‘Aquariumgate’ Is New Child Trafficking 4chan Conspiracy That Relies on Very Basic Google Maps Trolling

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 08/25/2022 - 09:00

A new, convoluted conspiracy theory called “Aquariumgate” is spreading on 4chan in which people are theorizing that fake aquariums in Texas are somehow tied to child trafficking, satanic rituals or “(covens) of satanic witches,” tunnel systems, or something else entirely. The conspiracy theory is, according to experts, a low-effort Google Maps trolljob that has actively been cleaned up by Google over the last few days. 

Aquariumgate, which has also been called “Pizzagate 2.0” by some posters, requires several levels of conspiracy knowledge to understand, but basically goes like this: Sometime over the weekend, a few posters on 4chan discovered a string of bizarre place listings on Google Maps in the greater Houston area. Many of these place listings were for “aquariums,” all of which had two-letter names. 

These included, for example, “HR Aquarium,” “TS Aquarium,” “TD Aquarium,” “EC Aquarium,” and so-on and so forth. Google Streetview images of these locations made clear that no aquarium was located in most of these places; lots of the “aquariums” corresponded to random houses in Texas, or the middle of a forest, or broad stretches of road where there were no buildings whatsoever. 

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A 4chan user posted that they had found these Google Maps listings, and posters on 4chan began looking for coded messages in the reviews for the aquariums (very few of them had any reviews at all), in StreetView images of the areas, in their names, the descriptions of the locations, or, seemingly, in the reviews and listings for other, real aquariums in Texas. Users began suggesting that these locations or codes they found were intended to direct people to child trafficking services, or witch covens, or “gang safehouses.”

Many of the listings were eventually deleted by Google because they are obviously fake, and discussion of the conspiracy was deleted by Reddit moderators on r/conspiracy, all of which, of course, led people to believe the conspiracy was being hidden (the Reddit posts were deleted because they contained addresses, some of which seemingly corresponded to people’s houses.)

This is all somewhat reminiscent of “PizzaGate,” where the pizza restaurant Comet Ping Pong in Washington, D.C. became the subject of a conspiracy theory that it was secretly a child sex dungeon broadly associated with the Clintons and other elites. That conspiracy theory eventually led someone to show up to Comet Ping Pong with a gun. The general thought with Aquariumgate is that, perhaps, children are being kept by traffickers in glass tanks of some sort.

The main thing to keep in mind here is that there is no evidence of anything here. It is possible for anyone to add a specific location to Google Maps, and none of the aquarium listings viewed by Motherboard were verified by Google, which requires a business to enter a pin number sent by physical mail to the business’ mailbox. 

“Anyone can add a ‘Business’ to Google at a location, however, Google won’t verify it unless they can send you a postcard with a pin number,” Jason Isoline, an artist who uses Google Maps in his artwork, told Motherboard. “These aren’t verified locations because they likely don’t have mailboxes. Therefore, it’s just a weak, user-based hack.”

Mickey Mellen, a tech consultant who has been writing about Google Maps for more than a decade, told Motherboard that it’s easy for anyone to “spam [Google Maps] with garbage like this.”

“In a way, it feels like when people cook up crazy things like ‘If you rearrange the letters of Delta and Omicron, you get MEDIA CONTROL,’” he said. “The idea that Google is showing these aquariums out there as kind of a semi-hidden pizzagate is just silly. I figure it's either a group foolishly using Google Maps for something they want hidden, or just some person/people trolling everyone.”

A Google spokesperson told Motherboard that it has begun deleting Aquariumgate locations: “We’re aware of the situation and have begun removing policy-violating content and putting protections in place to help prevent further abuse. We have clear policies that prohibit fake contributed content, and our automated systems and trained operators work around the clock to monitor Maps for suspicious behavior. We also make it easy for people to report misleading places and inappropriate content, which helps us keep the information on Maps authentic and reliable.”

The spokesperson added that the company always deletes deliberately fake content.

Categories: Tech News

DuckDuckGo now offers anti-tracking email service to everyone

ARS Technica - Thu, 08/25/2022 - 08:50
DuckDuckGo's Email Protection, now available in public beta, gives you an email address that will strip trackers from emails and forward the rest to you.

Enlarge / DuckDuckGo's Email Protection, now available in public beta, gives you an email address that will strip trackers from emails and forward the rest to you. (credit: DuckDuckGo)

DuckDuckGo's tracker-removing email service, which has been available in private beta for a year, is now open to anyone who uses a DuckDuckGo mobile app, browser extension, or Mac browser. It has also added a few more privacy tools.

The service provides you a duck.com email address, one intended to be given out for the kind of "Subscribe to our newsletter for 20% off" emails you know exist only to harvest data and target you for ads. Email sent to your duck.com address forwards to your chosen primary email—but with trackers removed.

Email Protection now also fixes up links, strips them of tracking modifiers, upgrades unencrypted HTTP URLs to HTTPS where possible, and, for the rare necessary reply, allows you to send directly from your duck address instead of exposing your primary email. During their closed beta, DuckDuckGo claims that 85 percent of the emails it processed contained hidden trackers.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Categories: Tech News

Anti-Piracy Company Denuvo Wants to Make Switch Emulation a Lot Harder

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 08/25/2022 - 08:42

Anti-piracy company Denuvo announced a new technology designed to make upcoming Nintendo Switch games more difficult to emulate on PC. This move, which comes in the wake of Nintendo’s exceptionally punitive court case against Gary Bowser, could make pirating and emulation of Nintendo games more difficult, but is unlikely to stop the practice.

Denuvo is best known for its DRM (Digital Rights Management) anti-piracy tools, which have thus far been primarily designed for PC games. The company has a reputation for extending the time it takes for a given game to be pirated, at the expense of a game’s overall technical performance. This was most notable with TEKKEN 7, in which case the game’s director acknowledged that diminished PC performance was on account of Denuvo’s DRM process. These performance concerns, in addition to the kernel level access required by the software (which makes some worried about the security of their PCs), has earned the company a lot of ire in virtually every gaming community it comes into contact with.

This new tool is not designed to prevent ROMs from being pirated on Nintendo Switches, but prevent their emulation on PC which has become increasingly easy in recent years. Metroid Dread, for example, was cracked within a day of release, allowing some to play it on PC for free, instead of purchasing the game. It is worth noting, however, that despite the claims of many companies, it’s hard to prove that pirated and emulated copies of games directly translate to lost sales and, anecdotally, piracy can directly translate to sales on their intended platforms through word of mouth endorsement and the ability to demo games on an emulator in order to determine what is worth buying at full price.

Emulators and ROMs also play an essential role in maintaining gaming history, as they allow games to be preserved away from storefronts which companies can shut down on a whim. The Nintendo 3DS eshop, for example, is currently in the midst of a prolonged death in which credit card payments are being turned off in preparation for the store’s inevitable death. This will prevent 3DS owners from purchasing digital games, including download-only titles. Emulators and ROMs allow for copies of these games to be preserved and accessible by a future audience.

“Software publishers and Denuvo take great care to deliver the best gaming experience," told Waypoint. "The protection is designed not to affect the gamer’s experience, and it does not have any in-game performance impact. It is the same for this new solution when protection is only active in non-performance critical code parts.”

Denuvo’s software is designed to delay emulation, not to stop it altogether, the company said: “The situation with piracy on Switch is similar to the PC. It’s an ongoing development to make it harder for cracks to happen, extending the revenue window for publishers and keeping games fair for all players.” The company has had success previously in significantly extending the time it takes to crack games like Assassin’s Creed Origins, which is the ultimate goal of most anti-piracy measures. Denuvo’s tools attempt to protect games during their early release windows, when sales are at their highest, with the acknowledgment that they’ll likely be cracked later down the line.

Nintendo, with its massive catalog of exclusive games and ever-diminishing ability to access them, has been the target of emulators for a very, very long time and will only continue to be so going forward. Only time will tell if this new partnership with Denuvo will have any impact on its thriving emulation scene.

Nintendo did not provide Waypoint with comment in time for publication.

Categories: Tech News

We Spoke to the Actual Artist Behind FN Meka, the Controversial AI Rapper

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 08/25/2022 - 08:40

This month, news broke that Capitol Records had signed the label’s first “robot rapper.” FN Meka, a 3D animated character with music and lyrics supposedly crafted by artificial intelligence, was created by the company Factory New in 2019. And though neither of Factory New’s co-founders, Anthony Martini and Brandon Le, are Black, FN Meka was a mess of racist tropes. One early social media post depicted a jailed FN Meka being beaten by a corrections officer. The character’s most recent song, “Florida Water,” contained repeated use of the n-word. 

On Tuesday, when the single, which has since been removed from YouTube, started making the rounds, the non-profit activist group Industry Blackout demanded an apology from Capitol, calling FN Meka “an amalgamation of gross stereotypes [and] appropriative mannerisms that derive from Black artists.” Hours later, Capitol announced it was “severing ties” with the project immediately: “We offer our deepest apologies to the Black community for our insensitivity in signing this project without asking enough questions about equity and the creative process behind it.” (Capitol Records did not respond for comment.)

At the core was a question of ethics: Who contributed to what the first AI rap star would look or sound like? In an article last year, Music Business Worldwide reported that “technically speaking, FN Meka is voiced by a human.” Earlier this week, Factory New’s Martini told the New York Times that the voice behind it was “a Black guy.”

That “Black guy” is Atlanta-based rapper Kyle The Hooligan. Though Kyle says he didn’t voice FN Meka for “Florida Water,” he was integral in the character’s identity and output, dating back to its creation. He says he wrote and performed FN Meka’s first three songs, “Internet,” “Moonwalkin’,” and “Speed Demon” entirely himself—a job for which he says he still hasn’t been paid. VICE spoke with the rapper about his experience voicing the rap robot.

VICE: How did you get involved in this project? What did you think that you were walking into?

Kyle The Hooligan: It was supposed to be a collaborative effort. They had this AI character that they wanted to make a rapper and [have it] live in the music world. As the voice, they told me I’d be at the forefront of it. So I started making music for them. They promised me equity and a percentage into the character, and it was like, OK, we're gonna be working together. 

It was kind of cool and different for me to actually go into this AI world and still be able to do my music in my career. They were after a certain sound that was trendy at the time, so I gave them everything they wanted. They never compensated me. I basically got ghosted afterwards. 

Then, it just got weird, you know? Now I’m seeing they have posted stuff about Meka getting beaten by the police, all this shit. 

What year did they approach you for this project?

In 2019, Brandon [Le, one of the co-creators of Factory New], hit me and that’s when the studios and all this stuff started coming into play. When I started working with them, they weren’t doing any rapping videos, but had a couple videos here and there. But I am the original voice for the actual rapping.

How involved did they want you to be in this project?

They wanted me involved in every “cultural” or “cool” aspect of it. They wanted me to tell them if something was cool and when something was not. And ultimately, my sound and my music [shaped the character]. They got that pass because I was involved. Them cutting me out of it was like they basically used me for the culture. I didn’t know about none of this Capitol [Records] stuff going on, the deals, or anything. This was all news to me, because I thought it was over with. 

I’m seeing all of this stuff, and I never even got compensated. At the time, I was a young, indie artist trying to come up. I thought it would be a good opportunity to lead this and get some equity. I trusted [Le], and it was nothing but broken promises. 

You also mentioned on your Instagram that you were ghosted. At what point in this project did you no longer hear from the team?

Our last point of communication was somewhere around 2020, possibly 2021. We sent a few DMs here and there. I was supposed to get paid last year, but I guess they never got to it. I’m not too sure. I thought it was over and that they weren’t doing FN Meka anymore, so I went on with my life. Now, I’m seeing I got replaced. There’s a new voice—a different voice, but they blew up with all of the original records I did. 

Do you know who this new voice is?

Someone DMed saying that he was the second voice, but I didn’t really go too deep into it. 

What was the recording process like? To my understanding, theyve explained that the AI generates the lyrics and humans perform it. 

I wrote and performed the songs and just pitched it up so it didn't sound like me. But if you really listen to FN, and listen to my music, you can hear little things that will give it away that it’s me. 

They basically wanted something trendy, 6ix9ine was popular at the time, so I wrote it in that style, because that’s what they wanted. I do rockstar, melodic type of music. So I needed something different for the character. It wasn’t no AI—it was my voice, pitched up. 

How long had you been making music before you were approached by Brandon?

I was making music since the seventh grade. I was in a group called YTV. I started taking it seriously after high school, when I moved to New York around 2016. I used to be in a group called GØDD COMPLEXx with SAINt JHN, Clint’n Lord, Mike Geez, and my cousin Pyrex. I was already doing music. I already had motion going on. That’s probably how they found me. 

Anthony Martini is quoted as saying Meka is voiced by a Black guy, but your name wasn’t otherwise publicly mentioned in relation to the FN Meka project. Was there any expectation that you would remain anonymous during this rollout?

It wasn’t an expectation. I was gonna keep it lowkey, also, because I didn’t want to tie it into my actual career. I wanted to keep it as a side thing. I wanted to keep my personal career separate from AI because I didn’t really understand it. But I felt like it was cool to get into. 

[Martini] ended up hitting me up, letting me know he’s involved now. I feel like they hit me up basically to be on some, We have to get the Black guy back involved, because its looking crazy. He hit me up after the news came out about FN saying the n-word, saying, “How would you feel about working with us again?" If they would have never put me out and just left me high and dry, it would’ve never even got to this point. 

Brandon Le told Genius that FN Meka is an amalgamation of Icy Narco, Lil Pump, Trippie Redd, and 6ix9ine. Since you voiced FN, why do you think that they left you out of that narrative?

I’m not so sure. Maybe to keep it anonymous. Maybe not to collide with what I’m doing. We could have really done something great here. I’m an independent artist, I was just trying to feed my family. It’s really cool to see where it ended up—it’s one of the biggest things that's being talked about right now. The shit really got a record deal, from what I did. I just want to shine light on independent artists working hard. I’m sharing my story so this doesn’t happen again, because it’s not cool to take advantage of people’s hard work. 

Do you have any regrets about how this ended? 

Signing is cool because you have all the eyes on you, but this showed me that just my voice alone can make something that's not even real pop. Once people are really tuned into who Kyle The Hooligan is as an artist, then they’ll really know my story. I want people to actually know what I’m about—not just this. 

Kristin Corry is a senior staff writer for VICE.

Categories: Tech News

Republicans Are Having a Full-Blown Meltdown Over Student Debt Forgiveness

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 08/25/2022 - 08:36

President Joe Biden finally unveiled his long-awaited student debt forgiveness plan on Wednesday, pledging to forgive up to $20,000 in federal student loans for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for most other borrowers, and resulting in such a flood of traffic to student loan websites that it temporarily crashed them. 

And Republicans in Congress are now very, very angry that millions of Americans will be less indebted to the federal government.

The GOP has noticeably splintered in recent months, mostly over former President Donald Trump. But on Wednesday, Republicans, from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on down to far-right backbenchers, almost uniformly characterized the modest student loan forgiveness plan—far short of the $50,000 progressives and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had called for—as a “socialist” giveaway to “elites” and, of course, “gender studies” majors. 

McConnell, who just a few short years ago shepherded through the Senate a tax reform law that disproportionately benefited corporations and wealthy Americans, called Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan “astonishingly unfair.”

“President Biden’s student loan socialism is a slap in the face to every family who sacrificed to save for college, every graduate who paid their debt, and every American who chose a certain career path or volunteered to serve in our Armed Forces in order to avoid taking on debt,” McConnell said in a statement. 

Sen. Rick Scott, the Senate Republicans’ campaign chair and the wealthiest person in Congress by tens of billions of dollars, called it a “socialist handout” and an “added burden that will only further increase inflation.” (The Maoists at Goldman Sachs, by the way, think the overall impact on the economy will be minimal, according to the Financial Times.) 

Much of Scott’s wealth, by the way, comes from founding and leading a healthcare company, Columbia/HCA, which was charged with defrauding Medicare. The company later agreed to pay $1.7 billion in fines and admitted to multiple felonies for offenses that happened while Scott was running the company. 

Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado charged that Biden should report the plan as a campaign expenditure because it’s a “scheme to buy votes.” 

Much of the criticism sought to pit blue-collar Americans against “gender studies” students who recklessly took on debt. 

“Didn’t go to college? Worked your way up the old fashioned way? Made a good living for your family?” tweeted Rep, Jim Jordan, one of the most right-wing members of the House who was infamously an employee of a public university. “Well, as a reward, Joe Biden will let you pay for the student loans of the wealthy ‘gender studies’ major.”

In reality, fewer than one in 10 college graduates major in the broader social sciences umbrella as a whole, according to the Education Data Initiative. As of 2014-2015, fewer than 1,500 people per year—out of nearly 2 million bachelor’s degrees awarded—were graduating with degrees in women’s studies, the Washington Post reported in 2017. While the dig at gender studies is nothing new, it tracks with the ongoing moral panic about “critical race theory” and so-called “woke gender ideology” fueled by leading conservative politicians and media figures. 

Biden said Wednesday that nearly 90 percent of people eligible for relief make under $75,000 per year. Nearly half of all Latino borrowers will have their entire student debt wiped out, NBC News reported Wednesday

In addition to forgiving up to $20k in student loans, Biden paused student loan payments for another four months through the end of the year, and is poised to overhaul the income-driven repayment plan for low and middle-income borrowers. 

As Biden departed after making his remarks Wednesday, a reporter shouted a question asking if the plan was unfair to people who already paid back their loans or decided not to take any out. 

“Is it fair to people who do not own multi-billion-dollar businesses if they see one of these guys getting all the tax breaks?” Biden responded. “Is that fair? What do you think?”

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Categories: Tech News

Twitter, Meta kill hundreds of pro-Western troll accounts

The Register - Thu, 08/25/2022 - 08:00
It turns out online chicanery aiming to destabilize foreign nations is a two-way street

Well known for an abundance of anti-western troll accounts and propaganda, Twitter and Meta are reporting that they've taken down nearly 200 accounts that, for the past five years, have been amplifying pro-Western messages in the Middle East and Central Asia.…

Categories: Tech News

An Abortion Ban In Idaho Was Just Blocked. Kind Of.

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 08/25/2022 - 07:37

A federal judge blocked part of a law to ban abortion in Idaho late Wednesday, after the Biden administration sued to halt the law. This was the administration’s first lawsuit to protect abortion rights since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this summer.

In his preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill said that a portion of the Idaho law conflicts with federal law over how to handle medical emergencies—namely, by hindering doctors’ ability to treat patients who might need abortions to protect their health.

“If the physician provides the abortion, she faces indictment, arrest, pretrial detention, loss of her medical license, a trial on felony charges, and at least two years in prison,” Winmill wrote. “Yet if the physician does not perform the abortion, the pregnant patient faces grave risks to her health—such as severe sepsis requiring limb amputation, uncontrollable uterine hemorrhage requiring hysterectomy, kidney failure requiring lifelong dialysis, hypoxic brain injury, or even death.”

Winmill let the rest of Idaho’s ban take effect, outlawing almost all abortions in the state. 

But had the Idaho abortion ban gone fully into effect, it would not have prevented doctors from being charged with a crime even if they only performed an abortion to save a patient’s life. Instead, that doctor could have only used those circumstances as a defense at trial.

Winmill stressed that his decision was not a challenge to Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case used to overturn Roe. 

“It’s not about the bygone constitutional right to an abortion. This Court is not grappling with that larger, more profound question,” Winmill wrote. Rather, the Court is called upon to address a far more modest issue—whether Idaho’s criminal abortion statute conflicts with a small but important corner of federal legislation. It does.”

Since Roe’s overturning and the subsequent wave of abortion bans, doctors have wrestled with how to deal with restrictions on their ability to perform abortions in medical emergencies. Several states’ abortion restrictions have exceptions for circumstances where the procedure may necessary to preserve a patient’s health or save their life, but the exact contours of what that care constitutes can differ from law to law and may not always match up with the nuanced reality of pregnancy. 

Some doctors have told VICE News that they feel like they are being forced to delay care until a patient is teetering on the precipice of death—and then are expected to snatch them back from the ledge. 

“That's part of the problem with these laws, is that as they're written, most of the time, they're not including medical professionals that actually provide this type of care,” Dr. Ana Tobiasz, a North Dakota maternal fetal medicine specialist, told VICE News earlier this summer. “And so they put that language in there, not realizing that now you have effectively banned all of these standard medical procedures.”

Shortly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe, the Biden administration issued guidance clarifying that the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), which outlines some medical providers’ responsibilities in emergencies, can also require them to perform abortions if necessary to stabilize a patient.

EMTALA, which lay at the heart of the Idaho case, also arose in a case in Texas this week. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had asked a judge there to block the Biden administration’s guidance, which he agreed to do so for the state of Texas. 

The Biden administration’s “guidance goes well beyond EMTALA’s text, which protects both mothers and unborn children, is silent as to abortion, and preempts state law only when the two directly conflict,” U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix wrote in his court order Tuesday.

Idaho isn’t the only state with a new abortion ban triggered by the fall of Roe: Near-total bans in Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas are also set to take effect Thursday. North Dakota is also on track to outlaw almost all abortions on Friday.

This spate of new laws comes after many of these states already significantly limited access to abortion. Texas has had a six-week abortion ban on the books since last September, when it started letting people sue one another over abortions roughly past that point, while Oklahoma started letting people sue over almost all abortions in May. Tennessee and Idaho had also previously started enforcing six-week abortion bans.

In a statement, Attorney General Merrick Garland said that the Justice Department disagreed with the decision about EMTALA in Texas and is now weighing “appropriate next steps.” The two dueling court orders, from Idaho and Texas, suggest that the Supreme Court could soon be asked to rule on the issue of how to handle abortion in medical emergencies.

“The Department of Justice will continue to use every tool at its disposal to defend the reproductive rights protected by federal law,” Garland said.

Categories: Tech News

What Will the Embracer Group Embrace Next?

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 08/25/2022 - 07:36

The Embracer Group is embracing game companies again and…Lord of the Rings? Patrick takes us through its effort to consume all. Then, Rob digs into the Total War: Warhammer III called The Immortal Lords, which dares to ask: how many sieges is too many sieges? After the break, Patrick has been checking out We Are OFK, which sadly is no Sayonara Wild Hearts, before Cado and Ren debate playing as (and against) Bridget in Guilty Gear Strive. And in the question bucket, we debate if Napoleon was the Predator of 18th century Europe.

Discussed: Embracer Group 0:41, Total War: Warhammer 3 18:53, Neon White 56:12, We Are OFK 56:52, Guilty Gear Strive 1:10:27, The Question Bucket 1:24:05, Outro and Announcements 2:14:28

You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher. If you're using something else, this RSS link should let you add the podcast to whatever platform you'd like. If you'd like to directly download the podcast, click here. Please take a moment and review the podcast, especially on Apple Podcasts. It really helps.

Interaction with you is a big part of this podcast, so make sure to send any questions you have for us to gaming@vice.com with the header "Questions." (Without the quotes!) We can't guarantee we'll answer all of your questions, but rest assured, we'll be taking a look at them.

Have thoughts? Swing by the Waypoint forums to share them!

Categories: Tech News

‘Bullshit’ Veto on Overdose Prevention Sites Could Make Everything Worse

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 08/25/2022 - 07:17

When California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill this week that would have authorized several cities to open “overdose prevention sites”—also known as safe consumption or supervised injection facilities—he cited the risk of triggering “a world of unintended consequences.” 

But unintended consequences are already unraveling in the aftermath of the veto—and perhaps not ones the governor anticipated. San Francisco leaders say they support allowing an existing overdose prevention site to continue operating in a legal gray area, but advocates told VICE News that medical personnel who participate could lose their licenses; funding and resources could become even more scarce; and Democratic support for life-saving harm reduction programs seems to be evaporating ahead of the 2024 election. If Republicans manage to retake control of the White House, the next president will have the power to rollback any progress.

“It was a bullshit veto message,” said Vitka Eisen, CEO of HealthRight360, a nonprofit that runs an overdose prevention program in San Francisco. “This is a public health crisis. People are dying. This veto has a direct impact. It’s a life or death matter.” 

More than 1,600 people have died from overdoses in San Francisco since 2020, and death rates have skyrocketed across the country as the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl has flooded the illicit drug supply. The idea of opening medical facilities where users can safely inject, smoke, or snort drugs under the supervision of staffers standing by with overdose reversal medication, has started to gain traction after years of positive results in other countries.  

Eisen said the facility in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood is “never not busy,” serving upwards of 400 people per day despite operating “like a MASH unit, popped up in tents—we don’t have electricity, we have a generator and make do.”

New York City allows two overdose prevention centers to operate in Manhattan, and the facilities reported saving 415 lives by reversing overdoses since opening last November. Philadelphia has been trying to open its own site, but has faced a legal challenge from the federal government. Sites that allow drug use are outlawed under the so-called “crack house” statute, but so far the Department of Justice has allowed New York’s site to continue operating, and in the Philly case the DOJ has said it will soon decide on “appropriate guardrails” to help guide state and local officials wary of moving forward.

The California bill would have allowed San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles to host overdose prevention sites, and included an important provision to shield medical professionals who work or volunteer at sites from criminal charges and block professional boards from revoking licenses. Eisen said doctors, nurses, and others who could provide basic medical care and referrals for addiction treatment are now exposed if they offer their services. And perhaps more significantly, Eisen added, if the DOJ’s “guardrails” end up requiring medical personnel on site, the San Francisco facility and others could face a catch-22.

“What would happen if a court ruling said you couldn’t operate the site unless you had medical providers on site, and the state was silent on that?” Eisen asked. “How would medical boards respond? You could potentially have a conflict between feds giving permission but the state not coming around to say we support it.”

In a letter explaining his veto, Newsom said that while he “long supported the cutting edge of harm reduction strategies” in cities like San Francisco, where he was once mayor, he feared that “worsening drug consumption challenges in these areas is not a risk we can take.”

There’s speculation Newsom is positioning himself for a White House run in 2024, and the thinking goes that by killing the bill today he can dodge future Republican attack ads suggesting he turned California’s major cities into dystopian drug havens where citizens are shooting up with government approval. The Trump administration fought to block safe consumption sites from opening, and conservative Republicans who have gone so far as allowing needle exchanges have mostly balked at sanctioning facilities that permit drug use.

The San Francisco site has not been without controversy, and the liberal bastion’s broader problems with public drug use and homelessness has magnified the scrutiny and led to some local opposition, with critics saying it enables drug users to keep getting high rather than getting them into rehab. (Supporters say they are focused on preventing deaths and connecting those who use the sites with other services and treatment.)

Local officials in San Francisco have been quick to speak out in support of allowing the overdose prevention site to continue operating in some form beyond its scheduled closure date later this year. Mayor London Breed said the city “will continue to explore how we can push forward innovative strategies with our city departments and community partners, while we continue conversations at the federal level.”

Breed called for “following the NYC model,” as did City Attorney David Chiu who said in a statement, “To save lives, I support a non-profit moving forward now with New York’s model of overdose prevention programs.”

Chiu’s spokesperson, Jen Kwart, clarified in an email to VICE News that the city attorney “supports the idea” of allowing a site to operate, but not with the city’s direct involvement. 

“I don’t think this statement should be construed to mean providing financial support or otherwise,” Kwart said. “Under the New York model, these sites operate without city land, city staff, or direct city funding.” 

For those in New York who support the city’s overdose prevention efforts, hearing San Francisco officials call for emulating their approach is both inspiring and disheartening. On one hand, it means there is broad support from the local leaders, but it also means state and federal officials still aren’t on board, which makes the present difficult and the future uncertain.

The New York sites are set up the way they are partly because ex-governor Andrew Cuomo was reluctant to fully get on board and cited the need for federal legal clarity before moving forward, according to Jasmine Budnella, director of drug policy at the harm reduction group VOCAL-NY.

“Can a city in California move without Gov. Newsom? Absolutely,” Budnella told VICE News. “We moved without Gov. Cuomo. It’s a moment of crisis, we knew we had to go ahead.”

One problem is that unless Congress acts to change federal law—which seems unlikely—the Department of Justice has the authority to crack down on overdose prevention sites at the discretion of the next president and attorney general. Budnella called the overdose crisis a “kitchen table” issue, and noted that Republican voters might not react favorably to a federal meddling in a local program aimed at preventing deaths. 

Recent polling has shown bipartisan support for such programs, but they are also a culture war lighting rod fiercely criticized by conservatives. On Fox News, Tucker Carlson has featured as a guest on his show the head of a group called Mothers Against Drug Death, who claims San Francisco leaders are trying to keep people “chained to addiction."

The group behind the Philadelphia overdose site, Safehouse, has said it expects to reach a settlement with the DOJ that “would clear a path for these services to be offered across the U.S.,” but the details remain fuzzy.

In the meantime, there’s the issue of money. Without state or federal support, sites like the ones in New York, San Francisco, and elsewhere will be forced to rely on private donations.

“Sadly,” Budnella said, “we don’t have a bunch of billionaires ready to fund overdose prevention centers through private dollars.”

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Categories: Tech News

Nvidia will unveil next-gen GPU architecture in September

The Register - Thu, 08/25/2022 - 07:09
But graphics giant foresees revenues falling even further in the next quarter as gamer GPU sales drop

Graphics giant Nvidia plans to unveil the architecture for its next-generation consumer GPU, Lovelace, at its GTC conference in September, CEO Jensen Huang has said.…

Categories: Tech News

California calls time on internal combustion engines from 2035

ARS Technica - Thu, 08/25/2022 - 07:06
The words Mad Gas 2035 are printed in a Mad Max Fury Road typeface.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

On Thursday when the California Air Resources Board gathers for its monthly meeting, it's widely expected it will approve a ban on new vehicles with internal combustion engines, set to go into effect in 2035. The state has been a leader in accelerating the transition to clean transportation, and this latest move continues that trend.

In fact, the proposed ban on new gasoline or diesel engines has been in the works for some time; just under two years ago California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order requiring that from 2035, all new passenger cars and light trucks be zero-emissions.

Around the world, cities and countries are starting to plan for the end of the internal combustion engine. Paris, Madrid, Athens, and Mexico City have announced plans to ban the sale of new fossil fuel-powered vehicles in the next three years—a target that might be somewhat ambitious post-pandemic.

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Categories: Tech News

Judge Rules Schools Can't Scan Your Bedroom With Creepy Proctoring Apps

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 08/25/2022 - 06:54

A federal judge in Cleveland, Ohio, has ruled against a university’s use of controversial anti-cheating software which required students to capture images of their private rooms before taking remote exams.

The lawsuit was brought by Aaron Ogletree, a chemistry student at Cleveland State University who argued that the software violated students’ privacy by asking them to scan their rooms before tests. The room-scanning feature became a fixture during the early parts of the COVID-19 pandemic, when classes moved online and schools and universities sought ways to monitor students using technology that claims to prevent cheating.

But like many other students who have criticized the proctoring software, Ogletree objected to the virtual intrusion, and sued the school, which is a public institution, for what he claimed were violations of his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search.

In a decision released on Monday, a federal court agreed.

“Though schools may routinely employ remote technology to peer into houses without objection from some, most, or nearly all students, it does not follow that others might not object to the virtual intrusion into their homes or that the routine use of a practice such as room scans does not violate a privacy interest that society recognizes as reasonable, both

factually and legally,” Judge J. Phillip Calabrese wrote in the ruling for Ohio’s Northern District. “Therefore, the Court determines that Mr. Ogletree’s subjective expectation of privacy at issue is one that society views as reasonable and that lies at the core of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against governmental intrusion.”

Motherboard has reported extensively on proctoring software like Proctorio, Respondus, and Honorlock, which became widely used for remote test-taking during the pandemic. The companies behind the software claim it stops cheating using a variety of often-unsettling methods, like tracking students’ head and eye movements and sending instructors alerts for “suspicious behavior.” But students, parents, and school administrators have expressed a laundry list of complaints about the software—that it doesn’t work, uses racist algorithms to detect faces, and negatively impacts disabled and neuroatypical students.

Proctorio in particular has also been extremely litigious in response to the criticism. The company has sued critics for posting publicly available information about how its software works, and sent subpoenas demanding information from digital rights groups that spoke out against the software. Proctorio was not a part of Ogletree's suit; Respondus and Honorlock were the companies used by Cleveland State that were relevant in the lawsuit.

Ogletree’s lawsuit notes that while Cleveland State technically doesn’t require students to use the room-scanning feature, the software’s step-by-step instructions guide users to use it anyway—meaning many students likely did scans thinking it was mandatory. Cleveland State University also tried to argue that the room scans were justified because they are routine and preserve academic integrity for remote exams. But the court disagreed on both counts, pointing out that the scans don’t prevent cheating in practice and arguing that Ogletree still had an expectation of privacy in his own home, even if this type of software had become standard.

“Based on consideration of these factors, individually and collectively, the Court concludes that Mr. Ogletree’s privacy interest in his home outweighs Cleveland State’s interests in scanning his room,” the judge concluded. “Accordingly, the Court determines that Cleveland State’s practice of conducting room scans is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”

Categories: Tech News

Amazon to close US telehealth service as it shifts sector ambitions

ARS Technica - Thu, 08/25/2022 - 06:39
Amazon to close US telehealth service as it shifts sector ambitions

Enlarge (credit: SOPA Images via Getty)

Amazon is closing its telehealth service, Amazon Care, ending an ambitious plan to roll out its homegrown platform to “millions” of patients around the country, part of a long-stated goal of disrupting the US health care industry.

A memo sent to Amazon Care staff on Wednesday by Neil Lindsay, head of Amazon Health Services, said Amazon Care—which promised a doctor, nurse, or other health practitioner on demand, 24 hours a day—was not the right “long-term solution” for the external companies to which it had hoped to sell the service.

“This decision wasn’t made lightly and only became clear after many months of careful consideration,” Lindsay wrote, according to the memo seen by the Financial Times.

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Categories: Tech News

'I Know I Have an Issue': Does 'Buy Now, Pay Later' Convince People To Overspend?

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 08/25/2022 - 06:19

The first time she used a “buy now, pay later” service, Taylor Rawls didn’t think much of it. The 22-year-old simply needed furniture for her new house, but didn’t have the money.

Rawls had long prided herself on being frugal. Frightened early on in life by stories of debt and overspending, she became averse to credit cards and saved diligently for occasional extravagances like restaurants and trips.

But in the middle of last year, she needed a couch, a TV, and a table. That’s when she decided to use a new service called Affirm, which allowed her to buy all three things on Wayfair and split the payments into a series of more manageable installments.

“I just thought, ‘Oh, this is the best way to do it,’” she said. “Somehow, I convinced myself that ‘buy now, pay later’ services were different.”

Rawls, who works at a security company in Louisville, got the furniture and made the subsequent payments on time. That was fun, she thought to herself. After that, though, Rawls started to also use another “buy now, pay later” service, Afterpay, and shopped at stores like New Balance, Urban Outfitters, Reebok, Blamo, and Obey. Quickly, her frugality was replaced with a “shopping addiction,” she said.  “I know I have an issue.”

“It's easy to get sucked in,” one “buy now, pay later” user said.

The entrance of “buy now, pay later” into the financial system has led to a furious debate that has consumed regulators, politicians, and TikTok users about whether the new financial product is good or bad. But the messy truth might be that it embodies two seeming contradictions at once. The “buy now, pay later” system may very well be an improvement on the credit card system and its cycles of compounding debt while still encouraging overspending among the financially marginalized and vulnerable—two groups who can least afford it and are also more likely to use the industry’s services.

Stories like Rawls’ get at the heart of the intensifying debate: By the standards of the industry, she has remained financially responsible from her very first purchase, never having missed a payment and diligently forking over thousands of dollars. Because she used “buy now, pay later,” she did not have to deal with the high fees and compounding interest that comes with credit cards, and today, she is close to paying off her balance.

Nevertheless, she hopes to quit the services and move on; though, again, if she does, she will leave relatively unscathed in the long run. Did the services help her when she needed money with minimal long-term damage, or did they convince her to spend more over time than she otherwise would have? And if the answer is “both,” which matters more?

Have you worked at a “buy now, pay later” service? We want to hear about your experience. From a non-work device, contact our reporter at maxwell.strachan@vice.com or via Signal at 310-614-3752 for extra security.

The “buy now, pay later” proposition has become an almost omnipresent aspect of the American shopping experience. “It’s very enticing. You can't escape it,” said Marshall Lux, a Harvard Kennedy School research fellow who studies the industry. The increasingly popular idea flips the traditional layaway plan on its head: Instead of putting down money over time and receiving a product at the end, people can now order the product immediately using “buy now, pay later” and then pay it off in installments, often with little to no interest and lower fees than come with credit cards. By being more open to who they accept as customers, “buy now, pay later” has become particularly well utilized by marginalized groups including young people, Black and brown Americans, and people with low credit ratings.

The companies and their proponents say that this new system offers “a fairer and more sustainable alternative” to credit cards, as the spokesperson of one of the companies, Klarna, put it to Motherboard. Generally, the credit card industry profits from a customer’s inability to pay, pulling in $120 billion a year in interest and fees. The situation is made worse when families must carry a credit card balance and pay additional compounding interest as a result, sometimes trapping them in a cycle of debt.

“Shoppers who use Afterpay spend +40% more than those who do not,” Afterpay says on its website.

By comparison, “buy now, pay later” companies say they don’t win when customers fail to pay—they make a much smaller percentage from fees—and as such they’ve built systems that help people succeed financially,  avoid long-term debt, and remain reliable customers.

While the companies have their differences, the services by and large charge little to no interest (and especially no compounding interest), small late fees (if any at all), and often restrict spending after a failure to make a payment. Spending limits are more closely limited and monitored, sometimes even on a purchase-by-purchase basis, and balances are much lower than on credit cards as a result. According to Klarna and Afterpay, for example, their typical balances are $70 and $200, respectively—much less than the typical outstanding credit card, which was $5,500 last year, according to credit reporting company Experian.

And yet, stories abound of people who, like Rawls, found themselves buying more than they could afford once they started to use “buy now, pay later.” That is arguably the point. “Buy now, pay later” companies primarily make money by charging merchants a fee of 1.5 to 7 percent when a customer buys something using a “buy now, pay later” service. Businesses will gladly accept the fee, as it makes customers more likely to check out and buy more.

“It is not accurate to say that Affirm makes users less financially responsible or helps convince people to spend more than they should,” an Affirm spokesperson said.

One survey put out by the lending marketplace LendingTree found that almost 70 percent of “buy now, pay later” customers bought more than they would if they had to pay for everything at once. Another survey by the Financial Health Network found almost half of those polled “said they would not have made a purchase or spent more than they otherwise would have spent had BNPL not been available.” Companies like American Eagle and Southwest Airlines have explicitly said “buy now, pay later” boosted their sales.

“‘Buy now, pay later’ is very attractive to merchants because they find they sell a lot more, and that's good for them,” said Lauren Saunders, an associate director at the National Consumer Law Center who has testified before Congress about the industry.

The companies say so themselves. “Increase your sales with Affirm” and “keep your customers coming back,” Affirm tells potential merchant partners, citing an 85-plus percent increase in order value. “Shoppers who use Afterpay spend +40% more than those who do not,” Afterpay says for its part, adding that they shop “+50% more frequently” too. Klarna boasts its own “41% increase in average order value” and a “30% increase” in the number of people who check out.

The companies argue this is evidence not of overspending, but of customers who now have better financing options. “It is not accurate to say that Affirm makes users less financially responsible or helps convince people to spend more than they should,” an Affirm spokesperson told Motherboard (the emphasis was hers). Klarna said that its own internal data showed “little” evidence of overspending, and that the default rate on the platform was less than 1 percent, which she noted was less than is standard within the credit card industry.

Overspending, of course, is a subjective term, and consequently one that is difficult to quantitatively pin down. If someone feels they are overspending, but they continue to make all their payments, have they overextended themselves? Or is the system working?

It started with boots for Lissette Monzon, a high school teacher in Miami. There was one $700 pair she could not afford “in any universe,” she said. Like many others, Monzon had an aversion to the interest that came with credit cards. So when she found out that she could pay for the boots over time using Klarna, she was thrilled. It made the purchase manageable.

From there, Monzon started to use “buy now, pay later” regularly. She made purchases on the home shopping network and at Sephora and Intermix. On their own, none of the purchases seemed too concerning, especially in installments. But they added up. “You're still paying it, obviously. It’s just you don’t feel it as much,” she said. “It's easy to get sucked in.” Saunders, the associate director at the National Consumer Law Center, said that is the point. “It’s designed to make things look cheaper than they are, more affordable than they are,” she said. “But that's not necessarily good for individuals who are buying more than they can really afford.”

The services also masked her spending. Monzon’s husband, for example, had no idea how much the boots cost and wasn’t aware of how much she was spending in total, she said. He would see charges month after month from places like Sephora and ask her to call the company, concerned they were double charging.

Then, after her son lost her debit card, she struggled to remember all of the institutions she owed money to. One day, she received a letter informing her that she owed money on a missed payment. Monzon’s mother had always had always stressed the importance of maintaining good credit, and she was horrified with herself. As soon as she could, she made the payment and shut down all her “buy now, pay later” accounts, hoping to set a better example for her two children moving forward.

“I need them to be responsible with their money, and I was not being responsible,”  she said.

Tanya Rudra, a journalist in Germany, has found it harder to control her spending since her own bank started offering a version of “buy now, pay later” last year as well. The installment service allowed her to spend more than she would have otherwise, and she found herself spending all the money available to her—so much that she had trouble keeping track. Instead of buying one bottle of perfume, she would buy two or three. Recently, she promised herself she wouldn’t go over a 500-euro budget she had set for new television. But at the store, the salesman showed her more expensive set-ups, and she priced out what it would cost if she paid in installments. In the end, Rudra ended up spending 850 euros.

“It has become a problem,” said Rudra. “I need to stop and I don't know how to stop.”

Rudra has never missed a payment, which, according to some, is relatively common in the “buy now, pay later” world. Afterpay said that in the 12 months ending in June, 95 percent of installment payments were made on time, and 98 of purchases had no associated late fees. The moment they do miss a payment, they cannot make further purchases, “which ensures that he/she can’t fall into the revolving cycle of debt,” an Afterpay spokesperson said.

“By the time somebody is defaulting on their ‘buy now, pay later’ payment, they're in deep, deep trouble.”

Outside surveys put the likelihood of missed payment higher, including one from the personal finance company CreditKarma that found 34 percent of “buy now, pay later” users had fallen behind on a payment.

But even if “buy now, pay later” customers don’t technically fall behind, the debt can still financially stretch them beyond comfortable limits. “People can be struggling even before the ‘buy now, pay later’ company stops getting payments,” said Saunders. “By the time somebody is defaulting on their ‘buy now, pay later’ payment, they're in deep, deep trouble.”

Data show that the argument that “buy now, pay later” customers use the services as a cash-management tool and are largely spending within their bounds is not the entire story. Surveys have found that “buy now, pay later” customers’ total debt increases once they use the services. One in three “buy now, pay later” customers in the U.S. overdrafted in January, a significantly higher percentage than adults overall; and a quarter of financially vulnerable people who use “buy now, pay later” struggle to make the payments; and more than two in five end up borrowing money elsewhere to cover their payment installments in the U.K.

“It's hurting people who can least afford it,” said Lux, the Harvard fellow.

Nevertheless, a large number of people are starting to see “buy now, pay later” as the preferable financing alternative in the U.S., where the number of people who have used them reportedly increases by 300 percent each year. One study put out this month by the consumer insights firm J.D. Power found Amercians now often prefer to make large purchases using “buy now, pay later” options instead of their credit cards.

“There’s a high certainty that you’re going to get the limit you need,” Sezzle CEO Charlie Youakim has said.

But the growing popularity of “buy now, pay later” could also be related to the fact that the services are relatively accessible in the U.S. In fact, the process has been described by researchers as “nearly instantaneous.” Afterpay has said it does “no external credit checks or reporting to credit bureaus.” The CEO of Sezzle, another “buy, now pay later” service, went so far on a podcast published in May as to say that the company approves 90 percent of people who apply—even if the company can’t find anything about the person’s history—and for the most part only turns down suspected fraudsters and people who have already missed a payment.

“There’s a high certainty that you’re going to get the limit you need,” CEO Charlie Youakim said then.

To make its determinations, Sezzle said it considers “alternative’” credit data like past utility payments, which he says is cheaper than FICO scores to obtain.

(A Sezzle spokesperson told Motherboard the podcast was taped in February and that the company has “made a number of changes since then, so that quote is no longer accurate.” Follow-up questions asking about the specific changes and inaccuracies went unreturned.)

Nadine Chabrier, a senior policy counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending, sees less traditional checks like these as evidence that the companies do not closely enough consider people’s finances and overall debt before lending money to them. While credit card companies can temporarily lower someone’s credit when they perform a “hard” credit check, they do so in order to better understand the entirety of someone’s financial situation. By not doing the same, “buy now, pay later” businesses could put someone in “a situation where they are overextended financially,” she said.

Affirm: “other buy now pay later players … do not underwrite at all.”

Unsurprisingly, at least some of the companies don’t see that as the case, believing their processes to be modern but comprehensive while also noting that it is the company that takes on the risk. Affirm, for example, says it performs a fast but in-depth analysis using some credit report data as well as “proprietary,” “Affirm-specific” data each time a user wants to buy something using the service to deduce whether they can afford it. The CEO has said this process protects customers from “overextending themselves,”  and a spokesperson said the “soft” credit check allows customers to avoid temporarily hurting their credit.

“Sure, we make it easy and convenient to ask, but we will still look at your credit situation at that very moment and decide — and if we believe you won’t be able to pay off your loan, we will, in fact, decline your application – with compassion and transparency – without fail,” CEO Max Levchin wrote in June.

Hoping to further differentiate Affirm from its competitors, a company spokesperson added that “other buy now pay later players … do not underwrite at all.” But even Affirm stated proudly when it went public that it approved 20 percent more customers than its competitors, according to Bloomberg. (Subtle intra-industry criticism is not exclusive to Affirm. The Klarna spokesperson went out of her way to remind Motherboard that “as a licensed European bank we are quite different from other BNPL providers.”)

Because of the more lenient approval process, the industry attracts people who are less likely to be approved by traditional lenders. Gen Z is more likely to use the platform, as are Black and brown Americans, and the credit reporting agency TransUnion has found that compared to the average person, “buy now, pay later” customers have worse credit ratings and are more likely to be past due on payments. Where the line between overspending and increased spending lies with such groups is hard to determine.

The growing popularity and use of “buy now, pay later” services has concerned advocates, researchers, and government officials and agencies, including the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which started investigating in December, citing potential regulatory arbitrage and the accumulation of debt. Others have become similarly skeptical.

“We want to make sure that people have access to credit only when it's affordable and constructive, and not when it's going to put them into a debt trap,” said Saunders. The “buy now, pay later” companies Motherboard spoke to said they want the same thing and support “proportionate regulation” of the sector, as the Klarna spokesperson put it.

In Diana Almonte’s opinion, something about the system needs to change. A project manager in the New York area, Almonte said she became almost addicted to “buy now, pay later” after she started using it. The first “buy now, pay later” service she used was Afterpay, but she soon added on services like Affirm, Klarna, Sezzle, and Zip.

Almonte loved the ease with which she could buy things like Louis Vuiton nude pumps, but like the others, found over time that it also made it difficult for her to control her spending.

 “I wanted to be able to buy all these different things at the same time,” said Almonte, who asked that Motherboard use a name not professionally associated with her.

Almonte kept a spreadsheet of all of her “buy now, pay later” purchases to keep tabs, but the list became overwhelming, and she started to fall behind. Soon, she received a collection notice from a debt collector, which showed up on her credit report.

“It's literally like having a bunch of drug dealers that are just there for you whenever you need it,” she said.

Categories: Tech News

Twitter whistleblower summoned to Senate Judiciary Committee

The Register - Thu, 08/25/2022 - 06:18
Get the popcorn out for September 13

Former head of security at Twitter and whistleblower Peiter "Mudge" Zatko is scheduled to appear before the US Senate Judiciary Committee on September 13 to discuss allegations that his former employer made serious failures in protecting user data.…

Categories: Tech News

Websites Can Identify If You’re Using iPhone’s New ‘Lockdown’ Mode

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 08/25/2022 - 06:00

Once Apple launches the new iPhone and iPad operating system early next month, users will be able to turn on a new privacy mode that the company calls “extreme.” It’s made for journalists, activists, politicians, human rights defenders, and anyone else who may be worried about getting targeted by sophisticated hackers, perhaps working for governments armed with spyware made by companies such as NSO Group. Apple calls it “Lockdown Mode” and it works by disabling some regular iPhone features that have been exploited to hack users in the past. 

But if users turn on Lockdown Mode, they will be easy to fingerprint and identify, according to a developer who created a proof of concept website that detects whether you have Lockdown Mode enabled or not. 

John Ozbay, the CEO of privacy focused company Cryptee, and a privacy activist, told Motherboard that any website or online ad can detect whether some regular features are missing, such as loading custom fonts, one of the features that Lockdown Mode disables. 

“Let's say you're in China, and you're using Lockdown Mode. Now, any website that you visit could effectively detect you are using Lockdown Mode, they have your IP address as well. So they will actually be able to identify that the user with this IP address is using Lockdown Mode,” Ozbay said in a call. “It's a tradeoff between security and privacy. [Apple] chose security.”

Do you, or did you used to, work at Apple? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai securely on Signal at +1 917 257 1382, Wickr/Telegram/Wire @lorenzofb, or email lorenzofb@vice.com

Ozbay said that there are several features that Lockdown Mode disables, and that websites could detect, but the lack of loading custom fonts is “the easiest thing to detect and exploit.”

“It took us five minutes to put the code together and see if this was working,” he said. 

This issue, which is technically not a bug but just a specific drawback of how Lockdown Mode is designed, could paint a massive target on the back of users who are likely Apple's most vulnerable users. There unfortunately may be no way around it.

“As for fingerprinting, it’s sadly a trade off we always have to deal with. The same is true of Tor and the Tor Browser—they go to huge lengths to reduce any fingerprinting ability but you end up standing out because you’re the one with less traceable fingerprints,” Ryan Stortz, an independent security researcher who has studied iOS, told Motherboard. 

Ozbay created a proof-of-concept website that detects whether the visitor is using Lockdown Mode. Motherboard verified it works by visiting the website with an iPhone without Lockdown Mode enabled, and asking Stortz, who has Lockdown Mode enabled, to visit the site.

lockdown-on.jpegA screenshot of the proof-of-concept website created by Ozbay. (Image: Motherboard)

Ozbay reached out to an Apple employee on Twitter and had a conversation with him about the issues he found. The employee, according to screenshots of their chat, told him that “web fonts are disabled intentionally to remove font parsing from available web attack surface,” and that “watering hole attacks are part of our threat model, so I'm not sure it would make sense to have web font exceptions per site.” (Watering hole attacks are exploits where hackers lure a victim to a known website where they injected malware, or a copycat of a known website that serves malware.)

In other words, there’s nothing Apple can do right now to mitigate this issue without fundamentally changing how Lockdown Mode works.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment. 

Even if Apple doesn’t make any changes, Stortz hopes that if enough people turn on Lockdown Mode, everyone will blend in and it will be harder to be identified as an interesting target.

“Obviously you have to opt into Lockdown Mode and are sorta signaling that you think you’re potentially of interest to a nation state attacker but Apple also made it painfully easy to turn on,” he said. “So ideally you’d be lost in the crowd of people who are more privacy conscious without the targeted spying concerns.” 

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Categories: Tech News

Deals are being 'inspected by higher levels of management,' says Salesforce

The Register - Thu, 08/25/2022 - 05:43
Customers 'more measured' and this will continue, says CRM giant, but Snowflake lifts forecasts

Salesforce said last night it was seeing sales cycles stretch and was taking a "very deliberate" approach to hiring after it missed analysts' expectations for revenue growth.…

Categories: Tech News

Japan Wants to Build Nuclear Plants Again

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 08/25/2022 - 05:34

In a major reversal, Japan is planning a big shift back to nuclear energy more than a decade after the Fukushima nuclear disaster hurt public confidence in the safety of the zero-carbon power source.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday the government would consider building new nuclear power plants amid soaring fuel costs and pressure to cut carbon emissions. Japan has also planned to restart more nuclear reactors that were suspended after a mammoth tsunami inundated the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011.

“The government will take the lead in various measures to restart our nuclear power plants,” Kishida said at a conference.

After the nuclear meltdown, Japan took most of its reactors offline and turned to coal and other fossil fuels to make up for the energy shortfall. Today, only five out of Japan’s 60 reactors are in operation, and the bulk of its energy comes from abroad.

But rising fuel prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and a burgeoning pressure to meet its carbon emission goals have prompted Kishida to ponder a return to nuclear power.

In addition to building new reactors, Kishida said Wednesday he planned to restart up to 17 nuclear power plants by the summer of 2023.

Atomic energy now provides just 4 percent of the country’s electricity, from about 30 percent before 2011. In 2014, the Japanese government set a target to increase that number to 20 to 22 percent by 2030, a plan that was met with pushback from a public still wary of the consequences of a nuclear disaster.

But public sentiment toward nuclear power has recovered from a lull after the 2011 disaster. For the first time in over 10 years, polls conducted in March show that a majority of Japanese support restarting reactors.

Japan’s tight power supply was painfully felt this summer as unusually hot weather pushed electricity demand. To avert a power crunch, the government called on residents to conserve energy by not using household appliances unnecessarily.

The Fukushima accident dealt a blow to nuclear energy globally. Just months after the meltdown, Germany said it would phase out nuclear power by 2022 and shut down most of the country’s reactors. Several other European countries either halted plans for new plants or shut down existing reactors.

But the Ukraine war has proved to be a game-changer for nuclear energy.

Germany, which relied heavily on Russian exports for its energy, has been facing a fuel crisis and is now considering delaying the closure of nuclear power plants. In April, U.S. President Joe Biden launched a $6 billion credit program to aid nuclear power plants at risk of closing. In Asia, newly elected leaders of the Philippines and South Korea have also pushed to restart or build new nuclear plants to ease power shortages.

Japan hopes that nuclear power will help it reach its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, plans the prime minister outlined at the UN Climate Change Conference last fall. In the Wednesday meeting, Kishida told officials he wanted “concrete conclusions” by the end of this year on how plants can be restarted, Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported.

Japan relies heavily on fossil fuels, more than 90 percent of which comes from four countries in the Middle East. Coal and liquified natural gas each make up about 25 percent of Japan’s energy mix.

Follow Hanako Montgomery on Twitter and Instagram.

Categories: Tech News

Leaked Videos of Gay Sex Lead To Calls For Monkeypox Contact Tracing in the Maldives

Motherboard (Vice) - Thu, 08/25/2022 - 05:32

A tired-looking young man dressed in white averts his gaze from the camera. His heavily hooded eyes are bloodshot. He clasps his hands in a pleading stance and stares straight into the lens.

“I have repented. All Maldivian citizens, please forgive me,” he says. The man in the video is M.D. Alamgiri, a trafficked Bangladeshi sex worker who has been accused of filming, blackmailing and engaging in same-sex relations with politicians and officials of the Maldivian government. 

Since June, several leaked videos of people engaging in same-sex relations with Alamgiri have gone viral on Maldivian social media. These include videos of a police officer, a former journalist, and former President Mohamed Nasheed's brother. 

The Maldives is often touted as a gay-honeymoon destination with symbolic marriage ceremonies conducted on the sandy beaches of its private luxury resorts. The country’s $1.4 billion tourism industry covets the rainbow dollar, but LGBTQ acceptance is limited to its tourists. 

monkeypox, contact tracing, Maldives, gay sexM.D Alamgiri during a police raid of his residence. Photo: Ahmed Azaan

Alamgiri’s case has metastasized into a widespread homophobic outcry on social media, with many expressing disgust, ridicule and outright anger at Alamgiri and the men featured in the videos. Many have demanded their arrests under local laws criminalizing homosexuality. The penalties for homosexuality in the country can range to up to eight years’ imprisonment and 100 lashes. 

The case is also being used in conjunction with the global monkeypox outbreak, further stigmatising the country’s vulnerable LGBTQ community, most of whom live closeted lives for their safety. Politician Ahmed Shiyam has spearheaded a call for monkeypox contact tracing to be carried out on Alamgiri and his clients after one suspected case was reported in the country in July. 

“It is important for authorities to look into this matter because there was one suspected case of monkeypox but the results came out as negative. However, the concern is still there, since monkeypox is spreading everywhere in the world,” Ahmed Shiyam told VICE World News. The police have yet to say whether they would conduct the proposed contact tracing.

According to the World Health Organization, men who have sex with men are still, overwhelmingly, the people most affected by monkeypox in the recent outbreak. However, the contact-based illness can be contracted by anyone. Public health experts have stressed using appropriate messaging to prevent homophobic stigmatisation against the LGBTQ community. 

“The response needs to be well-resourced and nuanced and sensitive. It is not sufficient to say at a global level that monkeypox right now is spreading amongst men who have sex with men and that we should do contact tracing,” Kyle Knight, a senior health and LGBTQ rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, told VICE World News. 

“What you need to do is to have very specific instructions when you have a confirmed case. Only then is it logical from a public health perspective to reach out and conduct contact tracing. However, just because something is logical from a public health perspective does not mean that it is right from a human rights perspective,” said Knight. 

Because the Maldives punishes gay sex, the LGBTQ community is fearful that when positive cases actually do emerge in the country, they will be forced further into hiding. 

“I am absolutely terrified of an actual outbreak occurring in the Maldives because it will be used to out and harass members of our community,” said a gay man who lives in the capital Male, and who requested anonymity for his safety. 

LGBTQ Maldivians are forced to live double lives with their identities constantly condemned by conservative religious groups. In the past, these condemnations have escalated into violence against openly-queer individuals and LGBTQ rights defenders by extremists. 

In 2011, former journalist and LGBTQ rights activist Hilath Rasheed was almost decapitated outside his home. The attacker was never punished. 

Rasheed’s friend, LGBTQ activist and drag queen Medulla Oblongata who currently resides in New Zealand continues to receive a steady onslaught of death threats.                                                                       

“I receive threats all the time on my social media. I get threatened with beheading a lot. At this point I have a fear of being beheaded,” Medulla Oblongata told VICE World News. 

Maldivian LGBTQ rights advocate Shakyl Ahmed who spoke to VICE World News from an undisclosed location believes that Shiyam’s calls for monkeypox contact tracing are merely a smokescreen to fan homophobic hate against the LGBTQ community. 

“If sufficient people with monkeypox or any serious disease are found within Alamgiri’s network, then I wouldn't be against contract tracing. But for now, they are just being anti-gay. Nothing else,” Ahmed told VICE World News. 

He isn’t wrong. Shiyam, the politician believes that the authorities should clamp down on same-sex activity in the country. 

monkeypox, contact tracing, Maldives, gay sexMaldivian politician Ahmed Shiyam is calling for monkeypox contact tracing to be conducted against the men identified in the leaked viral videos. Photo: Ahmed Shiyam

“We want the government, especially the investigating authorities to look into this case closely because aside from concerns about monkeypox, we are a 100 percent Muslim country and these kind of acts are not allowed. They are haraam (forbidden),” said Shiyam. 

His concerns are shared by others. On Aug. 23, an amendment calling for homosexuality to be classified as a major criminal offense was presented in parliament. Only 12 criminal acts are currently classified as such including murder, terror financing, money laundering, rape and child abuse. 

Human rights groups and LGBTQ activists are troubled by the homophobic escalation of Shiyam’s calls for contact tracing. 

“This politician who is calling for it is doing it without evidence. This politician is doing it to jump on to a global trend to use the rhetoric of homophobia surrounding monkeypox and the outbreaks so far this summer to further drive stigma and create an even more stigmatising narrative about this case,” said Knight. 

So far 38 men have been identified from the videos and are under police investigation for same-sex activity. Police have seized the passports of 18 men and informed their employers that they were identified in the videos. Many have been fired from their jobs or suspended.

On Aug. 22 formal charges were filed by the prosecutor general’s office against Alamgiri and three men. Although the three men have been released from police custody, Alamgiri continues to be detained. 

Follow Rimal Farrukh on Twitter.

Categories: Tech News

Sony raises PlayStation 5 console prices in many regions, effective immediately

ARS Technica - Thu, 08/25/2022 - 05:08
Wanna buy one of these in many parts of the world? Starting today, that's gonna cost you a little bit more.

Enlarge / Wanna buy one of these in many parts of the world? Starting today, that's gonna cost you a little bit more. (credit: Sam Machkovech)

In the early hours of Thursday morning, Sony announced massive news for its PlayStation 5 console family. Around the world, console prices are going up.

The price hike for both models of PlayStation 5 (one with a disc drive, one without) is effective immediately in at least six regions, with Japan joining the price-hike fray on September 15. Sony's announcement lists specific price increases for some of its biggest gaming territories, yet it additionally warns that "select markets" may see their own price hikes in the coming days. These include territories in the Asia-Pacific region, Central and South America, and the massive cluster of nations that comprises the EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa).

Somehow, one particular region is out of Sony's price-hike crosshairs for now: the United States.

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Categories: Tech News