How Technology Caught the Austin Serial Bomber (foxnews.com) 92

Wednesday police in Austin, Texas finally located the "serial bomber" believed to be responsible for six package bombs which killed two people over the last three weeks. "The operation was aided by different uses of technology, including surveillance cameras and cell phone triangulation." An anonymous reader shares this article: The suspect, who has been identified as 24-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt, was killed near the motel he was traced to thanks to surveillance footage from a Federal Express drop-off store, The Austin American-Stateman reported. The authorities were able to gather information after police noticed the subject shipped an explosive device from a Sunset Valley FedEx store, a suburb approximately 25 minutes away from Austin. The evidence included the security footage from the store, as well as store receipts obtained showing suspicious transactions. The authorities were also able to look at the individual's Google search history, the Statesman noted, which gave them further insight into his dealings...

The authorities were also able to use cell phone triangulation technology, which provides a cell phone's location data via information collected from nearby cell towers... The phone's GPS capabilities can track the phone within 5 to 10 feet and can also provide "historical" or "prospective" location information. It can also "ping" the phone, forcing it to reveal its exact location... As cell phone companies store this type of data, law enforcement authorities must request it via the appropriate court processes.

"Authorities in Austin were able to use this technology to trace the suspect to a hotel in Williamson County."

Uber's Self-Driving Cars Were Struggling Before Arizona Crash (nytimes.com) 210

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: Uber's robotic vehicle project was not living up to expectations months before a self-driving car operated by the company struck and killed a woman in Tempe, Ariz. The cars were having trouble driving through construction zones and next to tall vehicles, like big rigs. And Uber's human drivers had to intervene far more frequently than the drivers of competing autonomous car projects. Waymo, formerly the self-driving car project of Google, said that in tests on roads in California last year, its cars went an average of nearly 5,600 miles before the driver had to take control from the computer to steer out of trouble. As of March, Uber was struggling to meet its target of 13 miles per "intervention" in Arizona (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source), according to 100 pages of company documents obtained by The New York Times and two people familiar with the company's operations in the Phoenix area but not permitted to speak publicly about it. Yet Uber's test drivers were being asked to do more -- going on solo runs when they had worked in pairs. And there also was pressure to live up to a goal to offer a driverless car service by the end of the year and to impress top executives.

Apple To Unveil a Cheaper iPad Next Week At Its Educational Event 67

Apple is holding an education-focused event on Tuesday where it's expected to launch a "low-cost iPad" alongside new education software. The goal is to win back students and teachers who have adopted similar products/services from rivals Google and Microsoft. Bloomberg reports: In its first major product event of the year, Apple will return to its roots in the education market. The event on Tuesday at Lane Technical College Prep High School in Chicago will mark the first time Apple has held a product launch geared toward education since 2012 when it unveiled a tool for designing e-books for the iPad. It's also a rare occasion for an Apple confab outside its home state of California. In Chicago, the world's most-valuable technology company plans to show off a new version of its cheapest iPad that should appeal to the education market, said people familiar with the matter. The company will also showcase new software for the classroom, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private plans. Apple declined to comment.

EA Created An AI That Taught Itself To Play Battlefield (kotaku.com) 57

Electronic Arts' Search for Extraordinary Experiences (SEED) Division has created a "self-learning AI-agent" that has managed to teach itself how to play Battlefield 1 multiplayer. From a report: In this blog post, Magnus Nordin from SEED details how his team, inspired by Google's work with old Atari games, wondered "how much effort it would take to have a self-learning agent learn to play a modern and more complex first person AAA game like Battlefield." So they tried to find out. The results are an "agent" that, while inferior to human players, "is pretty proficient at the basic Battlefield gameplay." The agent changes behaviour if it's low on health or ammo, and while more complex behaviours like knowing the details of each map are beyond it (at the moment), EA has found that "while the human players outperformed the agents, it wasn't a complete blowout by any stretch."

Some Galaxy S9/S9+ Units Have Large Dead Zones On the Touchscreen (androidpolice.com) 30

hyperclocker shares a report from Android Police: The touchscreen on your phone is the primary way you interact with it, so it absolutely needs to work. That makes problems like so-called "dead zones" or ignored/unregistered inputs among the most annoying out there. Based on reports, many are running into those types of touchscreen input problems with Samsung's Galaxy S9+. It's tough to tell precisely how common the problem might be. Few users are as apt to report issues as Pixel-purchasers, so we can't quite compare things against our coverage for Google's hardware. But from what we have seen in places like Reddit, it's reasonably widespread. The problem manifests as you'd expect: a chunk of the touchscreen's digitizer just doesn't seem to work. Interestingly, not all users are reporting issues with the same physical areas of the display. For some, it's the top of the screen that isn't accepting input -- resulting in an inability to pull down the notification tray -- but for others, it's the bottom of the screen that's wonking out in the traditional keyboard input area. A few people have been able to diminish the effect by cranking up the touchscreen sensitivity, and there's at least one report of a factory reset fixing things. But for many, the problem persists between wipes. Worse, some people with the problem have experienced further issues seeking help via Samsung's support process if a trade-in was involved. Samsung has released a statement concerning these reports: "At Samsung, customer satisfaction is core to our business and we aim to deliver the best possible experience. We are looking into a limited number of reports of Galaxy S9/S9+ touchscreen responsiveness issues. We are working with affected customers and investigating. We encourage any customer with questions to contact us directly at 1-800-SAMSUNG."

Google Is Buying Innovative Camera Startup Lytro For $40 Million (techcrunch.com) 36

According to TechCrunch, Google is acquiring Lytro, the imaging startup that began as a ground-breaking camera company for consumers before pivoting to use its depth-data, light-field technology in VR. From the report: One source described the deal as an "asset sale" with Lytro going for no more than $40 million. Another source said the price was even lower: $25 million and that it was shopped around -- to Facebook, according to one source; and possibly to Apple, according to another. A separate person told us that not all employees are coming over with the company's technology: some have already received severance and parted ways with the company, and others have simply left. Assets would presumably also include Lytro's 59 patents related to light-field and other digital imaging technology. The sale would be far from a big win for Lytro and its backers. The startup has raised just over $200 million in funding and was valued at around $360 million after its last round in 2017, according to data from PitchBook. Its long list of investors include Andreessen Horowitz, Foxconn, GSV, Greylock, NEA, Qualcomm Ventures and many more. Rick Osterloh, SVP of hardware at Google, sits on Lytro's board. A pricetag of $40 million is not quite the exit that was envisioned for the company when it first launched its camera concept, and in the words of investor Ben Horowitz, "blew my brains to bits."

YouTube Will 'Frustrate' Some Users With Ads So They Pay for Music (bloomberg.com) 191

YouTube will increase the number of ads that some users see between music videos, part of a strategy to convince more of its billion-plus viewers to pay for a forthcoming subscription music service from the Google-owned video site. Bloomberg: People who treat YouTube like a music service, those passively listening for long periods of time, will encounter more ads, according to Lyor Cohen, the company's global head of music. "You're not going to be happy after you are jamming 'Stairway to Heaven' and you get an ad right after that," Cohen said in an interview at the South by Southwest music festival. Cohen is trying to prove that YouTube is committed to making people pay for music and silence the "noise" about his company's purported harm to the recording industry. The labels companies have long criticized YouTube for hosting videos that violate copyrights, and not paying artists and record companies enough.

Amazon Passes Alphabet To Become the World's Second Most Valuable Company (cnbc.com) 33

Amazon has passed Alphabet to become the second most valuable company in the world. Apple remains the only other company more valuable than Amazon. CNBC reports: The e-commerce giant rose 2.7 percent on Tuesday lifting its stock market value to $768 billion. Alphabet, the parent of Google, fell 0.4 percent and is now valued at $762.5 billion. While the U.S. tech mega-caps have rallied in the past year, Amazon's performance has dwarfed them all, with the stock surging 85 percent over the past 12 months, including 35 percent to start 2018. Investors have been piling into Amazon, betting that the company's growing and very profitable cloud computing business will provide the cash needed for investments in original content, physical stores and continuing to build data centers and warehouses.

Police Chief: Uber Self-Driving Car 'Likely' Not At Fault In Fatal Crash (arstechnica.com) 523

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The chief of the Tempe Police has told the San Francisco Chronicle that Uber is likely not responsible for the Sunday evening crash that killed 49-year-old pedestrian Elaine Herzberg. "I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident," said Chief Sylvia Moir. Herzberg was "pushing a bicycle laden with plastic shopping bags," according to the Chronicle's Carolyn Said, when she "abruptly walked from a center median into a lane of traffic." After viewing video captured by the Uber vehicle, Moir concluded that "it's very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway." Moir added that "it is dangerous to cross roadways in the evening hour when well-illuminated, managed crosswalks are available." The police said that the vehicle was traveling 38 miles per hour in a 35 mile-per-hour zone, according to the Chronicle -- though a Google Street View shot of the roadway taken last July shows a speed limit of 45 miles per hour along that stretch of road.

Google Launches a News Initiative To Fight False News and Help Publishers Make Money (cnbc.com) 102

Google is launching the Google News Initiative, a journalism-focused program that will help publishers earn revenue and combat fake news. From a report: The initiative, announced Tuesday, will offer publications another monetization model online called Subscribe with Google, as well as work with established universities and groups to combat misinformation. It will also introduce an open-source tool called Outline, which will make it easier for news organizations to set up secure access to the internet for their journalists. Google said it was committing $300 million over the next three years to the project, though it did not elaborate on how the resources would be spent.

The company said it paid $12.6 billion to news organizations and drove 10 billion clicks a month to their websites for free last year. Subscribe with Google will make it easier for readers to pay for content from news organizations that have agreed to partner with the company. FT.com, The Washington Post, and McClatchy Company publications including the Miami Herald are among the 17 launch partners.

The Almighty Buck

Google Makes Push To Turn Product Searches Into Cash (reuters.com) 66

Reuters reports of how Google is working to turn product searches into cash by partnering with some of the largest retailers in the United States: Under a new program, retailers can list their products on Google Search, as well as on the Google Express shopping service, and Google Assistant on mobile phones and voice devices. In exchange for Google listings and linking to retailer loyalty programs, the retailers pay Google a piece of each purchase, which is different from payments that retailers make to place ads on Google platforms. The listings will appear under sponsored shopping results and will not affect regular search results on Google, the company said. Google's pitch to retailers is a better chance to influence shoppers' purchasing decisions, a move that is likely to help them compete with rival Amazon. Google hopes the program helps retailers capture more purchases on desktop, cell phones and smart home devices with voice search -- the next frontier for e-commerce. The previously unreported initiative sprang from Google's observation that tens of millions of consumers were sending image searches of products, asking "Where can I buy this?" "Where can I find it?" "How can I buy it?" "How do I transact?" Daniel Alegre, Google's president for retail and shopping, told Reuters exclusively.

Twitter Will Ban Most Cryptocurrency-Related Ads (axios.com) 35

An anonymous reader writes: Twitter plans to ban most cryptocurrency-related ads in the next few weeks, as Sky News first reported and a source confirms to Axios. Why it matters: The recent boom in cryptocurrencies and digital tokens has unsurprisingly attracted some fraudsters. Twitter is following in the footsteps of Facebook and Google, though it's been having its own problems with accounts promoting scams.
Open Source

Microsoft Joins Group Working To 'Cure' Open-Source Licensing Issues (zdnet.com) 102

Microsoft is joining Red Hat, Facebook, Google and IBM in committing to extending right to "cure" open source licensing noncompliance before taking legal measures. From a report: On March 19, officials from Microsoft -- along with CA Technologies, Cisco, HPE, SAP and SUSE -- said they'd work with open together with the already-committed vendors to provide more "predictability" for users of open source software. "The large ecosystems of projects using the GPLv2 and LGPLv2.x licenses will benefit from adoption of this more balanced approach to termination derived from GPLv3," explained Red Hat in a press release announcing the new license-compliance partners. The companies which have agreed to adopt the "Common Cure Rights Commitment" said before they file or continue to prosecute those accused of violating covered licenses, they will allow for users to cure and reinstate their licenses.

Hackers Are So Fed Up With Twitter Bots They're Hunting Them Down Themselves (theintercept.com) 45

An anonymous reader writes: Even if Twitter hasn't invested much in anti-bot software, some of its most technically proficient users have. They're writing and refining code that can use Twitter's public application programming interface, or API, as well as Google and other online interfaces, to ferret out fake accounts and bad actors. The effort, at least among the researchers I spoke with, has begun with hunting bots designed to promote pornographic material -- a type of fake account that is particularly easy to spot -- but the plan is to eventually broaden the hunt to other types of bots. The bot-hunting programming and research has been a strictly volunteer, part-time endeavor, but the efforts have collectively identified tens of thousands of fake accounts, underlining just how much low-hanging fruit remains for Twitter to prune.

Among the part-time bot-hunters is French security researcher and freelance Android developer Baptiste Robert, who in February of this year noticed that Twitter accounts with profile photos of scantily clad women were liking his tweets or following him on Twitter. Aside from the sexually suggestive images, the bots had similarities. Not only did these Twitter accounts typically include profile photos of adult actresses, but they also had similar bios, followed similar accounts, liked more tweets than they retweeted, had fewer than 1,000 followers, and directed readers to click the link in their bios.


Mapping Apps Like Waze, Google Maps, and Apple Maps May Make Traffic Conditions Worse in Some Areas, New Research Suggests (theatlantic.com) 282

From an Atlantic story, originally titled "The Perfect Selfishness of Mapping Apps": In the pre-mobile-app days, drivers' selfishness was limited by their knowledge of the road network. In those conditions, both simulation and real-world experience showed that most people stuck to the freeways and arterial roads. Sure, there were always people who knew the crazy, back-road route, but the bulk of people just stuck to the routes that transportation planners had designated as the preferred way to get from A to B. Now, however, a new information layer is destroying the nudging infrastructure that traffic planners built into cities. Commuters armed with mobile mapping apps, route-following Lyft and Uber drivers, and software-optimized truckers can all act with a more perfect selfishness.

In some happy universe, this would lead to socially optimal outcomes, too. But a new body of research at the University of California's Institute of Transportation Studies suggests that the reality is far more complicated. In some scenarios, traffic-beating apps might work for an individual, but make congestion worse overall. And autonomous vehicles, touted as an answer to traffic-y streets, could deepen the problem. "This problem has been vastly overlooked," Alexandre Bayen, the director of UC Berkeley's Institute of Transportation Studies, told me. "It is just the beginning of something that is gonna be much worse." Bayen and a team of researchers presented their work earlier this year at the Transportation Research Board's annual meeting and at the Cal Future conference at Berkeley in May 2017. They've also published work examining the negative externalities of high levels of automatic routing.


Are Google and Facebook Surveilling Their Own Employees? (theguardian.com) 106

The Guardian just ran an article titled " 'They'll squash you like a bug': how Silicon Valley keeps a lid on leakers," which begins with the story of an employee confronted by Facebook's secretive "rat-catching" team: They had records of a screenshot he'd taken, links he had clicked or hovered over, and they strongly indicated they had accessed chats between him and the journalist, dating back to before he joined the company. "It's horrifying how much they know," he told the Guardian, on the condition of anonymity... "You get on their bad side and all of a sudden you are face to face with Mark Zuckerberg's secret police"... One European Facebook content moderator signed a contract, seen by the Guardian, which granted the company the right to monitor and record his social media activities, including his personal Facebook account, as well as emails, phone calls and internet use. He also agreed to random personal searches of his belongings including bags, briefcases and car while on company premises. Refusal to allow such searches would be treated as gross misconduct...

Some employees switch their phones off or hide them out of fear that their location is being tracked. One current Facebook employee who recently spoke to Wired asked the reporter to turn off his phone so the company would have a harder time tracking if it had been near the phones of anyone from Facebook. Two security researchers confirmed that this would be technically simple for Facebook to do if both people had the Facebook app on their phone and location services switched on. Even if location services aren't switched on, Facebook can infer someone's location from wifi access points.

The article cites a 2012 report that Microsoft read a French blogger's Hotmail account to identify a former employee who had leaked trade secrets. And it also reports that tech companies hire external agencies to surveil their employees. "One such firm, Pinkerton, counts Google and Facebook among its clients." Though Facebook and Google both deny this, "Among other services, Pinkerton offers to send investigators to coffee shops or restaurants near a company's campus to eavesdrop on employees' conversations...

Al Gidari, consulting director of privacy at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, says that these tools "are common, widespread, intrusive and legal."

Google Open Sources Its Exoplanet-Hunting AI (vice.com) 16

dmoberhaus writes: Last December, NASA announced that two new exoplanets had been hiding in plain sight among data from the Kepler space telescope. These two new planets weren't discovered by a human, however. Instead, an exoplanet hunting neural network -- a type of machine learning algorithm loosely modeled after the human brain -- had discovered the planets by finding subtle patterns in the Kepler data that would've been nearly impossible for a human to see. Last Thursday, Christopher Shallue, the lead Google engineer behind the exoplanet AI, announced in a blog post that the company was making the algorithm open source. In other words, anyone can download the code and help hunt for exoplanets in Kepler data.
Google's research blog called the December discovery "a successful proof-of-concept for using machine learning to discover exoplanets, and more generally another example of using machine learning to make meaningful gains in a variety of scientific disciplines (e.g. healthcare, quantum chemistry, and fusion research)."

'Why YouTube's New Plan to Debunk Conspiracy Videos Won't Work' (vortex.com) 308

Slashdot reader Lauren Weinstein believes YouTube's plan to combat conspiracy videos with "information cues" is "likely doomed to be almost entirely ineffective." The kind of viewers who are going to believe these kinds of false conspiracy videos are almost certainly going to say that the associated Wikipedia articles are wrong, that they're planted lies... Not helping matters at all is that Wikipedia's reputation for accuracy -- never all that good -- has been plunging in recent years, sometimes resulting in embarrassing Knowledge Panel errors for Google in search results...

The key to avoiding the contamination...is to minimize their visibility in the YouTube/Google ecosystem in the first place... Not only should they be prevented from ever getting into the trending lists, they should be deranked, demonetized, and excised from the YouTube recommended video system. They should be immediately removed from YouTube entirely if they contain specific attacks against individuals or other violations of the YouTube Terms of Service and/or Community Guidelines. These actions must be taken as rapidly as possible with appropriate due diligence, before these videos are able to do even more damage to innocent parties.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

North Carolina Police Obtained Warrants Demanding All Google Users Near Four Crime Scenes (wral.com) 214

An anonymous reader quotes the public records reporter from North Carolina TV station WRAL: In at least four investigations last year -- cases of murder, sexual battery and even possible arson at the massive downtown fire in March 2017 -- Raleigh police used search warrants to demand Google accounts not of specific suspects, but from any mobile devices that veered too close to the scene of a crime, according to a WRAL News review of court records... The demands Raleigh police issued for Google data [in two homicide cases] described a 17-acre area that included both homes and businesses... The account IDs aren't limited to electronics running Android. The warrant includes any device running location-enabled Google apps, according to Raleigh Police Department spokeswoman Laura Hourigan...

On March 16, 2017, a five-alarm fire ripped through the unfinished Metropolitan apartment building on West Jones Street... About two months later, Raleigh police obtained a search warrant for Google account IDs that showed up near the block of the Metropolitan between 7:30 and 10 p.m. the night of the fire... In addition to anonymized numerical identifiers, the warrant calls on Google to release time stamped location coordinates for every device that passed through the area. Detectives wrote that they'd narrow down that list and send it back to the company, demanding "contextual data points with points of travel outside of the geographical area" during an expanded timeframe. Another review would further cull the list, which police would use to request user names, birth dates and other identifying information of the phones' owners.

"Do people understand that in sharing that information with Google, they're also potentially sharing it with law enforcement?" asks a former Durham prosecutor who directs the North Carolina Open Government Coalition at Elon University. And Stephanie Lacambra, criminal defense staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, also criticized the procedure. "To just say, 'Criminals commit crimes, and we know that most people have cell phones,' that should not be enough to get the geo-location on anyone that happened to be in the vicinity of a particular incident during a particular time." She believes that without probable cause the police department is "trying to use technology as a hack for their job... It does not have to be that we have to give up our privacy rights in order to participate in the digital revolution."

Nathan Freed Wessler, staff attorney with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, put it succinctly. "At the end of the day, this tactic unavoidably risks getting information about totally innocent people."

Amazon Alexa's 'Brief Mode' Makes the Digital Assistant Way Less Chatty (cnet.com) 25

A new update is rolling out to Amazon Echo devices that gives users the option to make Alexa respond with a short, beeping sound rather than her customary "OK." Reddit users reported seeing the new feature this week. CNET reports: You access the Brief Mode in the Amazon Alexa app's Settings Menu under "Alexa Voice Responses." You can also ask your Alexa-enabled device to turn on the Brief Mode. Once the setting is enabled, you can ask Alexa to control devices to which she is connected and she will respond with beeps rather than "OK" to let you know that she received and completed the task. Don't want to completely quiet Alexa down? Amazon also rolled out a "Follow-Up Mode" last week that's designed to let you will let you talk to Alexa more naturally. That mode will let you make successive requests without needing to use Alexa's wake word between each command.

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