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Bitcoin

We'll Never Legalize Bitcoin, Says Russian Minister (siliconangle.com) 53

An anonymous reader shares a report: In yet another backflip worthy of the Moscow Circus, a Russian minister has said that the country will never legalize bitcoin, just seven months after another government minister said it was considering making it legal. Minister of Communications and Mass Media Nikolai Nikiforov made the statement this week, saying that "bitcoin is a foreign project for using blockchain technology, the Russian law will never consider bitcoin as a legal entity in the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation." Recognizing that blockchain technology is separate to bitcoin, Nikiforov went on to say that "I think that it is quite possible to use blockchain technology and the use of various digital tokens." Those tokens may constitute a Russian-issued cryptocurrency. TASS reported that "Russia's Communication Ministry has submitted to the government the document containing technical details related to cryptocurrencies adoption."
Businesses

EU Agrees To End Country-Specific Limits For Online Retailers (reuters.com) 70

An anonymous reader shares a report: The European Union has agreed a plan obliging online retailers operating in the bloc to make electrical goods, concert tickets or car rental available to all EU consumers regardless of where they live. Putting an end to "geoblocking", whereby consumers in one EU country cannot buy a good or service sold online in another, has been a priority for the EU as it tries to create a digital single market with 24 legislative proposals. The agreement late on Monday between the European Parliament, the EU's 28 member states and the Commission will allow EU consumers to buy products and services online from any EU country. The agreement applies to e-commerce sites including Amazon and eBay.
Bitcoin

An Ethereum Startup Just Vanished After People Invested $374K (vice.com) 190

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: A startup on the Ethereum platform vanished from the internet on Sunday after raising $374,000 USD from investors in an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) fundraiser. Confido is a startup that pitched itself as a blockchain-based app for making payments and tracking shipments. It sold digital tokens to investors over the Ethereum blockchain in an ICO that ran from November 6 to 8. During the token sale, Confido sold people bespoke digital tokens that represent their investment in exchange for ether, Ethereum's digital currency. But on Sunday, the company unceremoniously deleted its Twitter account and took down its website. A company representative posted a brief comment to the company's now-private subforum on Reddit, citing legal problems that prevent the Confido team from continuing their work. The same message was also posted to Medium but quickly deleted.

"Right now, we are in a tight spot, as we are having legal trouble caused by a contract we signed," the message stated (a cached version of the Medium post is viewable). "It is likely that we will be able to find a solution to rectify the situation. However, we cannot assure you with 100% certainty that we will get through this." The message was apparently written by Confido's founder, one Joost van Doorn, who seems to have no internet presence besides a now-removed LinkedIn profile. Even the Confido representative on Reddit doesn't seem to know what's going on, though, posting hours after the initial message, "Look I have absolutely no idea what has happened here. The removal of all of our social media platforms and website has come as a complete surprise to me." Confido tokens had a market cap of $10 million last week, before the company disappeared, but now the tokens are worthless. And investors are crying foul.

Spam

Spam Is Back (theoutline.com) 153

Jon Christian, writing for The Outline: For a while, spam -- unsolicited bulk messages sent for commercial or fraudulent purposes -- seemed to be fading away. The 2003 CAN-SPAM Act mandated unsubscribe links in email marketing campaigns and criminalized attempts to hide the sender's identity, while sophisticated filters on what were then cutting-edge email providers like Gmail buried unwanted messages in out-of-sight spam folders. In 2004, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates told a crowd at the World Economic Forum that "two years from now, spam will be solved." In 2011, cybersecurity reporter Brian Krebs noted that increasingly tech savvy law enforcement efforts were shutting down major spam operators -- including SpamIt.com, alleged to be a major hub in a Russian digital criminal organization that was responsible for an estimated fifth of the world's spam. These efforts meant that the proportion of all emails that are spam has slowly fallen to a low of about 50 percent in recent years, according to Symantec research.

But it's 2017, and spam has clawed itself back from the grave. It shows up on social media and dating sites as bots hoping to lure you into downloading malware or clicking an affiliate link. It creeps onto your phone as text messages and robocalls that ring you five times a day about luxury cruises and fictitious tax bills. Networks associated with the buzzy new cryptocurrency system Ethereum have been plagued with spam. Facebook recently fought a six-month battle against a spam operation that was administering fake accounts in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. Last year, a Chicago resident sued the Trump campaign for allegedly sending unsolicited text message spam; this past November, ZDNet reported that voters were being inundated with political text messages they never signed up for. Apps can be horrid spam vectors, too. Repeated mass data breaches that include contact information, such as the Yahoo breach in which 3 billion user accounts were exposed, surely haven't helped. Meanwhile, you, me, and everyone we know is being plagued by robocalls.

Crime

Apple Is Served A Search Warrant To Unlock Texas Church Gunman's iPhone (nydailynews.com) 446

An anonymous reader quotes the New York Daily News: Authorities in Texas served Apple with a search warrant in order to gain access to the Sutherland Springs church shooter's cellphone files. Texas Ranger Kevin Wright obtained the warrant last week, according to San Antonio Express-News.

Investigators are hoping to gain access to gunman Devin Patrick Kelley's digital photos, messages, calls, videos, social media passwords, address book and data since January 2016. Authorities also want to know what files Kelley stored in his iCloud account.

Fast Company writes that "it's very likely that Apple will give the Rangers the same answer it gave the FBI in 2016 (in effect, hell no!)... That may be why, in the Texas case, the FBI and the Rangers didn't even bother calling Apple, but rather went straight to court."
IBM

Tech Companies Try Apprenticeships To Fill The Tech Skills Gap (thehill.com) 123

Slashdot reader jonyen writes: For generations, apprenticeships have been the way of working life; master craftsmen taking apprentices under their wing, teaching them the tools of the trade. This declined during the Industrial Revolution as the advent of the assembly line enabled mass employment for unskilled laborers. The master-apprentice model went further out of focus as higher education and formal training became increasingly more valuable.

Fast forward to the 21st century, where employers are turning back the page to apprenticeships in an effort to fill a growing skills gap in the labor force in the digital age. Code.org estimates there will be a million unfulfilled tech jobs by 2020.

jonyen shared this article by IBM's Vice President of Talent:IBM is committed to addressing this shortage and recently launched an apprenticeship program registered with the US Department of Labor, with a plan to have 100 apprentices in 2018. ... Other firms have taken up the apprenticeship challenge as well. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, for example, has called for creating 5 million American apprentices in the next five years.

An apprenticeship offers the chance for Americans to get the formal education they need, whether through a traditional university, a community college or a trade school, while getting something else: On-the-job experience and an income... Right now, there are more than 6 million jobs in the U.S. that are going unfilled because employers can't find candidates with the right skills, according to the Labor Department.

IBM says their apprentices "are on their way to becoming software developers in our Cloud business and mainframe administrators for technologies like Blockchain, and we will add new apprenticeships in data analytics and cybersecurity as we replicate the program across the U.S."

"Ninety-one percent of apprentices in the U.S. find employment after completing their program, and their average starting wage is above $60,000."
Businesses

Tim Berners-Lee on the Future of the Web: 'The System is Failing' (theguardian.com) 164

Olivia Solon, writing for The Guardian: The inventor of the world wide web always maintained his creation was a reflection of humanity -- the good, the bad and the ugly. But Berners-Lee's vision for an "open platform that allows anyone to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographical boundaries" has been challenged by increasingly powerful digital gatekeepers whose algorithms can be weaponised by master manipulators. "I'm still an optimist, but an optimist standing at the top of the hill with a nasty storm blowing in my face, hanging on to a fence," said the British computer scientist. "We have to grit our teeth and hang on to the fence and not take it for granted that the web will lead us to wonderful things," he said. The spread of misinformation and propaganda online has exploded partly because of the way the advertising systems of large digital platforms such as Google or Facebook have been designed to hold people's attention. "People are being distorted by very finely trained AIs that figure out how to distract them," said Berners-Lee. In some cases, these platforms offer users who create content a cut of advertising revenue. The financial incentive drove Macedonian teenagers with "no political skin in the game" to generate political clickbait fake news that was distributed on Facebook and funded by revenue from Google's automated advertising engine AdSense. "The system is failing. The way ad revenue works with clickbait is not fulfilling the goal of helping humanity promote truth and democracy. So I am concerned," said Berners-Lee, who in March called for the regulation of online political advertising to prevent it from being used in "unethical ways."
Open Source

Proprietary Software is the Driver of Unprecedented Surveillance: Richard Stallman (factor-tech.com) 197

From a wide-ranging interview of Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation, programming legend and recipient of at least 15 honorary doctorates and professorships: "The reason that we are subject now to more surveillance than there was in the Soviet Union is that digital technology made it possible," he says. "And the first disaster of digital technology was proprietary software that people would install and run on their own computers, and they wouldn't know what it was doing. They can't tell what it's doing. And that is the first injustice that I began fighting in 1983: proprietary software, software that is not free, that the users don't control." Here, Stallman is keen to stress, he doesn't mean free in the sense of not costing money -- plenty of free software is paid for -- but free in the sense of freedom to control. Software, after all, instructs your computer to perform actions, and when another company has written and locked down that software, you can't know exactly what it is doing. "You might think your computer is obeying you, when really its obeying the real master first, and it only obeys you when the real master says it's ok. With every program there are two possibilities: either the user controls the program or the program controls the users," he says. "It's free software if users control it. And that's why it respects their freedom. Otherwise it's a non-free, proprietary, user subjugating program."
The Internet

Detroit's Marginalized Communities Are Building Their Own Internet (vice.com) 125

An anonymous reader writes: Motherboard has a report that discusses how some of Detroit's communities are building their own internet to help close the gap between the roughly 60 percent of Detroiters who have internet and 40 percent who don't. From the report: "[Diana Nucera, director of the Detroit Community Technology Project] is part of a growing cohort of Detroiters who have started a grassroots movement to close that gap, by building the internet themselves. It's a coalition of community members and multiple Detroit nonprofits. They're starting with three underserved neighborhoods, installing high speed internet that beams shared gigabit connections from an antenna on top of the tallest building on the street, and into the homes of people who have long gone without. They call it the Equitable Internet Initiative. The issue isn't only cost, though it is prohibitive for many Detroiters, but also infrastructure. Because of Detroit's economic woes, many Big Telecom companies haven't thought it worthwhile to invest in expanding their network to these communities. The city is filled with dark fiber optic cable that's not connected to any homes or businesses -- relics from more optimistic days.

Residents who can't afford internet, are on some kind of federal or city subsidy like food stamps, and students are prioritized for the Initiative, Nucera told me. The whole effort started last summer with enlisting digital stewards, locals from each neighborhood who were interested in working for the nonprofit coalition, doing everything from spreading the word, to teaching digital literacy, to installing routers and pulling fiber. Many of these stewards started out with little or no tech expertise, but after a 20-week-long training period, they've become experts able to install, troubleshoot, and maintain a network from end to end. They're also aiming to spread digital literacy, so people can truly own the network themselves."

Businesses

The Brutal Fight To Mine Your Data and Sell It To Your Boss (bloomberg.com) 75

An anonymous reader shares a report from Bloomberg, explaining how Silicon Valley makes billions of dollars peddling personal information, supported by an ecosystem of bit players. Editor Drake Bennett highlights the battle between an upstart called HiQ and LinkedIn, who are fighting for your lucrative professional identity. Here's an excerpt from the report: A small number of the world's most valuable companies collect, control, parse, and sell billions of dollars' worth of personal information voluntarily surrendered by their users. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft -- which bought LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in 2016 -- have in turn spawned dependent economies consisting of advertising and marketing companies, designers, consultants, and app developers. Some operate on the tech giants' platforms; some customize special digital tools; some help people attract more friends and likes and followers. Some, including HiQ, feed off the torrents of information that social networks produce, using software bots to scrape data from profiles. The services of the smaller companies can augment the offerings of the bigger ones, but the power dynamic is deeply asymmetrical, reminiscent of pilot fish picking food from between the teeth of sharks. The terms of that relationship are set by technology, economics, and the vagaries of consumer choice, but also by the law. LinkedIn's May 23 letter to HiQ wasn't the first time the company had taken legal action to prevent the perceived hijacking of its data, and Facebook and Craigslist, among others, have brought similar actions. But even more than its predecessors, this case, because of who's involved and how it's unfolded, has spoken to the thorniest issues surrounding speech and competition on the internet.
Businesses

Technology Invading Nearly All US Jobs, Even Lower Skilled, Study Finds (reuters.com) 138

An anonymous reader shares a Reuters report: Forget robots. The real transformation taking place in nearly every workplace is the invasion of digital tools. The use of digital tools has increased, often dramatically, in 517 of 545 occupations since 2002, with a striking uptick in many lower-skilled occupations, according to a study released Wednesday by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. The report underscores the growing need for workers of all types to gain digital skills and explains why many employers say they struggle to fill jobs, including many that in the past required few digital skills. There is anxiety about automation displacing workers and in many cases, new digital tools allow one worker to do work previously done by several. Those 545 occupations reflect 90 percent of all jobs in the economy. The report found that jobs with greater digital content tend to pay more and are increasingly concentrated in traditional high-tech centers like Silicon Valley, Seattle and Austin, Texas.
Medicine

FDA Approves Digital Pill That Tracks If Patients Have Ingested Their Medication (nytimes.com) 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a digital pill -- a medication embedded with a sensor that can tell doctors whether, and when, patients take their medicine. The approval, announced late on Monday, marks a significant advance in the growing field of digital devices designed to monitor medicine-taking and to address the expensive, longstanding problem that millions of patients do not take drugs as prescribed. Experts estimate that so-called nonadherence or noncompliance to medication costs about $100 billion a year, much of it because patients get sicker and need additional treatment or hospitalization. Patients who agree to take the digital medication, a version of the antipsychotic Abilify, can sign consent forms allowing their doctors and up to four other people, including family members, to receive electronic data showing the date and time pills are ingested. A smartphone app will let them block recipients anytime they change their mind. Although voluntary, the technology is still likely to prompt questions about privacy and whether patients might feel pressure to take medication in a form their doctors can monitor.
The Internet

Ads May Soon Stalk You on TV Like They Do on Your Facebook Feed (bloomberg.com) 203

Targeted ads that seem to follow us everywhere online may soon be doing the same on our TV. From a report: The Federal Communications Commission is poised to approve a new broadcast standard that will let broadcasters do something cable TV companies already do: harvest data about what you watch so advertisers can customize pitches. The prospect alarms privacy advocates, who say there are no rules setting boundaries for how broadcasters handle personal information. The FCC doesn't mention privacy in the 109-page proposed rule that is scheduled for a vote by commissioners Thursday. "If the new standard allows broadcasters to collect data in a way they haven't before, I think consumers should know about that," Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, said in an interview. "What privacy protections will apply to that data, and what security protections?" For broadcasters, Next Gen TV represents an advance into the digital world that for decades has been siphoning viewers away to the likes of Facebook, Netflix, Google's YouTube and Amazon's Prime video service.
Education

Digital Technology Can Help Reinvent Basic Education In Africa (qz.com) 70

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: African countries have worked hard to improve children's access to basic education, but there's still significant work to be done. Today, 32,6 million children of primary-school age and 25,7 million adolescents are not going to school in sub-Saharan Africa. The quality of education also remains a significant issue, but there's a possibility the technology could be part of the solution. The digital revolution currently under way in the region has led to a boom in trials using information and communication technology (ICT) in education -- both in and out of the classroom. A study carried out by the French Development Agency (AFD), the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF), Orange and Unesco shows that ICT in education in general, and mobile learning in particular, offers a number of possible benefits. These include access to low-cost teaching resources, added value compared to traditional teaching and a complementary solution for teacher training. This means that there's a huge potential to reach those excluded from education systems. The quality of knowledge and skills that are taught can also be improved.
Businesses

Amazon Developing a Free, Ad-Supported Version of Prime Video: Report (adage.com) 74

Amazon is developing a free, ad-supported complement to its Prime streaming video service, AdAge reported on Monday, citing people familiar with Amazon's plans. From the report: The company is talking with TV networks, movie studios and other media companies about providing programming to the service, they say. Amazon Prime subscribers pay $99 per year for free shipping but also access to a mix of ad-free TV shows, movies and original series such as "Transparent" and "The Man in the High Castle." It has dabbled in commercials on Prime to a very limited degree, putting ads inside National Football League games this season and offering smaller opportunities for brand integrations. A version paid for by advertisers instead of subscribers could provide a new foothold in streaming video for marketers, whose opportunities to run commercials are eroding as audiences drift away from traditional TV and toward ad-free services like Netflix and Prime.
United States

Bill Gates Just Bought 25,000 Acres in the Arizona Desert (kgw.com) 313

What's the world's second-richest man up to now? A Phoenix news station reports: One of Bill Gates' investment firms has spent $80 million to kickstart the development of a brand-new community in Arizona's far West Valley. The large plot of land is about 45 minutes west of downtown Phoenix off I-10 near Tonopah. The proposed community, made up of close to 25,000 acres of land, is called Belmont. According to Belmont Partners, a real estate investment group based in Arizona, the goal is to turn the land into its own "smart city."

"Belmont will create a forward-thinking community with a communication and infrastructure spine that embraces cutting-edge technology, designed around high-speed digital networks, data centers, new manufacturing technologies and distribution models, autonomous vehicles and autonomous logistics hubs," Belmont Partners said in a news release.

A former columnist for the Phoenix newspaper writes that "Unless Gates plans to turn the land into a preserve, he might want to know a few things that the locals didn't tell him..." First, Arizona doesn't have enough water to continue these kind of developments, no matter what the mouthpieces of the Real Estate Industrial Complex say... Second, climate change poses a clear and present danger to Arizona now. Summers are significantly hotter and lasting longer than a few decades ago. Massive wildfires are common, another new phenomenon. Whether Phoenix will even be inhabitable by mid-century is an open question. Already, it is a man-made environment totally dependent on electricity to power air conditioning and gasoline delivered by vulnerable pipelines. All of which make it questionable whether all the dreamed developments ever get built, much less last long.
"To be fair, wealthy people who were clever in one area -- especially tech -- often think they know a lot about everything," the columnist concludes. "If this is the case here, he might want to study up."
Bitcoin

One Bitcoin Transaction Now Uses As Much Energy As Your House In a Week (vice.com) 227

Long-time Slashdot reader SlaveToTheGrind quotes Motherboard: Bitcoin's incredible price run to break over $7,000 this year has sent its overall electricity consumption soaring, as people worldwide bring more energy-hungry computers online to mine the digital currency. An index from cryptocurrency analyst Alex de Vries, aka Digiconomist, estimates that with prices the way they are now, it would be profitable for Bitcoin miners to burn through over 24 terawatt-hours of electricity annually as they compete to solve increasingly difficult cryptographic puzzles to "mine" more Bitcoins. That's about as much as Nigeria, a country of 186 million people, uses in a year.

This averages out to a shocking 215 kilowatt-hours (KWh) of juice used by miners for each Bitcoin transaction (there are currently about 300,000 transactions per day). Since the average American household consumes 901 KWh per month, each Bitcoin transfer represents enough energy to run a comfortable house, and everything in it, for nearly a week.

Businesses

IBM's Quest To Design The 'New Helvetica' (fastcodesign.com) 172

IBM released its new bespoke typeface IBM Plex in beta this week. The company is hoping that the new typeface would become just as iconic as Helvetica in the years to come. From a Fast Co Design story: "When I came to IBM, it was a big discussion: Why does IBM not have a bespoke typeface? Why are we still clinging on to Helvetica?" Mike Abbink, the typeface's designer and IBM's executive creative director of brand experience and design said. To uncover what the typeface should express, Abbink and his team took a deep dive into IBM's archives. They were especially interested in the company's history in the postwar years, when its design-led business strategy first took shape and the legendary practitioner Paul Rand, who defined design as a system of relationships, created its famous eight-bar logo. In Rand's logo, Abbink and his team saw a contrast between hard edges -- the engineered, rational, and mechanical -- and curves -- the softer more humanistic elements. It's a reflection of the man-and-machine relationship that runs through the company's history -- a dynamic that is reflected in the final form of IBM Plex. The Plex family includes a sans serif, serif, and monospace versions. The designers also created a rigorous style guide that's akin to a digital standards manual and includes a type scale, which plays into responsive displays; eight different weights (a nod to how the IBM logo is composed of eight horizontally stacked bars); and usage guidelines, which dive into everything from information hierarchies to color and ragging. All together, it's easy to see Plex as a gentler, friendlier, more casual Helvetica for a broad range of uses both digital and print-based.
Crime

Federal Prosecutors Charge Man With Hiring Hackers To Sabotage Former Employer (apnews.com) 18

According to the Associated Press, federal prosecutors have charged a man with paying computer hackers to sabotage websites affiliated with his former employer. From the report: The FBI says the case represents a growing form of cybercrime in which professional hackers are paid to inflict damage on individuals, businesses and others who rely on digital devices connected to the web. Prosecutors say 46-year-old John Kelsey Gammell hired hackers to bring down Washburn Computer Group in Monticello, but also made monthly payments between July 2015 and September 2016 to damage web networks connected to the Minnesota Judicial Branch, Hennepin County and several banks. The Star Tribune reports Gammell's attorney, Rachel Paulose, has argued her client didn't personally attack Washburn. Paulose has asked a federal magistrate to throw out evidence the FBI obtained from an unnamed researcher because that data could have been obtained by hacking.
Bitcoin

Nearly a Third of Millennials Say They'd Rather Own Bitcoin Than Stocks (bloomberg.com) 312

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: A survey by venture capital firm Blockchain Capital found that about 30 percent of those in the 18-to-34 age range would rather own $1,000 worth of Bitcoin than $1,000 of government bonds or stocks. The study of more than 2,000 people found that 42 percent of millennials are at least somewhat familiar with bitcoin, compared with 15 percent among those ages 65 and up. Bitcoin rose more than 6 percent Wednesday to as much as $7,545, helping to push the value of the total cryptocurrency market above $200 billion for the first time, according to CoinMarketcap. The digital asset has soared more than 600 percent this year, compared with gains of 15 percent for the S&P 500 Index -- which might explain millennials' attraction.

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