Mozilla

Mozilla Restricts All New Firefox Features To HTTPS Only (bleepingcomputer.com) 93

An anonymous reader shares a report: In a groundbreaking statement earlier this week, Mozilla announced that all web-based features that will ship with Firefox in the future must be served on over a secure HTTPS connection (a "secure context"). "Effective immediately, all new features that are web-exposed are to be restricted to secure contexts," said Anne van Kesteren, a Mozilla engineer and author of several open web standards. This means that if Firefox will add support for a new standard/feature starting tomorrow, if that standard/feature carries out communications between the browser and an external server, those communications must be carried out via HTTPS or the standard/feature will not work in Firefox. The decision does not affect already existing standards/features, but Mozilla hopes all Firefox features "will be considered on a case-by-case basis," and will slowly move to secure contexts (HTTPS) exclusively in the future.
Japan

Days After Hawaii's False Missile Alarm, a New One in Japan (nytimes.com) 49

An anonymous reader shares a report: Japan's public broadcaster on Tuesday accidentally sent news alerts that North Korea had launched a missile and that citizens should take shelter -- just days after the government of Hawaii had sent a similar warning to its citizens. The broadcaster, NHK, corrected itself five minutes later and apologized for the error on its evening news (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source). The initial texts cited J-Alert, a system used by the government to issue warnings to its citizens about missiles, tsunamis and other natural disasters. But NHK later said that the system was not to blame for the false alarm. Makoto Sasaki, a spokesman for NHK, apologized, saying that "staff had mistakenly operated the equipment to deliver news alerts over the internet."
The Internet

Lawsuit Filed By 22 State Attorneys General Seeks To Block Net Neutrality Repeal (techcrunch.com) 285

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: A lawsuit filed today by the attorneys general of 22 states seeks to block the Federal Communications Commission's recent controversial vote to repeal Obama era Net Neutrality regulations. The filing is led by New York State Attorney General Schneiderman, who called rollback a potential "disaster for New York consumers and businesses, and for everyone who cares about a free and open internet." The letter, which was filed in the United States District Court of Appeals in Washington, is cosigned by AGs from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Washington DC.

"An open internet -- and the free exchange of ideas it allows -- is critical to our democratic process," Schneiderman added in an accompanying statement. "The repeal of net neutrality would turn internet service providers into gatekeepers -- allowing them to put profits over consumers while controlling what we see, what we do, and what we say online."

Wireless Networking

Google Home and Chromecast Could Be Overloading Your Home Wi-Fi (theverge.com) 121

Google Cast products could be to blame for your wonky internet connection. According to TP-Link, "The Cast feature normally sends packets of information at regular intervals to keep a live connection with products like Google Home," reports The Verge. "However, if the device is awakened from a 'sleep' mode, it will sometimes send a burst of information at once, which can overwhelm a router. The longer a Cast device has been in 'sleep' mode, the more information it might send at once." The engineer says that could exceed over 100,000 packets, an amount that "may eventually cause some of [the] router's primary features to shut down -- including wireless connectivity."

TP-Link has reportedly fixed the issue in its C1200 router, but a broader fix from Google's end has not been found.
Government

France Says 'Au Revoir' to the Word 'Smartphone' (smithsonianmag.com) 321

Hoping to prevent English tech vocabulary from entering the French language, officials have suggested 'mobile multifunction' as an alternative. An anonymous reader shares a report: The official journal of the French Republic, the Journal officiel, has suggested "internet clandestin" instead of dark net. It's dubbed a casual gamer "joueur occasionnel" for messieurs and "joueuse occasionnelle" for mesdames. To replace hashtag, it's selected "mot-diese." Now, as the Local reports, the latest word to get the official boot in France is smartphone. It's time to say bonjour to the "le mobile multifonction." The recommendation was put forth by the Commission d'enrichissement de la langue francaise, which works in conjunction with the Academie Francaise to preserve the French language. This isn't the first time that the commission has tried to encourage French citizens to switch over to a Franco-friendly word for "smartphone." Previous suggestions included "ordiphone" (from "ordinateur," the French word for computer) and "terminal de poche" (or pocket terminal). These, it seems, did not quite stick.
Democrats

Democrats Are Just One Vote Shy of Restoring Net Neutrality (engadget.com) 309

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer now says Democrats in the Senate are a single vote away from restoring net neutrality. According to the senator from New York, they now have a total of 50 votes for a Senate resolution of disapproval that would restore the Open Internet Order of 2015 and deliver a stiff rebuke to Ajit Pai and other Republican members of the FCC. It would also prevent the agency from passing a similar measure in the future, all but guaranteeing Net Neutrality is permanently preserved. Right now the resolution has the support of all 49 Democrats in the Senate and one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine. But Schumer and the rest of the caucus will have to win over one more Republican vote to prevent Vice President Mike Pence from breaking tie and allowing the repeal to stand. Under the Congressional Review Act, the Senate has 60 days to challenge a decision by an independent agency like the FCC. Democrats have less than 30 days to convince a "moderate" like John McCain or Lindsey Graham to buck their party. Further reading: The Washington Post (paywalled)
Music

Is Pop Music Becoming Louder, Simpler and More Repetitive? (bbc.co.uk) 461

dryriver writes: The BBC has posted a very interesting article that investigates whether people claiming all over the internet that "pop music just isn't what it used to be" are simply growing old, or if there actually is objective science capable of backing up this claim of a "steady decline in music quality." The findings from five different studies are quoted; the findings from the fourth study is especially striking:


1. Pop music has become slower -- in tempo -- in recent years and also "sadder" and less "fun" to listen to.
2. Pop music has become melodically less complex, using fewer chord changes, and pop recordings are mastered to sound consistently louder (and therefore less dynamic) at a rate of around one decibel every eight years.
3. There has been a significant increase in the use of the first-person word "I" in pop song lyrics, and a decline in words that emphasize society or community. Lyrics also contain more words that can be associated with anger or anti-social sentiments.
4. 42% of people polled on which decade has produced the worst pop music since the 1970s voted for the 2010s. These people were not from a particular aging demographic at all -- all age groups polled, including 18-29 year olds, appear to feel unanimously that the 2010s are when pop music became worst. This may explain a rising trend of young millennials, for example, digging around for now 15-30 year-old music on YouTube frequently. It's not just the older people who listen to the 1980s and 1990s on YouTube and other streaming services it seems -- much younger people do it too.
5. A researcher put 15,000 Billboard Hot 100 song lyrics through the well-known Lev-Zimpel-Vogt (LZV1) data compression algorithm, which is good at finding repetitions in data. He found that songs have steadily become more repetitive over the years, and that song lyrics from today compress 22% better on average than less repetitive song lyrics from the 1960s. The most repetitive year in song lyrics was 2014 in this study.

Conclusion: There is some scientific evidence backing the widely voiced complaint -- on the internet in particular -- that pop music is getting worse and worse in the 2000s and the 2010s. The music is slower, melodically simpler, louder, more repetitive, more "I" (first-person) focused, and more angry with anti-social sentiments. The 2010s got by far the most music quality down votes with 42% from people polled on which decade has produced the worst music since the 1970s.

Google

Google's Museum App Finds Your Fine Art Doppelganger (engadget.com) 66

The latest update to the Google Arts & Culture app now lets you take a selfie, and using image recognition, finds someone in its vast art collection that most resembles you. It will then present you and your fine art twin side-by-side, along with a percentage match, and let you share the results on social media. Engadget reports: The app, which appears to be unfortunately geo-restricted to the United States, is like an automated version of an article that circulated recently showing folks standing in front of portraits at museums. In many cases, the old-timey people in the paintings resemble them uncannily, but, other than in rare cases, that's not the case at all with Google's app. Google matched me with someone who doesn't look like me in the slightest, a certain Sir Peter Francois Bourgeois, based on a painting hanging in Dulwich Picture Gallery. Taking a buzz around the internet, other folks were satisfied with their matches, some took them as a personal insult, and many were just plain baffled, in that order.
The Almighty Buck

City-Owned Internet Services Offer Cheaper and More Transparent Pricing, Says Harvard Study (arstechnica.com) 112

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Municipal broadband networks generally offer cheaper entry-level prices than private Internet providers, and the city-run networks also make it easier for customers to find out the real price of service, a new study from Harvard University researchers found. Researchers collected advertised prices for entry-level broadband plans -- those meeting the federal standard of at least 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload speeds -- offered by 40 community-owned ISPs and compared them to advertised prices from private competitors. The report by researchers at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard doesn't provide a complete picture of municipal vs. private pricing. But that's largely because data about private ISPs' prices is often more difficult to get than information about municipal network pricing, the report says. In cases where the researchers were able to compare municipal prices to private ISP prices, the city-run networks almost always offered lower prices. This may help explain why the broadband industry has repeatedly fought against the expansion of municipal broadband networks.
Firefox

Mozilla Tests Firefox 'Tab Warming' (bleepingcomputer.com) 166

Catalin Cimpanu, reporting for BleepingComputer: Mozilla is currently testing a new feature called "Tab Warming" that engineers hope will improve the tab switching process. According to a description of the feature, Tab Warming will watch the user's mouse cursor and start "painting" content inside a tab whenever the user hovers his mouse over one. Firefox will do this on the assumption the user wants to click and switch to view that tab and will want to keep a pre-rendered tab on hand if this occurs. "Those precious milliseconds are used to do the rendering and uploading, so that when the click event finally comes, the [tab] is ready and waiting for you," said Mike Conley, one of the Firefox engineers who worked on this feature.
Google

Google Brings Map Service Back To China (nikkei.com) 19

Google has relaunched its map service in China after an eight-year absence, signaling a new era of cooperation between the American internet giant and local partners in fields such as artificial intelligence, reports Nikkei. From the report: Chinese netizens hailed the revival of Google Maps on Monday as the American company's great return to China, where its trademark search and other services have been unavailable since 2010. While Google began offering a translation app for Chinese smartphones in March 2017, the map service reaches far more users as one of Google's best-known offerings. The company has set up a China-specific version of the Google Maps website and introduced a map app for Chinese iPhones. But when users of the app attempt to use its navigation features, they are automatically transferred to an app from AutoNavi, a mapping company owned by Chinese internet leader Alibaba Group Holding.
Communications

The Tech Failings of Hawaii's Missile Alert 230

Over the weekend, Hawaii incorrectly warned citizens of a missile attack via their phones. According to The Washington Post, the error was a result of a staffer picking the wrong option -- missile alert instead of test missile alert -- from a drop down software menu. Hawaiian officials say they have already changed protocols to avoid a repeat of the scenario. The report goes on to add: Part of what worsened the situation Saturday was that there was no system in place at the state emergency agency for correcting the error, HEMA (Hawaii Emergency Management Agency) spokesman Richard Rapoza said. The state agency had standing permission through FEMA to use civil warning systems to send out the missile alert -- but not to send out a subsequent false alarm alert, he said. Though the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency posted a follow-up tweet at 8:20 a.m. saying there was "NO missile threat," it wouldn't be until 8:45 a.m. that a subsequent cellphone alert was sent telling people to stand down. Motherboard notes that new regulations require telecom companies to offer a testing system for local and state alert originators, but because of lobbying by Verizon and CTIA, this specific regulation does not go into effect until March 2019.

In a piece, The Atlantic argues that the 90-character messages sent by the system aren't suited to the way we use our devices.
EU

City of Barcelona Dumps Windows For Linux and Open Source Software (europa.eu) 249

An anonymous reader quotes Open Source Observatory: The City of Barcelona is migrating its computer systems away from the Windows platform, reports the Spanish newspaper El País. The City's strategy is first to replace all user applications with open-source alternatives, until the underlying Windows operating system is the only proprietary software remaining. In a final step, the operating system will be replaced with Linux... According to Francesca Bria, the Commissioner of Technology and Digital Innovation at the City Council, the transition will be completed before the current administration's mandate ends in spring 2019. For starters, the Outlook mail client and Exchange Server will be replaced with Open-Xchange. In a similar fashion, Internet Explorer and Office will be replaced with Firefox and LibreOffice, respectively. The Linux distribution eventually used will probably be Ubuntu, since the City of Barcelona is already running 1,000 Ubuntu-based desktops as part of a pilot...

Barcelona is the first municipality to have joined the European campaign 'Public Money, Public Code'. This campaign is an initiative of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) and revolves around an open letter advocating that publicly funded software should be free. Currently, this call to public agencies is supported by more than 100 organisations and almost 15,000 individuals. With the new open-source strategy, Barcelona's City Council aims to avoid spending large amounts of money on licence-based software and to reduce its dependence on proprietary suppliers through contracts that in some cases have been closed for decades.

Censorship

How Millions of Iranians Are Evading Internet Censors (msn.com) 48

schwit1 quotes the Wall Street Journal: Authorities in Tehran have ratcheted up their policing of the internet in the past week and a half, part of an attempt to stamp out the most far-reaching protests in Iran since 2009. But the crackdown is driving millions of Iranians to tech tools that can help them evade censors, according to activists and developers of the tools. Some of the tools were attracting three or four times more unique users a day than they were before the internet crackdown, potentially weakening government efforts to control access to information online. "By the time they wake up, the government will have lost control of the internet," said Mehdi Yahyanejad, executive director of NetFreedom Pioneers, a California-based technology nonprofit that largely focuses on Iran and develops educational and freedom of information tools.
Wired calls it "the biggest protest movement in Iran since the 2009 Green Movement uprising," criticing tech companies which "continue to deny services to Iranians that could be crucial to free and open communications."
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Calls to Action on the Fifth Anniversary of the Death of Aaron Swartz (eff.org) 149

On the fifth anniversary of the death of Aaron Swartz, EFF activist Elliot Harmon posted a remembrance: When you look around the digital rights community, it's easy to find Aaron's fingerprints all over it. He and his organization Demand Progress worked closely with EFF to stop SOPA. Long before that, he played key roles in the development of RSS, RDF, and Creative Commons. He railed hard against the idea of government-funded scientific research being unavailable to the public, and his passion continues to motivate the open access community. Aaron inspired Lawrence Lessig to fight corruption in politics, eventually fueling Lessig's White House run... It's tempting to become pessimistic in the face of countless threats to free speech and privacy. But the story of the SOPA protests demonstrates that we can win in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
He shares a link to a video of Aaron's most inspiring talk, "How We Stopped SOPA," writing that "Aaron warned that SOPA wouldn't be the last time Hollywood attempted to use copyright law as an excuse to censor the Internet... 'The enemies of the freedom to connect have not disappeared... We won this fight because everyone made themselves the hero of their own story. Everyone took it as their job to save this crucial freedom. They threw themselves into it. They did whatever they could think of to do.'"

On the anniversary of Aaron's death, his brother Ben Swartz, an engineer at Twitch, wrote about his own efforts to effect change in ways that would've made Aaron proud, while Aaron's mother urged calls to Congress to continue pushing for reform to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

And there were countless other remembrances on Twitter, including one fro Cory Doctorow, who tweeted a link to Lawrence Lessig's analysis of the prosecution. And Lessig himself marked the anniversary with several posts on Twitter. "None should rest," reads one, "for still, there is no peace."
Books

'Science Fiction Writers of America' Accuse Internet Archive of Piracy (sfwa.org) 116

An anonymous reader writes: The "Open Library" project of the nonprofit Internet Archive has been scanning books and offering "loans" of DRM-protected versions for e-readers (which expire after the loan period expires). This week the Legal Affairs Committe of the Science Fiction Writers of America issued a new "Infringement Alert" on the practice, complaining that "an unreadable copy of the book is saved on users' devices...and can be made readable by stripping DRM protection."

The objection, argues SFWA President Cat Rambo, is that "writers' work is being scanned in and put up for access without notifying them... it is up to the individual writer whether or not their work should be made available in this way." But the infringement alert takes the criticism even further. "We suspect that this is the world's largest ongoing project of unremunerated digital distribution of entire in-copyright books."

The Digital Reader blog points out one great irony. "The program initially launched in 2007. It has been running for ten years, and the SFWA only just now noticed." They add that SFWA's tardiness "leaves critical legal issues unresolved."

"Remember, Google won the Google Books case, and had its scanning activities legalized as fair use ex post facto... [I]n fact the Internet Archive has a stronger case than Google did; the latter had a commercial interest in its scans, while the Internet Archive is a non-profit out to serve the public good."
Government

Many US States Propose Their Own Laws Protecting Net Neutrality (seattletimes.com) 144

An anonymous reader quotes the New York Times: Lawmakers in at least six states, including California and New York, have introduced bills in recent weeks that would forbid internet providers to block or slow down sites or online services. Legislators in several other states, including North Carolina and Illinois, are weighing similar action... By passing their own law, the state lawmakers say, they would ensure that consumers would find the content of the choice, maintain a diversity of voices online and protect businesses from having to pay fees to reach users.

And they might even have an effect beyond their states. California's strict auto-emissions standards, for example, have been followed by a dozen other states, giving California major sway over the auto industry. "There tends to be a follow-on effect, particularly when something happens in a big state like California," said Harold Feld, a senior vice president at a nonprofit consumer group, Public Knowledge, that supports net-neutrality efforts by the states. Bills have also been introduced in Massachusetts, Nebraska, Rhode Island and Washington.

In addition, a representative in Alaska's legislature has also pre-filed legislation requiring the state's ISPs to practice net neutrality, which will be introduced when the state legislature resumes on January 16th.

"The recent FCC decision eliminating net neutrality was a mistake that favors the big internet providers and those who want to restrict the kinds of information a free-thinking Alaskan can access," representative Scott Kawasaki told a local news station. "That is not the Alaskan way, and I am hopeful my colleagues in the House and Senate will agree..."

The Independent also notes that Europe "is still strongly committed" to net neutrality.
Social Networks

Snapchat's Big Redesign Bashed In 83 Percent of User Reviews (techcrunch.com) 113

The new Snapchat redesign that jams Stories in between private messages is not receiving a whole lot of praise. "In the few countries including the U.K., Australia, and Canada where the redesign is widely available, 83 percent of App Store reviews (1,941) for the update are negative with one or two stars, according to data by mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower," reports TechCrunch. "Just 17 percent, or 391 of the reviews, give it three to five stars." From the report: The most referenced keywords in the negative reviews include "new update," "Stories," and "please fix." Meanwhile, Snapchat's Support Twitter account has been busy replying to people who hate the update and are asking to uninstall it, noting "It's not possible to revert to a previous version of Snapchat," and trying to explain where Stories are to confused users. Hopes were that the redesign could boost Snapchat's soggy revenue, which fell short of Wall Street earnings expectations in Q3 and led to a loss of $443 million. The redesign mixes Stories, where Snapchat shows ads but which have seen stagnation in sharing rates amidst competition from Instagram Stories, into the more popular messaging inbox, where Snapchat's ephemeral messaging is more differentiated and entrenched.
Government

Ask Slashdot: How Would You Use Computers To Make Elections Better? 498

shanen writes: Regarding politics, is there anything that Americans agree on? If so, it's probably something negative like "The system is broken," or "The leading candidates are terrible," or even "Your state is a shithole." With all our fancy technology, what's going wrong? Our computers are creating problems, not solutions. For example, gerrymandering relies on fancy computers to rig the maps. Negative campaigning increasingly relies on computers to target the attacks on specific voters. Even international attacks exploit the internet to intrude into elections around the world. Here are three of my suggested solutions, though I can't imagine any of today's politicians would ever support anything along these lines:

(1) Guest voting: If you hate your district, you could vote in a neighboring district. The more they gerrymander, the less predictable the election results.
(2) Results-based weighting: The winning candidates get more voting power in the legislature, reflecting how many people actually voted for them. If you win a boring and uncontested election where few people vote, then part of your vote in the legislature would be transferred to the winners who also had more real votes.
(3) Negative voting: A voter could use an electronic ballot to make it explicit that the vote is negative, not positive. The candidate with the most positive or fewest negative votes still wins, but if the election has too many negative votes, then that "winner" would be penalized, perhaps with a half term rather than a full term.

What wild and crazy ideas do you have for using computers to make elections better, not worse?
The Courts

US Supreme Court Will Revisit Ruling On Collecting Internet Sales Tax (theverge.com) 178

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: The U.S. Supreme Court will consider freeing state and local governments to collect billions of dollars in sales taxes from online retailers, agreeing to revisit a 26-year-old ruling that has made much of the internet a tax-free zone. Heeding calls from traditional retailers and dozens of states, the justices said they'll hear South Dakota's contention that the 1992 ruling is obsolete in the e-commerce era and should be overturned. State and local governments could have collected up to $13 billion more in 2017 if they'd been allowed to require sales tax payments from online merchants and other remote sellers, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office, Congress's non-partisan audit and research agency. Other estimates are even higher. All but five states impose sales taxes.

The high court's 1992 Quill v. North Dakota ruling, which involved a mail-order company, said retailers can be forced to collect taxes only in states where the company has a "physical presence." The court invoked the so-called dormant commerce clause, a judge-created legal doctrine that bars states from interfering with interstate commerce unless authorized by Congress. South Dakota passed its law in 2016 with an eye toward overturning the Quill decision. It requires retailers with more than $100,000 in annual sales in the state to pay a 4.5 percent tax on purchases. Soon after enacting the law, the state filed suit and asked the courts to declare the measure constitutional.

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