Canada

People Hate Canada's New 'Amber Alert' System (www.cbc.ca) 271

The CBC reports: When the siren-like sounds from an Amber Alert rang out on cellular phones across Ontario on Monday, it sparked a bit of a backlash against Canada's new mobile emergency alert system. The Ontario Provincial Police had issued the alert for a missing eight-year-old boy in the Thunder Bay region. (The boy has since been found safe)... On social media, people startled by the alerts complained about the number of alerts they received and that they had received separate alerts in English and French... Meanwhile, others who were located far from the incident felt that receiving the alert was pointless. "I've received two Amber Alerts today for Thunder Bay, which is 15 hours away from Toronto by car," tweeted Molly Sauter. "Congrats, you have trained me to ignore Emergency Alerts...."

The CRTC ordered wireless providers to implement the system to distribute warnings of imminent safety threats such as tornadoes, floods, Amber Alerts or terrorist threats. Telecom companies had favoured an opt-out option or the ability to disable the alarm for some types of alerts. But this was rejected by the broadcasting and telecommunications regulator. Individuals concerned about receiving these alerts are left with a couple of options: they can turn off their phone -- it will not be forced on by the alert -- or mute their phone so they won't hear it.

Long-time Slashdot reader knorthern knight complains that the first two alerts-- one in English, followed by one in French -- were then followed by a third (bi-lingual) alert advising recipients to ignore the previous two alerts, since the missing child had been found.
Privacy

'I Asked Apple for All My Data. Here's What Was Sent Back' (zdnet.com) 160

"I asked Apple to give me all the data it's collected on me since I first became a customer in 2010," writes the security editor for ZDNet, "with the purchase of my first iPhone." That was nearly a decade ago. As most tech companies have grown in size, they began collecting more and more data on users and customers -- even on non-users and non-customers... Apple took a little over a week to send me all the data it's collected on me, amounting to almost two dozen Excel spreadsheets at just 5MB in total -- roughly the equivalent of a high-quality photo snapped on my iPhone. Facebook, Google, and Twitter all took a few minutes to an hour to send me all the data they store on me -- ranging from a few hundred megabytes to a couple of gigabytes in size...

The zip file contained mostly Excel spreadsheets, packed with information that Apple stores about me. None of the files contained content information -- like text messages and photos -- but they do contain metadata, like when and who I messaged or called on FaceTime. Apple says that any data information it collects on you is yours to have if you want it, but as of yet, it doesn't turn over your content which is largely stored on your slew of Apple devices. That's set to change later this year... And, of the data it collects to power Siri, Maps, and News, it does so anonymously -- Apple can't attribute that data to the device owner... One spreadsheet -- handily -- contained explanations for all the data fields, which we've uploaded here...

[T]here's really not much to it. As insightful as it was, Apple's treasure trove of my personal data is a drop in the ocean to what social networks or search giants have on me, because Apple is primarily a hardware maker and not ad-driven, like Facebook and Google, which use your data to pitch you ads.

CNET explains how to request your own data from Apple.
Businesses

Data Science is America's Hottest Job (bloomberg.com) 78

Anonymous readers share a report: It turns out that even in the wake of Facebook's privacy scandal and other big-data blunders, finding people who can turn social-media clicks and user-posted photos into monetizable binary code is among the biggest challenges facing U.S. industry. People with data science bona fides are among the most sought-after professionals in business, with some data science Ph.Ds commanding as much as $300,000 or more from consulting firms.

Job postings for data scientists rose 75 percent from January 2015 to January 2018 at Indeed.com, while job searches for data scientist roles rose 65 percent. A growing specialty is "sentiment analysis," or finding a way to quantify how many tweets are trashing your company or praising it. A typical data scientist job pays about $119,000 at the midpoint of salaries and rises to $168,000 at the 95th percentile, according to staffing agency Robert Half Technology.

Facebook

Facebook's Android App Is Asking for Superuser Privileges, Users Say (bleepingcomputer.com) 182

Catalin Cimpanu, reporting for BleepingComputer: The Facebook Android app is asking for superuser permissions, and a bunch of users are freaking out about granting the Facebook app full access to their device, an understandable reaction following the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal. "Grants full access to your device," read the prompts while asking users for superuser permissions. These popups originate from the official Facebook Android app (com.facebook.katana) and are started appearing last night [UTC timezone], continuing throughout the day. Panicked users took to social media, Reddit, and Android-themed forums to share screengrabs of these suspicious popups and ask for advice on what's going on.
Music

'Yanny vs. Laurel' Reveals Flaws In How We Listen To Audio (theproaudiofiles.com) 231

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few days, you've probably heard about the controversy over "Yanny" and "Laurel." The internet has been abuzz over an audio clip in which the name being said depends on the listener. Some hear "Laurel" while others hear "Yanny." Ian Vargo, an audio enthusiast who spends most of his working hours of the day listening to and editing audio, helps explain why we hear the name that we do: Human speech is actually composed of many frequencies, in part because we have a resonant chest cavity which creates lower frequencies, and the throat and mouth which creates higher frequencies. The word "laurel" contains a combination of both which are therefore present in the original recording at vocabulary.com, but the clip that you most likely heard has accentuated higher frequencies due to imperfections in the audio that were created by data compression. To make it worse, the playback device that many people first heard the audio clip playing out of was probably a speaker system built into a cellular phone, which is too small to accurately recreate low frequencies.

This helpful interactive tool from The New York Times allows you to use a slider to more clearly hear one or the other. Pitch shifting the audio clip up seems to accentuate "laurel" whereas shifting it down accentuates "yanny." In summary, this perfect storm of the human voice creating both low and high frequencies, the audio clip having been subject to data compression used to create smaller, more convenient files, and our tendency to listen out of devices with subpar playback components lead to an apparent near-even split of the population hearing "laurel" or "yanny."

Advertising

Ads Are Coming To Facebook Stories (techcrunch.com) 31

Facebook Stories has reached 150 million daily active users after launching nearly 14 months ago. So what's the next logical step after reaching such a milestone? Advertisements. According to TechCrunch, Facebook Stories will start testing its first ads today in the U.S., Mexico and Brazil. From the report: They're 5- to 15-second video ads users can skip, and while there's no click-through or call to action now, Facebook plans to add that in the coming months. Advertisers can easily extend their Instagram Stories ads to this new surface, or have Facebook automatically reformat their News Feed ads with color-matched borders and text at the bottom. Facebook also plans to give businesses more metrics on their Stories performance to convince them the feature is worth their ad dollars.
AI

NYC Announces Plans To Test Algorithms For Bias (betanews.com) 77

The mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, has announced the formation of a new task force to examine the fairness of the algorithms used in the city's automated systems. From a report: The Automated Decision Systems Task Force will review algorithms that are in use to determine that they are free from bias. Representatives from the Department of Social Services, the NYC Police Department, the Department of Transportation, the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, the Administration for Children's Services, and the Department of Education will be involved, and the aim is to produce a report by December 2019. However, it may be some time before the task force has any sort of effect. While a report is planned for the end of next year, it will merely recommend "procedures for reviewing and assessing City algorithmic tools to ensure equity and opportunity" -- it will be a while before any recommendation might be assessed and implemented.
Google

Google's Selfish Ledger is an Unsettling Vision of Silicon Valley Social Engineering (theverge.com) 252

An anonymous reader shares a report: Google has built a multibillion-dollar business out of knowing everything about its users. Now, a video produced within Google and obtained by The Verge offers a stunningly ambitious and unsettling look at how some at the company envision using that information in the future. The video was made in late 2016 by Nick Foster, the head of design at X (formerly Google X), and shared internally within Google. It imagines a future of total data collection, where Google helps nudge users into alignment with their goals, custom-prints personalized devices to collect more data, and even guides the behavior of entire populations to solve global problems like poverty and disease.
Twitter

Twitter Will Start Hiding Tweets That 'Detract From the Conversation' (slate.com) 183

Yesterday, Twitter announced several new changes to quiet trolls and remove spam. According to Slate, the company "will begin hiding tweets from certain accounts in conversations and search results." In order to see them, you'll now have to scroll to the bottom of the conversation and click "Show more replies," or go into your search settings and choose "See everything." From the report: When Twitter's software decides that a certain user is "detract[ing] from the conversation," all of that user's tweets will be hidden from search results and public conversations until their reputation improves. And they won't know that they're being muted in this way; Twitter says it's still working on ways to notify people and help them get back into its good graces. In the meantime, their tweets will still be visible to their followers as usual and will still be able to be retweeted by others. They just won't show up in conversational threads or search results by default. The change will affect a very small fraction of users, explained Twitter's vice president of trust and safety, Del Harvey -- much less than 1 percent. Still, the company believes it could make a significant difference in the average user's experience. In early testing of the new feature, Twitter said it has seen a 4 percent drop in abuse reports in its search tool and an 8 percent drop in abuse reports in conversation threads.
Facebook

Justice Department, FBI Are Investigating Cambridge Analytica (cbsnews.com) 139

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CBS News: The Justice Department and FBI are investigating Cambridge Analytica, the now-shuttered political data firm that was once used by the Trump campaign and came under scrutiny for harvesting data of millions of users, The New York Times reported on Tuesday. The Times, citing a U.S. official and people familiar with the inquiry, reported federal investigators have looked to question former employees and banks connected to the firm.

The Times reports prosecutors have informed potential witnesses there is an open investigation into the firm, whose profiles of voters were intended to help with elections. One source tells CBS News correspondent Paula Reid prosecutors are investigating the firm for possible financial crimes. A company that has that much regulatory scrutiny is almost guaranteed to have federal prosecutors interested, Reid was told. Christopher Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica employee who spoke out about the data sharing practices, told the Times federal investigators had contacted him. The American official told the Times investigators have also contacted Facebook as a part of the probe.

Youtube

YouTube Might Finally Get An Incognito Mode (androidpolice.com) 61

Currently, you can head to the "History and Privacy" settings in YouTube and toggle on the options to pause watch and search history if you don't want the site to track your searches and watched videos, but that can be a bit complicated each time you want to search for something weird. According to Android Police, "YouTube will make it a little easier to go into incognito without digging into many settings and without having to disable it later." A new "Incognito Mode" will appear when you tap your account avatar in the top right of the app. From the report: With "Incognito Mode" on, all your activity from the current session is not saved and subscriptions are hidden too. It's as if you were signed out without being so, and there's a neat incognito icon replacing your avatar. If you turn off Incognito or become inactive on YouTube, you'll be back to using your own account.
Facebook

Facebook Deleted 583 Million Fake Accounts in the First Three Months of 2018 (cnet.com) 75

Facebook said Tuesday that it had removed more than half a billion fake accounts and millions of pieces of other violent, hateful or obscene content over the first three months of 2018. From a report: In a blog post on Facebook, Guy Rosen, Facebook's vice president of product management, said the social network disabled about 583 million fake accounts during the first three months of this year -- the majority of which, it said, were blocked within minutes of registration. That's an average of over 6.5 million attempts to create a fake account every day from Jan. 1 to March 31. Facebook boasts 2.2 billion monthly active users, and if Facebook's AI tools didn't catch these fake accounts flooding the social network, its population would have swelled immensely in just 89 days.
Ubuntu

Canonical Addresses Ubuntu Linux Snap Store's 'Security Failure' (betanews.com) 79

Last week, an app on the Ubuntu Snap Store caused a stir when it was found to be riddled with a script that is programmed to mine cryptocurrency, a phenomenon whose traces has been found in several popular application stores in the recent months. Canonical promptly pulled the app from the store, but offered little explanation at the time. On Tuesday, Ubuntu-maker addressed the matter in detail. From a report: The big question is whether or not this is really malware. Canonical also pondered this and says the following. "The first question worth asking, in this case, is whether the publisher was in fact doing anything wrong, considering that mining cryptocurrency is not illegal or unethical by itself. That perspective was indeed taken by the publisher in question here, who informed us that the goal was to monetize software published under licenses that allow it, unaware of the social or technical consequences," the company wrote in a blog post.

"The publisher offered to stop doing that once contacted. Of course, it is misleading if there is no indication of the secondary purpose of the application. That's in fact why the application was taken down in the store. There are no rules against mining cryptocurrencies, but misleading users is a problem," it added.

Unfortunately, Canonical concedes that it simply doesn't have the resources to review all code submitted to the Snap Store. Instead, it puts the onus on the user to do their due diligence by investigating the developer before deciding to trust them.

Facebook

Facebook Faulted By Judge For 'Troubling Theme' In Privacy Case (bloomberg.com) 61

schwit1 quotes a report from Bloomberg: A judge scolded Facebook for misconstruing his own rulings as he ordered the company to face a high-stakes trial accusing it of violating user privacy. The social media giant has misinterpreted prior court orders by continuing to assert the "faulty proposition" that users can't win their lawsuit under an Illinois biometric privacy law without proving an "actual injury," U.S. District Judge James Donato said in a ruling Monday. Likewise, the company's argument that it's immune from having to pay a minimum of $1,000, and as much as $5,000, for each violation of the law is "not a sound proposition," he said. Under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, the damages in play at a jury trial set for July 9 in San Francisco could easily reach into the billions of dollars for the millions of users whose photos were allegedly scanned without consent. Apart from his concerns about the "troubling theme" in Facebook's legal arguments, Donato ruled a trial must go forward because there are multiple factual issues in dispute, including a sharp disagreement over how the company's photo-tagging software processes human faces.
Education

Carnegie Mellon Launches Undergraduate Degree In AI (cmu.edu) 76

Earlier this week, Carnegie Mellon University announced plans to offer an undergrad degree in artificial intelligence. The news may be especially attractive for students given how much tech giants have been ramping up their AI efforts in the recent years, and how U.S. News & World Report ranked Carnegie Mellon University as the No. 1 graduate school for AI. An anonymous reader shares the announcement with us: Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science will offer a new undergraduate degree in artificial intelligence beginning this fall, providing students with in-depth knowledge of how to transform large amounts of data into actionable decisions. SCS has created the new AI degree, the first offered by a U.S. university, in response to extraordinary technical breakthroughs in AI and the growing demand by students and employers for training that prepares people for careers in AI.

The bachelor's degree program in computer science teaches students to think broadly about methods that can accomplish a wide variety of tasks across many disciplines, said Reid Simmons, research professor of robotics and computer science and director of the new AI degree program. The bachelor's degree in AI will focus more on how complex inputs -- such as vision, language and huge databases -- are used to make decisions or enhance human capabilities, he added. AI majors will receive the same solid grounding in computer science and math courses as other computer science students. In addition, they will have additional course work in AI-related subjects such as statistics and probability, computational modeling, machine learning, and symbolic computation. Simmons said the program also would include a strong emphasis on ethics and social responsibility. This will include independent study opportunities in using AI for social good, such as improving transportation, health care or education.

The Internet

Russian Fake News Ecosystem Targets Syrian Human Rights Workers (securityledger.com) 259

chicksdaddy shares a report from The Security Ledger: Kremlin linked news sites like RT and Sputnik figure prominently in an online disinformation campaign portraying Syrian humanitarian workers ("White Helmets") as terrorists and crisis actors, according to an analysis (PDF) by researchers at University of Washington and Harvard. An online "echosystem" of propaganda websites including Russia backed news outlets Sputnik and RT is attacking the credibility of humanitarian workers on the ground in rebel occupied Syria, according to a new analysis by researchers at The University of Washington and Harvard University. Online rumors circulated through so called "alternative" media sites have attacked the Syrian Civil Defense (aka "White Helmets") as "crisis actors" and Western agents working on behalf of the U.S. and NATO. Statistical analysis of the online rumors reveal a tight network of websites sharing nearly identical content via Twitter and other social media platforms, wrote Kate Starbird. Starbird is an Assistant Professor of Human Centered Design & Engineering at University of Washington and a leading expert on so-called "crisis informatics."

In activity reminiscent of the disinformation campaigns that roiled the U.S. Presidential election in 2016, articles by what Starbird describes as "a few prominent journalists and bloggers" writing for self described "alternative" news sites like 21stCenturyWire, GlobalResearch, MintPressNews, and ActivistPost are picked up by other, smaller and more niche websites including both left- and right-leaning partisan news sites, "clickbait sites," and conspiracy theory websites. Government funded media outlets from Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Russia figure prominently in the Syrian disinformation campaign, Starbird's team found. In particular, "Russian government-funded media outlets (i.e. SputnikNews and RT) play a prominent and multi-faceted role within this ecosystem," she wrote.

Microsoft

Microsoft Turned Customers Against the Skype Brand (bloomberg.com) 135

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Since acquiring Skype from private equity investors, Microsoft has refocused the online calling service on the corporate market, a change that has made Skype less intuitive and harder to use, prompting many Skypers to defect to similar services operated by Apple, Google, Facebook and Snap. The company hasn't updated the number of Skype users since 2016, when it put the total at 300 million. Some analysts suspect the numbers are flat at best, and two former employees describe a general sense of panic that they're actually falling. The ex-Microsofters, who requested anonymity to discuss confidential statistics, say that as late as 2017 they never heard a figure higher than 300 million discussed internally.

Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella has repeatedly said he wants the company's products to be widely used and loved. By turning Skype into a key part of its lucrative Office suite for corporate customers, Microsoft is threatening what made it appealing to regular folks in the first place. [...] Focusing on corporations was a reasonable strategy and one shared by Skype's prior management. Originally [former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer] and company pledged to let Skype operate independently from Lync, Microsoft's nascent internet phone service for corporations. But two years later the company began merging the two into Skype for Business and folded that into Office. Today, Microsoft is using Skype for Business to help sell subscriptions to its cloud-based Office 365 and steal customers from Cisco. Microsoft has essentially turned Skype into a replacement for a corporate telephone system -- with a few modern features borrowed from instant messaging, artificial intelligence and social networking.
In closing, Bloomberg argues "the complexity of the corporate software (security, search, and the ability to host town halls) crowds out the simplicity consumers prefer (ease-of-use and decent call quality)."
Youtube

YouTube Rolls Out New Tools To Help You Stop Watching (techcrunch.com) 26

At its Google I/O conference this week, YouTube announced a series of new controls that will allow users to set limits on their viewing, and then receive reminders telling them to "take a break." "The feature is rolling out now in the latest version of YouTube's app, along with others that limit YouTube's ability to send notifications, and soon, one that gives users an overview of their binge behavior so they can make better-informed decisions about their viewing habits," reports TechCrunch. From the report: With "Take a Break," available from YouTube's mobile app Settings screen, users can set a reminder to appear every 15, 30, 60, 90 or 180 minutes, at which point the video will pause. You can then choose to dismiss the reminder and keep watching, or close the app.

Also new is a feature that lets you disable notification sounds during a specified time period each day -- say, for example, from bedtime until the next morning. When users turn on the setting to disable notifications, it will, by default, disable them from 10 PM to 8 AM local time, but this can be changed. Combined with this is an option to get a scheduled digest of notifications as an alternative. And YouTube is preparing to roll out a "time watched profile" that will appear in the Account menu and display your daily average watch time, and how long you've watched YouTube videos today, yesterday and over the past week, along with a set of tools to help you manage your viewing habits.

Facebook

Facebook Plans To Create Its Own Cryptocurrency: Report (cheddar.com) 90

Facebook is "very serious" about launching its own cryptocurrency, news outlet Cheddar reported Friday. It's not the first time the idea of a Facebook coin has been floated, but it seems more apparent now in wake of Facebook's reshuffled executive structure and newly formed blockchain group. From the report: Facebook started studying blockchain almost a year ago, when a member of its corporate development team, Morgan Beller, began looking at how the social platform could use the emerging technology. At the time, Beller was the only Facebook employee devoted to studying blockchain, the digital and decentralized ledger that underpins cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. Her work was thrust into the spotlight this week when Facebook announced that the vice president in charge of the Messenger app, David Marcus, would lead a new team to "explore how to best leverage blockchain across Facebook, starting from scratch."
United States

US Congressmen Reveal Thousands of Facebook Ads Bought By Russian Trolls (mercurynews.com) 309

An anonymous reader writes: Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday released about 3,400 Facebook ads purchased by Russian agents around the 2016 presidential election on issues from immigration to gun control, a reminder of the complexity of the manipulation that Facebook is trying to contain ahead of the midterm elections. The ads, which span from mid-2015 to mid-2017, illustrate the extent to which Kremlin-aligned forces sought to stoke social, cultural and political unrest on one of the Web's most powerful platforms. With the help of Facebook's targeting tools, Russia's online army reached at least 146 million people on Facebook and Instagram, its photo-sharing service, with ads and other posts, including events promoting protests around the country...

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said lawmakers would continue probing Russia's online disinformation efforts. In February, Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russia and the 2016 election, indicted individuals tied to the IRA for trying to interfere in the presidential race. "They sought to harness Americans' very real frustrations and anger over sensitive political matters in order to influence American thinking, voting and behavior," Schiff said in a statement. "The only way we can begin to inoculate ourselves against a future attack is to see first-hand the types of messages, themes and imagery the Russians used to divide us...."

The documents released Thursday also reflect that Russian agents continued advertising on Facebook well after the presidential election... They marketed a page called Born Liberal to likely supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the data show, an ad that had more than 49,000 impressions into 2017. Together, the ads affirmed the fears of some lawmakers, including Republicans, that Russian agents have continued to try to influence U.S. politics even after the 2016 election. Russian agents also had created thousands of accounts on Twitter, and in January, the company revealed that it discovered more than 50,000 automated accounts, or bots, with links to Russia.

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