Education

A Well-Known Expert On Student Loans Is Not Real (chronicle.com) 53

mi shares a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education: Drew Cloud is everywhere. The self-described journalist who specializes in student-loan debt has been quoted in major news outlets, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and CNBC, and is a fixture in the smaller, specialized blogosphere of student debt. But he's a fiction, and "his" site -- an invention of a student-loan refinancing company.

"Drew Cloud is a pseudonym that a diverse group of authors at Student Loan Report, LLC use to share experiences and information related to the challenges college students face with funding their education," wrote Nate Matherson, CEO of LendEDU (the company that owns Cloud's website, The Student Loan Report). Before that admission, however, Cloud had corresponded at length with many journalists, pitching them stories and offering email interviews, many of which were published. When The Chronicle attempted to contact him through the address last week, Cloud said he was traveling and had limited access to his account. He didn't respond to additional inquiries. And on Monday, as The Chronicle continued to seek comment, Cloud suddenly evaporated. His once-prominent placement on The Student Loan Report had been removed. His bylines were replaced with "SLR Editor." Matherson confirmed on Tuesday that Cloud was an invention. Pressed on whether he regretted deceiving news organizations with a fake source, Matherson said Cloud "was created as a way to connect with our readers (ex. people struggling to repay student debt) and give us the technical ability to post content to the Wordpress website."

Education

Kazakhstan Is Changing Its Alphabet From Cyrillic To Latin-Based Style Favored By the West (bbc.com) 182

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: The Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan is changing its alphabet from Cyrillic script to the Latin-based style favored by the West. The change, announced on a blustery Tuesday morning in mid-February, was small but significant -- and it elicited a big response. The government signed off on a new alphabet, based on a Latin script instead of Kazakhstan's current use of Cyrillic, in October. But it has faced vocal criticism from the population -- a rare occurrence in this nominally democratic country ruled by Nazarbayev's iron fist for almost three decades. In this first version of the new alphabet, apostrophes were used to depict sounds specific to the Kazakh tongue, prompting critics to call it "ugly." The second variation, which Kaipiyev liked better, makes use of acute accents above the extra letters. So, for example, the Republic of Kazakhstan, which would in the first version have been Qazaqstan Respy'bli'kasy, is now Qazaqstan Respyblikasy, removing the apostrophes. The BBC article goes on to explain the economics of such a change, citing a restuarant owner that marketed his business using the first version of the alphabet. "All his marketing materials, the labelling on napkin holders and menus, and even the massive sign outside the building will have to be replaced," reports the BBC. "In his attempt to get ahead by launching in the new alphabet, [the owner] had not predicted that the government would revise it. He thinks it will cost about $3,000 to change the spelling of the name on everything to the new version, Sabiz." The full transition to the Latin-based script is expected to be completed by 2025, impacting this owner and many other small business owners.
Television

8K TVs Are Coming, But Don't Buy the Hype (engadget.com) 268

If the 8,294,400 pixels of resolution on an Ultra High Definition television just don't seem to convey enough detail, fear not: The electronics industry has heard your cry. From a report: Even as UHD TVs, often called 4K TVs for their nearly 4,000 pixels of horizontal resolution, approach half of display shipments in the U.S., set manufacturers have been stepping up their demos of 8K sets that, with their 7680-by-4320 resolution, pack in a full 33,177,600 pixels. And Sharp is now expanding its distribution of one such set, the 70-inch LV-70X500E. Following its October debut in China and subsequent arrivals in Japan and Taiwan, this 8K display will go on sale across Europe at the end of April for about $13,800 at current exchange rates. That, apparently, is supposed to be a reasonable price for a set that supports a video format that offers next to nothing to watch, that can't be streamed on most broadband connections or fit onto Blu-ray discs and which can't even be properly appreciated unless you get a set too big to fit in many living rooms.

[...] The highlights reel playing on a demo unit of Sharp's 8K set required 300 megabits per second of bandwidth to stream, said Adrian Wysocki, group product manager at UMC, the Sharp-owned firm that builds TVs in Poland for the company. He suggested in a conversation Friday that more efficient formats could cut that to 100 Mbps. Only 23.2% of U.S. fixed-broadband connections hit that speed at the end of 2016, according to to the Federal Communications Commission's latest report on internet access services.

The Internet

Mosaic, the First HTML Browser That Could Display Images Alongside Text, Turns 25 (wired.com) 132

NCSA Mosaic 1.0, the first web browser to achieve popularity among the general public, was released on April 22, 1993. It was developed by a team of students at the University of Illinois' National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), and had the ability to display text and images inline, meaning you could put pictures and text on the same page together, in the same window. Wired reports: It was a radical step forward for the web, which was at that point, a rather dull experience. It took the boring "document" layout of your standard web page and transformed it into something much more visually exciting, like a magazine. And, wow, it was easy. If you wanted to go somewhere, you just clicked. Links were blue and underlined, easy to pick out. You could follow your own virtual trail of breadcrumbs backwards by clicking the big button up there in the corner. At the time of its release, NCSA Mosaic was free software, but it was available only on Unix. That made it common at universities and institutions, but not on Windows desktops in people's homes.

The NCSA team put out Windows and Mac versions in late 1993. They were also released under a noncommercial software license, meaning people at home could download it for free. The installer was very simple, making it easy for just about anyone to get up and running on the web. It was then that the excitement really began to spread. Mosaic made the web come to life with color and images, something that, for many people, finally provided the online experience they were missing. It made the web a pleasure to use.

Advertising

Facebook Sued Over Fake Ads (theguardian.com) 62

shilly writes: British finance expert Martin Lewis is suing Facebook for defamation, after a year of trying to persuade the company to stop accepting scam ads featuring his name and image. Facebook insists that he report to them every time he spots a scam; he wants them to check with him before they take money for an ad featuring his name or picture, so he can tell them if it's legit or not. "Lewis said he would not profit from any damages won, which he would donate to charities combating fraud, but that he hoped the action would prompt the site to stamp out scam adverts," reports The Guardian.
Google

Google Accused of Showing 'Total Contempt' for Android Users' Privacy (bleepingcomputer.com) 99

On the heels of a terse privacy debate, Google may have found another thing to worry about: its attempt to rethink the traditional texting system. From a report: Joe Westby is Amnesty International's Technology and Human Rights researcher. Recently, in response to Google's launch of a new messaging service called "Chat", Westby argued that Google, "shows total contempt for Android users' privacy."

"With its baffling decision to launch a messaging service without end-to-end encryption, Google has shown utter contempt for the privacy of Android users and handed a precious gift to cybercriminals and government spies alike, allowing them easy access to the content of Android users' communications. Following the revelations by CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden, end-to-end encryption has become recognized as an essential safeguard for protecting people's privacy when using messaging apps. With this new Chat service, Google shows a staggering failure to respect the human rights of its customers," Westby contended. Westby continued, saying: "In the wake of the recent Facebook data scandal, Google's decision is not only dangerous but also out of step with current attitudes to data privacy."

The Internet

Pornhub Hasn't Been Actively Enforcing Its Deepfake Ban (engadget.com) 97

Pornhub said in February that it was banning AI-generated deepfake videos, but BuzzFeed News found that it's not doing a very good job at enforcing that policy. The media company found more than 70 deepfake videos -- depicting graphic fake sex scenes with Emma Watson, Scarlett Johanson, and other celebrities -- were easily searchable from the site's homepage using the search term "deepfake." From the report: Shortly after the ban in February, Mashable reported that there were dozens of deepfake videos still on the site. Pornhub removed those videos after the report, but a few months later, BuzzFeed News easily found more than 70 deepfake videos using the search term "deepfake" on the site's homepage. Nearly all the videos -- which included graphic and fake depictions of celebrities like Katy Perry, Scarlett Johansson, Daisy Ridley, and Jennifer Lawrence -- had the word "deepfake" prominently mentioned in the title of the video and many of the names of the videos' uploaders contained the word "deepfake." Similarly, a search for "fake deep" returned over 30 of the nonconsensual celebrity videos. Most of the videos surfaced by BuzzFeed News had view counts in the hundreds of thousands -- one video featuring the face of actor Emma Watson garnered over 1 million views. Some accounts posting deepfake videos appeared to have been active for as long as two months and have racked up over 3 million video views. "Content that is flagged on Pornhub that directly violates our Terms of Service is removed as soon as we are made aware of it; this includes non-consensual content," Pornhub said in a statement. "To further ensure the safety of all our fans, we officially took a hard stance against revenge porn, which we believe is a form of sexual assault, and introduced a submission form for the easy removal of non-consensual content." The company also provided a link where users can report any "material that is distributed without the consent of the individuals involved."
Social Networks

Former Reddit Executive Sees 'No Hope' For Reddit (nymag.com) 175

An anonymous reader quotes former Reddit product head Dan McComas: I think, ultimately, the problem that Reddit has is the same as Twitter and Discord. By focusing on growth and growth only and ignoring the problems, they amassed a large set of cultural norms on their platforms. Their cultural norms are different for every community, but they tend to stem from harassment or abuse or bad behavior, and they have worked themselves into a position where they're completely defensive... I really don't believe it's possible for either of them to catch up on the problem. I think the best that they can do is figure out how to hide this behavior from an average user.

I don't see any way that it's going to improve. I have no hope for either of those platforms. I just think that the problems are too ingrained, in not only the site and the site's communities and users but in the general understanding and expectations of the public... I don't think that they're going to be able to turn these things around...

I fundamentally believe that my time at Reddit made the world a worse place. And that sucks, and it sucks to have to say that about myself... I've got a lot of advice for start-ups, and it's not very fucking complicated. It's just: Think about the impact that you want to have on your users and on the people consuming your content and do the right thing... Don't be idiots about it. You're people, you see what's going on, you see trends that are forming, just fucking do something. It's not that hard.

The Internet

Lycos Finally Discontinues Its Free Email Service (lycos.com) 49

Long-time Slashdot reader williamyf writes: You may think of it as the end of an era, or as the final nail in the coffin. Today Lycos, one of the pioneering web portals of the '90s, notified all it's users that "On May 15th, 2018, we will no longer be offering free Lycos Mail accounts." They have been very upfront about the reason:

"Q: Why are you doing this?

A: Providing mailboxes costs us money, and we no longer make enough from ads to support the cost of the mailboxes."


At it's heyday, Lycos was acquired by Terra Networks (a division of Telefonica), then sold to Daum Communications in Korea and then to Ybrant Digital in India. The search engine and other parts (like Angelfire, Tripod and Gamesville) continue working. In the meantime, instructions are provided to download all your mail via POP3 for offline archiving, or to upgrade to Paid Accounts.

Communications

End of the Landline: BT Aims To Move All UK Customers To VoIP by 2025 (siliconrepublic.com) 101

BT aims to move its UK customers to IP telephony by 2025. From a report: BT is shutting its traditional telephone network in the UK, according to an email seen by The Register. The public switched telephone network (PSTN) closure is part of the company's plans to move in a fibre network direction in terms of its infrastructure. All phonecalls will eventually be made over broadband using VoIP systems, which means the company's existing wholesale line rental products, which are reliant on the PSTN, will need to be removed. BT Openreach runs the network used by all but one of the telecoms providers in the UK.
The Internet

Cloudflare: FOSTA Was a 'Very Bad Bill' That's Left the Internet's Infrastructure Hanging (vice.com) 192

Last week, President Donald Trump signed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) into law. It's a bill that penalizes any platform found "facilitating prostitution," and has caused many advocacy groups to come out against the bill, saying that it undermines essential internet freedoms. The most recent entity to decry FOSTA is Cloudflare, which recently decided to terminate its content delivery network services for an alternative, decentralized social media platform called Switter. Motherboard talked to Cloudflare's general counsel, Doug Kramer, about the bill and he said that FOSTA was an ill-consider bill that's now become a dangerous law: "[Terminating service to Switter] is related to our attempts to understand FOSTA, which is a very bad law and a very dangerous precedent," he told me in a phone conversation. "We have been traditionally very open about what we do and our roles as an internet infrastructure company, and the steps we take to both comply with the law and our legal obligations -- but also provide security and protection, let the internet flourish and support our goals of building a better internet." Cloudflare lobbied against FOSTA, Kramer said, urging lawmakers to be more specific about how infrastructure companies like internet service providers, registrars and hosting and security companies like Cloudflare would be impacted. Now, he said, they're trying to figure out how customers like Switter will be affected, and how Cloudflare will be held accountable for them.

"We don't deny at all that we have an obligation to comply with the law," he said. "We tried in this circumstance to get a law that would make sense for infrastructure companies... Congress didn't do the hard work of understanding how the internet works and how this law should be crafted to pursue its goals without unintended consequences. We talked to them about this. A lot of groups did. And it was hard work that they decided not do." He said the company hopes, going forward, that there will be more clarity from lawmakers on how FOSTA is applied to internet infrastructure. But until then, he and others there are having to figure it out along with law enforcement and customers. "Listen, we've been saying this all along and I think people are saying now, this is a very bad law," Kramer said. "We think, for now, it makes the internet a different place and a little less free today as a result. And there's a real-world implication of this that people are just starting to grapple with."

Advertising

German Supreme Court Rules Ad Blockers Legal (faz.net) 134

New submitter paai writes: The publishing company Axel Springer tried to ban the use of ad blockers in Germany because they endanger the digital publishing of news stories. The Oberlandesgericht Koln (Germany's Higher Regional Court of Cologne) followed this reasoning and forbade the use of ad blockers on the grounds that the use of white lists was an aggressive marketing technique. [The business model allows websites to pay a fee so that their "non aggressive" advertisements can bypass AdBlock Pro's filters. Larger companies like Google can afford to pay to have the ban lifted on their website.] The Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice or BGH) destroyed this court ruling today and judged that users had a right to filter out advertisements in web pages.
Security

LinkedIn's AutoFill Plugin Could Leak user Data, Secret Fix Failed (techcrunch.com) 25

TechCrunch reports of a flaw in LinkedIn's AutoFill plugin that could have allowed hackers to steal your full name, phone number, email address, location (ZIP code), company, and job title. "Malicious sites have been able to invisibly render the plugin on their entire page so if users who are logged into LinkedIn click anywhere, they'd effectively be hitting a hidden 'AutoFill with LinkedIn' button and giving up their data." From the report: Researcher Jack Cable discovered the issue on April 9th, 2018 and immediately disclosed it to LinkedIn. The company issued a fix on April 10th but didn't inform the public of the issue. Cable quickly informed LinkedIn that its fix, which restricted the use of its AutoFill feature to whitelisted sites who pay LinkedIn to host their ads, still left it open to abuse. If any of those sites have cross-site scripting vulnerabilities, which Cable confirmed some do, hackers can still run AutoFill on their sites by installing an iframe to the vulnerable whitelisted site. He got no response from LinkedIn over the last 9 days so Cable reached out to TechCrunch. A LinkedIn spokesperson issued this statement to TechCrunch: "We immediately prevented unauthorized use of this feature, once we were made aware of the issue. We are now pushing another fix that will address potential additional abuse cases and it will be in place shortly. While we've seen no signs of abuse, we're constantly working to ensure our members' data stays protected. We appreciate the researcher responsibly reporting this and our security team will continue to stay in touch with them. For clarity, LinkedIn AutoFill is not broadly available and only works on whitelisted domains for approved advertisers. It allows visitors to a website to choose to pre-populate a form with information from their LinkedIn profile."
Businesses

Marissa Mayer is Back (bloomberg.com) 103

Former Yahoo Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer is starting a technology business incubator, Lumi Labs, with longtime colleague Enrique Munoz Torres, she revealed in an interview with The New York Times. Bloomberg: The venture will focus on consumer media and artificial intelligence, according to the company's website, which is set against a backdrop of snow-covered peaks. Lumi means snow in Finnish, Mayer told the New York Times, which reported the news earlier Wednesday. The next project for Mayer, who was an early employee at Google and worked there until leaving to run Yahoo in 2012, had been a matter of considerable speculation in Silicon Valley. She left Yahoo, once a leading search engine and web destination, after it was sold to Verizon Communications last year.
Censorship

Google Is Shuttering Domain Fronting, Creating a Big Problem For Anti-Censorship Tools (theverge.com) 59

"The Google App Engine is discontinuing a practice called domain fronting, which lets services use Google's network to get around state-level internet blocks," reports The Verge. While the move makes sense from a cybersecurity perspective as domain fronting is widely used by malware to evade network-based detection, it will likely frustrate app developers who use it to get around internet censorship. From the report: First spotted by Tor developers on April 13th, the change has been rolling out across Google services and threatens to disrupt services for a number of anti-censorship tools, including Signal, GreatFire.org and Psiphon's VPN services. Reached by The Verge, Google said the changes were the result of a long-planned network update. "Domain fronting has never been a supported feature at Google," a company representative said, "but until recently it worked because of a quirk of our software stack. We're constantly evolving our network, and as part of a planned software update, domain fronting no longer works. We don't have any plans to offer it as a feature."

Domain-fronting allowed developers to use Google as a proxy, forwarding traffic to their own servers through a Google.com domain. That was particularly important for evading state-level censorship, which might try to block all the traffic sent to a given service. As long as the service was using domain-fronting, all the in-country data requests would appear as if they were headed for Google.com, with encryption preventing censors from digging any deeper.
We do not yet know exactly why and when Google is shutting down the practice, but will update this post once we learn more.
NASA

SpaceX Launches NASA's Planet-Hunting Satellite, Successfully Lands Its Falcon 9 Rocket (theverge.com) 37

SpaceX launched NASA's TESS spacecraft Wednesday evening from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and successfully landed its Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship following takeoff. This marks 24 successful landings for SpaceX now, notes The Verge. We will update this post once TESS is deployed into orbit. From the report: TESS is NASA's newest exoplanet hunter. The probe is tasked with staring at stars tens to hundreds of light-years from Earth, watching to see if they blink. When a planet passes in front of a distant star, it dims the star's light ever so slightly. TESS will measure these twinkles from a 13.7-day orbit that extends as far out as the distance of the Moon. The satellite won't get to its final orbit on this launch. Instead, the Falcon 9 will put TESS into a highly elliptical path around Earth first. From there, TESS will slowly adjust its orbit over the next couple of months by igniting its onboard engine multiple times. The spacecraft will even do a flyby of the Moon next month, getting a gravitational boost that will help get the vehicle to its final path around Earth. Overall, it will take about 60 days after launch for TESS to get to its intended orbit; science observations are scheduled to begin in June.
Communications

A Florida Man Has been Accused of Making 97 Million Robocalls (bloomberg.com) 176

A Florida man accused of flooding consumers with 97 million phone calls touting fake travel deals appeared Wednesday before lawmakers to explain how robocalls work and to say, "I am not the kingpin of robocalling that is alleged." From a report: Adrian Abramovich, of Miami, who is fighting a proposed $120 million fine, told senators that open-source software lets operators make thousands of phone calls with the click of a button, in combination with cloud-based computing and "the right long distance company." "Clearly regulation needs to address the carriers and providers and require the major carriers to detect robocalls activity," Abramovich said in testimony submitted in advance to the Senate Commerce Committee. He has asked the Federal Communications Commission to reduce the fine proposed last year, calling it disproportionate, in part because most calls went unanswered or resulted in a quick hang-up by consumers. The panel's chairman, Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, called Abamovich and officials from the FCC and other agencies to discuss ways to stop abusive calls.
Communications

Puerto Rico is Experiencing an Island-Wide Blackout (engadget.com) 245

An anonymous reader shares a report: Seven months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, the power grid is still unstable. But progress was being made; according to CBS, less than 10 percent of the island was without power as of a month ago. But now, the Associated Press reports that the island is undergoing yet another full blackout. The power company is still investigating the cause and estimates it will take 24 to 36 hours for power to be restored. The saga of Puerto Rico's power grid has been an unhappy one. The US territory was already facing a financial crisis before the hurricane hit. The island only has one electric company, and prior to Maria, it was $9 billion in debt and utilizing outdated infrastructure and equipment.
The Internet

Russia Admits To Blocking Millions of IP Addresses (sfgate.com) 73

It turns out, the Russian government, in its quest to block Telegram, accidentally shut down several other services as well. From a report: The chief of the Russian communications watchdog acknowledged Wednesday that millions of unrelated IP addresses have been frozen in a so-far futile attempt to block a popular messaging app. Telegram, the messaging app that was ordered to be blocked last week, was still available to users in Russia despite authorities' frantic attempts to hit it by blocking other services. The row erupted after Telegram, which was developed by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, refused to hand its encryption keys to the intelligence agencies. The Russian government insists it needs them to pre-empt extremist attacks but Telegram dismissed the request as a breach of privacy. Alexander Zharov, chief of the Federal Communications Agency, said in an interview with the Izvestia daily published Wednesday that Russia is blocking 18 networks that are used by Amazon and Google and which host sites that they believe Telegram is using to circumvent the ban.
Communications

Iran Bans State Bodies From Using Telegram App, Khamenei Shuts Account (reuters.com) 38

Iran banned government bodies on Wednesday from using the popular Telegram instant messaging app as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's office said his account would shut down to protect national security, Iranian media reported. From a report: ISNA news agency did not give a reason for the government ban on the service which lets people send encrypted messages and has an estimated 40 million users in the Islamic Republic. The order came days after Russia -- Iran's ally in the Syrian war -- started blocking the app in its territory following the company's repeated refusal to give Russian state security services access to users' secret messages. Iran's government banned "all state bodies from using the foreign messaging app," according to ISNA.

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