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Performance Bugs, 'the Dark Matter of Programming Bugs', Are Out There Lurking and Unseen

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 11:00
Several Slashdot readers have shared an article by programmer Nicholas Chapman, who talks about a class of bugs that he calls "performance bugs". From the article: A performance bug is when the code computes the correct result, but runs slower than it should due to a programming mistake. The nefarious thing about performance bugs is that the user may never know they are there -- the program appears to work correctly, carrying out the correct operations, showing the right thing on the screen or printing the right text. It just does it a bit more slowly than it should have. It takes an experienced programmer, with a reasonably accurate mental model of the problem and the correct solution, to know how fast the operation should have been performed, and hence if the program is running slower than it should be. I started documenting a few of the performance bugs I came across a few months ago, for example (on some platforms) the insert method of std::map is roughly 7 times slower than it should be, std::map::count() is about twice as slow as it should be, std::map::find() is 15% slower than it should be, aligned malloc is a lot slower than it should be in VS2015.

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No, We Probably Don't Live in a Computer Simulation, Says Physicist

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 10:20
Science doesn't have all the answers. There are plenty of things it may never prove, like whether there's a God. Or whether we're living in a computer simulation, something proposed by Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom. From an article on Gizmodo: This kind of thinking made at least one person angry, theoretical physicist and science writer Sabine Hossenfelder from the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies in Germany. Last week, she took to her blog Backreactions to vent. It's not the statement "we're living in a simulation" that upsets Hossenfelder. It's the fact that philosophers are making assertions that, if true, should most certainly manifest themselves in our laws of physics. "I'm not saying it's impossible," Hossenfelder told Gizmodo. "But I want to see some backup for this claim." Backup to prove such a claim would require a lot of work and a lot of math, enough to solve some of the most complex problems in theoretical physics.

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Patents Are A Big Part Of Why We Can't Own Nice Things

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 09:40
An anonymous reader shares an EFF article: Today, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could allow companies to keep a dead hand of control over their products, even after you buy them. The case, Impression Products v. Lexmark International, is on appeal from the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, who last year affirmed its own precedent allowing patent holders to restrict how consumers can use the products they buy. That decision, and the precedent it relied on, departs from long established legal rules that safeguard consumers and enable innovation. When you buy something physical -- a toaster, a book, or a printer, for example -- you expect to be free to use it as you see fit: to adapt it to suit your needs, fix it when it breaks, re-use it, lend it, sell it, or give it away when you're done with it. Your freedom to do those things is a necessary aspect of your ownership of those objects. If you can't do them, because the seller or manufacturer has imposed restrictions or limitations on your use of the product, then you don't really own them. Traditionally, the law safeguards these freedoms by discouraging sellers from imposing certain conditions or restrictions on the sale of goods and property, and limiting the circumstances in which those restrictions may be imposed by contract. But some companies are relentless in their quest to circumvent and undermine these protections. They want to control what end users of their products can do with the stuff they ostensibly own, by attaching restrictions and conditions on purchasers, locking down their products, and locking you (along with competitors and researchers) out. If they can do that through patent law, rather than ordinary contract, it would mean they could evade legal limits on contracts, and that any one using a product in violation of those restrictions (whether a consumer or competitor) could face harsh penalties for patent infringement.

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Amazon To Expand Counterfeit Removal Program in Overture To Sellers

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 09:00
Amazon.com is expanding a program to remove counterfeit goods from its website this spring as part of a broader push to assure brand owners that the online retailer is an ally rather than a threat. From a report: As early as next month, any brand can register its logo and intellectual property with Amazon so the e-commerce company can take down listings and potentially seller accounts when counterfeits are flagged, Peter Faricy, vice president of Amazon Marketplace, said in an interview on Monday. The so-called brand registry, which had been in a test phase, will be widely available for free in North America, Faricy said ahead of his presentation at the Shoptalk commerce conference in Las Vegas.

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Reddit To Transform Into a Social Network With New Profile Pages

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 08:00
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Digital Journal: Reddit has announced it has begun trialling a radical new profile page design that's reminiscent of Facebook and Twitter. It will evolve the discussion board site towards being a social network by enabling users to post directly to their new profile page. At present, posts on Reddit have to be directed into a specific sub-Reddit community. You can't simply write a post and have it appear across the network which can make it difficult to get your voice heard. Unless you've got some reputation in a relevant sub-Reddit, your posts may end up going unnoticed. That could soon change. Last night, Reddit announced it's working on a drastic revision of its user profile page experience. The site has commenced testing of an early version of the design. According to a report from Reuters, just three "high-profile" users currently have access to the feature. When the new pages are eventually opened up to all, they'll showcase the user's profile picture and description. Below the header, posts from the user will be publicly displayed. The user will be able to add new posts to their page, without submitting to a sub-Reddit. Users will be able to follow each other to stay informed of new posts, effectively creating a social network atmosphere above the discussion boards.

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Why American Farmers Are Hacking Their Tractors With Ukrainian Firmware

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 05:00
Tractor owners across the country are reportedly hacking their John Deere tractors using firmware that's cracked in Easter Europe and traded on invite-only, paid online forums. The reason is because John Deere and other manufacturers have "made it impossible to perform 'unauthorized' repair on farm equipment," which has obviously upset many farmers who see it "as an attack on their sovereignty and quite possibly an existential threat to their livelihood if their tractor breaks at an inopportune time," reports Jason Koebler via Motherboard. As is the case with most modern-day engineering vehicles, the mechanical problems experienced with the newer farming tractors are often remedied via software. From the report: The nightmare scenario, and a fear I heard expressed over and over again in talking with farmers, is that John Deere could remotely shut down a tractor and there wouldn't be anything a farmer could do about it. A license agreement John Deere required farmers to sign in October forbids nearly all repair and modification to farming equipment, and prevents farmers from suing for "crop loss, lost profits, loss of goodwill, loss of use of equipment [...] arising from the performance or non-performance of any aspect of the software." The agreement applies to anyone who turns the key or otherwise uses a John Deere tractor with embedded software. It means that only John Deere dealerships and "authorized" repair shops can work on newer tractors. "If a farmer bought the tractor, he should be able to do whatever he wants with it," Kevin Kenney, a farmer and right-to-repair advocate in Nebraska, told me. "You want to replace a transmission and you take it to an independent mechanic -- he can put in the new transmission but the tractor can't drive out of the shop. Deere charges $230, plus $130 an hour for a technician to drive out and plug a connector into their USB port to authorize the part." "What you've got is technicians running around here with cracked Ukrainian John Deere software that they bought off the black market," he added.

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A New Definition Would Add 102 Planets To Our Solar System -- Including Pluto

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 02:00
The Grim Reefer quotes a report from The Washington Post: Is Pluto a planet? It's not a question scientists ask in polite company. "It's like religion and politics," said Kirby Runyon, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University. "People get worked up over it. I've gotten worked up over it." For years, astronomers, planetary scientists and other space researchers have fought about what to call the small, icy world at the edge of our solar system. Is it a planet, as scientists believed for nearly seven decades? Or must a planet be something bigger, something more dominant, as was decided by vote at the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 2006? The issue can bring conversations to a screeching halt, or turn them into shouting matches. "Sometimes," Runyon said, "it's just easier not to bring it up." But Runyon will ignore his own advice this week when he attends the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston. In a giant exhibit hall crowded with his colleagues, he's attempting to reignite the debate about Pluto's status with an audacious new definition for planet -- one that includes not just Pluto, but several of its neighbors, objects in the asteroid belt, and a number of moons. By his count, 102 new planets could be added to our solar system under the new criteria. USA Today reports: "In the mind of the public, the word 'planet' carries a significance lacking in other words used to describe planetary bodies," the proposal states. "In the decade following the supposed 'demotion' of Pluto by the International Astronomical Union, many members of the public, in our experience, assume that alleged 'non-planets' cease to be interesting enough to warrant scientific exploration."

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Satellite Navigation 'Switches Off' Parts of Brain Used For Navigation, Study Finds

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 22:30
A new study published today in the journal Nature Communications reveals some of the drawbacks of using satellite navigation (SatNav) technology. After scanning the brains of 24 volunteers as they explored a simulation through the streets of London's Soho district, researchers from the University of London found that listening to a satellite navigation's instructions "switches off" activity in parts of the brain used for navigation. Scientific American reports: The researchers found that a brain structure called the hippocampus, which is involved in both memory and spatial navigation, appears to encode two different maps of the environment: One tracks the distance to the final destination as the crow flies and is encoded by the frontal region of the hippocampus, the other tracks the "true path" to the goal and is encoded by its rear region. During the navigation tasks, the hippocampus acts like a flexible guidance system, flipping between these two maps according to changing demands. Activity in the hippocampal rear region acts like a homing signal, increasing as the goal gets closer. Analysis of the brain-scanning data revealed activity in the rear right of the hippocampus increased whenever the participants entered a new street while navigating. It also varied with the number of new path options available. The more alternatives there were, the greater the brain activity. The researchers also found that activity in the front of the hippocampus was associated with a property called centrality, defined by the proximity of each new street to the center of the network. Further, they observed activity in the participants' prefrontal cortices when they were forced to make a detour and had to replan their route -- and this, too, increased in relation to the number of options available. Intriguingly, when participants followed SatNav instructions, however, brain activity in these regions "switched off." Together, the new findings suggest the rear portion of the hippocampus reactivates spatial memories of possible navigation paths, with more available paths evoking more activity, and that the prefrontal cortex may contribute to path-planning by searching though different route options and selecting the best one.

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Spider Venom Might Protect Us From Deadly Strokes

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 20:25
New submitter evolutionary writes: Apparently the Australian funnel-web spider's venom has amazing properties, if you can use it within 4.5 hours. From a report via Ars Technica: "Venom from the Australian funnel-web spider (Hadronyche infensa) contains a chemical that shuts down an ion channel known to malfunction in brain cells after strokes, researchers report Monday in PNAS. In cell experiments, the harmless chemical protected brain cells from a toxic flood of ions unleashed after a stroke strikes. In rats, the venom component markedly protected the rats' brains from extensive damage -- even when it was given hours after a stroke occurred. Researchers have years, if not decades, of work to figure out if their particular venom is safe and effective in humans. And very few potential therapies make the cut. But, this early study gives us reason to be somewhat optimistic: it follows years of research and hypotheses that such venom components and their ion channel-targets could be key to new stroke treatments -- which are desperately needed. The vast majority of strokes involve a blockage that stops or slows the flow of blood into an area of the brain (other strokes can be caused by hemorrhages.) This leaves brain cells without fresh blood and oxygen. To cope, the cells can switch to metabolic pathways that don't rely on oxygen. But this creates acidic conditions, and the pH outside of brain cells starts dropping fast -- a scenario called acidosis. In the acidic, oxygen-starved brain regions, brain cells become damaged and start dying off, causing irreparable damage. The only drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat these types of strokes tries to restore blood flow by breaking up clots. But this drug is only used in about three to four percent of stroke victims because it has to be used within 4.5 hours of the stroke. It also comes with the risk of causing hemorrhages."

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Microsoft's Edge Was Most Hacked Browser At Pwn2Own 2017, While Chrome Remained Unhackable

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 19:45
At the Pwn2Own 2017 hacking event, Microsoft's Edge browser proved itself to be the least secure browser at the event, after it was hacked no less than five times. Google's Chrome browser, on the other hand, remained unhackable during the contest. Tom's Hardware reports: On the first day, Team Ether (Tencent Security) was the first to hack Edge through an arbitrary write in the Chakra JavaScript engine. The team also used a logic bug in the sandbox to escape that, as well. The team got an $80,000 prize for this exploit. On the second day, the Edge browser was attacked fast and furious by multiple teams. However, one was disqualified for using a vulnerability that was disclosed the previous day. (The teams at Pwn2Own are supposed to only use zero-day vulnerabilities that are unknown to the vendor. Two other teams withdrew their entries against Edge. However, Team Lance (Tencent Security) successfully exploited Microsoft's browser using a use-after-free (UAF) vulnerability in Chakra, and then another UAF bug in the Windows kernel to elevate system privileges. The exploit got the team $55,000. Team Sniper (Tencent Security) also exploited Edge and the Windows kernel using similar techniques, which gained this team the same amount of money, as well. The most impressive exploit by far, and also a first for Pwn2Own, was a virtual machine escape through an Edge flaw by a security team from "360 Security." The team leveraged a heap overflow bug in Edge, a type confusion in the Windows kernel, and an uninitialized buffer in VMware Workstation for a complete virtual machine escape. The team hacked its way in via the Edge browser, through the guest Windows OS, through the VM, all the way to the host operating system. This impressive chained-exploit gained the 360 Security team $105,000. The fifth exploit against Edge was done by Richard Zhu, who used two UAF bugs--one in Edge and one in a Windows kernel buffer overflow--to complete the hack. The attack gained Zhu $55,000. At last year's Pwn2Own 2016, Edge proved to be more secure than Internet Explorer and Safari, but it still ended up getting hacked twice. Chrome was only partially hacked once, notes Tom's Hardware.

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Walmart Unveils 'Store No. 8' Tech Incubator In Silicon Valley

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 19:05
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is creating a technology-startup incubator in Silicon Valley to identify changes that will reshape the retail experience, including virtual reality, autonomous vehicle and drone delivery and personalized shopping. The incubator will be called Store No. 8, a reference to a Wal-Mart location where the company experimented with new store layouts. Marc Lore, chief executive officer of Wal-Mart's e-commerce operations, announced the incubator Monday at the ShopTalk conference in Las Vegas. The world's biggest retailer has been overhauling its online team to better challenge Amazon.com Inc. with greater selection and lower prices. Lore founded Jet.com, which Wal-Mart purchased in September for about $3.3 billion in pursuit of Amazon in the e-commerce race. Lore said Wal-Mart has an advantage over "pure play" e-commerce companies because of its large network of stores that attract shoppers for such items as fresh food. The incubator will partner with startups, venture capitalists and academics to promote innovation in robotics, virtual and augmented reality, machine learning and artificial intelligence, according to Wal-Mart. The goal is to have a fast-moving, separate entity to identify emerging technologies that can be developed and used across Wal-Mart.

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Google Wants To Create Promotions That Aren't Ads For Its Voice-Controlled Assistant

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 18:20
Earlier this month, some Google Home users noticed what appeared to be audio ads for Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" movie. After some intense backlash, the company released a statement claiming that the ad was not an ad, but that it was simply "timely content" that Disney didn't pay for. Google's UK director of agencies, Matt Bush, has since spoken out about the company's plans with advertising via the voice-controlled Assistant. Business Insider reports: Bush explained Google isn't looking to offer brand integrations in voice for the time being, since it didn't have enough data to come up with an ad product that adds value for consumers. "We want businesses to have a phenomenal mobile experience and then building on that have a phenomenal voice experience," Bush told Business Insider at Advertising Week Europe. "That might not be, in the early instances, anything that has to do with commercials at all. It might just be something something that adds value to the consumer without needing to be commercialized." Bush explained that the consumer experience with voice is very different from that of text search because the use cases for voice navigation differ depending on the device the function is used on and the context the user finds themselves in. "We don't want to start putting in commercial opportunities that we think users don't want to interact with," Bush said "We don't want anything to come in-between the user and their access to the information they're actually looking for. If a brand can add value in that space, fantastic." Bush cited mobile search ads as successful executions of using context and personal user insights, but voice promotions are unlikely to take the same form. "It's unlikely to be what you see from search as it currently stands, where you might have three or four ads as the top results of a search," he said.

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Burglars Can Easily Make Google Nest Security Cameras Stop Recording

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 17:40
Orome1 quotes a report from Help Net Security: Google Nest's Dropcam, Dropcam Pro, Nest Cam Outdoor and Nest Cam Indoor security cameras can be easily disabled by an attacker that's in their Bluetooth range. The vulnerabilities are present in the latest firmware version running on the devices (v5.2.1). They were discovered by researcher Jason Doyle last fall, and their existence responsibly disclosed to Google, but have still not been patched. The first two flaws can be triggered and lead to a buffer overflow condition if the attacker sends to the camera a too-long Wi-Fi SSID parameter or a long encrypted password parameter, respectively. Triggering one of these flaws will make the devices crash and reboot. The third flaw is a bit more serious, as it allows the attacker to force the camera to temporarily disconnect from the wireless network to which it is connected by supplying it a new SSID to connect to. If that particular SSID does not exist, the camera drops its attempt to associate with it and return to the original Wi-Fi network, but the whole process can last from 60 to 90 seconds, during which the camera won't be recording. Nest has apparently already prepared a patch but hasn't pushed it out yet. (It should be rolling out "in the coming days.")

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Wells Fargo: All ATMs Will Take Phone Codes, Not Just Cards

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 17:00
Given the prevalence of smartphones nowadays, Wells Fargo has announced plans to upgrade all 13,000 of its ATMs next week to allow customers to access their money using their cellphones instead of traditional bank cards. Wells Fargo would be the first to upgrade all of its ATMs with the feature across the United States. ABC News reports: To access their money, customers would get unique eight-digit codes from their Wells Fargo smartphone app, and enter the code into the ATM along with their PIN number. The machines will still accept debit cards as well. One limitation of the one-time code, though, is that it won't work on the secure doors that many branches have for non-business hours that require a customer to swipe an ATM or debit card to gain entry. Wells Fargo said those secure doors are found at a small percentage of branches, mostly in major metropolitan areas like New York City or Chicago. Wells said it plans to roll out another upgrade to its ATMs later this year, which will allow customers to access the ATMs by holding their smartphones up to a reader on the machine, instead of entering the eight-digit code. It would be similar to using Apple Pay or Samsung Pay, the bank said.

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Trump Adds To NASA Budget, Approves Crewed Mission To Mars

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 16:20
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.

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Who's Liable For Decisions AI and Robotics Make?

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 15:40
An anonymous reader shares a BetaNews article: Reuters news agency reported on February 16 that "European lawmakers called [...] for EU-wide legislation to regulate the rise of robots, including an ethical framework for their development and deployment and the establishment of liability for the actions of robots including self-driving cars." The question of determining "liability" for decision making achieved by robots or artificial intelligence is an interesting and important subject as the implementation of this technology increases in industry, and starts to more directly impact our day to day lives. Indeed, as application of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning technology grows, we are likely to witness how it changes the nature of work, businesses, industries and society. And yet, although it has the power to disrupt and drive greater efficiencies, AI has its obstacles: the issue of "who is liable when something goes awry" being one of them. Like many protagonists in industry, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are trying to tackle this liability question. Many of them are calling for new laws on artificial intelligence and robotics to address the legal and insurance liability issues. They also want researchers to adopt some common ethical standards in order to "respect human dignity."

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AMD Confirms It's Issuing a Fix To Stop New Ryzen Processors From Crashing Desktops

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 15:00
AMD says the company has been able to figure out why FMA3 code is causing system hangs on PCs using a new Ryzen desktop processor. From a report: Although AMD didn't provide a detailed report on the problem's root cause, the company said that BIOS changes will be distributed to motherboard manufacturers to resolve the issue. Customers are encouraged to keep an eye on their motherboard vendor's website for an update. "We are aware of select instances where FMA code can result in a system hang," the company said. "We have identified the root cause." AMD released three Ryzen-branded desktop processors at the beginning of March that plug into motherboards based on AMD's new AM4 socket. The trio of processors include the Ryzen 7 1800X, the Ryzen 7 1700X, and the Ryzen 7 1700. However, all three reportedly cause a hard system lock when running certain FMA3 workloads. The problem was replicated across all three processors and a variety of motherboards.

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Microsoft Outlook, Skype, OneDrive Hit By Another Authentication Issue

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 14:20
Two weeks after a widespread authentication issue hit Outlook, Skype, OneDrive, Xbox and other Microsoft services, it's happening again. From a report: On March 21, users across the world began reporting via Twitter that they couldn't sign into Outlook.com, OneDrive and Skype, (and possibly more). I, myself, am unable to sign into Outlook.com, OneDrive or Skype at 2:30 pm ET today, but my Office 365 Mail account is working fine. (Knock wood.) I believe the issue started about an hour ago, or 1:30 p.m. ET or so. MSA is Microsoft's single sign-on service which authenticates users so they can log into their various Microsoft services. As happened two weeks ago, Skype Heartbeat site, has posted a message noting that users may be experiencing problems sending messages and signing in.

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Android O First Developer Preview Featuring Notification Channels, Background Limits Now Available

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 13:43
A year after Google released the Android N Developer Preview, the company has made available the developer preview of the next major version of Android, "Android O." You will not want to put it on your primary Android smartphone as the preview is likely to have rough edges. Google says as much. "it's early days, there are more features coming, and there's still plenty of stabilization and performance work ahead of us. But it's booting :)." The company is using the developer preview to give beta testers a sneak peek into some new features, such as "notification channels," which will offer users the ability to group notifications. There is also Picture in Picture, which will enable you to have a video appear in a small window on top of homescreen or any application. Google is also adding "multi-display support" and improved "keyboard navigation." Your guess is as good as mine as to what these features will actually do. There's also better "background limits" which will supposedly help save battery, and wider Wi-Fi support to include things like Neighborhood Aware Networking (NAN). No word on what "O" in Android O stands for.

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Twitter Suspended Hundreds of Thousands of Accounts Amid 'Violent Extremism'

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 13:00
Twitter said on Tuesday it had suspended more than half a million accounts since the middle of 2015 as the company steps up efforts to tackle "violent extremism" on its microblogging platform. From a report: The company shut down a total of 376,890 accounts in the last six months of 2016, Twitter said in its latest transparency report.

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