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Spin's San Francisco Staff Becomes First E-Scooter Workforce To Unionize

The San Francisco workforce of Spin, the e-scooter company owned by Ford, have unionized, in a first for the industry. Mashable reports: Having voted to unionize on Dec. 5, the workers were authorized to join the Teamsters Local 665 chapter on Wednesday. As well as office-based staff, scooter rental companies largely rely on a workforce of independent contractors, i.e. gig workers, to charge, maintain, relocate, and check the 85,000 or so vehicles scattered in cities around the U.S. But Spin says its entire San Francisco workforce of 100 people is comprised of W2 employees, and this is "the model" for its 60-plus other markets. A Spin spokesperson told Mashable on Wednesday evening that the company would not be approaching the collective bargaining negotiations with an "adversarial" mindset, as it respects workers' right to unionize, and that the labor peace agreement the San Francisco office signed with the Teamsters earlier this year included a neutrality clause for that reason. "Spin has long differentiated itself with our workforce policies, choosing a W-2 model and local hiring over independent contractors and staffing agencies," the spokesperson said. "We believe investing in everyone from our headquarters to our warehouses leads to a safer, more reliable service." "We don't anticipate any changes to our work force from unionization."

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Cisco Outlines Silicon, Software Roadmap For Next Generation Internet

An anonymous reader writes: Cisco on Wednesday outlined new details behind its strategy to build next-generation internet technology. As a set up for what it dubs its 'Internet for the Future' strategy, the networking giant announced a multi-year plan for building and investing in 5G internet technology, including silicon, optics and software. On the silicon side, Cisco announced Silicon One, a new switching and routing applications specific integrated circuit (ASIC) for the 5G internet era. The programmable networking chip is designed to provide significant improvements to performance, bandwidth, power efficiency, scalability and flexibility, according to Cisco. Cisco said the first first generation of the chip, Q100, surpassed the 10 Tbps routing milestone for network bandwidth. In addition to the silicon, Cisco also outlined its focus on the optics space. As port rates increase from 100G to 400G, optics become a larger portion of the cost to build and operate internet infrastructure. To account for that, Cisco said its qualification program tests its optics and non-Cisco optics to comply with industry standards, and invests organically to make sure that its router and switch ports rates continue to increase. Cisco also announced plans to offer flexible consumption models for Silicon One that were first established with its optics portfolio, followed by the disaggregation of the Cisco IOS XR7 software. The Silicon One architecture will integrate into its new 8000 series carrier class routers, which is powered by Cisco's new IOS XR7 operating system. The OS will provide faster download speeds and security improvements, Cisco said. According to the report, Cisco is currently working with Comcast and NTT Communications on ongoing deployments and trials of the 8000 series.

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Microsoft Reveals New Windows Logo, Office Icons

Ammalgam shares a report from The Redmond Cloud: Microsoft is refreshing its Windows logo and the icons for many of the operating system's apps. While Microsoft already announced new icons for the Office suite, Microsoft is now redesigning more than 100 icons across the company with new colors, materials, and finishes. We can see a softer modernized design based on their Fluent Design set of principles. You can see the new Windows logo in the images here. This is all part of a bigger push to modernize Microsoft's software and services under the Fluent Design set of principles. These aren't huge changes but slight flourishes to existing icons to make them look congruent when viewed in a series or set. This also seems like part of an attempt to clean up inconsistent icons in the Microsoft Windows OS. Microsoft's icon work is gradual and will continue throughout 2020. Jon Friedman, corporate vice president of design and research at Microsoft, announced the changes in a Medium post.

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Google Hands Feds 1,500 Phone Locations In Unprecedented 'Geofence' Search

According to Forbes, Google has sent 1,494 device identifiers to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to help them investigate arsons carried out across Milwaukee, Wisconsin, throughout 2018 and 2019. "The requests, outlined in two search warrants obtained by Forbes, demanded to know which specific Google customers were located in areas covering 29,387 square meters (or 3 hectares) during a total of nine hours for the four separate incidents," the report says. "Unbeknownst to many Google users, if they have 'location history' turned on, their whereabouts are stored by the tech giant in a database called SensorVault." From the report: To investigators, this kind of "geofence" demand is useful, allowing them to go through the data trove provided by Google, look for devices of interest such as a known suspect's phone and ask for more personal information on the user of that mobile. But it's also the kind of search that's been making pro-privacy folk anxious over the last year. Such data grabs, also referred to as "reverse location searches," see the police give Google a timeframe and an area on Google Maps within which to find every Google user within. Google then looks through its SensorVault database of user locations, taken from devices running the tech giant's services like Google Maps or anything that requires the "location history" feature be turned on. The police then look through the list, decide which devices are of interest to the investigation and ask for subscriber information that includes more detailed data such as name, email address, when they signed up to Google services and which ones they used. It's unclear whether or not Google handed over any identifying information, but to Jerome Greco, a public defender in the Digital Forensics Unit of the Legal Aid Society, it's a sign that geofence warrants are overly broad and endanger user privacy. "The number of phones identified in that area shows two key points," he tells Forbes. "One, it demonstrates a sample of how many people's minute-by-minute movements Google is precisely tracking. "Two, it shows the unconstitutional nature of reverse location search warrants because they inherently invade the privacy of numerous people, who everyone agrees are unconnected to the crime being investigated, for the mere possibility that it may help identify a suspect." For what it's worth, Forbes did obtain a search warrant that indicates Google is trying to fight back against overly broad government requests, "but still appears to be handing over innocent people's information as well as legitimate suspect data."

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Samsung Has Sold 1 Million Galaxy Fold Smartphones

An anonymous reader shares a report: Today at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin, Samsung Electronic's President Young Sohn revealed the company has sold 1 million foldable Galaxy Fold smartphones. Estimates from October pegged sales at that time at 500,000 units. "And I think that the point is, we're selling [a] million of these products," Sohn said. "There's a million people that want to use this product at $2,000." Today's conversation at Disrupt Berlin focused around growth through innovation. Sohn commented on the sales number while explaining Samsung's process of releasing products to get feedback. He said, in part, if they kept devices like the Fold in labs, they wouldn't get the input they needed.

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988 Will Be the New 911 For Suicide Prevention

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Federal Communications Commission plans to designate 988 as the short dialing code for the United States' suicide-prevention hotline. Much like 911 for general emergencies, 988 could be dialed by anyone undergoing a mental health crisis and/or considering suicide. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can already be reached at 1-800-273-8255 (or 1-800-273-TALK), but the FCC today gave preliminary approval to a plan that would make 988 redirect to that hotline. The commission's unanimous vote approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that seeks public comment on the plan. Once the NPRM is published in the Federal Register, there will be a 60-day period for taking public comments, and the FCC would finalize the plan after considering the public input. It could take another 18 months after that to implement 988 nationwide, depending on what requirements the FCC imposes on phone providers. [...] The proposal would require all telecommunications carriers and interconnected VoIP providers to support 988 on their networks within 18 months, the FCC said. But the FCC noted that it is "seek[ing] comment on all aspects of implementation, including whether a longer or shorter timeframe would be needed to make 988 a reality." Based on the comment-period length and proposed implementation time frame, 988 would be implemented nationwide sometime in late 2021.

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FTC May Try To Delay Facebook's Plan To Integrate its Apps

Facebook's stock took a dive on Thursday following a report that federal regulators may seek to prevent the company from more tightly integrating its social media products. From a report: The Federal Trade Commission is said to be considering asking for a court order to delay Facebook from making the services it owns, including WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger, interoperable with one another, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter. Shares of Facebook fell more than 3 percent in afternoon trading Thursday after the news broke.

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Inside the Podcast that Hacks Ring Camera Owners Live on Air

In the NulledCast podcast hackers livestream the harassment of Ring camera owners after accessing their devices. Hundreds of people can listen. From a report: A blaring siren suddenly rips through the Ring camera, startling the Florida family inside their own home. "It's your boy Chance on Nulled," a voice says from the Ring camera, which a hacker has taken over. "How you doing? How you doing?" "Welcome to the NulledCast," the voice says. The NulledCast is a podcast livestreamed to Discord. It's a show in which hackers take over people's Ring and Nest smarthome cameras and use their speakers to talk to and harass their unsuspecting owners. In the example above, Chance blared noises and shouted racist comments at the Florida family. "Sit back and relax to over 45 minutes of entertainment," an advertisement for the podcast posted to a hacking forum called Nulled reads. "Join us as we go on completely random tangents such as; Ring & Nest Trolling, telling shelter owners we killed a kitten, Nulled drama, and more ridiculous topics. Be sure to join our Discord to watch the shows live." Software to hack Ring cameras has recently become popular on the forum. The software churns through previously compromised email addresses and passwords to break into Ring cameras at scale. This has led to a recent spate of hacks that have occurred both during the podcast and at other times, several of which have been covered by local media outlets. In Brookhaven a hacker shouted at a sleeping woman through her hacked Ring camera to wake-up. In Texas, a hacker demanded a couple pay a bitcoin ransom. Hackers targeted a family in DeSoto County, Mississippi, and spoke through the device to one of the young children.

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Google Adds Spam Detection and Verified Business SMS To Messages

Businesses often send one-time passwords, account alerts and appointment confirmations via text. But if you've ever received one of those, you know they tend to come from a random number, and bad actors can take advantage of that by disguising phishing scams as one of those messages. To protect users, Google will soon verify SMS messages from registered businesses. From a report: When you receive a message from a verified business, you'll see the company name, logo and a verification badge in the message thread. Businesses must sign up to use Verified SMS, and so far, 1-800-Flowers, Banco Bradesco, Kayak, Payback and SoFi are on-board. Verified SMS is rolling out gradually in the US, Brazil, Canada, France, India, Mexico, Philippines, Spain and the UK. Google is also adding real-time spam detection. When Google suspects a message is phishy or garbage, it will show a spam warning in Messages.

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Rude Paper Reviews Are Pervasive and Sometimes Harmful, Study Finds

sciencehabit writes: There's a running joke in academia about Reviewer 2. That's the reviewer that doesn't bother to read the manuscript a journal has sent out for evaluation for possible publication, offers condescending or outright offensive comments, and -- of course -- urges the irrelevant citation of their own work. Such unprofessional conduct is so pervasive there's even a whole Facebook group, more than 25,000 members strong, named "Reviewer 2 Must Be Stopped!" But it is no laughing matter, concludes a new study that finds boorish reviewer comments can have serious negative impacts, especially on authors belonging to marginalized groups. The study surveyed 1106 scientists from 46 countries and 14 disciplines. More than half of the respondents -- who were promised anonymity -- reported receiving at least one "unprofessional" review, and a majority of those said they had received multiple problematic comments. Those comments tended to personally target a scientist, lack constructive criticism, or were just unnecessarily harsh or cruel, the authors report. For example, one author received a review that stated: "The phrases I have so far avoided using in this review are 'lipstick on a pig' and 'bullshit baffles brains.'" Another reported receiving this missive: "The author's last name sounds Spanish. I didn't read the manuscript because I'm sure it's full of bad English."

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'Link in Bio' is a Slow Knife

Anil Dash: We don't even notice it anymore -- "link in bio." It's a pithy phrase, usually found on Instagram, which directs an audience to be aware that a pertinent web link can be found on that user's profile. Its presence is so subtle, and so pervasive, that we barely even noticed it was an attempt to kill the web. Links on the web are incredibly powerful. There are decades of theory behind the role of hyperlinks in hypertext -- did you know in most early versions, links were originally designed to be two-way? You'd be able to see every page on the web that links to this one. But even in the very simple form that we've ended up with on the World Wide Web for the last 30 years, links are incredibly powerful, opening up valuable connections between unexpected things. For a closed system, those kinds of open connections are deeply dangerous. If anyone on Instagram can just link to any old store on the web, how can Instagram -- meaning Facebook, Instagram's increasingly-overbearing owner -- tightly control commerce on its platform? If Instagram users could post links willy-nilly, they might even be able to connect directly to their users, getting their email addresses or finding other ways to communicate with them. Links represent a threat to closed systems. Here's the thing, though: people like links. So closed systems have to present a pressure release valve. Hashtags are a great way out. They use the semiotics of links (early versions of hashtags on social platforms were really barely more than automated links to a search for a particular term) but are also constrained by the platforms they live on. A hashtag is easier to gather into a database, to harvest, to monetize. It's much easier, sure, but it also doesn't have all the messiness of a real link. Instagram doesn't have to worry that clicking on its hashtags will accidentally lead people to Twitter, or vice versa.

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Russian Police Raid NGINX Moscow Office

Russian police have raided today the Moscow offices of NGINX, Inc., a subsidiary of F5 Networks and the company behind the internet's most popular web server technology. From a report: Equipment was seized and employees were detained for questioning. Moscow police executed the raid after last week the Rambler Group filed a copyright violation against NGINX Inc., claiming full ownership of the NGINX web server code. The Rambler Group is the parent company of rambler.ru, one of Russia's biggest search engines and internet portals. According to copies of the search warrant posted on Twitter today, Rambler claims that Igor Sysoev developed NGINX while he was working as a system administrator for the company, hence they are the rightful owner of the project. Sysoev created NGINX in the early 2000s and open-sourced the NGINX code in 2004. In 2009, he founded NGINX, Inc., a US company, to provide adjacent tools and support services for NGINX deployments. The company is based in San Francisco, but has offices all over the world, including Moscow. The NGINX server's source code is still free and managed through an open-source model, although a large chunk of the project's primary contributors are NGINX, Inc. employees, who have a firm grip on the project's stewardship.

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AI R&D is Booming, But General Intelligence is Still Out of Reach

The AI world is booming in a range of metrics covering research, education, and technical achievements, according to AI Index report -- an annual rundown of machine learning data points now in its third year. From a news writeup, which outlines some of the more interesting and pertinent points: AI research is rocketing. Between 1998 and 2018, there's been a 300 percent increase in the publication of peer-reviewed papers on AI. Attendance at conferences has also surged; the biggest, NeurIPS, is expecting 13,500 attendees this year, up 800 percent from 2012. AI education is equally popular. Enrollment in machine learning courses in universities and online continues to rise. Numbers are hard to summarize, but one good indicator is that AI is now the most popular specialization for computer science graduates in North America. Over 21 percent of CS PhDs choose to specialize in AI, which is more than double the second-most popular discipline: security / information assurance. The US is still the global leader in AI by most metrics. Although China publishes more AI papers than any other nation, work produced in the US has a greater impact, with US authors cited 40 percent more than the global average. The US also puts the most money into private AI investment (a shade under $12 billion compared to China in second place globally with $6.8 billion) and files many more AI patents than any other country (with three times more than the number two nation, Japan). AI algorithms are becoming faster and cheaper to train. Research means nothing unless it's accessible, so this data point is particularly welcome. The AI Index team noted that the time needed to train a machine vision algorithm on a popular dataset (ImageNet) fell from around three hours in October 2017 to just 88 seconds in July 2019. Costs also fell, from thousands of dollars to double-digit figures. Self-driving cars received more private investment than any AI field. Just under 10 percent of global private investment went into autonomous vehicles, around $7.7 billion. That was followed by medical research and facial recognition (both attracting $4.7 billion), while the fastest-growing industrial AI fields were less flashy: robot process automation ($1 billion investment in 2018) and supply chain management (over $500 million).

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Getting Drivers for Old Hardware Is Harder Than Ever

At least one major provider of hardware-level BIOS drivers is actively deleting old stuff it no longer supports, while old FTP sites where vintage drivers are often found are soon going to be harder to reach. Ernie Smith, writing for Motherboard: You've never lived until you've had to download a driver from an archived forum post on the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. You have no idea if it's going to work, but it's your only option. So you bite the bullet. I recently did this with a PCI-based SATA card I was attempting to flash to support a PowerPC-based Mac, and while it was a bit of a leap of faith, it actually ended up working. Score one for chance. But this, increasingly, feels like it may be a way of life for people trying to keep old hardware alive -- despite the fact that all the drivers generally have to do is simply sit on the internet, available when they're necessary. Apparently, that isn't easy enough for Intel. Recently, the chipmaker took BIOS drivers, a boot-level firmware technology used for hardware initialization in earlier generations of PCs, for a number of its unsupported motherboards off its website, citing the fact that the programs have reached an "End of Life" status. While it reflects the fact that Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI), a later generation of firmware technology used in PCs and Macs, is expected to ultimately replace BIOS entirely, it also leaves lots of users with old gadgets out in a lurch. And as Bleeping Computer has noted, it appears to be part of a broader trend to prevent downloads for unsupported hardware on the Intel website -- things that have long lived past their current lives. After all, if something goes wrong, Intel can be sure it's not liable if a 15-year-old BIOS update borks a system.

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Google Assistant Can Now Interpret 44 Languages on Smartphones

Kyle Wiggers, writing for VentureBeat: In January during the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Google debuted interpreter mode, a real-time translation feature for Google Home speakers and third-party smart displays like those from JBL, Sony, LG, and Lenovo. The tech giant said at the time that interpreter mode would eventually come to mobile devices, but it didn't set a date. The date is today, as it turns out. As of this morning, Google Assistant on both Android and iOS smartphones supports interpreter mode, enabling you to ask for directions, order food, or simply chat in a foreign language. The number of recognized languages has increased from 27 to 44, and interpreter mode now lets you optionally type using a keyboard or manually select the language in which you'd like to speak. Saying a command like "Hey Google, be my German translator" or "Hey Google, help me speak Thai" kicks off interpreter mode. You'll see and hear the translated conversation on your phone, and after each translation, Google Assistant might present suggestions (like "Nien" or "Ju tut et") that let you quickly respond.

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