Start up: TeamViewer sorry for hack, UK allows encryption, Uber’s car gamble, Google v Oracle redux, and more

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A selection of 10 links for you. Small print applies. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

TeamViewer: So sorry we blamed you after your PC was hacked • The Register

Shaun Nichols:

»Beleaguered remote support tool maker TeamViewer has apologized for blaming its customers for the recent spree of PC and Mac hijackings.

While TeamViewer maintains there was “no hack” on its end, public relations head Axel Schmidt told El Reg that the software house was sorry it used the term “careless” to describe folks who reused their TeamViewer passwords on other websites that had account logins stolen, such as LinkedIn and MySpace.

“What we intended to make clear is when you use a tool like TeamViewer you need to take extra care,” Schmidt added.

(Reg translation: Sorry we called you careless when you didn’t take care.)

Schmidt said a “significant” number of customers claimed they were compromised, judging by the number of support tickets filed. However, the affected users are an “incredibly small” portion of total customers, we’re told. He wouldn’t give an estimate on the total number of cases.

Late last week, TeamViewer pushed out new security protections designed to help stem a tide of attacks in which PCs were remotely hijacked and used to make fraudulent money transfers and purchases using their locally stored account credentials.

Schmidt said that development on the tools began weeks ago when the first reports of account thefts emerged, but the features did not make it in time to catch last week’s deluge of takeovers.

“I wish we would have released those features earlier,” the PR boss admitted, in what is possibly the understatement of the year.

«

Given that TeamViewer and its ilk are often used by the “Microsoft virus” scam calls gangs, this is even worse than it appears at first viewing.
link to this extract

 


There’s now a robot that can check your bags at Geneva airport • Quartz

Mike Murphy:

»One of the most convenient changes in the modern era of air travel has been the ability to check in online, drop your bags at the counter, and stroll off to security, potentially without having to speak to a single human. But when everyone else started doing the same thing, the lines at check-in got shorter, but the drop-off line got longer.

SITA, a Swiss telecoms firm specializing in the air transport industry, working in parternship with robotics firm BlueBotics, has a solution: Autonomous robots that check your bags at the curb.
SITA’s robot, called Leo, is being tested at Geneva Airport, the company said in a release late last month. To use the bot, passengers with luggage tap a few buttons on Leo’s touchscreen, scan their boarding passes, drop their bags in its cargo bay, and affix the luggage tags that Leo prints out. The bot then closes up its cargo area—so that no one can tamper with your bag while it’s in transit—and drops the bags off at a loading station, where a human drops the bags on a conveyor belt to be scanned and loaded onto the correct plane.

«

I worked on a focus group of sorts considering what an (extremely large) airport for 2030 might look like. One of the questions we wrestled with was why you should have to drag your bags along to the airport. Why not check them in at your hotel back in the city, or somewhere else? If you’re trying to plant bombs, they’ll either be found or not, but that’s not affected by where the bag is checked in.
link to this extract

 


Inside Uber’s auto-lease machine, where almost anyone can get a car • Bloomberg

Eric Newcomer and Olivia Zaleski:

»[Uber’s short-term lease offering] Xchange isn’t intended to be a moneymaker, said an Uber spokesman. But it has plenty of critics who accuse the company of looting the pockets of its drivers. The program is plagued by a lot of questions that surround other subprime lending programs aimed at risky borrowers with bad credit. Is Xchange really offering good deals? Does it ensnare drivers with commitments they can’t meet? “You can buy the car for what they’re charging you in weekly payments,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at personal-finance website Bankrate.com. But for many drivers who sign up with Xchange, it’s their only option.

The terms of an Xchange lease run 28 pages. Drivers pay a $250 upfront deposit and then make weekly payments to Uber over the course of the three-year life of the lease. As the video promoting the arrangement puts it: “The best part: Payments are automatically deducted from your Uber earnings.” At the end of three years, Uber keeps the $250 deposit to release the drivers from the lease. If they want to buy it, they’ll need to fork over the residual value of the car, which could run many thousands of dollars. Uber declined to provide an average figure.

«

Sub-prime, sub-optimal.
link to this extract

 


Artificial intelligence will make advertising obsolete • Medium

Rob Leathern:

»The job of a human assistant is far less prevalent today than it once was, but still widespread among senior individuals in the corporate world. One reason for that, as laid out in an HBR article in 2011, is the economics of an assistant who works for a highly-paid individual:

»

Consider a senior executive whose total compensation package is $1 million annually, who works with an assistant who earns $80,000. For the organization to break even, the assistant must make the executive 8% more productive than he or she would be working solo — for instance, the assistant needs to save the executive roughly five hours in a 60-hour workweek. In reality, good assistants save their bosses much more than that.

«

The author correctly concludes that “After years of cutting back, companies can boost productivity by arming more managers with assistants.” There should and will not only be work for more human assistants, but also, a lot more software AI “bots”.

These AI bots will probably have a lower tolerance for deceptive practices, won’t be responding to those SEO emails, and will learn based on the ongoing feedback we provide to them (and will learn some fractional amount based on what other users are telling their software ‘cousins’ filling similar roles).

The future is about filters, and though ad blocking and spam filters might be where it begins, artificially intelligent software agents and AI bots are where it’s going.

«

Did I mention that Leathern used to work in advertising?
link to this extract

 


Google’s text messaging strategy: try everything • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

»In messaging, Google has very long race ahead of it, and in many ways it’s already been lapped by multiple competitors. But when you make the dominant mobile operating system on the planet, dropping out of the race isn’t really an option.

Instead, Google is just betting on as many horses as it can and doing its best to whip them into catching up. Google has so many messaging strategies because it doesn’t have an option that’s an easy win: there’s a next-gen SMS standard, its own messaging app, and a (somewhat plaintive and naive) hope that it could convince other companies to agree to interoperation.

So it wasn’t a surprise to see that, at the end of a wide-ranging interview with Google CEO Sundar Pichai by our own Walt Mossberg at Code 2016, messaging came up. And here’s what we learned: if you were hoping that Google was going to swoop in and keep you from having eight different messaging apps scurried away in a folder, you should probably stop.

«

That’s pretty much it. Google is going to support as many standards as it needs to until one wins out.
link to this extract

 


Apple’s encryption looks safe as UK Commons passes spy bill • Bloomberg

Jeremy Kahn:

»The U.K. House of Commons on Tuesday passed a controversial bill giving spy agencies the power to engage in bulk surveillance and computer hacking, but ceded some ground to protests from the technology industry and civil liberty groups.

The bill, which was introduced by the Conservative Party-led government in March after modifications to address concerns from tech companies and privacy advocates, passed by a vote of 444 to 69. Most of the opposition Labour Party voted with the conservative majority to advance the bill to the House of Lords, while the opposition Scottish National Party, citing concerns about privacy and civil rights, voted against it.

Many of the surveillance techniques – such as scooping up the metadata of communications and using malware to gain access to the computers and mobile phones of terrorism suspects – have already been in use by U.K. spy agencies and the law now gives them explicit authority…

…The version of the bill passed Tuesday makes clear that companies aren’t required to build backdoors to their encryption and will only be required to remove such code in response to a government request if doing so is technically feasible and not unduly expensive.

«

Everyone else’s encryption is safe too, but whatever.
link to this extract

 


Why plan sponsors need professional (independent) advice • The Big Picture

»I went on to share the recent story from Bloomberg BNA News (October 30, 2015) on class action lawsuit directed at the Intel 401k Investment Committee – specifically addressing changes made by that IC which were so poorly conceived, expensive, and probably inappropriate per regulatory standards as to give the members of that Investment Committee a lot of sleepless nights. And it should…the story is a cautionary tale.

In a span of less than four years the Intel Investment Committee took the plans investment options and changed them by a magnitude of 10 fold, taking $50m of “Alternative Investments” and raising that amount almost $700m in just a few years. Worse, they (the investment committee) ‘directed’ that these expensive and not exactly appropriate ‘securities’ be added to the seemingly vanilla Target Date Funds that they themselves designed.

Did Intel plan participants truly – rank & file workers – understand what was under the hood of those Target Date Funds? As the complaint states, the Investment Committee “invested a significant portion of the plans’ assets in risky and high-cost hedge funds and private-equity investments.”

«

For non-American readers, 401Ks are basically retirement/pension funds. If Intel, which has just laid a ton of people off, is shifting those into risky assets, you have to ask how assured the payouts to thousands of people recently laid off is going to be.
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Google’s new iOS app Motion Stills stabilizes your Live Photos • VentureBeat

Jordan Novet:

»Google today announced the launch of Motion Stills, a new iOS app that takes your existing Live Photos made with an iOS device — essentially several frames automatically captured before and after you hit the camera app’s shutter button — and stabilizes them in order to make shareable GIFs and video clips.

The app is available today on the App Store. But Google may well end up adding the technology into its other applications, like the Google Photos cloud-based photo storage app, Ken Conley and Matthias Grundmann of the Google Research Machine Perception team wrote in a blog post.

The app works offline, and you don’t need to sign in to any service in order to use it — just give the app permission to access the photos on your device and you’re good to go.

«

Live Photos has never quite hit the spot for me. Possibly it’s an age demographic thing. I turned it off; now I have lots of stills.
link to this extract

 


Silicon Valley has a “problem” problem — Life learning • Medium

Riva-Melissa Tez:

»Some 800 million people across the globe have limited access to food or water. That’s about one in nine people on the planet. Now, that’s a problem. The lack of affordable housing and support for San Francisco’s poorest communities remains a problem. It’s a socially harmful situation that needs to be dealt with and overcome. Our healthcare systems are riddled with such complex problems that even huge sums of capital cannot resolve even basic first-principle issues. Our financial systems cripple society with the psychological gamification of credit that leads to mass debt.

Not knowing if you can get sushi delivered at 10pm to your exact location is not a problem. Not knowing where the nearest dry cleaner is, exactly, is not a problem either. Recognizing these obstacles or inconveniences and being able to avoid them are privileges — a special right enjoyed as a result of one’s socioeconomic position. They are perks that enable us to further our level of highly efficient living.

«

link to this extract

 


Why Oracle will win its Java copyright case – and why you’ll be glad when it does • The Register

Andrew Orlowski:

»why is the jury’s broad application of fair use in reality bad news for open source? How did Google win last week? And why will Oracle ultimately prevail? Let’s take these three questions in reverse order. And strap in for the ride: The Register is not responsible for any disorientation or cognitive dissonance experienced over the next two pages.

Oracle will ultimately prevail over Google for a very simple reason: Google is guilty. Google copied 11,000 lines of someone else’s copyrighted code without a license to do so. It could have chosen some other code to copy; or it could have obtained a license; or it could have not copied anything and created every single line of Android code from scratch. All three were options that Google didn’t take. It’s really as simple as that.

So on to the next question. How is this verdict bad for open software, when almost everything you’ve read insists that you reach the opposite conclusion?

«

Sure, you’re thinking “Andrew Orlowski is just being contrarian”. Except for this: Peter Bright, who isn’t particularly contrarian (in my experience; argumentative perhaps) has pretty much the same view.

Also, it does feel like the appeals court will rule for Oracle rather than Google. Though at this point there’s a sort of numbness around the whole issue, as though one had been beating one’s head against a wall repeatedly.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Donald v Hillary. Ain’t that something.

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