Google

Google Joins Apple in Condemning the Repeal of the Clean Power Plan (theverge.com) 31

An anonymous reader shares a report: Google filed a public comment today criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to roll back the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era policy that aims to cut power plant pollution. With its comment, Google joins Apple in arguing that keeping the policy is a good deal for the US. Google's comment, which it shared with The Verge, lays out what it called a strong economic case for the Clean Power Plan.It says that the plan would encourage utilities and companies like Google to keep investing in renewable energy -- which Google says is getting cheaper, is desired by both consumers and investors, and is a good source of jobs.
Education

A Well-Known Expert On Student Loans Is Not Real (chronicle.com) 71

mi shares a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education: Drew Cloud is everywhere. The self-described journalist who specializes in student-loan debt has been quoted in major news outlets, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and CNBC, and is a fixture in the smaller, specialized blogosphere of student debt. But he's a fiction, and "his" site -- an invention of a student-loan refinancing company.

"Drew Cloud is a pseudonym that a diverse group of authors at Student Loan Report, LLC use to share experiences and information related to the challenges college students face with funding their education," wrote Nate Matherson, CEO of LendEDU (the company that owns Cloud's website, The Student Loan Report). Before that admission, however, Cloud had corresponded at length with many journalists, pitching them stories and offering email interviews, many of which were published. When The Chronicle attempted to contact him through the address last week, Cloud said he was traveling and had limited access to his account. He didn't respond to additional inquiries. And on Monday, as The Chronicle continued to seek comment, Cloud suddenly evaporated. His once-prominent placement on The Student Loan Report had been removed. His bylines were replaced with "SLR Editor." Matherson confirmed on Tuesday that Cloud was an invention. Pressed on whether he regretted deceiving news organizations with a fake source, Matherson said Cloud "was created as a way to connect with our readers (ex. people struggling to repay student debt) and give us the technical ability to post content to the Wordpress website."

China

Chinese Journalist Banned From Flying, Buying Property Due To 'Social Credit Score' (cbslocal.com) 241

schwit1 shares a report from CBS Local: China is rolling out a high-tech plan to give all of its 1.4 billion citizens a personal score, based on how they behave. But there are consequences if a score gets too low, and for some that's cause for concern. When Liu Hu recently tried to book a flight, he was told he was banned from flying because he was on the list of untrustworthy people. Liu is a journalist who was ordered by a court to apologize for a series of tweets he wrote and was then told his apology was insincere. "I can't buy property. My child can't go to a private school," he said. "You feel you're being controlled by the list all the time." And the list is now getting longer as every Chinese citizen is being assigned a social credit score -- a fluctuating rating based on a range of behaviors. It's believed that community service and buying Chinese-made products can raise your score. Fraud, tax evasion and smoking in non-smoking areas can drop it.
Space

ESA Releases Largest Star Map Ever Online (gizmodo.com) 17

S810 writes: The European Space Agency (ESA) has released a treasure trove of data from its Gaia Spacecraft; totaling around 1.7 billion stars. This star map is the largest of its kind to date. In addition to the star map, the data also contains motion and color data of 1.3 billion stars relative to the Sun. Furthermore, it includes "radial velocities, amount of dust, and surface temperatures of lots of stars, and a catalogue of over 14,000 Solar System objects, including asteroids," reports Gizmodo. You can view the data here, and view a guide for what the data contains and how to use it here.
Education

Kazakhstan Is Changing Its Alphabet From Cyrillic To Latin-Based Style Favored By the West (bbc.com) 197

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: The Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan is changing its alphabet from Cyrillic script to the Latin-based style favored by the West. The change, announced on a blustery Tuesday morning in mid-February, was small but significant -- and it elicited a big response. The government signed off on a new alphabet, based on a Latin script instead of Kazakhstan's current use of Cyrillic, in October. But it has faced vocal criticism from the population -- a rare occurrence in this nominally democratic country ruled by Nazarbayev's iron fist for almost three decades. In this first version of the new alphabet, apostrophes were used to depict sounds specific to the Kazakh tongue, prompting critics to call it "ugly." The second variation, which Kaipiyev liked better, makes use of acute accents above the extra letters. So, for example, the Republic of Kazakhstan, which would in the first version have been Qazaqstan Respy'bli'kasy, is now Qazaqstan Respyblikasy, removing the apostrophes. The BBC article goes on to explain the economics of such a change, citing a restuarant owner that marketed his business using the first version of the alphabet. "All his marketing materials, the labelling on napkin holders and menus, and even the massive sign outside the building will have to be replaced," reports the BBC. "In his attempt to get ahead by launching in the new alphabet, [the owner] had not predicted that the government would revise it. He thinks it will cost about $3,000 to change the spelling of the name on everything to the new version, Sabiz." The full transition to the Latin-based script is expected to be completed by 2025, impacting this owner and many other small business owners.
Crime

Belgium Declares Video Game Loot Boxes Gambling and Therefore Illegal (arstechnica.com) 139

The Belgian Gaming Commission has reviewed several big video games and found that randomized loot boxes in at least three of the titles count as "games of chance," and publishers could therefore be subject to fines and prison sentences under the country's gaming legislation. Ars Technica reports: A statement by Belgian Minister of Justice Koen Geens (machine translation) identifies loot boxes in Overwatch, FIFA 18, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive as meeting the criteria for that "game of chance" definition: i.e., "there is a game element [where] a bet can lead to profit or loss and chance has a role in the game." The Commission also looked at Star Wars: Battlefront II and determined that the recent changes EA made to the game means it "no longer technically forms a game of chance." Beyond that simple definition, the Gaming Commission expressed concern over games that draw in players with an "emotional profit forecast" of randomized goods, where players "buy an advantage with real money without knowing what benefit it would be." The fact that these games don't disclose the odds of receiving specific in-game items is also worrisome, the Commission said. The three games noted above must remove their loot boxes or be in criminal violation of the country's gaming legislation, Geens writes. That law carries penalties of up to 800,000EU (~$973,680) and five years in prison, which can be doubled if "minors are involved." But Geens says he wants to start a "dialogue" with loot box providers to "see who should take responsibility where."
IOS

iOS 11.3.1 Fixes Bug Where Third-Party Screen Repairs Made iPhone 8 Touchscreens Stop Working (gizmodo.com) 62

The latest version of iOS 11.3.1 includes a fix for an issue where people who use third-party repair services to replace their displays had their devices become unresponsive. According to release notes, "iOS 11.3.1 improves the security of your iPhone or iPad and addresses an issue where touch input was unresponsive on some iPhone 8 devices because they were serviced with non-genuine replacement displays." Gizmodo reports: Retailers and customers alike suspected that Apple was deliberately letting the issue and other malfunctions that arose from replacing other components go unresolved in some sort of ploy to pressure customers into paying for officially licensed repair services that are more expensive. It's possible that some users indeed were forced to shell out a fair chunk of change to Apple for official repairs, in which case they might justifiably be angry that this was an issue that could be resolved with an update. iOS 11 was notoriously buggy after its release, and Apple has devoted so much effort to bug-fixing that this year's iOS 12 update will reportedly have fewer new features. Though Apple says the 11.3.1 fix will work, it also warned people to please not use third-party repair shops: "Note: Non-genuine replacement displays may have compromised visual quality and may fail to work correctly. Apple-certified screen repairs are performed by trusted experts who use genuine Apple parts. See support.apple.com for more information."
Transportation

Amazon Will Now Deliver Packages To the Trunk of Your Car (theverge.com) 114

Last year, Amazon unveiled a service called Amazon Key that lets delivery people into your home to drop off packages. Now, the tech giant wants to do the same thing with your car. Amazon announced a new service that gives it couriers access to a person's vehicle for the purpose of leaving package deliveries inside. "Amazon wants to use the connected technologies embedded in many modern vehicles today" to gain entry, reports The Verge. "The company is launching this new service in partnership with two major automakers -- General Motors and Volvo -- and will be rolling out in 37 cities in the U.S. starting today." From the report: Amazon has been beta testing the new service in California and Washington state for the past six months. To start out, the service will only be available to Amazon Prime subscribers. It's also limited to owners of GM and Volvo vehicles, model year 2015 or newer, with active OnStar and Volvo on Call accounts. Amazon says it plans to add other automobile brands over time. Packages that weigh over 50 pounds, are larger than 26 x 21 x 16 inches in size, require a signature, are valued over $1,300, or come from a third-party seller also are not eligible for in-car delivery.

To access the new delivery service, you need to add your car to your Amazon Key app and include a description of the vehicle, so Amazon's couriers will be able to locate it. The car will need to be parked within a certain radius of an address used for Amazon deliveries, so either home or work. Driveways, parking lots, parking garages, and street parking are all eligible locations, just as long as it's not at some random address across town. To find your car, Amazon's couriers will have access to its GPS location and license plate number, as well as an image of the car.

Transportation

Ford To Stop Selling Every Car In North America But the Mustang, Focus Active (techcrunch.com) 273

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Ford today announced it will phase out most cars it sells in North America. According to its latest financial release, the auto giant "will transition to two vehicles" -- the Mustang and an unannounced vehicle, the Focus Active, being the only traditional cars it sells in the region. Ford sees 90 percent of its North America portfolio in trucks, utilities and commercial vehicles. Citing a reduction in consumer demand and product profitability, Ford is in turn not investing in the next generation of sedans. The Taurus is no more. The press release also talks about a new type of vehicle, though it sounds like a crossover. This so-called white space vehicle will "combine the best attributes of cars and utilities, such as higher ride height, space and versatility." Currently, Ford sells six sedans and coupes in North America: the Fiesta, Focus, Fusion, C-Max, Mustang and Taurus. This lineup hits multiple segments, from the compact Fiesta to the mid-size Focus, C-Max and Fusion to the full-size Taurus. The Mustang stands alone as the lone coupe.
Google

Slashdot Asks: How Do You Like the New Gmail UI? (vortex.com) 115

Earlier today, Google pushed out the biggest revamp of Gmail in years. In addition to a new material design look, there are quick links to other Google services, such as Calendar, Tasks, and Keep, as well as a new "confidential mode" designed to protect users against certain attacks by having the email(s) automatically expire at a time of the sender's choosing. Long-time Slashdot reader Lauren Weinstein shares their initial impressions of Google's new Gmail UI: Google launched general access to their first significant Gmail user interface (UI) redesign in many years today. It's rolling out gradually -- when it hits your account you'll see a "Try the new Gmail" choice under the settings ("gear") icon on the upper right of the page (you can also revert to the "classic" interface for now, via the same menu). But you probably won't need to revert. Google clearly didn't want to screw up Gmail, and my initial impression is that they've succeeded by avoiding radical changes in the UI. I'll bet that some casual Gmail users might not even immediately notice the differences.

The new Gmail UI is what we could call a "minimally disruptive" redesign of the now "classic" version. The overall design is not altered in major respects. So far I haven't found any notable missing features, options, or settings. My impression is that the back end systems serving Gmail are largely unchanged. Additionally, there are a number of new features (some of which are familiar in design from Google's "Inbox" email interface) that are now surfaced for the new Gmail. Crucially, overall readability and usability (including contrast, font choices, UI selection elements, etc.) seem so close to classic Gmail (at least in my limited testing so far) as to make any differences essentially inconsequential. And it's still possible to select a dark theme from settings if you wish, which results in even higher contrast.
Have you tried the new Gmail? If so, how do you like the new interface?
Businesses

Trump Meets With Apple's Tim Cook To Talk Trade (reuters.com) 28

New submitter genfail shares a report from Reuters: President Donald Trump met with Apple CEO Tim Cook on Wednesday to discuss trade issues as the technology industry grapples with a U.S. spat over import tariffs with China, a manufacturing hub for the iPhone maker and other companies. Apple, the world's largest technology company, and other hardware makers have deep ties with China, where many of their products are built for export around the world. Cook urged an easing of U.S.-China tensions and called for more open trade after the trade dispute flared last month between the world's two largest economies. Trump announced about $50 billion in planned tariffs on certain Chinese imports, China retaliated with proposed tariffs on some American goods and Trump responded that the United States could counter with $100 billion in additional levies. U.S. and Chinese officials have been working to resolve the dispute.
Medicine

Medicare To Require Hospitals To Post Prices Online (pbs.org) 113

An anonymous reader quotes a report from PBS: Medicare will require hospitals to post their standard prices online and make electronic medical records more readily available to patients, officials said Tuesday. The program is also starting a comprehensive review of how it will pay for costly new forms of immunotherapy to battle cancer. Hospitals are required to disclose prices publicly, but the latest change would put that information online in machine-readable format that can be easily processed by computers. It may still prove to be confusing to consumers, since standard rates are like list prices and don't reflect what insurers and government programs pay.

Likewise, many health care providers already make computerized records available to patients, but starting in 2021 Medicare would base part of a hospital's payments on how good a job they do. Using electronic medical records remains a cumbersome task, and the Trump administration has invited technology companies to design secure apps that would let patients access their records from all their providers instead of having to go to different portals.
Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, also announced Medicare is starting a comprehensive review of how it will pay for a costly new form of immunotherapy called CAR-T. It's an expensive gene therapy that turbocharges a patient's own immune system cells to attack cancer. The cost for such a procedure can exceed $370,000 per patient.
Businesses

Appliance Companies Are Lobbying To Protect Their DRM-Fueled Repair Monopolies (vice.com) 113

Electronics companies Dyson, LG, and Wahl are fighting right-to-repair legislation, Motherboard reported Wednesday, citing letters it has obtained. From a report: The manufacturers of your appliances do not want you to be able to fix them yourself. Last week, at least three major appliance manufacturers -- Dyson, LG, and Wahl -- sent letters to Illinois lawmakers opposing "fair repair" legislation in that state. The letters were written with the help of a trade group called the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM). All three letters are similar but include slightly different wording and examples in parts. The letters ask lawmakers to "withdraw" a bill that would protect and expand the ability for consumers and independent repair professionals to repair everything from iPhones to robot vacuums, electric shavers, toasters, and tractors. Here are links to the Wahl, Dyson, and LG letters.
Censorship

North Korea Linked To Global Hacking Operation Against Critical Infrastructure, Telecoms (thehill.com) 51

A suspected North Korean hacking campaign has expanded to targets in 17 different countries, including the U.S., pilfering information on critical infrastructure, telecommunications and entertainment organizations, researchers say. From a report: Cybersecurity firm McAfee released new research on the hacking campaign this week, calling it Operation GhostSecret and describing the attackers as having "significant capabilities" to develop and use multiple cyber tools and rapidly expand operations across the globe. The findings demonstrate the growing sophistication of North Korea's army of hackers, which has been blamed for high-profile hacking operations such as the WannaCry malware outbreak last year.
Television

8K TVs Are Coming, But Don't Buy the Hype (engadget.com) 270

If the 8,294,400 pixels of resolution on an Ultra High Definition television just don't seem to convey enough detail, fear not: The electronics industry has heard your cry. From a report: Even as UHD TVs, often called 4K TVs for their nearly 4,000 pixels of horizontal resolution, approach half of display shipments in the U.S., set manufacturers have been stepping up their demos of 8K sets that, with their 7680-by-4320 resolution, pack in a full 33,177,600 pixels. And Sharp is now expanding its distribution of one such set, the 70-inch LV-70X500E. Following its October debut in China and subsequent arrivals in Japan and Taiwan, this 8K display will go on sale across Europe at the end of April for about $13,800 at current exchange rates. That, apparently, is supposed to be a reasonable price for a set that supports a video format that offers next to nothing to watch, that can't be streamed on most broadband connections or fit onto Blu-ray discs and which can't even be properly appreciated unless you get a set too big to fit in many living rooms.

[...] The highlights reel playing on a demo unit of Sharp's 8K set required 300 megabits per second of bandwidth to stream, said Adrian Wysocki, group product manager at UMC, the Sharp-owned firm that builds TVs in Poland for the company. He suggested in a conversation Friday that more efficient formats could cut that to 100 Mbps. Only 23.2% of U.S. fixed-broadband connections hit that speed at the end of 2016, according to to the Federal Communications Commission's latest report on internet access services.

Security

Europol Shuts Down World's Largest DDoS-for-Hire Service (bleepingcomputer.com) 42

In what is being seen as a major hit against cybercriminals, Europol, an international police operation, has taken down the world's biggest provider of potentially crippling Distributed Denial of Service attacks. From a report: Europol officials have shut down WebStresser, a website where users could register and launch DDoS attacks after paying for a monthly plan, with prices starting as low as $18.25. The website, considered the largest DDoS-for-hire service online, had over 136,000 users at the time it was shut down. Europol said it had been responsible for over 4 million DDoS attacks in recent years. Visitors to the web site will now see a notice stating that the site has been seized in conjunction with "Operation Power Off," which is the name of the multi-country operation that took down the site.
Microsoft

Microsoft Plans Version of Windows 10 For Devices With Limited Storage (engadget.com) 133

An anonymous reader shares a report: A smaller, more pared down version of Windows 10 was spotted in the latest Redstone 5 preview build. Microsoft is calling it Windows 10 Lean and it's 2GB smaller in size than standard editions of Windows 10 once installed. Missing from this version are the Registry Editor, Internet Explorer, wallpaper, Microsoft Management Console and drivers for CD and DVD drives, and Windows Central notes that the lighter Windows 10 might be designed to ensure tablets and laptops with little internal storage can install Windows 10 feature updates. Additionally, the Redstone 5 preview also features phone-related APIs that support functions like dialing, blocking withheld numbers, video calling, Bluetooth headset support and speakerphone mode, stoking those persistent Andromeda rumors.
Google

Gmail's Big Upgrade Featuring New Web App, Confidential Mode, Nudges, and Snooze Goes Live (venturebeat.com) 76

Google on Wednesday pushed out the biggest revamp of Gmail in years. The company is bringing to the flagship Gmail service many (but not all) of the features it trialed in Inbox for Gmail, and adding a few new ones, too. From a report: While the overhaul does usher in a new look to the Gmail web app, bringing it into the material design fold, this update is more about throwing new features into the mix than moving things around and causing confusion. G Suite -- Google's paid productivity service for businesses, which also includes Gmail -- appears to be the core focus of this update, however these features will also be made available to standard Gmail users. [...] Google is adamant that no person within the company will ever read your emails, but that doesn't mean your email content is protected from third-party infiltration. To address this, Gmail will soon offer users a dedicated "confidential mode" -- on the web and in its mobile apps -- that is designed to protect against two kinds of attacks. [...] In addition to privacy and security updates, Gmail on mobile and the web is getting a bunch of new features to help solve the perennial problem of email overload. One of those tools is "nudging," which leans on Google's AI smarts and automated processing, similar to how its spam filter works, to remind users to follow up on a message they've received.
Windows

E-Waste Innovator Will Go To Jail For Making Windows Restore Disks That Only Worked With Valid Licenses (gizmodo.com) 396

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Washington Post: California man Eric Lundgren, an electronic waste entrepreneur who produced tens of thousands of Windows restore disks intended to extend the lifespan of aging computers, lost a federal appeals court case in Miami after it ruled "he had infringed Microsoft's products to the tune of $700,000," the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. Per the Post, the appeals court ruled Lundgren's original sentence of 15 months in prison and a $50,000 fine would stay, despite the software being freely available online and only compatible with valid Windows licenses: "The appeals court upheld a federal district judge's ruling that the disks made by Eric Lundgren to restore Microsoft operating systems had a value of $25 apiece, even though they could be downloaded free and could be used only on computers with a valid Microsoft license. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit initially granted Lundgren an emergency stay of his prison sentence, shortly before he was to surrender, but then affirmed his original 15-month sentence and $50,000 fine without hearing oral argument in a ruling issued April 11." All told, the court valued 28,000 restore disks he produced at $700,000, despite testimony from software expert Glenn Weadock that they were worth essentially zero.
Robotics

A Study Finds Half of Jobs Are Vulnerable To Automation (economist.com) 193

The Economist reports of a new working paper by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that assesses the automatability of each task within a given job, based on a survey of skills in 2015. "Overall, the study finds that 14% of jobs across 32 countries are highly vulnerable, defined as having at least a 70% chance of automation," reports Economist. "A further 32% were slightly less imperiled, with a probability between 50% and 70%. At current employment rates, that puts 210 million jobs at risk across the 32 countries in the study." From the report: The pain will not be shared evenly. The study finds large variation across countries: jobs in Slovakia are twice as vulnerable as those in Norway. In general, workers in rich countries appear less at risk than those in middle-income ones. But wide gaps exist even between countries of similar wealth. Differences in organizational structure and industry mix both play a role, but the former matters more. In South Korea, for example, 30% of jobs are in manufacturing, compared with 22% in Canada. Nonetheless, on average, Korean jobs are harder to automate than Canadian ones are. This may be because Korean employers have found better ways to combine, in the same job, and without reducing productivity, both routine tasks and social and creative ones, which computers or robots cannot do. A gloomier explanation would be "survivor bias": the jobs that remain in Korea appear harder to automate only because Korean firms have already handed most of the easily automatable jobs to machines.

Slashdot Top Deals