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Google

Google Home Now Recognizes Specific Users' Voices, Gains Support For Multiple Accounts (phonedog.com) 48

Google has issued a long-awaited feature for Google Home: support for multiple users. In an update rolling out today, up to six people will be able to connect their Google account to a Google Home, and the unit will try to distinguish each person's voice from the other users connected to the device. Therefore, each person will be able to get access to their schedule, playlists, and more. PhoneDog reports: Support for multiple users is rolling out in the U.S. now and will be available in the U.K. in the coming months. To know if the feature is available to you, launch the Google Home app and look for a card that says "Multi-user is available." You can also click the icon in the upper right corner, find your Google Home, and select "Link your account." From there, you'll train the Google Assistant to recognize your voice so that it knows it's you when you're talking and not the other people with connected accounts. You'll say "Ok Google" and "Hey Google" twice each.
Television

FCC Takes First Step Toward Allowing More Broadcast TV Mergers (theverge.com) 71

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: In a divided vote today, the Federal Communications Commission took steps that could lead to more consolidation among TV broadcasters, reducing the number of sources of local news. Today's changes revolve around the media ownership cap -- a limit on how many households a TV or radio broadcaster is allowed to reach. The rules are meant to promote diversity of media ownership, giving consumers access to different content and viewpoints. The cap currently prevents a company from reaching no more than 39 percent of U.S. households with broadcast TV. Large broadcasters hate the cap because it prevents them from getting even bigger. And since Trump took office and Ajit Pai was named chairman of the FCC, they've been lobbying to have it revised. The FCC's vote today starts to do that. First, it reinstates a rule known as the "UHF discount," which lets broadcasters have a bigger reach in areas where they use a certain type of technology. And second, it starts plans to revisit and raise the media ownership cap.
Security

Mastercard is Building Fingerprint Scanners Directly Into Its Cards (fastcompany.com) 85

Mastercard said on Thursday it's beginning trials of its "next-generation biometric card" in South Africa. In addition to the standard chip and pin, the new cards have a built-in fingerprint reader that the user can use to authenticate every purchase. From a report: Impressively, the new card is no thicker or larger than your current credit and debit cards.
Government

President Trump Misses 90-Day Deadline To Appoint a Cybersecurity Team After Alleged Russian Hacking (politico.com) 341

From a report: President-elect Donald Trump was very clear: "I will appoint a team to give me a plan within 90 days of taking office," he said in January, after getting a U.S. intelligence assessment of Russian interference in last year's elections and promising to address cybersecurity. Thursday, Trump hits his 90-day mark. There is no team, there is no plan, and there is no clear answer from the White House on who would even be working on what. It's the latest deadline Trump's set and missed -- from the press conference he said his wife would hold last fall to answer questions about her original immigration process to the plan to defeat ISIS that he'd said would come within his first 30 days in office. Since his inauguration, Trump's issued a few tweets and promises to get to the bottom of Russian hacking -- and accusations of surveillance of Americans, himself included, by the Obama administration.
China

China To Question Apple About Live-Streaming Apps On App Store That Violate Internet Regulations (theguardian.com) 31

Three Chinese government agencies are planning to tell Apple to "tighten up checks" on live-streaming software offered on its app store, which can be used to violate internet regulation in the country. "Law enforcement officers had already met with Apple representatives over live-streaming services, [state news agency Xinhua reported], but did not provide details of the meetings," reports The Guardian. From the report: The inquiry appears to be focused on third-party apps available for download through Apple's online marketplace. The company did not respond to requests for comment. China operates the world's largest internet censorship regime, blocking a host of foreign websites including Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but the authorities have struggled to control an explosion in popularity of live-streaming video apps. As part of the inquiry into live-streaming, three Chinese websites -- toutiao.com, huoshanzhibo.com and huajiao.com -- were already found to have violated internet regulations, and had broadcast content that violated Chinese law, including providing "pornographic content," the Xinhua report said. Pornography is banned in China. The three sites were told to increase oversight of live-broadcasting services, user registration and "the handling of tips-offs." Two of the websites, huoshanzhibo.com and huajiao.com, were under formal investigation and may have their cases transferred to the police for criminal prosecutions, the Xinhua report said. Casting a wide net, the regulations state that apps cannot "engage in activities prohibited by laws and regulations such as endangering national security, disrupting social order and violating the legitimate rights and interests of others."
Businesses

Qualcomm Collected Partial iPhone Royalties Despite Legal Battle With Apple (fortune.com) 14

From a report: Qualcomm continued to collect some royalties for Apple's use of its wireless technology in iPhones last year despite dueling lawsuits between the two mobile giants, cheering Qualcomm investors who feared that the payments had entirely dried up. Qualcomm said on Wednesday that Apple's contract manufacturers including Foxconn paid royalties, although they withheld around $1 billion from the undisclosed total amount due. The amount withheld equaled the amount Qualcomm withheld from Apple last year under a separate agreement to cooperate on mobile technology that has since expired.
The Courts

Tesla Settles Lawsuit Against Former Autopilot Program Director Accused of Stealing Info, Engineers (electrek.co) 40

Earlier this year, Tesla filed a lawsuit against its former director of Autopilot Programs, Sterling Anderson, for stealing proprietary information about the Autopilot program and recruiting fellow Tesla engineers to work with him at Aurora Innovation, another autonomous driving company. According to Electrek, "the lawsuit was settled today with Tesla withdrawing their allegations without damages and Aurora agreeing to make itself available for an audit by a third-party to make sure they don't have proprietary information from Tesla's Autopilot program." From the report: Aurora also agreed to cover the cost of the audit for up to $100,000. The startup claims that it had already ordered its own audit, which found âoeno material Tesla confidential information." As for the allegations of poaching employees, Aurora has agreed not to reach out to Tesla employees for a year and to release the names of former Tesla employees who have joined the startup already. You can read Auroraâ(TM)s statement about the settlement in full here and Teslaâ(TM)s further down below: âoeSelf-driving vehicles will save lives, preserve resources, and make transportation more accessible and enjoyable for everyone. Aurora was founded on the premise that experience, innovative thinking, hard work, and a commitment to doing the right thing can accelerate this future..."
Communications

Microsoft's Skype Is Most Used Messaging Service For Cyber Criminals, Study Finds (securityledger.com) 57

chicksdaddy quotes a report from The Security Ledger: Cyber criminals lurk in the dark recesses of the internet, striking at random and then disappearing into the virtual ether. But when they want to talk shop with their colleagues, they turn to Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft and its Skype communications tools, according to an analysis by the firm Flashpoint. Mentions of different platforms were used as a proxy for gauging interest in and use of these messaging services. Flashpoint analysts looked, especially, for invitations to continue conversation outside of cyber criminal marketplaces, like references to ICQ accounts or other platforms. The survey results show that, out of a population of around 80 instant messenger platforms and protocols, a short list of just five platforms accounts for between 80% and 90% of all mentions within the cyber underground. Of those, Microsoft's Skype was the chat king. It ranked among the top five platforms across all language groups. That, despite the platform's lack of end-to-end encryption or forward secrecy features and evidence, courtesy of NSA hacker Edward Snowden, that U.S. spies may have snooped on Skype video calls in recent years, The Security Ledger reports. The conclusion: while security is a priority amongst thieves, it isn't the sole concern that cyber criminals and their associates have. In fact, sophisticated hacking communities like those in Russia to continue to rely on legacy platforms like ICQ when provably more secure alternatives exist. The reason? Business. "These cyber criminals have a lot of different options that they're juggling and a lot of factors that weigh on their options," said Leroy Terrelonge III, the Director of Middle East and Africa Research at Flashpoint. "We might suspect that cyber criminals use the most secure means of communication all the time, that's not what our research showed."
Piracy

Pirate Bay Founder Launches Anonymous Domain Registration Service (torrentfreak.com) 60

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TorrentFreak: Former Pirate Bay spokesperson and co-founder Peter Sunde has just announced his latest venture. Keeping up his fight for privacy on the Internet, he's launching a new company called Njalla, that helps site operators to shield their identities from prying eyes. The name Njalla refers to the traditional hut that Sami people use to keep predators at bay. It's built on a tall stump of a tree or pole and is used to store food or other goods. On the Internet, Njalla helps to keep people's domain names private. While anonymizer services aren't anything new, Sunde's company takes a different approach compared to most of the competition. With Njalla, customers don't buy the domain names themselves, they let the company do it for them. This adds an extra layer of protection but also requires some trust. A separate agreement grants the customer full usage rights to the domain. This also means that people are free to transfer it elsewhere if they want to.
Privacy

Bose Headphones Secretly Collected User Data, Lawsuit Reveals (fortune.com) 230

The audio maker Bose, whose wireless headphones sell for up to $350, uses an app to collect the listening habits of its customers and provide that information to third parties -- all without the knowledge and permission of the users, according to a lawsuit filed in Chicago. From a report: The complaint accuses Boston-based Bose of violating the WireTap Act and a variety of state privacy laws, adding that a person's audio history can include a window into a person's life and views. "Indeed, one's personal audio selections -- including music, radio broadcast, Podcast, and lecture choices -- provide an incredible amount of insight into his or her personality, behavior, political views, and personal identity," says the complaint, noting a person's audio history may contain files like LGBT podcasts or Muslim call-to-prayer recordings.
United States

Steve Ballmer's New Project: Find Out How the Government Spends Your Money (theverge.com) 249

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer isn't satisfied with owning the Los Angeles Clippers and teaching at Stanford and USC. On Tuesday, the billionaire announced USAFacts, his new startup that aims to improve political discourse by making government financial data easier to access. A small "army" of economists, professors and other professionals will be looking into and publishing data structured similarly to the 10-K filings companies issue each year -- expenses, revenues and key metrics pulled from dozens of government data sources and compiled into a single massive collection of tables. From a report on The Verge: The nonpartisan site traces $5.4 trillion in government spending under four categories derived from language in the US Constitution. Defense spending, for example, is categorized under the header "provide for the common defense," while education spending is under "secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our prosperity." Spending allocation and revenue sources are each mapped out in blue and pink graphics, with detailed breakdowns along federal, state and local lines. Users can also search for specific datasets, such as airport revenue or crime rates, and the site includes a report of "risk factors" that could inhibit economic growth. The New York Times has the story on how this startup came to be.
Businesses

Trump To Overhaul H-1B Visa Program To Encourage Hiring Americans (theguardian.com) 619

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: In a bid to court working class voters, Donald Trump will sign an executive order on Tuesday to revamp a temporary visa program used to bring foreign workers to fill jobs in the U.S. The president will use a visit to a manufacturing company in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a crucial state he snatched from Hillary Clinton in the election, to promote his latest "Buy America Hire America" offensive. Trump's executive order will call on government departments to introduce reforms to ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the "most skilled or highest paid applicants," a senior administration official said. The executive order will also call for the "strict enforcement" of laws governing entry to the U.S. of labor from overseas, with a view to creating higher wages and employment rates for U.S. workers. The order will also call on government departments to "take prompt action to crack down on fraud and abuse" in the immigration system, a senior administration official said. The administration official sad: "Right now H-1B visas are awarded by random lottery and many of you will be surprised to know that about 80% of H-1B workers are paid less than the median wage in their fields. Only 5% to 6%, depending on the year, of H-1B workers command the highest wage tier recognized by the Department of Labor. [...] If you change that current system that awards visas randomly, without regard for skill or wage, to a skills-based awarding, it makes it extremely difficult to use the visa to replace or undercut American workers [...] It's a very elegant way of solving very systemic problems in the H-1B guest worker visa."
Businesses

Leaked Documents Reveal the Hotel Lobby's Aggressive Plan To Undermine Airbnb (gizmodo.com) 122

The New York Times has obtained a document revealing the hotel lobby's aggressive plan to undermine Airbnb's business "by pushing for bills to regulate the company at every level of government," reports Gizmodo. From the report: According to documents from the American Hotel and Lodging Association -- a trade group that includes the country's biggest hotel chains, including Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, the Four Seasons and Starwood Hotels -- the organization is planning a multi-pronged attack at local, state, and federal levels to prevent Airbnb from spreading to new cities across the country. Part of the strategy includes "aggressively countering" Airbnb's claim that it's just helping the middle class make ends meet "with a wave of personal testimonials of consumer harm." The document essentially serves as opposition research and gives its members talking points about Airbnb's alleged racism and taxation issues. According to the document, the association will focus its efforts on Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, and Miami, where Airbnb has yet to establish a strong footing.
Government

Trump Administration Kills Open.Gov, Will Not Release White House Visitor Logs (techdirt.com) 268

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Techdirt: It will never be said that the Trump presidency began with a presumption of openness. His pre-election refusal to release his tax returns set a bit of precedent in that regard. The immediate post-election muffling of government agency social media accounts made the administration's opacity goals um clearer. So, in an unsurprising move, the Trump administration will be doing the opposite of the Obama administration. The American public will no longer have the privilege of keeping tabs on White House visitors. TIME reports: "The Trump Administration will not disclose logs of those who visit the White House complex, breaking with his predecessor, the White House announced Friday. White House communications director Michael Dubke said the decision to reverse the Obama-era policy was due to 'the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.' Instead, the Trump Administration is relying on a federal court ruling that most of the logs are 'presidential records' and are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act." So, to further distance himself from the people he serves (and the people who elected him), Trump and his administration have shut down the transparency portal put in place by the previous Commander-in-Chief: "White House officials said the Administration is ending the contract for Open.gov, the Obama-era site that hosted the visitor records along with staff financial disclosures, salaries, and appointments. An official said it would save $70,000 through 2020 and that the removed disclosures, salaries and appointments would be integrated into WhiteHouse.gov in the coming months."
Microsoft

Microsoft Says Previous Windows Patches Fixed Newly Leaked NSA Exploits (pcworld.com) 48

Microsoft said it has already patched vulnerabilities revealed in last week's high-profile leak of suspected U.S. National Security Agency spying tools, meaning customers should be protected if they've kept their software up-to-date. From a report: Friday's leak caused concern in the security community. The spying tools include about 20 exploits designed to hack into old versions of Windows, such as Windows XP and Windows Server 2008. However, Microsoft said several patches -- one of which was made only last month -- address the vulnerabilities. "Our engineers have investigated the disclosed exploits, and most of the exploits are already patched," the company said in a blog post late on Friday. Three of the exploits found in the leak have not been patched but do not work on platforms that Microsoft currently supports, such as Window 7 or later and Exchange 2010 or later.
Movies

Hollywood Is Losing the Battle Against Online Trolls (hollywoodreporter.com) 482

An anonymous reader shares a Hollywood Reporter article: It had taken years -- and the passionate support of Kirk Kerkorian, who financed the film's $100 million budget without expecting to ever make a profit -- for The Promise, a historical romance set against the backdrop of the Armenian genocide and starring Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac, to reach the screen. Producers always knew it would be controversial: Descendants of the 1.5 million Armenians killed by the Ottoman Empire shortly after the onset of World War I have long pressed for the episode to be recognized as a genocide despite the Turkish government's insistence the deaths were not a premeditated extermination. Before the critics in attendance even had the chance to exit Roy Thompson Hall, let alone write their reviews, The Promise's IMDb page was flooded with tens of thousands of one-star ratings. "All I know is that we were in about a 900-seat house with a real ovation at the end, and then you see almost 100,000 people who claim the movie isn't any good," says Medavoy. Panicked calls were placed to IMDb, but there was nothing the site could do. "One thing that they can track is where the votes come from," says Eric Esrailian, who also produced the film, and "the vast majority of people voting were not from Canada. So I know they weren't in Toronto." The online campaign against The Promise appears to have originated on sites like Incisozluk, a Turkish version of 4chan, where there were calls for users to "downvote" the film's ratings on IMDb and YouTube. A rough translation of one post: "Guys, Hollywood is filming a big movie about the so-called Armenian genocide and the trailer has already been watched 700k times. We need to do something urgently." Soon afterward, the user gleefully noted The Promise's average IMDb rating had reached a dismaying 1.8 stars. "They know that the IMDb rating will stay with the film forever," says Esrailian. "It's a kind of censorship, really."
Google

Chrome 59 To Address Punycode Phishing Attack 69

Google says it will be rolling out a patch to Chrome in v59 to address a decade-old unicode vulnerability called Punycode that allowed attackers to fool people into clicking on compromised links. Engadget adds: Thanks to something called Punycode, phishers are able to register bogus domains that look identical to a real website. Take this proof-of-concept from software engineer Xudong Zheng, where apple.com won't take you to a store selling Macs, iPhones and iPads. The real website is actually https://www.xn--80ak6aa92e [dot] com. The xn-- prefix tells browsers like Chrome that the domain uses ASCII compatible encoding. It allows companies and individuals from countries with non-traditional alphabets to register a domain that contains A-Z characters but renders in their local language. The issue was first reported to Google and Mozilla on January 20th and Google has issued a fix in Chrome 59. It's currently live in the Canary (advance beta release) but the search giant will likely make it available to all Chrome users soon.
Transportation

Uber Face Fines Over Drunk Driving Complaints -- And Lost $2.8 Billion Last Year (usnews.com) 134

While Uber's bookings doubled last year, the company still showed a net lost of $2.8 billion. And now, "California regulators are recommending that Uber pay a $1.13 million fine for not investigating rider complaints that drivers were working intoxicated." An anonymous reader writes: California "requires ride-hailing companies to have a zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs," notes Reuters -- and yet Tuesday's order reports that investigators "found no evidence that (Uber) followed up in any way with zero-tolerance complaints several hours or even one full day after passengers filed such complaints." Investigators from the state's Public Utilities Commission are asking the full commission to examine their findings,

"To confirm the policy, regulators analyzed selected complaints against drivers who received three or more complaints," Reuters reports. Though Uber has sometimes suspended drivers within one hour of customer complaints -- 22 times -- they've apparently received 2,047 drug- or alcohol-related complaints between August 2014 and August of 2015. "The company said drivers were banned from working in 574 of those complaints, according to the order. But regulators then reviewed 154 complaints, and determined that the company failed to promptly suspend drivers in 149 complaints. The company also failed to investigate 133 complaints, and did not suspend a driver or investigate 113 complaints, the order shows... In at least 25 instances, Uber failed to suspend or investigate a driver after three or more complaints, the order states."

An Uber spokeswoman said the company had no comment, but "Adding to Uber's challenges, a Reuters investigation found a ten-fold increase in attacks on drivers in Sao Paulo last year, including several murders, after the start of cash payments on its platform at the end of July." And in addition, a judge in Brazil ruled last week that Uber's drivers are employees, which could make Uber liable for a variety of benefits, following a similar ruling in another Brazilian state court.

But there's also some good news for Uber. A court in Rome suspended a ban on Uber in Italy until the company finishes its legal appeal, and a two-month suspension in Taiwan also came to an end after Uber agreed to partner with license rental car companies.
Crime

Researchers Find 25,000 Domains Used In Tech Support Scams (onthewire.io) 85

An anonymous reader writes: Three doctoral students at Stony Brook University spent eight months analyzing internet scammers who pose as remote tech support workers (usually pretending to be from Microsoft of Apple). Their research revealed more than 25,000 scam domains and thousands of different scam phone numbers. "Although victims of these scams can be anywhere, the researchers found that 85.4% of the IP addresses in these scams were located across different regions of India," reports On The Wire, "with 9.7% located in the United States and 4.9% in Costa Rica. Scammers typically asked users for an average of $291, with prices ranging from $70 to $1,000."

The researchers even called 60 of the con artists to study their technique, and concluded most were working in large, organized call centers. They use remote access tools, and in fact two popular tools were used in 81% of the scams, according to the paper. "We found that, on average, a scammer takes 17 minutes, using multiple social engineering techniques mostly based on misrepresenting OS messages, to convince users of their infections..."

Businesses

Embarrassing Ex-Employee Complaint Against Snapchat Unsealed (variety.com) 85

"Saying it had 'nothing to hide,' the company behind Snapchat released an unredacted version of a lawsuit filed against it by a former employee that claims investors and advertisers were misled about usage data." And one allegation -- about a meeting with the company's 25-year-old CEO about flawed user metrics and low adoption in India in Spain -- is particularly embarrassing. Pompliano, who had just been hired away from Facebook, contends that he presented methods to address the issue, but that Evan Spiegel, the company's CEO, abruptly cut him off. "This app is only for rich people," Spiegel said, according to Pompliano. "I don't want to expand into poor countries like India and Spain"... Pompliano claims that Spiegel then met with two other executives and determined that "Mr. Pompliano presented a risk to Snapchat's IPO."
It may have been a flip remark, but the lawsuit also alleges two data analysts confided to Pompliano that Snapchat had "an institutional aversion to looking at user data," where its efforts showed "utter incompetence". The former employee -- who was fired after three weeks -- alleges that Snapchat inflated the rate of completed registrations and the number of users who stayed longer than seven days.

Snap originally said the lawsuit should remain redacted because it contained damaging trade secrets that would help its competitors, but now Snap attorneys are accusing Pompliano and his attorneys of "just making things up... The simple fact is that he knows exactly nothing about Snap's current metrics." Variety reports that Pompliano's attorney "said that Snap withdrew its effort to seal the complaint because the company knew it would lose."

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