Government

Autocratic Governments Can Now 'Buy Their Own NSA' (wired.com) 104

Citizen Lab has been studying information controls since 2001, and this week their director -- a Toronto political science professor -- revealed how governments (including Ethiopia's) are using powerful commercial spyware. Slashdot reader mspohr shared their report: We monitored the command and control servers used in the campaign and in doing so discovered a public log file that the operators mistakenly left open... We were also able to identify the IP addresses of those who were targeted and successfully infected: a group that includes journalists, a lawyer, activists, and academics... Many of the countries in which the targets live -- the United States, Canada, and Germany, among others -- have strict wiretapping laws that make it illegal to eavesdrop without a warrant... Our team reverse-engineered the malware used in this instance, and over time this allowed us to positively identify the company whose spyware was being employed by Ethiopia: Cyberbit Solutions, a subsidiary of the Israel-based homeland security company Elbit Systems. Notably, Cyberbit is the fourth company we have identified, alongside Hacking Team, Finfisher, and NSO Group, whose products and services have been abused by autocratic regimes to target dissidents, journalists, and others...

Remarkably, by analyzing the command and control servers of the cyber espionage campaign, we were also able to monitor Cyberbit employees as they traveled the world with infected laptops that checked in to those servers, apparently demonstrating Cyberbit's products to prospective clients. Those clients include the Royal Thai Army, Uzbekistan's National Security Service, Zambia's Financial Intelligence Centre, and the Philippine president's Malacañang Palace. Outlining the human rights abuses associated with those government entities would fill volumes.... Governments like Ethiopia no longer depend on their own in-country advanced computer science, engineering, and mathematical capacity in order to build a globe-spanning cyber espionage operation. They can simply buy it off the shelf from a company like Cyberbit. Thanks to companies like these, an autocrat whose country has poor national infrastructure but whose regime has billions of dollars, can order up their own NSA. To wit: Elbit Systems, the parent company of Cyberbit, says it has a backlog of orders valuing $7 billion.

Reached for comment, Cyberbit said they were not responsible with what others do with their software, arguing that "governmental authorities and law enforcement agencies are responsible to ensure that they are legally authorized to use the products in their jurisdictions."
Books

Reading Information Aloud To Yourself Improves Memory (qz.com) 53

According to a study in the journal Memory, reading aloud works by creating a "production effect" which cements information in your memory. Meanwhile, hearing words said in your own voice personalizes the references and enhances recollection, according to psychology professor Colin MacLeod and researchers from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. Quartz reports: The findings are based on a study of 95 students (75 of whom returned for a second session) at the University of Waterloo. The students were tested on their ability to recall written information inputted in four different ways -- reading silently, hearing someone else read, listening to a recording of oneself reading, and reading aloud in real time. They were tested on recollection of short, four-to-six letter words on a list of 160 terms. The results show that reading information aloud to oneself led to the best recall. Oral production is effective because it has two distinctive components, a motor or speech act and a personal auditory input, the researchers explain. "[The] results suggest that production is memorable in part because it includes a distinctive, self-referential component. This may well underlie why rehearsal is so valuable in learning and remembering," the study concludes. "We do it ourselves, and we do it in our own voice. When it comes time to recover the information, we can use this distinctive component to help us to remember."
Businesses

Amazon Bringing Echo and Alexa To 80 Additional Countries in Major Global Expansion (geekwire.com) 36

Amazon is launching three of its Echo devices with Alexa in 80 additional countries starting today -- a major international expansion for the company's smart speakers and voice-based assistant. From a report: New markets for the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Plus include Mexico, China, Russia and other countries in regions and continents including Europe, Africa, South America, the Middle East and Asia. Other Echo devices, such as the touch-screen Echo Show, are not included as part of the international expansion. Echo devices were previously only available in the US, UK, Germany, India, Japan, and Canada. Amazon earlier announced plans to bring Echo and Alexa to Australia and New Zealand next year. In addition, Amazon says its Music Unlimited subscription streaming service is available in 28 additional countries, including many of those where the Echo is now expanding, as well. Recommended reading: Don't buy anyone an Amazon Echo speaker.
Canada

ISPs and Movie Industry Prepare Canadian Pirate Site Blocking Deal (torrentfreak.com) 86

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TorrentFreak: A coalition of movie industry companies and ISPs, including Bell, Rogers, and Cineplex are discussing a proposal to implement a plan to allow for website blockades without judicial oversight. The Canadian blocklist would be maintained by a new non-profit organization called "Internet Piracy Review Agency" (IPRA) and enforced through the CTRC, Canadaland reports. The plan doesn't come as a total surprise as Bell alluded to a nationwide blocking mechanism during a recent Government hearing. What becomes clear from the new plans, however, is that the telco is not alone. The new proposal is being discussed by various stakeholders including ISPs and local movie companies. As in other countries, major American movie companies are also in the loop, but they will not be listed as official applicants when the plan is submitted to the CRTC. Canadian law professor Micheal Geist is very critical of the plans. Although the proposal would only cover sites that "blatantly, overwhelmingly or structurally" engage in or facilitate copyright infringement, this can be a blurry line.

"Recent history suggests that the list will quickly grow to cover tougher judgment calls. For example, Bell has targeted TVAddons, a site that contains considerable non-infringing content," Geist notes. "It can be expected that many other sites disliked by rights holders or broadcasters would find their way onto the block list," he adds. While the full list of applicants is not ready yet, it is expected that the coalition will file its proposal to the CRTC before the end of the month.

Iphone

Every iPhone X Is Not Created Equal (pcmag.com) 74

According to a PC Magazine report that uses data from Cellular Insights, the Qualcomm-powered iPhone X has better LTE performance than the Intel-powered model. From the report: There are three iPhone X models sold globally. Using lab equipment, Cellular Insights tested two of them: the Qualcomm-powered A1865, sold by Sprint, Verizon, and U.S. Cellular and in Australia, China, and India; and the Intel-powered A1901, sold by most other global carriers including AT&T and T-Mobile. (The third model, A1902, is only sold in Japan.) Here in the U.S., we anticipate that the SIM-free model sold directly by Apple will be the A1865, as that's the model that supports all four U.S. carriers. For this test, Cellular Insights looked at performance on LTE Band 4, which is used by every major U.S. carrier except Sprint, as well as in Canada and parts of Latin America. Cellular Insights attenuated an LTE signal from a strong -85dBm until the modems showed no performance. While both modems started out with 195Mbps of download throughput on a 20MHz carrier, the Qualcomm difference appeared quickly, as the Intel modem dropped to 169Mbps at -87dBm. The Qualcomm modem took an additional -6dBm of attenuation to get to that speed. Most consumers will feel the difference in very weak signal conditions, where every dBm of signal matters, so we zoomed in on that in the chart below. At very weak signal strength, below -120dBm, the Qualcomm modem got speeds on average 67 percent faster than the Intel modem. The Intel modem finally died at -129dBm and the Qualcomm modem died at -130dBm, so we didn't find a lot of difference in when the modems finally gave out.
Canada

Justin Trudeau Is 'Very Concerned' With FCC's Plan to Roll Back Net Neutrality (vice.com) 244

Justin Ling, reporting for Motherboard: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says President Donald Trump's plan to roll back net neutrality protections for the internet "does not make sense" and that he'll be looking into what he can do to defend net neutrality for the whole internet. "I am very concerned about the attacks on net neutrality," Trudeau said in Toronto, in response to a question from Motherboard about Trump's plans. "Net neutrality is something that is essential for small businesses, for consumers, and it is essential to keep the freedom associated with the internet alive." Motherboard asked specifically what Trudeau planned to do in response to the plan put forward on Tuesday by the Federal Communications Commission, which could pave the way for tiered internet service and pay-for-play premium access to internet consumers. "We need to continue to defend net neutrality," Trudeau added. "And I will."
Businesses

Walmart Says It's Preordered 15 of Tesla' New Semi Trucks (theverge.com) 179

Soon after Tesla unveiled its new electric Semi Truck and Roadster 2.0, Walmart says it has preordered 15 of the trucks. The Verge notes that the deal was "likely in the works before Tesla unveiled its new truck to the public." From the report: The pilot is planned for the U.S. and Canada. Five of the preordered vehicles will be for Walmart's U.S. business, and 10 will be for its Canadian routes, the company said. Walmart's fleet has about 6,000 trucks. "We have a long history of testing new technology -- including alternative-fuel trucks -- and we are excited to be among the first to pilot this new heavy-duty electric vehicle," the company said in a statement. "We believe we can learn how this technology performs within our supply chain, as well as how it could help us meet some of our long-term sustainability goals, such as lowering emissions." Musk said the truck would enter production in 2019. JB Hunt Transport Services, a 56-year-old company based in Arkansas, also reserved "multiple" new Tesla trucks as well.
Transportation

Virgin Hyperloop One Eyes India For Possible High-Speed Routes (theverge.com) 38

India is officially being added to the list of nations that have expressed interest in near-supersonic, tube-based travel. Virgin Hyperloop One "signed agreements with the governments of Maharashtra and Karnataka to begin studying the impact of a hyperloop in the region," reports The Verge. "The feasibility studies have implications for India's giant cities like Mumbai and Bangalore, as well as fast-growing urban centers like Pune and Nagpur." From the report: The agreements are signs that despite its lack of a commercial product or human-ready testing, Virgin Hyperloop One has shown a tenacity for securing agreements with willing government partners. The company recently announced 10 winning submissions in a long-running contest to find what it believes to be the best places to build the first hyperloop routes in the world. Ten teams across five countries (Mexico, India, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada) were picked from the original 2,600 submissions, and the routes range in size from about 200 to nearly 700 miles, depending on the location. Virgin Hyperloop One hasn't specified the length of the routes it would build in India -- to be sure, it remains possible that none of these proposed routes get built -- but it did tease some of the possibilities in terms of reduction in travel time. For example, it would take just 14 minutes to travel between Mumbai and the fast-growing city of Pune, a journey that currently takes up to three hours by car. Also, it could look at connecting Nagpur, which is in the easternmost part of Maharashtra, with Mumbai and Pune to vastly improve passenger and freight transportation.
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."

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.
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."
Businesses

Paradise Papers Leak Reveals Apple's Secret Tax Bolthole (bbc.com) 174

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: The world's most profitable firm has a secretive new structure that would enable it to continue avoiding billions in taxes, the Paradise Papers show. They reveal how Apple sidestepped a 2013 crackdown on its controversial Irish tax practices by actively shopping around for a tax haven. It then moved the firm holding most of its untaxed offshore cash, now $252 billion, to the Channel Island of Jersey. Apple said the new structure had not lowered its taxes. It said it remained the world's largest taxpayer, paying about $35 billion in corporation tax over the past three years, that it had followed the law and its changes "did not reduce our tax payments in any country."

Leaked emails also make it clear that Apple wanted to keep the move secret. One email sent between senior partners at Appleby says: "For those of you who are not aware, Apple [officials] are extremely sensitive concerning publicity. They also expect the work that is being done for them only to be discussed amongst personnel who need to know." Apple chose Jersey, a UK Crown dependency that makes its own tax laws and which has a 0% corporate tax rate for foreign companies. Paradise Papers documents show Apple's two key Irish subsidiaries, Apple Operations International (AOI), believed to hold most of Apple's massive $252 billion overseas cash hoard, and Apple Sales International (ASI), were managed from Appleby's office in Jersey from the start of 2015 until early 2016. This would have enabled Apple to continue avoiding billions in tax around the world.
The report notes that Apple paid just $1.65 billion in taxes to foreign governments, despite making $44.7 billion outside the U.S. That's a tax rate of 3.7%, which is less than a sixth of the average rate of corporation tax in the world.
Apple

Apple Watches Were Crashing When Asked About the Weather (macrumors.com) 91

Yesterday MacRumor reported that "Asking Siri something like 'What's the temperature?' or 'What's the weather?' or 'Is it raining?' causes the Apple Watch to crash." The issue has been documented in several threads on the MacRumors forums and on Reddit, and we've also been able to replicate it on our own devices. Complaints about the problem appear to have started this morning, and the bug is confirmed to be affecting both LTE and GPS Apple Watch Series 3 models as well as older Apple Watch models running watchOS 4.1. Not all Apple Watch owners in all countries are affected, but it appears to be impacting users in the United States, Canada, and Europe.
The problem may have been caused by Daylight Savings Time, they reported yesterday, since "asking Siri about the weather tomorrow or next week doesn't cause a problem -- it's only questions about the current weather conditions that are resulting in errors."

Engadget confirms that "The issue appears to be over. We've checked both before and afterward, and it's now safe to ask Siri if it's raining."
Google

Google Wins Ruling to Block Global Censorship Order (fortune.com) 89

A U.S. judge has partially blocked a recent decision by Canada's Supreme Court that requires Google to delete search results not just in Canada, but in every other country too. From a report: Citing the violation of American laws as well as a threat to speech, U.S. District Judge Edward Davila agreed to grant Google a temporary injunction, which means the company can show the search results in the United States. The search results in question are part of an intellectual property dispute between a Canadian industrial firm called Equustek and a rival company that is reportedly misusing Equustek's trademarks to poach its business. In response, Equustek obtained an injunction in Canada that treated Google as a defendant even though it had no direct relationship with either company. In a controversial decision in June, Canada's highest court agreed by a 7-2 margin to leave the injunction in place.
Earth

Every Other Summer Will Shatter Heat Records Within a Decade (vice.com) 322

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Think of the stickiest, record-hot summer you've ever experienced, whether you're 30 or 60 years old. In 10 years or less, that miserable summer will happen every second year across most of the U.S. and Canada, the Mediterranean, and much of Asia, according to a study to be published in the open access journal Earth's Future. By the 2030s, every second summer over almost all of the entire Northern hemisphere will be hotter than any record-setting hot summer of the past 40 years, the study found. By 2050, virtually every summer will be hotter than anything we've experienced to date. Record hot summers are now 70 times more likely than they were in the past 40 years over the entire Northern hemisphere, the peer-reviewed study found. What does all this mean? Heat alerts will be increasing, cities will have to employ aggressive cooling strategies most summers, and in places like South Asia, it will be too dangerous to work outside, Francis Zwiers, director of the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium at Canada's University of Victoria, said.
Education

'Daylight Savings' Is Grammatically Incorrect (qz.com) 312

A reader shares a report: We talk about time like it's money, and that may explain why we say "Daylight Savings Time," capitalizing the concept to emphasize its awesomeness. After all, who wouldn't want to be able to save hours like cash? The phrase "Daylight Savings Time," though commonly used in Australia, Canada, and the US, is technically incorrect. Time and Date, a website devoted to all things chronological, posits that the plural "savings" became popular because it's used in everyday contexts, like "savings account." The grammatically correct usage is "daylight saving time." The expression is singular and not capitalized, according to the US Government Publishing Office style guide. The GPO provides the guidance, "d.s.t., daylight saving (no 's') time."
Canada

Calgary Police Cellphone Surveillance Device Must Remain Top Secret, Judge Rules (www.cbc.ca) 89

Freshly Exhumed writes from a report via CBC.ca: To protect police investigative techniques that may or may not have been used in a Calgary Police Service investigation, their controversial cellphone surveillance device will remain so secretive not even the make and model can be released to the public, according to a court ruling released Monday. The MDI (Mobile Device Identifier) technology -- colloquially called a StingRay after Harris Corporation's IMSI device, which mimics cell towers and intercepts data from nearby phones -- is controversial in part because in at least one Canadian case, prosecutors have taken watered down plea deals rather than disclose information related to the device.
Facebook

Facebook Ends 'Dark Posts' -- All Ads Will Be Visible To The Public (seattletimes.com) 68

"Under pressure in advance of hearings on Russian election interference, Facebook is moving to increase transparency for everyone who sees and buys political advertising on its site," reports the Associated Press. Here's the official announcement from Facebook's "VP of ads" : Starting next month, people will be able to click "View Ads" on a Page and view ads a Page is running on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger -- whether or not the person viewing is in the intended target audience for the ad. All Pages will be part of this effort, and we will require that all ads be associated with a Page as part of the ad creation process... We know how important it is to our community that we get this feature just right -- and so we're first rolling it out in only one country. Testing in one market allows us to learn the various ways an entire population uses the feature at a scale that allows us to learn and iterate... We will start this test in Canada and roll it out to the U.S. by this summer, ahead of the U.S. midterm elections in November, as well as broadly to all other countries around the same time... During this initial test, we will only show active ads. However, when we expand to the U.S. we plan to begin building an archive of federal-election related ads so that we can show both current and historical federal-election related ads.
Facebook "will verify political ad buyers in federal elections, requiring them to reveal correct names and locations," adds the Associated Press, noting that the effort is "likely meant to head off bipartisan legislation in the Senate that would require social media companies to keep public files of election ads and try to ensure they are not purchased by foreigners."

In addition, Facebook insists that "For political advertisers that do not proactively disclose themselves, we are building machine learning tools that will help us find them and require them to verify their identity."
Iphone

PSA: Apple's iPhone X Screen Repair Will Cost You $279 (macrumors.com) 144

We already know the iPhone X is expensive: it starts at $999 for the 64GB variant. But what about the cost of a screen replacement? If you don't have the extended warranty, a screen replacement will cost you $279, which is more than twice the price of an iPhone 6 screen replacement ($129) and about 65 percent higher than a new iPhone 8 screen ($169). MacRumors reports: In the United States, Apple will charge flat rates of $279 for iPhone X screen repairs and $549 for any other damage to the device, unless it is a manufacturing defect covered by Apple's standard one-year limited warranty. The fees vary in other countries, such as Australia, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

-Australia: $419 for screen repairs, $819 for other damage
-Canada: $359 for screen repairs, $709 for other damage
-Germany: 321 Euros for screen repairs, and 611 Euros for other damage
-United Kingdom: 286 British Pounds for screen repairs, 556 British Pounds for other damage
-United States: $279 for screen repairs, $549 for other damage

These prices do not apply to customers who purchase AppleCare+ for the iPhone X, which costs $199 upfront in the United States. AppleCare+ is an optional warranty plan that extends an iPhone's coverage to two years from the original purchase date of the device. The plan adds up to two incidents of accidental damage coverage, each subject to a lower service fee of $29 for screen repairs, or $99 for any other damage.

Government

Canadian Government Teams With Facebook To Protect Election Integrity (vice.com) 118

An anonymous reader quotes Motherboard: There are nearly as many Canadians who use Facebook daily as there are people in this country who are registered to vote -- which is why the federal government is working with Facebook to protect its next federal election... Facebook is now facing perhaps its biggest test as it looks to curb foreign electoral interference and the rampant disinformation on its platform, both of which undermine the nature of democracy. Facebook Canada's election integrity project includes a partnership with a local digital news media literacy organization MediaSmarts, as well as a "cyberhygiene guide" that highlights particular vulnerabilities such as phishing and page-admin authentication. Facebook also has a crisis email line to help politicians and parties with hacking concerns... Kevin Chan, Facebook Canada's head of public policy, said the social media company is working on preventing bad actors from interfering with the democratic process. "At Facebook we take our responsibilities seriously," Chan said. "We don't want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy."
At the launch of "the Canadian Election Integrity Initiative," Canada's Minister of Democratic Institutions argued that social media sites "must begin to view themselves as actors in shaping the democratic discourse."

The article points out Facebook "has promised to hire thousands of workers globally to help review flagged and suspicious content, as well as use machine learning to identify suspicious patterns of behavior on its platform."

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