Sierra Leone Government Denies the Role of Blockchain In Its Recent Election ( 7

The National Electoral Commission Sierra Leone is denying the news that theirs was one of the first elections recorded to the blockchain. "While the blockchain voting company Agora claimed to have run the first blockchain-based election, it appears that the company did little more than observe the voting and store some of the results," reports TechCrunch. From the report: "The NEC [National Electoral Commission] has not used and is not using blockchain technology in any part of the electoral process," said NEC head Mohamed Conteh. Why he is adamant about this fact is unclear -- questions I asked went unanswered -- but he and his team have created a set of machine readable election results and posted [a] clarification. "Anonymized votes/ballots are being recorded on Agora's blockchain, which will be publicly available for any interested party to review, count and validate," said Agora's Leonardo Gammar. "This is the first time a government election is using blockchain technology." In Africa the reactions were mixed. "It would be like me showing up to the UK election with my computer and saying, 'let me enter your counting room, let me plug-in and count your results,'" said Morris Marah to RFI. "Agora's results for the two districts they tallied differed considerably from the official results, according to an analysis of the two sets of statistics carried out by RFI," wrote RFI's Daniel Finnan.

Did Cambridge Analytica Harvest 50 Million Facebook Profiles? ( 128

Slashdot reader umafuckit shared this article from The Guardian: The data analytics firm that worked with Donald Trump's election team and the winning Brexit campaign harvested millions of Facebook profiles of U.S. voters, in one of the tech giant's biggest ever data breaches, and used them to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box... Christopher Wylie, who worked with a Cambridge University academic to obtain the data, told the Observer: "We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people's profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on."

Documents seen by the Observer, and confirmed by a Facebook statement, show that by late 2015 the company had found out that information had been harvested on an unprecedented scale. However, at the time it failed to alert users and took only limited steps to recover and secure the private information of more than 50 million individuals... On Friday, four days after the Observer sought comment for this story, but more than two years after the data breach was first reported, Facebook announced that it was suspending Cambridge Analytica and Kogan from the platform, pending further information over misuse of data. Separately, Facebook's external lawyers warned the Observer on Friday it was making "false and defamatory" allegations, and reserved Facebook's legal position...

The evidence Wylie supplied to U.K. and U.S. authorities includes a letter from Facebook's own lawyers sent to him in August 2016, asking him to destroy any data he held that had been collected by GSR, the company set up by Kogan to harvest the profiles... Facebook did not pursue a response when the letter initially went unanswered for weeks because Wylie was travelling, nor did it follow up with forensic checks on his computers or storage, he said. "That to me was the most astonishing thing. They waited two years and did absolutely nothing to check that the data was deleted. All they asked me to do was tick a box on a form and post it back."

Wylie worked with Aleksandr Kogan, the creator of the "thisisyourdigitallife" app, "who has previously unreported links to a Russian university and took Russian grants for research," according to the article. Kogan "had a licence from Facebook to collect profile data, but it was for research purposes only. So when he hoovered up information for the commercial venture, he was violating the company's terms...

"At the time, more than 50 million profiles represented around a third of active North American Facebook users, and nearly a quarter of potential U.S. voters."

Scientists Unsure Where Chinese Space Station Will Crash To Earth 78

In 2016, the Chinese space agency lost control of its Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace, spacecraft, five years after it blasted into orbit. Scientists have determined that it will come crashing down to Earth in the coming weeks, be they do not know exactly where on Earth it will hit. The Guardian reports: The defunct module is now at an altitude of 150 miles and being tracked by space agencies around the world, with the European Space Agency's center in Darmstadt predicting a fiery descent for it between March 27 and April 8. Hurtling around the Earth at about 18,000mph, the module ranks as one of the larger objects to re-enter the atmosphere without being steered towards the ocean, as is standard for big and broken spacecraft, and cargo vessels that are jettisoned from the International Space Station (ISS), to reduce the risk to life below. The spacecraft's orbit ranges from 43 degrees north to 43 degrees south, which rules out a descent over the UK but includes vast stretches of North and South America, China, the Middle East, Africa, Australia, parts of Europe -- and great swaths of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Western analysts cannot be sure how much of the spacecraft will survive re-entry, because China has not released details of the design and materials used to make Tiangong-1. But the spacecraft may have well-protected titanium fuel tanks containing toxic hydrazine that could pose a danger if they land in populated areas.

FCC Accuses Stealthy Startup of Launching Rogue Satellites 128

Back in January, the FCC pulled permission from Silicon Valley startup Swarm Technologies to launch four satellites into space after what it says was an "apparent unauthorized launch." IEEE Spectrum reports that the unauthorized launch consisted of four experimental satellites that the FCC had decided were too small to be noticed in space -- and hence pose an unacceptable risk of collision -- but which the company may have launched anyway, using a rocket based in India. The federal regulator has since issued a letter to Swarm revoking its authorization for a follow-up mission to launch four new, larger versions of its "SpaceBee" satellites. From the report: Swarm was founded in 2016 by one engineer who developed a spacecraft concept for Google and another who sold his previous company to Apple. The SpaceBees were built as technology demonstrators for a new space-based Internet of Things communications network. Swarm believes its network could enable satellite communications for orders of magnitude less cost than existing options. It envisages the worldwide tracking of ships and cars, new agricultural technologies, and low cost connectivity for humanitarian efforts anywhere in the world. The four SpaceBees would be the first practical demonstration of Swarm's prototype hardware and cutting-edge algorithms, swapping data with ground stations for up to eight years.
The FCC told the startup that the agency would assess "the impact of the applicant's apparent unauthorized launch and operation of four satellites... on its qualifications to be a Commission licensee." If Swarm cannot convince the FCC otherwise, the startup could lose permission to build its revolutionary network before the wider world even knows the company exists. An unauthorized launch would also call into question the ability of secondary satellite "ride-share" companies and foreign launch providers to comply with U.S. space regulations.

YouTube Is Full of Easy-To-Find Neo-Nazi Propaganda ( 376

An anonymous reader quotes an exclusive report from Motherboard: Through a software-aided investigation, Motherboard has found that while YouTube has managed to clamp down on Islamic extremists uploading propaganda, the video giant is still awash with videos supporting violent and established neo-Nazi organizations, even when, in some cases, users have reported the offending videos. Clips of neo-Nazi propaganda operations, hate-filled speeches, and extremists pushing for direct action have remained on the site for weeks, months, or years at a time. Arguably, many if not all of these videos may fall under YouTube's own policy on hate speech, which "refers to content that promotes violence against or has the primary purpose of inciting hatred against individuals or groups based on certain attributes," including race or ethnic origin, religion, and sexual orientation, according to the policy.

Motherboard built a tool to monitor YouTube and make a record of when the platform removed certain videos, and limited the clips to propaganda for established neo-Nazi and far-right terrorist organizations like Atomwaffen, rather than people in the so-called "alt-right." Most of the videos were discovered through simple YouTube searches of relevant organizations' names, or sometimes through the "recommended videos" sidebar after Motherboard had built up a browsing history of neo-Nazi material. For the sake of comparison, over a week-long period Motherboard also tracked pro-ISIS videos uploaded by the group's supporters and then distributed through a network of Telegram channels. Typically, YouTube removed these Islamic extremism videos in a matter of hours, including those that did not contain images of violence, but were instead speeches or other not directly violent content. But YouTube is playing catch up with neo-Nazi material. YouTube removed only two videos that Motherboard was monitoring: two identical clips of a speech from UK terrorist organization National Action.


The Hitchhikers Guide To the Galaxy Returns With the Original Cast ( 84

Jonathan M. Gitlin reports via Ars Technica: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy deserves a special place in the geek pantheon. It's the story of hapless BBC radio editor Arthur Dent, his best friend Ford Prefect, and the adventures that result when Prefect saves Dent when the Earth is unexpectedly destroyed to make way for a galactic bypass. Written by the late, great Douglas Adams, THGTTG first appeared as a radio series in the UK back in 1978. On Thursday -- exactly 40 years to the day from that first broadcast -- it made its return home with the start of Hexagonal Phase, a radio dramatization of the sixth and final book of an increasingly misnamed trilogy.

Although Adams died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2001, the universe he gave birth to lived on. Beginning in 2004, the original radio cast was reunited to dramatize the third, fourth, and fifth books. In 2005, a film adaptation was released, and then in 2009 came a final novel in the "trilogy," And Another Thing..., written by the novelist Eoin Colfer. It's this story that the BBC is now dramatizing, again using many of the original cast, along with newcomers like Jim Broadbent, Lenny Henry, and Stephen Hawking. Yes, that Stephen Hawking.


'Repeatable Sanitization' is a Feature of PCs Now ( 90

HP has announced a trio of slightly-odd products intended for use in hospitals. From a report: The new HP EliteOne 800 G4 23.8 Healthcare Edition All-in-One PC and HP EliteBook 840 G5 Healthcare Edition Notebook are computers intended for use in the healthcare industry. The EliteBook will ship with software called "Easy Clean" that disables the keyboard, touchscreen and keypad "to facilitate cleaning with germicidal wipes while the device is still on." HP said it's scoured the market and thinks it is the only vendor on the planet with a laptop capable of handling "up to 10,000 wipes with germicidal towelettes over a 3-year period." The All-in-One boasts no antibacterial features, but does have both RFID and biometric authentication, handy features in an environment where PCs can't be left unlocked to preserve privacy. That requirement means PCs are logged on to many more times a day than the average machine, making the presence of Windows Hello facial recognition more than a gimmick. Oddly, both come with the disclaimer that they're "not intended for use in diagnosis, cure, treatment or prevention of disease or other medical conditions."

Europe Plans Special Tax For Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon ( 253

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Register: Bruno Le Maire, France's minister for the economy, has revealed that a plan to levy a special tax on Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon will soon be revealed by European authorities. Le Maire told French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche "A European directive will be unveiled in the coming weeks, the minister reveals, and it will mark a considerable step forward." The minister told the paper that a tax of between two and six per cent has been considered, with the proposal to be "closer to two than six." The proposed tax will be levied on the four companies' turnover, rather than profits. Taxing turnover is hoped to offer a simple way to tax the companies, as all use legal-but-cynical ways to minimize their taxable income. Le Maire added that a turnover tax is seen as being quick to implement and that the four companies know they're going to have to pay more tax in Europe, so may be amenable to such an arrangement.

Ubisoft is Using AI To Catch Bugs in Games Before Devs Make Them ( 126

AI has a new task: helping to keep the bugs out of video games. From a report: At the recent Ubisoft Developer Conference in Montreal, the French gaming company unveiled a new AI assistant for its developers. Dubbed Commit Assistant, the goal of the AI system is to catch bugs before they're ever committed into code, saving developers time and reducing the number of flaws that make it into a game before release. "I think like many good ideas, it's like 'how come we didn't think about that before?'," says Yves Jacquier, who heads up La Forge, Ubisoft's R&D division in Montreal. His department partners with local universities including McGill and Concordia to collaborate on research intended to advance the field of artificial intelligence as a whole, not just within the industry.

La Forge fed Commit Assistant with roughly ten years' worth of code from across Ubisoft's software library, allowing it to learn where mistakes have historically been made, reference any corrections that were applied, and predict when a coder may be about to write a similar bug. "It's all about comparing the lines of code we've created in the past, the bugs that were created in them, and the bugs that were corrected, and finding a way to make links [between them] to provide us with a super-AI for programmers," explains Jacquier.


The Oscar-Winning Special Effects of Blade Runner 2049 ( 107

On Sunday, 'Blade Runner 2049' won the Oscar for the movie with the best visual effects. BBC spoke to Richard Hoover, the visual effects supervisor at Framestore which was one of the companies responsible for the movie's special effects.

Further reading: How 'Blade Runner 2049' VFX Supervisor John Nelson Brought Rachael & Pic's Holograms To Life (Deadline); Behind the breathtaking visual effects of 'Blade Runner 2049' (Digital Trends); How Blade Runner 2049's VFX team made K's hologram girlfriend (Wired).

Videogame Lobbyists Join Scientists To Fight 'Gaming Disorder' Classification ( 72

Remember when the World Health Organization moved to define a new disease called "gaming disorder"? An anonymous reader quotes Motherboard: Multiple video game lobbying groups from around the world have banded together to push back against the classification, and 36 academics, scientists, doctors, and researchers have drafted a paper that called the WHO's methodology and motives into question. The professionals will publish the paper, titled "Weak Basis for Gaming Disorder," in an upcoming issue of Journal of Behavioral Addictions. The article is a collection of well reasoned arguments against classifying "gaming disorder" as a disease, complete with references to extant research...

"We agree that there are some people whose play of video games is related to life problems," said the article's abstract. "However, moving from research construct to formal disorder requires a much stronger evidence base than we currently have"... To be clear, the article doesn't argue that something isn't going on and that gaming addiction isn't real and isn't a problem. It just thinks that rushing to define it and put it in the the ICD is a bad idea.


23,000 HTTPS Certs Axed After CEO Emails Private Keys ( 72

An anonymous reader quotes Ars Technica: A major dust-up on an Internet discussion forum is touching off troubling questions about the security of some browser-trusted HTTPS certificates when it revealed the CEO of a certificate reseller emailed a partner the sensitive private keys for 23,000 TLS certificates. The email was sent on Tuesday by the CEO of Trustico, a UK-based reseller of TLS certificates issued by the browser-trusted certificate authorities Comodo and, until recently, Symantec...

In communications earlier this month, Trustico notified DigiCert that 50,000 Symantec-issued certificates Trustico had resold should be mass revoked because of security concerns. When Jeremy Rowley, an executive vice president at DigiCert, asked for proof the certificates were compromised, the Trustico CEO emailed the private keys of 23,000 certificates, according to an account posted to a Mozilla security policy forum. The report produced a collective gasp among many security practitioners who said it demonstrated a shockingly cavalier treatment of the digital certificates that form one of the most basic foundations of website security... In a statement, Trustico officials said the keys were recovered from "cold storage," a term that typically refers to offline storage systems. "Trustico allows customers to generate a Certificate Signing Request and Private Key during the ordering process," the statement read. "These Private Keys are stored in cold storage, for the purpose of revocation."

"There's no indication the email was encrypted," reports Ars Technica, and the next day DigiCert sent emails to Trustico's 23,000+ customers warning that their certificates were being revoked, according to Bleeping Computer.

In a related development, Thursday Trustico's web site went offline, "shortly after a website security expert disclosed a critical vulnerability on Twitter that appeared to make it possible for outsiders to run malicious code on Trustico servers."

Desktop PC Shipments Dip Below 100m/Year ( 54

Desktop PC shipments dipped below 100 million in 2017 and there's worse to come across the personal computing device market according to analyst firm IDC. From a report: The company on Wednesday published a summary of its Worldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker for 2017's final quarter in which it totted up shipments for the year across all forms of PC and slate-style tablets. The headline figure was a 2.7 per cent year-over-year decline. The firm said "commercial PC renewal momentum remained as the main catalyst in a market that was also tempered by lackluster demand for legacy form factor devices and component shortages." There was a little good news in 2017 with growth in notebook sales, as they grew more strongly than in any year since 2012, but the overall picture was poor.

Google Releases Info On 2.4 Million 'Right To Be Forgotten' Requests ( 69

According to Google's latest transparency report, the company has received 2.4 million "right to be forgotten" requests since 2014, most of which came from private individuals. Engadget reports: Europe's biggest court passed the right to be forgotten law in 2014, compelling the tech titan to remove personal info from its search engine upon request. In the report, Google has revealed that it complied with 43.3 percent of all the requests it's gotten and has also detailed the nature of those takedown pleas. France, Germany and the UK apparently generated 51 percent of all the URL delisting appeals. Overall, 89 percent of the takedown pleas came from private individuals: Non-government figures such as celebrities submitted 41,213 of the URLs in Google's pile, while politicians and government officials submitted 33,937. As Gizmodo noted, though, there's a small group of law firms and reputation management services submitting numerous pleas, suggesting the rise of reputation-fixing business in the region.

Out of those 2.4 million requests, 19.1 percent are directory URLs, while news websites and social networks only make up 17.6 and 11.6 percent of them. Majority of the URLs submitted for removal are random online destinations that don't fall under any of the previous categories. As for the takedown's reasons, it looks 18.1 percent of the submissions want their professional info scrubbed, 7.7 percent want info they previously posted online themselves to be removed and 6.1 percent want their crimes hidden from search.


Worldwide Smartphone Shipments Down For First Time Ever ( 77

According to Gartner, global sales of smartphones have declined year-on-year for the first time since the research company started tracking the global smartphone market in 2004. "Global sales of smartphones to end users totaled nearly 408 million units in the fourth quarter of 2017, a 5.6 percent decline over the fourth quarter of 2016," reports Gartner. The Register reports: In Gartner's Q4 sales stats, Samsung maintained a narrow lead in global volume shipments of smartphones -- but every major (top five) vendor outside of those based in China saw unit shipments slip. Several major factors caused the market shrinkage, said Anshul Gupta, research director at Gartner. "First, upgrades from feature phones to smartphones have slowed right down due to a lack of quality 'ultra-low-cost' smartphones and users preferring to buy quality feature phones. Second, replacement smartphone users are choosing quality models and keeping them longer, lengthening the replacement cycle of smartphones. Moreover, while demand for high quality, 4G connectivity and better camera features remained strong, high expectations and few incremental benefits during replacement weakened smartphone sales," Gupta added. This is a characteristic of the emerging markets, where all the action is -- not mature markets like the UK or USA. Samsung leap-frogged Apple by virtue of its sales declining slower than the market average -- Sammy's numbers were 3.6 per cent to 74.02 million units.

'Computer History Museum' Honorees Include Python Creator Guido van Rossum ( 73

On Wednesday the Computer History Museum, "the world's leading institution exploring the history of computing and its transformational impact on society," proudly announced the three Fellow Award honorees for 2018:
  • Dov Frohman-Bentchkowsky -- "For the invention of the first commercial erasable programmable read-only memory (EPROM), which enabled rapid development of microprocessor-based systems."
  • Dame Stephanie Shirley CH -- "For a lifetime of entrepreneurship promoting the growth of the UK software industry and the advancement of women in computing."
  • Guido van Rossum -- "For the creation and evolution of the Python programming language, and for leadership of its community."

"We are delighted to induct these outstanding new Fellows with diverse contributions in hardware, in services, and in software," said Len Shustek, the Museum's board chairman. "They are true heroes of the Digital Age."


OpenBSD Releases Meltdown Patch ( 44

OpenBSD's Meltdown patch has landed, in the form of a Version 11 code update that separates user memory pages from the kernel's -- pretty much the same approach as was taken in the Linux kernel. From a report: A few days after the Meltdown/Spectre bugs emerged in January, OpenBSD's Phillip Guenther responded to user concerns with a post saying the operating system's developers were working out what to do. Now he's revealed the approach used to fix the free OS: "When a syscall, trap, or interrupt takes a CPU from userspace to kernel the trampoline code switches page tables, switches stacks to the thread's real kernel stack, then copies over the necessary bits from the trampoline stack. On return to userspace the opposite occurs: recreate the iretq frame on the trampoline stack, switch stack, switch page tables, and return to userspace." That explanation is somewhat obscure to non-developers, but there's a more readable discussion of what the project's developers had in mind from January, here.

'Automating Jobs Is How Society Makes Progress' ( 236

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz, written by Per Bylund, assistant professor at Oklahoma State University: Analysts discuss the automation of jobs as if robots are rising from the sea like Godzilla, rampaging through the Tokyo of stable employment, and leaving only chaos in their wake. According to data from PWC, 38% of jobs in the U.S. could become automated by the early 2030s. Meanwhile, a report from Ball State University's Center for Business and Economic Research warned that half of all American jobs could be replaced by automation. These prophecies of doom fail to recognize that automation and increased productivity are nothing new. From the cotton gin to the computer, automation has been happening for centuries. Consider the way automation has improved the mining industry over the past 100 years. Without machines, humans were forced to crawl into unstable passageways and chip away at rocks with primitive tools while avoiding the ever-present dangers of gas poisoning and cave-ins. Not only was this approach terrible for health, but it was also a highly inefficient use of skilled human laborers. With machines doing the heavy lifting, society was able to dedicate resources to building, servicing, and running the machinery.

Fewer people now do the traditional physical labor, but this advancement is celebrated rather than mourned. By letting machines handle the more tedious -- and, in some cases, dangerous -- tasks, people were liberated to use their labor in more efficient, effective, and fulfilling ways. Critics of automation miss the point. Nobody works for the sake of work -- people strive to create value, which helps pay our salaries and feed our families. Automation effectively opens the door for more new endeavors that will elevate our species to greater heights. Just as past generations turned away the mines for better careers, modern workers whose jobs are altered by automation will see their roles in society evolve rather than disappear.


Venezuela Launches Oil-Backed Cryptocurrency ( 178

Venezuela has launched a cryptocurrency backed by oil in an attempt to bypass tough economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. government. "The 'Petro' is intended to bolster the country's crumbling economy, which has been suffering from hyperinflation and devaluation for years," reports the BBC. "Venezuela claims it is the world's first sovereign cryptocurrency." From the report: Critics say the move is a desperate attempt by Caracas to raise cash at a time when Venezuela lacks the ability to repay its $150 billion of foreign debt. Opposition leaders said the sale constitutes an illegal issuing of debt, while the US Treasury Department warned it may violate sanctions imposed last year. The government says the currency aims to circumvent US sanctions on the economy. President Nicolas Maduro has said each tokens will be backed by a barrel of Venezuelan crude. The Latin American country has the world's largest proven oil reserves. A total of 100 million Petros will be sold, with an initial value set at $60, based on the price of a barrel of Venezuelan crude in mid-January. The official website published a guide to setting up a virtual wallet in which to hold the cryptocurrency, but did not provide a link for actually doing so on Tuesday.

Salon Magazine Mines Monero On Your Computer If You Use an Ad Blocker ( 314

dryriver shares a report from BBC: News organizations have tried many novel ways to make readers pay -- but this idea is possibly the most audacious yet. If a reader chooses to block its advertising, U.S. publication Salon will use that person's computer to mine for Monero, a cryptocurrency similar to Bitcoin. Creating new tokens of a cryptocurrency typically requires complex calculations that use up a lot of computing power. Salon told readers: "We intend to use a small percentage of your spare processing power to contribute to the advancement of technological discovery, evolution and innovation." The site is making use of CoinHive, a controversial mining tool that was recently used in an attack involving government websites in the UK, U.S. and elsewhere. However, unlike that incident, where hackers took control of visitors' computers to mine cryptocurrency, Salon notifies users and requires them to agree before the tool begins mining.

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