The Courts

Pirate Music Site's Owner Sentenced to Five Years in Prison ( 32

An anonymous reader shares an update on Artur Sargsyan, who owned the music-pirating site Sharebeast as well as Newjams and Albumjams. TorrentFreak reports: Thursday a U.S. District Judge sentenced the 30-year-old to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and more than $642,000 in restitution and forfeiture... The RIAA claimed that ShareBeast was the largest illegal file-sharing site operating in the United States... "Millions of users accessed songs from ShareBeast each month without one penny of compensation going to countless artists, songwriters, labels and others who created the music," RIAA Chairman & CEO Cary Sherman commented at the time...

If Sargsyan had responded to takedown notices more positively, it's possible that things may have progressed in a different direction. The RIAA sent the site more than 100 copyright-infringement emails over a three-year period but to no effect. This led the music industry group to get out its calculator and inform the Deparmtment of Justice that the total monetary loss to its member companies was "a conservative" $6.3 billion "gut-punch" to music creators who were paid nothing by the service... "His reproduction of copyrighted musical works were made available only to generate undeserved profits for himself," said U.S. Attorney Byung J. "BJay" Pak. "The incredible work done by our law enforcement partners and prosecutors in light of the complexity of Sargsyan's operation demonstrates that we will employ all of our resources to stop this kind of theft."

David J. LaValley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said "His sentence sends a message that no matter how complex the operation, the FBI, its federal partners and law enforcement partners around the globe will go to every length to protect the property of hard working artists and the companies that produce their art."

Today if you visit or, they display an "FBI anti-piracy warning" image notifying visitors the domain has been seized, adding "Willful copyright infringement is a federal crime that carries penalties for first time offenders of up to five years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution." The image is surrounded by a red border with the word "seized" written over and over again.

How Technology Caught the Austin Serial Bomber ( 85

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."

Facebook Gets Hit With Four Lawsuits Over Cambridge Analytica Scandal ( 85

Facebook has had a terrible week. Since it was revealed that political data firm Cambridge Analytica obtained information about 50 million Facebook users, the social media company has been in damage control mode, apologizing for its mistakes and conducting forensic audits to determine exactly what happened. SFGate reports today that Facebook "has been hit with four lawsuits in federal court in San Francisco and San Jose thus far this week." From the report: One lawsuit was filed by a Facebook user who claims the Menlo Park company acted with "absolute disregard" for her personal information after allegedly representing that it wouldn't disclose the data without permission or notice. That lawsuit, filed by Lauren Price of Maryland in San Jose on Tuesday, seeks to be a class action on behalf of up to 50 million people whose data was allegedly collected from Facebook by London-based Cambridge Analytica. The lawsuit says that during the 2016 election, Price was "frequently targeted with political ads while using Facebook." It seeks financial restitution for claims of unfair business practices and negligence. Both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are named as defendants. Cambridge Analytica also announced today that the company will undergo an independent third-party audit to determine whether it still holds any data covertly obtained from Facebook users. "We take the disturbing recent allegations of unethical practices in our non-U.S. political business very seriously," CEO Alexander Tayler writes. "The Board has launched a full and independent investigation into SCL Elections' past practices, and its findings will be shared publicly."

UPDATE: Eighteen enforcement officers have entered the Cambridge Analytica headquarters in London's West End to search the premises after the data watchdog was granted a warrant to examine its records, reports The Guardian.

Atlanta City Government Systems Down Due To Ransomware Attack ( 64

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The city of Atlanta government has apparently become the victim of a ransomware attack. The city's official Twitter account announced that the city government "is currently experiencing outages on various customer facing applications, including some that customers may use to pay bills or access court-related information." According to a report from Atlanta NBC affiliate WXIA, a city employee sent the station a screen shot of a ransomware message demanding a payment of $6,800 to unlock each computer or $51,000 to provide all the keys for affected systems. Employees received emails from the city's information technology department instructing them to unplug their computers if they noticed anything suspicious. An internal email shared with WXIA said that the internal systems affected include the city's payroll application. "At this time, our Atlanta Information Management team is working diligently with support from Microsoft to resolve the issue," a city spokesperson told Ars. "We are confident that our team of technology professionals will be able to restore applications soon." The city's primary website remains online, and the city government will continue to post updates there, the spokesperson added.
United States

US Spending Bill Contains CLOUD Act, a Win For Tech and Law Enforcement ( 116

The 2,232 page spending bill released Wednesday by House and Senate leaders includes the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data [CLOUD] Act, which provides a legal framework for law enforcement to request data from overseas servers. The CLOUD Act currently sits high atop the wish list of tech firms, law enforcement and even foreign nations. Axios reports: The Supreme Court is currently mulling a case determining whether the Department of Justice had the right to force Microsoft to produce client emails stored on a server in Ireland without permission from Ireland's government. Microsoft fears the DOJ will force it to violate the laws of Ireland. The DOJ hopes to avoid the often years long process of abiding by treaties dealing with evidence. But both have publicly urged lawmakers to render the pending decision moot by passing the CLOUD act, a way to streamline the treaty process for requesting digital data.

The CLOUD Act provides a framework for reciprocal treaties for nations to request data from computers located within each other's borders. It also provides a mechanism for a Microsoft to take a law enforcement demand to court if it would force them to violate another country's rules. But when neither apply, law enforcement will be able to demand files in accordance with U.S. law.


AT&T Suffers Another Blow In Court Over Throttling of 'Unlimited' Data ( 39

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A federal judge has revived a lawsuit that angry customers filed against AT&T over the company's throttling of unlimited mobile data plans. The decision comes two years after the same judge decided that customers could only have their complaints heard individually in arbitration instead of in a class-action lawsuit. The 2016 ruling in AT&T's favor was affirmed by a federal appeals court. But the customers subsequently filed a motion to reconsider the arbitration decision, saying that an April 2017 decision by the California Supreme Court "constitutes a change in law occurring after the Courts arbitration order," Judge Edward Chen of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said in the new ruling issued last week. The state Supreme Court "held that an arbitration agreement that waives the right to seek the statutory remedy of public injunctive relief in any forum is contrary to California public policy and therefore unenforceable," Chen wrote.

AT&T argued that the court shouldn't consider the new argument, saying that plaintiffs raised it too late. The plaintiffs could have made the same argument before the April 2017 Supreme Court ruling, since the ruling was based on California laws that "were enacted decades ago," according to AT&T. Chen was not persuaded, noting that "there had been no favorable court rulings" the plaintiffs could have cited earlier in the case. "The Court also finds that Plaintiffs acted with reasonable diligence once there was a ruling favorable to them," Chen wrote. As a result, the plaintiffs can now proceed with their case in U.S. District Court against AT&T. However, AT&T will appeal Chen's latest decision, presumably in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.


Chinese Companies Are Buying Up Cash-Strapped US Colleges ( 205

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Chinese companies are taking advantage of America's financially strapped higher-education system to buy schools, and the latest deal for a classical music conservatory in Princeton, New Jersey, is striking chords of dissonance on campus. Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology Co. agreed in February to pay $40 million for Westminster Choir College, an affiliate of Rider University that trains students for careers as singers, conductors and music teachers. The announcement came just weeks after the government-controlled Chinese company changed its name from Jiangsu Zhongtai Bridge Steel Structure Co. The pending purchase rankles some Westminster faculty and alumni, who question what a longtime maker of steel spans knows about running an elite school whose choirs sang with maestros Leonard Bernstein, Arturo Toscanini and Seiji Ozawa. Alumni are among those suing in New York federal court to block the sale, saying it violates Westminster's 1991 merger agreement with Rider and will trigger the choir college's demise.

Telegram Loses Supreme Court Appeal In Russia, Must Hand Over Encryption Keys ( 216

Telegram has lost a bid before Russia's Supreme Court to block security services from getting access to users' data, giving President Vladimir Putin a victory in his effort to keep tabs on electronic communications. Bloomberg reports: Supreme Court Judge Alla Nazarova on Tuesday rejected Telegram's appeal against the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB spy agency which last year asked the company to share its encryption keys. Telegram declined to comply and was hit with a fine of $14,000. Communications regulator Roskomnadzor said Telegram now has 15 days to provide the encryption keys. Telegram, which is in the middle of an initial coin offering of as much as $2.55 billion, plans to appeal the ruling in a process that may last into the summer, according to the company's lawyer, Ramil Akhmetgaliev. Any decision to block the service would require a separate court ruling, the lawyer said.

Putin signed laws in 2016 on fighting terrorism, which included a requirement for messaging services to provide the authorities with means to decrypt user correspondence. Telegram challenged an auxiliary order by the Federal Security Service, claiming that the procedure doesn't involve a court order and breaches constitutional rights for privacy, according to documents. The security agency, known as the FSB, argued in court that obtaining the encryption keys doesn't violate users' privacy because the keys by themselves aren't considered information of restricted access. Collecting data on particular suspects using the encryption would still require a court order, the agency said.


Child Abuse Imagery Found Within Bitcoin's Blockchain ( 320

German researchers have discovered unknown persons are using bitcoin's blockchain to store and link to child abuse imagery, potentially putting the cryptocurrency in jeopardy. From a report: The blockchain is the open-source, distributed ledger that records every bitcoin transaction, but can also store small bits of non-financial data. This data is typically notes about the trade of bitcoin, recording what it was for or other metadata. But it can also be used to store links and files. Researchers from the RWTH Aachen University, Germany found that around 1,600 files were currently stored in bitcoin's blockchain. Of the files least eight were of sexual content, including one thought to be an image of child abuse and two that contain 274 links to child abuse content, 142 of which link to dark web services. "Our analysis shows that certain content, eg, illegal pornography, can render the mere possession of a blockchain illegal," the researchers wrote. "Although court rulings do not yet exist, legislative texts from countries such as Germany, the UK, or the USA suggest that illegal content such as [child abuse imagery] can make the blockchain illegal to possess for all users. This especially endangers the multi-billion dollar markets powering cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin."

Ajit Pai Celebrates After Court Strikes Down Obama-Era Robocall Rule ( 184

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Federal judges have struck down an anti-robocall rule, saying that the Federal Communications Commission improperly treated every American who owns a smartphone as a potential robocaller. The FCC won't be appealing the court decision, as Chairman Ajit Pai opposed the rule changes when they were implemented by the commission's then-Democratic majority in 2015. Pai issued a statement praising the judges for the decision Friday, calling the now-vacated rule "yet another example of the prior FCC's disregard for the law and regulatory overreach." The FCC's 2015 decision said that a device meets the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) definition of an "autodialer" if it can be modified to make robocalls, even if the smartphone user hasn't actually downloaded an autodialing app. That interpretation treats all smartphones as autodialers because any smartphone has the capability of downloading an autodialing app, judges ruled. Since any call made by an autodialer could violate anti-robocall rules, this led to a troubling conclusion: judges said that an unwanted call from a smartphone could violate anti-robocall rules even if the smartphone user hasn't downloaded an autodialing app.

"The Commission's understanding would appear to subject ordinary calls from any conventional smartphone to the Act's coverage, an unreasonably expansive interpretation of the statute," a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said in a unanimous ruling Friday. The ruling came in a case filed against the FCC by the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, which says it represents "third-party collection agencies, law firms, asset buying companies, creditors, and vendor affiliates." Judges also invalidated an FCC rule that helped protect consumers from robocalls to reassigned phone numbers.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

North Carolina Police Obtained Warrants Demanding All Google Users Near Four Crime Scenes ( 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."
The Courts

Entire Broadband Industry Will Help FCC Defend Net Neutrality Repeal ( 88

The biggest lobby groups representing broadband providers will help the FCC defend the repeal of net neutrality rules in court. Ars Technica reports: Yesterday, three trade groups that collectively represent every major home Internet and mobile broadband provider in the U.S. filed motions to intervene in the case on behalf of the FCC. The motions for leave to intervene were filed by NCTA--The Internet & Television Association, CTIA--The Wireless Association, and USTelecom--The Broadband Association. NCTA represents cable companies such as Comcast, Charter, Cox, and Altice. CTIA represents the biggest mobile carriers, such as AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, and Sprint. USTelecom represents wireline telcos with copper and fiber networks, such as AT&T and Verizon. All three groups also represent a range of smaller ISPs.

As intervenors in the case, the groups will file briefs in support of the net neutrality repeal order and may play a role in oral arguments. NCTA's motion noted that its members would once again be subject to "common-carriage regulation under Title II of the Communications Act" if the FCC were to lose the case. CTIA said that its members "would be adversely affected if the [net neutrality] Order were set aside and the prior Title II Order classification and rules were reinstated."

The Courts

Man Fined For Implanting NFC Train Ticket In Hand ( 107

Unhappy Windows User writes: An Australian man, when checked by a ticket inspector, claimed his smart travel card was implanted in his hand. He took the case to court and lost; the fine and legal fees add up to AU$1220 (USD $950). The man, who self-identifies as a biohacker and is a member of the Science Party, accepts the ruling but states that it won't discourage him from further biohacking. He claimed he was ahead of the law. The prosecution argued that, by cutting the chip out of the card, the ticket was invalidated. It is not clear from the article whether the NFC chip was working correctly and could be read by the inspector, or not. Further reading: BuzzFeed News

Verizon Will Fix Broadband Networks, Landlines To Resolve Investigation ( 74

Joel Hruska reports via ExtremeTech: Verizon has reached an agreement with the Communications Workers of America and the New York State Public Service Commission to begin repairing infrastructure and restoring service across New York State. The agreement requires Verizon to extend broadband service to tens of thousands of New York State households and to begin repairing facilities it has previously neglected. As in Pennsylvania, Verizon has been neglecting its fixed wired infrastructure in its bid to first sabotage copper service, then force customers to adopt alternative solutions. It's also been mired in an ongoing lawsuit with the state of New York over its breach of a 2008 contract requiring it to provide fiber service within New York City.

This new agreement appears to settle these issues, provided it's followed. Under its terms, Verizon will extend fiber to 10,000 to 12,000 households not currently served by it in Long Island and Verizon's "Upstate Reporting Region" (these are Verizon-specific regions, not geographical areas, so "Long Island" may mean more than just the island). It will begin immediately replacing copper lines in certain specific NYC buildings with high failure rates and transitioning them to fiber optic cable, repairing operations within 50 upstate wireless centers with high failure rates, allow plant technicians to report plant failures and maintenance needs more accurately, and begin inspecting and replacing the batteries that provide critical connectivity in the event of a power outage when said batteries are deployed for specific customers (hospitals, police stations, and other emergency facilities). It will also begin removing so-called "double poles." A double pole is when an old telephone pole is stapled (metaphorically speaking) to a newer one. Some examples of a double pole from PA are shown below; Verizon has been hauled into court to force it to do its job in more than one state.


EU Wants To Require Platforms To Filter Uploaded Content (Including Code) ( 110

A new copyright proposal in the EU would require code-sharing platforms like GitHub and SourceForge to monitor all content that users upload for potential copyright infringement. "The proposal is aimed at music and videos on streaming platforms, based on a theory of a 'value gap' between the profits those platforms make from uploaded works and what copyright holders of some uploaded works receive," reports The GitHub Blog. "However, the way it's written captures many other types of content, including code."

Upload filters, also known as "censorship machines," are some of the most controversial elements of the copyright proposal, raising a number of concerns including: -Privacy: Upload filters are a form of surveillance, effectively a "general monitoring obligation" prohibited by EU law
-Free speech: Requiring platforms to monitor content contradicts intermediary liability protections in EU law and creates incentives to remove content
-Ineffectiveness: Content detection tools are flawed (generate false positives, don't fit all kinds of content) and overly burdensome, especially for small and medium-sized businesses that might not be able to afford them or the resulting litigation
Upload filters are especially concerning for software developers given that: -Software developers create copyrightable works -- their code -- and those who choose an open source license want to allow that code to be shared
-False positives (and negatives) are especially likely for software code because code often has many contributors and layers, often with different licensing for different components
-Requiring code-hosting platforms to scan and automatically remove content could drastically impact software developers when their dependencies are removed due to false positives
The EU Parliament continues to introduce new proposals for Article 13 but these issues remain. MEP Julia Reda explains further in a recent proposal from Parliament.

Walmart Whistleblower Claims Cheating In Race With Amazon ( 35

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: In its race to catch in online retailing, Walmart issued misleading e-commerce results and fired an executive who complained the company was breaking the law, according to a whistle-blower lawsuit. Tri Huynh, a former director of business development at Walmart, claims he was terminated "under false pretenses" after repeatedly raising concerns about the company's "overly aggressive push to show meteoric growth in its e-commerce business by any means possible -- even, illegitimate ones." Under Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon, Walmart has invested billions to catch up with Amazon in e-commerce over the past few years, and last year enjoyed quarterly online sales growth rates surpassing 50 percent, well above peers that include Target and Best Buy Huynh claims Walmart mislabeled products so that some third-party vendors received lower commissions, failed to process customer returns, and allowed offensive items onto the site. Huynh's dismissal in January 2017 -- just a day after a retail-industry publication singled him out as one of the sector's rising stars -- was in retaliation for warning senior executives about the misdeeds, he said in the lawsuit, filed Thursday by employment litigation attorney David M. deRubertis in San Francisco federal court.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

New Bill In Congress Would Bypass the Fourth Amendment, Hand Your Data To Police ( 247

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Medium: Lawmakers behind a new anti-privacy bill are trying to sneak it through Congress by attaching it to the must-pass government spending bill. The CLOUD Act would hand police in the U.S., and other countries, extreme new powers to obtain and monitor data directly from tech companies instead of requiring a warrant and judicial review. Congressional leadership will decide whether the CLOUD Act gets attached to the omnibus government spending bill sometime this week, potentially as early as tomorrow... If passed, this bill would give law enforcement the power to go directly to tech companies, no matter where they or their servers are, to obtain our data. They wouldn't need a warrant or court oversight, and we'll be left with no protections to ensure law enforcement isn't violating our rights. A recent report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains how the CLOUD Act circumvents the Fourth Amendment. "This new backdoor for cross-border data mirrors another backdoor under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, an invasive NSA surveillance authority for foreign intelligence gathering," reports the EFF. "That law, recently reauthorized and expanded by Congress for another six years, gives U.S. intelligence agencies, including the NSA, FBI, and CIA, the ability to search, read, and share our private electronic messages without first obtaining a warrant. The new backdoor in the CLOUD Act operates much in the same way. U.S. police could obtain Americans' data, and use it against them, without complying with the Fourth Amendment."

Toys R Us To Close All 800 of Its US Stores ( 195

Toy store chain Toys R Us is reportedly planning to sell or close all 800 of its U.S. stores (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source), affecting as many as 33,000 jobs as the company winds down its operations after six decades. The Washington Post reports: The news comes six months after the retailer filed for bankruptcy. The company has struggled to pay down nearly $8 billion in debt -- much of it dating back to a 2005 leveraged buyout -- and has had trouble finding a buyer. There were reports earlier this week that Toys R Us had stopped paying its suppliers, which include the country's largest toy makers. On Wednesday, the company announced it would close all 100 of its U.K. stores. In the United States, the company told employees closures would likely occur over time, and not all at once, according to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations.

SEC Charges Theranos, CEO Elizabeth Holmes With 'Massive Fraud' ( 128

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: The SEC has charged Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes and Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani with fraud relating to the startup's fundraising activities. The company, as well as CEO Holmes and former president Balwani are said to have raised more than $700 million from investors through "an elaborate, years-long fraud." This involved making "false statements about the company's technology, business and financial performance." In a statement, the commission said that the company, and its two executives, misled investors about the capability of its blood testing technology. Theranos' big selling point was that its hardware could scan for a number of diseases with just a small drop of blood. Unfortunately, the company was never able to demonstrate that its system worked as well as its creators claimed.

The company and Elizabeth Holmes have already agreed to settle the charges leveled against them by the SEC. Holmes will have to pay a $500,000 fine and return 18.9 million shares in Theranos that she owned, as well as downgrading her super-majority equity into common stock. The CEO is now barred from serving as the officer or director of a public company for 10 years. In addition, if Theranos is liquidated or acquired, Holmes cannot profit from her remaining shareholding unless $750 million is handed back to defrauded investors. Balwani, on the other hand, is facing a federal court case in the Northern District of California where the SEC will litigate its claims against him.
Worth noting: the court still has to approve the deals between Holmes and Theranos, and neither party has admitted any wrongdoing.

Google's New 'Plus Codes' Are An Open Source, Global Alternative To Street Addresses ( 183

Google has developed a "simple and consistent addressing system that works across India and globally." Called "Plus Codes," the location-based digital addressing system is designed for people with addresses that are not easily located through conventional descriptors like street names or house numbers. That's half of the world's urban population, according to a World Bank estimate. 9to5Google reports: Notably, this open source solution composed of 10 characters works globally and can be incorporated by other products and platforms for free, with a developer page available here. It works offline and on print when overlaid as a grid on existing maps. Places that are close together share similar plus codes, while the system is identifiable by the "+" symbol in every address. "This system is based on dividing the geographical surface of the Earth into tiny 'tiled areas,' attributing a unique code to each of them," reports Google. "This code simply comprises a '6-character + City' format that can be generated, shared and searched by anyone -- all that's needed is Google Maps on a smartphone."

The first four characters are the area code, describing a region of roughly 100 x 100 kilometers. The last six characters are the local code, describing the neighborhood and the building, an area of roughly 14 x 14 meters -- about the size of one half of a basketball court. The area code is not needed when navigating within a town, while another optional character can be appended to provide additional accuracy down to a 3 x 3 meter region. Users of Google Maps in India will be able to easily find the plus code for any area in the app, while the mapping service along with Search will support the entry of the new coordinate system. Plus codes for any location can also be found with this tool.

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