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Businesses

Apple Files 14-Point Appeal Against European Commission's $14 Billion Tax Edict (appleinsider.com) 168

An anonymous reader shares an AppleInsider report: Apple has filed its appeal with the European court of appeals, all declaring that the European Commission's decision to levy $14 billion in taxes on Apple on behalf of the EU is erroneous, against the rule of law, and should be stricken. The 14 points of appeal introduced by Apple on Monday challenge the European Commission (EC) on several fronts. Primarily, Apple contests that the Cork, Ireland, headquarters of Apple's European wing was properly set up, in accordance with all regulations and laws. Additionally, other apparent accounting blunders by the EC while making its decision were brought up as well. Apple points out that the taxable income attributed to the Ireland branch was misapplied, giving more weight to the Irish operation than it should, and that back taxes were being applied to worldwide profits.
Windows

EU Privacy Watchdogs Say Windows 10 Settings Still Raise Concerns (reuters.com) 158

Julia Fioretti, reporting for Reuters: European Union data protection watchdogs said on Monday they were still concerned about the privacy settings of Microsoft's Windows 10 operating system despite the U.S. company announcing changes to the installation process. The watchdogs, a group made up of the EU's 28 authorities responsible for enforcing data protection law, wrote to Microsoft last year expressing concerns about the default installation settings of Windows 10 and users' apparent lack of control over the company's processing of their data. The group -- referred to as the Article 29 Working Party -- asked for more explanation of Microsoft's processing of personal data for various purposes, including advertising. "In light of the above, which are separate to the results of ongoing inquiries at a national level, even considering the proposed changes to Windows 10, the Working Party remains concerned about the level of protection of users' personal data," the group said in a statement which also acknowledged Microsoft's willingness to cooperate.
Toys

German Government Tells Parents: Destroy This WiFi-Connected Doll (theverge.com) 139

It's illegal in Germany now to sell a talking doll named "My Friend Cayla," according to a story shared by Slashdot reader Bruce66423. And that's just the beginning. The Verge reports: A German government watchdog has ordered parents to "destroy" an internet-connected doll for fear it could be used as a surveillance device. According to a report from BBC News, the German Federal Network Agency said the doll (which contains a microphone and speaker) was equivalent to a "concealed transmitting device" and therefore prohibited under German telecom law... In December last year, privacy advocates said the toy recorded kids' conversations without proper consent, violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

Cayla uses a microphone to listen to questions, sending this audio over Wi-Fi to a third-party company that converts it to text. This is then used to search the internet, allowing the doll to answer basic questions, like "What's a baby kangaroo called?" as well as play games. In addition to privacy concerns over data collection, security researchers found that Cayla can be easily hacked. The doll's insecure Bluetooth connection can be compromised, letting a third party record audio via the toy, or even speak to children using its voice.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has said toys like this "subject young children to ongoing surveillance...without any meaningful data protection standards." One researcher pointed out that the doll was accessible from up to 33 feet away -- even through walls -- using a bluetooth-enabled device.
Microsoft

Bill Gates: The Robot That Takes Your Job Should Pay Taxes (qz.com) 387

In a recent interview with Quartz, Bill Gates said he believes that governments should tax companies that use robots who are taking human jobs, as a way to at least temporarily slow the spread of automation and to fund other types of employment. The money gained from taxing robots could then be used to finance jobs taking care of elderly people or working with kids in schools -- jobs which humans are particularly well suited for. Quartz reports: [Gates] argues that governments must oversee such programs rather than relying on businesses, in order to redirect the jobs to help people with lower incomes. The idea is not totally theoretical: EU lawmakers considered a proposal to tax robot owners to pay for training for workers who lose their jobs, though on Feb. 16 the legislators ultimately rejected it. "You ought to be willing to raise the tax level and even slow down the speed" of automation, Gates argues. That's because the technology and business cases for replacing humans in a wide range of jobs are arriving simultaneously, and it's important to be able to manage that displacement. "You cross the threshold of job replacement of certain activities all sort of at once," Gates says, citing warehouse work and driving as some of the job categories that in the next 20 years will have robots doing them. You can watch Gates' remarks in a video here, or read the transcript embedded in Quartz' report.
AI

EU Moves To Bring In AI Laws, But Rejects Robot Tax Proposal (newatlas.com) 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Atlas: The European Parliament has voted on a resolution to regulate the development of artificial intelligence and robotics across the European Union. Based on a raft of recommendations drafted in a report submitted in January to the legal affairs committee, the proposed rules include establishing ethical standards for the development of artificial intelligence, and introducing an insurance scheme to cover liability for accidents involving driverless cars. Not every element in the broad-ranging report was accepted by the Parliament though, with a recommendation to institute a "robot tax" roundly rejected. The robot tax proposal was designed to create a fund that manages the repercussions and retraining of workers made redundant through the increased deployment of industrial and service robots. But those in the robotics industry were supportive of the Parliamentary rejection, with the International Federation of Robotics suggesting to Reuters a robot tax would have been harmful to the burgeoning industry, stifling innovation and competitiveness. The European Parliament passed the resolution comfortably with 396 votes to 123, with 85 abstentions.
Piracy

Swedish Court Rules: 'Block the Pirate Bay For Next 3 Years' (fossbytes.com) 60

"In 2014, many film studios teamed up to force the Swedish ISP Bredbandsbolaget to block the popular torrent website The Pirate Bay," reports Fossbytes. "It was also said that ISPs should be blocked if they refused to block copyright infringing websites." Now, a Swedish Patent and Market Court of Appeal has ordered The Pirate Bay and streaming portal Swefilmer to be blocked by Bredbandsbolaget for the next three years. Fossbytes reports: The court overruled the earlier ruling of the District Court, ordering the ISP to employ some technical measures to stop its customers from accessing the website and its different URLs. The court said that a blocking injunction would be proportional "in the light of EU law." Notably, under the EU law, it's possible for the copyright owners to get an injunction against the ISPs whose services are used to pirate content. This verdict is the first of its kind in Sweden, but similar injunctions have been announced in the past in other European nations. This ruling also opens new doorways for the copyright holders to target more torrent websites in the near future. Pirate Bay spokesperson Peter Sunde said in a statement to TorrentFreak: "The fight is not about TPB -- the users of TPB can just bypass this blockade easily. It's about the slippery slope it brings."
United States

EU Privacy Watchdogs Seek Assurances on US Data Transfer Pact (reuters.com) 36

European Union data privacy watchdogs will seek assurances from U.S. authorities that a move by U.S. President Donald Trump to crack down on illegal immigration will not undermine a transatlantic pact protecting the privacy of Europeans' data. From a report: European concerns have been raised by an executive order signed by Trump on Jan. 25 aiming to toughen enforcement of U.S. immigration law. The order directs U.S. agencies to "exclude persons who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents from the protections of the Privacy Act regarding personally identifiable information." The exemption of foreigners from the U.S. law governing how federal agencies collect and use information about people has stoked worries across the Atlantic about the new administration's approach to privacy and its impact on cross-border data flows.
Media

Netflix Geoblocking Loosened Under New EU Law (thestack.com) 56

An anonymous reader writes: "The European Parliament is now finalizing legislation which will allow EU residents to access their paid subscriptions for online media -- such as video streaming, games and music -- while visiting other EU countries," reports The Stack. Under the new rules, companies will not be able to arbitrarily block subscribers from accessing the content catalog of their home countries while visiting other parts of the European Union, with country of origin to be established by various possible methods besides IP address, including payment details, public tax information and 'checks on electronic identification'. The issue was brought to a head last year when Netflix began blocking the known IPs of VPN providers, often used by subscribers to access the catalogs of their home countries while travelling.
EU

Finland's Universal Basic Income Called 'Useless' By Trade Union Economist (bloomberg.com) 722

An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg: Finland's basic income experiment is unworkable, uneconomical and ultimately useless. Plus, it will only encourage some people to work less. That's not the view of a hard core Thatcherite, but of the country's biggest trade union. The labor group says the results of the two-year pilot program will fail to sway its opposition to a welfare-policy idea that's gaining traction among those looking for an alternative in the post-industrial age. "We think it takes social policy in the wrong direction," said Ilkka Kaukoranta, chief economist of the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions, which has nearly one million members.

Since January, a group of unemployed Finns aged between 25 and 58 have been receiving a stipend of 560 euros ($600) per month. The amount isn't means-tested and is paid regardless of whether the recipient finds a job, starts a business or returns to school... Advocates say it eliminates poverty traps and redistributes income while empowering the individual and reducing paperwork... While limited in scope (it's conditional on the beneficiary having received some form of unemployment support in November 2016) and size (it's based on a randomly-selected sample of 2,000 jobless people), the Finnish trial may help answer questions like: "Does it work"? "Is it worth it"? And the most fundamental of all: "Does it incite laboriousness or laziness...?"

The trade union argues this UBI program would cost 5% of Finland's entire gross domestic product, making it "impossibly expensive."
EU

The City Of Munich Now Wants To Abandon Linux And Switch Back to Windows (techrepublic.com) 557

"The prestigious FOSS project replacing the entire city's administration IT with FOSS based systems, is about to be cancelled and decommissioned," writes long-time Slashdot reader Qbertino. TechRepublic reports: Politicians at open-source champion Munich will next week vote on whether to abandon Linux and return to Windows by 2021. The city authority, which made headlines for ditching Windows, will discuss proposals to replace the Linux-based OS used across the council with a Windows 10-based client. If the city leaders back the proposition it would be a notable U-turn by the council, which spent years migrating about 15,000 staff from Windows to LiMux, a custom version of the Ubuntu desktop OS, and only completed the move in 2013...

The use of the open-source Thunderbird email client and LibreOffice suite across the council would also be phased out, in favor of using "market standard products" that offer the "highest possible compatibility" with external and internal software... The full council will vote on whether to back the plan next Wednesday. If all SPD and CSU councillors back the proposal put forward by their party officials, then this new proposal will pass, because the two parties hold the majority.

The leader of the Munich Green Party says the city will lose "many millions of euros" if the change is implemented. The article also reports that Microsoft moved its German headquarters to Munich last year.
EU

86 Percent of New Power in Europe From Renewable Sources in 2016 (theguardian.com) 194

Renewable energy sources made up nearly nine-tenths of new power added to Europe's electricity grids last year, in a sign of the continent's rapid shift away from fossil fuels. From a report on The Guardian: But industry leaders said they were worried about the lack of political support beyond 2020, when binding EU renewable energy targets end. Of the 24.5GW of new capacity built across the EU in 2016, 21.1GW -- or 86% -- was from wind, solar, biomass and hydro, eclipsing the previous high-water mark of 79% in 2014. For the first time windfarms accounted for more than half of the capacity installed, the data from trade body WindEurope showed. Wind power overtook coal to become the EU's second largest form of power capacity after gas, though due to the technology's intermittent nature, coal still meets more of the blocâ(TM)s electricity demand.
EU

EU Agrees To Cross-Border Access To Streaming Services (variety.com) 55

Putting in place the first piece of its hoped-for unified digital market, the European Union has agreed on new rules allowing subscribers of online services in one E.U. country access to them while traveling in another. From a report: "Today's agreement will bring concrete benefits to Europeans," said vice president in charge of the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, in a statement. "People who have subscribed to their favorite series, music and sports events at home will be able to enjoy them when they travel in Europe. This is a new important step in breaking down barriers in the Digital Single Market." Variety explain: That said, "portability" is the least contentious of DSM regulations being advanced by the European Commission. Reached yesterday, the agreement between the Commission, the E.U.'s executive arm, the European Parliament and the E.U.'s Council of Ministers, representing its 28 member states, will allow consumers to fully use their online subscriptions to films, sports events, e-books, video games or music services when traveling within the E.U. The online service providers who will be mandated to make these services available range from video-on-demand platforms (Netflix, HBO Go, Amazon Prime, Mubi, Chili TV) to online TV services (Viasat's Viaplay, Sky's Now TV, Voyo), music streaming services (Spotify, Deezer, Google Music) and game online marketplaces (Steam, Origin).
Businesses

Valve and Game Publishers Face EU Probe For Geo-Blocking; ASUS Faces Probe For Online Price-Fixing (betanews.com) 74

Valve, the company behind games distribution platform Steam, is being investigated by EU antitrust regulators. Agreements in place between Valve and five game publishers that implement geo-blocking in titles could breach European competition rules. From a BetaNews report: Valve, alongside Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home, Koch Media and ZeniMax, is under investigation to determine whether the practice of restricting access to games and prices based on location is legal. At the same time the European Commission is launching an investigation into ASUS, Denon & Marantz, Philips and Pioneer for price manipulation. The investigation into the four electronics manufacturers centers around the fact that the companies restricted the ability of online retailers to set their own pricing for goods.
EU

EU Announces Deal To End All Wireless Roaming Charges (venturebeat.com) 113

The European Union took a big step toward creating a Digital Single Market today with the announcement of a deal that would end roaming charges for mobile consumers across the continent. From a report on VentureBeat: The plan had originally been announced two years ago when the European Commission unveiled an ambitious plan to create a DSM that would unify the continent's fractured rules around digital content, ecommerce, and mobile communications. However, the plan to end roaming charges across boarders ran into stiff opposition from telecom carriers worried about profits and consumers who were concerned about limits it imposed on data usage. As a result, the proposal appeared dead at one point last year. But negotiators said today they had reached an agreement on technical issues like sharing carrier costs across networks and a gradual phase-out of caps on data usage.
Businesses

'It's Tricky': Apple Misses the Deadline To Pay $13.9 Bn To Ireland in Illegal Tax Benefit (cnbc.com) 174

Apple has not fully paid the 13 billion euros ($13.9 billion) it owes to Ireland in illegal tax benefits even though the deadline has passed, the European Union's competition said on Tuesday. From a report: "Well the recovery is not done yet but we have been working with the Irish authorizes and we can see that they are moving forward to do the recovery of the unpaid taxes," EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said during a press conference in response to a question by CNBC. "It's a tricky thing to do because it's a large sum so of course you have to figure out how to do that. It's not as an escrow account in some of the other cases where it might be 25 or 30 million euros ... and therefore I do respect that it's a complicated matter and it may take a little more time. Last year, the Commission ruled that Ireland must recover 13 billion euros in "illegal tax benefits" from Apple. It found that the U.S. technology giant paid an effective tax rate of 0.005 percent in Ireland in 2014.
Chrome

Google Quietly Makes 'Optional' Web DRM Mandatory In Chrome (boingboing.net) 95

JustAnotherOldGuy quotes a report from Boing Boing: The World Wide Web Consortium's Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) is a DRM system for web video, being pushed by Netflix, movie studios, and a few broadcasters. It's been hugely controversial within the W3C and outside of it, but one argument that DRM defenders have made throughout the debate is that the DRM is optional, and if you don't like it, you don't have to use it. That's not true any more. Some time in the past few days, Google quietly updated Chrome (and derivative browsers like Chromium) so that Widevine (Google's version of EME) can no longer be disabled; it comes switched on and installed in every Chrome instance. Because of laws like section 1201 of the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (and Canada's Bill C11, and EU implementations of Article 6 of the EUCD), browsers that have DRM in them are risky for security researchers to audit. These laws provide both criminal and civil penalties for those who tamper with DRM, even for legal, legitimate purposes, and courts and companies have interpreted this to mean that companies can punish security researchers who reveal defects in their products. Further reading: Boing Boing and Hacker News.
EU

All-Corn Diet Turns Hamsters Into Cannibals 171

An anonymous reader quotes Engadget: A new paper outlines the efforts of scientists at the University of Strasbourg to determine why the European hamster has been dying off at an alarming rate... Previously, the rodent's diet consisted of grains, roots and insects. But the regions in which its numbers were dropping have been taken over by the industrial farming of corn... Researchers in France have discovered that a monotonous diet of corn causes hamsters to exhibit some unusual behavior -- cannibalism.
âoeImproperly cooked maize-based diets have been associated with higher rates of homicide, suicide and cannibalism in humans," the researchers point out, and they believe it's the absence of vitamin B3 which is affecting the hamsters' nervous system and triggering dementia-like behavior. Hamsters are already an endangered species in Western Europe, so this is being heavily-researched. And they obviously won't improve their chances of survival with cannibalism.
EU

Ransomware Infects a Hotel's Key System (dailymail.co.uk) 203

An anonymous reader writes: A luxury hotel "paid "thousands" in Bitcoin ransom to cybercriminals who hacked into their electronic key system. The "furious" hotel manager says it's the third time their electronic system has been attacked, though one local news site reports that "on the fourth attempt the hackers had no chance because the computers had been replaced and the latest security standards integrated, and some networks had been decoupled." The 111-year-old hotel is now planning to remove all their electronic locks, and return to old-fashioned door locks with real keys. But they're going public to warn other hotels -- some of which they say have also already been hit by ransomware.
UPDATE: The hotel's managing director has clarified today that despite press reports, "We were hacked, but nobody was locked in or out" of their rooms.
AI

Who's Responsible For Accidents Caused By Open Source Self-Driving Car Software? (ieee.org) 114

Here's the problem. "You could download Comma.ai's new open-source Python code from Github, grab the necessary hardware, and follow the company's instructions to add semi-autonomous capabilities to specific Acura and Honda model cars (with more vehicles to follow)," writes IEEE Spectrum. But then who's legally responsible if there's an accident? Long-time Slashdot reader Registered Coward v2 writes: While many legal experts agree OSS is "buyer beware" and that Comma.ai and its CEO Georg Hotz would not be liable, it's a gray area in the law. The software is release under the MIT OSS license and the Read Me contains the disclaimer "This is alpha-quality software for research purposes only... You are responsible for complying with local laws and regulatons." The U.S. Supreme Court, in a series of court cases in the 1990s, ruled open source code as free speech protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The question is does that release the author(s) from liability. The EU has no EU wide rules on liability in such cases. One open question is even if the person who used the software could not sue, a third party injured by it might be able to since they are not a party to the license agreement.

An EFF attorney told HotHardware "Prosecutors and plaintiffs often urge courts to disregard traditional First Amendment protections in the case of software." But not everyone agrees. "Most legal experts that spoke with IEEE Spectrum -- and Hotz himself -- believe that if you use the company's code and something goes wrong, then it isn't liable for damages. You are."
Businesses

Apple Is Moving Its Entire International iTunes Business To Ireland (billboard.com) 114

Starting February 5th, Apple will be moving its entire international iTunes business from Luxembourg to its European headquarters in Cork, Ireland, according to a note sent to developers this week. The non-U.S. iTunes business consists of Apple Music and the individual stores for iTunes, iBooks and Apps. Internationally, iTunes is available in over 140 countries, while Apple Music is streaming in roughly 115 territories. Billboard reports: Apple announced its intentions to move its iTunes biz to Ireland in September when it transferred an estimated $9 billion of iTunes assets. At that time it also shuffled all existing developer contracts to Ireland-based Apple Distribution International. Like Luxembourg, Ireland is known for being a low-tax haven for international businesses. Last month, both Apple and Ireland announced they would appeal a record $14 billion tax bill from the European Commission, which earlier found it had been underpaying tax on profits across the European bloc from 2003 to 2014. Apple today is the biggest private employer in Cork, the Irish Republic's second-largest city, with a workforce exceeding 5,500. Economists estimate Apple's Cork operation pumps around $17 billion annually in salaries, tax and investment into the Irish economy.

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