Social Networks

Instagram Will Now Let You Follow Hashtags In Your Main Feed (theverge.com) 14

"Up until now, there were two ways to interact with a hashtag," reports The Verge. "You could click through a hashtag on a post, or you could search for a specific tag in the Explore section of the app." Today, Instagram is adding a new way to interact with a hashtag: the ability to follow hashtags so you can see top posts and Stories about a topic on your home page. From the report: You can now "follow" a hashtag the same way you would follow an account. Instagram's algorithms will then pick and choose some of the highlights from that collection and surface them in your main feed. It's a fundamental change to one of the largest social media platforms in the world, elevating your interest in adorable dogs or expensive automobiles to equal status with your friends and family. By contrast, the posts injected into my main feed based on the hashtags I chose to follow (#modernart, #bjj, #ancient) felt carefully curated. There is a lot of variety, even within those categories, but you can train the algorithm on what you do and don't like. Engage with the post by leaving a heart or a comment, and Instagram will assume you want more. Click the menu button on the top right of the post, and you can downvote the offending image by asking Instagram not to show you similar content for that hashtag again. After a few days of this, the art in my feed, both martial and modern, felt fine-tuned to my taste.
Businesses

Ajit Pai Offers No Data For Latest Claim That Net Neutrality Hurt Small ISPs (arstechnica.com) 173

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: With days to go before his repeal of net neutrality rules, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai issued a press release about five small ISPs that he says were harmed by the rules. Pai "held a series of telephone calls with small Internet service providers across the country -- from Oklahoma to Ohio, from Montana to Minnesota," his press release said. On these calls, "one constant theme I heard was how Title II had slowed investment," Pai said. But Pai's announcement offered no data to support this assertion. So advocacy group Free Press looked at the FCC's broadband deployment data for these companies and found that four of them had expanded into new territory. The fifth didn't expand into new areas but it did start offering gigabit Internet service. These expansions happened after the FCC imposed its Title II net neutrality rules. (Title II is the statute that the FCC uses to enforce net neutrality rules and regulate common carriers.)
The Internet

129 Million Americans Can Only Get Internet Service From Companies That Have Violated Net Neutrality (vice.com) 140

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Based on the Federal Communications Commission's own data, the Institute for Local Self Reliance found that 129 million Americans only have one option for broadband internet service in their area, which equals about 40 percent of the country. Of those who only have one option, roughly 50 million are limited to a company that has violated net neutrality in some way. Of Americans who do have more than one option, 50 million of them are left choosing between two companies that have both got shady behavior on their records, from blocking certain access to actively campaigning against net neutrality.

Aside from being a non-ideal situation for consumers like me, this lack of competition is another dock against the FCC's plan to repeal net neutrality rules later this week. In arguing against net neutrality rules, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has repeatedly cited a free market as just as capable of ensuring internet freedom as government regulations. "All we are simply doing is putting engineers and entrepreneurs, instead of bureaucrats and lawyers, back in charge of the internet," Pai said on Fox News's "Fox & Friends," in November. "What we wanted to do is return to the free market consensus that started in the Clinton administration and that served the internet economy in America very well for many years." But how can market competition regulate an industry when more than a third of the market has no competition at all, and even those that do have to choose between options that don't uphold net neutrality?

Education

France To Ban Mobile Phones In Schools (theguardian.com) 182

The French government is planning to ban students from using mobile phones in the country's primary, junior and middle schools. While children will be permitted to bring their phones to school, they will not be allowed to get them out at any time until they leave, even during breaks. The Guardian reports: Jean-Michel Blanquer, the French education minister, said the measure would come into effect from the start of the next school year in September 2018. It will apply to all pupils from the time they start school at age of six -- up to about 15 when they start secondary school. Blanquer said some education establishments already prohibited pupils from using their mobiles. "Sometimes you need a mobile for teaching reasons [...] for urgent situations, but their use has to be somehow controlled," he told RTL radio. The minister said the ban was also a "public health message to families," adding: "It's good that children are not too often, or even at all, in front of a screen before the age of seven." The French headteachers' union was skeptical that the ban could be enforced.
Sci-Fi

Ask Slashdot: What Is Your View On UFO Sightings? 350

dryriver writes: UFOs sightings have been reported in the tens of thousands over the last decades. In the past, some have seen flying cigar-shaped craft (blimps?), some flying triangles, some more rounded-looking flying saucers. Often the apparent spacecraft does something improbable like standing completely still in the sky and then shooting off to somewhere at an incredible speed. Some sightings are just lights or light formations flying around or dancing around in the night sky -- which could be military aircraft like helicopters and F16s training at night. There seem to be people who genuinely see stuff that is hard to explain, people who fake UFO sightings, photos and videos for profit to keep the "UFO industry" of websites, radio shows and magazines afloat, and yet others that think a regular airplane flying at night with its lights on is a UFO. What is your view on all this? Are we being visited from outer space? Is it prototype aircraft that look like UFOs to the untrained eye? Was some 190 IQ inventor-prankster having fun with quadcopter drones with colored lights four decades before quadcopters became a thing (hey, tons of people have created fake crop-circles in the past)? Where do all these supposed UFO sightings and reports come from? Did events like the famous "Battle Of Los Angeles" actually happen? And do you find any UFO reports credible at all?
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Fees Are Skyrocketing (arstechnica.com) 253

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The cost to complete a Bitcoin transaction has skyrocketed in recent days. A week ago, it cost around $6 on average to get a transaction accepted by the Bitcoin network. The average fee soared to $26 on Friday and was still almost $20 on Sunday. The reason is simple: until recently, the Bitcoin network had a hard-coded 1 megabyte limit on the size of blocks on the blockchain, Bitcoin's shared transaction ledger. With a typical transaction size of around 500 bytes, the average block had fewer than 2,000 transactions. And with a block being generated once every 10 minutes, that works out to around 3.3 transactions per second. A September upgrade called segregated witness allowed the cryptographic signatures associated with each transaction to be stored separately from the rest of the transaction. Under this scheme, the signatures no longer counted against the 1 megabyte blocksize limit, which should have roughly doubled the network's capacity. But only a small minority of transactions have taken advantage of this option so far, so the network's average throughput has stayed below 2,500 transactions per block -- around four transactions per second.
Businesses

FCC Explains How Net Neutrality Will Be Protected Without Net Neutrality Rules (arstechnica.com) 241

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Federal Communications Commission is still on track to eliminate net neutrality rules this Thursday, but the commission said today that it has a new plan to protect consumers after the repeal. The FCC and Federal Trade Commission released a draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) describing how the agencies will work together to make sure ISPs keep their net neutrality promises. After the repeal, there won't be any rules preventing ISPs from blocking or throttling Internet traffic. ISPs will also be allowed to charge websites and online services for faster and more reliable network access. In short, ISPs will be free to do whatever they want -- unless they make specific promises to avoid engaging in specific types of anti-competitive or anti-consumer behavior. When companies make promises and break them, the FTC can punish them for deceiving consumers. That's what FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Acting FTC Chair Maureen Ohlhausen are counting on. "Instead of saddling the Internet with heavy-handed regulations, we will work together to take targeted action against bad actors," Pai said in a joint announcement with the FTC today.
Businesses

Net Neutrality: 'Father Of Internet' Joins Tech Leaders in Condemning Repeal Plan (theguardian.com) 169

More than 20 internet pioneers and leaders including the "father of the internet", Vint Cerf; the inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee; and the Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak have urged the FCC to cancel its vote to repeal net neutrality, describing the plan as "based on a flawed and factually inaccurate" understanding of how the internet works. From a report: "The FCC's rushed and technically incorrect proposed order to repeal net neutrality protections without any replacement is an imminent threat to the internet we worked so hard to create. It should be stopped," said the technology luminaries in an open letter to lawmakers (PDF) with oversight of the Federal Communications Commission on Monday. The letter refers to the FCC's proposed Restoring Internet Freedom Order, which removes net neutrality protections introduced in 2015 to ensure that internet service providers (ISPs) such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon would treat all web content and applications equally and not throttle, block or prioritise some content in return for payment. The FCC's vote on the proposed order is scheduled for 14 December and it is expected to be approved. "It is important to understand that the FCC's proposed order is based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology," the internet pioneers state, adding that the flaws were outlined in detail in a 43-page comment submitted by 200 tech leaders to the FCC in July.
Businesses

Fired Tech Workers Turn To Chatbots for Counseling (bloomberg.com) 96

An anonymous reader shares a Bloomberg report: For months Lovkesh Joshi was quietly terrified of losing his job as a manager at a top Indian tech services company. Joshi didn't want to burden his wife or friends so he turned to a chatbot therapist called Wysa. Powered by AI, the app promises to be "loyal, supportive and very private," and encourages users to divulge their feelings about a recent major event or big change in their lives. "I could open up and talk," says the 41-year-old father of two school-age children, who says his conversations with the bot flowed naturally. "I felt heard and understood." Joshi moved to a large rival outsourcer two months ago. The upheaval in India's $154 billion tech outsourcing industry has prompted thousands of Indians to seek solace in online therapy services. People accustomed to holding down prestigious jobs and pulling in handsome salaries are losing out to automation, a shift away from long-term legacy contracts and curbs on U.S. work visas. McKinsey & Co says almost half of the four million people working in India's IT services industry will become "irrelevant" in the next three to four years. Indians, like people the world over, tend to hide their mental anguish for fear of being stigmatized. That's why many are embracing the convenience, anonymity and affordability of online counseling startups, most of which use human therapists.
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

'Face Reality! We Need Net Neutrality!' Crowd Chants Across the Country (arstechnica.com) 295

ArsTechnica staff took to the streets in Washington DC, New York, and San Francisco to capture rallies in support for net neutrality, a week before the FCC is scheduled to take a historic vote rolling back network neutrality regulations. From their report: Protestors say those regulations, which were enacted by the Obama FCC in 2015, are crucial for protecting an open Internet. Organizers chose to hold most of the protests outside of Verizon cell phone stores. Ajit Pai, the FCC Chairman who is leading the agency's charge to repeal network neutrality, is a former Verizon lawyer, and Verizon has been a critic of the Obama network neutrality rules. The protest that got the most attention from FCC decision makers took place on Thursday evening in Washington DC. The FCC was holding a dinner event at the Hilton on Connecticut Avenue, just north of the city's Dupont Circle area. Protestors gathered on the street corner outside the hotel, waving pro-net neutrality posters to traffic, blaring chants, projecting pro-net neutrality messages on a building across the street, and telling personal stories about what net neutrality meant to them via a megaphone. The FCC's two Democratic commissioners also joined the demonstration, Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel. They both gave brief speeches to the protestors, rallying for the cause and discussing the importance of a neutral Internet.
Businesses

ISP Disclosures About Data Caps and Fees Eliminated By Net Neutrality Repeal (arstechnica.com) 281

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission forced ISPs to be more transparent with customers about hidden fees and the consequences of exceeding data caps. Since the requirements were part of the net neutrality rules, they will be eliminated when the FCC votes to repeal the rules next week. Ars Technica reports: While FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is proposing to keep some of the commission's existing disclosure rules and to impose some new disclosure requirements, ISPs won't have to tell consumers exactly what everything will cost when they sign up for service. There have been two major versions of the FCC's transparency requirements: one created in 2010 with the first net neutrality rules, and an expanded version created in 2015. Both sets of transparency rules survived court challenges from the broadband industry. The 2010 requirement had ISPs disclose pricing, including "monthly prices, usage-based fees, and fees for early termination or additional network services." That somewhat vague requirement will survive Pai's net neutrality repeal. But Pai is proposing to eliminate the enhanced disclosure requirements that have been in place since 2015. Here are the disclosures that ISPs currently have to make -- but won't have to after the repeal:

-Price: the full monthly service charge. Any promotional rates should be clearly noted as such, specify the duration of the promotional period and the full monthly service charge the consumer will incur after the expiration of the promotional period.
-Other Fees: all additional one time and/or recurring fees and/or surcharges the consumer may incur either to initiate, maintain, or discontinue service, including the name, definition, and cost of each additional fee. These may include modem rental fees, installation fees, service charges, and early termination fees, among others.
-Data Caps and Allowances: any data caps or allowances that are a part of the plan the consumer is purchasing, as well as the consequences of exceeding the cap or allowance (e.g., additional charges, loss of service for the remainder of the billing cycle).

Pai's proposed net neutrality repeal says those requirements and others adopted in 2015 are too onerous for ISPs.

Bitcoin

Feds Shut Down Allegedly Fraudulent Cryptocurrency Offering (arstechnica.com) 47

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday announced that it was taking action against an initial coin offering (ICO) that the SEC alleges is fraudulent. The announcement represents the first enforcement action by the SEC's recently created cyber fraud unit. In July, the agency fired a warning shot. It announced that a 2016 fundraising campaign had run afoul of securities law, but that the SEC would decline to prosecute those responsible. The hope was to get the cryptocurrency world to take securities laws more seriously without doing anything drastic. Now the SEC is taking the next step by prosecuting what it considers to be one of the most egregious scams in the ICO world. The SEC's complaint, filed in federal court in New York, is against Dominic Lacroix, whom the SEC describes as a "recidivist securities law violator." The SEC considers Lacroix's cryptocurrency project, PlexCoin, to be a "fast-moving Initial Coin Offering (ICO) fraud that raised up to $15 million from thousands of investors since August by falsely promising a 13-fold profit in less than a month." The PlexCoin website has a hilariously vague description of this supposedly revolutionary cryptocurrency. "The PlexCoin's new revolutionary operating structure is safer and much easier to use than any other current cryptocurrency," the site proclaims. "One of the many features of PlexBank will be to secure your cryptocurrency from market variation, which is highly volatile, and invest your money in a place where you can get interesting guaranteed returns." According to Ars, "The SEC isn't impressed and is arguing that PlexCoin has 'all of the characteristics of a full-fledged cyber scam.' The agency is seeking to freeze the assets of the PlexCoin project in hopes of getting investors' funds back to them."
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.

The Courts

State Board Concedes It Violated Free Speech Rights of Oregon Man Fined For Writing 'I Am An Engineer' (oregonlive.com) 178

According to Oregon Live, "A state panel violated a Beaverton man's free speech rights by claiming he had unlawfully used the title 'engineer' and by fining him when he repeatedly challenged Oregon's traffic-signal timing before local media and policymakers, Oregon's attorney general has ruled." From the report: Oregon's Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying unconstitutionally applied state law governing engineering practice to Mats Jarlstrom when he exercised his free speech about traffic lights and described himself as an engineer since he was doing so "in a noncommercial'' setting and not soliciting professional business, the state Department of Justice has conceded. "We have admitted to violating Mr. Jarlstrom's rights,'' said Christina L. Beatty-Walters, senior assistant attorney general, in federal court Monday. The state's regulation of Jarlstrom under engineering practice law "was not narrowly tailored to any compelling state interests,'' she wrote in court papers. The state has pledged the board will not pursue the Beaverton man any further when he's not acting in a commercial or professional manner, and on Monday urged a federal judge to dismiss the case. The state also sent a $500 check to Jarlstrom in August, reimbursing him for the state fine.

Jarlstrom and his lawyers argued that's not good enough. They contend Jarlstrom isn't alone in getting snared by the state board's aggressive and "overbroad'' interpretation of state law. They contend others have been investigated improperly and want the court to look broader at the state law and its administrative rules and declare them unconstitutional. In the alternative, the state law should be restricted to only regulating engineering communications that are made as part of paid employment or a contractual agreement.

Censorship

Cloudflare's CEO Has a Plan To Never Censor Hate Speech Again (arstechnica.com) 394

"Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince hated cutting off service to the infamous neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer in August," reports Ars Technica. "And he's determined not to do it again. 'I'm almost a free-speech absolutist.' Prince said at an event at the New America Foundation last Wednesday. But in a subsequent interview with Ars, Prince argued that in the case of the Daily Stormer, the company didn't have much choice." From the report: Prince's response was to cut Daily Stormer off while laying the groundwork to make sure he'd never have to make a decision like that again. In a remarkable company-wide email sent shortly after the decision, Prince described his own actions as "arbitrary" and "dangerous." "I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the Internet," Prince wrote in August. "It was a decision I could make because I'm the CEO of a major Internet infrastructure company." He argued that "it's important that what we did today not set a precedent." Prior to August, Cloudflare had consistently refused to police content published by its customers. Last week, Prince made a swing through DC to help ensure that the Daily Stormer decision does not, in fact, set a precedent. He met with officials from the Federal Communications Commission and with researchers at the libertarian Cato Institute and the left-of-center New America Foundation -- all in an effort to ensure that he'd have the political cover he needed to say no next time he came under pressure to take down controversial content.

The law is strongly on Cloudflare's side here. Internet infrastructure providers like Cloudflare have broad legal immunity for content created by their customers. But legal rights may not matter if Cloudflare comes under pressure from customers to take down content. And that's why Prince is working to cultivate a social consensus that infrastructure providers like Cloudflare should not be in the censorship business -- no matter how offensive its customers' content might be.

Australia

Amazon Finally Launches In Australia (mashable.com) 57

After a very soft launch on Nov. 23, Amazon has officially launched in Australia. Mashable reports: One of the biggest things to happen to Australia's retail sector, Amazon's website has switched over from a Kindle Store presence to its fully fledged Amazon.com.au, with millions of products now ready for eager Christmas shoppers across more than 20 categories. It's a huge moment for Australian retail, and one of the most anticipated launches of the year, after Amazon confirmed in April 2017 it would expand its operations in Australia. Local retailers like David Jones and Myer have been scrambling to launch their own "premium" in-store services and price matching strategies or revamped online stores ahead of Amazon's arrival.

Thousands of Australian brands have already signed up with Amazon to sell their wares locally and internationally. Small and medium-sized Australian businesses are selling on Amazon Marketplace. Amazon's allowing free delivery on eligible orders above $49 that are sold by Amazon, and the company is rolling out one-day delivery service to select areas. Plus, for the first time, Australian customers will be able to access Prime Video and Twitch Prime, launching Prime shipping benefits in Australia in mid-2018 (registration for Prime is open now for Aussies).

The Internet

FCC Won't Delay Vote, Says Net Neutrality Supporters Are 'Desperate' (arstechnica.com) 347

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Federal Communications Commission will move ahead with its vote to kill net neutrality rules next week despite an unresolved court case that could strip away even more consumer protections. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says that net neutrality rules aren't needed because the Federal Trade Commission can protect consumers from broadband providers. But a pending court case involving AT&T could strip the FTC of its regulatory authority over AT&T and similar ISPs. A few dozen consumer advocacy groups and the City of New York urged Pai to delay the net neutrality-killing vote in a letter today. If the FCC eliminates its rules and the court case goes AT&T's way, there would be a "'regulatory gap' that would leave consumers utterly unprotected," the letter said. When contacted by Ars, Pai's office issued this statement in response to the letter: "This is just evidence that supporters of heavy-handed Internet regulations are becoming more desperate by the day as their effort to defeat Chairman Pai's plan to restore Internet freedom has stalled. The vote will proceed as scheduled on December 14."
Businesses

NYTimes Editorial Board: The FCC Wants To Let Telecoms Cash In on the Internet (nytimes.com) 268

The New York Times' Editorial Board writes: The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission wants to let Comcast, Verizon and other broadband companies turn the internet into a latter-day version of cable TV, in which they decide what customers can watch and how much they pay for that content. That's essentially what would happen under the proposal by the chairman, Ajit Pai, to abandon the commission's network neutrality rules, which prevent telecom companies from interfering with how their customers use the internet. Net neutrality prevents those companies from having companies like Amazon pay a fee to get their content delivered more quickly than their rivals', and from having the firms throttle other services and websites, even blocking customer access to, say, Netflix or an online newspaper. Under Mr. Pai's proposal, telecom companies would effectively be allowed to sell you a basic internet plan that might include only limited access to Google and email. For Facebook and Twitter you might need a slightly more expensive deluxe plan. The premium plan might include access to Netflix and Amazon. Oh, and by the way, media businesses eager to gain more users could pay broadband companies to be included in their enhanced basic or deluxe plans. Further reading: Associated Press fact check: Net-neutrality claims leave out key context; The death of the Internet.
Education

To Solve the Diversity Drought in Software Engineering, Look to Community Colleges (vice.com) 333

An anonymous reader shares a report: Community college is not flashy and does not make promises about your future employability. You will also likely not learn current way-cool web development technologies like React and GraphQL. In terms of projects, you're more likely to build software for organizing a professor's DVD or textbook collection than you are responsive web apps. I would tell you that all of this is OK because in community college computer science classes you're learning fundamentals, broad concepts like data structures, algorithmic complexity, and object-oriented programming. You won't learn any of those things as deeply as you would in a full-on university computer science program, but you'll get pretty far. And community college is cheap, though that varies depending on where you are. Here in Portland, OR, the local community college network charges $104 per credit. Which means it's possible to get a solid few semesters of computer science coursework down for a couple of grand. Which is actually amazing. In a new piece published in the Communications of the ACM, Silicon Valley researchers Louise Ann Lyon and Jill Denner make the argument that community colleges have the potential to play a key role in increasing equity and inclusion in computer science education. If you haven't heard, software engineering has a diversity problem. Access to education is a huge contributor to that, and Denner and Lyon see community college as something of a solution in plain sight.

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