The Almighty Buck

Bitcoin Jumps Another 10% in 24 Hours, Sets New Record at $19,000 (arstechnica.com) 76

An anonymous reader quotes Ars Technica: Bitcoin's price set a new record on Saturday as the virtual currency rose above $19,000 for the first time on the Bitstamp exchange. The gains came just hours after the currency crossed the $18,000 mark. Bitcoin's value has doubled over the last three weeks, and it's up more than 20-fold over the last year.

Bitcoin's value keeps rising despite a growing chorus of experts who say the currency value is an unsustainable bubble. One CNBC survey this week found that 80 percent of Wall Street economists and market strategists saw bitcoin's rise as a bubble, compared to just two percent who said the currency's value was justified. Another survey reported by The Wall Street Journal this week found that 51 out of 53 economists surveyed thought bitcoin's price was an unsustainable bubble.

Less than a month ago, Bitcoin was selling for $8,000.
The Military

The US Military Admits It Spent $22 Million Investigating UFOs (boston.com) 89

Long-time Slashdot reader Joosy writes, "Until 2012 the Pentagon had a program, the 'Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program', that tracked unidentified flying objects." An anonymous reader writes: The Pentagon finally acknowledged the existence of the $22 million program today to the New York Times, while also claiming that they closed the program five years ago. "But its backers say that, while the Pentagon ended funding for the effort at that time, the program remains in existence. For the past five years, they say, officials with the program have continued to investigate episodes brought to them by service members, while also carrying out their other Defense Department duties."

Over the years the program "produced documents that describe sightings of aircraft that seemed to move at very high velocities with no visible signs of propulsion, or that hovered with no apparent means of lift. Officials with the program have also studied videos of encounters between unknown objects and U.S. military aircraft." But ultimately, a Pentagon spokesman said, "It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding, and it was in the best interest of the DoD to make a change."

AI

Predictive Keyboard Tries To Write a New Harry Potter Chapter (cnet.com) 46

Long-time Slashdot reader Baron_Yam writes, "Some AI news items are amusing. This is one of those." ProKras reports: What do you get when a predictive keyboard app tries to write a new Harry Potter story? Apparently, you get Chapter 13 from Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash.

The folks at Botnik Studios trained their keyboard using all 7 Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling. They used one set of training data for narration and another for dialogue. Then a bunch of team members got together in a chat room and pitched the best (worst?) lines created using the keyboard, and Botnik editors assembled them into a cohesive(ish) chapter of a story.

The results are about as ridiculous as you might imagine. For example, at one point Ron Weasley "saw Harry and immediately began to eat Hermione's family. Ron's Ron shirt was just as bad as Ron himself." It is never explained how Hermonie knew that the password to a certain locked door was "BEEF WOMEN," nor why "the pig of Hufflepuff pulsed like a large bullfrog." Maybe that was covered in Chapter 12.

Google

Google News Will Purge Sites Masking Their Country of Origin (bloomberg.com) 95

An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg: Google moved to strip from its news search results publications that mask their country of origin or intentionally mislead readers, a further step to curb the spread of fake news that has plagued internet companies this year. To appear in Google News results, websites must meet broad criteria set out by the company, including accurately representing their owners or primary purposes. In an update to its guidelines released Friday, the search giant added language stipulating that publications not "engage in coordinated activity to mislead users."

Additionally the new rules read: "This includes, but isn't limited to, sites that misrepresent or conceal their country of origin or are directed at users in another country under false premises." A popular tactic for misinformation campaigns is to pose as a credible U.S. news outlet. Russian Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-backed organization, used that technique to reach an audience of nearly 500,000 people, spread primarily through Twitter accounts, Bloomberg reported earlier.

The Media

'The Gawker Foundation' is Crowdfunding a Bid To Re-Launch Gawker.com (savegawker.com) 75

"Gawker may soon return from the dead," reports TechCrunch. While Univision acquired most of Gawker Media's sites last year (and renamed them as the Gizmodo Media Group), the deal didn't include Gawker itself. In fact, BuzzFeed reported last month that a bankruptcy administrator has not been able to find a buyer for the Gawker site, and that lawyers for Peter Thiel (the billionaire venture capitalist who helped fund the lawsuit that led to Gawker's bankruptcy) were arguing that he'd been unfairly excluded from the process. Now a group of former Gawker employees calling themselves the Gawker Foundation has launched a Kickstarter campaign to buy the old domain and relaunch with a nonprofit, membership-funded model.
"The truth is often inconvenient, and Gawker's work isn't done," explains a mirror of their campaign site at SaveGawker.com. "We want to dig deeper." $10 pledges get you a laptop sticker, $250 pledges earn you an invite to their glorious re-launch party, and to solicit $10,000 pledges they're even asking wealthy backers to "Give us half of one bitcoin."

"By setting ourselves up as an ownerless, advertiser-less, non-profit media organization, the editorial team will be able to do what they do best. More than a dozen Gawker Media alumni are involved in this project..."
Bitcoin

An Anonymous Bitcoin Millionaire Is Donating Their Fortune To Charities (gizmodo.com) 91

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Tis the season for giving, and one Bitcoin investor claims to be giving away the majority of their cryptocurrency holdings after experiencing an incredible year. The unnamed donor has set up a fund to hand out $86 million worth of Bitcoin to various charities, and they've already started listing the donations and providing receipts. If this whole thing works out, you can just call this mystery person the Bitcoin Bill Gates. So far, The Pineapple Fund claims to have distributed just over $6.5 million in Bitcoin between eight charities. Its website provides links to the blockchain transactions under the name of each charity. These transactions are in a public ledger, but the sender and recipient are only identified by a long string of digits. We contacted the Electronic Freedom Foundation to ask if the two transactions that were purportedly sent to the activist group were indeed legitimate. A spokesperson confirmed via email that the EFF has "been in touch with the Pineapple Fund and are in the process of receiving the donation." The anonymous founder writes: "Sometime around the early days of bitcoin, I saw the promise of decentralized money and decided to mine/buy/trade some magical internet tokens. The expectation shattering returns of bitcoin over many years has lead to an amount far more than I can spend. What do you do when you have more money than you can ever possibly spend? Donating most of it to charity is what I'm doing. For reference, The Pineapple Fund is bigger than the entire market cap of bitcoin when I got in, and one of the richest 250 bitcoin addresses today."
Mozilla

Mozilla Slipped a 'Mr. Robot'-Promo Plugin Into Firefox and Users Are Pissed (gizmodo.com) 272

MarcAuslander shares a report from Gizmodo: Mozilla sneaked a browser plugin that promotes Mr. Robot into Firefox -- and managed to piss off a bunch of its privacy-conscious users in the process. The extension, called Looking Glass, is intended to promote an augmented reality game to "further your immersion into the Mr. Robot universe," according to Mozilla. It was automatically added to Firefox users' browsers this week with no explanation except the cryptic message, "MY REALITY IS JUST DIFFERENT THAN YOURS," prompting users to worry on Reddit that they'd been hit with spyware. Without an explanation included with the extension, users were left digging around in the code for Looking Glass to find answers. Looking Glass was updated for some users today with a description that explains the connection to Mr. Robot and lets users know that the extension won't activate without explicit opt-in.

Mozilla justified its decision to include the extension because Mr. Robot promotes user privacy. "The Mr. Robot series centers around the theme of online privacy and security," the company said in an explanation of the mysterious extension. "One of the 10 guiding principles of Mozilla's mission is that individuals' security and privacy on the internet are fundamental and must not be treated as optional. The more people know about what information they are sharing online, the more they can protect their privacy."

Bitcoin

Coinbase Wants Wall Street To Resolve Its Bitcoin Trust Issues (bloomberg.com) 48

In an effort to use digital money to reinvent finance, cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase is trying to legitimize itself by convincing big money managers to trust it enough to trade on its exchange. They need to "reassure regulators that bitcoin isn't a silk road for hackers, money launderers and tax evaders," reports Bloomberg. From the report: Despite the table tennis, Coinbase shows glimmers of maturity. More than 10 million customers have used the company since it began, though it recently quit updating the tally on its website. About $57 billion of digital currency has traded on the exchange so far this year. It doubled its staff in that time and expects to do so again in 2018. Ultimately, Coinbase plans to go public. The firm said it's prevailed against security threats, helping it avoid the fate of Mt. Gox, the world's biggest bitcoin exchange before shutting its doors in 2014 after $480 million of customer funds went bye-bye. Coinbase stores 98 percent of users' digital currencies in offline safe-deposit boxes. The remaining 2 percent, which is vulnerable because it's online, is covered by insurance. The company holds more than $10 billion in digital assets. Developing ties with banks is one of the biggest challenges. Coinbase doesn't publicly disclose its banking relationships, but a person familiar with the matter said the company is partnering with Cross River Bank, Metropolitan Bank and Silvergate Bank in the U.S.
AT&T

ISPs Won't Promise To Treat All Traffic Equally After Net Neutrality (theverge.com) 210

An anonymous reader writes: The FCC voted to put an end to net neutrality, giving internet providers free rein to deliver service at their own discretion. There's really only one condition here: internet providers will have to disclose their policies regarding "network management practices, performance, and commercial terms." So if ISPs want to block websites, throttle your connection, or charge certain websites more, they'll have to admit it. We're still too far out to know exactly what disclosures all the big ISPs are going to make -- the rules (or lack thereof) don't actually go into effect for another few months -- but many internet providers have been making statements throughout the year about their stance on net neutrality, which ought to give some idea of where they'll land. We reached out to 10 big or notable ISPs to see what their stances are on three core tenets of net neutrality: no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization. Not all of them answered, and the answers we did get are complicated. [The Verge reached out to Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Charter (Spectrum), Cox, Altice USA (Optimum and SuddenLink), and Google Fi and Google Fiber.]

Many ISPs say they support some or all of these core rules, but there's a big caveat there: for six of the past seven years, there have been net neutrality rules in place at the FCC. That means all of the companies we checked with have had to abide by the no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization rules. It means that they can say, and be mostly correct in saying, that they've long followed those rules. But it is, on some level, because they've had to. What actually matters is which policies ISPs say they'll keep in the future, and few are making commitments about that. In fact, all of the companies we contacted (with the exception of Google) have supported the FCC's plan to remove the current net neutrality rules. None of the ISPs we contacted will make a commitment -- or even a comment -- on paid fast lanes and prioritization. And this is really where we expect to see problems: ISPs likely won't go out and block large swaths of the web, but they may start to give subtle advantages to their own content and the content of their partners, slowly shaping who wins and loses online.
Comcast: Comcast says it currently doesn't block, throttle content, or offer paid fast lanes, but hasn't committed to not doing so in the future.
AT&T: AT&T has committed to not blocking or throttling websites in the future. However, its stance around fast lanes is unclear.
Verizon: Verizon indicates that, at least in the immediate future, it will not block legal content. As for throttling and fast lanes, the company has no stance, and even seems to be excited to use the absence of rules to its advantage.
T-Mobile: T-Mobile makes no commitments to not throttle content or offer paid fast lanes and is unclear on its commitment to not blocking sites and services. It's already involved in programs that advantage some services over others.
Sprint: Sprint makes no commitments on net neutrality, but suggests it doesn't have plans to offer a service that would block sites.
Charter (Spectrum): Charter doesn't make any guarantees, but the company indicates that it's currently committed to not blocking or throttling customers.
Cox: Cox says it won't block or throttle content, even without net neutrality. It won't make commitments on zero-rating or paid fast lanes.
Altice USA (Optimum and SuddenLink): Altice doesn't currently block or throttle and suggests it will keep those policies, though without an explicit commitment. The company doesn't comment on prioritizing one service over another.
Google Fi and Google Fiber: Google doesn't make any promises regarding throttling and paid prioritization. However, it is the only company to state that it believes paid prioritization would be harmful.
Communications

Norway Becomes First Country To Switch Off FM Radio (thelocal.no) 170

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Local Norway: Norway on Wednesday completed its transition to digital radio, becoming the first country in the world to shut down national broadcasts of its FM radio network despite some grumblings. As scheduled, the country's most northern regions and the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic switched to Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) in the late morning, said Digitalradio Norge (DRN) which groups Norway's public and commercial radio. The transition, which began on January 11th, allows for better sound quality, a greater number of channels and more functions, all at a cost eight times lower than FM radio, according to authorities. The move has however been met with some criticism linked to technical incidents and claims that there is not sufficient DAB coverage across the country. In addition, radio users have complained about the cost of having to buy new receivers or adapters, usually priced around 100 to 200 euros. Currently, fewer than half of motorists (49 percent) are able to listen to DAB in their cars, according to DRN figures. According to a study cited by local media, the share of Norwegians who listen to the radio on a daily basis has dropped by 10 percent in one year, and public broadcaster NRK has lost 21 percent of its audience.
Canada

Canadian Cellphone Bills Are Some of the Highest In the World, Says Report (straight.com) 175

Freshly Exhumed shares a report from Straight: A report released this week by the Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (ISED) confirms that Canada ranks among the top three most costly countries for mobile wireless plans. Comparing the U.K, Italy, France, Australia, Japan, and the U.S. on six tiers of pricing -- which looked at talk-time, texts, and data -- the document shows that Canada has the most expensive mid-range and higher-tier plans in the world. "It is unacceptable that Canadians continue to pay ever-rising prices year after year for something as critical as mobile communications services," said Katy Anderson, Digital Rights Advocate at OpenMedia.
Businesses

China's Top Phone Makers Huawei and Xiaomi In Talks With Carriers To Expand To US Market (bloomberg.com) 42

From a report: Huawei and Xiaomi are in talks with U.S. wireless operators about selling flagship smartphones to American consumers as soon as next year, according to people familiar with the matter. The handset makers are negotiating with carriers including AT&T and Verizon, said the people, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. Talks are still fluid and it's possible no agreements will materialize, they said.
Government

CIA Captured Putin's 'Specific Instructions' To Hack the 2016 Election, Says Report (thedailybeast.com) 517

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Daily Beast: When Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director James B. Comey all went to see Donald Trump together during the presidential transition, they told him conclusively that they had "captured Putin's specific instructions on the operation" to hack the 2016 presidential election, according to a report in The Washington Post. The intel bosses were worried that he would explode but Trump remained calm during the carefully choreographed meeting. "He was affable, courteous, complimentary," Clapper told the Post. Comey stayed behind afterward to tell the president-elect about the controversial Steele dossier, however, and that private meeting may have been responsible for the animosity that would eventually lead to Trump firing the director of the FBI.
Bitcoin

A Cryptocurrency Without a Blockchain Has Been Built To Outperform Bitcoin (technologyreview.com) 182

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: Bitcoin isn't the only cryptocurrency on a hot streak -- plenty of alternative currencies have enjoyed rallies alongside the Epic Bitcoin Bull Run of 2017. One of the most intriguing examples is also among the most obscure in the cryptocurrency world. Called IOTA, it has jumped in total value from just over $4 billion to more than $10 billion in a little over two weeks. But that isn't what makes it interesting. What makes it interesting is that it isn't based on a blockchain at all; it's something else entirely. The rally began in late November, after the IOTA Foundation, the German nonprofit behind the novel cryptocurrency, announced that it was teaming up with several major technology firms to develop a "decentralized data marketplace."

Though IOTA tokens can be used like any other cryptocurrency, the protocol was designed specifically for use on connected devices, says cofounder David Sonstebo. Organizations collect huge amounts of data from these gadgets, from weather tracking systems to sensors that monitor the performance of industrial machinery (a.k.a. the Internet of things). But nearly all of that information is wasted, sitting in siloed databases and not making money for its owners, says Sonstebo. IOTA's system can address this in two ways, he says. First, it can assure the integrity of this data by securing it in a tamper-proof decentralized ledger. Second, it enables fee-less transactions between the owners of the data and anyone who wants to buy it -- and there are plenty of companies that want to get their hands on data.
The report goes on to note that instead of using a blockchain, "IOTA uses a 'tangle,' which is based on a mathematical concept called a directed acyclic graph." The team decided to research this new alternative after deciding that blockchains are too costly. "Part of Sonstebo's issue with Bitcoin and other blockchain systems is that they rely on a distributed network of 'miners' to verify transactions," reports MIT Technology Review. "When a user issues a transaction [with IOTA], that individual also validates two randomly selected previous transactions, each of which refer to two other previous transactions, and so on. As new transactions mount, a 'tangled web of confirmation' grows, says Sonstebo."
Crime

DOJ Confirms Uber Is Being Investigated For Criminal Behavior (arstechnica.com) 34

A newly released letter from the Department of Justice has formally acknowledged that federal prosecutors have an open criminal investigation into Uber. Ars Technica reports: Late last month, as part of the proceedings in the high-profile and ongoing Waymo v. Uber trade secrets lawsuit, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said that on November 22 he had received a letter from San Francisco-based federal prosecutors. It is very unusual for a judge in a civil case to be apprised of a pending criminal investigation involving one of the litigants. In a separate November 28 letter sent to Judge Alsup, Acting U.S. Attorney Alex Tse asked that the first letter not be made public. The judge unsealed both letters on Wednesday. The first letter was signed by two prosecutors, Matthew Parrella and Amie Rooney. Those attorneys are assigned to the Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property (CHIP) Unit at the United States Attorney's Office in San Jose. [T]he letter could mean Uber and/or its current or former employees may be under investigation for possible crimes under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a longstanding anti-hacking law.
Advertising

Facebook Will Introduce Ads As Videos Start Playing (recode.net) 72

Facebook is going to start running pre-roll ads on its "Watch" videos next year. While you won't see your News Feed full of video ads, you will start to see pre-rolls, which will run for up to six seconds, on videos in Facebook's "Watch" hub. Recode reports: Facebook launched its Watch hub earlier this year, using "mid-roll" ads (another ad format Facebook tried to avoid for a long time). The fact that they have added pre-rolls -- the format used around the web and the one advertisers are most comfortable with -- should be read as an admission that the mid-roll ads aren't generating significant revenue for Facebook or the publishers putting video into Watch. Speaking of those mid-roll ads: Facebook now says they won't appear until later in videos and they'll only run on longer videos. It says the ads (it calls them "ad breaks") can't run until a minute into a video, and they can only run if the video is at least three minutes long. At first, the ads could run after 20 seconds and on videos as short as 90 seconds.
The Internet

Lawmakers Are Fighting For Net Neutrality (theverge.com) 212

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Lawmakers and public officials are responding to the FCC's decision to gut net neutrality with promises of action. In the hours following the FCC hearing, officials from around the country announced lawsuits and bills intended to counter the FCC's decision. In New York, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said that he's leading a multi-state lawsuit to challenge the FCC's vote, though he didn't give further details on the suit or who would be joining him. Calling today's decision an "illegal rollback," he described it as giving "Big Telecom an early Christmas present."

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson also announced he would sue alongside Schneiderman and other attorneys general across the country, saying that he held "a strong legal argument" and that it was likely the government had failed to follow the law with this vote. Other officials from Santa Clara, California, including county supervisor Joe Simitian, are also suing the FCC to block the decision. "We believe the depth of your ideas should outweigh the depths of your pockets," Simitian said at a press conference.

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-CA) announced plans to introduce a bill to adopt net neutrality as a requirement in his state. He wrote in a Medium post, "If the FCC won't stand up for a free and open internet, California will."

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) tweeted that he will be submitting net neutrality legislation, saying that this was a decision better left to Congress. Coffman was the first Republican to ask the FCC to delay the vote, citing "unanticipated negative consequences" on Tuesday.
Furthermore, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) are supporting Sen. Ed Markey's (D-MA) plan to introduce a Congressional Review Act resolution to undo the FCC vote. Even Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who had previously announced on Twitter her support for Ajit Pai and the FCC, tweeted a video, saying, "We will codify the need for no blocking, no throttling, and making certain that we preserve that free and open internet." We're likely to see many others express their disappointment with the FCC's decision over the next few hours and days.
United States

The Trump Administration Just Voted To Repeal the US Government's Net Neutrality Rules (recode.net) 581

The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to dismantle landmark rules regulating the businesses that connect consumers to the internet, granting broadband companies power to potentially reshape Americans' online experiences. The agency scrapped so-called net neutrality regulations that prohibited broadband providers from blocking websites or charging for higher-quality service or certain content. The federal government will also no longer regulate high-speed internet delivery as if it were a utility, like phone services. From a report: Under the leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai -- and with only the backing of the agency's Republican members -- the repeal newly frees telecom companies from federal regulation, unravels a signature accomplishment of the Obama administration and shifts the responsibility of overseeing the web to another federal agency that some critics see as too weak to be effective. In practice, it means the U.S. government no longer will have rules on its books that require internet providers to treat all web traffic equally. The likes of AT&T and Verizon will be limited in some ways -- they can face penalties if they try to undermine their rivals, for example -- but they won't be subject to preemptive, bright-line restrictions on how they manage their networks. Meanwhile, the FCC's repeal will open the door for broadband providers to charge third parties, like tech giants, for faster delivery of their web content.
News

Wine Glasses Are Seven Times Larger Than They Used To Be (theguardian.com) 212

An anonymous reader shares a report: Our Georgian and Victorian ancestors may have enjoyed a Christmas tipple but -- judging by the size of the glasses they used -- they probably drank less wine than we do today. Scientists at the University of Cambridge have found that the capacity of wine glasses has ballooned nearly seven-fold over the past 300 years, rising most sharply in the last two decades in line with a surge in wine consumption. Wine glasses have swelled in size from an average capacity of 66ml in the early 1700s to 449ml today, the study reveals -- a change that may have encouraged us to drink far more than is healthy. Indeed, a typical wine glass 300 years ago would only have held about a half of today's smallest "official" measure of 125ml.
Businesses

Google and Facebook 'Must Pay For News' From Which They Make Billions (yahoo.com) 166

Internet giants such as Google and Facebook must pay copyright charges for using news content on their platforms, nine European press agencies said. These giant platforms, news agencies said, make vast profits from news content on their platforms. The call comes at a time when the EU is debating a directive to make Facebook, Google, Twitter and other major players pay for the millions of news articles they use or link to. From a report: "Facebook has become the biggest media in the world," the agencies said in a plea published in the French daily Le Monde. "Yet neither Facebook nor Google have a newsroom... They do not have journalists in Syria risking their lives, nor a bureau in Zimbabwe investigating Mugabe's departure, nor editors to check and verify information sent in by reporters on the ground." The agencies argued, "access to free information is supposedly one of the great victories of the internet. But it is a myth."

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