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Industry & Technology

Missiles and drones that hit Saudi oil fields: Made in Iran, but fired by whom?

Ars Technica - 1 hour 43 min ago

Enlarge / Smoke billows from Saudi Aramco's oil processing plants in Abqaiq and Khurais, Saudi Arabia, after attacks on September 14—attacks that used drones and possibly cruise missiles built in Iran. (credit: Orbital Horizon/Copernicus Sentinel Data 2019/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

The US government has stopped short of officially blaming Iran for launching drones and cruise missiles against Saudi Arabian oil production facilities. But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper have signaled that Iran is at least complicit in the September 14 strike that took out, at least temporarily, about 5% of global oil production capability. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came close to directly blaming Iran in a post to Twitter on Saturday:

Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy. Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply. There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.

— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) September 14, 2019

While the mix of weapons involved and where they came from is still in dispute, this would hardly be the first time the Houthi "anti-Saudi resistance militia" used cruise missiles or drones for an attack on Saudi civilian targets. For the last four years, the Houthi forces in Yemen have used a mixture of missiles and drones seized from the Yemeni military and—based on forensic evidence from downed missiles and drones—provided by Iran.

Ballistic missile attacks by the Houthis—using old Soviet "Scud" short-range ballistic missiles and Iranian-built "Scud" clones—have gotten the most media attention in the past. After an attack on Riyadh's airport in 2017, US State and Defense officials accused Iran of violating UN sanctions against export of ballistic-missile technology, displaying pieces of missiles and drones used in attacks.

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Algeria protests: how disinformation spread on social media

BBC Technology News - 1 hour 44 min ago
How social media became an information battleground for anti-government protesters and Algeria's rulers.

Tech-savvy stamp collectors energise an old hobby

BBC Technology News - 1 hour 48 min ago
Technology is helping stamp collectors to share their passion and keep rogue operators at bay.

Amazon fires back at book publishers, says captions are fair use

Ars Technica - September 16, 2019 - 9:41pm

Enlarge (credit: Nicoleta Ionescu / Getty)

Amazon's Audible unit is fighting back against a lawsuit by seven major publishers that claimed Audible's new automatic caption feature violates their copyrights. In a legal filing last Thursday, Audible argued that the technology is protected by fair use.

The feature uses software to automatically generate text captions as an audio book plays. Audible was expected to release the feature to users as soon as this month. But Audible tells Ars Technica it will delay a full launch of the technology until litigation wraps up. In the meantime, Audible is offering 150,000 high school students the chance to use the technology with public domain works only.

In their lawsuit, the publishers argued that Audible is effectively distributing an e-book alongside the audio file—something that normally requires a separate license and payment of additional royalties. But Audible disputes that.

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Google’s next flagship smartphone launches October 15

Ars Technica - September 16, 2019 - 9:28pm

Google has sent out invites for the latest "Made by Google" hardware event. On October 15, the company will officially launch the Pixel 4 and probably a slew of other hardware. The livestream is already registered on YouTube, with a launch time of 10am ET.

The Pixel 4 is the worst-kept secret of the year. In addition to leaks from the usual suspects and Google's own public announcement of device features, any semblance of secrecy was killed last week when several Vietnamese YouTubers got hold of a Pixel 4 prototype and started posting full video reviews.

Key features of the Pixel 4 include a 90Hz OLED display (just like the OnePlus 7 Pro), two rear cameras and a time-of-flight sensor (the first multi-rear camera setup for a Pixel phone), and a thick top bezel packed with sensors for things like face recognition (apparently the only supported form of biometrics) and air gestures. Air gestures—which requires you to wave your hand above the phone screen to control it—have been tried on phones before, usually with poor results. For the Pixel 4 though, Google is using a "Soli" radar sensor that it developed in house, which will hopefully make the feature more useful.

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Password-exposing bug purged from LastPass extensions

Ars Technica - September 16, 2019 - 9:12pm

Still image from the long-running but currently defunct gameshow Password. (credit: ABC Photo Archives / Getty Images)

Developers of the LastPass password manager have patched a vulnerability that made it possible for websites to steal credentials for the last account the user logged into using the Chrome or Opera extension.

The vulnerability was discovered late last month by Google Project Zero researcher Tavis Ormandy, who privately reported it to LastPass. In a write-up that became public on Sunday, Ormandy said the flaw stemmed from the way the extension generated popup windows. In certain situations, websites could produce a popup by creating an HTML iframe that linked to the Lastpass popupfilltab.html window rather than through the expected procedure of calling a function called do_popupregister(). In some cases, this unexpected method caused the popups to open with a password of the most recently visited site.

"Because do_popupregister() is never called, ftd_get_frameparenturl() just uses the last cached value in g_popup_url_by_tabid for the current tab," Ormandy wrote. "That means via some clickjacking, you can leak the credentials for the previous site logged in for the current tab."

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Knives made of frozen feces don’t make the cut, disproving well-known legend

Ars Technica - September 16, 2019 - 8:29pm

Enlarge / An example of a "hand-shaped" knife blade made out of frozen human feces by anthropologists at Kent State University. (credit: M. Eren et al./J. Arch. Sci.)

Famed anthropologist Wade Davis inadvertently created an academic urban legend with his account of an elderly Inuit man in the 1950s who fashioned a knife out of his own frozen feces and vanished into the Arctic. That's the conclusion of a new study by experimental anthropologists at Kent State University, who fashioned their own blades out of frozen feces—for science!—and tested them on pig hide, muscle, and tendon under ideal conditions. The knives failed every test.

As Davis recounted in his 1998 book, Shadows in the Sun, the Inuit man's family had taken away his tools in a vain attempt to persuade him to leave the ice and join them in a settlement. Undeterred, the man "stepped out of the igloo, defecated, and honed the feces into a frozen blade, which he sharpened with a spray of saliva," Davis wrote. "With the knife he killed a dog. Using its rib cage as a sled and its hide to harness another dog, he disappeared into the darkness."

Davis acknowledged that the story could be apocryphal; his source was the grandson of the man in question. But there is a similar, credible account from the same time period by Danish arctic explorer Peter Freuchen, who fashioned a chisel out of his own excrement when he found himself trapped in a pit of hardened snow.

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WSJ: Amazon changed search results to boost profits despite internal dissent

Ars Technica - September 16, 2019 - 7:30pm

Enlarge / Amazon boxes. (credit: Getty Images | Julie Clopper)

Amazon changed its search algorithm in ways that boost its own products despite concerns raised by employees who opposed the move, The Wall Street Journal reported today.

The change was made late last year and was "contested internally," the WSJ reported. People who worked on the project told the WSJ that "Amazon optimized the secret algorithm that ranks listings so that instead of showing customers mainly the most-relevant and best-selling listings when they search—as it had for more than a decade—the site also gives a boost to items that are more profitable for the company."

The goal was to favor Amazon-made products as well as third-party products that rank high in "what the company calls 'contribution profit,' considered a better measure of a product's profitability because it factors in non-fixed expenses such as shipping and advertising, leaving the amount left over to cover Amazon's fixed costs," the WSJ said.

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Spouse of Ring exec among lawmakers trying to weaken Calif. privacy law

Ars Technica - September 16, 2019 - 6:25pm

Enlarge / California State Capitol building in Sacramento. (credit: Getty Images | joe chan photography)

The California legislature worked through the summer to finalize the text of the state's landmark data privacy law before time to make amendments ran out on Friday. In the Assembly (California's lower house), Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin has been a key voice and vote backing motions that would weaken the law, and a new report says her reasoning may be very, very close to home.

A review of state ethics documents conducted by Politico found that Ms. Irwin is married to Jon Irwin, the chief operating officer of Amazon's controversial Ring home surveillance business. That company stands to benefit if the California law is weakened in certain key ways before it can take effect.

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the California Consumer Privacy Act into law in June 2018. This legislation gives California residents several protections with regard to their personal information, including the rights to know what is being collected, what is being sold, and to whom it is being sold. It also grants Californians the right to access their personal information, the right to delete data collected from them, and the right to opt out—without being charged extra for services if they choose to do so.

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Police officers raise concerns about 'biased' AI data

BBC Technology News - September 16, 2019 - 6:20pm
Law enforcers fear they will be told to unfairly target some groups because of past prejudices.

Disney CEO Bob Iger resigns from his Apple board seat

Ars Technica - September 16, 2019 - 6:18pm

Enlarge / Disney CEO and former Apple board member Bob Iger. (credit: DC Comics/Creative Commons)

Disney CEO Bob Iger has sat on Apple's board since 2011, but that tenure came to an end this month, according to a SEC filing Apple made on Friday. The filing says that Iger resigned from Apple's board on September 10, the day that Apple announced the pricing and launch date for Apple TV+.

Iger released the following statement:

It has been an extraordinary privilege to have served on the Apple board for eight years, and I have the utmost respect for Tim Cook, his team at Apple and for my fellow board members. Apple is one of the world's most admired companies, known for the quality and integrity of its products and its people and I am forever grateful to have served as a member of the company's board.

Iger's position on the board became a topic of discussion and speculation after Apple and Disney both announced streaming TV services that will launch close to the same time, at similar price points—though neither Iger nor Apple have shared any clarification as to the reason for the resignation.

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It’s real and it’s spectacular: Netflix buys exclusive rights to stream Seinfeld

Ars Technica - September 16, 2019 - 6:00pm

Enlarge / "If I lose this Netflix streaming deal, that's it for me." (credit: Aurich Lawson / Seinfeld)

Netflix and Sony Pictures Television confirmed on Monday that they had reached a streaming-exclusivity deal for one of the most popular TV series in the world: Seinfeld.

Beginning in 2021, Netflix will become the exclusive online-streaming home for the series throughout the world. This will bump current online distributors Hulu (USA) and Amazon (most other streamed regions). Hulu's previous five-year deal for the series' domestic streaming rights to the series was pegged at anywhere between $160M and $180M per year. This new Netflix's deal likely adds up to more money based solely on its international reach, but neither Sony, Netflix, or Castle Rock Entertainment disclosed any terms.

The LA Times reported that Netflix has announced full 4K resolution support for Seinfeld's Netflix run, a first for the series. It remains to be seen how this upscaling will be handled—whether to expect the original, grain-filled video being recreated like on some of the finest UHD Blu-rays on the market or if we will see significant digital touch-ups instead. (Either way, we wonder whether Kramer will apply his ingenuity to this 4K-ization, akin to his work on tie dispensers and male lingerie.)

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Dear Honda, this adorable electric car needs to come to the US

Ars Technica - September 16, 2019 - 5:49pm

FRANKFURT, GERMANY—Two years ago, Honda arguably stole the Frankfurt auto show with its Urban EV concept car. That delightful little electric car was reminiscent of Hondas past, like the N600 and S800, but updated for a carbon-free future. At the 2019 Frankfurt show, it went one better, revealing the production version called the Honda e (which starts at about €30,000 including incentives). And while others were swooning over the new Land Rover, this little battery-electric car completely and utterly won my heart. And I think it's a crying shame it won't go on sale here in the US.

It’s not for everyone

Let's be clear about this to stem pages of complaints: I realize the Honda e is not a "one car does it all" solution. At just 153 inches (3,894mm) long, it's a very small car by US standards. Its lithium-ion battery pack is just 35.5kWh and provides a WLTP-calculated range of 138 miles (220km), so stop reading here if your commute to work is more than 50 miles each way. It's not even particularly fast, although it is rear-wheel drive, with either 100kW (134hp) or 113kW (151hp) motors as options and a 0-62mph (100km/h) time of eight seconds. And there are definitely no promises that it will go out at night and earn you money while you sleep.

No, this is a battery-electric vehicle with a definite niche, for people who live in cities where journeys are measured in time rather than distance. A niche that BMW has tapped into nicely with the i3. And like the i3, I'm pretty sure that charming—some might say quirky—styling will go a long way in moving metal off forecourts.

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After Sacklers shift at least $1 billion around, Purdue files for bankruptcy

Ars Technica - September 16, 2019 - 5:39pm

Enlarge / Bottles of Purdue Pharma L.P. OxyContin medication sit on a pharmacy shelf in Provo, Utah, US, on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Sunday night amid accusations from state attorneys general that its owners—members of the mega-rich Sackler family—are lowballing opioid victims in a proposed deal to settle around 2,000 lawsuits, mostly from state and local governments.

The bankruptcy filing is part of the proposed deal, which would lead to a company restructuring and a transfer of assets that Purdue says will be valued between $10 billion and $12 billion over time. That includes at least $3 billion from the Sackler family directly.

Purdue is estimated to have made more than $35 billion from OxyContin sales, and the Sacklers have an estimated family fortune of $13 billion, mostly siphoned from Purdue’s OxyContin profits.

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OnePlus’ next flagship smartphone launches September 26

Ars Technica - September 16, 2019 - 5:27pm

OnePlus has picked September 26 as the official unveiling date for its next flagship smartphone, the OnePlus 7T. The company is hosting a "unique online reveal of the OnePlus 7T in North America" at 10:30am ET with a follow-up "OnePlus 7T Series Launch Event" happening in London on October 10.

OnePlus releases a new flagship smartphone about once every six months. March saw the company launch two models, the OnePlus 7 and OnePlus 7 Pro. The US lineup got a bit weird this year, with only the OnePlus 7 Pro launching in the US and the older OnePlus 6T continuing to be sold in the US in lieu of the OnePlus 7. Read through that first paragraph again and it seems like OnePlus is suggesting that it's sticking with the two-phone launch plan (the "OnePlus 7T Series"), and the cheaper OnePlus 7T will make it to North America this time (the "online reveal of the OnePlus 7T in North America").

The OnePlus 7 Pro is still the best Android phone on the market right now. The six-month-old phone's all-screen design, pop-up camera, and silky smooth 90Hz OLED display is something most manufacturers still can't match at any price point, and delivering it all for $670 makes it hard to consider any of the higher-priced alternatives in the flagship arena. The cheaper OnePlus 7, which, again, didn't come to the US, continued the design of the 2018 OnePlus 6T, just with the internals upgraded with a new SoC.

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Say hello to 802.11ax: Wi-Fi 6 device certification begins today

Ars Technica - September 16, 2019 - 5:17pm

Enlarge / Wi-Fi connects the world together, but it's still quite complicated. (credit: Aurich Lawson)

Today, the Wi-Fi Alliance launched its Wi-Fi Certified 6 program, which means that the standard has been completely finalized, and device manufacturers and OEMs can begin the process of having the organization certify their products to carry the Wi-Fi 6 branding.

If you need a bit of a catch-up, Wi-Fi 6—aka 802.11ax—is the next generation of Wi-Fi. 802.11ax will, at least in theory, allow many more nearby devices to use the same Wi-Fi channels and frequencies without causing as much congestion and lag as Wi-Fi 5 (better known as 802.11ac) and Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) do. That's the good news. The bad news is that very few of these benefits can be seen just from buying a Wi-Fi 6 router—you need most, if not all, of the devices in range (both yours and, ideally, any neighbors') to also support Wi-Fi 6 before you see the improvements.

802.11ax also mandates support for the WPA3 encryption and authentication protocol. WPA3 provides considerably better security for your Wi-Fi network than WPA2 did, and due to its adoption of Simultaneous Authentication of Equals (SAE), it will hopefully prove more robust toward future attacks as well.

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Body scanners to screen London commuters for weapons

BBC Technology News - September 16, 2019 - 4:23pm
Passengers are scanned as they walk through Stratford station, in the "battle against knife crime".

BBC to switch off red button text in 2020

BBC Technology News - September 16, 2019 - 4:20pm
Viewers will no longer be able to read headlines, football scores, weather and more on TV sets.

Devs restore Modern Warfare’s mini-map after two days of beta backlash

Ars Technica - September 16, 2019 - 4:10pm

Enlarge / How am I supposed to see around that tank like I have X-ray vision without my mini-map?

After years of annualized releases, you might think the basic elements of Call of Duty—like the user interface and heads-up display—would be pretty standardized by now. But this weekend's PS4 beta test for the new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has been generating controversy thanks to its off-again, on-again, changed-again relationship with the mini-map.

Activision announced back in August that Modern Warfare would be the first game in the franchise since 2007's original Modern Warfare to get rid of the mini-map in multiplayer. It was a bid to add more "realism" to the game, and the game's beta test this weekend was most players' first chance to see how that change affected the multiplayer showdowns. Without a mini-map to give players quick situational awareness, many pros found the new Modern Warfare felt too slow and cautious.

"No Minimap in Call Of Duty = Everyone on the map playing turtle," FaZe Clan CoD pro Austin "Pamaj" Pamajewon tweeted about the move. "We need Minimap. Ain't the same." Matthew ‘Skrapz’ Marshall echoed the same sentiment in a short video rant (NSFW audio): "What is this? 98% of my gameplay is the fucking minimap! I can’t even play pubs! CoD needs it bro. Bad idea."

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Muslim website defends Home Office funding

BBC Technology News - September 16, 2019 - 2:09pm
The SuperSisters platform, for young Muslim women, says it has retained full control over its output.

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