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How Science Fiction Imagines Data Storage

Sat, 03/23/2019 - 3:34pm
Esther Schindler (Slashdot reader #16,185) shared this story from Hewlett Packard's Enterprise blog: Storage is a staple of both science and science fiction, and forms the basis, or a crucial component, of many a piece of speculative fiction... [H]ere are eight past visions of the storage future that either passed their error checks or succumbed to bit rot. Why store vast quantities of data on a device when you can just slap it into someone's head? The article acknowledges that in many science fiction stories, data is simply preserved using such primitive technologies as "the written word" and "brute-force [human] memory," as well as ordinary real-world storage technologies like the server room in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, or basic non-cloud-based computers. But there's also wetware -- think "Johnny Mnemonic "-- and the data crystals in Babylon Five. The article even acknowledges that time Batman beat Mr. Freeze by carving binary code into a wall, giving future generations the recipe for antifreeze.

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8chan Criticized By Its Founder, Blocked by Australian and NZ ISPs

Sat, 03/23/2019 - 2:34pm
Several major ISPs in Australia temporarily blocked access to 8chan, along with "dozens" of web sites that hosted video of last week's mass shooting in Christchurch New Zealand, Ars Technica reports -- noting that the ISPs acted on their own in response to "community expectations." Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that 8chan founder Fredrick Brennan (who "cut ties" with the site in December) is now criticizing 8chan moderators for their slowness in removing posts inciting violence, including last week's post from the Christchurch shooter Brenton Tarrant: Their reluctance to do so, along with the proliferation of posts on 8chan praising Tarrant's actions, have persuaded Brennan that the toxic, white-supremacist culture that lives on parts of the site could someday be linked to another mass shooting.... Brennan, 25 years old, expressed regret that the site had consumed so much of his life. "I didn't spend enough time making friends in real life," he said. High-school events and classes in upstate New York didn't matter to him at all. What mattered was the community of like-minded provocateurs, trolls, libertarians and conservative thinkers he discovered online as a boy and that formed his identity as a young man. "I just feel like I wasted too much time on this stuff," he said. Washington Post reporter Drew Harwell (in a Post video) argues that 8chan "has grown from this central place for tech libertarians, trolls, just people looking to get a rise out of other people online, and it's really radicalized into this place of overt neo-Nazi, white supremacist, racist, sexist, anti-everything discourse... "We haven't really reckoned with how to deal with the negative parts of easy and free and anonymous connectivity around the world, and there's no real good mechanism for solving a problem like that."

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The Other Recent Deadly Boeing Crash No One Is Talking About

Sat, 03/23/2019 - 1:34pm
New York magazine's Intelligencer remembers last month's crash of a Boeing 767 carrying cargo for Amazon and the U.S. Postal Service -- and shares a new theory that its cause wasn't a suicidal pilot or an autopilot malfunction: In online pilot discussion forums, a third idea has been gaining adherents: that the pilots succumbed to a phenomenon called somatogravic illusion, in which lateral acceleration due to engine thrust creates the sensation that one is tipping backward in one's seat. The effect is particularly strong when a plane is lightly loaded, as it would be at the end of a long flight when the fuel tanks are mostly empty, and in conditions of poor visibility, as Atlas Air 3591 was as it worked its way through bands of bad weather. The idea is that perhaps one of the pilots accidentally or in response to wind shear set the engines to full power, and then believed that the plane had become dangerously nose-high and so pushed forward on the controls. This would cause a low-g sensation that might have been so disorienting that by the time the plane came barreling out of the bottom of the clouds there wasn't enough time to pull out of the dive. It has been speculated that this might have been the cause of another bizarre and officially unsolved accident from three years ago: Flydubai Flight 981, which crashed 2016 in Rostov-on-Don, Russia.... While it's still too early to draw any kind of conclusions about Atlas Air 3591, the possibility exists that a firm conclusion will never be drawn -- and if it is, the cause could turn out not to be a design flaw or software malfunction that can be rectified, but a basic shortcoming in human perception and psychology that cannot be fixed as long as humans are entrusted with the control of airplanes.

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AT&T, Comcast Announce Verification Milestone To Help Fight Robocalls

Sat, 03/23/2019 - 12:34pm
"The fight against robocalls can even bring telecom rivals together," reports USA Today: AT&T and Comcast said Wednesday that they can authenticate calls made between the two different phone providers' networks, a potential industry first and the latest in the long-running battle against spam calls... The system, which uses a method developed in recent years, verifies that a legitimate call is being made instead of one that has been spoofed by spammers, scammers or robocallers with a "digital signature." The recipient network then confirms the signature on its side. The companies said consumers will get a notification that a call is verified, but exactly what that will look like is not yet known. Both AT&T and Comcast will roll out the system to home phone users later this year at no extra charge. AT&T also said it will introduce the feature to its mobile users this year... Other major wireless and traditional home voice providers have pledged support for the verification method, including Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Charter, Cox and Vonage, with several announcing plans to roll out or test the feature in 2019. The day Comcast and AT&T made their announcement, AT&T's CEO was giving a live interview that was interrupted by a robocall.

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Online Petition Site Crashed By Millions of 'Cancel Brexit' Signers

Sat, 03/23/2019 - 11:34am
"More than 3 million people have signed a petition to cancel Brexit on the U.K. government's official petitions website -- so many that the website crashed multiple times," reports Time: The petition had received some 600,000 signatures at a rate of 1,500 every 60 seconds before the site crashed at about 9 a.m. U.K. time on Thursday, the Guardian reported. By mid afternoon, the site was back online but suffering intermittent outages. There were 2 million signatures by Thursday evening and 3 million by midday Friday... The U.K. government must now allow a debate on the petition's contents in parliament. The Guardian notes that the CTO of company that built the petition site had bragged in a tweet Wednesday that the 1,000 signatures per minute was "Not too bad, but nowhere near crashing the site --you all need to try harder tomorrow." By the next morning he had tweeted âoeWell done everyone -- the site crashed because calculating the trending count became too much of a load on the database."

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Oracle's Surprise Unannounced Layoffs 'Clear-Cut Teams of Engineers'

Sat, 03/23/2019 - 10:24am
Oracle "swung the layoff axe" Thursday, reports IEEE Spectrum, saying that the move "clear-cut teams of engineers." The exact numbers of employees cut and their specific roles have not been reported by the company, but the layoffs are clearly significant. Fifty in Mexico, 50 in New Hampshire, 100 in India, at least that many in Silicon Valley -- the numbers, according to anecdotal reports on theLayoff.com and from internal chatter, are adding up quickly.... Oracle's layoff day started at 5 a.m. Pacific Time, when an email from Oracle executive vice president Don Johnson with the subject line "Organizational Restructuring" arrived in employee inboxes. The email informed staff members that, going forward, everything in the company would revolve around the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) operation... Then the email continued with a perky sentence that made some employees furious: "OCI's business is stronger than ever, and this team's future is bright." At approximately 10 a.m., I'm told, just five hours after that email, the layoffs began -- and according to anecdotal reports included significant cuts within at least part of that stronger-than-ever, bright-future cloud business. Those affected were given 30 minutes to turn in company assets and leave the building, and were told that Friday (today) would their last official day. "The morning felt like a slaughter," one Oracle employee told me. "One person after another...." And, that employee said, the layoff process was handled very badly, with entire teams being ushered into conference rooms as groups and told that they no longer had jobs. This employee indicated that technical teams, particularly those involved in product development and focused on software development, data science, and engineering, seemed to take the biggest hit. Business Insider reports that Oracle hasn't formally announced the number of people laid off, but adds that "One source we spoke to was told by his manager that 1,500 people worldwide were cut."

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Car Crash ER Visits Fell In States That Ban Texting While Driving, Study Says

Sat, 03/23/2019 - 9:00am
A new study finds that states with bans on texting while driving saw an average 4% reduction in emergency department visits after motor vehicle crashes, an equivalent of 1,632 traffic-related emergency department visits per year. CNN reports: Researchers examined emergency department data across 16 US states between 2007 and 2014. The states were picked based on the availability of information regarding motor vehicle accident injuries for which emergency department treatment was needed. In the United States, 47 out of 50 states currently have laws restricting texting while driving. Of the 16 states researchers looked at in the study, all but one (Arizona) had one of these laws. The states that had texting bans, regardless of the type or who it applied to, saw a 4% average reduction in emergency department visits, according to the results published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health. The states that chose to implement primary bans on all drivers saw an 8% reduction in crash-related injuries. Drivers of all ages, even those older 65, who are typically not known for texting while driving, saw reductions in the number of injuries following crashes.

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Jared & Ivanka: Couple 'Continues To Use' Private Messaging For White House Business, Top Democrat Says

Sat, 03/23/2019 - 6:00am
Freshly Exhumed writes: Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has revealed that senior White House advisor Jared Kushner's lawyer admitted in December that his client "continues to use" WhatsApp to conduct official White House business. The chairman also said that a lawyer for Ivanka Trump and Mr. Kushner told the committee late last year that they additionally used private email accounts for official White House business in a way that may have violated federal records laws. Mr Kushner's lawyer, Abbe Lowell could not say whether his client used WhatsApp to share classified information. Regardless, Cummings says the communications raise questions about whether Kushner and other officials violated the Presidential Records Act, which requires the president and his staff "take all practical steps to file personal records separately from Presidential records." As for Ivanka's use of a personal email account to conduct official business, her lawyer says she sent the emails before she was briefed on the rules. If you're not familiar with WhatsApp, here's what you should know about it: "As of January 2019, more than 1.5 billion users in over 180 countries use WhatsApp, created in 2009 as an alternative to text messaging," reports USA Today. "Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014 to make a bigger play in the rapidly-growing messaging market, along with its own Messenger platform, which also boasts 1.5 billion users." The service features end-to-end encryption, meaning the sender and recipient are the only ones who can view the messages.

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Windows 10 Calculator Will Soon Be Able To Graph Math Equations

Sat, 03/23/2019 - 3:00am
Earlier this month, Microsoft made the source code for its Windows calculator available on GitHub. This has spurred developers to add new features to the app, like a new graphing mode that will make its way to the official Windows Calculator app. The "Graphing Mode" is one of 30+ suggestions that open-source contributors have proposed so far. The ZDNet reports: As its name implies, Graphing Mode will allow users to create graphs based on mathematical equations, in a similar way to Matlab's (way more advanced) Plotting Mode. The feature was proposed by Microsoft engineer Dave Grochocki, also a member of the Windows Calculator team. In a GitHub issue Grochocki submitted to support his proposal, he argued that a graphing mode would help students learn algebra easier. "High school algebra is the gateway to mathematics and all other disciplines of STEM," Grochocki said. "However, algebra is the single most failed course in high school, as well as the most failed course in community college." By adding a Graphing Mode to Windows Calculator, an app included with all Windows 10 versions, the Microsoft engineer hopes to provide students and teachers with a free tool to help schools across the world. "Physical graphing calculators can be expensive, software solutions require licenses and configuration by school IT departments, and online solutions are not always an option," he added. "Graphing capabilities in their daily tools are essential for students who are beginning to explore linear algebra as early as 8th grade. [...] At present, Windows Calculator does not currently have the needed functionality to meet the demands of students." There's no timeline for when the new graphing mode will arrive, but it should arrive soon.

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Researchers Created Reprogrammable Molecular Algorithms For DNA Computers

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 11:30pm
dmoberhaus writes: In a major breakthrough for DNA computing, researchers from UC Davis, Caltech and Maynooth University developed a technique for creating molecular algorithms that can be reprogrammed. Prior to this research, molecular algorithms had to be painstakingly designed for specific purposes, which is "like having to build a new computer out of new hardware just to run a new piece of software," according to the researchers. This new technique could blow open the door for a host of futuristic DNA computing applications -- nanofactories, light-based computers, etc. -- that would've been impossible before. The paper was published this week in Nature.

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Lithuanian Pleads Guilty To Stealing $100 Million From Google, Facebook

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 10:10pm
schwit1 writes: Evaldas Rimasauskas, a Lithuanian citizen, concocted a brazen scheme that allowed him to bilk Facebook and Google out of more than $100 million. The crime defrauded Google of $23 million and Facebook of $99 million. Rimasauskas committed the crimes between 2013 to 2015, an indictment was issued in 2017, and he was formally indicted Wednesday in New York after he pleaded guilty to wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and three counts of money laundering. "As Evaldas Rimasauskas admitted today, he devised a blatant scheme to fleece U.S. companies out of over $100 million, and then siphoned those funds to bank accounts around the globe," said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman in a DoJ press release. How did he do it? The indictment reveals that he simply billed the companies for the amounts and they paid the bills. Rimasauskas was able to trick company employees into wiring the money to multiple bank accounts that he controlled and had set up in institutions in Cyprus, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Latvia.

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Insider Threats Pose the Biggest Security Risk

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 9:30pm
An anonymous reader shares a report: According to a new study 91 percent of IT and security professionals feel vulnerable to insider threats, and 75 percent believe the biggest risks lie in cloud applications like popular file storage and email solutions including Google Drive, Gmail and Dropbox. The report from SaaS operations management specialist BetterCloud also shows 62 percent of respondents believe the biggest security threat comes from the well-meaning but negligent end user. Among other findings are that 46 percent of IT leaders (heads of IT and above) believe that the rise of SaaS applications makes them the most vulnerable. In addition 40 percent of respondents believe they are most vulnerable to exposure of confidential business information such as financial information and customer lists. Only 26 percent of C-level executives say they've invested enough to mitigate the risk of insider threats, compared to 44 percent of IT managers.

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FEMA Data Breach Hits 2.5 Million Disaster Survivors

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 8:50pm
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) unlawfully shared the private information of 2.3 million hurricane and wildfire survivors with a federal contractor that was helping them find temporary housing, an inspector general from the Department of Homeland Security said Friday. The data includes "20 unnecessary data fields" such as "electronic funds transfer number," "bank transit number" and addresses. CNN reports: FEMA said it began filtering the data in December 2018 to prevent this information from being shared, but a more permanent fix may not be finalized until June 2020. "Since discovery of this issue, FEMA has taken aggressive measures to correct this error. FEMA is no longer sharing unnecessary data with the contractor and has conducted a detailed review of the contractor's information system," said Lizzie Litzow, press secretary for FEMA, in a statement. "To date, FEMA has found no indicators to suggest survivor data has been compromised. FEMA has also worked with the contractor to remove the unnecessary data from the system and updated its contract to ensure compliance with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cybersecurity and information-sharing standards. As an added measure, FEMA instructed contracted staff to complete additional DHS privacy training."

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Microsoft Revived and Killed Clippy in a Single Day

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 8:11pm
The dream of the '90s was alive in Microsoft Teams this week when Microsoft's old office assistant, Clippy, showed up. From a report: If you used Microsoft Office between 1997 and 2001, you likely remember Clippy as the animated paperclip that popped up and offered tips for using the software. Microsoft did away with Clippy in 2001, so people were surprised to see Clippy stickers appear in Microsoft Teams this week. And they were even more surprised when, just a day later, Microsoft offed the little guy again. On Tuesday, Clippy appeared as an animated pack of stickers for Microsoft Teams. The stickers were released on the Office Developer GitHub page, but by the next day, they had vanished. Clippy was around just long enough to rally old fans, and there's now a user petition to bring Clippy back.

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Police Officers In Berlin Had To Break Up Fight Between Supporters of Two Rival YouTubers

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 7:30pm
More than 100 police officers were deployed to break up a mass brawl reportedly organized by two rival YouTube stars in Berlin. The BBC reports: The fight broke out on Thursday evening on Alexanderplatz square in the German capital, police said, adding that nine people were arrested. More than 400 people had gathered after two social media influencers reportedly urged their fans to join a face-off. As tensions escalated, a large melee involving around 50 people erupted. Officers used pepper spray and tear gas after attempts to disperse the crowds with loudspeakers failed. As police intervened, clashes spilled over in a nearby subway, where rocks picked up from railway lines were reportedly thrown. The YouTubers who reportedly started this mess are named "Thatsbekir" and "Bahar Al Amood," both of which denied that they were at fault for the brawl in social media posts.

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Germany Urged To Champion Global Treaty To Ban 'Killer Robots'

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 6:50pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams and other activists warned on Thursday that fully autonomous weapons could be deployed in just 3-4 years and urged Germany to lead an international campaign for a ban on so-called "killer robots." Williams, who won the Nobel in 1997 for leading efforts to ban landmines, told reporters Germany should take bold steps to ensure that humans remained in control of lethal weapons. "You cannot lead from the rear," she said. Critics fear that the increasingly autonomous drones, missile defense systems and tanks made possible by new artificial intelligence could turn rogue in a cyber-attack or as a result of programming errors. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called last week for action to ensure human control of lethal weapons, but is pushing a non-binding declaration rather than a global ban, given opposition by the United States, Russia and China. The United Nations and European Union have called for a global ban, but discussions so far have not yielded a clear commitment to conclude a treaty. Activists from over 100 non-governmental groups gathered in Berlin this week to pressure Maas and the German government to take more decisive action after twice endorsing a ban on fully autonomous weapons in their 2013 and 2018 coalition accords.

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Dashcam Video Shows Tesla Steering Toward Lane Divider - Again

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 6:10pm
AmiMoJo shares a report from Ars Technica: The afternoon commute of Reddit user Beastpilot takes him past a stretch of Seattle-area freeway with a carpool lane exit on the left. Last year, in early April, the Tesla driver noticed that Autopilot on his Model X would sometimes pull to the left as the car approached the lane divider -- seemingly treating the space between the diverging lanes as a lane of its own. This was particularly alarming, because just days earlier, Tesla owner Walter Huang had died in a fiery crash after Autopilot steered his Model X into a concrete lane divider in a very similar junction in Mountain View, California. Beastpilot made several attempts to notify Tesla of the problem but says he never got a response. Weeks later, Tesla pushed out an update that seemed to fix the problem. Then in October, it happened again. Weeks later, the problem resolved itself. This week, he posted dashcam footage showing the same thing happening a third time -- this time with a recently acquired Model 3. "The behavior of the system changes dramatically between software updates," Beastpilot told Ars. "Human nature is, 'if something's worked 100 times before, it's gonna work the 101st time.'" That can lull people into a false sense of security, with potentially deadly consequences.

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The US Desperately Needs a 'Fiber For All' Plan

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 5:30pm
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a new report calling for a "fiber for all" plan to combat the broadband access crisis in the United States. Government data and independent analysis show we are falling behind the rest of the developed world in this area, and "the U.S. is the only country that believes having no plan will solve this issue," writes Ernesto Falcon from the EFF. "We are the only country to completely abandon federal oversight of an uncompetitive, highly concentrated market that sells critical services to all people, yet we expect widely available, affordable, ultra-fast services. But if you live in a low-income neighborhood or in a rural market today, you know very well this is not working and the status quo is going to cement in your local broadband options to either one choice or no choice." From the report: Very small ISPs and local governments with limited budgets are at the frontline of deploying fiber to the home to fix these problems, but policymakers from the federal, state, and local level need to step up and lead. At least 19 states still have laws that prohibit local governments from deploying community broadband projects. Worst yet, both AT&T and Verizon are actively asking the FCC to make it even harder for small private ISPs to deploy fiber, so that the big incumbents can raise prices and suppress competition, a proposal EFF has urged the FCC to reject. This is why we need to push our elected officials and regulators for a fiber-for-all-people plan to ensure everyone can obtain the next generation of broadband access. Otherwise, the next generation of applications and services won't be usable in most of the United States. They will be built instead for markets with better, faster, cheaper, and more accessible broadband. This dire outcome was the central thesis to a recently published book by Professor Susan Crawford (appropriately named Fiber) and EFF agrees with its findings. If American policymakers do not remedy the failings in the US market and actively pursue ways to drive fiber deployment with the goal of universal coverage, then a staggering number of Americans will miss out on the latest innovations that will occur on the Internet because it will be inaccessible or too expensive. As a result, we will see a worsening of the digital divide as advances in virtual reality, cloud computing, gaming, education, and things we have not invented yet are going to carry a monopoly price tag for a majority of us -- or just not be accessible here. This does not have to be so, but it requires federal, state, and local governments to get to work on policies that promote fiber infrastructure to all people. Most of the talk lately has been about 5G networks, but the less-spoken truth about these networks is that they need dense fiber networks to make them work. "One estimate on the amount of fiber investment that needs to occur is as much as $150 billion -- including fiber to the home deployments -- in the near future, and we are far below that level of commitment to fiber," the report says.

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MIT Develops Algorithm To Accelerate Neural Networks By 200x

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 4:50pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from ExtremeTech: MIT researchers have reportedly developed an algorithm that can accelerate [neural networks] by up to 200x. The NAS (Neural Architecture Search, in this context) algorithm they developed "can directly learn specialized convolutional neural networks (CNNs) for target hardware platforms -- when run on a massive image dataset -- in only 200 GPU hours," MIT News reports. This is a massive improvement over the 48,000 hours Google reported taking to develop a state-of-the-art NAS algorithm for image classification. The goal of the researchers is to democratize AI by allowing researchers to experiment with various aspects of CNN design without needing enormous GPU arrays to do the front-end work. If finding state of the art approaches requires 48,000 GPU arrays, precious few people, even at large institutions, will ever have the opportunity to try. Algorithms produced by the new NAS were, on average, 1.8x faster than the CNNs tested on a mobile device with similar accuracy. The new algorithm leveraged techniques like path level binarization, which stores just one path at a time to reduce memory consumption by an order of magnitude. MIT doesn't actually link out to specific research reports, but from a bit of Google sleuthing, the referenced articles appear to be here and here -- two different research reports from an overlapping group of researchers. The teams focused on pruning entire potential paths for CNNs to use, evaluating each in turn. Lower probability paths are successively pruned away, leaving the final, best-case path. The new model incorporated other improvements as well. Architectures were checked against hardware platforms for latency when evaluated. In some cases, their model predicted superior performance for platforms that had been dismissed as inefficient. For example, 7x7 filters for image classification are typically not used, because they're quite computationally expensive -- but the research team found that these actually worked well for GPUs.

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The New York Times CEO Warns Publishers Ahead of Apple News Launch

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 4:13pm
An anonymous reader shares a report: Apple is expected to launch an ambitious new entertainment and paid digital news service on Monday, as the iPhone maker pushes back against streaming video leader Netflix. But it likely will not feature the New York Times. Mark Thompson, chief executive of the biggest U.S. newspaper by subscribers, warned that relying on third-party distribution can be dangerous for publishers who risk losing control over their own product. "We tend to be quite leery about the idea of almost habituating people to find our journalism somewhere else," he told Reuters in an interview on Thursday. "We're also generically worried about our journalism being scrambled in a kind of Magimix (blender) with everyone else's journalism."

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