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Published: 2017-11-23T23:47:14+00:00

 



Facebook To Show Users Which Russian Propaganda They Followed

2017-11-22T21:20:00+00:00

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Facebook will show people which Russian propaganda pages or accounts they've followed and liked on the social network, responding to a request from Congress to address manipulation and meddling during the 2016 presidential election. The tool will appear by the end of the year in Facebook's online support center, the company said in a blog post Wednesday. It will answer the user question, "How can I see if I've liked or followed a Facebook page or Instagram account created by the Internet Research Agency?" That's the Russian firm that created thousands of incendiary posts from fake accounts posing as U.S. citizens. People will see a list of the accounts they followed, if any, from January 2015 through August 2017. Facebook will only be showing people the names of the pages and accounts, not the content. A user will only see what they liked or followed, so if they simply saw IRA content in their news feeds, they won't be notified.

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Trump Administration Tightens Scrutiny of Skilled Worker Visa Applicants

2017-11-21T13:00:00+00:00

wyattstorch516 writes: The Trump administration is tightening the scrutiny on the H-1B visa program (Warning: paywalled; alternative source). Changes would undo actions by the Obama administration. There are two big regulatory changes looming that would undo actions by the Obama administration. "The first change allowed spouses of H-1B workers the right to work. That regulation is being challenged in court and the Trump administration is expected to eliminate the provision rather than defend it," reports WSJ. "The second change affects the Optional Practical Training program, which allows foreign graduates from U.S. colleges in science and technology an extra two years of work authorization, giving them time to win an H-1B visa. The Trump administration could kill that benefit or reduce the two-year window, according to people familiar with the discussions." The Journal highlights a "series of more modest changes that have added scrutiny to visa processing": - "USCIS directed last month that adjudicators no longer pay 'deference' to past determinations for renewal applications. This means an applicant's past approval won't carry any weight if he or she applies for a renewal. - The agency is conducting more applicant interviews, which critics say slows the system. The agency spokesman says this process will ramp up over several years and is needed to detect fraud and make accurate decisions. - In the spring, the agency suspended premium processing, which allowed for fast-track consideration to those who paid an extra fee. This option wasn't resumed until October, meaning many workers who qualified for a coveted H-1B visa had to wait months for a decision. - State Department officials have been told to consider that Mr. Trump's 'Buy American, Hire American' executive order directs visa programs must 'protect the interests of United States workers.' And the Foreign Affairs Manual now instructs officers to scrutinize applications of students to ensure they plan to return to their home countries. A State Department official said the official rules haven't changed but said a 'comprehensive' review is under way."

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The House's Tax Bill Levies a Tax On Graduate Student Tuition Waivers

2017-11-18T03:30:00+00:00

Camel Pilot writes: The new GOP tax plan -- which just passed the House -- will tax tuition waivers as income. Graduate students working as research assistants on meager stipends would have to declare tuition waivers as income on the order of $80,000 income. This will force many graduate students of modest means to quit their career paths and walk away from their research. These are the next generation of scientists, engineers, inventors, educators, medical miracle workers and market makers. As Prof Claus Wilke points out: "This would be a disaster for U.S. STEM Ph.D. education." Slashdot reader Camel Pilot references a report via The New York Times, where Erin Rousseau explains how the House of Representatives' recently passed tax bill affects graduate research in the United States. Rousseau is a graduate student at M.I.T. who studies the neurological basis of mental health disorders. "My peers and I work between 40 and 80 hours a week as classroom teachers and laboratory researchers, and in return, our universities provide us with a tuition waiver for school. For M.I.T. students, this waiver keeps us from having to pay a tuition bill of about $50,000 every year -- a staggering amount, but one that is similar to the fees at many other colleges and universities," he writes. "No money from the tuition waivers actually ends up in our pockets, so under Section 117(d)(5), it isn't counted as taxable income." Rousseau continues by saying his tuition waivers will be taxed under the House's tax bill. "This means that M.I.T. graduate students would be responsible for paying taxes on an $80,000 annual salary, when we actually earn $33,000 a year. That's an increase of our tax burden by at least $10,000 annually."

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Y Combinator Cuts Ties With Peter Thiel After Ending Part-Time Partner Program

2017-11-17T20:12:00+00:00

An anonymous reader shares a report: Billionaire venture capitalist and Facebook board member Peter Thiel is no longer affiliated with startup accelerator Y Combinator, according to an edited company blog post. Thiel was formerly a part-time partner with the accelerator. BuzzFeed News confirmed his departure with a source familiar with Y Combinator's management structure. Thiel's departure from Y Combinator was not previously announced. It comes long after Y Combinator president Sam Altman defended Thiel's role at the accelerator, following criticism of Thiel's support of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. A source close to Y Combinator said that the company ended its part-time partners program, which Thiel was a part of, some time last year. While some other part-time partners moved over to a program called "experts," which provides advice to Y Combinator entrepreneurs, Thiel did not join.

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Report Claims That 18 Nation's Elections Were Impacted By Social Engineering Last Year

2017-11-17T02:05:00+00:00

sqorbit writes: Independent watchdog group Freedom House released a report that claims that 18 nation's elections were "hacked." Of the 65 countries that Freedom House monitors, 30 appear to be using social media in order to affect elections by attempting to control online discussions. The report covers fake news posts, paid online opinion writers and trolling tactics. Other items in the report speak to online censorship and VPN blocking that blocks information within countries to interfere with elections. The report says net freedom could be aided by: large-scale programs that showed people how to spot fake news; putting tight controls on political adverts; and making social media giants do more to remove bots and tune algorithms to be more objective.

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Federal Extreme Vetting Plan Castigated By Tech Experts

2017-11-16T21:15:00+00:00

An anonymous reader shares an Associated Press report: Leading researchers castigated a federal plan that would use artificial intelligence methods to scrutinize immigrants and visa applicants, saying it is unworkable as written and likely to be "inaccurate and biased" if deployed. The experts, a group of more than 50 computer and data scientists, mathematicians and other specialists in automated decision-making, urged the Department of Homeland Security to abandon the project, dubbed the "Extreme Vetting Initiative." That plan has its roots in President Donald Trump's repeated pledge during the 2016 campaign to subject immigrants seeking admission to the United States to more intense ideological scrutiny -- or, as he put it, "extreme vetting." Over the summer, DHS published a "statement of objectives" for a system that would use computer algorithms to scan social media and other material in order to automatically flag undesirable entrants -- and to continuously scan the activities of those allowed into the U.S.

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FCC Plans December Vote To Kill Net Neutrality Rules

2017-11-15T22:10:00+00:00

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: The U.S. Federal Communications Commission under its Republican chairman plans to vote in December to kill the net neutrality rules passed during the Obama era, said two people briefed on the plans. Chairman Ajit Pai in April proposed gutting the rules that he blamed for depressing investment in broadband, and said he intended to "finish the job" this year. The chairman has decided to put his proposal to a vote at the FCC next month, said the people. The agency's monthly meeting is to be held Dec. 14. The people asked not to be identified because the plan hasn't been made public. It's not clear what language Pai will offer to replace the rules that passed with only Democratic votes at the FCC in 2015. He has proposed that the FCC end the designation of broadband companies such as AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. as common carriers. That would remove the legal authority that underpins the net neutrality rules. One of the people said Pai may call for vacating the rules except for portions that mandate internet service providers inform customers about their practices. The current regulations forbid broadband providers from blocking or slowing web traffic, or from charging higher fees in return for quicker passage over their networks.

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Why Google Should Be Afraid of a Missouri Republican's Google Probe

2017-11-15T03:30:00+00:00

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Republican attorney general of Missouri has launched an investigation into Google's business practices. Josh Hawley wants to know how Google handles user data. And he plans to look into whether Google is using its dominance in the search business to harm companies in other markets where Google competes. It's another sign of growing pressure Google is facing from the political right. Grassroots conservatives increasingly see Google as falling on the wrong side of the culture wars. So far that hasn't had a big impact in Washington policymaking. But with Hawley planning to run for the U.S. Senate next year, we could see more Republican hostility toward Google -- and perhaps other big technology companies -- in the coming years. The Hawley investigation will dig into whether Google violated Missouri's consumer-protection and antitrust laws. Specifically, Hawley will investigate: "Google's collection, use, and disclosure of information about Google users and their online activities," "Google's alleged misappropriation of online content from the websites of its competitors," and "Google's alleged manipulation of search results to preference websites owned by Google and to demote websites that compete with Google." States like Missouri have their own antitrust laws and the power to investigate company business conduct independently of the feds. So Hawley seems to be taking yet another look at those same issues to see if Google's conduct runs afoul of Missouri law. We don't know if Hawley will get the Republican nomination or win his challenge to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) next year, but people like him will surely be elected to the Senate in the coming decade. Hawley's decision to go after Google suggests that he sees some upside in being seen as an antagonist to a company that conservatives increasingly view with suspicion. More than that, it suggests that Hawley believes it's worth the risk of alienating the GOP's pro-business wing, which takes a dim view of strict antitrust enforcement even if it targets a company with close ties to Democrats.

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About 15 Percent of US Agencies Detected Kaspersky Software on Networks

2017-11-14T19:20:00+00:00

Dustin Volz, reporting for Reuters: About 15 percent of U.S. federal agencies have reported some trace of Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab software on their systems, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official told Congress on Tuesday. Jeanette Manfra, assistant secretary for cyber security at DHS, told a U.S. House of Representatives panel that 94 percent of agencies had responded to a directive ordering them to survey their networks to identify any use of Kaspersky Lab products and to remove them. But Manfra said DHS did "not currently have conclusive evidence" that any networks had been breached due to their use of Kaspersky Lab software. The administration of President Donald Trump ordered civilian U.S. agencies in September to remove Kaspersky Lab from their networks, amid worries the antivirus firm was vulnerable to Kremlin influence and that using its anti-virus software could jeopardize national security.

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The Computer Scientist Who Prefers Voting With Paper

2017-11-11T14:00:00+00:00

Geoffrey.landis writes: The Atlantic profiles a computer scientist: Barbara Simons, who has been on the forefront of the pushback against electronic voting as a technology susceptible to fraud and hacking. When she first started writing articles about the dangers of electronic voting with no paper trail, the idea that software could be manipulated to rig elections was considered a fringe preoccupation; but Russia's efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election have reversed Simons's fortunes. According to the Department of Homeland Security, those efforts included attempts to meddle with the electoral process in 21 states; while a series of highly publicized hacks -- at Sony, Equifax, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management -- has driven home the reality that very few computerized systems are truly secure. Simons is a former President of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM); and the group she helps run, Verified Voting, has been active in educating the public about the dangers of unverified voting since 2003.

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China Spreads Propaganda to U.S. on Facebook, a Platform it Bans at Home

2017-11-08T18:45:00+00:00

Paul Mozur, reporting for the New York Times: China does not allow its people to gain access to Facebook, a powerful tool for disseminating information and influencing opinion. As if to demonstrate the platform's effectiveness, outside its borders China uses it to spread state-produced propaganda around the world, including the United States (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). So much do China's government and companies value Facebook that the country is Facebook's biggest advertising market in Asia, even as it is the only major country in the region that blocks the social network. A look at the Facebook pages of China Central Television, the leading state-owned broadcast network better known as CCTV, and Xinhua, China's official news agency, reveals hundreds of English-language posts intended for an English-speaking audience. Each quarter China's government, through its state media agencies, spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy Facebook ads, according to a person with knowledge of those deals, who was unauthorized to talk publicly about the company's revenue streams. China's propaganda efforts are in the spotlight with President Trump visiting the country and American lawmakers investigating foreign powers's use of technology to sway voters in the United States.

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Afghanistan Clarifies It Will Not Block WhatsApp, Telegram

2017-11-06T16:02:00+00:00

The Afghan government will not block the instant messaging services WhatsApp and Telegram, a spokesman told news agency Reuters on Monday, following days of controversy after reports the services would be suspended. From a report: "Government of Afghanistan isn't going to ban any social media platforms. WhatsApp and Telegram to continue operating in Afghanistan," Javid Faisal, deputy spokesman to government Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah wrote on Twitter. The row over instant messaging services began after a letter from Afghanistan's telecoms regulator to Internet service providers telling them to block the services "without delay" was circulated on social media platforms last week.

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The US Has Destroyed A Critical Sea Ice-Measuring Satellite

2017-11-06T12:30:00+00:00

"A key polar satellite used to measure the Arctic ice cap failed a few days ago, leaving the U.S. with only three others, and those have lived well beyond their shelf lives," writes long-time Slashdot reader edibobb. The Guardian reports that all three of the remaining satellites "are all beginning to drift out of their orbits over the poles" and will no longer be operational by 2023. This could put an end to nearly 40 years of uninterrupted data on polar ice, notes the original submission, adding "It seems like there would be a backup satellite, right? "In fact, there was a backup satellite ready to go." The $58 million satellite was dismantled in 2016 when the Republican-controlled Congress cut its funding. (The Guardian reports that many scientists "say this decision was made for purely ideological reasons.") Now Nature reports: The U.S. military is developing another set of weather satellites...but the one carrying a microwave sensor will not launch before 2022. That means that when the current three aging satellites die, the United States will be without a reliable, long-term source of sea-ice data... For now, the the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center is preparing for those scenarios by incorporating data from Japan's AMSR2 microwave sensor into its sea-ice record. Another, more politically fraught option is to pull in data from the China Meteorological Administration's Fengyun satellite series... Since 2011 Congress has banned NASA scientists from working with Chinese scientists -- but not necessarily from using Chinese data. One final possibility is finding a way to launch the passive-microwave sensor that scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory salvaged from the dismantled DMSP satellite. The sensor currently sits at the Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California, where researchers are trying to find a way to get it into orbit.

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Republican Tax Plan Kills Electric Vehicle Credit

2017-11-03T20:40:00+00:00

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The nascent market for electric cars will suffer a big setback if the Republican tax plan released on Thursday enters into law. Among the changes to the current tax code would be an end to the Plug-In Electric Drive Vehicle Credit. That's the tax incentive that currently means up to $7,500 back from the IRS when you purchase a new battery or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. Since the start of 2010, the EV tax credit has been $2,500 for a plug-in vehicle with at least 5kWh battery capacity. Every extra kWh nets another $417 up to a maximum of $7,500, although you would need at least that amount in income tax liability -- the IRS won't cut you a check to make up the full amount. It was never meant to be permanent; once an automaker sells 200,000 qualifying vehicles (starting from January 1, 2010) its eligibility is phased out over a matter of months. But in the almost seven years since, no one has reached that limit yet. Tesla will almost certainly be first, with General Motors not far behind; between them, they've sold a lot of Model Ses and Chevrolet Volts. If this tax plan is enacted, it will surely mean pain for both companies, as well as anyone else hoping to sell a lot of EVs here in the U.S. The data is pretty clear -- tax incentives sell electric cars, and the market for EVs can dry up very fast when they're abolished, as Georgia's recent experience shows.

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Facebook, Twitter and Google Berated by Senators on Russia

2017-11-01T19:20:00+00:00

From a BBC report: Russian operatives, likely working from St Petersburg, provoked angry Americans to take to the streets, a US Senate committee heard on Wednesday. The May 2016 protest, arranged by a group named Heart of Texas, was one example of Kremlin-backed efforts to destabilise the American electoral process. Lawyers for three technology companies -- Facebook, Twitter and Google -- were told they were grossly underestimating the scale of the problem. "You just don't get it," said California Senator Dianne Feinstein. "What we're talking about is a cataclysmic change. What we're talking about is the beginning of cyber-warfare." She added: "We are not going to go away, gentlemen. This is a very big deal." [...] Several senators suggested that more hearings and consultation would be needed, expressing their frustration that the companies were not being represented by higher-ranking executives. "I'm disappointed that you're here, and not your CEOs," said independent senator Angus King. From a FastCompany report: Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) had one specific and simple question for Facebook's Colin Stretch. He wanted to know about 30,000 fake accounts Facebook discovered earlier this year that were trying to influence the French election. At the time, Facebook bragged that it was able to discover these accounts and swiftly took them down. Warner wanted to know if Facebook, after discovering these accounts, cross-checked to see if these same accounts also tried to tamper with the U.S. election. "Your leadership bragged about how proactively you were in the French election process," said Warner, "Did you check those accounts [with the U.S. election]?" Stretch couldn't give a straight answer. "The system that ran to take down those accounts -- which were fake accounts of all type and any purpose -- is now active worldwide," he said. Warner wasn't amused. "Just answer my question," he said. "Have you reviewed the accounts you took down in France that were Russian-related to see if they played any role in the American election?" Once again, Facebook couldn't answer.

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