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Mattel Scrappes Smart Home Device Designed For Children

Mattel scrapped a “smart home” device designed with kids in mind after awful reviews and privacy concerns.

“Aristotle” was first shown off at CES earlier this year. The red-and-white device is meant to be kept in a child’s room where its WiFi-enabled camera acts primarily as a voice-controlled baby monitor. It can adjust lighting levels, noting when babies wake up and then playing a lullaby or turning on a nightlight.

The device also claimed to be able to extensively interact with a young child. It can recognize and answer questions, play games, do singalongs, and teach the ABCs. Aristotle’s voice-interaction capabilities are intended to be like a kid-centric version of Amazon’s Alexa.

Last week, two members of Congress sent a letter (PDF) to Mattel about the device.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass wrote “Never before has a device had the capability to so intimately look into the life of a child,” consumers should know how this product will work and what measures Mattel will take to protect families’ privacy and secure their data.” Instead of answering those questions, Mattel has withdrawn the product.

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Fake Black Activist Accounts Linked To Russian Government

A social media campaign calling itself “Blacktivist” and linked to the Russian government used both Facebook and Twitter in an apparent attempt The accounts, which used the moniker “Blacktivist,”  to fuel the outrage of their audiences, including videos of police violence against African Americans to amplify racial tensions during the U.S. presidential election

Both Blacktivist accounts, each of which used the handle Blacktivists, wrote messages such as “Black people should wake up as soon as possible,” one post on the Twitter account read. “Black families are divided and destroyed by mass incarceration and death of black men,” another read. The accounts also posted videos of police violence against African Americans to provoke outrage.

The Blacktivist accounts provide further evidence that Russian-linked social media accounts saw racial tensions as something to be exploited in order to achieve the broader Russian goal of dividing Americans and creating chaos in U.S. politics during a campaign in which race repeatedly became an issue.

The Blacktivist account on Facebook had more than 360,000 likes.

Both Twitter & Facebook accounts will be handed over to Congress.

 
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The banner image for the Blacktivist page on Facebook.

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Open Source Vs Commercial Source For Upcoming Election In The U.S.

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San Francisco in January 2018 could become the first U.S. city to adopt open source software to run its voting machines.

City officials last month authorized consulting group Slalom to prepare a report on the benefits and challenges involved in using an open source voting machine platform. The city voted to pay Slalom US$150,000 for its research

The city will also this year pay Dominion Voting Systems $2.3 million to renew its contract for the company’s proprietary voting machine software. That system is nearing the end of its life cycle.

Officials hope a move to open source will make San Francisco’s voting software more transparent and secure, as well as less costly. The expectation is that an open source voting machine program would offer more security against hack attacks. If the city should develop its own system, it then could provide the code to other cities.

Unlike proprietary software, open source code is available to anyone to vet potential security breaches. Users would not incur purchasing or subscription and licensing fees.

 

The Pros & Cons

California has begun to adopt open source in other areas. For example, state agencies already have used open source software to redesign California’s child welfare management system.

Regarding voting machines, there have been indications that California legislators are not opposed in principle to using open source.

Open source technologies offer the organizations involved in managing elections and vote tallying complete transparency into whatever is happening in voting machines and systems.

Those who oppose are mainly owners of proprietary voting systems and software who suggest that open source is inherently less secure and prone to hacking.

Open source software brings cost reductions, local control, increased security and transparency, all of which could boost voter trust in the election process, according to its advocates.

Nonproprietary voting software also could allow local governments to understand and adjust how votes are counted more quickly. Commercial vendors often consider those details trade secrets. The largest benefit in open source is that it can be vetted by anyone

Whoever finds a problem in open source does not have to contribute to the solution or even report it. Instead, it would be possible to keep the vulnerability secret and exploit it at will.

Going open source for transparency on voting systems could be a double-edged sword, warned Lamar Bailey, director of security research and development at Tripwire.

If San Francisco — or any locale — should pick an open source system, disclosing its choice before the election would allow attackers to review the code and craft attacks before the election, he said.

“If San Francisco decides to announce the name of the software after the election, that could cause issues too if someone finds a vulnerability in the code used at the time of the election.

Voting is an area in which there is distrust in results and the systems used to gather them. This is especially true for those on the losing side, he pointed out.

“We have seen everything from hanging chads to Russian hackers being blamed for results, as well as documented vulnerabilities in voting machines,” Bailey said.

Alternative View

Going open source would be a bold move. Instead, the government should employ multiple security companies to review and pen test existing systems to ensure that they are secure, Bailey recommended.

Open source would provide little benefit, given that the systems are air-gapped, said Philip Lieberman, president of Lieberman Software.

Open source carries few real benefits — but it comes with quite a few risks, according to Byron Rashed, vice president of global marketing, advanced threat intelligence at InfoArmor.

Moving to open source for voting machines would not help prevent hacking or other forms of election tampering, he maintained.

“It would definitely weaken it, since some vulnerabilities can be present for years. In addition, threat actors or highly organized cybercriminal gangs have members that are highly skilled in finding and exploiting vulnerabilities,” Rashed told LinuxInsider.

Impact on the Bottom Line

 

Open source would allow localities to own their elections more fully and be less beholden to outsiders, whether they happen to be hackers or vendors of proprietary voting systems, he noted.

On the other hand, proprietary voting solution vendors have argued that they are better positioned to understand the inherent dangers of vote tampering and to protect systems from hackers.

 

 

Homeland Security Suspects 21 States Were Targeted By Hackers

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The Department of Homeland Security told Congress this summer that it suspected that 21 states were targeted, by hackers.

In June, DHS Acting Deputy Undersecretary for Cybersecurity and Communications Jeanette Manfra told a US Senate Intelligence Committee that “internet-connected election-related networks, including websites, in 21 states were potentially targeted by Russian government cyber actors,” but didn’t disclose which states were impacted.

DHS officially contacted election officials in each state and six territories on Friday to “fill them in on what information the agency has about election hacking attempts in their state last year,” according to NPR. State officials from Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin say that they were among those contacted. NPR reports that officials in Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, and North Carolina say that they were not amongst those contacted.

They’re Now Editing Embryos Here In America

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MIT Technology Review has learned that the first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States has been carried out by a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon.

The experiment, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the gene-editing technique CRISPR, according to people familiar with the scientific results.

To date, three previous reports of editing human embryos were all published by scientists in China. None of the embryos were allowed to develop for more than a few days—and they claim that there was never any intention of implanting them into a womb—

Scientists claim their objective is to show that they can eradicate or correct genes that cause inherited disease, like the blood condition beta-thalassemia. The process is termed “germline engineering” because any genetically modified child would then pass the changes on to subsequent generations via their own germ cells—the egg and sperm.

Some critics say germline experiments could open the floodgates to a brave new world of “designer babies” engineered with genetic enhancements—a prospect bitterly opposed by a range of religious organizations, civil society groups, and biotech companies.The U.S. intelligence community last year called CRISPR a potential “weapon of mass destruction.”

Shoukhrat Mitalipov is the first U.S.-based scientist known to have edited the DNA of human embryos.

OHSU/KRISTYNA WENTZ-GRAFF

A person familiar with the research says “many tens” of human IVF embryos were created for the experiment using the donated sperm of men carrying inherited disease mutations.

Mitalipov’s group appears to have overcome earlier difficulties by “getting in early” and injecting CRISPR into the eggs at the same time they were fertilized with sperm.

Tony Perry of Bath University, Successfully edited the mouse gene for coat color, changing the fur of the offspring from the expected brown to white.

Somewhat prophetically, Perry’s paper on the research, published at the end of 2014, said, “This or analogous approaches may one day enable human genome targeting or editing during very early development.”

Mitalipov was Born in Kazakhstan when it was part of the former Soviet Union. In 2007, he unveiled the world’s first cloned monkeys. Then, in 2013, he created human embryos through cloning, as a way of creating patient-specific stem cells.

His team’s move into embryo editing coincides with a report by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in February that was widely seen as providing a green light for lab research on germline modification.

The report also offered qualified support for the use of CRISPR for making gene-edited babies, but only if it were deployed for the elimination of serious diseases.

The advisory committee drew a red line at genetic enhancements—like higher intelligence. “Genome editing to enhance traits or abilities beyond ordinary health raises concerns about whether the benefits can outweigh the risks, and about fairness if available only to some people,” said Alta Charo, co-chair of the NAS’s study committee and professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

In the U.S., any effort to turn an edited IVF embryo into a baby has been blocked by Congress, which added language to the Department of Health and Human Services funding bill forbidding it from approving clinical trials of the concept.

 

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Should There Be Another Constitutional Convention in New York?

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New Yorkers have the chance to vote whether they want to hold a constitutional convention to amend, tweak or otherwise improve the founding document of the state every twenty years. Voters have demuurred for the past 50 years. Come November, however, academics, good-government groups and others believe the outcome of the ballot question may be different. But before voters confront the ballot question, they will no doubt be barraged by aka “Con-Con”,  campaigns for and against a constitutional convention. Nonprofit groups interested in issues including campaign finance reform, redistricting, term limits and the legalization of marijuana have come out in favor of a convention. At the same time, unions like the United Federation of Teachers and state legislative leaders have argued against a convention, saying it could repeal hallowed protections.

Speakers waiting their turn at the opening session of the New York State Constitutional Convention in 1967 included, seated from left, Senator Jacob K. Javits, Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, Chief Justice Earl Warren and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Credit Bettmann, via Getty Images

Delegates assembled for the opening session of the 1938 constitutional convention in Albany. Credit The New York Times

If voters approve a convention, delegates would be elected in 2018, with the convention held the next year. It remains to be seen.

The Wikipedia Text Adventure

 

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Created by Developer Kevan Davis

Wikipedia as a classic text adventure: A “game” Wikipedia: The Text Adventure generates a list of major landmarks, and clicking any of them takes you to a landing page with a basic location description as pulled from its Wikipedia article summary, along with a list of nearby locations marked off by cardinal directions. You’re restricted to a text box, and, appropriately, typing “help” into it brings up a list of commands you can type. (Mobile users can also tap on keywords in the summaries, which isn’t as cool, but it’s a welcome alternative.)

Wikipedia: The Text Adventure 

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