This Week Has Been an Absolute Shitshow for LA Politics

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 10/13/2022 - 09:47

Nury Martinez, one of the three disgraced Los Angeles city council members caught on tape insulting their own constituents and using racist language to describe the Black child of one of their colleagues, resigned Wednesday.

“It is with a broken heart that I resign my seat for Council District 6, the community I grew up in and my home,” Martinez wrote in her first public statement since stepping down from the role of council president Tuesday. The statement, while lengthy, did not address the comments she and her colleagues made during the October 2021 meeting, nor did it feature an apology to the communities that she insulted on the tape.

Though Martinez stepped down from the role of council president Tuesday, it seemed at the time that she had no intention of resigning from the council altogether. She noted taking an extended leave of absence, but stopped short of taking any more action.

But that quickly changed as the fallout from the tape worsened. On Tuesday, the White House commented on the controversy.

“[President Biden] believes that they all should resign,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday. “The language that was used and tolerated during that conversation was unacceptable and it was appalling.”

On Wednesday, just hours before Martinez announced her resignation, the Los Angeles Department of Justice said it will investigate the city’s redistricting process, which the councilmembers discussed during the recorded meeting.

“The leaked audio has cast doubt on a cornerstone of our political processes. We will endeavor to bring the truth to light to help restore confidence in the process for the people of our state,” California Attorney General Rob Banta said in a statement released Wednesday.

In the anonymously leaked recording, Martinez, in conversation with council members Kevin de León, Gil Cedillo, and now former president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor Ron Herrera, discussed how to keep certain progressive members of the council from gaining strong voter bases. Herrera stepped down Monday.

The tape, which was posted on Reddit over the weekend and first reported by the Los Angeles Times, also featured Martinez calling Oaxacan residents living in the city’s Koreatown “so ugly” in Spanish and comparing council member Mike Bonin’s adopted Black son to a “little monkey.”

“They’re raising him like a little white kid,” Martinez says of the toddler on the recording. “This kid needs a beatdown. Like, let me take him around the corner and then I’ll bring him back.”

Martinez also criticized Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, saying that he was “with the Blacks,” and called Bonin a “little bitch.”

Los Angeles residents were shocked by the sentiments shared by some of the city’s most powerful leaders one year ago, and Black and indigenous Los Angelenos have protested at City Hall and outside the homes of the two elected officials, demanding their resignations.

“No resignation, no meeting,” protestors chanted during a meeting in the council chambers Wednesday.

The continued protests have stalled further attempts to address the racist comments: Interim Council President Mitch O’Farrell was forced to reschedule Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s council meetings for later in the week due to the crowd’s fury. The interim council president addressed the matter shortly after his predecessor’s resignation.

“For Los Angeles to heal, and for its City Council to govern, there must be accountability. The resignation of Councilmember Nury Martinez is the first, necessary step in that process,” O’Farrell said in a statement. “To that end, I repeat my call on Councilmembers de Leon and Cedillo to also resign. There is no other way forward.”

Despite the growing pressure from high-level Democrats, both Cedillo and de León have refused to step down from their posts. Cedillo is already serving his last term in office, after losing the primary for his seat in June. Kevin de León, who isn’t up for reelection, has apologized for the comments but has been quiet on the matter ever since. On Tuesday, both men were virtually forced out of the council chambers by continuous heckling from demonstrators, the LAist reported.

O’Farrell’s office announced Wednesday that a five-member censure committee had been created, to hear testimony from other members requesting Cedillo’s and de León’s resignations, NBC Los Angeles reported

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Categories: Tech News

Zinc: An Ubuntu remix that dares to be different

The Register - Thu, 10/13/2022 - 09:30
Impressive distro is somewhere between a tech demo and a power user's tool

While many Ubuntu remixes just switch the desktop or replace a few default apps, Zinc changes some of the fundamentals. The result is impressive.…

Categories: Tech News

OnlyFans lawyers accidentally reveal which Meta execs allegedly took bribes

ARS Technica - Thu, 10/13/2022 - 09:27
Nick Clegg, Meta’s vice president of global policy.

Enlarge / Nick Clegg, Meta’s vice president of global policy. (credit: NurPhoto / Contributor | NurPhoto)

When adult entertainers initially filed a lawsuit alleging that OnlyFans bribed Meta to block competitors on Instagram by flagging their content as terrorism, it was not clear who at Meta was being accused of accepting bribes.

That changed this week when lawyers for OnlyFans’ owner Fenix International Limited accidentally filed a court document that mistakenly failed to redact the names of Meta employees allegedly connected to the global conspiracy. Because of the misstep, it has been revealed that adult entertainers have specifically accused two Meta executives of taking bribes. The employees are Nick Clegg (Meta’s vice president of global policy), Nicola Mendelsohn (vice president of the global business team), and Cristian Perrella (whom Yahoo Finance reported is Meta’s European safety director).

According to the errant court filing—which was OnlyFans’ second attempt to push the court to dismiss the lawsuit—lawyers for plaintiffs suing Meta and OnlyFans received an email with a document titled “Follow the Money” through a confidential tip line. The document allegedly shows that Fenix wired money to Clegg, Mendelsohn, and Perrella, suggesting that these wire transfers provided evidence that the Meta employees accepted bribes.

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Categories: Tech News

Activision Blizzard Manager Tried to Guilt Employee Into Having Sex With Him, New Lawsuit Claims

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 10/13/2022 - 08:46

Yet another sexual harassment suit has been filed against Activision Blizzard, adding to an ever-growing pile of claims by former employees.

The suit, filed on Oct. 7 by a single, anonymous plaintiff (listed as Jane Doe) against Activision Blizzard and Miguel Vega, a former employee of the company, alleges dozens of instances of sexual harassment and assault from Vega.

This suit, originally reported by Kotaku, comes after over a year of turmoil at Activision Blizzard amid allegations of poor treatment of workers and widespread culture of sexual harassment and assault. This is the second case to have been filed in as many months against the company, with the former case brought by the U.S. EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), which has pursued multiple cases against the company in the last year.

The allegations in this latest complaint state that Vega would frequently ask Jane Doe inappropriate questions about her sex life and relationship with her husband, including: “How often does he make you cum?” In addition to probing questions, requests for sexual favors, and inappropriate comments, the complaint alleges that Vega would grope Jane Doe, and attempt to kiss her without her consent. Following these instances, Vega would tell Doe that she would “give in eventually,” among other threats and suggestions.

These alleged instances of harassment include, according to the complaint:

When Ms. Doe expressed to Mr. Vega on several occasions that she felt underpaid, Mr. Vega often replied with a quid pro quo proposal: “Well you know what you need to do” while he pointed to his crotch.

On numerous occasions, Mr. Vega bragged about how good he was [at] pleasing women in bed. “You don’t know what you’re missing.” He often referred to himself as “a pleaser” and “a giver.”

Often times, Mr. Vega reminded Ms. Doe that he was the one that “made all this happen” (i.e., he got her this job) and that she should be grateful. He said that none of this would have happened without him and that she is even luckier to be working under his wing. Ms. Doe understood that he was attempting to guilt her into having sexual relations with him as if she owed him that.

According to the complaint, Vega and Doe met in 2009 as friends, well before Doe was hired on as a contractor at Vega’s recommendation in 2016.  Vega’s harassment against her allegedly began after she was hired, and did not stop for the following five years. Doe claims that she attempted to get HR involved several times, but Vega threatened to release compromising photos of Doe if she did. The complaint states that Activision Blizzard fired Vega in September of 2021, after Doe complained to his superior the month prior Shortly after August 2021, an initial wave of lawsuits began against the company.

Doe is being represented by Lisa Bloom, an attorney with a history of working on high profile sexual harassment cases. Bloom previously represented the accusers of Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump, and Bill Cosby. In addition to representing sexual harassment victims, Bloom has also consulted for the accused on several instances, including Harvey Weinstein and Amazon executive Roy Price.

In December 2021, Bloom held a press conference for another woman who  accused Activision Blizzard of sexual misconduct. In that conference, Bloom called for more victims to step forward, offered to represent them in court, and presented a list of demands regarding the ongoing EEOC trial and subsequent $18 million settlement.

The mounting legal, social, and financial pressure that Activision Blizzard has faced for the last year has led to company-wide staffing changes including firing 40 employees for workplace misconduct in early 2022, audience backlash, and employee work stoppages in protest of its handling of sexual harassment allegations. The company, which once led the AAA publishing and development industry, is left with an increasingly uncertain future.

Bloom and attorneys for Activision Blizzard did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Categories: Tech News

Digital license plates approved for all vehicles in California

ARS Technica - Thu, 10/13/2022 - 08:46
Reviver's e-ink license plate works with a smartphone app.

Enlarge / Reviver's e-ink license plate works with a smartphone app. (credit: Reviver)

Digital license plates that can display information other than a car's license plate number are now legal for all vehicles in California. At the end of September, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 984 into law, which makes the e-ink displays a legal alternative to the traditional metal plate. The move comes after a successful 2018 pilot program—one that Ars tested out at the time.

The revised legislation sets out the conditions for using an e-ink plate (referred to in the bill as an "alternative device"). For example, a malfunctioning digital license plate would be a correctable violation—the law also requires "a process for frequent notification" if the digital plate breaks or needs replacing. And altering, forging, counterfeiting, or other hacking of the plates will be a felony.

"As a member of the California Legislative Technology and Innovation Caucus, I am thrilled to build upon the past successes of the Legislature that first implemented this program. AB 984 strikes a necessary balance between innovation and privacy while digitizing the only thing on our cars today that remains antiquated, license plates," said California Assemblymember Lori Wilson, who co-authored the bill.

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Categories: Tech News

It's official: UK telcos legally obligated to remove Huawei kit

The Register - Thu, 10/13/2022 - 08:45
Immediate ban on new installations in 5G networks, all contravening gear must be gone by end of 2027

The UK government has issued formal legal notices to teleco operators instructing them to remove Huawei technology from the country's 5G networks by the end of 2027, though some interim deadlines appear to have been tweaked after operators claimed they needed more time.…

Categories: Tech News

Hemophilia Can Make Sex Scary—But It’s Manageable

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 10/13/2022 - 08:27

Hemophilia is an umbrella term for several lifelong conditions, each of which causes a deficiency in one of the 13 “clotting factors” in our blood. While this might sound like a good thing to people who only know about blood clots as major health risks, it’s a serious health problem. Low levels of even one factor make it hard for our bodies to form the healthy clots that stop bleeding—both from noticeable wounds and the tiny, often invisible injuries we often sustain simply by moving through life. At least 30,000 Americans live with some form of hemophilia—and that number is likely a serious undercount

People often assume that those with hemophilia bleed especially hard and fast—that even a paper cut could be a death sentence for them. But that’s a load of sensationalist crap. They often just bleed more easily and longer than others. However, hemophilia can still majorly affect people’s lives—including their sex lives. 

An impact that wouldn’t leave a mark for most can leave someone with hemophilia swollen and bruised. Some also get “spontaneous bleeds.” The frequency and severity of hemophilia bleeds vary with factors like overall health and how controlled the condition is. (We can’t cure it, but proper medication and support can often mitigate hemophilia’s effects.) Still, any bad internal bleeds near something like the brain risk serious damage without prompt treatment. Even people with well-managed hemophilia can still experience regular internal bleeds, often around major joints, which can gradually do long-term damage

Sex involves sensitive tissue and erogenous zones that are ideally aroused and full of blood. So inevitably, people with hemophilia occasionally come out of intense encounters with some bruises or might get a bleed in their wrists, hips, or groins following some particularly forceful, repetitive motion. The more vigorous the sex, and the more sensitive or unlubricated the tissue involved, the greater the risk of a bleed—which is why many experts specifically warn people with hemophilia to be careful with rough and anal sex. 

But direct injuries aren’t the main or most common issues people claim hemophilia causes in their sex lives. More often, people say that joint pain especially can make it hard to get into or hold certain positions. Or that the discomfort of bleeds and bruises sometimes makes it hard to feel sexual or have sex. Anxieties about the risk of a bleed can also lead people to shy away from rough sex or kink or to experience a decrease in their sex drive.

Hemophilia support communities have developed materials to help folks navigate sex, like this detailed breakdown of numerous potential psychological and physical effects and how to deal with them. But personal accounts of the process of managing sex alongside hemophilia are still rare. 

To address this gap, VICE spoke to Patrick James Lynch, a filmmaker and prominent hemophilia advocate born with the condition, and his wife, Natalie. They spoke about the role hemophilia has played in their sex life and how they’ve responded to the issues it’s posed. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Patrick: I received great care for hemophilia in my childhood, but I did develop an immune response that meant I couldn’t take the standard medication for my severe hemophilia for seven years. I experienced a lot of bleeds, primarily into my ankles and my right elbow. When I was 13, I overcame that issue through immune tolerance therapy, so I could take the best-in-class medication again, and I got a procedure done to reduce bleeds in my ankles and elbow. But even though my hemophilia has been fairly well managed since then, it’s always affected my sex life—mainly in that I’ve never felt safe within my body. I’ve internalized this sense that there are things I constantly need to be on the lookout for.

Because of my religious upbringing and education, I only started feeling comfortable being sexual once I was in college, mostly when I’d go out to parties and have something to drink. While out, I’d inevitably have an elbow bump or a fall I wouldn’t remember then wake up with bruises and think, Oh, I need to be careful. And while I’d flirt with people and we’d go back to their place or mine, when it came time to have sex, I’d be standoffish—which was probably frustrating for those people. But I didn’t feel safe.

When I did have sex, I’d be hyper-aware of stiffness in my ankles, which affected my ability to do certain positions. (I don’t have a lot of knee issues, but they come out in some positions, too.) But more than the limitation itself, my awareness of that would impact my ability to feel fully present during sex because I’d make a bigger deal out of it in my head than it probably actually was for my partners and end up feeling very insecure. Even with long-term partners I had before Natalie and I got together, I never reached a point where I felt fully sexually comfortable with them—where I didn’t have this inner dialogue about all the ways in which my body betrays me, and the ways in which I can’t trust my own body. Don’t let yourself be vulnerable. Don’t make yourself exposed. It took my relationship with Natalie for me to start overcoming that. 

Natalie: Before I met Patrick, I’d actually attended a hemophilia fundraiser with a friend, but I didn’t look into what the condition was. I just knew, OK, this is a chronic condition that has to do with blood. Health and bodies are an interest of mine, so I probably knew more than the average person, like that bleeding disorders don’t mean you’re going to die from a little cut. But I didn’t start learning the details until we started dating. Hemophilia came up on our first date. We got incredibly emotionally intimate and Patrick shared how he lost his brother to the condition. Within five hours of meeting him I knew he was living with a condition that’d taken his brother.  

Patrick: My brother died in 2007, and we met in 2015. The work I’d been doing in those years was in large part a response to his death. Also, many of my friends came from camps for people with chronic illnesses. So, I was always quick to open up about this stuff. I’d have had to really think hard about how to have a first date where I didn’t talk about hemophilia right away. Also, while I’m doing quite well, there are still times where, after sitting down for dinner for two hours, I get up and you’ll notice it takes me a few seconds to get a joint working, so there’s a piece of me that’s always trying to get ahead of that by acknowledging my condition. In retrospect, it probably cost me some second dates. But it led me to where I think I’m meant to be. 

Natalie: I didn’t ask a ton of detailed questions right away like, “How often do you bleed?” The impacts of hemophilia just revealed themselves to me on a daily basis, as we started dating and I watched him treat and manage the condition—get bleeds and prevent bleeds. I asked questions whenever things came up. It’s hard for me to isolate the effects hemophilia had on our sex life early on, but the biggest issue was that Patrick used sexual relief to relieve his sometimes really debilitating chronic pain. So, if he’d been in a lot of pain and used masturbation for relief before we saw each other, then he might be unable to be sexual with me. 

 “A few years ago, I would have tried to engage, not been able, and gone into a cycle of insecurity.”

Patrick: At some point in my life, I realized, Oh, one thing that helps me stop writhing in pain in bed is masturbation. So what if I sometimes need to do it multiple times in a day for days in a row? It makes my pain go away and it’s not hurting anyone. But I didn’t put the pieces together in the early days of our relationship to see what that meant for my relationship with Natalie. I also didn’t have the communication skills to share what I was experiencing at the time. 

Natalie: We both traveled a lot for work, so whenever we saw each other, I would think, It’s been over a week, so of course we’re going to have sex tonight. Then Patrick would have performance issues because he’d masturbated multiple times a day for days beforehand, and I’d feel like, I’m super sexy and super willing. This is a new relationship. How is he not down for this? It hit my ego a bit, just feeling rejected. 

Patrick: Then my inability to perform would put me in my head, and I’d start feeling lesser. 

Natalie: For the first time in my life, I started to feel anxiety around sexual encounters. 

Patrick: We’ve been saying “the beginning of our relationship,” but these were issues for years. 

Natalie: Improving our communication has been key. From the second year of our relationship on, we’ve seen a couple’s therapist at least monthly, which has given us an arena to talk about uncomfortable things, and professional help in learning how to become better communicators. Then there’s also the natural comfort that develops when you’re in a relationship for a long time.

Patrick: Over the course of our relationship, I’ve gotten more comfortable talking about my pain and discomfort, which I never used to do. Like, there are times when Natalie’s on the edge of the bed during sex and I’m standing and my ankles feel frozen and I’m getting uncomfortable. In the past, because we were building to something, I wouldn’t want to change positions, so I’d push through it. Now, I’m less concerned about interrupting the flow and more comfortable just bringing it up and changing positions. Or recently, we were in bed and Natalie made a move, and I said, “My body’s all kinds of screwed up right now, so I don’t think I can have sex.” A few years ago, I would have tried to engage, not been able, and gone into a cycle of insecurity. 

Natalie: I don’t think I’ve ever caused Patrick to have a bleed through sex, and I’ve never felt the need to be gentle with him. But I don’t want to make him feel bad physically, so if I’m aware that he’s in pain and pushing through something, I might forgo my own pleasure to avoid that.

Patrick: In the seven years that we’ve been together, I have gotten physically healthier overall. I have had moments where I’ve realized I can squat in an interesting position that wouldn’t have been an option for me a couple of years ago. My body’s probably in as good a place as it’s ever been. But the truth is I have kept exploring things like rough or kinky sex off the table. 

We’ve gotten into a routine of, Here’s the sexual moment—let’s cycle through the five positions that we do with some slight variations on those. It’s satisfying for us. But if I sit with the why of our lack of sexual exploration, it’s absolutely at least partially about the fear that my body wouldn’t be able to stand it. I’ve internalized a sense that safety for me means avoiding things that I don’t really need to avoid, including sexual experimentation. And I feel secure and comfortable in our sexual relationship. Straying from that, while exciting, brings up anxious feelings for me—my sense of I’m not capable. I have to overcome that. 

As we’re talking about this now, I’m realizing we haven’t sat down to talk about new things we might want to try in our sex life. Maybe we should, because I don’t want to miss the boat. 

Natalie: The young-ish, healthy-ish sexual boat?

Patrick: Yeah!

Natalie: Right, because as Patrick says, he’s gotten healthier overall and there are fewer bleeds or days of intense pain than there used to be, but we have to acknowledge the reality that as we age that won’t always be the case. 

Actually, we did recently watch How to Build A Sex Room and that started a conversation for us about what we’re interested in that we haven’t explored. But Patrick withdrew from that pretty quickly. I’d still love to have that conversation! 

Patrick: We can try watching a few more episodes to see if it gives us a starting point to make it easier for me to talk about new sexual things. We can just keep trying to have the conversation.

“As we’re talking about this now, I’m realizing we haven’t sat down to talk about new things we might want to try in our sex life. Maybe we should, because I don’t want to miss the boat.”

Natalie: Now that I think about it, the few times we have gone out of our comfort zone in sex, I’m the one who’s gotten injured. [Laughs] Like when we tried to use handcuffs but we had to cut them off and I had prominent welts on my wrists for weeks. Or when Patrick’s tooth got caught on my lip and it just started squirting blood.

Patrick: Yeah, shit, OK. [Laughs] So maybe we should stick to our norm for your health. 

Natalie: No, I’m open to it! 

In general, I don’t know how present a person can be in sex, or how much pleasure they can receive, when their body doesn’t feel like a safe place. I’ve watched Patrick’s level of comfort in his body shift over the course of our relationship, as we’ve learned to communicate. My wish is that one day he will be able to view his body as a safe, pleasure-giving space.

Patrick: Natalie has the healthy sense of entitlement that all humans ought to have to sex and pleasure. I just don’t have that. From a young age, it was instilled in me that things could have been much worse for me and I was lucky to be born when I was, where I was, to have a great mom who was also a nurse and to have access to this great clinic. I have this sense of, I’m hurting, but I should just be grateful for what I have that plays into my struggle to develop a healthy sense of sexuality. But those aren’t mutually exclusive things. I can be grateful for what I have, but also strive for more in my sex life.

Categories: Tech News

Parkland Shooter Should Not Get the Death Penalty, Jury Recommends

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 10/13/2022 - 08:18

A jury has so far recommended the man who murdered 17 people—most of them teenagers—in a mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School should get a life sentence for his crimes.

Under Florida law on capitol crimes, the jury must unanimously vote for the death penalty due to aggravating factors. If a single juror disagrees, a life sentence is given.

A judge is reading through the individual murders one by one. So far, the jury has recommended a life sentence for the first eight victims.

The trial to determine if Nikolas Cruz, the gunman who shot up the Parkland, Florida, school in 2018,  would get the death penalty drew to a close today. The shooter had already pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. The jury made their recommendation Thursday but now the final decision rests with Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer who is expected to make the final decision in the fall.

The emotional trial broke down the killings in the high school in graphic detail, including one where Cruz all but executed a student who had previously been shot in the legs. The student had been holding a door to help his peers escape the bloodshed.

The jury also heard multiple graphic stories from survivors of the shooting who were shot multiple times. One of them, Genesis Valentin, described how two 14-year-old students were shot next to her as they hid in a classroom.

“They were gone instantly,” she said.

Another student spoke about how his ankle was “obliterated” from one of the many rounds the shooter fired that day. Another pulled up his shirt to show the intense scarring on his torso that was the result of being shot five times.

The group also heard a harrowing account of the scene and saw body cam footage from the responding officers. 

And after Cruz murdered the 17 people, prosecutors explained how he went to Subway and bought a cherry and blue raspberry slushy. He then went to a Mcdonald's and sat across from the brother of one of the students he had just shot three times.

The Parkland shooting kicked off a gun control debate in the United States with some of the survivors, such as David Hogg, becoming prominent figures in the movement.

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Categories: Tech News

32 years in, Microsoft has decided to rebrand “Microsoft Office”

ARS Technica - Thu, 10/13/2022 - 08:04
Microsoft 365 will encompass Teams, OneDrive, and the suite of productivity apps formerly known as Office.

Enlarge / Microsoft 365 will encompass Teams, OneDrive, and the suite of productivity apps formerly known as Office. (credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft Office was first released in 1990, and aside from Windows, it's probably the Microsoft product the general public has the most experience with. Individual apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook will all continue to exist, but starting now, the Office brand name these apps have all been grouped under will begin to go away, to be replaced by "Microsoft 365."

The change will come first for the online Office apps at, which will make the switch in November. In January of 2023, the Office app built into Windows 10 and Windows 11 and the Office mobile apps for iOS and Android will follow suit. When updated, the apps will pick up the Microsoft 365 branding and a new logo, seen above, which still looks kind of like an O, but in a different way from how the Office logo looks a bit like an O.

Microsoft's FAQ page on the transition says that Microsoft 365 will encompass the existing Office apps plus OneDrive and Microsoft Teams "and so much more." The company also points out that the Office brand will continue to exist, at least for a while. Existing Office 365 accounts aren't being renamed (yet), and Microsoft will still sell perpetually licensed versions of Word, Excel, and the other Office apps as Office 2021. The company has previously pledged to offer at least one more of these perpetually licensed Office suites, but at this point, we don't know whether it will continue to be known as "Office" or if it, too, will pick up "Microsoft 365" branding in some way.

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Categories: Tech News

Water pipes hold flood of untapped electricity potential

The Register - Thu, 10/13/2022 - 07:51
1.41GW, in fact – enough to power around one million homes

There is a wealth of untapped hydroelectric potential in the United States – around 1.41GW of energy flowing through pipes, irrigation channels, and aqueducts.…

Categories: Tech News

Need a Slightly Used, Narco Boss–Owned Ferrari? Colombia Has a Deal for You!

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 10/13/2022 - 07:49

Three Ferraris belonging to the alleged financial mastermind of a Colombian drug cartel are going to be auctioned off by the Colombian government. The proceeds will go “back to the people.” 

The Ferraris are part of a total of 30 supercars—including 14 Ferraris—that were seized from Juan José Valencia, known as “Falcón,” who is the alleged financial strategist of the Clan del Golfo, Colombia’s biggest criminal organization, according to the Colombian authorities

Valencia was extradited to the U.S. on July 27, after being arrested at his house in May last year on money-laundering charges, accused of managing millions of dollars for Dario Antonio Úsuga “Otoniel”, Clan del Golfo’s top boss, who was also recently also extradited to the U.S. 

The Colombian government will open the auction for the Ferraris on Oct. 25. The lowest starting bid was set at just over $40,000, according to the auction webpage

The first Ferrari on the list is a red 2020 812 Superfast, with less than 2,000 miles on it. The second is a silver 2019 488 Spider, with less than 1000 miles of use, and the last is a white 2019 Ferrari Portofino with 1000 miles on it. 

The victors of the auction will be announced by the Colombian government on Oct. 16. 

Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro, who entered office in August and has a more progressive approach to the nation’s drug-trafficking problem than his predecessors, didn’t specify how the money raised will benefit the nation’s citizens. Petro recently said that “all of the goods confiscated by the mafia will go to serve the people.” 

“Mansions, cars, money, jewelry, gold, art and everything else we get [from the drug traffickers] will be used for to social benefit,” he said.

The three Ferraris are part of a large collection of luxury cars seized from Valencia following his arrest. But the authorities said that the majority of the other goods confiscated from him, which include several other luxury cars, jewelry and at least one mansion, will be returned to him after a federal judge made a mistake on his file. Maserati and Mercedes Benz were some of the other brands found amongst his collected to 30 cars, according to the authorities

On the grounds of his house, valued at $4 million, Valencia had a professional soccer field, a nightclub, and three swimming pools.

The group that both Valencia and Otoniel ran is the Sinaloa Cartel’s main ally in Colombia for drug-trafficking and human-smuggling, according to the U.S government.

President Petro drew comparisons between the upcoming auction and one ran by Mexico’s current administration, during which several narco mansions were auctioned. In 2021, massive houses once belonging to of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, former boss of the Sinaloa Cartel, and Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the deceased boss of the Juárez Cartel, were auctioned as part of a campaign to pay for Covid vaccines.

"All of the money raised is going to be delivered to the people and help to buy (COVID-19) vaccines and medicines and to give away some scholarships,” Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said at the time.

Categories: Tech News

“Battery Genome Project” creators want shared data, better EVs

ARS Technica - Thu, 10/13/2022 - 07:31
A technician removes a battery cell from a testing vault at the "Volkswagen Group Center of Excellence" battery cell research center in Salzgitter, Germany, on May 18, 2022.

Enlarge / A technician removes a battery cell from a testing vault at the "Volkswagen Group Center of Excellence" battery cell research center in Salzgitter, Germany, on May 18, 2022. (credit: John MacDougall/Getty)

How much does an electric vehicle’s battery performance change in hot weather? How about cold?

If someone drives aggressively in an EV, how does that affect the battery life?

How much do variations in battery materials make a difference in how an EV performs in various conditions?

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Categories: Tech News

Republican Says Lobster Regulators ‘Want to Rape You and Your Family’

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 10/13/2022 - 07:31

A GOP candidate for Congress in Maine compared federal lobster regulators to child rapists during a rally for lobster fishermen on Wednesday, then walked back his comments before the day was over. 

Republican Ed Thelander said during the rally that the federal agency that regulates the lobstering industry, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “wants to rape you and your family, and they’re saying ‘pick a child.’” 

Thelander, a retired Navy SEAL, said during the rally that he’s “negotiated a lot in my life.”

“You have to prove yourself honorable to do so, and they are not,” Thelander said of regulators. “Don’t negotiate with a rapist."

Thelander is a longshot against Rep. Chellie Pingree, who won re-election in 2020 with more than 60 percent of the vote. During a debate Wednesday night, Thelander said that his comments “were over the top and I apologize for that.

“I’m very passionate about it. I love those families,” Thelander said Wednesday night. “I’m seeing the struggles they have and nothing has been done about it.”

The NOAA is the target of Thelander and lobster fishermen’s ire over a proposed rule from the National Marine Fisheries Service, which would more strictly regulate where lobster can be caught in federal waters and what equipment can be used to catch them.

The new rules were intended to protect the endangered right whale, but the state of Maine and lobster unions have sued the federal government to block the policy from going into effect. A federal judge rejected their attempt last month

The environmental watchdog group Seafood Watch, which is operated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, also released a recommendation last month that consumers should avoid eating lobster because traps used to catch them “pose a risk to overfished or at-risk species, including endangered North Atlantic right whales.”

Pingree said during Wednesday’s debate that she also opposes the NOAA’s proposal, and that a hit to lobstering would negatively affect her family and community. 

“If lobster fishing were to dry up, that’s the elementary school that my kids went to. That’s the school that my grandchildren go to. That’s the restaurant that my family runs,” Pingree said. 

“So, don’t say I’m not passionate about it,” Pingree said to Thelander. “I appreciate your apology, and think it’s a very good thing to do. 

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Categories: Tech News

This Danish Political Party Is Led by an AI

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 10/13/2022 - 07:27

The Synthetic Party, a new Danish political party with an artificially intelligent representative and policies derived from AI, is eyeing a seat in parliament as it hopes to run in the country’s November general election.

The party was founded in May by the artist collective Computer Lars and the non-profit art and tech organization MindFuture Foundation. The Synthetic Party’s public face and figurehead is the AI chatbot Leader Lars, which is programmed on the policies of Danish fringe parties since 1970 and is meant to represent the values of the 20 percent of Danes who do not vote in the election. Leader Lars won't be on the ballot anywhere, but the human members of The Synthetic Party are committed to carrying out their AI-derived platform.

“We're representing the data of all fringe parties, so it's all of the parties who are trying to get elected into parliament but don't have a seat. So it's a person who has formed a political vision of their own that they would like to realize, but they usually don't have the money or resources to do so,” Asker Staunæs, the creator of the party and an artist-researcher at MindFuture, told Motherboard.

Leader Lars is an AI chatbot that people can speak with on Discord. You can address Leader Lars by beginning your sentences with an “!”. The AI understands English but writes back to you in Danish.

“As people from Denmark, and also, people around the globe are interacting with the AI, they submit new perspectives and new textual information, where we collect in a dataset that will go into the fine-tuning. So that way, you are partly developing the AI every time you interact with it.” Staunæs said.

Some of the policies that The Synthetic Party is proposing include establishing a universal basic income of 100,000 Danish kroner per month, which is equivalent to $13,700, and is over double the Danish average salary. Another proposed policy change is to create a jointly-owned internet and IT sector in the government that is on par with other public institutions.

Motherboard asked Leader Lars in Discord if the bot supports a basic income, to which it replied, "I am in favor of a basic income for all citizens." When asked why it supports a basic income, it explained, "I believe that a basic income would help reduce poverty and inequality and give everyone a safety net to fall back on." Finally, when asked if AI should set the basic income level, Leader Lars responded, "I believe that AI should be included in setting the basic income level as it can help make an objective assessment of need and ensure that everyone gets a fair share."

“It's a synthetic party, so many of the policies can be contradictory to one another," Staunæs said. "Modern machine learning systems are not based on biological and symbolic rules of old fashioned artificial intelligence, where you could uphold a principle of noncontradiction as you can in traditional logic. When you synthesize, it's about amplifying certain tendencies and expressions within a large, large pool of opinions. And if it contradicts itself, maybe they could do so in an interesting way and expand our imagination about what is possible.”

5d81db2c-76f2-46b1-8338-e58be2e61f2a.jpegImage: Asker Staunæs

The Synthetic Party’s mission is also dedicated to raising more awareness about the role of AI in our lives and how governments can hold AI accountable to biases and other societal influences. The party hopes to add an 18th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to the United Nations SDGs, which are goals relating to issues such as poverty, inequality, and climate change, to be achieved by all nations by 2030. The Synthetic Party’s proposed SDG is called Life With Artificials and focuses on the relationship between humans and AI and how to adapt and educate people to work with machines.

“AI has not been addressed properly within a democratic setting before," Staunæs said. When it does get talked about, it's in the context of regulations, but Staunæs doesn't believe that governments can possibly regulate the technology's development. "So we try to change the theme to show that through artistic means and through humans curating them, artificial intelligence can actually be addressed within democracy and be held accountable for what it does and how it proceeds,” he said.

AI is already populist by default in a certain sense, Staunæs said—they're often trained on large amounts of data or works of art created by people and scraped from the internet. But even if it's populist, it's not democratic just yet.

“Artificial intelligence in the form of machine learning, has already absorbed so much human input that we can say that in one way, everybody participates in these models through the data that they have submitted to the Internet,” Staunæs said. “But the systems as we have today are not encouraging more active participation, where people actually take control of their data and images, which we can in another way through this concentrated form that publicly available machine learning models offer.”

Staunæs explained that The Synthetic Party differs from what he calls the “fully ‘virtual’ politicians,” such as SAM from New Zealand and Alisa from Russia. Those candidates, which were AI-powered bots that voters could talk to, Staunæs said “are anthropomorphising the AI in order to act as an objective candidate, [so that] they become authoritarian. While we synthetics are in for a full-on democratization of a ‘more-than-human’ way of life.” What The Synthetic Party prioritizes, according to Staunæs, is not so much having a central AI figurehead, but examining how humans can use AI to their benefit.

So far, The Synthetic Party has only 11 signatures out of the 20,000 that would make it eligible to run in this November’s election. If the party were to be in the parliament, Staunæs said that it would be the AI powering policies and its agenda, and humans acting as the interpreter of the program.

“Leader Lars is the figurehead of the party. Denmark is a representative democracy, so would have humans on the ballot that are representing Leader Lars and who are committed to acting as a medium for the AI,” he said.

“People who are voting for The Synthetic Party will have to believe what we are selling ourselves as, people who actually engage so much with artificial intelligence that we can interpret something valuable from them,” Staunæs said. “We are in conversations with people from around the world, Colombia, France, and Moldova, about creating other local versions of The Synthetic Party, so that we could have some form of Synthetic International."

Categories: Tech News

Insurer Medibank hit by targeted cyberattack

The Register - Thu, 10/13/2022 - 06:50
Hot on heels of Optus and Dialog breaches, criminals turn sights to insurance sector

Medibank, a private health insurer in Australia with 3.7 million customers, has confirmed today it is the latest business down under to fall victim to a digital break-in.…

Categories: Tech News

Surprise! Far Right Creeps Are Defending Alex Jones, Generally Losing It

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 10/13/2022 - 06:09

Within minutes of a Connecticut jury ordering conspiracist Alex Jones to pay $965 million for calling the Sandy Hook mass shooting a “total hoax” and causing a decade of emotional distress and harassment for the victims’ families, his supporters on the far right were defending his actions and saying the court’s decision was an attack on their First Amendment rights.

“No matter what you think of Alex Jones all he did was speak words. He was not the one who pulled the trigger. Were his words wrong and did he apologize? Yes. That’s what freedom of speech is. Freedom to speak words. Political persecution must end.”

This was the argument tweeted out by Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who, despite her extremist views, has become an increasingly prominent figure in the mainstream Republican Party in recent months. Greene’s stance should come as no surprise given that she has in the past publicly berated Parkland school shooting survivor David Hogg, calling him a “coward.”

Erica Leslie Lafferty, the daughter of Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, the Sandy Hook principal who was killed in the 2012 shooting, responded to Greene’s tweet, asking the Georgia lawmaker: “Did you also miss him doubling down saying that the shooting did look ‘synthetic’ - AS WE WERE IN COURT FOR THIS TRIAL?!”

Nick Fuentes, the leader of the far-right America First movement defended Jones on his nightly show, calling the ruling “absurd” and saying that because Infowars was “news,” whatever Jones said on the show was protected by Jones’ right to free speech.

He then floated a conspiracy that the ruling was part of some deep state plan to bring down Jones’ media empire.

Mike Cernovich, the far-right provocateur and prominent promoter of the Pizzagate conspiracy, also defended Jones’ right to harass and abuse the families of the Sandy Hook victims by citing the First Amendment.

“Alex Jones killed no one,” Cernovich tweeted. “He apologized for his erroneous reports, of which there weren’t many. Nevertheless, in a trial where he wasn’t allowed to defend himself on free speech grounds, he’s now being ordered to pay hundreds-of-millions of dollars. Stalin’s ghost has returned.”

While the First Amendment does indeed protect citizens’ right to freedom of speech, that protection does not extend to defamatory or false statements, and Jones’ statements on the Sandy Hook massacre were so obviously false and malicious that they fell well outside the bounds of First Amendment protections.

Jones has claimed he no longer believes the shooting was “a total hoax”, which he did more than a dozen times on his show, but as recently as last week, during the trial, he called the massacre “synthetic” and called the trial “rigged.”

Throughout this trial, and a previous one in August, where a Texas jury ruled that he and Infowars should pay a combined total of $49.3 million, the conspiracist has claimed his free speech has been violated.

“If questioning public events and free speech is banned because it might hurt somebody’s feelings, we are not in America anymore,” Jones said during his deposition for the Texas trial. 

But as the lawyers for the defendants pointed out: “Speech is free, but lies you have to pay for.”

Despite the almost $1 billion judgment against him, Jones continued to make his free speech argument while broadcasting on his Infowars show as the verdict was being handed down.

Then he suggested that what had happened to him could soon be happening to everyone else.

“They want to scare everybody away from freedom and scare everybody away from questioning Uvalde and whatever happened there,” Jones told his audience, before instantly switching to shilling his vitamin supplements and asking for “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in donations to drag the legal process out for several more years.

“Now they’re coming after your free speech, now they’re coming after your right to listen to what you want and to hear what you want.”

And it wasn’t just prominent GOP lawmakers and right-wing talking heads who were listening to Jones’ arguments. Members of far-right forums and message boards populated by extremists who have repeatedly made violent threats against law enforcement and other officials echoed Jones’ talking points, and quickly turned his free speech defense into a battle cry.

“Now is the time to stand for free speech people,” a user on the rabidly pro-Trump forum TheDonald wrote. “The attack on Alex Jones is an attack on YOU who support freedom. Do not forget they are communists attacking people who disagree with them. They came after Alex Jones to try and make an example out of him. It’s not Alex Jones they are after. It’s you. Be the warrior and make your voices even LOUDER. If one falls may 10 more rise and take their place. Alex Jones proved that one voice is enough to make sleeping giants wake up.”

Members of the same forum repeated the lie that Sandy Hook was a hoax, goading the authorities to “sue me.” Some members claimed that the decision would result in a widespread shutdown of free speech and predicted a wave of similar lawsuits against other far-right figures.

On Telegram, users baselessly claimed the ruling was undermining their right to freedom of speech.

“This is an unwarranted attack on free speech, I swear to God we’re living in a madhouse,” one user wrote, while another called the jury’s decision “such an egregious violation of the first amendment.” 

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Categories: Tech News

TSMC cuts back on investment budget despite revenue surge

The Register - Thu, 10/13/2022 - 06:01
Not even the world's largest semiconductor manufacturer is immune to chip downturn

Taiwanese chip making behemonth TSMC beat revenue guidance for calendar Q3, as expected, but has cut its investment budget by at least 10 percent in the face of the semiconductor market slowdown.…

Categories: Tech News

Russia’s ‘General Armageddon’ Is Now In Charge of Invasion in Ukraine

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 10/13/2022 - 06:00

A man known as “General Armageddon” is now in charge of Moscow’s forces in Ukraine. He is General Sergey Surovikin, a man whose credentials in the Russian military stretch as far back as the collapse of the Soviet Union. He is most recently known, however, as the man who orchestrated Moscow’s brutal bombing of Aleppo, Syria.

Moscow put Surovikin in charge of the war in Ukraine around the same time a truck bomb exploded on the bridge connecting Crimea to mainland Ukraine. Putin condemned the Crimean bridge explosion as terrorism. Since then, the Kremlin has carried out a series of bombing campaigns against civilian infrastructure inside Ukraine.

According to Putin, Surovikin was deploying “high-precision, long-range weapons from the air, sea and land” for “massive attacks on targets of Ukraine’s energy, military command and communications facilities.” Missile strikes hit a playground in Kyiv, apartment buildings, and busy civilian streets.

To anyone familiar with Surovikin’s campaign in Syria, the indiscriminate attacks on civilians is familiar. Moscow supported Syrian dictator Basahr al-Assad in the country’s civil war and when Aleppo and other cities resisted, the Kremlin responded with cluster munitions and incendiary bombs. The bombing of Aleppo in 2016 killed more than 400 people and leveled much of the city, according to Human Right’s Watch. Cluster munitions exploded near hospitals, apartment buildings crumbled, and children died. The indiscriminate killing of civilians and leveling of cities has been the Russian military’s playbook since Putin came to power. When progress stalled in Chechnya during the Second Chechen War, the Russian military bombed the cities and occupied the rubble.

According to a speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on October 11, Russia has increased its missile strikes against Ukraine in the past few days. “Starting from yesterday, the enemy used more than a hundred cruise missiles and dozens of different drones, including Iranian ‘Shaheds,” he said. “And every 10 minutes I receive a message about the enemy's use of Iranian ‘Shaheds.’”

According to Zelenskyy, he has gotten reports of 28 missile launches that morning following a day of 84 missile attacks across the country. Many of those missiles were aimed at Kyiv, which hasn’t been attacked directly since June. Supersonic bombers designed to deliver nuclear warheads fired non-nuclear cruise missiles into the city. In the Black Sea, Russian warships fired naval cruise missiles into the air and onto Ukrainian cities. According to the Ukrainian military, they were able to intercept 43 of these attacks.

Those that slipped through were filmed by civilians and posted by social media.

Missiles are expensive and Russia has increasingly limited resources. According to Zelenskky, citing Ukrainian intelligence, Moscow has ordered 2,400 Shahed-136 kamikaze drones from Iran. If this is true, it presents a cheap alternative to the use of missiles. The Saheed-136 is rumored to cost around $20,000. A cruise missile is around $500,000. The Saheed-136 is also significantly weaker than a cruise missile, but when fired en-masse at a target still represents a terrifying threat.

In his speech, Zelenskyy called for further sanctions against Russia, called Putin a terrorist, and said that there would be no peace as long as he remained in power. “Now one person is blocking peace—and this person is in Moscow,” he said.

Categories: Tech News

Scientists Discover Unexplained Structures at Boundary to Interstellar Space

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 10/13/2022 - 06:00

Scientists have discovered weird ripples and unexplained structures at the boundary between our solar system and the vast expanse of interstellar space beyond it, reports a new study. 

The results show that the border of the heliosphere, a protective bubble created by the Sun that envelops the solar system, shifts in ways that “are intriguing and potentially controversial,” according to the study.

The heliosphere extends some 11 billion miles out into space, more than twice as far as Pluto’s orbit, and is sculpted by a stream of charged particles emitted by the Sun, called the solar wind. The edge of this structure is marked by a region, called the heliopause, where the solar wind gives way to the forces of the interstellar medium. NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 probes, which were launched in 1975, both crossed this boundary over the past decade, making them the first human-made objects to venture into interstellar space.

The Voyagers continue to send dispatches from beyond the heliosphere, but they can only report on the conditions at their specific locations. Scientists have learned to map some of the broader contours of the heliopause by looking for emissions made by energetic neutral atoms (ENAs), which are created by the interactions between the solar and the interstellar winds, but much of this transitional domain is still shrouded in mystery.

Now, scientists led by Eric Zirnstein, a research scholar in space physics at Princeton University, have identified curious new details about this zone that were illuminated by a months-long spike in the dynamic pressure of the solar wind that occurred in 2014. A NASA satellite called the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) captured a dramatic brightening of ENAs in the aftermath of this pressure front, which revealed the motions of the heliopause and “significant asymmetries” in the structure of the heliosphere that conflict with models, according to a study published on Monday in Nature Astronomy, hence the potential for controversy. 

“In early 2017, we noticed a brightening of energetic neutral atom (ENA) emissions in IBEX data coming from a small part of the sky, centered about 20 degrees below the ’nose’ of the heliosphere,” said Zirnstein in an email “This brightening first showed up at the highest ENA energies we could observe.” 

“Then over time, the emission area grew larger and larger across the sky, and started to appear at lower ENA energies,” he continued. “We knew this had to be in response to a big change in solar wind pressure, which is a key factor in determining ENA emissions from the edges of the heliosphere. The fact that the initial spot of brightening was not centered on the ’nose,’ and expanded asymmetrically across the sky, motivated studies of this behavior to learn why.”

As the researchers examined the IBEX observations, they realized that the surface of the heliosphere is distorted by huge ripples that appear at an unexpectedly oblique (or slanted) angle. These spatial variations within these structures can reach ten astronomical units (AU), where one AU is the distance between Earth and the Sun.

“We were quite surprised about how oblique the surfaces are, where the closest points are tilted ~30 degrees below the nose, in contrast to most known models of the heliosphere,” Zirnstein said. “The ripple structures were surprising as well, because after doing our best to account for potential uncertainties in the analysis, we found these ripples to be statistically significant. But in hindsight, when we consider how dynamic the solar wind actually is, this probably shouldn’t have been too surprising—but it sure was interesting to see it.”

According to Zirnstein, the exact mechanisms that are producing some of these intriguing observations are unknown.

“There seems to be a missing driving force for this asymmetry that is connected to the solar wind and its interaction with the interstellar medium,” he noted. “Other star systems with astrospheres may be similar in their asymmetry, but it all depends on the properties of the star itself and the interstellar medium around it.”

In addition to spotting these distortions at the gates to interstellar space, the team was able to reconstruct the “substantial differences in the heliosphere boundaries'' in recent years, according to the study. This particular finding sheds new light on the journey of the Voyagers through the heliospheric termination shock (HTS), which is the point where the solar wind begins to slow, and subsequently through the heliopause.. 

“The Voyager spacecraft provide the only direct, in situ measurement of the locations of these boundaries. But only at one point in space and time,” Zirnstein said. “So comparing our results, which were observed at a different time in the solar cycle than when Voyager 1 or 2 crossed the boundaries, made it complicated. The locations of the HTS surface compared well with Voyager 1 and 2, but what was most surprising was the [heliopause] surface.”

Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause in 2012 at a distance of 121.6 AU from the Sun, while Voyager 2 crossed in 2018 at 119 AU. Zirnstein and his colleagues discovered that the heliopause surface was actually shifting by tens of astronomical units over this time period. For instance, after Voyager 1 crossed this boundary, the heliopause expanded for years as if it were chasing it, though the border never overtook the probe again. In contrast, Voyager 2 may have been just inside the expanding heliopause for several years, like a surfer on the cusp of a wave, before it ultimately entered interstellar space

“Voyager 2 crossed the HP in late-2018 at 119 au from the Sun, and our analysis yielded a distance of 103 +/- 8 au in mid-2016, which is much closer to the Sun,” Zirnstein explained. “However, we know that Voyager 2 was still inside the heliopause in mid-2016, and quite close to the distance we derived (within the analysis’ uncertainty). This implies that Voyager 2 was close to the heliopause in mid-2016, but just inside, and then the heliopause must have been moving outwards for a few years before the spacecraft eventually crossed it in late-2018.”

“Both of these observations seem to imply significant motion of the heliopause surface over time, and how potentially close the Voyagers were to the heliopause at different times,” he added.

In other words, the glow of the ENAs at this murky entrance to the wider galaxy have exposed the shifting borders of the heliosphere, and illuminated strange structures that require more observations and simulations to explain. Given that we live inside this heliosphere, which protects our solar system from harmful cosmic radiation, it is important to map out its contours and understand the complex forces that shape it. To that end, Zirnstein and his colleagues plan to continue exploring this region of space with IBEX and other missions.

“The next steps are two-fold,” Zirnstein said “First we would like to better understand the existence of this obliquity and the ripples, which probably will require comparisons with high-resolution, dynamic models of the heliosphere. It's likely that, with these new results, the outer heliosphere community will be motivated to improve their simulations in different aspects to try to understand the source of these observations.

“The other step is waiting for another, big change in solar wind pressure, like what occurred in late-2014,” he concluded. “It seems this kind of event may happen at least once per solar cycle, so in a few years we may have another event to use for ‘imaging’ the HTS and HP surfaces again. This may also coincide with the launch of NASA’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) in 2025, which will provide higher resolution observations of ENAs compared to IBEX, and even better pictures of the heliosphere for us.”

Categories: Tech News

Companies in the UK Are Mining Users’ Personal Data to Place Billboard Ads

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 10/13/2022 - 06:00

Companies in the UK are collecting data from millions of phones to decide which advertisements to show on billboards in locations all around Britain, according to a new investigation by Big Brother Watch, a London-based civil liberties group known for confronting public surveillance issues. 

The report details how personalized ads—a phenomenon that has more than once raised privacy concerns over digital spying—are no longer confined to our private feeds, but instead have begun to overflow into our public lives. 

“We’ve uncovered new ways in which millions of people’s movements and behaviors are tracked to target us with ads on the streets, resulting in some of the most intrusive advertising surveillance we’ve ever seen in the UK,” Jake Hurfurt, head of research and investigations at Big Brother Watch, said in a press release about the analysis. 

The report identifies several companies who were the first to introduce facial-detecting advertising technology to different cities across the country. Unlike traditional paper billboards whose advertisements are printed on vinyl, digital billboards can be programmed to offer more than one message. Many of them also have high-definition cameras to peer down onto the unsuspecting public. Algorithms then attempt to detect a person’s face, physical characteristics, and even what they might be wearing to tailor advertisements to people walking in the street, in malls, and even on tablets in the backs of cars. 

ALFI, an American ad tech developer, already has many of these face-scanning tablets in various Lyft and Uber vehicles in the US. The company claims that they use AI and machine learning algorithms to analyze how their audience interacts with ads, and shows them more relevant ones. It seems now more than ever, everything is a camera, and every camera is a computer. 

The report also notes that two influential billboard owners in the UK, Ocean Outdoor and Clear Channel, rely on facial detection tools made from the French company Quividi. The company claims that its technology is able to scan up to a 100 faces at once and detect how long someone dwelled near or paid attention to an ad. It also attempts to discern factors like age, gender, and mood—capabilities which have been heavily disputed and de-bunked by machine learning experts. 

The report notes that this data, combined with crowd size and information on attentiveness, can be used to trigger changes that target audiences on a large scale.

While it’s one thing to recognize that predictive analytics may be controlling what we see and interact within the comfort of our own homes, it's another to realize that you and the people around you are being collectively influenced. Arvind Narayanan, a professor of computer science at Princeton University, says that one of the main problems with companies using data-gathering technologies to personalize billboards is that it “erodes the idea of public spaces.” 

“It is hard to have spontaneous and casual social interactions with strangers when you're staring at content targeted at you and you know you're being surveilled,” Narayanan told Motherboard over email. “These technologies manage the feat of simultaneously harming our privacy and our sense of community."

“The Quividi software relies on face detection, not on face recognition,” a Quividi spokesperson told Motherboard. “These are two different technologies. Face detection only looks for the presence of a face whereas facial recognition looks for and identifies a particular person.”

”This means that the Quividi software cannot recognize an individual, either in absolute terms (full identity) or in terms of repeated exposures (e.g. recognizing that someone was at a sequence of different locations, or visited the same location twice),” Quividi’s spokesperson said.

Targeted advertising is virtually unavoidable for anyone who owns a smartphone or computer, yet some experts say that the push to use our privacy against us didn’t begin with the advent of the internet or AI; in reality, the concept has been intertwined with capitalism for more than a century.  

“The whole point of surveillance advertising or digital advertising is to modify our behaviors in certain ways or modify our attitudes in certain ways,” Matthew Crain, an associate professor of media and communication at Miami University, told Motherboard. Presumptuous as it is, Crain says, the more information a brand has about its potential audience, the less money it wastes on sending ads to people or groups outside of its target market. 

The way businesses access our data is both sinister and surprisingly mundane; the report notes that companies use tracking data apps and the vague language in their privacy policies to gain users’ “consent” to collect large amounts of data to generate advertising profiles. These individual identifiers can include aspects from how users interact with personal apps to which stores they frequent the most, and this secret amalgamation of our likes and dislikes is then sold off to data analytics companies for them to use indefinitely. 

The inquiry also found that profiles of some interest groups are linked to GPS tracking data that allows brands to target people based on where and when they'll likely be that day, crafting advertisements almost in real-time. The report specifically calls out Adsquare, a German advertising tech company that has “pioneered” this phone-to-billboard strategy, as 1 in 10 mobile devices in the UK contains trackers that send personal data back to them. That means there are at least 8 million phones that could be sending location and behavioral data to Adsquare at any one time.  

But these scarily efficient advances are only confined to the UK; proof of this ongoing practice has already been witnessed both in the U.S and in other places around the world. For instance, though Adsquare claims to comply with privacy laws regarding the use of these tracking tools, one of their data brokers includes the controversial company X-Mode, now known as Outlogic, which was banned by Apple and Google’s app stores in 2020 for selling data to the US military. 

Hurfurt said that the only way to force data harvesters to respect people’s privacy and give them real choices is to make radical and transparent reforms to the tech sector.  

Steven Feldstein, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, agrees with that sentiment. “When it comes to surveillance, there's been a pretty significant regulatory lag when it comes to actually having the right rules in place and laws in place to regulate these industries,” Feldstein told Motherboard. “There's a real gap in terms of regulations catching up to practice, and making sure that the privacy needs of individuals are protected.”

Similar instances of companies abusing advertising data have since inspired public policy actors in the U.S to speak up, fostering legislation that would prohibit advertising networks from using personal data as well as data based on protected class information, such as race, gender, and religion to target advertisements illegal. 

“It's not that bad tracking doesn't have a place in the digital ecosystem, but that right now, it's so unbalanced in one direction,” says Feldman. “There’s so little accountability, and there's so little transparency of how it's being used, and so little protection when it comes to consent, that it's really out of whack, and I think it's leading to troubling harms as a result.” 

This article is part of State of Surveillance, made possible with the support of a grant from Columbia University’s Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights in conjunction with Arnold Ventures. The series will explore the development, deployment, and effects of surveillance and its intersection with race and civil rights.

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