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AT&T

AT&T To Cough Up $88 Million For 'Cramming' Mobile Customer Bills (networkworld.com) 28

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Network World: Some 2.7 million ATT customers will share $88 million in compensation for having had unauthorized third-party charges added to their mobile bills, the Federal Trade Commission announced this morning. The latest shot in the federal government's years-long battle against such abuses, these refunds will represent the most money ever recouped by victims of what is known as "mobile cramming," according to the FTC. From an FTC press release: "Through the FTC's refund program, nearly 2.5 million current ATT customers will receive a credit on their bill within the next 75 days, and more than 300,000 former customers will receive a check. The average refund amount is $31. [...] According to the FTC's complaint, ATT placed unauthorized third-party charges on its customers' phone bills, usually in amounts of $9.99 per month, for ringtones and text message subscriptions containing love tips, horoscopes, and 'fun facts.' The FTC alleged that ATT kept at least 35 percent of the charges it imposed on its customers." The matter with ATT was originally made public in 2014 and also involved two companies that actually applied the unauthorized charges, Tatto and Acquinity.
Government

Congress Passes BOTS Act To Ban Ticket-Buying Software (arstechnica.com) 161

Congress passed a bill yesterday that will make it illegal for people to use software bots to buy concert tickets. Ars Technica reports: The Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act makes it illegal to bypass any computer security system designed to limit ticket sales to concerts, Broadway musicals, and other public events with a capacity of more than 200 persons. Violations will be treated as "unfair or deceptive acts" and can be prosecuted by the Federal Trade Commission or the states. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent last week, and the House of Representatives voted yesterday to pass it as well. It now proceeds to President Barack Obama for his signature. Computer programs that automatically buy tickets have been a frustration for the concert industry and fans for a few years now. The issue had wide exposure after a 2013 New York Times story on the issue. Earlier this year, the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman completed an investigation into bots. The New York AG's ticket sales report (PDF) found that the tens of thousands of tickets snatched up by bots were marked up by an average of 49 percent.
The Almighty Buck

Every US Taxpayer Has Effectively Paid Apple At Least $6 in Recent Years (arstechnica.com) 198

An anonymous reader shares an ArsTechnica report: Apple has received at least $6 per American taxpayer over the last five years in the form of interest payments on billions' worth of United States Treasury bonds, according to a report by Bloomberg. Citing Apple's regulatory filings and unnamed sources, the business publication found "the Treasury Department paid Apple at least $600 million and possibly much more over the past five years in the form of interest." By taking advantage of a provision in the American tax code, Bloomberg says that Apple has "stashed much of its foreign earnings -- tax-free -- right here in the US, in part by purchasing government bonds." As The Wall Street Journal reported in September, American companies are believed to be holding approximately $2 trillion in cash overseas that is shielded from US taxes. Under American law, companies must pay a 35-percent corporate tax rate on global profits when that money is brought home -- so there is an incentive to keep as much of that money overseas as possible.
Transportation

Paris Makes All Public Transportation Free In Battle Against 'Worst Air Pollution For 10 Years' (independent.co.uk) 224

Paris has barred some cars from its streets and has made public transportation free as it suffers from the worst and most prolonged winter pollution for at least 10 years, the Airparif agency said on Wednesday. The Independent reports: Authorities have said only drivers with odd-numbered registration plates can drive in the capital region on Wednesday. Drivers of even-numbered cars were given the same opportunity on Tuesday, but could now be fined up to 35 EUR if they are caught behind the wheel. More than 1,700 motorists were fined for violations on Tuesday. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said images of smog blanketing the capital were proof of the need to reduce vehicle use in the city center. The air pollution peak is due to the combination of emissions from vehicles and from domestic wood fires as well as near windless conditions which means pollutants have not been dispersed, the Airparif agency said. "This is a record period (of pollution) for the last 10 years," Karine Leger of AirParif told AFP by telephone. For more than a week, Airparif has published readings of PM10 at more than 80 micrograms per cubic meter of air particles, triggering the pollution alert. Along with odd-numbered cars, hybrid or electric vehicles as well as those carrying three or more people will be allowed to roam the roads. Foreign and emergency vehicles will be unaffected.
Sony

Backdoor Accounts Found in 80 Sony IP Security Camera Models (pcworld.com) 53

Many network security cameras made by Sony could be taken over by hackers and infected with botnet malware if their firmware is not updated to the latest version. Researchers from SEC Consult have found two backdoor accounts that exist in 80 models of professional Sony security cameras, mainly used by companies and government agencies given their high price, PCWorld reports. From the article: One set of hard-coded credentials is in the Web interface and allows a remote attacker to send requests that would enable the Telnet service on the camera, the SEC Consult researchers said in an advisory Tuesday. The second hard-coded password is for the root account that could be used to take full control of the camera over Telnet. The researchers established that the password is static based on its cryptographic hash and, while they haven't actually cracked it, they believe it's only a matter of time until someone does. Sony released a patch to the affected camera models last week.
NASA

NASA Awards $127 Million Contract For Refueling Mission Spacecraft (gizmodo.com) 37

Satellites cost millions of dollars to be launched into space and there's no guarantee that they will work without electrical or mechanical problems once in orbit. NASA has recently announced that it will award a $127 million contract to a company that aims to use a robotic spacecraft to fix satellites in space, thus potentially saving millions of dollars in the long-run by fixing satellites that would otherwise be "expensive e-waste." Gizmodo reports: NASA has just announced that it will award a $127 million contract to the California-based satellite company Space Systems/Loral for Restore-L, a robotic spacecraft capable of grasping, refueling and relocating a satellite in low Earth orbit, in addition to testing technologies for future missions. SSL has three years to build the bot, which is projected to launch in 2020. Without the ability to refuel, a satellite's lifespan is restricted by the amount of propellant engineers can pack in its tank at launch. That lifespan can be cut even shorter should the spacecraft encounter any electrical or mechanical problems on orbit. As more and more satellites reach the end of their operational lifespans, government agencies and private companies have been working to remedy this problem by developing robots that can give satellites a tune-up in zero-gravity. DARPA, for instance, recently launched a program aimed at designing robots capable of servicing satellites at the hard-to-reach but highly-desirable perch of geosynchronous orbit, 22,000 miles above Earth. NASA's Satellite Servicing Division, meanwhile, has a handful of on-orbit repair and refueling technology demonstrators in the works, including a robotic arm with the same range of motion as a human arm, a navigation system designed to help robots rendezvous with moving objects in space, and Restore-L, which combines these and other capabilities into a multi-purpose space mechanic. For now, Restore-L's primary goal is to refuel Landsat 7, a critical Earth-monitoring satellite operated by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. If successful, the spacecraft may be modified for all sorts of other useful tasks, from mopping up the ever-growing halo of space junk encircling our planet, to servicing exciting new science missions like the Asteroid Redirect Mission, which will grab a multi-ton boulder from the surface of an asteroid and tow it back to orbit around the Moon.
Security

70 Laptops Got Left Behind At An Airport Security Checkpoint In One Month (bravotv.com) 168

America's Transportation Security Administration has been making some surprising announcements on social media. An anonymous reader writes: A TSA spokesperson says 70 laptops were left behind in just one month at an airport security checkpoint in Newark. "And yes, there are plenty of shiny MacBooks in that pile," reported BravoTV, "which can cost in the $2,000 range new." The TSA shared an image of the 70 laptops on their Instagram page and on Twitter, prompting at least one mobile project designer to reclaim his laptop. "The most common way laptops are forgotten is when traveler's stack a bin on top of the bin their laptop is in," the TSA warns. "Out of sight out of mind."
The TSA is also sharing pictures on social media of the 70 guns they confiscated at security checkpoints in one week in November, reporting they've also confiscated a blowtorch, batarangs, and a replica of that baseball bat from "The Walking Dead". They're reporting they found 33 loaded firearms in carry-on luggage in one week, and remind readers that gun-carrying passengers "can face a penalty as high as $11,000. This is a friendly reminder to please leave these items at home."
Government

Virginia Police Spent $500K For An Ineffective Cellphone Surveillance System (muckrock.com) 36

Cell-site simulators can intercept phone calls and even provide locations (using GPS data). But Virginia's state police force just revealed details about their actual use of the device -- and it's not pretty. Long-time Slashdot reader v3rgEz writes: In 2014, the Virginia State Police spent $585,265 on a specially modified Suburban outfitted with the latest and greatest in cell phone surveillance: the DRT 1183C, affectionately known as the DRTbox. But according to logs uncovered by public records website MuckRock, the pricey ride was only used 12 times — and only worked seven of those times.
According to Virginia's ACLU director, "each of the 12 uses cost almost $50,000, and only 4 of them resulted in an arrest [raising] a significant question whether the more than half million dollars spent on the device and the vehicle...was a wise investment of public funds."
United Kingdom

For The UK's 'Snoopers' Charter', Politicians Voted Themselves An Exemption (independent.co.uk) 134

The "Snoopers' Charter" passed in the U.K. greatly expands the government's surveillance power. But before they'd enact the new Investigatory Powers Act, Britain's elected officials first voted to make themselves exempt from it. Sort of. An anonymous reader writes: While their internet browsing history will still be swept up, just like everyone else's, no one will ever be able to access it without specific approval from the Prime Minister. And according to The Independent, "That rule applies not only to members of the Westminster parliament but also politicians in the devolved assembly and members of the European Parliament."
The article adds that the exemption was the very first amendment they approved for the legislation. And for a very long time, the only amendment.
United Kingdom

UK Health Secretary Urges Social Media Companies To Block Cyberbullying And Underaged Sexting (betanews.com) 71

Mark Wilson shares his article on Beta News: Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has made calls for technology companies and social media to do more to tackle the problems of cyberbullying, online intimidation and -- rather specifically -- under-18-year-olds texting sexually explicit images. Of course, he doesn't have the slightest idea about how to go about tackling these problems, but he has expressed his concern so that, in conjunction with passing this buck to tech companies, should be enough, right?
Hunt apparently believes there's already a technology which can identify sexually explicit photos, and that social media networks should now also develop algorithms to identify and block cyberbullying, an idea the Guardian called "sadly laughable."

"Is the blanket censorship of non-approved communications for all under 18s -- something that goes far further than even the Great Firewall of China -- really the kind of thing a government minister should be able to idly suggest in 2016?"
United States

The US Government Funds A War On Online Fake News (bangordailynews.com) 359

An anonymous reader quotes the Washington Post: Congressional negotiators on Wednesday approved an initiative to track and combat foreign propaganda amid growing concerns that Russian efforts to spread "fake news" and disinformation threaten U.S. national security. The measure, part of the National Defense Authorization Act approved by a conference committee, calls on the State Department to lead government-wide efforts to identify propaganda and counter its effects. The authorization is for $160 million over two years...

The Senate Intelligence Committee, meanwhile, has approved language in the fiscal year 2017 intelligence authorization bill calling for new executive branch efforts to combat what it characterized as "active measures" by Russia to manipulate people and governments through front groups, covert broadcasting or "media manipulation." "There is definitely bipartisan concern about the Russian government engaging in covert influence activities of this nature," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. "If you read section 501 of this year's intelligence authorization bill, it directs the President to set up an interagency committee to 'counter active measures by Russia to exert covert influence over peoples and governments.'"

Several senators on the intelligence committee also asked President Obama to declassify any information relating to the Russian government and the U.S. election.
The Courts

It Will Soon Be Illegal To Punish US Customers Who Criticize Businesses Online (arstechnica.com) 90

An anonymous reader writes: Congress has passed a law protecting the right of U.S. consumers to post negative online reviews without fear of retaliation from companies. The bipartisan Consumer Review Fairness Act was passed by unanimous consent in the US Senate, a Senate Commerce Committee announcement said. The bill, introduced in 2014, was already approved by the House of Representatives and now awaits President Obama's signature.

The Consumer Review Fairness Act -- full text available here -- voids any provision in a form contract that prohibits or restricts customers from posting reviews about the goods, services, or conduct of the company providing the product or service. It also voids provisions that impose penalties or fees on customers for posting online reviews as well as those that require customers to give up the intellectual property rights related to such reviews.

China

China's New 'Social Credit Score' Law Means Full Access To Customer Data (insurancejournal.com) 83

AnonymousCube shares this quote about China's new 'Social Credit Score' law from an insurance industry magazine: "Companies are also required to give government investigators complete access to their data if there is suspected wrong-doing, and Internet operators must cooperate in any national security or crime-related investigation."

Note that China has an extremely flexible definition of "national security". Additionally computer equipment will need to undergo mandatory certification, that could involve giving up source code, encryption keys, or even proprietary intellectual data, as Microsoft has been doing for some time.

The article suggests businesses like insurers "will likely see the cost of complying with this new action as a disincentive to conducting business in China."
Encryption

Encryption Backdoor Sneaks Into UK Law (theregister.co.uk) 137

Coisiche found a disturbing article from The Register about the U.K.'s new "Snoopers' Charter" law that has implications for tech companies around the world: Among the many unpleasant things in the Investigatory Powers Act that was officially signed into law this week, one that has not gained as much attention is the apparent ability for the U.K. government to undermine encryption and demand surveillance backdoors... As per the final wording of the law, comms providers on the receiving end of a "technical capacity notice" will be obliged to do various things on demand for government snoops -- such as disclosing details of any system upgrades and removing "electronic protection" on encrypted communications. Thus, by "technical capability," the government really means backdoors and deliberate security weaknesses so citizens' encrypted online activities can be intercepted, deciphered and monitored... At the end of the day, will the U.K. security services be able to read your email, your messages, your posts and private tweets, and your communications if they believe you pose a threat to national security? Yes, they will.
The bill added the Secretaries of State as a required signatory to the "technical capacity" notices, which "introduces a minor choke-point and a degree of accountability." But the article argues the law ultimately anticipates the breaking of encryption, and without customer notification. "The U.K. government can certainly insist that a company not based in the U.K. carry out its orders -- that situation is specifically included in the new law -- but as to whether it can realistically impose such a requirement, well, that will come down to how far those companies are willing to push back and how much they are willing to walk away from the U.K. market."
Republicans

Of 8 Tech Companies, Only Twitter Says It Would Refuse To Help Build Muslim Registry For Trump (theintercept.com) 588

On the campaign trail last year, President-elect Donald Trump said he would consider requiring Muslim-Americans to register with a government database. While he has back-stepped on a number of campaign promises after being elected president, Trump and his transition team have recently resurfaced the idea to create a national Muslim registry. In response, The Intercept contacted nine of the "most prominent" technology companies in the United States "to ask if they would sell their services to help create a national Muslim registry." Twitter was the only company that responded with "No." The Intercept reports: Even on a purely hypothetical basis, such a project would provide American technology companies an easy line to draw in the sand -- pushing back against any effort to track individuals purely (or essentially) on the basis of their religious beliefs doesn't take much in the way of courage or conviction, even by the thin standards of corporate America. We'd also be remiss in assuming no company would ever tie itself to such a nakedly evil undertaking: IBM famously helped Nazi Germany computerize the Holocaust. (IBM has downplayed its logistical role in the Holocaust, claiming in a 2001 statement that "most [relevant] documents were destroyed or lost during the war.") With all this in mind, we contacted nine different American firms in the business of technology, broadly defined, with the following question: "Would [name of company], if solicited by the Trump administration, sell any goods, services, information, or consulting of any kind to help facilitate the creation of a national Muslim registry, a project which has been floated tentatively by the president-elect's transition team?" After two weeks of calls and emails, only three companies provided an answer, and only one said it would not participate in such a project. A complete tally is below.

Facebook: No answer. Twitter: "No," and a link to this blog post, which states as company policy a prohibition against the use, by outside developers, of "Twitter data for surveillance purposes. Period." Microsoft: "We're not going to talk about hypotheticals at this point," and a link to a company blog post that states that "we're committed to promoting not just diversity among all the men and women who work here, but [...] inclusive culture" and that "it will remain important for those in government and the tech sector to continue to work together to strike a balance that protects privacy and public safety in what remains a dangerous time." Google: No answer. Apple: No answer. IBM: No answer. Booz Allen Hamilton: Declined to comment. SRA International: No answer.

Government

Paris, Madrid, Athens, Mexico City Will Ban Diesel Vehicles By 2025 (bbc.com) 240

The mayors of four major global cities -- Paris, Mexico City, Madrid and Athens -- announced plans to stop the use of all diesel-powered cars and trucks by 2025. The leaders made their commitments in Mexico at a biennial meeting of city leaders. BBC reports: At the C40 meeting of urban leaders in Mexico, the four mayors declared that they would ban all diesel vehicles by 2025 and "commit to doing everything in their power to incentivize the use of electric, hydrogen and hybrid vehicles." "It is no secret that in Mexico City, we grapple with the twin problems of air pollution and traffic," said the city's mayor, Miguel Angel Mancera. "By expanding alternative transportation options like our Bus Rapid Transport and subway systems, while also investing in cycling infrastructure, we are working to ease congestion in our roadways and our lungs." Paris has already taken a series of steps to cut the impact of diesel cars and trucks. Vehicles registered before 1997 have already been banned from entering the city, with restrictions increasing each year until 2020. The use of diesel in transport has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, as concerns about its impact on air quality have grown. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that around three million deaths every year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Diesel engines contribute to the problem in two key ways -- through the production of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Very fine soot PM can penetrate the lungs and can contribute to cardiovascular illness and death. Nitrogen oxides can help form ground level ozone and this can exacerbate breathing difficulties, even for people without a history of respiratory problems. The diesel ban is hugely significant. Carmakers will look at this decision and know it's just a matter of time before other city mayors follow suit.
Security

Hackers Steal $31 Million at Russia's Central Bank (cnn.com) 78

The Bank of Russia has confirmed Friday that hackers have stolen 2 billion rubles ($31 million) from correspondent accounts at the Russian central bank. Central bank security executive Artiom Sychev said it could've been much worse as hackers tried to steal 5 billion rubles, but the central banking authority managed to stop them. CNNMoney reports: Hackers also targeted the private banks and stole cash from their clients, the central bank reported. The central bank did not say when the heist occurred or how hackers moved the funds. But so far, the attack bears some similarity to a recent string of heists that has targeted the worldwide financial system. Researchers at the cybersecurity firm Symantec have concluded that the global banking system has been under sustained attack from a sophisticated group -- dubbed "Lazarus" -- that has been linked to North Korea. But it's unclear who has attacked Russian banks this time around. Earlier Friday, the Russian government claimed it had foiled an attempt to erode public confidence in its financial system. Russian's top law enforcement agency, the FSB, said hackers were planning to use a collection of computer servers in the Netherlands to attack Russian banks. Typically, hackers use this kind of infrastructure to launch a "denial of service" attack, which disrupts websites and business operations by flooding a target with data. The FSB said hackers also planned to spread fake news about Russian banks, sending mass text messages and publishing stories on social media questioning their financial stability and licenses to operate.
AI

Stephen Hawking: Automation and AI Is Going To Decimate Middle Class Jobs (businessinsider.com) 468

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Business Insider: In a column in The Guardian, the world-famous physicist wrote that "the automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining." He adds his voice to a growing chorus of experts concerned about the effects that technology will have on workforce in the coming years and decades. The fear is that while artificial intelligence will bring radical increases in efficiency in industry, for ordinary people this will translate into unemployment and uncertainty, as their human jobs are replaced by machines. Automation will, "in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world," Hawking wrote. "The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive." He frames this economic anxiety as a reason for the rise in right-wing, populist politics in the West: "We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent." Combined with other issues -- overpopulation, climate change, disease -- we are, Hawking warns ominously, at "the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity." Humanity must come together if we are to overcome these challenges, he says.
AT&T

FCC Calls Out AT&T, Verizon For 'Zero Rating' Their Own Video Apps (zdnet.com) 56

U.S. regulators are calling out AT&T and Verizon for exempting their own video apps from data caps on customers' smartphones. The FCC has sent letters to the country's biggest wireless carriers saying the way they handle the practice, known as "zero rating," can hurt competition and consumers. From a report on ZDNet: AT&T launched DirecTV Now earlier this week. AT&T Mobility customers can stream video data over LTE without impacting their data allowance. Verizon offers something similar with its go90 service. AT&T and Verizon don't see any wrongdoing. In a statement Friday, AT&T said exempting services like DirecTV Now from data caps saves customers money. Verizon said its practices are good for consumers and comply with regulations. "We will provide the FCC with additional information on why the government should not take away a service that saves consumers money," AT&T wrote in a statement Friday. The FCC hasn't released any official ruling on "zero rating," just guidance. It said on Thursday a similar letter was sent to AT&T in November, but the FCC didn't like AT&T's original response.
United States

US Economy Added 178,000 Jobs in November; Unemployment Rate Drops To 4.6 Percent (washingtonpost.com) 533

The U.S. economy added 178,000 jobs in November, while the unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent from 4.9 percent the previous month, according to new government data released (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternate source) Friday morning. From a report on the Washington Post: Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News had expected U.S. employers to create 180,000 new jobs last month -- roughly in line with the average number added in the first 11 months of the year. The first release after a contentious election in which the candidates disputed the health and direction of the economy, the data showed a job market that is continuing to steadily strengthen from the recession. The unemployment rate fell to levels not seen since August 2007, before a bubble in the U.S. housing market began to burst. The fall was driven partly by the creation of new jobs, and partly by people retiring and otherwise leaving the labor force. The labor force participation rate ticked down to 62.7 percent. Average hourly earnings declined by 3 cents to $25.89. The decrease pared back large gains seen in October, but over the year average hourly earnings are still up 2.5 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.

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