The Almighty Buck

Bitcoin Jumps Another 10% in 24 Hours, Sets New Record at $19,000 (arstechnica.com) 72

An anonymous reader quotes Ars Technica: Bitcoin's price set a new record on Saturday as the virtual currency rose above $19,000 for the first time on the Bitstamp exchange. The gains came just hours after the currency crossed the $18,000 mark. Bitcoin's value has doubled over the last three weeks, and it's up more than 20-fold over the last year.

Bitcoin's value keeps rising despite a growing chorus of experts who say the currency value is an unsustainable bubble. One CNBC survey this week found that 80 percent of Wall Street economists and market strategists saw bitcoin's rise as a bubble, compared to just two percent who said the currency's value was justified. Another survey reported by The Wall Street Journal this week found that 51 out of 53 economists surveyed thought bitcoin's price was an unsustainable bubble.

Less than a month ago, Bitcoin was selling for $8,000.
China

Facial Recognition Algorithms -- Plus 1.8 Billion Photos -- Leads to 567 Arrests in China (scmp.com) 117

"Our machines can very easily recognise you among at least 2 billion people in a matter of seconds," says the chief executive and co-founder of Yitu. The South China Morning Post reports: Yitu's Dragonfly Eye generic portrait platform already has 1.8 billion photographs to work with: those logged in the national database and you, if you have visited China recently... 320 million of the photos have come from China's borders, including ports and airports, where pictures are taken of everyone who enters and leaves the country. According to Yitu, its platform is also in service with more than 20 provincial public security departments, and is used as part of more than 150 municipal public security systems across the country, and Dragonfly Eye has already proved its worth. On its very first day of operation on the Shanghai Metro, in January, the system identified a wanted man when he entered a station. After matching his face against the database, Dragonfly Eye sent his photo to a policeman, who made an arrest. In the following three months, 567 suspected lawbreakers were caught on the city's underground network. The system has also been hooked up to security cameras at various events; at the Qingdao International Beer Festival, for example, 22 wanted people were apprehended.

Whole cities in which the algorithms are working say they have seen a decrease in crime. According to Yitu, which says it gets its figures directly from the local authorities, since the system has been implemented, pickpocketing on Xiamen's city buses has fallen by 30 per cent; 500 criminal cases have been resolved by AI in Suzhou since June 2015; and police arrested nine suspects identified by algorithms during the 2016 G20 summit in Hangzhou. Dragonfly Eye has even identified the skull of a victim five years after his murder, in Zhejiang province.

The company's CEO says it's impossible for police to patrol large cities like Shanghai (population: 24,000,000) without using technology.

And one Chinese bank is already testing facial-recognition algorithms hoping to develop ATMs that let customers withdraw money just by showing their faces.
Bitcoin

An Anonymous Bitcoin Millionaire Is Donating Their Fortune To Charities (gizmodo.com) 91

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Tis the season for giving, and one Bitcoin investor claims to be giving away the majority of their cryptocurrency holdings after experiencing an incredible year. The unnamed donor has set up a fund to hand out $86 million worth of Bitcoin to various charities, and they've already started listing the donations and providing receipts. If this whole thing works out, you can just call this mystery person the Bitcoin Bill Gates. So far, The Pineapple Fund claims to have distributed just over $6.5 million in Bitcoin between eight charities. Its website provides links to the blockchain transactions under the name of each charity. These transactions are in a public ledger, but the sender and recipient are only identified by a long string of digits. We contacted the Electronic Freedom Foundation to ask if the two transactions that were purportedly sent to the activist group were indeed legitimate. A spokesperson confirmed via email that the EFF has "been in touch with the Pineapple Fund and are in the process of receiving the donation." The anonymous founder writes: "Sometime around the early days of bitcoin, I saw the promise of decentralized money and decided to mine/buy/trade some magical internet tokens. The expectation shattering returns of bitcoin over many years has lead to an amount far more than I can spend. What do you do when you have more money than you can ever possibly spend? Donating most of it to charity is what I'm doing. For reference, The Pineapple Fund is bigger than the entire market cap of bitcoin when I got in, and one of the richest 250 bitcoin addresses today."
Bitcoin

Coinbase Wants Wall Street To Resolve Its Bitcoin Trust Issues (bloomberg.com) 48

In an effort to use digital money to reinvent finance, cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase is trying to legitimize itself by convincing big money managers to trust it enough to trade on its exchange. They need to "reassure regulators that bitcoin isn't a silk road for hackers, money launderers and tax evaders," reports Bloomberg. From the report: Despite the table tennis, Coinbase shows glimmers of maturity. More than 10 million customers have used the company since it began, though it recently quit updating the tally on its website. About $57 billion of digital currency has traded on the exchange so far this year. It doubled its staff in that time and expects to do so again in 2018. Ultimately, Coinbase plans to go public. The firm said it's prevailed against security threats, helping it avoid the fate of Mt. Gox, the world's biggest bitcoin exchange before shutting its doors in 2014 after $480 million of customer funds went bye-bye. Coinbase stores 98 percent of users' digital currencies in offline safe-deposit boxes. The remaining 2 percent, which is vulnerable because it's online, is covered by insurance. The company holds more than $10 billion in digital assets. Developing ties with banks is one of the biggest challenges. Coinbase doesn't publicly disclose its banking relationships, but a person familiar with the matter said the company is partnering with Cross River Bank, Metropolitan Bank and Silvergate Bank in the U.S.
Canada

Canadian Cellphone Bills Are Some of the Highest In the World, Says Report (straight.com) 175

Freshly Exhumed shares a report from Straight: A report released this week by the Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (ISED) confirms that Canada ranks among the top three most costly countries for mobile wireless plans. Comparing the U.K, Italy, France, Australia, Japan, and the U.S. on six tiers of pricing -- which looked at talk-time, texts, and data -- the document shows that Canada has the most expensive mid-range and higher-tier plans in the world. "It is unacceptable that Canadians continue to pay ever-rising prices year after year for something as critical as mobile communications services," said Katy Anderson, Digital Rights Advocate at OpenMedia.
Bitcoin

Feds Moving Quickly To Cash in on Seized Bitcoin, Now Worth $8.4 Million (arstechnica.com) 141

A federal judge in Utah has agreed to let the US government sell off a seized cache of over 513 bitcoins (BTC) and 512 Bitcoin Cash (BCH). At current prices, that would yield approximately $8.4 million for the bitcoins and nearly $1 million for the BCH. From a report: In a court filing, prosecutors noted that due to the volatility of the Bitcoin market, both coins risk losing value. Both the BTC and the BCH have already been transferred to government-controlled wallets. The new round of seized digital currency belonged to a Utah man named Aaron Shamo, whom prosecutors say led a multimillion-dollar ring of counterfeit pharmaceuticals, including oxycodone and alprazolam that were sold on Dark Web marketplaces. Shamo was arrested over a year ago -- his trial has not yet been scheduled. On Tuesday, US District Judge Dale Kimball allowed the sale to proceed. Once sold, the money would go to an account held at the Treasury Executive Office for Asset Forfeiture.
Businesses

One of Australia's Richest Men Lost $1 Million To Email Scam (bloomberg.com) 83

Kaye Wiggins, reporting for Bloomberg: The multi-millionaire founder of Twynam Agricultural Group lost $1 million in an email fraud, a London court heard Thursday. The British man who facilitated the theft says he's a victim too. John Kahlbetzer, who is on the Forbes list of the 50 richest Australians, lost the money when fraudsters tricked the administrator of his personal finances into transferring it to them, his court papers say. Fraudsters emailed Christine Campbell, pretending to be the 87-year-old and asking her to pay $1 million to an account held by a British man, David Aldridge, which she did. Kahlbetzer is suing Aldridge to recover the funds, but Aldridge says he was being "unwittingly used" and was himself the victim of a fraud involving a woman he met online and believed he was in a loving relationship with. Email frauds where companies' staff are tricked into transferring money are a growing problem. U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics show "business email compromise" cases, where criminals ask company officials to transfer funds, have cost more than $3 billion since 2015.
Bitcoin

A Cryptocurrency Without a Blockchain Has Been Built To Outperform Bitcoin (technologyreview.com) 182

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: Bitcoin isn't the only cryptocurrency on a hot streak -- plenty of alternative currencies have enjoyed rallies alongside the Epic Bitcoin Bull Run of 2017. One of the most intriguing examples is also among the most obscure in the cryptocurrency world. Called IOTA, it has jumped in total value from just over $4 billion to more than $10 billion in a little over two weeks. But that isn't what makes it interesting. What makes it interesting is that it isn't based on a blockchain at all; it's something else entirely. The rally began in late November, after the IOTA Foundation, the German nonprofit behind the novel cryptocurrency, announced that it was teaming up with several major technology firms to develop a "decentralized data marketplace."

Though IOTA tokens can be used like any other cryptocurrency, the protocol was designed specifically for use on connected devices, says cofounder David Sonstebo. Organizations collect huge amounts of data from these gadgets, from weather tracking systems to sensors that monitor the performance of industrial machinery (a.k.a. the Internet of things). But nearly all of that information is wasted, sitting in siloed databases and not making money for its owners, says Sonstebo. IOTA's system can address this in two ways, he says. First, it can assure the integrity of this data by securing it in a tamper-proof decentralized ledger. Second, it enables fee-less transactions between the owners of the data and anyone who wants to buy it -- and there are plenty of companies that want to get their hands on data.
The report goes on to note that instead of using a blockchain, "IOTA uses a 'tangle,' which is based on a mathematical concept called a directed acyclic graph." The team decided to research this new alternative after deciding that blockchains are too costly. "Part of Sonstebo's issue with Bitcoin and other blockchain systems is that they rely on a distributed network of 'miners' to verify transactions," reports MIT Technology Review. "When a user issues a transaction [with IOTA], that individual also validates two randomly selected previous transactions, each of which refer to two other previous transactions, and so on. As new transactions mount, a 'tangled web of confirmation' grows, says Sonstebo."
Space

Space Is Not a Void (slate.com) 276

An anonymous reader shares an article: When President Kennedy announced the Apollo Program, he famously argued that we should go to the moon because it is hard. Solving the technical challenges of space travel is a kind of civilizational achievement on its own, like resolving an interplanetary Rubik's Cube. The argument worked, perhaps all too well. As soon as we landed on the moon, humanity's expansion into the cosmos slowed and then stopped (not counting robots). If you were to draw a graph charting the farthest distance a human being has ever been from the surface of Earth, the peak was in 1970 with Apollo 13. With the successful moon landings, we solved all of the fundamental challenges involved in launching humans into orbit and bringing them back safely. The people watching those early feats of exploration imagined we would soon be sending astronauts to Mars and beyond, but something has held us back. Not know-how, or even money, but a certain lack of imagination. Getting to space isn't the hard part -- the hard part is figuring out why we're there. Sure, we can celebrate the human spirit and the first person to do this or that, but that kind of achievement never moves beyond the symbolic. It doesn't build industries, establish settlements and scientific research stations, or scale up solutions from expensive one-offs to mass production. Furthermore, as five decades of failing to go farther than our own moon have demonstrated, that kind of symbolism can't even sustain itself, much less energize new activity.
Cloud

Trump Administration Calls For Government IT To Adopt Cloud Services (reuters.com) 206

According to Reuters, The White House said Wednesday the U.S. government needs a major overhaul of information technology systems and should take steps to better protect data and accelerate efforts to use cloud-based technology. The report outlined a timeline over the next year for IT reforms and a detailed implementation plan. One unnamed cloud-based email provider has agreed to assist in keeping track of government spending on cloud-based email migration. From the report: The report said the federal government must eliminate barriers to using commercial cloud-based technology. "Federal agencies must consolidate their IT investments and place more trust in services and infrastructure operated by others," the report found. Government agencies often pay dramatically different prices for the same IT item, the report said, sometimes three or four times as much. A 2016 U.S. Government Accountability Office report estimated the U.S. government spends more than $80 billion on IT annually but said spending has fallen by $7.3 billion since 2010. In 2015, there were at least 7,000 separate IT investments by the U.S. government. The $80 billion figure does not include Defense Department classified IT systems and 58 independent executive branch agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency. The GAO report found some agencies are using systems that have components that are at least 50 years old.
The Almighty Buck

Patreon Scraps New Service Fee, Apologizes To Users (theverge.com) 65

Patreon has decided to halt its plans to add a service fee to patrons' pledges, a proposed update that angered many users. "We're going to press pause," CEO Jack Conte tells The Verge. "Folks have been adamant about the problems with the new system, and so basically, we have to solve those problems first." The company plans to work with creators on a plan that will solve issues with the current payment system, but won't create major new problems in their stead. From the report: Conte published a blog post laying out the core problems, alongside an apology. "Many of you lost patrons, and you lost income. No apology will make up for that, but nevertheless, I'm sorry," it reads. "We recognize that we need to be better at involving you more deeply and earlier in these kinds of decisions and product changes. Additionally, we need to give you a more flexible product and platform to allow you to own the way you run your memberships. I know it will take a long time for us to earn back your trust. But we are utterly devoted to your success and to getting you sustainable, reliable income for being a creator."

Conte says that any new system will need to take the popularity of small pledges into account, and preserve the benefits of aggregation. It will also need to give artists more autonomy, rather than announcing a sweeping overall change directly to users. "The overwhelming sentiment was that we overstepped our bounds" with the non-negotiable fee, he says. "I agree, we messed that up. We put ourselves between the creator and their fans and we basically told them how to run their business, and that's not okay." Webcomic creator Jeph Jacques previously quoted Conte as saying Patreon "absolutely fucked up that rollout."

Education

Universities Spend Millions on Accessing Results of Publicly Funded Research (theconversation.com) 76

Mark C. Wilson, a senior lecturer at Department of Computer Science, University of Auckland, writing for The Conversation: University research is generally funded from the public purse. The results, however, are published in peer-reviewed academic journals, many of which charge subscription fees. I had to use freedom of information laws to determine how much universities in New Zealand spend on journal subscriptions to give researchers and students access to the latest research -- and I found they paid almost US$15 million last year to just four publishers. There are additional costs, too. Paywalls on research hold up scientific progress and limit the publicâ(TM)s access to the latest information.
Botnet

Mirai IoT Botnet Co-Authors Plead Guilty (krebsonsecurity.com) 33

Three hackers responsible for creating the massive Mirai botnet that knocked large swathes of the internet offline last year have pleaded guilty. Brian Krebs reports: The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday unsealed the guilty pleas of two men (Editor's note: three men) first identified in January 2017 by KrebsOnSecurity as the likely co-authors of Mirai, a malware strain that remotely enslaves so-called "Internet of Things" devices such as security cameras, routers, and digital video recorders for use in large scale attacks designed to knock Web sites and entire networks offline (including multiple major attacks against this site). Entering guilty pleas for their roles in developing and using Mirai are 21-year-old Paras Jha from Fanwood, N.J. and Josiah White, 20, from Washington, Pennsylvania. Jha and White were co-founders of Protraf Solutions LLC, a company that specialized in mitigating large-scale DDoS attacks. Like firemen getting paid to put out the fires they started, Jha and White would target organizations with DDoS attacks and then either extort them for money to call off the attacks, or try to sell those companies services they claimed could uniquely help fend off the attacks. Editor's note: The story was updated to note that three men have pleaded guilty. -- not two as described in some reports.
Businesses

No Matter What Happens With Net Neutrality, an Open Internet Isn't Going Anywhere, Says Former FCC Chairman (recode.net) 176

Michael K. Powell, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, writing for Recode: With an ounce of reflection, one knows that none of this will come to pass, and the imagined doom will join the failed catastrophic predictions of Y2K and massive snow storms that fizzle to mere dustings -- all too common in Washington, D.C. Sadly, rational debate, like Elvis, has left the building. The vibrant and open internet that Americans cherish isn't going anywhere. In the days, weeks and years following this vote, Americans will be merrily shopping online for the holidays, posting pictures on Instagram, vigorously voicing political views on Facebook and asking Alexa the score of the game. Startups and small business will continue to hatch and flourish, and students will be online, studiously taking courses. Time will prove that the FCC did not destroy the internet, and our digital lives will go on just as they have for years. This confidence rests on the fact that ISPs highly value the open internet and the principles of net neutrality, much more than some animated activists would have you think. Why? For one, because it's a better way of making money than a closed internet.
The Almighty Buck

The Silicon Valley Paradox: One In Four People Are At Risk of Hunger (theguardian.com) 367

Zorro shares a report from The Guardian: One in four people in Silicon Valley are at risk of hunger, researchers at the Second Harvest food bank have found. Using hundreds of community interviews and data modeling, a new study suggests that 26.8% of the population -- almost 720,000 people -- qualify as "food insecure" based on risk factors such as missing meals, relying on food banks or food stamps, borrowing money for food, or neglecting bills and rent in order to buy groceries. Nearly a quarter are families with children. "We call it the Silicon Valley paradox," says Steve Brennan, the food bank's marketing director. "As the economy gets better we seem to be serving more people." Since the recession, Second Harvest has seen demand spike by 46%. The bank is at the center of the Silicon Valley boom -- both literally and figuratively. It sits just half a mile from Cisco's headquarters and counts Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg among its major donors. But the need it serves is exacerbated by this industry's wealth; as high-paying tech firms move in, the cost of living rises for everyone else.

The scale of the problem becomes apparent on a visit to Second Harvest, the only food bank serving Silicon Valley and one of the largest in the country. In any given month it provides meals for 257,000 people -- 66m pounds of food last year. Because poverty is often shrouded in shame, their clients' situations can come as a surprise. "Often we think of somebody visibly hungry, the traditional homeless person," Brennan said. "But this study is putting light on the non-traditional homeless: people living in their car or a garage, working people who have to choose between rent and food, people without access to a kitchen."

Politics

Paris Summit Finds New Money, Tech To Fight Climate Change (apnews.com) 203

An anonymous reader shares an Associated Press report: World leaders, investment funds and energy magnates promised Tuesday to devote new money and technology to slow global warming at a summit in Paris that President Emmanuel Macron hopes will rev up the Paris climate accord that U.S. President Donald Trump has rejected. Trump wasn't invited to the event but his name was everywhere. One by one, top world diplomats, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, business leaders like Michael Bloomberg and even former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry insisted that the world will shift to cleaner fuels and reduce emissions regardless of whether the Trump administration pitches in or not. Central to Tuesday's summit was countering Trump's main argument that the 2015 Paris accord on reducing global emissions would hurt U.S. business. Macron, a 39-year-old former investment banker, argues that the big businesses and successful economies of the future will be making and using renewable energy instead of pumping oil. Macron's office announced a dozen international projects emerging from the summit that will inject hundreds of millions of dollars in efforts to curb climate change. "The United States did not drop out of the Paris agreement. Donald Trump got Donald Trump out of the Paris agreement," Schwarzenegger said. The projects also aim to speed up the end of the combustion engine to reduce the emissions that contribute to global warming. With that aim, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim announced that his agency would stop financing oil and gas projects in two years, except in special circumstances for very poor nations.
Bitcoin

SEC Warns 'Extreme Caution' Over Cryptocurrency Investments As Many People Take Out Mortgages To Buy Bitcoin (qz.com) 232

The head of the US Securities and Exchange Commission has warned bitcoin and other cryptocurrency investors to beware of scams and criminal activity in the sector. In the financial regulator's strongest statement yet, SEC chair Jay Clayton said: "If a promoter guarantees returns, if an opportunity sounds too good to be true, or if you are pressured to act quickly, please exercise extreme caution and be aware of the risk that your investment may be lost." The warning comes at a time when many people have begun to take out mortgages to buy bitcoin. From a report: Clayton's statement was also issued the same day the SEC took regulatory action to halt an initial coin offering (ICO). "Recognize that these markets span national borders and that significant trading may occur on systems and platforms outside the United States. Your invested funds may quickly travel overseas without your knowledge," he wrote, in a sentence that was in bold. Clayton's statement referenced some of the crucial debates that have swirled around the rise and regulation of crypto-assets like bitcoins. Are these currencies? Commodities? Or securities? The statement notes in a footnote that bitcoin in the US has been designated a commodity. But the broader answer seems to be that while it depends from case to case, initial coin offerings, at least, are more likely to be scrutinized and held to the same bar as securities offerings.
Transportation

Inside Faraday Future's Financial House of Cards (theverge.com) 44

Sean O'Kane, reporting for The Verge: When Faraday Future emerged from stealth mode in 2015, it promised to transform the car industry with an American-made luxury electric vehicle that would someday be fully autonomous, maybe even sold through a subscription service. As we learned at CES 2017, the company was taking aim at Tesla with a car -- the FF91 -- that was designed to dazzle, with a 0-60 time of 2.4 seconds as jaw-dropping as the proposed $180,000 price tag. Since then, though, Faraday Future has been more focused on survival than speed. The Verge has learned from multiple sources about the nature of the company's financial plight. While Faraday Future posed as the newest California electric car startup that attracted top auto industry talent, 10 former employees and one person close to the company say the behavior and business practices of its chief investor have brought business to a halt. Also read: Everything wrong with Faraday Future's "Tesla killer"
Businesses

Why Google and Amazon Are Hypocrites (om.blog) 245

Amazon earlier this month responded to Google's decision to remove YouTube from all Fire TV products and the Echo Show. Google says it's taking this extreme step because of Amazon's recent delisting of new Nest products (like Nest Secure and the E Thermostat) and the company's long-running refusal to sell Chromecast or support Google Cast in any capacity. Veteran journalist Om Malik writes: This smacks of so much hypocrisy that I don't even know where to start. The two public proponents of network neutrality and anything but neutral about each other's services on each other's platforms. They can complain about the cable companies from blocking their content and charging for fast lanes. The irony isn't lost on me even a wee bit. They are locked in a battle to collect as much data about us -- what we shop, what we see, what we do online and they do so under the guise of offering us services that are amazing and wonderful. They don't talk about what they won't do with our data, instead, they bicker and distract. So to think that these purveyors of hyper-capitalism will fight for interests of consumers is not only childish, it is foolish. We as end customers need to figure out who is speaking on our behalf when it comes to the rules of the Internet.
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Fees Are Skyrocketing (arstechnica.com) 266

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The cost to complete a Bitcoin transaction has skyrocketed in recent days. A week ago, it cost around $6 on average to get a transaction accepted by the Bitcoin network. The average fee soared to $26 on Friday and was still almost $20 on Sunday. The reason is simple: until recently, the Bitcoin network had a hard-coded 1 megabyte limit on the size of blocks on the blockchain, Bitcoin's shared transaction ledger. With a typical transaction size of around 500 bytes, the average block had fewer than 2,000 transactions. And with a block being generated once every 10 minutes, that works out to around 3.3 transactions per second. A September upgrade called segregated witness allowed the cryptographic signatures associated with each transaction to be stored separately from the rest of the transaction. Under this scheme, the signatures no longer counted against the 1 megabyte blocksize limit, which should have roughly doubled the network's capacity. But only a small minority of transactions have taken advantage of this option so far, so the network's average throughput has stayed below 2,500 transactions per block -- around four transactions per second.

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