Censorship

Google Is Shuttering Domain Fronting, Creating a Big Problem For Anti-Censorship Tools (theverge.com) 43

"The Google App Engine is discontinuing a practice called domain fronting, which lets services use Google's network to get around state-level internet blocks," reports The Verge. While the move makes sense from a cybersecurity perspective as domain fronting is widely used by malware to evade network-based detection, it will likely frustrate app developers who use it to get around internet censorship. From the report: First spotted by Tor developers on April 13th, the change has been rolling out across Google services and threatens to disrupt services for a number of anti-censorship tools, including Signal, GreatFire.org and Psiphon's VPN services. Reached by The Verge, Google said the changes were the result of a long-planned network update. "Domain fronting has never been a supported feature at Google," a company representative said, "but until recently it worked because of a quirk of our software stack. We're constantly evolving our network, and as part of a planned software update, domain fronting no longer works. We don't have any plans to offer it as a feature."

Domain-fronting allowed developers to use Google as a proxy, forwarding traffic to their own servers through a Google.com domain. That was particularly important for evading state-level censorship, which might try to block all the traffic sent to a given service. As long as the service was using domain-fronting, all the in-country data requests would appear as if they were headed for Google.com, with encryption preventing censors from digging any deeper.
We do not yet know exactly why and when Google is shutting down the practice, but will update this post once we learn more.
NASA

SpaceX Launches NASA's Planet-Hunting Satellite, Successfully Lands Its Falcon 9 Rocket (theverge.com) 36

SpaceX launched NASA's TESS spacecraft Wednesday evening from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and successfully landed its Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship following takeoff. This marks 24 successful landings for SpaceX now, notes The Verge. We will update this post once TESS is deployed into orbit. From the report: TESS is NASA's newest exoplanet hunter. The probe is tasked with staring at stars tens to hundreds of light-years from Earth, watching to see if they blink. When a planet passes in front of a distant star, it dims the star's light ever so slightly. TESS will measure these twinkles from a 13.7-day orbit that extends as far out as the distance of the Moon. The satellite won't get to its final orbit on this launch. Instead, the Falcon 9 will put TESS into a highly elliptical path around Earth first. From there, TESS will slowly adjust its orbit over the next couple of months by igniting its onboard engine multiple times. The spacecraft will even do a flyby of the Moon next month, getting a gravitational boost that will help get the vehicle to its final path around Earth. Overall, it will take about 60 days after launch for TESS to get to its intended orbit; science observations are scheduled to begin in June.
Communications

A Florida Man Has been Accused of Making 97 Million Robocalls (bloomberg.com) 162

A Florida man accused of flooding consumers with 97 million phone calls touting fake travel deals appeared Wednesday before lawmakers to explain how robocalls work and to say, "I am not the kingpin of robocalling that is alleged." From a report: Adrian Abramovich, of Miami, who is fighting a proposed $120 million fine, told senators that open-source software lets operators make thousands of phone calls with the click of a button, in combination with cloud-based computing and "the right long distance company." "Clearly regulation needs to address the carriers and providers and require the major carriers to detect robocalls activity," Abramovich said in testimony submitted in advance to the Senate Commerce Committee. He has asked the Federal Communications Commission to reduce the fine proposed last year, calling it disproportionate, in part because most calls went unanswered or resulted in a quick hang-up by consumers. The panel's chairman, Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, called Abamovich and officials from the FCC and other agencies to discuss ways to stop abusive calls.
Communications

Puerto Rico is Experiencing an Island-Wide Blackout (engadget.com) 220

An anonymous reader shares a report: Seven months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, the power grid is still unstable. But progress was being made; according to CBS, less than 10 percent of the island was without power as of a month ago. But now, the Associated Press reports that the island is undergoing yet another full blackout. The power company is still investigating the cause and estimates it will take 24 to 36 hours for power to be restored. The saga of Puerto Rico's power grid has been an unhappy one. The US territory was already facing a financial crisis before the hurricane hit. The island only has one electric company, and prior to Maria, it was $9 billion in debt and utilizing outdated infrastructure and equipment.
The Internet

Russia Admits To Blocking Millions of IP Addresses (sfgate.com) 72

It turns out, the Russian government, in its quest to block Telegram, accidentally shut down several other services as well. From a report: The chief of the Russian communications watchdog acknowledged Wednesday that millions of unrelated IP addresses have been frozen in a so-far futile attempt to block a popular messaging app. Telegram, the messaging app that was ordered to be blocked last week, was still available to users in Russia despite authorities' frantic attempts to hit it by blocking other services. The row erupted after Telegram, which was developed by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, refused to hand its encryption keys to the intelligence agencies. The Russian government insists it needs them to pre-empt extremist attacks but Telegram dismissed the request as a breach of privacy. Alexander Zharov, chief of the Federal Communications Agency, said in an interview with the Izvestia daily published Wednesday that Russia is blocking 18 networks that are used by Amazon and Google and which host sites that they believe Telegram is using to circumvent the ban.
Communications

Iran Bans State Bodies From Using Telegram App, Khamenei Shuts Account (reuters.com) 37

Iran banned government bodies on Wednesday from using the popular Telegram instant messaging app as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's office said his account would shut down to protect national security, Iranian media reported. From a report: ISNA news agency did not give a reason for the government ban on the service which lets people send encrypted messages and has an estimated 40 million users in the Islamic Republic. The order came days after Russia -- Iran's ally in the Syrian war -- started blocking the app in its territory following the company's repeated refusal to give Russian state security services access to users' secret messages. Iran's government banned "all state bodies from using the foreign messaging app," according to ISNA.
China

Huawei To Back Off US Market Amid Rising Tensions (nytimes.com) 88

Huawei is reportedly going to give up on selling its products and services in the United States (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source) due to Washington's accusations that the company has ties to the Chinese government. The change in tactics comes a week after the company laid off five American employees, including its biggest American lobbyist. The New York Times reports: Huawei's tactics are changing as its business prospects in the United States have darkened considerably. On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to proceed with a new rule that could effectively kill off what little business the company has in the United States. Although the proposed rule does not mention Huawei by name, it would block federally subsidized telecommunications carriers from using suppliers deemed to pose a risk to American national security. Huawei's latest moves suggest that it has accepted that its political battles in the United States are not ones it is likely to win. "Some things cannot change their course according to our wishes," Eric Xu, Huawei's deputy chairman, said at the company's annual meeting with analysts on Tuesday. "With some things, when you let them go, you actually feel more at ease."
Crime

Former FCC Broadband Panel Chair Arrested For Fraud (dslreports.com) 102

An anonymous reader quotes a report from DSLReports: The former chair of a panel built by FCC boss Ajit Pai to advise the agency on broadband matters has been arrested for fraud. Elizabeth Ann Pierce, former CEO of Quintillion Networks, was appointed by Pai last April to chair the committee, but her tenure only lasted until September. Pierce resigned from her role as Quintillion CEO last August after investigators found she was engaged in a scam that tricked investors into pouring money into a multi-million dollar investment fraud scheme. According to the Wall Street Journal, Pierce convinced two investment firms that the company had secured contracts for a high-speed fiber-optic system that would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in future revenue. She pitched the system as a way to improve Alaska's connectivity to the rest of the country, but the plan was largely a fabrication, law enforcement officials say. "As it turned out, those sales agreements were worthless because the customers had not signed them," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in prepared remarks. "Instead, as alleged, Pierce had forged counterparty signatures on contract after contract. As a result of Pierce's deception, the investment companies were left with a system that is worth far less than Pierce had led them to believe." Quintillion says it began cooperating with lawmakers as soon as allegations against Pierce surfaced last year. Pierce was charged with wire fraud last Thursday and faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Communications

What It's Like To Live in America Without Broadband Internet (vice.com) 138

Motherboard has an interesting piece which serves as a reminder that even today in every single state, a portion of the population doesn't have access to broadband, and some have no access to the internet at all. From the piece: Wilfong (an anecdote used in the story) is one of the more than 24 million Americans, or about 8 percent of the country, who don't have access to high-speed internet, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) -- and that's a conservative estimate. Most of them live in rural and tribal areas, though the problem affects urban communities, too. In every single state, a portion of the population doesn't have access to broadband.

The reasons these communities have been left behind are as diverse as the areas themselves. Rural regions like Wilfong's hometown of Marlinton are not densely populated enough to get telecom companies to invest in building the infrastructure to serve them. Some areas can be labeled as "served" by telecoms even if many homes don't actually have internet access, as in Sharon Township, Michigan, just a short drive from the technology hub of Ann Arbor. Others are just really far away. These places are so geographically remote that laying cable is physically and financially prohibitive, so towns like Orleans, California, have started their own nonprofit internet services instead.

Movies

MPAA Silently Shut Down Its Legal Movies Search Engine (techdirt.com) 62

Back in 2015, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) released its own search engine to combat the argument that people pirate films because there are too few legal alternatives. According to TorrentFreak, the search engine, WhereToWatch.com, has since been quietly shut down by the movie industry group, stating that there are plenty of other search options available today. From the report: The MPAA pulled the plug on the service a few months ago. And where the mainstream media covered its launch in detail, the shutdown received zero mentions. So why did the site fold? According to MPAA Vice President of Corporate Communications, Chris Ortman, it was no longer needed as there are many similar search engines out there. "Given the many search options commercially available today, which can be found on the MPAA website, WheretoWatch.com was discontinued at the conclusion of 2017," Ortman informs TF. "There are more than 140 lawful online platforms in the United States for accessing film and television content, and more than 460 around the world," he adds. "That is all absolutely true today, though it was also true three years ago when the site was launched," adds Techdirt. "The simple fact of the matter is that the site did little to serve any real public customer base. Yes, legal alternatives to piracy exist. Everyone knows that, just as they know that there are far too many hoops and restrictions around which to jump that have nothing to do with price. The MPAA and its client organizations have long asserted strict control over their product to the contrary of public demand. That is, and has always been, the problem. On top of all that, the MPAA showed its no better at promoting its site than it was at promoting the legal alternatives to pirating movies."
Wireless Networking

Planet Fitness Evacuated After WiFi Network Named 'Remote Detonator' Causes Scare (windsorstar.com) 167

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Windsor Star: A Michigan gym patron looking for a Wi-Fi connection found one named "remote detonator," prompting an evacuation and precautionary search of the facility by a bomb-sniffing dog. The Saginaw News reports nothing was found in the search Sunday at Planet Fitness in Saginaw Township, about 85 miles (140 kilometers) northwest of Detroit. Saginaw Township police Chief Donald Pussehl says the patron brought the Wi-Fi connection's name to the attention of a manager, who evacuated the building and called police. The gym was closed for about three hours as police responded. Pussehl says there's "no crime or threat," so no charges are expected. He notes people often have odd names for WiFi connections. Planet Fitness says the manager was following company procedure for when there's suspicion about a safety issue.
Businesses

California Bill Would Restore, Strengthen Net Neutrality Protections (mercurynews.com) 83

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Mercury News: With the FCC order to repeal net neutrality rules set to take effect next week, a bill that would restore those regulations in California will get its first hearing Tuesday (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). SB 822, written by State Sen. Scott D. Wiener, D-San Francisco, is backed by big names including Tom Wheeler, the Obama-appointed former Federal Communications Commission chairman who wrote the 2015 Open Internet Order. Wheeler is joined by former FCC commissioners Michael Copps and Gloria Tristani in advocating for SB 822, which would in some ways be stronger than the net neutrality rules put in place under President Obama's administration after more than a decade of legal and political wrangling. Those rules required equal treatment of all internet traffic, and prohibited the establishment of internet slow and fast lanes. Wiener's bill would also prohibit "zero rating," in which internet providers exempt certain content, sites and services from data caps. In addition, it would prohibit public agencies in the state from signing contracts with ISPs that violate net neutrality principles, and call for internet service providers to be transparent about their practices and offerings.
United States

T-Mobile To Pay $40 Million Over False Ring Tones on Rural US Calls (reuters.com) 77

David Shepardson, writing for Reuters: T-Mobile USA agreed on Monday to pay $40 million to resolve a government investigation that found it failed to correct problems with delivering calls in rural areas and inserted false ring tones in hundreds of millions of calls, the Federal Communications Commission said. T-Mobile, a unit of Deutsche Telekom, agreed to changes and acknowledged that it had injected false ring tones into hundreds of millions of long-distance rural calls, the FCC said, in violation of FCC rules.

False ring tones "cause callers to believe that the phone is ringing at the called party's premises when it is not," the FCC said, noting uncompleted calls "cause rural businesses to lose revenue, impede medical professionals from reaching patients in rural areas, cut families off from their relatives, and create the potential for dangerous delays in public safety communications."

Communications

France is Building Its Own Encrypted Messaging Service To Ease Fears That Foreign Entities Could Spy on Private Conversations (reuters.com) 87

The French government is building its own encrypted messenger service to ease fears that foreign entities could spy on private conversations between top officials, the digital ministry said on Monday. From a report: None of the world's major encrypted messaging apps, including Facebook's WhatsApp and Telegram -- a favorite of President Emmanuel Macron -- are based in France, raising the risk of data breaches at servers outside the country.

About 20 officials and top civil servants are testing the new app which a state-employed developer has designed, a ministry spokeswoman said, with the aim that its use will become mandatory for the whole government by the summer. "We need to find a way to have an encrypted messaging service that is not encrypted by the United States or Russia," the spokeswoman said. "You start thinking about the potential breaches that could happen, as we saw with Facebook, so we should take the lead."

Space

ULA Is Livestreaming An Atlas V Rocket Launch (upi.com) 59

United Launch Alliance -- a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing -- is livestreaming tonight's launch of an Atlas V rocket. UPI reports: The rocket is set to blast-off at 7:13 p.m. ET from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida... The primary payload is the Continuous Broadcast Augmenting SATCOM, or CBAS, a geostationary communications satellite... Behind the CBAS payload is EAGLE, a platform capable of releasing several secondary payloads into space. According to Gunter's Space Page, EAGLE is carrying five additional payloads, all experimental satellites.
Here's a good overview of the mission: Saturday's mission will begin with ignition of the Atlas Common Core Booster's RD-180 engine, 2.7 seconds before the countdown reaches zero... Five Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ-60A solid rocket motors will augment the CCB at liftoff, igniting about T+1.1 seconds as the rocket lifts off. Climbing away from Cape Canaveral, AV-079 will begin a series of pitch and yaw maneuvers 3.9 seconds into its mission, placing the rocket onto an 89.9-degree azimuth -- almost due East -- for the journey into orbit. Atlas will reach Mach 1, the speed of sound, 34.4 seconds after liftoff, passing through the area of maximum dynamic pressure -- Max-Q -- eleven-and-a-half seconds later.
Long-time Slashdot reader Zorro also shares an interesting remark by the CEO of Boeing when asked if Boeing's cancelled Sonic Cruiser might be making a comeback. "'Something better,' teased the Boeing boss, promising point-to-point connectivity anywhere on Earth in a matter of hours."

And when asked whether Boeing might launch a car into space, he replied instead that "We might pick up the one that's out there and bring it back."
Social Networks

'An Apology for the Internet -- from the People Who Built It' (nymag.com) 179

"Those who designed our digital world are aghast at what they created," argues a new article in New York Magazine titled "The Internet Apologizes". Today, the most dire warnings are coming from the heart of Silicon Valley itself. The man who oversaw the creation of the original iPhone believes the device he helped build is too addictive. The inventor of the World Wide Web fears his creation is being "weaponized." Even Sean Parker, Facebook's first president, has blasted social media as a dangerous form of psychological manipulation. "God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains," he lamented recently...

The internet's original sin, as these programmers and investors and CEOs make clear, was its business model. To keep the internet free -- while becoming richer, faster, than anyone in history -- the technological elite needed something to attract billions of users to the ads they were selling. And that something, it turns out, was outrage. As Jaron Lanier, a pioneer in virtual reality, points out, anger is the emotion most effective at driving "engagement" -- which also makes it, in a market for attention, the most profitable one. By creating a self-perpetuating loop of shock and recrimination, social media further polarized what had already seemed, during the Obama years, an impossibly and irredeemably polarized country... What we're left with are increasingly divided populations of resentful users, now joined in their collective outrage by Silicon Valley visionaries no longer in control of the platforms they built.

Lanier adds that "despite all the warnings, we just walked right into it and created mass behavior-modification regimes out of our digital networks." Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, is even quoted as saying that a social-validation feedback loop is "exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. The inventors, creators -- it's me, it's Mark [Zuckerberg], it's Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it's all of these people -- understood this consciously. And we did it anyway."

The article includes quotes from Richard Stallman, arguing that data privacy isn't the problem. "The problem is that these companies are collecting data about you, period. We shouldn't let them do that. The data that is collected will be abused..." He later adds that "We need a law that requires every system to be designed in a way that achieves its basic goal with the least possible collection of data... No company is so important that its existence justifies setting up a police state."

The article proposes hypothetical solutions. "Could a subscription model reorient the internet's incentives, valuing user experience over ad-driven outrage? Could smart regulations provide greater data security? Or should we break up these new monopolies entirely in the hope that fostering more competition would give consumers more options?" Some argue that the Communications Decency Act of 1996 shields internet companies from all consequences for bad actors -- de-incentivizing the need to address them -- and Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, thinks the solution is new legislation. "The government is going to have to be involved. You do it exactly the same way you regulated the cigarette industry. Technology has addictive qualities that we have to address, and product designers are working to make those products more addictive. We need to rein that back."
Google

Google Loses 'Right To Be Forgotten' Case (bbc.com) 160

A businessman fighting for the "right to be forgotten" has won a High Court action against Google. BBC reports: The man, who has not been named due to reporting restrictions surrounding the case, wanted search results about a past crime he had committed removed from the search engine. The judge, Mr Justice Mark Warby, ruled in his favour on Friday. But he rejected a separate claim made by another businessman who had committed a more serious crime. The businessman who won his case was convicted 10 years ago of conspiring to intercept communications. He spent six months in jail. The other businessman, who lost his case, was convicted more than 10 years ago of conspiring to account falsely. He spent four years in jail.
Communications

Reddit Continues To Protect Racist Language In Favor of Free Speech (digitaltrends.com) 659

In a thread about Reddit's 2017 transparency report, a user asked CEO Steve Huffman whether posts containing racism or racial slurs violate Reddit's terms. Huffman revealed that said speech are permissible on the site. "On Reddit, the way in which we think about speech is to separate behavior from beliefs," Huffman clarified. "This means on Reddit there will be people with beliefs different from your own, sometimes extremely so." Digital Trends reports: It's unclear if Huffman's comments are representative of Reddit's company policy, but protection of hate speech can -- and do -- lead to online harassment and cyberbullying. A recent study from Pew revealed that as many as 40 percent of Americans have experienced some form of harassment online. And even if hate speech may still be protected content on Reddit, Huffman was quick to point out that any threat of violence is not tolerated on the site. "When users actions conflict with our own content policies, we take action," he said. This distinction is consistent with Reddit's prior policies for enforcement. "Going forward, we will take action against any content that encourages, glorifies, incites, or calls for violence or physical harm against an individual or a group of people; likewise we will also take action against content that glorifies or encourages the abuse of animals," the updated terms read, noting that "context is key."
Advertising

Zuckerberg: Facebook Doesn't Use Your Mic For Ad Targeting (engadget.com) 257

During today's joint hearing before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees, CEO Mark Zuckerberg fully denied the idea that Facebook listens in on your conversations via microphones to display relevant ads. Engadget reports: Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) asked him to answer "yes or no" whether Facebook used audio from personal devices to fill out its ad data, and Zuckerberg said no. The CEO explained that users can upload videos with audio in them, but not the kind of background spying that you've probably heard people talk about. Peters: "I have heard constituents say Facebook is mining audio from their mobile devices for the purpose of ad targeting. This speaks to the lack of trust we are seeing. I understand there are technical and logistical issues for that to happen. For the record, I hear it all the time, does Facebook use audio obtained from mobile devices to enrich personal information about its users?"

Zuckerberg: "We do not. Senator, Let me be clear on this. You are talking about the conspiracy theory passed around that we listen to what is going on on your microphone and use that. We do not do that. We do allow people to take videos on their device and share those. Videos also have audio. We do, while you are taking a video, record that and use that to make the service better by making sure that you have audio. That is pretty clear."
Businesses

Apple Must Pay Patent Troll More Than $500 Million In iMessage Case (bloomberg.com) 75

A federal court in Texas today has ordered Apple to pay $502.6 million to a patent troll called VirnetX, the latest twist in a dispute now in its eighth year. "VirnetX claimed that Apple's FaceTime, VPN on Demand and iMessage features infringe four patents related to secure communications, claims that Apple denied," reports Bloomberg. From the report: The dispute has bounced between the district court, patent office and Federal Circuit since 2010. There have been multiple trials, most recently one involving earlier versions of the Apple devices. A jury in that case awarded $302 million that a judge later increased to $439.7 million. Kendall Larsen, CEO of VirnetX, said the damages, which were based on sales of more than 400 million Apple devices, were "fair." "The evidence was clear," Larsen said after the verdict was announced. "Tell the truth and you don't have to worry about anything." For VirnetX, the jury verdict in its favor could be a short-lived victory. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board has said the patents are invalid, in cases that are currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington. The Federal Circuit, which handles all patent appeals, declined to put this trial on hold, saying it was so far along that a verdict would come before a final validity decision.

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