At a New York Privacy Pop-Up, Facebook Sells Itself

Wired 14 Dec 2018 12:38 For one day only, Facebook answered questions in person about privacy, advertising, and its business model. Hotlittlepotato If you haven’t heard, 2018 was extremely bad for Facebook. The company was rocked by so many scandals that it’s become hard to list them all in one place. I won’t try here, but I will say it’s equally difficult to determine how much those missteps really matter to Facebook’s billions of users. During a one-day event in New York City on Thursday, the social network got a chance to find out. On the edge of the annual holiday market in Bryant Park, Facebook erected a narrow kiosk, which looked like a mid-century modern shipping container, and filled it with employees ready to answer questions about privacy, ads, and how the company collects your data. Facebook’s privacy pop-up predictably attracted swarms of journalists. The kiosk is meant to communicate that Facebook is taking concerns over privacy seriously. It was also, of course, an opportunity for the company to push its messaging around the nature of its business model. A friendly-looking sign pinned to a bulletin board helpfully displayed the perennial question: “Does Facebook sell my data?” “No, Facebook does not sell data to advertisers,” it answered, next to a cartoon of a padlock. Louise Matsakis “Oh, that’s a good sign. I didn’t know we had that sign,” said Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, when I asked her about it. She had traveled from Facebook’s office in Washington, DC, for the event and was wearing a Gucci belt, which stood out next to the Silicon Valley-style fleeces and jeans on other employees. “One of the reasons we’re here, one of the reasons we’re going to continue to find new ways to answer questions, is to rebut statements that we sell—we’re not in the business of selling people’s data. That’s not what we do.” (A New York Times op-ed published the day before was the latest to make the case that the opposite is true. And as Molly McKew wrote in WIRED earlier this year, "It doesn’t matter that Facebook isn’t 'selling data'—an oft-repeated theme. They are using psychographics to profile you and selling advertisers access to the products of those algorithms.") When I made it to the kiosk around noon, about an hour after it opened, I found it stuffed mostly with Facebook staff and other members of the media. The few civilians were left in a sometimes uncomfortable position. I watched a middle-aged man politely eat a free croissant while one reporter after another attempted to extract opinions from him. (“I’m here because my brother-in-law is a big user of Facebook,” he explained in between bites.) Along the wall were free cards with instructions on how to adjust your ad preferences and privacy settings. A handsome booklet with “10 Tips to Control Your Facebook Account” told people to avoid clicking on strange links and to never share passwords with anyone. (It didn’t mention two-factor authentication, an important security feature most experts recommend using.) In true Facebook fashion, the event also served as a data-gathering mission. Near the door, a man who described himself as a “brand ambassador” asked me to fill out a short survey. “You don’t have to put in any data,” he reassured me. I think he meant I didn’t need to provide my name, because I was definitely supplying Facebook with information. I tapped through a series of questions about whether I agreed that Facebook was transparent about its privacy and data-sharing policies. While I did that, my mind wandered to the Facebook app on my phone. I wondered whether its location-sharing settings—had I had them enabled—would have allowed the company to figure out I was there. This was almost certainly not what Facebook wanted me to be considering. In many regards, Facebook’s privacy pop-up was easy fodder for dunking on the company, as many on Twitter did. The event probably won’t change the opinions of anyone who already believes Facebook shouldn’t be trusted. But the staff there were also providing a genuinely useful service, one that people might have applauded more widely if a nonprofit hosted the event instead. For better or worse, more than two-thirds of Americans use Facebook. It’s beneficial to have a place where they can talk to someone, in real life, about their privacy settings. Most of the headline-grabbing scandals that Facebook dealt with this year were largely abstract to the casual user. Even if you’re angry that Cambridge Analytica scooped up your data, it’s hard to know exactly what the firm may have done with it. At the Bryant Park kiosk, people were more concerned with learning about their News Feed and seeing ads for things they’re actually interested in. The problems that are most devastating to normal Facebook users often concern basic data privacy. People may not understand that the information they share in closed groups isn’t actually secret. Nonprofit leaders don’t always know about phishing links. A man might not realize that his Facebook profile can be monitored by law enforcement. The way Facebook designed its platform surely helped exacerbate, if not entirely create, these issues. But having someone explain to you how Facebook works can help at least some of them be avoided, too. More Great WIRED Stories Everything you want to know about the promise of 5G How WhatsApp fuels fake news and violence in India Blu-rays are back to prove that streaming isn't everything An Intel breakthrough rethinks how chips are made 9 Trumpworld figures who should fear Mueller the most 👀 Looking for the latest gadgets? Check out our picks, gift guides, and best deals all year round 📩 Get even more of our inside scoops with our weekly Backchannel newsletter
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Nationwide Bomb Threats Look Like New Spin on an Old Bitcoin Scam

Wired 14 Dec 2018 12:10 Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images In offices and universities all across the country Thursday, the same threat appeared in email inboxes: Pay $20,000 worth of bitcoin, or a bomb will detonate in your building. Police departments sent out alerts. Workers from Los Angeles to Raleigh, North Carolina, evacuated their cubicles in the middle of the day. All over Twitter, people posted screenshots of the emails, many different versions of which appear to have been blasted out. As of Thursday afternoon, no bombs had been found, and cybersecurity experts largely dismissed the threats as an elaborate hoax. Not all police departments have confirmed it as a scam. But it certainly appears to be a steep escalation of a bitcoin blackmail tactic that took off this summer. In that scheme, victims received an email claiming that a hacker commandeered their webcam while they were watching pornography and would release the resulting photos publicly if the target didn't pay a small amount in bitcoin. It was an obvious lie but one that nevertheless earned its perpetrators half a million dollars. In an apparent attempt to increase the urgency, this wave of attacks swaps out sextortion in favor of fake bombs. An Escalation The New York Police Department said in its initial warning on Twitter that the threats did not appear to be credible and told WIRED that though they were investigating reports, they had found no bombs. Police in Park City, Utah, quickly called at least one threat a hoax. Police will investigate every email, given that it involves potential physical harm, but the likelihood that someone planted actual bombs in hundreds or thousands of building all across America is next to zero. “This is not a credible threat. It’s clearly a hoax,” says security researcher Troy Mursch, who has been tracking the sextortion scams. Like those, today’s threats were sent out in mass, automated batches to email addresses that the miscreants could have bought or found online. Those emails could have been scraped from public websites, accessed in data breaches, or compiled from shady email marketers. Many of the recipients suspected a scam immediately. “My first thought was that it looked like a hoax. I didn’t even give it a second thought,” says social media researcher Kelli Burns, who received a threat to her University of South Florida email address this morning. Burns says that the language gave it away, as often happens with phishing emails and other scams. “My subject line was ‘You are responsible for people,’ which didn’t sound like the person was a native English speaker,” Burns says. Other people in her department received slightly different wording, but all shared the same strange diction. Her director immediately emailed everyone to say that it was some kind of scam and that the university police were looking into it. To Mursch, the bomb-threat scam is both familiar and totally new. “This new bitcoin extortion scam is something else. We've been tracking the sextortion bitcoin scam, but this is the first time we’ve seen bomb threats being sent out in the same vein as the sextortion one," he says. "It’s a terrible strategy." That's not just for the disruption it sows, but also in that it seems poorly thought out on the part of the criminals. A violent threat, coupled with a request for a very high sum, will likely generate intense law enforcement scrutiny more than actual payouts. The sextortion scam works in part by being remotely believable and asking only for small amounts of money. For some people, it may be worth paying just to put the whole nightmare behind them. A figure of $20,000 is much harder for a random email recipient to get their hands on in a short amount of time and seemed suspicious to those who received it. By Mursch's count, at least 15 different Bitcoin wallets tied to the mass threats have circulated Thursday. As of 5:30 pm EST, only two deposits had been made into any of them, with funds totaling less than a single US dollar. But money may not have been the point here. From Idaho to California to Texas and New York, and even Ottawa and Toronto, the bomb threats disrupted the workday and caused panic. Newspapers, universities, gaming software companies, municipal buildings all were briefly evacuated. If the main objective was general chaos, it worked. “I went on Twitter and I was shocked that all these different places of business were closing and evacuating. I don’t know if that's just a sign of the times that we’re all so on edge, worried about mass shootings and terrorism,” USF's Burns says. In another sign of the times, Mursch points out that even though these threats are most likely a hoax, there’s always the danger that someone with actually violent intentions could piggyback off this moment and plant a real bomb. The emailers themselves seem to have considered this, apparently trying to give themselves an out. Each email ended with the note: “If an explosion occurred and the authorities notice this letter: we arent the terrorist organization and dont assume any liability for explosions in other buildings.” A representative for the FBI told WIRED the agency is working with law enforcement around the country but didn’t elaborate further. Leave a Trace The failure of whoever is behind these threats to actually get any money may make law enforcement's job harder; the easiest way to find the perpetrators would be to follow the money placed in the public bitcoin blockchain ledger. LEARN MORE The WIRED Guide to Bitcoin “If nobody does pay the ransom it’s going to be hard to track from the ‘follow the money' angle,” Mursch says. Absent that, law enforcement will try to track the servers that sent the emails. Indeed, Twitter sleuths were already doing so on Thursday afternoon. Many people reported that they traced the email to a server that appeared to be based in Russia. However, it’s tricky to actually pinpoint where spam like this actually originates. That so-called Russian server could be a proxy, for one thing. Botnets and Tor networks can also be employed to hide the origins of spam emails like this. Tricky, but not impossible. “I suspect that these extortionists will get caught soon, and I would caution anyone who might think of using cryptocurrencies for crime that they are likely to get tracked and caught,” says Cornell computer scientist Emin Gun Serir. “Law enforcement is quite savvy about both email and Bitcoin tracking.” More Great WIRED Stories Everything you want to know about the promise of 5G How WhatsApp fuels fake news and violence in India Blu-rays are back to prove that streaming isn't everything An Intel breakthrough rethinks how chips are made 9 Trumpworld figures who should fear Mueller the most 👀 Looking for the latest gadgets? Check out our picks, gift guides, and best deals all year round 📩 Get even more of our inside scoops with our weekly Backchannel newsletter
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Virgin Galactic Takes Off, and Space Tourism Draws Nearer

Wired 13 Dec 2018 11:29 As Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity reaches space, Richard Branson's extra-planetary effort takes a giant leap toward realizing its dream of making extra-planetary tourism a reality. Virgin Galactic For the first time since the US retired the Space Shuttle in 2011, humans have taken off from American soil and gone into space. This morning, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic rocketed two test pilots beyond Earth's boundaries and brought them back safely, in a giant leap toward finally making commercial space tourism a reality. The mission was Virgin Galactic’s fourth powered test flight of VSS Unity, the craft it expects to use to haul wealthy sightseers into space. The two pilots started their journey at the Mojave Air and Space Port in the California desert, slung under the belly of Virgin's twin-hulled, carbon fiber launch vehicle, the VMS Eve. Once they were 43,000 feet up, Eve released Unity, and the pilots in the latter powered the rockets for 60 seconds—longer than ever before—to shoot upwards at Mach 2.9, nearly three times the speed of sound. Mark “Forger” Stucky and Frederick “CJ” Sturckow climbed to 51.4 miles, 1.4 miles beyond the line the US Air Force uses to demark the edge of the planet. That's high enough to see the star-spotted black of space, as well as a pretty spectacular view of the Earth, as a video show from Unity shows: https://twitter.com/virgingalactic/status/1073273884831408128 To quote mission control: “Unity, welcome to space.” Unity then reentered the thick atmosphere at supersonic speed, in what the team calls a “feathering” configuration, with the tail folded for better aerodynamics. It then glided back to the the spaceport for a smooth landing, like the Shuttle used to. The touchdown met with cheers from anxious teams on the ground, as well as their families and a bunch of media crews. Along with its congratulations and assurance that it's down with space tourism, the FAA announced it will hold a ceremony in Washington to bestow Commercial Astronaut Wings on Stucky and Sturckow. (Stucky was also a Space Shuttle pilot; he'll be the first person to get his wings from both NASA and the FAA.) The craft was also carrying four NASA research experiments and a passenger-mimicking mannequin named Annie, according to the BBC. “We will now push on with the remaining portion of our flight test program, which will see the rocket motor burn for longer and VSS Unity fly still faster and higher,” Branson said in a statement after the landing. When Virgin Galactic starts commercial operations, up to six passengers at a time will get three days of training and preparation at Spaceport America, in New Mexico, before take the trip, along with two pilots. Once at altitude, they’ll spend a few minutes in zero gravity, during which they’ll be allowed to unstrap and leave their seats. The company also plans to host (paid) space experiments, unbolting the seats and swapping in racks of kit. Richard Branson companies are not creatively named, but they do cover a wide array of transportation schemes. Virgin Trains is the go-to rail service in the UK for trips from London northwards, Virgin Atlantic operates flights from the UK to the US and beyond. Now Virgin Galactic hopes to join the family as the go-to space ferry for paying customers who want a taste of the astronaut life. Branson's tourism idea is rather conservative compared to plans from his fellow space-going tycoons. Elon Musk’s SpaceX recently announced its first paying passengers would be a Japanese billionaire and a handful of artists of his choosing, who will slingshot around the moon, possibly by 2023. Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin is also planning short tourist flights, but in the long run wants to send rockets beyond Earth's orbit. Virgin had originally planned to get to this point years earlier, but delayed its program when Unity's predecessor crashed in 2014, killing one pilot and injuring another. Now back in action and making real progress toward a commercial launch, it has a backlog of 600 people from 50 countries who have reserved places for a paid trip into space, and a look back at the Earth from a new perspective. More Great WIRED Stories Help solve quantum computing's core mystery Google Glass wasn't a failure. It raised crucial concerns We still don't understand the mother of all demos This Australian law could impact global privacy An eye-scanning lie detector is forging a dystopian future 👀 Looking for the latest gadgets? Check out our picks, gift guides, and best deals all year round 📩 Want more? Sign up for our daily newsletter and never miss our latest and greatest stories
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Facebook Bug Bounty Program Makes Biggest Reward Payout Yet

Wired 13 Dec 2018 09:00 Hotlittlepotato This has not been Facebook's proudest year for privacy and security. The company faced the massive Cambridge Analytica data misuse and abuse scandal in April and beyond. It also disclosed its first data breach in October, which compromised information from 30 million accounts. But Facebook has at least one security-focused bright spot it can point to in 2018: its bug bounty. Bug bounties are programs that let security researchers submit potential flaws and vulnerabilities in a company's software. Anyone can send a report and, perhaps, receive a reward for helping lock down a company's systems. Welcoming bug reports was a controversial practice for decades, but Facebook's program, which launched in 2011, is one of the oldest and most mature in the industry. The bug bounty has paid out more than $7.5 million over time, including $1.1 million in 2018. And this year Facebook also paid its biggest single bounty ever, $50,000, to one of its top contributors. The bug that garnered this windfall was in Facebook's developer subscription mechanism for notifications on certain types of user activity. Think of it as RSS for data being generated on Facebook. The researcher found that in certain situations a developer, or attacker, could have manipulated the subscriptions to receive updates that shouldn't have been authorized about certain actions and users. For instance, a rogue developer could have gotten regular updates on who liked or commented on a specific post. The submission scored Facebook's highest bounty offering because it led to the discovery of a whole class of potential exposures that could have been misused. Of the 17,000 reports the company received in 2018, it paid a bounty on 700, with an average prize of around $1,500. "It is not uncommon for us to receive reports about high or critical bugs from researchers," says Dan Gurfinkel, Facebook's security engineering manager. "The September security incident involved a case of three different bugs interacting with one another. Among other lessons, it served as a reminder that it's important to get as many eyes as we can to evaluate and test our code. The bug bounty program is an important part of this work, and that's why we continue to develop new ways to engage researchers." As a result of the Cambridge Analytic revelations, Facebook expanded the scope of its bounty in April to include "data abuse," situations where Facebook's third-party app developers misuse the customer data they get access to. The company also began accepting bug reports about third-party apps themselves, acting as a sort of liaison for vulnerabilities that the social network can't directly fix, but that impact its users. Both of these expansions add important nuance, and are areas that most other companies have yet to grapple with in their own bug bounties. Facebook says that in just a few months it has already begun receiving a number of high quality submissions that address those new bug categories. "They were very specifically trying to look for something that would be otherwise be difficult to detect via technical means," says Katie Moussouris, a bug bounty expert and founder of the firm Luta Security. "If a third party is authorized to get Facebook data in its terms of service and then is abusing the terms of service, that's very hard to detect." Luta Security consulted with Facebook on refining the data abuse expansion to articulate a subtle distinction. Facebook wanted to make it clear that researchers shouldn't breach user data in the process of finding problems, but they should submit more nuanced types of data misuse reports whenever it was possible to document these complex interactions safely. Striking this balance is more challenging than it may initially seem, according to Alex Rice, CTO of the bug bounty development organization HackerOne. Rice consulted on Facebook's bug bounty when it launched in 2011, and says he was impressed to see it expand to accept privacy and third-party reports this year. "The data abuse bounty program is innovative," Rice says. "It's meant to cover a blind spot in many large technology providers, but it's a challenging problem. HackerOne has two customers that are launching similar programs based on the success of Facebook’s data abuse bounty program." The improvements to Facebook's bug bounty will hopefully give the security community, or anyone else, an expanded avenue to speak up about privacy issues and concerns they come across on the platform. And at such a massive scale, Facebook is bound to have data flow problems and misuse at times—a fact that the company doesn't seem to have really grasped until this year. But while a bug bounty is an important tool, it definitely doesn't solve all of a company's security and privacy challenges. "As a big proponent of bug bounties, even I don’t think we can stop with them, we still need to do more," Rice says. "Anyone who positions a bounty program as a silver bullet or presents their organization as impenetrable is misleading themselves and misleading the public." For all of the positive security improvements that came out of Facebook's tumultuous year, the hardest work ahead for the company may not be fixing bugs, but rebuilding user trust. More Great WIRED Stories Everything you want to know about the promise of 5G 9 Trumpworld figures who should fear Mueller the most Blu-rays are back to prove that streaming isn't everything An Intel breakthrough rethinks how chips are made An eye-scanning lie detector is forging a dystopian future 👀 Looking for the latest gadgets? Check out our picks, gift guides, and best deals all year round 📩 Get even more of our inside scoops with our weekly Backchannel newsletter
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Radiohead Will Enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019

Wired 13 Dec 2018 07:49 Radiohead will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year, alongside Janet Jackson, the Cure, Def Leppard, Roxy Music, Stevie Nicks, and the Zombies. Matthew Baker/Getty Images It's time once again to turn on The Monitor, WIRED's roundup of the latest in the world of culture, from music news to casting announcements. In today's installment: Radiohead gets the "OK" from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; Miley Cyrus looks into Black Mirror; and the 2019 box office results walk like a Panther. Radiohead of the Class Next time you see Thom Yorke, give him a high-five and a Fonzie-esque "Kid AAAAA!": Radiohead are among the artists being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year, alongside Janet Jackson, the Cure, Def Leppard, Roxy Music, Stevie Nicks, and the Zombies. Considering how many creaky acts have been granted entry into the Hall, that is … an especially good lineup? Like, pretty much unimpeachable? And as much as those end-of-the-show Hall of Fame all-star jams make us wince, the idea of Janet, Stevie, Thom, and Robert Smith teaming up for "Let's Wait Awhile" is almost not-insane-sounding. The ceremony will be held in New York City in March 1814. Black Mirror Adds Miley Earlier this week Miley Cyrus confirmed rumors that she'll be appearing in an episode of Black Mirror's fifth season. The singer-actor-wrecking-ball was working on a secret project in South Africa during the recent Malibu wildfires, which destroyed Cyrus’ home; she revealed to Howard Stern that the trip was for Mirror, telling him the episode was "the first time I've left somewhere feeling really proud of my work," which is crazy, because everyone knows "Party in the U.S.A." is the fourth or fifth best party anthem of the 21st century. Black Mirror's fifth season will air on Netflix, though a release date has yet to be announced. Wakanda Forever, and Ever-Ever Variety's annual list of the year's biggest box office hits—which factors in each film's budget and gross, not just its year-end ranking—includes super-smashes like Black Panther (which earned more than a billion dollars, with a budget of around $210 million), A Quiet Place, Crazy Rich Asians, and The Nun, the latter of which multiplied its $22 million budget more than 15 times. The year's most costly disasters, meanwhile, include Robin Hood, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, and The Girl in the Spider's Web. The year's big winner, though, was Disney, which so far has earned more than $7 billion worldwide—and that's before the arrival of Mary Poppins Returns. More Great WIRED Stories Burger King's 1-cent whopper and our robocar future Why we all take the same travel photos Everything you need to know about data breaches What causes hangovers, and how can I avoid them? The promise—and heartbreak—of cancer genomics 👀 Looking for the latest gadgets? Check out our picks, gift guides, and best deals all year round 📩 Want more? Sign up for our daily newsletter and never miss our latest and greatest stories
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'They don't care': Facebook factchecking in disarray as journalists push to cut ties

Guardian Technology 13 Dec 2018 08:00 Brooke Binkowski is the former managing editor of Snopes, a factchecking site that has partnered with Facebook for two years. Photograph: Dan Tuffs for the Guardian Journalists working as factcheckers for Facebook have pushed to end a controversial media partnership with the social network, saying the company has ignored their concerns and failed to use their expertise to combat misinformation. Current and former Facebook factcheckers told the Guardian that the tech platform’s collaboration with outside reporters has produced minimal results and that they’ve lost trust in Facebook, which has repeatedly refused to release meaningful data about the impacts of their work. Some said Facebook’s hiring of a PR firm that used an antisemitic narrative to discredit critics – fueling the same kind of propaganda factcheckers regularly debunk – should be a deal-breaker. “They’ve essentially used us for crisis PR,” said Brooke Binkowski, former managing editor of Snopes, a factchecking site that has partnered with Facebook for two years. “They’re not taking anything seriously. They are more interested in making themselves look good and passing the buck … They clearly don’t care.” Facebook began building its partnerships with news outlets after the 2016 presidential election, during which fake stories and political propaganda reached hundreds of millions of users on the platform. The goal was to rely on journalists to flag false news and limit its spread, but research and anecdotal evidence have repeatedly suggested that the debunking work has struggled to make a difference. Facebook now has more than 40 media partners across the globe, including the Associated Press, PolitiFact and the Weekly Standard, and has said false news on the platform is “trending downward”. While some newsroom leaders said the relationship was positive, other partners said the results were unclear and that they had grown increasingly resentful of Facebook, especially following revelations that the company had paid a consulting firm to go after opponents by publicizing their association with billionaire Jewish philanthropist George Soros. The attacks fed into a well-known conspiracy theory about Soros being the hidden hand behind all manner of liberal causes and global events. It was later revealed that Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer, had directed her staff to research Soros’s financial interests after he publicly criticized the company. “Why should we trust Facebook when it’s pushing the same rumors that its own factcheckers are calling fake news?” said a current Facebook factchecker who was not authorized to speak publicly about their news outlet’s partnership. “It’s worth asking how do they treat stories about George Soros on the platform knowing they specifically pay people to try to link political enemies to him?” “Working with Facebook makes us look bad,” added the journalist, who has advocated for an end to the partnership. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, was reported to have directed her staff to research George Soros’s financial interests after he publicly criticized the company. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA Another factchecker who has long worked on the Facebook partnership said they were demoralized: “They are a terrible company and, on a personal level, I don’t want to have anything to do with them.” Binkowski, who left Snopes earlier this year and now runs her own factchecking site, which does not partner with Facebook, said the Facebook-Snopes partnership quickly became counterproductive. During early conversations with Facebook, Binkowski said she tried to raise concerns about misuse of the platform abroad, such as the explosion of hate speech and misinformation during the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and other violent propaganda. “I was bringing up Myanmar over and over and over,” she said. “They were absolutely resistant.” Binkowski, who previously reported on immigration and refugees, said Facebook largely ignored her: “I strongly believe that they are spreading fake news on behalf of hostile foreign powers and authoritarian governments as part of their business model.” Kim LaCapria recently left Snopes as a content manager and factchecker partly due to her frustrations with the Facebook arrangement. She said it quickly seemed clear that Facebook wanted the “appearance of trying to prevent damage without actually doing anything” and that she was particularly upset to learn that Facebook was paying Snopes: “That felt really gross … Facebook has one mission and factchecking websites should have a completely different mission.” Binkowski said that on at least one occasion, it appeared that Facebook was pushing reporters to prioritize debunking misinformation that affected Facebook advertisers, which she thought crossed a line: “You’re not doing journalism any more. You’re doing propaganda.” A Facebook spokesperson repeatedly declined to comment on whether advertisers influenced factchecking, saying in an email, “The primary way we surface potentially false news to third-party factcheckers is via machine learning.” After publication of this article, however, Facebook published a blogpost saying it does not ask partners to prioritize factchecks related to advertisers. Other times, Snopes ended up factchecking satirical articles for Facebook, which felt like a waste of time and in certain instances, sparked intense backlash against Snopes, the former staffers said. Once Snopes became an official partner, there was also a noticeable increase in online harassment, death threats and attacks from far-right users and prominent conservatives who accused the factcheckers and Facebook of having a leftwing bias and agenda, Binkowski said. When reporters got caught in these kinds of firestorms, Facebook let individual journalists shoulder the blame, she said: “They threw us under the bus at every opportunity.” Added LaCapria: “We were just collateral damage.” A Facebook representative said it has begun incorporating journalist safety training for new partners. LaCapria, who is now working with Binkowski on her new site, said it became difficult to report on Facebook at Snopes due to the financial arrangement: “We knew that if anything involved Facebook it was at risk of being compromised.” “Most of us feel it’s more trouble than it’s worth,” said one current factchecker. Facebook has said that third-party factchecking is one part of its strategy to fight misinformation, and has claimed that a “false” rating leads an article to be ranked lower in news feed, reducing future views by 80% on average. The company has refused, however, to publicly release any data to support these claims. One current factchecker said the process overall was too slow and that often their factchecks came too late: “By the time it gets to us, how many people have already seen it?” In contrast, Angie Drobnic Holan, editor of PolitiFact, said the partnership was a “public service”, and that “Facebook is helping us identify questionable material”. The revenue from Facebook “added to our overall sustainability”, she said. Asked of the impacts of her site’s work, she said, “Is it reducing fake content on Facebook? I don’t know, I can’t tell. Can Facebook tell? You would assume they could. I don’t have any way of knowing.” Facebook said in a statement that it had “heard feedback from our partners that they’d like more data on the impact of their efforts”, adding that it has started sending “quarterly reports” with “customized statistics” to partners and would be “looking for more statistics to share externally in early 2019”. Facebook declined to share the reports with the Guardian. PolitiFact has not yet received any reports, according to Holan, who said Facebook stated the documents must remain private once they are produced. Snopes’s founder and CEO, David Mikkelson, said he was unaware of any quarterly reports. In an interview, he also said he did not share Binkowski’s concerns about the Facebook partnership and said he felt it has had a minimal impact on how Snopes operates. “Our work remains the same,” he said, adding that he did not expect Facebook to share data on how Snopes’s work is affecting other publishers. “It’s up to Facebook to decide the relative success of it.”
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Can I get a gaming PC for £500, and which games console is best?

Guardian Technology 13 Dec 2018 07:30 There are plenty of options for gaming PCs under £500 a budget that will buy you any of the current gaming consoles too. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images I read your review of gaming PC specs where you recommended HP Omen 880-100na, and wonder if you still feel that ticks all boxes for my gaming son? Sylvia What is the best gaming PC I can buy for around £500? Jean I am on the point of finally getting a gaming console for my children, but I must admit to being a bit stumped as to whether I should be getting a PS4, PS4 Pro, Xbox One, Xbox One S or Xbox One X? My kids will mainly want to play new-ish games, and watch TV shows through streaming. Do you have any advice? Patrick It’s only three months since I answered the question Sylvia read – What’s the best gaming PC for under £1,000? – but some readers are looking for cheaper options in the run-up to Christmas. To answer the simplest question first, yes, I would still go for the HP Omen 880-100na at its current price of £899, though I’d also add £49 for three years of pickup and return service. This is the cheapest model HP sells direct and a bargain compared to the 880-148na at £1,300. The HP Omen 880-100na has a solid specification: a 6-core Intel Core i5-8400 with 8GB of memory, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card, a 128GB SSD and a 1TB hard drive. To save money, you’d have to lower one or more specifications, meaning performance would take a hit. To get the price under £500, you might have to drop down to a Core i3-8100 processor, downgrade the graphics card, and give up the SSD. Just don’t reduce the memory to 4GB. The rising Ryzen One compromise hasn’t been available until fairly recently: AMD Ryzen “Raven Ridge” processors that include Radeon Vega graphics. These enable AMD to claim that you don’t need a separate graphics card. With Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 cards retailing at about £200, that makes a significant difference to the price of a budget gaming PC. This doesn’t mean a Ryzen/Vega chip will perform as well as GeForce 1060. It does mean that you will be able to play decent games on a budget while you save up for a good graphics card, if you find you need one. That’s the great thing about desktop PCs: you can add more memory, bigger drives and faster graphics cards for many years after you have bought them. The choice generally comes down to a Ryzen 3 2200G with Vega 8 graphics or the more expensive Ryzen 5 2400G with Vega 11 graphics. While both are quad-core processors, the Ryzen 5 supports twice as many threads, so should have better performance. However, side-by-side comparisons on YouTube suggest there’s not a massive difference, and for budget PC gaming, the Ryzen 3 2200G looks unbeatable value for money. UK scene The opportunity to sell cheap Ryzen/Vega games PCs was immediately clear to small British PC manufacturers, and there may be dozens of models available. UK suppliers include Chillblast, Cyberpower, Falcon, Fierce, Gladiator, Mesh, Novatech, Overclockers, PC Specialist, Punch Technology, Scan, Stormforce, Utopia and Zoostorm. I haven’t checked all their websites, but I expect most of them offer at least a couple of models. The problem is that I have no way of knowing which is best, or even if there is a best. All these companies are assembling the same types of PC from similar parts, and they often build them to order, so you can vary the specifications to suit your own preferences. It would take a long time to research all the options and compare possible builds on PC Partpicker, which is what a real PC gamer would do. The best motherboards really do cost more. One point to watch out for is that not all the headline prices include an operating system. “Windows 10 Compatible” may well mean it’s not provided. I assume they can’t get the same volume discounts as Lenovo, Dell and HP, which sell tens of millions of PCs every year. Possible options The Chillblast Fusion Imp would do the job for £499.99. It has a Ryzen 3 2200G with 8GB of memory and a 1TB Seagate FireCuda – a sort of hybrid hard drive that includes a small SSD. Fierce PC’s version, the Ironwing Savage, has the same spec for £439.95, so you can add a 240GB SSD for £29.95, making the final price £469.90. (Remember to make the SSD the boot drive.) The alternative from Scan – by Royal Appointment – already includes a 240GB SSD for £499.98, and comes in a more sober case. You ought to be able to buy the same sort of PC from a well-known retailer, and I assume more will be available in the future. A current example is the Stormforce Onyx Ryzen 3 2200G, which costs £469.99 at Argos. This has 8GB of memory and a 1TB hard drive, but no SSD. Argos also has the same machine with a Ryzen 5 2400G for £519.99. Web-based retailer ebuyer.com has a few offerings. Its Cyberpower Gaming Paladin has the usual Ryzen 3 spec for £399.99 and there’s a Ryzen 5 version for £449.98. It also has a Ryzen 3-based PC Specialist Vanquish Lazeron with a 2TB hard drive for £449.99. None of these three has an SSD, but you could add one and still be under budget. Bear in mind that I have not seen or tested any of these machines. Your final purchasing decision should be based on your own research. Console choice The list of games consoles is mercifully short, and the final choice isn’t particularly important, unless your kids require some specific games or want to play with friends online. While some games can be played online across different brands of consoles, many can’t, so it’s often best to just match the brand used by your children’s friends. For most of this century, it’s been a two-horse race between Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation, notwithstanding some oddball entries from Nintendo including the recent Switch, which is proving popular. If money is no object, the best hardware is the Xbox One X (£449.99), followed by the cheaper PS4 Pro (£349), but you’d need a 4K TV set to get the best out of either. For most buyers, the best buys are the Xbox One S (£249.99) and the PS4 Slim (£259). All four have 8GB of memory and custom 8-core AMD processors, though the graphics and storage vary somewhat. They can all run apps for streaming, including BBC iPlayer, something the Nintendo Switch cannot. These are suggested prices but there are plenty of cheap bundles with various games. One thing that divides the two ranges is access to exclusive games. The Xbox offers long-running franchises such as Halo, Gears of War and Forza Motorsport, plus this year’s Sea of Thieves. The PlayStation has God of War, Gran Turismo, The Last Guardian, Street Fighter 5 and this year’s classic, Spider-Man. You can tell Sony has been edging it on exclusives because this year Microsoft bought another seven games studios. One difference is that Xbox “exclusives” often appear on PCs as well. This means (a) you should buy an Xbox because you can play some of the same games on your PC, or (b) you should buy a PlayStation because it has games you can’t play on a PC. If the main criterion is that your kids “want to play new-ish games”, that points towards the PS4. The volumes are about the same but the PlayStation exclusives swing it all other things being equal. However, bear in mind that we are approaching the end of the current console cycle and we can expect an Xbox Two and a PS5 – or whatever they might be called – in 2020. My guess is that both of them will be AMD-based and compatible with today’s games, but at this point, a second-hand console might be the most cost-effective option. Have you got a question? Email it to Ask.Jack@theguardian.com This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. All our journalism is independent and is in no way influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative. The links are powered by Skimlinks. By clicking on an affiliate link, you accept that Skimlinks cookies will be set. More information.
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Microsoft Surface Headphones review: close but no cigar

Guardian Technology 13 Dec 2018 06:00 The Surface Headphones are the first from Microsoft as it slowly cements itself as a consumer electronics firm. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian Surface Headphones are Microsoft’s high-price, premium noise-cancelling cans aimed squarely at toppling the current kings, Bose and Sony. Headphones seem like an odd choice for the Xbox, Office and Windows maker, but the are being produced by Microsoft’s burgeoning consumer electronics arm responsible for its line of Surface computers and accessories. Platinum, no other option The styling and colour stand out in a sea of similarity, but you have to like grey. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian Microsoft has aimed right for the top of the tree in terms of wireless, noise cancelling headphones. The fit and finish of the Surface Headphones is every bit as good as Bose. The large, soft round ear cups encapsulate my ears with their oval openings, while the angle of the band and hinge points give plenty of flexibility, avoiding any obvious pressure points. The headband is a squishy rubber material and does a good job of avoiding causing sore points on the top of your head during extended wearing periods. At 290g the Surface Headphones are heavier than their two main rivals, the 240g Bose QC35 II and the 255g Sony MX1000M3. The added weight didn’t affect the long-listening comfort, but it was noticeable when walking out and about, as was the increased bulk compared with the Bose. The outside design of the headphones is both distinctive and bland in equal measure. The platinum colour (the only colour available) is quite noticeable on your head, but the simple design looks rather understated. They’re not subtle, but neither are they ostentatious. Dials, buttons and touch panels The Surface Headphones have plenty of physical controls, plus touch panels on each ear cup. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian Each ear cup has a touch panel, on which you tap once to pause, twice to skip forward and thrice to skip back. Tap and hold to summon Google Assistant or Siri. They will also pause the music when you take them off. Surrounding each touchpad is a rotating ring. The right ring controls volume, the left noise cancellation level. Both are smooth and satisfying to use, with short beeps when you hit the maximum or minimum settings. The right ear cup also has a power button, which you short press to turn the headphones on or off or hold for five seconds to initiate Bluetooth pairing. There’s also a microphone mute button for calls. In the US that button can turn on or off Microsoft’s voice assistant Cortana, but it is not available in the UK on the Surface headphones. Bluetooth connectivity was strong and stable, but the Surface Headphones only support the default SBC Bluetooth audio standard, not AAC or aptX which both offer higher quality and lower latency. It’s a strange omission for premium Bluetooth headphones, which as a result can suffer annoying lip sync issues with video, particularly YouTube. Noise cancelling The round ear cup has an oval-shaped ear cushion with looks a little odd but is comfortable. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian The Surface Headphones have good but not great noise cancelling, not quite matching Bose or Sony. They will kill off droning noises, but they let through more of the sounds of the commute or the office, particularly voices, which became annoying while trying to concentrate. Unique to the Surface Headphones, however, is the ability to adjust the noise cancelling through 13 different levels, from maximum noise cancelling to amplifying ambient sound. I found the maximum noise cancelling was particularly prone to wind noise, while the maximum amplification generated spurious roars while in a train station or in a carriage. The headphones are noticeably better at blending outside noise with music than rivals. Disappointingly, though, there’s no setting to turn on ambient sounds when paused, which is a particularly useful feature when trying to hear public transport announcements. No matter if you can hear them with ambient sound piped into your ears, talking to someone with your headphones on is incredibly rude, so you end up taking them off. In the end I left noise cancelling at one step from its maximum. Warm sound The rotating dial on the left controls noise cancelling while the one on the right controls volume. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian Sound quality was surprisingly good, even without advanced Bluetooth audio codecs. The headphones have a nice, warm, relatively rounded sound, with good bass reproduction where needed and crisp highs. The soundscape is quite wide too, which made listening over extended periods easy. The Surface Headphones made a decent job of most genres of music, but were best with guitar or vocals, sometimes feeling a little less sharp with electronica. Overall, as with noise cancelling, they are good, but not quite as sparkling as the Sony headphones, although some might prefer them to the sometimes clinical Bose sound signature. Battery life The Surface Headphones lasted about 14 hours in my testing over Bluetooth with noise cancelling on, which sounds long but meant I had to charge them at least twice a week. With rivals lasting at least 20 hours, sometimes far longer, 14 hours isn’t that long. At least they will last through a flight, and they charge pretty fast via USB-C – a rarity still for headphones. Observations The headphones come with a flat case, but the headphones do not fold up at the band. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian You can pair them with up to 10 Bluetooth devices from any brand, but only connect to two at a time A female voice announces battery life when you turn on the headphones The text-to-speech sounds a little like a depressed robot and makes a right hash of some Bluetooth device names, pronouncing iPad as “eee-pad” for instance It can take up to five minutes for the headphones to realise they’ve lost connection to a device They come with an analogue 3.5mm cable with a mic built in, which turns the headphones on and off when plugged in They don’t work any better with Windows 10 or a Surface Pro 6 than any other Bluetooth headphones Price The Microsoft Surface Headphones are only available in platinum silver and cost £329.99. For comparison, the Bose QC35 II cost £329.95 and the Sony MX1000M3 cost £329.99. Verdict The Surface Headphones are good, but not great, and don’t not quite matchup to rivals costing the same amount such as the Bose QC35 II or Sony MX1000M3. They are comfortable, but heavier than the rivals. They sound good, but not quite as stellar as the competition, ditto for the noise cancelling and even the battery life. The styling is unique and they stand out on your head, but the platinum grey colour is likely to be divisive. Equally the buttons, controls and particularly the rotating volume and noise cancelling dials work well. But when you’re spending £330 you should be able to expect the best performance, comfort and sound. Buy the Surface Headphones if you want to be different or you love Microsoft, but if not your money is probably better spent elsewhere. Pros: comfortable, well made, great controls, solid connectivity, USB-C, adjustable noise cancelling/ambient sound Cons: no Cortana support in the UK, battery life, sound and noise cancelling not quite as good as rivals, fairly big, no support for AAC/apt Other reviews Hushed tones: six of the best noise-cancelling headphones Bose QC35 wireless headphones (2016): simply unrivalled noise cancelling Marshall Mid Bluetooth headphones review: sound that will rock you Marshall Major III Bluetooth review: rocking wireless headphones This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. All our journalism is independent and is in no way influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative. The links are powered by Skimlinks. By clicking on an affiliate link, you accept that Skimlinks cookies will be set. More information.
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Salesforce churns out $50 billion rally even as challenges mount

Ad Age 12 Dec 2018 09:53 Marc Benioff, chairman and chief executive officer of Salesforce Credit: David Paul Morris/BloombergBillionaire Marc Benioff's expansionist philosophy for Salesforce.com is winning over customers and investors even as the software maker faces growing challenges from emerging competitors and its own heavy spending. Salesforce was a bright spot in a technology earnings season marred by disappointments and a market sell-off that dealt blows to many other high-momentum stocks. While Salesforce wasn't immune to the rout, a rosy forecast helped prop up the shares and reassured skittish investors that the company's double-digit growth will continue. Salesforce shares have roughly doubled since the start of 2017 as investors rewarded the company for steady expansion aided by a stream of acquisitions. That's created more than $50 billion in market value and won fans on Wall Street. All but four of the 42 analysts tracked by Bloomberg recommend buying the shares. But as the company gets bigger and rivals consolidate, it may get less of a pass for its underwhelming profit margins. "For a company at Salesforce's scale, gross margins are really low," said Needham analyst Scott Berg, one of the four analysts with a neutral rating. Salesforce's gross profit margin was 73.5 percent in its last full fiscal year. Oracle Corp., a more mature company, notched a margin of 79.7 percent in its most recent fiscal year, and Adobe Inc. led both with 86.2 percent in fiscal 2017. While Berg believes Salesforce will manage to maintain growth, he's concerned about what he sees as rising competition. SAP SE agreed to buy Qualtrics International last month for $8 billion, its largest acquisition ever, to better target the customer relationship management market that Salesforce dominates. SAP and Adobe also joined an alliance with a fellow Salesforce rival, Microsoft Corp., that's meant to boost the appeal of their products. These efforts have yet to take a toll on Salesforce. The software maker's revenue is expected to expand 26 percent to $13.2 billion in fiscal 2019. Since at least 2009, growth hasn't dipped below 20 percent and sales have never missed Wall Street expectations, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Salesforce is a "'set it and forget it' stock," Piper Jaffray analyst Alex Zukin said. "The company is sitting at the exact right place from a product, vision and sales execution standpoint putting it in a position to continue to exceed estimates for the next few quarters." -- Bloomberg News
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