New York's Subway Is Slow Because They Slowed Down the Trains After A 1995 Accident 152

According to the Village Voice, New York City's subway trains are running slower because the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is deliberately running the trains slower. The Village Voice obtained MTA internal documents, discovering that the decision to run the trains slower was made following a fatal 1995 crash on the Williamsburg Bridge. From the report: The subway's performance has been steadily deteriorating for many years. The authority's own internal data shows that delays due to "incidents," such as broken signals and tracks or water damage, have only marginally increased since 2012. But there is one type of delay that's gotten exponentially worse during that time: a catchall category blandly titled "insufficient capacity, excess dwell, unknown," which captures every delay without an obvious cause. From January 2012 to December 2017, these delays increased by a whopping 1,190 percent -- from 105 per weekday to 1,355. In December, one out of every six trains run across the entire system experienced such a delay. The increase has been steady and uninterrupted over the past six years.
In 1995, a Manhattan-bound J train crossing the Williamsburg Bridge rear-ended an M train that was stopped on the bridge, killing the J train operator and injuring more than fifty passengers. The National Transportation and Safety Board investigation placed most of the blame on the J train operator, who the NTSB suspected had been asleep. But the NTSB also identified potential issues with the signal system that contributed to the accident, which it found didn't guarantee train operators enough time to apply the emergency brakes even when awake. "They slowed the trains down after the Williamsburg Bridge crash," a veteran train operator who asked not to be identified told the Village Voice. "The MTA said the train was going too fast for the signal system." As a result, the MTA, quite literally, slowed all the trains down, issuing a bulletin informing employees in April 1996 that their propulsion systems would be modified so they could achieve a maximum speed of 40 miles per hour, down from the previous high of 50 to 55 miles per hour on a flat grade. But the MTA didn't stop there, internal documents show. One of the NTSB's safety recommendations was to set speed limits. As a result, the MTA began a still-ongoing process of changing the way many signals work to meet modern safety standards.

YouTube Will Add Information From Wikipedia To Videos About Conspiracies ( 217

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: YouTube will add information from Wikipedia to videos about popular conspiracy theories to provide alternative viewpoints on controversial subjects, its CEO said today. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said that these text boxes, which the company is calling "information cues," would begin appearing on conspiracy-related videos within the next couple of weeks. Wojcicki, who spoke Tuesday evening at a panel at the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, showed examples of information cues for videos about the moon landing and chemtrails. "When there are videos that are focused around something that's a conspiracy -- and we're using a list of well-known internet conspiracies from Wikipedia -- then we will show a companion unit of information from Wikipedia showing that here is information about the event," Wojcicki said. The information cues that Wojcicki demonstrated appeared directly below the video as a short block of text, with a link to Wikipedia for more information. Wikipedia -- a crowdsourced encyclopedia written by volunteers -- is an imperfect source of information, one which most college students are still forbidden from citing in their papers. But it generally provides a more neutral, empirical approach to understanding conspiracies than the more sensationalist videos that appear on YouTube.

Mozilla Working On In-Page Popup Blocker For Firefox ( 53

Firefox is working on a blocker for annoying in-page alerts that often ask you to input your email address to receive a newsletter from the site. "The feature is still in the planning stages, but Mozilla is asking users for any examples of sites with annoying pop-ups," reports Android Police. "Mozilla wants to make Firefox automatically detect and dismiss the popups." From the report: If you know of sites that use in-page popups (whether it be newsletter signups, surveys, or something else), you can fill out the survey here. There are also Firefox and Chrome extensions that make the process easier. I'll be interested to see how Mozilla pulls this off, it will no doubt be difficult to detect the difference between helpful and not-helpful popups.

How Your Returns Are Used Against You At Best Buy, Other Retailers ( 197

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Wall Street Journal (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): At Best Buy, returning too many items within a short time can hurt a person's score, as can returning high-theft items such as digital cameras. Every time shoppers returns purchases to Best Buy, they are tracked by a company which has the power to override the store's touted policy and refuse to refund their money. That is because the electronics giant is one of several chains that have hired a service called The Retail Equation to score customers' shopping behavior and impose limits on the amount of merchandise they can return. Stores have long used generous return guidelines to lure more customers, but such policies also invite abuse. Retailers estimate 11% of their sales are returned, and of those, 11% are likely fraudulent returns, according to a 2017 survey of 63 retailers by the National Retail Federation. Return fraud or abuse occurs when customers exploit the return process, such as requesting a refund for items they have used, stolen or bought somewhere else. Inc. and other online players that have made it easy to return items have changed consumer expectations, adding pressure on brick-and-mortar chains. Some retailers monitor return fraud in-house, but Best Buy and others pay The Retail Equation to track and score each customer's return behavior for both in-store and online purchases. The service also works with Home Depot, J.C. Penney, Sephora and Victoria's Secret. Some retailers use the system only to assess returns made without a receipt. Best Buy uses The Retail Equation to assess all returns, even those made with a receipt.


Facebook Has Turned Into a Beast in Myanmar, UN Says ( 94

UN investigators have accused Facebook of playing a "determining role" in stirring up hatred against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. From a report: One of the team probing possible acts of genocide said Facebook had "turned into a beast." About 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since Myanmar's military launched an operation in August against "insurgents" in Rakhine state. Facebook has said there is "no place for hate speech" on its platform. "We take this incredibly seriously and have worked with experts in Myanmar for several years to develop safety resources and counter-speech campaigns," a Facebook spokeswoman told the BBC.

The UN's Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar announced the interim findings of its investigation on Monday. During a press conference the chairman of the mission, Marzuki Darusman, said that social media had "substantively contributed to the level of acrimony" amongst the wider public, against Rohingya Muslims. "Hate speech is certainly, of course, a part of that," he added.


Amazon Recalls 260,000 Portable Power Banks For Fire Hazard ( 31

Amazon is recalling 260,000 AmazonBasics portable power banks that can "overheat and ignite," according to a release by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The company has received more than 50 reports of the power banks overheating in the U.S., causing chemical burns and property damage. CNBC reports: "Consumers should immediately unplug and stop using the recalled power banks and contact Amazon for instructions on how to return the unit and receive a full refund," the release says. Amazon is contacting everyone who purchased one of the affected devices. The recall covers six versions of the AmazonBasics portable battery: 16,100 mAh; 10,000 mAh; 5,600 mAh; 2,000 mAh with micro USB cable; 3,000 mAh; and 3,000 mAh with USB micro cable.

A Chatbot Can Now Offer You Protection Against Volatile Airline Prices ( 24

The same bot, DoNotPay, that helped users overturn parking tickets and sue Equifax for small sums of money is now offering you protection against volatile airline prices. The Verge reports: Joshua Browder, a junior at Stanford University, designed the new service on the bot in a few months, after experiencing rapidly fluctuating airline prices when flying to California during the wildfires last year. "It annoyed me that every single flight, I could be paying sometimes double or even triple the person next to me in the same type of seat," he told The Verge. Browder first used the service himself and then tested it among his friends in a closed beta. He claims that the average amount saved among the beta testers is $450 a year, though it's not clear how many flights were booked and how much they cost. The service is available to the public starting today. To use it, log in with a Google account, input your phone number, birthday, and credit card information through Stripe. (Browder swears the credit card information won't be stored.) Then the chatbot tells you you're all set. Now, every time you buy airline tickets, whether from an airline's site or a third party, the chatbot will help make sure you pay the lowest price for your class and seat.
The Internet

Reddit and the Struggle To Detoxify the Internet ( 398

In an article published on The New Yorker this week, Andrew Marantz discusses the state of free speech on the Web and takes a look at Reddit, the internet's fourth-most-popular site, after Google, YouTube, and Facebook. Some excerpts from the story: On November 23, 2016, shortly after President Trump's election, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman was at his desk, in San Francisco, perusing the site. It was the day before Thanksgiving. Reddit's administrators had just deleted a subreddit called r/Pizzagate, a forum for people who believed that high-ranking staffers of Hillary Clinton's Presidential campaign, and possibly Clinton herself, were trafficking child sex slaves. The reason for the ban, according to Reddit's administrators, was not the beliefs of people on the subreddit, but the way they'd behaved -- specifically, their insistence on publishing their enemies' private phone numbers and addresses, a clear violation of Reddit's rules. [...] Some of the conspiracy theorists left Reddit and reunited on Voat, a site made by and for the users that Reddit sloughs off. Other Pizzagaters stayed and regrouped on r/The_Donald, a popular pro-Trump subreddit. Throughout the Presidential campaign, The_Donald was a hive of Trump boosterism. By this time, it had become a hermetic subculture, full of inside jokes and ugly rhetoric. The community's most frequent commenters, like the man they'd helped propel to the Presidency, were experts at testing boundaries. Within minutes, they started to express their outrage that Pizzagate had been deleted.

Redditors are pseudonymous, and their pseudonyms are sometimes prefaced by "u," for "username." Huffman's is Spez. As he scanned The_Donald, he noticed that hundreds of the most popular comments were about him: "fuck u/spez", "u/spez is complicit in the coverup". One commenter simply wrote "u/SPEZ IS A CUCK," in bold type, a hundred and ten times in a row. Huffman, alone at his computer, wondered whether to respond. "I consider myself a troll at heart," he said later. "Making people bristle, being a little outrageous in order to add some spice to life -- I get that. I've done that." Privately, Huffman imagined The_Donald as a misguided teen-ager who wouldn't stop misbehaving. "If your little brother flicks your ear, maybe you ignore it," he said. "If he flicks your ear a hundred times, or punches you, then maybe you give him a little smack to show you're paying attention."

Although redditors didn't yet know it, Huffman could edit any part of the site. He wrote a script that would automatically replace his username with those of The_Donald's most prominent members, directing the insults back at the insulters in real time: in one comment, "Fuck u/Spez" became "Fuck u/Trumpshaker"; in another, "Fuck u/Spez" became "Fuck u/MAGAdocious." The_Donald's users saw what was happening, and they reacted by spinning a conspiracy theory that, in this case, turned out to be true. "Manipulating the words of your users is fucked," a commenter wrote.


Firefox 59, 'By Far the Biggest Update Since Firefox 1.0', Arrives With Faster Page Loads and Improved Private Browsing ( 103

An anonymous reader shares a VentureBeat report: Mozilla today launched Firefox 59 for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android. The release builds on Firefox Quantum, which the company calls "by far the biggest update since Firefox 1.0 in 2004." Version 59 brings faster page load times, private browsing mode that strips path information, and Android Assist. In related news, Mozilla is giving Amazon Fire TV owners a new design later this week that lets them save their preferred websites by pinning them to the Firefox home screen. Enterprise users also have something to look forward to: On Wednesday, Firefox Quantum for Enterprise is entering the beta phase. Firefox 59 for the desktop is available for download now on, and all existing users should be able to upgrade to it automatically. As always, the Android version is trickling out slowly on Google Play.

Microsoft Admits It Updated Some Windows 10 Computers To Newest Build Despite Users Telling It Not To Do That ( 137

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: The admission came in a knowledge base article updated last week. Not all users of older Windows versions were forcibly updated, but only those whose machines were running Windows 10 v1703 (Creators Update). This is the version where Microsoft added special controls to the Windows Update setting section that allow users to pause OS updates in case they have driver or other hardware issues with the latest OS version. But according to reports, a Microsoft snafu ignored these settings and forcibly updated some users to Windows 10 v1709 (Fall Creators Update).

Larry Page's Flying Taxis, Now Exiting Stealth Mode ( 100

Google co-founder and Alphabet CEO Larry Page's autonomous flying taxi company Kitty Hawk on Tuesday unveiled its "fully electric, self-piloting flying taxi" called Cora. Since October, Cora has been seen moving through the skies over the South Island of New Zealand. It looks like a cross between a small plane and a drone, with a series of small rotor blades along each wing that allow it to take off like a helicopter and then fly like a plane. The New York Times reports: Now that project is about to go public: On Tuesday, Mr. Page's company and the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, will announce they have reached an agreement to test Kitty Hawk's autonomous planes as part of an official certification process. The hope is that it will lead to a commercial network of flying taxis in New Zealand in as soon as three years. The move is a big step forward in the commercialization of this technology, which even the most optimistic prognosticators had recently bet would take another decade to achieve. The decision to embrace the commercial use of flying taxis offers New Zealand an opportunity to leapfrog many developed countries in this area, and perhaps give it a head start over Silicon Valley, where much of the most innovative work has been taking place.

US Navy Under Fire In Mass Software Piracy Lawsuit ( 121

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TorrentFreak: In 2011 and 2012, the U.S. Navy began using BS Contact Geo, a 3D virtual reality application developed by German company Bitmanagement. The Navy reportedly agreed to purchase licenses for use on 38 computers, but things began to escalate. While Bitmanagement was hopeful that it could sell additional licenses to the Navy, the software vendor soon discovered the U.S. Government had already installed it on 100,000 computers without extra compensation. In a Federal Claims Court complaint filed by Bitmanagement two years ago, that figure later increased to hundreds of thousands of computers. Because of the alleged infringement, Bitmanagement demanded damages totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. In the months that followed both parties conducted discovery and a few days ago the software company filed a motion for partial summary judgment, asking the court to rule that the U.S. Government is liable for copyright infringement. According to the software company, it's clear that the U.S. Government crossed a line. In its defense, the U.S. Government had argued that it bought concurrent-use licenses, which permitted the software to be installed across the Navy network. However, Bitmanagement argues that it is impossible as the reseller that sold the software was only authorized to sell PC licenses. In addition, the software company points out that the word "concurrent" doesn't appear in the contracts, nor was there any mention of mass installations. The full motion brings up a wide range of other arguments as well which, according to Bitmanagement, make it clear that the U.S. Government is liable for copyright infringement.

Apple Is Letting Companies Make 3.5mm To Lightning Cables Now ( 109

Apple has updated the specs for its Made-For-iPhone accessories program, letting accessory makers put USB-C ports on licensed devices, as well as create 3.5mm to Lightning cables for the first time. 9to5Mac reports: With the new specs, companies in the MFi program can now include USB-C receptacles on their officially certified iOS and Mac accessories for charging. That allows users to charge MFi accessories with a USB-C cable and or power adapter they might already have, for example, and also draw power from the USB port on a Mac using the same cable. It also has other advantages for manufacturers. Apple's documentation for the new specs lists battery packs and speakers as products that could benefit from using a USB-C receptacle. Products are also allowed to bundle USB-C cables with the MFi accessories, but manufacturers can opt to not include a cable or adapter and reduce their costs and or price in the process. Unlike with Lightning receptacles, Apple does not allow the port to be used for passthrough charging or sync of an iOS device. Also, new for accessory makers is the ability to create a Lightning to 3.5mm stereo analog audio output plug, which would allow users to go direct from the Lightning port to a 3.5mm input on another device.

Lyft Says Its Revenue Is Growing Nearly 3x Faster Than Uber's ( 53

U.S. ride-sharing company Lyft says it passed $1 billion in revenue last year and that its revenue grew 168 percent year over year in the fourth quarter of 2017, almost three times faster than Uber's reported 61 percent growth. "Uber, of course, is still much larger than Lyft -- it generated a reported $7.5 billion in revenue last year and operates in many more cities and countries," notes Recode. "While its fourth-quarter growth may have been smaller than Lyft's percentage-wise, it was still almost certainly many times larger dollar-wise. Both companies are still unprofitable." From the report: But the big-picture reality is that despite Uber's head start, its early dominance, ability to raise massive amounts of financing, aggressive (often allegedly illegal) growth tactics, faster move into self-driving cars and everything else in its favor, it has not been able to destroy Lyft. Instead, Lyft capitalized somewhat on Uber's missteps and unsavory reputation, raised another $2 billion last year, gained market share, launched its first international market last year (Toronto) and seems poised to exist for the foreseeable future.

Google To Reveal 'World's Highest Resolution OLED-On-Glass Display' For VR Headsets ( 77

An anonymous reader writes: Last year at SID Display Week 2017, Google's VP of VR/AR teased a "secret project" that the company was working on -- a VR-optimized OLED panel capable of 20 megapixels per eye -- which was being undertaken with "one of the leading OLED manufacturers." This year, the schedule for SID Display Week 2018 indicates that Google plans to reveal its made-for-VR panel on May 22nd, which it calls the "world's highest resolution (18 megapixel, 1443 ppi) OLED-on-glass display." The company plans to detail the display in a presentation at the event, which will be co-presented with engineers from LG, suggesting the identity of the second partner on the project. Ideal for VR, the 4.3-inch panel is capable of 120Hz refresh rate and is expected to have a resolution of some 5,500 by 3,000, representing a massive leap over today's leading VR panels which offer 1,600 by 1,440 resolutions at 90Hz.

ACLU Sues TSA Over Electronic Device Searches ( 115

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration over its alleged practices of searching the electronic devices of passengers traveling on domestic flights. "The federal government's policies on searching the phones, laptops, and tablets of domestic air passengers remain shrouded in secrecy," ACLU Foundation of Northern California attorney Vasudha Talla said in a blog post. "TSA is searching the electronic devices of domestic passengers, but without offering any reason for the search," Talla added. "We don't know why the government is singling out some passengers, and we don't know what exactly TSA is searching on the devices. Our phones and laptops contain very personal information, and the federal government should not be digging through our digital data without a warrant." TechCrunch reports: The lawsuit, which is directed toward the TSA field offices in San Francisco and its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, specifically asks the TSA to hand over records related to its policies, procedures and/or protocols pertaining to the search of electronic devices. This lawsuit comes after a number of reports came in pertaining to the searches of electronic devices of passengers traveling domestically. The ACLU also wants to know what equipment the TSA uses to search, examine and extract any data from passengers' devices, as well as what kind of training TSA officers receive around screening and searching the devices. The ACLU says it first filed FOIA requests back in December, but TSA "subsequently improperly withheld the requested records," the ACLU wrote in a blog post today.

'Slingshot' Malware That Hid For Six Years Spread Through Routers 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: Security researchers at Kaspersky Lab have discovered what's likely to be another state-sponsored malware strain, and this one is more advanced than most. Nicknamed Slingshot, the code spies on PCs through a multi-layer attack that targets MikroTik routers. It first replaces a library file with a malicious version that downloads other malicious components, and then launches a clever two-pronged attack on the computers themselves. One, Canhadr, runs low-level kernel code that effectively gives the intruder free rein, including deep access to storage and memory; the other, GollumApp, focuses on the user level and includes code to coordinate efforts, manage the file system and keep the malware alive. Kaspersky describes these two elements as "masterpieces," and for good reason. For one, it's no mean feat to run hostile kernel code without crashes. Slingshot also stores its malware files in an encrypted virtual file system, encrypts every text string in its modules, calls services directly (to avoid tripping security software checks) and even shuts components down when forensic tools are active. If there's a common method of detecting malware or identifying its behavior, Slingshot likely has a defense against it. It's no wonder that the code has been active since at least 2012 -- no one knew it was there. Recent MikroTik router firmware updates should fix the issue. However, there's concern that other router makers might be affected.

Apple Seems OK With Currency Miners In the Mac App Store 38

Apple has yet to block a popular title in the Mac App Store that has openly embraced coin mining, prompting one to ask the question: does Apple allow apps in the Mac App Store if they clearly disclose that they will be mining cryptocurrency? Ars Technica reports: The app is Calendar 2, a scheduling app that aims to include more features than the Calendar app that Apple bundles with macOS. In recent days, Calendar 2 developer Qbix endowed it with code that mines the digital coin known as Monero. The xmr-stack miner isn't supposed to run unless users specifically approve it in a dialog that says the mining will be in exchange for turning on a set of premium features. If users approve the arrangement, the miner will then run. Users can bypass this default action by selecting an option to keep the premium features turned off or to pay a fee to turn on the premium features. If Calendar 2 isn't the first known app offered in Apple's official and highly exclusive App Store to do currency mining, it's one of the very few.

Tesla Raises Prices At Its Supercharger Stations 166

Tesla is increasing the cost of the paid Supercharger access, but a spokesperson for the company says that it "will never be a profit center." Electrek reports: When introducing the program, Tesla said that it aimed to still make the cost of Supercharging cheaper than gasoline and that it doesn't aim to make its Supercharger network a profit center. Instead, they want to use the money to keep growing the network which now consists of over 1,180 stations and close to 9,000 Superchargers. But this week, the rates were updated across the U.S. Some states saw massive increases of as much as 100 percent -- though most regions saw their rates increase by 20 to 40 percent. For example, Oregon saw an increase of $0.12 to $0.24 per kWh, while California, Tesla's biggest market in the U.S., got an increase from $0.20 to $0.26 kWh and New York's rate went from $0.19 to $0.24 per kWh. A spokesperson for Tesla said in a statement: "We occasionally adjust rates to reflect current local electricity and usage. The overriding principle is that Supercharging will always remain significantly cheaper than gasoline, as we only aim to recover a portion of our costs while setting up a fair system for everyone. This will never be a profit center for Tesla."

Comcast 'Blocks' an Encrypted Email Service: Yet Another Reminder Why Net Neutrality Matters ( 105

Zack Whittaker, writing for ZDNet: For about twelve hours earlier this month, encrypted email service Tutanota seemed to fall off the face of the internet for Comcast customers. Starting in the afternoon on March 1, people weren't sure if the site was offline or if it had been attacked. Reddit threads speculated about the outage. Some said that Comcast was actively blocking the site, while others dismissed the claims altogether. Several tweets alerted the Hanover, Germany-based encrypted messaging provider to the alleged blockade, which showed a "connection timed out" message to Comcast users. It was as if to hundreds of Comcast customers, Tutanota didn't exist. But as soon as users switched to another non-Comcast internet connection, the site appeared as normal. "To us, this came as a total surprise," said Matthias Pfau, co-founder of Tutanota, in an email. "It was quite a shock as such an outage shows the immense power [internet providers] are having over our Internet when they can block sites...without having to justify their action in any way," he said.

By March 2, the site was back, but the encrypted email provider was none the wiser to the apparent blockade. The company contacted Comcast for answers, but did not receive a reply. When contacted, a Comcast spokesperson couldn't say why the site was blocked -- or even if the internet and cable giant was behind it. According to a spokesperson, engineers investigated the apparent outage but found there was no evidence of a connection breakage between Comcast and Tutanota. The company keeps records of issues that trigger incidents -- but found nothing to suggest an issue. It's not the first time Comcast customers have been blocked from accessing popular sites. Last year, the company purposefully blocked access to internet behemoth for more than 13 hours.

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