Advertising

German Supreme Court Rules Ad Blockers Legal (faz.net) 3

New submitter paai writes: The publishing company Axel Springer tried to ban the use of ad blockers in Germany because they endanger the digital publishing of news stories. The Oberlandesgericht Koln (Germany's Higher Regional Court of Cologne) followed this reasoning and forbade the use of ad blockers on the grounds that the use of white lists was an aggressive marketing technique. [The business model allows websites to pay a fee so that their "non aggressive" advertisements can bypass AdBlock Pro's filters. Larger companies like Google can afford to pay to have the ban lifted on their website.] The Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice or BGH) destroyed this court ruling today and judged that users had a right to filter out advertisements in web pages.
Programming

New Alexa Blueprints Let Users Make Custom Skills Without Knowing Any Code (arstechnica.com) 15

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Amazon just released a new way for Alexa users to customize their experience with the virtual assistant. New Alexa Skill Blueprints allow you to create your own personalized Alexa skills, even if you don't know how to code. These "blueprints" act as templates for making questions, responses, trivia games, narrative stories, and other skills with customizable answers unique to each user. Amazon already has a number of resources for developers to make the new skills they want, but until now, users have had to work within the confines of pre-made Alexa skills. Currently, more than 20 templates are available on the new Alexa Skill Blueprints website, all ready for Alexa users to personalize with their own content. Any blueprint-made skills you make will show up on the "Skills You've Made" section of the blueprints website. While these skills will exist for your Amazon account until you delete them, they aren't posted to the general Alexa Skills score, so strangers will not have access to your couple's trivia game that's personalized for you, your spouse, and your best coupled friends.
Security

LinkedIn's AutoFill Plugin Could Leak user Data, Secret Fix Failed (techcrunch.com) 11

TechCrunch reports of a flaw in LinkedIn's AutoFill plugin that could have allowed hackers to steal your full name, phone number, email address, location (ZIP code), company, and job title. "Malicious sites have been able to invisibly render the plugin on their entire page so if users who are logged into LinkedIn click anywhere, they'd effectively be hitting a hidden 'AutoFill with LinkedIn' button and giving up their data." From the report: Researcher Jack Cable discovered the issue on April 9th, 2018 and immediately disclosed it to LinkedIn. The company issued a fix on April 10th but didn't inform the public of the issue. Cable quickly informed LinkedIn that its fix, which restricted the use of its AutoFill feature to whitelisted sites who pay LinkedIn to host their ads, still left it open to abuse. If any of those sites have cross-site scripting vulnerabilities, which Cable confirmed some do, hackers can still run AutoFill on their sites by installing an iframe to the vulnerable whitelisted site. He got no response from LinkedIn over the last 9 days so Cable reached out to TechCrunch. A LinkedIn spokesperson issued this statement to TechCrunch: "We immediately prevented unauthorized use of this feature, once we were made aware of the issue. We are now pushing another fix that will address potential additional abuse cases and it will be in place shortly. While we've seen no signs of abuse, we're constantly working to ensure our members' data stays protected. We appreciate the researcher responsibly reporting this and our security team will continue to stay in touch with them. For clarity, LinkedIn AutoFill is not broadly available and only works on whitelisted domains for approved advertisers. It allows visitors to a website to choose to pre-populate a form with information from their LinkedIn profile."
Chrome

Millions of Chrome Users Have Installed Malware Posing as Ad Blockers (vice.com) 25

Kaleigh Rogers, writing for Motherboard: Andrey Meshkov, the cofounder of ad-blocker AdGuard, recently got curious about the number of knock-off ad blocking extensions available for Google's popular browser Chrome. These extensions were deliberately styled to look like legitimate, well-known ad blockers, but Meshkov wondered why they existed at all, so he downloaded one and took a look at the code. "Basically I downloaded it and checked what requests the extension was making," Meshkov told me over the phone. "Some strange requests caught my attention."

Meshkov discovered that the AdRemover extension for Chrome -- which had over 10 million users -- had code hidden inside an image that was loaded from the remote command server, giving the extension creator the ability to change its functions without updating. This alone is against Google's policy, and after Meshkov wrote about a few examples on AdGuard's blog, many of which had millions of downloads, Chrome removed the extensions from the store. I reached out to Google, and a spokesperson confirmed that these extensions had been removed.

Government

FDA Wants Medical Devices To Have Mandatory Built-In Update Mechanisms (bleepingcomputer.com) 65

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: The US Food & Drug Administration plans to ask Congress for more funding and regulatory powers to improve its approach towards medical device safety, including on the cybersecurity front. An FDA document released this week reveals several of the FDA's plans, including the desire to force device makers to include mandatory update systems inside products for the purpose of delivering critical security patches.

In addition, the FDA also plans to force device makers to create a document called "Software Bill of Materials" that will be provided for each medical device and will include software-related details for each product. Hospitals, healthcare units, contractors, or users will be able to consult the medical device's bill of materials and determine how it functions, what software is needed for what feature, and what technologies are used in each device.

Businesses

Netflix Could Start Buying Movie Theaters to Help Films Gain a Boost in Oscar Race, Report Says (indiewire.com) 31

Netflix has made a strong effort to land Oscar nominations since debuting its first original feature, "Beasts of No Nation," in 2015. The next step in the streaming giant's plan to secure film awards could be to buy and own movie theaters. IndieWire: A new report from the Los Angeles Times says Netflix is considering buying theaters in Los Angeles and New York in order to gain a boost during Oscar season. People familiar with the situation say the theaters would be used to give greater exposer to the feature and documentary titles Netflix is hoping to push into the awards race. According to the Times, Netflix executives originally considered purchasing the Los Angeles-based Landmark Theaters, which is co-owned by Mark Cuban. The theaters are well known for attracting awards voters by running first-run features, documentaries, and foreign films during Oscar season. Sources close to Netflix confirm the company has no current plans to buy Landmark properties. Landmark has three Los Angeles locations and 53 theaters overall in the U.S. Sources close to Netflix.
United States

The Higher Your Salary, the More Time Your Employer Will Pay You Not To Work (qz.com) 262

The best-paid workers in the US not only make more money than many of their colleagues, they also tend to get more paid vacation days. An anonymous reader shares a report: An annual survey of of employee benefits conducted by the US government shows that, in 2017, nearly half of the people in the top 25% of earners received at least 10 days of paid vacation. The bottom 25% was not so lucky -- only around a tenth of them received such generous leave. Paid vacation time is often overlooked in measures of pay inequality in the US, because the value of time off does not appear in the household income statistics.
Businesses

Pasta Is Good For You, Say Scientists Funded By Big Pasta (buzzfeed.com) 160

Earlier this month, numerous news outlets reported on a study which concludes that eating pasta is good for health. In fact, the reports claimed, eating pasta could help you lose weight. Except, there is more to the story. BuzzFeed News reports: What those and many other stories failed to note, however, was that three of the scientists behind the study in question had financial conflicts as tangled as a bowl of spaghetti, including ties to the world's largest pasta company, the Barilla Group. Over the last decade or so, with the rise of the Atkins, South Beach, paleo, and ketogenic diets, Big Pasta has battled a societal shift against carbohydrates -- and funded and promoted research suggesting that noodles are good for you.

At least 10 peer-reviewed studies about pasta published since 2008 were either funded directly by Barilla or, like the one published this month, were carried out by scientists who have had financial ties to the company, which reported sales of 3.4 billion euros ($4.2 billion) in 2016. For two years, Barilla has publicized some of these studies, plus others favorable to its product, on its website with taglines like "Eat Smart Be Smart...With Pasta" and "More Evidence Pasta Is Good For You." And the company hired the large public relations firm Edelman to push the latest study's findings to journalists.

Microsoft

Microsoft Has Run Out of Windows Phone Stock (venturebeat.com) 60

Even if you really wanted to buy a Windows phone, Microsoft has run out of Windows Phone devices to sell to you. From a report: I've been watching the number of Windows Phone options on the Microsoft Store website dwindle for over two years now. I was honestly expecting them to disappear completely more than six months ago. It's 2018, and there are still two remaining phones. Last night, they both flipped over to "out of stock." The HP Elite x3 with dock, normally $799 but on sale for $299, and the Alcatel Idol 4S, normally $299 but on sale for $99.99, are officially out of stock. The third option for $169, the Alcatel Idol 4S with VR Goggles, is of course also out of stock.
Google

Turn Right at the Burger King: Google Maps Begins Using Landmarks To Help With Guidance (techcrunch.com) 117

Most navigation apps give you instructions based on streets or distance. But it's arguably in contrast to how people usually provide directions -- some usually point to landmarks that are easier to spot. Google sees some merit in that. The idea is that Google Maps is highlighting some landmarks and other points of interest (fast food restaurants) to help with guidance. TechCrunch reports that some users are already seeing this on Google Maps. And maybe to Google, this opens door for some business opportunities as well. Only time will tell.
Businesses

Marissa Mayer is Back (bloomberg.com) 81

Former Yahoo Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer is starting a technology business incubator, Lumi Labs, with longtime colleague Enrique Munoz Torres, she revealed in an interview with The New York Times. Bloomberg: The venture will focus on consumer media and artificial intelligence, according to the company's website, which is set against a backdrop of snow-covered peaks. Lumi means snow in Finnish, Mayer told the New York Times, which reported the news earlier Wednesday. The next project for Mayer, who was an early employee at Google and worked there until leaving to run Yahoo in 2012, had been a matter of considerable speculation in Silicon Valley. She left Yahoo, once a leading search engine and web destination, after it was sold to Verizon Communications last year.
The Internet

4.9% of Websites Use Flash, Down From 28.5% in 2011 (bleepingcomputer.com) 95

Web makers continue to ditch the infamous Flash for other safer, improved technologies. In 2011, more than 28.5 percent of websites used Flash in their code, a figure technology survey site W3Techs estimates to have dropped to 4.9 percent today. BleepingComputer: The number confirms Flash's decline, and a reason why Adobe has decided to retire the technology at the end of 2020. A decline from 28.5 percent to 4.9 percent doesn't look that bad, but we're talking about all Internet sites, not just a small portion of Top 10,000 or Top 1 Million sites. Taking into account the sheer number of abandoned sites on today's Internet, the decline is quite considerable, and W3Techs' findings confirm similar statistics put out by a Google security engineer in February.
Businesses

Finland Is Killing Its Basic Income Experiment (businessinsider.com) 413

tomhath shares a report: Since the beginning of last year, 2000 Finns are getting money from the government each month -- and they are not expected to do anything in return. The participants, aged 25-58, are all unemployed, and were selected at random by Kela, Finland's social-security institution. Instead of unemployment benefits, the participants now receive $690 per month, tax free. Should they find a job during the two-year trial, they still get to keep the money. While the project is praised internationally for being at the cutting edge of social welfare, back in Finland, decision makers are quietly pulling the brakes, making a U-turn that is taking the project in a whole new direction. "Right now, the government is making changes that are taking the system further away from a basic income," Kela researcher Miska Simanainen told the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet.
Technology

'Increasingly, People in Silicon Valley Are Losing Touch With Reality' (500ish.com) 366

Longtime commentator MG Siegler writes: You can see it in the tweets. You can hear it at tech conferences. Hell, you can hear it at most cafes in San Francisco on any given day. People -- really smart people -- saying some of the most vacuous things. Words that if they were able to take a step outside of their own heads and hear, they'd be embarrassed by. Or, at least, these are stances, thoughts, and ideas that these people should be embarrassed by. But they're clearly not because they keep saying them. This isn't only about Facebook -- far from it. That's just the most high profile and timely example of a company suffering from some of this. And in that case, it's really more in their responses to the Cambridge Analytica situation, rather than the situation itself (which is another matter, though undoubtedly related). They don't know the right things to say because they don't know what to say, period. Because they've slipped out of touch.

But again, I feel like this is increasingly everywhere I look around tech. It's an industry filled with some of the most brilliant people in the world, which makes it all the more disappointing. I won't name names but also because I don't have to. I'd wager everyone reading this will have clear and obvious examples of what I'm talking about in their own circles -- even if only in their own virtual circles. This is everywhere. I don't know the cause of this. Perhaps we can blame part of it on Trump, even if only indirectly (a man who has gotten ahead in life by saying asinine things). If I had to guess, I'd say the root is an increasing sense of entitlement as the tech industry has grown in stature to become the most important from a fiscal perspective and arguably from a cultural perspective as well.

EU

Facebook To Put 1.5 Billion Users Out of Reach of New EU Privacy Law (reuters.com) 87

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Facebook: If a new European law restricting what companies can do with people's online data went into effect tomorrow, almost 1.9 billion Facebook users around the world would be protected by it. The online social network is making changes that ensure the number will be much smaller. Facebook members outside the United States and Canada, whether they know it or not, are currently governed by terms of service agreed with the company's international headquarters in Ireland. Next month, Facebook is planning to make that the case for only European users, meaning 1.5 billion members in Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America will not fall under the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which takes effect on May 25. That removes a huge potential liability for Facebook, as the new EU law allows for fines of up to 4 percent of global annual revenue for infractions, which in Facebook's case could mean billions of dollars.

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