Chinese Companies Are Buying Up Cash-Strapped US Colleges ( 51

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Chinese companies are taking advantage of America's financially strapped higher-education system to buy schools, and the latest deal for a classical music conservatory in Princeton, New Jersey, is striking chords of dissonance on campus. Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology Co. agreed in February to pay $40 million for Westminster Choir College, an affiliate of Rider University that trains students for careers as singers, conductors and music teachers. The announcement came just weeks after the government-controlled Chinese company changed its name from Jiangsu Zhongtai Bridge Steel Structure Co. The pending purchase rankles some Westminster faculty and alumni, who question what a longtime maker of steel spans knows about running an elite school whose choirs sang with maestros Leonard Bernstein, Arturo Toscanini and Seiji Ozawa. Alumni are among those suing in New York federal court to block the sale, saying it violates Westminster's 1991 merger agreement with Rider and will trigger the choir college's demise.

Android Wear Needs More Than a New Name To Fight Apple Watch ( 90

Less than two months before Google I/O, Google has rebranded its Android Wear watch platform to "Wear OS." The recent name change is part of a move to have its watches stand apart from Android, but it could also indicate that Google's smartwatch strategy is about to shift. Google may release a completely new Wear OS focused on the Google Assistant or a Google-branded smartwatch. Scott Stein writes via CNET that Android Wear needs more than a new name to fight the Apple Watch: The Apple Watch took over the top spot in global wearable sales recently, according to IDC, despite the fact that it's only compatible with iPhones. Fitbit just announced the Versa, a promising casual smartwatch that will interface with any iPhone or Android and starts at just $200. The wearable market is growing. But where is Google in that picture? The Fossil Group, maker of many of the Android Wear watch products last year, reported some promising numbers: "In 2017, Fossil Group nearly doubled its wearables business to more than $300 million, including 20 percent of watch sales in Q4," said Greg McKelvey, Fossil's chief strategy and digital officer, as part of Google's Wear OS announcement. So it sounds like Android Wear -- sorry, Wear OS -- is still in the game. But the problem, for me, is that I've never found Android Wear watches to be particularly great. Google relaunched Android Wear over a year ago with new software and added fitness smarts, plus standalone phone functions. But Apple's watch strategy has advanced faster, with better hardware. The Apple Watch S3 can be a phone, now. So can Samsung's Gear S3, which runs on Tizen. Google, meanwhile, stopped adding cellular functions to watches after the lackluster LG Watch Sport last year.

Wikipedia Had No Idea YouTube Was Going To Use It To Fact-Check Conspiracy Theories ( 136

Yesterday, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki announced that the company would drop a Wikipedia link beneath videos on highly contested topics. We have now learned that Wikipedia did not know about this move prior to the announcement. Gizmodo reports: In a Twitter thread asking the public to support Wikipedia as much as it relies on it, Wikimedia executive director Katherine Maher first suggested that the organization was unaware of YouTube's plans. When asked whether this new module would only apply to English Wikipedia pages, Maher responded, "I couldn't say; this was something they did independent of us." In a statement to Gizmodo, the Wikimedia Foundation confirmed that the organization first learned of the new YouTube feature on Tuesday. "We are always happy to see people, companies, and organizations recognize Wikipedia's value as a repository of free knowledge," a Wikimedia Foundation spokesperson said in a statement. "In this case, neither Wikipedia nor the Wikimedia Foundation are part of a formal partnership with YouTube. We were not given advance notice of this announcement."

Former Equifax CIO Charged With Insider Trading ( 90

OffTheLip writes: Jun Ying, a former CIO with Equifax has been charged with insider trading by the US Department of Justice. From the linked article:

Wednesday's announcement marks the first criminal charge brought in one of the largest data breaches in history. Ying, the former chief information officer for Equifax's U.S. information-solutions business, used confidential information entrusted to him by the company to determine it had been hacked, according to a separate complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

ZDNet adds: According to a Justice Department statement, Ying sent a text message to a colleague two weeks before Equifax revealed the hack, in which he said the breach "sounds bad." Three days later, Ying searched the web to research the effect of Experian's 2015 own breach on its stock price. Later that day, Ying excised all his available stock options.


'Slingshot' Malware That Hid For Six Years Spread Through Routers 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: Security researchers at Kaspersky Lab have discovered what's likely to be another state-sponsored malware strain, and this one is more advanced than most. Nicknamed Slingshot, the code spies on PCs through a multi-layer attack that targets MikroTik routers. It first replaces a library file with a malicious version that downloads other malicious components, and then launches a clever two-pronged attack on the computers themselves. One, Canhadr, runs low-level kernel code that effectively gives the intruder free rein, including deep access to storage and memory; the other, GollumApp, focuses on the user level and includes code to coordinate efforts, manage the file system and keep the malware alive. Kaspersky describes these two elements as "masterpieces," and for good reason. For one, it's no mean feat to run hostile kernel code without crashes. Slingshot also stores its malware files in an encrypted virtual file system, encrypts every text string in its modules, calls services directly (to avoid tripping security software checks) and even shuts components down when forensic tools are active. If there's a common method of detecting malware or identifying its behavior, Slingshot likely has a defense against it. It's no wonder that the code has been active since at least 2012 -- no one knew it was there. Recent MikroTik router firmware updates should fix the issue. However, there's concern that other router makers might be affected.

Can the Most Contentious Piece of the Web Form the Basis of a New Standard? Inside Google's Plan To Make the Whole Web as Fast as AMP ( 59

Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge: In a blog post today, Google is announcing that it's formally embarking on a project to convince the group in charge of web standards to adopt technology inspired by its Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) framework. In theory, it would mean that virtually any webpage could gain the same benefits as AMP: near-instantaneous loading, distribution on multiple platforms, and (critically) more prominent placement on Google properties. This is important, a little tricky to understand, and critical to how the web and Google interact in the future. In many ways, Google's success or failure in this endeavor will play a major role in shaping how the web works on your phone.

[...] By creating AMP, Google blithely walked right into the center of a thicket comprised of developers concerned about the future of the web. Publishers are worried about ceding too much control of their distribution to gigantic tech companies, and all of the above are worried that Google is not so much a steward of the web but rather its nefarious puppet master. The whole situation is slightly frustrating to David Besbris, VP of search engineering at Google. Earlier this week, I went to Mountain View to talk with Besbris and Malte Ubl, engineering lead for AMP. "This is honestly a fairly altruistic project from our perspective," says Besbris. "It wasn't like we invented AMP because we wanted to control everything, like people assume," he says. Instead, he argues, go back and look at how dire the state of the mobile web was a few years ago, before AMP's inception.


California Becomes 18th State To Consider Right To Repair Legislation ( 96

Jason Koebler shares a report from Motherboard: The right to repair battle has come to Silicon Valley's home state: Wednesday, a state assembly member announced that California would become the 18th state in the country to consider legislation that would make it easier to repair your electronics. "The Right to Repair Act will provide consumers with the freedom to have their electronic products and appliances fixed by a repair shop or service provider of their choice, a practice that was taken for granted a generation ago but is now becoming increasingly rare in a world of planned obsolescence," Susan Talamantes Engman, a Democrat from Stockton who introduced the bill, said in a statement. The announcement had been rumored for about a week but became official Wednesday. The bill would require electronics manufacturers to make repair guides and repair parts available to the public and independent repair professionals and would also would make diagnostic software and tools that are available to authorized and first-party repair technicians available to independent companies.

Coinbase Announces Cryptocurrency-Focused Index Fund ( 26

In an interview with CNBC on its "Fast Money" segment, Coinbase's President and COO Asiff Hirji said the digital-currency platform would launch a cryptocurrency-focused index fund. Details are scarce but Hirji said it will be intended to give retail investors broad exposure to virtual currencies, and would be targeted to accredited investors on Day 1. He also said the index fund would be market-cap weighted.

UPDATE: Coinbase has since issued a blog post detailing the announcement. They are also introducing Coinbase Index, which "is a measure of the financial performance of all assets listed on GDAX, weighted by their market capitalization."

Google Unveils 72-Qubit Quantum Computer With Low Error Rates ( 76

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Tom's Hardware: Google announced a 72-qubit universal quantum computer that promises the same low error rates the company saw in its first 9-qubit quantum computer. Google believes that this quantum computer, called Bristlecone, will be able to bring us to an age of quantum supremacy. In a recent announcement, Google said: "If a quantum processor can be operated with low enough error, it would be able to outperform a classical supercomputer on a well-defined computer science problem, an achievement known as quantum supremacy. These random circuits must be large in both number of qubits as well as computational length (depth). Although no one has achieved this goal yet, we calculate quantum supremacy can be comfortably demonstrated with 49 qubits, a circuit depth exceeding 40, and a two-qubit error below 0.5%. We believe the experimental demonstration of a quantum processor outperforming a supercomputer would be a watershed moment for our field, and remains one of our key objectives."

According to Google, a minimum error rate for quantum computers needs to be in the range of less than 1%, coupled with close to 100 qubits. Google seems to have achieved this so far with 72-qubit Bristlecone and its 1% error rate for readout, 0.1% for single-qubit gates, and 0.6% for two-qubit gates. Quantum computers will begin to become highly useful in solving real-world problems when we can achieve error rates of 0.1-1% coupled with hundreds of thousand to millions of qubits. According to Google, an ideal quantum computer would have at least hundreds of millions of qubits and an error rate lower than 0.01%. That may take several decades to achieve, even if we assume a "Moore's Law" of some kind for quantum computers (which so far seems to exist, seeing the progress of both Google and IBM in the past few years, as well as D-Wave).


China Censors Social Media Responses To Proposal To Abolish Presidential Terms ( 163

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Negative social media reactions in China toward the government's interest in abolishing presidential term limits have sparked a crackdown on memes since Sunday evening. China's constitution currently restricts the president and vice-president to 10 years of leadership, meaning that President Xi Jinping would have been out of power by 2023. The Party's Central Committee proposed removing a phrase in the constitution that stated the two leaders would "serve no more than two consecutive terms," according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. Authorities will vote on the proposal in March. Many took to social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo with Winnie the Pooh memes, as the animated bear resembles President Xi Jinping to some degree. Winnie the Pooh has been associated with Xi for years and this week, he donned a crown and sat on a throne, enjoying his honey pot. These memes and social media posts were then taken down, hours after the Committee's announcement, signaling that the public's reaction was more unfavorable than authorities predicted. An assortment of phrases have been filtered out by new censors, including "constitution amendment," "re-elected," "proclaim oneself as emperor," and "two term limit." The lag time between the censorship and the initial proposal indicates authorities expected the public to react less critically.

Israel-Based Vendor Cellebrite Can Unlock Every iPhone, including the Current-Gen iPhone X, That's On the Market: Forbes ( 146

Cellebrite, an Israel-based company, knows of ways to unlock every iPhone that's on the market, right up to the iPhone X, Forbes reported on Monday, citing sources. From the report: Cellebrite, a Petah Tikva, Israel-based vendor that's become the U.S. government's company of choice when it comes to unlocking mobile devices, is this month telling customers its engineers currently have the ability to get around the security of devices running iOS 11 . That includes the iPhone X, a model that Forbes has learned was successfully raided for data by the Department for Homeland Security back in November 2017, most likely with Cellebrite technology.

The Israeli firm, a subsidiary of Japan's Sun Corporation, hasn't made any major public announcement about its new iOS capabilities. But Forbes was told by sources (who asked to remain anonymous as they weren't authorized to talk on the matter) that in the last few months the company has developed undisclosed techniques to get into iOS 11 and is advertising them to law enforcement and private forensics folk across the globe. Indeed, the company's literature for its Advanced Unlocking and Extraction Services offering now notes the company can break the security of "Apple iOS devices and operating systems, including iPhone, iPad, iPad mini, iPad Pro and iPod touch, running iOS 5 to iOS 11." Separately, a source in the police forensics community told Forbes he'd been told by Cellebrite it could unlock the iPhone 8. He believed the same was most probably true for the iPhone X, as security across both of Apple's newest devices worked in much the same way.


Elon Musk Steps Down From AI Safety Group To Avoid Conflict of Interest With Tesla 32

New submitter the gmr writes: According to an announcement on the OpenAI blog, Elon Musk has stepped down from the board of directors of the nonprofit AI safety group, which he co-founded in 2015, due potential conflict of interest with his company Tesla. As explained in a post on Futurism, the move away from OpenAI may indicate that Tesla may be moving forward with more AI projects than most people may realize. Musk's departure may mean that Tesla is closer to delivering vehicles capable of Level 5 autonomy, "fully self-driving" vehicles that more than 35,000 Tesla customers paid for even though the technology does not yet exist. "Elon Musk will depart the OpenAI Board but will continue to donate and advise the organization," the announcement reads. "As Tesla continues to become more focused on AI, this will eliminate a potential future conflict for Elon." The OpenAI board of directors now consists of Greg Brockman, Ilya Sutskever, Holden Karnofsky, and Sam Altman, with whom Musk co-founded the venture. The company reportedly plans to not only fill Musk's seat but expand their team as well.

"Open AI has also been a prominent voice in the conversation concerning the limitations, challenges, and potential dangers of artificial intelligence," reports Futurism. "Just this week, the company co-released a report with a number of other global AI experts that outlines the potential 'malicious' uses of the technology and how to prevent them."

Would You Fear Alien Life or Welcome It? ( 226

If you've ever watched a science fiction movie about aliens, you'll know that humans tend to freak out and destroy everything when faced with incontrovertible proof of the existence of alien life. But a new analysis from Arizona State University psychology professor Michael Varnum and his colleagues suggests that humans might actually remain pretty calm and collected when that big news breaks. CNET reports: Varnum makes this conclusion based on an analysis of newspaper articles covering past potential discoveries of extraterrestrial life. Specifically, he and his colleagues looked at articles about the weird dimming of so-called "Tabby's Star," Earth-like planets around the star Trappist-1, and the potential discovery of Martian microbe fossils from 1996. They found language in the stories demonstrated much more positive emotion than fear or other negative emotions. In a second study, the team also surveyed over 500 people, asking them to guess how they and humanity would react to an announcement that alien microbial life had been discovered. In the case of both their own reaction and everyone else's, the participants hypothesized responses that were more positive than negative. The research was published last month in Frontiers in Psychology.

Ubuntu Wants To Collect Data About Your System -- Starting With 18.04 LTS ( 207

In an announcement on Ubuntu mailing list, Will Cooke, on behalf of the Ubuntu Desktop team, announced Canonical's plans to collect some data related to the users' system configuration and the packages installed on their machines. From a report: Before you read anything further, it's important to note that users will have the option to opt-out of this data collection. The company plans to add a checkbox to the installer, which would be checked by default. The option could be like: "Send diagnostics information to help improve Ubuntu." As per your convenience, you can opt-out during the installation. An option to do the same will also be made available in the Privacy panel of GNOME Settings. With this data collection, the team wishes to improve the daily experiences of the Ubuntu users. It's worth noting that the collected data will be sent over encrypted connections and no IP addresses will be tracked. To be precise, the collected data will include: flavour and version of Ubuntu, network connectivity or not, CPU family, RAM, disk(s) size, screen(s) resolution, GPU vendor and model, OEM manufacturer, location (based on the location selection made during install), no IP information, time taken for Installation, auto-login enabled or not, disk layout selected, third party software selected or not, download updates during install or not, livePatch enabled or not.

SpaceX Hits Two Milestones In Plan For Low-Latency Satellite Broadband ( 82

SpaceX is about to launch two demonstration satellites, and it is on track to get the Federal Communications Commission's permission to offer satellite internet service in the U.S. "Neither development is surprising, but they're both necessary steps for SpaceX to enter the satellite broadband market," reports Ars Technica. "SpaceX is one of several companies planning low-Earth orbit satellite broadband networks that could offer much higher speeds and much lower latency than existing satellite internet services." From the report: Today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed approving SpaceX's application "to provide broadband services using satellite technologies in the United States and on a global basis," a commission announcement said. SpaceX would be the fourth company to receive such an approval from the FCC, after OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat. "These approvals are the first of their kind for a new generation of large, non-geostationary satellite orbit, fixed-satellite service systems, and the Commission continues to process other, similar requests," the FCC said today. SpaceX's application has undergone "careful review" by the FCC's satellite engineering experts, according to Pai. "If adopted, it would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies," Pai said.

Separately, CNET reported yesterday that SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch on Saturday will include "[t]he first pair of demonstration satellites for the company's 'Starlink' service." The demonstration launch is confirmed in SpaceX's FCC filings. One SpaceX filing this month mentions that a secondary payload on Saturday's Falcon 9 launch will include "two experimental non-geostationary orbit satellites, Microsat-2a and -2b." Those are the two satellites that SpaceX previously said would be used in its first phase of broadband testing.


Hackers In Equifax Breach Accessed More Personal Information Than Previously Disclosed ( 58

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Wall Street Journal (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): Equifax said, in a document submitted to the Senate Banking Committee and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, that cyberthieves accessed records across numerous tables in its systems that included such data as tax identification numbers, email addresses and drivers' license information beyond the license numbers it originally disclosed. The revelations come some five months after Equifax announced it had been breached and personal information belonging to 145.5 million consumers had been compromised, including names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and addresses. It's unclear how many of the 145.5 million people are affected by the additional data including tax ID numbers, which are often assigned to people who don't have Social Security numbers. Hackers also accessed email addresses for some consumers, according to the document and an Equifax spokeswoman, who said "an insignificant number" of email addresses were affected. She added that email addresses aren't considered sensitive personal information because they are commonly searchable in public domains.

As for tax ID numbers, the Equifax spokeswoman said they "were generally housed in the same field" as Social Security numbers. She added that individuals without a Social Security number could use their tax ID number to see if they were affected by the hack. Equifax also said, in response to questions from The Wall Street Journal, that some additional drivers' license information had been accessed. The company publicly disclosed in its Sept. 7 breach announcement that drivers' license numbers were accessed; the document submitted to the banking committee also includes drivers' license issue dates and states.


Reddit Bans 'Deepfakes' AI Porn Communities ( 110

Reddit has banned the r/deepfakes subreddit that's devoted to making AI-powered porn using celebrities' faces, classifying it as a form of "involuntary pornography." Reddit follows several other platforms that have already banned deepfakes pornography, including Pornhub, which said yesterday that deepfakes imagery counted as nonconsensual pornography. The Verge reports: In a post today, Reddit announced an update to its rules on posting sexual imagery of a person without their consent. The new rule extends a ban on posting photos or video of people who are nude or engaged in sexual acts without the subject's permission, saying that this includes "depictions that have been faked" -- including the sophisticated face-swapped videos that have become especially popular on Reddit over the past month. "Do not post images or video of another person for the specific purpose of faking explicit content or soliciting 'lookalike' pornography."

This doesn't affect all AI-based face swapping enthusiasts on Reddit. The subreddit for FakeApp, a program that allows anyone to swap faces in videos, is still online. So is r/SFWdeepfakes, which is devoted to non-pornographic use of the technology. At least one small, specific subreddit devoted to simulated porn for an individual actor also seems to have slipped under the radar. But along with the central deepfakes hub, the main subreddit for posting not-safe-for-work deepfakes has gotten shut down, and so has the community r/YouTubefakes. The subreddit r/CelebFakes, which focused on non-AI-powered photoshopped pornographic images, was initially left online, but removed shortly after the announcement.
The site will rely on "first-party reports" to shut down future deepfakes material.

India Vows To Eliminate Use of Cryptocurrencies in the Country ( 68

India will move to stamp out use of cryptocurrencies, which it considers illegal, country's Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Thursday, launching a no-holds-barred attack on virtual currencies such as Bitcoin. From a report: Governments around the world are grappling with how to regulate cryptocurrency trading, and policymakers are expected to discuss the matter at a G20 summit in Argentina in March. "The government does not consider cryptocurrencies legal tender or coin and will take all measures to eliminate use of these cryptoassets in financing illegitimate activities or as part of the payment system," Jaitley told parliament in his annual budget speech. However, the minister said, the government would explore use of block chain technology proactively to speed the move toward a digital economy. Jaitley's announcement could trigger "panic selling" in cryptocurrencies in India, said Amit Maheshwari, partner at tax consultants Ashok Maheshwary & Associates LLP.

Xerox Cedes Control To Fujifilm, Ending Its Independence ( 60

mikeebbbd writes: According to Bloomberg, "Xerox, a once-iconic American innovator that became synonymous with office copy machines, is ceding control to Japan's Fujifilm in a deal that creates an $18 billion company." Essentially, it's merging with Fujifilm; a former joint venture operating in the Asian-Pacific area essentially will become the parent company... So much for the company that actually invented the modern graphical user interface later popularized by Apple and Microsoft. "The agreement marks the end of independence for a U.S. company whose roots trace back to the start of the 20th century," reports Bloomberg. "The joint venture will cut 10,000 jobs in Asia as part of the restructuring as the Japanese company struggles with an 'increasingly severe' market environment." While the new company will have a combined revenue of $18 billion, Xerox was acquired by Fujifilm for $6.1 billion.

Facebook Will Prioritize Local Stories In Your News Feed ( 64

Facebook announced today that it will begin prioritizing local news, bumping it up higher in your feed if you follow a local publisher's Page or if a friend shares a locally-published story. "We are prioritizing local news as part of our emphasis on high-quality news, and with today's update, stories from local news publishers may appear higher in News Feed for followers in publishers' geographic areas," Facebook said in the announcement. Engadget reports: Facebook, which recently announced it would be shifting its News Feed focus away from news and more towards friends' posts, says the local news prioritization will kick off in the U.S., but it plans to expand it to other countries this year. "These efforts to prioritize quality news in News Feed, including this local initiative, are a direct result of the ongoing collaboration with partners," said Facebook. "Our goal is to show more news that connects people to their local communities, and we look forward to improving and expanding these efforts this year."

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