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Washington State Shuts Down 'Sold By Amazon' Program Nationwide

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Seattle Times: Amazon is shutting down its "Sold by Amazon" program after an investigation from Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson found it was anticompetitive and violated antitrust laws. The company engaged in unlawful price fixing and unreasonably restrained competition in order to maximize its own profits, according to the lawsuit and consent decree filed Wednesday in King County Superior Court. As a result of the investigation, Amazon will shut down the program nationwide and pay $2.25 million to the attorney general's office, as well as provide annual updates on its compliance with antitrust laws. The funds will go toward antitrust enforcement. The program ran from 2018 to 2020, when Amazon suspended it for reasons unrelated to the investigation, according to a spokesperson for the company. It was a small program offering another tool to businesses, the spokesperson said, and did not include all of the third-party sellers on the e-commerce platform. Through the program, third-party sellers entered into an agreement with Amazon that set a minimum payment rate for products sold on the platform, according to the lawsuit. If the sales exceeded the agreed upon minimum, Amazon would take a cut of the additional revenue. A spokesperson for Amazon said the company believes the program was legal and good for consumers. Amazon acted as the retailer and purchased products from suppliers to fill a customer order, ensuring low prices for consumers. But, Ferguson's investigation concluded, the program boosted Amazon's sales and ensured it didn't have to compete with third-party sellers. "Consumers lose when corporate giants like Amazon fix prices to increase their profits," Ferguson said Wednesday. "Today's action promotes product innovation and consumer choice, and makes the market more competitive for sellers in Washington state and across the country."

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Posted on 27 January 2022 | 3:30 am

Giving Cash to Low-Income Mothers Linked to Increased Brain Activity in Their Babies, Study Suggests

New research suggests giving extra cash to low-income mothers can change their infants' brain development. Time reports: Brain measurements at age 1 showed faster activity in key brain regions in infants whose low-income families received $300-plus monthly for a year, compared with those who got $20 each month, U.S. researchers reported Monday. The same type of brain activity has been linked in older children to learning skills and other development, although it's unclear whether the differences found will persist or influence the infants' future. The researchers are investigating whether the payments led to better nutrition, less parent stress or other benefits to the infants. There were no restrictions on how the money was spent. The results suggest reducing poverty can directly affect infant brain development, said senior author, Dr. Kimberly Noble, a neuroscience and education professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. "The brain changes speak to the remarkable malleability of the brain, especially early in childhood," she said. While the researchers can't rule out that differences seen in total brain activity in both groups were due to chance, they did find meaningful differences in the frontal region, linked with learning and thinking skills. Higher-frequency activity was about 20% greater in infants whose families received the larger payments. The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Posted on 27 January 2022 | 2:10 am

Government Demands To Remove Twitter Content Hit Record High

Twitter revealed on Tuesday that governments' requests for content to be removed from the platform hit a record high in the first six months of 2021. The Hill reports: Governments made 43,387 legal demands for content to be pulled down from 196,878 accounts between January and the end of June. Twitter's latest transparency report showed that 95 percent of the requests came from Japan, Russia, Turkey, India and South Korea. The platform "withheld" access to content or required accounts to take down posts in response to 54 percent of the demands. Twitter's transparency report also showed that government requests to preserve account information fell four percent compared to the previous reporting period, the last six months of 2020. The United States accounted for 57 percent of preservation requests.

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Posted on 27 January 2022 | 1:30 am

Boom Supersonic Picks North Carolina To Build and Test Ultra-Fast Planes

Boom Supersonic, which is developing ultra-fast airplanes it believes will lead to the return of commercial supersonic flights, has picked Greensboro, N.C., to build and test those planes. CNBC reports: The Greensboro-based plant, which is expected to employ 1,250 workers by the end of the decade, is the latest example of a new aviation manufacturing facility being built in the region. In the last 11 years, Boeing and Airbus have established new final assembly plants in North Charleston, S.C., and Mobile, Ala., respectively. "This is the right choice for us and we couldn't be more excited," Blake Scholl, founder and CEO of Boom Supersonic told CNBC. "Greensboro brings a significant, local skilled labor population and there are more than two hundred aerospace suppliers in the state. Many will be key suppliers for The Overture." The Overture is Boom's first commercial supersonic plane. The company plans to start building the plane in 2024, with the first one rolling off the line in 2025 and the initial test flight set for 2026. If all goes as planned, Boom's inaugural supersonic jet would enter commercial service by 2029. While Boom is based in Denver and will continue designing aircraft at its headquarters, it chose Greensboro, in part, because of its short distance from the Atlantic coast. "The proximity to the ocean is an important factor," Scholl said. "The vast majority of our flight tests will be over the water, where the plane can speed up so there is not a sonic boom over populated areas." Boom says the Overture will fly at a top speed of Mach 1.7, or about 1,300 mph, allowing it to shave hours off of some of the longest international flights.

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Posted on 27 January 2022 | 12:50 am

Amazon Ends Widely Mocked Scheme That Turned Workers Into Twitter 'Ambassadors'

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Amazon has killed a program under which it paid warehouse employees to say nice things about the company on social media. "Amazon quietly shut down and removed all traces of the influence campaign at the end of last year, people with direct knowledge of the decision told the Financial Times," FT reported today. FT noted that the social media program suffered from "poor reach and embarrassing backfires." Amazon began paying workers to tweet in 2018 in a widely mocked effort to counter negative perceptions about the company. As Business Insider reported in August 2018, "The company now has a small army of 'FC Ambassadors' saying nice things about the company online and engaging in dialogue with average Twitter users. The ambassadors are full-time employees, according to an Amazon spokesperson, and it is their job to share their experiences working at a fulfillment center." "FC" stands for fulfillment centers, and the "ambassadors" worked in the Amazon warehouses before being paid to tweet, and in at least some cases, they split duties between the warehouse and Twitter. "I get paid $15/hr whether I am answering tweets or out on the floor stowing. I do this 2 days a week and 2 days a week I stow," one Amazon employee explained in 2019, as seen in a Bellingcat report that found 53 Amazon FC Ambassador accounts on Twitter. "The 'ambassador' program was always a laughable attempt to minimize the abuses unfolding inside Amazon warehouses," Warehouse Worker Resource Center Executive Director Sheheryar Kaoosji told the Financial Times.

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Posted on 27 January 2022 | 12:10 am

YouTube Gaming Boss Leaving To Join Crypto Company

YouTube Gaming's top boss, Ryan Wyatt, is leaving the company to join the cryptocurrency company Polygon Studios. Wyatt is expected to depart YouTube at the end of February. GameSpot reports: Wyatt, a former higher-up at Major League Gaming, joined Google in 2014 and has been the global head of gaming at the company since then. "I will miss YouTube dearly, but it is time for me to pursue other endeavors in life and where my passions are taking me," Wyatt said. "I am fascinated by blockchain app development and am beyond thrilled to enter the web3 space." Wyatt is becoming the CEO of Polygon Technology Studios where he will head up efforts to grow the "developer ecosystem" by way of investment, marketing, and developer support. "I'll be leading the Polygon Studios organization across Gaming, Entertainment, Fashion, News, Sports, and more. I'm excited to work with developers and builders across the Polygon ecosystem and I'll be sharing more about my journey over the coming months," Wyatt said. Wyatt said in a video that he understands the issues and concerns people have with blockchain video games. One of the leading blockchain games today is Axie, and Watt said a lot of people don't quite understand what the game is really all about or believe it's not for them. But Watt said he foresees a future with MMOs, shooters, and RPGs in the blockchain space that people will be excited about. Engadget adds that Jamie Byrne, senior director of creator partnerships, and vice president and global head of product partnerships, Heather Rivera, are departing too. "Like many other companies, we've seen some of our people choose a new direction in the new year," YouTube told Tubefilter. "We are also fortunate to have a deep bench of talented leaders to take our business forward. We thank Heather, Jamie, and Ryan for their incredible contribution to YouTube over the years and can't wait to see what they do next."

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Posted on 26 January 2022 | 11:30 pm

Valve Will Start Selling the Steam Deck Next Month

It's official: Valve's Steam Deck gaming portable will go on sale starting February 25th. The Verge reports: According to the company's blog, customers who have reservations will get an email on that day and have three days to place an order. Valve also says that it'll release new batches on a weekly basis, so if you've got a reservation, March will be the time to keep an eye on your email. Here's some more info from Valve's announcement: "We will start sending invites shortly after 10:00 am on February 25th, PST. Order emails are sent in the same order that reservations were made. You can only order the Steam Deck model that you originally reserved. Your reservation deposit will be applied to the final price of Steam Deck, and shipping costs are included." Valve says that the orders placed on the 25th will start shipping out on the 28th.

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Posted on 26 January 2022 | 11:10 pm

North Korean Internet Downed By Suspected Cyber Attacks

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: North Korea's internet appears to have been hit by a second wave of outages in as many weeks, possibly caused by a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, researchers said on Wednesday. The latest incident took place for about six hours on Wednesday morning local time, and came a day after North Korea conducted its fifth missile test this month. Junade Ali, a cybersecurity researcher in Britain who monitors a range of different North Korean web and email servers, said that at the height of the apparent attack, all traffic to and from North Korea was taken down. "When someone would try to connect to an IP address in North Korea, the internet would literally be unable to route their data into the country," he told Reuters. Hours later, servers that handle email were accessible, but some individual web servers of institutions such as the Air Koryo airline, North Korea's ministry of foreign affairs, and Naenara, which is the official portal for the North Korean government, continued to experience stress and downtime. "It's common for one server to go offline for some periods of time, but these incidents have seen all web properties go offline concurrently," said Ali. "It isn't common to see their entire internet dropped offline." During the incidents, operational degradation would build up first with network timeouts, then individual servers going offline and then their key routers dropping off the internet, Ali said. "This indicates to me that this is the result of some form of network stress rather than something like a power cut."

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Posted on 26 January 2022 | 10:50 pm

The Rise of the Crypto Mayors

This new political breed accepts paychecks in Bitcoin. The mayors also want to use buzzy new tech like NFTs to raise money for public projects. From a report: The ballooning popularity of Bitcoin and other digital currencies has given rise to a strange new political breed: the crypto mayor. Eric Adams, New York's new mayor, accepted his first paycheck in Bitcoin and another cryptocurrency, Ether. Francis Suarez, Miami's mayor, headlines crypto conferences. Now even mayors of smaller towns are trying to incorporate crypto into municipal government, courting start-ups and experimenting with buzzy new technologies like nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, to raise money for public projects. Their growing ranks reflect the increasing mainstream acceptance of digital currencies, which are highly volatile and have fallen in value in recent days. The mayors' embrace of crypto is also a recognition that its underlying blockchain technology -- essentially a distributed ledger system -- may create new revenue streams for cities and reshape some basic functions of local government. "Mayors rationally want to attract high-income citizens who pay their taxes and impose few costs on the municipality," said Joseph Grundfest, a business professor at Stanford. "Crypto geeks fit this bill perfectly." But as with many ambitious crypto projects, it's unclear whether these local initiatives will ultimately amount to much. So far, most are either largely symbolic or largely theoretical. And the mayors' aims are partly political: Crypto boosterism has a useful bipartisan appeal, garnering popularity among both antigovernment conservatives and socially liberal tech moguls. "You can do these things because you want to be associated with dudes with AR-15s, or you want to be associated with Meta," said Finn Brunton, a technology studies professor at the University of California, Davis, who wrote a 2019 book about the history of crypto. "A lot of it is hype and hot air."

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Posted on 26 January 2022 | 10:10 pm

Doctors Find 'Antibody Signature' for Patients Most at Risk of Developing Long Covid

Doctors have discovered an "antibody signature" that can help identify patients most at risk of developing long Covid, a condition where debilitating symptoms of the disease can persist for many months. From a report: Researchers at University hospital Zurich analysed blood from Covid patients and found that low levels of certain antibodies were more common in those who developed long Covid than in patients who swiftly recovered. When combined with the patient's age, details of their Covid symptoms and whether or not they had asthma, the antibody signature allowed doctors to predict whether people had a moderate, high or very high risk of developing long-term illness. "Overall, we think that our findings and identification of an immunoglobulin signature will help early identification of patients that are at increased risk of developing long Covid, which in turn will facilitate research, understanding and ultimately targeted treatments for long Covid," said Onur Boyman, a professor of immunology who led the research. The team studied 175 people who tested positive for Covid and 40 healthy volunteers who acted as a control group. To see how their symptoms changed over time, doctors followed 134 of the Covid patients for up to a year after their initial infection. When Covid strikes, IgM antibodies ramp up rapidly, while IgG antibodies rise later and provide longer-term protection. Blood tests on the participants showed that those who developed long Covid -- also known as post-acute Covid-19 syndrome (Pacs) -- tended to have low levels of IgM and the antibody IgG3.

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Posted on 26 January 2022 | 9:30 pm

Researchers Build AI That Builds AI

By using hypernetworks, researchers can now preemptively fine-tune artificial neural networks, saving some of the time and expense of training. From a report: Artificial intelligence is largely a numbers game. When deep neural networks, a form of AI that learns to discern patterns in data, began surpassing traditional algorithms 10 years ago, it was because we finally had enough data and processing power to make full use of them. Today's neural networks are even hungrier for data and power. Training them requires carefully tuning the values of millions or even billions of parameters that characterize these networks, representing the strengths of the connections between artificial neurons. The goal is to find nearly ideal values for them, a process known as optimization, but training the networks to reach this point isn't easy. "Training could take days, weeks or even months," said Petar Velickovic, a staff research scientist at DeepMind in London. That may soon change. Boris Knyazev of the University of Guelph in Ontario and his colleagues have designed and trained a "hypernetwork" -- a kind of overlord of other neural networks -- that could speed up the training process. Given a new, untrained deep neural network designed for some task, the hypernetwork predicts the parameters for the new network in fractions of a second, and in theory could make training unnecessary. Because the hypernetwork learns the extremely complex patterns in the designs of deep neural networks, the work may also have deeper theoretical implications. For now, the hypernetwork performs surprisingly well in certain settings, but there's still room for it to grow -- which is only natural given the magnitude of the problem. If they can solve it, "this will be pretty impactful across the board for machine learning," said Velickovic.

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Posted on 26 January 2022 | 8:50 pm

ID CEO Backtracks on Claims Company Doesn't Use Powerful Facial Recognition Tech

Identity verification company uses a type of powerful facial recognition that searches for individuals within mass databases of photos, CEO Blake Hall explained in a LinkedIn post on Wednesday. From a report: The post follows a news release from the company last week stating directly that: "Our 1:1 face match is comparable to taking a selfie to unlock a smartphone. does not use 1:many facial recognition, which is more complex and problematic." Hall's post on Wednesday confirms that does indeed use 1:many technology. Privacy advocates say that both versions of facial recognition pose a threat to consumers. In addition to numerous studies demonstrating the technology is less effective on non-White skin tones, amassing biometric data can prove a huge security risk. "Governments and companies are amassing these databases of your personal biometric information, which unlike databases, of credit cards, cannot be replaced," explained Caitlin Seeley-George, campaign director at nonprofit Fight for the Future. "And these are databases that are highly targeted by hackers and information that can absolutely be used in ways that are harmful to people." In the Wednesday LinkedIn post Hall said that 1:many verification is used "once during enrollment" and "is not tied to identity verification. It does not block legitimate users from verifying their identity, nor is it used for any other purpose other than to prevent identity theft," he writes.

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Posted on 26 January 2022 | 8:19 pm

Verizon's TracFone Customers Complain of Attackers Stealing Their Phone Numbers

Attackers have commandeered thousands of TracFone customers' phone numbers in recent weeks, forcing new owner Verizon Communications to improve safeguards less than two months after it took over the prepaid wireless provider. From a report: TracFone offers prepaid wireless service under several brands, including Straight Talk, Total Wireless and its namesake brand. Some customers of Straight Talk said they found their phone lines suddenly disconnected around the December holidays. "We were recently made aware of bad actors gaining access to a limited number of customer accounts and, in some cases, fraudulently transferring, or porting out, mobile telephone numbers to other carriers," TracFone said in a notice posted on its website this month. In some cases, customers said they discovered their lines had been moved without their permission to Metro, a unit of T-Mobile US. A T-Mobile spokeswoman said the company investigated and found "no fraud or data breach of any sort" on its side. The company added that such unauthorized transfers "are unfortunately an industrywide issue." Verizon, which acquired TracFone in late November in a $6.25 billion deal, said it had added security protections to the recently acquired services to prevent such fraudulent transfers. For instance, the prepaid operators will now send customers a text message notification when a transfer request is made. A Verizon spokeswoman said the attack appeared to affect about 6,000 TracFone customers, a fraction of Verizon's roughly 24 million prepaid lines. "We have no reason to think that this was caused by anybody on the inside," the spokeswoman said. "You've got the bad actors out there constantly trying to find points of weakness," Matt Ellis, Verizon's finance chief, said Tuesday in an interview. "We've addressed that weakness."

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Posted on 26 January 2022 | 6:45 pm

Microsoft Teams Surpasses 270 Million Monthly Active Users

Microsoft's Teams communications and collaboration platform topped 270 million monthly active users in the December quarter, continuing to add users but at a much slower pace than in the initial months of the pandemic. From a report: Satya Nadella, the Microsoft CEO, revealed the latest number Tuesday afternoon in conjunction with the company's quarterly earnings. The number represents an increase of 20 million monthly active users from the 250 million that Microsoft reported six months ago, in July 2021. Prior to that, the company used the metric of daily active users, so the numbers aren't directly comparable, but they do show how the growth has slowed. Monthly numbers are more forgiving because users don't need to use the product as frequently to move the needle. In daily active users, Teams jumped from 75 million in April 2020 to 115 million in October 2020 to 145 million in April 2021.

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Posted on 26 January 2022 | 6:04 pm

White House Attempts To Strengthen Federal Cybersecurity After Major Hacks

The White House plans to release an ambitious strategy Wednesday to make federal agencies tighten their cybersecurity controls after a series of high-profile hacks against government and private infrastructure in the last two years, according to a copy shared with CNN. From a report: It's one of the biggest efforts yet by the Biden administration to secure the computer networks that the government relies on to do business. Under the strategy, federal employees will need to sign on to agency networks using multiple layers of security and agencies will have to do a better job of protecting their internal network traffic from hackers. The strategy gives agencies until the end of the 2024 fiscal year to meet these benchmarks and others. The overhaul was inspired in part by a 2020 spying campaign by alleged Russian hackers that infiltrated several US agencies and went undetected for months, leaving US officials frustrated at their blind spots. The hackers tampered with software made by federal contractor SolarWinds, among other tools, to sneak onto the unclassified networks of the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and others.

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Posted on 26 January 2022 | 5:24 pm