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Little-Known Tool Is Giving Instant Access To Vast Amounts of Homebuyer Data

Slashdot.org - Fri, 07/19/2024 - 05:00
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Record: When Florida real estate professional Susan Hicks discovered the app Forewarn over a year ago, she was shocked to learn that for a service costing about $20 a month she could instantly retrieve detailed data on prospective clients with only their phone number. "For anybody who's had exposure to this, usually the first time they see it, it blows their mind," Hicks told Recorded Future News, adding that she enthusiastically recommends the tool to the brokers she manages. "It's incredible that there's that amount of information out there that you can just access with one click." "It can be real creepy and you have to swear that you're not going to use it in a wrong manner," Hicks added, referring to Forewarn rules which say real estate agents can't share data from the app publicly or with third parties, or use the app to pull information on non-professional contacts. Forewarn is primarily marketed to and used by the real estate industry, and it has been penetrating that market at a rapid clip. Although some real estate agents say the financial information it returns saves time when finding clients most likely to have the budget for the houses they're looking at, most agents and associations tout it primarily as a safety tool because it also supplies criminal records. In addition to those records, the product -- owned by the data broker red violet -- also supplies a given individual's address history; phone, vehicle and property records; bankruptcies; and liens and judgements, including foreclosure histories. Although such data could generally be gleaned from public records, Forewarn delivers it at the press of a button -- a function real estate agents say allows them to gather publicly available information without having to visit courthouses and municipal offices, a process which would normally take days. The power of Forewarn's technology has led to rapid adoption, but the company is still largely unknown outside the real estate industry. Several fair housing and civil rights advocates interviewed by Recorded Future News weren't aware of its existence. The individuals whose data it sells also have no idea their information is being shared with real estate agents, who potentially might choose not to work with them because of what they discover on the app. Forewarn did not respond to multiple requests for comment, however, statements made by one of its executives suggest that the company intentionally keeps a low profile. "Do not tell the prospect that they are not permitted or unqualified to purchase or sell property because of information you obtained from Forewarn," a company executive said at a recent training webinar with Illinois real estate agents. She emphasized that potential buyers "do not get notified" when they are screened with the app, a question she said many real estate agents ask. Real estate agents who, for example, discover a client has a lien filed against them, should consider telling the prospect they "obtained this information from a confidential service that bases their information on available public record information," the executive added.

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Microsoft Says Fix To the Global Outage Forthcoming

Slashdot.org - Fri, 07/19/2024 - 04:45
Microsoft said in a statement Friday that it was aware of the global outage that was affecting Windows devices, and attributed the problem to a third-party software. The company said it anticipates a fix to the issue -- impacting companies across various sectors, from airlines, banks, food chains and brokerage houses, to news organizations, and railway networks -- is "forthcoming."

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Microsoft Outage Hits Users Worldwide, Leading To Canceled Flights

Slashdot.org - Fri, 07/19/2024 - 02:12
Microsoft grappled with a major service outage, leaving users across the world unable to access its cloud computing platforms and causing airlines to cancel flights. From a report: Thousands of users across the world reported problems with Microsoft 365 apps and services to Downdetector.com, a website that tracks service disruptions. "We're investigating an issue impacting users' ability to access various Microsoft 365 apps and services," Microsoft 365 Status said on X early Friday. On its status page for Azure, Microsoft's cloud computing platform, the company said the issue began just before 10 p.m. ET Thursday, affecting systems across the central U.S. In an update, Microsoft said it had determined the cause and was working to restore access to its users.

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NASA's Curiosity Rover Discovers Yellow Sulfur Crystals In Martian Rock

Slashdot.org - Fri, 07/19/2024 - 02:00
NASA reports in an article for Phys.Org: Scientists were stunned on May 30 when a rock that NASA's Curiosity Mars rover drove over cracked open to reveal something never seen before on the Red Planet: yellow sulfur crystals. Since October 2023, the rover has been exploring a region of Mars rich with sulfates, a kind of salt that contains sulfur and forms as water evaporates. But where past detections have been of sulfur-based minerals -- in other words, a mix of sulfur and other materials -- the rock Curiosity recently cracked open is made of elemental (pure) sulfur. It isn't clear what relationship, if any, the elemental sulfur has to other sulfur-based minerals in the area. While people associate sulfur with the odor from rotten eggs (the result of hydrogen sulfide gas), elemental sulfur is odorless. It forms in only a narrow range of conditions that scientists haven't associated with the history of this location. And Curiosity found a lot of it -- an entire field of bright rocks that look similar to the one the rover crushed. "Finding a field of stones made of pure sulfur is like finding an oasis in the desert," said Curiosity's project scientist, Ashwin Vasavada of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "It shouldn't be there, so now we have to explain it. Discovering strange and unexpected things is what makes planetary exploration so exciting."

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It May Soon Be Legal To Jailbreak AI To Expose How It Works

Slashdot.org - Thu, 07/18/2024 - 22:30
An anonymous reader quotes a report from 404 Media: A group of researchers, academics, and hackers are trying to make it easier to break AI companies' terms of service to conduct "good faith research" that exposes biases, inaccuracies, and training data without fear of being sued. The U.S. government is currently considering an exemption to U.S. copyright law that would allow people to break technical protection measures and digital rights management (DRM) on AI systems to learn more about how they work, probe them for bias, discrimination, harmful and inaccurate outputs, and to learn more about the data they are trained on. The exemption would allow for "good faith" security and academic research and "red-teaming" of AI products even if the researcher had to circumvent systems designed to prevent that research. The proposed exemption has the support of the Department of Justice, which said "good faith research can help reveal unintended or undisclosed collection or exposure of sensitive personal data, or identify systems whose operations or outputs are unsafe, inaccurate, or ineffective for the uses for which they are intended or marketed by developers, or employed by end users. Such research can be especially significant when AI platforms are used for particularly important purposes, where unintended, inaccurate, or unpredictable AI output can result in serious harm to individuals." Much of what we know about how closed-sourced AI tools like ChatGPT, Midjourney, and others work are from researchers, journalists, and ordinary users purposefully trying to trick these systems into revealing something about the data they were trained on (which often includes copyrighted material indiscriminately and secretly scraped from the internet), its biases, and its weaknesses. Doing this type of research can often violate the terms of service users agree to when they sign up for a system. For example, OpenAI's terms of service state that users cannot "attempt to or assist anyone to reverse engineer, decompile or discover the source code or underlying components of our Services, including our models, algorithms, or systems (except to the extent this restriction is prohibited by applicable law)," and adds that users must not "circumvent any rate limits or restrictions or bypass any protective measures or safety mitigations we put on our Services." Shayne Longpre, an MIT researcher who is part of the team pushing for the exemption, told me that "there is a lot of apprehensiveness about these models and their design, their biases, being used for discrimination, and, broadly, their trustworthiness." "But the ecosystem of researchers looking into this isn't super healthy. There are people doing the work but a lot of people are getting their accounts suspended for doing good-faith research, or they are worried about potential legal ramifications of violating terms of service," he added. "These terms of service have chilling effects on research, and companies aren't very transparent about their process for enforcing terms of service." The exemption would be to Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a sweeping copyright law. Other 1201 exemptions, which must be applied for and renewed every three years as part of a process through the Library of Congress, allow for the hacking of tractors and electronic devices for the purpose of repair, have carveouts that protect security researchers who are trying to find bugs and vulnerabilities, and in certain cases protect people who are trying to archive or preserve specific types of content. Harley Geiger of the Hacking Policy Council said that an exemption is "crucial to identifying and fixing algorithmic flaws to prevent harm or disruption," and added that a "lack of clear legal protection under DMCA Section 1201 adversely affect such research."

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FBI Used New Cellebrite Software To Crack Trump Shooter's Phone

Slashdot.org - Thu, 07/18/2024 - 21:20
The FBI was given access to unreleased technology to access the phone of the man identified as the shooter of former President Donald Trump, Bloomberg reported late Thursday, citing people familiar with the investigation. From the report: As the FBI struggled to gain access on Sunday morning to the phone, they appealed directly to Cellebrite, a digital intelligence company founded in Israel that supplies technology to several US federal agencies, according to the people, who requested anonymity to speak freely about the case. FBI agents wanted to pull data from the device to help decipher his motives for the shooting at a rally in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, where Trump suffered an injured ear and a spectator was killed. Authorities have identified the deceased shooter as Thomas Matthew Crooks. The local FBI bureau in Pittsburgh held a license for Cellebrite software, which lets law enforcement identify or bypass a phone's passcode. But it didn't work with Crooks' device, according to the people, who said the deceased shooter owned a newer Samsung model that runs Android's operating system. The agents called Cellebrite's federal team, which liaises with law enforcement and government agencies, according to the people. Within hours, Cellebrite transferred to the FBI in Quantico, Virginia, additional technical support and new software that was still being developed. The details about the unsuccessful initial attempt to access the phone, and the unreleased software, haven't been previously reported.

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Founder of Fandango Dies After Plunge From Manhattan Hotel

Slashdot.org - Thu, 07/18/2024 - 19:33
J. Michael Cline, the co-founder of Fandango, died from suicide this week after falling from the twentieth floor of a Manhattan hotel. The New York Times reports: Mr. Cline, who was 64, co-founded Fandango in 2000 and left the company in 2011, according to his LinkedIn profile. The company -- familiar to many from its splashy logo, an orange "F" in the shape of a ticket stub -- was later acquired by Comcast and is currently owned by NBCUniversal and Warner Bros. For years, the company dominated movie-ticket sales, handling ticketing for several major theater chains and making money by charging a processing fee for online ticket sales and by selling advertising on its site. At the time of its launch, Mr. Cline offered a pithy explanation for the company's name: "A Fandango is fast and fun," he told Variety. "Fandango is the perfect match to a service designed to make going to the movies easier and more enjoyable than ever before." Art Levitt, the co-founder and former chief operating officer and president of Fandango, remembered Mr. Cline as brilliant, creative and loyal, sticking it out even in "tough" times. TechCrunch provides additional information about Mr. Cline: He left the company in 2011, roughly four years after the company was acquired by Comcast. Some early investors in the online ticketing service were General Atlantic and TCV. Cline was also managing partner of Accretive, a venture capital firm he founded in 1999. He built startups throughout his career, including R1 RCM, Accumen, Accolade, Everspring, Dresr and Insureon. Starting in 2018, Cline served as the executive chairman at the venture firm Juxtapose, which invests in technology businesses. During his time there, Cline enjoyed investing in healthcare companies, according to his staff page. Some of Juxtapose's portfolio companies include Tend, Nectar and Great Jones.

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"Extraordinarily Disappointed" Users Reckon With the Google-fication of Fitbit

Slashdot.org - Thu, 07/18/2024 - 18:20
Longtime Slashdot reader schwit1 shares a report from Ars Technica, written by Scharon Harding: Since the acquisition closed in 2021, the Google-fication of Fitbit has largely meant a reduction in features and a focus from Google on getting people onto the Fitbit app. Long-time users have flocked to Fitbit -- sometimes upon Fitbit's request -- to share hundreds of complaints about recent changes. However, Google has been mostly unresponsive to customer feedback. [...] It's worth mentioning that users disgruntled with Fitbit are more likely to complain online. However, it's notable that Fitbit's announcement has been met with 1,523 (as of this writing) mostly negative replies, with new responses still coming in. Another thread on Fitbit's forum that requests to keep the web dashboard currently has 601 upvotes. You can find outraged users on Reddit, too. The most common complaints are around losing previously available features. "Change is fine. Removing key features is not," Community member Seymourh86 wrote in June. "Unless you want people to go to competitors..." Comments from this week show that users are not over the change. DebL555, for example, said today that they're "extremely disappointed and frustrated I cannot access my Dashboard on my PC." Yesterday, NessWeb dubbed the change "an incredibly bad decision," adding: "It's particularly awful for anyone with a visual disability or a finger dexterity issue. It's still bad for everyone else because you just can't see as much on a 3" screen as you can see on a real computer ... Bring back the web interface!!" As has been the case every time there have been problems with Fitbit post-acquisition, theories that Google is making Fitbit worse to push people toward the Pixel Watch run rampant. Others on the Community forum were upset because they felt like Google was ignoring feedback from longtime Fitbit customers. In June, a user going by jessicabilasano wrote: "I just hope Fitbit does not end up like any other Google purchase that turns into a nightmare product/company. Google, instead of removing things that users love about Fitbit features, why not improve them? Listen to your customers/consumers." However, a lack of response to public negative customer feedback has become commonplace for the Fitbit brand lately. "Users seek alternatives as Google is intent on app-centric focus," captions schwit1. "Google ruins everything, it's already ruined Google."

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'The DOJ's Assault On Apple Will Harm Consumers'

Slashdot.org - Thu, 07/18/2024 - 17:40
Longtime Slashdot reader SonicSpike shares an op-ed from Reason, written by Sen. Rand Paul: In America, we do not punish businesses for their success. We certainly do not punish businesses because their competitors are struggling to keep pace. Sadly, that is exactly what the Department of Justice (DOJ) is attempting to do in its recent lawsuit against Apple. In March, the DOJ, joined by 15 states and the District of Columbia, filed a lawsuit aimed at penalizing Apple for successfully competing in the market for smartphones. However, like much of the Biden administration's approach to antitrust enforcement, the DOJ's lawsuit is focused on punishing Apple for its success rather than addressing any real harm to consumers. Instead of fostering innovation and competition, this approach threatens to stifle the very progress that benefits Americans. In its lawsuit, the DOJ makes the unsubstantiated claim that Apple has "willfully monopolized" the smartphone market through "exclusionary" and "anticompetitive" conduct. In particular, it accuses Apple of exercising unwarranted control over the creation, distribution, and functioning of apps within the iPhone operating system. What the complaint ignores, however, is that this control is not simply a lawful business practice by a privately held company; it is an indispensable part of Apple's business model. Far from being an "anticompetitive" practice that harms consumers, Apple's careful approach to app integration is a pro-competitive way in which it meets its users' demands. Privacy, security, and seamless integration have been the core of Apple's operational strategy for years. Back in 2010, Steve Jobs explained that "when selling to people who want their devices to just work, we think integrated wins every time." That "open systems don't always work," and Apple was "committed to the integrated approach." What makes Apple products so unique is their ease of use and consistency over time. While no product will ever be perfect, Apple's goal is to deliver a seamless, integrated experience that users can rely on time after time without giving it a second thought. How does Apple do this? By carefully exercising the very control that the DOJ is trying to punish. As economist Alex Tabarrok explains in Marginal Revolution: "Apple's promise to iPhone users is that it will be a gatekeeper. Gatekeeping is what allows Apple to promise greater security, privacy, usability and reliability. Gatekeeping is Apple's brand promise. Gatekeeping is what the consumer's are buying." [...] "Digital markets do not need more government regulation; they need more companies willing to innovate and compete," concludes Sen. Paul. "The DOJ should not waste taxpayer-provided resources targeting a company that has earned its success through excellence in the marketplace. An Apple a day may keep the doctor away, but it seems that all of the pro-competitive justifications in the world cannot keep a politically motivated antitrust enforcer at bay."

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Nvidia Will Fully Transition To Open-Source GPU Kernel Modules With R560 Drivers

Slashdot.org - Thu, 07/18/2024 - 17:00
Nvidia is ready to fully transition to open-source Linux GPU kernel drivers, starting with the R555 series and planning a complete shift with the R560 series. The open-source kernel modules will only be available for select newer GPUs, while older architectures like Maxwell, Pascal, and Volta must continue using proprietary drivers. TechSpot reports: According to Nvidia, the open-source GPU kernel modules have helped deliver "equivalent or better" application performance compared to its proprietary kernels. The company has also added new features like Heterogeneous Memory Management (HMM) support, confidential computing, and the coherent memory architectures of the Grace platform to its open-source kernels. [...] For compatible GPUs, the default version of the driver installed by all methods is switching from proprietary to open-source. However, users will have the ability to manually select the closed-source modules if they are still available for their platform. Unfortunately, the open-source kernel modules are not available for GPUs from the older Maxwell, Pascal, and Volta architectures, meaning people still running a GTX 980 or GTX 1080 will have to continue using Nvidia's proprietary drivers. For mixed deployments with older and newer GPUs in the same system, Nvidia recommends continuing to use the proprietary driver for full compatibility. "Nvidia has moved most of its proprietary functions into a proprietary, closed-source firmware blob," adds Ars Technica's Kevin Purdy. "The parts of Nvidia's GPUs that interact with the broader Linux system are open, but the user-space drivers and firmware are none of your or the OSS community's business."

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Google URL Shortener Links Will Return a 404 Response

Slashdot.org - Thu, 07/18/2024 - 16:20
In 2018, Google replaced its URL shortener service, goo.gl, with Firebase Dynamic Links, citing "the changes we've seen in how people find content on the internet, and the number of new popular URL shortening services that emerged in that time." Although it stopped accepting new URLs to shorten, it continued to serve existing URLs that used their service. That's about to change on August 25th, 2025, when Google will turn off the service portion of Google URL Shortener. "Any developers using links built with the Google URL Shortener in the form https://goo.gl/* will be impacted, and these URLs will no longer return a response after August 25th, 2025," says Google in a blog post today. "Starting August 23, 2024, goo.gl links will start displaying an interstitial page for a percentage of existing links notifying your users that the link will no longer be supported after August 25th, 2025 prior to navigating to the original target page. Over time the percentage of links that will show the interstitial page will increase until the shutdown date." All links will return a 404 response after the shutdown date.

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FCC Closes 'Final Loopholes' That Keep Prison Phone Prices Exorbitantly High

Slashdot.org - Thu, 07/18/2024 - 15:40
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Federal Communications Commission today voted to lower price caps on prison phone calls and closed a loophole that allowed prison telecoms to charge high rates for intrastate calls. Today's vote will cut the price of interstate calls in half and set price caps on intrastate calls for the first time. The FCC said it "voted to end exorbitant phone and video call rates that have burdened incarcerated people and their families for decades. Under the new rules, the cost of a 15-minute phone call will drop to $0.90 from as much as $11.35 in large jails and, in small jails, to $1.35 from $12.10." The new rules are expected to take effect in January 2025 for all prisons and for jails with at least 1,000 incarcerated people. The rate caps would take effect in smaller jails in April 2025. Worth Rises, a nonprofit group advocating for prison reform, said it "estimates that the new rules will impact 83 percent of incarcerated people (about 1.4 million) and save impacted families at least $500 million annually." The nonprofit Prison Policy Institute said that prison phone companies charge ancillary fees for things "like making a deposit to fund an account." The ban on those fees "also effectively blocks a practice that we have been campaigning against for years: companies charging fees to consumers who choose to make single calls rather than fund a calling account, and deliberately steering new consumers to this higher-cost option in order to increase fee revenue," the group said. The ancillary fee ban is a "technical-sounding change," but will help "eliminate some of the industry's dirtiest tricks that shortchange both the families and the facilities," the group said.

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