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Illinois Facebook users to get more than $300 each in privacy settlement

Fri, 2021/01/15 - 15:39

Enlarge / You see Facebook, Facebook sees you... (credit: Chris Jackson | Getty Images)

Millions of Facebook users in Illinois will be receiving about $340 each as Facebook settles a case alleging it broke state law when it collected facial recognition data on users without their consent. The judge hearing the case in federal court in California approved the final settlement on Thursday, six years after legal proceedings began.

"This is money that's coming directly out of Facebook's own pocket," US District Judge James Donato said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "The violations here did not extract a penny from the pockets of the victims. But this is real money that Facebook is paying to compensate them for the tangible privacy harms that they suffered."

Three different Illinois residents filed suit against Facebook in 2015 and claimed that the service's "tag suggestions" feature, which uses facial recognition to suggest other users to tag in photos, violated their rights under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). The suits were eventually rolled together into a single class-action complaint and transferred to federal court in California.

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Trump team modernizes car safety regulations for the driverless era

Fri, 2021/01/15 - 15:29

Enlarge / Nuro makes small electric vehicles for hauling cargo. They are designed to be street-legal but have no room for passengers. (credit: Nuro)

Until this week, the federal government's car safety regulations were based on two assumptions that probably seemed self-evident when they were written: that every car will have people inside, and that one of those people will be the driver. To protect the safety of the driver and possible passengers, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) requires that every car have seatbelts and airbags. It also sets minimum standards for everything from windshield strength to crash test performance.

In the coming years, these assumptions will be increasingly out of date. So on Thursday, as the Trump administration is coming to a close, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a new version of the FMVSS that recognizes that some cars don't have drivers—and some vehicles don't have anyone inside at all.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of these new rules will be Nuro, a startup that is building delivery robots designed to operate on streets rather than sidewalks. In a statement to Ars, Nuro hailed the rules as a "significant advancement that will help Nuro commercialize our self-driving delivery vehicles."

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A big wing and no back seats: The 2021 Mini John Cooper Works GP

Fri, 2021/01/15 - 14:15

To some people, John Cooper is best known for the racing cars bearing his name that showed F1 and Indianapolis that the engine should go behind the driver. He taught that lesson back in 1960, and 61 years later it remains as true as ever. But more will associate his name with little front-wheel drive Minis, which he tuned in addition to building successful single-seaters.

The Mini Cooper was a budget bijou performance car, a good 16 years before VW thought up the Golf GTI, beloved by rally drivers and celluloid bank robbers alike. These days, there's an entire John Cooper Works lineup at Mini, with hot versions of the various vehicles that now make up the Mini range. And this is the hottest of them all, the $44,900 2021 Mini John Cooper Works GP.

Limited to just 3,000 cars, the JCW GP is the most extreme Mini you can buy that isn't a Dakar off-road racer. Its track has been widened, pushing the wheels farther apart from each other—hence the naked carbon fiber-reinforced plastic wing arch extensions with vents that you could lose a finger inside.

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How law enforcement gets around your smartphone’s encryption

Fri, 2021/01/15 - 13:54

Enlarge / Uberwachung, Symbolbild, Datensicherheit, Datenhoheit (credit: Westend61 | Getty Images)

Lawmakers and law enforcement agencies around the world, including in the United States, have increasingly called for backdoors in the encryption schemes that protect your data, arguing that national security is at stake. But new research indicates governments already have methods and tools that, for better or worse, let them access locked smartphones thanks to weaknesses in the security schemes of Android and iOS.

Cryptographers at Johns Hopkins University used publicly available documentation from Apple and Google as well as their own analysis to assess the robustness of Android and iOS encryption. They also studied more than a decade's worth of reports about which of these mobile security features law enforcement and criminals have previously bypassed, or can currently, using special hacking tools. The researchers have dug into the current mobile privacy state of affairs and provided technical recommendations for how the two major mobile operating systems can continue to improve their protections.

“It just really shocked me, because I came into this project thinking that these phones are really protecting user data well,” says Johns Hopkins cryptographer Matthew Green, who oversaw the research. “Now I’ve come out of the project thinking almost nothing is protected as much as it could be. So why do we need a backdoor for law enforcement when the protections that these phones actually offer are so bad?”

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Report: New MacBook Pro models will arrive this year with MagSafe, M1 successor [Updated]

Fri, 2021/01/15 - 13:33

Enlarge / This is the 16-inch MacBook Pro as it's being sold now. According to today's report, the new one will generally look quite similar. (credit: Samuel Axon)

According to a report in Bloomberg, Apple plans to launch new versions of its MacBook Pro laptops "around the middle of the year," and these machines will feature speed and display enhancements, as well as a return of the MagSafe charging design seen in MacBook computers several generations ago.

Citing "a person with knowledge of the plans," the Bloomberg story claims that Apple's 13-inch MacBook Pro will get a 14-inch successor, just as the 15-inch MacBook Pro became a 16-inch model when the screen bezel was reduced to allow more screen real estate in a similarly sized chassis.

Both the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro are slated for the middle of the year and will incorporate Apple's custom silicon. The company first introduced its own silicon with the M1 chip included in November refreshes of the low-end 13-inch MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and Mac mini. The new machines described today would have a successor to Apple's M1 chip with more CPU cores and "enhanced graphics."

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US declares Xiaomi a “Communist Chinese military company,” bans investments

Fri, 2021/01/15 - 13:03

Enlarge / The Xiaomi Mi 11. (credit: Xiaomi)

The latest shot in the US Government's war on leading Chinese smartphone vendors is directed at Xiaomi, which today has landed on the US government's list of "Communist Chinese Military Companies" via a new executive order. The declaration makes it illegal for US citizens to own Xiaomi stock.

The US and China have been trading blows for a year and a half now over Huawei, which was added to the "entity list" by the US Department of Commerce. While on the entity list, American companies can't collaborate with Huawei or export products to it. It becomes illegal for Huawei to import any product of "US-Origin." US Origin doesn't just mean products made in the US by US companies; there's also a "viral" component to the law, where any product made internationally with some US-origin components also counts as a US-origin product.

Trade War! USA v. China

View more stories While Huawei got an all-encompassing ban, it doesn't look like Xiaomi is in the same boat right now. Huawei landed on the Department of Commerce's entity list, while Xiaomi is now on the Department of Defense's list of “Communist Chinese Military Companies” (Huawei is also on this list). The DOD designation seems to only ban US investment in Xiaomi, and any American stakeholders need to divest their holdings by November 11, 2021. (Xiaomi is a public company and had an IPO back in 2018.) The suffocating supply chain restrictions that apply to Huawei don't (yet?) apply to Xiaomi.

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There is no COVID vaccine reserve. Trump admin already shipped it

Fri, 2021/01/15 - 12:58

Enlarge / Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), who allegedly deceived states on the vaccine supply, receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during an event at the NIH Clinical Center on Tuesday, December 22, 2020. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

The Trump administration announced Tuesday, January 12, that it would begin shipping reserved vaccine supplies, raising hopes that states may see their vaccine supply potentially double as they work to accelerate the sluggish immunization campaign. But according to a report by The Washington Post, that promised vaccine stockpile doesn’t actually exist—it was already shipped out—and the limited vaccine supply available to states will remain as it is for now.

The news has not only left state health officials angry and confused by the false promises, they’re also left scrambling to sort out distribution changes. In addition to claiming they would release the (non-existent) stockpile, Trump administration officials told states to expand access to vaccines—now allowing anyone over age 65 to get vaccinated and people under 65 who have a documented underlying health condition that makes them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

The expanded eligibility covers around 152 million people in the US. But administration officials had previously estimated that it wouldn’t be until the end of March before they would have 200 million doses—enough to vaccinate only 100 million people—as STAT noted earlier.

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Trump tries to claw back billions from COVID vaccine distributor

Fri, 2021/01/15 - 11:55

Enlarge / A picture taken on January 15, 2021, shows a pharmacist holding with gloved hands a vial of the undiluted Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19. (credit: Getty | JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER)

With mere days left in office, President Donald Trump has proposed $27.4 billion in brutal budget cuts—including clawing back 5.1 billion from global public health amid a raging pandemic. Of the proposed health cuts, $4 billion would be slashed from a vaccine alliance playing a central role in helping to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to low-income countries.

The proposed cuts are part of a rescission request, which has no chance of being enacted by Congress, as Politico reports. However, the proposed cuts—particularly to the vaccine alliance—are likely to add insult to injury to the global public health community, which continues to battle the out-of-control pandemic.

Worldwide, the total number of COVID-19 cases is over 93 million, and deaths are approaching 2 million. In the US alone, the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases is over 235,000, with 129,000 people currently hospitalized. Around 4,000 people have died each day for the past three days, bringing the US death toll to around 380,000.

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This painted pig is the world’s oldest figurative art

Fri, 2021/01/15 - 11:08

Enlarge (credit: Brumm et al. 2021)

A pig painted on the wall of an Indonesian cave is the world’s oldest figurative art—that is, it’s the oldest known drawing of something, rather than an abstract design or a stencil.

The 45,500-year-old ocher painting depicts a Sulawesi warty pig, which appears to be watching a standoff between two other pigs. If that interpretation is correct, the painting is also a contender for the world’s oldest narrative scene. And it hints at how much the earliest Indonesians observed and recorded about the animals and ecosystems around them. A growing pile of evidence tells us that the first people to reach the islands of Indonesia carried with them a culture of art and visual storytelling, as well as the means to cross the expanses of water between the islands, eventually reaching Australia.

Painted pig’s feet, anyone?

Griffith University archaeologist Adam Brumm and his colleagues used uranium-series dating to measure the age of a mineral deposit that had formed above one of the pig’s rear feet. As water flows through a limestone cave, it leaves behind small deposits of minerals, which gradually build up into layers of calcite, like the one atop the pig painting. The minerals in the water contain trace amounts of uranium, which gradually decays into different uranium isotopes and eventually into a completely different element, thorium. By measuring the amounts of uranium-234 and thorium-230 in a cave deposit (also called a speleothem) and then comparing that to the local groundwater, archaeologists can measure how long ago the speleothem formed.

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Toyota fined $180 million for 10 years of noncompliance with EPA regs

Fri, 2021/01/15 - 10:55

(credit: Toyota)

On Thursday, Toyota reached a settlement with the US government over a decade of noncompliance with Clean Air Act reporting regulations. Under the law, defects or recalls that affect vehicle emissions equipment have to be reported to the Environmental Protection Agency.

But, says EPA assistant administrator Susan Bodine, "[f]or a decade Toyota failed to report mandatory information about potential defects in their cars to the EPA, keeping the agency in the dark and evading oversight.  EPA considers this failure to be a serious violation of the Clean Air Act."

Manufacturers are supposed submit emissions defect information reports if they know of an emissions defect that affects at least 25 or more vehicles (or engines) of a particular model in a given model year. They also have to submit voluntary emissions recall reports when beginning a recall to fix an emissions problem, as well as quarterly reports on the progress of the recall.

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The NSA warns enterprises to beware of third-party DNS resolvers

Fri, 2021/01/15 - 08:58

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

DNS over HTTPS is a new protocol that protects domain-lookup traffic from eavesdropping and manipulation by malicious parties. Rather than an end-user device communicating with a DNS server over a plaintext channel—as DNS has done for more than three decades—DoH, as DNS over HTTPS is known, encrypts requests and responses using the same encryption websites rely on to send and receive HTTPS traffic.

Using DoH or a similar protocol known as DoT—short for DNS over TLS—is a no brainer in 2021, since DNS traffic can be every bit as sensitive as any other data sent over the Internet. On Thursday, however, the National Security Agency said in some cases Fortune 500 companies, large government agencies, and other enterprise users are better off not using it. The reason: the same encryption that thwarts malicious third parties can hamper engineers’ efforts to secure their networks.

“DoH provides the benefit of encrypted DNS transactions, but it can also bring issues to enterprises, including a false sense of security, bypassing of DNS monitoring and protections, concerns for internal network configurations and information, and exploitation of upstream DNS traffic,” NSA officials wrote in published recommendations. “In some cases, individual client applications may enable DoH using external resolvers, causing some of these issues automatically.”

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NASA gives up on taking Mars’ temperature

Fri, 2021/01/15 - 08:30

Enlarge / A selfie taken by the InSight Lander. (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Today, NASA announced that it was giving up on its attempts to place a temperature sensor several meters under the Martian surface. Part of the agency's InSight lander, the hardware was supposed to be placed deep enough to avoid the influence of Mars' weather, seasons, and daily temperature changes. But because of the unusual conditions at the landing site, the hardware never made it below the surface.

The InSight lander carried several instruments meant to provide a clearer picture of Martian geology. One of those instruments, the SEIS seismometer, has been successfully tracking marsquakes to provide a better perspective on Mars' structure and the local composition under the surface near the landing site. A second measures the wobbling of Mars' axis of rotation, which will be influenced by a combination of the red planet's composition and the gravitational influences of the rest of the Solar System.

InSight's other major experiment is the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3. While previous landers hadn't put any hardware deeper than about 20 centimeters, HP3 was designed to operate several meters below the Martian surface. From there, the fluctuations on the surface would be somewhat averaged out, and HP3 could measure the heat flow from the Martian interior to the surface. This would allow an estimate of the energy still left in the Martian core from a combination of its formation and radioactivity, a key element in understanding what geological activity might still be possible there.

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The rise and fall (and rise again) of retro car design

Fri, 2021/01/15 - 08:15

Enlarge / Director Maurice Dwyer leads the cast and crew in his production of Cop Block, which prominently featured the Chrysler PT Cruiser, at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. (credit: George Pimentel/WireImage/Getty Images)

Odds are you probably never liked the Chrysler PT Cruiser, a retro-style five-door hatchback sold from 2001 through 2010. In fact, you might even hate it. Most people do. Just ask Tom Gale, Chrysler Corporation’s former vice-president of design.

"The PT Cruiser gets hammered by a lot of people,” Gale said. “But it really hit a spot. You know, we sold 1.3 million of those things.”

Today, it’s easy to forget how outrageously popular this compact car was when it was launched. Credit the PT Cruiser’s success to its retro look, which was a relatively new automotive design trend that was growing in popularity at the time. The PT Cruiser would ultimately be but one of many retro-style vehicles created by automakers. Others include the 1989 Nissan S-Cargo, 1991 Nissan Figaro, 1992 Dodge Viper, 1993 BMW Z8, 1994 Dodge Ram, 1994 Ford Mustang, 1997 Jaguar XK-8, 1998 Plymouth Prowler, 1999 Jaguar S-Type, 1999 Volkswagen New Beetle, 2001 Mini Cooper, 2002 Ford Thunderbird, 2002 Jaguar X-Type, 2004 Chevrolet SSR, 2004 Chrysler Crossfire, 2004 Ford GT, 2004 Jaguar XJ-8, 2006 Chevrolet HHR, 2008 Dodge Challenger, 2009 Chevrolet Camaro, 2011 Fiat 500, 2017 Fiat 124 Spider, and, most recently, the forthcoming 2022 Ford Bronco.

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Rocket Report: NASA dishes on small rockets, Jeff buys a ride on a Falcon 9

Fri, 2021/01/15 - 08:00

Enlarge / Image of the first AR1 engine built by Aerojet Rocketdyne. (credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)

Welcome to Edition 3.29 of the Rocket Report! What a wild weekend we're heading toward in the world of rockets and launch, with seemingly too much news to cover:

• Electron, Saturday, 07:38 UTC

• SLS Hot Fire, Saturday, 22:00 UTC

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US grid will see 80 percent of its new capacity go emission-free

Fri, 2021/01/15 - 07:45

Enlarge (credit: US EIA)

Earlier this week, the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) released figures on the new generating capacity that's expected to start operating over the course of 2021. While plans can obviously change, the hope is that, with its new additions, the grid will look radically different than it did just five years ago. The report includes the details of where a new nuclear plant may be started up, although it will be dwarfed by the capacity of new batteries. But the big picture is that, even ignoring the batteries, about 80 percent of the planned capacity additions will be emission-free.

New nukes?

The EIA's accounting shows that just under 40 Gigawatts of capacity will be placed on the grid during 2021, but there are a number of caveats to this. First and foremost is the inclusion of batteries, which account for over 10 percent of that figure (4.3GW). While batteries may look like short-term generating capacity from the perspective of "can this put power on the grid?" they're obviously not actually a net source of power. Typically, they're used to smooth over short-term fluctuations in supply or demand rather than a steady source of power.

Still, given the rarity of grid-scale batteries even a few years ago, 4.3GW of them is striking.

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AMD claims new Ryzen 5000 mobile CPUs best Intel for gaming, content creation

Thu, 2021/01/14 - 18:17

Enlarge (credit: AMD)

As expected, AMD took to the CES stage this week to announce new laptop CPUs. Most of the new Ryzen 5000 mobile family of chips share similarities with the desktop CPUs the company announced a few months ago, and they'll start shipping with laptops from some of the bigger computer-makers in February.

The new chips are divided into two sub-families, both at least in part based on 7nm Zen 3 tech: there's the H-series, which is meant for high-end, performance-oriented gaming and content creation notebooks, and the U-series, which takes aim at Intel's dominance in the ultraportable space with a greater focus on power efficiency.

The lineup's biggest lifters are the Ryzen 9 5980HX and 5980HS. The former is a gaming-oriented chip that will be unlocked for overclocking in some machines. The latter, meanwhile, is tuned more for laptops made for creatives. Both of these (and all but two of the chips in the Ryzen 5000 mobile family) sport eight CPU cores and 16 threads at up to 4.8Hz.

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Craft brewers now have a new tool for sniffing out trace flavor compounds

Thu, 2021/01/14 - 17:28

Enlarge / In dry hopping, hops are added during or after the fermentation stage of the brewing process. (credit: Natasha Breen/Getty Images)

Craft-beer aficionados relish the endless flavor variations that can be achieved by mixing and matching different varieties of hops, whether one favors refreshing citrus or fruity notes or something a bit more earthy or pine-scented. But some of the chemical compounds that contribute to those flavors are present in such trace amounts that it's difficult for brewers to measure and track them during the brewing process. Now German scientists have devised an automated, efficient method for doing just that, according to a recent paper published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

As we've previously reported, all beer contains hops, a key flavoring agent that also imparts useful antimicrobial properties. (Without them, beer spoils quickly.) Brewers mash and steep grain in hot water, which converts all that starch into sugars. This is traditionally the stage when hops are added to the liquid extract (wort) and boiled to give the beer that hint of bitterness. During the boiling process, a certain portion of the resins (alpha acids) in hops isomerize into iso-alpha acids. That chemical rearrangement of the molecules is what produces bitterness. Yeast is then added to trigger fermentation, turning the sugars into alcohol.

But a little hops goes a long way. Add too many hops, and the beer will be so bitter as to be undrinkable.

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Google says it’s closing the Fitbit acquisition—uh, without DOJ approval?

Thu, 2021/01/14 - 16:49

Google's senior VP of Hardware, Rick Osterloh, announced Thursday that Google has closed its acquisition of Fitbit. The $2.1 billion deal was announced back in November 2019 and kicked off a regulatory review process from governments around the world concerned about Google's influence over the Internet and the data it can collect on users.

Normally, Osterloh announcing that "Google has completed its acquisition of Fitbit, and I want to personally welcome this talented team to Google" would mean Google has cleared its worldwide regulatory gauntlet. Google's announcement today is highly unusual since the Department of Justice has not yet cleared the deal. As the DOJ told New York Times reporter Cecilia Kang, "The Antitrust Division's investigation of Google's acquisition of Fitbit remains ongoing." Australian regulators also haven't announced a final decision on the merger. It seems particularly provocative for Google to do something like this while it is also dealing with a DOJ antitrust investigation.

When asked about the status of the DOJ's merger investigation, a Google spokesperson told Ars, "We complied with the DOJ's extensive review for the past 14 months, and the agreed-upon waiting period expired without their objection. We continue to be in touch with them and we're committed to answering any additional questions. We are confident this deal will increase competition in the highly crowded wearables market, and we've made commitments that we plan to implement globally."

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Ex-Michigan governor indicted for “willful neglect” in Flint water crisis

Thu, 2021/01/14 - 16:30

Enlarge / Then-Michigan Governor Rick Snyder testifies on the Flint water crisis during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Washington, DC, on March 17, 2016. (credit: Getty Images | Saul Loeb)

Former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and eight other officials have been indicted on criminal charges related to their handling of the Flint water crisis. Snyder was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty, which are misdemeanor charges that can each be punished by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

"When an entire city is victimized by the negligence and indifference of those in power, it deserves an uncompromising investigation that holds to account anyone who is criminally culpable," Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud said at a press conference today. "We must remember that the Flint water crisis is not some relic of the past. At this very moment, the people of Flint continue to suffer from the categorical failure of public officials at all levels of government, who trampled upon their trust and evaded accountability for far too long."

The charges against Snyder are "for willfully neglecting his mandatory legal duties under the Michigan Constitution and Emergency Management Act, thereby failing to protect the health and safety of Flint's residents," Hammoud said.

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Today’s best tech deals: iPad Air, indoor security cameras, and more

Thu, 2021/01/14 - 14:48

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Today's Dealmaster includes a minor but notable deal on the latest iPad Air, bringing it down to $559 from its usual MSRP of $599. While that's not a huge price drop, it matches the biggest discount we've tracked from a reputable retailer, and we consider the Air itself to be the best iPad for those who can afford it. Elsewhere, we have a nice $10 discount on a two-pack of Eufy's Indoor Cam 2K, which we recently recommended in our 2020 holiday gift guide for offering clear 2K resolution video, Apple HomeKit support, and a variety of storage options at a low cost. Other notables in today's roundup include a nice discount on the SteelSeries Arctis 9X, an Xbox-friendly wireless gaming headset we like; a variety of video game deals; and a few solid price drops on Apple Watch devices. You can check out our full list below.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

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