An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: Two notebooks written by the famed British naturalist Charles Darwin in 1837 and missing for years may have been stolen from the Cambridge University Library, according to curators who launched a public appeal Tuesday for information. The notebooks, estimated to be worth millions of dollars, include Darwin's celebrated "Tree of Life" sketch that the 19th-century scientist used to illustrate early ideas about evolution. Officials at the Cambridge University Library say the two notebooks have been missing since 2001, and it's now thought that they were stolen.
"I am heartbroken that the location of these Darwin notebooks, including Darwin's iconic 'Tree of Life' drawing, is currently unknown, but we're determined to do everything possible to discover what happened and will leave no stone unturned during this process," Jessica Gardner, the university librarian and director of library services, said in a statement. The lost manuscripts were initially thought to have been misplaced in the university's enormous archives, which house roughly 10 million books, maps and other objects. But an exhaustive search initiated at the start of 2020 -- the "largest search in the library's history," according to Gardner -- failed to turn up the notebooks and they are now being reported as stolen. Cambridge University officials said a police investigation is underway and the notebooks have been added to Interpol's database of stolen artworks.
In a blog post, hCaptcha announced that its bot detector is running on about 15% of the internet, adding they they "took most of this market share directly from Google reCAPTCHA." From the post: Competing with Google and other Big Tech companies seems like a tall order: their monopolistic market power, platform effects and army of highly paid developers are generally considered too powerful to tackle for anyone but other tech giants such as Facebook or Amazon. Our story shows that it doesn't have to be that way -- you can beat Big Tech by focussing on privacy. Consider Google reCAPTCHA, which consumes enormous amounts of behavioral data to determine whether web users are legitimate humans or bots. At hCaptcha, we have deliberately taken a very different approach, using privacy-preserving machine learning techniques to identify typical bot behaviors at high accuracy, all while consuming and storing as little data as possible.
Google is an ad company, and their security products look very much like their ad products: they track user behavior on every page of a website and across the web. We designed hCaptcha to be as privacy-friendly as possible from day one. This led to a completely different approach to the problem. As it turns out, tracking users across the web and tying their web history to their identity is completely unnecessary for achieving good security. The many companies that have switched over to hCaptcha often report equal or better performance in bot detection and mitigation despite our privacy focus.
A growing number of critics have pointed out that Google's disregard for user privacy should concern customers looking to protect their websites and apps. At the same time, stopping bots from accessing publisher sites can reveal ad fraud, pitting Google's reCAPTCHA product directly against their ad business, which produces over 80% of their revenue. Every bot Google detects should be earning zero ad dollars. Google's company incentives are thus poorly aligned with the users of their security services, and this may be one explanation for the poor performance of their reCAPTCHA security offering.
Amateur astronomer and YouTuber Alberto Caballero, one of the founders of The Exoplanets Channel, has found a small amount of evidence for a source of the notorious Wow! signal. Phys.Org reports: Back in 1977, astronomers working with the Big Ear Radio Telescope -- at the time, situated in Delaware, Ohio -- recorded a unique signal from somewhere in space. It was so strong and unusual that one of the workers on the team, Jerry Ehman, famously scrawled the word Wow! on the printout. Despite years of work and many man hours, no one has ever been able to trace the source of the signal or explain the strong, unique signal, which lasted for all of 72 seconds. Since that time, many people have suggested the only explanation for such a strong and unique signal is extraterrestrial intelligent life.
In this new effort, Caballero reasoned that if the source was some other life form, it would likely be living on an exoplanet -- and if that were the case, it would stand to reason that such a life form might be living on a planet similar to Earth -- one circling its own sun-like star. Pursuing this logic, Caballero began searching the publicly available Gaia database for just such a star. The Gaia database has been assembled by a team working at the Gaia observatory run by the European Space Agency. Launched back in 2013, the project has worked steadily on assembling the best map of the night sky ever created. To date, the team has mapped approximately 1.3 billion stars. In studying his search results, Caballero found what appears to fit the bill -- a star (2MASS 19281982-2640123) that is very nearly a mirror image of the sun -- and is located in the part of the sky where the Wow! signal originated. He notes that there are other possible candidates in the area but suggests his candidate might provide the best launching point for a new research effort by astronomers who have the tools to look for exoplanets. Caballero shared his findings via arXiv.
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: The owners and operators of more than half a million diesel pickup trucks have been illegally disabling their vehicles' emissions control technology over the past decade, allowing excess emissions equivalent to 9 million extra trucks on the road, a new federal report has concluded. The practice, described in a report by the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Civil Enforcement, has echoes of the Volkswagen scandal of 2015, when the automaker was found to have illegally installed devices in millions of diesel passenger cars worldwide -- including about half a million in the United States -- designed to trick emissions control monitors. But in this case no single corporation is behind the subterfuge; it is the truck owners themselves who are installing illegal devices, which are typically manufactured by small companies. That makes it much more difficult to measure the full scale of the problem, which is believed to affect many more vehicles than the 500,000 or so estimated in the report.
The E.P.A. focused just on devices installed in heavy pickup trucks, such as the Chevrolet Silverado and the Dodge Ram 2500, about 15 percent of which appear to have defeat devices installed. But such devices -- commercially available and marketed as a way to improve vehicle performance -- almost certainly have been installed in millions of other vehicles. The report found "significant amounts of excess air pollution caused by tampering" with diesel pickup truck emissions controls. The technology is essentially an at-home version of the factory-installed "defeat devices" embedded into hundreds of thousands of vehicles in the United States byVolkswagen, which was forced to pay $14.7 billion in the U.S. to settle claims stemming from the scandal. The report said "diesel tuners" will allow the trucks to release more than 570,000 tons of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant linked to heart and lung disease and premature death, over the lifetime of the vehicles. That is more than ten times the excess nitrogen oxide emissions attributed to the factory-altered Volkswagens sold domestically. The report also found that the altered pickup trucks will emit about 5,000 excess tons of industrial soot, also known as particulate matter, which is linked to respiratory diseases and higher death rates for Covid-19 patients.
One percent of the world's farms operate 70% of crop fields, ranches and orchards, according to a report that highlights the impact of land inequality on the climate and nature crises. The Guardian reports: Since the 1980s, researchers found control over the land has become far more concentrated both directly through ownership and indirectly through contract farming, which results in more destructive monocultures and fewer carefully tended smallholdings. Taking the rising value of property and the growth of landless populations into account for the first time, the report calculates land inequality is 41% higher than previously believed. The authors said the trend was driven by short-term financial instruments, which increasingly shape the global environment and human health.
Landlessness was lowest in China and Vietnam, and highest in Latin America, where the poorest 50% of people owned just 1% of the land. Asia and Africa have the highest levels of smallholdings, where human input tends to be higher than chemical and mechanical factors, and where time frames are more likely to be for generations rather than 10-year investment cycles. Worldwide, between 80% and 90% of farms are family or smallholder-owned. But they cover only a small and shrinking part of the land and commercial production. Over the past four decades, the biggest shift from small to big was in the United States and Europe, where ownership is in fewer hands and even individual farmers work under strict contracts for retailers, trading conglomerates and investment funds.
[Ward Anseeuw, senior technical specialist at the International Land Coalition, which led the research along with a group of partners including Oxfam and the World Inequality Lab] said these financial arrangements are now spreading to the developing world, which is accelerating the decline of soil quality, the overuse of water resources, and the pace of deforestation. This is also connected to social problems, including poverty, migration, conflict and the spread of zoonotic diseases like Covid-19. To address this, the report recommends greater regulation and oversight of opaque land ownership systems, a shift in tax regimes to support smallholders and better environmental management, and great support for the land-rights of communities.
Kirkland, Washington-based aviation startup Zunum Aero filed a lawsuit this week accusing Boeing of fraud, technology theft, breach of contract, and misappropriation of trade secrets. The company, which had received millions of dollars from the venture arms of Boeing and JetBlue, said it would be ready to fly its 12-seat hybrid electric jets by 2022. Instead, it ran out of cash in 2018, forcing it to lay off nearly all of its employees and vacate its headquarters. The Verge reports: Zunum said that Boeing "colluded with other key aerospace manufacturers and funders" to sabotage its efforts to raise additional cash and tried to poach Zunum's engineers during the process. The startup claims that Boeing saw its superior technology and potential to disrupt air travel as a threat to its own dominance in the aviation world and sought to undermine it. Using its due diligence as an investor as subtext, Zunum said Boeing gained access to its business plan and proprietary technology, and "exploited" Zunum for its own benefit.
"Boeing saw an innovative venture, with a dramatically improved path to the future, and presented itself as interested in investing and partnering with Zunum," the company claims in court filings. "But instead, Boeing stole Zunum's technology and intentionally hobbled the upstart entrant in order to maintain its dominant position in commercial aviation by stifling competition." It's rare that a startup would sue one of its investors after failing to deliver on its promises. But Zunum said its setbacks weren't because of bad technology or a faulty business plan. Rather, the company claims it was sabotaged by Boeing, which misused its position as an investor to pillage its talent and patents before eventually scuttling the company's ability to continue to raise money.
Zunum also names HorizonX, Boeing's venture capital arm, and French engine supplier Safran as co-defendants. The company is seeking compensatory and punitive damages. A spokesperson for Boeing said the lawsuit was without merit and that the company would "vigorously" contest it in court.
General Motors has launched a new insurance service that will leverage the data captured through its OnStar connected car service, ultimately helping drivers cash in on lower insurance rates based on safe driving habits. From a report: OnStar Insurance Services has been created to achieve a better understanding of the vehicles GM produces, in order to offer a personalized digital insurance experience for drivers. The service is currently working with its insurance carrier partners to remove biased insurance plans by focusing on factors within the customer's control, which includes individual vehicle usage and rewarding smart driving habits that benefit road safety.
OnStar Insurance Services plans to provide customers with personalized vehicle care and promote safer driving habits, along with a data-backed analysis of driving behavior. The service plans to build on the learnings of the OnStar Smart Driver feature to provide each policyholder with recommendations for smarter driving habits so customers can drive more safely and potentially earn discounts. The service will start in Arizona and initially offer OnStar Insurance to GM employees in Q4 2020, slowly expanding to additional customers, including the general public, in early 2021.
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: The IRS was able to query a database of location data quietly harvested from ordinary smartphone apps over 10,000 times, according to a copy of the contract between IRS and the data provider obtained by Motherboard. The document provides more insight into what exactly the IRS wanted to do with a tool purchased from Venntel, a government contractor that sells clients access to a database of smartphone movements. The Inspector General is currently investigating the IRS for using the data without a warrant to try to track the location of Americans. "This contract makes clear that the IRS intended to use Venntel's spying tool to identify specific smartphone users using data collected by apps and sold onwards to shady data brokers. The IRS would have needed a warrant to obtain this kind of sensitive information from AT&T or Google," Senator Ron Wyden told Motherboard in a statement after reviewing the contract. [...]
One of the new documents says Venntel sources the location information from its "advertising analytics network and other sources." Venntel is a subsidiary of advertising firm Gravy Analytics. The data is "global," according to a document obtained from CBP. Venntel then packages that data into a user interface and sells access to government agencies. A former Venntel worker previously told Motherboard that customers can use the product to search a specific area to see which devices were there, or follow a particular device across time. Venntel provides its own pseudonymous ID to each device, but the former worker said users could try to identify specific people. The new documents say that the IRS' purchase of an annual Venntel subscription granted the agency 12,000 queries of the dataset per year.
"In support of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation's (CI) law enforcement investigative mission, the Cyber Crimes Unit (CCU) requires one (1) Venntel Mobile Intelligence web-based subscription," one of the documents reads. "This allows tracing and pattern-of-life analysis on locations of interesting criminal investigations, allowing investigators to trace locations of mobile devices even if a target is using anonymizing technologies like a proxy server, which is common in cyber investigations," it adds.
In a landmark move, the European Parliament voted today to support consumers' Right to Repair. The resolution was adopted with 395 in favor and just 94 against, with 207 abstentions. iFixit reports: "By adopting this report, the European Parliament sent a clear message: harmonized mandatory labelling indicating durability and tackling premature obsolescence at EU level are the way forward," said Rapporteur David Cormand, MEP from France. The vote calls for the EU Commission to "develop and introduce mandatory labelling, to provide clear, immediately visible and easy-to-understand information to consumers on the estimated lifetime and reparability of a product at the time of purchase."
The EU motion calls for a repair score, similar to the scores that iFixit has been assigning to gadgets for the past fifteen years. According to a recent EU survey, 77% of EU citizens would rather repair their devices than replace them; 79% think that manufacturers should be legally obliged to facilitate the repair of digital devices or the replacement of their individual parts. Matthias Huisken, Director of Advocacy for iFixit Europe, said "This is a huge win for consumers across Europe. This vote will set in motion a wave of new repair-friendly policies, from repair scores at retail to product longevity disclosures."
thegreatbob writes: Looks like the main additions over the FAA's requirements are some additional pilot training requirements. The actual EASA statement can be found here. Confirms what the available information had been pointing to: the plane flies tolerably without its Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), but does not meet certification criteria. [The MCAS was a software system installed on the Max by Boeing to compensate for the Max having larger engines than its predecessors in the 737 family of airliners. Those larger engines changed the way the aeroplane responded to its controls, requiring a software system to keep it within certifiable limits.] The EU Aviation Safety Agency made the announcement after confirming the airliner will return to European skies in January 2021.
Patrick Ky, chief of EASA, said in a statement: "EASA's review of the 737 MAX began with the MCAS but went far beyond. We took a decision early on to review the entire flight control system and gradually broadened our assessment to include all aspects of design which could influence how the flight controls operated. This led, for example, to a deeper study of the wiring installation, which resulted in a change that is now also mandated in the Proposed Airworthiness Directive."
Ky added: "We also pushed the aircraft to its limits during flight tests, assessed the behavior of the aircraft in failure scenarios, and could confirm that the aircraft is stable and has no tendency to pitch-up even without the MCAS." A spokesperson for EASA clarified that the Max's MCAS "is necessary to meet the safety regulation and obtain the necessary safety margins. However, when it is lost (failed and inoperative), an averagely skilled and trained crew is still able to safely fly and land the airplane."
An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: Security researchers have discovered a major security flaw in cPanel, a popular software suite used by web hosting companies to manage websites for their customers. The bug, discovered by security researchers from Digital Defense, allows attackers to bypass two-factor authentication (2FA) for cPanel accounts. These accounts are used by website owners to access and manage their websites and underlying server settings. Access to these accounts is critical, as once compromised, they grant threat actors full control over a victim's site.
On its website, cPanel boasts that its software is currently used by hundreds of web hosting companies to manage more than 70 million domains across the world. But in a press release today, Digital Defense says that the 2FA implementation on older cPanel & WebHost Manager (WHM) software was vulnerable to brute-force attacks that allowed threat actors to guess URL parameters and bypass 2FA -- if 2FA was enabled for an account. While brute-forcing attacks, in general, usually take hours or days to execute, in this particular case, the attack required only a few minutes, Digital Defense said today. Exploiting this bug also requires that attackers have valid credentials for a targeted account, but these can be obtained from phishing the website owner. The good news is that Digital Defense has privately reported the bug, tracked as SEC-575, to the cPanel team, which has already released patches last week.
New submitter Based.Tech writes: The French Finance Ministry has sent out notices to big tech companies liable for its digital service tax to pay the levy as planned in December, the ministry said on Wednesday. France suspended collection of the tax, which will hit companies like Facebook and Amazon, early this year while negotiations were underway at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development on an overhaul of international tax rules. The Finance Ministry has long said it would collect the tax in December as planned if the talks proved unfruitful by then, which is what happened when the nearly 140 countries involved agreed last month to keep negotiating until mid 2021. "Companies subject to the tax have received their notice to pay the 2020 installment," a Finance Ministry official said. France last year applied a 3 percent levy on revenue from digital services earned in France by companies with revenues of more than 25 million euros here and 750 million euros worldwide. The ministry had hoped to raise about 500 million euros this year from the tax, but the 2021 budget bill puts the figure at 400 million. Facebook's stance is "is to ensure compliance with all tax laws in the jurisdictions where we operate." Other tech companies have made similar statements.
Nintendo of America has filed a lawsuit against an Amazon Nintendo Switch hack reseller -- the sort of litigation it's taken on in similar cases in the past. Nintendo's lawyers allege the Amazon seller, Le Hoang Minh, circumvents Nintendo's copyright measures in selling an RCM Loader, used to "jailbreak" the Nintendo Switch. From a report: The lawsuit was filed in a Seattle court last week, according to court documents obtained by Polygon. In the lawsuit, Nintendo outlines what it calls a "serious, worsening international problem" with video game software piracy. It details Nintendo's security systems, and how the RCM Loaders bypass those systems. The RCM Loader (which is essentially a USB device that plugs into the Nintendo Switch) allows the user to play so-called "pirated" or unauthorized games. According to the lawsuit, Nintendo sent a DMCA notice to the seller, to which a counterclaim was issued. Because of the counterclaim, Amazon was required to relist the RCM Loader, unless Nintendo filed an infringement lawsuit. And that's what it did. The company is looking for the courts to stop the seller, and award it $2,500 in damages for each infringement.
A US court has ordered Google to hand over the personal emails of the son of a Russian oligarch as part of a bitter $601 million divorce case. From a report [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source]: Judge Virginia DeMarchi in California told the US tech group to surrender Temur Akhmedov's emails for use as evidence in a lawsuit brought by his mother, Tatiana Akhmedova, the wife of an ally of President Vladimir Putin. Ms Akhmedova has gone to court in the US and the UK in an attempt to force her ex-husband, Farkhad Akhmedov, to pay the world's largest-ever divorce settlement. Google said the order was a breach of its customer's privacy. The divorce case, which is being funded by litigation financier Burford Capital, has led to a legal battle over assets including a helicopter, a private jet and a superyacht called the Luna that used to belong to Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich. Google sought to block the order to give up the emails this week on the basis that to do so would infringe Mr Akhmedov's right to privacy because he had not given consent to share them. Ms DeMarchi said Google's concern for the "privacy and security of its account holders' communications" was "commendable" but ruled the request did not breach the US Stored Communications Act, which governs voluntary and compelled disclosure of emails. The information from the emails will be used to learn whether Temur assisted his father in the fraudulent transfer of assets, and if so, to win a judgment against him, Tatiana Akhmedova said in a filing.
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