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Firefox

Firefox 39 Released, Bringing Security Improvements and Social Sharing 84 84

An anonymous reader writes: Today Mozilla announced the release of Firefox 39.0, which brings an number of minor improvements to the open source browser. (Full release notes.) They've integrated Firefox Share with Firefox Hello, which means that users will be able to open video calls through links sent over social media. Internally, the browser dropped support for the insecure SSLv3 and disabled use of RC4 except where explicitly whitelisted. The SafeBrowsing malware detection now works for downloads on OS X and Linux. (Full list of security changes.) The Mac OS X version of Firefox is now running Project Silk, which makes animations and scrolling noticeably smoother. Developers now have access to the powerful Fetch API, which should provide a better interface for grabbing things over a network.
Businesses

MasterCard To Approve Online Payments Using Your Selfies 70 70

An anonymous reader writes: MasterCard is experimenting with a new program: approving online purchases with a facial scan. Once you’re done shopping online, instead of a password, the service will require you to snap a photo of your face, so you won’t have to worry about remembering a password. The Stack reports: "MasterCard will be joining forces with tech leaders Apple, BlackBerry, Google, Samsung and Microsoft as well as two major banks to help make the feature a reality. Currently the international group uses a SecureCode solution which requires a password from its customers at checkout. The system was used across 3 billion transactions last year, the company said. It is now exploring biometric alternatives to protect against unauthorized payment card transactions. Customers trialling the new technologies are required to download the MasterCard app onto their smart device. At checkout two authorization steps will be taken; fingerprint recognition and facial identification using the device's camera. The system will check for blinking to avoid criminals simply holding a photograph up to the lens."
Google

Google's Niantic Labs Sorry Over Death Camps In Smartphone Game 123 123

New submitter LunaticTippy writes: For those unfamiliar with Ingress, the game has GPS coordinate portals that correspond to real world locations, players then use smartphones to battle for control of these portals. Many public locations with historical or artistic interest are submitted by players. It turns out some of the sites were located within concentration camps such as Dachau and Sachsenhausen. NBC reports: "In a statement to The Associated Press, Niantic Labs' founder John Hanke said the company has begun removing the offending sites from the game. He said 'we apologize that this has happened.'"
Google

Google: Stop Making Apps! (A Love Letter) 104 104

An anonymous reader writes: Seasoned Silicon Valley software executive and investor Domenic Merenda has written a love letter to Google, and it's filled with "tough" love. The main thesis is that Google, as a company, should stop making apps, and instead focus on using its enormous data assets to make meaningful connections between people and facilitate organic engagement within a rich ecosystem. Interestingly, the article cites Wikipedia's information that Google maintains over 70 apps on the Android platform alone.
Google

Google Hangouts and SMS Integration: A Mess, For Now 60 60

Android Headlines reports that a bug in the Google Hangouts app is causing confusion for users who would like to send and receive SMS messages. According to the article, [S]ome users are reporting an issue that is preventing the merging of SMS messages with Hangouts. The exact nature of what is causing this error is still unknown, as Google has not divulged any concrete information. They did state though that they are working on a fix and will have it ready for release as soon as they figure out what is going on. On this front, I wish there were a good roadmap for all the overlapping and sometimes circular-seeming options for Google's various flavors of VoiP and messaging. Between Google Voice, Google Plus, Messenger (not Facebook's Messenger), Gmail, and now Google Fi, it's hard to tell quite where the there begins. After setting up a new phone through Google Fi, I find that the very pleasant full-screen text-message window I used to like with Google Voice is now one I can't figure out how to reach, and the screen directs me to use Hangouts instead.
Encryption

Cameron Asserts UK Gov't Will Leave No "Safe Space" For Private Communications 240 240

An anonymous reader writes with the story from Ars Technica that UK prime minister David Cameron "has re-iterated that the UK government does not intend to 'leave a safe space — a new means of communication — for terrorists to communicate with each other.'" That statement came Monday, as a response to Conservative MP David Bellingham, "who asked [Cameron, on the floor of the House of Commons] whether he agreed that the 'time has come for companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter to accept and understand that their current privacy policies are completely unsustainable?' To which Cameron replied: 'we must look at all the new media being produced and ensure that, in every case, we are able, in extremis and on the signature of a warrant, to get to the bottom of what is going on.'" This sounds like the UK government is declaring a blustery war on encryption, and it might not need too much war: some companies can be persuaded (or would be eager) to cooperate with the government in handing over all kinds of information. However, the bluster part may leave even the fiercest surveillance mostly show: as Ars writer Glyn Moody asks, what about circumstances "where companies can't hand over keys, or where there is no company involved, as with GnuPG, the open source implementation of the OpenPGP encryption system?" Or Tor?
Google

Google Apologises For Photos App's Racist Blunder 349 349

Mark Wilson writes: Google has issued an apology after the automatic tagging feature of its Photos apps labeled a black couple as "gorillas". This is not the first time an algorithm has been found to have caused racial upset. Earlier in the year Flickr came under fire after its system tagged images of concentration camps as sports venues and black people as apes. The company was criticized on social networks after a New York software developer questioned the efficacy of Google's algorithm. Accused of racism, Google said that it was "appalled" by what had happened, branding it as "100% not OK".
Safari

Is Safari the New Internet Explorer? 305 305

An anonymous reader writes: Software developer Nolan Lawson says Apple's Safari has taken the place of Microsoft's Internet Explorer as the major browser that lags behind all the others. This comes shortly after the Edge Conference, where major players in web technologies got together to discuss the state of the industry and what's ahead. Lawson says Mozilla, Google, Opera, and Microsoft were all in attendance and willing to talk — but not Apple.

"It's hard to get insight into why Apple is behaving this way. They never send anyone to web conferences, their Surfin' Safari blog is a shadow of its former self, and nobody knows what the next version of Safari will contain until that year's WWDC. In a sense, Apple is like Santa Claus, descending yearly to give us some much-anticipated presents, with no forewarning about which of our wishes he'll grant this year. And frankly, the presents have been getting smaller and smaller lately."

He argues, "At this point, we in the web community need to come to terms with the fact that Safari has become the new IE. Microsoft is repentant these days, Google is pushing the web as far as it can go, and Mozilla is still being Mozilla. Apple is really the one singer in that barbershop quartet hitting all the sour notes, and it's time we start talking about it openly instead of tiptoeing around it like we're going to hurt somebody's feelings."
Government

White House Lures Mudge From Google To Launch Cyber UL 23 23

chicksdaddy writes: The Obama Whitehouse has tapped famed hacker Peiter Zatko (aka "Mudge") to head up a new project aimed at developing an "underwriters' lab" for cyber security. The new organization would function as an independent, non-profit entity designed to assess the security strengths and weaknesses of products and publishing the results of its tests.

Zatko is a famed hacker and security luminary, who cut his teeth with the Boston-based hacker collective The L0pht in the 1990s before moving on to work in private industry and, then, to become a program manager at the DARPA in 2010. Though known for keeping a low profile, his scruffy visage (circa 1998) graced the pages of the Washington Post in a recent piece that remembered testimony that Mudge and other L0pht members gave to Congress about the dangers posed by insecure software.
Security

UK Researchers Find IPv6-Related Data Leaks In 11 of 14 VPN Providers 65 65

jan_jes writes: According to researchers at Queen Mary University of London, services used by hundreds of thousands of people in the UK to protect their identity on the web are vulnerable to leaks. The study of 14 popular VPN providers found that 11 of them leaked information about the user because of a vulnerability known as 'IPv6 leakage'. The leakage occurs because network operators are increasingly deploying a new version of the protocol used to run the Internet called IPv6. The study also examined the security of various mobile platforms when using VPNs and found that they were much more secure when using Apple's iOS, but were still vulnerable to leakage when using Google's Android. Similarly Russian researchers have exposed the breakthrough U.S. spying program few months back. The VPNs they tested certainly aren't confined to the UK; thanks to an anonymous submitter, here's the list of services tested: Hide My Ass, IPVanish, Astrill, ExpressVPN, StrongVPN, PureVPN, TorGuard, AirVPN, PrivateInternetAccess, VyprVPN, Tunnelbear, proXPN, Mullvad, and Hotspot Shield Elite.
Google

SCOTUS Denies Google's Request To Appeal Oracle API Case 181 181

New submitter Neil_Brown writes: The Supreme Court of the United States has today denied Google's request to appeal against the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit's ruling (PDF) that the structure, sequence and organization of 37 of Oracle's APIs (application program interfaces) was capable of copyright protection. The case is not over, as Google can now seek to argue that, despite the APIs being restricted by copyright, its handling amounts to "fair use". Professor Pamela Samuelson has previously commented (PDF) on the implications if SCOTUS declined to hear the appeal. The Verge reports: "A district court ruled in Google's favor back in 2012, calling the API "a utilitarian and functional set of symbols" that couldn't be tied up by copyrights. Last May, a federal appeals court overturned that ruling by calling the Java API copyrightable. However, the court said that Google could still have lawfully used the APIs under fair use, sending the case back to a lower court to argue the issue. That's where Google will have to go next, now that the Supreme Court has declined to hear the issue over copyright itself.
Privacy

When a Company Gets Sold, Your Data May Be Sold, Too 92 92

An anonymous reader writes: A new report points out that many of the top internet sites have language in their privacy policies saying that your private data might be transferred in the event of an acquisition, bankruptcy sale, or other transaction. They effectively say, "We won't ever sell your information, unless things go bad for us." 85 of the top 100 websites in the U.S. (ranked by Alexa), had this sort of language, including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Hulu, and LinkedIn. (RadioShack did this recently.) "The potential ramifications of the fire sale provisions became clear two years ago when True.com, a dating site based in Plano, Tex., that was going through a bankruptcy proceeding, tried to sell its customer database on 43 million members to a dating site based in Canada. The profiles included consumers' names, birth dates, sexual orientation, race, religion, criminal convictions, photos, videos, contact information and more. Because the site's privacy policy had promised never to sell or share members' personal details without their permission, Texas was able to intervene to stop the sale of customer data, including intimate details on about two million Texans." But with this new language, users no longer enjoy that sort of protection. Only 17 of the top 100 sites even say they will notify customers of the data transfer. Only a handful allow users to opt out.
Google

New Study Accuses Google of Anti-competitive Search Behavior 133 133

An anonymous reader writes: Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu — the man who coined the term "network neutrality" — has published a new study suggesting that Google's new method of putting answers to simple search queries at the top of the results page is anticompetitive and harmful to consumers. For subjective search queries — e.g. "What's the best [profession] in [city]?" — Google frequently figures out a best-guess answer to display first, favoring its own results to do so. The study did some A/B testing with a group of 2,690 internet users and found they were 45% more likely to click on merit-based results than on Google's listings. Wu writes, "Search engines are widely understood as key mediators of the web's speech environment, given that they have a powerful impact on who gets heard, what speech is neglected, and what information generally is reached. ... The more that Google directs users to its own content and its own properties, the more that speakers who write reviews, blogs and other materials become invisible to their desired audiences."
Bug

Chromecast Update Bringing Grief For Many Users 142 142

An anonymous reader writes: Last week, many Chromecast users were automatically "upgraded" to build 32904. Among the issues seen with this update are placing some users on the 'beta' release track, issues with popular apps such as Plex, HBO GO, (more embarassingly) YouTube, and others. Google so far has been slow to respond or even acknowledge the issues brought by customers, save for the beta release mishap. If you're a Chromecast user, what's been your experience?
Censorship

BBC Curates The "Right To Be Forgotten" Links That Google Can't 146 146

An anonymous reader writes, quoting the BBC's Internet Blog: "Since a European Court of Justice ruling last year, individuals have the right to request that search engines remove certain web pages from their search results. Those pages usually contain personal information about individuals." The BBC, however, is not obligated to completely censor the results, and so has taken an approach that other media outlets would do well to emulate: they're keeping a list of those pages delisted by the search engines, and making them easy to find through the BBC itself. Why? The BBC has decided to make clear to licence fee payers which pages have been removed from Google's search results by publishing this list of links. Each month, we'll republish this list with new removals added at the top. We are doing this primarily as a contribution to public policy. We think it is important that those with an interest in the “right to be forgotten” can ascertain which articles have been affected by the ruling. We hope it will contribute to the debate about this issue. We also think the integrity of the BBC's online archive is important and, although the pages concerned remain published on BBC Online, removal from Google searches makes parts of that archive harder to find.
AI

WSJ Overstates the Case Of the Testy A.I. 216 216

mbeckman writes: According to a WSJ article titled "Artificial Intelligence machine gets testy with programmer," a Google computer program using a database of movie scripts supposedly "lashed out" at a human researcher who was repeatedly asking it to explain morality. After several apparent attempts to politely fend off the researcher, the AI ends the conversation with "I'm not in the mood for a philosophical debate." This, says the WSJ, illustrates how Google scientists are "teaching computers to mimic some of the ways a human brain works."

As any AI researcher can tell you, this is utter nonsense. Humans have no idea how the human, or any other brain, works, so we can hardly teach a machine how brains work. At best, Google is programming (not teaching) a computer to mimic the conversation of humans under highly constrained circumstances. And the methods used have nothing to do with true cognition.

AI hype to the public has gotten progressively more strident in recent years, misleading lay people into believing researchers are much further along than they really are — by orders of magnitude. I'd love to see legitimate A.I. researchers condemn this kind of hucksterism.
Advertising

Google Will Reduce Accidental Mobile Ad Clicks, With Mandatory Borders and More 70 70

Mark Wilson submits news that Google is throwing a bone to mobile users annoyed by ads that (accidentally, or accidentally-on-purpose) make it too easy to accidentally click, breaking your browsing flow, by making those ads a bit less clickable. Writes Beta News: The company is taking steps to make the 'user experience' of ads a little better. It recognizes that advertisements that get clicked accidentally don't benefit anybody. They end up irritating the clicker, and are unlikely to be of value to the company that placed the ad. With around half of ad clicks being made by mistake, Google is now taking steps to stop this from happening — great news for users advertisers alike. In all, Google is making three key changes to ads that appear on smartphones and tablets, starting off by adding an unclickable border to the outer edges of advertisements.
Facebook

FB Reveals Woeful Diversity Numbers 256 256

theodp writes: There's more work to do," said Facebook's Global Director of Diversity Maxine Williams, who issued a straight-out-of-How-to-Lie-With-Statistics diversity update on Thursday that essentially consisted of a handful of bar charts labeled with only percentages for select measures of the social networking giant's current demographics. In search of real numbers, the Guardian turned to Facebook's most recent Equal Employment Opportunity report filing, which showed that the ranks of black employees swelled by a grand total of seven (7) (1 woman) in the year covered by the filing, during which time Facebook saw an overall headcount increase of 1,231. Comparing Facebook's new bar charts of US tech employees to those issued last year shows the proportion of Hispanic and Black employees remained flat at 3% and 1% respectively, while a decline in the proportion of white employees from 53% to 51% was offset by an increase in the proportion of Asian employees from 41% to 43%.
Google

Why Is Google Opening a New Data Center In a Former Coal-Fired Power Plant? 40 40

HughPickens.com writes: Quentin Hardy reports at the NY Times that Google has announced it is opening its 14th data center inside a former coal-fired power plant in Stevenson, Alabama. While there is considerable irony in taking over a coal-burning plant and promoting alternative power, there are pragmatic reasons Google would want to put a $600 million data center in such a facility. These power facilities are typically large and solid structures with good power lines. The Alabama plant is next to a reservoir on the Tennessee River with access to lots of water, which Google uses for cooling its computers. There are also rail lines into the facility, which makes it likely Google can access buried conduits along the tracks to run fiber-optic cable. In Finland, Google rehabilitated a paper mill, and uses seawater for cooling. Salt water is corrosive for standard metal pipes, of course, so Google created a singular cooling system using plastic pipes.