Tech News courtesy of Ars Technica
- On Gaia tests whether the hypothesis holds up to scientific scrutiny
- Secret court judge rejects US gov’t request for longer metadata retention
- Fans raise cash for Dorian Nakamoto, irrespective of his link to Bitcoin
- EFF goes to court, quashes patent troll’s attempt to grab donor names
- Snowden still wants EU asylum, but it almost certainly won’t happen
- FAA can’t regulate small RC aircraft as “drones,” judge rules
- EA: Battlefield 4 online woes haven’t “damaged” the overall franchise
- Malware designed to take over cameras and record audio enters Google Play
- In Tennessee, four bills seek to reverse restrictions on public broadband
- Teens get banned from an app after vicious attacks and threats
Spiritual groups that hope to attract your interest may exhort you to “Be a part of something bigger than yourself!” But James Lovelock would tell you that you can already check that off your to-do list.
In the early 1970s, Lovelock—with the help of Lynn Margulis—developed the Gaia Hypothesis, which views the Earth and its ecosystems as resembling a sort of superorganism. Lovelock was working for NASA at the time, developing instruments that would aid the Viking landers in looking for signs of life on Mars, so he was thinking about how life interacts with its environment on a planetary scale. And Margulis was famed for her ideas about symbiosis.
This intellectual background led to the idea that organisms are not just passive inhabitants riding a big rock that determined whether they lived or died. Organisms were active participants in the molding of their environment, tweaking and improving conditions as part of a massive, self-regulating system.
Last month, in a filing with the notoriously secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the United States said that it wants to keep existing records beyond the existing five-year limit due to the handful of lawsuits challenging the National Security Agency’s bulk metadata collection program.
But on Friday, in a win for civil liberties advocates, a FISC judge denied (PDF) that motion.
Judge Reggie Walton writes:
Andreas Antonopoulos, a well-known figure in the Bitcoin community and the Chief Security Officer of Blockchain.info, has decided to raise money (in bitcoins, naturally) to give to Dorian S. Nakamoto, who Newsweek claims invented Bitcoin, although Nakamoto vigorously denies it himself.
On Thursday, Newsweek published its bombshell story, reporting that the Southern California man is the famed Satoshi Nakamoto, the elusive inventor of Bitcoin. But later that day, the Associated Press scored an exclusive interview with Dorian Nakamoto, who denied any and all connection to Bitcoin, saying that he had never heard of the cryptocurrency until a few weeks ago. (Newsweek continues to stand by its reporting.)
Personal Audio LLC has recently become one of the more well-known "patent trolls" due to its broad claims to owning basic podcasting technology. The company has filed lawsuits in East Texas, claiming that its patents on "episodic content" technology, which stem from founder Jim Logan's failed "Magazines on Tape" business, entitle it to royalties from podcasters large and small.
That got the company special attention from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which crowdfunded a challenge to the Personal Audio patents. EFF asked donors to help raise $30,000 to file an "inter partes review" at the US Patent and Trademark Office. That goal was quickly surpassed, and EFF ultimately received about $80,000 from more than 1,300 donors upset about the "podcasting patent."
In January, Personal Audio sent a subpoena to EFF, demanding the full list of donor names. It believes some of those names are connected to companies it has sued in Texas. Those include NBC, CBS, and Fox, as well as the HowStuffWorks podcast (Discovery Channel), Ace Broadcasting (which produces Adam Carolla's podcast), and a smaller Internet radio company called TogiNet.
Next week, the European Parliament will consider an unlikely, last-ditch effort to grant Edward Snowden protection against criminal prosecution and/or extradition to the United States.
The first amendment (PDF) to Resolution A7-0139 would “call on the EU Member States to drop criminal charges, if any, against Edward Snowden and to grant him protection and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties, in recognition of his status as a whistleblower and international human rights defender.”
This amendment was previously rejected by the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs (LIBE) in February, but it will be brought back before the entire parliament at its upcoming March 12 session in Strasbourg.
In 2011, Raphael Pirker used a RiteWing Zephyr II remote-controlled flying wing to record aerial video of a hospital campus for use in a television advertisement. That act resulted in the Federal Aviation Administration issuing a fine to Pirker of $10,000 for that commercial use of an unmanned aircraft. But now an administrative judge with the National Transportation Safety Board has struck down that fine, contending that FAA regulations can’t be applied to the styrofoam drone Pirker flew.
Pirker, an Austrian who lives in Hong Kong, is also known as “Trappy” of Team BlackSheep, a company that specializes in creating “first-person view” aerial video with remote-controlled aircraft. In November of 2010, he posted a video filmed from a drone flying over New York City—including a close buzz of the Statue of Liberty. Law enforcement did not interfere with Pirker, and he even gave the New York Police Department and the National Parks Service a shout-out for “staying friendly, professional, and positive.” But the FAA was not amused.
The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), which lobbies for "model aviators" and acts as a liaison to the FAA for them, was also taken aback by how close Pirker’s remote aircraft—flown in first-person view mode from a distance—came to buildings, ships, bridges, and a national landmark. In a statement for the AMA, spokesperson Rich Hanson said, “The nature of the flight was outside the realm of recreational aeromodeling activity as defined by the AMA Safety Code and posed a significant threat to people and property.”
It's been months now since Battlefield 4 launched to widespread server problems, and developer DICE is still publicly addressing the netcode issues plaguing the game (though, to be fair, many of the worst failures have already been fixed). Don't worry, though—publisher EA seems relatively confident that the continued issues with the game's online experience haven't damaged the Battlefield brand as a whole.
Gamespot caught statements from EA CFO Blake Jorgensen at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media, and Telecom Conference earlier this week, where the executive expressed confidence that players aren't holding the game's initial online troubles against the Battlefield brand itself.
"We haven't seen any damage," Jorgensen said, regarding the franchise's image. "Clearly we're very focused on protecting that brand... We've also tried to provide extra content to the consumers to make sure they keep coming back and playing the game, and we're finding that it's working very well. I don't see that there's a damage issue. I think for us it's making sure that we're providing great gameplay for the consumer and we'll continue to do that."
The scourge of the remote access trojan (RAT)—those predatory apps that use Web microphones and cameras to surreptitiously spy on victims—has formally entered the Android arena. Not only have researchers found a covert RAT briefly available for download in the official Google Play store, they have also detected a full-featured toolkit for sale in underground forums that could make it easy for other peeping Toms to do the same thing.
The specific RAT in Google Play was disguised as a legitimate app called Parental Control, according to Marc Rogers, principal security researcher at Lookout Mobile, a provider of antimalware software for Android phones. He doesn't know exactly how long it was available on Google servers, but he believes it wasn't long. It was downloaded 10 to 50 times.
The Parental Control trojan was built using Dendroid, a newly discovered software development tool that sells for about $300. Dendroid provides an impressive suite of features, including all the tools to build the command and control infrastructure to control RATted phones and receive audio and video captured from their mics and cameras. Dendroid also allows attackers to intercept, block, or send SMS text messages on compromised phones; download stored pictures and browser histories; and open a dialogue box that asks for passwords. It includes "binder" functions that allow the malicious code to be attached, or bound, into otherwise useful or innocuous apps.
Tennessee is one of 20 states that have restrictions on municipal broadband networks, enacted to protect private Internet service providers from competition.Now, though, there are four bills in the Tennessee House and Senate that would "un-do some of the restrictions previous legies put in place several years ago," broadband industry analyst Craig Settles wrote yesterday.
"This kind of reversal is practically unheard of," he wrote. "What’s more surprising? Republicans lawmakers, typically the party that leads the charge against public-owned networks, are taking the lead on many of these bills in Tennessee!"
ISPs aren't happy about this, naturally. "We are particularly concerned about four bills that have been introduced this session," Tennessee Telecommunications Associations chief Levoy Knowles said in an announcement. The TTA claimed to be presenting "concerns of rural consumers" but are more worried about the potential of losing customers. "These bills would allow municipalities to expand beyond their current footprint and offer broadband in our service areas. If this were to happen, municipalities could cherry-pick our more populated areas, leaving the more remote, rural consumers to bear the high cost of delivering broadband to these less populated regions," Knowles said.
The developers of Yik Yak, an app that works as an anonymous message board for up to 500 people in close proximity to one another, have selectively disabled the app's use in Chicago following vicious sniping and rumor mongering by children using it at school. WLS-TV in Chicago reports that people in the city won't be able to use Yik Yak until the developers figure out a way to get youth usage under control.
Apps for sharing information anonymously like Wut and Secret have seen a recent surge in popularity. In the case of Wut and Secret, users are connected to people they actually know—Secret uses the mobile device's contact list, and Wut's (anonymous) contacts are powered by Facebook.
Yik Yak, by contrast, connects a large swath of people—friends, enemies, and strangers—based entirely on their location. Among middle and high schoolers, this becomes many lockers'- and bathroom walls'-worth of pain and drama. WLS-TV reports students in Chicago have used it to spread rumors about rape, and in other locales, schools have been evacuated because of bomb threats on the service.