Businesses

Silicon Valley's Tech Bubble Is Now Larger Than In 2000. Will It Come To An End? (cnbc.com) 83

"We are now officially in a tech bubble larger than March of 2000," argues Keith Wright, instructor of accounting and information services at the Villanova School of Business. An anonymous reader quotes his commentary on CNBC: In case you missed it, the peak in the tech unicorn bubble already has been reached. And it's going to be all downhill from here. Massive losses are coming in venture capital-funded start-ups that are, in some cases, as much as 50 percent overvalued... 76% of the companies that went public last year were unprofitable on a per-share basis in the year leading up to their initial offerings, according to data compiled by Jay Ritter, a professor at the University of Florida's Warrington College of Business, and recently featured in the New York Times. This is the largest number since the peak of the dot-com boom in 2000, when 81 percent of newly public companies were unprofitable...

Several financial models project that up to 80 percent of unicorn companies are set to fail within two years. Uber, the highest-valued private technology company, has rapidly growing revenue but remains highly unprofitable. With revenue of $6.5 billion in 2016, it still registered a net loss of $2.8 billion. The truth is, when a unicorn is overvalued, it doesn't take long for the market to discover this fact.

Robotics

AI-Enhanced Weed-Killing Robots Frighten Pesticide Industry (reuters.com) 148

Rick Schumann writes: A Swiss company called ecoRobotix is betting the agricultural industry will be willing to welcome their solar-powered weed-killing autonomous robot, in an effort to reduce the use of herbicides by up to a factor of 20 and perhaps even eliminate the need for herbicide-resistant GMO crops entirely.

The 'see-and-spray' robot goes from plant to plant, visually differentiating the actual crops and weeds, and squirting the weeds selectively and precisely with weed killer, as opposed to the current technique of using large quantities of weed killer like Monsantos' Roundup to spray entire crops.

Weeds are already becoming resistant to such glyphosate-based herbicides after "more than 20 years of near-ubiquitous use," reports Reuters. (The head of one pesticide company's science division concedes that "That was probably a once-in-a-lifetime product.") But AI-based precision spraying "could mean established herbicides whose effect has worn off on some weeds could be used successfully in more potent, targeted doses."

Meanwhile, another Silicon Valley startup has built a machine using on-board cameras to distinguish weeds from crops -- and was recently acquired by the John Deere tractor company. Reuters calls these companies the "new breed of AI weeders that investors say could disrupt the $100 billion pesticides and seeds industry."

The original submission asks: Should we welcome our weed-killing robotic overlords?
Medicine

U.S. Passes 'Right to Try' Law Allowing Experimental Medical Treatments (chicagotribune.com) 115

schwit1 shared this article from the Washington Post: The House on Tuesday passed "right to try" legislation that would allow people with life-threatening illnesses to bypass the Food and Drug Administration to obtain experimental medications, ending a drawn-out battle over access to unapproved therapies. President Trump is expected to quickly sign the measure, which was praised by supporters as a lifeline for desperate patients but denounced by scores of medical and consumer groups as unnecessary and dangerous...

The FDA would be largely left out of the equation under the new legislation and would not oversee the right-to-try process. Drug manufacturers would have to report "adverse events" -- safety problems, including premature deaths -- only once a year. The agency also would be restricted in how it used such information when considering the experimental treatments for approval. Patients would be eligible for right-to-try if they had a "life-threatening illness" and had exhausted all available treatment options. The medication itself must have completed early-stage safety testing, called Phase 1 trials, and be in active development with the goal of FDA approval.

One Congressman opposing the bill argued that eliminating FDA oversight would "provide fly-by-night physicians and clinics the opportunity to peddle false hope and ineffective drugs to desperate patients," noting that the bill is opposed by over 100 patient advocacy and consumer groups.
Cloud

Microsoft Wins A Big Cloud Deal With America's Intelligence Community (spokesman.com) 40

wyattstorch516 shared this story from the AP: Microsoft Corp. said it's secured a lucrative cloud deal with the intelligence community that marks a rapid expansion by the software giant into a market led by Amazon.com Inc. The deal, which the company said Wednesday is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, allows 17 intelligence agencies and offices to use Microsoft's Azure Government, a cloud service tailored for federal and local governments, in addition to other products Microsoft already offers, such as its Windows 10 operating system and word processing programs.

The cloud agreement gives Microsoft more power to make its case to the Pentagon as it goes up against competitors like International Business Machines Corp., Oracle Corp. and Amazon for the agency's winner-take-all cloud computing contract for up to 10 years.

That contract is expected to be worth billions of dollars, according to the article, adding that "the Defense Department has said it intends to move the department's technology needs -- 3.4 million users and 4 million devices -- to the cloud to give it a tactical edge on the battlefield and strengthen its use of emerging technologies."

One Microsoft executive said this week's deal reinforces "the fact that we are a solid cloud platform that the federal government can put their trust in."
Businesses

All Major ISPs Have Declined In Customer Satisfaction, Says Study (dslreports.com) 69

The latest American Customer Satisfaction Index survey finds that Verizon FiOS has been rated the highest in customer satisfaction with a score of 70 out of 100. But, as DSLReports notes, that's nothing to write home about since that score was a one point decline from one year earlier. Furthermore, the industry average was 64 points, which is not only a decline from last year but lower than most of the other industries the group tracks. From the report: According to the ACSI, high prices and poor customer service continues to plague an U.S. broadband industry with some very obvious competitive shortcomings. "According to users, most aspects of ISPs are getting worse," the ACSI said. "Courtesy and helpfulness of staff has waned to 76 and in-store service is slower (74). Bills are more difficult to understand (-3 percent to 71), and customers aren't happy with the variety of plans available (-3 percent to 64)." Not a single ISP tracked by the firm saw an improvement in customer satisfaction scores.

The worst of the worst according to the ACSI is Mediacom, which saw a 9% plummet year over year to a score of 53, which is lower than most airlines, banks, and even the IRS according to the report. Charter Spectrum and Suddenlink also saw 8% declines in satisfaction year over year, and despite repeated claims that customer service is now its top priority, Comcast saw zero improvement in broadband satisfaction and a slight decline in pay TV satisfaction.

Businesses

US Reaches Deal To Keep Chinese Telecom ZTE in Business (reuters.com) 100

The Trump administration told lawmakers the U.S. government has reached a deal to put Chinese telecommunications company ZTE Corp back in business, a senior congressional aide said on Friday. From a report: The deal, communicated to officials on Capitol Hill by the Commerce Department, requires ZTE to pay a substantial fine, place U.S. compliance officers at the company and change its management team, the aide said. The Commerce Department would then lift an order preventing ZTE from buying U.S. products.

ZTE was banned in April from buying U.S. technology components for seven years for breaking an agreement reached after it violated U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea. The Commerce Department decision would allow it to resume business with U.S. companies, including chipmaker Qualcomm Inc.

Businesses

Vermont Wants To Pay Companies To Let Employees Work Remotely (fastcompany.com) 78

A proposal for an act in the Vermont legislature is actively trying to give grants to small companies to employ remote workers. From a report: Under the terms of S-0094, a $10,000 micro-grant will be given to a business that will "establish or enhance a facility that attracts small companies or remote workers, or both, including generator and maker spaces, co-working spaces, remote work hubs, and innovation spaces, with special emphasis on facilities that promote colocation of nonprofit, for-profit, and government entities."
Security

Microsoft Explains Why Windows Defender Isn't Ranked Higher in New Antivirus Tests (zdnet.com) 85

In its most recent reports, AV-Test had very few flattering things to say about Windows Defender. Microsoft's security suite was rated as the seventh best antivirus product in the independent test. In total, 15 AV products were tested. Microsoft, however, has now disputed AV-Test's methodology and conclusion. For some context, the top AV products rated by AV-Test on Windows 10 were Trend Micro, Vipre, AhnLab, Avira, Bitdefender, Kaspersky, and McAfee.

Windows Defender was able to detect 100 percent of new and old malware, but it lost few points for performance (which, AV-Test measures on the basis of how a security suite slows applications and websites on the test computer); and usability (which counts false-positives or instances where AV wrongly identifies a file as malicious.) From a report: Windows Defender's performance rating was dragged down because it slowed the installation of frequently used applications more than the industry average, and wrongly detected 16 pieces of legitimate software compared with the industry average of four. But Microsoft wants enterprise customers to know that Windows Defender is only half the picture, given the option for customers to also deploy Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection's (ATP) "stack components" including Smartscreen, Application Guard, and Application Control.

In the January and February test Windows Defender also scored 100 percent on protection. However it did miss two samples. Since then it's retrained its machine-learning classifiers to detect them. But Microsoft notes in a new paper that Defender ATP did catch them, which isn't reflected in AV-Test's or other testing firms' result. Microsoft hopes to change this so that testers include so-called stack components available in ATP. "As threats become more sophisticated, Microsoft and other security platform vendors continue evolving their product capabilities to detect threats across different attack stages," Microsoft's Windows Defender Research team writes. "We hope to see independent testers evolve their methodologies as well. Our customers need greater transparency and optics into what an end-to-end solution can accomplish in terms of total preventive protection, including the quality of individual components like antivirus."

Businesses

Apple Blocks Steam's Plan To Extend Its Video Games To iPhones (reuters.com) 186

Citing "business conflicts," Apple has blocked Steam's plans to distribute PC-based video games to iPhones. It's "a sign that Apple is serious about protecting its ability to take a cut of digital purchases made inside games on its mobile devices," reports Reuters. From the report: Steam, the dominant online store for downloaded games played on Windows PCs, had planned to release a free mobile phone app called Steam Link so that gamers could continue playing on their mobile phones while away from their desktop machines. But Apple has rejected the app, blocking its release, according to a statement from Steam's parent company, the Bellevue, Washington-based Valve. Steam did not give a precise reason for the App Store denials, saying only that Apple cited "business conflicts with app guidelines." But the conflict likely centers on what are known as in-app purchases or micro-transactions, in which gamers can spend small sums of money inside games to buy tokens, extra lives or others so-called digital goods. Lombardi said Steam disabled purchasing its iOS app but did not elaborate on how the change was made. Many analysts believe Apple could lose revenue if they allow Steam's app, which is essentially a store-within-a-store. "Apple takes a 30 percent cut of such purchases made within apps distributed through its App Store," Reuters notes. "[T]hose purchases are among the primary drivers of revenue in Apple's services business."
Facebook

Facebook Accused of Conducting Mass Surveillance Through Its Apps (theguardian.com) 91

A court case in California alleges that Facebook used its apps to gather information about users and their friends, including some who had not signed up to the social network, reading their text messages, tracking their locations and accessing photos on their phones. The Guardian reports: The claims of what would amount to mass surveillance are part of a lawsuit brought against the company by the former startup Six4Three, listed in legal documents filed at the superior court in San Mateo as part of a court case that has been ongoing for more than two years. The allegations about surveillance appear in a January filing, the fifth amended complaint made by Six4Three. It alleges that Facebook used a range of methods, some adapted to the different phones that users carried, to collect information it could use for commercial purposes.

"Facebook continued to explore and implement ways to track users' location, to track and read their texts, to access and record their microphones on their phones, to track and monitor their usage of competitive apps on their phones, and to track and monitor their calls," one court document says. But all details about the mass surveillance scheme have been redacted on Facebook's request in Six4Three's most recent filings. Facebook claims these are confidential business matters. It has until next Tuesday to submit a claim to the court for the documents to remain sealed from public view.

Bug

Is Cockroach Milk the Ultimate Superfood? (globalnews.ca) 244

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Global News: It may not be everyone's cup of milk, but for years now, some researchers believe insect milk, like cockroach milk, could be the next big dairy alternative. A report in 2016 found Pacific Beetle cockroaches specifically created nutrient-filled milk crystals that could also benefit humans, the Hindustan Times reports. Others report producing cockroach milk isn't easy, either -- it takes 1,000 cockroaches to make 100 grams of milk, Inverse reports, and other options could include a cockroach milk pill. And although it has been two years since the study, some people are still hopeful. Insect milk, or entomilk, is already being used and consumed by Cape Town-based company Gourmet Grubb, IOL reports.

Jarrod Goldin, [president of Entomo Farms which launched in 2014], got interested in the insect market after the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation in 2013 announced people around the world were consuming more than 1,900 insects. As his brothers were already farming insects for fishing and reptile use, Goldin thought it would be a smart business opportunity to focus on food. Goldin adds studies have shown cricket powder can be a high source of protein and B12. The PC version his company produces has 13 grams of protein per every 2 1/2 tbsps. Toronto-based registered dietitian Andy De Santis says for protein alternatives, insects are definitely in the playing field.
According to ScienceAlert, Diploptera punctate is the only known cockroach to give birth to live young and has been shown to pump out a type of "milk" containing protein crystals to feed its babies. "The fact that an insect produces milk is pretty fascinating -- but what fascinated researchers is the fact that a single one of these protein crystals contains more than three times the amount of energy found in an equivalent amount of buffalo milk (which is also higher in calories than regular cow's milk)."

Researchers are now working to replicate the crystals in the lab. They are working with yeast to produce the crystal in much larger quantities -- "making it slightly more efficient than extracting crystals from cockroach's guts," reports ScienceAlert.
The Courts

Samsung Must Pay Apple $539 Million For Infringing iPhone Design Patents, Jury Finds (cnet.com) 143

Samsung must pay Apple $539 million for infringing five patents with Android phones it sold in 2010 and 2011, a jury has found in a legal fight that dates back seven years. "The unanimous decision, in the U.S. District Court in San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley, is just about halfway between what the two largest mobile phone makers had sought in a high-profile case that reaches back to 2011," reports CNET. From the report: The bulk of the damages payment, $533,316,606, was for infringing three Apple design patents. The remaining $5,325,050 was for infringing two utility patents. Samsung already had been found to infringe the patents, but this trial determined some of the damages. The jury's rationale isn't clear, but the figure is high enough to help cement the importance of design patents in the tech industry. Even though they only describe cosmetic elements of a product, they clearly can have a lot of value.

Samsung showed its displeasure and indicated the fight isn't over. "Today's decision flies in the face of a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in favor of Samsung on the scope of design patent damages. We will consider all options to obtain an outcome that does not hinder creativity and fair competition for all companies and consumers," Samsung said.

Businesses

Android Creator Puts Essential Up For Sale, Cancels Next Phone (bloomberg.com) 51

Bloomberg reports that Andy Rubin's Essential Products business is considering selling itself and has canceled development of a new smartphone. The news comes several months after numerous reports suggested that the Essential Phone's sales were tepid. From the report: The startup has hired Credit Suisse Group AG to advise on a potential sale and has received interest from at least one suitor, the people said. Essential is now actively shopping itself to potential suitors, one of the people said. The startup, part of Rubin's incubator Playground Global, has raised about $300 million from several investors, including Amazon, Tencent, and Redpoint Ventures. It was valued at $900 million to $1 billion about a year ago, according to an analysis by Equidate, which runs a market for private company stock.

The startup has spent more than $100 million on developing its first products, about a third of the money it raised to build the company, the people said. Current discussions are focused on a sale of the entire company, including its patent portfolio, hardware products like the original smartphone, an upcoming smart home device and a camera attachment for the phone. Essential's engineering talent, which includes those hired from Apple and Alphabet's Google, would likely be part of a deal. The company hasn't yet made a final decision on a sale, the people said.

Transportation

Uber's Self-Driving Car Saw Pedestrian 6 Seconds Before Fatal Strike, Says Report (tucson.com) 249

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Arizona Daily Star: The autonomous Uber SUV that struck and killed an Arizona pedestrian in March spotted the woman about six seconds before hitting her, but did not stop because the system used to automatically apply brakes in potentially dangerous situations had been disabled, according to federal investigators. In a preliminary report on the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday that emergency braking is not enabled while Uber's cars are under computer control, "to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior." Instead, Uber relies on a human backup driver to intervene. The system, however, is not designed to alert the driver. The report comes a day after Uber announced it will be ending it's self-driving vehicle testing in Arizona. The full NTSB report is available here.
Android

Some Low-Cost Android Phones Shipped With Malware Built In (techcrunch.com) 49

More than 100 different low-cost Android models from manufacturers such as ZTE, Archos, and myPhone ship with malware pre-installed, researchers at Avast Threat Labs reported on Thursday. Users in more than 90 countries, including the U.S., are affected by this, the researchers said. From a report: The malware, called called Cosiloon, overlays advertisements over the operating system in order to promote apps or even trick users into downloading apps. The app consists of a dropper and a payload. "The dropper is a small application with no obfuscation, located on the /system partition of affected devices. The app is completely passive, only visible to the user in the list of system applications under 'settings.' We have seen the dropper with two different names, 'CrashService' and 'ImeMess,'" wrote Avast.

The dropper then connects with a website to grab the payloads that the hackers wish to install on the phone. "The XML manifest contains information about what to download, which services to start and contains a whitelist programmed to potentially exclude specific countries and devices from infection. However, we've never seen the country whitelist used, and just a few devices were whitelisted in early versions. Currently, no countries or devices are whitelisted. The entire Cosiloon URL is hardcoded in the APK."

Bitcoin

About $1.2 Billion in Cryptocurrency Stolen Since 2017 (reuters.com) 53

Criminals have stolen about $1.2 billion in cryptocurrencies since the beginning of 2017, as bitcoin's popularity and the emergence of more than 1,500 digital tokens have put the spotlight on the unregulated sector, according to estimates from the Anti-Phishing Working Group released on Thursday. From a report: The estimates were part of the non-profit group's research on cryptocurrency and include reported and unreported theft. "One problem that we're seeing in addition to the criminal activity like drug trafficking and money laundering using cryptocurrencies is the theft of these tokens by bad guys," Dave Jevans, chief executive officer of cryptocurrency security firm CipherTrace, told Reuters in an interview.
Businesses

Internal Documents Show Apple Knew the iPhone 6 Would Bend (vice.com) 128

In 2014, multiple users reported that their iPhone 6 and 6 Plus handsets were bending under pressure, such as when they were kept in a pocket. As a byproduct of this issue, the touchscreen's internal hardware was also susceptible to losing its connection to the phone's logic board. It turns out, Apple was aware that this could happen. Motherboard: Apple's internal tests found that the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are significantly more likely to bend than the iPhone 5S, according to information made public in a recent court filing obtained by Motherboard. Publicly, Apple has never said that the phones have a bending problem, and maintains that position, despite these models commonly being plagued with "touch disease," a flaw that causes the touchscreen to work intermittently that the repair community say is a result of bending associated with normal use. The information is contained in internal Apple documents filed under seal in a class-action lawsuit that alleges Apple misled customers about touch disease. The documents remain under seal, but US District Court judge Lucy Koh made some of the information from them public in a recent opinion in the case. The company found that the iPhone 6 is 3.3 times more likely to bend than the iPhone 5s, and the iPhone 6 Plus is 7.2 times more likely to bend than the iPhone 5s, according to the documents. Koh wrote that "one of the major concerns Apple identified prior to launching the iPhones was that they were 'likely to bend more easily when compared to previous generations.'"
United States

Massachusetts Gains Foothold in Offshore Wind Power, Long Ignored in US (nytimes.com) 173

New Bedford hopes to soon be the operations center for the first major offshore wind farm in the United States, bringing billions of dollars of investment and thousands of jobs to the town and other ports on the East Coast. The New York Times: On Wednesday, that effort took a major step forward as the State of Massachusetts, after holding an auction, selected a group made up of a Danish investment firm and a Spanish utility to erect giant turbines on the ocean bottom, beginning about 15 miles off Martha's Vineyard. This initial project will generate 800 megawatts of electricity, roughly enough to power a half a million homes. At the same time, Rhode Island announced it would award a 400-megawatt offshore wind project to another bidder in the auction.

The groups must now work out the details of their contracts with the states' utilities. "We see this not just as a project but as the beginning of an industry," Lars Thaaning Pedersen, the chief executive of Vineyard Wind, which was awarded the Massachusetts contract, said in an interview. Offshore wind farms have increasingly become mainstream sources of power in Northern Europe, and are fast becoming among the cheapest sources of electricity in countries like Britain and Germany. Those power sources in those two countries already account for more than 12 gigawatts of electricity generation capacity.

Bitcoin

US Launches Criminal Probe Into Bitcoin Price Manipulation (bloomberg.com) 48

The Justice Department has opened a criminal probe into whether traders are manipulating the price of Bitcoin and other digital currencies, dramatically ratcheting up U.S. scrutiny of red-hot markets that critics say are rife with misconduct, Bloomberg reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter. From the report: The investigation is focused on illegal practices that can influence prices -- such as spoofing, or flooding the market with fake orders to trick other traders into buying or selling, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the review is private. Federal prosecutors are working with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, a financial regulator that oversees derivatives tied to Bitcoin, the people said. Authorities worry that virtual currencies are susceptible to fraud for multiple reasons: skepticism that all exchanges are actively pursuing cheaters, wild price swings that could make it easy to push valuations around and a lack of regulations like the ones that govern stocks and other assets.
Space

Ariane Chief Seems Frustrated With SpaceX For Driving Down Launch Costs (arstechnica.com) 163

schwit1 shares a report from Ars Technica: Like United Launch Alliance, the [France-based] Ariane Group faces pricing pressure from SpaceX, which offers launch prices as low as $62 million for its Falcon 9 rocket. It has specifically developed the Ariane 6 rocket to compete with the Falcon 9 booster. But there are a couple of problems with this. Despite efforts to cut costs, the two variants of the Ariane 6 will still cost at least 25 percent more than SpaceX's present-day prices. Moreover, the Ariane 6 will not fly until 2020 at the earliest, by which time Falcon 9 could offer significantly cheaper prices on used Falcon 9 boosters if it needed to. (The Ariane 6 rocket is entirely expendable). With this background in mind, the chief executive of Ariane Group, Alain Charmeau, gave an interview to the German publication Der Spiegel. The interview was published in German, but a credible translation can be found here. During the interview, Charmeau expressed frustration with SpaceX and attributed its success to subsidized launches for the U.S. government.

When pressed on the price pressure that SpaceX has introduced into the launch market, Charmeau's central argument is that this has only been possible because, "SpaceX is charging the U.S. government 100 million dollar per launch, but launches for European customers are much cheaper." Essentially, he says, launches for the U.S. military and NASA are subsidizing SpaceX's commercial launch business. However, the pay-for-service prices that SpaceX offers to the U.S. Department of Defense for spy satellites and cargo and crew launches for NASA are below those of what other launch companies charge. And while $100 million or more for a military launch is significantly higher than a $62 million commercial launch, government contracts come with extra restrictions, reviews, and requirements that drive up this price.

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