Oct 19

America’s lawmakers and Federal Reserve officials “are so concerned about Facebook’s plans to launch a new digital currency,” reports Politico’s financial services reporter, “that they’re contemplating a novel response — having the central bank create a competitor.”
Momentum is building for an idea that was once considered outlandish — a U.S. government-run virtual currency that would replace physical cash, a dramatic move that could discourage major companies like Facebook from creating their own digital coins. Facebook’s proposed currency, Libra, has forced the Fed to consider the issue because of a fear that private companies could establish their own currencies and take control over the global payments system. Some Fed officials share the concern about a new balkanized currency system outside government control that Facebook has threatened to unleash. “Libra bust this way out into the open,” said Karen Petrou, a managing partner at Federal Financial Analytics who advises executives on coming policy shifts.

But it’s not just Facebook. The matter is also taking on urgency as other countries consider creating their own digital currencies — another potential challenge to the primacy of the U.S. dollar. The head of the Bank of England has floated the idea that central banks could create a network of digital currencies to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency… The Bank for International Settlements, which represents the world’s central banks, said early this year that most were conducting research into central bank digital currencies and many were progressing from conceptual work into experimentation and proofs-of-concept…

The details of a possible [U.S.] Fed-developed digital currency are still vague. But advocates and experts say such an instrument could give consumers a new way to make payments without having to rely on banks and without incurring fees when they transfer money. The digital currency would likely take some inspiration from the technology that underpins other cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. The discussions are informal at this point. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have written to the central bank asking officials to consider how they might approach a digital currency, and some Fed officials have begun to acknowledge the government might someday play a role. “It is inevitable,” Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia President Patrick Harker said at a recent conference, according to Reuters. “I think it is better for us to start getting our hands around it.”

The article argues that America’s central bankers “worry that another major company could enter the space. If the Fed doesn’t establish a digital currency, who will…?

“The growing pressure on the Fed is evidence of how rapid developments in technology are beginning to shake the foundations of the financial system, raising questions about whether policymakers are prepared.”

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Oct 17

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview he worries “about an erosion of truth” online but defended the policy that allows politicians to peddle ads containing misrepresentations and lies on his social network, a stance that has sparked an outcry during the 2020 presidential campaign. From a report: “People worry, and I worry deeply, too, about an erosion of truth,” Zuckerberg told The Washington Post ahead of a speech Thursday at Georgetown University. “At the same time, I don’t think people want to live in a world where you can only say things that tech companies decide are 100 percent true. And I think that those tensions are something we have to live with.” Zuckerberg’s approach to political speech has come under fire in recent weeks. Democrats have taken particular issue with Facebook’s decision to allow an ad from President Trump’s 2020 campaign that included falsehoods about former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Sen. Elizabeth Warren responded to Facebook’s decision by running her own campaign ad, satirically stating that Zuckerberg supports Trump for re-election.

Zuckerberg framed the issue as part of a broader debate over free expression, warning about the dangers of social networks, including Facebook, “potentially cracking down too much.” He called on the U.S. to set an example for tailored regulation in contrast to other countries, including China, that censor political speech online. And Zuckerberg stressed Facebook must stand strong against governments that seek to “pull back” on free speech in the face of heightened social and political tensions. Zuckerberg’s appearance in Washington marks his most forceful attempt to articulate his vision for how governments and tech giants should approach the Web’s most intractable problems. The scale of Facebook and its affiliated apps, Instagram and WhatsApp, which make up a virtual community of billions of users, poses challenges for Zuckerberg and regulators around the world as they struggle to contain hate speech, falsehoods, violent imagery and terrorist propaganda on social media.

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Oct 15

Google’s Daydream, Android’s built-in virtual reality platform, is as good as dead. From a report: Following the company’s annual hardware event today, Google confirmed to VentureBeat that the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL do not support the VR platform. Furthermore, Google stopped selling the Daydream View headset today. There are also no plans to support Daydream in future Android devices, Pixel or otherwise. “We are no longer certifying new devices,” a Google spokesperson confirmed. The Daydream app and store will continue to function for now. Further reading: It’s Becoming Increasingly Unlikely that We’ll See a Major Shift To Virtual Reality Any Time Soon.

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Oct 06

Intel researchers published a paper last week suggesting a new kind of CPU memory to block side-channel attacks like Meltdown and Spectre, according to ZDNet:
SAPM — or Speculative-Access Protected Memory — is the work of Intel STORM (STrategic Offensive Research & Mitigations), a team of elite security researchers that Intel assembled since 2017 to work on creating mitigations for all the speculative-execution attacks that have impacted the CPU maker’s products. SAPM is only an idea for the moment, and there are no silicon prototypes. Intel STORM engineers only released “the theory and possible implementation options,” to provide “a ground base for other researchers to improve upon and also for the industry to consider….”

Intel STORM researchers say SAPM will implement protections at the hardware level and will work with both physical and virtual memory addresses. “SAPM can be applied to specific memory ranges, with the attribute that any memory access to such memory type will be instruction-level serialized, meaning that any speculative execution beyond the SAPM-accessing instruction will be stopped pending the successful retirement of this SAPM-accessing instruction,” Intel STORM developers said in their short description of SAPM’s basic principles…

Intel STORM researchers say the second part (backend) of most speculative execution attacks performs the same actions. SAPM was designed to introduce hardware-based protections against the backend part of most attacks. It’s because of this concept that Intel’s research team believes that SAPM will also future-proof the next generations of Intel CPUs against other — currently undiscovered — speculative execution attacks.

“Intel STORM researchers don’t deny that there’s a performance hit,” the article adds. “However, this impact is low and could be mitigated further by dropping other existing protections.”

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Oct 03

Attorney General Bill Barr, along with officials from the United Kingdom and Australia, is set to publish an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking the company to delay plans for end-to-end encryption across its messaging services until it can guarantee the added privacy does not reduce public safety. From a report: A draft of the letter, dated Oct. 4, is set to be released alongside the announcement of a new data-sharing agreement between law enforcement in the US and the UK; it was obtained by BuzzFeed News ahead of its publication. Signed by Barr, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, acting US Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, the letter raises concerns that Facebook’s plan to build end-to-end encryption into its messaging apps will prevent law enforcement agencies from finding illegal activity conducted through Facebook, including child sexual exploitation, terrorism, and election meddling.

“Security enhancements to the virtual world should not make us more vulnerable in the physical world,” the letter reads. “Companies should not deliberately design their systems to preclude any form of access to content, even for preventing or investigating the most serious crimes.” The letter calls on Facebook to prioritize public safety in designing its encryption by enabling law enforcement to gain access to illegal content in a manageable format and by consulting with governments ahead of time to ensure the changes will allow this access. While the letter acknowledges that Facebook, which owns Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram, captures 99% of child exploitation and terrorism-related content through its own systems, it also notes that “mere numbers cannot capture the significance of the harm to children.”

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Oct 02

At Microsoft’s annual Surface press event today, the company announced the Surface Earbuds to rival Apple’s AirPods and Amazon’s newly announced Echo Buds. What’s unique about the Surface Earbuds is that, unlike the other two wireless earphones, they can be used with Alexa, Bixby, Google Assistant, Siri, or any other competitor — not just with Cortana. VentureBeat reports: Like the Surface Headphones, the Surface Earbuds don’t do anything until you pair them. Surface Earbuds communicate over Bluetooth 5.0 with an Android, iOS, or Windows 10 device. Once paired, you can tap and hold either of the buds to trigger the default assistant on your device. To use a different virtual assistant with the Surface Earbuds, just change the default assistant on the paired device.

“Out of the box, it just works,” said Surface Earbuds product lead Mohammed Samji. “On PC, it launches Cortana. On iOS, it will launch Siri, unless you’ve changed it. And I think it might vary depending on the distribution of Android, but all the ones I’ve tested, the first time I do it, Android asks me what I want as my default.” Surface Earbuds still offer a better experience with Cortana (although without the “Hey Cortana” wakeword), Samji made sure to emphasize. Surface Earbuds can do everything with Cortana that the Surface Headphones can do, like chit-chat, interact with your email, check your calendar, get your daily update, and create to-dos. Samji said his team created a more streamlined flow for all this Cortana functionality. It’s called Surface Audio. One of the biggest new abilities with the Surface Earbuds is gestures. “Surface Earbuds’ gestures include double tap (go in and out of the call, or play/pause), swipe up and down (control volume), or even swipe forward and back (switch tracks in music, switch slides in PowerPoint),” reports VentureBeat. “Specifically on Android, there’s also a triple tap to launch Spotify under your phone’s lockscreen — you can triple-tap again to have Spotify to choose another song using its ML.”

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Oct 01

Lucas123 writes: Like Apple and Intel, Amazon is piloting an in-house program for employees that in addition to healthcare insurance affords workers access to telemedicine and at-home visits from a contracted provider. While growing in popularity, in-house healthcare programs, which even include corporate clinics, are seen by some as an example of the growth in fragmented care or mimicking corporate care during the industrial era when factories had worksite clinics to get employees back to work faster. “[Corporate-based virtual healthcare programs, like Amazon’s] is yet one more example of fragmented care,” says Cynthia Burghard, a research director with IDC’s Health Insights. “Back in the day, manufacturers had worksite clinics to take care of workers injured on the job mostly so they could get back to work sooner. The difference with what Amazon is doing compared to what the [Deloitte] survey shows is that the Amazon offering is disconnected to other care providers rather than under the supervision of an employee’s providers.” [The Deloitte survey found that 66% of physicians said telemedicine improved patient care access and 52% said it boosted patient satisfaction.]

Vik Panda, lead of operations for French sleep company Dreem, had this to say: “The news is that Jeff Bezos’ company, and others like it, don’t need anyone’s permission to start building and paying for their own parallel healthcare systems, little by little. If Amazon replaces the existing health care system bit by bit, and employees of self-insured companies migrate to this new digital health system, do we all get to come along?” Amazon Care, Panda said, represents a wake-up call for providers, payers and employers because telehealth is not just about video chats with a doctor or wearable fitness trackers. “…It’s a new operating system for health, and big technology companies are not going to wait for everyone else to figure it out.”

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