Patents

Tribal 'Sovereign Immunity' Patent Protection Could Be Outlawed (arstechnica.com) 71

AnalogDiehard writes: The recent -- and questionable -- practice of technological and pharmaceutical companies selling their patents to U.S. native Indian tribes (where they enjoy "sovereign immunity" from the inter partes review (IPR) process of the PTO) and then the tribes licensing them back to the companies is drawing scrutiny from a federal court and has inspired a new U.S. bill outlawing the practice. The IPR process is a "fast track" (read: much less expensive) process through the PTO to review the validity of challenged patents -- it is loved by defendants and hated by patent holders. Not only has U.S. Circuit Judge William Bryson invalidated Allergan's pharmaceutical patents due to "obviousness," he is questioning the legitimacy of the sovereign immunity tactic. The judge was well aware that the tactic could endanger the IPR process, which was a central component of the America Invents Act of 2011, and writes that sovereign immunity "should not be treated as a monetizable commodity that can be purchased by private entities as part of a scheme to evade their legal responsibility." U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) -- no stranger to abuses of the patent system -- has introduced a bill that would outlaw the practice she describes as "one of the most brazen and absurd loopholes I've ever seen and it should be illegal." Sovereign immunity is not absolute and has been limited by Congress and the courts in the past. The bill would apply only to the IPR proceedings and not to patent disputes in federal courts.
The Military

SpaceX's Reusable Rockets Win US Air Force General's Endorsement (bloomberg.com) 62

As the military looks to drive down costs, the head of U.S. Air Force Space Command said he's "completely committed" to launching future missions with recycled rockets like those championed by SpaceX's Elon Musk. "It would be 'absolutely foolish' not to begin using pre-flown rockets, which brings such significant savings that they'll soon be commonplace for the entire industry, General John W. 'Jay' Raymond said," reports Bloomberg. From the report: "The market's going to go that way. We'd be dumb not to," he said. "What we have to do is make sure we do it smartly." The Air Force won't be able to use the recycled boosters until they're certified for military use, a process that Raymond suggested may already be in the works. "The folks out at Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles that work for me would be in those dialogues," he said, declining to specify when certification could take place. "I don't know how far down the road we've gotten, but I am completely committed to launching on a reused rocket, a previously flown rocket, and making sure that we have the processes in place to be able to make sure that we can do that safely."
The Internet

Russian Troll Factory Paid US Activists To Fund Protests During Election (theguardian.com) 486

bestweasel writes: The Guardian reports on another story about Russian meddling, but interestingly, this one comes from a respected Russian news source, the RBC. From the report: "Russian trolls posing as Americans made payments to genuine activists in the U.S. to help fund protest movements on socially divisive issues. On Tuesday, the newspaper RBC published a major investigation into the work of a so-called Russian 'troll factory' since 2015, including during the period of the U.S. election campaign, disclosures that are likely to put further spotlight on alleged Russian meddling in the election. RBC said it had identified 118 accounts or groups in Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that were linked to the troll factory, all of which had been blocked in August and September this year as part of the U.S. investigation into Russian electoral meddling. Perhaps the most alarming element of the article was the claim that employees of the troll factory had contacted about 100 real U.S.-based activists to help with the organization of protests and events. RBC claimed the activists were contacted by Facebook group administrators hiding their Russian origin and were offered financial help to pay for transport or printing costs. About $80,000 was spent during a two-year period, according to the report."
Government

'Significant' Number of Equifax Victims Already Had Info Stolen, Says IRS (thehill.com) 99

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: The IRS does not expect the Equifax data breach to have a major effect on the upcoming tax filing season, Commissioner John Koskinen said Tuesday, adding that the agency believes a "significant" number of the victims already had their information stolen by cyber criminals. "We actually think that it won't make any significantly or noticeable difference," Koskinen told reporters during a briefing on the agency's data security efforts. "Our estimate is a significant percent of those taxpayers already had their information in the hands of criminals." The IRS estimates that more than 100 million Americans have had their personally identifiable information stolen by criminal hackers, he said.

The Equifax breach disclosed in early September is estimated to have affected more than 145 million U.S. consumers. "It's an important reminder to the public that everyone can take any actions that they can ... to make sure we can do everything we can to protect personal information," Koskinen said of the breach on Tuesday, in response to a reporter's question. The IRS commissioner advised Americans to "assume" their data is already in the hands of criminals and "act accordingly."

Piracy

Netflix, Amazon, Movie Studios Sue Over TickBox Streaming Device (arstechnica.com) 117

Movies studios, Netflix, and Amazon have teamed up to file a lawsuit against a streaming media player called TickBox TV. The device in question runs Kodi on top of Android 6.0, and searches the internet for streams that it can make available to users without actually hosting any of the content itself. An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The complaint (PDF), filed Friday, says the TickBox devices are nothing more than "tool[s] for mass infringement," which operate by grabbing pirated video streams from the Internet. The lawsuit was filed by Amazon and Netflix Studios, along with six big movie studios that make up the Motion Picture Association of America: Universal, Columbia, Disney, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros.

"What TickBox actually sells is nothing less than illegal access to Plaintiffs' copyrighted content," write the plaintiffs' lawyers. "TickBox TV uses software to link TickBox's customers to infringing content on the Internet. When those customers use TickBox TV as Defendant intends and instructs, they have nearly instantaneous access to multiple sources that stream Plaintiffs' Copyrighted Works without authorization." The device's marketing materials let users know the box is meant to replace paid-for content, with "a wink and a nod," by predicting that prospective customers who currently pay for Amazon Video, Netflix, or Hulu will find that "you no longer need those subscriptions." The lawsuit shows that Amazon and Netflix, two Internet companies that are relatively new to the entertainment business, are more than willing to join together with movie studios to go after businesses that grab their content.

Open Source

Companies Overlook Risks in Open Source Software, Survey Finds (betanews.com) 121

An anonymous reader shares a report: Open source code helps software suppliers to be nimble and build products faster, but a new report reveals hidden software supply chain risks of open source that all software suppliers and IoT manufacturers should know about. The recent Equifax breach for example exploited a vulnerability in a widely used open source web framework, Apache Struts, and the study by software monetization specialist Flexera points out that as much as 50 percent of code in commercial and IoT software products is open source. "We can't lose sight that open source is indeed a clear win. Ready-to-go code gets products out the door faster, which is important given the lightning pace of the software space," says Jeff Luszcz, vice president of product management at Flexera. "However, most software engineers don't track open source use, and most software executives don't realize there's a gap and a security/compliance risk." Flexera surveyed 400 software suppliers, Internet of Things manufacturers and in-house development teams. It finds only 37 percent of respondents to the survey have an open source acquisition or usage policy, while 63 percent say either their companies either don't have a policy, or they don't know if one exists. Worryingly, of the 63 percent who say their companies don't have an open source acquisition or usage policy, 43 percent say they contribute to open source projects. There is an issue over who takes charge of open source software too. No one within their company is responsible for open source compliance, or they don't know who is, according to 39 percent of respondents.
Businesses

Tesla Employees Detail How They Were Fired, Claim Dismissals Were Not Performance Related (cnbc.com) 231

New submitter joshtops shares a CNBC report: Tesla is trying to disguise layoffs by calling the widespread terminations performance related, allege several current and former employees. On Friday, the San Jose Mercury News first reported that Tesla had dismissed an estimated 400 to 700 employees. That number represents between 1 and 2 percent of its entire workforce. But one former employee, citing internal information shared by a manager, said the total number fired is higher than 700 at this point. Most of the people let go from Tesla so far have been from its motors business, said people familiar with the matter. They were not from other initiatives like Tesla Powerwall, which is helping restore electricity to the residents of Puerto Rico now. The mass firings, which affected Tesla employees across the U.S., had begun by the weekend of Oct. 7 and continued even after the initial news report, sources said. Among those whose jobs were terminated in this phase, some were given severance packages quickly while others are still waiting on separation agreements. Some terminated employees told CNBC they were informed via email or a phone call "without warning," and told not to come into work the next day. The company also dismissed other employees without specifying a given performance issue, according to these people. "Seems like performance has nothing to do with it," one Tesla employee told CNBC under the condition of anonymity. "Those terminated were generally the highest paid in their position," this person said, suggesting that the firings were driven by cost-cutting. That assessment was echoed by several others, including three employees fired from Tesla during this latest wave.
United States

Smartphones Are Killing Americans, But Nobody's Counting (bloomberg.com) 365

An anonymous reader shares a Bloomberg report: Over the past two years, after decades of declining deaths on the road, U.S. traffic fatalities surged by 14.4 percent. In 2016 alone, more than 100 people died every day in or near vehicles in America, the first time the country has passed that grim toll in a decade. Regulators, meanwhile, still have no good idea why crash-related deaths are spiking: People are driving longer distances but not tremendously so; total miles were up just 2.2 percent last year. Collectively, we seemed to be speeding and drinking a little more, but not much more than usual. Together, experts say these upticks don't explain the surge in road deaths. There are however three big clues, and they don't rest along the highway. One, as you may have guessed, is the substantial increase in smartphone use by U.S. drivers as they drive. From 2014 to 2016, the share of Americans who owned an iPhone, Android phone, or something comparable rose from 75 percent to 81 percent. The second is the changing way in which Americans use their phones while they drive. These days, we're pretty much done talking. Texting, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are the order of the day -- all activities that require far more attention than simply holding a gadget to your ear or responding to a disembodied voice. By 2015, almost 70 percent of Americans were using their phones to share photos and follow news events via social media. In just two additional years, that figure has jumped to 80 percent.
AT&T

Mobile Phone Companies Appear To Be Selling Your Location To Almost Anyone (techcrunch.com) 147

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: You may remember that last year, Verizon (which owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch) was punished by the FCC for injecting information into its subscribers' traffic that allowed them to be tracked without their consent. That practice appears to be alive and well despite being disallowed in a ruling last March: companies appear to be able to request your number, location, and other details from your mobile provider quite easily. The possibility was discovered by Philip Neustrom, co-founder of Shotwell Labs, who documented it in a blog post earlier this week. He found a pair of websites which, if visited from a mobile data connection, report back in no time with numerous details: full name, billing zip code, current location (as inferred from cell tower data), and more. (Others found the same thing with slightly different results depending on carrier, but the demo sites were taken down before I could try it myself.)
Earth

Ophelia Became a Major Hurricane Where No Storm Had Before (arstechnica.com) 177

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The system formerly known as Hurricane Ophelia is moving into Ireland on Monday, bringing "status red" weather throughout the day to the island. The Irish National Meteorological Service, Met Eireann, has warned that, "Violent and destructive gusts of 120 to 150km/h are forecast countrywide, and in excess of these values in some very exposed and hilly areas. There is a danger to life and property." Ophelia transitioned from a hurricane to an extra-tropical system on Sunday, but that only marginally diminished its threat to Ireland and the United Kingdom on Monday, before it likely dissipates near Norway on Tuesday. The primary threat from the system was high winds, with heavy rains. Forecasters marveled at the intensification of Ophelia on Saturday, as it reached Category 3 status on the Saffir-Simpson scale and became a major hurricane. For a storm in the Atlantic basin, this is the farthest east that a major hurricane has been recorded during the satellite era of observations. Additionally, it was the farthest north, at 35.9 degrees north, that an Atlantic major hurricane has existed this late in the year since 1939.
Television

Netflix Adds 5.3 Million Subs In Q3, Beating Forecasts (variety.com) 67

Netflix shows no signs of slowing down. The company announced its third quarter results, adding more subscribers in both the U.S. and abroad than expected. Variety reports: The company gained 850,000 streaming subs in the U.S. and 4.45 million overseas in the period. Analysts had estimated Netflix to add 784,000 net subscribers in the U.S. and 3.62 million internationally for Q3. "We added a Q3-record 5.3 million memberships globally (up 49% year-over-year) as we continued to benefit from strong appetite for our original series and films, as well as the adoption of internet entertainment across the world," the company said in announcing the results, noting that it had under-forecast both U.S. and international subscriber growth. Netflix also indicated that its content spending may be even higher next year than previously projected. The company had said it was targeting programming expenditures of $7 billion in 2018; on Monday, Netflix said it will spend between $7 billion and $8 billion on content (on a profit-and-loss basis) next year. For 2017, original content will represent more than 25% of total programming spending, and that "will continue to grow," Netflix said.
Patents

Apple To Appeal Five-Year-Long Patent Battle After $439.7 Million Loss (theverge.com) 69

Appel has been ordered to pay $439.7 million to the patent-holding firm VirnetX for infringing on four patented technologies that were apparently used in FaceTime and other iOS apps. According to The Verge, Apple plans to appeal the ruling -- continuing this long-running patent battle, which began back in 2012. From the report: VirnetX first filed suit against Apple in 2010, winning $368 million just two years later. It then sued again in 2012, which is the suit that's being ruled on today. Apple initially lost the suit, then filed for a mistrial. It won a new trial, lost that trial, was ordered to pay around $300 million, then lost some more and is now having that amount upped even further. That's because a judge found Apple guilty of willful infringement, bumping its payment amount from $1.20 per infringing Apple device to $1.80 per device. Those include certain iPhones, iPads, and Macs. VirnetX says the ruling is "very reasonable." Apple didn't issue a statement other than to say that it plans to appeal. While $440 million isn't a lot of money for Apple, there's principle at stake here: VirnetX is a patent troll that makes its money from licensing patents and suing other parties. The company's SEC filing states, "Our portfolio of intellectual property is the foundation of our business model."
Businesses

eBay Launches Authentication Service To Combat Counterfeit High-End Goods (venturebeat.com) 69

Ecommerce giant eBay has launched a previously announced service designed to combat the scourge of fake goods on the platform. From a report: eBay has proven popular with fake goods' sellers for some time, with fashion accessories and jewelry featuring highly on counterfeiters' agenda. The company announced eBay Authenticate way back in January with a broad focus on giving "high-end" goods an official stamp of approval prior to sale. Ultimately designed to encourage buyers to part with cash on expensive items, it uses a network of professional authenticators who take physical receipt of a seller's products, validates them, and then photographs, lists, and ships the goods to the successful buyer. For today's launch of eBay Authenticate, the service is only available for luxury handbags from 12 brands, including Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Valentino, though the program will be expanded to cover other luxury goods and brands from next year. "With tens-of-thousands of high-end handbags currently available, eBay is primed to boost customer confidence in selling and shopping for an amazing selection of designer merchandise," noted Laura Chambers, vice president of consumer selling at eBay. "We also believe our sellers will love this service, as it provides them with a white-glove service when selling luxury handbags."
United States

EPA Says Higher Radiation Levels Pose 'No Harmful Health Effect' (bloomberg.com) 290

Readers share a report: In the event of a dirty bomb or a nuclear meltdown, emergency responders can safely tolerate radiation levels equivalent to thousands of chest X-rays, the Environmental Protection Agency said in new guidelines that ease off on established safety levels. The EPA's determination sets a level ten times the drinking water standard for radiation recommended under President Barack Obama. It could lead to the administration of President Donald Trump weakening radiation safety levels, watchdog groups critical of the move say. "It's really a huge amount of radiation they are saying is safe," said Daniel Hirsch, the retired director of the University of California, Santa Cruz's program on environmental and nuclear policy. "The position taken could readily unravel all radiation protection rules." The change was included as part of EPA "guidance" on messaging and communications in the event of a nuclear power plant meltdown or dirty bomb attack. The FAQ document, dated September 2017, is part of a broader planning document for nuclear emergencies, and does not carry the weight of federal standards or law.
United States

Leave It To the Heat to Dull Autumn's Glory (wsj.com) 133

It's autumn. Somebody tell the trees. From a report: Ordinarily, two signals alert deciduous trees that it's time to relinquish the green hues of summer in favor of autumn's yellows, oranges and reds. First, the days begin to grow shorter. Second, the temperature begins to drop. But this year, unseasonably warm weather across most of the U.S. has tricked trees into delaying the onset of fall's color extravaganza. Temperatures in the eastern half of the country have been as much as 15 degrees above normal since mid-September, and the warmth is expected to persist through the end of October. The unfortunate result for leaf peepers is a lackluster fall. Two kinds of pigments produce the season's liveliest foliage. Carotenoid, responsible for yellows and oranges, is always present in leaves but is usually masked by chlorophyll. The initial trigger for its appearance is shorter days. Anthocyanin, responsible for reds and deep purples, is different. Not all deciduous trees have this pigment, and those that do manufacture it from scratch in the fall. The primary trigger for its appearance is lower temperatures. Without that cooling cue, the colors of maple and other species that generally ignite New England with brilliant reds this time of year are likely to fizzle.
Microsoft

US Supreme Court To Decide Microsoft Email Privacy Dispute (reuters.com) 68

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to resolve a major privacy dispute between the Justice Department and Microsoft Corp over whether prosecutors should get access to emails stored on company servers overseas. From a report: The justices will hear the Trump administration's appeal of a lower court's ruling last year preventing federal prosecutors from obtaining emails stored in Microsoft computer servers in Dublin, Ireland in a drug trafficking investigation. That decision by the New York-based 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals marked a victory for privacy advocates and technology companies that increasingly offer cloud computing services in which data is stored remotely. Microsoft, which has 100 data centers in 40 countries, was the first U.S. company to challenge a domestic search warrant seeking data held outside the country. There have been several similar challenges, most brought by Google.
Earth

Nobel Prize Winner Argues Tech Companies Should Be Changing The World (qz.com) 145

An anonymous reader writes: Tech companies are competing to serve the wealthy, argues the winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, complaining there's no "global vision," with big innovations instead "designed and dedicated mostly for commercial successes... while trillions of dollars are invested in developing robotics and artificial intelligence for military and commercial purposes, there is little interest in applying technology to overcome the massive human problems of the world." A genius in the tech industry "can dedicate his work to creating a medical breakthrough that will save thousands of lives -- or he can develop an app that will let people amuse themselves."

As an exception, he cites the low-cost Endless computer, which runs Linux and has 50,000 Wikipedia articles pre-installed to enable offline research -- plus more than 100 applications -- for a price of just $79. "One part of Endless's business is operated like a conventional, profit-seeking company, while the other part is a social business that provides underserved populations with educational, health, and creative services they were once denied. Endless is already being shipped around the globe by four of the five largest computer manufacturers. It has become the leading PC platform in Indonesia and much of Southeast Asia. It has also been selected as the standard operating system for the Brazilian Ministry of Education, and in coming months it will be adopted as the primary platform by a number of other Latin American countries."

The article is by Muhammad Yunus, who pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance, and is taken from his new book, A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions.
The Military

Pentagon Turns To High-Speed Traders To Fortify Markets Against Cyberattack (wsj.com) 69

Slashdot reader Templer421 quotes the Wall Street Journal's report [non-paywalled version here] on DARPA's "Financial Markets Vulnerabilities Project": Dozens of high-speed traders and others from Wall Street are helping the Pentagon study how hackers could unleash chaos in the U.S. financial system. The Department of Defense's research arm over the past year and a half has consulted executives at high-frequency trading firms and quantitative hedge funds, and people from exchanges and other financial companies, participants in the discussions said. Officials described the effort as an early-stage pilot project aimed at identifying market vulnerabilities... Participants described meetings as informal sessions in which attendees brainstorm about how hackers might try to bring down U.S. markets, then rank the ideas by feasibility.

Among the potential scenarios: Hackers could cripple a widely used payroll system; they could inject false information into stock-data feeds, sending trading algorithms out of whack; or they could flood the stock market with fake sell orders and trigger a market crash... "We started thinking a couple years ago what it would be like if a malicious actor wanted to cause havoc on our financial markets," said Wade Shen, who researched artificial intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining Darpa as a program manager in 2014.

Crime

Pizza Hut Leaks Credit Card Info On 60,000 Customers (kentucky.com) 76

An anonymous reader quotes McClatchy: Pizza Hut told customers by email on Saturday that some of their personal information may have been compromised. Some of those customers are angry that it took almost two weeks for the fast food chain to notify them. According to a customer notice emailed from the pizza chain, those who placed an order on its website or mobile app between the morning of Oct. 1 and midday Oct. 2 might have had their information exposed. The "temporary security intrusion" lasted for about 28 hours, the notice said, and it's believed that names, billing ZIP codes, delivery addresses, email addresses and payment card information -- meaning account number, expiration date and CVV number -- were compromised... A call center operator told McClatchy that about 60,000 people across the U.S. were affected.
"[W]e estimate that less than one percent of the visits to our website over the course of the relevant week were affected," read a customer notice sent only to those affected, offering them a free year of credit monitoring. But that hasn't stopped sarcastic tweets like this from the breach's angry victims.

"Hey @pizzahut, thanks for telling me you got hacked 2 weeks after you lost my cc number. And a week after someone started using it."
China

China's Scientists Set New International Record -- For Faked Peer Reviews (nytimes.com) 73

China now has more laboratory scientists than any other country in the world, reports Amy Qin in the New York Times, and spends more on research than the entire European Union. But in its rush to dominance, China has stood out in another, less boastful way. Since 2012, the country has retracted more scientific papers because of faked peer reviews than all other countries and territories put together, according to Retraction Watch, a blog that tracks and seeks to publicize retractions of research papers... In April, a scientific journal retracted 107 biology research papers, the vast majority of them written by Chinese authors, after evidence emerged that they had faked glowing reviews of their articles. Then, this summer, a Chinese gene scientist who had won celebrity status for breakthroughs once trumpeted as Nobel Prize-worthy was forced to retract his research when other scientists failed to replicate his results. At the same time, a government investigation highlighted the existence of a thriving online black market that sells everything from positive peer reviews to entire research articles...

In part, these numbers may simply reflect the enormous scale of the world's most populous nation. But Chinese scientists also blame what they call the skewed incentives they say are embedded within their nation's academic system.

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