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The Internet

Detroit's Marginalized Communities Are Building Their Own Internet (vice.com) 125

An anonymous reader writes: Motherboard has a report that discusses how some of Detroit's communities are building their own internet to help close the gap between the roughly 60 percent of Detroiters who have internet and 40 percent who don't. From the report: "[Diana Nucera, director of the Detroit Community Technology Project] is part of a growing cohort of Detroiters who have started a grassroots movement to close that gap, by building the internet themselves. It's a coalition of community members and multiple Detroit nonprofits. They're starting with three underserved neighborhoods, installing high speed internet that beams shared gigabit connections from an antenna on top of the tallest building on the street, and into the homes of people who have long gone without. They call it the Equitable Internet Initiative. The issue isn't only cost, though it is prohibitive for many Detroiters, but also infrastructure. Because of Detroit's economic woes, many Big Telecom companies haven't thought it worthwhile to invest in expanding their network to these communities. The city is filled with dark fiber optic cable that's not connected to any homes or businesses -- relics from more optimistic days.

Residents who can't afford internet, are on some kind of federal or city subsidy like food stamps, and students are prioritized for the Initiative, Nucera told me. The whole effort started last summer with enlisting digital stewards, locals from each neighborhood who were interested in working for the nonprofit coalition, doing everything from spreading the word, to teaching digital literacy, to installing routers and pulling fiber. Many of these stewards started out with little or no tech expertise, but after a 20-week-long training period, they've become experts able to install, troubleshoot, and maintain a network from end to end. They're also aiming to spread digital literacy, so people can truly own the network themselves."

Privacy

Federal Extreme Vetting Plan Castigated By Tech Experts (apnews.com) 160

An anonymous reader shares an Associated Press report: Leading researchers castigated a federal plan that would use artificial intelligence methods to scrutinize immigrants and visa applicants, saying it is unworkable as written and likely to be "inaccurate and biased" if deployed. The experts, a group of more than 50 computer and data scientists, mathematicians and other specialists in automated decision-making, urged the Department of Homeland Security to abandon the project, dubbed the "Extreme Vetting Initiative." That plan has its roots in President Donald Trump's repeated pledge during the 2016 campaign to subject immigrants seeking admission to the United States to more intense ideological scrutiny -- or, as he put it, "extreme vetting." Over the summer, DHS published a "statement of objectives" for a system that would use computer algorithms to scan social media and other material in order to automatically flag undesirable entrants -- and to continuously scan the activities of those allowed into the U.S.
Android

OnePlus 5T Featuring 6-inch AMOLED Display, 3.5mm Headphone Jack Launched (wired.com) 54

Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus, which has been lauded by consumers for offering phones with top-of-the-line specs at a reasonably affordable price range, on Thursday at an event in New York announced its newest flagship smartphone. Called the OnePlus 5T, the handset sports a 6.01-inch AMOLED screen (screen resolution 1080 x 2160) manufactured by Samsung in a body that is roughly of the same size as the 5.5-inch display-clad predecessor OnePlus 5. The secret sauce is, much like Samsung, LG and Apple, OnePlus has moved to a near bezel-less design. The company is not getting rid of the fingerprint scanner though, which it has pushed to the back side. The front-facing camera, additionally, OnePlus says, can be used to unlock the device. Other features include a 3,300mAh battery with the company's proprietary Dash Charge fast-charging tech (no wireless charging support -- the company says at present wireless charging doesn't really add much value to the device), top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor with Adreno 540, 6GB of RAM with 64GB of storage (there is another variant of the phone which offers 8GB of RAM with 128GB of space). As for camera, we are looking at a dual 16-megapixel and 20-megapixel setup in the back. One more thing: the phone has a headphone jack and it runs Android 7.1 out of the box. The OnePlus 5T will go on sale in Europe, India, and the United States starting November 21st, with the base model priced at Euro 499, INR 32,999, and $499, respectively. The high-end variant is priced at Euro 559, INR 37,999, and $559. Wired has more details.
Businesses

The Brutal Fight To Mine Your Data and Sell It To Your Boss (bloomberg.com) 75

An anonymous reader shares a report from Bloomberg, explaining how Silicon Valley makes billions of dollars peddling personal information, supported by an ecosystem of bit players. Editor Drake Bennett highlights the battle between an upstart called HiQ and LinkedIn, who are fighting for your lucrative professional identity. Here's an excerpt from the report: A small number of the world's most valuable companies collect, control, parse, and sell billions of dollars' worth of personal information voluntarily surrendered by their users. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft -- which bought LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in 2016 -- have in turn spawned dependent economies consisting of advertising and marketing companies, designers, consultants, and app developers. Some operate on the tech giants' platforms; some customize special digital tools; some help people attract more friends and likes and followers. Some, including HiQ, feed off the torrents of information that social networks produce, using software bots to scrape data from profiles. The services of the smaller companies can augment the offerings of the bigger ones, but the power dynamic is deeply asymmetrical, reminiscent of pilot fish picking food from between the teeth of sharks. The terms of that relationship are set by technology, economics, and the vagaries of consumer choice, but also by the law. LinkedIn's May 23 letter to HiQ wasn't the first time the company had taken legal action to prevent the perceived hijacking of its data, and Facebook and Craigslist, among others, have brought similar actions. But even more than its predecessors, this case, because of who's involved and how it's unfolded, has spoken to the thorniest issues surrounding speech and competition on the internet.
Chrome

Slashdot Asks: Have You Switched To Firefox 57? 580

Yesterday, Mozilla launched Firefox 57 for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS. It brings massive performance improvements as it incorporates the company's next-generation browser engine called Project Quantum; it also features a visual redesign and support for extensions built using the WebExtension API. Have you used Firefox's new browser? Does it offer enough to make you switch from your tried-and-true browser of choice? We'd love to hear your thoughts.
Businesses

TechShop Announces Chapter 7 Bankruptcy; Closes All Locations 66

ewhac writes: To the shock and dismay of many, TechShop today announced the immediate closure of all of its U.S. locations and is entering Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings. Their homepage has been replaced with a PDF relating TechShop's history, and detailing the circumstances leading to shutting down the company. First launched ten years ago, TechShop was one of the first "shared maker spaces," a members-only machine and work shop where tinkerers, makers, inventors, and innovators were able to prototype their ideas, launch products, or even just fix their own stuff. Its closing will be a huge loss to the tech and maker communities.
IT

Hoverboards Recalled For Fire and Explosion Risks -- Again (cnbc.com) 37

An anonymous reader shares a report: The Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled hoverboards from several companies over concerns the devices could catch fire or explode. The series of recalls affects roughly 16,000 hoverboards from brands including iHoverspeed, Sonic Smart Wheels, Tech Drift, iLive, Go Wheels, Drone Nerds, LayZ Board and Smart Balance Wheel. All the brands of self-balancing scooters share a common problem: lithium-ion batteries that could potentially overheat and cause a fire or explode. The agency is advising owners to stop using the hoverboards immediately and return them to the appropriate company for a replacement. Consumers can visit the CPSC website for details on the recalls and how to contact companies for replacements.
Businesses

Technology Invading Nearly All US Jobs, Even Lower Skilled, Study Finds (reuters.com) 138

An anonymous reader shares a Reuters report: Forget robots. The real transformation taking place in nearly every workplace is the invasion of digital tools. The use of digital tools has increased, often dramatically, in 517 of 545 occupations since 2002, with a striking uptick in many lower-skilled occupations, according to a study released Wednesday by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. The report underscores the growing need for workers of all types to gain digital skills and explains why many employers say they struggle to fill jobs, including many that in the past required few digital skills. There is anxiety about automation displacing workers and in many cases, new digital tools allow one worker to do work previously done by several. Those 545 occupations reflect 90 percent of all jobs in the economy. The report found that jobs with greater digital content tend to pay more and are increasingly concentrated in traditional high-tech centers like Silicon Valley, Seattle and Austin, Texas.
Google

Google Returns As Default Search Engine In Firefox (techcrunch.com) 136

Mozilla today launched Firefox Quantum, which the company is calling "the biggest update since Firefox 1.0 in 2004." It brings massive performance improvements and a visual redesign. It also sets Google as the default search engine again if you live in the U.S., Canada, Hong Kong and Taiwan. TechCrunch reports: In 2014, Mozilla struck a deal with Yahoo to make it the default search engine provider for users in the U.S., with Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo and others as options. While it was a small change, it was part of a number of moves that turned users against Firefox because it didn't always feel as if Mozilla had the user's best interests in mind. Firefox Quantum (aka, Firefox 57), is the company's effort to correct its mistakes and it's good to see that Google is back in the default slot. When Mozilla announced the Yahoo deal in 2014, it said that this was a five-year deal. Those five years are obviously not up yet. We asked Mozilla for a bit more information about what happened here.

"We exercised our contractual right to terminate our agreement with Yahoo! based on a number of factors including doing what's best for our brand, our effort to provide quality web search, and the broader content experience for our users. We believe there are opportunities to work with Oath and Verizon outside of search," Mozilla Chief Business and Legal Officer Denelle Dixon said in a statement. "As part of our focus on user experience and performance in Firefox Quantum, Google will also become our new default search provider in the United States, Canada, Hong Kong and Taiwan. With over 60 search providers pre-installed as defaults or secondary options across more than 90 language versions, Firefox has more choice in search providers than any other browser."

Google

Why Google Should Be Afraid of a Missouri Republican's Google Probe (arstechnica.com) 231

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Republican attorney general of Missouri has launched an investigation into Google's business practices. Josh Hawley wants to know how Google handles user data. And he plans to look into whether Google is using its dominance in the search business to harm companies in other markets where Google competes. It's another sign of growing pressure Google is facing from the political right. Grassroots conservatives increasingly see Google as falling on the wrong side of the culture wars. So far that hasn't had a big impact in Washington policymaking. But with Hawley planning to run for the U.S. Senate next year, we could see more Republican hostility toward Google -- and perhaps other big technology companies -- in the coming years. The Hawley investigation will dig into whether Google violated Missouri's consumer-protection and antitrust laws. Specifically, Hawley will investigate: "Google's collection, use, and disclosure of information about Google users and their online activities," "Google's alleged misappropriation of online content from the websites of its competitors," and "Google's alleged manipulation of search results to preference websites owned by Google and to demote websites that compete with Google." States like Missouri have their own antitrust laws and the power to investigate company business conduct independently of the feds. So Hawley seems to be taking yet another look at those same issues to see if Google's conduct runs afoul of Missouri law.

We don't know if Hawley will get the Republican nomination or win his challenge to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) next year, but people like him will surely be elected to the Senate in the coming decade. Hawley's decision to go after Google suggests that he sees some upside in being seen as an antagonist to a company that conservatives increasingly view with suspicion. More than that, it suggests that Hawley believes it's worth the risk of alienating the GOP's pro-business wing, which takes a dim view of strict antitrust enforcement even if it targets a company with close ties to Democrats.

The Internet

CompuServe's Forums Are Closing On December 15 (fastcompany.com) 142

harrymcc writes: In the era before the web, the forums on CompuServe were indispensable for everything from getting tech questions answered to chatting about movies. They still exist, albeit in diminished form. But Oath, which owns AOL, which owns what's left of CompuServe, is about to finally shut them down. I wrote about the sad news for Fast Company.
Software

The Strange Art of Writing Release Notes (ieee.org) 70

Reader necro81 writes: IEEE Spectrum has an amusing piece on how App Stores, and the frequent updates to those apps, have given release notes new prominence to average users. Unfortunately, most release notes are hum drum and uninformative: "bug fixes, performance improvements." That may be accurate, but isn't useful for determining if the new version is worth downloading. The article highlights counterexamples that weave humor and creativity into the narrative, even if it still just boils down to "bug fixes". For instance, when was the last time your release notes included ASCII art?
Although a bit old, TechCrunch also has a commentary on the highs and lows of App Store release notes.

What is the opinion of /. readers? How much information is appropriate in release notes? Should one make any attempts at levity, or keep it strictly to business? For those of you who actually write release notes, what guidelines do you use?

Mozilla

Firefox Quantum Arrives With Faster Browser Engine, Major Visual Overhaul (venturebeat.com) 323

An anonymous reader writes: Mozilla today launched Firefox 57, branded Firefox Quantum, for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS. The new version, which Mozilla calls "by far the biggest update since Firefox 1.0 in 2004," brings massive performance improvements and a visual redesign. The Quantum name signals Firefox 57 is a huge release that incorporates the company's next-generation browser engine (Project Quantum). The goal is to make Firefox the fastest and smoothest browser for PCs and mobile devices -- the company has previously promised that users can expect "some big jumps in capability and performance" through the end of the year. Indeed, three of the four past releases (Firefox 53, Firefox 54, and Firefox 55) included Quantum improvements. But those were just the tip of the iceberg. Additionally, Firefox now exclusively supports extensions built using the WebExtension API, and unsupported legacy extensions will no longer work, the company said.
The Internet

All Major Browsers Now Support WebAssembly (bleepingcomputer.com) 242

An anonymous reader writes: "It took only two years for all browser vendors to get on the same page regarding the new WebAssembly standard, and as of October 2017, all major browsers support it," reports Bleeping Computer. Project spearheads Firefox and Chrome were the first major browsers to graduate WebAssembly from preview versions to their respective stable branches over the summer. The second wave followed in the following weeks when Chromium-based browsers like Opera and Vivaldi also rolled out the feature as soon as it was added to the Chromium stable version. The last ones to ship WebAssembly in the stable branches were Apple in Safari 11.0 and Microsoft in Microsoft Edge (EdgeHTML 16), which is the version that shipped with the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. Both were released last month. WebAssembly, or wasm, is a bytecode format for the web, allowing developers to send JavaScript code to browsers in smaller sizes, but also to compile from C/C++/Rust to wasm directly.
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Gold, the Latest Bitcoin Fork, Explained (arstechnica.com) 96

Timothy B. Lee via Ars Technica explains Bitcoin Gold: A new cryptocurrency called Bitcoin Gold is now live on the Internet. It aims to correct what its backers see as a serious flaw in the design of the original Bitcoin. There are hundreds of cryptocurrencies on the Internet, and many of them are derived from Bitcoin in one way or another. But Bitcoin Gold -- like Bitcoin Cash, another Bitcoin spinoff that was created in August -- is different in two important ways. Bitcoin Gold is branding itself as a version of Bitcoin rather than merely new platforms derived from Bitcoin's source code. It has also chosen to retain Bitcoin's transaction history, which means that, if you owned bitcoins before the fork, you now own an equal amount of "gold" bitcoins. While Bitcoin Cash was designed to resolve Bitcoin's capacity crunch with larger blocks, Bitcoin Gold aims to tackle another of Bitcoin's perceived flaws: the increasing centralization of the mining industry that verifies and secures Bitcoin transactions.

The original vision for Bitcoin was that anyone would be able to participate in Bitcoin mining with their personal PCs, earning a bit of extra cash as they helped to support the network. But as Bitcoin became more valuable, people discovered that Bitcoin mining could be done much more efficiently with custom-built application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs). As a result, Bitcoin mining became a specialized and highly concentrated industry. The leading companies in this new industry wield a disproportionate amount of power over the Bitcoin network. Bitcoin Gold aims to dethrone these mining companies by introducing an alternative mining algorithm that's much less susceptible to ASIC-based optimization. In theory, that will allow ordinary Bitcoin Gold users to earn extra cash with their spare computing cycles, just as people could do in the early days of Bitcoin.

China

China Overtakes US In Latest Top 500 Supercomputer List (enterprisecloudnews.com) 110

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Enterprise Cloud News: The release of the semiannual Top 500 Supercomputer List is a chance to gauge the who's who of countries that are pushing the boundaries of high-performance computing. The most recent list, released Monday, shows that China is now in a class by itself. China now claims 202 systems within the Top 500, while the United States -- once the dominant player -- tumbles to second place with 143 systems represented on the list. Only a few months ago, the U.S. had 169 systems within the Top 500 compared to China's 160. The growth of China and the decline of the United States within the Top 500 has prompted the U.S. Department of Energy to doll out $258 million in grants to several tech companies to develop exascale systems, the next great leap in HPC. These systems can handle a billion billion calculations a second, or 1 exaflop. However, even as these physical machines grow more and more powerful, a good portion of supercomputing power is moving to the cloud, where it can be accessed by more researchers and scientists, making the technology more democratic.
Businesses

Payphones Still Make Millions of Dollars (vice.com) 142

From a report on Motherboard: Disruption-y tech companies like Uber and Twitter are a big part of "the discourse" and our daily lives, but neither of them make any profit. You know what once-groundbreaking technology doesn't have any problems making bank year after year? That's right, it's payphones. Most people now have a cell phone, so you may have wondered who still uses those rusted, quarter-eating boxes. As it turns out, a lot of people do. According to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's 2017 monitoring report, payphones in Canada made $22 million CAD in 2016 (this figure may not account for the cost of upkeep, but the CRTC has stated in the past that payphones are "financially viable at current rates.") That's spread out among nearly 60,000 payphones in the country, which made roughly $300 per phone over the course of the year. That's at least a few calls per day, each. The US numbers are similar: The FCC reports that in 2015 payphones made $286 million, which is comparable for a population ten times the size of Canada's.
United States

Bill Gates Just Bought 25,000 Acres in the Arizona Desert (kgw.com) 313

What's the world's second-richest man up to now? A Phoenix news station reports: One of Bill Gates' investment firms has spent $80 million to kickstart the development of a brand-new community in Arizona's far West Valley. The large plot of land is about 45 minutes west of downtown Phoenix off I-10 near Tonopah. The proposed community, made up of close to 25,000 acres of land, is called Belmont. According to Belmont Partners, a real estate investment group based in Arizona, the goal is to turn the land into its own "smart city."

"Belmont will create a forward-thinking community with a communication and infrastructure spine that embraces cutting-edge technology, designed around high-speed digital networks, data centers, new manufacturing technologies and distribution models, autonomous vehicles and autonomous logistics hubs," Belmont Partners said in a news release.

A former columnist for the Phoenix newspaper writes that "Unless Gates plans to turn the land into a preserve, he might want to know a few things that the locals didn't tell him..." First, Arizona doesn't have enough water to continue these kind of developments, no matter what the mouthpieces of the Real Estate Industrial Complex say... Second, climate change poses a clear and present danger to Arizona now. Summers are significantly hotter and lasting longer than a few decades ago. Massive wildfires are common, another new phenomenon. Whether Phoenix will even be inhabitable by mid-century is an open question. Already, it is a man-made environment totally dependent on electricity to power air conditioning and gasoline delivered by vulnerable pipelines. All of which make it questionable whether all the dreamed developments ever get built, much less last long.
"To be fair, wealthy people who were clever in one area -- especially tech -- often think they know a lot about everything," the columnist concludes. "If this is the case here, he might want to study up."
Encryption

iPhone Encryption Hampers Investigation of Texas Shooter, Says FBI (chron.com) 240

"FBI officials said Tuesday they have been stymied in their efforts to unlock the cellphone of the man who shot and killed at least 26 people at a church here on Sunday," reports the Houston Chronicle. Slashdot reader Anon E. Muss writes: The police obtained a search warrant for the phone, but so far they've been unable to unlock it. The phone has been sent to the FBI, in the hope that they can break in... If it is secure, and the FBI can't open it, expect all hell to break loose. The usual idiots (e.g. politicians) will soon be ranting hysterically about the evil tech industry, and how they're refusing to help law enforcement.
FBI special agent Christopher Combs complained to the Chronicle that "law enforcement increasingly cannot get in to these phones."

A law professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology argues there's other sources of information besides a phone, and police officers might recognize this with better training. As just one example, Apple says the FBI could've simply just used the dead shooter's fingerprint to open his iPhone. But after 48 hours, the iPhone's fingerprint ID stops working.
Businesses

Paradise Papers Expose Canadian Scalper's Multimillion-Dollar StubHub Scheme (www.cbc.ca) 146

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CBC.ca: When Adele fans went online to buy tickets to the pop superstar's world tour last year, they had no idea what exactly they were up against. An army of tech-savvy resellers that included a little-known Canadian superscalper named Julien Lavallee managed to vacuum up thousands of tickets in a matter of minutes in one of the quickest tour sellouts in history. The many fans who were shut out would have to pay scalpers like Lavallee a steep premium if they still wanted to see their favorite singer. An investigation by CBC/Radio-Canada and the Toronto Star, based in part on documents found in the Paradise Papers, rips the lid off Lavallee's multimillion-dollar operation based out of Quebec and reveals how ticket website StubHub not only enables but rewards industrial-scale scalpers who gouge fans around the world.

Lavallee's name appears over and over in the records, alongside the names of his wife, his father and other friends and family. The records show them somehow buying tickets from different locations around the world at the same time, placing orders from cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, London and Montreal. Lavallee, who got his start in his early 20s reselling hockey and concert tickets while living at home with his parents, now runs an international ticket harvesting operation. Financial records detail $7.9 million in gross sales in 2014 alone. [T]he CBC/Star investigation also discovered a password-protected portal exclusively for StubHub's top sellers who prove they can move more than $50,000 worth of tickets a year. The company offers them special software to upload and manage huge inventories of tickets.
StubHub said in a statement: "StubHub agrees that the use of bots to procure tickets is unfair and anti-consumer. StubHub has always supported anti-bots legislation and encourages policy-makers to look comprehensively at the host of factors that impact a fan's ability to fairly access, buy, resell, or even give away tickets in a competitive ticket market."

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