Earth

Remote Pacific Island Is the Most Plastic-Contaminated Spot Yet Surveyed (arstechnica.com) 126

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Plastic is durable -- very, very durable -- which is why we like it. Since it started being mass-produced in the 1950s, annual production has increased 300-fold. Because plastic is so durable, when our kids grow up and we purge our toy chests, or even just when we finish a bottle of laundry detergent or shampoo, it doesn't actually go away. While we're recycling increasing amounts of plastic, a lot of it still ends up in the oceans. Floating garbage patches have brought some attention to the issue of our contamination of the seas. But it's not just the waters themselves that have ended up cluttered with plastic. A recent survey shows that a staggering amount of our stuff is coming ashore on the extremely remote Henderson Island. Henderson Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Pitcairn Group of Islands in the South Pacific, roughly half way between New Zealand and Peru. According to UNESCO, Henderson is one of the best examples we have of an elevated coral atoll ecosystem. It was colonized by Polynesians between the 12th and 15th centuries but has been uninhabited by humans since then. It is of interest to evolutionary biologists because it has 10 plant species and four bird species that are only found there. Despite its uninhabited status and its extremely remote location, a recent survey of beach plastic on Henderson Island revealed that the island has the highest density of debris reported anywhere in the world: an estimated minimum of 37.7 million items weighing 17.6 tons. This represents the total amount of plastic that is produced in the world every 1.98 seconds. Further reading: Here And Now
China

China Is On Track To Fully Phase Out Cash (vice.com) 212

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via Motherboard: Experts believe it won't be long before China, the first country to introduce paper money, becomes the first to go totally cashless. In a poky sex toy shop in Sanlitun shopping district in central Beijing, a placard with a QR code is strategically placed next to a pink, vein-knobbled dildo called the Super Emperor, and a clitoral pump. Just scan your phone, and walk out with your purchase. The cigarette vendor across the street accepts smartphone payments too. A fast-moving queue of customers purchase smokes by scanning their phones over a tatty cardboard QR code. All the bars in Sanlitun, equal parts seedy and swish, still take cash, but have likewise implemented cashless pay, largely through the ubiquitous WeChat and Alipay app, as primary payment platforms. Beijing taxi drivers accept smartphone payments too. No one in the area uses physical money, for sex toys or otherwise. Largely due to China's vibrant fintech landscape, the recent rise of phone payments in the country has shunted cash onto the endangered list, perhaps somewhere alongside the pangolin. Many experts believe it won't be long before China, the first country to introduce paper money, also becomes the first to phase it out to become fully cashless. But when will this moment come?
Privacy

Vibrator Maker To Pay Millions Over Claims It Secretly Tracked Use (npr.org) 113

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: The makers of the We-Vibe, a line of vibrators that can be paired with an app for remote-controlled use, have reached a $3.75 million class action settlement with users following allegations that the company was collecting data on when and how the sex toy was used. The We-Vibe product line includes a number of Bluetooth-enabled vibrators that, when linked to the "We-Connect" app, can be controlled from a smartphone. It allows a user to vary rhythms, patterns and settings -- or give a partner, in the room or anywhere in the world, control of the device. Since the app was released in 2014, some observers have raised concerns that Internet-connected sex toys could be vulnerable to hacking. But the lawsuit doesn't involve any outside meddling -- instead, it centers on concerns that the company itself was tracking users' sex lives. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Illinois in September. It alleges that -- without customers' knowledge -- the app was designed to collect information about how often, and with what settings, the vibrator was used. The lawyers for the anonymous plaintiffs contended that the app, "incredibly," collected users' email addresses, allowing the company "to link the usage information to specific customer accounts." Customers' email addresses and usage data were transmitted to the company's Canadian servers, the lawsuit alleges. When a We-Vibe was remotely linked to a partner, the connection was described as "secure," but some information was also routed through We-Connect and collected, the lawsuit says.
Security

It's Possible To Hack a Smartphone With Sound Waves, Researchers Show (cnbc.com) 41

A security loophole that would allow someone to add extra steps to the counter on your Fitbit monitor might seem harmless. But researchers say it points to the broader risks that come with technology's embedding into the nooks of our lives. John Markoff, writes for the NYTimes: On Tuesday, a group of computer security researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of South Carolina will demonstrate that they have found a vulnerability that allows them to take control of or surreptitiously influence devices through the tiny accelerometers that are standard components in consumer products like smartphones, fitness monitors and even automobiles. In their paper, the researchers describe how they added fake steps to a Fitbit fitness monitor and played a "malicious" music file from the speaker of a smartphone to control the phone's accelerometer. That allowed them to interfere with software that relies on the smartphone, like an app used to pilot a radio-controlled toy car. "It's like the opera singer who hits the note to break a wine glass, only in our case, we can spell out words" and enter commands rather than just shut down the phone, said Kevin Fu, an author of the paper, who is also an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan and the chief executive of Virta Labs, a company that focuses on cybersecurity in health care. "You can think of it as a musical virus."
Databases

CloudPets IoT Toys Leaked and Ransomed, Exposing Kids' Voice Messages (androidpolice.com) 64

"According to security researcher Troy Hunt, a series of web-connected, app-enabled toys called CloudPets have been hacked," reports Android Police. "The manufacturer's central database was reportedly compromised over several months after stunningly poor security, despite the attempts of many researchers and journalists to inform the manufacturer of the potential danger. Several ransom notes were left, demanding Bitcoin payments for the implied deletion of stolen data." From the report: CloudPets allow parents to record a message for their children on their phones, which then arrives on the Bluetooth connected stuffed toy and is played back. Kids can squeeze the stuffed animal's paw to record a message of their own, which is sent back to the phone app. The Android app has been downloaded over 100,000 times, though user reviews are poor, citing a difficult interface, frequent bugs, and annoying advertising. Hunt and the researchers he collaborated with found that the central database for CloudPets' voice messages and user info was stored on a public-facing MongoDB server, with only basic hashes protecting user addresses and passwords. The same database apparently connected to the stored voice messages that could be retrieved by the apps and toys. Easy access and poor password requirements may have resulted in unauthorized access to a large number of accounts. The database was finally removed from the publicly accessible server in January, but not before demands for ransom were left.
Toys

German Government Tells Parents: Destroy This WiFi-Connected Doll (theverge.com) 142

It's illegal in Germany now to sell a talking doll named "My Friend Cayla," according to a story shared by Slashdot reader Bruce66423. And that's just the beginning. The Verge reports: A German government watchdog has ordered parents to "destroy" an internet-connected doll for fear it could be used as a surveillance device. According to a report from BBC News, the German Federal Network Agency said the doll (which contains a microphone and speaker) was equivalent to a "concealed transmitting device" and therefore prohibited under German telecom law... In December last year, privacy advocates said the toy recorded kids' conversations without proper consent, violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

Cayla uses a microphone to listen to questions, sending this audio over Wi-Fi to a third-party company that converts it to text. This is then used to search the internet, allowing the doll to answer basic questions, like "What's a baby kangaroo called?" as well as play games. In addition to privacy concerns over data collection, security researchers found that Cayla can be easily hacked. The doll's insecure Bluetooth connection can be compromised, letting a third party record audio via the toy, or even speak to children using its voice.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has said toys like this "subject young children to ongoing surveillance...without any meaningful data protection standards." One researcher pointed out that the doll was accessible from up to 33 feet away -- even through walls -- using a bluetooth-enabled device.
Toys

Ask Slashdot: What's The Most Useful 'Nerd Watch' Today? 232

He's worn the same watch for two decades, but now Slashdot reader students wants a new one. For about 20 years I've used Casio Databank 150 watches. They were handy because they kept track of my schedule and the current time. They were very cheap. They required very little maintenance, since the battery lasts more than a year and the bands last even longer. Since they were waterproof, I don't even have to take them off (or remember where I put them!) They were completely immune to malicious software, surveillance, and advertising. However, their waterproof gaskets have worn out so they no longer work for me. Casio no longer makes them or any comparable product (their website is out of date).
Today's watches include everything from heart rate monitors to TV remote controls, and Casio even plans to release a new version of their Android Wear watch with a low-power GPS chip and mapping software. But what's your best suggestion? "I don't want a watch that duplicates the function of my cell phone or computer," adds the original submission -- so leave your best answers in the comments. What's the most useful nerd watch today?
Christmas Cheer

Ask Slashdot: What's The Best Geeky Gift For Children? 204

Everyone's suggesting gifts to teach the next generation of geeks about science, technology, engineering, and math. Slashdot reader theodp writes: In "My Guide to Holiday Gifts," Melinda Gates presents "a STEM gift guide" [which] pales by comparison to Amazon's "STEM picks". Back in 2009, Slashdot discussed science gifts for kids. So, how about a 2016 update?
I've always wanted to ask what geeky gifts Slashdot's readers remember from when they were kids. (And what geeky gifts do you still bitterly wish some enlightened person would've given you?) But more importantly, what modern-day tech toys can best encourage the budding young geeks of today? Leave your best answers in the comments. What's the best geeky gift for children?
Privacy

Watchdog Group Claims Smart Toys Are Spying On Kids (mashable.com) 70

The Center for Digital Democracy has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission warning of security and privacy holes associated with a pair of smart toys designed for children. Mashable reports: "This complaint concerns toys that spy," reads the complaint, which claims the Genesis Toys' My Friend Cayla and i-QUE Intelligent Robot can record and collect private conversations and offer no limitations on the collection and use of personal information. Both toys use voice recognition, internet connectivity and Bluetooth to engage with children in conversational manner and answer questions. The CDD claims they do all of this in wildly insecure and invasive ways. Both My Friend Cayla and i-QUE use Nuance Communications' voice-recognition platform to listen and respond to queries. On the Genesis Toy site, the manufacturer notes that while "most of Cayla's conversational features can be accessed offline," searching for information may require an internet connection. The promotional video for Cayla encourages children to "ask Cayla almost anything." The dolls work in concert with mobile apps. Some questions can be asked directly, but the toys maintain a constant Bluetooth connection to the dolls so they can also react to actions in the app and even appear to identify objects the child taps on on screen. While some of the questions children ask the dolls are apparently recorded and sent to Nuance's servers for parsing, it's unclear how much of the information is personal in nature. The Genesis Privacy Policy promises to anonymize information. The CDD also claims, however, that My Friend Cayla and i-Que employ Bluetooth in the least secure way possible. Instead of requiring a PIN code to complete pairing between the toy and a smartphone or iPad, "Cayla and i-Que do not employ... authentication mechanisms to establish a Bluetooth connection between the doll and a smartphone or tablet. The dolls do not implement any other security measure to prevent unauthorized Bluetooth pairing." Without a pairing notification on the toy or any authentication strategy, anyone with a Bluetooth device could connect to the toys' open Bluetooth networks, according to the complaint.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Humble Bundle Supports The EFF With A LEGO eBook Sale (humblebundle.com) 17

The EFF is describing it as "a break for your brain." An anonymous reader writes: Humble Bundle has announced a special "pay what you want" sale for four ebooks about LEGO from No Starch Press, with proceeds going to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or to the charity of your choice. The ebooks include Beautiful LEGO (a compendium of creations by dozens of artists) and Medieval LEGO, which describes and recreates English history in the Middle Ages using LEGO blocks. Contributors who pay more than $8 also receive six more books, including "Forbidden LEGO" a more free-style building guide that one reviewer called "The Anarchist Cookbook of the nursery," as well as "The Cult of LEGO", a tour of the block-building community. And for a $15 donation, contributors receive six more ebooks -- bringing the total to 16 -- including The LEGO Christmas Ornaments Book and Steampunk LEGO.
Software

Dungeons & Dragons Inducted Into Toy Hall of Fame (npr.org) 51

Snowgen writes: NPR reports that Dungeons and Dragons has been inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY: "The nomination process for the Toy Hall of Fame is open to the public -- but to get in, a toy has to be approved by 'historians, educators, and other individuals who exemplify learning, creativity, and discovery through their lives and careers.'" "More than any other game, Dungeons and Dragons paved the way for older children and adults to experience imaginative play," says Curator Nic Ricketts. "It was groundbreaking. And it opened the door for other kinds of table games that borrow many of its unique mechanics. But most importantly, Dungeons and Dragons' mechanics lent themselves to computer applications, and it had a direct impact on hugely successful electronic games like World of Warcraft." The report adds: "The list of 12 finalists for this year's honors had included bubble wrap, Care Bears, Clue, the coloring book, Nerf ball, pinball, Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, Transformers and Uno. When it emerged in 1974, Dungeons and Dragons was groundbreaking, says curator Nic Ricketts of The Strong. In addition to its own merits, the game created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson established a pattern for how similar role-playing games might work -- both on table-tops and, eventually, on computers and other devices."
Businesses

Family Sues Amazon After Counterfeit Hoverboard Catches Fire, Destroys Home (wtsp.com) 253

Three weeks after unboxing a hoverboard, it burst into flames. But is Amazon partly to blame? tripleevenfall quotes The Tennessean: A Nashville family whose $1 million home was destroyed earlier this year in a fire caused by a hoverboard toy is suing Amazon saying the retail giant knowingly sold a dangerous product... The lawsuit says the seller of the hoverboard listed online, "W-Deals," is a sham organization that is registered to an apartment in New York City that has not responded to requests from lawyers in the case. It alleges the family was sold a counterfeit product from China instead of a brand with a Samsung lithium ion battery they believed they were buying from Amazon . It says Tennessee product liability law holds a seller responsible if the manufacturer cannot be found.
Power

More Lithium Battery Product Recalls Predicted (mercurynews.com) 99

While "the vast majority" of lithium-ion batteries will never malfunction, lithium itself "is highly combustible and batteries made with it are subject to 'thermal runaway'," which can be triggered by damage -- or by bad design. An anonymous reader quotes the San Jose Mercury News: Battery and electronics manufacturers take numerous steps to try to mitigate such dangers... But while the industry has tried to make lithium-ion batteries safer, 'the technology itself isn't foolproof,' said Ravi Manghani, director of energy storage research at GTM Research... And there's reason to think that the problem could get worse before it gets better. Consumer demand for devices that are ever more powerful and longer lasting has encouraged manufacturers to make batteries that can hold even more charge. To do that, they typically pack the battery cells closer and closer together...

Since June of this year, educational toy company Roylco recalled 1,400 light tables designed for kids... Razor, Swagway and some eight other manufacturers recalled a total of 500,000 hoverboards. And HP and Sony between them recalled more than 42,000 notebook computers. All for similar reasons -- lithium-ion batteries that either had caught fire or which have posed a fire hazard... Other notorious examples include the several different Tesla Model S's that have caught fire, typically after crashes compromised their battery packs, and Sony's wide-scale recall a decade ago of the batteries that powered its Vaio and other laptop computers.

In a related story, Samsung's recall of their Note 7 is now expected to cost $5.3 billion.
Privacy

Woman Sues Sex Toy App For Secretly Capturing Sensitive Information (ctvnews.ca) 211

A woman in Chicago filed a class action lawsuit against the makers of a smartphone-enabled vibrator, alleging their devices "secretly collect and transmit 'highly sensitive' information." CTV News reports: The lawsuit, which was filed earlier this month in an Illinois court, explains that to fully operate the device, users download the We-Connect app on a smartphone, allowing them and their partners remote control over the Bluetooth-equipped vibrator's settings... The suit alleges that unbeknownst to its customers, Standard Innovation designed the We-Connect app to collect and record intimate and sensitive data on use of the vibrator, including the date and time of each use as well as vibration settings...

It also alleges the usage data and the user's personal email address was transmitted to the company's servers in Canada. The statement of claim alleges the company's conduct demonstrates "a wholesale disregard" for consumer privacy rights and violated a number of state and federal laws.

Slashdot reader BarbaraHudson argues that "It kind of has to share that information if it's going to be remotely controlled by someone else." But the woman's lawsuit claims she wouldn't have bought the device if she'd known that while using it, the manufacturer "would monitor, collect and transmit her usage information."
Privacy

Popular Sex Toy Caught Sending Intimate Data To Manufacturer (fusion.net) 195

In a world where thermostats, and smart locks can be hacked, and companies covertly record information, why should sex toys remain unaffected. Fusion is reporting that the We-Vibe 4 Plus, a popular vibrator sends a range of intimate data to its manufacturer. The sex toy uses a smartphone app, which lets a use control the vibration among other things. From the report: When the device is in use, the We-Vibe 4 Plus uses its internet connectivity to regularly send information back to its manufacturer, Standard Innovations Corporation. It sends the device's temperature every minute, and lets the manufacturer know each time a user changes the device's vibration level. The company could easily figure out some seriously intimate personal information like when you get off, how long it takes, and with what combinations of vibes. This was revealed on Friday at hacker conference Defcon in Las Vegas by two security researchers, who wish to be called only by their handles @gOldfisk and @rancidbacon. The two examined the app's code and the information being sent by the device over Bluetooth. In a statement sent by email, Standard Innovation Corporation's president Frank Ferrari confirmed that the company collects this information. [...]
Microsoft

Microsoft Swaps Toy Gun Emoji For Revolver -- Days After Apple Does the Opposite (arstechnica.co.uk) 331

The pistol emoji has become a heated topic of debate among people. Apple's decision to replace the gun with a toy pistol is getting a mixed response. Amid all this, Microsoft has announced it is replacing the toy gun emoji with a symbol for a real revolver. ArsTechnica reports: This emoji change is part of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, which is rolling out now. The move has surprised some, as Microsoft and Apple had been seen as allies in an effort to dial down violence in emoji generally. In June it emerged that the two had successfully lobbied to have a sports rifle removed from the latest collection of emoji, as it was felt that two firearm symbols would be too many.Microsoft says it is only trying "to align with the global Unicode standard." The issue is that despite Apple's thought on the matter, when an iPhone (or iPad or a Mac) user sends a water pistol emoji, people with devices running non-Apple OS are only going to see a regular pistol. The article adds: Analysts had been worried that without standardisation between platforms, intent for violent emoji could be misunderstood. For instance, if someone sent an acquaintance a message using their iPhone offering to come around with some friends and some waterguns, that acquaintance might well misunderstand the thrust of the message if they were using an Android phone and saw a series of pistols.Emojipedia, an emoji reference website has a good suggestion: Apple: Don't change the pistol emoji. At least not today. Hide it. Unicode does not depreciate emojis, but there is no requirement to show all approved emojis on the keyboard. The pistol emoji could be removed from the iOS emoji keyboard without causing any cross platform compatibility issues.
IOS

Apple Replaces The Pistol Emoji With A Water Gun (cnn.com) 246

Apple has a announced a number of new emoji changes on Monday, but the most controversial new change is that the pistol emoji will be replaced with a green water gun emoji in the company's upcoming iOS 10 operating system: The water gun swap is not Apple's first foray into cartoon gun control. Earlier this year the governing body in charge of emojis nixed a proposed rifle emoji. It was one of a number of possible new additions, but Unicode Consortium members Apple and Microsoft argued against the Olympics-inspired gun, according to Buzzfeed. Last year, an organization called New Yorkers Against Gun Violence started a campaign to get Apple to replace its version of the pistol emoji. It launched a site, disarmtheiphone.com, and sent an open letter to remove the firearm emoji "as a symbolic gesture to limit gun accessibility." As it stands, Microsoft is the only major software company to use a toy gun emoji instead of a pistol emoji in Windows -- Google, Samsung, Facebook and Twitter all use realistic pistol emojis. Apple's iOS 10 will be released in fall, but you can download the iOS 10 public beta to be one of the first to wield the toy gun emoji.
Iphone

The Most Popular Product Of All Time 367

Apple announced Wednesday that it has sold more than one billion iPhones. To understand the magnitude of the milestone, Asymco's Horace Dediu has compiled a list of the best-selling products across several categories. From his post (link shared via email by reader JoshTops):Car model: VW Beetle 21.5 million; car brand: Toyota Corolla 43 million; music album: Thriller 70 million; vehicle: Honda Super Cub 87 million; book title: Lord of the Rings 150 million; toy: Rubik's Cube 350 million; game console: Playstation 382 million; book series: Harry Potter Series 450 million; mobile phone: iPhone 1 billion.
The iPhone is not only the best-selling mobile phone but also the best selling music player, the best-selling camera, the best-selling video screen and the best-selling computer of all time. It is, quite simply, the best-selling product of all time. It is that because it is so much more than a product. It is an enabler for change. It unleashed forces which we are barely able to perceive, let alone control. It changed the world because it changed us. And it did all that in less than nine years.
Update: 07/28 20:07 GMT by M :Dediu just told me that the list doesn't include consumable non-durable products.

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