Democrats

Democrats Propose New Competition Laws That Would 'Break Up Big Companies If They're Hurting Consumers' (arstechnica.com) 79

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Senate and House Democratic leaders today proposed new antitrust laws that could prevent many of the biggest mergers and break up monopolies in broadband and other industries. "Right now our antitrust laws are designed to allow huge corporations to merge, padding the pockets of investors but sending costs skyrocketing for everything from cable bills and airline tickets to food and health care," US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wrote in a New York Times opinion piece. "We are going to fight to allow regulators to break up big companies if they're hurting consumers and to make it harder for companies to merge if it reduces competition." The "Better Deal" unveiled by Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was described in several documents that can be found in an Axios story. The plan for "cracking down on corporate monopolies" lists five industries that Democrats say are in particular need of change, specifically airlines, cable and telecom, the beer industry, food, and eyeglasses. The Democrats' plan for lowering the cost of prescription drugs is detailed in a separate document. The Democrats didn't single out any internet providers that they want broken up, but they did say they want to stop AT&T's proposed $85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner: "Consolidation in the telecommunications is not just between cable or phone providers; increasingly, large firms are trying to buy up content providers. Currently, AT&T is trying to buy Time Warner. If AT&T succeeds in this deal, it will have more power to restrict the content access of its 135 million wireless and 25.5 million pay-TV subscribers. This will only enable the resulting behemoths to promote their own programming, unfairly discriminate against other distributors and their ability to offer highly desired content, and further restrict small businesses from successfully competing in the market."
Businesses

Pittsburgh Gets a Tech Makeover (nytimes.com) 38

An anonymous reader shares a report: In 2015, Monocle magazine, a favorite read of the global hipsterati, published an enthusiastic report on Lawrenceville, the former blue-collar neighborhood here filled with cafes, hyped restaurants and brick rowhouses being renovated by flippers. Last year, in a much-publicized development, Uber began testing self-driving cars on the streets, putting this city at the forefront of the autonomous-vehicle revolution. Also last year, in a less publicized development, Jean Yang, 30, returned to this city after more than a decade of living in Boston, finding a Pittsburgh she hardly recognized from her 1990s childhood. And four months ago, Caesar Wirth, a 28-year-old software engineer, moved from Tokyo to work for a local tech start-up, Duolingo. These seemingly unrelated events have one thing in common: Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science. Much has been made of the "food boom" in Pittsburgh, and the city has long had a thriving arts scene. But perhaps the secret, underlying driver for both the economy and the cool factor -- the reason Pittsburgh now gets mentioned alongside Brooklyn and Portland, Ore., as an urban hot spot for millennials -- isn't chefs or artists but geeks. In a 2014 article in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mayor Bill Peduto compared Carnegie Mellon, along with the University of Pittsburgh, to the iron ore factories that made this city an industrial power in the 19th century. The schools are the local resource "churning out that talent" from which the city is fueled. Because of the top students and research professors at Carnegie Mellon, tech companies like Apple, Facebook, Google and Uber have opened offices here. The big tech firms, along with their highly skilled, highly paid workers, have made Pittsburgh younger and more international and helped to transform once-derelict neighborhoods like Lawrenceville and East Liberty. Indeed, East Liberty has become something of a tech hub, said Luis von Ahn, the co-founder and chief executive of Duolingo, a language-learning platform company with its headquarters in that neighborhood. Google Pittsburgh, with its more than 500 employees, also has part of its offices in East Liberty, as does AlphaLab, a start-up accelerator.
AI

Quest for AI Leadership Pushes Microsoft Further Into Chip Development (bloomberg.com) 32

From a Bloomberg report: Tech companies are keen to bring cool artificial intelligence features to phones and augmented reality goggles -- the ability to show mechanics how to fix an engine, say, or tell tourists what they are seeing and hearing in their own language. But there's one big challenge: how to manage the vast quantities of data that make such feats possible without making the devices too slow or draining the battery in minutes and wrecking the user experience. Microsoft says it has the answer with a chip design for its HoloLens goggles -- an extra AI processor that analyzes what the user sees and hears right there on the device rather than wasting precious microseconds sending the data back to the cloud. The new processor, a version of the company's existing Holographic Processing Unit, is being unveiled at an event in Honolulu, Hawaii, today. The chip is under development and will be included in the next version of HoloLens; the company didn't provide a date. This is one of the few times Microsoft is playing all roles (except manufacturing) in developing a new processor. The company says this is the first chip of its kind designed for a mobile device. Bringing chipmaking in-house is increasingly in vogue as companies conclude that off-the-shelf processors aren't capable of fully unleashing the potential of AI. Apple is testing iPhone prototypes that include a chip designed to process AI, a person familiar with the work said in May. Google is on the second version of its own AI chips. To persuade people to buy the next generation of gadgets -- phones, VR headsets, even cars -- the experience will have to be lightning fast and seamless.
Programming

How a VC-Funded Company Is Undermining the Open-Source Community (theoutline.com) 76

Adrianne Jeffries, reporting for The Outline: Is a $4 million venture capital-funded startup stealthily taking over popular coding tools and injecting ads and spyware into them? That's what some programmers fear may be happening. It is one of the most troubling scandals to hit the open-source community -- a robust network of programmers who work on shared tools for free -- in recent memory. It started back in April, when a programmer noticed a strange change to an open-source tool called Minimap. Minimap has had more than 3.5 million downloads, but like many open-source tools, it was maintained by a single person who no one knew much about other than their username: @abe33. At some point, @abe33, whose real name is Cedric Nehemie, was hired by Kite. Kite was started by Adam Smith, a successful tech entrepreneur who raised funding from a slew of big names including the CEO of Dropbox and the creator of WordPress. It is unclear what Kite's business model is, but it says it uses machine-learning techniques to make coding tools. Its tools are not open source. After being hired by Kite, @abe33 made an update to Minimap. The update was titled "Implement Kite promotion," and it appeared to look at a user's code and insert links to related pages on Kite's website. Kite called this a useful feature. Programmers said it was not useful and was therefore just an ad for an unrelated service, something many programmers would consider a violation of the open-source spirit. "It's not a feature, it's advertising -- and people don't want it, you want it," wrote user @p-e-w. "The least you can do is own up to that." "I have to wonder if your goal was to upset enough people that you'd generate real attention on various news sites and get Kite a ton of free publicity before your next funding round," @DevOpsJohn wrote. "That's the only sane explanation I can find for suddenly dropping ads into the core of one of the oldest and most useful Atom plugins." [...] Although Kite has no business model yet, it's widely thought in Silicon Valley that having users is the first step toward profitability. Adding users potentially benefits the company in another way, by giving it access to precious data. Kite says it uses machine learning tactics to make the best coding helper tools possible. In order to do that, it needs tons of data to learn from. The more code it can look at, the better its autocomplete suggestions will get, for example.
Wireless Networking

Ask Slashdot: How Can You Avoid Routers With Locked Firmware? 294

thejynxed writes: Awhile ago the FCC in the USA implemented a rule that required manufacturers to restrict end-users from tampering with the radio outputs on wi-fi routers. It was predicted that manufacturers would take the lazy way out by locking down the firmware/bootloaders of the routers entirely instead of partitioning off access to the radio transmit power and channel ranges. This has apparently proven to be the case, as even now routers that were previously marketed as "Open Source Ready" or "DD-WRT Compatible" are coming with locked firmware.

In my case, having noticed this trend, I purchased three routers from Belkin, Buffalo, and Netgear in Canada, the UK, and Germany respectively, instead of the USA, and the results: All three routers had locked firmware/bootloaders, with no downgrade rights and no way to install Tomato, DD-WRT, OpenWRT, etc. It seems the FCC rule is an example of the wide-reaching effect of US law on the products sold in other nations, etc. So, does anyone know a good source of unlocked routers or other technical information on how to bypass this ridiculous outcome of FCC over-reach and manufacturer laziness?

The FCC later specified that they were not trying to block Open Source firmware modifications -- so leave your best suggestions in the comments. How can you avoid routers with locked firmware?
Businesses

Are Nondisparagement Agreements Silencing Employee Complaints? (cnbc.com) 180

cdreimer writes, "According to a report in the New York Times, 'nondisparagement agreements are increasingly included in employment contracts and legal settlements' to hide abuses that would otherwise be made public." The Times reports: Employment lawyers say nondisparagement agreements have helped enable a culture of secrecy. In particular, the tech start-up world has been roiled by accounts of workplace sexual harassment, and nondisparagement clauses have played a significant role in keeping those accusations secret... Nondisparagement clauses are not limited to legal settlements. They are increasingly found in standard employment contracts in many industries, sometimes in a simple offer letter that helps to create a blanket of silence around a company. Their use has become particularly widespread in tech employment contracts, from venture investment firms and start-ups to the biggest companies in Silicon Valley, including Google... Employees increasingly "have to give up their constitutional right to speak freely about their experiences if they want to be part of the work force," said Nancy E. Smith, a partner at the law firm Smith Mullin.
Three different tech industry employees told the Times "they are not allowed to acknowledge that the agreements even exist." And Google "declined to comment" for the article.
AI

Mozilla's New Open Source Voice-Recognition Project Wants Your Voice (mashable.com) 55

An anonymous reader quotes Mashable: Mozilla is building a massive repository of voice recordings for the voice apps of the future -- and it wants you to add yours to the collection. The organization behind the Firefox browser is launching Common Voice, a project to crowdsource audio samples from the public. The goal is to collect about 10,000 hours of audio in various accents and make it publicly available for everyone... Mozilla hopes to hand over the public dataset to independent developers so they can harness the crowdsourced audio to build the next generation of voice-powered apps and speech-to-text programs... You can also help train the speech-to-text capabilities by validating the recordings already submitted to the project. Just listen to a short clip, and report back if text on the screen matches what you heard... Mozilla says it aims is to expand the tech beyond just a standard voice recognition experience, including multiple accents, demographics and eventually languages for more accessible programs. Past open source voice-recognition projects have included Sphinx 4 and VoxForge, but unfortunately most of today's systems are still "locked up behind proprietary code at various companies, such as Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft."
Music

Steve Jobs' Life Is Now An Opera (cnn.com) 74

An anonymous reader quotes CNN's report on a new project from Pulitzer Prize-winning librettist Mark Campbell: "The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs" is set to open on Saturday night at the Santa Fe Opera, home to the largest summer-opera festival in U.S. The high-tech production, which runs until August 26, jumps in and out of key moments in the Apple founder's life, from early product-development days alongside Steve Wozniak and the launch of the original iPhone, to his wedding day with Laurene Powell Jobs... The opera features an electronic score, developed by Mason Bates, that incorporates sounds from the products Jobs created, including the audio synonymous with turning on an early Macintosh computer. The libretto, or operatic script, doesn't call out words like Apple or iPhone due to copyright issues; instead, it uses descriptors like "one device" to reference the smartphone. "Only one device, does it all," the libretto reads. "In one hand, all your need. One device. Communication, entertainment, illumination, connection, interaction, navigation, inspiration..."
One scene in the high-tech production shows Jobs standing in his family's garage on his 10th birthday. When his father gives him a workbench, the walls around them light up into video screens...
Programming

Drupal Developers Still Rebelling Against Drupal Leadership 92

New submitter cornholed writes: In an update to previous posts on Slashdot, prominent Drupal and PHP Developer Larry Garfield is still defending his reputation against allegations by Drupal leadership against sexual misconduct. As previously reported by a variety of news organizations, Larry was exiled from the Drupal project for adherence to the Gor sci-fi lifestyle.

In the latest round of allegations, Garfield was reportedly asked to resign because an autistic "woman who attended Drupal community events ... was allowed to contribute by him". While some have accused Dries Buytart and the Drupal Association of "Autism Shaming", the leader of the Drupal project claims "this person could be vulnerable and may have been subject to exploitation", hence raising the risk of legal damage to the Drupal project. Larry refutes these allegations, saying these claims are post-hoc and has shared police reports purporting his innocence.

There is still much debate in the Drupal community around why Larry was ejected from his leadership positions. While there's much speculation over Larry's ouster, there is one thing for certain: become a leader in the OSS community and a dossier on your public statements just might be made about you.
Businesses

Google, Apple, Amazon Hit Record Lobbying Highs (axios.com) 84

An anonymous reader shares a report: The last three months brought record-high lobbying spending from four major tech companies: Google spent $5.93 million, Apple spent $2.2 million, Amazon spent $3.21 million, Uber spent $430,000. Facebook spent $2.38 million this quarter, up from the same period last year but far from a record. Microsoft's bill for the quarter was just over $2 million.
Transportation

Lyft Launches a New Self-driving Division and Will Develop Its Own Autonomous Ride-hailing Technology (techcrunch.com) 49

An anonymous reader shares a report: Lyft is betting the future of the road centers on sharing autonomous vehicles. It aims to be at the forefront of that technology with a new self-driving division and a self-driving system car manufacturers could plug into their self-driving cars. The company expects to hire "hundreds" of people for the new division by the end of next year and has just signed a lease for 50,000-square-feet on the first floor of a Palo Alto facility where it plans to build out several labs and open testing spaces. The building Lyft refers to as "Level 5" will be developing its new "open self-driving platform" and a combination hardware and software system still in development. Lyft hopes auto manufacturers will then bring in a fleet of autonomous cars to its ride-hailing network. The plan is somewhat similar to one Uber announced earlier. Lyft's larger rival uses Volvo's XC90 to test its self-driving tech on the roads. Uber announced earlier this year it was also partnering with Daimler to operate self-driving cars on its network.
The Courts

Judge Rules That Government Can Force Glassdoor To Unmask Anonymous Users Online (arstechnica.com) 130

pogopop77 shares a report from Ars Technica: An appeals court will soon decide whether the U.S. government can unmask anonymous users of Glassdoor -- and the entire proceeding is set to happen in secret. Federal investigators sent a subpoena asking for the identities of more than 100 anonymous users of the business-review site Glassdoor, who apparently posted reviews of a company that's under investigation for potential fraud related to its contracting practices. The government later scaled back its demand to just eight users. Prosecutors believe these eight Glassdoor users are "third-party witnesses to certain business practices relevant to [the] investigation." The name of the company under investigation is redacted from all public briefs. Glassdoor made a compromise proposal to the government: it would notify the users in question about the government's subpoena and then provide identifying information about users who were willing to participate. The government rejected that idea. At that point, Glassdoor lawyered up and headed to court, seeking to have the subpoena thrown out. Lawyers for Glassdoor argued that its users have a First Amendment right to speak anonymously. While the company has "no desire to interfere" with the investigation, if its users were forcibly identified, the investigation "could have a chilling effect on both Glassdoor's reviewers' and readers' willingness to use glassdoor.com," states Glassdoor's motion (PDF). The government opposed the motion, though, and prevailed in district court.
Encryption

Apple Flies Top Privacy Executives Into Australia To Lobby Against Proposed Encryption Laws (patentlyapple.com) 64

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Patently Apple: Last week Patently Apple posted a report titled "Australia proposed new Laws Compelling Companies like Facebook & Apple to Provide Access to Encrypted Messages." Days later, Australia's Prime Minister spoke about the encryption problem with the Australian press as noted in the video in our report. Now we're learning that Apple has flown in top executives to lobby Turnbull government on encryption laws. It sounds like a showdown is on the horizon. This is the second time this month that Apple has flown executives into Australia to lobby the government according to a Sydney publication. Apple executives met with Attorney-General George Brandis and senior staff in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's office on Tuesday to discuss the company's concerns about the legal changes, which could see tech companies compelled to provide access to locked phones and third party messaging applications. Apple has argued in the meetings that as a starting point it does not want the updated laws to block tech companies from using encryption on their devices, nor for companies to have to provide decryption keys to allow access to secure communications. The company has argued that if it is compelled to provide a software "back door" into its phones to help law enforcement agencies catch criminals and terrorists, this would reduce the security for all users. It also says it has provided significant assistance to police agencies engaged in investigations, when asked. UPDATE 07/20/17: Headline has been updated to clarify that Apple is lobbying against the proposed encryption laws in Australia.
Youtube

YouTube Will Now Redirect Searches For Extremist Videos To Anti-Terrorist Playlists (tubefilter.com) 135

YouTube will return anti-terrorist playlists when users search for hateful content on the site using certain keywords pertaining to terrorism. Tubefilter.com reports: The new feature, dubbed The Redirect Method, is part of a four-prong strategy announced by Google last month to quash extremist ideologies across its platforms. The Redirect Method was developed by Jigsaw -- an Alphabet subsidiary whose mission is to counter extremism, censorship, and cyber attacks -- alongside another tech company called Moonshot CVE (which stands for "Countering Violent Extremism"). Jigsaw and Moonshot CVE developed the tech after studying, over several years, how terrorist factions like ISIS leverage technology to spread their messaging and recruit new followers. In coming weeks, YouTube says it intends to incorporate The Redirect Method into a wider set of search queries in languages beyond English, use machine learning to dynamically update search terms, work with partner NGOs to develop new anti-extremist content, and roll out the Method to Europe.
Microsoft

Apple, Google and Microsoft Are Hoarding $464 Billion In Cash (cnn.com) 256

Apple, Google and Microsoft are sitting on a mountain of cash -- and most of it is stashed far away from the taxman. Those three tech behemoths held a total of $464 billion in cash at the end of last year, according to a Moody's report published this week. From a report: Apple alone had a stunning quarter-trillion dollars of cash thanks to years of gigantic profits and few major acquisitions. That's enough money to buy Netflix three times. It's also more cash than what's sitting on the balance sheet of every major industry except tech and health care. All told, non-financial U.S. companies studied by Moody's hoarded $1.84 trillion of cash at the end of last year. That's up 11% from 2015 and nearly two and a half times the 2008 level. Roughly $1.3 trillion -- 70% of the total -- is being held overseas, where the money isn't subject to U.S. taxes. Apple, Google owner Alphabet, Microsoft, Cisco, and Oracle hold 88% of their cash overseas. Moody's said the tower of money stashed abroad reflects the "negative tax consequences of permanently repatriating money to the U.S."

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