Space

Ariane Chief Seems Frustrated With SpaceX For Driving Down Launch Costs (arstechnica.com) 46

schwit1 shares a report from Ars Technica: Like United Launch Alliance, the [France-based] Ariane Group faces pricing pressure from SpaceX, which offers launch prices as low as $62 million for its Falcon 9 rocket. It has specifically developed the Ariane 6 rocket to compete with the Falcon 9 booster. But there are a couple of problems with this. Despite efforts to cut costs, the two variants of the Ariane 6 will still cost at least 25 percent more than SpaceX's present-day prices. Moreover, the Ariane 6 will not fly until 2020 at the earliest, by which time Falcon 9 could offer significantly cheaper prices on used Falcon 9 boosters if it needed to. (The Ariane 6 rocket is entirely expendable). With this background in mind, the chief executive of Ariane Group, Alain Charmeau, gave an interview to the German publication Der Spiegel. The interview was published in German, but a credible translation can be found here. During the interview, Charmeau expressed frustration with SpaceX and attributed its success to subsidized launches for the U.S. government.

When pressed on the price pressure that SpaceX has introduced into the launch market, Charmeau's central argument is that this has only been possible because, "SpaceX is charging the U.S. government 100 million dollar per launch, but launches for European customers are much cheaper." Essentially, he says, launches for the U.S. military and NASA are subsidizing SpaceX's commercial launch business. However, the pay-for-service prices that SpaceX offers to the U.S. Department of Defense for spy satellites and cargo and crew launches for NASA are below those of what other launch companies charge. And while $100 million or more for a military launch is significantly higher than a $62 million commercial launch, government contracts come with extra restrictions, reviews, and requirements that drive up this price.

The Courts

ACLU Sues ICE For License Plate Reader Contracts, Records (sfgate.com) 40

An anonymous reader quotes a report from SFGate: The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday sued U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for records about the agency's use of license plate reader technology, after ICE apparently failed to turn over records following multiple requests. In December, ICE purchased access to two databases of ALPR data, the complaint reads. One of those databases is managed by Vigilant Solutions, which has contracts with more than two dozen Bay Area law enforcement agencies. "We believe the other is managed by Thomson Reuters," ACLU laywer Vasudha Talla said. The ACLU and other privacy advocates have expressed concern about how this data will be stored and used for civil immigration enforcement. The ACLU filed two requests under the Freedom of Information Act in March seeking records from ICE, including contracts, memos, associated communications, training materials and audit logs. Since then, ICE has not provided any records, the ACLU said in the complaint, which was filed Tuesday morning in the Northern District Court for the Northern District of California. "The excessive collection and storing of this data in databases -- which is then pooled and shared nationally -- results in a systemic monitoring that chills the exercise of constitutional rights to free speech and association, as well as essential tasks such as driving to work, picking children up from school, and grocery shopping," the complaint said. "We have essentially two concerns: one that is general to ALPR databases, and one that's specific to this situation with ICE," Talla said. "The ACLU has done a lot of work around surveillance technology and ALPR, and we're generally concerned about the aggregation of all this data about license plates paired with a time and location, stretching back for so many months and years."
Government

US Government Can't Get Controversial Kaspersky Lab Software Off Its Networks (thedailybeast.com) 103

The law says American agencies must eliminate the use of Kaspersky Lab software by October. But U.S. officials say that's impossible as the security suite is embedded too deep in our infrastructure, The Daily Beast reported Wednesday. From a report: Multiple divisions of the U.S. government are confronting the reality that code written by the Moscow-based security company is embedded deep within American infrastructure, in routers, firewalls, and other hardware -- and nobody is certain how to get rid of it. "It's messy, and it's going to take way longer than a year," said one U.S. official. "Congress didn't give anyone money to replace these devices, and the budget had no wiggle-room to begin with."

At issue is a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) enacted last December that requires the government to fully purge itself of "any hardware, software, or services developed or provided, in whole or in part," by Kaspersky Lab. The law was a dramatic expansion of an earlier DHS directive that only outlawed "Kaspersky-branded" products. Both measures came after months of saber rattling by the U.S., which has grown increasingly anxious about Kaspersky's presence in federal networks in the wake of Russia's 2016 election interference campaign.

United States

NYC Transit Boss Unveils Sweeping 10-Year Subway Modernization Plan (nbcnewyork.com) 52

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) on Wednesday unveiled a sweeping plan to modernize the city's subway system over the next 10 years. From a report: The proposal, which new New York City Transit President Andy Byford called "Fast Forward," centers on overhauling the mass transit network's signaling system -- some of which dates back to the early 20th century -- 30 years sooner than current Subway Action Plan.

But it won't come without a good bit of pain: sources told News 4 that Byford's plan would require entire lines to be taken out of service during overnight and weekend hours for extended periods. Byford -- who took over the task of running the city's subways and buses earlier this year -- said in an MTA meeting Wednesday that the work would be split into two five-year chunks. Over the first five years parts or all of the 4,5, 6, E, F, M, R, A, C, E and G lines would receive modern signaling systems. That would include the entirety of the Lexington Avenue line, which carries the 4, 5 and 6 trains and is the most-used mass transit line in the United States.

United States

The US Military is Funding an Effort To Catch Deepfakes and Other AI Trickery (technologyreview.com) 68

The Department of Defense is funding a project that will try to determine whether the increasingly real-looking fake video and audio generated by artificial intelligence might soon be impossible to distinguish from the real thing -- even for another AI system. From a report: This summer, under a project funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the world's leading digital forensics experts will gather for an AI fakery contest. They will compete to generate the most convincing AI-generated fake video, imagery, and audio -- and they will also try to develop tools that can catch these counterfeits automatically. The contest will include so-called "deepfakes," videos in which one person's face is stitched onto another person's body.

Rather predictably, the technology has already been used to generate a number of counterfeit celebrity porn videos. But the method could also be used to create a clip of a politician saying or doing something outrageous. DARPA's technologists are especially concerned about a relatively new AI technique that could make AI fakery almost impossible to spot automatically. Using what are known as generative adversarial networks, or GANs, it is possible to generate stunningly realistic artificial imagery.

Encryption

FBI Repeatedly Overstated Encryption Threat Figures To Congress, Public (techcrunch.com) 148

mi shares a report from The Washington Post (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): The FBI has repeatedly provided grossly inflated statistics to Congress and the public about the extent of problems posed by encrypted cellphones, claiming investigators were locked out of nearly 7,800 devices connected to crimes last year when the correct number was much smaller, probably between 1,000 and 2,000.

Over a period of seven months, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray cited the inflated figure as the most compelling evidence for the need to address what the FBI calls "Going Dark" -- the spread of encrypted software that can block investigators' access to digital data even with a court order. "The FBI's initial assessment is that programming errors resulted in significant over-counting of mobile devices reported,'' the FBI said in a statement Tuesday. The bureau said the problem stemmed from the use of three distinct databases that led to repeated counting of phones. Tests of the methodology conducted in April 2016 failed to detect the flaw, according to people familiar with the work.

Transportation

Boeing's Folding Wingtips Get the FAA Green Light (engadget.com) 83

Boeing received FAA approval today for its folding wingtips, which will let the planes stop at airport gates big enough to accommodate typical 777 models. "Once the 777X lands, the wingtips will rotate until they point upwards," reports Engadget. "Bloomberg notes that the plane will be the only commercial model in widespread use to have such a feature." From the report: The 777X's wingtips are so novel that U.S. regulators had to draw up new standards for them. The agency was concerned that the wingtips could cause safety issues -- some plane crashes occurred after pilots did not secure flaps on wings before takeoff. The FAA required Boeing to have several warning systems to make sure pilots won't attempt a takeoff before the wingtips are locked in the correct position. The FAA also wanted assurances that there was no way the tips would rotate during flight, and that the wings could handle winds of up to 75 miles per hour while on the ground.

The new wings are made from carbon-fiber composites that are stronger and lighter than the metal Boeing uses in other wings. That lets the company increase the wings' width by 23 feet to 235 feet, which makes flying more efficient. These are the widest wings Boeing has attached to a plane, surpassing the 747-8's 224 feet. However, it doesn't hold the record for a commercial plane: the Airbus A380 has a 262-foot-wide wing, which forced some airports to install gates specifically to accommodate it.

Businesses

US Treasury Secretary Calls For Google Monopoly Probe (theregister.co.uk) 86

After a 60 Minutes episode that focused on Google and its effective search monopoly, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin called for large tech companies to be investigated for potential antitrust violations. Asked whether Google was abusing its market dominance as a monopoly, Mnuchin told CNBC on Monday "these are issues that the Justice Department needs to look at seriously," and argued that it was important to "look at the power they have" noting that companies like Google "have a greater and greater impact on the economy." The Register reports: Mnuchin's willingness to directly criticize Google and other tech companies and argue that they should be under investigation is just the latest sign that Washington DC is serious about digging in the market power of Big Internet. It is notable that it was 20 years ago, almost to the day, that America finally dealt with another tech antitrust problem when the Justice Department and 20 state attorneys general filed suit -- on May 18, 1998 -- against what was then the most powerful tech company in the country: Microsoft.
Communications

FCC is Hurting Consumers To Help Corporations, Mignon Clyburn Says On Exit (arstechnica.com) 97

Former Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who left the agency this month, has taken aim at it in an interview, saying the agency has abandoned its mission to safeguard consumers and protect their privacy and speech. From her interview with ArsTechnica: "I'm an old Trekkie," Clyburn told Ars in a phone interview, while comparing the FCC's responsibility to the Star Trek fictional universe's Prime Directive. "I go back to my core, my prime directive of putting consumers first." If the FCC doesn't do all it can to bring affordable communications services to everyone in the US, "our mission will not be realized," she said. The FCC's top priority, as set out by the Communications Act, is to make sure all Americans have "affordable, efficient, and effective" access to communications services, Clyburn said. But too often, the FCC's Republican majority led by Chairman Ajit Pai is prioritizing the desires of corporations over consumers, Clyburn said. "I don't believe it's accidental that we are called regulators," she said. "Some people at the federal level try to shy away from that title. I embrace it."

Clyburn said that deregulation isn't bad in markets with robust competition, because competition itself can protect consumers. But "that is just not the case" in broadband, she said. "Let's just face it, [Internet service providers] are last-mile monopolies," she told Ars. "In an ideal world, we wouldn't need regulation. We don't live in an ideal world, all markets are not competitive, and when that is the case, that is why agencies like the FCC were constructed. We are here as a substitute for competition." Broadband regulators should strike a balance that protects consumers and promotes investment from large and small companies, she said. "If you don't regulate appropriately, things go too far one way or the other, and we either have prices that are too high or an insufficient amount of resources or applications or services to meet the needs of Americans," Clyburn said.

Advertising

Should T-Mobile Stop Claiming It Has 'Best Unlimited Network'? (arstechnica.com) 54

An anonymous reader writes: Speed isn't everything, or is it? According to a report from Ars Technica, the National Advertising Division (NAD) says T-Mobile should stop claiming that is has "America's Best Unlimited Network" because it needs to prove it also has the widest geographic coverage and best reliability. T-Mobile is saying that speed outweighs all other factors.

"T-Mobile's claim is based on data from Ookla and OpenSignal, which offer speed-testing apps that let consumers test their wireless data speeds," reports Ars Technica. "Both Ookla and OpenSignal have issued reports saying that T-Mobile's speeds were higher than Verizon's, AT&T's, and Sprint's. The OpenSignal tests also gave T-Mobile an edge over rivals in latency and 4G signal availability." T-Mobile "did not provide evidence that its network is superior in providing talk and text mobile services or in providing high-speed data more reliably or to a greater coverage area," the industry group's announcement said.

United States

Supreme Court Upholds Workplace Arbitration Contracts Barring Class Actions (nytimes.com) 338

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that companies can use arbitration clauses in employment contracts to prohibit workers from banding together to take legal action over workplace issues. From a report: The vote was 5 to 4, with the court's more conservative justices in the majority. The court's decision could affect some 25 million employment contracts. Writing for the majority, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said the court's conclusion was dictated by a federal law favoring arbitration and the court's precedents. If workers were allowed to band together to press their claims, he wrote, "the virtues Congress originally saw in arbitration, its speed and simplicity and inexpensiveness, would be shorn away and arbitration would wind up looking like the litigation it was meant to displace." Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench, a sign of profound disagreement. In her written dissent, she called the majority opinion "egregiously wrong." In her oral statement, she said the upshot of the decision "will be huge under-enforcement of federal and state statutes designed to advance the well being of vulnerable workers."
Google

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin Wants Justice Department To Scrutinize Big Tech (cnbc.com) 127

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Monday joined the growing chorus of government officials concerned about tech monopolies. From a report: When asked if Google is a monopoly, Mnuchin said, "These are issues that the Justice Department needs to look at seriously -- not for any one company -- but obviously as these technology companies have a greater and greater impact on the economy, I think that you have to look at the power they have," Mnuchin told CNBC's "Squawk Box." Mnuchin acknowledged that antitrust matters don't fall under his jurisdiction, but said someone ought to be looking. His comments come on the heels of a "60 Minutes" segment on Google's unparalleled market share in online search. The Sunday night spot included an interview with Jeremy Stoppelman, co-founder of Yelp, which he said "would have no shot" if it were being built today.
Microsoft

Bill Gates Shares His Memories of Donald Trump (cnn.com) 490

MSNBC recently published a video of Bill Gates telling his staff at the Gates Foundation that he had two meetings with Donald Trump since the president was elected. In the video, Gates says Trump doesn't know the difference between two sexually transmitted diseases -- human papillomavirus (HPV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) -- and that it was "scary" how much Trump knew about Gates' daughter's appearance. Gates also said he urged Trump to support innovation and technology during those meetings. CNN reports: Taking audience questions about his interactions with Trump at a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation meeting, the former Microsoft honcho said he first met Trump in December 2016. He told the audience that Trump had previously come across his daughter, Jennifer, at a horse show in Florida. "And then about 20 minutes later he flew in on a helicopter to the same place," Gates said, according to video of the event broadcast by MSNBC late Thursday. "So clearly he had been driven away but he wanted to make a grand entrance in a helicopter. "Anyway, so when I first talked to him, it was actually kind of scary how much he knew about my daughter's appearance. Melinda (Gates' wife) didn't like that too well."

Gates also said he discussed science with Trump on two separate occasions, where he says the President questioned him on the difference between HIV and HPV. "In both of those two meetings, he asked me if vaccines weren't a bad thing because he was considering a commission to look into ill-effects of vaccines and somebody -- I think it was Robert Kennedy Jr. -- was advising him that vaccines were causing bad things. And I said no, that's a dead end, that would be a bad thing, don't do that. "Both times he wanted to know if there was a difference between HIV and HPV so I was able to explain that those are rarely confused with each other," Gates said.

Businesses

Chinese 'Accelerators' In Silicon Valley Aim To Bring Startups Home (reuters.com) 74

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Beijing's unslakeable thirst for the latest technology has spurred a proliferation of "accelerators" in Silicon Valley that aim to identify promising startups and bring them to China. The surge in the number of China-focused accelerators -- which support, mentor and invest in early-stage startups -- is part of a larger wave of Chinese investment in Silicon Valley. At least 11 such programs have been created in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2013, according to the tech-sector data firm Crunchbase. Some work directly with Chinese governments, which provide funding. Reuters interviews with the incubators showed that many were focused on bringing U.S. startups to China. For U.S. government officials wary of China's growing high-tech clout, the accelerator boom reaffirms fears that U.S. technological know-how is being transferred to China through investments, joint ventures or licensing agreements. "Our intellectual property is the future of our economy and our security," Senator Mark Warner, the Democratic vice-chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement to Reuters about Chinese accelerators. "China's government has clearly prioritized acquiring as much of that intellectual property as possible. Their ongoing efforts, legal or illegal, pose a risk that we have to look at very seriously."
Power

No Fossil Fuel-Based Generation Was Added To US Grid Last Month (arstechnica.com) 122

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In the U.S., two types of electricity generation are on the rise: natural gas and renewables. If one of those is set to make a bigger mark than the other this year, it's natural gas: in 2018, natural gas-burning capacity is expected to outpace renewable capacity for the first time in five years, according to data from the Energy Information Agency. Although natural gas additions are expected to overtake renewable energy additions in 2018, forecasts for renewable energy additions to the grid roughly match what we saw in 2017. Natural gas is overtaking renewables not because renewable energy adoption is slowing, but more because natural gas facilities are seeing a considerable boom.

In fact, barring any changes in the EIA numbers, natural gas, wind, and solar generation are the only electricity generation sources that will be added to the U.S. grid in any consequential manner in 2018. Battery, hydroelectric, and biomass facilities make up the small percentage of "other" sources that are expected to come online this year. Renewable energy also started off the year strong. According to the EIA, "in February 2018, for the first time in decades, all of the new generating capacity coming online within a month were non-fossil-fueled. Of the 475 MW of capacity that came online in February, 81 percent was wind, 16 percent was solar photovoltaic, and the remaining 3 percent was hydro and biomass."

Privacy

Repo Men Scan Billions of License Plates -- For the Government (washingtonpost.com) 238

The Washington Post notes the billions of license plate scans coming from modern repo men "able to use big data to find targets" -- including one who drives "a beat-up Ford Crown Victoria sedan." It had four small cameras mounted on the trunk and a laptop bolted to the dash. The high-speed cameras captured every passing license plate. The computer contained a growing list of hundreds of thousands of vehicles with seriously late loans. The system could spot a repossession in an instant. Even better, it could keep tabs on a car long before the loan went bad... Repo agents are the unpopular foot soldiers in the nation's $1.2 trillion auto loan market... they are the closest most people come to a faceless, sophisticated financial system that can upend their lives...

Derek Lewis works for Relentless Recovery, the largest repo company in Ohio and its busiest collector of license plate scans. Last year, the company repossessed more than 25,500 vehicles -- including tractor trailers and riding lawn mowers. Business has more than doubled since 2014, the company said. Even with the rising deployment of remote engine cutoffs and GPS locators in cars, repo agencies remain dominant. Relentless scanned 28 million license plates last year, a demonstration of its recent, heavy push into technology. It now has more than 40 camera-equipped vehicles, mostly spotter cars. Agents are finding repos they never would have a few years ago. The company's goal is to capture every plate in Ohio and use that information to reveal patterns... "It's kind of scary, but it's amazing," said Alana Ferrante, chief executive of Relentless.

Repo agents are responsible for the majority of the billions of license plate scans produced nationwide. But they don't control the information. Most of that data is owned by Digital Recognition Network (DRN), a Fort Worth company that is the largest provider of license-plate-recognition systems. And DRN sells the information to insurance companies, private investigators -- even other repo agents. DRN is a sister company to Vigilant Solutions, which provides the plate scans to law enforcement, including police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Both companies declined to respond to questions about their operations... For repo companies, one worry is whether they are producing information that others are monetizing.

The Almighty Buck

First Government Office in the US To Accept Bitcoin As Payment (orlandosentinel.com) 42

Long-time Slashdot reader SonicSpike quotes the Orlando Sentinel: If cash, check or credit card seems too old-fashioned, Seminole County, Florida Tax Collector Joel Greenberg said this week his office will begin accepting bitcoin as payment for new IDs, license plates and property taxes starting next month. Greenberg said accepting bitcoin and bitcoin cash as a payment method will promote transparency and accuracy in payment.

"There's no risk to the taxpayer," said Greenberg, who has often raised eyebrows since his 2016 election by moves including encouraging certain employees with concealed-weapons permits to carry a firearm openly as a security measure. "Blockchain technology is the future of the whole financial industry."

A spokesperson for a neighboring county's tax collector said they had no plans to follow the move. "Frankly, I think the currency is so volatile that I donâ(TM)t think it makes sense."

And an official at a nearby county said bitcoin payments were "not on our to-do list", adding that no one in the county had requested the ability to pay their taxes in bitcoin.
United States

40 Cellphone-Tracking Devices Discovered Throughout Washington (nbcwashington.com) 62

The investigative news "I-Team" of a local TV station in Washington D.C. drove around with "a leading mobile security expert" -- and discovered dozens of StingRay devices mimicking cellphone towers to track phone and intercept calls in Maryland, Northern Virginia, and Washington, D.C. An anonymous reader quotes their report: The I-Team found them in high-profile areas like outside the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue and while driving across the 14th Street bridge into Crystal City... The I-Team's test phones detected 40 potential locations where the spy devices could be operating, while driving around for just a few hours. "I suppose if you spent more time you'd find even more," said D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh. "I have bad news for the public: Our privacy isn't what it once was..."

The good news is about half the devices the I-Team found were likely law enforcement investigating crimes or our government using the devices defensively to identify certain cellphone numbers as they approach important locations, said Aaron Turner, a leading mobile security expert... The I-Team got picked up [by StingRay devices] twice off of International Drive, right near the Chinese and Israeli embassies, then got another two hits along Massachusetts Avenue near Romania and Turkey... The phones appeared to remain connected to a fake tower the longest, right near the Russian Embassy.

StringRay devices are also being used in at least 25 states by police departments, according to the ACLU. The devices were authorized by the FCC back in 2011 for "federal, state, local public safety and law enforcement officials only" (and requiring coordination with the FBI).

But back in April the Associated Press reported that "For the first time, the U.S. government has publicly acknowledged the existence in Washington of what appear to be rogue devices that foreign spies and criminals could be using to track individual cellphones and intercept calls and messages... More sophisticated versions can eavesdrop on calls by forcing phones to step down to older, unencrypted 2G wireless technology. Some attempt to plant malware."
Privacy

FCC Investigating LocationSmart Over Phone-Tracking Flaw (cnet.com) 19

The FCC has opened an investigation into LocationSmart, a company that is buying your real-time location data from four of the largest U.S. carriers in the United States. The investigation comes a day after a security researcher from Carnegie Mellon University exposed a vulnerability on LocationSmart's website. CNET reports: The bug has prompted an investigation from the FCC, the agency said on Friday. An FCC spokesman said LocationSmart's case was being handled by its Enforcement Bureau. Since The New York Times revealed that Securus, an inmate call tracking service, had offered the same tracking service last week, Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, called for the FCC and major wireless carriers to investigate these companies. On Friday, Wyden praised the investigation, but requested the FCC to expand its look beyond LocationSmart.

"The negligent attitude toward Americans' security and privacy by wireless carriers and intermediaries puts every American at risk," Wyden said. "I urge the FCC expand the scope of this investigation, and to more broadly probe the practice of third parties buying real-time location data on Americans." He is also calling for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to recuse himself from the investigation, because Pai was a former attorney for Securus.

Government

Congress Is Looking To Extend Copyright Protection Term To 144 Years (wired.com) 292

"Because it apparently isn't bad enough already, Congress is looking to extend the copyright term to 144 years," writes Slashdot reader llamalad. "Please write to your representatives and consider donating to the EFF." American attorney Lawrence Lessig writes via Wired: Almost exactly 20 years ago, Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which extended the term of existing copyrights by 20 years. The Act was the 11th extension in the prior 40 years, timed perfectly to assure that certain famous works, including Mickey Mouse, would not pass into the public domain. Immediately after the law came into force, a digital publisher of public domain works, Eric Eldred, filed a lawsuit challenging the act [which the Supreme Court later rejected].

Twenty years later, the fight for term extension has begun anew. Buried in an otherwise harmless act, passed by the House and now being considered in the Senate, this new bill purports to create a new digital performance right -- basically the right to control copies of recordings on any digital platform (ever hear of the internet?) -- for musical recordings made before 1972. These recordings would now have a new right, protected until 2067, which, for some, means a total term of protection of 144 years. The beneficiaries of this monopoly need do nothing to get the benefit of this gift. They don't have to make the work available. Nor do they have to register their claims in advance.

Slashdot Top Deals