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Facebook Knows It Encourages Division. Top Executives Nixed Solutions.

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 11:52
Jeff Horwitz and Deepa Seetharaman, reporting for Wall Street Journal: A Facebook team had a blunt message for senior executives. The company's algorithms weren't bringing people together. They were driving people apart. "Our algorithms exploit the human brain's attraction to divisiveness," read a slide from a 2018 presentation. "If left unchecked," it warned, Facebook would feed users "more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform." That presentation went to the heart of a question dogging Facebook almost since its founding: Does its platform aggravate polarization and tribal behavior? The answer it found, in some cases, was yes. Facebook had kicked off an internal effort to understand how its platform shaped user behavior and how the company might address potential harms. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg had in public and private expressed concern about "sensationalism and polarization." But in the end, Facebook's interest was fleeting. Mr. Zuckerberg and other senior executives largely shelved the basic research, according to previously unreported internal documents and people familiar with the effort, and weakened or blocked efforts to apply its conclusions to Facebook products. Facebook policy chief Joel Kaplan, who played a central role in vetting proposed changes, argued at the time that efforts to make conversations on the platform more civil were "paternalistic," said people familiar with his comments.

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Twitter Refuses To Delete Trump's Baseless Claims About Joe Scarborough

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 11:18
Twitter's policy carve-out for world leaders is facing another test with President Donald Trump's latest tweets resurrecting baseless claims that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough should be investigated for the death of his former staffer. From a report: Earlier this month, Trump tweeted questions about when an investigation would be opened into the "Cold Case" of "Psycho Joe Scarborough." The unfounded accusation refers to the death in 2001 of Lori Klausutis, who was working for Scarborough when he was a Republican congressman for Florida. At the time, the medical examiner concluded Klausutis, 28, had fainted due to an undiagnosed heart condition and hit her head on the way down, finding no evidence of foul play. Scarborough was in Washington, D.C., when Klausutis died in his district office in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Trump's tweets revived a baseless theory that Scarborough was allegedly involved in Klausutis' death. On Thursday, her widower, Timothy Klausutis, wrote to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey requesting the company delete Trump's tweets referencing those claims. "I'm asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him -- the memory of my dead wife -- and perverted it for perceived political gain," Klausutis wrote in the letter, which was dated May 21 and published by The New York Times on Tuesday. A spokesperson for Twitter indicated that they would be updating their policies, but Trump's tweets were not removed. "We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family," the spokesperson said. "We've been working to expand existing product features and policies so we can more effectively address things like this going forward, and we hope to have those changes in place shortly."

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Ask Slashdot: Did Fear and Groupthink Drive Unnecessary Global Lockdowns?

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 10:37
An anonymous reader writes: There's an interesting analysis, which looks at several data points, to conclude that media may have flamed fears that drove the world to enforce lockdowns. From the story: "To put things in perspective, the virus is now known to have an infection fatality rate for most people under 65 that is no more dangerous than driving 13 to 101 miles per day. Even by conservative estimates, the odds of COVID-19 death are roughly in line with existing baseline odds of dying in any given year. Yet we put billions of young healthy people under house arrest, stopped cancer screenings, and sunk ourselves into the worst level of unemployment since the Great Depression. This from a virus that bears a survival rate of 99.99% if you are a healthy individual under 50 years old (1, 2). "New York City reached over a 25% infection rate and yet 99.98% of all people in the city under 45 survived, making it comparable to death rates by normal accidents. But of course the whole linchpin of the lockdown argument is that it would have been even worse without such a step. Sweden never closed down borders, primary schools, restaurants, or businesses, and never mandated masks, yet 99.998% of all their people under 60 have survived and their hospitals were never overburdened. Why did we lock down the majority of the population who were never at significant risk? What will be the collateral damage? That is what this series will explore. "In early February the World Health Organization said that travel bans were not necessary. On Feb. 17, just a month before the first U.S. lockdown, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said that this new strain of coronavirus possessed "just minuscule" danger to the United States. In early March the U.S. surgeon general said that "masks are NOT effective in preventing [the] general public from catching coronavirus." As late as March 9, the day Italy started its lockdown, Dr. Fauci did not encourage cancellation of "large gatherings in a place [even if] you have community spread," calling it "a judgment call." NBA games were still being played. So how did we go from such a measured tone to locking up 97% of Americans in their homes seemingly overnight?" There's an argument to be made that lockdowns was perhaps the most responsible action a government could have enforced. Additionally, some Silicon Vally tech executives have argued that the media downplayed the significance of the coronavirus pandemic early on.

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As Chinese Authorities Expand Use of Health Tracking Apps, Privacy Concerns Grow

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 09:46
China's health tracking QR codes, which have played a key part in the country's successful containment of the coronavirus, now look set to play a much broader role in daily life as local authorities dream up new uses for the technology. From a report: Embedded in the popular WeChat and Alipay smartphone apps, the codes use self-reported and automatically collected travel and medical data to give people a red, yellow or green rating indicating the likelihood of having the virus. To walk around freely, people in China must have a green rating and since February they have been asked to present their health QR codes to gain entry into restaurants, parks and other venues. The codes had so far met with little public resistance, seen as a necessary tool to get the economy back up on its feet again. Or that was the case until the eastern city of Hangzhou proposed on Friday permanently assigning each of its residents a coloured health badge and giving them a score from 0-100 based on their medical records and lifestyle habits.

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Former HTC Boss Plots Return To Spotlight With 5G VR Headset

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 09:01
Peter Chou, the man who led HTC through its most prosperous years as an Android phone maker, is returning to consumer electronics with the unveiling of a new virtual reality headset, platform and company. From a report: Called XRSpace, the project has been in the works for three years and its centerpiece is a mobile VR headset equipped with fifth-generation wireless networking and over three hours of battery life. Partnering with Deutsche Telekom and Chunghwa Telecom, XRSpace is also building the VR platform on which services, games and social activities can be accessed and experienced. Priced at $599, the XRSpace headset has a high cost of entry, but the company envisions bundling it with carriers' 5G service packages or in other forms for educational institutions. After its home market of Taiwan, it'll look to expand to the U.S. and Europe, Chou said in an interview with Bloomberg News, with the rest of Asia to follow.

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College-Bound Students To Miss Out on Billions in Financial Aid Due To Pandemic

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 07:47
This year, students may need extra help to make college a reality. From a report: Amid the coronavirus crisis and sky-high unemployment rates, less than half of families feel confident in their ability to meet the costs of higher education, according to education lender Sallie Mae. About 69% of parents and 55% of students entering college in the fall said Covid-19 has impacted their ability to pay for school, according to a separate poll of 6,500-plus high school seniors and their families by NitroCollege.com, a site that helps students and parents navigate college admissions and financial aid. Already, nearly 40% of parents have tapped their child's college fund to help cover expenses due to economic fallout from the pandemic, according to another report by LendingTree. Yet fewer families have applied for financial aid. Only a few more weeks remain until the June 30 deadline for submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid for the upcoming fall semester. The FAFSA form serves as the gateway to all federal money, including loans, work-study and grants, which are the most desirable kind of assistance. With just about a month to go, the number of applications is down 2.8% from last year, with roughly 55,000 fewer high school seniors applying, according to the National College Attainment Network.

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Virgin Orbit's First Orbital Test Flight Cut Short After Rocket Released from Carrier Aircraft

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 02:59
An anonymous reader shares a report: On Monday, Virgin Orbit attempted the first full flight of its orbital payload launch system, which includes a modified Boeing 747 called 'Cosmic Girl' that acts as a carrier aircraft for its air-launched rocket LauncherOne. While Virgin Orbit has flown Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne previously for different tests and demonstrations, this was the first end-to-end system test. Unfortunately, that test ended much earlier than planned -- just shortly after the LauncherOne rocket was released from Cosmic Girl. Cosmic Girl took off just before 12 PM PT (3 PM ET) from Mojave Air and Spaceport in California. The aircraft was piloted by Chief Test Pilot Kelly Latimer, along with her co-pilot Todd Ericson. The aircraft then flew to its target release point, where LauncherOne did manage a "clean release" from the carrier craft as planned at around 12:50 PM PT (3:50 PM ET), but Virgin noted just a few minutes later that the mission was subsequently "terminated."

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The Moon Pays a Spring Visit To Virgo

Mon, 05/25/2020 - 22:30
An anonymous reader shares a report: The moon visits one of the spring constellations this week by traveling through the faint constellation of Virgo, the virgin. On 1 and 2 June, our natural satellite will pass close to Virgo's only bright star, Spica. Memorise its position and then return in the days to come to pick out the constellation's other, fainter stars. Spica is one of the 20 brightest stars in the night sky, located at a distance of about 250 light years. A blue giant star, containing around 10 times the Sun's mass, it is more than 20,000 times more luminous than our star.

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Microsoft Promises New Skype Features Despite Teams For Consumers Launch

Mon, 05/25/2020 - 19:30
An anonymous reader writes: Microsoft has shared few usage numbers since acquiring Skype for $8.5 billion in October 2011. Skype's monthly active users, for example, haven't been updated since August 2015 -- 300 million has been the number for years. But the coronavirus has shaken up the communications space for everyone, even Skype. With usage exploding due to COVID-19 and working from home policies, the company has been eager to talk up Skype along with Microsoft Teams, its fastest-growing business app ever. Microsoft has now confirmed plans to invest in Skype, including adding new features, regardless of its plans with Teams.

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NASA and SpaceX Confirm SpaceX's First Ever Astronaut Launch is a 'Go'

Mon, 05/25/2020 - 17:35
NASA and SpaceX are closer than ever to a moment both have been preparing for since the beginning of the Commercial Crew program in 2010. SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon spacecraft are now set to fly with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken onboard, making a trip to the International Space Station, and both the agency and SpaceX announced today that they have officially passed the final flight readiness review, meaning everything is now a 'go' for launch. From a report: According to NASA Commercial Crew Program manager Kathy Leuders during a press conference on Monday, everything went well with all pre-launch flight checks thus far, including a full-length static test fire of the Falcon 9's engines, and a dress rehearsal of all launch preparation including strapping Hurley and Behnken into the rocket. The only remaining major hurdle for SpaceX and NASA now is the weather, which is currently only looking around 40% favorable for a launch attempt on schedule for Wednesday, May 27 at 4:33 PM EDT, though during today's press conference officials noted it is actually trending upwards as of today. SpaceX and NASA will be paying close attention to the weather between now and Wednesday, and since this is a highly sensitive mission with actual astronauts on board the spacecraft, you can bet that they'll err on the side of caution for scrubbing the launch if weather isn't looking good. That said, they do have a backup opportunity of May 30 in case they need to make use of that.

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Thousands of Enterprise Systems Infected by New Blue Mockingbird Malware Gang

Mon, 05/25/2020 - 16:00
Thousands of enterprise systems are believed to have been infected with a cryptocurrency-mining malware operated by a group tracked under the codename of Blue Mockingbird. From a report: Discovered earlier this month by malware analysts from cloud security firm Red Canary, the Blue Mockingbird group is believed to have been active since December 2019. Researchers say Blue Mockingbird attacks public-facing servers running ASP.NET apps that use the Telerik framework for their user interface (UI) component. Hackers exploit the CVE-2019-18935 vulnerability to plant a web shell on the attacked server. They then use a version of the Juicy Potato technique to gain admin-level access and modify server settings to obtain (re)boot persistence. Once they gain full access to a system, they download and install a version of XMRRig, a popular cryptocurrency mining app for the Monero (XMR) cryptocurrency.

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Chrome: 70% of All Security Bugs Are Memory Safety Issues

Mon, 05/25/2020 - 15:05
Roughly 70% of all serious security bugs in the Chrome codebase are memory management and safety bugs, Google engineers said. From a report: Half of the 70% are use-after-free vulnerabilities, a type of security issue that arises from incorrect management of memory pointers (addresses), leaving doors open for attackers to attack Chrome's inner components. The percentage was compiled after Google engineers analyzed 912 security bugs fixed in the Chrome stable branch since 2015, bugs that had a "high" or "critical" severity rating. The number is identical to stats shared by Microsoft. Speaking at a security conference in February 2019, Microsoft engineers said that for the past 12 years, around 70% of all security updates for Microsoft products addressed memory safety vulnerabilities.

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In $16 Billion Push To Expand Broadband, America Is Flying Through a Fog

Mon, 05/25/2020 - 14:25
Spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, federal policy makers are pushing to spend billions of dollars to close gaps in America's high-speed internet network. From a report: There is one big obstacle: Government officials say they don't have a clear picture of where service gaps exist, meaning parts of the country will be left out when it is time to distribute the funds. While the Federal Communications Commission estimates more than 94% of Americans -- or about 309 million people -- have access to high-speed internet services, it acknowledges that number is based on flawed data from internet-service providers. The FCC requires these companies to report that they serve a census block if they can reach even a single home or business there. That means if one of your neighbors has a broadband connection, the FCC might count your house as having broadband, too -- even if the local internet-service provider can't reach you.

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'Japan Model' Has Beaten Coronavirus, Shinzo Abe Declares

Mon, 05/25/2020 - 13:45
Prime minister Shinzo Abe has declared victory for the "Japan model" of fighting coronavirus as he lifted a nationwide state of emergency after seven weeks [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source]. From a report: Speaking at a press conference on Monday evening in Tokyo, Mr Abe said that Japan had avoided an explosive increase in cases without the compulsory lockdowns used in Europe or the US. The ending of the state of emergency in the last five prefectures it covered -- Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba and Hokkaido -- will mean that the worldâ(TM)s fourth-largest economy can start to reopen for business. "In a characteristically Japanese way, we have all but brought this epidemic under control in the last month and a half," said Mr Abe. "Surely, it shows the power of the Japan model." Japan's constitution prohibits a compulsory lockdown but, under the state of emergency that began on April 7, the government requested voluntary social distancing and business closures. Under that regime, the number of new Covid-19 cases fell from 600-700 a day in mid-April to about 20-30 a day last week. The country has diagnosed 16,581 cases of coronavirus with 830 deaths -- many fewer than similar-sized populations in Europe or the US.

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Google Removes QAnon Apps From Play Store for Violating Terms

Mon, 05/25/2020 - 13:07
Google last week removed three apps related to the QAnon conspiracy theory from its Play Store digital marketplace. From a report: The apps -- called QMAP, Q Alerts! and Q Alerts LITE -- were taken down for violating Google's policies against "harmful information," the company said. The removal was earlier reported by Media Matters for America, a progressive not-for-profit. The QAnon conspiracy theory has become popular among a group of supporters of President Donald Trump. One claim is that celebrities are involved in child sex trafficking and pedophilia. Another tenet is that Trump is working to take down the so-called "Deep State," a secret network that manipulates and controls government policy. The theory revolves around "Q," an anonymous user who began writing about the conspiracies on imageboard site 4chan.

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WHO Temporarily Suspends Trial of Hydroxychloroquine Over Safety Concerns

Mon, 05/25/2020 - 12:28
The World Health Organization is temporarily pausing tests of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment in order to review safety concerns, the agency's director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu said Monday. From a report: The decision comes after a retrospective review published in The Lancet found that coronavirus patients who took hydroxychloroquine or its related drug chloroquine were more likely to die or develop an irregular heart rhythm that can lead to sudden cardiac death, compared to those who did nothing. The medical journal's review consisted of 96,000 hospitalized patients diagnosed with the coronavirus in six continents, the largest analysis of medical records on the drug, between Dec. 20, 2019, and April 14, 2020. Tedros said that an independent executive panel "agreed to review a comprehensive analysis and critical appraisal of all evidence available globally" regarding hydroxychloroquine in order to determine whether it should continue to be used in WHO's Solidarity Trial, a global effort to test experimental coronavirus treatments.

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A Massive Database of 8 Billion Thai Internet Records Leaks

Mon, 05/25/2020 - 11:46
Thailand's largest cell network AIS has pulled a database offline that was spilling billions of real-time internet records on millions of Thai internet users. From a report: Security researcher Justin Paine said in a blog post that he found the database, containing DNS queries and Netflow data, on the internet without a password. With access to this database, Paine said that anyone could "quickly paint a picture" about what an internet user (or their household) does in real-time. Paine alerted AIS to the open database on May 13. But after not hearing back for a week, Paine reported the apparent security lapse to Thailand's national computer emergency response team, known as ThaiCERT, which contacted AIS about the open database. The database was inaccessible a short time later. AIS spokesperson Sudaporn Watcharanisakorn confirmed AIS owned the data, and apologized for the security lapse.

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eBay Port Scans Visitors' Computers For Remote Access Programs

Mon, 05/25/2020 - 11:05
AmiMoJo shares a report: When visiting the eBay.com site, a script will run that performs a local port scan of your computer to detect remote support and remote access applications. Many of these ports are related to remote access/remote support tools such as the Windows Remote Desktop, VNC, TeamViewer, Ammy Admin, and more. After learning about this, BleepingComputer conducted a test and can confirm that eBay.com is indeed performing a local port scan of 14 different ports when visiting the site.

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Twitter Struggles To Label Misleading COVID-19 Tweets

Mon, 05/25/2020 - 10:29
Automated technology that Twitter began using this month to label tweets containing coronavirus misinformation is making mistakes, raising concerns about the company's reliance on artificial intelligence to review content. From a report: On May 11, Twitter started labeling tweets that spread a conspiracy theory about 5G causing the coronavirus. Authorities believe the false theory prompted some people to set fires to cell towers. Twitter will remove misleading tweets that encourage people to engage in behavior such as damaging cell towers. Other tweets that don't incite the same level of harm but include false or disputed claims should get a label that directs users to trusted information. The label reads "Get the facts about COVID-19" and takes users to a page with curated tweets that debunk the 5G coronavirus conspiracy theory. Twitter's technology, though, has made scores of mistakes, applying labels to tweets that refute the conspiracy theory and provide accurate information. Tweets that include links to news stories from Reuters, BBC, Wired and Voice of America about the 5G coronavirus conspiracy theory have been labeled. In one case, Twitter applied the label to tweets that shared a page the company itself had published titled "No, 5G isn't causing coronavirus." Tweets with words such as 5G, coronavirus, COVID-19 or hashtags #5Gcoronavirus have also been mistakenly labeled.

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Leaked Senate Talking Points Say Internet Surveillance Warrants Would Force FBI To Let Terrorists Bomb Things

Mon, 05/25/2020 - 09:43
Requiring federal agents to have "probable cause" to eavesdrop on the internet activities of American citizens poses a direct threat to national security and would force the FBI to stand by while terrorist plots unfold on U.S. soil, according to a leaked copy of talking points distributed to Senate lawmakers this month. From a report: The talking points, which were distributed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, seek to provide a communications guide for promoting an amendment floated by McConnell this year that would have expanded the U.S. Justice Department's use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The document was circulated on Capitol Hill ahead of a Senate vote this month to reinstate three key FBI surveillance authorities under the USA FREEDOM Authorization Act, including Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which expired March 15. A draft being circulated in the Senate reportedly contained an "alarming expansion of Attorney General Bill Barr's powers under FISA" and "explicitly permits" the warrantless collection of Americans' internet search and browser data by the FBI.

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