Music

Apple Will Release Its $349 HomePod Speaker On February 9th (theverge.com) 42

After it was delayed in mid-December, Apple finally announced the availability of its new smart speaker. The company announced it will release the HomePod on February 9th and that preorders for the device will start this Friday, January 26th. The smart speaker will initially go on sale in the U.S., UK, and Australia. It'll then arrive in France and Germany sometime this spring. The Verge reports: The company's first smart speaker was originally supposed to go on sale before the end of the 2017, but it was delayed in mid-December. That meant Apple missed a holiday season where millions of smart speakers were sold -- but the market for voice-activated speakers is clearly just getting started. And at $349, Apple's speaker is playing in a very different market than Amazon's and Google's primarily cheap and tiny speakers. The HomePod is being positioned more as a competitor to Sonos' high-end wireless speakers than as a competitor to the plethora of inexpensive smart speakers flooding the market. Despite the delay, Apple doesn't appear to have made any changes to the HomePod -- the smart speaker appears to be exactly what was announced back in June, at WWDC. The focus here continues to be on music and sound quality, rather than the speaker's intelligence, which is the core focus of many competitors' products. The speaker will still have an always-on voice assistant, but Apple's implementation of Siri here will be more limited than what's present on other devices.
Mozilla

Firefox 58 Gets Graphics Speed Boost, Web App Abilities (cnet.com) 164

Mozilla released on Tuesday a new version of its Firefox Quantum browser, boosting its graphics speed and improving a couple of new technologies designed to make the web more powerful. From a report: The browser, version 58, is the first major update since Mozilla's recovery plan hit full stride in November with the debut of Firefox Quantum. Speed is of the essence in Mozilla's recovery plan, and Firefox 58 does better than its predecessor in some graphics tasks by splitting work better across the multiple processor cores that computer chips have these days. The result should be scrolling that's smooth, uninterrupted by the stuttering that in computing circles goes by the disparaging term "jank." [...] Firefox 58 helps with two new web technologies. One, called WebAssembly, provides for dramatically faster web apps. Firefox 58 can get WebAssembly software running faster so you don't have to twiddle your thumbs waiting as long after clicking a link. Another is progressive web apps (PWAs), an initiative that came out of Google to help make the web a better match for the apps we all drop on our phones.
Youtube

Google Just Broke Amazon's Workaround For YouTube On Fire TV (cordcuttersnews.com) 230

Google has cracked down on Fire TV users once again. Today, the technology company blocked Silk and Firefox browsers from displaying the YouTube.com interface usually shown on large screens. Cord Cutters News reports: Now if you try to access YouTube.com/TV on a Fire TV through the Firefox or Silk browser you will be redirected to the desktop version of the site. According to Elias Saba from AFTVnews, "By blocking access to the version of YouTube made for television browsers, Google has deliberately made browsing their website an unusable experience on Amazon Fire TVs, Fire TV Sticks, and Fire TV Edition televisions." This fight over YouTube and Amazon has been going on for some time. The standoff heated up in early December as Google announced plans to pull the YouTube app from the Fire TV on January 1st 2018. Amazon responded by adding a browser to allow access to the web version on the Fire TV. Now Google has countered by blocking the Fire TV's browsers from accessing the made-for-TV edition of YouTube.com. Back on December 15th, The Verge reported that Google and Amazon are in talks to keep YouTube on the Fire TV, but as of today it looks like nothing has come from these talks.
Facebook

Rupert Murdoch Pushes Facebook To Pay For News To Guarantee Quality (bloomberg.com) 95

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Rupert Murdoch, the media billionaire who controls the Wall Street Journal, called on Facebook to begin paying publishers fees to carry the news that its users post and share online in a sign of the print industry's growing frustration with social media. "If Facebook wants to recognize 'trusted' publishers then it should pay those publishers a carriage fee similar to the model adopted by cable companies," Murdoch, the executive chairman of News Corp. said Monday in a statement. "The publishers are obviously enhancing the value and integrity of Facebook through their news and content but are not being adequately rewarded for those services." "Facebook and Google have popularized scurrilous news sources through algorithms that are profitable for these platforms but inherently unreliable," Murdoch said. "Recognition of a problem is one step on the pathway to cure, but the remedial measures that both companies have so far proposed are inadequate, commercially, socially and journalistically." Murdoch, who also leads 21st Century Fox, called for a system similar to that in cable television, where large distributors like Comcast and AT&T pay fees to the TV network owners that attract their viewers.
Android

Android Can Now Tell You How Fast Wi-Fi Networks Are Before You Join Them (theverge.com) 44

Today, Google announced that Android 8.1 Oreo will now display the speed of nearby open Wi-Fi networks to help you decide whether they're even worth the effort of connecting to. The Wi-Fi settings menu will now display one of four speed labels: Very Fast, Fast, OK, or Slow. The Verge reports: The difference between Very Fast and Fast, according to Google, is that you can stream "very high-quality videos" on the former and "most videos" on the latter. Most coffee shop dwellers should be fine with the OK level, as that's enough for web browsing, social media, and Spotify streaming. Private Wi-Fi networks that require passwords don't display any speed data since it's really none of your business and Google can't randomly test them, but they do continue to indicate signal strength. Google says network administrators can also opt out of Android's Wi-Fi Assistant showing speed info by using a "canary URL."
Google

Google's $20 Million Race To the Moon Will End With No Winner -- and Google is OK With That (cnbc.com) 81

Michael Sheetz, reporting for CNBC: More than ten years after it was announced -- and extended over and over -- the Google-sponsored race to win $20 million by landing on the moon will end with no winners. The four teams racing to win the Google Lunar Xprize, which requires a company to land a spacecraft on the moon by March 31, are either short of money or unable to launch this year, three people familiar with the matter told CNBC. Meanwhile, Google -- which extended the deadline from 2012 to 2014 and then eventually to 2018 -- is not willing to push out the date further. "Google does not have plans at this time to extend the deadline again, however we are so thrilled with the progress made by these teams over the last ten years," a Google spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC. The commercial space industry has written off the Lunar Xprize as improbable, and not worth pursuing, according to sources.
Android

Yale Privacy Lab and Exodus Privacy's F-Droid Android App Store is a Replacement for Google Play That Features Only FOSS Apps That Don't Do Any Tracking (wired.com) 58

Google Play, the marquee Android apps store, is filled with apps that are riddled with hidden trackers that siphon a smorgasbord of data from all sensors, in all directions, unknown to the Android user. Not content with the strides Google has made to curtail the issue, Yale Privacy Lab has collaborated with Exodus Privacy to detect and expose trackers with the help of the F-Droid app store. From a report on Wired: F-Droid is the best replacement for Google Play, because it only offers FOSS apps without tracking, has a strict auditing process, and may be installed on most Android devices without any hassles or restrictions. F-Droid doesn't offer the millions of apps available in Google Play, so some people will not want to use it exclusively. It's true that Google does screen apps submitted to the Play store to filter out malware, but the process is still mostly automated and very quick -- too quick to detect Android malware before it's published, as we've seen. Installing F-Droid isn't a silver bullet, but it's the first step in protecting yourself from malware.
Graphics

Can A New Open Photo File Format Replace JPEGs? (cnet.com) 259

Got lossless compression? An anonymous reader quotes CNET: Google, Mozilla and others in a group called the Alliance for Open Media are working on a rival photo technology. In testing so far, the images are 15 percent smaller than Apple's HEIC photo format, said Tim Terriberry, a Mozilla principal research engineer working on the project. But smaller sizes are just the beginning... it's got a strong list of allies, an affinity for web publishing and modern features that could make it the best contender yet for overcoming JPEG's 1990s-era shortcomings... JPEG isn't just limited by needlessly large file sizes. It's also weak when it comes to supporting a wider range of bright and dark tones, a broader spectrum of colors, and graphic elements like text and logos...

The HEIC's new rival is from the Alliance for Open Media, a group whose top priority is a video compression technology called AV1 that's free of patent licensing requirements. It's got heavy hitters on board, including top browser makers Google, Microsoft, Mozilla and the most recent new member, Apple -- though Apple's plans haven't been made public. And it's got major streaming-video companies, too: Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Facebook, videoconferencing powerhouse Intel and Google's YouTube. And with the support of chip designers Intel, Nvidia and Arm, AV1 should get the hardware acceleration that's crucial to making video easy on our laptop and phone batteries.

To use Apple's HEIC, "makers of software, processors and phones must jump through a lot of hoops to license patents," which CNET predicts "means HEIC will have trouble succeeding on the web: patent barriers are antithetical to the web's open nature."
Crime

Church Elder/'Jeopardy' Champion Charged With Computer Crimes (mlive.com) 102

Stephanie Jass, a record-setting, seven-time winner on Jeopardy, has been charged with two felonies for accessing the email accounts of two executives at the college where she worked as an assistant professor. An anonymous reader quotes MLive: Jass was able to access the accounts because of an April 24 issue with the college email system, hosted by Google. Frank Hribar, vice president for enrollment and student affairs, said there was network outage caused by loss of power. On April 25, users received a text message with a generic, standard passcode: "Please attempt to login to Gmail using this password. You should be prompted to change password after login..." Not everyone, however, was prompted to do so. Some did make the change using a tutorial. Some received an error and were unable to create a new password, the timeline states. Others did not alter the password at all. The method "worked just fine, had there not been manipulation of the system," said Hribar...

Jass, 47, of Tecumseh was charged in December with unauthorized access to a computer, program or network, and using a computer to commit a crime, both felonies... On May 5, the college deactivated Jass' email account and access to all other college software. The locks to her office door were changed and her desktop computer was confiscated, according to the timeline.

The police report "indicates Jass accessed emails while using an internet network at First Presbyterian Church of Tecumseh, where she served as an elder."
Programming

Donald Knuth Turns 80, Seeks Problem-Solvers For TAOCP (stanford.edu) 70

An anonymous reader writes: When 24-year-old Donald Knuth began writing The Art of Computer Programming, he had no idea that he'd still be working on it 56 years later. This month he also celebrated his 80th birthday in Sweden with the world premier of Knuth's Fantasia Apocalyptica, a multimedia work for pipe organ and video based on the bible's Book of Revelations, which Knuth describes as "50 years in the making."

But Knuth also points to the recent publication of "one of the most important sections of The Art of Computer Programming" in preliminary paperback form: Volume 4, Fascicle 6: Satisfiability. ("Given a Boolean function, can its variables be set to at least one pattern of 0s and 1 that will make the function true?")

Here's an excerpt from its back cover: Revolutionary methods for solving such problems emerged at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and they've led to game-changing applications in industry. These so-called "SAT solvers" can now routinely find solutions to practical problems that involve millions of variables and were thought until very recently to be hopelessly difficult.
"in several noteworthy cases, nobody has yet pointed out any errors..." Knuth writes on his site, adding "I fear that the most probable hypothesis is that nobody has been sufficiently motivated to check these things out carefully as yet." He's uncomfortable printing a hardcover edition that hasn't been fully vetted, and "I would like to enter here a plea for some readers to tell me explicitly, 'Dear Don, I have read exercise N and its answer very carefully, and I believe that it is 100% correct,'" where N is one of the exercises listed on his web site.

Elsewhere he writes that two "pre-fascicles" -- 5a and 5B -- are also available for alpha-testing. "I've put them online primarily so that experts in the field can check the contents before I inflict them on a wider audience. But if you want to help debug them, please go right ahead."
United States

Apple and Google Are Rerouting Their Employee Buses as Attacks Resume (mashable.com) 292

Slashdot reader sqorbit writes: Apple runs shuttle buses for it's employees in San Francisco. It seems someone who is not happy with Apple has decided to take out their anger on these buses. In an email obtained by Mashable, Apple states "Due to recent incidents of broken windows along the commute route, specifically on highway 280, we're re-routing coaches for the time being. This change in routes could mean an additional 30-45 minutes of commute time in each direction for some riders." It has been reported that at least four buses have had windows broken, some speculating that it might caused by rubber bullets.
"Around four years ago, people started attacking the shuttle buses that took Google employees to and from work, as a way of protesting the tech-company-driven gentrification taking place around San Francisco," remembers Fortune, adding "it seems to be happening again."

At least one Google bus was also attacked, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which adds that the buses "were not marked with company logos, and the perpetrators are suspected of broadly targeting technology shuttle buses rather than a specific company."
Twitter

Twitter Says It Exposed Nearly 700,000 People To Russian Propaganda During Election (theverge.com) 299

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Twitter this evening released a new set of statistics related to its investigation on Russia propaganda efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including that 677,775 people were exposed to social media posts from more than 50,000 automated accounts with links to the Russian government. Many of the new accounts uncovered have been traced back to an organization called the the Internet Research Agency, or IRA, with known ties to the Kremlin. The data was first presented in an incomplete form to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee last November, which held hearings to question Facebook, Google, and Twitter on the role the respective platforms and products played in the Russian effort to help elect President Donald Trump. Twitter says it's now uncovered more accounts and new information on the wide-reaching Russian cyberintelligence campaign.

"Consistent with our commitment to transparency, we are emailing notifications to 677,775 people in the United States who followed one of these accounts or retweeted or liked a Tweet from these accounts during the election period," writes Twitter's public policy division in a blog post published today. "Because we have already suspended these accounts, the relevant content on Twitter is no longer publicly available."

Businesses

How To Tame the Tech Titans (economist.com) 191

dryriver shares an opinion piece from The Economist: Not long ago, being the boss of a big Western tech firm was a dream job. As the billions rolled in, so did the plaudits: Google, Facebook, Amazon and others were making the world a better place. Today these companies are accused of being BAADD -- big, anti-competitive, addictive and destructive to democracy. Regulators fine them, politicians grill them and one-time backers warn of their power to cause harm. Much of this techlash is misguided. The presumption that big businesses must necessarily be wicked is plain wrong. Apple is to be admired as the world's most valuable listed company for the simple reason that it makes things people want to buy, even while facing fierce competition. Many online services would be worse if their providers were smaller. Evidence for the link between smartphones and unhappiness is weak. Fake news is not only an online phenomenon.

But big tech platforms, particularly Facebook, Google and Amazon, do indeed raise a worry about fair competition. That is partly because they often benefit from legal exemptions. Unlike publishers, Facebook and Google are rarely held responsible for what users do on them; and for years most American buyers on Amazon did not pay sales tax. Nor do the titans simply compete in a market. Increasingly, they are the market itself, providing the infrastructure (or "platforms") for much of the digital economy. Many of their services appear to be free, but users "pay" for them by giving away their data. Powerful though they already are, their huge stockmarket valuations suggest that investors are counting on them to double or even triple in size in the next decade. There is thus a justified fear that the tech titans will use their power to protect and extend their dominance, to the detriment of consumers (see article). The tricky task for policymakers is to restrain them without unduly stifling innovation.

Businesses

Google CEO Sundar Pichai Says He Does Not Regret Firing James Damore (theverge.com) 471

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Google CEO Sundar Pichai responded today to the firing of employee James Damore over his controversial memo on workplace diversity, stating that while he does not regret the decision, he regrets that people misunderstood it as a politically motivated event. Speaking in a live conversation with journalist and Recode co-founder Kara Swisher, MSNBC host Ari Melber, and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki in San Francisco, Pichai said that the decision to fire Damore was about ensuring women at Google felt like the company was committed to creating a welcoming environment.

"I regret that people misunderstand that we may have made this for a political belief one way or another," Pichai said. "It's important for the women at Google, and all the people at Google, that we want to make a inclusive environment." When pressed by Swisher on the issue of regret, Pichai stated more definitively, "I don't regret it." Wojcicki, who has spoken publicly about how Damore's memo affected her personally, followed up with, "I think it was the right decision."

Google

Google Moves To Debian For In-house Linux Desktop (zdnet.com) 142

Google has officially confirmed the company is shifting its in-house Linux desktop from the Ubuntu-based Goobuntu to a new Linux distro, the DebianTesting-based gLinux. From a report: Margarita Manterola, a Google Engineer, quietly announced Google would move from Ubuntu to Debian-testing for its desktop Linux at DebConf17 in a lightning talk. Manterola explained that Google was moving to gLinux, a rolling release based on Debian Testing. This move isn't as surprising as it first looks. Ubuntu is based on Debian. In addition, Google has long been a strong Debian supporter. In 2017, Debian credited Google for making [sic] "possible our annual conference, and directly supports the progress of Debian and Free Software." Debian Testing is the beta for the next stable version of Debian. With gLinux, that means it's based on the Debian 10 "Buster" test operating system. Google takes each Debian Testing package, rebuilds it, tests it, files and fixes bugs, and once those are resolved, integrates it into the gLinux release candidate. GLinux went into beta on Aug. 16, 2017.
Wireless Networking

Google Releases Fix For Chromecast Wi-Fi Crashes (zdnet.com) 32

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: Google on Wednesday said it will release an update Jan. 18 to fix a bug in Cast software on Android phones that dramatically slows down WiFi networks. Reports have been circulating this week that the Google Home Max speaker can knock the TP-Link Archer C7 router offline. In a support page, Google explains a bug caused the Cast software that connects with Chromecast devices to send a large amount of network traffic routers can't handle. Google said the update will roll out via a Google Play services update. Until the update is released, Google advises users to try rebooting their Android phone, and check that their WiFi router is updated with the latest firmware. Google didn't list specific routers impacted by the bug, but reports have indicated routers from Linksys and Synology are seeing network crashes as well.
Operating Systems

Google's Fuchsia OS On the Pixelbook (arstechnica.com) 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from 9to5Google: Our early look at Fuchsia OS last May provided a glimpse into a number of new interface paradigms. Several months later, we now have an updated hands-on with Google's future operating system that can span various form factors. This look at the in-development OS eight months later comes courtesy of Ars Technica who managed to get Fuchsia installed on the Pixelbook. The Made by Google Chromebook is only the third officially supported "target device" for Fuchsia development. As our last dive into the non-Linux kernel OS was through an Android APK, we did not encounter a lockscreen. The Ars hands-on shows a basic one that displays the time at center and Fuchsia logo in the top-left corner to switch between phone and desktop/tablet mode, while a FAB (of sorts) in the opposite corner lets users bring up WiFi controls, Login, and Guest.

Only Guest is fully functioning at this stage -- at least for non-Google employees. Once in this mode, we encounter an interface similar to the one we spotted last year. The big difference is how Google has filled in demo information and tweaked some elements. On phones and tablets, Fuchsia essentially has three zones. Recent apps are above, at center are controls, and below is a mixture of the Google Feed and Search. The controls swap out the always-displayed profile icon for a Fuchsia button. Tapping still surfaces Quick Settings which actually reflect current device battery levels and IP address. Impressively, Ars found a working web browser that can actually surf the internet. Google.com is the default homepage, with users able to visit other sites through that search bar. Other examples of applications, which are just static images, include a (non-working) phone dialer, video player, and Google Docs. The Google Calendar is notable for having subtle differences to any known version, including the tablet or web app.

Google

Less Than 1 in 10 Gmail Users Enable Two-Factor Authentication (theregister.co.uk) 254

It has been nearly seven years since Google introduced two-factor authentication for Gmail accounts, but virtually no one is using it. From a report: In a presentation at Usenix's Enigma 2018 security conference in California, Google software engineer Grzegorz Milka this week revealed that, right now, less than 10 per cent of active Google accounts use two-step authentication to lock down their services. He also said only about 12 per cent of Americans have a password manager to protect their accounts, according to a 2016 Pew study.
AI

Google Has Made It Simple For Anyone To Tap Into Its Image Recognition AI (gizmodo.com) 42

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Google released a new AI tool on Wednesday designed to let anyone train its machine learning systems on a photo dataset of their choosing. The software is called Cloud AutoML Vision. In an accompanying blog post, the chief scientist of Google's Cloud AI division explains how the software can help users without machine learning backgrounds harness artificial intelligence. All hype aside, training the AI does appear to be surprisingly simple. First, you'll need a ton of tagged images. The minimum is 20, but the software supports up to 10,000. Using a meteorologist as an example for their promotional video was an apt choice by Google -- not many people have thousands of tagged HD images bundled together and ready to upload. A lot of image recognition is about identifying patterns. Once Google's AI thinks it has a good understanding of what links together the images you've uploaded, it can be used to look for that pattern in new uploads, spitting out a number for how well it thinks the new images match it. So our meteorologist would eventually be able to upload images as the weather changes, identifying clouds while continuing to train and improve the software.
Crime

Facebook Is a 'Living, Breathing Crime Scene,' Says Former Tech Insider (nbcnews.com) 144

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: With more than 2 billion users, Facebook's reach now rivals that of Christianity and exceeds that of Islam. However, the network's laser focus on profits and user growth has come at the expense of its users, according to one former Facebook manager who is now speaking out against the social platform. "One of the things that I saw consistently as part of my job was the company just continuously prioritized user growth and making money over protecting users," the ex-manager, Sandy Parakilas, who worked at Facebook for 16 months, starting in 2011, told NBC News. During his tenure at Facebook, Parakilas led third-party advertising, privacy and policy compliance on Facebook's app platform. "Facebook is a living, breathing crime scene for what happened in the 2016 election -- and only they have full access to what happened," said Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google. His work centers on how technology can ethically steer the thoughts and actions of the masses on social media and he's been called "the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience" by The Atlantic magazine.

In response to the comments, Facebook issued a statement saying it is a "vastly different company" from when it was founded. "We are taking many steps to protect and improve people's experience on the platform," the statement said. "In the past year, we've worked to destroy the business model for false news and reduce its spread, stop bad actors from meddling in elections, and bring a new level of transparency to advertising. Last week, we started prioritizing meaningful posts from friends and family in News Feed to help bring people closer together. We have more work to do and we're heads down on getting it done."

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