Transportation

LA Councilman Asks City Attorney To 'Review Possible Legal Action' Against Waze (arstechnica.com) 39

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Yet another Los Angeles city councilman has taken Waze to task for creating "dangerous conditions" in his district, and the politician is now "asking the City to review possible legal action." "Waze has upended our City's traffic plans, residential neighborhoods, and public safety for far too long," LA City Councilman David Ryu said in a statement released Wednesday. "Their responses have been inadequate and their solutions, non-existent. They say the crises of congestion they cause is the price for innovation -- I say that's a false choice." In a new letter sent to the City Attorney's Office, Ryu formally asked Los Angeles' top attorney to examine Waze's behavior. While Ryu said he supported "advances in technology," he decried Waze and its parent company, Google, for refusing "any responsibility for the traffic problems their app creates or the concerns of residents and City officials."
Advertising

German Supreme Court Rules Ad Blockers Legal (faz.net) 45

New submitter paai writes: The publishing company Axel Springer tried to ban the use of ad blockers in Germany because they endanger the digital publishing of news stories. The Oberlandesgericht Koln (Germany's Higher Regional Court of Cologne) followed this reasoning and forbade the use of ad blockers on the grounds that the use of white lists was an aggressive marketing technique. [The business model allows websites to pay a fee so that their "non aggressive" advertisements can bypass AdBlock Pro's filters. Larger companies like Google can afford to pay to have the ban lifted on their website.] The Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice or BGH) destroyed this court ruling today and judged that users had a right to filter out advertisements in web pages.
Chrome

Millions of Chrome Users Have Installed Malware Posing as Ad Blockers (vice.com) 34

Kaleigh Rogers, writing for Motherboard: Andrey Meshkov, the cofounder of ad-blocker AdGuard, recently got curious about the number of knock-off ad blocking extensions available for Google's popular browser Chrome. These extensions were deliberately styled to look like legitimate, well-known ad blockers, but Meshkov wondered why they existed at all, so he downloaded one and took a look at the code. "Basically I downloaded it and checked what requests the extension was making," Meshkov told me over the phone. "Some strange requests caught my attention."

Meshkov discovered that the AdRemover extension for Chrome -- which had over 10 million users -- had code hidden inside an image that was loaded from the remote command server, giving the extension creator the ability to change its functions without updating. This alone is against Google's policy, and after Meshkov wrote about a few examples on AdGuard's blog, many of which had millions of downloads, Chrome removed the extensions from the store. I reached out to Google, and a spokesperson confirmed that these extensions had been removed.

Google

Turn Right at the Burger King: Google Maps Begins Using Landmarks To Help With Guidance (techcrunch.com) 126

Most navigation apps give you instructions based on streets or distance. But it's arguably in contrast to how people usually provide directions -- some usually point to landmarks that are easier to spot. Google sees some merit in that. The idea is that Google Maps is highlighting some landmarks and other points of interest (fast food restaurants) to help with guidance. TechCrunch reports that some users are already seeing this on Google Maps. And maybe to Google, this opens door for some business opportunities as well. Only time will tell.
Businesses

Marissa Mayer is Back (bloomberg.com) 85

Former Yahoo Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer is starting a technology business incubator, Lumi Labs, with longtime colleague Enrique Munoz Torres, she revealed in an interview with The New York Times. Bloomberg: The venture will focus on consumer media and artificial intelligence, according to the company's website, which is set against a backdrop of snow-covered peaks. Lumi means snow in Finnish, Mayer told the New York Times, which reported the news earlier Wednesday. The next project for Mayer, who was an early employee at Google and worked there until leaving to run Yahoo in 2012, had been a matter of considerable speculation in Silicon Valley. She left Yahoo, once a leading search engine and web destination, after it was sold to Verizon Communications last year.
The Internet

4.9% of Websites Use Flash, Down From 28.5% in 2011 (bleepingcomputer.com) 102

Web makers continue to ditch the infamous Flash for other safer, improved technologies. In 2011, more than 28.5 percent of websites used Flash in their code, a figure technology survey site W3Techs estimates to have dropped to 4.9 percent today. BleepingComputer: The number confirms Flash's decline, and a reason why Adobe has decided to retire the technology at the end of 2020. A decline from 28.5 percent to 4.9 percent doesn't look that bad, but we're talking about all Internet sites, not just a small portion of Top 10,000 or Top 1 Million sites. Taking into account the sheer number of abandoned sites on today's Internet, the decline is quite considerable, and W3Techs' findings confirm similar statistics put out by a Google security engineer in February.
Censorship

Google Is Shuttering Domain Fronting, Creating a Big Problem For Anti-Censorship Tools (theverge.com) 56

"The Google App Engine is discontinuing a practice called domain fronting, which lets services use Google's network to get around state-level internet blocks," reports The Verge. While the move makes sense from a cybersecurity perspective as domain fronting is widely used by malware to evade network-based detection, it will likely frustrate app developers who use it to get around internet censorship. From the report: First spotted by Tor developers on April 13th, the change has been rolling out across Google services and threatens to disrupt services for a number of anti-censorship tools, including Signal, GreatFire.org and Psiphon's VPN services. Reached by The Verge, Google said the changes were the result of a long-planned network update. "Domain fronting has never been a supported feature at Google," a company representative said, "but until recently it worked because of a quirk of our software stack. We're constantly evolving our network, and as part of a planned software update, domain fronting no longer works. We don't have any plans to offer it as a feature."

Domain-fronting allowed developers to use Google as a proxy, forwarding traffic to their own servers through a Google.com domain. That was particularly important for evading state-level censorship, which might try to block all the traffic sent to a given service. As long as the service was using domain-fronting, all the in-country data requests would appear as if they were headed for Google.com, with encryption preventing censors from digging any deeper.
We do not yet know exactly why and when Google is shutting down the practice, but will update this post once we learn more.
Microsoft

Microsoft Ports Edge Anti-Phishing Technology To Google Chrome (bleepingcomputer.com) 65

An anonymous reader writes: Microsoft has released a Chrome extension named "Windows Defender Browser Protection" that ports Windows Defender's -- and inherently Edge's -- anti-phishing technology to Google Chrome. The extension works by showing bright red-colored pages whenever users are tricked into accessing malicious links. The warnings are eerily similar to the ones that Chrome natively shows via the Safe Browsing API, but are powered by Microsoft's database of malicious links —also known as the SmartScreen API.

Chrome users should be genuinely happy that they can now use both APIs for detecting phishing and malware-hosting URLs. The SmartScreen API isn't as known as Google's more famous Safe Browsing API, but works in the same way, and possibly even better. An NSS Labs benchmark revealed that Edge (with its SmartScreen API) caught 99 percent of all phishing URLs thrown at it during a test last year, while Chrome only detected 87 percent of the malicious links users accessed.

The Internet

Russia Admits To Blocking Millions of IP Addresses (sfgate.com) 72

It turns out, the Russian government, in its quest to block Telegram, accidentally shut down several other services as well. From a report: The chief of the Russian communications watchdog acknowledged Wednesday that millions of unrelated IP addresses have been frozen in a so-far futile attempt to block a popular messaging app. Telegram, the messaging app that was ordered to be blocked last week, was still available to users in Russia despite authorities' frantic attempts to hit it by blocking other services. The row erupted after Telegram, which was developed by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, refused to hand its encryption keys to the intelligence agencies. The Russian government insists it needs them to pre-empt extremist attacks but Telegram dismissed the request as a breach of privacy. Alexander Zharov, chief of the Federal Communications Agency, said in an interview with the Izvestia daily published Wednesday that Russia is blocking 18 networks that are used by Amazon and Google and which host sites that they believe Telegram is using to circumvent the ban.
The Internet

Chrome 66 Arrives With Autoplaying Content Blocked By Default (venturebeat.com) 88

An anonymous reader quotes a report from VentureBeat: Google today launched Chrome 66 for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android. The desktop release includes autoplaying content muted by default, security improvements, and new developer features. You can update to the latest version now using the browser's built-in silent updater or download it directly from google.com/chrome. In our tests, autoplaying content that is muted still plays automatically. Autoplaying content with sound, whether it has visible controls or not, and whether it is set to play on loop or not, simply does not start playing. Note that this is all encompassing -- even autoplaying content you are expecting or is the main focus of the page does not play. YouTube videos, for example, no longer start playing automatically. And in case that's not enough, or if a page somehow circumvents the autoplaying block, you can still mute whole websites.
Businesses

Cybersecurity Tech Accord: More Than 30 Tech Firms Pledge Not to Assist Governments in Cyberattacks (cybertechaccord.org) 67

Over 30 major technology companies, led by Microsoft and Facebook, on Tuesday announced what they are calling the Cybersecurity Tech Accord, a set of principles that include a declaration that they will not help any government -- including that of the United States -- mount cyberattacks against "innocent civilians and enterprises from anywhere."

The companies that are participating in the initiative are: ABB, Arm, Avast, Bitdefender, BT, CA Technologies, Cisco, Cloudflare, DataStax, Dell, DocuSign, Facebook, Fastly, FireEye, F-Secure, GitHub, Guardtime, HP Inc., HPE, Intuit, Juniper Networks, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Nielsen, Nokia, Oracle, RSA, SAP, Stripe, Symantec, Telefonica, Tenable, Trend Micro, and VMware.

The announcement comes at the backdrop of a growing momentum in political and industry circles to create a sort of Digital Geneva Convention that commits the entire tech industry and governments to supporting a free and secure internet. The effort comes after attacks such as WannaCry and NotPetya hobbled businesses around the world last year, and just a day after the U.S. and U.K. issued an unprecedented joint alert citing the threat of cyberattacks from Russian state-sponsored actors. The Pentagon has said Russian "trolling" activity increased 2,000 percent after missile strikes in Syria.

Interestingly, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Twitter are not participating in the program, though the Tech Accord says it "remains open to consideration of new private sector signatories, large or small and regardless of sector."
Encryption

Russia Begins Blocking Telegram Messenger (reuters.com) 59

Russia's state telecommunications regulator said on Monday it had begun blocking access to Telegram messenger after the company refused to comply with an order to give Russian state security access to its users' secret messages (encryption keys). From a report: The watchdog, Roskomnadzor, said in a statement on its website that it had sent telecoms operators a notification about blocking access to Telegram inside Russia. The service, set up by a Russian entrepreneur, has more than 200 million global users and is ranked as the world's ninth most popular mobile messaging app.
Encryption

Former FBI Director James Comey Reveals How Apple and Google's Encryption Efforts Drove Him 'Crazy' (fastcompany.com) 350

An anonymous reader shares a report: In his explosive new book, A Higher Loyalty, fired FBI director James Comey denounces President Trump as "untethered to the truth" and likens him to a "mob boss," but he also touches on other topics during his decades-long career in law enforcement -- including his strong objection to the tech industry's encryption efforts. When Apple and Google announced in 2014 that they would be moving their mobile devices to default encryption, by emphasizing that making them immune to judicial orders was good for society, "it drove me crazy," he writes. He goes on to lament the lack of "true listening" between tech and law enforcement, saying that "the leaders of the tech companies don't see the darkness the FBI sees," such as terrorism and organized crime.

He writes, "I found it appalling that the tech types couldn't see this. I would frequently joke with the FBI 'Going Dark' team assigned to seek solutions, 'Of course the Silicon Valley types don't see the darkness -- they live where it's sunny all the time and everybody is rich and smart." But Comey understood it was an unbelievably difficult issue and that public safety had to be balanced with privacy concerns.

Facebook

Facebook Competitor Orkut Relaunches as 'Hello' (bloombergquint.com) 103

An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg: In 2004, one of the world's most popular social networks, Orkut, was founded by a former Google employee named Orkut Buyukkokten... Orkut was shut down by Google in 2014, but in its heyday, the network had hit 300 million users around the world... "Hello.com is a spiritual successor of Orkut.com," Buyukkokten told BloombergQuint... "People have lost trust in social networks and the main reason is social media services today don't put the users first. They put advertisers, brands, third parties, shareholders before the users," Buyukkokten said. "They are also not transparent about practices. The privacy policy and terms of services are more like black boxes. How many users actually read them?"

Buyukkokten said users need to be educated about these things and user consent is imperative in such situations when data is shared by such platforms. "On Hello, we do not share data with third parties. We have our own registration and login and so the data doesn't follow you anywhere," he said. "You don't need to sell user data in order to be profitable or make money."

Businesses

Apple's Stumbling HomePod Isn't the Hot Seller It Wanted (bloomberg.com) 98

The recently-released Apple HomePod smart speaker is not selling very well. According to Bloomberg, "By late March, Apple had lowered sales forecasts and cut some orders with Inventec, one of the manufacturers that builds the HomePod for Apple." From the report: At first, it looked like the HomePod might be a hit. Pre-orders were strong, and in the last week of January the device grabbed about a third of the U.S. smart speaker market in unit sales, according to data provided to Bloomberg by Slice Intelligence. But by the time HomePods arrived in stores, sales were tanking, says Slice principal analyst Ken Cassar. "Even when people had the ability to hear these things," he says, "it still didn't give Apple another spike." During the HomePod's first 10 weeks of sales, it eked out 10 percent of the smart speaker market, compared with 73 percent for Amazon's Echo devices and 14 percent for the Google Home, according to Slice Intelligence. Three weeks after the launch, weekly HomePod sales slipped to about 4 percent of the smart speaker category on average, the market research firm says. Inventory is piling up, according to Apple store workers, who say some locations are selling fewer than 10 HomePods a day. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says Apple is "mulling" a "low-cost version" of the HomePod that may help short-term shipments. However, even if the product materializes, he predicts it will only provide a short-term boost to sales.
Youtube

YouTube Is Littered With Mass-Produced Videos Made By Automated Bots (hackernoon.com) 99

A report via Hacker Noon sheds some light on the practice of using bots to mass-produce videos for YouTube. The YouTube channel Breaking News Today, for example, constantly generates new videos from recent news sources, and posts as often as every few minutes. You can tell the videos are bot-produced because they always start off with a cringe-worthy 80's style intro, followed by a robotic voiceover and floating low quality images. From the report: Someone has effectively created a fully automated process running 24/7 that is taking and stripping recent articles, converting them into video format, and posting it on Youtube as their own. And while doing so, they take credit for it and reap all the rewardsâS -- such as revenue and influenceâS -- âSthat come with it. Some videos, especially the ones that gain momentum and get popular, even feature a large juicy ad on the bottom, in which Google displays and shares profits with. Sure, one video with a few thousand views isn't really that significant, but when you have hundreds of videos being pumped out week after week, you can see how quickly things can add up. And while many new videos are still awaiting their first dozen views, others are in the tens of thousands. One even amassed almost 50k views in just two days. In total, the channel's videos have been viewed more than 225,000 times just in the past month, with an average of around 8,000 views per day. Did I mention that there are more than just this one channel? There's also this one, and this one, both following the same concept. There's actually many, MANY more. There are few solutions to deal with this new type of fully automated plagiarism. While you can certainly down vote the videos and report them to YouTube if the uploader is infringing on your copyright, they will likely stay online for days racking up views and revenue before any action is taken. There's also no reason why the videos couldn't be uploaded to separate channels to fly under YouTube's radar.
Books

Google's New Book Search Deals in Ideas, Not Keywords (axios.com) 16

A new Google project called called "Talk to Books" provides answers to questions by drawing on a library of more than 100,000 books. From a report: Tech pioneer Ray Kurzweil debuted the project at the TED conference in Vancouver, and explained that it differs from traditional search by relying on semantics rather than keywords. Keyword search is great when you're hunting down a specific piece of information, but Google -- and digital technology in general -- still has a long way to go when it comes to connecting ideas and answering questions with complete thoughts.
AI

Google Works Out a Fascinating, Slightly Scary Way For AI To Isolate Voices In a Crowd (arstechnica.com) 45

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Google researchers have developed a deep-learning system designed to help computers better identify and isolate individual voices within a noisy environment. As noted in a post on the company's Google Research Blog this week, a team within the tech giant attempted to replicate the cocktail party effect, or the human brain's ability to focus on one source of audio while filtering out others -- just as you would while talking to a friend at a party. Google's method uses an audio-visual model, so it is primarily focused on isolating voices in videos. The company posted a number of YouTube videos showing the tech in action.

The company says this tech works on videos with a single audio track and can isolate voices in a video algorithmically, depending on who's talking, or by having a user manually select the face of the person whose voice they want to hear. Google says the visual component here is key, as the tech watches for when a person's mouth is moving to better identify which voices to focus on at a given point and to create more accurate individual speech tracks for the length of a video. According to the blog post, the researchers developed this model by gathering 100,000 videos of "lectures and talks" on YouTube, extracting nearly 2,000 hours worth of segments from those videos featuring unobstructed speech, then mixing that audio to create a "synthetic cocktail party" with artificial background noise added. Google then trained the tech to split that mixed audio by reading the "face thumbnails" of people speaking in each video frame and a spectrogram of that video's soundtrack. The system is able to sort out which audio source belongs to which face at a given time and create separate speech tracks for each speaker. Whew.

Android

Google Appears To Be Testing iPhone X-Style Gesture Navigation In Android P (androidpolice.com) 18

A new screenshot that Google recently shared (and since deleted) is stirring up theories about a possible iPhone X-like gesture navigation interface for Android P. Android Police reports: What we see is a decidedly odd navigation layout, with this short little bar in place of the expected home button, a back arrow that's now hollowed-out, and an app-switcher that seems utterly absent. So how would Google's presumably screen-only implementation work? Well, not only does that home bar look like a narrower version of the bar you'll find on the iPhone X, but we hear that the Android version may function in a quite similar way, with users swiping up to access their home screens. While we still haven't heard any details about how app switching might work with this new regime, the back button will reportedly only appear when needed, disappearing on the home screen, for example. As to other controls we can only speculate, like how you would gesture to conjure up the Google Assistant.
Piracy

Telegram is Riddled With Tens of Thousands of Piracy Channels; Apple and Google Have Ignored Requests From Creators To Take Action (theoutline.com) 49

joshtops writes: Instant messaging platform Telegram, which is used by more than 200 million users, has had an open secret since its inception: The platform has served as a haven for online pirates. The Outline reports that the platform is riddled with thousands of groups and channels, many with more than 100,000 members, whose sole purpose of existence is to share illegally copied movies, music albums, apps, and other content. The files are stored directly to Telegram's servers, allowing users to download movies, songs, and other content with one click. Channel admins told The Outline that they have not come across any resistance from Telegram despite the company, along with Apple and Google, maintaining a 'zero tolerance' stance on copyright infringement. This permissiveness on Telegram's part has led to the proliferation of a cottage industry of piracy marketplaces on the service.

[...] The Outline also discovered several groups and channels on Telegram in which stolen credentials -- i.e., the username and password for a website -- from Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, HBO, CBS, EA Sports, Lynda, Sling, WWE Network, Mega, India's Hotstar, and dozens of other services were being offered to tens of thousands of members each day. The Outline sourced nearly three-dozen free credentials from six Telegram channels, all of which worked as advertised.
The report says that content creators have reached out to Apple, requesting the iPhone-maker to intervene, but the company has largely ignored the issue.

In an unrelated development, a Moscow court cleared the way on Friday for the local government to ban Telegram, the messaging app, over its failure to give Russian security services the ability to read users' encrypted messages.

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