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Government

Russian Arrested in Spain 'Over US Election Hacking' (bbc.com) 312

Spanish police have arrested a Russian programmer for alleged involvement in "hacking" the US election, BBC reported Monday, citing local press reports. From the report: Pyotr Levashov, arrested on 7 April in Barcelona, has now been remanded in custody. A "legal source" also told the AFP news agency that Mr Levashov was the subject of an extradition request by the US. The request is due to be examined by Spain's national criminal court, the agency added. El Confidencial, a Spanish news website, has said that Mr Levashov's arrest warrant was issued by US authorities over suspected "hacking" that helped Donald Trump's campaign.
Social Networks

The Trump Administration No Longer Wants Twitter To Reveal the Owner of an Anti-Trump Account (recode.net) 92

From a report on Recode: The Trump administration informed Twitter on Friday that it would withdraw its demand that the social media company unmask an account critical of the president -- a move that prompted Twitter to drop its lawsuit. On Thursday, Twitter revealed that U.S. customs agents filed a legal order in a bid to get the company to reveal who is behind @ALT_USCIS -- a so-called "alt-agency" account that has been taking aim at Trump, his immigration policy and the inner workings of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
United States

The Cost of Drugs For Rare Diseases Is Threatening the US Health Care System (hbr.org) 311

An anonymous reader shares an article: There are 7,000 rare diseases affecting 25 million to 30 million Americans. The average drug approved under the Orphan Drug Act of 1983 (ODA), which governs rare disease approval, costs $118,820 per year. Assuming a similar cost, if a single drug were approved under the ODA for 10% of rare diseases, the total would exceed $350 billion annually -- more than 10 percent of the total amount that America spends on health care and much more than the health care costs attributable to either diabetes or Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. If this seems far-fetched, consider the two drugs for treating Duchenne muscular dystrophy that the FDA approved in the last six months: eteplirsen, which is sold by Sarepta Therapeutics and costs $300,000 annually per patient, and deflazacort, which is sold by Marathon Pharmaceuticals and costs $89,000 annually per patient. However, approval of such costly drugs exposes an uncomfortable truth: scientific discovery has outpaced health care economics. [...] In the United Kingdom, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) determines the cost effectiveness, or value, of newly approved drugs based on their impact on quality-adjusted life years. These determinations inform the National Health System's (NHS) treatment-coverage decisions. In contrast, the FDA is prohibited from considering cost or value in its decision making, and there is no U.S. governmental equivalent of NICE.
Google

Google Tackles Fake News With Global Fact-Checking Rollout (betanews.com) 230

Google is calling on fact-checking organizations to help it bust fake news -- but it's starting in a small way. From a report: Google's Fact Check feature is not new, but today the search giant is rolling out the feature around the world. A global rollout is important if such a tool is to have any real impact. It's all well and good have reports fact-checked on one side of the world, but it's of little use if the same fake stories remain unquestioned and untested elsewhere. Google is doing its part by making the Fact Check label available in Google News everywhere, and spreading it into search results in all languages as well. The Fact Check label has been around since October, providing an at-a-glance way to determine whether or not a particular story has been verified as true. Google admits that it will not be possible to fact-check every single search result it displays, and the company points out that it is not responsible for the actual fact-checking process.
Government

Twitter Sues US Government Over Attempt To Unmask Anti-Trump Account (theverge.com) 248

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: According to Twitter's suit, filed today in Northern California District Court, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has attempted to use a "limited-purpose investigatory tool" to unmask the owner of the Twitter account "@ALT_USCIS." The account, one of several "alt" or "rogue" government accounts that appeared in the wake of Trump's ascent to the presidency, was used "to express public criticism of the Department and the current Administration," according to Twitter's complaint. In the suit, Twitter writes that @ALT_USCIS has purported to be a dissenting member of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. On March 14, Twitter received a summons from Customs requesting records that could reveal the identity of the account's operator, including IP logs and any associated phone number or mailing address. In addition to the Department of Homeland Security and its subagency, the lawsuit names four individuals as defendants: DHS secretary John Kelly, acting CBP commissioner Kevin McAleenan, and special agents Stephen P. Caruso and Adam Hoffman, who issued and served the order itself.
Government

Bannon Loses National Security Council Role in Trump Shakeup (bloomberg.com) 396

Top presidential strategist Steve Bannon has been booted from the National Security Council amid a reshuffling of the key panel, Bloomberg reports Wednesday morning. President Donald Trump reorganized the council, removing Bannon and downgrading the role of his homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, the report added, citing multiple sources. From the report: Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, was elevated to the National Security Council's principals committee at the beginning of Trump's presidency. The move drew criticism from some members of Congress and Washington's foreign policy establishment. A White House official said that Bannon was placed on the committee in part to monitor Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and never attended a meeting. He's no longer needed with McMaster in charge of the council, the official said. Trump fired Flynn on Feb. 13 for not disclosing to the president or to Vice President Mike Pence the extent of his conversations with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, before Trump's inauguration.
Government

FCC Limits Order On Charter Extending Broadband Service (reuters.com) 27

According to Reuters, the FCC has voted on Monday to reverse a requirement imposed under the Obama administration that Charter extend broadband service to 1 million households already served by a competitor. From the report: As a condition of approval for its acquisition of two cable companies, Charter had agreed in May 2016 to extend high-speed internet access to 2 million customers within five years, with 1 million served by a broadband competitor. The decision was a win for a group representing smaller cable companies that sought to overturn the "overbuild" requirement and marked the latest reversal of Obama-era requirements by the new Republican-led FCC under President Donald Trump. Under the new order, Charter, the No. 2 U.S. cable company with 26 million residential and business customers in 41 states, must add service to 2 million additional potential subscribers in places without existing service, FCC spokesperson Mark Wigfield said. Supporters say the move ensures that more people without access to high-speed broadband, especially in some rural and urban areas, will have an option.
United States

This Year's H-1B Visa Applications Look A Lot Like Last Year's (newsweek.com) 310

"This year's round of H-1B visa program applications was scheduled to launch Monday, and it was largely absent of President Donald Trump's proposed policy changes," writes Newsweek. An anonymous reader quotes their report: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services last updated its online page dedicated to the program, which granted visas to skilled foreign workers, Wednesday with the rules mostly similar to those of last year and quotas remaining the same. These requirements were set to launch despite Trump's vow to reform the program on the grounds that companies exploited it to fill jobs once held by U.S. citizens who earned higher wages.

An alleged draft of an executive order was leaked last month and widely circulated, raising fears that the administration was preparing to gut the program. These measures were never announced. "There was a window in which the White House could have made serious reforms," Russ Harrison, head of government relations for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-USA, told The Wall Street Journal. "For whatever reason, they decided not to take it."

Republicans

Net Neutrality Is Trump's Next Target, Administration Says (fiercetelecom.com) 136

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Fierce Telecom: During a press event yesterday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said that next up on President Trump's telecom agenda is to roll back the FCC's 2015 Open Internet net neutrality rules. However, according to some reports, that might not happen as quickly as Congress' recent move to rescind rules that prevented internet service providers from selling users' data. As noted by the New York Times, Spicer said that President Trump had "pledged to reverse this overreach" created by net neutrality. He said the FCC's net neutrality rules, passed in 2015, are an example of "bureaucrats in Washington" placing unfair restrictions on internet service providers, essentially "picking winners and losers" in the telecom market. In comments aimed at the wider telecom market, Spicer said Trump will "continue to fight Washington red tape that stifles American innovation, job creation and economic growth." However, as the NYT reports, the process to repeal net neutrality likely won't follow the same procedure as Congress' recent vote to remove broadband privacy rules -- since those rules were only a year old, Congress was able to use the Congressional Review Act to move forward with its action. The FCC's net neutrality rules, however, are more than two years old and so can't be reviewed by that same act. Thus, it may fall on newly installed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to rescind the FCC's Open Internet rules, which he voted against when he was a commissioner at the agency under former chief Tom Wheeler.
Communications

Verizon, AT&T, Comcast Say They Will Not Sell Customer Browsing Histories (reuters.com) 125

Comcast, Verizon, AT&T Inc said Friday they would not sell customers' individual internet browsing information, days after the U.S. Congress approved legislation reversing Obama administration era internet privacy rules. From a report on Reuters: The bill would repeal regulations adopted in October by the Federal Communications Commission under former President Barack Obama requiring internet service providers to do more to protect customers' privacy than websites like Alphabet's Google or Facebook. The easing of restrictions has sparked growing anger on social media sites. "We do not sell our broadband customers' individual web browsing history. We did not do it before the FCC's rules were adopted, and we have no plans to do so," said Gerard Lewis, Comcast's chief privacy officer. He added Comcast is revising its privacy policy to make more clear that "we do not sell our customers' individual web browsing information to third parties." Verizon does not sell personal web browsing histories and has no plans to do so in the future, said spokesman Richard Young.
Twitter

'Verified' Is Now a Derogatory Term on Twitter (theoutline.com) 416

From an article on The Outline: Since 2009, Twitter has added a blue checkmark symbol to certain accounts that have been deemed "verified," which means "that an account of public interest is authentic," according to Twitter. For some, the verified distinction is coveted. For others, it's become a dirty word. "Verifieds" or "blue checks" are the elite, the establishment. Since many members of the media are verified, they have also become associated, for some, with the perceived liberal bias of the fourth estate. Conservatives, alt-righters, and Donald Trump fans have noticed that when Trump tweets, there is invariably a flood of "blue check liberals" responding in a negative way. There is also the perception that Twitter, a California company, is biased toward liberals. Also, according to Twitter, there are now about 250,000 people who're verified on the site, some of which are for unknown reasons.
Government

House Approves Bill To Force Public Release of EPA Science (ap.org) 422

schwit1 quotes a report from Associated Press: House Republicans are taking aim at the Environmental Protection Agency, targeting the way officials use science to develop new regulations. A bill approved Wednesday by the GOP-controlled House would require that data used to support new regulations to protect human health and the environment be released to the public. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said "the days of 'trust me' science are over," adding that the House bill would restore confidence in the EPA's decision-making process. Connecticut Rep. Elizabeth Esty and other Democrats said the bill would cripple EPA's ability to conduct scientific research based on confidential medical information and risks privacy violations by exposing sensitive patient data. The bill was approved 228-194 and now goes to the Senate. According to The Hill, "The bill would also require that any scientific studies be replicable, and allow anyone who signs a confidentiality agreement to view redacted personal or trade information in data."
Government

Will VPNs Protect Your Privacy? It's Complicated 141

From a CNET report: A VPN redirects your internet traffic, disguising where your computer, phone or other device is when it makes contact with websites. It also encrypts information you send across the internet, making it unreadable to anyone who intercepts your traffic. That includes your internet service provider. Ha! Problem solved -- right? Well, sort of. The big catch is, now the VPN has your internet traffic and browsing history, instead of your ISP. What's to stop the VPN from selling your information to the highest bidder? Of course, there are reputable VPN services out there, but it's incumbent on you the user to "do your homework," Ajay Arora, CEO of cybersecurity company Vera said. In addition to making sure the VPN will actually keep your data private, you'll want to make sure there's nothing shady in the terms and conditions. Shady how? Well, in 2015, a group of security-minded coders discovered that free VPN service Hola was selling its users' bandwidth to the paying customers of its Luminati service. That meant some random person could have been using your internet connection to do something illegal. So, shady like that. "I would recommend you do some cursory level research in terms of reputation [and] how long they've been around," Arora said, "And when you sign up, read the fine print." From a report on Wired: Christian Haschek, an Austria-based security researcher, wrote a script that analyzed 443 open proxies, which route web traffic through an alternate, often pseudo-anonymous, computer network. The script tested the proxies to see if they modified site content or allowed users to browse sites while using encryption. According to Haschek's research, just 21 percent of the tested proxies weren't "shady." Haschek found that the other 79 percent of surveyed proxy services forbid secure, HTTPS traffic.
The Internet

UW Professor: The Information War Is Real, and We're Losing It (seattletimes.com) 444

An anonymous reader writes: It started with the Boston marathon bombing, four years ago. University of Washington professor Kate Starbird was sifting through thousands of tweets sent in the aftermath and noticed something strange. Too strange for a university professor to take seriously. "There was a significant volume of social-media traffic that blamed the Navy SEALs for the bombing," Starbird told me the other day in her office. "It was real tinfoil-hat stuff. So we ignored it." Same thing after the mass shooting that killed nine at Umpqua Community College in Oregon: a burst of social-media activity calling the massacre a fake, a stage play by "crisis actors" for political purposes. "After every mass shooting, dozens of them, there would be these strange clusters of activity," Starbird says. "It was so fringe we kind of laughed at it. "That was a terrible mistake. We should have been studying it." Starbird argues in a new paper, set to be presented at a computational social-science conference in May, that these "strange clusters" of wild conspiracy talk, when mapped, point to an emerging alternative media ecosystem on the web of surprising power and reach. There are dozens of conspiracy-propagating websites such as beforeitsnews.com, nodisinfo.com and veteranstoday.com. Starbird cataloged 81 of them, linked through a huge community of interest connected by shared followers on Twitter, with many of the tweets replicated by automated bots. Starbird is in the UW's Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering -- the study of the ways people and technology interact. Her team analyzed 58 million tweets sent after mass shootings during a 10-month period. They searched for terms such as "false flag" and "crisis actor," web slang meaning a shooting is not what the government or the traditional media is reporting it to be. Then she analyzed the content of each site to try to answer the question: Just what is this alternative media ecosystem saying? Starbird is publishing her paper as a sort of warning. The information networks we've built are almost perfectly designed to exploit psychological vulnerabilities to rumor. "Your brain tells you 'Hey, I got this from three different sources,'" Starbird says. "But you don't realize it all traces back to the same place, and might have even reached you via bots posing as real people. If we think of this as a virus, I wouldn't know how to vaccinate for it." The report goes on to say that "Starbird says she's concluded, provocatively, that we may be headed toward 'the menace of unreality -- which is that nobody believes anything anymore.'"
Education

Ivanka Trump To Take Coding Class With 5-Year-Old Daughter (hollywoodlife.com) 366

theodp writes: Speaking about women in STEM at a Women's History Month event at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, new [unpaid] federal employee Ivanka Trump revealed she'll be taking a computer coding class with her 5-year-old daughter. "On a very personal level, as a mom I'm trying to do my part as well," Ivanka told the crowd. "My daughter Arabella and I are enrolling in a coding class this summer." Parroting supermodel Karlie Kloss (the girlfriend of Ivanka's brother-in-law), the first daughter added, "We're excited to learn this incredibly important new language together. Coding truly is the language of the future."

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