In the News Archive

US will ban WeChat and TikTok downloads on Sunday

The Commerce Department plans to restrict access to TikTok and WeChat on Sunday as the Trump administration’s executive orders against the two apps are set to take effect. The Department said Friday that as of Sunday, any moves to distribute or maintain WeChat or TikTok on an app store will be prohibited. Apple and Google didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. While users who have already downloaded the apps may be able to continue using the software, the restrictions mean updated versions of the apps cannot be downloaded. This will hit American companies doing business in China hard, since virtually all consumer purchases there take place via WeChat.

“I have blood on my hands”: a whistleblower says Facebook ignored global political manipulation

Facebook ignored or was slow to act on evidence that fake accounts on its platform have been undermining elections and political affairs around the world, according to an explosive memo sent by a recently fired Facebook employee and obtained by BuzzFeed News. The 6,600-word memo, written by former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang, is filled with concrete examples of heads of government and political parties in Azerbaijan and Honduras using fake accounts or misrepresenting themselves to sway public opinion. In countries including India, Ukraine, Spain, Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador, she found evidence of coordinated campaigns of varying sizes to boost or hinder political candidates or outcomes, though she did not always conclude who was behind them. Facebook needs to be investigated, broken up, and its executives prosecuted. I don’t care who does it – the United States, the European Union – but it’s clear this company is one of the very worst excesses of the tech industry’s arrogance and dominance, and it needs to be held accountable.

Solaris 10 zones on Tribblix

One of the interesting capabilities of Solaris zones was the ability to run older versions of Solaris than that in the global zone. Marketing managed to mangle this into Containers, and it was supported for Solaris 8 and Solaris 9. I used this extensively on one project, to lift a whole datacenter of ancient (yes, really ancient) Sun servers into zones on a couple of T5240s. Worked great. Ah yes, Solaris. One of Larry Ellison’s many, many casualties. Tribblix is a Solaris distribution that should feel familiar to longtime Solaris users, but with a set of modern packages on top.

US to ban transactions with TikTok and WeChat in 45 days

U.S. President Donald Trump has issued executive orders to ban any U.S. transactions with WeChat, the messaging app owned by Tencent Holdings, and ByteDance, owner of TikTok, within 45 days, describing the Chinese-owned companies as threats to national security. “The spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China . . . continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” said Trump in the two executive orders signed on Thursday. I definitely think the world should impose severe sanctions on China and western companies working with them for the ongoing genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Uyghurs and other minority groups, as well as the forced labour used to make Apple computers and Nike shoes. There’s also something intuitively wrong with China blocking and censoring western applications, platforms, and media – something many western companies comply with all too eagerly – all the while expecting Chinese state-owned or state-controlled companies to have complete freedom to collect and possibly spy everywhere else. That being said, the Trump regime is not exactly known for coherent, consistent, and well thought-out policies, and these executive orders probably have more to do with diverting attention away from the complete and utter failure of the regime’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis and the upcoming election than anything else. These orders will probably be watered down over the coming weeks, so their value in putting pressure on China will be minimal. Two things always happen when you point out atrocities committed by China. First, people point to problems in the US in a massive case of whataboutism, as if the problems in the US excuse a genocide in China. On top of that, if you think the admittedly big problems in the US means the US is a genocidal totalitarian fascist dictatorship, your false equivalency is so false it can shatter glass for kilometres around. Second, apologists will say something along the lines of “okay, so you have nothing made in China?” This is a silly point to make. As individual consumers, it is literally impossible to avoid products made in China or other murderous regimes – just think of where your oil comes from. No, it’s governments and large corporations that have the power to put pressure on China, and so far, they have failed hard. They’ve been letting a genocide happen under their very noses, and once again, they choose to look away, because they value money more than human lives. It’s always a struggle to go into politics on a tech website and it almost certainly makes me impopular, but since virtually all our technology is almost entirely or partly made in China, it’s impossible to ignore it and look away. Awareness is the first step, and covering your ears and eyes won’t make the problems go away. By letting our governments and the corporations we buy from get away with choosing money over human lives – money that we ordinary people do not benefit from anyway, since most of it ends up in the pockets of the ultra-wealthy anyway – none of this will ever change.

The Document Foundation clarifies “Personal Edition” label for LibreOffice 7.0

Due to draft and development work in the area of branding and product naming, some speculation, in particular related to the “Personal Edition” tag shown in a LibreOffice 7.0 RC (Release Candidate), has started on several communication channels. So let us, as The Document Foundation’s Board of Directors, please provide further clarifications: 1. None of the changes being evaluated will affect the license, the availability, the permitted uses and/or the functionality. LibreOffice will always be free software and nothing is changing for end users, developers and Community members. Basically, The Document Foundation intends to offer – through partners – professional paid-for support for LibreOffice to enterprise customers, and hence the tentative name to differentiate the LibreOffice we all know from the supported one.

5G coronavirus conspiracy theorists are endangering the workers who keep networks running

Since the UK entered lockdown in March, engineers like Qureshi had unwillingly found themselves on the front line of a strange global crusade. Conspiracy theorists had linked the spread of the novel coronavirus to the installation of new 5G mobile networks, with some claiming the cellular network weakened the immune system and allowed the virus to thrive, while others said 5G masts were broadcasting the virus through the ether (all “crackpot” claims, to quote the UK government). The thing these theories have in common is that they give people someone to blame. And though some of that paranoia comes from a reasonable mistrust of large corporations and institutions, the end target was always workers like Qureshi, out on the street in high-visibility vests, just trying to do their job. These people are what the facepalm was invented for.

Bill Gates is now the leading target for coronavirus falsehoods, says report

Bill Gates is now the favorite target for coronavirus misinformation according to data compiled by the New York Times and Zignal Labs, a company that analyzes media sources. Conspiracy theories conflating Gates with the virus were mentioned 1.2 million times on TV and social media from February to April, 33 percent more often than the 2nd most popular conspiracy theory linking 5G with COVID-19, according to Zignal Labs, peaking at 18,000 mentions a day in April. It’s cheaper to be an idiot than to be responsible.

Apple and Google are building a coronavirus tracking system into iOS and Android

The Verge reports: Apple and Google announced a system for tracking the spread of the new coronavirus, allowing users to share data through Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmissions and approved apps from health organizations. The new system, which is laid out in a series of documents and white papers, would use short-range Bluetooth communications to establish a voluntary contact-tracing network, keeping extensive data on phones that have been in close proximity with each other. Official apps from public health authorities will get access to this data, and users who download them can report if they’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19. The system will also alert people who download them to whether they were in close contact with an infected person. This is a clever use of technology, but as always, what can be used for good, can also be used for evil. A technology like this certainly seems useful in our current worldwide predicament, but it’s not hard to imagine what can be done with it that might be more nefarious. That being said, it’s refreshing to see these companies working together for the good of their users for once, instead of the constant hostility towards users to create platform lock-in and shareholder value. In any event, the APIs for this new system will arrive in iOS and Android over the coming months – through a regular OS update on iOS, and through Google Play on Android.

Honda bucks industry trend by removing touchscreen controls

Honda has done what no other car maker is doing, and returned to analogue controls for some functions on the new Honda Jazz. While most manufacturers are moving to touchscreen controls, identifying smartphone use as their inspiration – most recently seen in Audi’s latest A3 – Honda has decided to reintroduce heating and air conditioning controls via a dial rather than touchscreen, as in the previous-generation Jazz. Unlike what the introduction states, Honda joins fellow Japanese car maker Mazda in not just blindly using touchscreens for everything inside cars. This is a good move, and definitely takes some guts, since I’ve seen countless car reviewers – including my standout favourite, Doug DeMuro – kind of blindly assuming that any car without 100% touchscreen control is outdated, without questioning the safety consequences. Good on Honda.

Apple CarPlay, Android Auto distract drivers more than pot, alcohol, says study

When Apple CarPlay and Android Auto first started rolling out, initial evidence suggested these technologies held promise to reduce distracted driving. These systems funneled the most important features from our phones onto the infotainment screen, curbing motorists’ desire to reach for their handhelds. Yet, it looks like these mirroring technologies may not be nearly as safe as initially hoped. A new study from the UK’s IAM Roadsmart, an independent road safety organization, paints a far bleaker picture. The stark findings showed that drivers using one of the smartphone mirroring systems in a car displayed reaction times slower than someone who’d used cannabis. In fact, these motorists’ reaction times were five times slower than someone driving with the legal limit of alcohol in their system. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone with more than two braincells to rub together. These systems are based on touch screen technology, and touchscreens without any tactility are simply not suited for use while operating a motor vehicle. Touchscreens are far more distracting than plain old tactile buttons in a fixed order that you learn over time and can feel, and it blows my mind that no safety regulations heavily curtailing their use to parked situations has been enacted just yet.

Contrary to Trump’s claim, Google is not building a nationwide coronavirus screening website

Google is not working with the US government in building a nationwide website to help people determine whether and how to get a novel coronavirus test, despite what President Donald Trump said in the course of issuing an emergency declaration for the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, a much smaller trial website made by another division of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is going up. It will only be able to direct people to testing facilities in the Bay Area. People are dying, and the administration of the most powerful and important country in the world is lying to its citizens left, right, and centre. What a joke.

Uyghurs for sale

The Chinese government has facilitated the mass transfer of Uyghur and other ethnic minority citizens from the far west region of Xinjiang to factories across the country. Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 83 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen. The current coronavirus outbreak is showing us once again just how dependent the world is on Chinese manufacturing. The companies implicated in this report – technology companies in particular, since this is OSNews – need all these Chinese workers to function, to exist, and to grow their revenue and Cayman Islands money piles even more, more, more. Do you really think Tim Cook loses one night of sleep over a few thousand Muslims ground to minced meat between the cogs of his manufacturing empire?

The app that broke the Iowa Caucuses was sent out through an Android test platform

So the Democratic party of Iowa tried to use an untested app to report caucus results during the Iowa primary caucus, and… It went as well as you’d expect. Digging deeper into the app, it should’ve been obvious this was never going to work. In this case, however, it looks like Shadow used a test platform for the app’s public distribution. Installing software through a test platform or sideloading onto your device manually both come with security risks, as app store review processes are designed to discover whether a piece of software is hiding malware or does something behind the scenes it’s not supposed to. In the event you do sideload an app or try installing an unofficial version, your smartphone typically warns you of the risks and asks if you want to proceed. It’s also a less stable model for deploying software at scale, which might explain the difficulty precinct chiefs had in downloading the program. The screenshot from Motherboard also shows that the app was distributed using the platform’s free tier and not its enterprise one. That means Shadow didn’t even pony up for the TestFairy plan that comes with single sign-on authentication, unlimited data retention, and end-to-end encryption. Instead, it looks like the company used the version of TestFairy anyone can try for free, which deletes any app data after 30 days and limits the number of test users that can access the app to 200. What an unmitigated disaster. We’re in 2020 right? Not in 1783?

WordPad is gettings ads in Windows 10

An upcoming feature of WordPad has been discovered by enthusiasts, revealing in-app ads that promote Microsoft Office. The change is hidden in recent Insider Preview builds, and not activated for most users. WordPad is a very simple text editor, more powerful than Notepad, but still less feature rich than Microsoft Word or LibreOffice Writer. It is good for creating a simple text document without complicated formatting. The more advertisements and preinstalled junkware Microsoft shoves into Windows 10, the more the otherwise decent operating system turns into a user-hostile joke. Apple is going down the same route with iOS, and everything about it just feels disgusting and sleazy. One of the many reasons I transitioned all my machines away from Windows and to Linux.

Doug’s Demo Sequel: 1969

Not long after Doug Engelbart’s ground-breaking Mother of All Demos in December 1968, he and his team demonstrated their research at another conference in San Francisco – the 32nd Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science (ASIS), in October 1969. This live demo presentation, titled “Augmentation Systems and Information Science,” showcased the novel work coming out of Doug’s Augmented Human Intellect Research Center (AHIRC) at Stanford Research Institute (SRI), now SRI International. Lucky for us, they filmed their 90-minute dress rehearsal in front a live audience. This footage is now available online, along with recently unearthed details and memorabilia. An important piece of history, saved.

The plain text project

Do you need big, feature-packed, and sometimes complex tool for your work, to stay organized, or keep track of your tasks? Maybe not. Maybe all you need is plain text. Yes, simple, old fashioned, unadorned, boring text. It sounds scary or alien, but it’s not. I use plain text for my notes and keeping track of my work orders. Entering deadlines and related information in calendar applications is a fiddly, time-consuming nightmare, and I find it much easier to just jot down the date, time, and related information in plain text, ordered by date and time.

Viral tweet about Apple Card leads to Goldman Sachs probe

A Wall Street regulator is opening a probe into Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s credit card practices after a viral tweet from a tech entrepreneur alleged gender discrimination in the new Apple Card’s algorithms when determining credit limits. A series of posts from David Heinemeier Hansson starting Thursday railed against the Apple Card for giving him 20 times the credit limit that his wife got. The tweets, many of which contain profanity, immediately gained traction online, even attracting comment from Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Hansson didn’t disclose any specific income-related information for either of them but said they filed joint tax returns and that his wife has a better credit score than he does. The whole Twitter thread by David Heinemeier Hansson is an exercise in inflexible bureaucracy and an unshakable belief in the black box algorithm that nobody even seems to understand. Bias in algorithms is a real problem, and it will only become a bigger problem as they become more and more important in every aspect of our society.