Businesses

Patent 'Death Squad' System Upheld by US Supreme Court (bloomberg.com) 72

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld an administrative review system that has helped Google, Apple and other companies invalidate hundreds of issued patents. From a report: The justices, voting 7-2, said Tuesday a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office review board that critics call a patent "death squad" wasn't unconstitutionally wielding powers that belong to the courts. Silicon Valley companies have used the system as a less-expensive way to ward off demands for royalties, particularly from patent owners derided as "trolls" because they don't use their patents to make products. Drugmakers and independent inventors complain that it unfairly upends what they thought were established property rights. "It came down to this: Is the patent office fixing its own mistakes or is the government taking property?" said Wayne Stacy, a patent lawyer with Baker Botts. "They came down on the side of the patent office fixing its own mistakes." The ruling caused shares to drop in companies whose main source of revenue -- their patents -- are under threat from challenges. VirnetX, which is trying to protect almost $1 billion in damages it won against Apple, dropped as much as 12 percent. The patent office has said its patents are invalid in a case currently before an appeals court.
Facebook

Facebook Has Hosted Stolen Identities and Social Security Numbers for Years (vice.com) 35

Cybercriminals have posted sensitive personal information, such as credit card and social security numbers, of dozens of people on Facebook and have advertised entire databases of private information on the social platform, Motherboard reports. Some of these posts have been left up on Facebook for years, and the internet giant only acted on these posts after the publication told it about them. From the report: As of Monday, there were several public posts on Facebook that advertised dozens of people's Social Security Numbers and other personal data. These weren't very hard to find. It was as easy as a simple Google search. Most of the posts appeared to be ads made by criminals who were trying to sell personal information. Some of the ads are several years old, and were posted as "public" on Facebook, meaning anyone can see them, not just the author's friends. Independent security researcher Justin Shafer alerted Motherboard to these posts Monday.
Youtube

YouTube Says Computers Helped It Pull Down Millions of Objectionable Videos Last Quarter (recode.net) 134

YouTube says it has successfully trained computers to flag objectionable videos. In the last quarter of 2017, the company reportedly pulled down more than six million of these videos before any users saw them. The news comes from a brief aside in Google CEO Sundar Pichai's scripted remarks during parent company Alphabet's earnings call today. "He said YouTube had pulled down more than six million videos in the last quarter of 2017 after first being flagged by its 'machine systems,' and that 75 percent of those videos 'were removed before receiving a single view,'" reports Recode.
Google

Google Accused of Showing 'Total Contempt' for Android Users' Privacy (bleepingcomputer.com) 96

On the heels of a terse privacy debate, Google may have found another thing to worry about: its attempt to rethink the traditional texting system. From a report: Joe Westby is Amnesty International's Technology and Human Rights researcher. Recently, in response to Google's launch of a new messaging service called "Chat", Westby argued that Google, "shows total contempt for Android users' privacy."

"With its baffling decision to launch a messaging service without end-to-end encryption, Google has shown utter contempt for the privacy of Android users and handed a precious gift to cybercriminals and government spies alike, allowing them easy access to the content of Android users' communications. Following the revelations by CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden, end-to-end encryption has become recognized as an essential safeguard for protecting people's privacy when using messaging apps. With this new Chat service, Google shows a staggering failure to respect the human rights of its customers," Westby contended. Westby continued, saying: "In the wake of the recent Facebook data scandal, Google's decision is not only dangerous but also out of step with current attitudes to data privacy."

Chrome

Google Is Testing a New Chrome UI (bleepingcomputer.com) 74

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: Google engineers have rolled out a new Chrome user interface (UI). Work on the new Refresh UI has been underway since last year, Bleeping Computer has learned. The new UI is in early testing stages, and only available via the Google Chrome Canary distribution, a version of the Chrome browser used as a testing playground. Users who are interested in giving the new UI a spin must install Chrome Canary, and then access chrome://flags, a section that contains various experimental options not included in Chrome's default settings section.
Displays

Are Widescreen Laptops Dumb? (theverge.com) 404

"After years of phones, laptops, tablets, and TV screens converging on 16:9 as the 'right' display shape -- allowing video playback without distracting black bars -- smartphones have disturbed the universality recently by moving to even more elongated formats like 18:9, 19:9, or even 19.5:9 in the iPhone X's case," writes Amelia Holowaty Krales via The Verge. "That's prompted me to consider where else the default widescreen proportions might be a poor fit, and I've realized that laptops are the worst offenders." Krales makes the case for why a 16:9 screen of 13 to 15 inches in size is a poor fit: Practically every interface in Apple's macOS, Microsoft's Windows, and on the web is designed by stacking user controls in a vertical hierarchy. At the top of every MacBook, there's a menu bar. At the bottom, by default, is the Dock for launching your most-used apps. On Windows, you have the taskbar serving a similar purpose -- and though it may be moved around the screen like Apple's Dock, it's most commonly kept as a sliver traversing the bottom of the display. Every window in these operating systems has chrome -- the extra buttons and indicator bars that allow you to close, reshape, or move a window around -- and the components of that chrome are usually attached at the top and bottom. Look at your favorite website (hopefully this one) on the internet, and you'll again see a vertical structure.

As if all that wasn't enough, there's also the matter of tabs. Tabs are a couple of decades old now, and, like much of the rest of the desktop and web environment, they were initially thought up in an age where the predominant computer displays were close to square with a 4:3 aspect ratio. That's to say, most computer screens were the shape of an iPad when many of today's most common interface and design elements were being developed. As much of a chrome minimalist as I try to be, I still can't extricate myself from needing a menu bar in my OS and tab and address bars inside my browser. I'm still learning to live without a bookmarks bar. With all of these horizontal bars invading our vertical space, a 16:9 screen quickly starts to feel cramped, especially at the typical laptop size. You wind up spending more time scrolling through content than engaging with it.
What is your preferred aspect ratio for a laptop? Do you prefer Microsoft and Google's machines that have a squarer 3:2 aspect ratio, or Apple's MacBook Pro that has a 16:10 display?
Google

Who Has More of Your Personal Data Than Facebook? Try Google (wsj.com) 149

Facebook may be in the hot seat right now for its collection of personal data without our knowledge or explicit consent, but as The Wall Street Journal points out, "Google is a far bigger threat by many measures: the volume of information it gathers, the reach of its tracking and the time people spend on its sites and apps." From the report (alternative source): It's likely that Google has shadow profiles (data the company gathers on people without accounts) on as at least as many people as Facebook does, says Chandler Givens, CEO of TrackOff, which develops software to fight identity theft. Google allows everyone, whether they have a Google account or not, to opt out of its ad targeting, though, like Facebook, it continues to gather your data. Google Analytics is far and away the web's most dominant analytics platform. Used on the sites of about half of the biggest companies in the U.S., it has a total reach of 30 million to 50 million sites. Google Analytics tracks you whether or not you are logged in. Meanwhile, the billion-plus people who have Google accounts are tracked in even more ways. In 2016, Google changed its terms of service, allowing it to merge its massive trove of tracking and advertising data with the personally identifiable information from our Google accounts.

Google uses, among other things, our browsing and search history, apps we've installed, demographics like age and gender and, from its own analytics and other sources, where we've shopped in the real world. Google says it doesn't use information from "sensitive categories" such as race, religion, sexual orientation or health. Because it relies on cross-device tracking, it can spot logged-in users no matter which device they're on. Google fuels even more data harvesting through its dominant ad marketplaces. There are up to 4,000 data brokers in the U.S., and collectively they know everything about us we might otherwise prefer they didn't -- whether we're pregnant, divorced or trying to lose weight. Google works with some of these brokers directly but the company says it vets them to prevent targeting based on sensitive information. Google also is the biggest enabler of data harvesting, through the world's two billion active Android mobile devices.

Google

Google's AR Microscope Quickly Highlights Cancer Cells (uploadvr.com) 40

An anonymous reader quotes a report from UploadVR: Google Research this week revealed an AR microscope (ARM) capable of detecting cancerous cells in real-time with the help of machine learning. Locating cancer with a standard microscope is a difficult and time-consuming process, with a raft of information for doctors to study and investigate. With this new solution, though, the microscope is able to quickly locate cancerous cells and then highlight them as a doctor peers inside. The platform uses a modified light microscope integrated with image analysis and machine learning algorithms into its field of view. An AR display sits above a camera that communicates with the algorithm to display data as soon as it locates an issue. In order words, the microscope immediately begins looking for cancerous cells as soon as you place a sample beneath it. It's effectively doing the same job as a doctor just, according to Google, a lot faster. Google posted a video about the AR microscope on YouTube.
The Almighty Buck

Kurzweil Predicts Universal Basic Incomes Worldwide Within 20 Years (hackernoon.com) 306

Google's director of engineering Ray Kurzweil made a startling prediction at the 2018 TED conference. Hacker Noon reports: "In the early 2030s, we'll have universal basic income in the developed world, and worldwide by the end of the 2030s. You'll be able to live very well on that. The primary concern will be meaning and purpose," he said onstage at the annual event...

Kurzweil believes that by 2029, computers will have human-level intelligence. It's not inconceivable then that AI will be distributing UBI to humans based on algorithms that are capable of crunching numbers in ways we cannot follow. Indeed, what we call the "State" in even just 10 years time may have been transformed by AI and blockchain tech in a way whereby even our experience of consensus decision making and democracy itself may have evolved.

AI

AI Researchers Are Making More Than $1 Million, Even at a Nonprofit (nytimes.com) 82

One of the poorest-kept secrets in Silicon Valley has been the huge salaries and bonuses that experts in artificial intelligence can command. Now, a little-noticed tax filing by a research lab called OpenAI has made some of those eye-popping figures public [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. From a report: OpenAI paid its top researcher, Ilya Sutskever, more than $1.9 million in 2016. It paid another leading researcher, Ian Goodfellow, more than $800,000 -- even though he was not hired until March of that year. Both were recruited from Google. A third big name in the field, the roboticist Pieter Abbeel, made $425,000, though he did not join until June 2016, after taking a leave from his job as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Those figures all include signing bonuses.

[...] Salaries for top A.I. researchers have skyrocketed because there are not many people who understand the technology and thousands of companies want to work with it. Element AI, an independent lab in Canada, estimates that 22,000 people worldwide have the skills needed to do serious A.I. research -- about double from a year ago.

Google

Google Is 'Pausing' Work On Allo In Favor 'Chat,' An RCS-Based Messaging Standard (theverge.com) 145

An anonymous reader shares an exclusive report from The Verge about Google's next big fix for Android's messaging mess: Instead of bringing a better app to the table, it's trying to change the rules of the texting game, on a global scale. Google has been quietly corralling every major cellphone carrier on the planet into adopting technology to replace SMS. It's going to be called "Chat," and it's based on a standard called the "Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services." SMS is the default that everybody has to fall back to, and so Google's goal is to make that default texting experience on an Android phone as good as other modern messaging apps. As part of that effort, Google says it's "pausing" work on its most recent entry into the messaging space, Allo. It's the sort of "pause" that involves transferring almost the entire team off the project and putting all its resources into another app, Android Messages. Google won't build the iMessage clone that Android fans have clamored for, but it seems to have cajoled the carriers into doing it for them. In order to have some kind of victory in messaging, Google first had to admit defeat. Some of the new features associated with Chat include read receipts, typing indicators, full-resolution images and video, and group texts. It's important to keep in mind that it's a carrier-based service, not a Google service. It won't be end-to-end encrypted, and it will follow the same legal intercept standards. The new Chat services will be switched on in the near future, but ultimately carriers will dictate exactly when Chat will go live. Also, you may be persuaded to upgrade your data plan since Chat messages will be sent with your data plan instead of your SMS plan.
Android

ZTE Exports Ban May Mean No Google Apps, a Death Sentence For Its Smartphones (arstechnica.com) 139

New submitter krazy1 shares a report from Ars Technica: The U.S. government is going after another Chinese Android device maker. After shutting down Huawei's carrier deals and retail partners, the government is now pursuing ZTE. The U.S. Department of Commerce has banned U.S. companies from selling parts and software to ZTE for seven years. ZTE was caught violating U.S. sanctions by illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea. The company then made things worse by "making false statements and obstructing justice, including through preventing disclosure to and affirmatively misleading the U.S. Government," according to the Department of Commerce.

The latest news from Reuters raises even bigger issues for ZTE, though. A source told Reuters that "The Commerce Department decision means ZTE Corp may not be able to use Google's Android operating system in its mobile devices." Android is free and open source and will probably remain free for ZTE to use without Google's involvement. Reuters' source is probably referring to the Google apps, which aren't sold to device makers but are carefully licensed to them in exchange for other concessions. The Google apps package includes popular services like Gmail and Google Maps, and it also unlocks the Play Store, Google Play Services, and the entire Android app ecosystem. For a market-viable Android device, the Play Store is pretty much mandatory in every country other than China. So while ZTE could conceivably source hardware components from non-U.S. sources, being locked out of the Play Store would devastate ZTE's smartphones worldwide.

Transportation

LA Councilman Asks City Attorney To 'Review Possible Legal Action' Against Waze (arstechnica.com) 213

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Yet another Los Angeles city councilman has taken Waze to task for creating "dangerous conditions" in his district, and the politician is now "asking the City to review possible legal action." "Waze has upended our City's traffic plans, residential neighborhoods, and public safety for far too long," LA City Councilman David Ryu said in a statement released Wednesday. "Their responses have been inadequate and their solutions, non-existent. They say the crises of congestion they cause is the price for innovation -- I say that's a false choice." In a new letter sent to the City Attorney's Office, Ryu formally asked Los Angeles' top attorney to examine Waze's behavior. While Ryu said he supported "advances in technology," he decried Waze and its parent company, Google, for refusing "any responsibility for the traffic problems their app creates or the concerns of residents and City officials."
Advertising

German Supreme Court Rules Ad Blockers Legal (faz.net) 133

New submitter paai writes: The publishing company Axel Springer tried to ban the use of ad blockers in Germany because they endanger the digital publishing of news stories. The Oberlandesgericht Koln (Germany's Higher Regional Court of Cologne) followed this reasoning and forbade the use of ad blockers on the grounds that the use of white lists was an aggressive marketing technique. [The business model allows websites to pay a fee so that their "non aggressive" advertisements can bypass AdBlock Pro's filters. Larger companies like Google can afford to pay to have the ban lifted on their website.] The Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice or BGH) destroyed this court ruling today and judged that users had a right to filter out advertisements in web pages.
Chrome

Millions of Chrome Users Have Installed Malware Posing as Ad Blockers (vice.com) 42

Kaleigh Rogers, writing for Motherboard: Andrey Meshkov, the cofounder of ad-blocker AdGuard, recently got curious about the number of knock-off ad blocking extensions available for Google's popular browser Chrome. These extensions were deliberately styled to look like legitimate, well-known ad blockers, but Meshkov wondered why they existed at all, so he downloaded one and took a look at the code. "Basically I downloaded it and checked what requests the extension was making," Meshkov told me over the phone. "Some strange requests caught my attention."

Meshkov discovered that the AdRemover extension for Chrome -- which had over 10 million users -- had code hidden inside an image that was loaded from the remote command server, giving the extension creator the ability to change its functions without updating. This alone is against Google's policy, and after Meshkov wrote about a few examples on AdGuard's blog, many of which had millions of downloads, Chrome removed the extensions from the store. I reached out to Google, and a spokesperson confirmed that these extensions had been removed.

Google

Turn Right at the Burger King: Google Maps Begins Using Landmarks To Help With Guidance (techcrunch.com) 135

Most navigation apps give you instructions based on streets or distance. But it's arguably in contrast to how people usually provide directions -- some usually point to landmarks that are easier to spot. Google sees some merit in that. The idea is that Google Maps is highlighting some landmarks and other points of interest (fast food restaurants) to help with guidance. TechCrunch reports that some users are already seeing this on Google Maps. And maybe to Google, this opens door for some business opportunities as well. Only time will tell.
Businesses

Marissa Mayer is Back (bloomberg.com) 101

Former Yahoo Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer is starting a technology business incubator, Lumi Labs, with longtime colleague Enrique Munoz Torres, she revealed in an interview with The New York Times. Bloomberg: The venture will focus on consumer media and artificial intelligence, according to the company's website, which is set against a backdrop of snow-covered peaks. Lumi means snow in Finnish, Mayer told the New York Times, which reported the news earlier Wednesday. The next project for Mayer, who was an early employee at Google and worked there until leaving to run Yahoo in 2012, had been a matter of considerable speculation in Silicon Valley. She left Yahoo, once a leading search engine and web destination, after it was sold to Verizon Communications last year.
The Internet

4.9% of Websites Use Flash, Down From 28.5% in 2011 (bleepingcomputer.com) 129

Web makers continue to ditch the infamous Flash for other safer, improved technologies. In 2011, more than 28.5 percent of websites used Flash in their code, a figure technology survey site W3Techs estimates to have dropped to 4.9 percent today. BleepingComputer: The number confirms Flash's decline, and a reason why Adobe has decided to retire the technology at the end of 2020. A decline from 28.5 percent to 4.9 percent doesn't look that bad, but we're talking about all Internet sites, not just a small portion of Top 10,000 or Top 1 Million sites. Taking into account the sheer number of abandoned sites on today's Internet, the decline is quite considerable, and W3Techs' findings confirm similar statistics put out by a Google security engineer in February.
Censorship

Google Is Shuttering Domain Fronting, Creating a Big Problem For Anti-Censorship Tools (theverge.com) 59

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

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

Microsoft Ports Edge Anti-Phishing Technology To Google Chrome (bleepingcomputer.com) 75

An anonymous reader writes: Microsoft has released a Chrome extension named "Windows Defender Browser Protection" that ports Windows Defender's -- and inherently Edge's -- anti-phishing technology to Google Chrome. The extension works by showing bright red-colored pages whenever users are tricked into accessing malicious links. The warnings are eerily similar to the ones that Chrome natively shows via the Safe Browsing API, but are powered by Microsoft's database of malicious links —also known as the SmartScreen API.

Chrome users should be genuinely happy that they can now use both APIs for detecting phishing and malware-hosting URLs. The SmartScreen API isn't as known as Google's more famous Safe Browsing API, but works in the same way, and possibly even better. An NSS Labs benchmark revealed that Edge (with its SmartScreen API) caught 99 percent of all phishing URLs thrown at it during a test last year, while Chrome only detected 87 percent of the malicious links users accessed.

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