Seven in 10 people say the “dark net” – an anonymous online home to both criminals and activists afraid of government snooping – should be shut down, according to a global Ipsos poll released on Tuesday.
The findings, from a poll of at least 1,000 people in each of 24 countries, come as policymakers and technology companies argue over whether digital privacy should be curbed to help regulators and law enforcement more easily thwart hackers and other digital threats.
The U.S. Justice Department is currently trying to force Apple Inc to write software to allow access to an iPhone used by San Bernardino, California shooter Rizwan Farook.
The dark net refers to an area of the Internet only accessible via special web browsers that ensure anonymity, where content is hidden and data typically encrypted.
The Ipsos poll was commissioned the Waterloo, Ontario-based Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). The think tank is part of a commission seeking to shape Internet governance.
The question asked in the poll pointed out the dark net’s anonymity can protect journalists, human rights activists, dissidents and whistleblowers, but also hide child abuse networks and illegal marketplaces selling weapons and narcotics.
The portion of respondents who either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed it should be shuttered ranged between 61 percent and 85 percent, with support strongest in Indonesia, India, Egypt and Mexico and weakest in Sweden, South Korea and Kenya.
Other countries polled included Pakistan, Australia, the United States, France, Germany, Turkey, and Tunisia.
“The public clearly wants law enforcement to have the tools to do its job. But if you flip it around and say should they have access to your data they tend to feel differently,” said Fen Osler Hampson, director of the global security and politics program at CIGI.
Only 38 percent of all respondents said they trust that their online activities are not monitored.
Hampson said public concern about online privacy will likely grow as more and more cars, appliances and infrastructure connect to online networks.
Priceline Group has agreed with Cuba to make Cuban hotel rooms available to U.S. customers through subsidiary Booking.com, becoming the first U.S. online travel agency to sign a deal with the island, a Booking.com executive said.
The deal comes on the first full day of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba and on the heels of U.S. hotel firm Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide’s agreement with the Cuban government to manage and market three Havana hotel properties.
Booking.com would allow Americans traveling to Cuba to reserve and pay for rooms at a number of Cuban and foreign hotels, starting in several weeks, Booking.com Americas Managing Director Todd Dunlap told Reuters in an interview.
Americans previously had to reserve Cuban hotels principally through travel agencies or tour groups.
Booking.com would operate initially in Cuba only in Havana, Dunlap said. It planned to work with foreign firms already on the island, including France’s Accor and Spanish chains Meliá Hotels International SA and NH Hotel Group SA. It was also working on deals with state-run Cuban chains.
The only major American lodging booking service currently available to Americans traveling to Cuba is online home-rental marketplace Airbnb, which began operating in Cuba in April last year.
Priceline began working on bringing its services to Cuba shortly after President Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic ties with the island on December 17, 2014.
Cuban tourism infrastructure has seen significant strain since U.S. relations to the island warmed. Prices have surged for the island’s 63,000 hotel rooms, many of which are booked solid months in advance. Cuba received a record 3.52 million visitors last year, up 17.4 percent from 2014. American visits rose 77 percent to 161,000, not counting hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans.
Tourism to Cuba is still technically illegal under the U.S. trade embargo. U.S. travelers to the island are required to do so under “general licenses” which permit travel for religion, family visits, cultural exchange, sports, and other purposes approved by the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control. On March 17 OFAC said it would allow individual people-to-people educational exchanges, as well.
Connie, which will be working in a pilot test at the Hilton McLean in Virginia, is designed to interact with hotel guests and answer questions about hotel amenities, local attractions and dining options.
“We’re focused on reimagining the entire travel experience to make it smarter, easier and more enjoyable for guests,” said Jonathan Wilson, vice president of product innovation and brand services at Hilton Worldwide, in a statement.
The robot is using IBM’s Watson machine-learning APIs, like speech to text, text to speech and its natural language classifier.
The more guests interact with Connie, the more it learns, adapts and improves its recommendations.
The project also is pulling in WayBlazer, a cognitive search platform focused on travel.
The robot, built by France-based Aldebaran, which also makes the well-known Pepper robot, is a NAO humanoid robot that is approximately 23 inches tall. (Pepper is nearly 5 feet tall.) According to the company, NAO is in its fifth version and 7,000 have been sold.
Having a robot helping hotel guests isn’t a new idea.
About a year ago, Aloft hotel in Cupertino, Calif. began using an autonomous robotic butler to deliver small amenities — like toothbrushes or a small snack — to guests’ rooms.
The robot has been so popular that the hotel chain has decided to bring similar robots, called Butlr, to two of its other properties.
The Hilton project, though, is taking this idea a step further.
Instead of simply using the robot to travel to the guest’s room and deliver something, Connie is designed to actually interact with guests.
The hotel is hoping Connie will be able to answer guest questions like where they should go to find great Italian food or where the best mini-golf course is nearby.
And because of the machine learning aspect of the robot, the more interactions Connie has with guests, the more it will learn about what guests want and hone its recommendations.
Facebook has unveiled its next-generation GPU-based systems for training neural networks, Open Rack-compatible hardware code-named “Big Sur” which it plans to open source.
The social media giant’s latest machine learning system has been designed for artificial intelligence (AI) computing at a large scale, and in most part has been crafted with Nvidia hardware.
Big Sur comprises eight high-performance GPUs of up to 300 watts each, with the flexibility to configure between multiple PCI-e topologies. It makes use of Nvidia’s Tesla Accelerated Computing Platform, and as a result is twice as fast as Facebook’s previous generation rack.
“This means we can train twice as fast and explore networks twice as large,” said the firm in its engineering blog. “And distributing training across eight GPUs allows us to scale the size and speed of our networks by another factor of two.”
Facebook claims that as well as better performance, Big Sur is also far more versatile and efficient than the off-the-shelf solutions in its previous generation.
“While many high-performance computing systems require special cooling and other unique infrastructure to operate, we have optimised these new servers for thermal and power efficiency, allowing us to operate them even in our own free-air cooled, Open Compute standard data centres,” explained the company.
We spoke to Nvidia’s senior product manager for GPU Computing, Will Ramey, ahead of the launch, who has been working on the Big Sur project alongside Facebook for some time.
“The project is the first time that a complete computing system that is designed for machine learning and AI will be released as an open source solution,” said Ramey. “By taking the purpose-built design spec that Facebook has designed for their own machine learning apps and open sourcing them, people will benefit from and contribute to the project so it can move the entire industry forward.”
While Big Sur was built with Nvidia’s new Tesla M40 hyperscale accelerator in mind, it can actually support a wide range of PCI-e cards in what Facebook believes could make for better efficiencies in production and manufacturing to get more computational power for every penny that it invests.
“Servers can also require maintenance and hefty operational resources, so, like the other hardware in our data centres, Big Sur was designed around operational efficiency and serviceability,” Facebook said. “We’ve removed the components that don’t get used very much, and components that fail relatively frequently – such as hard drives and DIMMs – can now be removed and replaced in a few seconds.”
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Big Sur announcement is Facebook’s plans to open-source it and submit the design materials to the Open Compute Project. This is a bid to make it easier for AI researchers to share techniques and technologies.
“As with all hardware systems that are released into the open, it’s our hope that others will be able to work with us to improve it,” Facebook said, adding that it believes open collaboration will help foster innovation for future designs, and put us closer to building complex AI systems that will probably take over the world and kill us all.
Nvidia released its end-to-end hyperscale data centre platform last month claiming that it will let web services companies accelerate their machine learning workloads and power advanced artificial intelligence applications.
Consisting of two accelerators, Nvidia’s latest hyperscale line aims to let researchers design new deep neural networks more quickly for the increasing number of applications they want to power with AI. It also is designed to deploy these networks across the data centre. The line also includes a suite of GPU-accelerated libraries.
The European Union is aming to push for allowing consumers to access to their online subscriptions for services like Netflix, Sky and Canal+ when they travel in the 28-member bloc, setting it up for a battle with media groups.
The proposal was presented by the executive European Commission (EC) on Wednesday, along with a longer-term strategy for making copyrighted works more easily available across the EU, likely to run into stiff opposition from the media industry as well as from artists.
Letting people take online subscriptions abroad chimes with Brussels’ aim of tearing down borders in the online world and is reminiscent of its efforts to allow use of domestic mobile phone subscriptions abroad without paying hefty roaming charges.
Under the proposal, consumers with subscriptions to services such as Sky TV Now, ProSiebenSat.1MaxDome TV in Germany or Netflix in France, would be able to view content they have paid for when they temporarily travel abroad.
What temporarily means has been left open, but the EC expects companies to set limits on the amount of time people can use their subscriptions abroad so they do not abuse the system by buying cheaper services outside their home country.
While Netflix is already available in many European countries, content is tailored to local tastes, so a French user in Belgium, for example, will not have access to the specific French catalog without using workarounds such as virtual private networks.
“People who legally buy content – films, books, football matches, TV series – must be able to carry it with them anywhere they go in Europe,” said Andrus Ansip, commission vice-president for the digital single market.
The EC also proposed rules protecting people when they buy goods and digital content online, estimating this will spur up to an additional 13 million consumers to start buying online from other EU countries.
However, the bigger battle with the media industry is likely to come next year, when the EC plans to enhance the availability of TV and radio programs online across the 28-member bloc.
Broadcasters, film producers and rights holders fear even a modest dilution of territorial licenses would diminish their value. “Any dilution of territorial exclusivity could lead to pan-European licensing, ultimately destroying that rich, culturally diverse content offer that we are all striving to create,” said Mathieu Moreuil, head of European policy for England’s Premier League.
The new complaint could strengthen the case against Google, possibly giving enough ammunition to EU antitrust regulators to eventually charge the company with anti-competitive business practices, on top of accusations related to its Google Shopping service.
The formal request was filed in April 2015 and largely mirrors the Russian company’s claims against the U.S. company in a Russian anti-monopoly case that Yandex won.
Russia’s competition watchdog ruled in September that Google had broken the law by requiring pre-installation of its search application on mobile devices running on its Android operating system.
“We think that the Russian finding of abuse of dominance is instructive, and is a conclusion that can readily be adopted in other jurisdictions, including the EU,” Yandex said.
Yandex is one of the few companies to publicly complain about Android.
It joins U.S. tech firm Disconnect, Portuguese app store Aptoide, and lobbying group FairSearch whose members include Microsoft, Expedia, TripAdvisor and French price comparison site Twenga.
Yandex, which rivals Google in Turkey as well as Russia and several other former Soviet republics, said its business development in Europe would depend, among other factors, on the outcome of the European Commission’s investigation.
“We hope the European Commission … offers their help in restoring fair competition and ensuring equal opportunity to pre-install mobile applications on Android-based devices not only for Google, but also for other developers,” it said.
Yandex is ahead of Google in Russia with a search market share of around 60 percent, but it has been slow expanding abroad – a position it flagged when selling shares in a $1.3 billion initial public offering on Nasdaq in 2011.
Facebook’s Safety Check tool to alert friends and family about their safety was activated for the first time after the terror attack in Paris on Friday, with a large number of users reporting they had benefited from it.
But that move drew widespread criticism online that the company had been partial, as it had not activated the feature in other locations recently hit in terror attacks, notably the twin attacks in Beirut on Thursday.
The social networking company was also criticized for releasing a photo filter that allowed users to show support for the people of Paris using the colors of the French flag on their profile pictures, with some people online charging the company with double standards for not releasing similar filters for the terror attacks in Beirut and other locations. One user, Hubert Southall, offered to design filters for users, saying that Facebook “needs to include all affected nations.”
Facebook’s current travails highlight the minefields a global company can encounter as it tries to accommodate sensitivities across the countries it operates in, where users’ priorities can be different and there is often the tendency for certain groups to feel they are not important enough for a giant multinational.
In the wake of the controversy over the activation of Safety Check in Paris, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg assured its users that the tool would be turned on more frequently in the future during human disasters. “Many people have rightfully asked why we turned on Safety Check for Paris but not for bombings in Beirut and other places,” Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page.
The Safety Check tool asks users believed to be in the location of an emergency if they are safe and lets them inform their friends by clicking a button. People also can check in on users who they believe are in the emergency area. The tool was first used in a “very early version” in Tokyo during the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster and later after recent earthquakes in Afghanistan, Chile and Nepal as well as Tropical Cyclone Pam in the South Pacific and Typhoon Ruby in the Philippines.
“We’re excited to announce the latest in an engaging line of optional product features geared towards making Messenger the best way to communicate with the people that matter most,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an email. “Starting today, we’re conducting a small test in France of a feature that allows people to send messages that disappear an hour after they’re sent. Disappearing messages gives people another fun option to choose from when they communicate on Messenger.”
This should sound familiar to Snapchat users who are accustomed to their messages disappearing shortly after they’re sent.
Users can turn the Facebook feature on by tapping an hourglass icon in the upper right corner of the Messenger screen. Tap the hourglass again to turn it off.
Facebook is testing disappearing messages for iOS and Android users in France only. While the feature may be available in more countries over time, Facebook didn’t have any current plans to share.
This may be a good defensive move for the social network.
Facebook has been struggling to retain, or even attract, younger users who are being lured away by apps like Instagram and Snapchat.
To deal with this problem, Facebook tried to buy Snapchat for a reported $3 billion in late 2013. The offer was turned down, though.
Then in early 2014, Facebook tried to go after Snapchat’s users by unveiling a new mobile app called Slingshot. The app was designed to enable users to instantly share photos and videos with multiple friends.
Now that Facebook is taking a different tack, the question is whether it can steal away Snapchat’s user base.
Britain has announced plans for sweeping new surveillance powers, including the right to find out which websites people visit, measures ministers say are vital to keep the country safe but which critics denounce as an assault on freedoms.
Across the West, debate about how to protect privacy while helping agencies operate in the digital age has raged since former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked details of mass surveillance by British and U.S. spies in 2013.
Experts say part of the new British bill goes beyond the powers available to security services in the United States.
The draft was watered down from an earlier version dubbed a “snoopers’ charter” by critics who prevented it reaching parliament. Home Secretary Theresa May told lawmakers the new document was unprecedented in detailing what spies could do and how they would be monitored.
“It will provide the strongest safeguards and world-leading oversight arrangements,” she said. “And it will give the men and women of our security and intelligence agencies and our law enforcement agencies … the powers they need to protect our country.”
They would be able to require communication service providers (CSPs) to hold their customers’ web browsing data for a year, which experts say is not available to their U.S. counterparts.
“What the British are attempting to do, and what the French have already done post Charlie Hebdo, would never have seen the light of day in the American political system,” Michael Hayden, former director of the U.S. National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency, told Reuters.
May said that many of the new bill’s measures merely updated existing powers or spelled them out.
Police and spies’ access to web use would be limited to “Internet connection records” – which websites people had visited but not the particular pages – and not their full browsing history, she said.
“An Internet connection record is a record of the communications service that a person has used – not a record of every web page they have accessed,” May said. “It is simply the modern equivalent of an itemised phone bill.”
In the first five months of 2015, publishers’ revenues from e-books sales fell 10 per cent to $610.8 million, according to the Association of American Publishers, compared to a 2.3 per cent drop in print book sales in the fiction, nonfiction and religious categories (that the industry calls trade books.)
Anyone with common sense will tell you that the reason ebook sales are falling is because greedy publishers jacked up the price until people failed to see the point of ebooks. Ebook prices have risen and serious readers still prefer the tactile pleasure of a physical book and will choose that over a digital book for the same price.
Ebooks generated 24.9 per cent of publisher revenues between January and May, down from a peak of 26.5 per cent in the year earlier period.
Barnes & Noble reporting slight gains in comparable sales in its core book selling business after years of declines that had led many to wonder whether the largest remaining bookstore chain might suffer the same fate as Borders, which went out of business four years ago.
On the e-reader front, about 12 million devices industries wide were sold last year, down 40% from the nearly 20 million sold in 2011.
The Mate S, launched on the sidelines of Europe’s biggest consumer electronics show, IFA, in Berlin, has a 5.5-inch display, a 13 mega pixel rear camera and fingerprint security. Huawei says it is one of the first smartphones to include a Force Touch display, which can distinguish between a light tap and deep press, enabling access to more functions just by pressing harder.
Huawei became the world’s third-biggest smartphone company by sales last month, according to research firm Gartner, overtaking Chinese rival Lenovo, and aims to become the first Chinese firm to sell more than 100 million smartphones this year.
But it is still far behind Samsung, which had 21.9 percent of the market in the second quarter, and Apple, on 14.6 percent. Huawei’s share rose to 7.8 percent from 5.4 percent in the first quarter.
Huawei’s Mate S phone will retail for 649 euros ($732) — comparable to some higher-end Apple iPhone 6 series models — with a premium version for 748 euros, the Chinese company said.
“Huawei aspires to be the next Samsung, successful with both premium design and by shipping large numbers of smartphone models,” said IHS analyst Ian Fogg, who expects Huawei to ship about 109 million smartphones this year.
“2015′s Huawei smartphone launches show the company is finally coming close to meeting these market goals which Huawei set some years ago.”
The top of the smartphone market is a tough environment, as Samsung has experienced. While it remains the world’s biggest smartphone maker, Apple is reaping most of the rewards. The U.S. company is estimated by some analysts to earn 90 percent or more of the industry’s profits.
Huawei has its roots in telecoms equipment gear where it competes with the likes of Ericsson and Nokia, but it has invested heavily in consumer devices in recent years.
Its Mate S will be available in more than 30 countries including China, Germany, Israel,Japan, France, Germany and Spain and can be pre-ordered in Western Europe from Sept. 15.
The European Commission will launch a study in September of the ride-hailing app Uber in an effort to resolve legal disputes that have pitted the U.S. start-up against conventional taxis across Europe, three people familiar with the matter said on Friday.
Since opening in Paris in 2011, San Francisco-based Uber has run into vehement opposition from taxi drivers, who complain it competes unfairly by bypassing local laws on licensing and safety.
Uber has responded by submitting complaints to the European Commission against German and Spanish court bans, as well as a new French law on taxis.
The study will attempt to determine the legal instruments Brussels might use to decide whether Uber is a transport service or just a digital service, an EU official said.
Uber argues it is a digital platform that connects willing drivers with customers. Being considered a transport service might make it subject to stricter rules on licensing, insurance and safety.
The study will review the regulatory regimes for taxi services in all member states and assess if an EU-wide framework is needed. Currently, taxis and vehicle-with-chauffeur services are regulated at a national level.
“This investigation appears to indicate that the European Commission believes that the manner in which the taxi and private hire sectors are currently regulated in some member states is dysfunctional and is no longer fit for purpose, not to mention new barriers to entry for innovative, technology-based services such as ridesharing,” an Uber spokeswoman said.
The study will run in parallel with a case at the European Union’s top court that could set a precedent for legal battles across the continent. However, it is likely the European Court of Justice will rule before the completion of the study, expected around June next year. In the meantime, the Commission will also continue assessing the complaints against France,Germany and Spain. In May, the Commission asked France for more information on its new taxi law, which Uber says favors regular taxis at its expense.
The Commission has previously said it welcomes innovative services such as Uber as part of the so-called sharing economy - where individuals are put in touch with others offering services, such as travel or accommodation.
The app, named Livetext, is video calling with a twist: there’s no audio. To communicate, users type texts and emojis that are overlaid onto the screen during the call.
The app’s format might sound restricting, but Yahoo says Livetext will help users to communicate more freely. The lack of audio, the company says, removes inhibitions that people might feel when they otherwise receive video calls in public.
“We wanted to bridge the gap between the simplicity and ease of texting, with the live feeling of calling,” said Adam Cahan, senior vice president of video, design and emerging products at Yahoo, during the app’s unveiling at an event in New York on Wednesday that was webcast.
Livetext was developed from scratch at Yahoo. Its development was aided by Yahoo’s acquisition last year of mobile messaging app MessageMe, the company said Wednesday. It’s yet another messaging app in a sea of competitors like Snapchat, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Still, Livetext is the latest attempt by Yahoo to provide a messaging app that resonates with users. It became available to download for free on Thursday for iOS and Android, in the U.S., U.K, Canada, Ireland, Germany, France, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Users will be able to text in English, French, German and Chinese using the app.
The app streams video only when two people are connected through the app at the same time. Users can search for friends in the app through their Livetext user name, or through the contacts list on their phone.
There is no time limit on calls placed through the app, and no way to save or archive the sessions. The video quality will depend on the strength of the data connection, although connections at 3G and above should suffice, Yahoo said.
It’s available on Android and the desktop, but not on iOS.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc acquired full ownership of Chinese e-commerce firm Yihaodian.com, buying out the 49 percent stake that it did not already own to accelerate its push online, the U.S. retail giant announced.
The investment will help Wal-Mart target China’s fast-growing online market at a time when largely brick and mortar retailers are feeling the pinch of competition from online rivals and a slowing of the world’s second-largest economy.
Wal-Mart’s move also comes after China said last month it will allow full foreign ownership of some e-commerce businesses, with the goal of encouraging foreign investment and the development and competitiveness of the sector.
“[Yihaodian's] local experience, combined with Walmart’s global sourcing and our strong local retail presence and supply chain will allow us to deliver low prices on the products customers need in new and exciting ways,” Neil Ashe, head of Wal-Mart’s e-commerce division, said in a statement.
Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, added the purchase of the stake would help accelerate its e-commerce business in China and boost coordination between its physical and online stores. It did not disclose the price paid for the stake, which was bought from former executives and financial services group Ping An.
Wal-Mart’s Asia head Scott Price told Reuters earlier this year that online retail was important to help tap China’s younger generations and that the firm would increasingly look to weave together its online and offline presence in the market.
Wal-Mart, France’s Carrefour SA and Britain’s Tesco PLC have all seen sales growth slip over the last five years in China, losing market share to local rivals, according to consumer analytics firm Kantar Worldpanel.
The U.S. retailer also announced on Thursday that company insider Wang Lu will take the helm at Yihaodian. The e-commerce firm’s CEO and Chairman had quit earlier this month “to pursue their next venture”.
Amazon.com Inc will rollout its business loan program for small sellers later this year in eight new places including China, where credit is becoming a key factor in competing for new vendors and grabbing market share.
Until now, the e-retailer has offered the service only in the United States and Japan. Amazon Lending, founded in 2012, now plans to offer short-term working capital loans in other countries where it operates a third-party, seller-run marketplace business, the head of Amazon Marketplace, Peter Faricy, told Reuters.
The countries are Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.
The service is on an invite-only basis and is not open to all sellers on Amazon’s platform.
Other large retailers including eBay Inc’s PayPal and Alibaba Group Holdings, which run third-party marketplaces, are also turning to credit to boost their vendor base.
Some lending industry officials who help lenders assess credit risk say these retailers are taking on risky loans because they don’t know the shape of the credit market in which the sellers are operating.
Small businesses have high failure rates, especially in China and India, added William Black, a former U.S. banking regulator and professor of Economics and Law at the University of Missouri.
Amazon said it can safely offer loans based on internal data and because it takes loan payments out of the sales proceeds it pays sellers.
PayPal spokesman Josh Criscoe said eBay merchants who use PayPal are eligible for the working capital loans and credit is offered to only those customers that have a strong PayPal sales history. PayPal has provided more than $500 million in capital since September 2013, with an average loan disbursement of $2 million per day.
A spokeswoman for Alibaba’s financial services arm Ant Financial, which offers these loans, said credit is offered to Taobao, Tmall merchants and other small business owners who meet certain conditions. The company also offers such loans to customers in some countries like the United States and Britain.