The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed a lawsuit against the remote testing company Proctorio on behalf of Miami University student Erik Johnson. The Verge reports: The lawsuit is intended to "quash a campaign of harassment designed to undermine important concerns" about the company's remote test-proctoring software, according to the EFF. The lawsuit intends to address the company's behavior toward Johnson in September of last year. After Johnson found out that he'd need to use the software for two of his classes, Johnson dug into the source code of Proctorio's Chrome extension and made a lengthy Twitter thread criticizing its practices -- including links to excerpts of the source code, which he'd posted on Pastebin. Proctorio CEO Mike Olsen sent Johnson a direct message on Twitter requesting that he remove the code from Pastebin, according to screenshots viewed by The Verge. After Johnson refused, Proctorio filed a copyright takedown notice, and three of the tweets were removed. (They were reinstated after TechCrunch reported on the controversy.)
In its lawsuit, the EFF is arguing that Johnson made fair use of Proctorio's code and that the company's takedown "interfered with Johnson's First Amendment right." "Copyright holders should be held liable when they falsely accuse their critics of copyright infringement, especially when the goal is plainly to intimidate and undermine them," said EFF Staff Attorney Cara Gagliano in a statement. "I'm doing this to stand up against student surveillance, as well as abuses of copyright law," Johnson told The Verge. "This isn't the first, and won't be the last time a company abuses copyright law to try and make criticism more difficult. If nobody calls out this abuse of power now, it'll just keep happening."
An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: Residents living on the West Coast don't know when the next earthquake will hit. But a new expansion of the U.S. earthquake early warning system gives 50 million people in California, Oregon -- and now Washington -- seconds to quickly get to safety whenever the next one hits. As of 8 a.m. Tuesday, cellphone users in California, Oregon and Washington should receive a mobile alert from the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system when tremors are detected. Alerts are sent from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Wireless Emergency Alert system, third-party phone apps and other technologies.
The West Coast, the most earthquake-prone region in the U.S., is home to major fault lines that put the area at risk of devastating earthquakes. David Applegate, the acting director of the U.S. Geological Survey, said in a statement that "ShakeAlert can turn mere seconds into opportunities for people to take life-saving protective actions or for applications to trigger automated actions that protect critical infrastructure." The ShakeAlert system relies on sensor data from the USGS Advanced National Seismic System -- a collection of regional earthquake monitoring networks throughout the country. Alerts can come through the Wireless Emergency Alert system, which sends text-message alerts similar to Amber Alerts sent to cellphone users when a child is kidnapped. Cellphone users will get an alert only when an earthquake is magnitude 5 or higher.
Privacy-oriented messaging app Signal tried to run a very candid ad campaign on Facebook-owned Instagram, but it wasn't meant to be. From a report: Signal explained how it went down in a blog post Tuesday. The idea was to post ads on Instagram which use the data an online advertiser may have collected about users, and basically show the user what that data might be for them. "You got this ad because you're a teacher, but more importantly you're a Leo (and single). This ad used your location to see you're in Moscow. You like to support sketch comedy, and this ad thinks you do drag," one of the ads said. According to Signal, the ad "would simply display some of the information collected about the viewer which the advertising platform uses."
The fact that Facebook and similar companies collect your data isn't a secret. According to Signal, however "the full picture is hazy to most -- dimly concealed within complex, opaquely-rendered systems and fine print designed to be scrolled past." In other words, you may have consented to this because you weren't bothered to investigate the details, but you may feel differently if you knew exactly what online advertisers know about you. However, Facebook wasn't having it, and shut down both the campaign and Signal's ad account.
The Biden administration has blocked a Trump-era rule that would have made it easier for companies like Uber, Lyft and Instacart to continue classifying rideshare drivers and delivery workers as independent contractors under federal law. From a report: The rule pertained to the classification of gig workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires employers to pay non-exempt employees at least the federal minimum wage. The Trump administration published the rule in January 2021, and it was originally set to go into effect on March 8. In February, Biden's labor department delayed implementation until May 7. Now, the Department of Labor has officially withdrawn the rule. The decision to rescind the rule does not mean gig workers will be considered employees. But it does mean certain gig workers won't face an additional obstacle in their efforts to be classified as employees. The rule would have implemented a new interpretation of what type of worker is an independent contractor. The DOL, however, determined that it would have "narrowed the scope of facts and considerations" in determining whether someone is an independent contractor or employee.
As the Epic Games v. Apple trial progresses into its third day, Apple's internal documents and communications with various companies are continuing to surface, giving us some insight into the dealings that Apple has had around the App Store. From a report: Back in December 2018, Netflix stopped offering in-app subscription options for new or resubscribing members and instead began requiring them to sign up for Netflix outside of the App Store in order to avoid paying Apple's 30 percent cut. As it turns out, Apple executives were unhappy with Netflix's decision, and made attempts to persuade Netflix to keep in-app purchases available. The subject hasn't yet been broached in the live in-person trial that's going on right now, but news outlet 9to5Mac highlighted emails between Apple executives discussing Netflix's decision. When Apple learned that Netflix was A/B testing the removal of in-app purchases in certain countries, Apple started scrambling to put a stop to it. Apple's App Store Business Management Director Carson Oliver sent out an email in February 2018 outlining Netflix's testing plans and asked his fellow App Store executives whether Apple should take "punitive measures" against Netflix. "Do we want to take any punitive measures in response to the test (for examples, pulling all global featuring during the test period)? If so, how should those punitive measures be communicated to Netflix? (sic)," asked Oliver.
On iOS, Apple wants all the browsers to run WebKit. Even Google Chrome is forced to use WebKit on iOS devices. Alex Russel, Google's engineer, in a blog post outlines his case: Apple's iOS browser (Safari) and engine (WebKit) are uniquely under-powered. Consistent delays in the delivery of important features ensure the web can never be a credible alternative to its proprietary tools and App Store. Alex has cited an example of this by mentioning Stadia and other cloud gaming services. Apple did not allow those services to be available on the App Store and pushed them to use the web instead, which requires Apple to allow gamepad APIs so controllers can be used with these new web apps. That is a function that other browsers have offered for a long time except on iOS. He writes: Suppose Apple had implemented WebRTC and the Gamepad API in a timely way. Who can say if the game streaming revolution now taking place might have happened sooner? It's possible that Amazon Luna, NVIDIA GeForce NOW, Google Stadia, and Microsoft xCloud could have been built years earlier. It's also possible that APIs delivered on every other platform, but not yet available on any iOS browser (because Apple), may hold the key to unlocking whole categories of experiences on the web. Blog WCCFTech adds: Alex has also talked about how iOS browsers are underpowered in several other places compared to the competition. For starters, iOS browsers lack push notifications, standardized Progressive Web App (PWA) install buttons, background sync, and numerous other tools that make it easier for developers to make fully functional web apps. Access to hardware such as Bluetooth, USB, and NFC are also not easily available. Last but not least, the royalty-free AV1 standard is also not available.
Doctors in Canada have been coming across patients showing symptoms similar to that of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare fatal condition that attacks the brain. From a report on BBC, shared by several readers: But when they took a closer look, what they found left them stumped. Almost two years ago, Roger Ellis collapsed at home with a seizure on his 40th wedding anniversary. In his early 60s, Mr Ellis, who was born and raised around New Brunswick's bucolic Acadian peninsula, had been healthy until that June, and was enjoying his retirement after decades working as an industrial mechanic. His son, Steve Ellis, says after that fateful day his father's health rapidly declined. "He had delusions, hallucinations, weight loss, aggression, repetitive speech," he says. "At one point he couldn't even walk. So in the span of three months we were being brought to a hospital to tell us they believed he was dying - but no one knew why."
Roger Ellis' doctors first suspected Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease [CJD]. CJD is a human prion disease, a fatal and rare degenerative brain disorder that sees patients present with symptoms like failing memory, behavioural changes and difficulties with co-ordination. One widely known category is Variant CJD, which is linked to eating contaminated meat infected with mad cow disease. CJD also belongs to a wider category of brain disorders like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and ALS, in which protein in the nervous system become misfolded and aggregated. But Mr Ellis' CJD test came back negative, as did the barrage of other tests his doctors put him through as they tried to pinpoint the cause of his illness. His son says the medical team did their best to alleviate his father's varying symptoms but were still left with a mystery: what was behind Mr Ellis's decline? In March of this year, the younger Mr Ellis came across a possible -- if partial -- answer.
Radio-Canada, the public broadcaster, obtained a copy of a public health memo that had been sent to the province's medical professionals warning of a cluster of patients exhibiting an unknown degenerative brain disease. "The first thing I said was: 'This is my dad,'" he recalls. Roger Ellis is now believed to be one of those afflicted with the illness and is under the care of Dr Alier Marrero. The neurologist with Moncton's Dr Georges-L-Dumont University Hospital Centre says doctors first came across the baffling disease in 2015. At the time it was one patient, an "isolated and atypical case," he says. But since then there have been more patients like the first -- enough now that doctors have been able to identify the cluster as a different condition or syndrome "not seen before".
The province says it's currently tracking 48 cases, evenly split between men and women, in ages ranging from 18 to 85. Those patients are from the Acadian Peninsula and Moncton areas of New Brunswick. Six people are believed to have died from the illness.
Google is giving its employees more flexibility to work from different locations or entirely from home, taking a more lenient policy as the Alphabet company prepares for a return to office life after the pandemic. From a report: Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai outlined the plan to staff in a note Wednesday morning. The influential Silicon Valley giant, one of the first to send employees home in 2020, has slowly opened its offices, but said its employees can work remotely until September. Google has rearranged offices to create more features for what it calls a "hybrid" return to work. In the email, Pichai said he expects about 60% of Google's staff will work in the office "a few days a week." Another 20% will be able to relocate to other company sites, while the remaining one-fifth can apply to permanently work from home. Google's parent, Alphabet, ended the first quarter just shy of 140,000 direct employees.
The White House has launched a new website, AI.gov, to make artificial intelligence research more accessible across the nation. Axios: The U.S. once led significantly in the global artificial intelligence race, but now risks being overtaken by China. This is one step the White House is taking to drum up excitement for AI and broaden educational opportunities in the field. The website's target audience is the general public, and its purpose is to make public information available on AI more visible to someone like a teacher or student interested in science. Users will be able to visit the website to learn how artificial intelligence is being used across the nation in a variety of ways, including to respond to the COVID pandemic and weather forecasting, for example. It's also meant to be a tool to advance research.
Zack Whittaker, reporting for TechCrunch: Halfway through my Monday afternoon workout last week, I got a message from a security researcher with a screenshot of my Peloton account data. My Peloton profile is set to private and my friend's list is deliberately zero, so nobody can view my profile, age, city, or workout history. But a bug allowed anyone to pull users' private account data directly from Peloton's servers, even with their profile set to private. Peloton, the at-home fitness brand synonymous with its indoor stationary bike and beleaguered treadmills, has more than three million subscribers. Even President Biden is said to own one. The exercise bike alone costs upwards of $1,800, but anyone can sign up for a monthly subscription to join a broad variety of classes.
As Biden was inaugurated (and his Peloton moved to the White House -- assuming the Secret Service let him), Jan Masters, a security researcher at Pen Test Partners, found he could make unauthenticated requests to Peloton's API for user account data without it checking to make sure the person was allowed to request it. (An API allows two things to talk to each other over the internet, like a Peloton bike and the company's servers storing user data.) But the exposed API let him -- and anyone else on the internet -- access a Peloton user's age, gender, city, weight, workout statistics and, if it was the user's birthday, details that are hidden when users' profile pages are set to private. Masters reported the leaky API to Peloton on January 20 with a 90-day deadline to fix the bug, the standard window time that security researchers give to companies to fix bugs before details are made public. But that deadline came and went, the bug wasn't fixed and Masters hadn't heard back from the company, aside from an initial email acknowledging receipt of the bug report. In some other Peloton news: Peloton recalls all treadmills after reported injuries, death.
The White House has signaled privately to lawmakers and stakeholders in recent weeks that it supports taxpayer subsidies to keep existing nuclear facilities from closing, bending to the reality that it needs these plants to meet U.S. climate goals, Reuters reported Wednesday, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter. From the report: The new subsidies, in the form of "production tax credits," would likely be swept into President Joe Biden's multi-trillion-dollar legislative effort to invest in the nation's infrastructure and jobs, the sources said. Wind and solar power producers already get these tax rebates based on levels of energy they generate. Biden wants the U.S. power industry to be emissions free by 2035. He is also asking Congress to extend or create tax credits aimed at wind, solar and battery manufacturing as part of his $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan. The United States has more than 90 nuclear reactors, the most in the world, and the business is the country's top source of emissions-free power generation.
Donald Trump's Facebook account should not be reinstated, the social media giant's oversight board said on Wednesday, barring an imminent return to the platform. From a report: However, the board has punted the final decision over Trump's account back to Facebook itself, suggesting the platform make a decision in six months regarding what to do with Trump's account and whether it will be permanently deleted. Facebook suspended Trump's account after the Capitol attack of 6 January, when a mob of Trump supporters stormed Congress in an attempt to overturn the former president's defeat by Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Trump was initially suspended from Facebook and Instagram for 24 hours, as a result of two posts shared to the platform in which he appeared to praise the actions of the rioters. The company then extended the president's ban "at least until the end of his time in office." His account was suspended indefinitely pending the decision of the oversight board, a group of appointed academics and former politicians meant to operate independently of Facebook's corporate leadership.
Berkshire Hathaway is trading at more than $421,000 per Class A share, and the market is optimistic. That's a problem. From a report: The price has grown so high, it has nearly hit the maximum number that can be stored in one common way exchange computers handle digits. On Tuesday, Nasdaq temporarily suspended broadcasting prices for Class A shares of Berkshire over several popular data feeds. Such feeds provide real-time price updates for a number of online brokerages and finance websites. Nasdaq's computers can only count so high because of the compact digital format they use for communicating prices. The biggest number they can handle is $429,496.7295. Nasdaq is rushing to finish an upgrade later this month that would fix the problem. It isn't just Nasdaq.
Another exchange operator, IEX Group Inc., said in March that it would stop accepting investors' orders in Class A shares of Berkshire Hathaway "due to an internal price limitation within the trading system." It's the stock-market version of the Y2K bug. And it's becoming an increasingly urgent issue as shares of Warren Buffett's company have risen more than 20% this year, buoyed by a rising market and a return to profitability after fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Here's the trouble: Nasdaq and some other market operators record stock prices in a compact computer format that uses 32 bits, or ones and zeros. The biggest number possible is two to the 32nd power minus one, or 4,294,967,295. Stock prices are frequently stored using four decimal places, so the highest possible price is $429,496.7295. No other stock is anywhere near Berkshire Class A's stratospheric price levels, so it is understandable why the engineers behind Nasdaq's and IEX's systems chose the number format, which programmers call a four-byte unsigned integer.
An anonymous reader shares a report: Three young men got into a car in Walworth County, Wis., in May 2017. They were set on driving at rapid speeds down a long, cornfield-lined road -- and sharing their escapade on social media. As the 17-year-old behind the wheel accelerated to 123 miles per hour, one of the passengers opened Snapchat. His parents say their son wanted to capture the experience using an app feature -- the controversial "speed filter" -- that documents real-life speed, hoping for engagement and attention from followers on the messaging app. It was one of the last things the trio did before the vehicle ran off the road and crashed into a tree, killing all of them. Was Snapchat partially to blame? The boys' parents think so. And, in a surprise decision on Tuesday, a federal appeals court ordered that the parents should have the right to sue Snap.
The ruling, from a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has set off intense debate among legal watchers about the future of a decades-old law that has shielded tech companies from civil lawsuits. The boys' parents sued Snap, the maker of Snapchat, after the tragedy. They alleged that the company "knowingly created a dangerous game" through its filter and bore some responsibility. The district court responded how courts usually do when a tech platform is sued in a civil lawsuit: by dismissing the case. The judge cited the sweeping immunity that social media companies enjoy under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The law provides legal immunity to tech companies from libel and other civil suits for what people post on sites, regardless of how harmful it may be. But the appeals court's reversal paves a way around the all-powerful law, saying it doesn't apply because this case is not about what someone posted to Snapchat, but rather the design of the app itself.
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