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Google

Google's DeepMind is Opening Up Its Flagship Platform To AI Researchers Outside the Company (businessinsider.com) 7

Artificial intelligence (AI) researchers around the world will soon be able to use DeepMind's "flagship" platform to develop innovative computer systems that can learn and think for themselves. From a report on BusinessInsider: DeepMind, which was acquired by Google for $400 million in 2014, announced on Monday that it is open-sourcing its "Lab" from this week onwards so that others can try and make advances in the notoriously complex field of AI. The company says that the DeepMind Lab, which it has been using internally for some time, is a 3D game-like platform tailored for agent-based AI research. [...] The DeepMind Lab aims to combine several different AI research areas into one environment. Researchers will be able to test their AI agent's abilities on navigation, memory, and 3D vision, while determining how good they are at planning and strategy.
Google

New Google Trusted Contacts Service Shares User Location In Real Time (onthewire.io) 43

Reader Trailrunner7 writes: Google has spent a lot of time and money on security over the last few years, developing new technologies and systems to protect users' devices. One of the newer technologies the company has come up with is designed to provide security for users themselves rather than their laptops or phones.

On Monday Google launched a new app for Android called Trusted Contacts that allows users to share their locations and some limited other information with a set of close friends and family members. The system is a two-way road, so a user can actively share her location with her Trusted Contacts, and stop sharing it at her discretion. But, when a problem or potential emergency comes up, one of those contacts can request to get that user's location to see where she is at any moment. The app is designed to give users a way to reassure contacts that they're safe, or request help if there's something wrong.

Opera

Opera Developer Comes With Address Bar Speculative Prerenderer Feature (opera.com) 48

Earlier this month, Opera announced a new interesting feature with Opera 43 developer that predicts the website you're about to go to. The company explains: There are two ways we can predict what page the user will soon load. When the current page tells us so, and when we can determine from the users actions that they are about to load something. Pages can use the tag, and for instance Google uses that for search results if they are pretty sure of what you will load next. When someone writes in the address bar they are humanly slow. Sometimes it is obvious what they will write after just 1-2 characters but they will just keep writing or arrowing through suggestions for millions or billions of wasted clock cycles. We expect this feature to results in an average of 1 second faster loads from the address bar. The company insists that this feature saves time and energy without compromising the security. What's your thought?
EU

EU Threatens Twitter And Facebook With Possible 'Hate Speech' Laws (gizmodo.com) 231

An anonymous reader quotes Gizmodo: On Sunday, the European Commission warned Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube and Microsoft that if the companies do not address their hate speech problems, the EU will enact legislation that will force them to do so. In May, those five companies voluntarily signed a code of conduct to fight illegal hate speech on their platforms within 24 hours... But on Sunday, the European Commission revealed that the companies were not complying with this code in a satisfactory manner.

"In practice the companies take longer and do not yet achieve this goal. They only reviewed 40 percent of the recorded cases in less than 24 hours," a Commission official told Reuters. The Commission's report found that YouTube responded to reports of harassment the fastest, and unsurprisingly, Twitter found itself in last place. "If Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft want to convince me and the ministers that the non-legislative approach can work, they will have to act quickly and make a strong effort in the coming months," Jourova told the Financial Times on Sunday.

Facebook

Tech Billionaires Award Top Scientists $25 Million In 'Breakthrough' Prizes (fortune.com) 43

Tonight at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, Morgan Freeman emceed a glamorous, Oscars-style celebration that recognizes scientific achievements with money from tech billionaires. An anonymous reader writes: Donors for the Breakthrough Prize included Google's Sergey Brin, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, Alibaba founder Jack Ma and his wife Cathy Zhang, and billionaire venture capitalist Yuri Milner, according to an article in Fortune. TechCrunch has a list of the winners, which included Princeton math professor Jean Bourgain, who won a $3 million prize "for his many contributions to high-dimensional geometry, number theory, and many other theoretical contributions."

Three more physics researchers -- two from Harvard, and one from U.C. Santa Barbara -- will share a $3 million prize recognizing "meaningful advances in string theory, quantum field theory, and quantum gravity." And another $1 million prize honored the leaders of three teams responsible for "collaborative research on gravitational waves and its implications for physics and astronomy," with another $2 million to be shared among the 1,012 members of their research groups.

17-year-old Deanna See from Singapore also won the $250,000 "Breakthrough Junior Challenge" prize -- and more money for her teachers and school -- for her video about antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Google has created a special page where you can read more about some of the other winners.
The Media

Are We Seeing Propaganda About Russian Propaganda? (rollingstone.com) 291

MyFirstNameIsPaul was one of several readers who spotted this disturbing instance of fake news about fake news. An anonymous reader writes: Last week the Washington Post described "independent researchers" who'd identified "more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda" that they estimated were viewed more than 200 million times on Facebook. But the researchers insisted on remaining anonymous "to avoid being targeted by Russia's legions of skilled hackers," and when criticized on Twitter, responded "Awww, wook at all the angwy Putinists, trying to change the subject -- they're so vewwy angwy!!"

The group "seems to have been in existence for just a few months," writes Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, calling the Post's article an "astonishingly lazy report". (Chris Hedges, who once worked on a Pulitzer Prize-winning team at the New York Times, even found his site Truthdig on the group's dubious list of over 200 "sites that reliably echo Russian propaganda," along with other long-standing sites like Zero Hedge, Naked Capitalism, and the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.) "By overplaying the influence of Russia's disinformation campaign, the report also plays directly into the hands of the Russian propagandists that it hopes to combat," complains Adrian Chen, who in 2015 documented real Russian propaganda efforts which he traced to "a building in St. Petersburg where hundreds of young Russians worked to churn out propaganda."

The Post's article was picked up by other major news outlets (including USA Today), and included an ominous warning that "The sophistication of the Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on 'fake news'."
Mozilla

VM-Neutral Node.js API Unveiled, As NodeSource Collaborates With Microsoft, Mozilla, Intel and IBM (medium.com) 28

An anonymous reader writes: This week saw the first proof of concept for Node.js API (or NAPI for short), "making module maintainers' lives easier by defining a stable module API that is independent from changes in [Google's JavaScript engine] V8 and allowing modules to run against newer versions of Node.js without recompilation." Their announcement cites both the efforts of the Node.js API working group and of ChakraCore, the core part of the Chakra Javascript engine that powers Microsoft Edge.

And there was also a second announcement -- that the Node.js build system "will start producing nightly node-chakracore builds, enabling Node.js to be used with the ChakraCore JavaScript engine. "These initial efforts are stepping stones to make Node.js VM-neutral, which would allow more opportunities for Node.js in IoT and mobile use cases as well as a variety of different systems."

One IBM runtime developer called it "a concrete step toward the strategic end goal of VM neutrality," and the Node.js Foundation believes that the API will ultimately result in "more modules to choose from, and more stability with modules without the need to continually upgrade."
Chrome

Chrome 55 Now Blocks Flash, Uses HTML5 By Default (bleepingcomputer.com) 95

An anonymous reader quotes Bleeping Computer: Chrome 55, released earlier this week, now blocks all Adobe Flash content by default, according to a plan set in motion by Google engineers earlier this year... While some of the initial implementation details of the "HTML5 By Default" plan changed since then, Flash has been phased out in favor of HTML5 as the primary technology for playing multimedia content in Chrome.

Google's plan is to turn off Flash and use HTML5 for all sites. Where HTML5 isn't supported, Chrome will prompt users and ask them if they want to run Flash to view multimedia content. The user's option would be remembered for subsequent visits, but there's also an option in the browser's settings section, under Settings > Content Settings > Flash > Manage Exceptions, where users can add the websites they want to allow Flash to run by default.

Exceptions will also be made automatically for your more frequently-visited sites -- which, for many users, will include YouTube. And Chrome will continue to ship with Flash -- as well as an option to re-enable Flash on all sites.
Republicans

Of 8 Tech Companies, Only Twitter Says It Would Refuse To Help Build Muslim Registry For Trump (theintercept.com) 572

On the campaign trail last year, President-elect Donald Trump said he would consider requiring Muslim-Americans to register with a government database. While he has back-stepped on a number of campaign promises after being elected president, Trump and his transition team have recently resurfaced the idea to create a national Muslim registry. In response, The Intercept contacted nine of the "most prominent" technology companies in the United States "to ask if they would sell their services to help create a national Muslim registry." Twitter was the only company that responded with "No." The Intercept reports: Even on a purely hypothetical basis, such a project would provide American technology companies an easy line to draw in the sand -- pushing back against any effort to track individuals purely (or essentially) on the basis of their religious beliefs doesn't take much in the way of courage or conviction, even by the thin standards of corporate America. We'd also be remiss in assuming no company would ever tie itself to such a nakedly evil undertaking: IBM famously helped Nazi Germany computerize the Holocaust. (IBM has downplayed its logistical role in the Holocaust, claiming in a 2001 statement that "most [relevant] documents were destroyed or lost during the war.") With all this in mind, we contacted nine different American firms in the business of technology, broadly defined, with the following question: "Would [name of company], if solicited by the Trump administration, sell any goods, services, information, or consulting of any kind to help facilitate the creation of a national Muslim registry, a project which has been floated tentatively by the president-elect's transition team?" After two weeks of calls and emails, only three companies provided an answer, and only one said it would not participate in such a project. A complete tally is below.

Facebook: No answer. Twitter: "No," and a link to this blog post, which states as company policy a prohibition against the use, by outside developers, of "Twitter data for surveillance purposes. Period." Microsoft: "We're not going to talk about hypotheticals at this point," and a link to a company blog post that states that "we're committed to promoting not just diversity among all the men and women who work here, but [...] inclusive culture" and that "it will remain important for those in government and the tech sector to continue to work together to strike a balance that protects privacy and public safety in what remains a dangerous time." Google: No answer. Apple: No answer. IBM: No answer. Booz Allen Hamilton: Declined to comment. SRA International: No answer.

Security

The 'USB Killer' Has Been Mass Produced -- Available Online For About $50 (arstechnica.com) 230

New submitter npslider writes: The "USB Killer," a USB stick that fries almost everything that it is plugged into, has been mass produced -- available online for about $50. Ars Technica first wrote about this diabolical device that looks like a fairly humdrum memory stick a year ago. From the report: "The USB Killer is shockingly simple in its operation. As soon as you plug it in, a DC-to-DC converter starts drawing power from the host system and storing electricity in its bank of capacitors (the square-shaped components). When the capacitors reach a potential of -220V, the device dumps all of that electricity into the USB data lines, most likely frying whatever is on the other end. If the host doesn't just roll over and die, the USB stick does the charge-discharge process again and again until it sizzles. Since the USB Killer has gone on sale, it has been used to fry laptops (including an old ThinkPad and a brand new MacBook Pro), an Xbox One, the new Google Pixel phone, and some cars (infotainment units, rather than whole cars... for now). Notably, some devices fare better than others, and there's a range of possible outcomes -- the USB Killer doesn't just nuke everything completely." You can watch a video of EverythingApplePro using the USB Killer to fry a variety of electronic devices. It looks like the only real defense from the USB Killer is physically capping your ports.
Android

Multiple Vulnerabilities In AirDroid Opens At Least 10 Million Android Users To MITM Attacks, Hijackings (androidpolice.com) 30

AirDroid is a popular Android application that allows users to send and receive text messages and transfer files and see notifications from their computer. Zimperium, a mobile security company, recently released details of several major security vulnerabilities in the application, allowing attackers on the same network to access user information and execute code on a user's device. Since there are between 10 and 50 million installations of the app, many users may be imperiled by AirDroid. Android Police reports: The security issues are mainly due to AirDroid using the same HTTP request to authorize the device and send usage statistics. The request is encrypted, but uses a hardcoded key in the AirDroid application (so essentially, everyone using AirDroid has the same key). Attackers on the same network an intercept the authentication request (commonly known as a Man-in-the-middle attack) using the key extracted from any AirDroid APK to retrieve private account information. This includes the email address and password associated with the AirDroid account. Attackers using a transparent proxy can intercept the network request AirDroid sends to check for add-on updates, and inject any APK they want. AirDroid would then notify the user of an add-on update, then download the malicious APK and ask the user to accept the installation. Zimperium notified AirDroid of these security flaws on May 24, and a few days later, AirDroid acknowledged the problem. Zimperium continued to follow up until AirDroid informed them of the upcoming 4.0 release, which was made available last month. Zimperium later discovered that version 4.0 still had all these same issues, and finally went public with the security vulnerabilities today.
Transportation

Apple Will Use Drones To Improve the Quality of Apple Maps (bloomberg.com) 44

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Apple plans to use drones and new indoor navigation features to improve its Maps service and catch longtime leader Google (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternate link), according to people familiar with the matter. The Cupertino, California-based company is assembling a team of robotics and data-collection experts that will use drones to capture and update map information faster than its existing fleet of camera-and-sensor ladened minivans, one of the people said. Apple wants to fly drones around to do things like examine street signs, track changes to roads and monitor if areas are under construction, the person said. The data collected would be sent to Apple teams that rapidly update the Maps app to provide fresh information to users, the person added. Apple is also developing new features for Maps, including views inside buildings and improvements to car navigation, another person familiar with the efforts said. Apple filed for an exemption on Sept. 21, 2015, from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly drones for commercial purposes, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg News. At that time, exemptions were required to commercially operate drones. In a response dated March 22, 2016, the FAA granted Apple approval to "operate an unmanned aircraft system to conduct data collection, photography, and videography," according to one of the documents. Apple's application told the FAA that it would use a range of drones sold by companies such as SZ DJI Technology Co. and Aibotix GmbH to collect the data. Apple has hired at least one person from Amazon's Prime Air division to help run the drone team, one of the people said.
Earth

Earthquake-Sensing Mobile App 'MyShake' Detects Over 200 Earthquakes Large and Small (techcrunch.com) 25

Back in February, researchers at UC Berkeley released an app called MyShake that detects strong earthquakes seconds before the damaging seismic waves arrive. Several months have passed since its release and app has already detected over 200 earthquakes in more than ten countries. TechCrunch reports: The app has received nearly 200,000 downloads, though only a fraction of those are active at any given time; it waits for the phone to sit idle so it can get good readings. Nevertheless, over the first six months the network of sensors has proven quite effective. "We found that MyShake could detect large earthquakes, but also small ones, which we never thought would be possible," one of the app's creators, Qingkai Kong, told New Scientist. A paper describing the early results was published in Geophysical Research Letters -- the abstract gives a general idea of the app's success: "On a typical day about 8000 phones provide acceleration waveform data to the MyShake archive. The on-phone app can detect and trigger on P waves and is capable of recording magnitude 2.5 and larger events. The largest number of waveforms from a single earthquake to date comes from the M5.2 Borrego Springs earthquake in Southern California, for which MyShake collected 103 useful three-component waveforms. The network continues to grow with new downloads from the Google Play store everyday and expands rapidly when public interest in earthquakes peaks such as during an earthquake sequence." You can download the app for Android here.
Businesses

Cyanogen Inc and CyanogenMod Creator Steve Kondik Part Ways (ndtv.com) 73

bulled writes: In the middle of a press release discussing the move of employees from Seattle to California, Cyanogen Inc notes that it has parted ways with Steve Kondik. It is unclear what this means for the future of CyanogenMod. NDTV reports: "Kondik took to the official CyanogenMod developer Google+ community recently where he voiced what he thought were the reasons behind Cyanogen's plight and blamed Kirt McMaster, Cyanogen's Co-Founder. 'I've been pretty quiet about the stuff that's been going on but I'm at least ready to tell the short version and hopefully get some input on what to do next because CM is very much affected,' wrote Kondik in a private Google+ community first reported by Android Police. According to Kondik's version, Cyanogen's turmoil is way far from being over. He claimed that Cyanogen had seen success thanks to the efforts by the community and the company. Though, this also changed how the company worked. Explaining how it all started to come down, Kondik wrote, 'Unfortunately once we started to see success, my co-founder apparently became unhappy with running the business and not owning the vision. This is when the 'bullet to the head' and other misguided media nonsense started, and the bad business deals were signed. Being second in command, all I could do was try and stop it, do damage control, and hope every day that something new didn't happen. The worst of it happened internally and it became a generally shitty place to work because of all the conflict. I think the backlash from those initial missteps convinced him that what we had needed to be destroyed. By the time I was able to stop it, I was outgunned and outnumbered by a team on the same mission.' Kondik also seemingly confirmed a report from July which claimed Cyanogen may pivot to apps. He further wrote, 'Eventually I tried to salvage it with a pivot that would have brought us closer to something that would have worked, but the new guys had other plans. With plenty of cash in the bank, the new guys tore the place down and will go and do whatever they are going to do. It's probably for the best and I wish them luck, but what I was trying to do, is over.'"
Android

Motorola Has No Plans For a New Smartwatch (theverge.com) 38

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Lenovo Moto today confirmed that it will not be releasing a new smartwatch for the launch of Android Wear 2.0, due early next year. The company had earlier said it would not be releasing a new smartwatch in 2016, but it is now saying that it doesn't plan to put out a new device timed to the arrival of Google's newest wearable platform, either. Shakil Barkat, head of global product development at Moto, said the company doesn't "see enough pull in the market to put [a new smartwatch] out at this time," though it may revisit the market in the future should technologies for the wrist improve. "Wearables do not have broad enough appeal for us to continue to build on it year after year," Barkat said, and indicated that smartwatches and other wearable devices will not be in Moto's annual device roadmap. Whether or not Moto does jump back into the smartwatch market is still up in the air, but Barkat is leaving the possibility open. "We believe the wrist still has value and there will be a point where they provide value to consumers more than they do today," Barkat said. But it doesn't appear that we'll be getting a new Moto 360 or other smartwatch any time in the near future. Google announced back in September that it would be delaying the launch of Android Wear 2.0 from this fall to next year. LG and Huawei have also confirmed that they would not be releasing new smartwatches until at least next year.
Mozilla

Mozilla Puts New Money To Use Fighting For 'Internet Health' (cnet.com) 110

Stephen Shankland, writing for CNET: Mozilla is marshaling public support for political positions, like backing net neutrality, defending encryption and keeping government surveillance from getting out of hand, says Denelle Dixon-Thayer, Mozilla's chief legal and business officer. The organization is funding the efforts with revenue from Firefox searches, which has jumped since 2014 when it switched from a global deal with Google to a set of regional deals. Mozilla brought in $421 million in revenue last year largely through partnerships with Yahoo in the US, Yandex in Russia and Baidu in China, according to tax documents released alongside Mozilla's 2015 annual report on Thursday. Pushing policy work brings new challenges well beyond traditional Mozilla work competing against Google's Chrome browser and Microsoft's Internet Explorer. They include squaring off against the incoming administration of Donald Trump.
Google

Google's New Public NTP Servers Provide Smeared Time (googleblog.com) 179

Google says it has built support for the leap second into the time servers that regulate all Google services. An anonymous reader shares a blogpost by Google:No commonly used operating system is able to handle a minute with 61 seconds, and trying to special-case the leap second has caused many problems in the past. Instead of adding a single extra second to the end of the day, we'll run the clocks 0.0014% slower across the ten hours before and ten hours after the leap second, and "smear" the extra second across these twenty hours. For timekeeping purposes, December 31 will seem like any other day. All Google services, including all APIs, will be synchronized on smeared time, as described above. You'll also get smeared time for virtual machines on Compute Engine if you follow our recommended settings. You can use non-Google NTP servers if you don't want your instances to use the leap smear, but don't mix smearing and non-smearing time servers.
Earth

Google Earth's Timelapses Offer a 32-Year Look At Earth's Changing Surface (pcmag.com) 85

Google has partnered with TIME to release an improved version of Google Earth Timelapse that provides animated satellite imagery covering the past 32 years, from 1984 to 2016. In 2013, Google and TIME launched Timelapse with a time-lapse from 1984 to 2012. However, this time around the project uses the higher-resolution maps introduced back in June to provide a look that's more detailed and more seamless than in the past. ZDNet reports: The 10-second snapshots of Earth from space over 32 years captures urban sprawl, deforestation and reforestation, receding glaciers, and major engineering feats, such as the Oresund Bridge connecting Denmark to Sweden, or the spread of the Alberta Tar Sands in Canada. Google Earth engine program manager, Chris Herwig says it created the new "annual mosaics" by stitching together 33 images of the Earth, each representing one year. Each image contains 3.95 trillion pixels, cherry-picked from an original set of three quadrillion pixels. "Using Google Earth Engine, we sifted through about three quadrillion pixels, that's three followed by 15 zeroes, from more than 5,000,000 satellite images," Herwig said. "We took the best of all those pixels to create 33 images of the entire planet, one for each year. We then encoded these new 3.95-terapixel global images into just over 25,000,000 overlapping multi-resolution video tiles, made interactively explorable by Carnegie Mellon CREATE Lab's Time Machine library, a technology for creating and viewing zoomable and pannable time-lapses over space and time." The satellite images come from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and US Geological Survey. Since 2015, they also contain some data from the European Space Agency's Copernicus Program and its Sentinel-2A satellite.
Privacy

Uber Wants To Track Your Location Even When You're Not Using the App, Here's Why (businessinsider.com) 130

With the most recent update to Uber's ride-hailing app, the company has begun requesting users if they are willing to share their location data with Uber app even while the app is not in use. The company says it plans to use the data gained to improve user experience -- including offering improved pick-up times and locations. From an article on Business Insider: In August the company moved away from using Google Maps for its service and began using its own mapping technology. Google's lack of accuracy in many non-Western countries led to increased friction between consumers and drivers. This means the company needs to boost the amount of location data it has. Location data could also be used to provide new channels of revenue for the digital platform. This could include serving ads of local businesses or recommending nearby places of interest to users. Mobile marketing, which relies on accurate location data is a rapidly growing industry and could serve as a revenue windfall for Uber in the years ahead as it faces increasing competition. In fact, revenue from location-targeted mobile ads is expected to grow at an annualized rate of almost 34% between 2014 and 2019, surpassing $18 billion, according to a forecast from BIA/Kelsey.
Android

More Than 1 Million Android Devices Rooted By Gooligan Malware (onthewire.io) 42

Reader Trailrunner7 writes: A new version of an existing piece of malware has emerged in some third-party Android app stores and researchers say it has infected more than a million devices around the world, giving the attackers full access to victims' Google accounts in the process. The malware campaign, known as Gooligan, is a variant of older malware called Ghost Push that has been found in many malicious apps. Researchers at Check Point recently discovered several dozen apps, mainly in third-party app stores, that contain the malware, which is designed to download and install other apps and generate income for the attackers through click fraud. The malware uses phantom clicks on ads to generate revenue for the attackers through pay-per-install schemes, but that's not the main concern for victims. The Gooligan malware also employs exploits that take advantage of several known vulnerabilities in older versions of Android, including Kit Kat and Lollipop to install a rootlet that is capable of stealing users' Google credentials.Although the malware has full remote access to infected devices, it doesn't appear to be stealing user data, but rather is content to go the click-fraud route. Most users are being infected through the installation of apps that appear to be legitimate but contain the Gooligan code, a familiar infection routine for mobile devices.

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