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Facebook

Facebook Launches 'Town Hall' For Contacting Government Reps, Adds Local Election Reminders (techcrunch.com) 55

Facebook has officially launched their "Town Hall" feature that allows users to locate, follow and contact their local, state and federal government representatives. The social media company also announced that they will be launching local election reminders in an effort to get more users to vote in state, county, and municipal elections. TechCrunch reports: The feature was recently made available in the "More" menu on mobile and on desktop to a subset of users. When you launch it, you would be presented with a list of reps at the local, state and federal level, and you could click to visit their Facebook page or send them a message, call them, or email. Not all reps offer their contact information via Facebook, however. And Facebook doesn't yet pull in the missing phone numbers or emails from off-site sources, like official government websites, for example. The company tell us that's something it wants to address in time, though. Today, Town Hall is available to all U.S. Facebook users and some of its features will now be integrated in the News Feed. If you like or comment on a post made by one of your elected officials, a new feature below the comments will invite you to call, message or email the rep. After doing so, users will then be prompted to share a post saying that they contacted the rep, as a means of encouraging their friends to do the same. Facebook says that this Contact Your Rep post is not shown to everyone, but only to those who are also already engaging with an elected official's post, through a like or comment. Additionally, Facebook says it will now offer Election Reminders for local elections. The new, local election reminders will appear for all state, county, and municipal elections in the U.S. in areas with a population of over 10,000 people, and will include both primaries and general elections.
Government

After Healthcare Defeat, Can The Trump Administration Fix America's H-1B Visa Program? (bloomberg.com) 532

Friday the Trump administration suffered a political setback when divisions in the president's party halted a move to repeal healthcare policies passed in 2010. But if Trump hopes to turn his attention to how America's H-1B visa program is affecting technology workers, "time is running out," writes Slashdot reader pteddy. Bloomberg reports: [T]he application deadline for the most controversial visa program is the first week of April, which means new rules have to be in place for that batch of applicants or another year's worth of visas will be handed out under the existing guidelines... There probably isn't enough time to pass legislation on such a contentious issue. But Trump could sign an executive order with some changes. The article points out that under the current system, one outsourcing firm was granted 6.5 times as many U.S. visas as Amazon. There's also an interesting map showing which countries' workers received the most H-1B visas in 2015 -- 69.4% went to workers in India, with another 10.5% going to China -- and a chart showing which positions are most in demand, indicating that two-thirds of the visa applications are for tech workers.
The Internet

'Dig Once' Bill Could Bring Fiber Internet To Much of the US (arstechnica.com) 172

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: If the U.S. adopts a "dig once" policy, construction workers would install conduits just about any time they build new roads and sidewalks or upgrade existing ones. These conduits are plastic pipes that can house fiber cables. The conduits might be empty when installed, but their presence makes it a lot cheaper and easier to install fiber later, after the road construction is finished. The idea is an old one. U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) has been proposing dig once legislation since 2009, and it has widespread support from broadband-focused consumer advocacy groups. It has never made it all the way through Congress, but it has bipartisan backing from lawmakers who often disagree on the most controversial broadband policy questions, such as net neutrality and municipal broadband. It even got a boost from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who has frequently clashed with Democrats and consumer advocacy groups over broadband -- her "Internet Freedom Act" would wipe out the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules, and she supports state laws that restrict growth of municipal broadband. Blackburn, chair of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, put Eshoo's dig once legislation on the agenda for a hearing she held yesterday on broadband deployment and infrastructure. Blackburn's opening statement (PDF) said that dig once is among the policies she's considering to "facilitate the deployment of communications infrastructure." But her statement did not specifically endorse Eshoo's dig once proposal, which was presented only as a discussion draft with no vote scheduled. The subcommittee also considered a discussion draft that would "creat[e] an inventory of federal assets that can be used to attach or install broadband infrastructure." Dig once legislation received specific support from Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who said that he is "glad to see Ms. Eshoo's 'Dig Once' bill has made a return this Congress. I think that this is smart policy and will help spur broadband deployment across the country."
Mars

Trump Adds To NASA Budget, Approves Crewed Mission To Mars (nbcnews.com) 310

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: President Donald Trump signed a law on Tuesday authorizing funding for a crewed NASA mission to Mars. The new bill (S.442) adds a crewed mission to the red planet as a key NASA objective and authorizes the space agency to direct test human space flight programs that will enable more crewed exploration in deep space. The space agency has $19.5 billion in funding for the 2018 fiscal year, which starts this October. Trump had allocated $19.1 billion for NASA in his budget, which is slightly down from the current year, but still an improvement from the past decade, which saw the end of the space shuttle program. The commander in chief signed the bill surrounded by astronauts and his former Republican rivals, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who both sponsored the bill. Getting to Mars, though, isn't expected to happen during the Trump presidency. NASA has its sights set on getting to the red planet in the 2030s. In the near term, NASA plans to test its Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket, in addition to visiting an asteroid and redirecting a chunk of it into orbit around the moon. Astronauts could later visit the boulder and use the mission to test some of the tools needed for a Mars mission.
Government

FBI Director Comey Confirms Investigation Into Trump Campaign (reuters.com) 536

FBI Director James Comey confirmed during testimony before Congress Monday that the FBI is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with a covert Russian campaign to interfere with the election. From a report on Reuters: Comey told a congressional hearing on Russian activities that the probe "includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts. Because it is an open, ongoing investigation and is classified, I cannot say more about what we are doing and whose conduct we are examining," Comey said. Earlier, the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Republican Representative Devin Nunes, told the same hearing that the panel had seen no evidence of collusion between Russia and Trump's 2016 campaign. Nunes also denied an unsubstantiated claim from Trump that there had been a wiretap on his Trump Tower in New York but said it was possible other surveillance was used against the Republican.
Government

US Federal Budget Proposal Cuts Science Funding (washingtonpost.com) 649

hey! writes: The U.S. Office of Management and Budget has released a budget "blueprint" which outlines substantial cuts in both basic research and applied technology funding. The proposal includes a whopping 18% reduction in National Institutes of Health medical research. NIH does get a new $500 million fund to track emerging infectious agents like Zika in the U.S., but loses its funding to monitor those agents overseas. The Department of Energy's research programs also get an 18% cut in research, potentially affecting basic physics research, high energy physics, fusion research, and supercomputing. Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) gets the ax, as does the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program, which enabled Tesla to manufacture its Model S sedan. EPA loses all climate research funding, and about half the research funding targeted at human health impacts of pollution. The Energy Star program is eliminated; Superfund funding is drastically reduced. The Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes cleanup programs are also eliminated, as is all screening of pesticides for endocrine disruption. In the Department of Commerce, Sea Grant is eliminated, along with all coastal zone research funding. Existing weather satellites GOES and JPSS continue funding, but JPSS-3 and -4 appear to be getting the ax. Support for transfer of federally funded research and technology to small and mid-sized manufacturers is eliminated. NASA gets a slight trim, and a new focus on deep space exploration paid for by an elimination of Earth Science programs. You can read more about this "blueprint" in Nature, Science, and the Washington Post, which broke the story. The Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department and Agriculture Department took the hardest hits, while the Defense Department, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Veterans Affairs have seen their budgets grow.
Google

Google Tells Army of 'Quality Raters' To Flag Holocaust Denial (theguardian.com) 429

Google is using a 10,000-strong army of independent contractors to flag "offensive or upsetting" content, in order to ensure that queries like "did the Holocaust happen" don't push users to misinformation, propaganda and hate speech. From a report on The Guardian: The review of search terms is being done by the company's "quality raters", a little-known corps of worldwide contractors that Google uses to assess the quality of its systems. The raters are given searches based on real queries to conduct, and are asked to score the results on whether they meet the needs of users. These contractors, introduced to the company's review process in 2013, work from a huge manual describing every potential problem they could find with a given search query: whether or not it meets the user's expectations, whether the result offered is low or high quality, and whether it's spam, porn or illegal. In a new update to the rating system, rolled out on Tuesday, Google introduced another flag raters could use: the "upsetting-offensive" mark.
Government

Justice Department Charging Russian Spies and Criminal Hackers in Yahoo Intrusion (washingtonpost.com) 57

The Justice Department is set to announce Wednesday, reports the Washington Post, the indictments of two Russian spies and two criminal hackers in connection with the heist of 500 million Yahoo user accounts in 2014, marking the first U.S. criminal cyber charges ever against Russian government officials (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternate source). From the report: The indictments target two members of the Russian intelligence agency FSB, and two hackers hired by the Russians. The charges include hacking, wire fraud, trade secret theft and economic espionage, according to officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the charges have not yet been announced. The indictments are part of the largest hacking case brought by the United States.
Government

FBI Says It Can't Release iPhone Hacking Tool Because It Might Still Be Useful (zdnet.com) 70

Justice Dept. officials say that details of a hacking tool used to access a terrorist's iPhone should not be released because it may still be "useful" to federal investigators. From a report: The government is fighting a case against three news organizations, including the Associated Press, which are fighting to release details of the hacking tool that FBI agents used to unlock a passcode-protected phone used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. Details of the hacking tool have remained classified, not least because the Justice Dept. believes the tool may could still be used by the FBI in similar cases. "Disclosure of this information could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to national security as it would allow hostile entities to discover the current intelligence gathering methods used, as well as the capabilities and limitations of these methods," said David Hardy, section chief of the FBI's records management division, in a court filing released late Monday.
Government

The Most Striking Thing About the WikiLeaks CIA Data Dump Is How Little Most People Cared (qz.com) 308

Last week, WikiLeaks released a trove of web pages describing sophisticated software tools and techniques used by the C.I.A to break into smartphones, computers, and IoT devices including smart TVs. Despite the initial media coverage, it appears normal people don't really care much about it, reports Quartz. An anonymous reader shares the report: There's also one other big difference between now and 2013. Snowden's NSA revelations sent shockwaves around the world. Despite WikiLeaks' best efforts at theatrics -- distributing an encrypted folder and tweeting the password "SplinterItIntoAThousandPiecesAndScatterItIntoTheWinds" -- the Vault 7 leak has elicited little more than a shrug from the media and the public, even if the spooks are seriously worried. Maybe it's because we already assume the government can listen to everything.
The Media

Nick Denton Predicts 'The Good Internet' Will Rise Again (pcworld.com) 135

Gawker founder Nick Denton argued today that the future will be rooted in sites like Reddit which involve their reader community -- even if there's only a handful of subtopics each user is interested in. "There's a vitality to it and there's a model for what [media] could be," he told an audience at the South by Southwest festival.

But when it comes to other social media sites, "Facebook makes me despise many of my friends and Twitter makes me hate the rest of the world," Denton said. And he attempted to address America's politically-charged atmosphere where professional news organizations struggled to pay their bills while still producing quality journalism. An anonymous reader quotes PCWorld: The internet played a huge role in this crisis, but despite it all, Denton thinks the web can be the solution to the problems it created. "On Google Hangouts chats or iMessage you can exchange quotes, links, stories, media," he said. "That's a delightful, engaging media experience. The next phase of media is going to come out of the idea of authentic, chill conversation about things that matter. Even if we're full of despair over what the internet has become, it's good to remind yourself when you're falling down some Wikipedia hole or having a great conversation with somebody online -- it's an amazing thing. In the habits that we enjoy, there are the seeds for the future. That's where the good internet will rise up again."
To show his support for news institutions, Denton has also purchased a paid subscription to the New York Times' site.
Government

New Bill Would Allow Employers To Demand Genetic Testing From Workers (businessinsider.com) 397

capedgirardeau quotes a report from Business Insider: A little-noticed bill moving through the U.S. Congress would allow companies to require employees to undergo genetic testing or risk paying a penalty of thousands of dollars, and would let employers see that genetic and other health information. Giving employers such power is now prohibited by U.S. law, including the 2008 genetic privacy and nondiscrimination law known as GINA. The new bill gets around that landmark law by stating explicitly that GINA and other protections do not apply when genetic tests are part of a "workplace wellness" program. The bill, HR 1313, was approved by a House committee on Wednesday, with all 22 Republicans supporting it and all 17 Democrats opposed. The 2008 genetic law prohibits a group health plan -- the kind employers have -- from asking, let alone requiring, someone to undergo a genetic test. It also prohibits that specifically for "underwriting purposes," which is where wellness programs come in. "Underwriting purposes" includes basing insurance deductibles, rebates, rewards, or other financial incentives on completing a health risk assessment or health screenings. In addition, any genetic information can be provided to the employer only in a de-identified, aggregated form, rather than in a way that reveals which individual has which genetic profile. There is a big exception, however: As long as employers make providing genetic information "voluntary," they can ask employees for it. Under the House bill, none of the protections for health and genetic information provided by GINA or the disabilities law would apply to workplace wellness programs as long as they complied with the ACA's very limited requirements for the programs. As a result, employers could demand that employees undergo genetic testing and health screenings.
Businesses

U.S. Jobs, Pay Show Solid Gains in Trump's First Full Month (bloomberg.com) 398

Two anonymous reader share a Bloomberg report: U.S. employers added jobs at an above-average pace for a second month on outsized gains in construction and manufacturing while wage growth picked up, as the labor market continued its steady improvement in the new year. The 235,000 increase followed a 238,000 rise in January that was more than previously estimated, the best back-to-back rise since July, a Labor Department report showed Friday in Washington. The unemployment rate fell to 4.7 percent, and wages grew 2.8 percent from February 2016. While unseasonably warm weather may have boosted the payrolls count, the data represent President Donald Trump's first full month in office and coincide with a surge in economic optimism following his election victory.
China

China Expresses Concern at Revelations in Wikileaks Dump of Hacked CIA Data (reuters.com) 122

China has expressed concern over revelations in a trove of data released by Wikileaks purporting to show that the CIA can hack all manner of devices, including those made by Chinese companies. From a report on Reuters: Dozens of firms rushed to contain the damage from possible security weak points following the anti-secrecy organization's revelations, although some said they needed more details of what the U.S. intelligence agency was up to. Widely-used routers from Silicon Valley-based Cisco were listed as targets, as were those supplied by Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE and Taiwan supplier Zyxel for their devices used in China and Pakistan. "We urge the U.S. side to stop listening in, monitoring, stealing secrets and internet hacking against China and other countries," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing.
Republicans

GOP Senators' New Bill Would Let ISPs Sell Your Web Browsing Data (arstechnica.com) 300

Yesterday, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and 23 Republican co-sponsors introduced a resolution that would overturn new privacy rules for internet service providers. "If the Federal Communications Commission rules are eliminated, ISPs would not have to get consumers' explicit consent before selling or sharing web browsing data and other privacy information with advertisers and other third parties," reports Ars Technica. "The measure would use lawmakers' power under the Congressional Review Act to ensure that the FCC rulemaking 'shall have no force or effect.' The resolution would also prevent the FCC from issuing similar regulations in the future." From the report: Flake's announcement said he's trying to "protect consumers from overreaching Internet regulation." Flake also said that the resolution "empowers consumers to make informed choices on if and how their data can be shared," but he did not explain how it will achieve that. The privacy order had several major components. The requirement to get the opt-in consent of consumers before sharing information covered geo-location data, financial and health information, children's information, Social Security numbers, Web browsing history, app usage history, and the content of communications. This requirement is supposed to take effect on December 4, 2017. The rulemaking had a data security component that required ISPs to take "reasonable" steps to protect customers' information from theft and data breaches. This was supposed to take effect on March 2, but the FCC under newly appointed Chairman Ajit Pai halted the rule's implementation. Another set of requirements related to data breach notifications is scheduled to take effect on June 2. Flake's resolution would prevent all of those requirements from being implemented. He said that this "is the first step toward restoring the [Federal Trade Commission's] light-touch, consumer-friendly approach." Giving the FTC authority over Internet service providers would require further FCC or Congressional action because the FTC is not allowed to regulate common carriers, a designation currently applied to ISPs.
Crime

Federal Criminal Probe Being Opened Into WikiLeaks' Publication of CIA Documents (cnn.com) 236

A federal criminal investigation is being opened into WikiLeaks' publication of documents detailing alleged CIA hacking operations, CNN reports citing several U.S. officials. From the report: The officials said the FBI and CIA are coordinating reviews of the matter. The investigation is looking into how the documents came into WikiLeaks' possession and whether they might have been leaked by an employee or contractor. The CIA is also trying to determine if there are other unpublished documents WikiLeaks may have. The documents published so far are largely genuine, officials said, though they are not yet certain if all of them are and whether some of the documents may have been altered. One of the biggest concerns for the federal government is if WikiLeaks publishes critical computer code on how operations are conducted, other hackers could take that code and cause havoc overseas. Security expert Robert Graham, wrote on Tuesday: The CIA didn't remotely hack a TV. The docs are clear that they can update the software running on the TV using a USB drive. There's no evidence of them doing so remotely over the Internet. The CIA didn't defeat Signal/WhatsApp encryption. The CIA has some exploits for Android/iPhone. If they can get on your phone, then, of course they can record audio and screenshots. Technically, this bypasses/defeats encryption -- but such phrases used by Wikileaks are highly misleading, since nothing related to Signal/WhatsApp is happening. [...] This hurts the CIA a lot. Already, one AV researcher has told me that a virus they once suspected came from the Russians or Chinese can now be attributed to the CIA, as it matches the description perfectly to something in the leak. We can develop anti-virus and intrusion-detection signatures based on this information that will defeat much of what we read in these documents. This would put a multi-year delay in the CIA's development efforts. Plus, it'll now go on a witch-hunt looking for the leaker, which will erode morale.
Businesses

Big Tech Lobbying Is On the Verge of Killing Right To Repair Legislation In Minnesota (vice.com) 136

Jason Koebler, writing for Motherboard: Statehouse employees in Minnesota say that lobbying efforts by big tech companies and John Deere are on the verge of killing right to repair legislation in the state that would have made it easier for consumers and small businesses to fix their electronics. According to two of the bill's sponsors, the bill, which would have introduced "fair repair" requirements for manufacturers in the state, will not get a hearing that's necessary to move the legislation forward. Minnesota Senate rules automatically kills any bills that do not have a hearing scheduled by a certain date (this year, it's March 10). Last year, tech industry lobbying killed a similar bill in New York. "Unfortunately, it's not going to make deadline this session," Republican Sen. David Osmek, one of the sponsors, told me in an email. Osmek would not give additional specifics about his colleagues' concerns with the bill, but a legislative assistant for the bill's other sponsor told me that electronic manufacturer lobbying is likely to blame, while another source close to the legislature told me that tractor manufacturer John Deere -- a long time enemy of fair repair -- helped kill the bill as well.
Communications

Trump Renominates Ajit Pai For Five More Years at the FCC (theverge.com) 57

According to Axios, Bloomberg, and several other publications, President Trump has nominated FCC chairman Ajit Pai for a second five-year term at the commission. "Pai's current term ended last June, though he's been able to stick around through the end of the year even without reconfirmation," reports The Verge. From the report: The nomination comes just days after Pai sat down with the president for a meeting, during which they're said to have "reconnected" but without actually discussing anything the commission is actively considering. Pai will need confirmation from the Senate for the nomination to be approved. He was first nominated in 2012 to fill the slot of a commissioner. With approval, he'll be able to stick around through at least the entirety of Trump's current term. The question now is when Trump will nominate people to fill the two slots still vacant at the commission. The FCC remains short staffed, with only three out of five seated leaders, which somewhat limits how quickly Pai is able to get through his agenda.
Businesses

Sprint 'Betting Big On Trump,' Could Merge With T-Mobile Or Comcast (arstechnica.com) 89

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Speculation that Sprint will merge with T-Mobile USA or another competitor has ramped up since the inauguration of President Donald Trump. That continued Friday when a report from The New York Times suggested that Sprint could be combined with either T-Mobile or Comcast, the nation's largest cable company. Masayoshi Son, founder and CEO of Sprint owner SoftBank, "and his financial advisers are weighing several major possible deals for Sprint," the Times wrote. "Be it a tie-up with T-Mobile U.S., Sprint's closest competitor, or a more ambitious marriage with the cable colossus Comcast, a transaction would allow Mr. Son to fulfill a long-held ambition to invest aggressively in wireless networks in the United States and enable next-generation mobile technology." Titled "The World's Top Tech Investor Is Betting Big on Trump," the Times report says that "the Trump administration's push for lighter regulation and lower taxes has been a powerful lure for cash-rich investors the world over." SoftBank, which is based in Japan, had several of its executives "spen[d] a day in Washington talking to senior members of Mr. Trump's economic team" last month, according to bankers who were briefed on the meetings, the Times report said. U.S. regulators opposed wireless consolidation during the Obama administration, preventing potential mergers between AT&T and T-Mobile and later between Sprint and T-Mobile. With four major nationwide carriers, U.S. wireless competition recently led to an expansion of unlimited data plans.
Government

US Suspends 'Expedited' H-1B Visas (sfgate.com) 295

"Starting April 3, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will temporarily suspend premium processing for all H-1B petitions," read Friday's announcement, which says the suspension "may last up to 6 months." Slashdot reader elrous0 sees it as part of the "ongoing efforts to curb abuses in the controversial H-1B program." The San Francisco Chronicle reports: While it could be difficult to divorce the move Friday from the Trump administration's broader immigration crackdown, some experts believed the agency's decision to be apolitical. "It has everything to do with an understaffed, overworked, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services," said Jason Finkelman, an Austin, Texas, immigration attorney, adding that the wait time for an H-1B visa in California is currently about eight months. However, Vivek Wadhwa, an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Silicon Valley campus in NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, said the suspension seems like a message from the government that you "can't buy your way into America."
Whatever the motivation, Engadget believes this will impact large tech companies. "Financial Times quotes a lawyer saying that 'close to 100 percent' of applications from companies like Microsoft utilize the option."

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