Businesses

Comcast Confirms Plan To Buy 21st Century Fox and Control of Hulu (arstechnica.com) 2

Comcast is reportedly preparing an offer to buy major portions of 21st Century Fox, which would give it majority control of Hulu and other media properties. Ars Technica reports: Walt Disney Company already has a $52.4 billion all-stock deal to buy the 21st Century Fox properties. But Comcast was rumored to be lining up $60 billion in financing in order to make a hostile bid for the Fox assets, and Comcast's announcement today confirms it. Comcast "is considering, and is in advanced stages of preparing, an offer for the businesses that Fox has agreed to sell to Disney," Comcast's announcement said. Comcast is working on the offer in preparation for shareholder meetings in which the Disney/Fox deal will be considered.

The Fox properties for sale do not include assets such as the Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, and Fox Broadcasting Company. Those properties would be spun off into a company being referred to as "New Fox," and Comcast would acquire 21st Century Fox after the spinoff. The Fox sale to either Disney or Comcast would include 21st Century Fox's film and television studios; cable entertainment networks; the Fox Sports Regional Networks; and international properties including Star in India and Fox's 39-percent ownership of Sky across Europe. The sale would also include Fox's 30-percent stake in Hulu, the popular online video streaming service. Comcast already owns 30 percent of Hulu, so a deal with Fox would give the nation's largest cable company majority control over the online video provider.

Facebook

Facebook Asks British Users To Submit Their Nudes as Protection Against Revenge Porn (betanews.com) 90

Mark Wilson writes: Following on from a trial in Australia, Facebook is rolling out anti-revenge porn measures to the UK. In order that it can protect British users from failing victim to revenge porn, the social network is asking them to send in naked photos of themselves. The basic premise of the idea is: send us nudes, and we'll stop others from seeing them .
Transportation

Uber Shutting Down Self-Driving Operations In Arizona After Fatal Crash (azcentral.com) 33

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Arizona Republic: Uber is shutting down its self-driving car tests in Arizona, where one of the cars was involved in a fatal crash with a pedestrian in March, the company said Wednesday. The company notified about 300 Arizona workers in the self-driving program that they were being terminated just before 9 a.m. Wednesday. The shutdown should take several weeks. Test drivers for the autonomous cars have not worked since the accident in Tempe, but Uber said they continued to be paid. The company's self-driving trucks have also been shelved since the accident. Uber plans to restart testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh once federal investigators conclude their inquiry into the Tempe crash. The company also said it is having discussions with California leaders to restart testing.
United States

NYC Transit Boss Unveils Sweeping 10-Year Subway Modernization Plan (nbcnewyork.com) 39

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) on Wednesday unveiled a sweeping plan to modernize the city's subway system over the next 10 years. From a report: The proposal, which new New York City Transit President Andy Byford called "Fast Forward," centers on overhauling the mass transit network's signaling system -- some of which dates back to the early 20th century -- 30 years sooner than current Subway Action Plan.

But it won't come without a good bit of pain: sources told News 4 that Byford's plan would require entire lines to be taken out of service during overnight and weekend hours for extended periods. Byford -- who took over the task of running the city's subways and buses earlier this year -- said in an MTA meeting Wednesday that the work would be split into two five-year chunks. Over the first five years parts or all of the 4,5, 6, E, F, M, R, A, C, E and G lines would receive modern signaling systems. That would include the entirety of the Lexington Avenue line, which carries the 4, 5 and 6 trains and is the most-used mass transit line in the United States.

AI

Microsoft Also Has An AI Bot That Makes Phone Calls To Humans (theverge.com) 57

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: At an AI event in London today, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella showed off the company's Xiaoice (pronounced "SHAO-ICE") social chat bot. Microsoft has been testing Xiaoice in China, and Nadella revealed the bot has 500 million "friends" and more than 16 channels for Chinese users to interact with it through WeChat and other popular messaging services. Microsoft has turned Xiaoice, which is Chinese for "little Bing," into a friendly bot that has convinced some of its users that the bot is a friend or a human being. "Xiaoice has her own TV show, it writes poetry, and it does many interesting things," reveals Nadella. "It's a bit of a celebrity."

While most of Xiaoice's interactions have been in text conversations, Microsoft has started allowing the chat bot to call people on their phones. It's not exactly the same as Google Duplex, which uses the Assistant to make calls on your behalf, but instead it holds a phone conversation with you. "One of the things we started doing earlier this year is having full duplex conversations," explains Nadella. "So now Xiaoice can be conversing with you in WeChat and stop and call you. Then you can just talk to it using voice." (The term "full duplex" here refers to a conversation where both participants can speak at the same time; it's not a reference to Google's product, which was named after the same jargon.)

Transportation

People Are Losing Faith In Self-Driving Cars Following Recent Fatal Crashes (mashable.com) 391

oldgraybeard shares a report from Mashable: A new survey (PDF) released Tuesday by the American Automobile Association found that 73 percent of American drivers are scared to ride in an autonomous vehicle. That figure is up 10 percent from the end of last year. The millennial demographic has been the most affected, according to the survey of more than 1,000 drivers. From that age group, 64 percent said they're too afraid to ride in an autonomous vehicle, up from 49 percent -- making it the biggest increase of any age group surveyed. "There are news articles about the trust levels in self-driving cars going down," writes oldgraybeard. "As a technical person, I have always thought the road to driverless cars would be longer than most were talking about. What are your thoughts? As an individual with eye problems, I do like the idea. But technology is not as good as some think."

The Mashable article also references a separate study from market research company Morning Consult "showing increased fear about self-driving vehicles following the deadly March crashes in the Bay Area and Arizona." Another survey from car shopping site CarGurus set to be released Wednesday found that car owners aren't quite ready to trade their conventional vehicles for self-driving ones. "Some 84 percent of the 1,873 U.S. car owners surveyed in April said they were unlikely to own a self-driving car in the next five years," reports Mashable. "79 percent of respondents said they were not excited about the new technology."
Transportation

Tesla's Promised $35,000 Model 3 Is Still a Long Way Off (engadget.com) 233

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.
Facebook

European Lawmakers Asked Mark Zuckerberg Why They Shouldn't Break Up Facebook (theverge.com) 196

European lawmakers questioned Mark Zuckerberg in Brussels today for almost an hour and a half, asking him to address concerns about the Cambridge Analytica data leak and Facebook's potential monopoly. German MEP Manfred Weber asked whether the Facebook CEO could name a single European alternative to his "empire," which includes apps like WhatsApp and Instagram in addition to Facebook. "I think it's time to discuss breaking up Facebook's monopoly, because it's already too much power in only one hand," said Weber. "So I ask you simple, and that is my final question: can you convince me not to do so?" Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt then chimed in and asked whether Facebook would cooperate with European antitrust authorities to determine whether the company was indeed a monopoly, and if it was, whether Facebook would accept splitting off WhatsApp or Messenger to remedy the problem. The Verge reports: The panel's format let Zuckerberg selectively reply to questions at the end of the session, and he didn't address Verhofstadt's points. Instead, he broadly outlined how Facebook views "competition" in various spaces. "We exist in a very competitive space where people use a lot of different tools for communication," said Zuckerberg. "From where I sit, it feels like there are new competitors coming up every day" in the messaging and social networking space. He also said that Facebook didn't hold an advertising monopoly because it only controlled 6 percent of the global advertising market. (It's worth noting: this is still a huge number.) And he argued that Facebook promoted competition by making it easier for small businesses to reach larger audiences -- which is basically unrelated to the question of whether Facebook itself is a monopoly.
The Courts

Yelp Files New EU Complaint Against Google Over Search Dominance (ft.com) 70

Yelp has filed a complaint with the EU's antitrust watchdog against Google, arguing that the search company has abused its dominance in local search and pressuring Brussels to launch new charges against the tech giant, Financial Times reported Tuesday. From the report: European antitrust authorities fined Google $2.8B in June 2017 for favouring its own shopping service over rival offerings in its search results. Google denied wrongdoing and has appealed that decision. Now Yelp, which provides user ratings, reviews and other information about local businesses, wants Margrethe Vestager, the EU Competition Commissioner, to take action against Google for similar alleged abuse in the local search market, according to a copy of the complaint seen by the Financial Times. The move comes days after Yelp founder Jeremy Stopplelman appeared on 60 Minutes to talk about Google's search monopoly. Here's the exchange he had with reporter Steve Kroft: Jeremy Stoppelman: If I were starting out today, I would have no shot of building Yelp. That opportunity has been closed off by Google and their approach.
Steve Kroft: In what way?
Jeremy Stoppelman: Because if you provide great content in one of these categories that is lucrative to Google, and seen as potentially threatening, they will snuff you out.
Steve Kroft: What do you mean snuff you out?
Jeremy Stoppelman: They will make you disappear. They will bury you.

Businesses

Amazon Pushes Facial Recognition to Police, Prompting Outcry Over Surveillance (nytimes.com) 141

Nick Wingfield, reporting for The New York Times: In late 2016, Amazon introduced a new online service that could help identify faces and other objects in images, offering it to anyone at a low cost through its giant cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services. Not long after, it began pitching the technology to law enforcement agencies, saying the program could aid criminal investigations by recognizing suspects in photos and videos. It used a couple of early customers, like the Orlando Police Department in Florida and the Washington County Sheriff's Office in Oregon, to encourage other officials to sign up.

But now that aggressive push is putting the giant tech company at the center of an increasingly heated debate around the role of facial recognition in law enforcement. Fans of the technology see a powerful new tool for catching criminals, but detractors see an instrument of mass surveillance. On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union led a group of more than two dozen civil rights organizations that asked Amazon to stop selling its image recognition system, called Rekognition, to law enforcement. The group says that the police could use it to track protesters or others whom authorities deem suspicious, rather than limiting it to people committing crimes.

Security

Google and Microsoft Disclose New CPU Flaw, and the Fix Can Slow Machines Down (theverge.com) 83

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Microsoft and Google are jointly disclosing a new CPU security vulnerability that's similar to the Meltdown and Spectre flaws that were revealed earlier this year. Labelled Speculative Store Bypass (variant 4), the latest vulnerability is a similar exploit to Spectre and exploits speculative execution that modern CPUs use. Browsers like Safari, Edge, and Chrome were all patched for Meltdown earlier this year, and Intel says "these mitigations are also applicable to variant 4 and available for consumers to use today." However, unlike Meltdown (and more similar to Spectre) this new vulnerability will also include firmware updates for CPUs that could affect performance. Intel has already delivered microcode updates for Speculative Store Bypass in beta form to OEMs, and the company expects them to be more broadly available in the coming weeks. The firmware updates will set the Speculative Store Bypass protection to off-by-default, ensuring that most people won't see negative performance impacts.

"If enabled, we've observed a performance impact of approximately 2-8 percent based on overall scores for benchmarks like SYSmark 2014 SE and SPEC integer rate on client 1 and server 2 test systems," explains Leslie Culbertson, Intel's security chief. As a result, end users (and particularly system administrators) will have to pick between security or optimal performance. The choice, like previous variants of Spectre, will come down to individual systems and servers, and the fact that this new variant appears to be less of a risk than the CPU flaws that were discovered earlier this year.

Businesses

US Treasury Secretary Calls For Google Monopoly Probe (theregister.co.uk) 86

After a 60 Minutes episode that focused on Google and its effective search monopoly, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin called for large tech companies to be investigated for potential antitrust violations. Asked whether Google was abusing its market dominance as a monopoly, Mnuchin told CNBC on Monday "these are issues that the Justice Department needs to look at seriously," and argued that it was important to "look at the power they have" noting that companies like Google "have a greater and greater impact on the economy." The Register reports: Mnuchin's willingness to directly criticize Google and other tech companies and argue that they should be under investigation is just the latest sign that Washington DC is serious about digging in the market power of Big Internet. It is notable that it was 20 years ago, almost to the day, that America finally dealt with another tech antitrust problem when the Justice Department and 20 state attorneys general filed suit -- on May 18, 1998 -- against what was then the most powerful tech company in the country: Microsoft.
Communications

FCC is Hurting Consumers To Help Corporations, Mignon Clyburn Says On Exit (arstechnica.com) 96

Former Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who left the agency this month, has taken aim at it in an interview, saying the agency has abandoned its mission to safeguard consumers and protect their privacy and speech. From her interview with ArsTechnica: "I'm an old Trekkie," Clyburn told Ars in a phone interview, while comparing the FCC's responsibility to the Star Trek fictional universe's Prime Directive. "I go back to my core, my prime directive of putting consumers first." If the FCC doesn't do all it can to bring affordable communications services to everyone in the US, "our mission will not be realized," she said. The FCC's top priority, as set out by the Communications Act, is to make sure all Americans have "affordable, efficient, and effective" access to communications services, Clyburn said. But too often, the FCC's Republican majority led by Chairman Ajit Pai is prioritizing the desires of corporations over consumers, Clyburn said. "I don't believe it's accidental that we are called regulators," she said. "Some people at the federal level try to shy away from that title. I embrace it."

Clyburn said that deregulation isn't bad in markets with robust competition, because competition itself can protect consumers. But "that is just not the case" in broadband, she said. "Let's just face it, [Internet service providers] are last-mile monopolies," she told Ars. "In an ideal world, we wouldn't need regulation. We don't live in an ideal world, all markets are not competitive, and when that is the case, that is why agencies like the FCC were constructed. We are here as a substitute for competition." Broadband regulators should strike a balance that protects consumers and promotes investment from large and small companies, she said. "If you don't regulate appropriately, things go too far one way or the other, and we either have prices that are too high or an insufficient amount of resources or applications or services to meet the needs of Americans," Clyburn said.

Google

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin Wants Justice Department To Scrutinize Big Tech (cnbc.com) 127

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Monday joined the growing chorus of government officials concerned about tech monopolies. From a report: When asked if Google is a monopoly, Mnuchin said, "These are issues that the Justice Department needs to look at seriously -- not for any one company -- but obviously as these technology companies have a greater and greater impact on the economy, I think that you have to look at the power they have," Mnuchin told CNBC's "Squawk Box." Mnuchin acknowledged that antitrust matters don't fall under his jurisdiction, but said someone ought to be looking. His comments come on the heels of a "60 Minutes" segment on Google's unparalleled market share in online search. The Sunday night spot included an interview with Jeremy Stoppelman, co-founder of Yelp, which he said "would have no shot" if it were being built today.
AI

New Toronto Declaration Calls On Algorithms To Respect Human Rights 164

A coalition of human rights and technology groups released a new declaration on machine learning standards, calling on both governments and tech companies to ensure that algorithms respect basic principles of equality and non-discrimination. The Verge reports: Called The Toronto Declaration, the document focuses on the obligation to prevent machine learning systems from discriminating, and in some cases violating, existing human rights law. The declaration was announced as part of the RightsCon conference, an annual gathering of digital and human rights groups. "We must keep our focus on how these technologies will affect individual human beings and human rights," the preamble reads. "In a world of machine learning systems, who will bear accountability for harming human rights?" The declaration has already been signed by Amnesty International, Access Now, Human Rights Watch, and the Wikimedia Foundation. More signatories are expected in the weeks to come.

Beyond general non-discrimination practices, the declaration focuses on the individual right to remedy when algorithmic discrimination does occur. "This may include, for example, creating clear, independent, and visible processes for redress following adverse individual or societal effects," the declaration suggests, "[and making decisions] subject to accessible and effective appeal and judicial review."

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