Equifax Pays Banks, Facebook Buys Giphy, M$ Open Source, Evil Robot Songwriters, X-Ray Camera Phone

  • Episode 651
  • May 20, 2020
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Here are the stories we're following for the week of Wednesday May 20, 2020


Equifax has finally settled following their massive data breach, but as it turns out, none of the money will be going to you or me as previously promised.

Equifax has finally agreed to pay compensation for the massive security breach it suffered in 2017 that led to the theft of at least 146 million people's personal info. But before you get excited, the money won’t be going to you, but rather to your bank, which will be paid for the hassle of having to cancel your payment cards.

That's right, the credit agency has agreed to pay $5.5m to thousands of banks and credit unions who said they were injured by their customers’ details being siphoned off by hackers, and a further $25m to beef up data security. Equifax will also cover the banks' administrative costs, attorney fees, and relevant expenses.

Which raises the question: what happened to the $125 that America's consumer watchdog, the FTC, proudly announced that we would get thanks to its record-breaking $700m settlement with Equifax?

It’s been more than two-and-a-half years since they were hacked, and just under a year since the $700m settlement was met, so it’s perhaps surprising that not a cent appears to be for the people directly impacted by the cyber-break-in.

The $125 headline figure, it turns out, was made with the assumption that only a very small percentage of those eligible would actually apply. But thanks to the sheer size of the leak, the issue was extensively covered in the press and that massively increased the number of people who applied for compensation. This forced the FTC to admit that it hadn't agreed to a per-person fine, but rather a lump sum that would be split equally between applicants.

Not only that but behind the $700m headline figure was a different reality: the FTC had agreed to just $31m for the pot that was to be split equally among individual applicants. The rest was earmarked for those who demonstrated they were left out of pocket by the hack, mitigations, money for states, and so on.

So while Equifax settles with states, and banks, and hopefully those consumers who rejected the FTC’s terrible deal, it seems that no money will be forthcoming for those who have gone to the trouble of trying to get the $125 they were promised.

Source: www.theregister.co.uk

Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash


Facebook has bought Giphy.

Seven years ago, Facebook claimed not to support the 21st century's new favorite communication tool, the animated GIF. Oh, how times have changed: Now, Facebook's newest acquisition is one of the Internet's most popular GIF hosting sites.

Facebook is making Giphy part of the Instagram team. The deal is reportedly valued at about $400 million.

According to Facebook, about half of Giphy's current traffic already comes from Facebook products, especially Instagram. That's perhaps unsurprising, given that Facebook's big three apps—WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook itself—have billions of daily users among them.

Giphy was, in fact, the first service to make animated images work on Facebook. It created a workaround back in 2013, when Facebook's now-laughable official stance was, "Facebook does not support animated GIFs."

Although animated reaction images may seem (and kind of are) inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, the deal is likely to attract a significant amount of scrutiny from federal regulators. The Justice Department, Congress, and the Federal Trade Commission are already all delving into even the smallest, lowest-value acquisitions that Big Tech firms such as Facebook have made in the last decade, scouring them for patterns of anticompetitive behavior.

Giphy is by no means the only GIF search and hosting platform on the Internet, but it is one of the largest. Several other platforms, including Twitter, use its API for GIF support.

Both Facebook and Giphy promised that access will continue. In its announcement, Giphy specifically said, "For our API/SDK partners and developers: GIPHY’s GIFs, Stickers, Emojis, etc. aren’t going anywhere. We will continue to make GIPHY openly available to the wider ecosystem."

What the announcements failed to mention, however, is the fact that Facebook can now have access to all the data generated by those searches and API calls from other platforms. And using acquisitions to gather data on competitors is exactly the sort of behavior Facebook is under investigation for right now.

Source: arstechnica.com

Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash


Is this real life? Microsoft is now the biggest single contributor to open source.

Back in 2001, Microsoft CEO at the time Steve Ballmer famously branded Linux “a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches.” But Microsoft has admitted it was wrong about open source, after the company battled it and Linux for years at the height of its desktop domination.

Now, the pigs are flying, because Microsoft's current president Brad Smith believes the company was wrong about open source. He says, “Microsoft was on the wrong side of history when open source exploded at the beginning of the century, and I can say that about me personally.” Smith has been at Microsoft for more than 25 years and was one of the company’s senior lawyers during its battles with open-source software.

He adds, "The good news is that, if life is long enough, you can learn … that you need to change."

Microsoft has certainly changed since the days of branding Linux a cancer. The software giant is now the single largest contributor to open-source projects in the world, beating Facebook, Docker, Google, Apache, and many others.

Microsoft has gradually been adopting open source in recent years, including open-sourcing PowerShell, Visual Studio Code, and even Microsoft Edge’s original JavaScript engine. Microsoft has also partnered with Canonical to bring Ubuntu to Windows 10, and it acquired Xamarin to aid mobile app development and GitHub to maintain the popular code repository for developers.

Microsoft is even shipping a full Linux kernel in a Windows 10 update that will release later this month, and it moved to the Chromium browser engine for Edge last year. Microsoft is also collaborating with open-source communities to create PowerToys for Windows 10, and the company’s new open design philosophy may mean we’ll see a lot more open-source efforts in Windows in the years to come.

Source: www.theverge.com

Sent to us by: Robbie Ferguson


Can a computer write a hit song? We'll find out.

Last week we learned that Facebook trained their own chatbot AI using posts from Reddit, but a team of musicologists have done something similar, setting their songwriting bot loose on the social platform.

A team of Dutch academics who, after an experiment in songwriting using artificial intelligence algorithms, inadvertently created a new musical genre: Eurovision Technofear.

The team used AI techniques to generate a hit predictor based on the melodies and rhythms of more than 200 classics from the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual celebration of pop music and kitsch. These included Abba’s “Waterloo” and Loreen’s “Euphoria” (2012, also Sweden).

But to generate the lyrics for the song “Abuss," which the team members hoped to enter in the inaugural AI Song Contest this year, they also used a separate AI system—one based on the social-media platform Reddit. It was this that resulted in a rallying cry for a revolution, with a song that crescendos as a robotic voice urges listeners to “kill the government, kill the system."

Like the notorious Tay chatbot developed by Microsoft in 2016 that started spewing racist and sexist sentiments after being trained on Twitter, the fault lay with the human sources of data, not the algorithms.

Janne Spijkervet, a student who worked with the AI and ran the lyric generator stresses, "We do not condone these lyrics!" She says the team nevertheless decided to keep the anarchist sentiment to show the perils of applying AI even to the relatively risk-free environment of Europop.

The use of AI in music composition is now on the cusp of the mainstream as more musicians and songwriters look for tools that inspire different types of music. The AI Song Contest, organized by Dutch broadcaster VPRO, is one of the first events to take the process of using algorithms to compose original music out of academia and avant-garde experimentation and into the commercial world.

Source: arstechnica.com

Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash


OnePlus is apologizing for an apparent "accidental" X-Ray camera feature that lets users of its new phone see through clothing.

When the OnePlus 8 Pro was first announced, the Photochrom mode appeared to be little more than an artistic color filter. While it produces some interesting results when photographing trees and plants, as it turns out, it allows the user to see through smoke or fog... or clothing.

The filter seems to work by capturing infrared light that is otherwise invisible to the naked eye. There are many professional uses for cameras that can see infrared light, such as allowing firefighters to see through smoke, but it’s less common in a consumer device like a smartphone.

Although the company has stressed that the “Photochrom” filter cannot see through thick materials, it apologized for “creating privacy concerns and causing troubles for OnePlus users and other netizens.”

The company said in a statement on its English-language forum, "While we think this camera gives users the ability to get more creative with smartphone photography, we also understand the concerns that have been raised."

OnePlus will remove the accidental “X-ray” functionality from its OnePlus 8 Pro phone in an upcoming over-the-air update, the company said Tuesday. It’s also temporarily disabling the camera filter that can see through plastic and clothing in the Chinese version of its operating system until the update is released, choosing to leave it operational in its global OS.

Source: www.theverge.com

Sent to us by: Robbie Ferguson


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