Crime

Software 'No More Accurate Than Untrained Humans' At Predicting Recidivism (theguardian.com) 126

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The credibility of a computer program used for bail and sentencing decisions has been called into question after it was found to be no more accurate at predicting the risk of reoffending than people with no criminal justice experience provided with only the defendant's age, sex and criminal history. The algorithm, called Compas (Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions), is used throughout the U.S. to weigh up whether defendants awaiting trial or sentencing are at too much risk of reoffending to be released on bail. Since being developed in 1998, the tool is reported to have been used to assess more than one million defendants. But a new paper has cast doubt on whether the software's predictions are sufficiently accurate to justify its use in potentially life-changing decisions.

The academics used a database of more than 7,000 pretrial defendants from Broward County, Florida, which included individual demographic information, age, sex, criminal history and arrest record in the two year period following the Compas scoring. The online workers were given short descriptions that included a defendant's sex, age, and previous criminal history and asked whether they thought they would reoffend. Using far less information than Compas (seven variables versus 137), when the results were pooled the humans were accurate in 67% of cases, compared to the 65% accuracy of Compas. In a second analysis, the paper found that Compas's accuracy at predicting recidivism could also be matched using a simple calculation involving only an offender's age and the number of prior convictions.

Privacy

Amazon Won't Say If It Hands Your Echo Data To the Government (zdnet.com) 100

Zack Whittaker reports via ZDNet of how Amazon still won't say whether or not it hands your Echo data to the government -- three years after the Echo was first released. From the report: Amazon has a transparency problem. Three years ago, the retail giant became the last major tech company to reveal how many subpoenas, search warrants, and court orders it received for customer data in a half-year period. While every other tech giant had regularly published its government request figures for years, spurred on by accusations of participation in government surveillance, Amazon had been largely forgotten. Eventually, people noticed and Amazon acquiesced. Since then, Amazon's business has expanded. By its quarterly revenue, it's no longer a retail company -- it's a cloud giant and a device maker. The company's flagship Echo, an "always listening" speaker, collects vast amounts of customer data that's openly up for grabs by the government. But Amazon's bi-annual transparency figures don't want you to know that. In fact, Amazon has been downright deceptive in how it presents the data, obfuscating the figures in its short, but contextless, twice-yearly reports. Not only does Amazon offer the barest minimum of information possible, the company has -- and continues -- to deliberately mislead its customers by actively refusing to clarify how many customers, and which customers, are affected by the data demands it receives.
Transportation

LAPD Is Not Using the Electric BMWs It Announced In 2016 (cbslocal.com) 112

mi shares a report from CBS Los Angeles: "In a 2016 well-choreographed press conference, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck got out of an electric BMW driven by Mayor Garcetti to tout the city's ambitious project [to provide electric cars for the department]," reports CBS Los Angeles. "The cost: $10.2 million, which includes charging stations." However, the cars have seen very little use. With the monthly lease payment of a little more than $418, one vehicle ends up costing taxpayers over $15 a mile to use. Some of the use they do get is improper too, alleges CBS Los Angeles, citing footage captured from several hidden cameras. "We followed someone after leaving the downtown police garage; they went to the drive-through at Yoshinoya," reports CBS. "On another day, someone drove from downtown LA to Loyola Marymount University in West LA, picked up someone who appeared to be a student, and went to lunch." The deputy chief is looking into what CBS found and says the cars are to be used for business only.
Crime

Facebook Is a 'Living, Breathing Crime Scene,' Says Former Tech Insider (nbcnews.com) 125

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: With more than 2 billion users, Facebook's reach now rivals that of Christianity and exceeds that of Islam. However, the network's laser focus on profits and user growth has come at the expense of its users, according to one former Facebook manager who is now speaking out against the social platform. "One of the things that I saw consistently as part of my job was the company just continuously prioritized user growth and making money over protecting users," the ex-manager, Sandy Parakilas, who worked at Facebook for 16 months, starting in 2011, told NBC News. During his tenure at Facebook, Parakilas led third-party advertising, privacy and policy compliance on Facebook's app platform. "Facebook is a living, breathing crime scene for what happened in the 2016 election -- and only they have full access to what happened," said Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google. His work centers on how technology can ethically steer the thoughts and actions of the masses on social media and he's been called "the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience" by The Atlantic magazine.

In response to the comments, Facebook issued a statement saying it is a "vastly different company" from when it was founded. "We are taking many steps to protect and improve people's experience on the platform," the statement said. "In the past year, we've worked to destroy the business model for false news and reduce its spread, stop bad actors from meddling in elections, and bring a new level of transparency to advertising. Last week, we started prioritizing meaningful posts from friends and family in News Feed to help bring people closer together. We have more work to do and we're heads down on getting it done."

Privacy

A Photo Accidentally Revealed a Password For Hawaii's Emergency Agency (qz.com) 141

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: In the aftermath of an erroneous missile warning that terrified Hawaiians on Saturday (Jan. 13), the state's emergency management agency has come under increased scrutiny, from the poor design of the software that enables alerts to a particularly slapdash security measure by one of its employees. Old photos from the Associated Press inside the agency's office appear to show an unspecified password on a yellow Post-It note, stuck to a computer monitor. The image, which shows operations manger Jeffrey Wong standing in front of the computer, was taken in July and appeared in articles published at the time about the agency's preparedness in the face of a nuclear threat. The agency verified that the password is indeed real but wouldn't go into specifics on what program the password was supposed to be used for.
Businesses

Turning Soybeans Into Diesel Fuel Is Costing Us Billions (npr.org) 241

This year, trucks and other heavy-duty motors in America will burn some 3 billion gallons of diesel fuel that was made from soybean oil. They're doing it, though, not because it's cheaper or better, but because they're required to, by law. From a report: The law is the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS. For some, especially Midwestern farmers, it's the key to creating clean energy from American soil and sun. For others -- like many economists -- it's a wasteful misuse of resources. And the most wasteful part of the RFS, according to some, is biodiesel. It's different from ethanol, a fuel that's made from corn and mixed into gasoline, also as required by the RFS. In fact, gasoline companies probably would use ethanol even if there were no law requiring it, because ethanol is a useful fuel additive -- at least up to a point. That's not true of biodiesel. "This is an easy one, economically. Biodiesel is very expensive, relative to petroleum diesel," says Scott Irwin, an economist at the University of Illinois, who follows biofuel markets closely. He calculates that the extra cost for biodiesel comes to about $1.80 per gallon right now, meaning that the biofuel law is costing Americans about $5.4 billion a year.
China

Philippine Lawmakers Worry China Telecom May Be a 'Trojan horse' (reuters.com) 25

An anonymous reader shares a report: Opposition members of the Philippine Congress raised concern on Wednesday that China Telecom Corp, which may enter the Philippine industry, could be a "Trojan horse" aimed at giving China access to state secrets. The Southeast Asian country aims to name a third telecom operator within the first quarter that will break the duopoly of PLDT and Globe Telecom State-run China Telecom has been named as a possible investor in that third entity. President Rodrigo Duterte, who has warned both PLDT and Globe to shape up or face competition, has welcomed Chinese entities specifically to become the third telecoms operator. Beijing has selected China Telecom to invest in the Philippines, according to Philippine officials, but it would need to partner with a local company as it cannot operate alone under the law. China Telecom's presence in the Philippines, however, does not sit well with some lawmakers, given China's telecommunications expertise and sophisticated technology.
The Military

America's Fastest Spy Plane May Be Back -- And Hypersonic (bloomberg.com) 273

A Lockheed Skunk Works executive implied last week at an aerospace conference that the successor to one of the fastest aircraft the world has seen, the SR-71 Blackbird, might already exist. Previously, Lockheed officials have said the successor, the SR-72, could fly by 2030. Bloomberg reports: Referring to detailed specifics of company design and manufacturing, Jack O'Banion, a Lockheed vice president, said a "digital transformation" arising from recent computing capabilities and design tools had made hypersonic development possible. Then -- assuming O'Banion chose his verb tense purposely -- came the surprise. "Without the digital transformation, the aircraft you see there could not have been made," O'Banion said, standing by an artist's rendering of the hypersonic aircraft. "In fact, five years ago, it could not have been made." Hypersonic applies to speeds above Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. The SR-71 cruised at Mach 3.2, more than 2,000 mph, around 85,000 feet.

"We couldn't have made the engine itself -- it would have melted down into slag if we had tried to produce it five years ago," O'Banion said. "But now we can digitally print that engine with an incredibly sophisticated cooling system integral into the material of the engine itself and have that engine survive for multiple firings for routine operation." The aircraft is also agile at hypersonic speeds, with reliable engine starts, he said. A half-decade before, he added, developers "could not have even built it even if we conceived of it."

Nintendo

Hackers Seem Close To Publicly Unlocking the Nintendo Switch (arstechnica.com) 88

Ars Technica reports that "hackers have been finding partial vulnerabilities in early versions of the [Nintendo] Switch firmware throughout 2017." They have discovered a Webkit flaw that allows for basic "user level" access to some portions of the underlying system and a service-level initialization flaw that gives hackers slightly more control over the Switch OS. "But the potential for running arbitary homebrew code on the Switch really started looking promising late last month, with a talk at the 34th Chaos Communication Congress (34C3) in Leipzig Germany," reports Ars. "In that talk, hackers Plutoo, Derrek, and Naehrwert outlined an intricate method for gaining kernel-level access and nearly full control of the Switch hardware." From the report: The full 45-minute talk is worth a watch for the technically inclined, it describes using the basic exploits discussed above as a wedge to dig deep into how the Switch works at the most basic level. At one point, the hackers sniff data coming through the Switch's memory bus to figure out the timing for an important security check. At another, they solder an FPGA onto the Switch's ARM chip and bit-bang their way to decoding the secret key that unlocks all of the Switch's encrypted system binaries. The team of Switch hackers even got an unexpected assist in its hacking efforts from chipmaker Nvidia. The "custom chip" inside the Switch is apparently so similar to an off-the-shelf Nvidia Tegra X1 that a $700 Jetson TX1 development kit let the hackers get significant insight into the Switch's innards. More than that, amid the thousand of pages of Nvidia's public documentation for the X1 is a section on how to "bypass the SMMU" (the System Memory Management Unit), which gave the hackers a viable method to copy and write a modified kernel to the Switch's system RAM. As Plutoo put it in the talk, "Nvidia backdoored themselves."
The Internet

Lawsuit Filed By 22 State Attorneys General Seeks To Block Net Neutrality Repeal (techcrunch.com) 336

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: A lawsuit filed today by the attorneys general of 22 states seeks to block the Federal Communications Commission's recent controversial vote to repeal Obama era Net Neutrality regulations. The filing is led by New York State Attorney General Schneiderman, who called rollback a potential "disaster for New York consumers and businesses, and for everyone who cares about a free and open internet." The letter, which was filed in the United States District Court of Appeals in Washington, is cosigned by AGs from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Washington DC.

"An open internet -- and the free exchange of ideas it allows -- is critical to our democratic process," Schneiderman added in an accompanying statement. "The repeal of net neutrality would turn internet service providers into gatekeepers -- allowing them to put profits over consumers while controlling what we see, what we do, and what we say online."

Security

Many Enterprise Mobile Devices Will Never Be Patched Against Meltdown, Spectre (betanews.com) 103

Mark Wilson shares a report from BetaNews: The Meltdown and Spectre bugs have been in the headlines for a couple of weeks now, but it seems the patches are not being installed on handsets. Analysis of more than 100,000 enterprise mobile devices shows that just a tiny percentage of them have been protected against the vulnerabilities -- and some simply may never be protected. Security firm Bridgeway found that just 4 percent of corporate phones and tablets in the UK have been patched against Spectre and Meltdown. Perhaps more worryingly, however, its research also found that nearly a quarter of enterprise mobile devices will never receive a patch because of their age. Organizations are advised to check for the availability of patches for their devices, and to install them as soon as possible. Older devices that will never be patched -- older than Marshmallow, for example -- should be replaced to ensure security, says Bridgeway.
The Almighty Buck

Bitcoin Plunges Below $12,000 To Six-Week Low Over Crackdown Fears (cnbc.com) 171

Bitcoin plunged to a six-week low Tuesday after comments from South Korea's finance minister renewed worries about a crackdown in one of the largest markets for digital currency trading. In a radio program interview, South Korean Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon said that "the shutdown of virtual currency exchanges is still one of the options" the government has. CNBC reports: Bitcoin dropped more than 17 percent to a low of $11,182.71 on Tuesday, falling below $12,000 for the first time since December 5, according to CoinDesk. CoinDesk's bitcoin price index tracks prices from cryptocurrency exchanges Bitstamp, Coinbase, itBit and Bitfinex. As of 12:13 p.m. ET, bitcoin was trading more than 13 percent lower at $11,759.73 a coin, according to CoinDesk. Trading in South Korean won accounted for about 4 percent of bitcoin trading volume, according to CryptoCompare. U.S. dollar-bitcoin trading had the largest share at 40 percent, the website showed. Other major digital currencies including ethereum and ripple also fell significantly. According to CoinMarketCap data, ethereum was trading at $1,051.83, down more than 20 percent in the last 24 hours, before lifting slightly to $1,117.72. Ripple fell almost 27 percent to $1.33 a token before recovering slightly to $1.36.
Security

Researchers Uncover Android Malware With Never-Before-Seen Spying Capabilities (arstechnica.com) 102

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: According to a report published Tuesday by antivirus provider Kaspersky Lab, "Skygofree" is most likely an offensive security product sold by an Italy-based IT company that markets various surveillance wares. With 48 different commands in its latest version, the malware has undergone continuous development since its creation in late 2014. It relies on five separate exploits to gain privileged root access that allows it to bypass key Android security measures. Skygofree is capable of taking pictures, capturing video, and seizing call records, text messages, gelocation data, calendar events, and business-related information stored in device memory. Skygofree also includes the ability to automatically record conversations and noise when an infected device enters a location specified by the person operating the malware. Another never-before-seen feature is the ability to steal WhatsApp messages by abusing the Android Accessibility Service that's designed to help users who have disabilities or who may temporarily be unable to fully interact with a device. A third new feature: the ability to connect infected devices to Wi-Fi networks controlled by attackers. Skygofree also includes other advanced features, including a reverse shell that gives malware operators better remote control of infected devices. The malware also comes with a variety of Windows components that provide among other things a reverse shell, a keylogger, and a mechanism for recording Skype conversations.
Government

France Says 'Au Revoir' to the Word 'Smartphone' (smithsonianmag.com) 338

Hoping to prevent English tech vocabulary from entering the French language, officials have suggested 'mobile multifunction' as an alternative. An anonymous reader shares a report: The official journal of the French Republic, the Journal officiel, has suggested "internet clandestin" instead of dark net. It's dubbed a casual gamer "joueur occasionnel" for messieurs and "joueuse occasionnelle" for mesdames. To replace hashtag, it's selected "mot-diese." Now, as the Local reports, the latest word to get the official boot in France is smartphone. It's time to say bonjour to the "le mobile multifonction." The recommendation was put forth by the Commission d'enrichissement de la langue francaise, which works in conjunction with the Academie Francaise to preserve the French language. This isn't the first time that the commission has tried to encourage French citizens to switch over to a Franco-friendly word for "smartphone." Previous suggestions included "ordiphone" (from "ordinateur," the French word for computer) and "terminal de poche" (or pocket terminal). These, it seems, did not quite stick.
Patents

Bank of America Tops IBM, Payments Firms With Most Blockchain Patents (bloomberg.com) 45

Bank of America may not be willing to help customers invest in Bitcoin, but that doesn't mean it isn't plowing into the technology underlying the cryptocurrency. From a report: The Charlotte, North Carolina-based lender has applied for or received at least 43 patents for blockchain, the ledger technology used for verifying and recording transactions that's at the heart of virtual currencies. It is the largest number among major banks and technology companies, according to a study by EnvisionIP, a New York-based law firm that specializes in analyses of intellectual property. "Based on what's publicly out there, the technology sector hasn't embraced blockchain as much as the financial-services industry," Maulin Shah, managing attorney for EnvisionIP, said in an interview. International Business Machines Corp., which has targeted blockchain and artificial intelligence for future growth, tied with Mastercard Inc. for second on the list, with 27 each.

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