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Mozilla Extends its Google Search Deal

Thu, 2020-08-13 01:13
Mozilla and Google have extended their search deal for another three years, news outlet ZDNet reported Wednesday, citing sources familiar with thee matter. Mozilla confirmed the news. From a report: The new search deal will ensure Google remains the default search engine provider inside the Firefox browser until 2023 at an estimated price tag of around $400 million to $450 million per year. Mozilla officials are expected to announce the search deal's extension later this fall, in November, when the organization is scheduled to disclose its 2019 financial figures. Terms of the new deal were leaked to this reporter after Mozilla announced plans to lay off more than 250 employees on Wednesday in a move that had many users fearing for the browser maker's future, as Mozilla's current Google search deal was scheduled to expire at the end of the year. However, several sources have confirmed that the organization is sound financially, and the layoffs were part of a restructuring of its core business, with Mozilla moving away from its current role of internet standards steward and experimental approach to its product catalog to more commercially-viable offerings that generate revenues on their own.

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Arecibo Observatory Featured in James Bond Film 'Goldeneye' Shut Down

Thu, 2020-08-13 00:01
A number of Slashdot readers, including mknewman and MountainLogic have shared this report: The famous observatory in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, featured in the James Bond movie "GoldenEye," has been forced to temporarily close after a broken cable smashed through the side of its massive dish. Around 2:45 a.m. Monday, a three-inch auxiliary cable that helped support a metal platform broke, according to a news release from the University of Central Florida. UCF manages the facility alongside Universidad Ana G. Mendez and Yang Enterprises. When the cable broke, it created a 100-foot gash in the telescope's 1,000-foot-long reflector dish, according to UCF. It also damaged about six to eight panels along the observatory's Gregorian Dome, which is suspended over the reflector dish. The broken cable also twisted a platform used to access the Gregorian Dome, making damage assessment even more difficult. "The folks at the facility are working with engineers and other experts to asses and secure equipment at the facility," Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala, UCF Office of Research and College of Graduate Studies' assistant vice president for strategic communications told CNN. "That started (Tuesday) and is continuing through this week." The telescope has been an integral part of a number of scientific discoveries since it opened in 1963. It was made even more famous in popular culture when it was featured in the 007 movie, "Goldeneye" in 1995. Arecibo Observatory has survived a number of hurricanes, even earthquakes.

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Homeland Security Details New Tools For Extracting Device Data at US Borders

Wed, 2020-08-12 23:04
Travelers heading to the US have many reasons to be cautious about their devices when it comes to privacy. A report released Thursday from the Department of Homeland Security provides even more cause for concern about how much data border patrol agents can pull from your phones and computers. From a report: In a Privacy Impact Assessment dated July 30, the DHS detailed its US Border Patrol Digital Forensics program, specifically for its development of tools to collect data from electronic devices. For years, DHS and border agents were allowed to search devices without a warrant, until a court found the practice unconstitutional in November 2019. In 2018, the agency searched more than 33,000 devices, compared to 30,200 searches in 2017 and just 4,764 searches in 2015. Civil rights advocates have argued against this kind of surveillance, saying it violates people's privacy rights. The report highlights the DHS' capabilities, and shows that agents can create an exact copy of data on devices when travelers cross the border. According to the DHS, extracted data from devices can include: Contacts, call logs/details, IP addresses used by the device, calendar events, GPS locations used by the device, emails, social media information, cell site information, phone numbers, videos and pictures, account information (user names and aliases), text/chat messages, financial accounts and transactions, location history, browser bookmarks, notes, network information, and tasks list. The policy to retain this data for 75 years still remains, according to the report.

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Silicon Valley Game-Plans For a Messy Election Night

Wed, 2020-08-12 22:02
Google, Facebook, Twitter and other major social media companies are working together to scenario-plan for the last three months before Election Day in the United States -- including gaming out what to do if there's no quickly declared winner in the contest between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden on election night. From a report: The close collaboration between Silicon Valley companies in the run-up to election day is detailed in an unusual cross-industry statement put out Wednesday. Pinterest, LinkedIn-owner Microsoft, and Reddit are also among its signatories. "We discussed preparations for the upcoming conventions and scenario planning related to election results. We will continue to stay vigilant on these issues and meet regularly ahead of the November election,â reads the statement. Among dozens of scenarios being contemplated by the companies for election night in particular are a "hack and leak" operation where stolen materials are quickly spread through online networks and addressing the distribution of manipulated videos, according to a person involved in the planning who spoke anonymously so as to not speak on behalf of the full industry coalition. The scenario planning is "candidate agnostic," they said. Today's statement comes shortly after a meeting among the companies and government officials -- the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the FBI's Foreign Influence Task Force, the Department of Justice's National Security Division, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence -- to discuss the planning. It builds on a series of monthly meetings, the person said, that go back to September of last year.

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The First Gene-Edited Squid in History Is a Biological Breakthrough

Wed, 2020-08-12 21:07
Squid are among the smartest ocean dwellers. Along with other ink-squirting cephalopods like octopuses and cuttlefish, squid boast the largest brains of all invertebrates. They also have an incredibly complex nervous system capable of instantaneously camouflaging their bodies and communicating with each other using various signals. From a report: Scientists have long marveled at these sophisticated behaviors and have tried to understand why these tentacled creatures are so intelligent. Gene editing may be able to help researchers unravel the mysteries of the cephalopod brain. But until now, it's been too hard to do -- in part because cephalopod embryos are protected by a hard outer layer that makes manipulating them difficult. Recently, a group of marine scientists managed to engineer the first genetically altered squid using the DNA editing tool CRISPR. In addition to being a big milestone in biology, the advance has potential implications for human health: Because of their big brains, cephalopods are used to study neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. The ability to edit the genes of these animals could help scientists study the genes involved in learning and memory as well as specific cephalopod behaviors. "I think you're going to see a huge jump in the use of these [gene-edited] organisms by neurobiologists," Joshua Rosenthal, PhD, a senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and a key architect of the first genetically engineered squid, tells OneZero. Rosenthal and his colleagues used CRISPR to snip out a gene responsible for the coloring of the squid's skin. As a result, the edited squid were transparent instead of having their usual reddish spots. The results were published July 30 in the journal Current Biology. But why bother to create a colorless squid? Rosenthal says the pigmentation gene was a logical starting place for experimentation. "If you see the pigmentation go away, it's easy to see if the gene editing is working," he explains. Being able to tinker with cephalopod DNA will allow scientists to better study what their individual genes do at a very basic level. The accomplishment wasn't easy. Scientists have successfully made gene-edited mice, monkeys, and other research animals to help them study a range of behaviors and medical conditions. But until now, they hadn't been successful at manipulating the genes of cephalopods.

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Google Makes Building Android Apps on Chrome OS Easier

Wed, 2020-08-12 20:03
Google today launched ChromeOS.dev, a new site that aims to help developers get started with building Android apps for the company's Linux-based operating system. With today's update, Google is also making it easier to build and test Android applications on Chromebooks. From a report: The new ChromeOS.dev site, which is available in English and Spanish for now, is meant to "help developers maximize their capabilities on the platform through technical resources/tutorials, product announcements, code samples and more," a Google spokesperson told us. As Google notes in today's announcement, in the last quarter, Chromebook unit sales were up 127% year-over-year in the last quarter, compared to 40% for notebook sales in general. To help Android developers do all of their work on a Chromebook if they so desire, Google now offers the full Android Emulator on Chrome OS to test apps right on their Chromebooks. The team also made deploying apps on Chrome OS (M81 and newer) much easier. Developers can now deploy and test apps directly without having to use developer mode or connect devices via USB.

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Scientists Turn Normal Red Bricks into Electricity-Storing Supercapacitors

Wed, 2020-08-12 19:08
Bricks are about as basic as architectural materials can get, yet these simple building blocks have hidden powers that can be leveraged to provide electricity, according to a new study. From a report: Scientists modified a common red brick -- the same kind you'll find on sale for under a dollar at your local hardware store -- so that it could power a green LED light. This proof-of-concept for a "smart brick" reveals that brick technology, which dates back thousands of years, can be tweaked to have futuristic applications, including electrical conductivity and sensing capabilities. The results were published on Tuesday in Nature Communications. "We have created a new brick that can be incorporated into your house that has the functionality of storing electrical energy," said study co-author Julio D'Arcy, assistant professor of chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis, in a call. "We are thinking that sensing applications is a low-hanging fruit for these bricks," he added.

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Dropbox Launches Password Manager, Computer Backup, and Secure 'Vaults' Out of Beta

Wed, 2020-08-12 18:00
Dropbox is officially launching a handful of new consumer features out of beta today, along with some new tools for businesses. From a report: The cloud storage giant first introduced its password manager -- replete with a standalone mobile app for Android and iOS -- back in June. Similar to other password management apps on the market, Dropbox Passwords stores and encrypts users' online passwords and syncs them across all devices (desktop and mobile) so users don't have to remember multiple login credentials. Dropbox Passwords can also suggest strong, randomly generated, individual passwords for your online services, such as Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, and Dropbox itself. Dropbox Passwords is the result of last year's acquisition of Massachusetts-based Valt, which swiftly shuttered its own apps ahead of integration with Dropbox. Dropbox Passwords is available to everyone on a Dropbox Plus or Professional subscription from today. The San Francisco-based company is also launching its previously announced computer backup feature in general availability today. The tool, which is available for Dropbox Basic, Plus, and Professional users, automatically creates a cloud-based backup of any folder stored on a PC or Mac and is continuously synced.

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Uber CEO Says Its Service Will Probably Shut Down Temporarily in California if It's Forced To Classify Drivers as Employees

Wed, 2020-08-12 17:03
Uber would likely shut down temporarily for several months if a court does not overturn a recent ruling requiring it to classify its drivers as full-time employees, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in an interview. From a report: "If the court doesn't reconsider, then in California, it's hard to believe we'll be able to switch our model to full-time employment quickly," Khosrowshahi said. Uber and rival Lyft both have about a week left to appeal a preliminary injunction granted by a California judge on Monday that will prohibit the companies from continuing to classify their drivers as independent workers. Following the order will require Uber and Lyft to provide benefits and unemployment insurance for workers. California's attorney general and three city attorneys brought the lawsuit against the companies under the state's new law, Assembly Bill 5, that aims to provide benefits to gig workers core to a company's business by classifying them as employees. In his decision granting the preliminary injunction, the judge rejected the notion that drivers should be considered outside the course of the companies' businesses, calling the logic "a classic example of circular reasoning."

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Microsoft Surface Duo Phone Goes on Sale Starting at $1,399

Wed, 2020-08-12 16:00
Microsoft begins taking orders for its dual-screen Surface device in the U.S. on Wednesday, an attempt to re-enter the mobile handset market with a product that blends the features of a tablet with those of a phone. From a report: The Android-powered Surface Duo starts at $1,399 and will be available Sept. 10, said Microsoft Chief Product Officer Panos Panay. The device will be sold on Microsoft.com as well as by AT&T and Best Buy. It is the thinnest Surface ever, with screens that unfold completely to serve as a phone or act like a book to provide more space for different apps. The gadget represents Microsoft's return to the handset market following an ignominious retreat in 2016 after the company's acquisition of Nokia's handset unit crashed and burned in a costly writedown. It's also the company's first Surface device running Google's Android operating system, which Windows Phone once sought to vanquish. Why Android? Panay told reporters it came down to the need for apps -- Microsoft's previous efforts were largely doomed because of the lack of mobile developer support.

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Amazon Satellites Add To Astronomers' Worries About the Night Sky

Wed, 2020-08-12 15:03
Welcome to the age of the satellite megaconstellation. Within the next few years, vast networks, containing hundreds or even thousands of spacecraft, could reshape the future of Earth's orbital environment. From a report: Much of the attention on these strings of satellites has been placed on the prolific launches of SpaceX and OneWeb, but the focus is now turning to Amazon. Last month, the Federal Communications Commission approved a request by the online marketplace to launch its Project Kuiper constellation, which, like SpaceX's Starlink and OneWeb's network, aims to extend high-speed internet service to customers around the world, including to remote or underserved communities hobbled by a persistent digital divide. The Kuiper constellation would consist of 3,236 satellites. That's more than the approximately 2,600 active satellites already orbiting Earth. While Amazon's hardware is a long way from the launchpad, SpaceX has already deployed hundreds of satellites in its Starlink constellation, including 57 additional satellites that it launched on Friday. It may expand it to 12,000, or more. Facebook and Telesat could also get into the internet constellation business. The rapid influx of satellites into low-Earth orbit has prompted pushback from professional and amateur astronomers. Starlink satellites are notorious for "photobombing" astronomical images with bright streaks, damaging the quality and reducing the volume of data that scientists collect for research. While SpaceX plans to mitigate the effects of its launches on astronomical observations, scientists and hobbyists in the community worry about the lack of regulation of constellations as more entrants such as Project Kuiper join the action. "We don't yet have any kind of industrywide guidelines," said Michele Bannister, a planetary astronomer at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. "We don't have an industry body that's producing good corporate citizenship on the part of all of these enthusiastic companies that want to launch, and we don't have any regulatory setup in place that's providing clear guidelines back to the industry." She added, "To me, honestly, it feels like putting a bunch of planes up and then not having air traffic control."

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How Will the Universe End? Scientists Say They May Have an Answer

Wed, 2020-08-12 08:00
sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: In the unimaginably far future, cold stellar remnants known as black dwarfs will begin to explode in a spectacular series of supernovae, providing the final fireworks of all time. That's the conclusion of a new study, which posits that the universe will experience one last hurrah before everything goes dark forever. The dramatic detonations will begin to occur about 10^1100 years from now, a number the human brain can scarcely comprehend. The already unfathomable number 10^100 is known as a googol, so 10^1100 would be a googol googol googol googol googol googol googol googol googol googol googol years. The explosions would continue until 10^32000 years from now, which would require most of a magazine page to represent in a similar fashion. A time traveler hoping to witness this last cosmic display would be disappointed. By the start of this era, the mysterious substance acting in opposition to gravity called dark energy will have driven everything in the universe apart so much that each individual black dwarf would be surrounded by vast darkness: The supernovae would even be unobservable to each another. The study has been published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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'Stalkerware' Phone Spying Apps Have Escaped Google's Ad Ban

Wed, 2020-08-12 04:30
An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Several companies offering phone-spying apps -- known as "stalkerware" -- are still advertising in Google search results, despite the search giant's ban that took effect today, TechCrunch has found. These controversial apps are often pitched to help parents snoop on their child's calls, messages, apps and other private data under the guise of helping to protect against online predators. But some repurpose these apps to spy on their spouses -- often without their permission. It's a problem that the wider tech industry has worked to tackle. Security firms and antivirus makers are working to combat the rise of stalkerware, and federal authorities have taken action when app makers have violated the law. One of the biggest actions to date came last month when Google announced an updated ads policy, effectively banning companies from advertising phone-snooping apps "with the express purpose of tracking or monitoring another person or their activities without their authorization." Google gave these companies until August 11 to remove these ads. But TechCrunch found seven companies known to provide stalkerware -- including FlexiSpy, mSpy, WebWatcher and KidsGuard -- were still advertising in Google search results after the ban took effect. Google did not say explicitly say if the stalkerware apps violated its policy, but told TechCrunch that it removed ads for WebWatcher. Despite the deadline, Google said that enforcement is not always immediate. "We recently updated our policies to prohibit ads promoting spyware for partner surveillance while still allowing ads for technology that helps parents monitor their underage children," said a Google spokesperson. "To prevent deceitful actors who try to disguise the product's intent and evade our enforcement, we look at several signals like the ad text, creative and landing page, among others, for policy compliance. When we find that an ad or advertiser is violating our policies, we take immediate action."

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Police Use of Facial Recognition Violates Human Rights, UK Court Rules

Wed, 2020-08-12 03:02
An appeals court ruled today that police use of facial recognition technology in the UK has "fundamental deficiencies" and violates several laws. Ars Technica reports: South Wales Police began using automated facial recognition technology on a trial basis in 2017, deploying a system called AFR Locate overtly at several dozen major events such as soccer matches. Police matched the scans against watchlists of known individuals to identify persons who were wanted by the police, had open warrants against them, or were in some other way persons of interest. In 2019, Cardiff resident Ed Bridges filed suit against the police, alleging that having his face scanned in 2017 and 2018 was a violation of his legal rights. Although he was backed by UK civil rights organization Liberty, Bridges lost his suit in 2019, but the Court of Appeal today overturned that ruling, finding that the South Wales Police facial recognition program was unlawful. "Too much discretion is currently left to individual police officers," the court ruled. "It is not clear who can be placed on the watchlist, nor is it clear that there are any criteria for determining where AFR can be deployed." The police did not sufficiently investigate if the software in use exhibited race or gender bias, the court added. The South Wales Police in 2018 released data admitting that about 2,300 of nearly 2,500 matches -- roughly 92 percent -- the software made at an event in 2017 were false positives. The ruling did not completely ban the use of facial recognition tech inside the UK, but does narrow the scope of what is permissible and what law enforcement agencies have to do to be in compliance with human rights law. Other police inside the UK who deploy facial recognition technology will have to meet the standard set by today's ruling. That includes the Metropolitan Police in London, who deployed a similar type of system earlier this year.

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Facebook Removed Seven Million Posts In Second Quarter For False Coronavirus Info

Wed, 2020-08-12 02:25
Facebook said on Tuesday it removed 7 million posts in the second quarter for sharing false information about the novel coronavirus, including content that promoted fake preventative measures and exaggerated cures. Reuters reports: It released the data as part of its sixth Community Standards Enforcement Report, which it introduced in 2018 along with more stringent decorum rules in response to a backlash over its lax approach to policing content on its platforms. The world's biggest social network said it would invite proposals from experts this week to audit the metrics used in the report, beginning in 2021. It committed to the audit during a July ad boycott over hate speech practices. The company removed about 22.5 million posts with hate speech on its flagship app in the second quarter, a dramatic increase from 9.6 million in the first quarter. It attributed the jump to improvements in detection technology. It also deleted 8.7 million posts connected to "terrorist" organizations, compared with 6.3 million in the prior period. It took down less material from "organized hate" groups: 4 million pieces of content, compared to 4.7 million in the first quarter. The company does not disclose changes in the prevalence of hateful content on its platforms, which civil rights groups say makes reports on its removal less meaningful.

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Xbox Series X Launching In November, But Halo Infinite Is Delayed Until 2021

Wed, 2020-08-12 01:45
Microsoft isn't providing a specific release date for its next-gen Xbox Series X console, but the company did reveal it will launch in the month of November. Sadly, Microsoft and 343 Industries also announced today that Halo Infinite is being delayed to 2021. The Verge reports: The lack of Halo Infinite does mean there's no big launch title for the Xbox Series X later this year. Microsoft is choosing to highlight Xbox Game Pass, alongside "more than 50 new games" that are launching this year with optimizations for Xbox Series X. More than 40 existing games will also be optimized for Xbox Series X, which can include anything from hardware-accelerated DirectX ray tracing, 120fps frame rates, faster loading times, and Quick Resume support. Existing backward compatible games across Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One will also run on the Xbox Series X when it launches in November. We're now waiting to hear exactly when the Xbox Series X will be available, its price, and when people can start preordering the next-gen console. In addition to Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft is also highlighting its Project xCloud gaming service. "Project xCloud will enter a beta stage from August 11 as a new version of the Xbox Game Pass app will launch on Android devices," reports NME. "While the full service won't be available in the beta phase, users will have the ability to test a smaller selection of titles ahead of the launch next month. [A]round 30 games will be available in the beta stage, with the full 100+ titles added next month (September)."

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TikTok Tracked User Data Using Tactic Banned By Google

Wed, 2020-08-12 01:02
An anonymous reader quotes a report from MarketWatch: TikTok skirted a privacy safeguard in Google's Android operating system to collect unique identifiers from millions of mobile devices, data that allows the app to track users online without allowing them to opt out, a Wall Street Journal analysis has found. The tactic, which experts in mobile-phone security said was concealed through an unusual added layer of encryption, appears to have violated Google policies limiting how apps track people and wasn't disclosed to TikTok users. TikTok ended the practice in November, the Journal's testing showed. The identifiers collected by TikTok, called MAC addresses, are most commonly used for advertising purposes. The White House has said it is worried that users' data could be obtained by the Chinese government and used to build detailed dossiers on individuals for blackmail or espionage. In a statement, a spokesperson said the company is "committed to protecting the privacy and safety of the TikTok community. Like our peers, we constantly update our app to keep up with evolving security challenges." The company said "the current version of TikTok does not collect MAC addresses."

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Russia Claims To Have Registered World's First COVID-19 Vaccine

Wed, 2020-08-12 00:20
New submitter Hmmmmmm shares a report from CNBC: Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the registration of what Russia claims to be the first vaccine for the coronavirus in the world and said one of his daughters had already taken it. "Although I know that it works quite effectively, it forms a stable immunity and, I repeat, has passed all the necessary checks," Putin said. Clinical trials of this Russian vaccine have been completed in less than two months and phase three trials are set to begin on Wednesday, despite the vaccine having already been registered. Countries including the United Arab Emirates, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia are taking part in those trials. "The vaccine developed by Russia is a so-called viral vector vaccine, meaning it employs another virus to carry the DNA encoding of the needed immune response into cells," reports Al Jazeera. "[The Gamaleya research institute's vaccine] is based on the adenovirus, a similar technology to the coronavirus vaccine prototype developed by China's CanSino. The state-run Gamaleya institute came under fire after researchers and its director injected themselves with the prototype several months ago, with specialists criticizing the move as an unorthodox and rushed way of starting human trials.

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The Last Blockbuster Has Been Turned Into An Airbnb

Tue, 2020-08-11 23:40
The world's last Blockbuster is offering movie fans the opportunity to spend the night in the store by booking through Airbnb. The Independent reports: The opportunity to book a one-night stay in the last of the nearly defunct video rental stores, which only remains in Bend, Oregon, will be possible thanks to the property's owner, Sandi Harding. "As the last standing location in the world, our BLOCKBUSTER store is an ode to movie magic, simpler times and the sense of community that could once be found in BLOCKBUSTER locations around the world," Harding explains in the Airbnb listing. Starting on 17 August, residents of Deschutes County will be able to book the store, which has been transformed into a living room complete with TV and pull-out couch, for either 18, 19, or 20 September. According to the press release, guests who successfully book the store, which will be available for just $4, will be treated to "all the movies your heart could desire." "Whether you want to stay up until sunrise or pass out on the couch, we've created the perfect space complete with a pull-out couch, bean bags and pillows for you to cosy up with 'new releases' from the 90s," the Airbnb listing reads. "Crack open a two-liter of Pepsi before locking into a video game, charting your future in a game of MASH, or watching movie after movie." Those who aren't eligible for the opportunity can visit the store's living room set-up as customers starting on 21 September -- or call the store for a personalized movie recommendation.

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What Kamala Harris, Joe Biden's VP Pick, Means For Tech

Tue, 2020-08-11 23:02
An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNET: After months of speculation, Joe Biden has picked California Sen. Kamala Harris to be his vice-presidential running mate in the race for the White House. The choice fulfills a pledge from Biden, the Democrats' presumptive nominee for president, to name a woman to his ticket as he seeks to unseat Donald Trump in the November election. [...] Here's what we know about Harris' stance on tech issues: A California senator and former candidate in the 2020 presidential race, Harris made her name in Washington by grilling Trump nominees and officials from her seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Harris, 55, is known for being a tough-on-crime prosecutor earlier in her career. That toughness, however, didn't carry over to Big Tech companies when she was California attorney general, critics charge. During her time as the state's top law enforcement officer, Facebook and other companies gobbled up smaller competitors. Harris, like regulators under Obama, did little from an antitrust perspective to slow consolidation, which many members of Congress now question. During her 2020 presidential bid, Harris' stance on consumer protections and antitrust issues weren't as tough as those of some of her rivals, especially Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who called for the breakup of large tech companies, like Facebook and Google. Still, Harris was vocal last year in urging Twitter to ban Trump from the platform for "tweets [that] incite violence, threaten witnesses, and obstruct justice." This was a demand Twitter rejected. She has also been critical of Facebook for not doing more to rid its platform of misinformation.

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