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Businesses

Plastc Swiped $9 Million From Backers, Now It Plans To File For Bankruptcy and Shut Down (theverge.com) 167

Plastc announced today that it is planning to file for bankruptcy and will shut down on April 20, 2017, after raising more than $9 million through preorders and shipping to no backers. "Plastc launched in 2014 with the promise of shipping a single card that could digitally hold 20 credit or debit cards that a user could switch between," reports The Verge. From the report: With that, all backers' money is lost, and no Plastc cards will ship. Plastc announced the news on its website today along with the fact that all its employees have been laid off. Its customer care and social media channels have also been shut down. The company explains that it thought it would close $3.5 million in funding in February this year, but that fell through. Another possible investment deal of $6.75 million fell through, too. What's not clear is how more than $9 million wasn't sufficient to get backers their orders. Backers will likely have questions and want their money back, but with no one to turn to from Plastc, they'll likely be out the cash.
Canada

Canada Rules To Uphold Net Neutrality (www.cbc.ca) 65

According to a new ruling by Canada's telecommunications regulator, internet service providers should not be able to exempt certain types of content, such as streaming music or video, from counting toward a person's data cap. The ruling upholds net neutrality, which is the principle that all web services should be treated equally by providers. CBC.ca reports: "Rather than offering its subscribers selected content at different data usage prices, Internet service providers should be offering more data at lower prices," said Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the CRTC in a statement. "That way, subscribers can choose for themselves what content they want to consume." The decision stems from a 2015 complaint against the wireless carrier Videotron, which primarily operates in Quebec. Videotron launched a feature in August of that year, enabling customers to stream music from services such as Spotify and Google Play Music without it counting against a monthly data cap as a way to entice people to subscribe to Videotron's internet service. The decision means that Videotron cannot offer its unlimited music streaming plan to subscribers in its current form -- nor can other internet providers offer similar plans that zero-rate other types of internet content, such as video streaming or social media.
Television

FCC Takes First Step Toward Allowing More Broadcast TV Mergers (theverge.com) 69

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: In a divided vote today, the Federal Communications Commission took steps that could lead to more consolidation among TV broadcasters, reducing the number of sources of local news. Today's changes revolve around the media ownership cap -- a limit on how many households a TV or radio broadcaster is allowed to reach. The rules are meant to promote diversity of media ownership, giving consumers access to different content and viewpoints. The cap currently prevents a company from reaching no more than 39 percent of U.S. households with broadcast TV. Large broadcasters hate the cap because it prevents them from getting even bigger. And since Trump took office and Ajit Pai was named chairman of the FCC, they've been lobbying to have it revised. The FCC's vote today starts to do that. First, it reinstates a rule known as the "UHF discount," which lets broadcasters have a bigger reach in areas where they use a certain type of technology. And second, it starts plans to revisit and raise the media ownership cap.
China

China's First Cargo Spacecraft Launch a 'Crucial Step' To Space Station (cnn.com) 20

Earlier today, China launched its first unmanned cargo spacecraft on a mission to dock with the country's space station, marking further progress in the ambitious Chinese space program. Chinese state media Xinhua described the event as a "crucial step for China's plan to have an operational space station by 2020." From a report: The Tianzhou-1 took off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in China's southern Hainan province, on track to dock with the orbiting space lab Tiangong-2. The launch was the latest in a series of major announcements by the Chinese space program, which celebrated its longest-ever space mission in November.
Government

Trump Administration Kills Open.Gov, Will Not Release White House Visitor Logs (techdirt.com) 268

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Techdirt: It will never be said that the Trump presidency began with a presumption of openness. His pre-election refusal to release his tax returns set a bit of precedent in that regard. The immediate post-election muffling of government agency social media accounts made the administration's opacity goals um clearer. So, in an unsurprising move, the Trump administration will be doing the opposite of the Obama administration. The American public will no longer have the privilege of keeping tabs on White House visitors. TIME reports: "The Trump Administration will not disclose logs of those who visit the White House complex, breaking with his predecessor, the White House announced Friday. White House communications director Michael Dubke said the decision to reverse the Obama-era policy was due to 'the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.' Instead, the Trump Administration is relying on a federal court ruling that most of the logs are 'presidential records' and are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act." So, to further distance himself from the people he serves (and the people who elected him), Trump and his administration have shut down the transparency portal put in place by the previous Commander-in-Chief: "White House officials said the Administration is ending the contract for Open.gov, the Obama-era site that hosted the visitor records along with staff financial disclosures, salaries, and appointments. An official said it would save $70,000 through 2020 and that the removed disclosures, salaries and appointments would be integrated into WhiteHouse.gov in the coming months."
Displays

Religion Meets Virtual Reality: Christianity-Themed VR Demo Scheduled For Easter (nbcnews.com) 90

"Anyone looking to experience God in a brand new way will soon have his or her chance -- virtually," writes NBC News, reporting on "a new immersive faith-based virtual reality experience...part of a larger project created by L. Michelle Media called Mission VR." An anonymous reader writes: The company was founded "to create a signature virtual reality environment -- a faith world of sorts -- where dynamic, never before seen, Christian lifestyle stories and experiences could have a home." Demos have been timed to coincide with this weekend's Easter celebration, while the official launch happens later this spring. Viewers will apparently experience biographical stories combining VR applications and YouTube videos to showcase the power of belief. "Up until now, we've only been able to watch Christianity from a third person perspective -- preached sermons, music videos, interviews, even reality shows..." says the founder of Mission VR. "This is the future of Christian programming."
But one reverend told NBC that VR worlds could be dangerous because they "may take people from community and from the incarnational aspects of Christian life... [W]e always run a very serious risk that the medium overtakes the message... What we must do is guard against the use of technology through market logic where people become brands and all things spiritual become commoditized."
The Military

North Korea Parades Hybrid 'Frankenmissile', Then Fails Yet Another Missile Launch Test (cnn.com) 294

First, an anonymous reader quotes Inverse: On Saturday, the North Korean military paraded an unprecedented array of weapons through Kim Il-sung Square in the center of Pyongyang... "We're totally floored right now," Dave Schmerler of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, tells the Wall Street Journal. "I was not expecting to see this many new missile designs." Schmerler tells The Journal that the large missiles -- the "frankenmissiles," as he calls them -- in the parade appear to be hybrids of the North Korean KN-08 and KN-14 missiles, both of which are ICBMs.
But at least one arms control expert noted that while the parade included ICBM-sized canisters, "what's inside is anyone's guess" -- and there's still mixed results for the country's missile program. "An attempted missile launch by North Korea on Sunday failed, US and South Korean defense officials told CNN... At this point, US military officials don't believe the missile had intercontinental capabilities, a US defense official told CNN." The official said there was limited data -- because the missile blew up so quickly -- prompting CNN.com to run the story under the headline "Show of Strength a Flop."

Update: Slashdot reader Dan Drollette is a science writer/editor and foreign correspondent for Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and contacted us earlier today to share his recently-published analysis "to delve into what has been happening lately...and to discredit some common tropes in the media, such as the idea that 'North Korea is about to collapse,' 'China has a lot of influence over North Korea,' 'North Korea can credibly threaten the United States right now,' 'North Korea has no reason to feel threatened,' or 'The North can be completely denuclearized.'"
Government

GOP Congressman Defending Privacy Vote: 'Nobody's Got To Use The Internet' (washingtonpost.com) 302

Wisconsin congressman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. defended his decision to help repeal broadband privacy rules by telling a constituent, "Nobody's got to use the Internet." An anonymous reader quotes the 73-year-old congressman: "And the thing is that if you start regulating the Internet like a utility, if we did that right at the beginning, we would have no Internet... Internet companies have invested an awful lot of money in having almost universal service now. The fact is is that, you know, I don't think it's my job to tell you that you cannot get advertising for your information being sold. My job, I think, is to tell you that you have the opportunity to do it, and then you take it upon yourself to make that choice... That's what the law has been, and I think we ought to have more choices rather than fewer choices with the government controlling our everyday lives."
"The congressman then moved on to the next question," reports The Washington Post, but criticism of his remarks appeared on social media. One activist complained that the congressman's position was don't use the internet if you don't want your information sold to advertisers -- drawing a clarification from the congressman's office.

"Actually he said that nobody has to use the Internet. They have a choice. Big difference."
Facebook

Facebook Targets 30,000 Fake France Accounts Before Election (go.com) 112

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ABC News: Facebook says it has targeted 30,000 fake accounts linked to France ahead of the country's presidential election, as part of a worldwide effort against misinformation. The company said Thursday it's trying to "reduce the spread of material generated through inauthentic activity, including spam, misinformation, or other deceptive content that is often shared by creators of fake accounts." It said its efforts "enabled us to take action" against the French accounts and that it is removing sites with the highest traffic. Facebook and French media are also running fact-checking programs in France to combat misleading information, especially around the campaign for the two-round April 23-May 7 presidential election. European authorities have also pressured Facebook and Twitter to remove extremist propaganda or other postings that violate European hate speech or other laws.
Privacy

Virgin Media Starts Turning Customer Routers Into Public Wi-Fi Hotspots (arstechnica.co.uk) 149

UK ISP Virgin Media is expanding its public Wi-Fi network by co-opting customers' home routers as hotspots. Only the most recent router design (the SuperHub v3) will be recruited at first, and customers can opt-out from the program if they wish. Virgin says the change will have "no impact on customers" because affected homes will be allocated extra bandwidth. ArsTechnica offers more context: A little background: a couple of years ago, Virgin Media started trialling a public Wi-Fi service very similar to "BT Wi-Fi with FON," where residential BT customers have their routers turned into hotspots. For some reason the broad rollout of Virgin's service was delayed until now. There are some curious differences between BT and Virgin Media's approach, though. For starters, it seems only Virgin Media customers will have access to this nationwide Wi-Fi network; BT grants free access to BT customers, but non-customers can pay for access ($5 per hour). The owner of that subverted hotspot doesn't get any of the money, of course. Furthermore, while BT customers must share their ADSL or VDSL bandwidth with any public Wi-Fi users, Virgin Media promises that "your home network is completely separate from Virgin Media WiFi traffic, meaning the broadband connection you pay for is exclusively yours, and just as secure."
Media

West Point Researchers Demonstrate Passive Netflix Traffic Analysis Attack (threatpost.com) 64

hypercard writes: Researchers from West Point recently presented research on a real-time passive analysis of Netflix traffic. The paper, entitled "Identifying HTTPS-Protected Netflix Videos in Real-Time" is based on research conducted by Andrew Reed, Michael Kranch and Benjamin Klimkowski. The team's technique demonstrates frighteningly accurate results based solely on information captured from TCP/IP headers. Even with the recent upgrade to HTTPS, their technique was effective at identifying the correct video with greater than 99.99 percent accuracy against their database of over 42,000 videos. "When tested against 200 random 20-minute video streams, our system identified 99.5 percent of the videos with the majority of the identifications occurring less than two and a half minutes into the video stream," the paper reads. However, there are important points to note. First, the attack described only applies to streams still using Silverlight. Additionally, an attacker would likely need significant resources and access to intercept, fingerprint and process the traffic in real time. Netflix has reacted positively to the team's research and acknowledged the issue as a known drawback to processing video streams with HTTPS.
China

The Surprising Rise of China As IP Powerhouse (techcrunch.com) 150

hackingbear quotes a report from TechCrunch: China is not only taking the spotlight in strong defense of global markets and free trade, filling a vacuum left by retreating Western capitalist democracies, China is quickly becoming a (if not the) global leader in intellectual property protection and enforcement. And there too, just as Western democracies (especially the United States) have grown increasingly skeptical of the value of intellectual property and have weakened protection and enforcement, China has been steadily advancing its own intellectual property system and the protected assets of its companies and citizens. In addition to filing twice as many patents as the U.S., China is increasingly being selected as a key venue for patent litigation between non-Chinese companies. Why? Litigants feel they are treated fairly. Reports indicated that in 2015, 65 foreign plaintiffs won all of their cases against other foreign companies before Beijing's IP court. And even foreign plaintiffs suing Chinese companies won about 81 percent of their patent cases, roughly the same as domestic Chinese plaintiffs. China's journey from piracy to protection models the journeys of other Western and Asian countries. While building its industrial economies, the U.S. and major European powers violated IP laws with no consideration. As reported by The Guardian, Doron Ben-Atar, a history professor at Fordham University, has noted that "U.S. and every major European state engaged in technology piracy and industrial espionage in the 18th and 19th century." It took Western economies a hundred or more years to change that behavior. China's mind-whipping change is happening over decades, not centuries.
Privacy

VPN Providers Report Huge Increase In Downloads, Usage Since Privacy Rules Were Repealed (ibtimes.com) 67

An anonymous reader writes: A number of major VPN providers reported a significant increase in subscriptions, downloads, and traffic from Americans since the U.S. Congress voted to repeal the Broadband Consumer Privacy Rules that would have mandated internet service providers get user permission before collecting information. The International Business Times reports that "several popular VPN providers reported a more than 50 percent increase in downloads." VPN provider ExpressVPN said they "experienced a 105 percent increase in traffic from the U.S. and a 97 percent spike in sales" since the repeal. Additionally, "KeepSolid, the New York-based company behind VPNUnlimited, noted a 32 percent increase in purchases and growth of 49 percent in total downloads," reports IBT. "The company also reports having a considerable amount of increased engagement via social media regarding user privacy." Have you taken any privacy measures since Congress voted to repeal ISP privacy rules? If you use a VPN, which provider do you recommend and why?
AI

Sir Tim Berners-Lee Lays Out Nightmare Scenario Where AI Runs the Financial World (techworld.com) 131

The architect of the world wide web Sir Tim Berners-Lee has talked about some of his concerns for the internet over the coming years, including a nightmarish scenario where artificial intelligence (AI) could become the new 'masters of the universe' by creating and running their own companies. From an article: Masters of the universe is a reference to Tom Wolfe's 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, regarding the men (and they were men) who started racking up multi-million dollar salaries and a great deal of influence from their finance roles on Wall Street and in London during the computerised trading boom pre-Black Monday. Berners-Lee said, "So when AI starts to make decisions such as who gets a mortgage, that's a big one. Or which companies to acquire and when AI starts creating its own companies, creating holding companies, generating new versions of itself to run these companies. So you have survival of the fittest going on between these AI companies until you reach the point where you wonder if it becomes possible to understand how to ensure they are being fair, and how do you describe to a computer what that means anyway?"
DRM

The Kodi Development Team Wants To Be Legitimate and Bring DRM To the Platform. (torrentfreak.com) 156

New submitter pecosdave writes: The XBMC/ Kodi development team has taken a lot of heat over the years, mostly due to third-party developers introducing piracy plugins to the platform. In many cases, cheap Android computers are often sold with these plugins pre-installed with the Kodi or XBMC name attached to them -- something that caused Amazon to ban sales of such devices. The Kodi team is not happy about this, and has taken the fight to the sellers. The Kodi team is now trying to work with rights holders to introduce DRM and legitimate plugins to the platform. Is this the first step towards creating a true one-stop do it yourself Linux entertainment system?
Businesses

TV's Golden Age Is Anything But, Say Writers Preparing To Strike (bloomberg.com) 200

The world's largest media companies returned to the negotiating table Monday with Hollywood screenwriters, seeking to avert a strike that could cost the entertainment industry billions of dollars and take popular TV shows off the air indefinitely. From a report on Bloomberg: Hollywood is bracing for the worst-case scenario after the Writers Guild of America warned advertisers and investors of the financial fallout and said members will most likely walk out May 2 if the new round of talks fail. Major TV programmers, such as NBC and CBS' flagship network, are scanning their slates of upcoming shows to determine which ones can air without guild writers. Negotiators on both sides are counting on cooler heads to prevail as they seek to avoid a repeat of the 100-day work stoppage in 2007-08 that cost the entertainment industry more than $2 billion, according to Milken Institute estimates. Yet the entertainment business, specifically TV, has undergone myriad changes that are creating new sticking points since the last strike almost a decade ago, and the writers say they haven't benefited.
Google

Thousands of Fake Google Maps Listings Redirect Users To Fraudulent Sites (bleepingcomputer.com) 36

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BleepingComputer: Tens of thousands of fake listings are added to Google Maps each month, redirecting users to fraudulent websites selling phony or overpriced services, or are part of some referral scam. Researchers say that 74% of these abusive listings were for local businesses in the U.S. and India, mainly in pockets around certain local hotspots, especially in large metropolitan areas such as New York, Chicago, Houston, or Los Angeles. In most cases, the scheme was simple. A customer in need of a locksmith or electrician would search Google Maps for a local company. If he navigated to the website of a fake business or called its number, a call center operator posing as the business' representative would send over an unaccredited contractor that would charge much more than regular professionals. If a customer's situation were urgent, the contractor would often charge more than the initial agreed upon price. Researchers said that 40.3% of all the listings for fake companies they found focused on on-call services, such as locksmiths, plumbers, and electricians, and were for customers who were desperate to resolve issues. Further, overall, operators of fake listings managed to hijack 0.5% of Google Maps' outbound traffic for the studied period.
Businesses

Sleep Is the New Status Symbol (nytimes.com) 117

The New York Times has a good story on how sleep is increasingly becoming a big business -- and the tech industry is rushing in to tweak our natural rhythms. From the article: At M.I.T.'s Media Lab, the digital futurist playground, David Rose is investigating swaddling, bedtime stories and hammocks, as well as lavender oil and cocoons. [...] Meanwhile, at the University of California, Berkeley, Matthew P. Walker, a professor of neuroscience and psychology and the director of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory there, is working on direct current stimulation as a cure for sleeplessness in the aging brain. [...] In Paris, Hugo Mercier, a computer science engineer, has invested in sound waves. He has raised over $10 million to create a headband that uses them to induce sleep. [...] Ben Olsen, an Australian entrepreneur, hopes to introduce Thim, a gadget you wear on your finger that uses sound to startle you awake every three minutes for an hour, just before you go to sleep. [...] Sleep entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley and beyond have poured into the sleep space, as branders like to say -- a $32 billion market in 2012 -- formerly inhabited by old-style mattress and pharmaceutical companies.
Media

OpenELEC 8.0 Linux Distro Released For PC, Raspberry Pi, WeTek Hub (betanews.com) 50

BrianFagioli writes: Today, popular Linux distro OpenELEC reaches version 8.0 stable. This operating system leverages Kodi to provide a well-rounded media center experience. Not only are there images for PC, but for Raspberry Pi, and WeTek boxes too.

'OpenELEC 8.0 release contains a Kodi major version bump. If you are updating from OpenELEC 7.0 or earlier we strongly recommend you perform a full backup before performing a manual update. If you experience issues please perform a soft-reset to clear OpenELEC and Kodi settings,' says Stephan Raue, OpenELEC.

The Almighty Buck

Bitcoin Exchange Sues Wells Fargo Over Massive Wire Transfer Suspension (bitcoin.com) 79

An anonymous reader quotes this report from the cryptocurrency news site Bitcoin.com: Bitfinex, on Wednesday, filed a lawsuit against Wells Fargo for suspending its outgoing U.S. dollars wire transfers. In addition to "a preliminary and permanent injunction against Wells Fargo," the exchange is seeking compensatory damages in excess of $75,000 and any additional relief the court may deem fair as well as a jury trial for the case... The court document states that Bitfinex is a customer of four Taiwan-based banks but is not itself a customer of Wells Fargo. However, its banks in Taiwan use Wells Fargo as a correspondent bank to process U.S. dollar wire transfers, which is a normal practice in cross-border payments.
"So far, close to US$180M in funds is locked up in Wells Fargo accounts," writes The Merkle, "with no clear path to a resolution in sight." But a Bitfinex representative on social media pointed out that "Funds are not frozen," adding that Wells Fargo is just a correspondent bank, and "They have chosen to block wire transfers between us and our customers which we are challenging in court."

Another post from BFX_Brandon states that "If we allow them to simply flip a switch and disrupt business, then there becomes a precedence in the Bitcoin industry beyond just Bitfinex, so we believe it is the appropriate time to take action."

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