Bitcoin

US Launches Criminal Probe Into Bitcoin Price Manipulation (bloomberg.com) 26

The Justice Department has opened a criminal probe into whether traders are manipulating the price of Bitcoin and other digital currencies, dramatically ratcheting up U.S. scrutiny of red-hot markets that critics say are rife with misconduct, Bloomberg reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter. From the report: The investigation is focused on illegal practices that can influence prices -- such as spoofing, or flooding the market with fake orders to trick other traders into buying or selling, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the review is private. Federal prosecutors are working with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, a financial regulator that oversees derivatives tied to Bitcoin, the people said. Authorities worry that virtual currencies are susceptible to fraud for multiple reasons: skepticism that all exchanges are actively pursuing cheaters, wild price swings that could make it easy to push valuations around and a lack of regulations like the ones that govern stocks and other assets.
Space

Ariane Chief Seems Frustrated With SpaceX For Driving Down Launch Costs (arstechnica.com) 96

schwit1 shares a report from Ars Technica: Like United Launch Alliance, the [France-based] Ariane Group faces pricing pressure from SpaceX, which offers launch prices as low as $62 million for its Falcon 9 rocket. It has specifically developed the Ariane 6 rocket to compete with the Falcon 9 booster. But there are a couple of problems with this. Despite efforts to cut costs, the two variants of the Ariane 6 will still cost at least 25 percent more than SpaceX's present-day prices. Moreover, the Ariane 6 will not fly until 2020 at the earliest, by which time Falcon 9 could offer significantly cheaper prices on used Falcon 9 boosters if it needed to. (The Ariane 6 rocket is entirely expendable). With this background in mind, the chief executive of Ariane Group, Alain Charmeau, gave an interview to the German publication Der Spiegel. The interview was published in German, but a credible translation can be found here. During the interview, Charmeau expressed frustration with SpaceX and attributed its success to subsidized launches for the U.S. government.

When pressed on the price pressure that SpaceX has introduced into the launch market, Charmeau's central argument is that this has only been possible because, "SpaceX is charging the U.S. government 100 million dollar per launch, but launches for European customers are much cheaper." Essentially, he says, launches for the U.S. military and NASA are subsidizing SpaceX's commercial launch business. However, the pay-for-service prices that SpaceX offers to the U.S. Department of Defense for spy satellites and cargo and crew launches for NASA are below those of what other launch companies charge. And while $100 million or more for a military launch is significantly higher than a $62 million commercial launch, government contracts come with extra restrictions, reviews, and requirements that drive up this price.

Medicine

Money's Better Than E-Cigs Or Nicotine Gum At Helping Smokers Quit, Says Study (reuters.com) 108

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Providing free electronic cigarettes or other stop-smoking products to employees to get them to give up real cigarettes is less effective than the threat of taking away a cash reward for quitting, according to a new study that weighs the effectiveness of a variety of workplace incentive programs. The findings, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, call into question the claims by e-cigarette enthusiasts that the devices may be better than traditional quit aids at helping smokers to stop. The study is also significant because it may be the first to look at programs to get all smoking employees to quit, whether or not they've decided they want to do so. The results show that if the motivation isn't there, neither are the positive results. 9.5 percent of participants who got the free smoking cessation products plus a cash reward ($100 for the first month, an additional $200 at the three-month mark and $300 if they stayed smoke-free for six months) for staying away from tobacco quit.
Government

US Government Can't Get Controversial Kaspersky Lab Software Off Its Networks (thedailybeast.com) 109

The law says American agencies must eliminate the use of Kaspersky Lab software by October. But U.S. officials say that's impossible as the security suite is embedded too deep in our infrastructure, The Daily Beast reported Wednesday. From a report: Multiple divisions of the U.S. government are confronting the reality that code written by the Moscow-based security company is embedded deep within American infrastructure, in routers, firewalls, and other hardware -- and nobody is certain how to get rid of it. "It's messy, and it's going to take way longer than a year," said one U.S. official. "Congress didn't give anyone money to replace these devices, and the budget had no wiggle-room to begin with."

At issue is a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) enacted last December that requires the government to fully purge itself of "any hardware, software, or services developed or provided, in whole or in part," by Kaspersky Lab. The law was a dramatic expansion of an earlier DHS directive that only outlawed "Kaspersky-branded" products. Both measures came after months of saber rattling by the U.S., which has grown increasingly anxious about Kaspersky's presence in federal networks in the wake of Russia's 2016 election interference campaign.

Transportation

Tesla's Promised $35,000 Model 3 Is Still a Long Way Off (engadget.com) 273

When the Model 3 was first unveiled, it was pitched as an EV for the masses that would have a reasonable $35,000 price. Two years later and we still don't have a clear timeline as to when the $35,000 Model 3 will ship. In fact, Elon Musk last weekend unveiled the pricing and specs of a newer, more expensive Model 3 with AWD. It will cost $78,000. Engadget reports: CEO Elon Musk recently tweeted that the $35,000 Model 3 now won't ship until three to six months after Tesla achieves its 5,000 vehicle-per-week production goal. The reason for the new delay in the base model is simple: If the company was to ship it now, it would lose money on every vehicle and "die," as Musk put it. If Tesla had hit its initial forecasts and was producing 5,000 vehicles a week by January, the base, $35,000 Model 3 probably wouldn't have been delayed by so much. One potential problem for Tesla, as the WSJ points out, is that many of the 500,000 buyers who laid down a $1,000 deposit did so expecting to buy a $35,000 car, not a $49,000 one. When they get a letter saying the time has come to configure their EVs, quite a few might decide to back out, which could impact Tesla's already precarious cash flow situation.
Sony

Sony In $2.3 Billion Deal For EMI, Becomes World's Biggest Music Publisher 28

Sony said on Tuesday it would pay about $2.3 billion to gain control of EMI, becoming the world's largest music publisher in an industry that has found new life on the back of streaming services. Reuters reports: The acquisition is the biggest strategic move yet by new CEO Kenichiro Yoshida and gives Sony a catalogue of more than 2 million songs from artists such as Kanye West, Sam Smith and Sia. The deal is part of Yoshida's mission to make revenue streams more stable with rights to entertainment content -- a strategy that follows a major revamp by his predecessor which shifted Sony's focus away from low-margin consumer electronics.

The spread of the internet led to a shrinking of the music market from around 1999 to 2014, Yoshida said, but added that has turned around with the growth of fixed-price music streaming services. The deal values EMI Music Publishing at $4.75 billion including debt, more than double the $2.2 billion value given in 2011 when a consortium led by Sony won bidding rights for the company. EMI currently commands 15 percent of the music publishing industry which combined with its Sony ATV business would make the Japanese giant the industry leader with market share of 26 percent, a company spokesman said.
Businesses

3D Headphone Startup 'Ossic' Closes Abruptly, Leaving Crowdfunders Hanging (npr.org) 167

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: Ossic raised more than $3.2 million in crowdfunding for its Ossic X, which it touted as the "first 3D audio headphones calibrated to you." But after delivering devices to only about 80 investors who'd paid at least $999 to for the "Developer/Innovator" rewards level on Kickstarter, Ossic announced Saturday it had run out of money -- leaving the more than 10,000 other backers with nothing but lighter wallets.

Ossic, which The San Diego Union-Tribune notes was founded by former Logitech engineers Jason Riggs and Joy Lyons, had excited gamers, audiophiles and other sound consumers by creating headphones that used advanced 3D audio algorithms, head-tracking technology and individual anatomy calibration to "deliver incredibly accurate 3D sound to your ears," according to its funding campaign on Kickstarter. In less than two months in 2016, it was able to raise $2.7 million from more than 10,000 backers on Kickstarter. It raised another $515,970 on Indiegogo.
"This was obviously not our desired outcome," the company said in a statement. "To fail at the five-yard line is a tragedy. We are extremely sorry that we cannot deliver your product and want you to know that the team has done everything possible including investing our own savings and working without salary to exhaust all possibilities."
Sony

Sony Is Done Working For Peanuts in the Hardware Business, New CEO To Detail Shift Away From Gadgets (bloomberg.com) 132

Kenichiro Yoshida, who took over as chief executive officer in April, is set to unveil a three-year plan on Tuesday that embraces Sony's growing reliance on income from gaming subscriptions and entertainment. From a report: The transition is already happening: even though the company sold fewer hardware products such as televisions, digital cameras, smartphones and PlayStation consoles in the year through March, it was able to post record operating profit. It's a tectonic shift for a company built on manufacturing prowess. Sony popularized transistor radios, gave the world portable music with the Walkman and its TVs were considered top-of-the-line for decades. With the rise of Chinese manufacturing, making and selling gadgets has become a business with razor-thin profit margins. Investors have applauded the transformation that's been under way since Kazuo Hirai took over as CEO in 2012, with the shares climbing more than five-fold amid a turnaround.
Businesses

MoviePass' Days Look Limited (bloomberg.com) 159

Kyle Stock writes via Bloomberg: Eight months after slashing its price and expanding membership past 2 million users, MoviePass is now at risk of going bust. The parent company, Helios & Matheson Analytics, which now owns 92 percent of MoviePass, said last week that it had just $15.5 million in cash at the end of April and $27.9 million on deposit with merchant processors. MoviePass has been burning through $21.7 million per month. A U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing last month revealed that the company's auditor has "substantial doubt" about its ability to stay solvent. Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities Inc., warns that MoviePass may not survive the summertime run of blockbusters. On Tuesday, Helios reported the performance of MoviePass for the three months ending on March 31. The company lost $107 million, earning just over $1 million from marketing deals and $47 million from subscriptions. Helios shares have fallen to decade lows of less than $1 after peaking at $32.90 in October, alongside the MoviePass hype.
Businesses

Amazon Offers Whole Foods Discounts To Prime Members (reuters.com) 146

Amazon-owned Whole Foods debuted a loyalty program on Wednesday that offers special discounts to Prime members, including 10 percent off hundreds of sale items and rotating weekly specials. "The new loyalty strategy will test whether Amazon's $13.7 billion deal for Whole Foods brings much-feared disruption and an intensified price war to the $800 billion U.S. grocery industry dominated by Walmart and Kroger," reports Reuters. From the report: Those perks are available now in Florida and will roll out to all other stores starting this summer. Amazon previously announced free two-hour delivery from Whole Foods stores for members of Prime, its subscription club with fast shipping and video streaming. The new perks could make Whole Foods cheaper than conventional grocers for about 8 million of its customers who already subscribe to Amazon Prime, according to Morgan Stanley analysts. Prime members scan an app or input their phone numbers at checkout to receive the discounts.
Businesses

Chinese 'Accelerators' In Silicon Valley Aim To Bring Startups Home (reuters.com) 74

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Beijing's unslakeable thirst for the latest technology has spurred a proliferation of "accelerators" in Silicon Valley that aim to identify promising startups and bring them to China. The surge in the number of China-focused accelerators -- which support, mentor and invest in early-stage startups -- is part of a larger wave of Chinese investment in Silicon Valley. At least 11 such programs have been created in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2013, according to the tech-sector data firm Crunchbase. Some work directly with Chinese governments, which provide funding. Reuters interviews with the incubators showed that many were focused on bringing U.S. startups to China. For U.S. government officials wary of China's growing high-tech clout, the accelerator boom reaffirms fears that U.S. technological know-how is being transferred to China through investments, joint ventures or licensing agreements. "Our intellectual property is the future of our economy and our security," Senator Mark Warner, the Democratic vice-chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement to Reuters about Chinese accelerators. "China's government has clearly prioritized acquiring as much of that intellectual property as possible. Their ongoing efforts, legal or illegal, pose a risk that we have to look at very seriously."
Transportation

Estonia To Become the World's First Free Public Transport Nation (citylab.com) 143

On July 1st, the country of Estonia will create the largest 24/7 free public transit zone in the world, making it feasibly possible to travel by bus from one end of the 1.3 million-strong Baltic nation to the other without paying a cent. CityLab reports: Estonia is already a world leader in free public transit: In 2013, all public transit in its capital, Tallinn, became free to local residents (but not tourists or other visitors, even those from other parts of the country). The new national free-ride scheme with extend this model even further, making all state-run bus travel in rural municipalities free and extending cost-free transit out from the capital into other regions. The plan will not, however, extend Tallinn's existing free public transit policies to other Estonian cities, and it also won't make riding Tallinn transit free to visitors (at least, not initially). So while most of the country's land area and population -- which is overwhelmingly concentrated around Tallinn -- should get fare-free daily lives, it's not precisely the case that no Estonian will ever buy a bus ticket in their own country again. Further reading: Pop-Up City
The Almighty Buck

First Government Office in the US To Accept Bitcoin As Payment (orlandosentinel.com) 42

Long-time Slashdot reader SonicSpike quotes the Orlando Sentinel: If cash, check or credit card seems too old-fashioned, Seminole County, Florida Tax Collector Joel Greenberg said this week his office will begin accepting bitcoin as payment for new IDs, license plates and property taxes starting next month. Greenberg said accepting bitcoin and bitcoin cash as a payment method will promote transparency and accuracy in payment.

"There's no risk to the taxpayer," said Greenberg, who has often raised eyebrows since his 2016 election by moves including encouraging certain employees with concealed-weapons permits to carry a firearm openly as a security measure. "Blockchain technology is the future of the whole financial industry."

A spokesperson for a neighboring county's tax collector said they had no plans to follow the move. "Frankly, I think the currency is so volatile that I donâ(TM)t think it makes sense."

And an official at a nearby county said bitcoin payments were "not on our to-do list", adding that no one in the county had requested the ability to pay their taxes in bitcoin.
Businesses

Trump Personally Pushed Postmaster General To Double Rates on Amazon, Other Firms: Report (washingtonpost.com) 352

President Trump personally urged the leader of the U.S. Postal Service to double the rates the agency charges Amazon and other firms for delivery packages in several private conversations in 2017 and 2018, The Washington Post reported Friday (alternative source). From the report: Postmaster General Megan Brennan has so far resisted Trump's demand, explaining in multiple conversations occurring this year and last that these arrangements are bound by contracts and must be reviewed by a regulatory commission, the three people said. She has told the president that the Amazon relationship is beneficial for the Postal Service and gave him a set of slides that showed the variety of companies, in addition to Amazon, that also partner for deliveries.

Despite these presentations, Trump has continued to level criticism at Amazon. And last month, his critiques culminated in the signing of an executive order mandating a government review of the financially strapped Postal Service that could lead to major changes in the way it charges Amazon and others for package delivery. Few U.S. companies have drawn Trump's ire as much as Amazon, which has rapidly grown to be the second-largest U.S. company in terms of market capitalization. For more than three years, Trump has fumed publicly and privately about the giant commerce and services company and its founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, who is also the owner of The Washington Post.

Crime

Alleged Owners of Mugshots.com Have Been Arrested For Extortion (lawandcrime.com) 101

Reader schwit1 writes: The alleged owners of Mugshots.com have been charged and arrested. These four men Sahar Sarid, Kishore Vidya Bhavnanie, Thomas Keesee, and David Usdan only removed a person's mugshot from the site if this individual paid a "de-publishing" fee, according to the California Attorney General on Wednesday. That's apparently considered extortion. On top of that, they also face charges of money laundering, and identity theft.

If you read a lot of articles about crime, then you're probably already familiar with the site (which is still up as of Friday afternoon). They take mugshots, slap the url multiple times on the image, and post it on the site alongside an excerpt from a news outlet that covered the person's arrest. According to the AG's office, the owners would only remove the mugshots if the person paid a fee, even if the charges were dismissed. This happened even if the suspect was only arrested because of "mistaken identity or law enforcement error." You can read the affidavit here.

Businesses

Fed Up With Apple's Policies, App Developers Form a 'Union' (wired.com) 108

Even as Apple has addressed some of the concerns outlined by iOS developers in the recent years, many say it's not enough. As the iOS App Store approaches its tenth anniversary, some app developers are still arguing for better App Store policies, ones that they say will allow them to make a better living as independent app makers. On Friday, a small group of developers, including one who recently made a feature-length film about the App Store and app culture, are forming a union to lobby for just that. From a report: In an open letter to Apple that published this morning, a group identifying themselves as The Developers Union wrote that "it's been difficult for developers to earn a living by writing software" built on Apple's existing values. The group then asked Apple to allow free trials for apps, which would give customers "the chance to experience our work for themselves, before they have to commit to making a purchase."

The grassroots effort is being lead by Jake Schumacher, the director of App: The Human Story; software developer Roger Ogden and product designer Loren Morris, who both worked for a timesheet app that was acquired last year; and Brent Simmons, a veteran developer who has made apps like NetNewsWire, MarsEdit, and Vesper, which he co-created with respected Apple blogger John Gruber.

Businesses

Data Science is America's Hottest Job (bloomberg.com) 79

Anonymous readers share a report: It turns out that even in the wake of Facebook's privacy scandal and other big-data blunders, finding people who can turn social-media clicks and user-posted photos into monetizable binary code is among the biggest challenges facing U.S. industry. People with data science bona fides are among the most sought-after professionals in business, with some data science Ph.Ds commanding as much as $300,000 or more from consulting firms.

Job postings for data scientists rose 75 percent from January 2015 to January 2018 at Indeed.com, while job searches for data scientist roles rose 65 percent. A growing specialty is "sentiment analysis," or finding a way to quantify how many tweets are trashing your company or praising it. A typical data scientist job pays about $119,000 at the midpoint of salaries and rises to $168,000 at the 95th percentile, according to staffing agency Robert Half Technology.

Government

US Government Wants To Start Charging For Landsat, the Best Free Satellite Data On Earth (qz.com) 239

The U.S. government may begin charging users for access to five decades of satellite images of Earth. Quartz reports: Nature reports that the Department of Interior has asked an advisory board to consider the consequences of charging for the data generated by the Landsat program, which is the largest continuously collected set of Earth images taken in space and has been freely available to the public since 2008. Since 1972, Landsat has used eight different satellites to gather images of the Earth, with a ninth currently slated for a December 2020 launch. The data are widely used by government agencies, and since it became free, by an increasing number of academics, private companies and journalists. "As of March 31, 2018, more than 75 million Landsat scenes have been downloaded from the USGS-managed archive!" the agency noted on the 10th anniversary of the program.

Now, the government says the cost of sharing the data has grown as more people access it. Advocates for open data say the public benefit produced through research and business activity far outweigh those costs. A 2013 survey cited by Nature found that the dataset generated $2 billion in economic activity, compared to an $80 million budget for the program.

Bitcoin

Investors Have Placed $1 Billion in Cryptocurrency Offerings Rampant With Red Flags For Fraud (cnbc.com) 49

Investors have sent $1 billion into digital coin projects that flash warning signs for fraud, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The revelation comes a day after the SEC created its own fake ICO to teach investors a lesson. From a report: In a review of 1,450 digital coin offerings, the Journal said it found 271 bore red flags such as plagiarized documents or fake executive information. Investors have already claimed losses of up to $273 million in these projects, the newspaper said, according to lawsuits and regulatory actions. The coin sales, or "initial coin offerings," give investors the chance to buy into a new digital token while letting developers get easy access to funding. The process may be a little too easy for many projects that are unproven or outright scams.

Coin offerings have raised roughly $9.8 billion in the two years through mid-March, according to financial research firm Autonomous Next. The Journal found widespread plagiarism in 111 projects' online whitepapers, including word-for-word copies of marketing plans and technical features.

Music

Tidal Is Reportedly Months Behind On Royalty Payments To Labels (theverge.com) 40

According to a report from Dagens Naeringsliv, streaming service Tidal is "behind with payments directly to the three major international record companies." The claim is backed up by two executives from a label and its Sony-owned distributor. They say they have not seen royalty payments in over six months. The Verge reports: According to a translation by Music Business Worldwide, Sveinung Rindal, CEO of distribution company Phonofile (a Sony subsidiary), told the Norwegian paper, "It is correct that there are delays in payments from Tidal," while Frithjof Boye Hungnes, CEO of Propeller Recordings, confirmed, "We have not been paid since October ... People are talking about withdrawing [their music from Tidal]; I think there is a pretty upset mood." Last December, a separate report from the same newspaper said that Tidal was running out of money, suggesting that it only had about six months of working capital left. The news comes shortly after the service was accused of faking the streaming numbers for Kanye West and Beyonce. Tidal is denying any such wrongdoings, saying: "We have experienced negative stories about Tidal since its inception and we have done nothing but grow the business each year."

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