline one positive for Big Tech getting so gargantuan. Big Telecom no longer has the economic leverage to roll back today's net-neutrality norms, in which internet providers don't try to charge sites extra for access to their subscribers. "I think it's hard to overturn practically," he said. "It is the accepted system."

Even if the U.S. government takes moves to fight net neutrality, Diller told CNBC that "I think it is over... It is [the] practice of the world... You're still going to be able to push a button and publish to the world, without anybody in between asking you for tribute. I think that is now just the way things are done. I don't think it can be violated no matter what laws are back."
Google

CNBC: Google's New 'Pixel Buds' Suck (yahoo.com) 100

Google's new Pixel Buds "are really bad" and "not worth buying," according to CNBC's technology products editor: The stand-out feature of Google Pixel Buds is that they're supposed to be able to translate spoken languages in near real-time. In my real-world tests, however, that wasn't the case at all. I took the Pixel Buds out on the streets of Manhattan, speaking to a Hungarian waiter in Little Italy, multiple vendors in Chinatown and more. If you press the right earbud and say "help me speak Chinese," for example, the buds will launch Google Translate, you can speak what you'd like to ask someone in another language, and a voice will read out the translated speech through your smartphone's speakers. Then, when someone replies, you'll hear that response through the Pixel Buds.

The microphone on the Pixel Buds is really bad, so it barely picked up my voice queries that I wanted to translate. I stood on the side of the road in Chinatown repeating myself at least 10 times trying to get the phone to pick up my speech in order to begin translation. It barely worked, even if I took the buds out and spoke directly into the microphone on the right earbud, and often only translated half of what I was trying to ask. In a quiet place, I was able to allow someone to respond to me, after which I'd hear the English translation through the headphones. That was neat, but it barely ever actually worked that way. To mitigate this, I found it was just easier to manually open the Google translate app, speak into my phone's microphone, and then let someone else also speak right into my phone. This executed the translation nearly perfectly, and meant that I didn't need the Pixel Buds at all.

The article ends by answering the question, Should you buy them? "Nope. There's nothing I recommend about the Pixel Buds.

"They're cheap-feeling and uncomfortable, and you're better off using the Google Translate app on a phone instead of trying to fumble with the headphones while trying to translate a conversation. The idea is neat, but it just doesn't work well enough to recommend to anyone on any level."
Google

Google Returns As Default Search Engine In Firefox (techcrunch.com) 136

Mozilla today launched Firefox Quantum, which the company is calling "the biggest update since Firefox 1.0 in 2004." It brings massive performance improvements and a visual redesign. It also sets Google as the default search engine again if you live in the U.S., Canada, Hong Kong and Taiwan. TechCrunch reports: In 2014, Mozilla struck a deal with Yahoo to make it the default search engine provider for users in the U.S., with Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo and others as options. While it was a small change, it was part of a number of moves that turned users against Firefox because it didn't always feel as if Mozilla had the user's best interests in mind. Firefox Quantum (aka, Firefox 57), is the company's effort to correct its mistakes and it's good to see that Google is back in the default slot. When Mozilla announced the Yahoo deal in 2014, it said that this was a five-year deal. Those five years are obviously not up yet. We asked Mozilla for a bit more information about what happened here.

"We exercised our contractual right to terminate our agreement with Yahoo! based on a number of factors including doing what's best for our brand, our effort to provide quality web search, and the broader content experience for our users. We believe there are opportunities to work with Oath and Verizon outside of search," Mozilla Chief Business and Legal Officer Denelle Dixon said in a statement. "As part of our focus on user experience and performance in Firefox Quantum, Google will also become our new default search provider in the United States, Canada, Hong Kong and Taiwan. With over 60 search providers pre-installed as defaults or secondary options across more than 90 language versions, Firefox has more choice in search providers than any other browser."

Yahoo!

Former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer Apologizes For Data Breach, Blames Russians (reuters.com) 212

Former Yahoo chief executive officer Marissa Mayer apologized today for a pair of massive data breaches at Yahoo and blamed Russian agents on the growing number of incidents involving major U.S. companies. A reader shares a report: "As CEO, these thefts occurred during my tenure, and I want to sincerely apologize to each and every one of our users," she told the Senate Commerce Committee, testifying alongside the interim and former CEOs of Equifax and a senior Verizon Communications executive. "Unfortunately, while all our measures helped Yahoo successfully defend against the barrage of attacks by both private and state-sponsored hackers, Russian agents intruded on our systems and stole our users' data."
Businesses

Tesla Posts Biggest Quarterly Loss, Slashes Production of Model X and Model S (yahoo.com) 260

Tesla has reported the largest quarterly loss in its history, and said it was cutting production of its Model S and Model X vehicles. Here are the key third-quarter numbers with expectations via Bloomberg: Adjusted loss per share: -$2.92 (-$2.23 expected); Revenue: $2.98 billion ($2.39 billion expected); Free cash flow: -$1.4 billion (-$1.2 billion (expected). Yahoo News reports: The company said it plans to produce 10% fewer units of its Model S and Model X models in the fourth quarter and reallocate resources to the Model 3, its newest. Tesla expects to hit a Model 3 production rate of 5,000 vehicles per week by late Q1 2018. "While we continue to make significant progress each week in fixing Model 3 bottlenecks, the nature of manufacturing challenges during a ramp such as this makes it difficult to predict exactly how long it will take for all bottlenecks to be cleared or when new ones will appear," Tesla said in its statement. Tesla said in October that it produced only 260 vehicles, well below its target of 1,500. CEO Elon Musk said the Model 3 was "deep in production hell."
Businesses

Japan's SoftBank Says It Could Invest as Much As $880 Billion in Tech (recode.net) 42

SoftBank could commit as much as $880 billion to tech investments in the coming years, a gargantuan, unprecedented amount of cash that would amount to a seismic shift in tech-sector finance. From a report: "The Vision Fund was just the first step, 10 trillion yen ($88 billion) is simply not enough," CEO Masayoshi Son said in an interview with The Nikkei Asian Review that was published late Thursday. "We will briskly expand the scale. Vision Funds 2, 3 and 4 will be established every two to three years." Son's comment confirms a Recode report that his Vision Fund -- which is sinking $100 billion into the technology sector worldwide -- was only the first in a series of investments that he plans to make in young companies. "We are creating a mechanism to increase our funding ability from 10 trillion yen to 20 trillion yen to 100 trillion yen," Son told the outlet. That comes out to about $880 billion. Companies that SoftBank either completely owns or has major or minor stakes in include Vodafone Japan, Yahoo! Japan, India's Snapdeal, India's Ola, Sprint Corporation, and India's Flipkart. The company is expected to become a major stake holder in Uber as soon as next week.
Android

Failed Palo Alto Startup Pivots From Trying To Be an 'Android Killer' To Self-driving Tech (bizjournals.com) 71

A Palo Alto startup that stopped trying to be an "Android killer" last year after raising $185 million has apparently pivoted to developing autonomous vehicle technology. From a report: The company now known as Cyngn has changed its name from Cyanogen and recently got a permit to test its self-driving tech on California roads, according to a report Wednesday on Axios. It's being led by Lior Tal, the former chief operating officer who took over as CEO last fall when Kirt McMaster left. The rest of the startup's current team of about 30 people appear to have joined since the strategy shift, Axios reported, citing LinkedIn records. Some of them are former Facebook people, like Tal, and alumni of automakers who include Mercedes-Benz. No new funding has been disclosed for the reinvented company. It lists on its website investors who backed it before it pivoted, including Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark Capital, Redpoint Ventures, Index Ventures, Qualcomm and Chinese social networking company Tencent. The company was the center of acquisition talk in 2014, when companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Samsung and Yahoo expressed interest in the company.
IBM

How Does Microsoft Avoid Being the Next IBM? (arstechnica.com) 223

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: For fans of the platform, the official confirmation that Windows on phones isn't under active development any longer -- security bugs will be fixed, but new features and new hardware aren't on the cards -- isn't a big surprise. This is merely a sad acknowledgement of what we already knew. Last week, Microsoft also announced that it was getting out of the music business, signaling another small retreat from the consumer space. It's tempting to shrug and dismiss each of these instances, pointing to Microsoft's continued enterprise strength as evidence that the company's position remains strong. And certainly, sticking to the enterprise space is a thing that Microsoft could do. Become the next IBM: a stable, dull, multibillion dollar business. But IBM probably doesn't want to be IBM right now -- it has had five straight years of falling revenue amid declining relevance of its legacy businesses -- and Microsoft probably shouldn't want to be the next IBM, either. Today, Microsoft is facing similar pressures -- Windows, though still critical, isn't as essential to people's lives as it was a decade ago -- and risks a similar fate. Dropping consumer ambitions and retreating to the enterprise is a mistake. Microsoft's failure in smartphones is bad for Windows, and it's bad for Microsoft's position in the enterprise as a whole.
America Online

RIP AIM: AOL Instant Messenger Dies in December (usatoday.com) 117

It's the end of an era: as of December 15, AOL's Instant Messenger will no longer exist. From a report: In a statement from Oath, the new entity formed under Verizon combining AOL with the recently-acquired Yahoo, the service will be discontinued. "AIM tapped into new digital technologies and ignited a cultural shift, but the way in which we communicate with each other has profoundly changed," said Michael Albers, VP of Communications Product at Oath. AIM was a staple of personal computers since first launching in 1997, serving as a precursor to popular apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. However, AIM couldn't make the seamless transition to mobile, where most users rely on instant messaging services. Users will be able to manually download any images or files on AIM before the service shuts down. However, users won't be able to export or save their Buddy List, the group of contacts available on AIM.
Yahoo!

Yahoo Triples Estimate of Breached Accounts To 3 Billion (engadget.com) 41

An anonymous reader shares a report from The Wall Street Journal (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): A massive data breach at Yahoo in 2013 was far more extensive than previously disclosed, affecting all of its 3 billion user accounts, new parent company Verizon Communications Inc. said on Tuesday. The figure, which Verizon said was based on new information, is three times the 1 billion accounts Yahoo said were affected when it first disclosed the breach in December 2016. The new disclosure, four months after Verizon completed its acquisition of Yahoo, shows that executives are still coming to grips with the extent of the security problem in what was already the largest hacking incident in history by number of users.

A spokesman for Oath, the new name of Verizon's Yahoo unit, said the company determined last week that the break-in was much worse than thought, after it received new information from outside the company. He declined to elaborate on the source of that information. Compromised customer information included usernames, passwords, and in some cases telephone numbers and dates of birth, the spokesman said.

Australia

Australia Finally Creates Its Own National Space Agency (yahoo.com) 117

50 years after Australia became the third country to launch a satellite into space, they had another big announcement. An anonymous reader quotes AFP: Australia on Monday committed to creating a national space agency as it looks to cash in on the lucrative and fast-evolving astronautical sector. The announcement came at a week-long Adelaide space conference attended by the world's top scientists and experts including SpaceX chief Elon Musk. It brings Canberra -- which already has significant involvement in national and international space activities -- into line with most other developed nations, which already have dedicated agencies to help coordinate the industry and shape development. "The global space industry is growing rapidly and it's crucial that Australia is part of this growth," acting science minister Michaelia Cash said in statement.
The Australian government estimates that the global space sector now drives $323 billion in revenue each year.
Data Storage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's Causing The Hurricanes? (yahoo.com) 442

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

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

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

Privacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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