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Verizon, Others Push For Greater Cell Phone Records Privacy

August 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

More than a dozen high technology giants and the biggest wireless carrier in the United States, Verizon Communications Inc, have called on the U.S. Supreme Court to make it harder for government officials to access individuals’ sensitive cell phone data.

The companies filed a 44-page brief with the court on Monday night in a high-profile dispute over whether police should have to get a warrant before obtaining data that could reveal a cell phone user’s whereabouts.

Signed by some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names, including Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Snap and Alphabet’s Google, the brief said that as individuals’ data is increasingly collected through digital devices, greater privacy protections are needed under the law.

“That users rely on technology companies to process their data for limited purposes does not mean that they expect their intimate data to be monitored by the government without a warrant,” the brief said.

The justices agreed last June to hear the appeal by Timothy Carpenter, who was convicted in 2013 in a series of armed robberies of Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores in Ohio and Michigan.

Federal prosecutors helped place him near several of the robberies using “cell site location information” obtained from his wireless carrier.

Carpenter claims that without a warrant from a court, such data amounts to an unreasonable search and seizure under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. But last year a federal appeals court upheld his convictions, finding that no warrant was required.

Carpenter’s case will be argued before the court some time after its new term begins in October.

The case comes amid growing scrutiny of the surveillance practices of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies and concern among lawmakers across the political spectrum about civil liberties and police evading warrant requirements.

Nathan Freed Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who is representing Carpenter, said the companies’ brief represented a “robust defense of their customers’ privacy rights in the digital age.”

The companies said in their brief the Supreme Court should clarify that when it comes to digital data that can reveal personal information, people should not lose protections against government intrusion “simply by choosing to use those technologies.”

Researchers Create Battery-Free Mobile Phone

August 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Researchers have emerged from their smoke-filled labs with a prototype of a battery-free mobile phone.

The phone is the work of a group of researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle and works by harvesting tiny amounts of power from radio signals, known as radio frequency or ‘RF’ waves.

Team member Vamsi Talla told Reuters that ambient RF waves are all around us so, as an example, your FM station broadcasts radio waves,TV stations, mobile phone towers. They all are transmitting RF waves.

The phone is a first prototype and its operation is basic – at first glance it looks little more than a circuit board with a few parts attached and the caller must wear headphones and press a button to switch between talking and listening.

But the boffins say there are plans to develop further prototypes, featuring a low-power screen for texting and even a basic camera. They also plan a version of the battery-free phone that uses a tiny solar cell to provide power.

The researchers plan to release a product in eight to nine months’ time, thought they would not give further details. One team member however, was prepared to give a glimpse of how their work will impact the future of cellphone technology.

“In the future every smartphone will come with a battery-free mode where you can at least make a voice call when your battery’s dead.”

Meanwhile Researchers at the Universities of Bristol and Surrey in Britain, are developing supercapacitors, which they believe will eventually allow devices to charge in a period of a few minutes.

Courtesy-Fud

IBM Improves Deep Learning

August 15, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Big Blue Boffins claim to have developed technology that dramatically cuts the time it takes to crunch massive amounts of data and then come up with useful insights.

If it is all true then it could mean that deep learning, the technique used by IBM, is a subset of artificial intelligence (AI) that mimics how the human brain works could be set to take off.

IBM wanted to reduce the time it takes for deep learning systems to digest data from days to hours.

The improvements could help radiologists get faster, more accurate reads of anomalies and masses on medical images,.

Hillery Hunter, an IBM Fellow and director of systems acceleration and memory at IBM Research, said that, until now, deep learning has largely run on single server because of the complexity of moving huge amounts of data between different computers.

The problem is in keeping data synchronized between lots of different servers and processors

In its announcement IBM says it has come up with software that can divide those tasks among 64 servers running up to 256 processors total, and still reap huge benefits in speed. The company is making that technology available to customers using IBM Power System servers and to other techies who want to test it.

IBM used 64 of its own Power 8 servers—each of which links IBM Power microprocessors with Nvidia graphical processors with a fast NVLink interconnection to facilitate fast data flow between the two types of chips..

It developed clustering technology that manages the multiple processors in a given server as well as to the processors in the other 63 servers. If that traffic management is done incorrectly, some processors sit idle, waiting for something to do.

Each processor has its own data set that it knows, also needs data from the other processors to get the bigger picture. If the processors get out of sync they can’t learn anything, explained Hunter.

Courtesy-Fud

SoundCloud Receives Funding, Lives To See Another Day

August 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

SoundCloud, the world’s most popular streaming music app, but one that has been plagued by money-losing strategies, said it received new funding on Friday, insulating it from potentially running out of cash this year.

The company, which laid off 40 percent of its staff in July, said in a blog post that the financing was raised from media-focused investment bank Raine Group of New York and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek.

It did not disclose the amount or its terms. Raine and Temasek were not immediately available for comment.

One source familiar with the investment said it amounted to around $170 million (144 million euros), as reported on Thursday by online news site Axios, which had obtained the deal’s term sheet.

The company said that as part of the new investment, digital media veterans Kerry Trainor and Michael Weissman, respectively the former chief executive and chief operating officer of online video service Vimeo, would take the same roles at SoundCloud.

The arrival of the former leaders of Vimeo – one of the biggest online video rivals to Google’s YouTube and Facebook- raises the prospect SoundCloud may evolve beyond audio streaming in a more music video-oriented direction.

SoundCloud founder and former CEO Alexander Ljung has agreed to step aside to become chairman of the board, it said. Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Eric Wahlross will remain at the company as chief product officer.

In July, SoundCloud fired 173 employees and closed its London and San Francisco offices to focus on Berlin and New York. A spokeswoman for SoundCloud said last month it remained fully funded into the fourth quarter while declining to comment on what lay beyond.

“The investment will ensure a strong, independent future for SoundCloud, funding deeper development and marketing of its core tools used by millions of audio creators – musicians, DJs, producers, labels, managers and podcasters,” SoundCloud said.

Tesla Developing Self-driving Electric Truck

August 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Tesla Inc is working on a long-haul, electric semi-truck that can drive itself and move in “platoons” that automatically follow a lead vehicle, and is getting closer to testing a prototype, according to an email discussion of potential road tests between the car company and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), seen by Reuters.

Meanwhile, California officials are meeting with Tesla on Wednesday “to talk about Tesla’s efforts with autonomous trucks,” state DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez told Reuters.

The correspondence and meeting show that Tesla is putting self-driving technology into the electric truck it has said it plans to unveil in September, and is advancing toward real-life tests, potentially moving it forward in a highly competitive area of commercial transport also being pursued by Uber Technologies Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Waymo.

After announcing intentions a year ago to produce a heavy-duty electric truck, Musk tweeted in April that the semi-truck would be revealed in September, and repeated that commitment at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in June, but he has never mentioned any autonomous-driving capabilities.

Tesla has been a leader in developing self-driving technology for its luxury cars, including the lower-priced Model 3, which it is beginning to manufacture.

Several Silicon Valley companies developing autonomous driving technology are working on long-haul trucks. They see the industry as a prime early market for the technology, citing the relatively consistent speeds and little cross-traffic trucks face on interstate highways and the benefits of allowing drivers to rest while trucks travel.

Some companies also are working on technology for “platooning”, a driving formation where trucks follow one another closely. If trucks at the back of the formation were able to automatically follow a lead vehicle, that could cut the need for drivers.

Silicon Valley startup Peloton Technology, for example, is working with several truck makers including Volvo on its platooning system, which it sees as a precursor to autonomy.

Will Desktop Computers Grow Next Quarter?

August 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

While desktop demand was rubbish in the first half of 2017, it expected to start growing in the third quarter driven by new products from AMD and Intel for the gaming and high-end desktop markets.

Digitimes researchers, talking to suppliers, said that AMD and Intel will kick off a surge in buying. AMD’s new top-end 16-core Ryzen Threadripper 1950X and 12-core 1920X will hit the shops on August 10, while its 8-core 1900X is scheduled to be released at the end of August.

Several vendors have already begun accepting pre-orders for desktop models using AMD’s latest top-end CPU processors since the end of July, including the Alienware Area-51 Threadripper from Dell.

AMD recently announced its new Vega-based GPUs including the Radeon RX Vega 64, using liquid or air cooling modules, and Radeon RX Vega’s prices start from US$399. AMD offers free games and discounts on hardware including Samsung’s CF791 monitor as well as price-cuts on CPU/motherboard bundles to help consumers save up to US$300.

Intel is releasing its next-generation 14nm Coffee Lake processors in the near future and will initially launch products such as the Core i7 8700K. Coffee Lake will also force users to buy a nice new motherboard.

AMD and Intel are also seeing growing sales in the server segment. AMD’s EPYC 7000 series processors were unveiled at the end of June. Although the processor series currently only accounts for less than one percent of the server market, orders for related server makers have been picking up recently and are expected to stay strong in the second half of 2017 with players including Microsoft, Baidu, Dell, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Supermicro, Inventec, Wistron, Asustek Computer, Gigabyte Technology and Tyan eagerly promoting their systems.

Intel debuted its Purley server platform in July which is seeing strong orders from enterprises looking to replace their existing server systems. Some market watchers believe the replacement trend will last for a whole year and shore up Intel’s profitability and revenues.

Courtesy-Fud

Google’s Chrome Exploring Strengthen Of Ad-blocking In Browser

August 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Google has included a built-in ad blocker to earlier version of Chrome, signaling that it will assume responsibility for barring some online ads in the polished product as early as October.

The ad blocker appeared in some users’ copies of the “Canary” build of Chrome last week; Canary is the name Google gives to the preliminary version of the browser, one that is updated nightly and precedes the three-step release process of “Dev,” “Beta” and finally “Stable” code.

Chrome’s ad blocker was present only in Windows’ Canary build; it was AWOL from the macOS edition.

Reports of Google’s ad-blocking plans first surfaced in April, shortly after the Coalition for Better Ads announced a set of online ad types that users in the U.S. and Europe said were the most annoying and disruptive. Google was a founding member of the coalition. Two months ago, Google confirmed that it would introduce ad blocking to Chrome, saying then that the target timetable was next year.

“We plan to have Chrome stop showing ads (including those owned or served by Google) on websites that are not compliant with the Better Ads Standards starting in early 2018,” Rahul Roy-Chowdhury, a product management executive, wrote in the Google post.

On the desktop, Chrome will block pop-up advertisements; ads that automatically begin playing both video and audio; “prestitial” ads accompanied by a countdown clock that appear before content is shown; and what the coalition dubbed “large sticky ads,” those that account for more than 30% of the screen space and which remain in place no matter how much the user scrolls.

Those and other types of ads will also be blocked by Chrome on Android- and iOS-powered mobile devices.

Ads will be blocked by site, not by individual advertisement. In other words, Google will craft a list of websites it contends “tend to show intrusive ads,” and then block the ad categories that violate the coalition’s “standards.” A stray “bad” ad displayed by a site not on the list, however, will not be blocked.

While Google has pegged 2018 as the launch of the baked-in ad blocker, the tool may debut sooner. The current Canary of Chrome is version 62, which according to the release schedule, will release in final form as the Stable build on Oct. 17 for personal computers, Oct. 24 for mobile.

Is Zynga Making A Comeback

August 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Gaming

Quick, somebody pop the cork on that champagne bottle! After a grueling year with a $108 million loss, Zynga is now profitable in its second quarter of the 2017 fiscal year, with $5.1m in net income. The company started its fiscal year off on the right foot with a significantly narrowed loss in Q1, and at the time CEO Frank Gibeau promised us that profitability is around the corner.

In a phone call with GamesIndustry.biz earlier today, Gibeau explained, “Q2 we beat on the top and the bottom. We posted our best revenue and bookings performance in four years. We saw some of the things that we’ve been investing in really take hold, like CSR and our mobile momentum. In mobile, we’ve really been focusing in on live ops, and in trying to drive higher quality experiences there and we saw a big lift in our audience and in our revenue there. Our audience was up 28% y-o-y, which is pretty awesome. Our in-app purchase revenues were up 33% y-o-y. 90% of our audience now is on mobile, which if you think of just a few years ago how much Zynga was ‘The Facebook Company,’ now that…is quite a sea change for the company.”

Total revenues for Zynga were up 15% to $209.2m and bookings came to the same total, representing a 20% jump. Furthermore, the company’s operating cash flow came to $37.8m, which was its best quarterly performance in five years. Importantly, Zynga’s mobile transition is nearly complete. Not only is 90% of the audience there, but the company saw 86% of revenues and 87% of bookings come from mobile. Its mobile base now stands at 19m average daily active users, which is up 28% year-over-year and represents the strongest year-over-year growth since Q4 2014. Apart from its Social Slots offering, the big driver for Zynga in Q2 was racing sequel CSR2.

“CSR was strong,” Gibeau said. “We had really good partnerships with Fast and The Furious, and with Universal. We did some cool stuff with Lamborghini. As you know, I’ve been working on racing games a lot in my career. It’s a lot of fun to have such a high quality experience to play around with. Its mobile revenue was up 14% quarter-over-quarter, and up 18% on bookings level. The audience was up almost 10% and it’s the number one racing game in the App Store. And we’ve had over 1.1 million five-star reviews.

“So CSR, and our mobile momentum, it’s resulting in this portfolio which is the strongest mobile portfolio the company has ever had. You’ve got Poker, Words with Friends, CSR, our Casino products, and in addition to that our Match 3 business is coming on and we’ve still got a lot of growth in front of us, particularly in places like Invest Express and Action Strategy. But in general I feel really good about the portfolio and where it’s at in our life cycle.”

CSR is doing so well that Zynga now considers it one of their “forever franchises.” NaturalMotion’s newer IP, Dawn of Titans, isn’t having that same level of success and was merely a footnote again in the company’s earnings statement. Last quarter Gibeau acknowledged that some games can take a long time to reach their full potential, and he elaborated on Dawn of Titans again this quarter, especially in light of Zynga’s improved operating efficiencies and how it treats projects. The mobile Mafia Wars project, for example, was shut down last month because Zynga did not believe it could become a forever franchise. And if Zynga can’t be near the top in a category, its new philosophy is to not devote the resources to that category.

“We’re a continuous learning organization,” Gibeau remarked. “I’ve had a long career in gaming and you learn everything you can from every launch, whether it’s a success or it doesn’t hit its potential. I think some of the learnings from Dawn of Titans actually informed the decision on Mafia. Dawn of Titans was a game that had been in soft launch for an extraordinarily long time, it had been under development for a very long time, and the key learning from me coming into that project was a sharper decision making tree for how we go through different stages of development.

“On Mafia Wars we really looked at how we went into soft launch, what were our goals, and what did the category look like overall and what did it take to compete? Because we don’t want to be in a category if we can’t be a one or a two. We want to be in that position – otherwise we should use our talent and our dollars in a different way, because mobile games is a tough category. You can’t be everywhere. So when we looked at Mafia Wars, we gave it a healthy soft launch and we just didn’t see the KPIs. When we looked at what it was going to take to get it into position to be a number one or number two game against some of the big competition that’s out there, it didn’t feel like the right decision. It felt like we could redeploy those individuals, those talented people and those dollars on other ideas that would help Zynga grow faster and in a more predictable way.”

Gibeau added that knowing when to scrap a game is actually a very important part of the process for the best mobile companies.

“It’s always hard to stop development,” he continued. “You have to be really sober sometimes and say we have to take hope out. What can we actually achieve? And if we’re not going to get to that level of performance then you make the call. And you want to do it in a way that is timely and that you don’t drag it out, which was the key learning for me on Dawn of Titans; we could have been more decisive earlier in the development process. So that’s what we did. We believe in the Mafia Wars brand as a universe and it’s something that we’ll probably come back to in another time, maybe in a different category with a different design. But we thank the team for their hard work. Honestly, killing a game in soft launch is a strength in a lot of ways of an organization. If you look at some of the developers out there they talk about the number of games that they bring into soft [launch] that they don’t finish.”

All that being said, Gibeau insists that Dawn of Titans isn’t about to get its plug pulled. There’s a lot of potential there, and Zynga is confident that the game will get there.

“If you look at Dawn of Titans, it did have a tremendous amount of expectations over the years,” Gibeau said. “We put it out, and it hit a certain level of performance and it’s kind of leveled out in terms of audience and retention. We’ve been looking at the game very carefully and what we keep coming back to is that we think it’s a high quality experience, we think it’s got great intellectual property and we think the team has the capability of really bringing that potential out. It hasn’t really done it yet, and if it gets to a point where we don’t believe it can reach its full potential then we’ll do something else. But we are not there.

“There is a long track record of mobile games that come out and find there way and eventually have a breakthrough and they leap into the charts. I’ve been on some of those games. We believe in Dawn of Titans, we’re committed to the franchise, we’re making prioritized decisions right now to make sure the features that we’re putting in the game are what the players want most… Candidly, we wish we were further along but it doesn’t change the focus and it doesn’t change the commitment. We just had a review on the product last week and I like the plan that they have going forward so we’re going to stick with it.”

NaturalMotion is a very talented studio, so what is it about Dawn of Titans versus CSR that’s enabling one to thrive while the other just barely keeps its head above water?

“I think CSR benefited from the fact that it was a sequel and the racing category has a lot more knowns in terms of design decisions,” Gibeau explained. “It had an approach and a reputation and an audience expectation that they were able to execute upon. That’s why I’m so bullish on NaturalMotion and Dawn of Titans; I see all the goodness of CSR2 and I know we can get there. So from my perspective, it’s a real-time strategy game on mobile that has a very different play mechanic compulsion loop than CSR2. It’s an obviously very different experience, not just a genre difference, but just the core experience. And it was a new team [whereas] the CSR team had been together for a while… If we can get CSR and Dawn of Titans to be operating at the same level of performance that’s going to be great.”

Apart from updates on its portfolio, Gibeau also talked about how his company is striving to get costs down all around. The firm has reduced R&D expenditures, and importantly in the expensive city that is San Francisco, Zynga has managed to find a long-term tenant for its building: AirBnB.

“Our R&D cost is down about 10 points y-o-y as a percentage of revenue, and we’ve been investing in India and some new locations like Finland that’s really starting to come to scale,” Gibeau noted. “And we also are a building owner as you might know, and sometimes part of my job is being a landlord, so we were real fortunate to in sign a 9-year lease with AirBnB. Our footprint in San Francisco is a lot smaller than it was when we IPO’d so bringing in a group like AirBnB to be a partner in the building as a tenant was really a big milestone for us because it helps us get a lot more efficient in terms of how we are as a company.”

Looking forward, Gibeau expressed some interest in the mobile VR/AR trend but Zynga doesn’t have anything to announce yet. High-end VR still isn’t mainstream, but mobile VR is gaining more traction thanks to Samsung Gear and Google Daydream. And now that Apple is getting into the AR mix with its ARkit for iOS, Gibeau is optimistic that the category will yield some opportunities.

“One of the reasons I’m so excited about our potential as a company is that mobile is the most dynamic gaming platform out there,” he said. “It’s the biggest, it’s continuing to grow and I think it has a tremendous amount of innovation in front it as highlighted by the VR/AR stuff but also in chat, and in platform innovations from Google and Apple, and they’re constant. So from my perspective we want to have a very nimble company at this level where we’re not missing out on the next big thing, the next big innovation.

“There’s an old saying that we have, which is ‘Transition is our friend.’ So we want to look forward to those things. And AR is definitely something we’re looking at. I’m less bullish on VR on mobile right now – I’m more bullish on AR, just because of the context and how you use the device… [Pokemon GO developer] Niantic has done a tremendous job in making AR not a gimmick but actually a core part of the experience. I think we’re scratching the surface of what’s going to be possible there.”

For the third quarter, Zynga has provided guidance of $210 million in revenues, net income of $7 million, bookings of $205 million and adjusted EBITDA (including the impact of changes in deferred revenue) of $30 million. Zynga did caution, however, that some of its growth could be “offset by declines in our web and older games, as well as continued softness in advertising.” Zynga also has found that seasonality plays a part, as Q3 has historically had dips in player activity on live services, the company said.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is Google Developing A Snapchat Equivalent?

August 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Alphabet Inc’s Google is working on technology that media companies could use to create stories similar to those found on Snapchat’s “Discover” platform, a person familiar with the plans said on Friday.

Google’s project, dubbed “Stamp,” is in the early stages of testing with publishers, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Tech firms including Google, Snapchat’s owner Snap Inc and Facebook Inc are racing to develop publishing tools for media companies, hoping to fill their own apps with news, entertainment, sports and other content.

The challenge for such tools is making them faster and easier to use than a web browser, while creating an interesting experience for users.

Snapchat’s “Discover” tab is distinct in the way it integrates video clips with text and photos, allowing users to skip to a new story or advertisement with the touch of a finger.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the development of Google Stamp earlier on Friday, citing people familiar with the matter.

Google has been in discussions with several publishers, including Vox Media, Time Warner Inc’s CNN, Mic, the Washington Post and Time Inc to participate in the project, the newspaper said.

Google said in a statement: “We don’t have anything to announce at the moment but look forward to sharing more soon.”

The name Stamp echoes an existing Google product, Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP, that allows for faster loading of online news stories. Facebook has a competing product, Instant Articles.

LG’s New Smartphone To Debut OLED Display

August 4, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

LG’s next flagship smartphone, rumored to be the V30, will mark the electronic’s giant first OLED phone since 2015. Announced August 3 in Seoul, South Korea, the phone will come with a 6-inch screen, but unlike the company’s previous OLED phone, the LG G Flex 2, it will not be flexible.

“Expertise in OLED has long been a core competency of LG, and the technology has always been seen as a potential value-add for smartphones,” said Juno Cho, president of LG Electronics Mobile Communications Company, in a statement. “With competition in the global smartphone space fiercer now than ever, we felt that this was the right time to reintroduce OLED displays in our mobile products.”

The successor to last year’s V20, the screen is bigger, but the size of the bezel has been reduced, making the new phone smaller than the V20. Still, the screen will have amazing resolution, the company said, coming in at 1,440×2,880 (4.15 million total) pixels.

The phone will be officially announced and unveiled at the IFA Berlin trade show at the beginning of September.

Facebook Moves To Punish Slow Loading News Feeds

August 4, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook wants to prioritize speed on the internet, and it’s using its power as the world’s largest social network to make that happen.

Starting next month, Facebook will begin filtering articles in your News Feed to punish sites that load more slowly and reward ones that are faster.

The reason why is that it’s simply what people want, said Greg Marra, product manager on Facebook’s News Feed team. Slow links were one of the biggest pet peeves of Facebook users sending feedback to the company, he added.

“It can be frustrating when that link takes a long time to load,” he said.

There’s good reason to do this. One survey by Aberdeen Group, a tech consultancy, found that nearly half of website visitors will leave if a page takes more than three seconds to load. Now Facebook is taking it a step further, punishing sites that take too long in an effort to keep you turning to its feed.

Facebook isn’t the only company throwing its weight around to force change on the web. Two years ago, Google altered its mobile search results to show only links to pages that look good on a smaller screen. The effort became such a drama that it was popularly known as “mobilegeddon.”

Of course, Facebook isn’t deciding a page’s worth by its load time. The company uses thousands of signals, like what you comment or click “like” on, to determine what goes into your news feed in the first place. That mix has helped make Facebook the largest social network in the world, used by more than 2 billion people at least once a month. It’s also, however, fueled criticism that the feed leads people to be shown only news from sources they like.

That said, Marra said links from slower sites won’t disappear completely.

“If there’s something from a slower website, but we think that it’s really relevant for you, that’s still something that you’ll see on your feed,” Marra said. “But our hope is that overall, this will help address the feedback we’ve been getting from people that some things are taking too long to load on the phone.”

 

Google Asked To Provide Details On How It Tracks Your Purchases

August 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Privacy advocates are questioning Google’s assurances that it’s protecting consumer privacy when it tracks the success of online ad campaigns into ringing up sales in physical stores.

The advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a formal complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission that asks the agency to begin an investigation into Google’s “in-store tracking algorithm.” The algorithm lets the search giant tell advertisers how well their marketing campaigns are working in offline sales.

The Store Sales Management program, which Google began testing in May, allows it to tell an advertiser how many people who clicked on an ad actually bought something. For example, it could tell Home Depot or Walmart what percentage of people who clicked on an ad for grills went to a store to buy one. The company gets credit card and other financial information from data brokers and marries it with its own online tracking software.

Giving marketers insight into how their online ads translate into physical store sales is difficult to do. Privacy advocates, like EPIC, worry information gleaned from these databases could reveal more about people’s private lives than they realize. That information could include medical conditions, religious and political affiliations, and other personal details. They want to make sure the data is protected because of Google’s advertising and consumer reach.

Google says all the data it collects is anonymized, so it never sees individual transaction data. The company says it matches transactions with Google ads in a “secure and privacy-safe way.” Google hasn’t said how it’s doing this.

EPIC says it doesn’t take Google on its word alone. It wants the company to explain what data on credit and debit card purchases it’s accessing, how it’s getting the information and what encryption it’s using to ensure user data remains anonymous.

“Here we have the largest company on the internet which has access to millions of people’s browsing histories and 70 percent of credit card records and they’re linking these things together and saying, ‘Don’t worry about this, we’ve got it covered,'” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of EPIC. “We think it’s reasonable to be concerned. And we’d like the FTC to do an independent investigation into how this data is de-identified.”

In its complaint, EPIC alleges Google is using a type of “double-blind” encryption known as CryptDB, which was developed by MIT researchers in 2011 with partial funding from Google. It argues this technology isn’t entirely secure.

A Google spokeswoman said the company isn’t using this encryption technology, but declined to give further information on how Google’s system works.

“Our researchers spent years working on a privacy-preserving methodology to measure the impact of advertisements on store sales,” the spokeswoman said in an email. “Our research will show that we are using cryptographic techniques in new ways and at scale.”

She said the company is planning to share this research in the coming months.

Google’s Renewable Energy Plan Includes Salt

August 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Google parent Alphabet has come up with a unique plan for storing renewable energy that would otherwise go to waste — and it involves vats of salt and antifreeze.

The plan, code-named “Malta,” has the potential to last longer than lithium-ion batteries and be as cost efficient as new hydroelectric plants and other existing clean energy storage methods, Bloomberg reported Monday. The market for renewable energy could see about $40 billion in investment by 2024, the news agency reports.

The plan is being developed by Alphabet’s secretive research lab X, which has a history of big “moonshots” focused on solving big problems in the world. The lab’s efforts have included self-driving cars and Project Loon, which uses weather balloons to bring internet connectivity to remote areas.

The system, which can be scaled to energy demands, absorbs energy in the form of electricity and turns it into streams of hot and cold air. The hot air heats up the salt, while the cold air cools the antifreeze. Because salt maintains its temperature well, the system can store energy for hours, or even days, Bloomberg reports.

Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Qualcomm Goes Deep Learning

August 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Mobile chip maker Qualcomm wants to enable deep learning-based software development on all kinds of devices, and has created the Neural Processing Engine (NPE) for its Snapdragon-series mobile processors.

 The NPE software development kit is now available to all via the Qualcomm Developer Network, which marks the first public release of the SDK, and opens up a lot of potential for AI computing on a range of devices, including mobile phones, in-car platforms and more.

The purpose of the framework is to make possible UX implementations like style transfers and filters (basically what Snapchat and Facebook do with their mobile app cameras) with more accurate applications on user photos, as well as other functions better handled by deep learning algorithms, like scene detection, facial recognition, object tracking and avoidance, as well as natural language processing.

This will mean that anything you’d normally route to powerful cloud servers for advanced processing is done locally on device instead.

Courtesy-Fud

Ransomware Now Has Customer Service

July 31, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Hackers behind some of the most infamous ransomware out there are taking some hints from legit Wall Street companies.

Malware strains like Locky and Cerber helped make ransomware a $25 million industry in 2016 and its operators are starting to operate like conventional corporations with “customer” service staff and outsourced resources, researchers explained Wednesday at Black Hat.

Ransomware has devastated hospitals, universities, banks, and essentially any computer network with weak security over the last 10 years, but attacks have become even more prevalent as infection rates and payments grow. The malware encrypts files on a victim’s computer and demands payments — one that reached $1 million — if the victim ever wants to get data back.

Researchers at Google, Chainalysis, New York University and University of California San Diego followed the money trail and got a look at the evolving ecosystem of ransomware. During the presentation at the Las Vegas conference, the team showed a new professional side to ransomware.

Instead of working as criminals, ransomware attackers are treating their victims as “customers” and bringing in support staff to deal with their “sales.” Yes, just like how your phone providers and banks have customer service, now, so does ransomware.

“It’s become a well-oiled machine,” said Elie Burzstein, Google’s anti-abuse research team lead. “It operates like a real company, that shows how mainstream it’s become and how much it’s here to stay.”

Customer service reps help victims find out how to buy cryptocurrency, like bitcoin, to pay the ransom and negotiate with victims to decrypt specific files. They also offer immunity packages to ensure victims can’t get hit again.

Burzstein said the development has been staggering, as ransomware has evolved into organized crime. Cybercriminals have even hired graphic designers to give their websites and malware a more inviting aesthetic.

Google’s research team also found that ransomware attackers have been outsourcing much of the heavy lifting to massive botnets to get people infected. Locky and Cerber both rented out the Necurs botnet to spam millions of emails in the hopes of spreading its ransomware around the world.

The outsourcing paid off, as Locky made $7.8 million in 2016, while Cerber raked in $6.9 million that year.

Cerber also lets criminals who can’t code malware get in on the cut by renting its ransomware out, Burzstein said. Low-tech crooks can buy Cerber’s ransomware as a service and rake in crumbs off the table based on how many people they’ve infected.

The strategy helped Cerber earn more than $200,000 a month and become the fastest-rising ransomware of 2017.

“Ransomware as a service has become a dominant model,” Burzstein said. “All you have to do is infect people, and then you get a cut.”

The researchers also found new variations of the Cerber ransomware that have been tweaked to get past anti-virus scanners. In 2017, there had been 23,000 new binaries for the Cerber ransomware, while Locky had 6,000 new variations.

Hackers are working around the clock to keep ahead of the competition to make as much money as possible. These sophisticated attacks, with business-minded infrastructure, make ransomware like WannaCry and NotPetya — which last month locked up devices at multibillion-dollar companies — look like imposters.

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