Security

US Border Officials Haven't Properly Verified Visitor Passports For More Than a Decade Due To Improper Software (zdnet.com) 73

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: U.S. border officials have failed to cryptographically verify the passports of visitors to the U.S. for more than a decade -- because the government didn't have the proper software. The revelation comes from a letter by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who wrote to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) acting commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan to demand answers. E-passports have an electronic chip containing cryptographic information and machine-readable text, making it easy to verify a passport's authenticity and integrity. That cryptographic information makes it almost impossible to forge a passport, and it helps to protect against identity theft. Introduced in 2007, all newly issued passports are now e-passports. Citizens of the 38 countries on the visa waiver list must have an e-passport in order to be admitted to the U.S. But according to the senators' letter, sent Thursday, border staff "lacks the technical capabilities to verify e-passport chips." Although border staff have deployed e-passport readers at most ports of entry, "CBP does not have the software necessary to authenticate the information stored on the e-passport chips." "Specifically, CBP cannot verify the digital signatures stored on the e-passport, which means that CBP is unable to determine if the data stored on the smart chips has been tampered with or forged," the letter stated. Wyden and McCaskill said in the letter that Customs and Border Protection has "been aware of this security lapse since at least 2010."
Communications

23 Attorneys General Refile Challenge To FCC Net Neutrality Repeal (engadget.com) 32

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: A coalition of 22 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia on Thursday refiled legal challenges intended to block the Trump administration's repeal of landmark rules designed to ensure a free and open internet from taking effect. The Federal Communications Commission officially published its order overturning the net neutrality rules in the Federal Register on Thursday, a procedural step that allows for the filing of legal challenges. The states, along with web browser developer Mozilla and video-sharing website Vimeo, had filed petitions preserving their right to sue in January, but agreed to withdraw them last Friday and wait for the FCC's publication. The attorneys general argue that the FCC cannot make "arbitrary and capricious" changes to existing policies and that it misinterpreted and disregarded "critical record evidence on industry practices and harm to consumers and businesses." The White House Office of Management and Budget still must sign off on some aspects of the FCC reversal before it takes legal effect. That could take months.
Cellphones

Nearly Half of Parents Worry Their Child Is Addicted To Mobile Devices, Study Finds (usatoday.com) 86

According to a new survey from Common Sense Media and SurveyMonkey, 47% of parents worry their child is addicted to their mobile device. By comparison, only 32% of parents say they're addicted themselves. USA Today reports: Half of parents also say they are at least somewhat concerned about how mobile devices will affect their kids' mental health. Nearly one in five say they're "extremely" or "very" concerned. According to the survey, 89% of parents believe it's up to them to curb their children's smartphone usage. The survey conducted between Jan. 25 and Jan. 29 included a sample of 4,201 adults, including 1,024 parents with children under age 18. Data was weighted to reflect the demographic composition of the U.S. for adults over 18, based on Census data. Many devices and services feature parental controls, but some parents may not be aware they exist. The Common Sense-SurveyMonkey survey found 22% of parents did not know YouTube -- which has faced scrutiny over how easy it is for kids to find inappropriate videos -- offered parental controls. Also, 37% have not used the controls before. Among parents surveyed who say their kids watch YouTube videos, 62% said their kids have seen inappropriate videos on the site. Most, or 81%, said it's the parents' job to prevent kids from seeing these videos.
Government

President Trump: 'We Have To Do Something' About Violent Video Games, Movies (arstechnica.com) 585

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In a White House meeting held with lawmakers on the theme of school safety, President Donald Trump offered both a direct and vague call to action against violence in media by calling out video games and movies. "We have to do something about what [kids are] seeing and how they're seeing it," Trump said during the meeting. "And also video games. I'm hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is shaping more and more people's thoughts." Trump followed this statement by referencing "movies [that] come out that are so violent with the killing and everything else." He made a suggestion for keeping children from watching violent films: "Maybe they have to put a rating system for that." The MPAA's ratings board began adding specific disclaimers about sexual, drug, and violent content in all rated films in the year 2000, which can be found in small text in every MPAA rating box.
Communications

Net Neutrality Rules Die on April 23 (theverge.com) 224

The Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules will be no more in two months, as the agency takes the final step in removing the regulation from its rule book. From a report: The date -- April 23 -- was revealed today after the Federal Communication Commission's order revoking net neutrality was published in the Federal Register. You can read the full order here. The publication means that a new fight around net neutrality is about to begin. States and other parties will be able to sue over the rules -- some have already gotten started -- and a battle in Congress will kick off over a vote to reverse the order entirely. While that fight likely won't get far in Congress since Republicans by and large oppose net neutrality and control both chambers, there will likely be a long and heated legal battle around the corner for the FCC's new policy. The FCC's new rules are really a lack of rules. Its "Restoring Internet Freedom" order entirely revokes the strong net neutrality regulations put in place back in 2015 and replaces them with basically nothing. Internet providers can now block, throttle, and prioritize content if they want to. The only real rule here is that they have to disclose if they're doing any of this.
Network

Game Industry Pushes Back Against Efforts To Restore Gameplay Servers (arstechnica.com) 212

Kyle Orland reports via Ars Technica: A group of video game preservationists wants the legal right to replicate "abandoned" servers in order to re-enable defunct online multiplayer gameplay for study. The game industry says those efforts would hurt their business, allow the theft of their copyrighted content, and essentially let researchers "blur the line between preservation and play." Both sides are arguing their case to the U.S. Copyright Office right now, submitting lengthy comments on the subject as part of the Copyright Register's triennial review of exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Analyzing the arguments on both sides shows how passionate both industry and academia are about the issue, and how mistrust and misunderstanding seem to have infected the debate.
AI

'Tech Companies Should Stop Pretending AI Won't Destroy Jobs' (technologyreview.com) 332

Kai-Fu Lee, the founder and CEO of Sinovation Ventures and president of the Sinovation Ventures Artificial Intelligence Institute, believes that we're not ready for the massive societal upheavals on the way. He writes for MIT Technology Review: The rise of China as an AI superpower isn't a big deal just for China. The competition between the US and China has sparked intense advances in AI that will be impossible to stop anywhere. The change will be massive, and not all of it good. Inequality will widen. As my Uber driver in Cambridge has already intuited, AI will displace a large number of jobs, which will cause social discontent. Consider the progress of Google DeepMind's AlphaGo software, which beat the best human players of the board game Go in early 2016. It was subsequently bested by AlphaGo Zero, introduced in 2017, which learned by playing games against itself and within 40 days was superior to all the earlier versions. Now imagine those improvements transferring to areas like customer service, telemarketing, assembly lines, reception desks, truck driving, and other routine blue-collar and white-collar work.

It will soon be obvious that half of our job tasks can be done better at almost no cost by AI and robots. This will be the fastest transition humankind has experienced, and we're not ready for it. Not everyone agrees with my view. Some people argue that it will take longer than we think before jobs disappear, since many jobs will be only partially replaced, and companies will try to redeploy those displaced internally. But even if true, that won't stop the inevitable. Others remind us that every technology revolution has created new jobs as it displaced old ones. But it's dangerous to assume this will be the case again.

Government

FCC To Officially Rescind Net Neutrality Rules On Thursday (reuters.com) 119

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is expected to publish on Thursday its December order overturning the landmark Obama-era net neutrality rules, two sources briefed on the matter said Tuesday. The formal publication in the Federal Register, a government website, means state attorneys general and advocacy groups will be able to sue in a bid to block the order from taking effect. The Republican-led FCC in December voted 3-2 to overturn rules barring service providers from blocking, slowing access to or charging more for certain content. The White House Office of Management and Budget still must sign off on some aspects of the FCC reversal before it takes legal effect. Congressional aides say the publication will trigger a 60-legislative-day deadline for Congress to vote on whether to overturn the decision. U.S. Senate Democrats said in January they had the backing of 50 members of the 100-person chamber for repeal, leaving them just one vote short of a majority. The December FCC order will be made public on Wednesday and formally published on Thursday, the sources said.
Communications

Judge Rules AT&T Can't See Trump White House Communications About Time Warner Merger 84

The judge presiding over the Justice Department's attempt to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger has ruled that the White House's private communications on the merger will not be released. The Verge reports: When the department said in November that it would sue to block the mega-merger, thoughts immediately turned to the White House. President Trump has made no secret of his disdain for CNN, and some watchers questioned whether the White House's hand was present, guiding the Justice Department as a way to exact revenge on the Time Warner-owned property. The Justice Department has denied any wrongdoing, and said it is only looking to block the merger on the grounds that it is anti-competitive. But to prove the theory, AT&T and Time Warner requested communications between the Justice Department and White House that could have shown the department was engaging in "selective enforcement." In today's decision, the judge on the case said the companies had fallen "far short" of the legal bar required to receive the documents.
Bitcoin

Venezuela Launches Oil-Backed Cryptocurrency (bbc.co.uk) 175

Venezuela has launched a cryptocurrency backed by oil in an attempt to bypass tough economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. government. "The 'Petro' is intended to bolster the country's crumbling economy, which has been suffering from hyperinflation and devaluation for years," reports the BBC. "Venezuela claims it is the world's first sovereign cryptocurrency." From the report: Critics say the move is a desperate attempt by Caracas to raise cash at a time when Venezuela lacks the ability to repay its $150 billion of foreign debt. Opposition leaders said the sale constitutes an illegal issuing of debt, while the US Treasury Department warned it may violate sanctions imposed last year. The government says the currency aims to circumvent US sanctions on the economy. President Nicolas Maduro has said each tokens will be backed by a barrel of Venezuelan crude. The Latin American country has the world's largest proven oil reserves. A total of 100 million Petros will be sold, with an initial value set at $60, based on the price of a barrel of Venezuelan crude in mid-January. The official website published a guide to setting up a virtual wallet in which to hold the cryptocurrency, but did not provide a link for actually doing so on Tuesday.
Businesses

Occupational Licensing Blunts Competition and Boosts Inequality (economist.com) 369

Occupational licensing -- the practice of regulating who can do what jobs -- has been on the rise for decades. In 1950 one in 20 employed Americans required a licence to work. By 2017 that had risen to more than one in five. From a report: The trend partly reflects an economic shift towards service industries, in which licences are more common. But it has also been driven by a growing number of professions successfully lobbying state governments to make it harder to enter their industries. Most studies find that licensing requirements raise wages in a profession by around 10%, probably by making it harder for competitors to set up shop.

Lobbyists justify licences by claiming consumers need protection from unqualified providers. In many cases this is obviously a charade. Forty-one states license makeup artists, as if wielding concealer requires government oversight. Thirteen license bartending; in nine, those who wish to pull pints must first pass an exam. Such examples are popular among critics of licensing, because the threat from unlicensed staff in low-skilled jobs seems paltry. Yet they are not representative of the broader harm done by licensing, which affects crowds of more highly educated workers like Ms Varnam. Among those with only a high-school education, 13% are licensed. The figure for those with postgraduate degrees is 45%.

[...] One way of telling that many licences are superfluous is the sheer variance in the law across states. About 1,100 occupations are regulated in at least one state, but fewer than 60 are regulated in all 50, according to a report from 2015 by Barack Obama's White House. Yet a handful of high-earning professions are regulated everywhere. In particular, licences are more common in legal and health-care occupations than in any other.

Security

US's Greatest Vulnerability is Ignoring the Cyber Threats From Our Adversaries, Foreign Policy Expert Says (cnbc.com) 102

America's greatest vulnerability is its continued inability to acknowledge the extent of its adversaries' capabilities when it comes to cyber threats, says Ian Bremmer, founder and president of leading political risk firm Eurasia Group. From a report: Speaking to CNBC from the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, the prominent American political scientist emphasized that there should be much more government-level concern and urgency over cyber risk. The adversarial states in question are what U.S. intelligence agencies call the "big four": Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. "We're vulnerable because we continue to underestimate the capabilities in those countries. WannaCry, from North Korea -- no one in the U.S. cybersecurity services believed the North Koreans could actually do that," Bremmer described, naming the ransomware virus that crippled more than 200,000 computer systems across 150 countries in May of 2017.

Borge Brende, president of the World Economic Forum, weighed in, stressing the economic cost of cyber crimes. "It is very hard to attribute cyberattacks to different actors or countries, but the cost is just unbelievable. Annually more than a thousand billion U.S. dollars are lost for companies or countries due to these attacks and our economy is more and more based on internet and data."

Facebook

Facebook Plans To Use US Mail To Verify IDs of Election Ad Buyers (reuters.com) 122

Facebook will start using postcards sent by U.S. mail later this year to verify the identities and location of people who want to purchase U.S. election-related advertising on its site, a senior company executive said on Saturday. From a report: The postcard verification is Facebook's latest effort to respond to criticism from lawmakers, security experts and election integrity watchdog groups that it and other social media companies failed to detect and later responded slowly to Russia's use of their platforms to spread divisive political content, including disinformation, during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
China

How Does Chinese Tech Stack Up Against American Tech? 173

The Economist: China's tech leaders love visiting California, and invest there, but are no longer awed by it [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. By market value the Middle Kingdom's giants, Alibaba and Tencent, are in the same league as Alphabet and Facebook. New stars may float their shares in 2018-19, including Didi Chuxing (taxi rides), Ant Financial (payments) and Lufax (wealth management). China's e-commerce sales are double America's and the Chinese send 11 times more money by mobile phones than Americans, who still scribble cheques.

The venture-capital (VC) industry is booming. American visitors return from Beijing, Hangzhou and Shenzhen blown away by the entrepreneurial work ethic. Last year the government decreed that China would lead globally in artificial intelligence (AI) by 2030. The plan covers a startlingly vast range of activities, including developing smart cities and autonomous cars and setting global tech standards. Like Japanese industry in the 1960s, private Chinese firms take this "administrative guidance" seriously.
Businesses

Labor Board Says Google Could Fire James Damore For Anti-Diversity Memo (theverge.com) 598

According to a recently disclosed letter from the U.S. National Labor Relations Board, Google didn't violate labor laws by firing engineer James Damore for a memo criticizing the company's diversity program. "The lightly redacted statement is written by Jayme Sophir, associate general counsel of the NLRB's division of advice; it dates to January, but was released yesterday, according to Law.com," reports The Verge. "Sophir concludes that while some parts of Damore's memo was legally protected by workplace regulations, 'the statements regarding biological differences between the sexes were so harmful, discriminatory, and disruptive as to be unprotected.'" From the report: Damore filed an NLRB complaint in August of 2017, after being fired for internally circulating a memo opposing Google's diversity efforts. Sophir recommends dismissing the case; Bloomberg reports that Damore withdrew it in January, and that his lawyer says he's focusing on a separate lawsuit alleging discrimination against conservative white men at Google. NLRB records state that its case was closed on January 19th. In her analysis, Sophir writes that employers should be given "particular deference" in trying to enforce anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, since these are tied to legal requirements. And employers have "a strong interest in promoting diversity" and cooperation across different groups of people. Because of this, "employers must be permitted to 'nip in the bud' the kinds of employee conduct that could lead to a 'hostile workplace,'" she writes. "Where an employee's conduct significantly disrupts work processes, creates a hostile work environment, or constitutes racial or sexual discrimination or harassment, the Board has found it unprotected even if it involves concerted activities regarding working conditions."
Social Networks

US Charges Russian Social Media Trolls Over Election Tampering (cnet.com) 502

The US Justice Department has filed charges against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian groups for interfering with the 2016 presidential election. From a report: In an indictment [PDF] released on Friday, the Justice Department called out the Internet Research Agency, a notorious group behind the Russian propaganda effort across social media. Employees for the agency created troll accounts and used bots to prop up arguments and sow political chaos during the 2016 presidential campaign. Facebook, Twitter and Google have struggled to deal with fake news, trolling campaigns and bots on their platforms, facing the scorn of Capitol Hill over their mishandlings. The indictment lists 13 Russian nationals tied to the effort.
Medicine

Concussions Can Be Detected With New Blood Test Approved by FDA. (nytimes.com) 21

The Food and Drug Administration this week approved a long-awaited blood test to detect concussions in people and more quickly identify those with possible brain injuries [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source]. From a report: The test, called the Banyan Brain Trauma Indicator, is also expected to reduce the number of people exposed to radiation through CT scans, or computed tomography scans, that detect brain tissue damage or intracranial lesions. If the blood test is adopted widely, it could eliminate the need for CT scans in at least a third of those with suspected brain injuries, the agency predicted. Concussion-related brain damage has become a particularly worrisome public health issue in many sports, especially football, affecting the ranks of professional athletes on down to the young children in Pop Warner leagues. Those concerns have escalated so far that it has led to a decline in children participating in tackle sports.
United States

Household Products Now Rival Cars As a Source of Air Pollution, Say Scientists (theguardian.com) 85

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Household cleaners, paints and perfumes have become substantial sources of urban air pollution as strict controls on vehicles have reduced road traffic emissions, scientists say. Researchers in the US looked at levels of synthetic "volatile organic compounds", or VOCs, in roadside air in Los Angeles and found that as much came from industrial and household products refined from petroleum as from vehicle exhaust pipes. The compounds are an important contributor to air pollution because when they waft into the atmosphere, they react with other chemicals to produce harmful ozone or fine particulate matter known as PM2.5. Ground level ozone can trigger breathing problems by making the airways constrict, while fine airborne particles drive heart and lung disease. Writing in the journal Science, De Gouw and others report that the amount of VOCs emitted from household and industrial products is two to three times higher than official US estimates suggest. The result is surprising since only about 5% of raw oil is turned into chemicals for consumer products, with 95% ending up as fuel.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF Urges US Copyright Office To Reject Proactive 'Piracy' Filters (torrentfreak.com) 55

TorrentFreak: As entertainment companies and Internet services spar over the boundaries of copyright law, the EFF is urging the US Copyright Office to keep "copyright's safe harbors safe." In a petition just filed with the office, the EFF warns that innovation will be stymied if Congress goes ahead with a plan to introduce proactive 'piracy' filters at the expense of the DMCA's current safe harbor provisions. [...] "Major media and entertainment companies and their surrogates want Congress to replace today's DMCA with a new law that would require websites and Internet services to use automated filtering to enforce copyrights. "Systems like these, no matter how sophisticated, cannot accurately determine the copyright status of a work, nor whether a use is licensed, a fair use, or otherwise non-infringing. Simply put, automated filters censor lawful and important speech," the EFF warns.
Medicine

Hospitals May Turn To Algorithms To Fight Fatal Infections (scientificamerican.com) 55

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Scientific American: Clostridium difficile, a deadly bacterium spread by physical contact with objects or infected people, thrives in hospitals, causing 453,000 cases a year and 29,000 deaths in the United States, according to a 2015 study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Traditional methods such as monitoring hygiene and warning signs often fail to stop the disease. But what if it were possible to systematically target those most vulnerable to C-diff? Erica Shenoy, an infectious-disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Jenna Wiens, a computer scientist and assistant professor of engineering at the University of Michigan, did just that when they created an algorithm to predict a patient's risk of developing a C-diff infection, or CDI. Using patients' vital signs and other health records, this method -- still in an experimental phase -- is something both researchers want to see integrated into hospital routines.

The CDI algorithm -- based on a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning -- is at the leading edge of a technological wave starting to hit the U.S. health care industry. After years of experimentation, machine learning's predictive powers are well-established, and it is poised to move from labs to broad real-world applications, said Zeeshan Syed, who directs Stanford University's Clinical Inference and Algorithms Program. Shenoy and Wiens' CDI algorithm analyzed a data set from 374,000 inpatient admissions to Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Michigan Health System, seeking connections between cases of CDI and the circumstances behind them. The records contained over 4,000 distinct variables. As it repeatedly analyzes this data, the ML process extracts warning signs of disease that doctors may miss -- constellations of symptoms, circumstances and details of medical history most likely to result in infection at any point in the hospital stay.

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