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Updated: 2 hours 16 min ago

Microsoft complied with Charlie Hebdo probe, turning over data in 45 minutes

1/21/2015 6:25pm

In a speech given in Brussels on Tuesday, Microsoft lawyer Brad Smith said that in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in France, the company turned over data requested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on behalf of the French government in 45 minutes.

“Just two weeks ago, the French Government sought the content of e-mails from two customer accounts held by Microsoft when it was in the midst of pursuing the Charlie Hebdo suspects,” Smith said according to Bloomberg. Describing the request, Smith said that Microsoft employees had to make sure the request “was proper” before pulling the e-mail content in question.

Smith went on to address movement by European Union countries as well as UK Prime Minister David Cameron to allow more government spying and crack down on terror speech. In France and Germany, political leaders said on Tuesday that they "expect US Internet and social- networking companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google to preemptively remove terror content from their services--or face new laws aimed at forcing them to do so," according to Nasdaq's news service. Cameron, too, recently said that if he were reelected he'd push to have a backdoor put into all encrypted messaging systems.

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You can offer people Windows 10 for free, but you can’t make them take it

1/21/2015 6:15pm

For the first year after its official release, Microsoft will offer Windows 10 upgrades to current Windows 7 and Windows 8 users completely free of charge. Windows upgrade licenses currently start at $119.99—discounts from that MSRP are pretty common, sure, but there's no discount that can beat a 100-percent discount.

The intent behind this move is to unify the Windows ecosystem. "With Windows 10, we think of Windows as a service," said Microsoft Operating Systems Group VP Terry Myerson at the Windows 10 Consumer Preview event earlier today. "The question 'what version are you running' will cease to make sense."

That's a noble goal. It's a good reason to offer Windows upgrades for free. It's also completely unrealistic, at least for the foreseeable future.

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Making water a renewable resource

1/21/2015 4:45pm

Would you drink a glass of water that had been purified from human waste? Bill Gates did recently in order to highlight a water purification system that his foundation helped develop.

But realistically, we all have done the same... it's just that the typical purification process was a bit longer and less direct. That's the nature of our planet's water cycle, where every bit of water we use—even the water that ends up laced with toxic chemicals—has the chance to end up recycled into pure, drinkable water.

Managing this cycle has become crucial. In many areas, the water supplies are subject of a fierce competition among industrial, agricultural, and residential users. In others, we're pumping water out of the ground at an unsustainable pace, one that will eventually deplete the sources we rely on. In many locations, we leave water in a state where it's not fit for any other uses. Without proper management, we run the risk of coming up short of the water we need to keep populations healthy and productive.

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Report: Google to launch wireless service this year

1/21/2015 4:28pm

Update: The Wall Street Journal is corroborating this story with a report that makes this sound like a done deal. The Journal mostly focuses on the Sprint side of things, saying the MVNO agreement with Google went all the way up to the Sprint and Softbank CEOs. Apparently Sprint was worried it would be "letting a rival into the gates" by dealing with Google, but a clause limiting Google's customer base calmed the company's fears.

Reports about a rumored Google wireless service are cropping up again. The Information (subscription required) is reporting that Google plans to resell Sprint and T-Mobile services as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO).

The last time we heard about this was back in April 2014, when Google was supposedly talking to Verizon and Sprint. MVNOs are resellers of wireless access—they get access rights from one of the "Big Four" carriers and resell it to end users. Google does a lot of ISP work with things like Google Fiber, Project Loon, and the Space X investment, but those are all projects where it owns the hardware and is free to innovate. As a reseller, Google controls little other than the price and packages it provides to end users and the software it puts on devices it sells.

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George Lucas: Disney “made up its own” story for next Star Wars film

1/21/2015 4:25pm

"No, George! We're fine without you!" (Imagine that spoken in Mickey's squeaky voice, obviously.) The Star Wars Blog On Tuesday, George Lucas continued making the promotional interview rounds for his latest film, the digitally animated musical Strange Magic, which meant interviewers made sure to ask slightly irrelevant questions about the next Star Wars film. In one of those interviews, Lucas disclosed a surprise tidbit about the upcoming film Star Wars: The Force Awakens: he had a lot less to do with it than his title as "creative consultant" might make you think.

"The [story ideas] I sold to Disney, they [made] the decision that they didn't really want to do those, so they made up their own," Lucas said in an interview with Cinema Blend. "It's not the ones I originally wrote."

This only adds to the list of things we know will not be involved in Episode VII's plot, which also includes the entire "expanded universe" of the series that won't factor into the new film (and in our opinion, that's great news). As Cinema Blend's report pointed out, the only public statement about how an after-the-originals trilogy might play out came from Mark Hamill in a 1983 interview, in which he said that Luke might return as a mentor for the next heroes of the Force. Indeed, we know that Hamill and five other original cast members will appear in the new installment.

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Did feds mount a sustained attack on Tor to decloak crime suspects?

1/21/2015 4:15pm

Last week's arrest of a man alleged to help run the Silk Road 2.0 online drug bazaar has touched off speculation he was identified using a controversial attack that for six months last year systematically worked to deanonymize users of the Tor privacy service.

In a search warrant affidavit filed earlier this month, a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security said the Silk Road follow-on site was accessible only as a hidden service on Tor, a measure that typically would have made it impossible to identify the IP addresses hosting the underlying servers, as well as IPs used by end users who accessed them. Despite the use of Tor, FBI investigators were able to identify IP addresses that allegedly hosted and accessed the servers, including the Comcast-provided IP address of one Brian Farrell, who prosecutors said helped manage SR2. In the affidavit, DHS special agent Michael Larson wrote:

From January 2014 to July 2014, a FBI NY Source of Information (SOI) provided reliable IP addresses for TOR and hidden services such as SR2, which included its main marketplace URL (silkroad6ownowfk.onion), its vendor URL (vx3w763ohd256iyh.onion), its forum URL (silkroad5v7dywlc.onion) and its support interface (uz434sei7arqunp6.onion). The SOI's information ultimately led to the identification of SR2 servers, which led to the identification of at least another seventeen black markets on TOR.

The SOI also identified approximately 78 IP addresses that accessed a vendor .onion address. A user cannot accidentally end up on the vendor site. The site is for vendors only, and access is only given to the site by the SR2 administrators/moderators after confirmation of a significant amount of successful transactions. If a user visits the vendor URL, he or she is asked for a user name and password. Without a user name and password, the vendor website cannot be viewed.

The timeframe of the information leak bears a striking resemblance to a deanonymization attack uncovered in July by Tor officials. For six months, the people behind the campaign exploited a previously unknown vulnerability in the Tor protocol to carry out two classes of attack that together may have been enough to uncloak people using Tor Hidden Services. The decloaking effort began in late January 2014 and ran until early July when Tor officials shut it down. The Tor officials said the characteristics of the attack resembled those discussed by a team of Carnegie Mellon University researchers who a few weeks earlier canceled a security conference presentation on a low-cost way to deanonymize Tor users. The Tor officials went on to warn that an intelligence agency from a global adversary also might have been able to capitalize on the vulnerability.

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Republicans: Utility rules unnecessary because broadband isn’t a monopoly

1/21/2015 3:55pm

Republican members of Congress today made their case for legislation that enforces net neutrality rules while limiting the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to regulate broadband providers.

“The Internet is not a monopoly like the telephone companies were and the utilities were in the 1930s,” said US Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX). “It is one of the most vibrant markets in the world. The chairman’s draft is an attempt to keep it that vibrant marketplace.”

Barton was speaking during a hearing on draft legislation proposed by republicans including Greg Walden (R-OR), chairman of the House Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. The bill enforces net neutrality principles such as a ban on blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, but with exceptions for “specialized services.”

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TV on your phone: Dish prevails in copyright fight with broadcasters

1/21/2015 3:32pm

A federal judge has upheld the right of the Dish Network satellite service to continue offering consumers the technology to watch television on devices like tablets and phones.

US District Judge Dolly Gee of Los Angeles found that the Dish Anywhere service does not infringe the copyrights of broadcasters. The Tuesday decision, [PDF] if it survives appeal, is significant because it allows consumers to watch television on non-television devices outside the home. What's more, the litigation was seen as a first test case following the Supreme Court's decision last year in which the high court essentially shuttered broadcast streaming service Aereo.

Fox had seized on the Supreme Court's 6-3 decision in a bid to bolster its position. The high court held that Aereo was offering services akin to a cable company and therefore needed the broadcasters' permission to retransmit their content to online viewers. Armed with that decision, Fox argued that the high court's decision meant that the Dish Anywhere streaming platform should also be declared illegal because Fox did not consent to the retransmission of its content to mobile devices.

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Microsoft’s new interface: FREAKING HOLOGRAMS

1/21/2015 2:23pm

During Microsoft's Windows 10 event today, the company introduced two new devices and a whole new application development model for the Windows platform: holographic computing.

Windows Holographic is a three-dimensional, environmentally aware application environment that will be supported in various ways on all Windows 10 devices. Holographic content will be put most spectacularly on display by HoloLens, a wearable computer that uses tricks of light to project three-dimensional virtual objects on top of the environment around the user, allowing them to interact with the "holograms" using voice and gesture commands.They're not really holograms, in the purely technical sense—there are no lasers involved, and the display is not using diffraction or interference to create a holographic projection. Instead, they use a high definition stereographic display and fool the eye into seeing things laid atop the real world, placed in the same context as real-world objects as if they were projected holograms.

 

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New Windows 10 preview comes to PC next week, to phones in February

1/21/2015 1:55pm

At today's Windows 10 event, Microsoft's Executive Vice President of Operating Systems Terry Myerson announced official release time frames for the next Windows 10 preview to come to PCs and phones.

"In the next week, we'll be releasing a new build of Windows 10 to our insiders," Myerson revealed. "After the Seahawks win the Superbowl, we'll be releasing the first build of Windows 10 on phones."

"Windows 10 to our insiders" means that the new OS will be available for users to try out on PC. While interested users must sign up for Microsoft's insiders program, anyone can join for free (it's essentially a rolling, general beta). More information can be found on Microsoft's program homepage. Myerson did not specify whether Windows 10 will be an automatic update for current Technical Preview users or if the new build of the OS will need to be downloaded and reinstalled.

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Windows 10 includes in-home game streaming from Xbox One

1/21/2015 1:40pm

At a Windows 10 event today, Microsoft's Phil Spencer announced that Windows 10 users will soon be able to stream any Xbox One game to a Windows 10 PC or tablet.

After a one-time setup, an Xbox app on the Windows 10 device will show all the games available on the Xbox One, letting users stream those games across a local network. The demo showed a stream starting within a few seconds and using an Xbox One controller paired through the PC. Players can turn off the Xbox One from the PC when they're done.

The streaming function is part of a new integrated Xbox app that will link PC gaming to the world of Xbox Live. The app, which comes pre-loaded in every Windows 10 PC and tablet, lets users chat via voice or text across platforms between Windows 10 and Xbox platforms. Users can also keep track of friends by Gamertag across devices.

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Our first look at Windows 10 on phones, and Universal Apps for touchscreens

1/21/2015 1:38pm

Today at Microsoft's Windows 10 preview event, the company gave us our first look at what Windows 10 will look like when it's running on small screens. The "standard" Windows 10 experience as demonstrated in the Technical Preview is only for screens 8 inches or above; phones and smaller tablets get their own interface. Though Microsoft simply referred to this as "Windows 10 for phones and small tablets," this is our first look at the next version of Windows Phone.

The biggest overarching feature of the small-screened version of Windows 10 is better integration with the desktop version of Windows—Microsoft is really pushing the new OS as a "universal platform." If you've got a Windows phone and a Windows laptop or desktop signed into the same Microsoft account, most of your information will be able to sync seamlessly across platforms. If you dismiss or interact with a notification in your Action Center on your phone, for example, the change will be reflected in the Action Center on your laptop so you won't need to interact with it again. Lists of recent documents in the Office apps will roam between devices, and playlists created in a new music app will sync between devices as well. These are just the applications that Microsoft mentioned, but you can expect all of the first-party Windows apps will support some kind of syncing.

Dragging the software keyboard around will be useful on larger screens. Microsoft

Microsoft is also making more of an effort to make apps on Windows phones, tablets, and touch-enabled PCs look and work the same. A number of "Universal Apps" will lead this charge, including a touch-enabled version of Microsoft Office that will be included with all phones and small tablets.

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4chan founder Chris “moot” Poole steps down

1/21/2015 1:25pm

On Wednesday, 4chan founder Christopher Poole, better known by the moniker “moot,” announced his retirement from running the site. moot started 4chan 11 and a half years ago when he was 15, and the image-based bulletin board has grown into a staunch supporter of anonymity for its posters since. That notoriety has drawn some of the best and also a lot of the very, very worst to its 63 boards.

In his post today, moot explained the decision:

4chan has faced numerous challenges over the years, including how to continuously satisfy a community of millions, and ensure the site has the human, technical, and financial resources to continue operating. But the biggest hurdle it's had to overcome is myself. As 4chan's sole administrator, decision maker, and keeper of most of its institutional knowledge, I've come to represent an uncomfortably large single point of failure.

moot continued to say that he has made sure the site will be financially secure in the foreseeable future and has delegated the tasks of running the site to “a few senior volunteers.”

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Microsoft unveils Project Spartan, the browser after Internet Explorer

1/21/2015 1:00pm

It's the end of an era... kinda. Microsoft unveiled the Windows 10 Consumer Preview in Redmond today and, with it, a new browser codenamed Spartan. This replaces Internet Explorer as the default Windows browser, and it represents the future of Microsoft's browser development.

The browser brings new interface. Just as Firefox did before it, the new interface takes its design cues from Chrome, with tabs in the title bar and the address bar inside the tabs.

Microsoft showed off a few different Spartan features, including Cortana support, a Reading List that can save articles for offline reading and sync between your phones and PCs, and the ability to annotate and clip pieces of webpages for easy sharing.

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Windows 10 brings Cortana to the desktop

1/21/2015 12:54pm

During Microsoft's Windows 10 event today, Corporate Vice President Joe Belfiore demonstrated the Cortana digital assistant running as part of the Windows 10 operating system. While Belfiore cautioned that the PC version of Cortana is still in development, it's expected to be part of a Windows 10 Insider release within the next three to five months.

Cortana will reside on the toolbar at the bottom of the Windows 10 home screen, replacing Windows' embedded search feature. In addition to allowing users to find applications and execute commands by typing them in, Cortana allows users to give voice commands by saying "Hey Cortana" to alert the feature to an incoming voice command or search.

Many of the features are a direct carry-over from Cortana on Windows Phone. Belfiore demonstrated Cortana's integration with the Bing search engine and its "Notebook" feature for managing what types of information the personal assistant is permitted to remember. But Belfiore also demonstrated Cortana's integration with the file system by searching for photos, playing music, and by launching applications after asking Cortana to send an e-mail.

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Windows 10 free for all Windows 8.1 and 7 users for first year after release [Updated]

1/21/2015 12:20pm

Microsoft has just announced the first pricing information for Windows 10 at its preview event today. The biggest news is that the new OS will be completely free for current Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 users for its first year of availability—after that time period has expired, OS upgrades will presumably need to be paid for as they are currently (though Microsoft was less than clear on this point, it made no mention of a paid, Office 365-style subscription for Windows upgrades). The Windows 10 upgrade for Windows Phone 8.1 users will also be free.

"Once a device is upgraded to Windows 10, we'll be keeping it current for the supported lifetime of the device," said Terry Myerson, executive vice president of the Operating Systems Group. "With Windows 10, we think of Windows as a service... The question 'what version are you running' will cease to make sense."

Windows 7 and Windows 8.x collectively run on well over half of the world's Windows PCs, meaning that a wide swath of existing Windows users will be able to make the jump to Windows 10 free of charge. A larger user base, especially in the first year after Windows 10's official release, increases the chances that developers will target Windows 10 and its new APIs.

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Liveblog: Windows 10 “The Next Chapter” event is happening now

1/21/2015 11:30am

REDMOND—Microsoft is unveiling the next major beta of Windows 10, the Consumer Preview, with an event at the company's home in Redmond, Washington. We'll be on the scene to report on the news and get a first look at the new release.

We're expecting to see the new Continuum feature that adapts the Windows interface on 2-in-1 devices and a new browser that sheds the legacy (and name) of Internet Explorer.

Representatives of the Xbox team will also be at the event, with Microsoft having news about Windows gaming—though precisely what that will be is currently a mystery.

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Report: “Overheated” Snapdragon 810 won’t make it into Samsung’s Galaxy S6

1/21/2015 11:20am

Samsung won't be using Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 in the next Galaxy S smartphone because of overheating issues, according to a Bloomberg report published this morning. The phone will instead use "Samsung's most advanced chips," according to Bloomberg's sources—this suggests a 64-bit Exynos 7 Octa or a closely related chip.

Though the Galaxy S series isn't the sales juggernaut it once was, it's still one of the single best-selling handsets in the Android ecosystem, and Qualcomm has supplied SoCs for some variants of the S phones since the days of the Galaxy S II. Samsung still uses Exynos chips in S-series phones destined for its home turf in South Korea and some other markets, however, so it wouldn't be a major engineering feat to drop Qualcomm in other territories, especially since Samsung's in-house LTE modems are coming into their own.

In some ways, it's not surprising that the Snapdragon 810 might be giving Qualcomm trouble. The company has switched from using its own custom-designed Krait CPU architecture to off-the-shelf Cortex A57 and A53 designs from ARM, at least in part because of demand for 64-bit chips from OEMs and users (previous Snapdragon generations only used Cortex cores in lower-end SoCs with less potential for thermal problems). Major transitions like that can be tricky, especially when you're working with small, tightly integrated chips. These also aren't the first reports about the 810's overheating problems, and some CES previews of LG's Flex 2 suggested that the phones on the floor kept dimming their screens because they were running too hot. All mobile SoCs throttle their performance to some degree when they run up against heat issues, but most of the time the effects are subtle enough that you won't actually notice them during normal use.

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Mozilla tweaks “referer headers” in bid to limit website privacy grabs

1/21/2015 11:15am

Developers of the Firefox browser want to better protect user privacy by limiting the amount of data contained in Referer headers.

The "meta referrer," as the new feature is dubbed, is aimed at stemming the ballooning amount of information many sites stuff into Referer headers, Mozilla Security and Privacy Engineer Sid Stamm wrote in a blog post published Wednesday. Referer headers started out as a way for website operators to know what external link users clicked on to arrive the page they are currently viewing. Over time, the information contained in such links has mushroomed and often includes usernames, site preferences, and other data that reveals personal information. Some sites have worked around this privacy invasion by erecting an elaborate set of redirects that strip some of that data out of Referer headers.

"This HTTP header has become quite problematic and not very useful, so we're working to make it better," Stamm wrote.

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The Solar System may have two undiscovered planets

1/21/2015 10:14am

Given the huge number of exoplanets discovered in recent years, the discovery of two new planets would come as no surprise—except that these two, discussed in a new study, may be part of our Solar System.

The presence of the closer of the two planets had already been suggested in a previous work. The new study provides more evidence for its existence and adds a second planet. Both studies are based on observations of objects far beyond Neptune’s orbit, called extreme trans-Neptunian objects (ETNOs). These ETNOs display shared patterns in their orbits, which suggests they’re all being influenced gravitationally by heavier objects, much further away from the Sun.

While this conclusion is based on a small sample (13 bodies), the authors confirm that their results are statistically significant and that at least two planets, orbiting far beyond Pluto’s orbit, are the most likely explanation for the observations.

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