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Alexa, Siri, and Google Home Can Be Tricked Into Sending Callers To Scam Phone Numbers

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 15:34
"Don't ask your smart device to look up a phone number, because it may accidentally point you to a scam," warn the consumer watchdogs at the Better Business Bureau: You need the phone number for a company, so you ask your home's smart device -- such as Google Home, Siri, or Alexa -- to find and dial it for you. But when the company's "representative" answers, the conversation takes a strange turn. This representative has some odd advice! They may insist on your paying by wire transfer or prepaid debit card. In other cases, they may demand remote access to your computer or point you to an unfamiliar website. Turns out, that this "representative" isn't from the company at all. Scammers create fake customer service numbers and bump them to the top of search results, often by paying for ads. When Siri, Alexa, or another device does a voice search, the algorithm may accidentally pick a scam number. One recent victim told BBB.org/ScamTracker that she used voice search to find and call customer service for a major airline. She wanted to change her seat on an upcoming flight, but the scammer tried to trick her into paying $400 in pre-paid gift cards by insisting the airline was running a special promotion. In another report, a consumer used Siri to call what he thought was the support number for his printer. Instead, he found himself in a tech support scam. People put their faith in voice assistants, even when they're just parroting the results from search engines, the BBB warns. The end result? "Using voice search to find a number can make it harder to tell a phony listing from the real one."

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Should HTTPS Certificates Expire After Just 397 Days?

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 14:34
Google has made a proposal to the unofficial cert industry group that "would cut lifespan of SSL certificates from 825 days to 397 days," reports ZDNet. No vote was held on the proposal; however, most browser vendors expressed their support for the new SSL certificate lifespan. On the other side, certificate authorities were not too happy, to say the least. In the last decade and a half, browser makers have chipped away at the lifespan of SSL certificates, cutting it down from eight years to five, then to three, and then to two. The last change occured in March 2018, when browser makers tried to reduce SSL certificate lifespans from three years to one, but compromised for two years after pushback from certificate authorities. Now, barely two years later after the last change, certificate authorities feel bullied by browser makers into accepting their original plan, regardless of the 2018 vote... This fight between CAs and browser makers has been happening in the shadows for years. As HashedOut, a blog dedicated to HTTPS-related news, points out, this proposal is much more about proving who controls the HTTPS landscape than everything. "If the CAs vote this measure down, there's a chance the browsers could act unilaterally and just force the change anyway," HashedOut said. "That's not without precendent, but it's also never happened on an issue that is traditionally as collegial as this. "If it does, it becomes fair to ask what the point of the CA/B Forum even is. Because at that point the browsers would basically be ruling by decree and the entire exercise would just be a farce." Security researcher Scott Helme "claims that this process is broken and that bad SSL certificates continue to live on for years after being mississued and revoked -- hence the reason he argued way back in early 2018 that a shorter lifespan for SSL certificates would fix this problem because bad SSL certs would be phased out faster." But the article also notes that Timothy Hollebeek, DigiCert's representative at the CA/B Forum argues that the proposed change "has absolutely no effect on malicious websites, which operate for very short time periods, from a few days to a week or two at most. After that, the domain has been added to various blacklists, and the attacker moves on to a new domain and acquires new certificates."

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Wells Fargo's Computer Kept Charging 'Overdrawn' Fees On Supposedly Closed Accounts

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 13:34
The New York Times explains a new issue by describing what happened when Xavier Einaudi tried to close his Wells Fargo checking account. For weeks after the date the bank said the accounts would be closed, it kept some of them active. Payments to his insurer, to Google for online advertising and to a provider of project management software were paid out of the empty accounts in July. Each time, the bank charged Einaudi a $35 overdraft fee... By the middle of July, he owed the bank nearly $1,500. "I don't even know what happened," he said. Current and former bank employees said Einaudi was charged because of the way Wells Fargo's computer system handles closed accounts: An account the customer believes to be closed can stay open if it has a balance, even one below zero. And each time a transaction is processed for an overdrawn account, Wells Fargo tacks on a fee. The problem has gone unaddressed by the bank despite complaints from customers and employees, including one in the bank's debt-collection department who grew concerned after taking in an estimated $100,000 in overdraft fees over eight months... Most banks program their systems to stop honoring transactions on the specified date, but Wells Fargo allows accounts to remain open for two more months, according to current and former employees. Customers usually learn what happened only after their overdrawn accounts are sent to Wells Fargo's collections department. If the customers do not pay the overdraft fees, they are reported to a national database like Early Warning Services, which compiles names of delinquent bank customers. That often means a customer cannot open a new bank account anywhere, and getting removed from the lists can take hours' worth of phone calls.

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Tech Companies Challenge 'Open Office' Trend With Pods

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 12:34
Open floor plans create "a minefield of distractions," writes CNBC. But now they're being countered by a new trend that one office interior company's owner says "started with tech companies and the need for privacy." They're called "office pods..." They provide a quiet space for employees to conduct important phone calls, focus on their work or take a quick break. "We are seeing a large trend, a shift to having independent, self-contained enclosures," said Caitlin Turner, a designer at the global design and urban planning firm HoK. She said the growing demand for pods is a direct result of employees expressing their need for privacy... Prices can range anywhere from $3,495 for a single-user pod from ROOM to $15,995 for an executive suite from ZenBooth. Pod manufacturers are expanding rapidly. In addition to Zenbooth and ROOM, there are TalkBox, PoppinPod, Spaceworx and Framery. Pod sizes also vary to include individual booths designed for a single user, medium-sized pods for small gatherings of two to three people and larger executive spaces that could host up to four to six people. Sam Johnson, the founder of Zenbooth, said the idea for pods came from his experience working in the tech industry, where he quickly became disillusioned by the open floor plan. It was an "unsolved problem" that prompted him to quit his job and found ZenBooth, a pod company based in the Bay Area, in 2016. He said the company is a "privacy solutions provider" that offers "psychological safety" via a peaceful space to work and think. "We've had customers say to us that we literally couldn't do our job without your product," Johnson said. The company now counts Samsung, Intel, Capital One and Pandora, among others, as clients, as it works in tech hubs including Boston, the Bay Area, New York and Seattle. Its biggest customer, Lyft, has 35 to 40 booths at its facilities. "In 2014, 70% of companies had an open floor plan, according to the International Facility Management Association," the article points out -- though one Queensland University of Technology study found 90% of employees in open floor plan offices actually experienced more stress and conflict, along with higher blood pressure and increased turnover.

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Slackware, the Longest Active Linux Distro, Finally Has a Patreon Page

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 11:34
"Slackware is the longest active Linux distribution project, founded in 1993," writes TheBAFH (Slashdot reader #68,624). "Today there are many Linux distributions available, but I've remained dedicated to this project as I believe it still holds an important place in the Linux ecosystem," writes Patrick J. Volkerding on a new Patreon page. He adds that Slackware's users "know that Slackware can be trusted not to constantly change the way things work, so that your investment in learning Slackware lasts longer than it would with a system that's a moving target... Your support is greatly appreciated, and will make it possible for me to continue to maintain this project." TheBAFH writes: The authenticity of the Patreon page has been confirmed by Mr. Volkerding in a post in the Slackware forum of LinuxQuestions.org. "I was going to wait to announce it until I had a few more planned updates done in -current that would be getting things closer to an initial 15.0 beta release, but since it's been spotted in the wild I'll confirm it." Slashdot also emailed Patrick J. Volkerding at Slackware.com last summer and confirmed that that is indeed the account that he's posting from on LinuxQuestions. At the time, he was still trying to find the time to get a Patreon page set up. "I've been trying to catch up on nearly a decade of neglecting everything other than Slackware, but I'm at least getting more caught up."

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Google Open-Sources Live Transcribe's Speech Engine

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 10:34
Friday Google open-sourced "the speech engine that powers its Android speech recognition transcription tool Live Transcribe," reports Venture Beat: The company hopes doing so will let any developer deliver captions for long-form conversations. The source code is available now on GitHub. Google released Live Transcribe in February. The tool uses machine learning algorithms to turn audio into real-time captions. Unlike Android's upcoming Live Caption feature, Live Transcribe is a full-screen experience, uses your smartphone's microphone (or an external microphone), and relies on the Google Cloud Speech API. Live Transcribe can caption real-time spoken words in over 70 languages and dialects. You can also type back into it — Live Transcribe is really a communication tool. The other main difference: Live Transcribe is available on 1.8 billion Android devices. (When Live Caption arrives later this year, it will only work on select Android Q devices.)

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Researchers Find New State of Matter, Claim It Could Aid Quantum Computing and Data Storage

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 09:34
"A team of physicists has uncovered a new state of matter -- a breakthrough that offers promise for increasing storage capabilities in electronic devices and enhancing quantum computing," according to an announcement from NYU: "Our research has succeeded in revealing experimental evidence for a new state of matter -- topological superconductivity," says Javad Shabani, an assistant professor of physics at New York University. "This new topological state can be manipulated in ways that could both speed calculation in quantum computing and boost storage...." In their research, Shabani and his colleagues analyzed a transition of quantum state from its conventional state to a new topological state, measuring the energy barrier between these states.... "The new discovery of topological superconductivity in a two-dimensional platform paves the way for building scalable topological qubits to not only store quantum information, but also to manipulate the quantum states that are free of error," observes Shabani. The research was funded, in part, by a grant from the U.S. Department of Defenseâ(TM)s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

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'Paint' and 'WordPad' Will Soon Become Optional Features In Windows 10

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 09:04
An anonymous reader quotes Neowin: Both WordPad and the classic Paint app can now be found in the list of optional features for Windows 10, joining the ranks of other hallmarks of the Windows of yore, such as Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer. This means that both these apps will be uninstallable in a future release of Windows, likely 20H1, as build 18963 is a preview of that branch of Windows 10's development... Of course, optional features can always be reinstalled so Paint won't really be disappearing anytime soon. Indeed, the company was planning to keep the app alive through the Microsoft Store anyway. Just don't hold out any hope for the app receiving new features anytime soon, what with Microsoft putting its weight behind the newer, sexier and higher dimensional Paint 3D.

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Google Plans To Remove All FTP Support From Chrome

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 08:34
An anonymous reader quotes MSPoweruser: Google Chrome always had a bit of a love-hate relationship when it comes to managing FTP links. The web browser usually downloads instead of rendering it like other web browsers. However, if you're using FTP then you might have to look elsewhere soon as Google is planning to remove FTP support altogether. In a post (via Techdows), Google, today announced its intention to deprecate FTP support starting with Chrome v80. The main issue with FTP right now is security and the protocol doesn't support encryption which makes it vulnerable and Google has decided it's no longer feasible to support it.

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How Should Schools Grade Unexpected-But-Correct Answers On Coding Tests?

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 06:34
There can be more than one correct answer for academic tests of programming ability, writes long-time Slashdot reader theodp: Take the first of the Free-Response Questions in this year's AP CS A exam, which asked 70,000 college-bound students to "Write the static method numberOfLeapYears, which returns the number of leap years between year1 and year2." The correct answer, according to the CollegeBoard's 2019 Scoring Guidelines, entails iterating over the range of years and invoking a provided helper method called isLeapYear for each year. Which does work, of course, but what if a student instead took an Excel-like approach to the same problem that consists of a (hopefully correct!) single formula with no iteration or isLeapYear helper function? Would that be a worse — or better -- example of computational thinking than the endorsed AP CS A Java-based solution? (Here's a 7-minute AP Conference discussion of how to correctly grade this problem)? So, how have you seen schools and companies deal with unexpected-but-correct approaches to coding test questions?

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'I Want a Super-Smart Chair!'

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 23:34
Long-time Slashdot reader shanen writes: Imagine you had a perfect chair for using your computer. Also a perfect chair for watching TV. And a chair for listening to music, a chair for reading, a chair for napping, a work chair that keeps you awake, and a perfect chair for dinner. Also a massage chair and a diagnostic chair that checks your temperature, pulse, and blood pressure. Is your house full of chairs yet? Wait! what about your spouse's perfect chairs? Need a bigger house? What if you had one chair that could be all nine of those chairs? What if you could teach the super-smart modular chair to be more chairs, too? That's what I want, plus the voodoo chair controller to manipulate and teach the slightly deformable triangular modules (in two or three sizes) that would form all of the virtual chairs for the current real chair. Anyway, this story ticks me off because I sent that idea to a couple of companies, including IKEA. I'm still waiting. Not holding my breath. That article shows Ikea promising a new "smart homes" unit -- but with no mention of investments in wondrous smart chair technologies. So the original submission ends by asking how we can bring about such a smart chair revolution?

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Intel Patches Three High-Severity Vulnerabilities

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 20:34
Intel's latest patches "stomped out three high-severity vulnerabilities and five medium-severity flaws," reports Threatpost: One of the more serious vulnerabilities exist in the Intel Processor Identification Utility for Windows, free software that users can install on their Windows machines to identify the actual specification of their processors. The flaw (CVE-2019-11163) has a score of 8.2 out of 10 on the CVSS scale, making it high severity. It stems from insufficient access control in a hardware abstraction driver for the software, versions earlier than 6.1.0731. This glitch "may allow an authenticated user to potentially enable escalation of privilege, denial of service or information disclosure via local access" according to Intel. Users are urged to update to version 6.1.0731. Intel stomped out another high-severity vulnerability in its Computing Improvement Program, which is program that Intel users can opt into that uses information about participants' computer performance to make product improvement and detect issues. However, the program contains a flaw (CVE-2019-11162) in the hardware abstraction of the SEMA driver that could allow escalation of privilege, denial of service or information disclosure... A final high-severity flaw was discovered in the system firmware of the Intel NUC (short for Next Unit of Computing), a mini-PC kit used for gaming, digital signage and more. The flaw (CVE-2019-11140) with a CVSS score of 7.5 out of 10, stems from insufficient session validation in system firmware of the NUC. This could enable a user to potentially enable escalation of privilege, denial of service and information disclosure. An exploit of the flaw would come with drawbacks -- a bad actor would need existing privileges and local access to the victim system. The article notes that the patches "come on the heels of a new type of side-channel attack revealed last week impacting millions of newer Intel microprocessors manufactured after 2012."

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Three Years Later, France's Solar Road is a Flop

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 20:34
DigressivePoser and schwit1 both submitted the same story. That 1-km ( .62-mile) "solar road" paved with photovoltaic panels in France is "too noisy, falling apart, and doesn't even collect enough solar energy," reports Popular Mechanics: Le Monde describes the road as "pale with its ragged joints," with "solar panels that peel off the road and the many splinters [from] that enamel resin protecting photovoltaic cells." It's a poor sign for a project the French government invested in to the tune of €5 million, or $5,546,750. The noise and poor upkeep aren't the only problems facing the Wattway. Through shoddy engineering, the Wattway isn't even generating the electricity it promised to deliver... Normandy is not historically known as a sunny area. At the time, the region's capital city of Caen only got 44 days of strong sunshine a year, and not much has changed since. Storms have wrecked havoc with the systems, blowing circuits. But even if the weather was in order, it appears the panels weren't built to capture them efficiently... Solar panels are most efficient when pointed toward the sun. Because the project needed to be a road as well as a solar generator, however, all of its solar panels are flat. So even within the limited sun of the region, the Wattway was further limiting itself. The problem-plagued road is producing just half the solar energy expected -- although that's more energy than you'd get from an asphalt road. But Marc Jedliczka, vice president of the Network for Energetic Transition (CLER), which promotes renewable energy, offered this suggestion in the Eurasia Times. "If they really want this to work, they should first stop cars driving on it." He later told Le Monde that the sorry state of the project "confirms the total absurdity of going all-out for innovation to the detriment of solutions that already exist and are more profitable, such as solar panels on roofs." But Futurism adds that the idea of having roadways generate solar power "is far from dead, according to Business Insider. In the Netherlands, a solar bike lane has fared much better, exceeding the expected energy production. A solar panel road is also being tested near Amsterdam's Schiphol airport."

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YouTube's Algorithms Blamed For Brazil's Dangerous Conspiracy Video-Sharing on WhatsApp

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 18:34
Sunday the New York Times reported that YouTube "radicalized" Brazil -- by "systematically" diverting users to conspiracy videos. Yet conventional wisdom in Brazil still puts the blame on WhatsApp, the Times reported in a follow-up story on Thursday shared by Slashdot reader AmiMoJo. "Everything began to click into place when we met Luciana Brito, a soft-spoken clinical psychologist who works with families affected by the Zika virus." Her work had put her on the front lines of the struggle against conspiracy theories, threats and hatred swirling on both platforms. And it allowed her to see what we -- like so many observers -- had missed: that WhatsApp and YouTube had come to form a powerful, and at times dangerous, feedback loop of extremism and misinformation. Either platform had plenty of weaknesses on its own. But, together, they had formed a pipeline of misinformation, spreading conspiracy theories, campaign material and political propaganda throughout Brazil. The first breakthrough came when we spoke to Yasodara Cordova, who at the time was a researcher at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Illiteracy remains widespread in some parts of Brazil, she said, ruling out text-based social media or news sources for many people. And TV networks can be low-quality, which has helped drive YouTube's stunning growth in many parts of Brazil, particularly on mobile. But YouTube has had less success in poorer regions of Brazil for one simple reason: Users cannot afford the cellphone data. "The internet in Brazil is really expensive," Ms. Cordova said. "I think it's the fourth or fifth country in terms of internet prices." WhatsApp has become a workaround. The messaging app has a deal with some carriers to offer free data on the app, and poorer users found that this offered them a way around YouTube's unaffordability. They would share snippets of YouTube videos that they found on WhatsApp, where the videos can be watched and shared for free. Ms. Cordova suspected that the WhatsApp-spread misinformation had often come from videos that first went viral on YouTube, where they had been boosted by the extremism-favoring algorithms that we documented in our story earlier this week... It was like an infection jumping from one host to the next. Some of the videos blame the mosquito-bourne Zika virus on vaccines or suggest an international conspiracy, while some were "staged to resemble news reports or advice from health workers," the Times reports -- adding that as of Thursday the videos were still being recommended by YouTube's algorithm. (A spokesperson for YouTube "called the results unintended, and said the company would change how its search tool surfaced videos related to Zika.") Researchers say conspiracy videos were even shown to people who'd searched for reputable information on the virus, the Times reports. "The videos often spread in WhatsApp chat groups that had been set up to share information and news about coping with Zika, turning users' efforts to take control of their families' health against them." YouTube told the Times that their recommendation system now drives 70% of total time spent on YouTube -- and according to their article Thursday, Dr. Brito estimates that she now receives serious threats on her life about once a week.

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Elon Musk Begins Selling $25 'Nuke Mars' T-Shirts

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 17:34
"Elon Musk tweeted on Thursday evening 'Nuke Mars.' A few hours later he followed it up with 'T-shirt soon'," writes Business Insider. BGR reports: Musk's tweet is a reference to the theory that by dropping one or more large bombs on Mars' poles, the CO2 locked away in the ice there would be released, giving the Martian atmosphere a much-needed boost... Making the planet's atmosphere denser could help it retain heat and bring it a small step closer to being habitable by human settlers. However, past research has suggested that bombing the planet's poles wouldn't release nearly enough CO2 to be worth the trouble. Elon Musk has publicly disagreed. It's unclear why the SpaceX boss decided to bring this all up again, but he does have a habit of saying whatever he thinks will get a big reaction on Twitter. Oh, and apparently he's hoping to sell some shirts as well. In any case, no space agency is ready to even begin preliminary planning for a crewed Mars mission, much less any long-term efforts to change the climate of the Red Planet. If that ever does happen, bombs may or may not play a role. The article adds that scientists "aren't fully on board" with Musk's line of thinking, but the t-shirts really are available in the online SpaceX store. Late Friday Musk began promoting them with an optimistic tweet. "Nuking Mars one T-shirt at a time."

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US Navy Tests WWII-ERA Messaging Tech: Dropping Bean Bags Onto Ships

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 16:34
Long-time Slashdot reader davidwr writes: In World War II, pilots would air-drop messages onto ships using bean-bags. Just as with sextants a few years ago, the Navy is bringing back old tech, because it works. Just as during the Doolittle Raid of Tokyo, the purpose is to prevent eavesdropping. You can read more about the modern bean-bag-drop on Military.com or Popular Mechanics. There's a video about the Doolittle Raid hosted at archive.org with bean-bag-drops at 2:39 and 5:19 into the video. I wonder how many high-density SSD drives fit in a standard Navy bean-bag? "In a future conflict with a tech-savvy opponent, the U.S. military could discover even its most advanced, secure communications penetrated by the enemy," notes Popular Mechanics. "Secure digital messaging, voice communications, video conferencing, and even chats could be intercepted and decrypted for its intelligence value. "This could give enemy forces an unimaginable advantage, seemingly predicting the moves and actions of the fleets at sea with uncanny accuracy."

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Can JPEG XL Become the Next Free and Open Image Format?

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 15:34
"JPEG XL looks very promising as a next gen replacement for JPEG, PNG and GIF," writes icknay (Slashdot reader #96,963): JPEG was incredibly successful by solving a real problem with a free and open format. Other formats have tried to replace it, notably HEIF which will never by universal due to its patent licensing. JPEG XL combines all the modern features, replacing JPEG PNG and GIF and has free and open licensing. The linked slides from Jon Sneyers review the many other attempts at replacing JPEG plus the obligatory XKCD standards joke.

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Google Criticized For Vulnerability That Can Trick Its AI Into Deactivating Accounts

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 14:34
In July Google was sued by Tulsi Gabbard, one of 23 Democrats running for president, after Google mistakenly suspended her advertising account. "I believe I can provide assistance on where to focus your discovery efforts," posted former YouTube/Google senior software engineer Zach Vorhies (now a harsh critic of Google's alleged bias against conservatives). He says he witnessed the deactivation of another high-profile Google account triggered by a malicious third party. I had the opportunity to inspect the bug report as a full-time employee. What I found was that Google had a technical vulnerability that, when exploited, would take any gmail account down. Certain unknown 3rd party actors are aware of this secret vulnerability and exploit it. This is how it worked: Take a target email address, change exactly one letter in that email address, and then create a new account with that changed email address. Malicious actors repeated this process over and over again until a network of spoof accounts for Jordan B. Peterson existed. Then these spoof accounts started generating spam emails. These email-spam blasts caught the attention of an AI system which fixed the problem by deactivating the spam accounts... and then ALSO the original account belonging to Jordan B. Peterson! To my knowledge, this bug has never been fixed. "Gabbard, however, claims the suspension was based on her criticism of Google and other major tech companies," reports the Verge. But they also quote the campaign as saying that Gmail "sends communications from Tulsi into people's Spam folders at a disproportionately high rate." "Google may blame this on automated systems, but the reality is that there is no transparency whatsoever, which makes it difficult to determine the truth."

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Dreams of Offshore Servers Haunt The Ocean-Based Micronation of 'Sealand'

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 13:34
Late Christmas Eve, 1966, a retired British army major named Paddy Roy Bates piloted a motorboat seven miles off the coast of England to an abandoned anti-aircraft platform "and declared it conquered," writes Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ian Urbina. Bates used it as a pirate radio station, sometimes spending several months there while living on tins of corned beef, rice pudding, flour, and scotch. But then he declared it to be the world's tiniest maritime nation, writes Urbina, adding that in the half-century to come, "Sealand" was destined to become "a thumb in the eye of international law." Though no country formally recognizes Sealand, its sovereignty has been hard to deny. Half a dozen times, the British government and assorted other groups, backed by mercenaries, have tried and failed to take over the platform by force. In virtually every instance, the Bates family scared them off by firing rifles in their direction, tossing gasoline bombs, dropping cinder blocks onto their boats, or pushing their ladders into the sea. Britain once controlled a vast empire over which the sun never set, but it's been unable to control a rogue micronation barely bigger than the main ballroom in Buckingham Palace.... In recent years, its permanent citizenry has dwindled to one person: a full-time guard named Michael Barrington... In the decades since its establishment, Sealand has been the site of coups and countercoups, hostage crises, a planned floating casino, a digital haven for organized crime, a prospective base for WikiLeaks, and myriad techno-fantasies, none brought successfully to fruition, many powered by libertarian dreams of an ocean-based nation beyond the reach of government regulation, and by the mythmaking creativity of its founding family. I had to go there. The article also acknowledges the Seasteading Institute founded by Google software engineer Patri Friedman and backed by Peter Thiel -- as well as the idea of offshore-but-online services in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon and Google's real-world plans for offshore data centers cooling their servers with seawater. Urbina also tells the story of HavenCo, a grand plan for a Sealand-based data empire which ultimately had trouble powering their servers, alienating their gambling-industry customers with frequent outages. And in addition, one of the Bates' family says that "we also didn't see eye to eye with the computer guys about what sort of clients we were willing to host" -- and they objected to plans to illegally rebroadcast DVDs. "For all their daring, the Bates family was wary of antagonizing the British and upsetting their delicately balanced claim to sovereignty." The article is adapted from Urbina's upcoming book The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier (to be released Tuesday).

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'Futurefon' Crowdfunded on Indiegogo Was Part Of a Multimillion-dollar Scam

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 12:34
"The crowdfunded phone of the future was a multimillion-dollar scam," reports the Verge: In 2014, Jeffrey Tschiltsch opened an email from Indiegogo and saw the future of computing. The email showed something called the "Dragonfly Futurefon," a kind of computer-phone hybrid. The Futurefon's page showed a sleek, palm-sized touchscreen that slotted into a laptop dock, then folded flat and flipped open again, revealing a second screen and a full-sized laptop keyboard. It could run both Windows and Android, and its creator, a startup called IdealFuture, promised to replace your phone, laptop, and tablet at an incredible price of $799. Dubious but intrigued, Tschiltsch put down a $200 deposit. Five years later, Tschiltsch still wouldn't have a Futurefon. Instead, he'd be sitting in an Illinois courthouse testifying at the behest of the FBI, which claimed the device was the last step in a decade-long fraud operation that cost victims nearly $6 million. "I always thought it was ambitious," Tschiltsch says now. "It didn't occur to me that the guy had just taken the money." Tschiltsch is just one of many angry Indiegogo backers who say Futurefon creator Jeff Batio strung them along with lies, excuses, and faked product updates. But the backers aren't just angry with Batio. They're frustrated by how easily a scammer could flourish in the high-risk world of gadget crowdfunding -- and how poorly Indiegogo was equipped to deal with it. The Futurefon raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, the article reports, adding that Batio also apparently raised $5 million for another dual-screen project. Unfortunately, investors later found out that Batio "had been indicted on fraud charges that spanned 13 years..." Nobody ever got a Futurefon, and "A jury convicted Batio of 12 mail and wire fraud counts, each carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison."

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