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Coronavirus patients flew to US after CDC “explicitly recommended against it”

Ars Technica - 44 min 39 sec ago

Enlarge / Jumbo jets arrived to evacuate US citizens from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, with people quarantined onboard due to fears of the new COVID-19 coronavirus, at the Haneda airport in Tokyo on February 16, 2020. - The number of people who have tested positive for the new coronavirus on a quarantined ship off Japan's coast has risen to 355, the country's health minister said. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP) (Photo by KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images) (credit: Getty | KAZUHIRO NOGI)

Health officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not want 14 people who had tested positive for the new coronavirus to be flown back to the US, among hundreds of other uninfected people—but the CDC experts were overruled by officials at the US State Department, according to a report by the Washington Post.

On Sunday, February 16, the 14 positive people flew from Japan to the US on State Department-chartered planes. They were among over 300 others, all evacuees from the luxury cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, which had an explosive outbreak of COVID-19 cases.

The cruise ship, initially carrying 3,711 passengers and crew, had been quarantined in Yokohama, Japan since February 3, after a former passenger tested positive on February 1. But the quarantine efforts failed to curb the spread of the virus on board, and case counts steadily climbed during the 14-day confinement. Even in the last days, health officials in Japan were still reporting dozens of new cases.

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A weed dealer’s $59M lesson: Don’t hide Bitcoin keys with a fishing rod

Ars Technica - 45 min 11 sec ago

Enlarge / If only it were this easy to catch lost Bitcoin credentials. (credit: Cravetiger / Getty Images)

In a world where various mass breachers dictate the use of strong, randomized passwords more than ever, reliable and secure credentials management is paramount in 2020. One Irish drug dealer has evidently learned this lesson the hard way.

This week, the Irish Times reported the sad tale of Clifton Collins, a 49-year-old cannabis grower from Dublin. Collins quietly grew and sold his product for 12 years, and he amassed a small fortune by using some of that revenue to buy bitcoins around 2011 and 2012 before the price of the cryptocurrency soared. But in 2017, state authorities on a routine overnight patrol spotted and then arrested Collins with an estimated $2,171 of cannabis in his car. The man quickly earned himself a five-year jail sentence.

According to the Times: as part of authorities' investigation, Ireland's Criminal Assets Bureau discovered and confiscated 12 Bitcoin wallets belonging to Collins totaling nearly $59 million (reportedly the biggest financial case in CAB's 25-year-history). There was only one problem—CAB couldn't access the accounts because Collins had lost the keys.

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Onward film review: Pixar rolls a 20, nails homage to D&D-styled adventure

Ars Technica - 1 hour 22 min ago

Enlarge / Ian (left, voiced by Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) don't always get along as brothers, but in Onward, they must join forces to figure out a magical mystery. (credit: Pixar)

Pixar's latest feature-length film, Onward, doesn't reach US theaters until March 6, and it's rare for us at Ars Technica to review a film so far in advance of its launch. When we do, it's usually for good reason.

In Onward's case, that's because we haven't seen a film so easy to recommend to Ars Technica readers in years. We know our average demographic: parents and older readers who are deeply fluent in decades of nerd culture and who appreciate films that offer genuine laughs, likable characters, and tightly sewn logic in family-friendly fashion without compromising the dialogue, plot, or heart—or beating an original, previously beloved franchise into the ground. Pixar has come out screaming with a film that feels focus-tested for that exact audience, and I'm already eager to attend the film again in two weeks.

“Historically based adventure simulator”

We've seen our fair share of fantasy genre satires and comedies, but Onward delivers the most fully fledged, top-to-bottom homage to the fantasy genre since Monty Python and the Holy Grail sent up all things King Arthur. To be clear, Pixar's newest universe of characters draws more from the Dungeons & Dragons well of magical, class-based adventuring with its own twist.

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Google sued by New Mexico over claims it spies on US students

BBC Technology News - 1 hour 26 min ago
Pupils in New Mexico allegedly have had their online data tracked, says the state's attorney general.

The House wants to know what Ring is doing with footage from your house

Ars Technica - 1 hour 34 min ago

Enlarge / The house is watching you watch it. (credit: Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images)

Almost 1,000 police and sheriff departments around the country have partnership agreements with Ring, Amazon's home surveillance subsidiary. These arrangements are now drawing scrutiny from a division of the House Oversight committee, which wants to know what, exactly, Ring is up to.

For starters, Congress wants a list of every police deal Ring actually has, the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy wrote in a letter (PDF) dated February 19.

After that, the Subcommittee wants to know... well, basically everything. The request for information asks for documentation relating to "all instances in which a law enforcement agency has requested video footage from Ring," as well as full lists of all third-party firms that get any access to Ring users' personal information or video footage. Ring is also asked to send over copies of every privacy notice, terms of service, and law enforcement guideline it has ever had, as well as materials relating to its marketing practices and any potential future use of facial recognition.

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AT&T loses key ruling in class action over unlimited-data throttling

Ars Technica - 1 hour 48 min ago

Enlarge / AT&T sponsor logo on the backdrop of the 31st Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala in Palm Springs, California, on January 2, 2020. (credit: Getty Images | Chris Delmas)

AT&T's mandatory-arbitration clause is unenforceable in a class-action case over AT&T's throttling of unlimited data, a panel of US appeals court judges ruled this week.

The nearly five-year-old case has gone through twists and turns, with AT&T's forced-arbitration clause initially being upheld in March 2016. If that decision had stood, the customers would have been forced to have any complaints heard individually in arbitration.

But an April 2017 decision by the California Supreme Court in a different case effectively changed the state's arbitration law, causing a US District Court judge to revive the class action in March 2018.

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Weeks after launch, Nvidia’s GeForce Now attracts a million streaming gamers

Ars Technica - 2 hours 57 sec ago

Enlarge / A million games are part of GeForce Now now.

Nvidia announced this week that over a million people have signed up to use GeForce Now to stream games from Nvidia's central servers. The announcement comes just a couple of weeks after Nvidia first opened the service up to the general public.

Those user numbers were no doubt helped by the presence of GeForce Now's free service tier, which limits rendering quality and restricts play sessions to a single hour. Subscribers for the paid version of the service are also currently inside a free 90-day "introductory period"—it's unclear how many of those trial users will continue to pay $5 a month once it expires.

Those caveats aside, the quick trip to a million users represents a strong start for Nvidia's entry into an increasingly crowded streaming gaming field. For context, Sony reported a million subscribers for its $60/year PlayStation Now streaming service as of last November, almost five years after it launched. Google hasn't discussed user numbers for Stadia, but there are some early signs that not many early adopters are even making use of the platform's free games (though the company did have trouble satisfying all its initial pre-orders late last year).

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Scientists discover powerful antibiotic using AI

BBC Technology News - 2 hours 19 min ago
Researchers claim it could be used to kill some of the world's deadliest bacteria.

Get ready for price hikes up to 10% annually after sale of .org registry

Ars Technica - 2 hours 30 min ago

Enlarge (credit: DenisKot / Getty)

The nonprofit Internet Society attracted widespread condemnation late last year after announcing it was going to sell off the Public Interest Registry, a subsidiary that administers the .org domain, to a private equity firm called Ethos Capital. People were particularly alarmed because the move came shortly after ICANN removed price caps on registration and renewal fees for .org domains. That opened the prospect of big price hikes in the coming years.

In a Friday press release, Ethos Capital announced it would voluntarily commit to limit price hikes for the next eight years. But under the new rules, Ethos Capital would still be able to raise prices by 10 percent a year—which would more than double prices over the next eight years. Ethos framed this as a concession to the public, and strictly speaking, a 10 percent price hike limit is better for customers than completely uncapped fees. But 10 percent annual increases are still massive—far more than inflation or plausible increases in the cost of running the infrastructure powering the .org registry.

For comparison, ICANN recently announced that Verisign, the company that administers the .com domain, will be allowed to raise prices by 7 percent per year over the next decade, except for a two-year "pause" after four years of hikes. Those changes, adding up to a 70-percent price hike over 10 years, was enough to trigger alarm among domain registrars who must pass these fees on to their customers.

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Nintendo: Animal Crossing fans upset by cloud restrictions

BBC Technology News - 2 hours 50 min ago
Nintendo confirms its new Animal Crossing game will not let players save progress to the cloud.

SpaceX pushing iterative design process, accepting failure to go fast

Ars Technica - 4 hours 14 min ago

Activity Thursday at SpaceX's launch site near Boca Chica Beach.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk said Thursday the company is "driving hard" toward an orbital flight of the company's Starship vehicle this year.

It has not been decided yet whether this orbital launch will take place from the company's new facility near Boca Chica Beach in South Texas, a site at Cape Canaveral in Florida, or perhaps even an ocean-based launch platform. The company is pressing ahead with all three options in parallel. The orbital mission would involve a future iteration of Starship with six Raptor engines, Musk said.

Since late November, when the very first prototype of a Starship vehicle was damaged during a pressurization test, SpaceX employees have been working on a new version of the vehicle dubbed SN1, for serial number 1. The company has gone with this nomenclature because Musk envisions building the large spaceships rapidly, with each new iteration improving on the last—be it through smoother manufacturing processes, shedding unneeded mass, improving performance, or more.

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The strange, unexplained journey of ToTok in Google Play fuels user suspicions

Ars Technica - 5 hours 21 min ago

Enlarge (credit:

In late December, Google and Apple removed the ToTok social messaging app from their marketplaces after US intelligence officials told The New York Times it was a tool for surreptitious spying by the United Arab Emirates government. About a week later, Google reinstated the Android version of the app with no explanation, a move that confounded app users and security experts. Now Google has once again baffled industry watchers by once again banishing the app without saying why. (Apple, meanwhile, has continued to keep the iOS version of ToTok out of the App Store.)

(credit: @sooohaib)

Over the past few days, Play Protect, the Google service that scans Android devices for apps that violate the company’s terms of service, started displaying a warning that says: “This app tries to spy on your personal data, such as SMS messages, photos, audio recordings, or call history. Even if you have heard of this app or the app developer, this version of the app could harm your device.”

The message, displayed to the right, then gives the user the option to either “uninstall” or “keep app (unsafe).”

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Rocket Report: Astra nearing first launch, Starship may soon roll to pad

Ars Technica - 6 hours 21 min ago

Enlarge / The Electron launch vehicle is ready to soar. (credit: Rocket Lab)

Welcome to Edition 2.33 of the Rocket Report! There is a lot of exciting news this week, both with very small rockets as well as SpaceX's Starship getting closer to launch. In fact, Astra may launch as early as next Tuesday.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Rocket Lab nabs lunar mission. For a fixed price contract worth $9.95 million, Rocket Lab has reached a deal with NASA to launch the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment CubeSat to the Moon. This CAPSTONE mission is targeted for launch in early 2021. "This mission is all about quickly and more affordably demonstrating new capabilities, and we are partnering with small businesses to do it," said Christopher Baker, a NASA official.

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Robots gain lessons in hot dogs and other tech news

BBC Technology News - 10 hours 23 min ago
BBC Click’s Paul Carter looks at some of the best technology news stories of the week.

Report: 300 Oracle employees walk out over Ellison’s Trump fundraiser

Ars Technica - 16 hours 11 min ago

Oracle founder and executive chairman Larry Ellison. (credit: Oracle PR / Flickr)

About 300 Oracle employees walked off the job on Thursday to protest founder and Executive Chairman Larry Ellison's decision to hold a fundraiser for President Donald Trump the previous evening, Bloomberg reports. It was a rare sign of dissent for a company known for its stodgy corporate culture. But the circumstances of the small-scale protest also suggest that Ellison has less reason to worry about future employee revolts than some of his fellow tech moguls.

"The protest, called No Ethics/No Work, involved about 300 employees walking out of their offices or stopping work at remote locations at noon local time and devoting the rest of the day to volunteering or civic engagement," Bloomberg reports. Bloomberg's source asked not to be named for fear of retaliation.

Oracle has more than 130,000 employees, so a walkout by 300 workers is hardly a serious threat to the company. Some employees, worried about retaliation from management, chose to give to charities opposing Trump's agenda rather than participate in the walkout. Others took vacation time for their afternoon off. In short, Oracle employees took a less confrontational approach than employees at other tech giants, including Google and Amazon.

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Can computer translators ever beat speaking a foreign tongue?

BBC Technology News - 18 hours 1 min ago
Developers say you can now converse effortlessly using translation tech, but others are not so sure.

Apple is considering letting users change default email, browser, music apps in iOS

Ars Technica - 18 hours 48 min ago

Enlarge / The iPhone 11. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Apple is seriously considering the possibility of allowing users to change the default apps for Web browsing, mail, or music on their iPhones. The company might also allow users to listen to Spotify or other music streaming services besides Apple Music via Siri on the iPhone or on the HomePod smart speaker.

These revelations were outlined in a report by Bloomberg's Mark Gurman this morning, who cited multiple people familiar with Apple's internal plans.

While Apple's plans are not final, the changes could go into effect as soon as Apple's iOS 14 release later this year, which means they would likely be introduced during Apple's developer conference this June.

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PlayStation cites coronavirus, backs out of multiple major gaming expos [Updated]

Ars Technica - February 20, 2020 - 11:39pm

Enlarge / Guess what won't be on display at one of the biggest US gaming gatherings? (credit: Kiyoshi Ota | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

Update, February 20: One day after Sony's PAX East cancellation, the company's PlayStation arm has now announced plans to skip a second major gaming expo, the Game Developers Conference, by citing the impact of coronavirus on its worldwide operations. Its exit from the March expo has company: Oculus, the virtual reality arm of Facebook, will also no longer attend GDC. reported the pair of cancellations on Thursday with statements from both companies. Both statements revolve around concern for the health and safety of employees worldwide, while Oculus insists it will proceed as planned by posting GDC-timed announcements online and "host[ing] GDC partner meetings remotely" in the near future.

GDC's organizers posted a statement on Thursday assuring attendees that they're moving forward with the expo as planned, based on guidance from state and city health advisers. "We believe that, based on the strict US quarantine around coronavirus and a large number of enhanced on-site measures, we are able to execute a safe and successful event for our community," the statement said.

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It’s the hosts versus the rest of humanity in new trailer for Westworld S3

Ars Technica - February 20, 2020 - 11:07pm

HBO’s Westworld S3.

It has been a long wait, but HBO just dropped a full trailer for the third season of Westworld, HBO's Emmy-award-winning science fiction series. And it looks like we're in for another wild, mind-bending ride through multiple dystopian timelines.

(Warning: major spoilers for the first two seasons of Westworld below.)

The titular Westworld is one of six immersive theme parks owned and operated by a company called Delos Inc. The park is populated with a "cast" of very human-looking androids, called hosts. The park's well-heeled visitors can pretty much do whatever they like to the hosts and don't generally view the hosts as anything more than unfeeling props in their private dramas. But the hosts' creator/co-founder and park director of Westworld, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), "awakens" a host named Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) to true sentience. S1 concluded with a bloody massacre, as the reprogrammed hosts rise up to take revenge on the guests. 

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Neanderthals may have interbred with a much older human lineage

Ars Technica - February 20, 2020 - 10:52pm

Enlarge / OK, which one of you is the father? (credit: picture alliance / Getty Images)

Shortly before the publication of the first Neanderthal genome, a number of researchers had seen hints that there might be something strange lurking in the statistics of the human genome. The publication of the genome erased any doubts about these hints and provided a clear identity for the strangeness: a few percent of the bases in European and Asian populations came from our now-extinct relatives.

But what if we didn't have the certainty provided by the Neanderthal genome? That's the situation we find ourselves in now, as several studies have recently identified "ghost lineages"—hints of branches in the human family tree for which we have no DNA sequence but find their imprint on the genomes of populations alive today. The existence of these ghost lineages is based on statistical arguments, so it's very dependent upon statistical methods and underlying assumptions, which are prone to being the subject of disagreement within the community that studies human evolution.

Now, researchers at the University of Utah are arguing that they have evidence of a very old ghost lineage contributing to Neanderthals and Denisovans (and so, indirectly, possibly to us). This is a claim that others in the field will undoubtedly contest, in part because the evidence comes from an analysis that would also revise the dates of many key events in human evolution. But it's interesting to look at in light of how scientists deal with a question that may never be answered by definitive data.

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