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Government

GAO Denied Access To Webb Telescope Workers By Northrop Grumman 53

Posted by samzenpus
from the sorry-you-can't-come-in dept.
schwit1 writes In a report as well as at House hearings today the GAO reported that Northrop Grumman has denied them one-on-one access to workers building the James Webb Space Telescope. "The interviews, part of a running series of GAO audits of the NASA flagship observatory, which is billions of dollars overbudget and years behind schedule, were intended to identify potential future trouble spots, according to a GAO official. But Northrop Grumman Aerospace, which along with NASA says the $9 billion project is back on track, cited concerns that the employees, 30 in all, would be intimidated by the process." To give Northrop Grumman the benefit of the doubt, these interviews were a somewhat unusual request. Then again, if all was well why would they resist? Note too that the quote above says the cost of the telescope project is now $9 billion. If the project was "back on track" as the agency and Northrop Grumman claim, then why has the budget suddenly increased by another billion?
Businesses

PayPal To Pay $7.7 Million For Sanctions Violations 47

Posted by samzenpus
from the pay-up dept.
jfruh writes PayPal may not be a bank, but it's still legally required to follow regulations on transferring money — but the company has admitted to a number of violations, including allowing transfers to an individual specifically sanctioned by the U.S. State Department for helping proliferate nuclear weapons. From Ars: "On Wednesday afternoon, PayPal reached a settlement with the US Treasury Department, agreeing that it would pay $7.7 million for allegedly processing payments to people in countries under sanction as well as to a man the US has listed as involved in the nuclear weapons black market. The company neither confirmed nor denied the allegations, but it voluntarily handed over its transaction data to the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)."
The Media

NY Times: "All the News That Mark Zuckerberg Sees Fit To Print"? 78

Posted by timothy
from the who-do-you-trust-and-why dept.
theodp writes Two years ago, Politico caught Mark Zuckerberg's soon-to-be launched FWD.us PAC boasting how its wealthy tech exec backers would use their companies to 'control the avenues of distribution' for a political message in support of their efforts. Now, the NY Times is reporting that Facebook has been quietly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies about hosting their content inside Facebook, citing a source who said the Times and Facebook are moving closer to a firm deal. Facebook declined to comment on specific discussions with publishers, but noted it had provided features to help publishers get better traction on Facebook, including tools unveiled in December that let them target their articles to specific groups of Facebook users. The new plan, notes the Times, is championed by Chris Cox, the top lieutenant to Facebook CEO Zuckerberg and a "major supporter" of FWD.us. Exploring Facebook's wooing of the media giants, the Christian Science Monitor asks if social media will control the future of news, citing concerns expressed by Fusion's Felix Salmon, who warns that as news sites sacrifice their brands to reach a wider audience, their incentives for accuracy and editorial judgment will disappear.
The Almighty Buck

Russian Official Proposes Road That Could Connect London To NYC 210

Posted by samzenpus
from the use-the-bathroom-before-you-go dept.
An anonymous reader writes There's great news coming out of Russia for epic road trip lovers. Russian Railways president Vladimir Yakunin has proposed building a highway that would reach from London to Alaska via Russia, a 13,000-mile stretch of road. "This is an inter-state, inter-civilization, project," the Siberian Times quoted Yakunin. "The project should be turned into a world 'future zone,' and it must be based on leading, not catching, technologies."
Businesses

RadioShack Puts Customer Data Up For Sale In Bankruptcy Auction 255

Posted by samzenpus
from the names-and-numbers dept.
itwbennett writes For years, RadioShack made a habit of collecting customers' contact information at checkout. Now, the bankrupt retailer is putting that data on the auction block. A list of RadioShack assets for sale includes more than 65 million customer names and physical addresses, and 13 million email addresses. Bloomberg reports that the asset sale may include phone numbers and information on shopping habits as well. New York's Attorney General says his office will take 'appropriate action' if the data is handed over.
Government

$1B TSA Behavioral Screening Program Slammed As "Junk Science" 224

Posted by timothy
from the little-here-a-little-there dept.
schwit1 writes The Transportation Security Administration has been accused of spending a billion dollars on a passenger-screening program that's based on junk science. The claim arose in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has tried unsuccessfully to get the TSA to release documents on its SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques) program through the Freedom of Information Act. SPOT, whose techniques were first used in 2003 and formalized in 2007, uses "highly questionable" screening techniques, according to the ACLU complaint, while being "discriminatory, ineffective, pseudo-scientific, and wasteful of taxpayer money." TSA has spent at least $1 billion on SPOT. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in 2010 that "TSA deployed SPOT nationwide before first determining whether there was a scientifically valid basis for using behavior detection and appearance indicators as a means for reliably identifying passengers as potential threats in airports," according to the ACLU. And in 2013, GAO recommended that the agency spend less money on the program, which uses 3,000 "behavior detection officers" whose jobs is to identify terrorists before they board jetliners.
United States

Obama To Announce $240M In New Pledges For STEM Education 149

Posted by samzenpus
from the throw-some-money-at-it dept.
An anonymous reader sends word that President Obama is expected to announce more that $240 million in pledges to boost STEM educations at the White House Science Fair today. "President Barack Obama is highlighting private-sector efforts to encourage more students from underrepresented groups to pursue education in science, technology, engineering and math. At the White House Science Fair on Monday, Obama will announce more than $240 million in pledges to boost the study of those fields, known as STEM. This year's fair is focused on diversity. Obama will say the new commitments have brought total financial and material support for these programs to $1 billion. The pledges the president is announcing include a $150 million philanthropic effort to encourage promising early-career scientists to stay on track and a $90 million campaign to expand STEM opportunities to underrepresented youth, such as minorities and girls."
Music

Universal Reportedly Wants Spotify To Scale Back Its Free Streaming 115

Posted by samzenpus
from the no-money-no-music dept.
An anonymous reader writes with news that Universal CEO Lucian Grainge is not a big fan of free streaming music. "Spotify might have bent over backwards to lift restrictions on its free streaming service a couple of years ago, but at least one music label appears eager to turn back the clock. Financial Times sources understand that Universal is using licensing negotiations to squeeze Spotify and demand more limits for those who don't pay up, such as restricting the amount of time they can play tunes in a given month. The publisher isn't confirming anything, but CEO Lucian Grainge has lately been chastising the free, ad-based streaming model — it's no secret that he would like more paying customers. According to one insider, Universal believes that Spotify is directly hurting sales at stores like iTunes."
Google

FTC's Internal Memo On Google Teaches Companies a Terrible Lesson 120

Posted by samzenpus
from the I've-learned-nothing dept.
schwit1 writes FTC staffers spent enormous time pouring through Google's business practices and documents as well as interviewing executives and rivals. They came to the conclusion that Google was acting in anti-competitive ways, such as restricting advertisers from working with rival search engines. But commissioners balked at the prospect of a lengthy and protracted legal fight. For a big company, that process may have been enlightening. Agency staffers might find evidence of anti-competitive behavior. But that doesn't mean the firm will face the music in the end. Previous attempts to go after big companies — such as the Justice Department's long-running antitrust case against Microsoft in the 1990s — loomed large in regulators' minds at the time of the Google probe, according to a former official who worked at the agency then. "Even if we were in the right and could win," said the former official, "it could take a lot of resources away from other enforcement."
The Almighty Buck

DuckDuckGo Donates $100,000 Among Four FOSS Projects 36

Posted by samzenpus
from the have-a-little-cash dept.
jones_supa writes As is the search engine company's annual habit, DuckDuckGo has chosen to advance four open source projects by donating to them. The primary focus this year was to support FOSS projects that bring privacy tools to anyone who needs them. $25,000 goes to The Freedom of the Press Foundation to support SecureDrop, which is a whistleblower submission used to securely accept documents from anonymous sources. The Electronic Frontier Foundation was given $25,000 to support PrivacyBadger, which is a browser add-on that stops advertisers and other third-party trackers from secretly tracking your surfing habits. Another $25,000 arrives at GPGTools to support GPG Suite, which is a software package for OS X that encrypts files or messages. Finally, $25,000 was donated to Riseup to support Tails, which is a live operating system that aims at preserving your privacy and anonymity.
Mars

Mars One Delayed 2 Years, CEO Releases Video In Response To Criticism 89

Posted by samzenpus
from the just-a-little-longer dept.
CryoKeen writes It's interesting how different news sites spin #marsgate. From Yahoo News: "The private colonization project Mars One has pushed its planned launch of the first humans toward the Red Planet back by two years, to 2026. The delay was necessitated by a lack of investment funding, which has slowed work on a robotic precursor mission that Mars One had wanted to send toward the Red Planet in 2018, Mars One CEO Bas Lansdorp said in a new video posted today... 'We had a very successful investment round in 2013 that has financed all the things that we have done up to now. And we have actually come to an agreement with a consortium of investors late last year for a much bigger round of investments. Unfortunately, the paperwork of that deal is taking much longer than we expected,' Lansdorp said in the video." This Astrowatch article is a lot more scathing and to the point: "Mars One, the Dutch company planning to send people on a one-way trip to Mars, that recently selected a group of 100 hopefuls, struggles with criticism. In a Medium story this week, Mars One finalist Joseph Roche presented multiple reasons as to why he believed the entire operation is a complete scam. In response, the company published a video Thursday in which Bas Lansdorp, CEO and Co-founder of Mars One, replies to recent criticism concerning the feasibility of Mars One's human trip to Mars. He also revealed that the mission will be delayed for two years. Roche said that the 'only way' to get selected for the next round of the Mars One candidacy process was to donate money. 'My nightmare about it is that people continue to support it and give it money and attention, and it then gets to the point where it inevitably falls on its face,' Roche told Elmo Keep for Medium."
Earth

How 'Virtual Water' Can Help Ease California's Drought 413

Posted by timothy
from the it's-as-if-prices-conveyed-information dept.
HughPickens.com writes Bill Davidow And Michael S. Malone write in the WSJ that recent rains have barely made a dent in California's enduring drought, now in its fourth year. Thus, it's time to solve the state's water problem with radical solutions, and they can begin with "virtual water." This concept describes water that is used to produce food or other commodities, such as cotton. According to Davidow and Malone, when those commodities are shipped out of state, virtual water is exported. Today California exports about six trillion gallons of virtual water, or about 500 gallons per resident a day. How can this happen amid drought? The problem is mispricing. If water were priced properly, it is a safe bet that farmers would waste far less of it, and the effects of California's drought—its worst in recorded history—would not be so severe. "A free market would raise the price of water, reflecting its scarcity, and lead to a reduction in the export of virtual water," say Davidow and Malone. "A long history of local politics, complicated regulation and seemingly arbitrary controls on distribution have led to gross inefficiency."

For example, producing almonds is highly profitable when water is cheap but almond trees are thirsty, and almond production uses about 10% of California's total water supply. The thing is, nuts use a whole lot of water: it takes about a gallon of water to grow one almond, and nearly five gallons to produce a walnut. "Suppose an almond farmer could sell real water to any buyer, regardless of county boundaries, at market prices—many hundreds of dollars per acre-foot—if he agreed to cut his usage in half, say, by drawing only two acre-feet, instead of four, from his wells," say the authors. "He might have to curtail all or part of his almond orchard and grow more water-efficient crops. But he also might make enough money selling his water to make that decision worthwhile." Using a similar strategy across its agricultural industry, California might be able to reverse the economic logic that has driven farmers to plant more water-intensive crops. "This would take creative thinking, something California is known for, and trust in the power of free markets," conclude the authors adding that "almost anything would be better, and fairer, than the current contradictory and self-defeating regulations."
Security

Target To Pay $10 Million In Proposed Settlement For 2013 Data Breach 54

Posted by samzenpus
from the pay-up dept.
itwbennett writes Target has agreed to pay $10 million in a proposed settlement to a class-action lawsuit stemming from its massive 2013 data breach, which affected as many as 110 million people. Individual victims could receive up to $10,000. The proposed settlement also includes measures to better protect the customer data that Target collects, according to documents filed with the U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota.
Crime

Obama: Maybe It's Time For Mandatory Voting In US 1087

Posted by timothy
from the if-there-weren't-all-those-pesky-rights dept.
HughPickens.com writes CNN reports that when asked how to offset the influence of big money in politics, President Barack Obama suggested it's time to make voting a requirement. "Other countries have mandatory voting," said Obama "It would be transformative if everybody voted — that would counteract money more than anything," he said, adding it was the first time he had shared the idea publicly. "The people who tend not to vote are young, they're lower income, they're skewed more heavily towards immigrant groups and minority groups. There's a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls." At least 26 countries have compulsory voting, according to the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Failure to vote is punishable by a fine in countries such as Australia and Belgium; if you fail to pay your fine in Belgium, you could go to prison. Less than 37% of eligible voters actually voted in the 2014 midterm elections, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts. That means about 144 million Americans — more than the population of Russia — skipped out. Critics of mandatory voting have questioned the practicality of passing and enforcing such a requirement; others say that freedom also means the freedom not to do something.
Businesses

UK Chancellor Confirms Introduction of 'Google Tax' 342

Posted by Soulskill
from the corporations-behaving-badly dept.
mrspoonsi sends this report from the BBC: Companies that move their profits overseas to avoid tax will be subject to a "diverted profits tax" from April, the chancellor has said. In his final Budget before the election, George Osborne said firms that aid tax evasion will also face new penalties and criminal prosecutions. The so-called "Google Tax" is designed to discourage large companies diverting profits out of the the UK to avoid tax. "Let the message go out: this country's tolerance for those who will not pay their fair share of taxes has come to an end," Mr. Osborne said. In 2012 it emerged that internet giant Google avoided tax on £10bn UK revenue in 2011 by doubling the amount of money put into a shell company in Bermuda. Doing so helped it avoid £1bn in corporation tax. Under the new tax regime, companies with an annual turnover of £10m will have to tell HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) if they think their company structure could make them liable for diverted profit tax. Once HMRC has assessed the structures, and decided how much profit has been artificially diverted from the UK, multinationals will have only 30 days to object to the 25% tax.
Facebook

Facebook Introduces Payment System 95

Posted by Soulskill
from the because-i-want-there-to-be-17-different-ways-for-people-to-send-me-$6 dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Today Facebook announced a new feature for its Messenger services: the ability to send money to friends. The payment system will work by connecting debit cards from Visa or Mastercard — no credit cards, and no bank accounts. The company claims they aren't trying to make money on it, since it'd be such a small business compared to their ad revenue. "Once the $ button is tapped, users simply enter the dollar amount and hit Pay. The money is instantly taken from their debit account and delivered to the recipient's debit account. Facebook never holds the money, though the receiver's bank will usually take a few days to make the funds available as is standard. Both users see a confirmation message detailing the transfer status and time." Facebook says transaction information is encrypted, and users will protect their cards with a dedicated passcode (or fingerprint identification).
Transportation

Data Research Reveals When Taking a Yellow Cab Is Cheaper Than an Uber 155

Posted by timothy
from the gimme-a-lift dept.
An anonymous reader writes A team of data scientists have come up with a system to identify times when regular yellow taxis are cheaper alternatives to an Uber [in New York]. Researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Nanmur in Belgium have compared a broad dataset of both yellow taxi and Uber fares in New York and have discovered that for a trip costing less than $35 Uber is often the most expensive option. The data scientists were able to reach this conclusion by comparing trip and fare data for each yellow taxi ride taken in 2013 and entering it into Uber's fare query system. Prices were taken from Uber's lowest-cost service Uber X and the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission.
The Almighty Buck

Global Learning XPRIZE Senior Director Matt Keller Answers Your Questions 4

Posted by samzenpus
from the here-they-are dept.
A couple of weeks ago you had a chance to ask former Vice President of One Laptop per Child, and current Senior Director of the Global Learning XPRIZE Matt Keller about education and the competition. The XPRIZE challenges teams from around the world to develop open source software that will allow children in developing countries to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic with a Grand Prize of $10 million. Below you will find his answers to your questions.
Crime

Fraud Rampant In Apple Pay 269

Posted by timothy
from the play-money dept.
PvtVoid writes with this report from the New York Times, excerpting: An industry consultant, Cherian Abraham, put the fraud rate [for Apple Pay] at 6 percent, compared with a traditional credit card fraud rate that is relatively minuscule, 10 cents for every $100 spent. [i.e. one tenth of one percent]. The vulnerability in Apple Pay is in the way that it — and card issuers — "onboard" new credit cards into the system. Because Apple wanted its system to have the simplicity for which it has become famous and wanted to make the sign-up process "frictionless," the company required little beyond basic credit card information about a user. Nor did it provide much information to the banks, like full phone numbers and addresses, that might help them detect fraud early. The banks, desperate to become their customers' default card on Apple Pay — most add only one to their iPhones — did little to build their own defenses or to push Apple to provide more detailed information about its customers. Some bank executives acknowledged that they were were so scared of Apple that they didn't speak up.