Businesses

Motherboard and VICE Are Building a Community Internet Network (vice.com) 84

In order to preserve net neutrality and the free and open internet, we must end our reliance on monopolistic corporations and build something fundamentally different: internet infrastructure that is locally owned and operated and is dedicated to serving the people who connect to it, writes Jason Koebler, editor-in-chief of Vice's Motherboard news outlet. He writes: The good news is a better internet infrastructure is possible: Small communities, nonprofits, and startup companies around the United States have built networks that rival those built by big companies. Because these networks are built to serve their communities rather than their owners, they are privacy-focused and respect net neutrality ideals. These networks are proofs-of-concept around the country that a better internet is possible. This week, Motherboard and VICE Media are committing to be part of the change we'd like to see. We will build a community network based at our Brooklyn headquarters that will provide internet connections for our neighborhood. We will also connect to the broader NYC Mesh network in order to strengthen a community network that has already decided the status quo isn't good enough. We are in the very early stages of this process and have begun considering dark fiber to light up, hardware to use, and organizations to work with, support, and learn from. To be clear and to answer a few questions I've gotten: This network will be connected to the real internet and will be backed by fiber from an internet exchange. It will not rely on a traditional ISP.
Movies

What Disney's Acquisition of Fox Means For the Future of Film and TV (qz.com) 93

Disney announced on Thursday it had reached a $52 billion deal to buy most of the assets of 21st Century Fox. It is "the biggest and most consequential media merger in an era of big and consequential media consolidation deals," reports Quartz. "The deal will have a lasting effect on film, television, and the internet." From the report: If the merger is approved, Disney will own: All of Fox's film studios (20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, and Fox 2000); Fox's television studio; FX Networks; National Geographic; Fox's stake in European broadcaster Sky; Fox's stake in North American streamer Hulu. Staying with the hollowed out 21st Century Fox is the Fox broadcast network, Fox News, Fox Sports, and Fox Business. With Fox's film and TV studios and its cable networks, Disney will acquire the rights to literally hundreds of popular television series and movies. (Some of which include Avatar, X-Men, Deadpool, Modern Family and The Simpsons.)

Imagine all of the properties mentioned above, plus all of Disney's existing franchises (Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, etc.) combined into one internet streaming service. You won't have to imagine for long, because that's pretty much exactly why Disney CEO Bob Iger was so keen on buying all of Fox's biggest assets. Disney plans to release a streaming entertainment service in 2019. It would have been quite formidable on its own, even without Fox's help, but now it will likely be the first true rival to Netflix in the streaming space. Before today, Disney, Fox, and Comcast (NBCUniversal) all shared equal 30% stakes in Hulu (Time Warner owns 10%). But when Disney takes over Fox's share of the streaming service, it will own 60%, becoming a controlling majority owner, relegating Comcast to minority owner in the process.

20th Century Fox, we hardly knew ye. Okay, that may be a bit premature, but it's clear that Fox's film business won't be the same if the merger is approved. The deal marks the first time in modern history that one major film studio has purchased another, eliminating one of the "big six," and essentially giving Disney control of two-thirds of Hollywood. (The other four major movie studios are Universal, Warner Bros., Paramount, and Sony.)

Advertising

Facebook Will Introduce Ads As Videos Start Playing (recode.net) 70

Facebook is going to start running pre-roll ads on its "Watch" videos next year. While you won't see your News Feed full of video ads, you will start to see pre-rolls, which will run for up to six seconds, on videos in Facebook's "Watch" hub. Recode reports: Facebook launched its Watch hub earlier this year, using "mid-roll" ads (another ad format Facebook tried to avoid for a long time). The fact that they have added pre-rolls -- the format used around the web and the one advertisers are most comfortable with -- should be read as an admission that the mid-roll ads aren't generating significant revenue for Facebook or the publishers putting video into Watch. Speaking of those mid-roll ads: Facebook now says they won't appear until later in videos and they'll only run on longer videos. It says the ads (it calls them "ad breaks") can't run until a minute into a video, and they can only run if the video is at least three minutes long. At first, the ads could run after 20 seconds and on videos as short as 90 seconds.
Businesses

Google and Facebook 'Must Pay For News' From Which They Make Billions (yahoo.com) 162

Internet giants such as Google and Facebook must pay copyright charges for using news content on their platforms, nine European press agencies said. These giant platforms, news agencies said, make vast profits from news content on their platforms. The call comes at a time when the EU is debating a directive to make Facebook, Google, Twitter and other major players pay for the millions of news articles they use or link to. From a report: "Facebook has become the biggest media in the world," the agencies said in a plea published in the French daily Le Monde. "Yet neither Facebook nor Google have a newsroom... They do not have journalists in Syria risking their lives, nor a bureau in Zimbabwe investigating Mugabe's departure, nor editors to check and verify information sent in by reporters on the ground." The agencies argued, "access to free information is supposedly one of the great victories of the internet. But it is a myth."
Businesses

Disney Makes Deal for 21st Century Fox, Reshaping Entertainment Landscape (nytimes.com) 163

Disney is going all in for its upcoming fight with Netflix and other streaming giants. The Walt Disney Company said Thursday that it had reached a deal to buy most of the assets of 21st Century Fox, the conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch, in an all-stock transaction valued at roughly $52.4 billion. From a report: To complete the integration, a legacy-defining task, Robert A. Iger, Disney's chief executive, agreed to renew his contract for a fourth time, delaying retirement from July 2019 to the end of 2021. While the merger still requires approval by antitrust regulators -- and the Justice Department recently moved to block a big media company from becoming even bigger -- the once unthinkable acquisition promises to reshape Hollywood and Silicon Valley. It is the biggest counterattack from a traditional media company against the tech giants that have aggressively moved into the entertainment business. Disney now has enough muscle to become a true competitor to Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook in the fast-growing realm of online video. Alternative source: Variety.
Power

Solar Power and Batteries Are Encroaching On Natural Gas In Energy Production (electrek.co) 166

Socguy writes: The relentless downward march in cost of both solar and battery storage is poised to displace 10GW worth of natural gas peaker plant electricity production in the U.S. by 2027. Already we are seeing the net cost of combined solar and batteries cheaper than the equivalent natural gas peaker plant. Some particularly aggressive estimates from major energy companies predict that we may not see another natural gas peaker plant built in the U.S. after 2020. GE has already responded to the weakness in the gas turbine market by laying off 12,000 workers. Further reading available via Greentech Media.
Science

The Environmental Cost of Internet Porn (theatlantic.com) 298

An anonymous reader shares a report (condensed for space): Online streaming is a win for the environment. Streaming music eliminates all that physical material -- CDs, jewel cases, cellophane, shipping boxes, fuel -- and can reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 40 percent or more. Scientists who analyze the environmental impact of the internet tout the benefits of this "dematerialization," observing that energy use and carbon-dioxide emissions will drop as media increasingly can be delivered over the internet. But this theory might have a major exception: porn. Since the turn of the century, the pornography industry has experienced two intense hikes in popularity. In the early 2000s, broadband enabled higher download speeds. Then, in 2008, the advent of so-called tube sites allowed users to watch clips for free, like people watch videos on YouTube. Adam Grayson, the chief financial officer of the adult company Evil Angel, calls the latter hike "the great mushroom-cloud porn explosion of 2008." Precise numbers don't exist to quantify specifics, but the impression across the industry is that viewership is way, way up. Pornhub, the world's most popular porn site, provides some of the only accessible data on its yearly web-traffic report. The first Year In Review post in 2013 tabulated that 14.7 billion people visited the site. By 2016, the number of visitors had almost doubled, to 23 billion, and those visitors watched more than 4.59 billion hours of porn. And Pornhub is just one site. Using a formula that Netflix published on its blog in 2015, Nathan Ensmenger, a professor at Indiana University who is writing a book about the environmental history of the computer, calculates that if Pornhub streams video as efficiently as Netflix (0.0013 kWh per streaming hour), it used 5.967 million kWh in 2016. For comparison, that's about the same amount of energy 11,000 light bulbs would use if left on for a year. And operating with Netflix's efficiency would be a best-case scenario for the porn site, Ensmenger believes.
Facebook

Russia-Linked Accounts Were Active on Facebook Ahead of Brexit (ft.com) 244

The Russia-linked troll farm that used Facebook to target Americans during last year's election was also active in the UK ahead of the Brexit vote (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source), the social media company has admitted. From a report: In a letter to the Electoral Commission, Facebook said accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency spent $0.97 for three ads in the days before the EU referendum. These ads appeared on approximately 200 news feeds in the UK before the country voted to leave the EU last year. For months the social media company has sidestepped questions from MPs and journalists about Russian interference through its platform in the UK. The concerns were fuelled by revelations this summer that Facebook had been weaponised by Russian entities before the election of US President Donald Trump. France and Germany have said their elections were also targeted. "We strongly support the Commission's efforts to regulate and enforce political campaign finance rules in the United Kingdom, and we take the Commission's request very seriously," Facebook said in the letter.
AI

What Does Artificial Intelligence Actually Mean? (qz.com) 128

An anonymous reader writes: A new bill (pdf) drafted by senator Maria Cantwell asks the Department of Commerce to establish a committee on artificial intelligence to advise the federal government on how AI should be implemented and regulated. Passing of the bill would trigger a process in which the secretary of commerce would be required to release guidelines for legislation of AI within a year and a half. As with any legislation, the proposed bill defines key terms. In this, we have a look at how the federal government might one day classify artificial intelligence. Here are the five definitions given:

A) Any artificial systems that perform tasks under varying and unpredictable circumstances, without significant human oversight, or that can learn from their experience and improve their performance. Such systems may be developed in computer software, physical hardware, or other contexts not yet contemplated. They may solve tasks requiring human-like perception, cognition, planning, learning, communication, or physical action. In general, the more human-like the system within the context of its tasks, the more it can be said to use artificial intelligence.
B) Systems that think like humans, such as cognitive architectures and neural networks.
C) Systems that act like humans, such as systems that can pass the Turing test or other comparable test via natural language processing, knowledge representation, automated reasoning, and learning.
D) A set of techniques, including machine learning, that seek to approximate some cognitive task.
E) Systems that act rationally, such as intelligent software agents and embodied robots that achieve goals via perception, planning, reasoning, learning, communicating, decision-making, and acting.

Social Networks

Instagram Will Now Let You Follow Hashtags In Your Main Feed (theverge.com) 23

"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.
Twitter

Twitter Officially Launches 'Threads,' a New Feature For Easily Posting Tweetstorms (techcrunch.com) 46

New submitter FatdogHaiku writes: For those people that must use multiple tweets to rant (or educate) on Twitter, a feature called "Threads" is being rolled out to aid in creating "tweetstorms" (i.e. gang tweets). Given how tweetstorms are normally used, how about we call them twitphoons? TechCrunch explains just how easy to use the new threads feature is: "There's now a new plus ('+') button in the composer screen where you can type out your series of tweets. Each line represents one tweet, with a character limit of 280 as per usual. You can also add the same amount of media -- like GIFs, images, videos, and more -- to any individual tweet in the thread, as you could on Twitter directly. When you're finished with one tweet, you just tap in the space below to continue your thread. While writing out your tweetstorm, you can go back and edit the tweets at any time as they're still in draft format. When you're ready to post, you tap the 'Tweet all' button at the top to send the stream to Twitter. (Twitter will pace the tweets' posting a bit so they don't all hit at once.)"

"In addition, another handy feature allows you to go back and update a thread by adding new tweets after it already posted," adds TechCrunch. "To do so, you'll write out the new tweet after tapping the 'Add another Tweet' button. This lets you continue to update a thread forever -- something Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey already does with his own threads, for example. Twitter tells us there's currently a limit of 25 entries in a thread, but that number may be subject to change depending on how the feature is adopted by the wider user base."
Facebook

We've Toned Down the 'Destroying Society' Shtick, Facebook Insists (theregister.co.uk) 102

Facebook has taken the unusual step of responding to comments by former VP Chamath Palihapitiya that the social media giant was "destroying how society works." Palihapitiya said that executives ignored cautionary instincts when creating Facebook, and he now regretted the consequences. In a statement, Facebook said: Chamath has not been at Facebook for over 6 years. When Chamath was at Facebook we were focused on building new social media experiences and growing Facebook around the world. Facebook was a very different company back then, and as we have grown, we have realized how our responsibilities have grown too. We take our role very seriously and we are working hard to improve. We've done a lot of work and research with outside experts and academics to understand the effects of our service on well-being, and we're using it to inform our product development. We are also making significant investments more in people, technology and processes, and -- as Mark Zuckerberg said on the last earnings call -- we are willing to reduce our profitability to make sure the right investments are made.
Facebook

Former Facebook Exec Says Social Media is Ripping Apart Society (theverge.com) 405

An anonymous reader shares a report on The Verge: Another former Facebook executive has spoken out about the harm the social network is doing to civil society around the world. Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined Facebook in 2007 and became its vice president for user growth, said he feels "tremendous guilt" about the company he helped make. "I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works," he told an audience at Stanford Graduate School of Business, before recommending people take a âoehard breakâ from social media. Palihapitiya's criticisms were aimed not only at Facebook, but the wider online ecosystem. "The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we've created are destroying how society works," he said, referring to online interactions driven by "hearts, likes, thumbs-up." "No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it's not an American problem -- this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem." Also read: Sean Parker Unloads on Facebook 'Exploiting' Human Psychology
NASA

Google's Machine Learning Is Analyzing Data From NASA's Kepler Space Telescope (nasa.gov) 27

NASA writes: NASA will host a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EST Thursday, Dec. 14, to announce the latest discovery made by its planet-hunting Kepler space telescope. The discovery was made by researchers using machine learning from Google. Machine learning is an approach to artificial intelligence, and demonstrates new ways of analyzing Kepler data... When Kepler launched in March 2009, scientists didn't know how common planets were beyond our solar system. Thanks to Kepler's treasure trove of discoveries, astronomers now believe there may be at least one planet orbiting every star in the sky.
Space.com adds: Kepler spots alien worlds by noticing the tiny brightness dips they cause when they cross the face of their host star from the spacecraft's perspective. Kepler is the most accomplished planet hunter in history. It has found more than 2,500 confirmed alien worlds -- about 70 percent of all known exoplanets -- along with a roughly equal number of "candidates" that await confirmation by follow-up observations or analyses. The vast majority of these discoveries have come via observations that Kepler made during its original mission, which ran from 2009 to 2013. Study of these data sets is ongoing; over the past few years, researchers have used improved analysis techniques to spot many exoplanets in data that Kepler gathered a half-decade ago or more.
Space.com describes Thursday's announcement as an exoplanet discovery. (Earlier they reported on the discovery of "a possibly habitable alien world" about 2.2 times the size of earth orbiting a dwarf star "within the range of distances where liquid water could exist on a world's surface".)

Slashdot reader schwit1 points out that other less-credible sites speculate NASA's announcement will be "a major discovery about life beyond earth."
Security

Touting Government/Industry 'Partnership' on Security Practices, NIST Drafts Cybersecurity Framework Update (scmagazine.com) 15

Remember NIST, the non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce? Their mission expanded over the years to protecting businesses from cyberthreats, including a "Cybersecurty Framework" first published in 2014. "The original goal was to develop a voluntary framework to help organizations manage cybersecurity risk in the nation's critical infrastructure, such as bridges and the electric power grid," NIST wrote in January, "but the framework has been widely adopted by many types of organizations across the country and around the world." Now SC Media reports: The second draft of the update to the National Institute of Standards and Technology's cybersecurity framework, NIST 1.1, is meant "to clarify, refine, and enhance the Cybersecurity Framework, amplifying its value and making it easier to use," according to NIST. Specifically, it brings clarity to cybersecurity measurement language and tackles improving security of the supply chain. Calling the initial NIST CSF "a landmark effort" that delivered "important benefits, such as providing common language for different models" of standards and best practices already in use, Larry Clinton, president and CEO of the Internet Security Alliance, said "it fell short of some of the most critical demands of Presidential Executive Order 13636, which generated its development...

"To begin with, the new draft makes it clear that our goal is not some undefined metric for use of the Framework, but for effective use of the Framework. Moreover, this use-metric needs to be tied not to some generic standard, but to be calibrated to the unique threat picture, risk appetite and business objective of a particular organization"... Clinton praised the process used by NIST as "a model 'use case' for how government needs to engage with its industry partners to address the cybersecurity issue." The internet's inherent interconnectedness makes it impossible for sustainable security to be achieved through anything other than true partnership, he contended.

Slashdot reader Presto Vivace reminds you that public comments on the draft Framework and Roadmap are due to NIST by 11:59 p.m. EST on January 19, 2018. "If you have an opinion about this, NOW is the time to express it."
Debian

Updated Debian Linux 9.3 and 8.10 Released (debian.org) 49

An anonymous reader writes: The Debian project is pleased to announce the third update of its stable distribution Debian 9 (codename stretch). This point release mainly adds corrections for security issues, along with a few adjustments for serious problems. Security advisories have already been published separately and are referenced where available. The Debian project also announces the tenth update of its oldstable distribution Debian 8 (codename jessie).

Please note that the point release does not constitute a new version of Debian 9 or 8 but only updates some of the packages included. There is no need to throw away old jessie or stretch DVD/CD media. After installation, packages can be upgraded to the current versions using an up-to-date Debian mirror. This stable update adds a few important corrections to packages. New installation images will be available soon at the mirrors. Those who frequently install updates from security.debian.org won't have to update many packages, and most such updates are included in the point release. One can use the apt command or apt-get command to apply updates. A step-by-step update guide is posted here.

Businesses

Patreon Hits Donors With New Fees, Angering Creators (venturebeat.com) 143

Patreon's changing their fee structure to make donors cover payment-processing fees (standardized to 2.9%) -- plus an additional 35 cents for every pledge. Long-time Slashdot reader NewtonsLaw reports that Patreon's users are furious: Despite Patreon's hype that this is a good thing for creators, few of these actually seem to agree and there's already a growing backlash on social media... many fear that their net return will be lower because the extra fees levied on patreons are causing them to either reduce the amount they pledge or withdraw completely... For those patrons supporting only a few creators the effect won't be large, but for those who make small donations to many creators this could amount to a hike of almost 40% in the amount charged to their credit cards. Without exception, all the content creators I have spoken to would have:

a) liked to have been consulted first

b) wanted the option to retain the old system where they bear the cost of the fees.

As a content creator, I've already seen quite a few of my patreons reducing their pledge and others canceling their pledges completely -- and I understand why they are doing that.

"Everyone hates Patreon's new fee," writes VentureBeat, adding "Many creators are saying it's unfair for patrons to have to pay transaction fees. In addition to that, most people support multiple creators and not just one, and they'll have to pay the extra fee for each pledge they make."

Tech journalist Bryan Lunduke is already soliciting suggestions on Twitter for an open source or Free Software solution that accepts donations from multiple payment systems, and while the change doesn't go into effect until December 18th, NewtonsLaw writes that "it's starting to look as if many content creators will be getting a slightly larger percentage of a much smaller amount as a result of this lunacy by Patreon -- something that will see them far worse off than the were before."
The Internet

EU Urges Internet Companies To Do More To Remove Extremist Content (reuters.com) 79

Internet groups such as Facebook, Google's YouTube and Twitter need to do more to stem the proliferation of extremist content on their platforms, the European Commission said after a meeting on Wednesday. From a report: Social media companies have significantly boosted their resources to take down violent and extremist content as soon as possible in response to growing political pressure from European governments, particularly those hit by militant attacks in recent years. But Julian King, EU security commissioner, said that while a lot of progress had been made, additional efforts were needed. "We are not there yet. We are two years down the road of this journey: to reach our final destination we now need to speed up our work," King said in his closing speech at the third meeting of the EU Internet Forum, which brings together the Commission, EU member states, law enforcement and technology companies. The EU has said it will come forward with legislation next year if it is not satisfied with progress made by tech companies in removing extremist content, while a German online hate speech law comes into effect on Jan. 1.
Security

NiceHash Hacked, $62 Million of Bitcoin May Be Stolen (reddit.com) 79

New submitter Chir breaks the news to us that the NiceHash crypto-mining marketplace has been hacked. The crypto mining pool broke the news on Reddit, where users suggest that as many as 4,736.42 BTC -- an amount worth more than $62 million at current prices -- has been stolen. The NiceHash team is urging users to change their online passwords as a result of the breach and theft.
Facebook

Health Secretary Hits Out at Facebook's New App, Says 'Stay Away From My Kids' (theguardian.com) 113

Jeremy Hunt has publicly attacked Facebook for releasing a version of its Messenger app aimed at children, and called on the social media company to "stay away from my kids." From a report: The health secretary accused the company of "targeting younger children" after Facebook announced on Monday that it was conducting trials of an app called Messenger Kids in the US, which is designed to be used by pre-teens. He said the company was failing to act responsibly despite having assured the government that it would not target its service at children, who can only use the main social media website if they are over 13.

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