Cable Industry Finally Fights Cord Cutting With Fewer Ads ( 106

The cable industry is slowly realizing that more advertisements and higher prices aren't the solution to cord cutting. Karl Bode writes via DSLReports: AT&T and Dish have explored offering cheaper, more flexible streaming alternatives (DirecTV Now and Sling TV, respectively), both understanding that getting out ahead of the cord cutting trend is the right play, even if the net result is making less money from traditional television. And on the broadcasting front, several companies this month made it clear they'll be reducing the ad loads on their programming, since charging users a subscription fee and socking them with endless ads is becoming a dated concept in the cord cutting era. Fox, for example, told the Wall Street Journal this week that the company would be reducing TV ad time in its content to two minutes an hour by 2020. Comcast NBC Universal says it's also following suit, having cut advertising time in its own shows by 10%, and reduced the overall number of advertising during commercial breaks by 20%. Given there's 83 million households still subscribing to traditional cable TV, many cable executives are under the false impression they can keep doubling down on bad ideas without the check coming due. But the data indicates this head in the sand approach simply isn't sustainable. Pay TV providers saw a reduction of more than 500,000 traditional pay TV customers during the fourth quarter, a decline of 3.4% total pay TV customers from the year before. That 3.4% decline was up from the 2% rate during in the fourth quarter of 2016 and a 1% rate of decline one year before that.

China's Alibaba is Investing Huge Sums in AI Research and Resources -- and It Is Building Tools To Challenge Google and Amazon ( 30

Alibaba is already using AI and machine learning to optimize its supply chain, personalize recommendations, and build products like Tmall Genie, a home device similar to the Amazon Echo. China's two other tech supergiants, Tencent and Baidu, are likewise pouring money into AI research. The government plans to build an AI industry worth around $150 billion by 2030 and has called on the country's researchers to dominate the field by then. But Alibaba's ambition is to be the leader in providing cloud-based AI. From a report: Like cloud storage (think Dropbox) or cloud computing (Amazon Web Services), cloud AI will make powerful resources cheaply and readily available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection, enabling new kinds of businesses to grow. The real race in AI between China and the US, then, will be one between the two countries' big cloud companies, which will vie to be the provider of choice for companies and cities that want to make use of AI. And if Alibaba is anything to go by, China's tech giants are ready to compete with Google, Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft to serve up AI on tap. Which company dominates this industry will have a huge say in how AI evolves and how it is used.

[...] There have been other glimpses of Alibaba's progress in AI lately. Last month a research team at the company released an AI program capable of reading a piece of text, and answering simple questions about that text, more accurately than anything ever built before. The text was in English, not Chinese, because the program was trained on the Stanford Question Answering Dataset (SQuAD), a benchmark used to test computerized question-and-answer systems. [...] One advantage China's tech companies have over their Western counterparts is the government's commitment to AI. Smart cities that use the kind of technology found in Shanghai's metro kiosks are likely to be in the country's future. One of Alibaba's cloud AI tools is a suite called City Brain, designed for tasks like managing traffic data and analyzing footage from city video cameras.


In a Remarkable Turn of Events, Hackers -- Not Users -- Lost Money in Attempted Cryptocurrency Exchange Heist ( 56

The hackers who attempted to hack Binance, one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges on the Internet, have ended up losing money in a remarkable turn of events. It all began on Thursday, when thousands of user accounts started selling their Bitcoin and buying an altcoin named Viacoin (VIA). The incident, BleepingComputer reports, looked like a hack, and users reacted accordingly. But this wasn't a hack, or at least not your ordinary hack. The report adds: According to an incident report published by the Binance team, in preparation for yesterday's attack, the hackers ran a two-month phishing scheme to collect Binance user account credentials. Hackers used a homograph attack by registering a domain identical to, but spelled with Latin-lookalike Unicode characters. More particularly, hackers registered the [redacted].com domain -- notice the tiny dots under the "i" and "a" characters.

Phishing attacks started in early January, but the Binance team says it detected evidence that operations ramped up around February 22, when the campaign reached its peak. Binance tracked down this phishing campaign because the phishing pages would immediately redirect phished users to the real Binance login page. This left a forensic trail in referral logs that Binance developers detected. After getting access to several accounts, instead of using the login credentials to empty out wallets, hackers created "trading API keys" for each account. With the API keys in hand, hackers sprung their main attack yesterday. Crooks used the API keys to automate transactions that sold Bitcoin held in compromised Binance accounts and automatically bought Viacoin from 31 other Binance accounts that hackers created beforehand, and where they deposited Viacoin, ready to be bought. But hackers didn't know one thing -- Binance's secret weapon -- an internal risk management system that detected the abnormal amount of Bitcoin-Viacoin sale orders within the span of two minutes and blocked all transactions on the platform. Hackers tried to cash out the 31 Binance accounts, but by that point, Binance had blocked all withdrawals.


Downloads of Popular Apps Were Silently Swapped For Spyware in Turkey: Citizen Lab ( 29

Matthew Braga, reporting for CBC: Since last fall, Turkish internet users attempting to download one of a handful of popular apps may have been the unwitting targets of a wide-reaching computer surveillance campaign. And in Egypt, users across the country have, seemingly at random, had their browsing activity mysteriously redirected to online money-making schemes. Internet filtering equipment sold by technology company Sandvine -- founded in Waterloo, Ont. -- is believed to have played a significant part in both.

That's according to new research from the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, which has examined misuse of similar equipment from other companies in the past. The researchers say it's likely that Sandvine devices are not only being used to block the websites of news, political and human rights organizations, but are also surreptitiously redirecting users toward spyware and unwanted ads. Using network-filtering devices to sneak spyware onto targets' computers "has long been the stuff of legends" according to the report -- a practice previously documented in leaked NSA documents and spyware company brochures, the researchers say, but never before publicly observed.
Citizen Lab notes that targeted users in Turkey and Syria who attempted to download Windows applications from official vendor websites including Avast Antivirus, CCleaner, Opera, and 7-Zip were silently redirected to malicious versions by way of injected HTTP redirects. It adds: This redirection was possible because official websites for these programs, even though they might have supported HTTPS, directed users to non-HTTPS downloads by default. Additionally, targeted users in Turkey and Syria who downloaded a wide range of applications from CBS Interactive's (a platform featured by CNET to download software) were instead redirected to versions containing spyware. does not appear to support HTTPS despite purporting to offer "secure download" links.

Half of Ransomware Victims Didn't Recover Their Data After Paying the Ransom ( 58

An anonymous reader shares a report: A massive survey of nearly 1,200 IT security practitioners and decision makers across 17 countries reveals that half the people who fell victim to ransomware infections last year were able to recover their files after paying the ransom demand. The survey, carried out by research and marketing firm CyberEdge Group, reveals that paying the ransom demand, even if for desperate reasons, does not guarantee that victims will regain access to their files. Timely backups are still the most efficient defense against possible ransomware infections, as it allows easy recovery. The survey reveals that 55% of all responders suffered a ransomware infection in 2017, compared to the previous year's study, when 61% experienced similar incidents. Of all the victims who suffered ransomware infections, CyberEdge discovered that 61.3% opted not to pay the ransom at all. Some lost files for good (8%), while the rest (53.3%) managed to recover files, either from backups or by using ransomware decrypter applications. Of the 38.7% who opted to pay the ransom, a little less than half (19.1%) recovered their files using the tools provided by the ransomware authors.

Qarnot Unveils a Cryptocurrency Heater For Your Home ( 65

Qarnot, the French startup known for using Ryzen Pro processors to heat homes and offices for free, is unveiling a new computing heater specifically made for cryptocurrency mining. "The QC1 is a heater for your home that features a passive computer inside," reports TechCrunch. "And this computer is optimized for mining." From the report: The QC1 features two AMD GPUs (Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX580 with 8GB of VRAM) and is designed to mine Ethers by default. You can set it up in a few minutes by plugging an Ethernet cable and putting your Ethereum wallet address in the mobile app. You'll then gradually receive ethers on this address -- Qarnot doesn't receive any coin, you keep 100 percent of your cryptocurrencies. If you believe Litecoin or another cryptocurrency is the future, you can also access the computer and mine another cryptocurrency. It's a Linux server and you can access it directly. If your home is cold and you desperately need to turn on the heaters, the QC1 is going to turn on the two GPUs and mine at a 60 MH/s speed. There are also traditional heating conductors in case those two GPUs are not enough. Qarnot heaters don't have any hard drive and rely on passive heating. You won't hear any fan buzzing in the background. You can order the QC1 for $3,600 starting today -- you can also pay in bitcoins. The company hopes to sell hundreds of QC1 in the next year.

Bay Area Cities Consider Rideshare Tax On Uber, Lyft ( 92

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A local city council member is beginning to float the idea of taxing ridehailing companies like Uber and Lyft as a possible way to raise millions of dollars and help pay for local public transportation and infrastructure improvements. If the effort is successful, Oakland could become the first city in California -- Uber and Lyft's home state -- to impose such a tax. However, it's not clear whether Oakland or any other city in the Golden State has the authority to do so under current state rules. Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan told the East Bay Express that she wants the city council to put forward a ballot measure that would tax such rides. A similar proposal in nearby San Francisco, projecting a fee of $0.20 to $1 per ride, would allow the city to collect an estimated $12.5 to $62.5 million annually. However, an October 2017 city analysis noted that San Francisco "cannot initiate locally without state authorizing legislation" and that the fee "may disproportionately impact lower-income households."

Amazon Launches a Low-Cost Version of Prime For Medicaid Recipients ( 88

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Amazon announced this morning it will offer a low-cost version of its Prime membership program to qualifying recipients of Medicaid. The program will bring the cost of Prime down from the usual $12.99 per month to about half that, at $5.99 per month, while still offering the full range of Prime perks, including free, two-day shipping on millions of products, Prime Video, Prime Music, Prime Photos, Prime Reading, Prime Now, Audible Channels, and more. The new program is an expansion on Amazon's discounted Prime service for customers on government assistance, launched in June 2017. For the same price of $5.99 per month, Amazon offers Prime memberships to any U.S. customer with a valid EBT card -- the card that's used to disburse funds for assistance programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program (WIC). Now that same benefit is arriving for recipients of Medicaid, the public assistance program providing medical coverage to low-income Americans. To qualify for the discount, customers must have a valid EBT or Medicaid card, the retailer says.

Bitcoin Dives After SEC Says Crypto Platforms Must Be Registered ( 81

Bitcoin slumped after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission reiterated that many online trading platforms for digital assets should register with the agency as exchanges. From a report: The largest cryptocurrency dropped as much as 8.6 percent to $9,864 after the SEC statement boosted concern that tightening regulation may limit trading. [...] "If a platform offers trading of digital assets that are securities and operates as an 'exchange,' as defined by the federal securities laws, then the platform must register with the SEC as a national securities exchange or be exempt from registration," the SEC said in the statement Wednesday.

Some of the largest cryptocurrency trading platforms, like Coinbase's GDAX, aren't registered as a national exchange with the SEC, and instead have money transmission licenses with separate states. In the case of Gemini, it's regulated by the New York State Department of Financial Services as a trust company, according to its website.


Coinbase Announces Cryptocurrency-Focused Index Fund ( 26

In an interview with CNBC on its "Fast Money" segment, Coinbase's President and COO Asiff Hirji said the digital-currency platform would launch a cryptocurrency-focused index fund. Details are scarce but Hirji said it will be intended to give retail investors broad exposure to virtual currencies, and would be targeted to accredited investors on Day 1. He also said the index fund would be market-cap weighted.

UPDATE: Coinbase has since issued a blog post detailing the announcement. They are also introducing Coinbase Index, which "is a measure of the financial performance of all assets listed on GDAX, weighted by their market capitalization."

Researcher Admits Study That Claimed Uber Drivers Earn $3.37 An Hour Was Not Correct ( 101

Last week, an MIT study using data from more than 1,100 Uber and Lyft drivers concluded they're earning a median pretax profit of just $3.37 per hour. Uber was less than pleased by their findings and used a blog post to highlight problems with the researchers' methodology. "Now the lead researcher behind the draft paper has admitted that Uber's criticism was actually pretty valid -- while also asking Uber and Lyft to make more data available, in order to improve his analysis," reports Fortune. From the report: The issue with the draft paper from MIT's Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR), Uber's chief economist Jonathan Hall said, was this: The researchers asked drivers how much money they made on average each week from such services, but then asked "How much of your total monthly income comes from driving" -- without specifying that such income must relate to on-demand services. Of course, many people driving for Uber and Lyft also earn money from regular jobs and other income sources. And this, Hall alleged, skewed the researchers' results.

"Hall's specific criticism is valid," wrote Stephen Zoepf, the executive director of Stanford's Center for Automotive Research, who led the MIT study, on Monday. "In re-reading the wording of the two questions, I can see how respondents could have interpreted the two questions in the manner Hall describes." Zoepf said he would be updating the CEEPR paper, but in the meantime he recalculated the figures using a methodology suggested by Hall, and found that the median profit was $8.55 per hour, rather than $3.37, and only 8% of drivers lose money on on-demand platforms. Using another methodology, he added, the median rises to $10 per hour and only 4% of drivers lose money.


Google Is Selling Off Zagat ( 33

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Seven years after picking up Zagat for $151 million, Google is selling off the perennial restaurant recommendation service. The New York Times is reporting this morning that the technology giant is selling off the company to The Infatuation, a review site founded nine years back by former music execs. The company had been rumored to be courting a buyer since early this year. As Reuters noted at the time, Zagat has increasingly become less of a focus for Google, as the company began growing its database of restaurant recommendations organically. Zagat, meanwhile, has lost much of the shine it had when Google purchased it nearly a decade ago. The Infatuation, which uses an in-house team of reviewers to write up restaurants in major cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and London, is picking up the service for an undisclosed amount. The site clearly believes there's value left in the Zagat brand, even as the business of online reviews has changed significantly in the seven years sinceGoogle picked it up.

Uber Spent $10.7 Billion in Nine Years. Does It Have Enough to Show for It? ( 91

An anonymous reader shares a report: What makes Uber Technologies the most valuable venture-backed technology company in the world? Investors say size and growth. The business is transforming global transportation networks. On closer inspection of its financial performance, Uber also pioneered a very expensive way of establishing a market and staying on top. Uber has had little trouble finding investors eager to buy into its vision. It relishes telling backers about gross bookings, or the amount riders pay for service. That number is enormous, totaling $37 billion last year. But most of that goes to drivers. Uber's cut, or net revenue, came to $7.4 billion. Compared to public companies with similar valuations, Uber's revenue lags well behind. At the same time, Uber has worked to downplay its persistent losses. Because the company doesn't disclose financial results with much consistency, it's easy to lose sight of how much of investors' money Uber has spent. Since its founding nine years ago, Uber has burned through about $10.7 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter. Over the past decade, only one public technology company in North America lost more in a year than Uber lost in 2017. None has burned such a tremendous amount in the first stage of its life, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The Slow Death of the Internet Cookie ( 97

Sara Fischer, writing for Axios: Over 60% of marketers believe they will no longer need to rely on tracking cookies, a 20-year-old desktop-based technology, for the majority of their digital marketing within the next two years, according to data from Viant Technology, an advertising cloud. Why it matters: Advertising and web-based services that were cookie-dependent are slowly being phased out of our mobile-first world, where more personalized data targeting is done without using cookies. Marketers are moving away from using cookies to track user data on the web to target ads now that people are moving away from desktop. 90% of marketers say they see improved performance from people-based marketing, compared with cookie-based campaigns.

Flippy the Robot Takes Over Burger Duties At California Restaurant ( 226

Chain eatery CaliBurger announced today that its location in Pasadena is the first to employ Flippy, a burger-flipping robot developed by Miso Robotics. The robot is able to take over the cooking duties after a human puts the patties on the grill. KTLA reports: "The kitchen of the future will always have people in it, but we see that kitchen as having people and robots," said David Zito, co-founder and chief executive officer of Miso Robotics. Flippy uses thermal imaging, 3D and camera vision to sense when to flip -- and when to remove. "It detects the temperature of the patty, the size of the patty and the temperature of the grill surface," explained Zito. The device also learns through artificial intelligence -- basically, the more burgers that Flippy flips, the smarter it gets. Right now, cheese and toppings are added by a co-worker. CaliBurger CEO John Miller says the robot can cut down on costs as it will work a position that has a high turnover rate. "It's not a fun job -- it's hot, it's greasy, it's dirty," said Miller about the grill cook position. Less turnover means less time training new grill cooks. Flippy costs about $60,000 minimum and is expected to be used at other CaliBurger locations soon.

Rhode Island Bill Would Impose Fee For Accessing Online Porn ( 502

If a recently introduced bill passes the General Assembly this session, Rhode Island residents will have to pay a $20 fee to access sexually explicit content online. The bill, introduced by Sen. Frank Ciccone (D-Providence) and Sen. Hanna Gallo (D-Cranston), would require internet providers to digitally block "sexual content and patently offensive material." Consumers could then deactivate that block for a fee of $20. The Providence Journal reports: Each quarter the internet providers would give the money made from the deactivation fees to the state's general treasurer, who would forward the money to the attorney general to fund the operations of the Council on Human Trafficking, according to the bill's language. If online distributors of sexual content do not comply with the filter, the attorney general or a consumer could file a civil suit of up to $500 for each piece of content reported, but not blocked, according to the bill.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos Called Out On Counterfeit Products Problem ( 169

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNET: Here's the scenario. A small company designs and creates a product and puts it up on Amazon. Things go well. People really like it. They post hundreds of positive reviews. Sales build -- and keep building. Everything is going great. And then, boom, things go south in a hurry. Another company has created a counterfeit version of the product and is selling it under the same name only it's selling it for less, stealing all the sales. That's exactly what happened to Portland-based Elevation Lab, its founder Casey Hopkins said, accusing Amazon of being "complicit with counterfeiting" in a blog post.

The Anchor, Elevation's popular under-desk headphone mount, has been getting flooded with counterfeits, Hopkins said, noting the situation certainly isn't unique to his company. "The current counterfeit seller, Suiningdonghanjiaju Co Ltd (yeah they sound legit), has been on there for the past 5 days and taken all the sales," Hopkins wrote. Adding further insult to injury, he said Elevation has paid Amazon a "boatload of money" to advertise the product that it has "built, invested in, and shipped." Amazon has now purged the Suiningdonghanjiaju listing, which is noted in our cart as "no longer available from the selected seller." It instead defaults to Elevation's own stock. Hopkins told CNET that counterfeiters have been purged at least five times in recent weeks only to return a week later under a different seller name "to hijack the listing." He said it takes Amazon 5 days to remove the seller.
"If you have a registered brand in the Brand Registry and don't sell the product wholesale, there could be one box to check for that," Hopkins wrote. "And anyone else would have to get approval or high vetting to sell the product, especially if they are sending large quantities to FBA [Fulfillment by Amazon]. I imagine there are some algorithmic solutions that could catch most of it too. And it wouldn't hurt to increase the size of the Brand Registry team so they can do their work faster." Hopkins took a final poke at Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, saying: "If you're reading this, come on, this is Day 2 activity."

AI Will Create New Jobs But Skills Must Shift, Say Tech Giants ( 73

AI will create more jobs than it destroys was the not-so-subtle rebuttal from tech giants to growing concern over the impact of automation technologies on employment. Execs from Google, IBM and Salesforce were questioned about the wider societal implications of their technologies during a panel session here at Mobile World Congress. From a report: Behshad Behzadi, who leads the engineering teams working on Google's eponymously named AI voice assistant, claimed many jobs will be "complemented" by AI, with AI technologies making it "easier" for humans to carry out tasks. "For sure there is some shift in the jobs. There's lots of jobs which will [be created which don't exist today]. Think about flight attendant jobs before there was planes and commercial flights. No one could really predict that this job will appear. So there are jobs which will be appearing of that type that are related to the AI," he said. "I think the topic is a super important topic. How jobs and AI is related -- I don't think it's one company or one country which can solve it alone. It's all together we could think about this topic," he added. "But it's really an opportunity, it's not a threat." "From IBM's perspective we firmly believe that every profession will be impacted by AI. There's no question. We also believe that there will be more jobs created," chimed in Bob Lord, IBM's chief digital officer. "We also believe that there'll be more jobs created.

Amazon Buys Smart Doorbell Maker Ring For a Reported $1 Billion ( 90

hyperclocker shares a report from CNBC: Amazon is buying smart doorbell maker Ring, a deal that will allow the company to expand its home security and in-house delivery services. In an email statement to CNBC, Ring's spokesperson confirmed the deal, saying: "We'll be able to achieve even more by partnering with an inventive, customer-centric company like Amazon. We look forward to being a part of the Amazon team as we work toward our vision for safer neighborhoods." Amazon is expected to keep Ring as an independent business, much like it has with its other acquisitions, like Zappos and Twitch, according to GeekWire, which earlier reported details of the deal. Financial details of the move were not disclosed, but Reuters reported it could be worth more than $1 billion, making it one of the largest acquisitions in Amazon's history.

Bill Gates: Cryptocurrency Is 'Rare Technology That Has Caused Deaths In a Fairly Direct Way' ( 161

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: During a recent "Ask Me Anything" session on Reddit, the Microsoft co-founder said that the main feature of cryptocurrencies is the anonymity they provide to buyers, and Gates thinks that can actually be harmful. "The government's ability to find money laundering and tax evasion and terrorist funding is a good thing," he wrote. "Right now, cryptocurrencies are used for buying fentanyl and other drugs, so it is a rare technology that has caused deaths in a fairly direct way." When a Reddit user pointed out that plain cash can also be used for illicit activities, Gates said that crypto stands out because it can be easier to use. "Yes -- anonymous cash is used for these kinds of things, but you have to be physically present to transfer it, which makes things like kidnapping payments more difficult," he wrote. Gates also warned that the wave of speculation surrounding cryptocurrencies is "super risky for those who go long."

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