Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF Files Amicus Brief In Google v. Oracle, Arguing APIs Are Not Copyrightable (eff.org) 49

Areyoukiddingme writes: EFF has filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Google v. Oracle, arguing that APIs are not copyrightable. From the press release: "The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that functional aspects of Oracle's Java programming language are not copyrightable, and even if they were, employing them to create new computer code falls under fair use protections. The court is reviewing a long-running lawsuit Oracle filed against Google, which claimed that Google's use of certain Java application programming interfaces (APIs) in its Android operating system violated Oracle's copyrights. The case has far-reaching implications for innovation in software development, competition, and interoperability.

In a brief filed today, EFF argues that the Federal Circuit, in ruling APIs were copyrightable, ignored clear and specific language in the copyright statute that excludes copyright protection for procedures, processes, and methods of operation. 'Instead of following the law, the Federal Circuit decided to rewrite it to eliminate almost all the exclusions from copyright protection that Congress put in the statute,' said EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry. 'APIs are not copyrightable. The Federal Circuit's ruling has created a dangerous precedent that will encourage more lawsuits and make innovative software development prohibitively expensive. Fortunately, the Supreme Court can and should fix this mess.'" Oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court are scheduled for March 2020, and a decision by June.


How To Beat South Korea's AI Hiring Bots and Land a Job (reuters.com) 20

As Korean firms start using AI to help hire new employees, students are going to school to learn how to beat the bots. Reuters reports: From his basement office in downtown Gangnam, careers consultant Park Seong-jung is among those in a growing business of offering lessons in handling recruitment screening by computers, not people. Video interviews using facial recognition technology to analyze character are key, according to Park. "Don't force a smile with your lips," he told students looking for work in a recent session, one of many he said he has conducted for hundreds of people. "Smile with your eyes."

Classes in dealing with AI in hiring, now being used by major South Korean conglomerates like SK Innovation and Hyundai Engineering & Construction, are still a tiny niche in the country's multi-billion dollar cram school industry. But classes are growing fast, operators like Park's People & People consultancy claim, offering a three-hour package for up to 100,000 won ($86.26). According to Korea Economic Research Institute (KERI), nearly a quarter of the top 131 corporations in the country currently use or plan to use AI in hiring. One AI video system reviewed by Reuters asks candidates to introduce themselves, during which it spots and counts facial expressions including 'fear' and 'joy' and analyses word choices. It then asks questions that can be tough: "You are on a business trip with your boss and you spot him using the company (credit) card to buy himself a gift. What will you say?" AI hiring also uses 'gamification' to gauge a candidate's personality and adaptability by putting them through a sequence of tests.


City of Las Vegas Said It Successfully Avoided Devastating Cyberattack (zdnet.com) 12

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: Officials from the city of Las Vegas said they narrowly avoided a major security incident that took place on Tuesday, January 7. According to a statement published by the city on Wednesday, the compromise took place on Tuesday, at 4:30 am, in the morning. The city said IT staff immediately detected the intrusion and took steps to protect impacted systems. The city responded by taking several services offline, including its public website, which is still down at the time of writing.

City officials have not disclosed any details about the nature of the incident, but local press reported that it might have involved an email delivery vector. In a subsequent statement published on Twitter on Wednesday, the city confirmed it "resumed full operations with all data systems functioning as normal." "Thanks to our software security systems and fast action by our IT staff, we were fortunate to avoid what had the potential to be a devastating situation," it said. "We do not believe any data was lost from our systems and no personal data was taken. We are unclear as to who was responsible for the compromise, but we will continue to look for potential indications," the city also added.

The Almighty Buck

Lawrence Lessig Sues New York Times For Defamation Over Jeffrey Epstein Donation Story (thewrap.com) 39

Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig sued the New York Times for defamation on Monday, claiming a story about Jeffrey Epstein's donations to MIT that referenced Lessig amounted to "clickbait." The Wrap reports: The story in question was published on Sept. 14, 2019 under the headline, "A Harvard Professor Doubles Down: If You Take Epstein's Money, Do It in Secret." Its lede, or introduction, read, "It is hard to defend soliciting donations from the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. But Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law professor, has been trying." The lawsuit, filed in Massachusetts, states, 'Defendants' actions here are part of a growing journalistic culture of clickbaiting: the use of a shocking headline and/or lede to entice readers to click on a particular article, irrespective of the truth of the headline. Defendants are fully aware that many, if not most, readers never read past the clickbait and that their takeaway concerning the target of the headline is limited to what they read in the headline." It also states that Lessig asked the paper to change the headline and lede, but his request was not granted.

In a Medium blog post published concurrently with the lawsuit, Lessig contended that an essay he wrote, which was the central conversation piece for the interview the Times' story was based on, calls soliciting money from convicted sex offenders a "mistake." Lessig argues that the Times' headline suggests the exact opposite. His essay argued if institutions take money from such individuals, the donors should be anonymous. He added that the "mistake" he wrote about would result in "the kind of harm it would trigger in both victims and women generally."
A Times spokesperson told TheWrap that "senior editors reviewed the story after Professor Lessig complained and were satisfied that the story accurately reflected his statements. We plan to defend against the claim vigorously."

Visa Is Acquiring Plaid For $5.3 Billion (techcrunch.com) 13

Visa announced today that it is buying financial services API startup Plaid for $5.3 billion, roughly double the price of its last private valuation. TechCrunch reports: Plaid develops financial services APIs. It is akin to what Stripe does for payments, but instead of facilitating payments, it helps developers share banking and other financial information more easily. It's the kind of service that makes sense for a company like Visa. The startup bought Quovo two years ago to move beyond just banking, and into broader financial services and investments. The idea was to provide a more holistic platform for financial services providers. As the founders wrote in a blog post at the time of the acquisition, "Financial applications have historically used Plaid primarily to interact with checking and savings accounts. In acquiring Quovo, we are extending our capabilities to a wider class of assets." The deal is expected to close in the next three to six months, pending regulatory approval.

Barr Asks Apple To Unlock iPhones of Pensacola Gunman (nytimes.com) 143

Attorney General William P. Barr declared on Monday that a deadly shooting last month at a naval air station in Pensacola, Fla., was an act of terrorism, and he asked Apple in an unusually high-profile request to provide access to two phones used by the gunman. From a report: Mr. Barr's appeal was an escalation of an ongoing fight between the Justice Department and Apple pitting personal privacy against public safety. "This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that the public be able to get access to digital evidence," Mr. Barr said, calling on Apple and other technology companies to find a solution and complaining that Apple has provided no "substantive assistance."

Apple has given investigators materials from the iCloud account of the gunman, Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, a member of the Saudi air force training with the American military, who killed three sailors and wounded eight others on Dec. 6. But the company has refused to help the F.B.I. open the phones themselves, which would undermine its claims that its phones are secure.


Florida Joins US Government in Probing Foreign Ties of Researchers (sciencemag.org) 45

Florida lawmakers have begun an investigation into the foreign ties of researchers at the state's universities and research institution. The inquiry, the first of its kind at the state level, dovetails with an ongoing federal probe into whether such affiliations, notably with Chinese entities, pose a risk to the U.S. research enterprise. From a report: The Florida effort is triggered by revelations last month that six scientists at the Moffitt Cancer Center had been dismissed for failing to disclose their participation in China's Thousand Talents Program. The researchers include the center's CEO, Alan List, and the head of its research center, Thomas Sellers. "I'm appalled by the actions of the Moffitt CEO and some of its researchers," says state Representative Chris Sprowls (R), who is chair of a bipartisan select committee created by Republican House Speaker Jose Oliva. "The question is, has there also been any theft of intellectual property? Clearly, the intent is there." The Moffitt case is the latest instance of scientists being ousted from U.S. biomedical research institutions after being accused of failing to disclose foreign research ties or undermining the integrity of the process by which the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funds research. The MD Anderson Cancer Center cut ties with three scientists in April 2019 as part of a larger investigation, and 1 month later Emory University announced it had fired two neuroscientists. All five were Asian Americans.
The Internet

Internet Pioneers Fight For Control of .Org Registry By Forming a Nonprofit Alternative (nytimes.com) 17

Reuters reports that a group of "prominent internet pioneers" now has a plan to block the $1.1 billion sale of the .org internet domain registry to Ethos Capital.

The group has created their own nonprofit cooperative to offer an alternative:"There needs to be a place on the internet that represents the public interest, where educational sites, humanitarian sites, and organizations like Wikipedia can provide a broader public benefit," said Katherine Maher, the CEO of Wikipedia parent Wikimedia Foundation, who signed on to be a director of the new nonprofit.

The crowd-sourced research tool Wikipedia is the most visited of the 10 million .org sites registered worldwide...

Hundreds of nonprofits have already objected to the transaction, worried that Ethos will raise registration and renewal prices, cut back on infrastructure and security spending, or make deals to sell sensitive data or allow censorship or surveillance... "What offended me about the Ethos Capital deal and the way it unfolded is that it seems to have completely betrayed this concept of stewardship," said Andrew McLaughlin, who oversaw the transfer of internet governance from the U.S. Commerce Department to ICANN, completed in 2016.

Maher and others said the idea of the new cooperative is not to offer a competing financial bid for .org, which brings in roughly $100 million in revenue from domain sales. Instead, they hope that the unusual new entity, formally a California Consumer Cooperative Corporation, can manage the domain for security and stability and make sure it does not become a tool for censorship.The advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which previously organized a protest over the .org sale that drew in organizations including the YMCA of the United States, Greenpeace, and Consumer Reports, is also supporting the cooperative.

"It's highly inappropriate for it to be turned over to a commercial venture at all, much less one that's going to need to recover $1 billion," said EFF Executive Director Cindy Cohn.


Thoughts on Our Possible Future Without Work (theguardian.com) 187

There's a new book called A World Without Work by economics scholar/former government policy adviser Daniel Susskind.The Guardian succinctly summarizes its prognostications for the future:
It used to be argued that workers who lost their low-skilled jobs should retrain for more challenging roles, but what happens when the robots, or drones, or driverless cars, come for those as well? Predictions vary but up to half of jobs are at least partially vulnerable to AI, from truck-driving, retail and warehouse work to medicine, law and accountancy.That's why the former US treasury secretary Larry Summers confessed in 2013 that he used to think "the Luddites were wrong, and the believers in technology and technological progress were right. I'm not so completely certain now." That same year, the economist and Keynes biographer Robert Skidelsky wrote that fears of technological unemployment were not so much wrong as premature: "Sooner or later, we will run out of jobs." Yet Skidelsky, like Keynes, saw this as an opportunity. If the doomsayers are to be finally proven right, then why not the utopians, too...?

The work ethic, [Susskind] says, is a modern religion that purports to be the only source of meaning and purpose. "What do you do for a living?" is for many people the first question they ask when meeting a stranger, and there is no entity more beloved of politicians than the "hard-working family". Yet faced with precarious, unfulfilling jobs and stagnant wages, many are losing faith in the gospel of work. In a 2015 YouGov survey, 37% of UK workers said their jobs made no meaningful contribution. Susskind wonders in the final pages "whether the academics and commentators who write fearfully about a world with less work are just mistakenly projecting the personal enjoyment they take from their jobs on to the experience of everyone else".

That deserves to be more than an afterthought. The challenge of a world without work isn't just economic but political and psychological...[I]s relying on work to provide self-worth and social status an inevitable human truth or the relatively recent product of a puritan work ethic? Keynes regretted that the possibility of an "age of leisure and abundance" was freighted with dread: "For we have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy."The state, Susskind concedes with ambivalence, will need to smooth the transition. Moving beyond the "Age of Labour" will require something like a universal basic income (he prefers a more selective conditional basic income), funded by taxes on capital to share the proceeds of technological prosperity. The available work will also need to be more evenly distributed. After decades of a 40-hour week, the recent Labour manifesto, influenced by Skidelsky, promised 32 hours by 2030. And that's the relatively easy part.

Moving society's centre of gravity away from waged labour will require visionary "leisure policies" on every level, from urban planning to education, and a revolution in thinking. "We will be forced to consider what it really means to live a meaningful life," Susskind writes, implying that this is above his pay grade.

The review concludes that "if AI really does to employment what previous technologies did not, radical change can't be postponed indefinitely.

"It may well be utopia or bust."

Are We Teaching Engineers the Wrong Way to Think? (zdnet.com) 111

Tech columnist Chris Matyszczyk summarizes the argument of four researchers who are warning about the perils of pure engineer thought:They write, politely: "Engineers enter the workforce with important analysis skills, but may struggle to 'think outside the box' when it comes to creative problem-solving."The academics blame the way engineers are educated.

They explain there are two sorts of thinking -- convergent and divergent.The former is the one with which engineers are most familiar. You make a list of steps to be taken to solve a problem and you take those steps. You expect a definite answer. Divergent thinking, however, requires many different ways of thinking about a problem and leads to many potential solutions. These academics declare emphatically: "Divergent thinking skills are largely ignored in engineering courses, which tend to focus on a linear progression of narrow, discipline-focused technical information."

Ah, that explains a lot, doesn't it? Indeed, these researchers insist that engineering students "become experts at working individually and applying a series of formulas and rules to structured problems with a 'right' answer."

Oddly, I know several people at Google just like that.

Fortunately, the researchers are also proposing this solution:

"While engineers need skills in analysis and judgment, they also need to cultivate an open, curious, and kind attitude, so they don't fixate on one particular approach and are able to consider new data."

Australia's Wildfires Have Created More Emissions Than 116 Nations (technologyreview.com) 152

"The wildfires raging along Australia's eastern coast have already pumped around 400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere," reports MIT's Technology Review, "further fueling the climate change that's already intensifying the nation's fires."

That's more than the total combined annual emissions of the 116 lowest-emitting countries, and nine times the amount produced during California's record-setting 2018 fire season. It also adds up to about three-quarters of Australia's otherwise flattening greenhouse-gas emissions in 2019.

And yet, 400 million tons isn't an unprecedented amount nationwide at this point of the year in Australia, where summer bush fires are common, the fire season has been growing longer, and the number of days of "very high fire danger" is increasing.Wildfires emissions topped 600 million tons from September through early January during the brutal fire seasons of 2011 and 2012, according to the European Union's Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.

But emissions are way beyond typical levels in New South Wales, where this year's fires are concentrated. More than 5.2 million hectares (12.8 million acres) have burned across the southeastern state since July 1, according to a statement from the NSW Rural Fire Service... The situation grew more dangerous in recent days, as hot and windy conditions returned. Two giant fires merged into a "megafire" straddling New South Wales and Victoria, and covering some 600,000 hectares (1.5 million acres).

The article also argues that wildfires are releasing carbon stored in the vegetation dried by warming temperatures.

"That creates a vicious feedback loop, as the very impacts of climate change further exacerbate it, complicating our ability to get ahead of the problem."

'Why I Finally Switched from Chrome to Firefox - and You Should Too' (digitaltrends.com) 245

In 2018 an associate technology editor at Fast Company's Co.Design wrote an article titled "Why I'm switching from Chrome to Firefox and you should too."

Today shanen shared a similar article from Digital Trends.Their writer announces that after years of experimenting with both browsers, they've also finally switched from Chrome to Mozilla Firefox -- "and you should too."The biggest draw for me was, of course, the fact that Mozilla Firefox can finally go toe-to-toe with Google Chrome on the performance front, and often manages to edge it out as well...Today, in addition to being fast, Firefox is resource-efficient, unlike most of its peers. I don't have to think twice before firing up yet another tab. It's rare that I'm forced to close an existing tab to make room for a new one. On Firefox, my 2015 MacBook Pro's fans don't blast past my noise-canceling headphones, which happened fairly regularly on Chrome as it pushed my laptop's fans to their helicopter-like limits to keep things running.This rare balance of efficiency and performance is the result of the countless under-the-hood upgrades Firefox has rolled out in the last couple of years...

Its Enhanced Tracking Protection framework keeps your identity safe by blocking trackers and cookies that otherwise follow you around the internet and collect sensitive information you probably didn't even know you were giving up.On top of that, Firefox can warn if a website is covertly mining cryptocurrency in the background. Most of these protections kick in by default and you have an exhaustive set of options to customize them the way you want.Firefox also lets you look into just how invasive a website is. It actively updates your personal privacy report so you can check how many trackers it has shut overall and for a specific website...

What really clinched the switch to Mozilla Firefox was the fact that it's the only cross-platform browser that's not running Google's open-source Chromium platform. Microsoft's Edge, Brave, Opera, Vivaldi -- each of these browsers run on Chromium, accelerating Google's dominance over the web even when you're not directly using a Chrome user. Firefox, on the other hand, is powered by Mozilla's in-house Gecko engine that's not dependent on Chromium in any way.It may not seem like as vital of a trait as I make it sound, but it truly is, even though Chromium is open-source. Google oversees a huge chunk of the web, including ads, browser, and search, and this supremacy has allowed the company to pretty much run a monopoly and set its own rules for the open internet...

Mozilla as a company has, despite a rocky journey, often taken bold stances in complex situations.In the Cambridge Analytica aftermath, Mozilla announced it would no longer run Facebook advertisements, cutting off direct marketing to over 2 billion users. In a world of tech companies taking frail, facile shots at protecting user privacy and barely delivering on their commitments, Mozilla is a breath of fresh air and you no longer have to live with any compromises to support it.

Open Source

Linus Torvalds: Avoid Oracle's ZFS Kernel Code Until 'Litigious' Larry Signs Off (zdnet.com) 237

"Linux kernel head Linus Torvalds has warned engineers against adding a module for the ZFS filesystem that was designed by Sun Microsystems -- and now owned by Oracle -- due to licensing issues," reports ZDNet:As reported by Phoronix, Torvalds has warned kernel developers against using ZFS on Linux, an implementation of OpenZFS, and refuses to merge any ZFS code until Oracle changes the open-source license it uses.

ZFS has long been licensed under Sun's Common Development and Distribution Licenseas opposed to the Linux kernel, which is licensed under GNU General Public License (GPL).Torvalds aired his opinion on the matter in response to a developer who argued that a recent kernel change "broke an important third-party module: ZFS".The Linux kernel creator says he refuses to merge the ZFS module into the kernel because he can't risk a lawsuit from "litigious" Oracle -- which is still trying to sue Google for copyright violations over its use of Java APIs in Android -- and Torvalds won't do so until Oracle founder Larry Ellison signs off on its use in the Linux kernel.

"If somebody adds a kernel module like ZFS, they are on their own. I can't maintain it and I cannot be bound by other people's kernel changes," explained Torvalds. "And honestly, there is no way I can merge any of the ZFS efforts until I get an official letter from Oracle that is signed by their main legal counsel or preferably by Larry Ellison himself that says that yes, it's OK to do so and treat the end result as GPL'd," Torvalds continued.

"Other people think it can be OK to merge ZFS code into the kernel and that the module interface makes it OK, and that's their decision. But considering Oracle's litigious nature, and the questions over licensing, there's no way I can feel safe in ever doing so."

Open Source

Terry Cavanagh Releases Source Code For VVVVVV On GitHub (gamasutra.com) 47

The source code for acclaimed 2D puzzle platformer VVVVVV has been released by creator Terry Cavanagh to celebrate the title's 10th anniversary. Gamasutra reports: Breaking to news in a blog post, Cavanagh explained the code fro both the desktop and mobile versions of the game can now be grabbed over on Github, and confessed that "even by the standard of self taught indie devs, it's kind of a mess." The desktop code is the version that was ported to C++ by Simon Roth back in 2011 and later updated and maintained by Ethan Lee, while the mobile code is written in Actionscript for Adobe AIR and is based on the original v1.0 flash version of the game.
The Almighty Buck

CNN To Pay Largest Labor Fine In History For Firing Technicians (nlrb.gov) 86

DesScorp writes: The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has handed down a ruling against CNN for firing video technicians illegally back in 2003. From the NLRB: "As part of a settlement signed today, CNN has agreed to pay $76 million in backpay, the largest monetary remedy in the history of the National Labor Relations Board. The backpay amount, larger than what the Agency collects on average in a typical year, is expected to benefit over 300 individuals.

The dispute originated in 2003 when CNN terminated a contract with Team Video Services (TVS), a company that had been providing CNN video services in Washington, D.C., and New York City. After terminating the contract, CNN hired new employees to perform the same work without recognizing or bargaining with the two unions that had represented the TVS employees. CNN sought to operate as a nonunion workplace and conveyed to the workers that their prior employment with TVS and union affiliation disqualified them from employment. After a lengthy hearing in 2008, an administrative law judge found that CNN's actions violated the National Labor Relations Act and that CNN was a successor to, and joint employer with, TVS. [...] The parties are the National Labor Relations Board, CNN America, Inc., and Local 11 and Local 31 of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET), Communications Workers of America (CWA), AFL-CIO."