Archive for February, 2018

Equifax finds more victims of 2017 breach

Equifax logo Equifax finds more victims of 2017 breach Equifax finds more victims of 2017 breach 2c649255fdImage copyrightReuters
Image caption US politicians have criticised Equifax, saying that it “botched” its earlier response to the breach

The massive data breach suffered by credit-rating company Equifax hit more people than previously thought, the company has reported.

In September last year Equifax said it had discovered that 145 million US customers may have had their information stolen.

Its investigation into the breach has revealed that the details of a further 2.4 million Americans went astray.

Continuing analysis of stolen data had helped identify new victims, it said.

Publicly apologised

“Equifax will notify these newly identified US consumers directly, and will offer identity-theft protection and credit-file monitoring services at no cost to them,” it said in a statement.

Equifax made the announcement on the same day that it reported its full-year earnings.

The firm said the breach cost more than $114m last year, after insurance payouts, but the company’s profits remained healthy, helped by a strong performance in its international business and new tax cuts that the US approved last year.

The firm reported $587.3m in profits last year, up 20% from 2016. In the fourth quarter, profits were $172.3m, rising 40% compared to the same period in 2016.

In 2017, Equifax said an internal investigation had uncovered signs of unauthorised access to data including names, addresses and social security numbers.

And the company set up a website for people to learn if they were among those whose information had been accessed.

Equifax was widely criticised after the breach and its then chief executive publicly apologised for failing to protect information and for taking so long to let victims know their data had been compromised.

Several senior executives, including the chief executive, subsequently left the company because of the breach.

Equifax holds data on more than 820 million consumers and 91 million businesses worldwide.

It does credit checks, ID theft monitoring and offers job verification services.

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Sky brings Netflix on board

Netflix show Bright Sky brings Netflix on board Sky brings Netflix on board 9edcc745b3Image copyrightNetflix
Image caption Bright is one of the Netflix shows that will be available to Sky Q subscribers

Sky will make Netflix available through its latest box in an attempt to tackle the threat posed by the popular streaming service.

The satellite broadcaster will allow viewers to watch Netflix shows on its Sky Q platform later this year.

Customers will pay for Netflix as part of their Sky bill, although prices have not yet been announced.

Sky said the move would make the entertainment experience “easier and simpler” for customers.

Reed Hastings, Netflix chief executive, said the partnership would allow Sky subscribers to seamlessly access the best entertainment in one place.

The streaming service’s mix of original drama, films and other programming has proved popular globally, with subscriber numbers reaching nearly 118 million at the end of 2017.

Image copyrightSky

While pay-TV rival Virgin Media has offered Netflix to its customers for some time, Sky has regarded it as an “existential threat to its service”, said Tom Harrington, an analyst at Enders.

“It has inconvenienced its subscribers, who are more likely to have Netflix than those without pay-TV, because it has believed that its content was strong and exclusive enough to justify operating a walled garden,” he said.

“It seems as if that confidence has subsided and bringing a competitor on board – one that could potentially satisfy Sky’s subscribers for a much lower price – is a risky move that cannot now be backed away from, but at least is a sure source of shared revenues.”

The deal comes as US media giant Comcast threatens to derail Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to take full control of Sky.

This week the owner of NBC Universal made a £22.1bn bid for the European satellite broadcaster, challenging a lower offer from 21st Century Fox.

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AI finds novel way to beat classic Q*bert Atari video game

Atari game console AI finds novel way to beat classic Q*bert Atari video game AI finds novel way to beat classic Q*bert Atari video game 186832e1b9
Image caption The Atari game consoles were very popular in the 1980s

Atari video game Q*bert has been beaten by an Artificial Intelligence program, which exploited a loophole that had never previously been discovered.

The AI program used trial and error to uncover a quirk in the game’s code that let it score a huge amount of points.

No human player of Q*bert is believed to have ever uncovered the tricks it used to win.

The AI program was let loose on the video game by German researchers who are developing code that can learn.

Suicide strategy

Video games have proved popular with AI researchers because they are limited worlds in which success (high scores) and failure (losing the game) are easy to assess. This can help refine AI programs because those that score the most points and lose the least are likely to be better learners.

Patryk Chrabaszcz, Ilya Loshchilov and Frank Hutter from the University of Freiburg let several basic AI programs loose on classic Atari video games as part of work on what are known as “evolutionary algorithms”.

As the name implies this involves generating lots of algorithms, seeing which ones perform best and then mutating or changing them in small ways to see if they get better or worse.

These evolutionary methods stand in contrast to another widely used approach known as “deep reinforcement learning” that mimic biological neural networks and allow them to learn for themselves. The best known of these systems is Google’s Deep Mind.

Different strategies

In Q*bert, players are presented with a pyramid made of cubes on which they must jump around. Landing on the top of a cube changes its colour. The player must change all the cubes’ colours without being caught by the game’s titular character and some other enemies.

Rather than the original, the researchers used an updated version of the game, and seven others, to make it easier for their AI creation to try out different strategies.

On Q*bert, said the researchers, the AI code found two “particularly interesting solutions”.

One revolved around an in-game bug which saw the AI-controlled player jump from cube to cube seemingly at random. However, they found, this caused the cubes to start blinking and rewarded the player with a huge amount of points.

A video posted by Mr Chrabaszcz shows the AI-controlled player getting lots of points in only 10 minutes.

Warren Davis, who worked on the original arcade version of Q*bert, said he was not familiar with the ported code but added; “This certainly doesn’t look right, but I don’t think you’d see the same behaviour in the arcade version.”

Another novel strategy involved endlessly tempting Q*bert to commit suicide. Each time this happened the program received enough points for another life so it could repeat the cycle.

In their research paper, the team said the success shown by their “basic” algorithm showed the promise of this branch of AI and could be “considered as a potentially competitive approach to modern deep reinforcement learning algorithms”.

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Bill Gates says crypto-currencies cause deaths

Bill Gates Bill Gates says crypto-currencies cause deaths Bill Gates says crypto-currencies cause deaths f6a03ccf93Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Bill Gates had previously spoken enthusiastically about Bitcoin

Crypto-currencies are killing people in a “fairly direct way”, Microsoft founder Bill Gates has said.

He was referring to the way digital currencies like Bitcoin are used to buy drugs like synthetic opioid fentanyl.

In an “ask me anything” session on news website Reddit, he said that the anonymity of digital currencies meant they were linked to terrorist funding and money laundering.

Some criticised him, saying he was ill-informed about the technology.

Asked by one user for his opinion on the technology, Mr Gates replied: “The main feature of crypto-currencies is their anonymity. I don’t think this is a good thing. The government’s ability to find money laundering and tax evasion and terrorist funding is a good thing.

“Right now, crypto-currencies are used for buying fentanyl and other drugs so it is a rare technology that has caused deaths in a fairly direct way. I think the speculative wave around ICOs [initial coin offerings] and crypto-currencies is super risky for those who go long.”

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption There are now some high-profile names cautioning against crypto-currency investment

Veteran investor Warren Buffet has previously said that the speculative crypto-currency craze “will come to a bad end”.

Mr Gates has not always been so cynical about Bitcoin. In 2014, in an interview on Bloomberg TV, he said that Bitcoin “was better than currency”.

His less than enthusiastic response on Reddit did not go down well with all those participating in the debate, with some reproaching him for what they felt was an attempt to influence the market. Others suggested that he needed to look again at the Bitcoin white paper.

Charitable donations

In the wide-ranging Reddit chat, Mr Gates told the audience that his top three goals were “reducing both childhood death and malnutrition and ending polio”.

Mr Gates is co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which spends billions each year on education and health projects.

The foundation has also sponsored the development of blockchain – the technology that underpins crypto-currenices – for merchants in Kenya.

Microsoft is also looking to integrate blockchain-based technology for verifying digital identity.

The rise in value of crypto-currency has prompted governments around the world to look more closely at its impact on economies and citizens.

While the technology underlying it is often praised, there are concerns about how it could disrupt the economy as well as its links to cyber-crime and money laundering.

The UK’s Treasury Committee is currently investigating the impact of such currencies.

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Is Spotify really worth $23bn?

Daniel Ek, CEO of Swedish music streaming service Spotify, gestures as he makes a speech at a press conference in Tokyo on September 29, 2016. Is Spotify really worth $23bn? Is Spotify really worth $23bn? 6ab614f593Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Daniel Ek co-founded Swedish streaming company Spotify in 2006

Spotify, the world’s biggest music streaming service, has filed paperwork to start trading its shares publicly on the New York Stock Exchange.

The firm said it expects shares to sell at prices that could value the business at more than $23bn (£16.7bn).

The Swedish company will list shares directly on the NYSE, bypassing the traditional stock offering process.

In a typical public offering, companies issue new shares, with the initial price underwritten by investment banks.

Analysis: What Spotify must do to survive

With a direct listing, current Spotify shareholders will take their shares straight to the market.

The move provides an exit for early investors looking to cash in on the company’s growth, but is not intended to help the business raise significant new money.

“It’s about a company that is letting its investors get their returns so it can move on to the next stage of its career,” said Mark Mulligan, a UK-based music industry analyst at MIDiA Research.

Spotify, which launched its streaming service in 2008, is now active in 61 countries, boasting 159 million monthly active users and 71 million paid subscribers.

Calculating value

Spotify said its shares sold for between $37.50 and $125 each in private transactions last year and more than $132 this year. The company’s potential valuation is based on a combination of stock price and how many shares it has outstanding.

The prices shared by Spotify suggest a range of $6.3bn to more than $23bn.

The higher figure would make Spotify one of the biggest public debuts of a tech company since 2012, said Kathleen Smith, principal at Renaissance Capital, which provides institutional research and manages exchange traded funds focused on new public companies.

She cautioned, however, that private investors have tended to value firms more highly than public markets in recent years.

Snap, owner of Snapchat, for example also had an almost $30bn market capitalisation after its first day of trading last year, but it has struggled to sustain that figure.

“This could be an issue – could it possibly sustain those valuations?” she said.

Image caption UK pop star Dua Lipa was one of Spotify’s most-streamed artists this year

In its filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Spotify said it has incurred operating losses since its inception and experienced more than €1.2bn in losses in 2017.

But other key metrics, including revenue, are moving in the right direction, Mr Mulligan said.

The firm earned €4bn in revenue last year, rising almost 40% from €2.95bn in 2016, according to the filing.

Europe is its largest region, with 58 million monthly active users, followed by North America. It is also making inroads in Latin America and other parts of the world.

Churn rates, which measure cancellation, have fallen, while the time spent using the service has increased.

“All of that stuff paint a really strong story to investors that they’re on the right path,” Mr Mulligan said.

Future plans

In its filing, Spotify says it aims to “unlock the potential of human creativity by giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by these creators.”

The firm said it had paid more than €8bn in royalties to artists, music labels, and publishers since its launch.

The filing also hinted at plans to expand beyond music into other forms of radio.

“With our ad-supported service, we believe there is a large opportunity to grow users and gain market share from traditional terrestrial radio,” it said.

The filing says the firm expects to sell $1bn worth in shares, but the figure is a placeholder used to calculate the registration fee. The document does not provide information about when the listing would occur.

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Dyson creates 300 new electric car jobs

Sir James Dyson Dyson creates 300 new electric car jobs Dyson creates 300 new electric car jobs b84e08b77aImage copyrightHeathcliff O’Malley
Image caption Sir James Dyson accused the mainstream car industry of polluting the world with diesel emissions

Dyson is seeking an extra 300 engineers in a push to build its first electric car by 2020.

Best known for its vacuum cleaners and hand dryers, the firm caused a stir when it announced plans for a battery powered vehicle.

Dyson already has a 400-strong team working on the project and has doubled the number of scientists working on its battery programmes over the past year.

The jobs news came as it revealed 2017 underlying earnings rose 27% to £801m.

Dyson to make electric cars from 2020

Dyson settles legal dispute with ex-chief

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Dyson is better known for its vacuum cleaners than its cars

Dyson said the electric car team – which up until now has been based in its Malmesbury headquarters in the Cotswolds – would shortly move to its new research and development base in Hullavington in Wiltshire.

The privately-owned firm is yet to decide where its electric cars – once they have been designed – will be manufactured.

The UK is reported to be in contention for the work, along with Singapore, Malaysia and China.

‘Asia enthusiasm’

High demand in Asia was the biggest drivers of last year’s performance, with Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea together accounting for almost three quarters of 2017 sales.

Dyson creates 300 new electric car jobs Dyson creates 300 new electric car jobs 1cc55a5f5e
Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe skills shortage pushing Dyson to Asia

Billionaire founder James Dyson said people in Asia had “an extraordinary enthusiasm for technology that works”.

Sir James also said the firm had “moved on” from its dispute with former Dyson chief executive Max Conze over the alleged disclosure of confidential information.

The allegations were vehemently denied by Mr Conze, and Dyson settled out of court in December.

Mr Conze worked for the company for six years before being replaced in October by chief operating officer Jim Rowan.

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Free treats for students who put down phones

Three founders of Hold, from left to right - Maths Mathisen, Florian Winder and Vinoth Vinaya Free treats for students who put down phones Free treats for students who put down phones 65ee9b451aImage copyrightHold
Image caption The three founders wanted to find a solution to device distraction

An app that rewards students for time spent away from their phones is being released in the UK.

Hold was developed by three students who met at Copenhagen Business School and wanted to develop something to help with the issue of device distraction.

It has proved popular in Scandinavia, with more than 120,000 users across Norway, Denmark and Sweden.

Experts are growing increasingly worried about the issue of device addiction.

According to a 2017 study by the University of Texas, simply having a smartphone within eyeshot can reduce productivity, slow down response speed and reduce grades.

A previous study from the London School of Economics suggested pupils who did not use their smartphones on school grounds saw a 6.4% increase in test scores.

The app will initially be rolled out to 170 universities around the UK. It works on both Android and iOS devices and is free to download.

Students will accumulate 10 points for every 20 minutes that they do not use their mobile phone between 07:00 and 23:00 every day of the week.

Points can be exchanged for goods and services within the app’s marketplace, with brands such as Caffe Nero, Vue cinemas and Amazon signed up.

To earn two free coffees, students will need 300 points, which equates to 10 hours on the Hold app. For free popcorn at the cinema, they will need to spend two hours to accrue 60 points.

Students can also exchange their points for books and stationery which are donated to schools via Unicef.

Mental health

The founders – Maths Mathisen, Florian Winder and Vinoth Vinaya – have all experienced the issue of device distraction.

Mr Mathisen said: “Having come up with the idea for this app during my time as a student, I knew first-hand how difficult it is to concentrate while studying when you have the option to text, snap, or play games on your phone.

“With Hold, our mission is to limit these distractions by rewarding students and giving them an incentive to focus on their work.

“The fact that a quarter of students in Norway downloaded Hold in just three months since launch, shows that young people are ready to make that change and put their phones to the side while they study.”

There are growing concerns among health professionals that spending too much time on devices is affecting the concentration and wider mental health of young people.

Dr Louise Theodosiou, a consultant psychiatrist at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, said: “It is positive to see apps which acknowledge that students will be using their phones and provide real solutions to help balance the use of technology.

“We know that wellbeing can be enhanced by exercise and engaging with friends and family.

“Rewards which could be linked to travel or social activities could be an incentive to students managing their money.

“We know that young people today are reporting higher rates of mental health needs.

“Social media is a tool which can be both positive and negative and supporting young people to learn to structure how and when they use it can be a valuable tool.”

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Smart Wallet Card shows adverts from banks at MWC 2018

A smart payment card that stores multiple credit and debit account details that can be updated remotely will shortly launch in the UK, its creator has revealed.

The device can also be used to show adverts from banks.

The firm behind the product – Dynamics Inc – is not yet ready to disclose its UK launch partner.

But it revealed other details about the Wallet Card to the BBC’s Leo Kelion at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress tech show.

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Deepfakes: The face-swapping software explained

Software that replaces an original face with another has been developed.

It uses a machine-learning algorithm to create a computer-generated version of the subject’s face.

The results are known as deepfakes.

BBC Click finds out more.

See more at Click’s website and @BBCClick.

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New energy

The Vietnam government has made an effort in recent years to bring back Vietnamese people who have gone overseas to study and work.

This has resulted in creating a vibrant tech entrepreneur scene, where many start-ups are focusing on solving everyday problems.

The country’s young and highly-literate population is providing a big boost to making Ho Chi Minh City one of Asia’s Silicon Valleys.

Reported and edited by: Christine Hah; Filmed by: Jone Chang; Produced by: Pamela Parker.

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