The Media

'The Gawker Foundation' is Crowdfunding a Bid To Re-Launch Gawker.com (savegawker.com) 85

"Gawker may soon return from the dead," reports TechCrunch. While Univision acquired most of Gawker Media's sites last year (and renamed them as the Gizmodo Media Group), the deal didn't include Gawker itself. In fact, BuzzFeed reported last month that a bankruptcy administrator has not been able to find a buyer for the Gawker site, and that lawyers for Peter Thiel (the billionaire venture capitalist who helped fund the lawsuit that led to Gawker's bankruptcy) were arguing that he'd been unfairly excluded from the process. Now a group of former Gawker employees calling themselves the Gawker Foundation has launched a Kickstarter campaign to buy the old domain and relaunch with a nonprofit, membership-funded model.
"The truth is often inconvenient, and Gawker's work isn't done," explains a mirror of their campaign site at SaveGawker.com. "We want to dig deeper." $10 pledges get you a laptop sticker, $250 pledges earn you an invite to their glorious re-launch party, and to solicit $10,000 pledges they're even asking wealthy backers to "Give us half of one bitcoin."

"By setting ourselves up as an ownerless, advertiser-less, non-profit media organization, the editorial team will be able to do what they do best. More than a dozen Gawker Media alumni are involved in this project..."
The Courts

Here's the Letter Alleging Uber Spied on Individuals For Competitive Intelligence (recode.net) 37

The judge in the $1.9 billion civil suit between Google-parent company Alphabet's self-driving car unit Waymo and Uber released the letter of a disgruntled former employee -- former Uber security officer Richard Jacobs -- on Friday, laying bare a number of explosive allegations against the ride-hailing company that include corporate espionage, unlawful surveillance, illegal wiretapping, bribery of foreign officials, and illicit hacking. From a report: The letter read: "This program, formerly known as the Strategic Services Group, under Nick Gicinto, collected intelligence and conducted unauthorized surveillance, including unauthorized recording of private conversations against executives from competitor firms, such as DiDi Chuxing and against its own employees and contractors at the Autonomous Technologies Group in Pittsburgh." Jacobs testified in court and walked back some of the allegations made in the letter, which was written by his attorney, Clayton Halunen. Days later, Uber's new chief legal officer Tony West issued a directive to employees to stop surveilling individuals, which Recode first reported. In a separate note to staff Khosrowshahi (current CEO of Uber) said the letter detailed enough to "merit serious concern." While Jacobs, Padilla (Uber's general counsel) and other employees addressed some of the claims made within the letter -- confirming the use of Wickr for business-related communications -- the letter itself had not been made public before Friday evening. The document prepared by Jacobs' attorney also claimed Uber was using some of these surveillance tactics on Alphabet's self-driving arm, Waymo. However, during his testimony, Jacobs walked that allegation back.
Security

Lock Out: the Austrian Hotel That Was Hacked Four Times (bbc.com) 52

AmiMoJo shares a BBC report: Christoph Brandstatter is managing director of the four-star Seehotel, Jagerwirt, in Austria's Alps. His hotel's electronic door locks and other systems were hacked for ransom four times, between December 2016 and January 2017. "We got a ransomware mail which was hidden in a bill from Telekom Austria." His hotel's door keys became unusable after he clicked on a link to his bill. So was his hard drive. "Actually, as a small business you do not really think that anybody's interested in you for hacking, so we had no plan what to do," he recalls. He paid a ransom of two bitcoins, saying "at that time it was about $1,882." He has now installed firewalls and new antivirus software, and has trained his staff to recognise phishing emails that may seem genuine but actually contain malware. And he's moved back to traditional metal keys.
Businesses

China's Top Phone Makers Huawei and Xiaomi In Talks With Carriers To Expand To US Market (bloomberg.com) 43

From a report: Huawei and Xiaomi are in talks with U.S. wireless operators about selling flagship smartphones to American consumers as soon as next year, according to people familiar with the matter. The handset makers are negotiating with carriers including AT&T and Verizon, said the people, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. Talks are still fluid and it's possible no agreements will materialize, they said.
Businesses

One of Australia's Richest Men Lost $1 Million To Email Scam (bloomberg.com) 84

Kaye Wiggins, reporting for Bloomberg: The multi-millionaire founder of Twynam Agricultural Group lost $1 million in an email fraud, a London court heard Thursday. The British man who facilitated the theft says he's a victim too. John Kahlbetzer, who is on the Forbes list of the 50 richest Australians, lost the money when fraudsters tricked the administrator of his personal finances into transferring it to them, his court papers say. Fraudsters emailed Christine Campbell, pretending to be the 87-year-old and asking her to pay $1 million to an account held by a British man, David Aldridge, which she did. Kahlbetzer is suing Aldridge to recover the funds, but Aldridge says he was being "unwittingly used" and was himself the victim of a fraud involving a woman he met online and believed he was in a loving relationship with. Email frauds where companies' staff are tricked into transferring money are a growing problem. U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics show "business email compromise" cases, where criminals ask company officials to transfer funds, have cost more than $3 billion since 2015.
Medicine

Contact Lens Startup Hubble Sold Lenses With a Fake Prescription From a Made-up Doctor (qz.com) 319

Alison Griswold, reporting for Quartz: The Hubble contacts sitting in front of me are everything the ads promised: two weeks' worth of soft, daily lenses in robin's-egg-blue packaging. They arrived promptly, one week after I placed an order on Hubble's website, and three days after the company notified me the contacts had shipped. The lenses were packed in cream-colored boxes and came with a five-step guide, illustrated in different shades of pastel. There's only one problem: I don't wear contacts, and I ordered these using a fake prescription from a made-up doctor. Hubble was founded in May 2016 as a direct-to-consumer contact lens brand -- the Warby Parker of contacts, if you will. The company aims to make buying contact lenses as cheap and easy as shopping on Amazon. It has fast become a star of New York's startup scene, raising more than $30 million from investors that include Founders Fund and Greycroft Partners. Its valuation tops $200 million. Since the service officially launched in November 2016, Hubble claims to have sold $20 million worth of lens subscriptions, and says it's growing 20% month over month. Hubble expanded to Canada in August and plans to be in the UK as early as January. Quick service, cheap contacts, and whimsical branding have made Hubble a speedy success. But in its rush to disrupt the consumer experience, Hubble also appears to be playing fast and loose with some basic consumer protections.
Businesses

Motherboard and VICE Are Building a Community Internet Network (vice.com) 142

In order to preserve net neutrality and the free and open internet, we must end our reliance on monopolistic corporations and build something fundamentally different: internet infrastructure that is locally owned and operated and is dedicated to serving the people who connect to it, writes Jason Koebler, editor-in-chief of Vice's Motherboard news outlet. He writes: The good news is a better internet infrastructure is possible: Small communities, nonprofits, and startup companies around the United States have built networks that rival those built by big companies. Because these networks are built to serve their communities rather than their owners, they are privacy-focused and respect net neutrality ideals. These networks are proofs-of-concept around the country that a better internet is possible. This week, Motherboard and VICE Media are committing to be part of the change we'd like to see. We will build a community network based at our Brooklyn headquarters that will provide internet connections for our neighborhood. We will also connect to the broader NYC Mesh network in order to strengthen a community network that has already decided the status quo isn't good enough. We are in the very early stages of this process and have begun considering dark fiber to light up, hardware to use, and organizations to work with, support, and learn from. To be clear and to answer a few questions I've gotten: This network will be connected to the real internet and will be backed by fiber from an internet exchange. It will not rely on a traditional ISP.
Movies

What Disney's Acquisition of Fox Means For the Future of Film and TV (qz.com) 139

Disney announced on Thursday it had reached a $52 billion deal to buy most of the assets of 21st Century Fox. It is "the biggest and most consequential media merger in an era of big and consequential media consolidation deals," reports Quartz. "The deal will have a lasting effect on film, television, and the internet." From the report: If the merger is approved, Disney will own: All of Fox's film studios (20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, and Fox 2000); Fox's television studio; FX Networks; National Geographic; Fox's stake in European broadcaster Sky; Fox's stake in North American streamer Hulu. Staying with the hollowed out 21st Century Fox is the Fox broadcast network, Fox News, Fox Sports, and Fox Business. With Fox's film and TV studios and its cable networks, Disney will acquire the rights to literally hundreds of popular television series and movies. (Some of which include Avatar, X-Men, Deadpool, Modern Family and The Simpsons.)

Imagine all of the properties mentioned above, plus all of Disney's existing franchises (Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, etc.) combined into one internet streaming service. You won't have to imagine for long, because that's pretty much exactly why Disney CEO Bob Iger was so keen on buying all of Fox's biggest assets. Disney plans to release a streaming entertainment service in 2019. It would have been quite formidable on its own, even without Fox's help, but now it will likely be the first true rival to Netflix in the streaming space. Before today, Disney, Fox, and Comcast (NBCUniversal) all shared equal 30% stakes in Hulu (Time Warner owns 10%). But when Disney takes over Fox's share of the streaming service, it will own 60%, becoming a controlling majority owner, relegating Comcast to minority owner in the process.

20th Century Fox, we hardly knew ye. Okay, that may be a bit premature, but it's clear that Fox's film business won't be the same if the merger is approved. The deal marks the first time in modern history that one major film studio has purchased another, eliminating one of the "big six," and essentially giving Disney control of two-thirds of Hollywood. (The other four major movie studios are Universal, Warner Bros., Paramount, and Sony.)

The Internet

Lawmakers Are Fighting For Net Neutrality (theverge.com) 212

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Lawmakers and public officials are responding to the FCC's decision to gut net neutrality with promises of action. In the hours following the FCC hearing, officials from around the country announced lawsuits and bills intended to counter the FCC's decision. In New York, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said that he's leading a multi-state lawsuit to challenge the FCC's vote, though he didn't give further details on the suit or who would be joining him. Calling today's decision an "illegal rollback," he described it as giving "Big Telecom an early Christmas present."

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson also announced he would sue alongside Schneiderman and other attorneys general across the country, saying that he held "a strong legal argument" and that it was likely the government had failed to follow the law with this vote. Other officials from Santa Clara, California, including county supervisor Joe Simitian, are also suing the FCC to block the decision. "We believe the depth of your ideas should outweigh the depths of your pockets," Simitian said at a press conference.

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-CA) announced plans to introduce a bill to adopt net neutrality as a requirement in his state. He wrote in a Medium post, "If the FCC won't stand up for a free and open internet, California will."

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) tweeted that he will be submitting net neutrality legislation, saying that this was a decision better left to Congress. Coffman was the first Republican to ask the FCC to delay the vote, citing "unanticipated negative consequences" on Tuesday.
Furthermore, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) are supporting Sen. Ed Markey's (D-MA) plan to introduce a Congressional Review Act resolution to undo the FCC vote. Even Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who had previously announced on Twitter her support for Ajit Pai and the FCC, tweeted a video, saying, "We will codify the need for no blocking, no throttling, and making certain that we preserve that free and open internet." We're likely to see many others express their disappointment with the FCC's decision over the next few hours and days.
Businesses

Amazon Will Resume Selling Apple TV, Google's Chromecast (axios.com) 55

Ina Fried, reporting for Axios: Amazon confirmed Thursday that it will again sell the Apple TV set-top box and Google Chromecast dongle. The company had stopped selling the devices amid disputes with both giants. There's a lot of frenemy stuff at play here, with Google, Apple and Amazon all selling their own streaming devices, but also looking to offer their own services on one another's devices. Apple doesn't offer its programing on rival devices, but does move a lot of hardware through Amazon.
Businesses

Google and Facebook 'Must Pay For News' From Which They Make Billions (yahoo.com) 166

Internet giants such as Google and Facebook must pay copyright charges for using news content on their platforms, nine European press agencies said. These giant platforms, news agencies said, make vast profits from news content on their platforms. The call comes at a time when the EU is debating a directive to make Facebook, Google, Twitter and other major players pay for the millions of news articles they use or link to. From a report: "Facebook has become the biggest media in the world," the agencies said in a plea published in the French daily Le Monde. "Yet neither Facebook nor Google have a newsroom... They do not have journalists in Syria risking their lives, nor a bureau in Zimbabwe investigating Mugabe's departure, nor editors to check and verify information sent in by reporters on the ground." The agencies argued, "access to free information is supposedly one of the great victories of the internet. But it is a myth."
Communications

FCC's Own Chief Technology Officer Warned About Net Neutrality Repeal (politico.com) 152

Margaret Harding McGill, reporting for Politico: The Federal Communications Commission's own chief technology officer expressed concern Wednesday about Republican Chairman Ajit Pai's plan to repeal the net neutrality rules, saying it could lead to practices that are "not in the public interest." In an internal email to all of the FCC commissioner offices, CTO Eric Burger, who was appointed by Pai in October, said the No. 1 issue with the repeal is concern that internet service providers will block or throttle specific websites, according to FCC sources who viewed the message. "Unfortunately, I realize we do not address that at all," Burger said in the email. "If the ISP is transparent about blocking legal content, there is nothing the [Federal Trade Commission] can do about it unless the FTC determines it was done for anti-competitive reasons. Allowing such blocking is not in the public interest."
Businesses

Disney Makes Deal for 21st Century Fox, Reshaping Entertainment Landscape (nytimes.com) 170

Disney is going all in for its upcoming fight with Netflix and other streaming giants. The Walt Disney Company said Thursday that it had reached a deal to buy most of the assets of 21st Century Fox, the conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch, in an all-stock transaction valued at roughly $52.4 billion. From a report: To complete the integration, a legacy-defining task, Robert A. Iger, Disney's chief executive, agreed to renew his contract for a fourth time, delaying retirement from July 2019 to the end of 2021. While the merger still requires approval by antitrust regulators -- and the Justice Department recently moved to block a big media company from becoming even bigger -- the once unthinkable acquisition promises to reshape Hollywood and Silicon Valley. It is the biggest counterattack from a traditional media company against the tech giants that have aggressively moved into the entertainment business. Disney now has enough muscle to become a true competitor to Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook in the fast-growing realm of online video. Alternative source: Variety.
Software

T-Mobile Is Becoming a Cable Company (engadget.com) 92

T-Mobile has revealed that it's launching a TV service in 2018, and that is has acquired Layer3 TV (a company that integrates TV, streaming and social networking) to make this happen. The company thinks people are ditching cable due to the providers, not TV itself. Engadget reports: It claims that it can "uncarrier" TV the way it did with wireless service, and has already targeted a few areas it thinks it can fix: it doesn't like the years-long contracts, bloated bundles, outdated tech and poor customer service that are staples of TV service in the U.S. T-Mobile hasn't gone into detail about the functionality of the service yet. How will it be delivered? How much will it cost? Where will it be available? And will this affect the company's free Netflix offer? This is more a declaration of intent than a concrete roadmap, so it's far from certain that the company will live up to its promises. Ultimately, the move represents a big bet on T-Mobile's part: that people like TV and are cutting the cord based on a disdain for the companies, not the service. There's a degree of truth to that when many Americans are all too familiar with paying ever-increasing rates to get hundreds of channels they don't watch. However, there's no guarantee that it'll work in an era when many people (particularly younger people) are more likely to use Netflix, YouTube or a streaming TV service like Sling TV.
Robotics

Robots Are Being Used To Shoo Away Homeless People In San Francisco (qz.com) 421

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: San Francisco's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has been ordered by the city to stop using a robot to patrol the sidewalks outside its office, the San Francisco Business Times reported Dec. 8. The robot, produced by Silicon Valley startup Knightscope, was used to ensure that homeless people didn't set up camps outside of the nonprofit's office. It autonomously patrols a set area using a combination of Lidar and other sensors, and can alert security services of potentially criminal activity.

In a particularly dystopian move, it seems that the San Francisco SPCA adorned the robot it was renting with stickers of cute kittens and puppies, according to Business Insider, as it was used to shoo away the homeless from near its office. San Francisco recently voted to cut down on the number of robots that roam the streets of the city, which has seen an influx of small delivery robots in recent years. The city said it would issue the SPCA a fine of $1,000 per day for illegally operating on a public right-of-way if it continued to use the security robot outside its premises, the San Francisco Business Times said.

AT&T

AT&T Begins Testing High-Speed Internet Over Power Lines (reuters.com) 119

AT&T has started trials to deliver high-speed internet over power lines. The company announced the news on Wednesday and said that trials have started in Georgia state and a non-U.S. location. Reuters reports: AT&T aims to eventually deliver speeds faster than the 1 gigabit per second consumers can currently get through fiber internet service using high-frequency airwaves that travel along power lines. While the Georgia trial is in a rural area, the service could potentially be deployed in suburbs and cities, the company said in a statement. AT&T said it had no timeline for commercial deployment and that it would look to expand trials as it develops the technology.

"We think this product is eventually one that could actually serve anywhere near a power line," said Marachel Knight, AT&T's senior vice president of wireless network architecture and design, in an interview. She added that AT&T chose an international trial location in part because the market opportunity extends beyond the United States.

The Almighty Buck

Patreon Scraps New Service Fee, Apologizes To Users (theverge.com) 65

Patreon has decided to halt its plans to add a service fee to patrons' pledges, a proposed update that angered many users. "We're going to press pause," CEO Jack Conte tells The Verge. "Folks have been adamant about the problems with the new system, and so basically, we have to solve those problems first." The company plans to work with creators on a plan that will solve issues with the current payment system, but won't create major new problems in their stead. From the report: Conte published a blog post laying out the core problems, alongside an apology. "Many of you lost patrons, and you lost income. No apology will make up for that, but nevertheless, I'm sorry," it reads. "We recognize that we need to be better at involving you more deeply and earlier in these kinds of decisions and product changes. Additionally, we need to give you a more flexible product and platform to allow you to own the way you run your memberships. I know it will take a long time for us to earn back your trust. But we are utterly devoted to your success and to getting you sustainable, reliable income for being a creator."

Conte says that any new system will need to take the popularity of small pledges into account, and preserve the benefits of aggregation. It will also need to give artists more autonomy, rather than announcing a sweeping overall change directly to users. "The overwhelming sentiment was that we overstepped our bounds" with the non-negotiable fee, he says. "I agree, we messed that up. We put ourselves between the creator and their fans and we basically told them how to run their business, and that's not okay." Webcomic creator Jeph Jacques previously quoted Conte as saying Patreon "absolutely fucked up that rollout."

AI

Google To Open AI Center In China Despite Search Ban (bbc.com) 38

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Google is deepening its push into artificial intelligence (AI) by opening a research center in China, even though its search services remain blocked in the country. Google said the facility would be the first its kind in Asia and would aim to employ local talent. In a blog post on the company's website, Google said the new research center was an important part of its mission as an "AI first company." "Whether a breakthrough occurs in Silicon Valley, Beijing or anywhere else, [AI] has the potential to make everyone's life better for the entire world," said Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist at Google Cloud AI and Machine Learning. The research center, which joins similar facilities in London, New York, Toronto and Zurich, will be run by a small team from its existing office in Beijing. The tech giant operates two offices in China, with roughly half of its 600 employees working on global products, company spokesperson Taj Meadows told the AFP news agency. But Google's search engine and a number of other services are banned in China. The country has imposed increasingly strict rules on foreign companies over the past year, including new censorship restrictions.
Businesses

Uber's Massive Scraping Program Collected Data About Competitors Around The World (gizmodo.com) 29

Kate Conger, reporting for Gizmodo: For years, Uber systemically scraped data from competing ride-hailing companies all over the world, harvesting information about their technology, drivers, and executives. Uber gathered information from these firms using automated collection systems that ran constantly, amassing millions of records, and sometimes conducted physical surveillance to complement its data collection. Uber's scraping efforts were spearheaded by the company's Marketplace Analytics team, while the Strategic Services Group gathered information for security purposes, Gizmodo learned from three people familiar with the operations of these teams, from court testimony, and from internal Uber documents. Until Uber's data scraping was discontinued this September in the face of mounting litigation and multiple federal investigations, Marketplace Analytics gathered information on Uber's overseas competitors in an attempt to advance Uber's position in those markets. SSG's mission was to protect employees, executives, and drivers from violence, which sometimes involved tracking protesters and other groups that were considered threatening to Uber. An Uber spokesperson declined to comment for this story.
Facebook

Russia-Linked Accounts Were Active on Facebook Ahead of Brexit (ft.com) 251

The Russia-linked troll farm that used Facebook to target Americans during last year's election was also active in the UK ahead of the Brexit vote (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source), the social media company has admitted. From a report: In a letter to the Electoral Commission, Facebook said accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency spent $0.97 for three ads in the days before the EU referendum. These ads appeared on approximately 200 news feeds in the UK before the country voted to leave the EU last year. For months the social media company has sidestepped questions from MPs and journalists about Russian interference through its platform in the UK. The concerns were fuelled by revelations this summer that Facebook had been weaponised by Russian entities before the election of US President Donald Trump. France and Germany have said their elections were also targeted. "We strongly support the Commission's efforts to regulate and enforce political campaign finance rules in the United Kingdom, and we take the Commission's request very seriously," Facebook said in the letter.

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