Businesses

EPA Proposes Limits To Science Used In Rulemaking (reuters.com) 83

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule on Tuesday that would limit the kinds of scientific research it can use in crafting regulations, an apparent concession to big business that has long requested such restrictions. Under the new proposals, the EPA will no longer be able to rely on scientific research that is underpinned by confidential medical and industry data. The measure was billed by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt as a way to boost transparency for the benefit of the industries his agency regulates. But scientists and former EPA officials worry it will hamstring the agency's ability to protect public health by putting key data off limits.

The EPA has for decades relied on scientific research that is rooted in confidential medical and industry data as a basis for its air, water and chemicals rules. While it publishes enormous amounts of research and data to the public, the confidential material is held back. Business interests have argued the practice is tantamount to writing laws behind closed doors and unfairly prevents them from vetting the research underpinning the EPA's often costly regulatory requirements. They argue that if the data cannot be published, the rules should not be adopted. But ex-EPA officials say the practice is vital.

Communications

WhatsApp Raises Minimum Age In Europe To 16 Ahead of Data Law Change (reuters.com) 20

WhatsApp is raising its minimum age from 13 to 16 in Europe to help it comply with new data privacy rules coming into force next month. The app will ask European users to confirm they are at least 16 years old when they are prompted to agree to new terms of service and a privacy policy provided by a new WhatsApp Ireland entity in the next few weeks. Reuters reports: Facebook, which has a separate data policy, is taking a different approach to teens aged between 13 and 15 in order to comply with the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) law. It is asking them to nominate a parent or guardian to give permission for them to share information on the platform, otherwise they will not see a fully personalized version of the social media platform. But WhatsApp, which had more than 1.5 billion users in January according to Facebook, said in a blog post it was not asking for any new rights to collect personal information in the agreement it has created for the European Union. WhatsApp's minimum age of use will remain 13 years in the rest of the world, in line with its parent.
Yahoo!

SEC Issues $35 Million Fine Over Yahoo Failing To Disclose Data Breach (theverge.com) 29

Altaba, the company formerly known as Yahoo, will have to pay a $35 million fine for failing to disclose a 2014 data breach in which hackers stole info on over 500 million accounts. "The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced today that Altaba, which contains Yahoo's remains, agreed to pay the fine to settle charges that it misled investors by not informing them of the hack until September 2016, despite known of it as early as December 2014," reports The Verge. From the report: The SEC goes on to admonish Yahoo for its failure to disclose the breach to investors, saying that the agency wouldn't "second-guess good faith exercises of judgment" but that Yahoo's decisions were "so lacking" that a fine was necessary. Yahoo isn't being fined for having poor security practices, not informing users, or really anything related to the hack happening. The SEC is just mad that investors weren't told about it, because -- as Yahoo even noted in filings to investors -- data breaches can have financial impacts and legal implications. With a breach this large, the SEC believes that was obviously a real risk. "Public companies should have controls and procedures in place to properly evaluate cyber incidents and disclose material information to investors," Jina Choi, director of the SEC's San Francisco Regional Office, said in a statement. The SEC released guidance to public companies on what to disclose about data breaches earlier this year, which could help to avoid similar situations in the future.
Social Networks

Instagram Launches 'Data Download' Tool To Let You Leave (techcrunch.com) 10

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Two weeks ago TechCrunch called on Instagram to build an equivalent to Facebook's "Download Your Information" feature so if you wanted to leave for another photo sharing network, you could. The next day it announced this tool would be coming and now TechCrunch has spotted it rolling out to users. Instagram's "Data Download" feature can be accessed here or through the app's privacy settings. It lets users export their photos, videos, archived Stories, profile, info, comments, and non-ephemeral messages, though it can take a few hours to days for your download to be ready. An Instagram spokesperson now confirms to TechCrunch that "the Data Download tool is currently accessible to everyone on the web, but access via iOS and Android is still rolling out." We'll have more details on exactly what's inside once my download is ready.
Privacy

More Than 1 Million Kids Had Their Identities Stolen in 2017 (nypost.com) 49

More than 1 million children were victims of identity fraud in 2017, a new study from Javelin Strategy & Research found, costing a total of $2.6 billion. From a report: With limited financial history or existing account activity, children are the most likely to become victims of new-account fraud, the research showed. These attacks can occur before children even become active internet users, with some two-thirds of victims being under the age of eight. The overall numbers are likely even higher, said Al Pascual, research director at Javelin said, since their study relied on parents and guardians reporting cases of identity theft. In many cases, the parent or another relative may be the one using a child's identity to start a new account.
Businesses

Patent 'Death Squad' System Upheld by US Supreme Court (bloomberg.com) 67

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld an administrative review system that has helped Google, Apple and other companies invalidate hundreds of issued patents. From a report: The justices, voting 7-2, said Tuesday a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office review board that critics call a patent "death squad" wasn't unconstitutionally wielding powers that belong to the courts. Silicon Valley companies have used the system as a less-expensive way to ward off demands for royalties, particularly from patent owners derided as "trolls" because they don't use their patents to make products. Drugmakers and independent inventors complain that it unfairly upends what they thought were established property rights. "It came down to this: Is the patent office fixing its own mistakes or is the government taking property?" said Wayne Stacy, a patent lawyer with Baker Botts. "They came down on the side of the patent office fixing its own mistakes." The ruling caused shares to drop in companies whose main source of revenue -- their patents -- are under threat from challenges. VirnetX, which is trying to protect almost $1 billion in damages it won against Apple, dropped as much as 12 percent. The patent office has said its patents are invalid in a case currently before an appeals court.
Facebook

Facebook Has Hosted Stolen Identities and Social Security Numbers for Years (vice.com) 35

Cybercriminals have posted sensitive personal information, such as credit card and social security numbers, of dozens of people on Facebook and have advertised entire databases of private information on the social platform, Motherboard reports. Some of these posts have been left up on Facebook for years, and the internet giant only acted on these posts after the publication told it about them. From the report: As of Monday, there were several public posts on Facebook that advertised dozens of people's Social Security Numbers and other personal data. These weren't very hard to find. It was as easy as a simple Google search. Most of the posts appeared to be ads made by criminals who were trying to sell personal information. Some of the ads are several years old, and were posted as "public" on Facebook, meaning anyone can see them, not just the author's friends. Independent security researcher Justin Shafer alerted Motherboard to these posts Monday.
Facebook

Facebook Has Considered Profiling Its Users' Personalities and Using the Information To Target Ads (bbc.com) 54

An anonymous reader shares a report: A patent filed by the social network describes how personality characteristics, including emotional stability, could be determined from people's messages and status updates. The firm is currently embroiled in a privacy scandal over the use of its data by a political consultancy. Facebook says it has never used the personality test in its products. The patent, first filed in 2012, is in the names of Michael Nowak and Dean Eckles. Mr Nowak has worked for Facebook for 10 years, while Prof Eckles now teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The patent has been updated twice, most recently in 2016. The BBC has seen emails from Mr Eckles and other Facebook staff to University of Cambridge psychologists in which they discuss analysis of data to infer personality traits, and talk of using such research to improve the product for users and advertisers.
Piracy

Netflix, Amazon, and Major Studios Try To Shut Down $20-Per-Month TV Service (arstechnica.com) 193

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Netflix, Amazon, and the major film studios have once again joined forces to sue the maker of a TV service and hardware device, alleging that the products are designed to illegally stream copyrighted videos. The lawsuit was filed against the company behind Set TV, which sells a $20-per-month TV service with more than 500 channels.

"Defendants market and sell subscriptions to 'Setvnow,' a software application that Defendants urge their customers to use as a tool for the mass infringement of Plaintiffs' copyrighted motion pictures and television shows," the complaint says. Besides Netflix and Amazon, the plaintiffs are Columbia Pictures, Disney, Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, and Warner Bros. The complaint was filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The companies are asking for permanent injunctions to prevent further distribution of Set TV software and devices, the impoundment of Set TV devices, and for damages including the defendants' profits.

Government

US Government Weighing Sanctions Against Kaspersky Lab (cyberscoop.com) 95

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CyberScoop: The U.S. government is considering sanctions against Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab as part of a wider round of action carried out against the Russian government, according to U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the matter. The sanctions would be a considerable expansion and escalation of the U.S. government's actions against the company. Kaspersky, which has two ongoing lawsuits against the U.S. government, has been called "an unacceptable threat to national security" by numerous U.S. officials and lawmakers.

Officials told CyberScoop any additional action against Kaspersky would occur at the lawsuits' conclusion, which Kaspersky filed in response to a stipulation in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that bans its products from federal government networks. If the sanctions came to fruition, the company would be barred from operating in the U.S. and potentially even in U.S. allied countries.

Advertising

Facebook Sued Over Fake Ads (theguardian.com) 62

shilly writes: British finance expert Martin Lewis is suing Facebook for defamation, after a year of trying to persuade the company to stop accepting scam ads featuring his name and image. Facebook insists that he report to them every time he spots a scam; he wants them to check with him before they take money for an ad featuring his name or picture, so he can tell them if it's legit or not. "Lewis said he would not profit from any damages won, which he would donate to charities combating fraud, but that he hoped the action would prompt the site to stamp out scam adverts," reports The Guardian.
Google

Google Accused of Showing 'Total Contempt' for Android Users' Privacy (bleepingcomputer.com) 96

On the heels of a terse privacy debate, Google may have found another thing to worry about: its attempt to rethink the traditional texting system. From a report: Joe Westby is Amnesty International's Technology and Human Rights researcher. Recently, in response to Google's launch of a new messaging service called "Chat", Westby argued that Google, "shows total contempt for Android users' privacy."

"With its baffling decision to launch a messaging service without end-to-end encryption, Google has shown utter contempt for the privacy of Android users and handed a precious gift to cybercriminals and government spies alike, allowing them easy access to the content of Android users' communications. Following the revelations by CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden, end-to-end encryption has become recognized as an essential safeguard for protecting people's privacy when using messaging apps. With this new Chat service, Google shows a staggering failure to respect the human rights of its customers," Westby contended. Westby continued, saying: "In the wake of the recent Facebook data scandal, Google's decision is not only dangerous but also out of step with current attitudes to data privacy."

The Internet

Net Neutrality Is Over Monday, But Experts Say ISPs Will Wait To Screw Us (inverse.com) 237

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Inverse: Parts of the Federal Communication Commission's repeal of net neutrality is slated to take effect on April 23, causing worry among internet users who fear the worst from their internet service providers. However, many experts believe there won't be immediate changes come Monday, but that ISPs will wait until users aren't paying attention to make their move. "Don't expect any changes right out of the gate," Dary Merckens, CTO of Gunner Technology, tells Inverse. Merckens specializes in JavaScript development for government and business, and sees why ISPs would want to lay low for a while before enacting real changes. "It would be a PR nightmare for ISPs if they introduced sweeping changes immediately after the repeal of net neutrality," he says.

While parts of the FCC's new plan will go into effect on Monday, the majority of the order still doesn't have a date for when it will be official. Specific rules that modify data collection requirements still have to be approved by the Office of Management and Budget, and the earliest that can happen is on April 27. Tech experts and consumer policy advocates don't expect changes to happen right away, as ISPs will likely avoid any large-scale changes in order to convince policymakers that the net neutrality repeal was no big deal after all.

Google

Who Has More of Your Personal Data Than Facebook? Try Google (wsj.com) 147

Facebook may be in the hot seat right now for its collection of personal data without our knowledge or explicit consent, but as The Wall Street Journal points out, "Google is a far bigger threat by many measures: the volume of information it gathers, the reach of its tracking and the time people spend on its sites and apps." From the report (alternative source): It's likely that Google has shadow profiles (data the company gathers on people without accounts) on as at least as many people as Facebook does, says Chandler Givens, CEO of TrackOff, which develops software to fight identity theft. Google allows everyone, whether they have a Google account or not, to opt out of its ad targeting, though, like Facebook, it continues to gather your data. Google Analytics is far and away the web's most dominant analytics platform. Used on the sites of about half of the biggest companies in the U.S., it has a total reach of 30 million to 50 million sites. Google Analytics tracks you whether or not you are logged in. Meanwhile, the billion-plus people who have Google accounts are tracked in even more ways. In 2016, Google changed its terms of service, allowing it to merge its massive trove of tracking and advertising data with the personally identifiable information from our Google accounts.

Google uses, among other things, our browsing and search history, apps we've installed, demographics like age and gender and, from its own analytics and other sources, where we've shopped in the real world. Google says it doesn't use information from "sensitive categories" such as race, religion, sexual orientation or health. Because it relies on cross-device tracking, it can spot logged-in users no matter which device they're on. Google fuels even more data harvesting through its dominant ad marketplaces. There are up to 4,000 data brokers in the U.S., and collectively they know everything about us we might otherwise prefer they didn't -- whether we're pregnant, divorced or trying to lose weight. Google works with some of these brokers directly but the company says it vets them to prevent targeting based on sensitive information. Google also is the biggest enabler of data harvesting, through the world's two billion active Android mobile devices.

Crime

UK Teen Who Hacked CIA Director Sentenced To 2 Years In Prison (gizmodo.com) 150

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: A British teenager who gained notoriety for hacking a number of high profile United States government employees including former CIA director John Brennan and former director of intelligence James Clapper was sentenced Friday to two years in prison. Eighteen-year-old Kane Gamble pleaded guilty to 10 separate charges, including eight counts of "performing a function with intent to secure unauthorized access" and two counts of "unauthorized modification of computer material," the Guardian reported.

Gamble, otherwise known by his online alias Cracka, was 15 at the time that he started his hacking campaigns. The alleged leader of a hacking group known as Crackas With Attitude (CWA), Gamble made it a point to target members of the U.S. government. The young hacker's group managed to successfully gain access to ex-CIA director John Brennan's AOL email account. The group hacked a number of accounts belonging to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, including his personal email, his wife's email, and his phone and internet provider account. The hackers allegedly made it so every call to Clapper's home phone would get forwarded to the Free Palestine Movement.

Power

White House Reportedly Exploring Wartime Rule To Help Coal, Nuclear (arstechnica.com) 304

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: According to reports from Bloomberg and E&E News, the Trump Administration has been exploring another way to help coal and nuclear generators: the Defense Production Act of 1950. The Act was passed under President Truman. Motivated by the Korean War, it allows the president broad authority to boost U.S. industries that are considered a priority for national security. On Thursday, E&E News cited sources that said "an interagency process is underway" at the White House to examine possible application of the act to the energy industry. The goal would be to give some form of preference to coal and nuclear plants that are struggling to compete with cheap natural gas.

If the DOE decides not to invoke Section 202(c), the president may turn to the Defense Production Act. According to a 2014 summary report (PDF) from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the act would allow the president to "demand priority for defense-related products," "provide incentives to develop, modernize, and expand defense productive capacity," and establish "a voluntary reserve of trained private sector executives available for emergency federal employment," among other powers. (Some even more permissive applications of the Act were terminated in 1957.) Using the Act to protect coal and nuclear facilities would almost certainly be more controversial, as the link between national defense and keeping uneconomic coal generators running is not well-established.
The Administration could apply the Act to "provide or guarantee loans to industry" for material-specific deliveries and production. "The president may also authorize the purchase of 'industrial items or technologies for installation in government or private industrial facilities,'" reports Ars.
Facebook

Silicon Valley Investors Wants to Fund a 'Good For Society' Facebook Replacement (calacanis.com) 215

Silicon Valley angel investor Jason Calacanis just announced the "Openbook Challenge," a competition to create a replacement for Facebook.

"Over the next three months, 20 finalists will compete for seven $100,000 incubator grants," explains long-time Slashdot reader reifman. "Their goal is to find startups with a sustainable business model e.g. subscriptions, reasonable advertising, cryptocurrency. etc. And they want it to be 'good for society.'"

Jason Calacanis writes: All community and social products on the internet have had their era, from AOL to MySpace, and typically they're not shut down by the government -- they're slowly replaced by better products. So, let's start the process of replacing Facebook... We already have two dozen quality teams cranking on projects and we hope to get to 100...

This is not an idea or business plan competition. We're looking for teams that can actually build a better social network, and we'll be judging teams primarily based upon their ability to execute... Keep in mind, that while ideas really matter, Zuckerberg has shown us, execution matters more.

Calacanis has even created a discussion group for the competition...on Facebook. And his announcement includes a famous quote from Mark Zuckerberg.

"Don't be too proud to copy."
Government

Could We Fund a Universal Basic Income with Universal Basic Assets? (fastcompany.com) 404

Universal Basic Incomes aren't really the issue, argues Fast Company staff writer Ben Schiller. "It's how you find $2 trillion to pay for it." One answer may come in the form of "universal basic assets" (UBA). UBA can mean a fund of publicly-owned infrastructure or revenue streams -- like Alaska's Permanent Fund which pays residents up to $2,000 a year from state oil taxes. Or, it can mean actual assets that drive down the cost of living, like tuition-free education and free public broadband. There are lots of proposals going around now that fall into these two camps...

Entrepreneur Peter Barnes has called for the creation of a Sky Trust that would both limit the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and provide revenue from carbon taxes. These "carbon dividends" solve two problems at once: income inequality and climate change. He would also tax corporations for using natural resources, on the thinking that the atmosphere, minerals and fresh water around us represent a "joint inheritance." He would also tax speculative financial transactions and use of the electromagnetic spectrum. The U.K. think-tank IPPR recently proposed a similar "sovereign wealth fund owned by and run in the interests of citizens." It would finance the fund with "a scrip tax of up to 3% requiring businesses to issue equity to the government, or pay a tax of equivalent value," sales of land owned by the U.K. monarchy, and higher inheritance taxes.

Blockchain can help. Blockchain technology could offer a way to divide publicly-owned infrastructure so it's genuinely publicly-owned. We could issue tokenized securities in the assets around us giving everyone a stake in their environment. Then they could trade those tokens on exchanges, like they were cryptocurrencies, or use the tokens as collateral on loans.

Facebook

NYT: Lynchings Around the World are Linked To Facebook Posts (bostonglobe.com) 171

An anonymous reader quotes the New York Times: Riots and lynchings around the world have been linked to misinformation and hate speech on Facebook, which pushes whatever content keeps users on the site longest -- a potentially damaging practice in countries with weak institutions and histories of social instability. Time and again, communal hatreds overrun the newsfeed unchecked as local media are displaced by Facebook and governments find themselves with little leverage over the company. Some users, energized by hate speech and misinformation, plot real-world attacks.

A reconstruction of Sri Lanka's descent into violence, based on interviews with officials, victims and ordinary users caught up in online anger, found that Facebook's newsfeed played a central role in nearly every step from rumor to killing. Facebook officials, they say, ignored repeated warnings of the potential for violence, resisting pressure to hire moderators or establish emergency points of contact... Sri Lankans say they see little evidence of change. And in other countries, as Facebook expands, analysts and activists worry they, too, may see violence.

A Facebook spokeswoman countered that "we remove such content as soon as we're made aware of it," and said they're now trying to expand those teams and investing in "technology and local language expertise to help us swiftly remove hate content." But one anti-hate group told the Times that Facebook's reporting tools are too slow and ineffective.

"Though they and government officials had repeatedly asked Facebook to establish direct lines, the company had insisted this tool would be sufficient, they said. But nearly every report got the same response: the content did not violate Facebook's standards."
Businesses

Many Amazon Warehouse Workers are on Food Stamps (theintercept.com) 413

Many of Amazon's warehouse workers have to buy their groceries with food stamps through America's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, reports the Intercept. In Arizona, new data suggests that one in three of the company's own employees depend on SNAP to put food on the table. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, the figure appears to be around one in 10. Overall, of five states that responded to a public records request for a list of their top employers of SNAP recipients, Amazon cracked the top 20 in four.

Though the company now employs 200,000 people in the United States, many of its workers are not making enough money to put food on the table... "The average warehouse worker at Walmart makes just under $40,000 annually, while at Amazon would take home about $24,300 a year," CNN reported in 2013. "That's less than $1,000 above the official federal poverty line for a family of four."

In addition Amazon uses temp workers who may also be on food stamps, notes the article, adding that in 2017 Amazon received $1.2 billion in state and local subsidies, while effectively paying no federal income tax.

"The American people are financing Amazon's pursuit of an e-commerce monopoly every step of the way: first, with tax breaks, subsidies, and infrastructure improvements meant to lure fulfillment centers into town, and later with federal transfers to pay for warehouse workers' food."

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