Russia Secretly Helped Venezuela Launch a Cryptocurrency To Evade US Sanctions ( 105

According to an exclusive report by Time, Russia helped Venezuelan officials create the world's first state-backed cryptocurrency to skirt U.S. sanctions. The cryptocurrency was launched in late February and was banned by the Trump administration earlier this week. From the report: The new cryptocurrency, a form of digital cash that is supposedly linked to the value of Venezuela's oil reserves, was launched on Feb. 20 during a ceremony in the presidential palace in Caracas. Nicolas Maduro, the socialist leader of Venezuela, declared that it would serve as a kind of "kryptonite" against the power of the U.S government, which he sarcastically referred to as "Superman." Sitting in the front row at that ceremony were two of Maduro's Russian advisers, Denis Druzhkov and Fyodor Bogorodsky, whom the President thanked for aiding his fight against American "imperialism." Both men have ties to major Russian banks and billionaires close to the Kremlin. But they were not the most senior Russians involved. According to an executive at a Russian state bank who deals with cryptocurrencies, senior advisers to the Kremlin have overseen the effort in Venezuela, and President Vladimir Putin signed off on it last year. "People close to Putin, they told him this is how to avoid the sanctions," says the executive, who spoke to TIME on condition of anonymity. "This is how the whole thing started."

Police Release First Video From Inside the Uber Self-Driving Car That Killed a Pedestrian ( 679

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Recode: Three days after an Uber self-driving vehicle fatally crashed into a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz., police have released video footage of what the vehicle saw with its cameras moments before running the woman over, and what happened inside the vehicle, where an operator was at the wheel. The video footage does not conclusively show who is at fault. However, it seems to confirm initial reports from the Tempe police that Herzberg appeared suddenly. It also showed the vehicle operator behind the wheel intermittently looking down while the car was driving itself.

YouTube Bans Firearms Demo Videos, Entering the Gun Control Debate ( 642

YouTube has quietly introduced tighter restrictions on videos involving weapons, becoming the latest battleground in the U.S. gun-control debate. "YouTube will ban videos that promote or link to websites selling firearms and accessories, including bump stocks, which allow a semi-automatic rifle to fire faster," reports Bloomberg. "Additionally, YouTube said it will prohibit videos with instructions on how to assemble firearms." From the report: "We routinely make updates and adjustments to our enforcement guidelines across all of our policies," a YouTube spokeswoman said in a statement. "While we've long prohibited the sale of firearms, we recently notified creators of updates we will be making around content promoting the sale or manufacture of firearms and their accessories." The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry lobbying group, called YouTube's new policy "worrisome." "We suspect it will be interpreted to block much more content than the stated goal of firearms and certain accessory sales," the foundation said in a statement. "We see the real potential for the blocking of educational content that serves instructional, skill-building and even safety purposes. Much like Facebook, YouTube now acts as a virtual public square. The exercise of what amounts to censorship, then, can legitimately be viewed as the stifling of commercial free speech."

The new YouTube policies will be enforced starting in April, but at least two video bloggers have already been affected. Spike's Tactical, a firearms company, said in a post on Facebook that it was suspended from YouTube due to "repeated or severe violations" of the video platform's guidelines.


AT&T Suffers Another Blow In Court Over Throttling of 'Unlimited' Data ( 38

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

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


Water Shortages Could Affect 5 Billion People By 2050, UNESCO Warns ( 105

About 3.6 billion people are estimated to be living in areas with a potential for water scarcity for at least one month per year, and this number could rise to as many as 5.7 billion people by 2050, according to a report published by UNESCO [PDF]. From a report: The comprehensive annual study warns of conflict and civilisational threats unless actions are taken to reduce the stress on rivers, lakes, aquifers, wetlands and reservoirs. The World Water Development Report -- released in drought-hit BrasÃlia -- says positive change is possible, particularly in the key agricultural sector, but only if there is a move towards nature-based solutions that rely more on soil and trees than steel and concrete.

"For too long, the world has turned first to human-built, or 'grey', infrastructure to improve water management. In doing so, it has often brushed aside traditional and indigenous knowledge that embraces greener approaches," says Gilbert Houngbo, the chair of UN Water, in the preface of the 100-page assessment. "In the face of accelerated consumption, increasing environmental degradation and the multi-faceted impacts of climate change, we clearly need new ways of manage competing demands on our freshwater resources."


Senate Passes Controversial Online Sex Trafficking Bill ( 160

The Senate today gave final approval to a bill aimed at cracking down on online sex trafficking, sending the measure to the White House where President Trump is expected to sign it into law. From a report: The legislation, called the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), but also referred to as SESTA, would cut into the broad protections websites have from legal liability for content posted by their users. Those protections are codified in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act from 1996, a law that many internet companies see as vital to protecting their platforms and that SESTA would amend to create an exception for sex trafficking.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the most outspoken critic of SESTA and one of the authors of the 1996 law, said that making exceptions to Section 230 will lead to small internet companies having to face an onslaught of frivolous lawsuits.
EFF expressed its disappointment, saying, "Today is a dark day for the Internet. Congress just passed the Internet censorship bill SESTA/FOSTA. SESTA/FOSTA will silence online speech by forcing Internet platforms to censor their users. As lobbyists and members of Congress applaud themselves for enacting a law ostensibly tackling the problem of trafficking, let's be clear: Congress just made trafficking victims less safe, not more. Sex trafficking experts have tried again and again to explain to Congress how SESTA/FOSTA will put trafficking victims in danger. Sex workers have spoken out too, explaining how online platforms have literally saved their lives. Why didn't Congress consult with the people their bill would most directly affect? [...] When platforms choose to err on the side of censorship, marginalized voices are censored disproportionately. SESTA/FOSTA will make the Internet a less inclusive place, something that hurts all of us. This might just be the beginning. Some of these groups behind SESTA / FOSTA seem to see the bill as a mere stepping stone to banning pornography from the Internet."

Ask Slashdot: I Want To Get Into Comic Books, But Where Do I Start? 209

An anonymous reader writes: Hi fellow readers. I don't recall reading many comic books as a kid (mostly because I could not afford them), but of late, I have been considering giving that a shot. I wanted to ask if you had any tips to share. Do I start with paperback editions, or do I jump directly into digital? Also, could you recommend a few good sci-fic comic book series? Thanks in advance!

Facebook is Building a Real Community in California To Test Whether People Love Tech Companies Enough To Live in Them ( 181

In Menlo Park, Calif., Facebook is building a real community and testing the proposition: Do people love tech companies so much they will live inside them? From a report: Willow Village will be wedged between the Menlo Park neighborhood of Belle Haven and the city of East Palo Alto, both heavily Hispanic communities that are among Silicon Valley's poorest. Facebook is planning 1,500 apartments, and has agreed with Menlo Park to offer 225 of them at below-market rates. The most likely tenants of the full-price units are Facebook employees, who already receive a five-figure bonus if they live near the office.

The community will have eight acres of parks, plazas and bike-pedestrian paths open to the public. Facebook wants to revitalize the railway running alongside the property and will finish next year a pedestrian bridge over the expressway. The bridge will provide access to the trail that rings San Francisco Bay, a boon for birders and bikers. Mr. Tenanes, Facebook's vice president for real estate, contemplates the audacity of building a city.


YouTube Will 'Frustrate' Some Users With Ads So They Pay for Music ( 191

YouTube will increase the number of ads that some users see between music videos, part of a strategy to convince more of its billion-plus viewers to pay for a forthcoming subscription music service from the Google-owned video site. Bloomberg: People who treat YouTube like a music service, those passively listening for long periods of time, will encounter more ads, according to Lyor Cohen, the company's global head of music. "You're not going to be happy after you are jamming 'Stairway to Heaven' and you get an ad right after that," Cohen said in an interview at the South by Southwest music festival. Cohen is trying to prove that YouTube is committed to making people pay for music and silence the "noise" about his company's purported harm to the recording industry. The labels companies have long criticized YouTube for hosting videos that violate copyrights, and not paying artists and record companies enough.

WhatsApp Co-Founder Tells Everyone To Delete Facebook, Further Fueling the #DeleteFacebook Movement ( 305

"In 2014, Facebook bought WhatsApp for $16 billion, making its co-founders -- Jan Koum and Brian Acton -- very wealthy men," reports The Verge. "Koum continues to lead the company, but Acton quit earlier this year to start his own foundation." Today, Acton told his followers on Twitter to delete Facebook. From the report: "It is time," Acton wrote, adding the hashtag #deletefacebook. Acton, who is worth $6.5 billion, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor did Facebook and WhatsApp. It was unclear whether Acton's feelings about Facebook extend to his own app. But last month, Acton invested $50 million into Signal, an independent alternative to WhatsApp. The tweet came after a bruising five-day period for Facebook that has seen regulators swarm and its stock price plunge following concerns over data privacy in the wake of revelations about Cambridge Analytica's misuse of user data. Acton isn't the only one taking to Twitter to announce their breakup with Facebook. The #DeleteFacebook movement is gaining steam following the New York Times' report about how the data of 50 million users had been unknowingly leaked and purchased to aid President Trump's successful 2016 bid for the presidency. For many users, the news "highlighted the danger of Facebook housing the personal information of billions of users," reports SFGate. "And even before the Cambridge Analytica news, Facebook has been grappling with its waning popularity in the U.S. The company lost 1 million domestic users last quarter -- its first quarterly drop in daily users."

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

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

SpaceX Indicates It Will Manufacture the BFR Rocket In Los Angeles ( 92

A new document from the Port of Los Angeles indicates that the company is moving ahead with plans to build a "state-of-the-art" industrial manufacturing facility near Long Beach, about 20 miles south of its headquarters. It's possible that the facility may be used to manufacture the company's Big Falcon Rocket, or BFR vehicle, which is expected to measure 106 meters tall and nine meters wide. The Long Beach location makes sense since the BFR will be so large that it needs to be built near water where it can be transported. Ars Technica reports: The company seeks to use an 18-acre site at Berth 240 in the port "for the construction and operation of a facility to manufacture large commercial transportation vessels." Operations at the site would include "research and development of transportation vessels and would likely include general manufacturing procedures such as welding, composite curing, cleaning, painting, and assembly operations." Completed vessels would need to be transported by water due to their size, the document states, as a means to explain why the company needs a facility immediately adjacent to the water. The document also noted that the 10-year lease, with up to two 10-year renewals, would "accommodate recovery operations undertaken by Space Exploration Technologies to bring to shore vehicles returning from space that are retrieved by an autonomous drone ship offshore." This would be for first-stage recoveries of the Falcon 9 rocket and probably payload fairings as well.
The Almighty Buck

Did Stephen Hawking Owe a Nobel Physicist a Subscription To a Softcore Porn Magazine? ( 105

dmoberhaus writes: In 1974, Stephen Hawking made a bet with Nobel Prize-winning cosmologist Kip Thorne about a black hole. The wager was a subscription to the softcore porn magazine Penthouse for Thorne or a subscription to "Private Eye" (basically the British equivalent of The Onion) for Hawking. Hawking ultimately lost the bet, but did he ever pay up? Motherboard dug around to find out if Hawking settled this infamous bet.

Motherboard's Daniel Oberhaus wasn't able to get ahold of Thorne, but did manage to track down a copy of the obscure 1997 straight-to-VHS documentary called Black Holes, which is the only evidence that the wager even happened. "In 1990, Stephen Hawking happened to be visiting Los Angeles and he broke into my office and thumb printed off on this bet," Thorne recalls in the video. Oberhaus writes: "Although the status of Cygnus X-1 was an open question in the 70s, by the 90s mounting evidence had forced Hawking to concede the wager. The bet was recorded in a handwritten note scrawled on a piece of card which is shown in the film. It read: 'Whereas Stephen Hawking has a large investment in general relativity and black holes and desires an insurance policy, and whereas Kip Thorne likes to live dangerously without an insurance policy, therefore be it resolved that Stephen Hawking bets 1 year's subscription to 'Penthouse' as against Kip Thorne's wager of a 4-year subscription to 'Private Eye,' that Cygnus X-1 does not contain a black hole of mass above the Chandrasekhar limit.' 'I had given Thorne a subscription to Penthouse, much to his wife's disgust,' a smiling Hawking says in the film."


Patients Regain Sight After Groundbreaking Trial ( 73

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: Doctors have taken a major step towards curing the most common form of blindness in the UK -- age-related macular degeneration. Douglas Waters, 86, could not see out of his right eye, but "I can now read the newspaper" with it, he says. He was one of two patients given pioneering stem cell therapy at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. Cells from a human embryo were grown into a patch that was delicately inserted into the back of the eye.

The macula is the part of the eye that allows you to see straight ahead -- whether to recognize faces, watch TV or read a book. The macula is made up of rods and cones that sense light and behind those are a layer of nourishing cells called the retinal pigment epithelium. When this support layer fails, it causes macular degeneration and blindness. Doctors have devised a way of building a new retinal pigment epithelium and surgically implanting it into the eye. The technique, published in Nature Biotechnology, starts with embryonic stem cells. These are a special type of cell that can become any other in the human body. They are converted into the type of cell that makes up the retinal pigment epithelium and embedded into a scaffold to hold them in place. The living patch is only one layer of cells thick -- about 40 microns -- and 6mm long and 4mm wide. It is then placed underneath the rods and cones in the back of the eye. The operation takes up to two hours.


There Are Still 100,000 Pay Phones In the US ( 97

According to the FCC, there are only about 100,000 phone booths left in the United States, and about a fifth of those are in New York. The number has decreased rapidly over the last couple decades as cellphones have been adopted by 95% of Americans. CNN reports of how these remaining pay phones still remain a steady business for some of the 1,100 companies operating them across the country: Pay phone providers reported $286 million in revenue in 2015, according to the most recent FCC report. They can still be profitable, particularly in places where there isn't cell phone or landline coverage, said Tom Keane, president of Pacific Telemanagement Services. Keane's company operates 20,000 pay phones around the country. "We have phones in Yosemite Valley that are extremely busy when there's not snow on the ground," he said. Victor Rollo said he is still making money off his 170 phones in the San Diego area. Rollo declined to say how much, but he believes pay phones are a lifeline for people who don't have other options and are valuable during emergencies or natural disasters. Rollo says he evaluates how many calls are made on the phones every month, how far away they are from each other, and how much his expenses are per month to determine whether to keep them in the ground. Phones in hospitals and along the border, where cell coverage is weak, are some of his most profitable ones.

Amazon Considers Buying Some Toys R Us Stores ( 61

According to Bloomberg, Amazon has looked at the possibility of expanding its retail footprint by acquiring some locations from bankrupt Toys R Us. "The online giant isn't interested in maintaining the Toys R Us brand, but has considered using the soon-to-be-vacant spaces for its own purposes," reports Bloomberg. From the report: Such a move would let Amazon quickly expand its brick-and-mortar presence, coming on the heels of buying Whole Foods and its more than 450 locations last year. The Seattle-based company also has opened its own line of bookstores and a convenience-store concept. Additional stores would give Amazon space to showcase its popular Echo line of devices, which run on the Alexa voice-activated platform. Amazon sees voice as the next interface for people to access technology -- supplanting computer mouses and touch screens -- and the benefits may be easier to demonstrate in a real-world setting. A bigger network of stores would put inventory closer to where shoppers live, potentially enabling quick delivery to e-commerce customers. The space could also serve as a staging ground for grocery delivery from Whole Foods stores. Amazon is already planning to roll out free two-hour service to Whole Foods customers in four cities, including Dallas and Cincinnati.

Amazon Passes Alphabet To Become the World's Second Most Valuable Company ( 33

Amazon has passed Alphabet to become the second most valuable company in the world. Apple remains the only other company more valuable than Amazon. CNBC reports: The e-commerce giant rose 2.7 percent on Tuesday lifting its stock market value to $768 billion. Alphabet, the parent of Google, fell 0.4 percent and is now valued at $762.5 billion. While the U.S. tech mega-caps have rallied in the past year, Amazon's performance has dwarfed them all, with the stock surging 85 percent over the past 12 months, including 35 percent to start 2018. Investors have been piling into Amazon, betting that the company's growing and very profitable cloud computing business will provide the cash needed for investments in original content, physical stores and continuing to build data centers and warehouses.

African Manufacturing Jobs Could be Threatened by US Based Robots, Report Says ( 90

Within less than two decades it will be cheaper to operate robots in US factories than hire workers in Africa, a new report warns. From the report: Falling automation costs are predicted to cause job losses as manufacturers return to richer economies. Some analysts say poorer countries could be less impacted by this trend, however the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) suggests otherwise. But its report adds African nations have time to prepare for the change. "African countries must not shy away from manufacturing, but instead prepare by increasing access to internet, investing in technical skills and promoting technological innovation," said Karishma Banga a senior research officer at ODI. "If done well, automation can present important opportunities for African countries by improving labour productivity in manufacturing," she said. It has been suggested that poorer countries will not as be affected by automation because they have less money to invest in it.

Google Launches a News Initiative To Fight False News and Help Publishers Make Money ( 102

Google is launching the Google News Initiative, a journalism-focused program that will help publishers earn revenue and combat fake news. From a report: The initiative, announced Tuesday, will offer publications another monetization model online called Subscribe with Google, as well as work with established universities and groups to combat misinformation. It will also introduce an open-source tool called Outline, which will make it easier for news organizations to set up secure access to the internet for their journalists. Google said it was committing $300 million over the next three years to the project, though it did not elaborate on how the resources would be spent.

The company said it paid $12.6 billion to news organizations and drove 10 billion clicks a month to their websites for free last year. Subscribe with Google will make it easier for readers to pay for content from news organizations that have agreed to partner with the company., The Washington Post, and McClatchy Company publications including the Miami Herald are among the 17 launch partners.


FTC Probing Facebook For Use of Personal Data: Bloomberg ( 78

An anonymous reader shares a report: Facebook is under investigation by a U.S. privacy watchdog over the use of personal data of 50 million users by a data analytics firm to help elect President Donald Trump. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is probing whether Facebook violated terms of a 2011 consent decree of its handing of user data that was transferred to Cambridge Analytica without their knowledge, according to a person familiar with the matter. Under the 2011 settlement, Facebook agreed to get user consent for certain changes to privacy settings as part of a settlement of federal charges that it deceived consumers and forced them to share more personal information than they intended. That complaint arose after the company changed some user settings without notifying its customers, according to an FTC statement at the time. If the FTC finds Facebook violated terms of the consent decree, it has the power to fine the company thousands of dollars a day per violation.

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