Yahoo Sign

Yahoo Down. Long Live Yahoo?

Yahoo is a bellwether of the internet, having existed nearly as long as the world wide web, and serving as the portal along with AOL for most early users of the web. Like AOL, Yahoo is one of the largest sources of news and content on the web, yet it is only profitable when bolstered by completely unrelated sources of income, such as the large stake in Alibaba that was tied to the internet company until earlier this week.

Verizon is finalizing the purchase of Yahoo’s internet brand, after a long, sad bidding process that saw several offers rejected or pulled at the last minute. For about $4.8 billion, Yahoo will now have something else in common with AOL, living under the telecom’s patronage.

There was a time when Yahoo attempted to purchase both Google and Facebook and when it was audacious that those two companies both turned down their offers. Now the internet properties (excluding Yahoo Japan, a separate company) are one of the last independents of the early web to get folded into a larger corporation.

You can argue that it was the risk-averse, nice guy founders that eventually sank Yahoo, or the lack of focus before and after Marissa Mayer took over management of the company in 2012. Maybe it was the way that Google and Facebook gave users everything that Yahoo didn’t, and sidestepped some of the moves that Yahoo made that look foolhardy in hindsight. Either way, like AOL, Yahoo has the visitors, just not their money. Under Verizon there’ll be renewed interest in making money, though it may still be indirect, by getting more eyes on the giant cell provider’s main business.

6 Depressing Epilogues Of Famous Websites

Chris Rio, Cracked

Did you know that Neopets was run by the Church of Scientology? Or that Napster still exists, albeit in a pointless state?

Cracked took a look at six famous and formerly popular websites to see what happened to them, and the findings are both sad and hilarious.

While being amazed at how much dial-up internet still adds to the AOL profit sheet, take a look at some ill-advised web marketing campaigns to go right along with those services. Just think of the stunts that we pull now that will look even more ridiculous in ten years than they already do.

Availability of news services in China. Red means blocked in the country.
Availability of news services in China. Red means blocked in the country. Image courtesy of Quartz.

Behold: the stunning hypocrisy behind China’s rant about journalists being ousted from India

Heather Timmons, Quartz

China kicking out foreign journalists for undisclosed reasons (exposing corruption in China, that is)? Apparently not hypocritical compared to complaining about India kicking out Chinese journalists working for the state news service after breaking several Indian laws.

Three journalists working for the Chinese government news service Xinhua were ejected from India after the Indian government refused to renew their visas. While the reaction could be seen as downright petty (as the organization itself describes their Indian hosts), it can also be viewed as a set of terrifying blinders considering allegations of literal spying on part of the journalists, and how often China imprisons or bans anyone who supports Tibet or points out anything in the country being less than perfect.

Find Out How The Electronic Frontier Foundation is Covering Your Butt Online

Jaws of Justice Radio, KKFI

Find Out How The Electronic Frontier Foundation is Covering Your Butt Online

The Electronic Frontier Foundation was founded in 1990 to provide legal counsel and guidance for individuals and companies concerning the internet and technology. They also champion fair use, free software, and free speech online. The founders of the EFF (John Gilmore, John Perry Barlow, and Mitch Kapor) have devoted their lives to furthering technology and individual freedoms.

Jaws of Justice Radio has a conversation with Shahib Buttar, Director of Grassroots Advocacy at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, where they discuss the EFF, online privacy, and digital rights.

I’m proud to be a member of this organization, and encourage those of you reading to look into it as well. If you would like to support the EFF (and get some cool swag!), you should become a member today.

Security Bots Will Battle in Vegas for Darpa’s Hacking Crown

Cade Metz, Wired

DARPA is thinking to the future of network security, where the varied threats and the sheer number of attacks will make it nearly impossible for the few humans capable of understanding high-level security to keep the already duct-taped internet together. Seven different companies are competing against an unknown-to-them adversary in seven different supercomputers put together for a public demonstration of the best software made to defend and fight against other software that the private sector is able to offer.

While it’s likely that none of the competitors will be able to successfully complete all tasks set by the government R&D lab, promising starts are expected, which will help prepare for a time where we’ll need bots to help protect us from other bots. Considering the number of known (let alone unknown) vulnerabilities in every networked device, like the ability to capture all keystrokes of a wireless keyboard, it’s only a worry if this is too little, too late.

I’m still recovering from a few weeks away from the internets. Somehow I got more time to read new articles last week than this one, so apologies for the brevity this week. Thank you to Lisa for taking over for the last few weeks and adding a new voice to the newsletter!

No More Twitter for the Internet’s Self-Proclaimed ‘Supervillain’

J. Weston Phippen, The Atlantic

I can’t say that I’m going to miss Milo Yiannopoulos on Twitter. I didn’t follow him before, but the antics around his ouster from the site raise a point that a lot of people seem to forget: As a company, Twitter has the ability to choose who can and cannot use their platform. As XKCD made clear, this type of action is not an issue of free speech. In a world where freedom of speech really is constrained in many ways, complaints like those of his followers obscure this fact. That we can complain at all is great, but Milo’s Culture War, imagined or not, does not constitute an abridgement of his first amendment rights.

“Free Speech” by Randall Munroe – xkcd

Facebook Completes First Test Flight Of Its Giant Internet Drone

Daniel Terdiman, FastCompany

Facebook wants to ensure that you can check your status updates from anywhere in the world. Actually they want to allow service providers to use their 737-sized drones to supply internet where they see fit. This would have come in handy for me the last few weeks while I was off the grid against my will. I imagine if this (or other systems being developed, like Google’s Project Loon) are put into widespread use, there’ll be locations set specifically to maintain a disconnect from the web.

This device turns your iPhone into a Gameboy—and no, it’s not a joke

Imad Khan, Daily Dot

I’m still calling hoax on this, despite saying that the original press release started as an April Fool’s Joke that turned into a real product. Sure, someone could probably make something like this, but it seems kind of fishy that it’s mainly being discussed via Reddit, nevermind the fact that Nintendo would probably never allow this to use any of their branding.

Pokemon Go Is Driving Insane Amounts of Sales at Small, Local Businesses. Here’s How It Works

Walter Chen, Inc.

Speaking of Nintendo, you may have heard of this game called Pokemon Go. If you own a small business with a physical location, Inc has an idea for how to get some new visitors by setting out lures, making gym badges, or otherwise welcoming players of the game. It’s not a bad idea to capitalize on the success of the franchise in the real world. Staff at my favorite coffee place have been setting lures out during their shifts, which I’m told has been getting them higher tips.

Contrary to your social media feeds, Pokemon Go is NOT the only web news this week! While the gaming app has dominated computer and traditional media, turned society on its heads, and created a slew of new job opportunities (Pokemon Drivers, $20/hour), you can find all that information bombarding you on other news channels. We’re here to talk about what else is happening on the web.

Humans Posing as Chatbots Trying To Be Human

Ellen Huet, Bloomberg Technology

If you fear the AI takeover will happen any day now, this article will help you rest easier. Behind every good chatbot there are hundreds of people influencing its behavior and machine learning capabilities. But what if I told you there are actual humans posing as those chatbots more often than you think? Enter the AI trainer, humans whose jobs are to review, screen, and correct chatbot responses to ensure accuracy. Even though AIs are supposed to surpass us all with logic and efficiency, all the logic in the world can’t always answer oddly phrased requests from live humans. Until AI reaches the level of understanding sarcasm and figurative speech, we’ll still need AI trainers pushing the buttons from the shadows.

What would the Turing test say about these hybrid bots? While we’re on the subject of AI, take a look at the impact the European Union’s new regulations might have on the use of artificial intelligence algorithms.

The Internet is Influencing Literature and Media in More Ways than One

Lexi Pandell, Wired

Can an avid Twitter user be considered an author? The Internet and social media have shaped what we consider sources of news and given us new methods of storytelling. Social media content turning mainstream media is happening more often than you think. From the cell phone video shown on the nightly TV news to blog series turning into major motion pictures (I’m looking at you, Julie and Julia), more and more of our media and entertainment is coming directly from the Internet. This new print novel (or eBook, because of course), So Much for That Winter, brings about a new writing style pandering to the social media-saturated culture.

We no longer read articles and books like our forefathers. News sometimes comes in clips and bits, piecing together the story of Prince’s death in 20 tweets per second with the hashtag #RIPPrince. We learn about major social issues through firsthand accounts on Facebook Live videos. We are now the eyewitness news reporters. But with this new floodgate of information comes a new code of control. Just like a TV station, Facebook and YouTube have to determine what is appropriate and what is not, sometimes in the wake of controversy as recently seen with the Reynolds video. The next time you’re overwhelmed by a new flood of news from the Internet, sit back and question how much more noise there would be without server-side censorship?

Mr Robot Premiere
Image courtesy @whoismrrobot

In Mr. Robot Season 2 Premiere, Art Imitates Life

Mr. Robot, the semi-dystopian tale of modern-day anarchy at its finest, is back for a second season and already making a splash in its own unique way. Prior to its official premiere on July 13, the fictitious “fsociety” hacker group did exactly what hackers do and breached the Mr. Robot official Facebook page. The video was a brief clip, a message (read: threat) against Evil Corp followed by a short montage catching us up to the events of the end of season 1.

The video has since been removed, only to have the entire first episode uploaded to Twitter not long after. The tweet came two days before the official premier, masquerading as illegal footage that “won’t be here long”. Looking back on the Mr. Robot twitter feed, they apparently bounced the “leaked” video around to several outlets – YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook, – all before taking them down to let the light shine on the real broadcast premiere.

If you haven’t already watched season 1, I highly recommend grabbing your Amazon Prime Video subscription and giving it a whirl. It’s an amazingly accurate look at the very freedoms being lost and the crimes being committed, all thanks to the World Wide Web.

Netflix is Once Again the Center of Net Neutrality and Online Freedom Debates

A large portion of the Internet was in a panic recently when the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled sharing passwords is grounds for prosecution under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The ruling came from the case of David Nosal, a former employee of an executive search firm using a co-worker’s credentials to hack his former employer’s database. But the Internet being the Internet reacted with panic along the lines of, “If you share your Netflix password the FBI is going to arrest you.”

Here’s the good news: you won’t be going to jail for sharing your Netflix password. Netflix has publicly stated that it likes when its users share their Netflix with friends. And they are right to do so. Many people who “mooch” off their friends’ Netflix accounts eventually become paying customers once they’re hooked (that is if their friend cuts them off). Plus, Netflix does have stream limits, so users are encouraged to get an account of their own if they see the “There are too many devices using this account” message too often.

Netflix also made a splash in the news recently with the announcement of their partnership on Comcast’s X1 interactive television box. Comcast customers will get this new enhanced box with their service that comes pre-installed with Netflix. No word on whether there will still be the separate Netflix fee (likely) or how this will work if you only have a TV service subscription and no Internet connection.

This partnership creates an interesting caveat in the net neutrality battle. Netflix – a strong supporter of NN – is choosing to put its eggs in Comcast’s basket, potentially protecting its service if NN fails and ISPs are able to throttle services at will. If throttling does come to pass, will this make Comcast come out on top as the keeper of the Netflix?

DNA sequence
DNA sequence image courtesy Flavio Takemoto

Used 23andMe? Your Genetics Are Now Third-Party Property

Sarah Zhang, Gizmodo

It seems nothing is sacred these days to info-hungry marketers. First our social profiles were mined, and now they’re trying to get into our genes. (That joke’s better read aloud) The popular genetic testing kit, 23andMe, promised users a look into their genetic history and fun facts like why they’re predisposed to like certain foods. The kits were met with some controversy from the start, with the FDA questioning their data regarding a person’s risk of serious diseases. But now there’s a new controversy – your genetic data just landed in the hands of big pharma.

The biotech company Genetech is paying 23andMe $60 million for access to its 800,000-strong genetics database. They say the research will go toward studying Parkinson’s  for now, but there are questions about what other uses the database could have. Users of the service do have to sign a consent document for their data to be signed over to third-parties, and about 85 to 90 percent of the users have signed. But the Parkinson’s research is just scratching the tip of this big gray iceberg…will the results of this gene-mining bring about new cures, or give big pharma more ways to manipulate the health care market. Time will tell.

The FBI Says Malware Isn’t Illegal if They’re Using it for Good

William Turton, Gizmodo

If this isn’t government privilege I don’t know what is. The FBI is claiming their use of malware in the takedown of a dark web child pornography website is legal, because it was for a good cause. But that’s not what some judges are saying after dismissing evidence from the sting because it was obtained without proper warrants and with malicious tactics. The FBI countered saying it’s not malware because they’re the good guys!

This gets into a legal gray area of social justice hacking. This case could set a new precedence for vigilante hackers (see Mr. Robot story above) when their actions lead to a positive outcome. Hacked the social profiles of your neighbor to gather evidence to convict him of child molestation? You’re a hero to the neighborhood, but potentially a felon in the eyes of the law. While we debate over the ethics of using hacker tactics to save innocent children, a sly change to Rule 41 (not to be confused with the Internet’s Rule 34) which expanded Federal Criminal Procedure to allow warrants to hack any computer even without knowing the status of the computer’s user.

Bottom line: don’t do bad things on the Internet and you won’t have to worry about being arrested…for now.

David returns next week with your original flavored web news!

David’s on vacation, and he foolishly left TWiW in my hands for the next two weeks! Don’t worry, it’s the same garden variety internet oddities you’ve come to know and love, just written by me, Lisa (the lmelegari that contributes all the time).

Pope Francis Turns to YouTubers To Promote Positive Influence

Brian Crecente, Polygon

So this is actually a bit old for news, but it’s deserving of some commentary. Religious affiliations aside, you have to admit that Pope Francis is really embracing modern technology and media. This meeting is the latest convergence of the modern world and old school religion, and one that sends a positive message anyone can get behind. The fact that the Pope focused on empowering these YouTube stars to keep up with their type of positive influence spoke volumes. In the past, a Pope given this opportunity to speak to an influential audience might have attempted to persuade them to promote religion rather than their own positive agendas.

Like it or not, YouTube celebrities are becoming a focal point of our culture. You can read more about the meeting from YouTube’s Official Blog.

The Fappening
Image courtesy Reddit

The Aftermath of 2010’s Sexiest Hacks

Two of the biggest and sexiest hacking stories of the 2010’s thus far are the products of Ashley Madison and iCloud. The former involved over a million accounts on the adultery website having private data exposed, potentially ending thousands of marriages and causing a ton of public ridicule. But that’s not the end of the story, the parent company of AM, Avid Life Media, is now facing an FTC probe of currently unknown purpose. The FTC was already investigating claims of fake AI chatbots posing as female humans looking for adulterous companions. Several class action lawsuits are still in the works for the compromised details. Meanwhile, the company’s new executives are looking to revive the brand, potentially shifting the focus from infidelity to…something else? Puppies? Knitting? Who knows, but Rob Segal and James Millership have their work cut out for them.

Next, comes the tale of the celebrity nudes iCloud hacks of 2013 and 2014. Dubbed “The Fappening” by some, hackers gained access to over 300 iCloud accounts, many of them A-list celebrities with photo albums full of nudes. Once these hit 4chan, they spread like wildfire, causing many a red-faced Hollywood starlet. The second of the hackers, Edward Majerczyk, just had his day in court and signed a plea agreement for taking part in the “Celebgate” hack. Along with co-hacker Ryan Collins, who also signed a plea agreement, he’ll be serving jail time. Majerczyk faces up to five years jail time for violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act while Collins is looking at a recommended sentence of 18 months. If you can find any good in this story, it’s that following the leak; Apple beefed up its iCloud security with email alerts, two-factor authentication, and app-specific passwords.

UN Declares Unrestricted Access to the Internet is a Basic Human Right

Corey Mueller, Popular Science

You can add “unrestricted internet access” to the UN’s list of undeniable human rights. The global governing body has introduced a non-binding resolution to prevent governments from deliberately blocking or preventing their citizens from internet access. While this doesn’t mean the world wide web will be coming to every nook and cranny of the Earth anytime soon, it will help people in places such as China see the full scope of the internet and not just what their government wants to see.

Now if only this move will get the United States to do right by net neutrality and keep our internet as free as our country. ‘merica!

AI May Beat us at Chess, But it Won’t Remember Our Face

Siyi Chen, Quartz

With the world starting to anticipate the dawn of our robot overlord uprising, a story out of China serves to humble AI just a bit.  At the “Facial Recognition Olympics” (so that’s a thing now), Wang Yuheng correctly matched photos of adult women with their childhood pictures, a feat his AI competitor “Mark” could not do as well. Of course, this is after Mark and Yuheng tied in the first two rounds. Mark is the AI of Alipay, the largest digital payment service in China. Yuheng is well known for his photographic memory whose feats include identifying a specific glass of water out of 520 other seemingly identical ones.

While this seems like a victory for humankind, it’s only a matter of time before Mark exceeds his 99.5% accuracy rate and knows each one of us in more ways than just looks. Soon we’ll have AIs doing all our banking, selling our deli meats, even writing our newsletters! (I’m not a robot, I swear) But will they ever love us? Probably not.

The Voice Behind the Internet of the 90’s

Great Big Story

If you’re a 90’s kid like me, you grew up with moments of glee when you heard the familiar “You’ve Got Mail” and “File’s Done” soundbites of the AOL dial-up software. Those words and that voice were a sign from the gods, you were finally connected to the internet after 20+ minutes of dialing and praying no one in your house picked up the phone.  What many of us didn’t know was that voice belonged to a real man, Elwood Edwards, and the AOL gig may have ruined his voice acting career. Little did Elwood know that his iconic voice would reach millions, but net him nary a dollar for the efforts. His only other claim to fame was a brief voice-over on The Simpsons, but hey, that’s more than I can say about my acting career.

Pokemon Go load screen
Image courtesy Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go Players are Walking into Trouble

It’s here. After over a year of hype, missed release dates, and more hype, Pokemon Go is available in the US. This game did what DDR and WiiSports couldn’tL it made me want to, CRAVE to exercise. All in the name of catching a Pokemon. But there are already safety concerns with the new app which uses augmented reality to put Pokemon in our environment in real time. For safety’s sake, I took my father on my walk into the wild (i.e. my crappy neighborhood) and yes, he did have to tell me once or twice to watch where I was going. But I’m not the only one walking into peril for the sake of nabbing a fantasy critter!

Reports from the Darwin Police Station in Australia (where the app launched first, probably coinciding with Japan’s time zones) say players are walking straight up into their station, which is unfortunately marked as a PokeStop (a place to get free items). USA Today has a slightly pissy article on the game, written from the perspective of a journalist who’s never had the thrill of catching a legendary bird after the 25th reset. The game’s loading splash screen (pictured above) has a comical rendering of what might happen if you’re not careful to look up. But remember kids, Gyarados can’t hurt you in real life, but a moving vehicle can.

Of course, there are already exaggerations of the dangers of the game. Fake news site Cartel Press reported on a Chicago teen getting mugged and stabbed for his iPhone after wandering into a “bad neighborhood” while tracking a Pokemon. Another (true) quirk of the game is that many of the PokeStops are located at churches, leading some fans to believe the game is trying to push religion. Personally, I think it’s just the most common, non-commercial landmark that’s almost guaranteed to be present in any semi-populated area. But fret not, I’m sure the McDonalds or Starbucks tie-in is coming soon. “You must buy at least one (1) more McFlurry to enter this Gym!” (props to mgoldstein of the IE Slack channel for that joke)

Sixty Years of AI

It was the summer of 1956 when a team of computer scientists convened at Dartmouth college for the first summit on artificial intelligence. Since then the predictions made at the conference (which was based on the assumption that a handful of researchers could crack the problem with a few years of work), have come tantalizingly close to true, if much longer than originally expected.

The advent of virtual humans is nearly upon us. There will invariably be other missteps on par with or beyond Microsoft Tay, who took after Twitter users that taught the bot to be racist and inflammatory in just one day. Pretty soon, AI will be coming for my job as well, not just taking over trucking with self-driving vehicles, but building websites better and faster than I can for many use cases.

The next six years will surely bring more advancement in this excitingly terrifying field than the past sixty. Perhaps I can use it to write newsletters for me by then?

Facebook to Change News Feed to Focus on Friends and Family

Mike Isaac and Sydney Ember, New York Times

First Facebook reels in every major news company with Instant Articles and the higher traffic numbers that come from sharing articles in their walled garden. After everyone was well and hooked, Facebook slowly started ratcheting back the reach of posts made by businesses and pages, and continued to make it harder to interact with people who expressly choose to consume your content without paying for the privilege.

Facebook has just updated their News Feed update blog to announce that they want to make sure that you never miss stories from your friends and family, by pushing them higher on the news feed. That’s a great concept, but in practice, it means an even harder time for groups and pages who have fans to share their content. The move means that even more companies will have to make the switch to live video, as well as encourage their fans to share content, as opposed to just interacting with it on their own pages.

Facebook already has a problem with blocking content that may not be contentious for a variety of reasons, despite what their own guidelines say. This news should be a reminder that you cede all control when you enter someone else’s platform, as many organizations who tie their fortunes to Facebook feeds find.

Researchers Sue the Government Over Computer Hacking Law

Kim Zetter, Wired

Speaking of seeing things online, researchers and First Look Media have filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department in an attempt to invalidate parts of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that they believe violates both the first and fifth amendments. The researchers believe that the need to create fake profiles on websites to investigate things such as racial bias among AirBNB hosts, or even worse, in criminal profiling and bail setting.

It is a necessary step, as with ombudsmen and public institutions, to allow the study of the effect of increasingly important algorithms and data systems on our lives. The most insidious biases are those invisible ones that function by the fact that we cannot notice their existence.

Chatbot lawyer overturns 160,000 parking tickets in London and New York

Samuel Gibbs, The Guardian

At 19 I was coding, but I wasn’t creating anything that was allowing over a quarter million people to contest parking tickets, with a 64% success rate and $4 million in saved fines. That’s what self-taught coder Joshua Browder has done, with his chatbot service DoNotPay, that currently works in NYC and London, with plans to expand to other cities.

Github Repository Activity
Github Repository Activity Over Time

The heartbeat of open source projects can be heard with GitHub data

Steven Max Patterson, Network World

Github posted on their blog last week about how popular Open Source projects are managed and contributed to on the platform. It makes sense that comments and pull requests grow in comparison to commits, as more popularity for a project leads to more group decision making, and less direct oversight by one individual on updates.

Apple gets patent to disable cell cameras at concerts, and it’s super evil

Apple’s been working on this for years, and it’s not terrible at all. I mean, when besides concerts would anyone ever want to disable recording equipment on all cellphones in a given area? Heck, why would we ever want to allow it at concerts either, let alone the many places that this technology would very definitely be abused?

This story was submitted by @lmelegari. If you’ve got any cool net scoops, send them over!