Replika Brings Back Erotic AI Roleplay for Some Users After Outcry

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 03/27/2023 - 09:11

Replika’s erotic role-playing features are back for legacy users of the app, the app’s founder announced on Friday.

The virtual companion app, which uses AI-generated text to chat with users, changed its filters last month to make Replikas stop engaging in sexually-themed role-play, which is a central part of many users’ experiences with the app. 

Anyone who had an account before February 1, 2023 will have the option to revert to the old version of the app, which allowed erotic role-play.

“Replika is much more than an app. It is a companion in the truest sense of a word—for some of you it was the most supportive relationship you have ever experienced,” Replika founder and CEO of its parent company Luka, Eugenia Kuyda, wrote in an update posted to the r/Replika subreddit on Friday. “A common thread in all your stories was that after the February update, your Replika changed, its personality was gone, and gone was your unique relationship. And for many of you, this abrupt change was incredibly hurtful.” 

The app has undergone several shifts in recent months. In 2021, some Replika users complained that their Replikas had suddenly become too sexually aggressive, and were trying to initiate erotic role-play even after the users said they weren’t interested. Reviews for the app claimed that although they’d noted within the app that they were underage, or were playing using the free version (which isn’t supposed to include erotic content), their Replikas tried to get them to role-play anyway. The company ran ads emphasizing the paid subscription version of the app, which included “NSFW” content and “spicy selfies” and were often aimed at people who didn’t have real-life partners.

In February, Replika users noticed that their AI companions were no longer responding to erotic role-playing prompts at all, even if they’d established long-term romantic histories with the chatbots. The app had launched new filters that caused Replikas to shut down conversations involving sexting, sexual content, and adult content. The sudden change in features shocked many users who’d come to rely on their Replikas as a romantic outlet, triggering mental health crises for some. 

A few weeks after the change, Replika founder Kuyda told Motherboard that the app was never meant to be erotic; from its inception, she said, Replika was meant to be a friend. “The only thing that changed over time was that generative AI models [started] taking over more and more of the conversation, and now 80 to 90 percent of the conversation is all generative AI,” Kuyda said. “And what we saw is that some people started using it for, and started engaging in, romantic relationships, and the Replika even taking these conversations further as they were talking.” 

In the update, Kuyda wrote that the company plans to develop a separate app for romantic interactions. “We are teaming up with relationship experts and psychologists to receive guidance on what is the most beneficial for mental wellness,” she wrote.  

Categories: Tech News

Twitter source code was leaked on GitHub shortly after Musk’s layoff spree

ARS Technica - Mon, 03/27/2023 - 09:01
Illustration of a person's hand holding a magnifying glass over the Twitter logo.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Future Publishing)

Portions of Twitter's source code recently appeared on GitHub, and Twitter is trying to force GitHub to identify the user or users who posted the code.

GitHub disabled the repository on Friday shortly after Twitter filed a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notice but apparently hasn't provided the information Twitter is seeking. Twitter's DMCA takedown notice asked GitHub to provide the code submitter's "upload/download/access history," contact information, IP addresses, and any session information or "associated logs related to this repo or any forks."

The GitHub user who posted the Twitter source code has the username "FreeSpeechEnthusiast," possibly a reference to Twitter owner Elon Musk casting himself as a protector of free speech.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Categories: Tech News

Russia Will Station Nukes in Another Country for First Time Since Soviet Era

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 03/27/2023 - 08:54

Nuclear weapons are returning to Belarus after decades as the war in Ukraine drags on. 

During a speech on Saturday night, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a plan to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, a country that borders both Russia and Ukraine. Putin pointed out that the U.S. has its own nuclear weapons stationed in partner countries around Europe. 

“We agreed that we will do the same—without violating our obligations, I emphasize, without violating our international obligations on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons,” he said.

Tactical nuclear weapons are shorter-range missiles and bombs than the “strategic” weapons that the U.S. and Russia can use to strike faraway territories. That Putin might deploy such weapons in Ukraine despite international taboos has been part of the debate around the conflict since the start. 

Belarus used to have nuclear weapons when it was part of the Soviet Union, as did Kazakhstan and Ukraine. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Belarus was host to 81 SS-25s—a kind of intercontinental-ballistic missile that rides on a mobile launcher—as well as various other tactical nuclear weapons. After the fall of the Soviet Union, all three fledgling nations returned their nuclear arsenals to Moscow.

In his speech, Putin noted that Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko had repeatedly asked him about nuclear weapons. Lukashenko took power in 1994 and has led the country ever since. In 2021, he officially recognized Crimea as part of Russia and offered to play host to nuclear weapons again. In a speech in 2022 Lukashenko reminded everyone that Belarusian jets and helicopters could be easily converted to carry nuclear weapons. That same year, Belarus passed a referendum that both allowed the country to host nuclear weapons and absolved former leaders of crimes they committed in office.

Lukashenko is one of Russia’s closest allies and host to thousands of its soldiers, but has stopped short of officially sending its own troops. Mink’s cozy relationship with Putin isn’t popular domestically. It’s been condemned by opposition leaders and has spurned a protest movement.

Despite this, it seems the Belarussian dictator will finally get his wish. Russia didn’t announce how many weapons it would send to Belarus nor did it detail when they would arrive. Putin said that Russia would maintain control of the weapons and that the storage facilities would be completed by July 1st.

The United States stores nuclear weapons in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. NATO doesn’t share how many U.S. nukes are in Europe, but experts put the number at around 100 aircraft dropped bombs scattered across six bases in partner countries. Under a “sharing arrangement,” troops in Germany, Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands are trained how to use these weapons in a time of war. Though the U.S. has said it still maintains control over the weapons and that Turkey is just used as a storage facility and is not, technically, a member of this “sharing arrangement.”

Russia recently unilaterally suspended its participation in the New START treaty with the U.S., which gave both nations insight into the others’ nuclear capabilities. In his speech announcing the move, Putin referred to "[understanding] for ourselves" the nuclear capabilities of France and the U.K.—NATO nations that maintain their own nuclear weapon stockpiles—before restarting relations.

Washington said it wouldn’t be reacting to Putin’s move. “We have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture nor any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon,” the Pentagon told Reuters. “We remain committed to the collective defense of the NATO alliance.”

The news of the nuclear deployment in Belarus came days after the U.K. announced it was sending Challenger 2 tanks equipped with depleted uranium rounds to Ukraine. During his speech on Saturday, Putin said he would deploy Russia’s own depleted uranium rounds should the U.K’s ammunition make it to Ukraine.

“Russia, of course, has what it needs to answer,” Putin said. “Without exaggeration, we have hundreds of thousands of such shells. We have not used them yet.”

Categories: Tech News

Trump’s Racist Attacks on Manhattan’s Black DA Are Getting Even Uglier

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 03/27/2023 - 08:40

Former President Donald Trump’s “vitriolic” social media posts could be seen as inciting violence against the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, a group of former federal prosecutors warned in an open letter. 

The roughly 175 ex-prosecutors denounced Trump’s attempts to intimidate Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, following a week of increasingly incendiary rhetoric when Trump referred to Bragg, the first Black man ever elected Manhattan DA, as an “animal” and a “racist,” and called on his followers to “protest!” 

Trump warned that “potential death & destruction” could occur if he’s indicted, and described Bragg as a “degenerate psychopath.”

“Former President Donald Trump has repeatedly issued vitriolic attacks on the District Attorney, and most recently made statements that can be construed as inciting violence,” the group wrote. “As former prosecutors, we denounce efforts to intimidate the Manhattan District Attorney and we call upon all to support and protect prosecutorial independence and the rule of law.”  

Bragg is weighing whether to seek an indictment from a grand jury that’s been investigating Trump’s involvement in a $130,000 hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels. 

Trump stated last week that he was on the brink of being “arrested” as soon as last Tuesday, although even his own spokesperson later confirmed Trump had no basis for giving such a concrete timeline. Many independent experts do think Trump could soon be charged with a crime as soon as this week, although the timing remains highly uncertain. 

Bragg’s office recently received a threatening letter containing white powder and the words: “"ALVIN: I AM GOING TO KILL YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

The letter was addressed to Bragg and mailed from Orlando, Florida on Tuesday, according to NBC News

Trump’s account also posted, then deleted, an image of Trump holding a baseball bat menacingly over a photo of Bragg’s head. Trump’s lawyer, Joe Tacopina, claimed that one of Trump’s “social media people” had posted the link, and that Trump himself later took it down.  Tacopina acknowledged the post was a bad idea, and called it “ill-advised.”

Trump’s other incendiary posts have stayed up, however, including a post in which Trump mocked the idea that his followers should be peaceful. Trump wrote in all-caps: “Our country is being destroyed, as they tell us to be peaceful!” 

“We must protect prosecutors from efforts to intimidate or improperly influence them,” the open letter states. “Indeed, in a democracy, it is critical to maintain prosecutorial independence and the rule of law.”  

Categories: Tech News

OneWeb lofts last batch of satellites to enable global internet service

The Register - Mon, 03/27/2023 - 08:37
Mission accomplished? Meanwhile Musk's Starlink's V2 sats experience de-orbit-worthy 'issues'

Satellite comms operator OneWeb says its constellation is complete, with the latest launch bringing its total of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites to 618, although it will add further launches for resiliency and redundancy.…

Categories: Tech News

Principal Forced to Quit After Parents Complained ‘David’ Statue Shown in Art Class Was Porn

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 03/27/2023 - 08:14

The principal of a “classical” charter school in Florida was forced to resign last week because of an art class where sixth grade students were shown one of the most recognizable works of art in history. 

Tallahassee Classical School principal Hope Carrasquilla submitted her resignation from the publicly-funded charter school on March 20, after the school’s board demanded she step down following complaints from parents of sixth graders about a lesson that included Michaelangelo’s “David” statue, the Tallahassee Democrat reported last week

One parent reportedly said that the statue—a nude depiction of the Biblical figure David—was “pornographic,” while two other parents said they wished they’d been notified about the lesson beforehand, according to the Tallahassee Democrat

The chair of the school’s board, Barney Bishop III, said in an interview last week that the school had sent out an “advance notice” to parents about the lesson in previous years, and that not doing so this year was an “egregious mistake.” Bishop told Slate that he told Carrasquilla she could either voluntarily resign or he would ask the school board to terminate her without cause. 

“98 percent of the parents didn’t have a problem with [the lesson],” Bishop told Slate. “But that doesn’t matter, because we didn’t follow a practice.” 

Under Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida has been a leading booster of the “parents’ rights” movement, with new laws banning classroom discussions of gender and sexuality, as well as bans on teaching critical race theory. This year, some public school teachers in Florida have gone so far as to remove their classroom libraries to avoid potential prosecution. 

Tallahassee Classical School follows the “Hillsdale 1776 curriculum” developed by the conservative Hillsdale College. DeSantis officials have said they want Hillsdale to be the model for their rebrand of New College of Florida, the public liberal arts honors college in Sarasota, which was recently taken over by right-wing DeSantis appointees to the school’s board who fired the president and closed the school’s Office of Inclusive Excellence.  

“Parents are the ones who are going to drive the education system here in Florida. The governor said that, and we’re with the governor,” Bishop told Slate. “Parents choose this school because they want a certain kind of education. We’re not gonna have courses from the College Board. We’re not gonna teach 1619 or CRT crap… The rights of parents, that trumps the rights of kids.” 

Carrasquilla said in a statement last week that Bishop “was more concerned about litigation and appeasing a small minority of parents, rather than trusting my expertise as an educator for more than 25 years.”

Carrasquilla’s story spread around the globe over the weekend, including to Italy. The mayor of Florence tweeted about it Saturday, calling the conflation of the statue with pornography “ridiculous.” The Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, where the statue is on display, has invited Tallahassee Classical School parents and students to see the statue in person, the AP reported Sunday

“To think that David could be pornographic means truly not understanding the contents of the Bible, not understanding Western culture and not understanding Renaissance art,” the museum’s director, Cecile Hollberg, told the AP. 

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Categories: Tech News

We Interviewed Pakistan’s Ex Prime Minister Imran Khan As the Government Tries to Arrest Him

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 03/27/2023 - 07:47

Pakistan is in the middle of political chaos—and one man is at the centre of it all. Former prime minister Imran Khan was ousted last year in a no-confidence vote by political opponents, but polls this month suggest he remains by far the country’s most popular leader. 

Within a year of being removed from office, 70-year-old Khan has survived an assassination attempt and faces dozens of new charges ranging from corruption, terrorism and sedition. 

The popular politician was once known for his stellar cricketing career, playboy lifestyle and philanthropy. But the current government has branded him a "militant" and attempted to arrest him using excessive force, while tear gassing, attacking and arresting hundreds of his supporters. Khan believes the charges against him are political persecution tactics meant to distract him from campaigning for elections set to be held this year.

Last year, Khan alleged his removal was an “America-backed conspiracy”; the U.S., however, denied any involvement. Soon after, Khan pointed fingers at Pakistan’s powerful military, who have ruled the country under martial law for almost half its existence since 1947, and wield extensive business and political influence.

Six months later, Khan claimed the current government and a military general were responsible for his assassination attempt; they also denied any involvement. One of Imran Khan’s main obstacles to getting back into power is that he’s fallen out with the all-powerful military.

VICE World News met with the political leader in Lahore on March 6, as his supporters surrounded his home to stop authorities from arresting him.  

The interview below has sections that were not included in the video above but has been been edited for brevity and clarity. 

VICE World News: You are facing some very serious legal charges right now, which there's a possibility that could lead to a prison sentence.  How would you handle prison? 

IMRAN KHAN: I survived an [assassination] attempt. I’m really lucky to be alive. So, prison, I guess when it comes to it, I'll go to it. But I must say something—if I don't fight for my country, who will? Look, in Pakistan, unless right now we fight the system, the stranglehold of a corrupt elite, which is destroying this country and the country is on its knees, unless we fight it, this country will become unlivable. 

In the last six months since we've been out of power. 800,000 Pakistani professionals, quality people, have left the country because they're losing faith in the country. So if people like me, who are privileged, who have respect and love in this country, more than probably anyone else, if I don't fight for my country, who will? 

So, therefore, prison, a possibility of assassination? When I came into politics 26 years ago, I realised that I was going to be up against mafias. And then I realised that unless I conquer my fear of dying, which is the ultimate fear, I would not be able to fight these mafias. 

Right outside your house, there’s been police who came to try and arrest you. There's a lot of your supporters showing up to come and protect you. How does it feel to be in the middle of this firestorm? 

I always hoped one day my people [would] be politically aware, understanding what true freedom is, because true freedom comes from rule of law, which gives you rights. The demand in Pakistan is for real freedom, which means justice, which means fundamental rights. That's what we are struggling [for]. And in my 26 years of politics, [this] is the first time I feel that people realise that they want true freedom. 

From your perspective, what's going on in this country right now? 

What is happening is that the ex-army chief last April threw a conspiracy. He removed our government. He conspired with those who are in power right now, removed our government. And from then onwards, the country just went down. So we now face default bankruptcy. Never has the economic situation been so bad. Record inflation in Pakistan right now. So what has happened is that this conspiracy, led by our ex-army chief, has brought Pakistan to its knees.

All we are asking is that there should be elections. But the entire opposition and their handlers, the establishment, are scared to hold elections because they're scared we'll win. And so we are in this delicate situation where those in power don’t want elections. The Supreme Court has ordered the elections. And yet, because we will win, they are not allowing the elections to take place. 

You are telling your people to go out on the streets, to march, to go to jail for you. You're calling for early elections. Do you ever think that if you were to step aside, if you were to let go, that that would create a more politically stable environment when the government could get on with running the economy? 

If the current government was worried about economic stability and not being able to handle the economy, why did they conspire to remove a government? We only had one and a half years left. So why? What was the hurry to bring down a government? And the hurry was that 61 percent of the current cabinet faces corruption cases. The cases were mature in the courts. They were about to be convicted. The current prime minister was about to be convicted. His sons were about to be convicted on billions of rupees of corruption. So the hurry was they didn't want to remove the government because there was a problem with the economy or they were worried about inflation. They wanted to remove the government because they wanted to get rid of the corruption cases, which they did. 

But on the question of right now, why you are not stepping aside, and whether that would create more stability… 

Look, a political party does not create chaos when it does political activities. We have not called one strike right now. Everything we have done remains within the constitution, public rallies, peaceful rallies. Political parties, their job is to raise the level of public awareness, so people come. We informed them of what's going on. 

And what about now, I mean, are you scared? 

Well, I mean, the threat of assassination is probably even more now than before. Because the three people I knew who were responsible for this, they are still sitting in power and they are probably more worried now than ever before, because all indications are that whenever the elections, my party is going to sweep the elections. 

You're facing a lot of legal challenges right now that could disqualify you from the elections, including corruption in criminal cases. You built your whole political career on the squeaky clean image. Is it inevitable that all politicians in various circles, to some degree, become corrupt? 

Look, the corruption cases against me, there's just one. What they're saying is that, when you get public gifts in Pakistan, they are saying that I sold one of the gifts. So I want a public hearing about this. I want this to be in the public and covered by the media when this case comes to court. And it will be proven that whatever I did, the gifts I took from Toshakhana (state gift treasury), were 100 percent legal. 

You've been very critical of the current government for suppressing free speech, for politically persecuting you, as you say. Under your own government talk shows were shut down, journalists who have been critical of you were attacked, tortured, detained. As someone who is presenting yourself as a victim of persecution and a beacon of free speech…

Not one case against the media, media house or any one was ever instituted by my government. What happened was that there were army laws. So the journalist who got into trouble said something to the army. So under some security law, action was taken against them. And by the way, there were two journalists abducted during my time. When I found out, immediately the next day, we had them released. Compare that to what's going on now. A journalist was killed.

I’m asking you about under your rule, Reporters Without Borders labelled you as a press freedom predator. There was a long list of journalists who were picked up, who were detained, who were tortured. You’re saying that you didn't know that was happening? 

The two times we found out two journalists were picked up, one was Mattiulah Jan, one was some other guy. We immediately took action.

And what about the others? There were people who were shot outside their homes or people whose talk shows were shut down.

Talk shows were shut down only on two people who apparently said something against the army, not against my government.

You came into power promising to eradicate corruption within six months. You haven't done that, you know. The Corruption Perception Index worsened during your rule. 

The problem in Pakistan is that we have what is called “elite capture.” The ruling elite is above law. So it's not just Pakistan's problem. It's the problem with the entire developing world. The difference between the developing world and the developed world is that in the developed world, the legal system does not allow the big crooks to get away in the developing world. Our legal system is not powerful to nab the powerful crooks. So my whole campaign is to bring the powerful crooks under the law. And why I failed, unfortunately, because the National Accountability Bureau, which deals with corruption, was not under me, but was under the army chief.

So you're saying you don't have control of the military? 

Because the Army chief had the veto, I could not get the powerful crooks convicted, which is why we could not improve on our corruption index. Because if you cannot bring the powerful under the rule of law and hold them accountable, then I'm afraid, how can you control corruption? 

You blame the military for many things, including, you know, not seeing through your corruption promises or some cases involving journalists. Why should people vote for you if you can't control the military?

There was this imbalance. There is an imbalance in Pakistan. Elected prime minister comes in with a mandate, but the authority he just does not have, he has the responsibility, but he does not have the authority. My responsibility was fighting corruption, but I did not have the authority on the institution that was supposed to be a tool to fight corruption that was controlled by the army chief. The military is entrenched in Pakistan.

Is that not a problem that needs to be dismantled in order to actually have a free and fair country? 

There needs to be a balance. No management system works if the prime minister has the responsibility, but he doesn't have the authority.

When the Taliban took Afghanistan almost two years ago now, you noted that they had promised to uphold human rights and to form an inclusive government. It's been two years now and the Taliban does not have an inclusive government. The human rights record is not looking good, especially for women's rights, as I'm sure you're aware. Is there any part of you that regrets a somewhat softer attitude towards the Taliban? 

It’s unfortunate that in the West, all you look upon Afghanistan is Taliban and anti-Taliban. We in Pakistan look upon Afghanistan as our neighbour—2,700-kilometre border with Afghanistan. And after 40 years, for the first time, there's peace in Afghanistan. This is

the first time. Since the change of the regime, the Taliban took over, we call it the Afghan government. We have to have a good relationship with them. Now, what I said was that when the Taliban took over, the Western countries must get them into the mainstream, because the more you mainstream them, the more influence you would have in enforcing human rights. But if you isolate them, what leverage has any country got left now to tell them, you know, to send your girls to school or human rights. 

Are you disappointed with the way things are turning out? It's been almost two years…

My point is that there's a government in Afghanistan. The West has spent, what 20 years, trillions of dollars to try and bring in democracy and failed. Now, if in Afghanistan there’s now a government, the question asked by the Western countries, what should be their interest? A stable government in Afghanistan, there shouldn’t be any international terrorism. But if you isolate them, why would they listen to anyone? That’s my only point. 

There's a strong movement of young Pakistani women at the moment who are fighting for gender equity in this country. Do you support those Pakistani feminists and the fight for gender equity?

Absolutely. Yeah. Look. And Pakistan is very fortunate in a lot of ways when you compare what is going on in other countries. We have had a woman twice become prime minister. So Pakistan is not like, you know, what you would see in other countries where women are oppressed. We have another problem. Our main problem is not so much women rights, [it's] the human rights we have as a society. And I use the word elite capture as the bar for whether it's powerful men or women. They are very privileged in this country. In fact, they are above law. Most of the resources in the country go to this tiny elite. Our problem is human rights at the mass level, whether men or women. So we have other problems, which are much more severe. 

Well, you say that women are in a good situation in Pakistan. But why did you have so few of them in your top brass when you were in government? 

Well, it's a merit system. Look, you want a system of merit. In the U.S., you haven't had a woman prime minister, a president so far. So the point is that you select a cabinet on merit, people who are going to deliver.

And there aren’t any women who are good enough? 

No, it's not… Look, if you when you come into power, your number one priority is to deliver to the people, give them governance. To give them governance. You need the best people and the best ministries. You don't just fill in spaces just because of quotas, because in the end, the people are going to ask you, we expected you to deliver. 

There is so much disappointment amongst the Uyghur community that leaders of Muslim countries, including yourself, have not spoken out to condemn these actions. You know, China is a very powerful country. Pakistan is dependent on China. Does it grate on you at all that you haven't been able to speak out because you are very vocal about Islamophobia, you are very vocal about the repression of Muslim people around the world?

Look, Isobel, the problem is there's Imran Khan as a human rights activist. I used to speak about everything, not just Muslims, but, you know, whenever there was discrimination and human rights abuse I would speak against it. When you become the prime minister, your number one priority becomes, in my case, 220 million people of Pakistan. So therefore, when that is your number one priority, then you have to be very careful. Poor countries do not have the luxury to criticise when they have a huge amount of vulnerable people. Rich countries, unfortunately, they too are selective. 

Thirty years ago, you were one of the greatest cricket players of all time. You were a national hero. Does that whole life to you feel like a completely different world now? Did you know you were going to be prime minister of this country? 

No, it was never my ambition because I was focused completely on cricket. All I had to do was talk about cricket and have a very easy life. And when I went into politics, it was the biggest challenge. And I would not have gone there had I not already gone through the mill in my life of facing ups and downs.

Are you enjoying this fight?

Yes. See, the way I look at life is the moment a challenge goes from your life your life stops. You stop growing. Right now I see this huge challenge in front of me. So I'm just focused on that. What happens after that? I don't know. Well, the challenge is Pakistan really. Unfortunately, we are struggling right now. To get Pakistan out of this quagmire is going to be probably the most phenomenal thing that anyone could ever do.

Categories: Tech News

First Graders Not Allowed to Sing ‘Controversial’ Dolly Parton Song About Acceptance

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 03/27/2023 - 07:41

A Wisconsin school forbade first graders from singing a Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus song about acceptance at this year’s spring concert, saying it’s too “controversial.”

The song, “Rainbowland,” celebrates acceptance and includes lyrics like “wouldn't it be nice to live in paradise. Where we're free to be exactly who we are.” 

It started earlier this month, when a first grader was brainstorming songs to perform for the spring concert at Heyer Elementary. Her mother, Sarah Schindler, said that her list included “Rainbowland,” as well as Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” and Kermit the Frog’s “Rainbow Connection.” A few days later, the girl told her mother that she was not allowed to sing “Rainbow Connection” or “Rainbowland.” 

“Rainbow Connection” was ultimately allowed, but the Dolly Parton song wasn’t, according to a teacher with the school district.  

“My first graders were so excited to sing Rainbowland for our spring concert but it has been vetoed by our administration. When will it end?” Melissa Tempel, a Heyer Elementary teacher—and Schindler’s daughter’s teacher—tweeted last week. 

“4 years ago we had an active diversity team,” Tempel said in another tweet. “Now we are Florida.” 

Some critics believe the songs were banned as part of a greater crackdown within the school district on LGBTQ issues. One Waukesha resident, Leigh Radichel Tracy, whose children are in the same school district, told the Times that “the School District of Waukesha has really cracked down on anything LBGTQ.”

“It’s so sad that this is seen as a ‘controversial issue’ by the School District of Waukesha. It’s a song about a beautiful place of acceptance,” she said.  

Schindler reportedly reached out to her daughter’s teacher, the school principal at Heyer Elementary, and the school district of Waukesha. Rainbows are often associated with pride, but Schindler said in a comment to the Times that rainbows are also associated with springtime. She said she doesn’t understand why the song would be controversial. “We love Dolly Parton!” Schindler told the Los Angeles Times. 

Superintendent James Sebert told Insider that a teacher checked with the school principal  “to determine if the song would be acceptable to use in a first grade concert.” The principal checked the song and decided it “could be deemed controversial” in accordance with the district’s "Controversial Issues in the Classroom” policy.

Multiple members of the Waukesha school district did not immediately respond to requests for comment from VICE News.

Wisconsin isn’t the only state where there’s been a crackdown on LGBTQ people. Anti-LGBTQ sentiment has swept parts of the U.S., with hundreds of bills that would restrict LGBTQ rights introduced this year alone. GOP politicians are targeting trans healthcare, LGBTQ students in schools, and drag queens, and more. 

Categories: Tech News

India-based cybergang busted for selling fake KFC franchises

The Register - Mon, 03/27/2023 - 07:30
It's finger-linking.... what happened to my $$$?

Police in India announced late last week they arrested four individuals accused of running fake websites in which they sold fraudulent franchises, including for fast-food chicken restaurant, KFC.…

Categories: Tech News

We drive the most hardcore Toyota Corolla ever: The GR Morizo Edition

ARS Technica - Mon, 03/27/2023 - 07:15
A dark grey Toyota GR Corolla seen head-on. It has a very large front grille and many air intakes and flared arches

Enlarge / North America was denied the extra-special GR Yaris, but Toyota has remedied that with a GR Corolla, which starts at a rather reasonable $36,995. (credit: Bradley Iger)

After decades of being the brand known for sensible, inoffensive motoring—as spearheaded by models like the Camry and Prius—Toyota has been going through a bit of a reinvention as of late. The brand's roots in motorsport date back to the early 1970s with their rally efforts, and recently the company has been keen to recapture some of that racing spirit.

The first evidence came by way of its joint partnership with Subaru to develop the Scion FR-S (later known as the Toyota 86, and now, in its second generation, the GR86) as well as its more recent collaboration with BMW to produce the Supra and its Bavarian counterpart, the Z4. Now, after building the sensational GR Yaris the gearheads at Toyota's performance-focused Gazoo Racing division have turned their attention to the Corolla, and the result is something that's a far cry from the staid machine that we've come to associate with the name.

The slightly larger Corolla is much better suited to our roads than the Yaris would be.

The slightly larger Corolla is much better suited to our roads than the Yaris would be. (credit: Bradley Iger)

Lowered, widened, boosted, and packing a sophisticated all-wheel drive system to go along with a raft of other performance features, the GR Corolla is a nod to Toyota's glory days in the World Rally Championship, and it takes square aim at hot hatches like the Honda Civic Type R and Volkswagen Golf R. To celebrate its introduction, Toyota also introduced two special-edition models: The Circuit Edition—which includes performance hardware that's optional on the Core base model as well as a forged carbon roof, heat extractors on the hood, and some aesthetic upgrades—and this, the Morizo Edition.

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Categories: Tech News

QAnon Spent the Weekend Spreading a John Fetterman Body Double Conspiracy Theory

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 03/27/2023 - 06:49

Right wing conspiracy theorists and social media trolls are spreading an unhinged claim that Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman has been replaced with a body double.

The unfounded conspiracy began to percolate on social media platforms like Twitter and Telegram on Friday, and while it’s unclear where it originated, it may have been triggered by news the same day that the senator was preparing to leave Walter Reed hospital in Washington, D.C., where he has spent the last five weeks being treated for clinical depression.

The entire basis of the conspiracy theory is the comparison of two photos of Fetterman that the conspiracists claim are not of the same person—even though both are very obviously both of the Pennsylvania senator.

Body double conspiracies are a common trope in conspiracist circles: In recent years QAnon believers have claimed that President Joe Biden, Queen Elizabeth, and the Pope have been replaced by body doubles, all in an attempt to undermine the leaders’ credibility and boost the belief that the world is really run by a secret cabal of elites and the faceless “deep state.”

The Fetterman conspiracy gained momentum over the weekend when some high profile figures in the MAGA-sphere shared it. One of the most prominent is the right-wing troll account known as Catturd, which tweeted two photos of Fetterman with the comment: “It’s a miracle … In only 3 weeks, John Fetterman got a total head replacement. Man, he has some good doctors.”


The second photo Catturd shared is not new, but was taken in May 2022 when Fetterman was leaving hospital in Pennsylvania after suffering a stroke during his Senate campaign. Catturd, of course, did not mention this. 

Other Twitter users also pointed out how the varying focal lengths of different camera lenses can have a huge impact on how people appear in pictures.

Despite this, and despite the presence of a note on the tweet from Twitter’s user-generated Community Notes feature warning that the fact the picture is a year old, waCatturd’s tweet has racked up over 10 million engagements. It was one of dozens of similar posts on Twitter over the weekend by right-wing figures. 

“They literally replaced fetterman, this is insane," lawyer and former Republican congressional candidate Jason Roberge tweeted, while actor and conspiracist Randy Quaid simply tweeted: “This is not Fetterman.”

“I think a DNA sample is in order here. LOL. That’s not Fetterman on the right,” tweeted Juanita Broaddrick, a former nurse who accused former President Bill Clinton of rape, and who more recently has spoken at many QAnon events.

But others in the conspiracy and MAGA worlds are now pushing back, claiming that the “body double” conspiracies are damaging their reputation and hiding the real conspiracy— which is that Fetterman is, in fact, “braindead.”

“Those who don’t know how to critically think through situations and spout whatever conspiracy theory aligns with their confirmation bias are fueling the [mainstream media] attacks against all of us,” Jordan Sather, a QAnon promoter and grifter, posted on Telegram on Sunday.

“Fetterman is being hidden from the public because [he]… would make a fool of himself. But to automatically spout ‘clone!’ or ‘body double!’ is not showing any advancement of thought or research.”

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Categories: Tech News

Blue Origin provides a detailed analysis of its launch failure

ARS Technica - Mon, 03/27/2023 - 06:43
The emergency escape system is seen firing on the New Shepard spacecraft Monday morning after its rocket was lost.

Enlarge / The emergency escape system is seen firing on the New Shepard spacecraft Monday morning after its rocket was lost. (credit: Blue Origin)

A little more than six months after the failure of its New Shepard rocket, Blue Origin has published a summary of the findings made by its accident investigation team.

For a private company flying a private launch system, the analysis of this "NS-23" mission is reasonably detailed. Essentially, the rocket's main engine nozzle sustained temperatures that were higher than anticipated, leading to an explosion of the rocket.

The accident occurred at 1 minute and 4 seconds into a research flight that launched on September 12, 2022. The emergency escape system performed as intended, rapidly pulling the spacecraft away from the disintegrating rocket. Had a crew been on board this flight, they would have experienced a significant jolt and some high gravitational forces before landing safely in the West Texas desert.

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Activist investor Elliott holds off board-level influence at Salesforce

The Register - Mon, 03/27/2023 - 06:33
Benioff gets a pat on the head and an undefined reprieve

Salesforce and Elliott Investment Management have issued a joint statement saying the activist investor, which took a multi-billion-dollar stake in the CRM giant in January, is not nominating directors to the board.…

Categories: Tech News

‘The Great War: Western Front’ Gives World War 1 a Total War Treatment

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 03/27/2023 - 06:00

The trenches of the Western Front in the First World War are among the most indelible and enduring scenes in the historical imagination. Even if you know next to nothing about the war, you probably get the same set of images that I do when I hear phrases like “no man’s land” or “The Somme.” Muddy trenches, barren moonscapes of shell-scarred earth, men being cut down in rows by machine gun fire, or choking on poison gas. American schoolchildren used to be taught “In Flanders Fields” in elementary school; by middle school there would be a unit on All Quiet on the Western Front. Via poetry especially, the war looms large in any survey of English literature, which forms the subject of literary historian Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory. Writing back in 1975 he argued that the trenches had not just defined the the war’s legacy, but had also reshaped how subsequent generations of English-speakers engaged with the world. Fussell wrote: “…there seems to be one dominating form of modern understanding; that it is essentially ironic, and that it originates largely in the application of mind and memory to the events of the Great War.” 

If that position seems overheated from the vantage of almost 50 years later, I suspect it still has more truth to it than we might expect. The imagery and metaphors or World War 1 have been adapted to countless other settings, a shorthand for war at its most industrialized extreme and brutally irrational. Its imagery is summoned by Games Workshop almost every time its wants to depict the way that 40K’s Imperium wages war. When 2018’s Solo tried to capture the senseless horror of Imperial military service that young Han Solo wanted to escape, it went straight to a disorienting and doomed “over the top” attack that owed more to Paths of Glory than to the battle of Hoth.

While trench warfare easily lends itself to the kind of grim metaphor and spectacle that made it irresistible to artists, particularly of an antiwar or dissenting bent, it has proved an elusive and perhaps unappealing subject in video games. It’s no accident that Valiant Hearts has probably been the most successful  World War 1 game of the past two decades, as it operates comfortably in the same impressionistic mode that a lot of literature and film about the war does. After that, from a more explicitly ironic direction, comes the turret-shooter tower defense game Toy Soldiers, which combined vividly beautiful depictions of the trenches with the conceit of the armies and all their horrible weapons as toys in a child’s playset. Shooters like Battlefield 1 and BlackMill games’ trilogy of Verdun, Tannenberg, and Isonzo (those latter two are not Western front games but they are definitely “trench” games) found a less ironic compatibility between the grinding stalemates of the war’s great battles and the looping, respawn-driven action of a multiplayer shooter.

But what of wargames and strategy games? Here your choices might be even thinner. World War 1, or something like it, is a culminating event in grand strategy games set around the late 1800s and early 1900s, but it is not their subject. Slitherine’s Commander: The Great War is a pretty great game about the war as a whole, but as such the Western Front is only a small part of it, one of many battlefields demanding the overstretched resources of a global war effort. You might need to go back to Armor Games’ 2008 Flash game Warfare 1917 (which was just salvaged via emulation a month ago) to find a video game depicting both the pitched back-and-forth nature of the trenches and the development of new tactics and technologies to break the stalemate.

Into this relative void comes Petroglyph Games’ The Great War: Western Front. With a turn-based, hex-map strategic layer that serves up simple RTS-style tactical battles in the fashion of a Total War, it attempts to capture both the mythologized spectacle of the trenches and the often overlooked dynamism that was, ironically, such a key component of the long stalemate. Like its Flash predecessor Warfare 1917, it is trying to do all this while remaining easy to learn and fairly undemanding to play.

A hexagonal map of the Western front of World War 2 with little figures depicting armies standing on each space. A green arrow indicates an impending attack from one space into another.

The Great War: Western Front is not a complicated game on either its strategic or tactical level, but its simplicity contains tensions that tie its two halves together and factor into every decision that you have to make. On the strategic layer, whether you play as the Allies or the Central Powers, you have just three resources: money, supply, and research points. Research points come in at a fixed rate throughout the campaign, so you can’t unlock much of the total tech tree in a given playthrough and must therefore choose your upgrades carefully. Naturally, the most tactically transformative technologies, like tanks, require a ton of points so they represent several turns’ worth of investment, which has a huge opportunity cost. However, if you only take the low-hanging fruit, you run the risk of having a generalist army with no particular advantage in any area.

Supply is really the heart of The Great War, a catch-all resource that stands in for the huge demands that trench warfare imposed on the combatants, from stocks of artillery shells to the additional military infrastructure required to maintain large numbers of soldiers in striking distance of the front. The clever thing The Great War has done is it has created two sources of supply, one “free” and one very, very expensive. The free supply source is your units themselves: each infantry corps, for instance, brings about 180 supply into each tactical battle. That isn’t very much: placing a single span of advanced, concrete-reinforced entrenchments on the tactical map might cost 50 supply. The more units you pack into a hex, the more supply you will have available for goodies like artillery and fortifications, so a large stack of units has way more defensive and offensive flexibility, but that also means leaving other sections of your line more vulnerable. This is where global supply comes in.

On the strategic level you have a global supply value that is shared across the entire front. Say you have a total of 1,000 global supply. That means that if someone attacks a weakly held section of your front, you could potentially still dump a ton of defensive firepower into that space to moot whatever numbers advantage the enemy has. Here’s the catch: your global supply has to be purchased with money, which is the same resource you are charged to replenish lost units in combat. A single turn of intense combat might cost you several thousand gold, which is bad news considering your base income is 1,000 per turn. Furthermore, you have to build depots in order to allow territories access to a larger share of your global supply. If you don’t have any depots, you’ll only get a few hundred extra supply points regardless of how many supplies you might be hoarding, which likewise means getting only a fraction of the flexibility that extra supply could provide.

A planning screeen in Great War Western Front showing white outlines for proposed trench and equipment locations.

These concerns feature prominently in the tactical layer. Every trench, weapon emplacement, fire mission, and additional infantry company has a cost in supply and once you have depleted your supply for a battle, that is it. You just have to make do with whatever you have on the map. However, as these battles go on and consume more supply as reinforcements are summoned and artillery is called-down on enemy targets, and as your units suffer losses, those expenditures are going to be felt on the strategic map. So if you have an attack stalling partway through an enemy trench network, is it worth pouring in a ton of extra troops and firepower to maybe carry the day, or should you bide your resources and look for an easier battle down the road?

It’s not hard to read your tactical situation during these battles. You and your opponent can only have 30 units on the battlefield at a time but as units are cut down in combat you order fresh replacements into the meat-grinder. Artillery suppresses targets, making it impossible for machine guns or soldiers in a trench to fire on approaching enemies, which is why have multiple lines of trenches becomes so important. If the soldiers at the front can’t get any shots off, soldiers behind can open fire on approaching enemies. Obviously, the more artillery you have the wider an area you can suppress but that consumes a lot of supply. When tanks show up they have an incredible ability to smash through trench lines, but if they are not supported, they will get bogged down in the middle of the enemy trench network and slowly chipped to nothing. When bombers are researched, they can inflict devastation on enemy artillery but they are expensive and vulnerable to fighters so, again, their benefits come at a cost.

Sometimes, The Great War sits closer to tedium than fun as battles can devolve into spamming artillery barrages and infantry assaults into the same territory, on the same maps, over and over again, and the too-short soundtrack more than wears out its welcome sometimes in the space of a single battle. Building trench networks is fun, but a good defensive battle can sometimes feel like a mediocre tower defense game as waves of enemies get pulverized by the same array of defenses again and again. On the attack, despite all the new technologies you get access to, it rarely feels like your tools and tactics change very much. This is a game where you attack in waves no matter what, and whether those waves are comprised of nothing but rifelmen in the early war or involve tanks and trench raiders later in the war, the tactics don’t feel substantially different. You have a few more units to micro, but overall battles with starkly different weapons and units don’t feel as different as I want them to.

Infantry advance across a colorful grassy landscape as they cross a railroad line while puffs of dirty smoke indicate artillery falling nearby.

But for the most part its core concepts work: cracking enemy trench lines or defending your own naturally involves a lot of brute-force attrition but the more I played the more I realized how the game punishes tunnel-vision and impatience. I was shocked the first time, midway through an attack churning toward the final enemy control point, they launched a massive assault on my own lines and stormed through my own control points and artillery park before I could react. I’d let myself get my whole army bottled up with a small force of defenders while the AI built up a counterattacking deathball beyond my vision. I wish it was similarly smart in how it supports units like tanks and bombers, but it can still put up a good fight.

Still, The Great War’s presentation lacks the grandeur its subject matter desperately needs. While it’s certainly neat to see the green and forested battlefields of the early game churned into scorched and scarred webs of crumbling entrenchments and thickets of old barbed wire, there’s very little in the way of animations and sound effects that really bring the battles to life, despite the fact that it causes every fan on my computer to spin so hard I expect the thing to start levitating my desk. That it plays like an old Flash game or a 90s wargame is one of its great charms, but the fact it also looks and sounds like one of those can’t help but be disappointing.

Whatever their spectacle and however hot they make your PC run, the chief impact of these battles is the way they move each side’s “national will” up or down. This is the real win condition of The Great War: Western Front. As soon as one side has lost belief that a victory is possible, the game is over. So you may find yourself launching attacks against easy targets not because they will yield any important ground, but simply because you need to put a few more points of National Will on the board. Whether this is an accurate rendering of strategic dynamics of World War I is debatable, but it serves to make the game into a good tug-of- war that goes all the way down to the wire. I won my first game with 8 National Will points remaining out of the 700 I’d had to start, having launched a desperate series of attacks at the end of 1918 to put Germany behind in the score.

The Great War: Western Front is a small game about a big topic that uses clever abstractions to keep things simple to understand and quick to play. It achieves a lot with a couple good ideas, but as the game goes on and it attempts to show how the war evolved even as its stalemate persisted, it needs more ideas and better execution than it brings to the table. Implying more evolution and development than it truly depicts, The Great War: Western Front ends up being a pleasant and convenient wargame but falls short of being a great one.

Categories: Tech News

Denmark to Retrieve Mysterious Object Found at Nord Stream Site

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 03/27/2023 - 06:00

Danish authorities have posted a photo of a mysterious object directly next to the Nord Stream pipeline in the Baltic Sea. According to a notice posted by the Danish Energy Agency, the object is about 15 inches tall and just under 4 inches in diameter. “It is possible that the object is a maritime smoke buoy,” the press release stated, adding that Denmark would recover the object.

“Relevant Danish authorities have examined the object that has been observed by the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the Baltic Sea. It remains the assessment that the object does not pose an immediate safety risk,” the agency said in a statement. “With a view to further clarifying the nature of the object, Danish authorities have decided to salvage the object with assistance from the Danish Defence. The Danish Energy Agency has in that context invited the owner of the pipeline, Nord Stream 2 AG, to participate in the operation.”

The Nord Stream pipelines were a pair of gas pipes connecting Russia to Europe. Russia’s state-owned Gazprom gas company is the majority owner of the pipelines. On September 26, 2022 both pipes started spewing gas into the Baltic Sea. Sabotage is suspected and likely but who blew the pipelines is less clear.

Earlier this month, Putin told journalists that a Gazprom ship had found an object 19 miles from the explosion site. "Experts believe that this could be an antenna to receive a signal to detonate an explosive device," he said.

Russia has implied that the United States carried on the attack with the goal of cutting off Russian gas supplies to Europe. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has reported that President Biden ordered the destruction of the pipeline, although the story is unconfirmed and was flatly denied by the White House. U.S. intelligence sources have claimed that the attackers were likely Ukrainian nationalists working independently of Kyiv. Sweden, Denmark and Germany are conducting an investigation into the pipeline and cautioned against believing either the U.S. or Russia until it has finished.

Denmark said it would wait to hear from the Nord Stream energy company before it pulled the strange cylinder from the seabed.

Categories: Tech News

Here is the FBI’s Contract to Buy Mass Internet Data

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 03/27/2023 - 06:00

The Federal Bureau of Investigation paid tens of thousands of dollars on internet data, known as “netflow” data, collected in bulk by a private company, according to internal FBI documents obtained by Motherboard.

The documents provide more insight into the often overlooked trade of internet data. Motherboard has previously reported the U.S. Army’s and FBI’s purchase of such data. These new documents show the purchase was for the FBI’s Cyber Division, which investigates hackers in the worlds of cybercrime and national security.

“Commercially provided net flow information/data—2 months of service,” the internal document reads. Motherboard obtained the file through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the FBI.

Do you work at a company that handles netflow data? Do you work at an ISP distributing that data? Or do you know anything else about the trade or use of netflow data? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, or email

Netflow data creates a picture of traffic volume and flow across a network. This can include which server communicated with another, information that is ordinarily only available to the owner of the server or to the internet service provider (ISP) carrying the traffic. Team Cymru, the company ultimately selling this data to the FBI, obtains it from deals with ISPs by offering them threat intelligence in return. These deals are likely conducted without the informed consent of ISPs’ users.

Team Cymru explicitly markets its product’s capability of being able to track traffic through virtual private networks, and show which server traffic is originating from. Multiple sources previously told Motherboard that netflow data can be used to identify infrastructure used by hackers.

Team Cymru’s products can also include data such as URLs visited, cookies, and PCAP data, but the FBI document does not specify access to any of these data types. In parallel to Motherboard’s earlier coverage of netflow sales of U.S. agencies, a whistleblower approached the officer of Senator Ron Wyden and reported to them the alleged warrantless use of this data by NCIS, a civilian law enforcement agency that’s part of the Navy. The whistleblower approached Wyden’s office after filing a complaint through the official reporting process with the Department of Defense. NCIS previously told Motherboard it uses netflow data “for various counterintelligence purposes.”

“Last fall I asked the DOJ Inspector General to investigate the FBI’s purchase of metadata, after a whistleblower came forward,” Wyden told Motherboard in a statement last week. Responding to the newly uncovered FBI document, Wyden said it “provides further evidence the FBI has purchased internet metadata, which can reveal the websites Americans visit, as well as sensitive information such as what doctor a person sees, their religion or what dating sites they use.”

“The FBI owes the American people an explanation of what data it has purchased about Americans’ internet browsing histories and provide more transparency about its activities. It is not acceptable for the government to go around the courts by using a credit card to buy private information, which is why I have proposed the Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act to ban the purchase of this kind of private data,” the statement added.

The FBI declined to comment.

The FBI document relates to a $76,450 purchase of netflow data in 2017. The FBI has also bought products from Argonne Ridge Group, the affiliate Team Cymru uses for contracts with public agencies, in 2009, 2011, and 2013. 

Team Cymru did not respond to a request for comment.

After Motherboard reported the U.S. Army and other purchases of Team Cymru data, the Tor Project, the organization behind the Tor anonymity network, said it was moving away from infrastructure that Team Cymru had donated. The Tor Project told Motherboard it expects that migration to be completed this Spring.

The FBI has bought other types of data from the commercial sector. Earlier this month, FBI Director Christopher Wray confirmed in a hearing that the FBI previously purchased American’s smartphone location data. The purchase was part of a national security pilot project which has not been active for some time, Wray said.

“We do not currently purchase commercial database information,” Wray said.

Subscribe to our cybersecurity podcast, CYBER. Subscribe to our new Twitch channel.

Categories: Tech News

Species-Ending Asteroids Hit Earth More Often That We Realized, NASA Research Suggests

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 03/27/2023 - 06:00

Apart from humanity’s apparent determination to destroy our planet via climate change, the greatest threat to Earth’s survival is whether or not an asteroid will crash land on its surface. Historically, scientists have believed that species-ending asteroid impacts —like the one that took out the dinosaurs— have been extremely rare. Now, a new study is suggesting that might not be true.

Using extremely high-resolution satellite data and techniques used to uncover asteroid craters on Mars, a team of researchers led by NASA Goddard’s Chief Scientist, James Garvin, have reported that four of Earth’s asteroid impact craters may be more than twice the diameter of established measurements. This finding would suggest that serious impacts occur more frequently—and more recently—than we realized. 

“If these four known features…are all around 30 kilometers in diameter and not 10 or 12 kilometers, then the energies that were released would become 400- 500,000 megaton explosions,” Garvin told Motherboard. “Bigger than all the volcanic activity in the last million years.” 

To form this hypothesis, Garvin and colleagues used high resolution satellite data from the company Planet and height data measured by NASA’s laser satellites, GEDI and IceSat-2, to look through tree cover at sites like Pantasma in Nicaragua and create four-meter resolution maps of the crater area. An algorithm originally designed to find craters on Mars then analyzed the maps for circular patterns that may represent the edge of the impact crater. 

For four of the sites they analyzed, the algorithm predicted larger diameters for the impact craters than established numbers.

The findings were presented by Garvin at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas but he anticipates a longer paper on the work may be coming down the pipeline sometime closer to the end of 2023.

These explosions wouldn’t necessarily be on the level of dinosaur extinction, but they’d be enough to affect the climate after their impact and even cause small scale extinctions, Garvin told Science. This would be a big upset to how we understand Earth’s resilience to energetic explosions like these impacts and studying those dynamics would be an important precursor to better understanding “the sustainability of aspects of life on Earth,” Garvin said.

However, both Garvin and other experts in the field of near Earth object impacts and planetary science agree that this whole scenario is a big “if.” 

Masatoshi Hirabayashi is an associate professor of aerospace engineering at Auburn University and worked on NASA’s recent DART mission to explore planetary defense techniques against potential asteroids. He told Motherboard in an email that Earth’s history of erosion makes these types of measurements very difficult.

“I want to be cautious about the results,” Hirabayashi said. “I also count craters on planetary bodies; it is challenging to identify craters on high confidence levels, particularly when they are highly eroded. I may suggest more data to support this claim.”

A number of other planetary scientists have also voiced skepticism about these results, which Garvin welcomes with open arms. 

“I appreciate the skepticism because I’m [also] skeptical,” Garvin said. “I think this work is worthy as a catalyst… to get the community to think about this and compare it to other planets.” 

In short, the jury is very much still out and Garvin agrees that further study, including field work to visit these new predicted boundaries and studies of the climate record to see if these big energy events appear, will be necessary to come to more confident conclusions. 

As for what these predictions could mean for Earth’s future risk from similar high-energy impacts, Garvin and Hirabayashi agree that it’s not going to change much. 

“This study does not affect Earth's future risk of being hit by an asteroid making similar sized craters,” Hirabayashi said. “Small bodies larger than 100 m in diameter are well cataloged [and] the craters argued by Garvin et al. were likely formed by hypervelocity impacts of small bodies much larger than that size. By this, the impact risk in the near future is very low.” 

Categories: Tech News

CYBER: Why Does Congress Want to Ban TikTok?

Motherboard (Vice) - Mon, 03/27/2023 - 06:00

America is thinking about banning the most popular social media app in the world. TikTok has exploded in the past few years and whether you love it or hate it, you can’t deny its huge influence.

Legislators in America are concerned about that influence, especially because of TikTok’s connections to China. On Thursday, TikTok’s CEO testified before the House’s Committee on Energy and Commerce and fielded questions about the app, its connection to China, and what it might be doing to America’s children.

It was a shitshow.

Motherboard’s Social Media Manager, Emily Lipstein, is on this episode of Cyber talking about.


Stories discussed in this episode:

Congress Shocked to Discover 10 Year Olds Check the ‘I’m Over 18’ Box Online

Banning TikTok Is Unconstitutional, Ludicrous, and a National Embarrassment

Follow Motherboard on TikTok to see the Congressional footage

We’re recording CYBER live on Twitch and YouTube. Watch live during the week. Follow us there to get alerts when we go live. We take questions from the audience and yours might just end up on the show. 

Subscribe to CYBER on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Categories: Tech News

Android app from China executed 0-day exploit on millions of devices

ARS Technica - Mon, 03/27/2023 - 05:31
Android app from China executed 0-day exploit on millions of devices

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Android apps digitally signed by China’s third-biggest e-commerce company exploited a zero-day vulnerability that allowed them to surreptitiously take control of millions of end-user devices to steal personal data and install malicious apps, researchers from security firm Lookout have confirmed.

The malicious versions of the Pinduoduo app were available in third-party markets, which users in China and elsewhere rely on because the official Google Play market is off-limits or not easy to access. No malicious versions were found in Play or Apple’s App Store. Last Monday, TechCrunch reported, Pinduoduo was pulled from Play after Google discovered a malicious version of the app available elsewhere. TechCrunch reported the malicious apps available in third-party markets exploited several zero-days, which are vulnerabilities that are known or exploited before a vendor has a patch available.

Sophisticated attack

A preliminary analysis by Lookout found that at least two off-Play versions of Pinduoduo for Android exploited CVE-2023-20963, the tracking number for an Android vulnerability Google patched in updates that became available to end users two weeks ago. This privilege-escalation flaw, which was exploited prior to Google’s disclosure, allowed the app to perform operations with elevated privileges. The app used these privileges to download code from a developer-designated site and run it within a privileged environment.

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The most bizarre online replacement items in your delivered shopping?

The Register - Mon, 03/27/2023 - 05:31
The consumer campaign group's food hall of shame: sticky tape instead of loo rolls, dog chews for chicken breasts

What’s on your lunchtime menu today? For some poor sucker it might be toilet paper that provides the wrapping for their sandwich, or perhaps a dog chew instead of that tender grilled chicken breast they’d hoped for.…

Categories: Tech News