Google Opens Maps To Bring the Real World Into Games ( 48

Video games may soon look a lot more like the real world. If you've enjoyed the thrill of driving through GTA V and spying out Los Angeles landmarks, then that's a sentiment you're probably going to start feeling a lot more often while you play video games. From a report: The search firm is both opening its Maps platform's real-time data and offering new software toolkits that will help developers build games based on that data. The software includes both a kit to translate map info to the Unity game engine as well as another to help make games using that location data. The combination turns buildings and other landmarks into customizable 3D objects, and lets you manipulate those objects to fit your game world. It can replace every real hotel into an adventurer's inn, for instance, or add arbitrary points of interest for the sake of checkpoints.

Google Will Prioritize Stories for Paying News Subscribers ( 36

Google users who subscribe to newspapers will find articles from those publications appearing higher in their search results, part of the tech giant's efforts to help media companies find and retain paying readers, Bloomberg reports, citing people familiar with the matter. From the report: The Alphabet unit will also begin sharing search data that show who's most likely to buy a subscription, said the people, who asked to be anonymous because they weren't authorized to speak publicly. Google executives plan to disclose specific details at an event in New York on March 20, according to the people. Google declined to comment. The moves could help publishers better target potential digital subscribers and keep the ones they've already got by highlighting stories from the outlets they're paying for. The initiative marks the latest olive branch from Silicon Valley in its evolving relationship with media companies.

Google Will Ban All Cryptocurrency-related Advertising ( 108

Google is cracking down on cryptocurrency-related advertising. From a report: The company is updating its financial services-related ad policies to ban any advertising about cryptocurrency-related content, including initial coin offerings (ICOs), wallets, and trading advice, Google's director of sustainable ads, Scott Spencer, told CNBC. That means that even companies with legitimate cryptocurrency offerings won't be allowed to serve ads through any of Google's ad products, which place advertising on its own sites as well as third-party websites. This update will go into effect in June 2018, according to a company post. "We don't have a crystal ball to know where the future is going to go with cryptocurrencies, but we've seen enough consumer harm or potential for consumer harm that it's an area that we want to approach with extreme caution," Scott said.

Google's New 'Plus Codes' Are An Open Source, Global Alternative To Street Addresses ( 183

Google has developed a "simple and consistent addressing system that works across India and globally." Called "Plus Codes," the location-based digital addressing system is designed for people with addresses that are not easily located through conventional descriptors like street names or house numbers. That's half of the world's urban population, according to a World Bank estimate. 9to5Google reports: Notably, this open source solution composed of 10 characters works globally and can be incorporated by other products and platforms for free, with a developer page available here. It works offline and on print when overlaid as a grid on existing maps. Places that are close together share similar plus codes, while the system is identifiable by the "+" symbol in every address. "This system is based on dividing the geographical surface of the Earth into tiny 'tiled areas,' attributing a unique code to each of them," reports Google. "This code simply comprises a '6-character + City' format that can be generated, shared and searched by anyone -- all that's needed is Google Maps on a smartphone."

The first four characters are the area code, describing a region of roughly 100 x 100 kilometers. The last six characters are the local code, describing the neighborhood and the building, an area of roughly 14 x 14 meters -- about the size of one half of a basketball court. The area code is not needed when navigating within a town, while another optional character can be appended to provide additional accuracy down to a 3 x 3 meter region. Users of Google Maps in India will be able to easily find the plus code for any area in the app, while the mapping service along with Search will support the entry of the new coordinate system. Plus codes for any location can also be found with this tool.


Mozilla Working On In-Page Popup Blocker For Firefox ( 53

Firefox is working on a blocker for annoying in-page alerts that often ask you to input your email address to receive a newsletter from the site. "The feature is still in the planning stages, but Mozilla is asking users for any examples of sites with annoying pop-ups," reports Android Police. "Mozilla wants to make Firefox automatically detect and dismiss the popups." From the report: If you know of sites that use in-page popups (whether it be newsletter signups, surveys, or something else), you can fill out the survey here. There are also Firefox and Chrome extensions that make the process easier. I'll be interested to see how Mozilla pulls this off, it will no doubt be difficult to detect the difference between helpful and not-helpful popups.

A Chatbot Can Now Offer You Protection Against Volatile Airline Prices ( 24

The same bot, DoNotPay, that helped users overturn parking tickets and sue Equifax for small sums of money is now offering you protection against volatile airline prices. The Verge reports: Joshua Browder, a junior at Stanford University, designed the new service on the bot in a few months, after experiencing rapidly fluctuating airline prices when flying to California during the wildfires last year. "It annoyed me that every single flight, I could be paying sometimes double or even triple the person next to me in the same type of seat," he told The Verge. Browder first used the service himself and then tested it among his friends in a closed beta. He claims that the average amount saved among the beta testers is $450 a year, though it's not clear how many flights were booked and how much they cost. The service is available to the public starting today. To use it, log in with a Google account, input your phone number, birthday, and credit card information through Stripe. (Browder swears the credit card information won't be stored.) Then the chatbot tells you you're all set. Now, every time you buy airline tickets, whether from an airline's site or a third party, the chatbot will help make sure you pay the lowest price for your class and seat.

Developers Love Trendy New Languages, But Earn More With Functional Programming: Stack Overflow's Annual Survey ( 111

Stack Overflow has released the results of its annual survey of 100,000 developers, revealing the most-popular, top-earning, and preferred programming languages. ArsTechnica: JavaScript remains the most widely used programming language among professional developers, making that six years at the top for the lingua franca of Web development. Other Web tech including HTML (#2 in the ranking), CSS (#3), and PHP (#9). Business-oriented languages were also in wide use, with SQL at #4, Java at #5, and C# at #8. Shell scripting made a surprising showing at #6 (having not shown up at all in past years, which suggests that the questions have changed year-to-year), Python appeared at #7, and systems programming stalwart C++ rounded out the top 10.

These aren't, however, the languages that developers necessarily want to use. Only three languages from the most-used top ten were in the most-loved list; Python (#3), JavaScript (#7), and C# (#8). For the third year running, that list was topped by Rust, the new systems programming language developed by Mozilla. Second on the list was Kotlin, which wasn't even in the top 20 last year. This new interest is likely due to Google's decision last year to bless the language as an official development language for Android. TypeScript, Microsoft's better JavaScript than JavaScript comes in at fourth, with Google's Go language coming in at fifth. Smalltalk, last year's second-most loved, is nowhere to be seen this time around. These languages may be well-liked, but it looks as if the big money is elsewhere. Globally, F# and OCaml are the top average earners, and in the US, Erlang, Scala, and OCaml are the ones to aim for. Visual Basic 6, Cobol, and CoffeeScript were the top three most-dreaded, which is news that will surprise nobody who is still maintaining Visual Basic 6 applications thousands of years after they were originally written.


Google and Ubisoft Are Teaming Up To Improve Online Multi-Player Video Games ( 52

Google and Ubisoft announced on Tuesday they have a new project intended to improve the performance of fast-paced, online multi-player video games. From a report: The search giant said it teamed with Ubisoft -- the publisher of popular video games like Assassin's Creed and Far Cry -- to create a gaming developer framework intended for coders that work on online video games. The project is called Agones, which is Greek for "contest" or "gathering," and it will be available in open-source, meaning developers can use it for free and also contribute to the underlying technology. Google pitches Agones as a more cutting-edge way for developers to build multi-player games that don't crash or stutter when thousands of video gamers play at the same time.

Each time people want to play their favorite first-person shooter or other computer resource-heavy online video game with others, the underlying infrastructure that powers the online video game must create a special gaming server that hosts the players. The Agones framework was designed to more efficiently distribute the computing resources necessary to support each online gaming match, thus reducing the complexity of creating each special server while helping coders better track how the computing resources are being used.


Media Reports About a Massive Geomagnetic Storm Hitting Earth on March 18 Are Inaccurate, NOAA Says ( 50

Several news outlets this week are reporting that Earth is expecting a "massive magnetic storm" on March 18. Yeah, so that's not happening, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) told Newsweek and other outlets. From a report: And they would know: Not only does NOAA help people build forecasts for weather here on Earth, they also predict space weather events like geomagnetic storms. "This story is not plausible in any way, shape or form," Bob Rutledge, who leads NOAA's Space Weather Forecast Center, told Newsweek via e-mail. "Things are all quiet for space weather, and the sun is essentially spotless." The magnetic storm's "imminent" arrival was one of Monday morning's top science news stories, according to Google News. But most coverage appeared to be based on a misinterpretation of a chart posted on Russia's Lebedev Institute's website showing a minor uptick in geomagnetic activity on the 18th. That elevated activity is expected to be a minor storm at most.
The Internet

Reddit and the Struggle To Detoxify the Internet ( 404

In an article published on The New Yorker this week, Andrew Marantz discusses the state of free speech on the Web and takes a look at Reddit, the internet's fourth-most-popular site, after Google, YouTube, and Facebook. Some excerpts from the story: On November 23, 2016, shortly after President Trump's election, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman was at his desk, in San Francisco, perusing the site. It was the day before Thanksgiving. Reddit's administrators had just deleted a subreddit called r/Pizzagate, a forum for people who believed that high-ranking staffers of Hillary Clinton's Presidential campaign, and possibly Clinton herself, were trafficking child sex slaves. The reason for the ban, according to Reddit's administrators, was not the beliefs of people on the subreddit, but the way they'd behaved -- specifically, their insistence on publishing their enemies' private phone numbers and addresses, a clear violation of Reddit's rules. [...] Some of the conspiracy theorists left Reddit and reunited on Voat, a site made by and for the users that Reddit sloughs off. Other Pizzagaters stayed and regrouped on r/The_Donald, a popular pro-Trump subreddit. Throughout the Presidential campaign, The_Donald was a hive of Trump boosterism. By this time, it had become a hermetic subculture, full of inside jokes and ugly rhetoric. The community's most frequent commenters, like the man they'd helped propel to the Presidency, were experts at testing boundaries. Within minutes, they started to express their outrage that Pizzagate had been deleted.

Redditors are pseudonymous, and their pseudonyms are sometimes prefaced by "u," for "username." Huffman's is Spez. As he scanned The_Donald, he noticed that hundreds of the most popular comments were about him: "fuck u/spez", "u/spez is complicit in the coverup". One commenter simply wrote "u/SPEZ IS A CUCK," in bold type, a hundred and ten times in a row. Huffman, alone at his computer, wondered whether to respond. "I consider myself a troll at heart," he said later. "Making people bristle, being a little outrageous in order to add some spice to life -- I get that. I've done that." Privately, Huffman imagined The_Donald as a misguided teen-ager who wouldn't stop misbehaving. "If your little brother flicks your ear, maybe you ignore it," he said. "If he flicks your ear a hundred times, or punches you, then maybe you give him a little smack to show you're paying attention."

Although redditors didn't yet know it, Huffman could edit any part of the site. He wrote a script that would automatically replace his username with those of The_Donald's most prominent members, directing the insults back at the insulters in real time: in one comment, "Fuck u/Spez" became "Fuck u/Trumpshaker"; in another, "Fuck u/Spez" became "Fuck u/MAGAdocious." The_Donald's users saw what was happening, and they reacted by spinning a conspiracy theory that, in this case, turned out to be true. "Manipulating the words of your users is fucked," a commenter wrote.


Firefox 59, 'By Far the Biggest Update Since Firefox 1.0', Arrives With Faster Page Loads and Improved Private Browsing ( 103

An anonymous reader shares a VentureBeat report: Mozilla today launched Firefox 59 for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android. The release builds on Firefox Quantum, which the company calls "by far the biggest update since Firefox 1.0 in 2004." Version 59 brings faster page load times, private browsing mode that strips path information, and Android Assist. In related news, Mozilla is giving Amazon Fire TV owners a new design later this week that lets them save their preferred websites by pinning them to the Firefox home screen. Enterprise users also have something to look forward to: On Wednesday, Firefox Quantum for Enterprise is entering the beta phase. Firefox 59 for the desktop is available for download now on, and all existing users should be able to upgrade to it automatically. As always, the Android version is trickling out slowly on Google Play.

Larry Page's Flying Taxis, Now Exiting Stealth Mode ( 100

Google co-founder and Alphabet CEO Larry Page's autonomous flying taxi company Kitty Hawk on Tuesday unveiled its "fully electric, self-piloting flying taxi" called Cora. Since October, Cora has been seen moving through the skies over the South Island of New Zealand. It looks like a cross between a small plane and a drone, with a series of small rotor blades along each wing that allow it to take off like a helicopter and then fly like a plane. The New York Times reports: Now that project is about to go public: On Tuesday, Mr. Page's company and the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, will announce they have reached an agreement to test Kitty Hawk's autonomous planes as part of an official certification process. The hope is that it will lead to a commercial network of flying taxis in New Zealand in as soon as three years. The move is a big step forward in the commercialization of this technology, which even the most optimistic prognosticators had recently bet would take another decade to achieve. The decision to embrace the commercial use of flying taxis offers New Zealand an opportunity to leapfrog many developed countries in this area, and perhaps give it a head start over Silicon Valley, where much of the most innovative work has been taking place.

Google To Reveal 'World's Highest Resolution OLED-On-Glass Display' For VR Headsets ( 77

An anonymous reader writes: Last year at SID Display Week 2017, Google's VP of VR/AR teased a "secret project" that the company was working on -- a VR-optimized OLED panel capable of 20 megapixels per eye -- which was being undertaken with "one of the leading OLED manufacturers." This year, the schedule for SID Display Week 2018 indicates that Google plans to reveal its made-for-VR panel on May 22nd, which it calls the "world's highest resolution (18 megapixel, 1443 ppi) OLED-on-glass display." The company plans to detail the display in a presentation at the event, which will be co-presented with engineers from LG, suggesting the identity of the second partner on the project. Ideal for VR, the 4.3-inch panel is capable of 120Hz refresh rate and is expected to have a resolution of some 5,500 by 3,000, representing a massive leap over today's leading VR panels which offer 1,600 by 1,440 resolutions at 90Hz.

JavaScript Rules But Microsoft Programming Languages Are On the Rise ( 141

Microsoft languages seem to be hitting the right note with coders across ops, data science, and app development. From a report: JavaScript remains the most popular programming language, but two offerings from Microsoft are steadily gaining, according to developer-focused analyst firm RedMonk's first quarter 2018 ranking. RedMonk's rankings are based on pull requests in GitHub, as well as an approximate count of how many times a language is tagged on developer knowledge-sharing site Stack Overflow. Based on these figures, RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady reckons JavaScript is the most popular language today as it was last year. In fact, nothing has changed in RedMonk's top 10 list with the exception of Apple's Swift rising to join its predecessor, Objective C, in 10th place. The top 10 programming languages in descending order are JavaScript, Java, Python, C#, C++, CSS, Ruby, and C, with Swift and Objective-C in tenth.

TIOBE's top programming language index for March consists of many of the same top 10 languages though in a different order, with Java in top spot, followed by C, C++, Python, C#, Visual Basic .NET, PHP, JavaScript, Ruby, and SQL. These and other popularity rankings are meant to help developers see which skills they should be developing. Outside the RedMonk top 10, O'Grady highlights a few notable changes, including an apparent flattening-out in the rapid ascent of Google's back-end system language, Go.


YouTube, the Great Radicalizer ( 211

Zeynep Tufekci, writing for the New York Times: Before long, I was being directed to videos of a leftish conspiratorial cast, including arguments about the existence of secret government agencies and allegations that the United States government was behind the attacks of Sept. 11. As with the Trump videos, YouTube was recommending content that was more and more extreme than the mainstream political fare I had started with. Intrigued, I experimented with nonpolitical topics. The same basic pattern emerged. Videos about vegetarianism led to videos about veganism. Videos about jogging led to videos about running ultramarathons. It seems as if you are never "hard core" enough for YouTube's recommendation algorithm. It promotes, recommends and disseminates videos in a manner that appears to constantly up the stakes. Given its billion or so users, YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century.

This is not because a cabal of YouTube engineers is plotting to drive the world off a cliff. A more likely explanation has to do with the nexus of artificial intelligence and Google's business model. (YouTube is owned by Google.) For all its lofty rhetoric, Google is an advertising broker, selling our attention to companies that will pay for it. The longer people stay on YouTube, the more money Google makes. What keeps people glued to YouTube? Its algorithm seems to have concluded that people are drawn to content that is more extreme than what they started with -- or to incendiary content in general. Is this suspicion correct? Good data is hard to come by; Google is loath to share information with independent researchers. But we now have the first inklings of confirmation, thanks in part to a former Google engineer named Guillaume Chaslot. Mr. Chaslot worked on the recommender algorithm while at YouTube. He grew alarmed at the tactics used to increase the time people spent on the site. Google fired him in 2013, citing his job performance. He maintains the real reason was that he pushed too hard for changes in how the company handles such issues.


Netflix's Secrets to Success: Six Cell Towers, Dubbing and More ( 78

Variety gets access to the people at Netflix who take care of the tech: Netflix has its own cell towers. Netflix wants to test its app running on mobile devices under a variety of conditions available around the world, so the company decided to bring the operating equipment of six cell towers to its Los Gatos offices. "Minus the towers," quipped Scott Ryder, the company's director of mobile streaming. The cell tower equipment is housed in the company's mobile device lab, where they are joined by a number of cabinets that look like fancy Netflix-themed fridges, but in reality are Faraday cage-like boxes to suppress any outside interference, and also make sure that those experimental cell towers don't mess up phone reception on the rest of the campus. Each of these boxes can house dozens of devices, and emulate certain mobile or Wi-Fi conditions. "We can make a box look like India, we can make a box look like the Netherlands," Ryder said. Altogether, Netflix runs over 125,000 tests in its mobile lab every single day.[...]

Netflix just re-encoded its entire catalog, again. To optimize videos for mobile viewing, Netflix recently re-encoded its entire catalog on a per-scene basis. "We segment the videos into shots, we analyze the video per shot," said the company's director of video algorithms Anne Aaron. Now, an action scene in a show may stream at a higher bit rate than a scene featuring a slow monologue -- and users with limited bandwidth are set to save a lot of data. A few years back, 4 GB of mobile data would get you just about 10 hours of Netflix video, said Aaron. Now, members can watch up to 26 hours while consuming the same amount of data. Netflix previously re-encoded its entire catalog on a per-title basis, which already allowed it to stream animated shows at much lower bitrates than action movies with a lot of visual complexity. The next step for the company will be to adopt AV1, an advanced video codec developed by an alliance of companies that also includes Apple, Amazon, and Google. Aaron said Netflix could start streaming in AV1 before the end of this year, with Chrome browsers likely being first in line to receive AV1 streams.


Google Maps Apps Add 'Mario Kart' Feature ( 35

An anonymous reader quotes WLWT News: Starting Saturday, "Mario Time" will be available on the Google Maps app for iOS and Android, letting you drive around town with Mario as your guide, cruising the app in a go-kart similar to the iconic "Mario Kart" video game. When users launch the latest version of the app, the feature is activated by tapping a "?" beside the start button normally used to start navigation.
It includes sound effects -- "Woo-hoo! Let's-a go!" says Mario -- and will be available for the next week. It's to commemorate "Mario Day" -- Mar.10 -- that magical time of year one Portland newspaper has described as "the most manufactured of corporate holidays," on which Nintendo lowers the price on their Super Mario Run app and offers other discounts.

Massive DDOS Attacks Are Now Targeting Google, Amazon, and the NRA ( 121

PC Magazine reports: A new way to amplify DDoS attacks has been spotted harassing Google, Amazon, Pornhub and even the National Rifle Association's main website after striking Github last week. The attacks, which exploit vulnerable "memcached servers," have been trying to hose down scores of new targets with a flood of internet traffic, according to Chinese security firm Qihoo 360... Github was the first high-profile victim and suffered a 1.35 Tbps assault -- or what was then the biggest DDoS attack on record. But days later, an unnamed U.S. service provider fended off a separate assault, which measured at 1.7 Tbps. Unfortunately, the amplified DDoS attacks haven't stopped. They've gone on to strike over 7,000 unique IP addresses in the last seven days, Qihoo 360 said in a blog post... Gaming sites including,, and have been among those hit...

The security community is also steadily addressing the linchpin to all the assaults: the vulnerable memcached servers. About 100,000 of these online storage systems were publicly exposed over a week ago. But the server owners have since patched or firewalled about 60,000 of them, Radware security researcher Daniel Smith said. That leaves 40,000 servers open to exploitation. Smith points to how the coding behind the attack technique has started to circulate online through free tools and scripts.

Meanwhile, Slashdot reader darthcamaro shares an article about "the so-call 'kill switch'" that some vendors have been debating: "The 'kill switch' was immediately obvious to everyone who worked on mitigating this DDoS attack," John Graham-Cumming, CTO of CloudFlare said. "We chose not to use or test this method because it would be unethical and likely illegal since it alters the state of a remote machine without authorization."

SgxSpectre Attack Can Extract Data From Intel SGX Enclaves ( 28

An anonymous reader quotes BleepingComputer: A new variation of the Spectre attack has been revealed this week by six scientists from the Ohio State University. Named SgxSpectre, researchers say this attack can extract information from Intel SGX enclaves. Intel Software Guard eXtensions (SGX) is a feature of modern Intel processors that allow an application to create so-called enclaves. This enclave is a hardware-isolated section of the CPU's processing memory where applications can run operations that deal with extremely sensitive details, such as encryption keys, passwords, user data, and more... Neither Meltdown and Spectre were able to extract data from SGX enclaves. This is where SgxSpectre comes in.

According to researchers, SgxSpectre works because of specific code patterns in software libraries that allow developers to implement SGX support into their apps. Vulnerable SGX development kits include the Intel SGX SDK, Rust-SGX, and Graphene-SGX. Academics say an attacker can leverage the repetitive code execution patterns that these SDKs introduce in SGX enclaves and watch for small variations of cache size. This allows for side-channel attacks that allow a threat actor to infer and slowly recover data from secure enclaves.

Intel's recent Spectre patches don't necessarily help, as an attacker can work around these fixes. Intel says an update for the Intel SGX SDK that adds SgxSpectre mitigations will be released on March 16. Apps that implement Google's Retpoline anti-Spectre coding techniques are safe, researchers say.


Project Gutenberg Blocks German Users After Outrageous Court Ruling ( 263

Slashdot reader David Rothman writes: The oldest public domain publisher in the world, Project Gutenberg, has blocked German users after an outrageous legal ruling saying this American nonprofit must obey German copyright law... Imagine the technical issues for fragile, cash-strapped public domain organizations -- worrying not only about updated databases covering all the world's countries, but also applying the results to distribution. TeleRead carries two views on the German case involving a Holtzbrinck subsidiary...

Significantly, older books provide just a tiny fraction of the revenue of megaconglomerates like Holtzbrinck but are essential to students of literature and indeed to students in general. What's more, as illustrated by the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in the U.S., copyright law in most countries tends to reflect the wishes and power of lobbyists more than it does the commonweal. Ideally the travails of Project Gutenberg will encourage tech companies, students, teachers, librarians and others to step up their efforts against oppressive copyright laws. While writers and publishers deserve fair compensation, let's focus more on the needs of living creators and less on the estates of authors dead for many decades. The three authors involved in the German case are Heinrich Mann (died in 1950), Thomas Mann (1955) and Alfred Döblin (1957).

One solution in the U.S. and elsewhere for modern creators would be national library endowments... Meanwhile, it would be very fitting for Google and other deep-pocketed corporations with an interest in a global Internet and more balanced copyright to help Gutenberg finance its battle. Law schools, other academics, educators and librarians should also offer assistance.

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