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Uber Drivers Plan Strike To Kick Off 2019's Most-Hyped IPO

Uber drivers in seven US cities are planning protests to highlight what they claim are poor working conditions and low wages at the ride-hailing firm. The drivers say they are paid below minimum wage levels required by some states and barely above national rates. From a report: The richest and most highly anticipated IPO of the year is just around the corner. But a group of drivers dissatisfied with shrinking pay, no benefits, a lack of transparency, and little voice within the company are hoping to turn that singular IPO moment in their own favor by organizing a seven-city strike around the country including at Uber headquarters for 12 hours on May 8 leading up to Uber's initial public offering.

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Why Won't Twitter Treat White Supremacy Like ISIS? Because It Would Mean Banning Some Republican Politicians Too.

Joseph Cox, and Jason Koebler, reporting for Motherboard: At a Twitter all-hands meeting on March 22, an employee asked a blunt question: Twitter has largely eradicated Islamic State propaganda off its platform. Why can't it do the same for white supremacist content? An executive responded by explaining that Twitter follows the law, and a technical employee who works on machine learning and artificial intelligence issues went up to the mic to add some context. With every sort of content filter, there is a tradeoff, he explained. When a platform aggressively enforces against ISIS content, for instance, it can also flag innocent accounts as well, such as Arabic language broadcasters. Society, in general, accepts the benefit of banning ISIS for inconveniencing some others, he said. In separate discussions verified by Motherboard, that employee said Twitter hasn't taken the same aggressive approach to white supremacist content because the collateral accounts that are impacted can, in some instances, be Republican politicians. The employee argued that, on a technical level, content from Republican politicians could get swept up by algorithms aggressively removing white supremacist material. Banning politicians wouldn't be accepted by society as a trade-off for flagging all of the white supremacist propaganda, he argued.

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Facebook Breached Canadian Privacy Laws, Watchdogs Say

Privacy watchdogs are accusing Facebook of "serious contraventions of Canadian privacy laws" in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. From a report: In a joint report released Thursday, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia said the Menlo Park, California-based technology giant didn't obtain proper consent from users to disclose their personal data, didn't have adequate safeguards to protect that data and didn't take proper responsibility for the information under its control. "Facebook's refusal to act responsibly is deeply troubling given the vast amount of sensitive personal information users have entrusted to this company," Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien said in a news release. "Their privacy framework was empty, and their vague terms were so elastic that they were not meaningful for privacy protection." Therrien's office plans to take the matter to Federal Court to "seek an order to force the company to correct its privacy practices," according to the release.

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Laundroid Company Folds Before Its Giant Robot Does

From a report: A small part of us always knew the Laundroid was too good to be true. The black obelisk, developed by Japanese company Seven Dreamers, was supposed to be a washing machine, dryer, ironing and laundry-folding robot rolled into one. It was the perfect appliance, in short, for chore-dodging so-and-sos who hate dealing with grimy clothes. But that dream has come to a predictable end. This week, Seven Dreamers filed for bankruptcy in Japan, all but ensuring its halo product will never reach store shelves. According to Teikoku Databank, a private credit research agency, the company owes 2.25 billion yen ($20.1 million USD) to 200 creditors.

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41% of Voice Assistant Users Have Concerns About Trust and Privacy, Report Finds

Forty-one percent of voice assistant users are concerned about trust, privacy and passive listening, according to a new report from Microsoft focused on consumer adoption of voice and digital assistants. From a report: And perhaps people should be concerned -- all the major voice assistants, including those from Google, Amazon, Apple and Samsung, as well as Microsoft, employ humans who review the voice data collected from end users. [...] While some users may not have realized the extent of human involvement on Alexa's backend, Microsoft's study indicates an overall wariness around the potential for privacy violations and abuse of trust that could occur on these digital assistant platforms. For example, 52 percent of those surveyed by Microsoft said they worried their personal information or data was not secure, and 24 percent said they don't know how it's being used. Thirty-six percent said they didn't even want their personal information or data to be used at all.

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Amazon Has Gone From Neutral Platform To Cutthroat Competitor, Say Open Source Developers

An anonymous reader shares a report: Elastic isn't the only open source cloud tool company currently looking over its shoulder at AWS. In 2018 alone, at least eight firms have made similar "rule changes" designed to ward off what they see as unfair competition from a company intent on cannibalizing their services. In his blog post, Adrian Cockcroft, VP of cloud architecture strategy at Amazon Web Services (AWS), argued that by making part of its product suite proprietary, Elastic was betraying the core principles of the open source community. "Customers must be able to trust that open source projects stay open," Cockcroft wrote. "When important open source projects that AWS and our customers depend on begin restricting access, changing licensing terms, or intermingling open source and proprietary software, we will invest to sustain the open source project and community." AWS's announcement did not attract the immediate attention of the Democratic presidential candidates or the growing cadre of antitrust activists who have recently set their sights on Amazon. But in the world of open source and free software, where picayune changes in arcane language can spark the internet equivalent of the Hundred Years War, the release of AWS's Open Distro for Elasticsearch launched a heated debate. [...] Sharone Zitzman, a respected commentator on open source software and the head of developer relations at AppsFlyer, an app development company, called Amazon's move a "hostile takeover" of Elastic's business. Steven O'Grady, co-founder of the software industry analyst firm RedMonk, cited it as an example of the "existential threat" that open source companies like Elastic believe a handful of cloud computing giants could pose.

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NSA Recommends Dropping Phone-Surveillance Program

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Wall Street Journal: The National Security Agency has recommended that the White House abandon a surveillance program that collects information about U.S. phone calls and text messages (Warning: source paywalled; alternative source), saying the logistical and legal burdens of keeping it outweigh its intelligence benefits, according to people familiar with the matter. The recommendation against seeking the renewal of the once-secret spying program amounts to an about-face by the agency, which had long argued in public and to congressional overseers that the program was vital to the task of finding and disrupting terrorism plots against the U.S. The latest view is rooted in a growing belief among senior intelligence officials that the spying program provides limited value to national security and has become a logistical headache. Frustrations about legal-compliance issues forced the NSA to halt use of the program earlier this year, the people said. Its legal authority will expire in December unless Congress reauthorizes it. It is up to the White House, not the NSA, to decide whether to push for legislation to renew the phone-records program. The White House hasn't yet reached a policy decision about the surveillance program, according to the people familiar with the matter.

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Researchers Measure Atom With Half-Life of 18 Sextillion Years

A detector designed to hunt for dark matter has succeeded in detecting one of the rarest particle interactions in the universe. "According to a new study published today in the journal Nature, the team of more than 100 researchers measured, for the first time ever, the decay of a xenon-124 atom into a tellurium 124 atom through an extremely rare process called two-neutrino double electron capture," reports Live Science. "This type of radioactive decay occurs when an atom's nucleus absorbs two electrons from its outer electron shell simultaneously, thereby releasing a double dose of the ghostly particles called neutrinos." From the report: By measuring this unique decay in a lab for the first time, the researchers were able to prove precisely how rare the reaction is and how long it takes xenon-124 to decay. The half-life of xenon-124 -- that is, the average time required for a group of xenon-124 atoms to diminish by half -- is about 18 sextillion years (1.8 x 10^22 years), roughly 1 trillion times the current age of the universe. This marks the single longest half-life ever directly measured in a lab. Only one nuclear-decay process in the universe has a longer half-life: the decay of tellurium-128, which has a half-life more than 100 times longer than that of xenon-124. But this vanishingly rare event has only been calculated on paper.

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Adult Children Are Costing Many Parents Their Retirement Savings

pgmrdlm shares a report from CBS News: Half of American parents are unable to save as much as they'd like to for retirement, and their grown offspring -- whom they still count as dependents -- are to blame, according to a new study. While they likely mean well, parents who support children into young adulthood often end up encumbered when they reach retirement age. They can inadvertently hamstring their kids, too. Seventeen percent of the couples surveyed by said that they sacrificed their own retirement savings by "a lot" to help their adult children. Another 34 percent said they'd "somewhat" sacrificed their savings plans. Not surprisingly, the lowest earners saved the least. Seventeen percent of couples making less than a combined $50,000 a year and have at least one child who is 18 or older said they were helping pay their adult children's bills but not setting aside any money for retirement. The study found a generational divide when it comes to perceptions of parents supporting adult children. "Millennials between the ages of 23 and 38 believe they should be supported for longer, and expect some expenses, like student loans, to be covered up to the age of 23," reports CBS News. "Baby boomers, meanwhile, think parents should wean children off their bank accounts sooner across almost every category of expense, including cell phone bills, car payments and travel costs." Millennials and baby boomers both agree that young adults by age 23 should be wholly response for bigger ticket expenses like health insurance. Economic analyst Mark Hamrick says the 2008 financial crisis, Great Recession and lack of substantial wage growth are to blame for this dynamic. Changing societal norms also come in to play, as many young adults are "opting to pursue higher education, thereby delaying their entries into the workforce," the report says. "And by the time these degree-holders enter the workforce, they're saddled with student debt..."

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Scientists Have Developed a Brain Implant That Can Read People's Minds

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: The team at the University of California, San Francisco says the technology is "exhilarating." They add that their findings, published in the journal Nature, could help people when disease robs them of their ability to talk. The mind-reading technology works in two stages. First an electrode is implanted in the brain to pick up the electrical signals that maneuver the lips, tongue, voice box and jaw. Then powerful computing is used to simulate how the movements in the mouth and throat would form different sounds. This results in synthesized speech coming out of a "virtual vocal tract." "The system is better with prolonged sounds like the 'sh' in ship than with abrupt sounds such as the 'buh' sound in 'books,'" the report adds. "In experiments with five people, who read hundreds of sentences, listeners were able to discern what was being spoken up to 70% of the time when they were given a list of words to choose from."

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The Feds Are Dropping Child Porn Cases Instead of Revealing Their Surveillance Systems

SonicSpike shares a report from Reason: The Department of Justice has been dismissing child pornography cases in order to not reveal information about the software programs used as the basis for the charges. An array of cases suggest serious problems with the tech tools used by federal authorities. But the private entities who developed these tools won't submit them for independent inspection or hand over hardly any information about how they work, their error rates, or other critical information. As a result, potentially innocent people are being smeared as pedophiles and prosecuted as child porn collectors, while potentially guilty people are going free so these companies can protect "trade secrets." The situation suggests some of the many problems that can arise around public-private partnerships in catching criminals and the secretive digital surveillance software that it entails (software that's being employed for far more than catching child predators). With the child pornography cases, "the defendants are hardly the most sympathetic," notes Tim Cushing at Techdirt. Yet that's all the more reason why the government's antics here are disturbing. Either the feds initially brought bad cases against people whom they just didn't think would fight back, or they're willing to let bad behavior go rather than face some public scrutiny. An extensive investigation by ProPublica "found more than a dozen cases since 2011 that were dismissed either because of challenges to the software's findings, or the refusal by the government or the maker to share the computer programs with defense attorneys, or both," writes Jack Gillum. Many more cases raised issues with the software as a defense. "Defense attorneys have long complained that the government's secrecy claims may hamstring suspects seeking to prove that the software wrongly identified them," notes Gillum. "But the growing success of their counterattack is also raising concerns that, by questioning the software used by investigators, some who trade in child pornography can avoid punishment."

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Apple Allegedly 'Plotted' To Hurt Qualcomm Years Before It Sued the Company

Apple allegedly wanted to hurt Qualcomm before it ever filed suit against the company, according to documents obtained by Qualcomm as the two companies prepared to meet in court. CNET reports on what has been made public: In September 2014, a document from Apple titled "QCOM - Future scenarios" detailed ways the company could exert pressure on Qualcomm, including by working with Intel on 4G modems for the iPhone. Apple and its manufacturing partners didn't actually file suit against Qualcomm until more than two years later. A second page of that document, titled "QCM - Options and recommendations (2/2)" revealed that Apple considered it "beneficial to wait to provoke a patent fight until after the end of 2016," when its contracts with Qualcomm would expire. "They were plotting it for two years," Qualcomm attorney Evan Chesler, of the firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, said during his opening arguments last week. "It was all planned in advance. Every bit of it." The unknown Apple team behind the September 2014 document recommended applying "commercial pressure against Qualcomm" by switching to Intel modems in iPhones. Apple ultimately started using Intel modems in about half of its iPhones with devices that came out in 2016. In the US, it embedded Intel modems in AT&T and T-Mobile models of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, but it still used Qualcomm in versions for Verizon and Sprint. Qualcomm, for its part, knew by June 2014 about Apple's plans to use Intel chips in 2016, according to an internal email from its president, Cristiano Amon, that was displayed during opening arguments. "Decision already has been made and beyond the point of no return on the 2nd source (Intel) for the 2016 premium tier," Amon wrote to CEO Steve Mollenkopf, CTO Jim Thompson, General Counsel Don Rosenberg and then-licensing chief Derek Aberle. Apple "said that as a result of our policies, other chip companies can't compete with us," Chesler said during his opening arguments. "Where did Intel get the chips from? From god? They made them using our technology." Another Apple internal document from June 2016 said the company wanted to "create leverage by building pressure three ways," according to a slide shown in court. The internal document said, in part, that Apple wanted to "hurt Qualcomm financially" and "put Qualcomm's business model at risk."

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Ford Invests $500 Million In Electric Pickup Truck Maker Rivian

Ford is investing $500 million in electric pickup truck maker Rivian, saying the two companies will work together to develop a new battery plug-in vehicle for Ford. CNN reports: Company executives said Ford will still move ahead with its own electric vehicle development efforts, including a plug-in version of the Ford F-150 pickup. They said the vehicle it will develop with Rivian will be an addition to its future lineup. Ford has announced plans to spend $11 billion transforming the company in coming years, including a move toward electric and self-driving vehicles. It said Wednesday that this $500 million investment is in addition to that $11 billion effort. It also said the joint effort with Rivian is in addition to Ford's plans to work with Volkswagen to develop a number of vehicles, including electric ones. Rivian has yet to start production of its electric trucks. Its first vehicle, a high-end electric pickup truck with planned range of more than 400 miles on a single charge, will be available in late 2020, the company says. Rivian has nevertheless attracted significant investment from many deep-pocket investors, including a $700 million investement from Amazon announced in February.

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Amazon's Alexa Team Can Access Users' Home Addresses

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: An Amazon team auditing Alexa users' commands has access to location data and can, in some cases, easily find a customer's home address, according to five employees familiar with the program. The team, spread across three continents, transcribes, annotates and analyzes a portion of the voice recordings picked up by Alexa. The program, whose existence Bloomberg revealed earlier this month, was set up to help Amazon's digital voice assistant get better at understanding and responding to commands. Team members with access to Alexa users' geographic coordinates can easily type them into third-party mapping software and find home residences, according to the employees, who signed nondisclosure agreements barring them from speaking publicly about the program. While there's no indication Amazon employees with access to the data have attempted to track down individual users, two members of the Alexa team expressed concern to Bloomberg that Amazon was granting unnecessarily broad access to customer data that would make it easy to identify a device's owner. When Bloomberg first reported on the Alexa auditing program, Amazon said "employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow." In a new statement responding to this story, Amazon said "access to internal tools is highly controlled, and is only granted to a limited number of employees who require these tools to train and improve the service by processing an extremely small sample of interactions. Our policies strictly prohibit employee access to or use of customer data for any other reason, and we have a zero tolerance policy for abuse of our systems. We regularly audit employee access to internal tools and limit access whenever and wherever possible."

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UK To Let Huawei Firm Help Build 5G Network

AmiMoJo writes: The UK government has given Chinese telecoms giant Huawei the go-ahead to supply equipment for the UK 5G data network. The company will help build some "non-core" parts such as antennas. But the plans have concerned the home, defense and foreign secretaries. The U.S. also wants its allies in the "Five Eyes" intelligence grouping -- the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand -- to exclude Huawei. Huawei said it was "pleased that the UK is continuing to take an evidence-based approach to its work," adding it would continue to work cooperatively with the government and the industry.

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