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NASA Holds Press Conference on First Successful Flight of Ingenuity Helicopter on Mars
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LJ Rich looks at some of the best technology news stories of the week.
Satellite images collected over 37 years are combined to show how Earth in a new way.
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Driverless 'Roborace' car makes street track debut
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See photos of November's supermoon -- the brightest in nearly 70 years.
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French astronaut Thomas Pesquet: 'I’m not going to lie, it’s such a joy to be out there in Space’
French astronaut Thomas Pesquet granted an exclusive interview to FRANCE 24 and RFI from Cape Canaveral in Florida, just three days before blasting off for the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft. Pesquet is off on his second six-month mission to the ISS, with no less than 232 scientific experiments to be carried out on board. He'll also become the first French astronaut to command the space station for an entire month, something he hailed as "recognition for a European" as well as for the European Space Agency.
European Super League would have multi-billion euro business model
Offering a shared pot of €3.5 billion to start with, the newly-proposed football competition known as the European Super League would divvy up revenue among a smaller group of elite clubs. We tell you more. Also, we take a look at the French government's plan to aid farmers reeling from this month's cold spell.
'Netflix treats its employees like adults, that's what gets speed and innovation going'
Imagine working for a company where you don't have to apply for holiday time or seek prior approval for expenses. Imagine giving feedback to your boss – in public! Imagine being trusted to make major decisions without clearance from line managers. The flipside? If you perform anything less than excellently, you lose your job. Freedom and "talent density" are the two key ingredients of Netflix's corporate culture. The formula has driven the company from a humble DVD rental service 20 years ago to one of the world’s most successful entertainment corporations.
Chinese economy grows at record quarterly pace to kick off 2021
Chinese officials say the country's economy grew at a staggering 18.3 percent rate during the first three months of the year when compared to the same stretch in 2020. While the figures illustrate the strength of China's economic recovery, uncertainty over the global health situation still poses a challenge. Also, an Australian judge finds Google misled consumers over data privacy and the US National Football League inks a partnership with three gambling companies.
- Stephen CARROLL
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Adapting to the post-pandemic market, new EU emissions rules and a shortage of semiconductors: these are just some of the challenges the auto industry is currently facing. Stephen Carroll discusses them with Vincent Cobée, the boss of French car brand Citroën.

NEW YORK (AP) - The New York Police Department has agreed to limit its use of sound cannons on crowds, ending a five-year legal battle over claims that the devices caused hearing damage, dizziness and migraines.

In a settlement agreement filed in federal court on Monday, the police department said ...

Supreme Court asked to give access to secretive court's work

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The city of Jackson, Mississippi, has denied a TV station's public records request for email about problems with the city water treatment system.

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Officials said the system, scheduled to go online in time for ...

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday they will send investigators to Spring, ...

Salvador Rodriguez / CNBC: Zuckerberg says Facebook is working with Spotify on a music integration project codenamed Project Boombox  —  - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Monday announced that the company is building audio features where users can engage in real-time conversations with others.

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- Brian Heater
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Facebook is deepening its relationship with music company Spotify and will allow users to listen to music hosted on Spotify while browsing through its apps as part of a new initiative called “Project Boombox,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Monday. Facebook is building an in-line audio player that will allow users to listen to songs […]
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Facebook invests in audio with short-form Soundbites feature, podcast support and a Clubhouse clone
Facebook today officially announced a suite of new audio products — an indication that it’s taking the threat from Clubhouse and other audio platforms more seriously. The company is doing more than just building its own take on Clubhouse, however, it’s also announcing tools that allow podcast creators to share long-form audio, a new Spotify […]
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Geico admits fraudsters stole customer driver’s license numbers for months
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Venture capital is a networks business — from networks of founders to the web of investors and angels and gossamer threads of potential customers, talent, and service providers. The density of those networks determines success: find just the right person to fit a role or a slot on a cap table, and a startup might […]
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The news: NASA has flown an aircraft on another planet for the first time. On Monday, April 19, Ingenuity, a 1.8-kilogram drone helicopter, took off from the surface of Mars, flew up about three meters, then swiveled and hovered for 40 seconds. The historic moment was livestreamed on YouTube, and Ingenuity captured the photo above…
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How I Managed My Growing Company While Being COVID-19 Positive
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The post How I Managed My Growing Company While Being COVID-19 Positive appeared first on ReadWrite.

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The post How Do We Innovate in a World of Slowing Growth? appeared first on ReadWrite.

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Will AI dominate in 2021? A Big Question
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The post Will AI dominate in 2021? A Big Question appeared first on ReadWrite.

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B2B Growth in the Light of Digital and 5G Era – Middle East Market
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The post B2B Growth in the Light of Digital and 5G Era – Middle East Market appeared first on ReadWrite.

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The post The Link Between Diversity, Inclusion and the Use of Technology appeared first on ReadWrite.

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Amy Klobuchar takes aim at 12 vaccine misinformation influencers
Sen. Amy Klobuchar stands in front of a microphone outside of the US Capitol. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has written to the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter to ask about vaccine misinformation superspreaders. | Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Senators have written to Facebook and Twitter to ask about vaccine misinformation superspreaders.

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As the Covid-19 vaccine rollout continues across the US, some lawmakers are concerned that ongoing misinformation and disinformation campaigns are exacerbating vaccine hesitancy. Now, two senators are turning their attention to the vaccine misinformation superspreaders that push the bulk of conspiracy theories and lies on social media — and asking the social media giants to take more aggressive action.

“For too long, social media platforms have failed to adequately protect Americans by not taking sufficient action to prevent the spread of vaccine disinformation online,” wrote Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) in a Friday letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, which was viewed by Recode. “Despite your policies intended to prevent vaccine disinformation, many of these accounts continue to post content that reach millions of users, repeatedly violating your policies with impunity.”

In particular, the senators urged the companies to take action against 12 anti-vaccine influencers — 11 individuals and one couple — who spread anti-vaccine content on the internet. These accounts include Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has pushed distrust in vaccines, and Joseph Mercola, an online alternative medicine proponent who was recently flagged by the Food and Drug Administration for promoting fake Covid-19 cures, including through his still-active Twitter account.

These 12 entities were identified in a report published last month by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a nonprofit focused on online hate and misinformation. To find these 12 influencers, researchers identified 10 private and 20 public anti-vaccine Facebook groups, whose sizes ranged between 2,500 and 235,000 members. The researchers then analyzed links posted in these groups and tracked the sources of their links.

They found that up to 73 percent of that content, including posts sharing it across Facebook, came from websites affiliated with these 12 superspreaders, who have built reputations in the anti-vaccine online world through multiple accounts on various social media services. More broadly, up to 65 percent of anti-vaccine content on both Facebook and Twitter identified by the researchers seemed to come from these entities. At the time of the report’s publication in March, nine of these superspreaders were active on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

In their Friday letter, the senators asked for more details on the platforms’ approach to content moderation, and for explanations of why the content shared by these 12 superspreaders does or does not violate Facebook’s and Twitter’s rules. The senators also sought more information on the companies’ investment in content moderation for communities of color, rural communities, and non-English speaking communities, pointing out that some of the content posted by the 12 superspreaders “targets Black and Latino communities with tailored anti-vaccine messages.”

In response to the pandemic and the vaccine rollout, Facebook and Twitter have altered their approach to content moderation and health misinformation. Facebook, which also owns Instagram, has banned anti-vaccine misinformation and misinformation about Covid-19 that could lead to “imminent physical harm,” and the company says it has removed more than 12 million pieces of content that violate this threshold. Facebook has also conducted research into vaccine-hesitant comments on its service.

“Working with leading health organizations, we’ve updated our policies to take action against accounts that break our Covid-19 and vaccine rules — including by reducing their distribution or removing them from our platform — and have already taken action against some of the groups in this report,” Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever told Recode. She added that the company had connected 2 billion people to resources from health authorities.

Twitter has taken a two-pronged approach of removing the most harmful vaccine misinformation and labeling other misleading tweets.

Generally, these approaches have focused on individual pieces of content, not the broader behavior of particular influencers across the internet. That means that vaccine misinformation superspreaders have more leeway to spread distrust without necessarily outright sharing false claims about vaccines. Instead, they can promote “health freedom” to encourage people to not get vaccinated, present vaccine news in a misleading light, use social media to link to misleading claims on their own websites, and simply raise questions in order to sow doubt.

Update, April 19, 2021, 2:10 pm ET: This piece was updated to include a comment from a Facebook spokesperson.

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- Peter Kafka
Facebook plans to go after Clubhouse — and podcasts — with a suite of new audio products
Mark Zuckerwerk testifies before the Senate Commerce Committee in October 2020. Mark Zuckerwerk testifies before the Senate Commerce Committee in October 2020. | Michael Reynolds/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

But the products won’t show up for a while.

Update, April 19, 1:42 pm: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced a suite of audio products, including a Clubhouse competitor and a push into podcasting, that his company intends to roll out over the next few weeks and months. You can read about all of those below; not included in that list was a plan to integrate Spotify’s music player into Facebook. Zuckerberg, speaking with tech journalist Casey Newton, also said he wanted Facebook to be able to let audio creators make money as the products go live.

Facebook wants you to start talking, and listening, on Facebook.

Sources say the social network is planning to announce a series of products — some of which won’t appear for some time — under the umbrella of “social audio” on Monday. They include Facebook’s take on Clubhouse, the audio-only social network that grew rapidly last year, as well as a push into podcast discovery and distribution, aided by Spotify.

Facebook’s audio plans include:

An audio-only version of Rooms, a videoconferencing product it launched a year ago when the pandemic spurred massive adoption of Zoom A Clubhouse-like product that will let groups of people listen to and interact with speakers on a virtual “stage” A product that will let Facebook users record brief voice messages and post them in their News Feeds, like they currently can do with text, pictures, and videos A podcast discovery product that will be connected with Spotify, which has invested heavily in podcasting over the past couple of years. It’s unclear to me if Facebook intends to do more beyond flagging podcasts for its users and sending them to Spotify. (Worth noting: Spotify and Facebook first linked up 10 years ago when Facebook was pushing the idea of frictionless sharing,” which was supposed to mean that your Facebook friends could see what you were reading, listening to, or watching. That fizzled out pretty fast.)

It’s also unclear to me what the timeline is for the products Facebook will announce tomorrow. My sense is that the Rooms product — which, again, is a version of videoconferencing without video — is the most likely candidate to go live right away. Sources said other products may not show up, even in beta form, until later this spring.

All told, the announcements are meant to signal CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s belief that his users are ready to use voice and audio as a way to connect with each other. He’s not the only Big Tech executive who’s gotten interested in that idea recently: Twitter has already launched Spaces, its take on Clubhouse. And Apple is preparing a new subscription podcast service it may announce as early as Tuesday, as part of its own product rollout.

Zuckerberg is scheduled to talk to technology journalist (and Vox Media contributor) Casey Newton on Monday at 1 pm ET; this weekend, Newton wrote that he and Zuckerberg would discuss “this wild transitional moment in tech and media,” noting that Facebook is “increasingly interested in newsletters, live audio, and other technologies.”

Facebook offered this non-comment in response to a query from Recode: “We’ve been connecting people through audio and video technologies for many years and are always exploring new ways to improve that experience for people.” Reps for Spotify and Apple declined to comment.

Zuckerberg has made his interest in Clubhouse, which launched at the beginning of the pandemic and enjoyed rapid growth throughout the past year, quite clear. He’s shown up for multiple chats on the service, including one with Spotify CEO Daniel Ek. Clubhouse, meanwhile, has just announced a new funding round that values the company at $4 billion — just months after announcing a funding round that valued it at $1 billion.

At the same time, observers have speculated that Clubhouse, which features ephemeral, real-time chats in front of audiences as big as 5,000 people, may have a hard time recapturing the buzz it had in 2020 and earlier this year, when much of the world was locked down and looking for distractions. The app’s pace of downloads appears to have slowed along with its novelty, and Clubhouse hasn’t updated its user totals from February, when it said it had 10 million users.

And if you want a thoughtful critique of Clubhouse’s product challenges, I suggest you read this Twitter thread from tech investor Shaan Puri. TL;DR: It’s hard to consistently create live, audio-only content that will engage current users and bring in new ones.

So... everyone seems to think clubhouse is the "next big thing" - but I think it's going to fail. Here's how I think it all goes down..

— Shaan Puri (@ShaanVP) March 16, 2021

On the other hand, Clubhouse is still limited to Apple iPhone users, and when it opens up to the world of Android users, its numbers will likely shoot up again. It’s certainly too early to assess whether the format Clubhouse pioneered — a mix of live podcasting and virtual conference-schmoozing — is going to stick around.

It’s also, obviously, way too early to figure out if Facebook’s massive scale will help the platform dethrone Clubhouse. But Zuckerberg hasn’t been shy about copying services or features built by competitors or would-be competitors, with mixed results: Facebook successfully aped the “Stories” feature pioneered by Snapchat, for instance, but Rooms, its would-be Zoom competitor, never caught on. And Reels, its attempt to clone TikTok’s short-form video service, is a work in progress that is stocked in large part with ... videos that first appeared on TikTok. Still to come: a Facebook-branded version of Substack’s successful write-your-own-newsletter service.

- Rebecca Heilweil
Watch NASA’s new autonomous helicopter take flight on Mars
An artist’s rendering of the Perseverance rover on Mars. The Perseverance rover is the size of a small car and more technologically sophisticated than anything you’ve ever seen. | NASA / JPL

Some powerful tech has landed on the red planet.

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On Monday morning, a small helicopter named Ingenuity became the first aircraft to fly on another planet. The autonomous bot flew for less than a minute on Mars before landing, according to NASA.

Ingenuity’s short but successful flight comes about two months after NASA’s Perseverance rover, which carried the tiny helicopter, first landed on the planet, completing a journey through space that began last July. Perseverance is the fifth rover to arrive on the red planet; this boxy, car-sized vehicle with an extendable arm is now charged with looking for signs of ancient life and gathering data about Mars’s geology and climate. It will even lay the groundwork for eventual human exploration of the planet.

You wouldn’t believe what I just saw. More images and video to come...#MarsHelicopterhttps://t.co/PLapgbHeZU pic.twitter.com/mbiOGx4tJZ

— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) April 19, 2021

To make all that possible, the rover carries a stunning display of technology designed especially for Perseverance’s historic mission. Those tools will help the rover gather data about the planet and its atmosphere, which it can then send back to NASA. There’s also an excavation system that can collect high-quality samples of Martian soil to be stashed and later analyzed by a future mission to Mars.

In the years the new rover is expected to operate, these machines will battle challenges that terrestrial technology never has to deal with, including Mars’s super-thin atmosphere, limited resources, incredibly cold temperatures, and delayed communication with human overlords on Earth.

To give you an idea of how all this will happen, we’ve outlined some of the coolest features that will be on display now that Perseverance’s mission on Mars is fully underway.

Perseverance is armed with advanced self-driving tech

Key to its mission’s success is the ability for Perseverance to self-drive. The vehicle has a computer devoted to its autonomous capabilities, and as Wired explains, it was designed and built specifically for this mission. The autonomous driving feature is essential because Mars is simply too far away for humans to give the vehicle constant, real-time instructions. So the rover needs to fend for itself.

“One of the fundamental constraints of any kind of space exploration — whether you’re going to Mars or Europa or the moon — is that you have limited bandwidth, which means a limit on the amount of information you can send back and forth,” David Wettergreen, research professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, told Recode. “During the periods of time when the robot can’t communicate, autonomy is important for it to enable it to keep doing tasks, to explore on its own, to make progress, rather than just sitting there waiting for the next time it hears from us.”

But building an autonomous vehicle for Mars is not necessarily as easy as building a self-driving car here on Earth (and that’s not easy, either). For one thing, the vehicle needs to be primarily concerned with safety, not with speed or the comfort of its passengers. After receiving basic instructions from humans about where it needs to go, Perseverance has to figure out the least-dangerous route on its own. If it crashes, the rover might render itself useless.

“Mars is not a fixed, flat, nice, paved road. Mars is really challenging terrain. There is dirt, rocks, sand, slopes, cliffs — all these things that the rover is going to have to avoid,” explained Philip Twu, robotics system engineer at NASA. “In addition to cameras, the rover is also going to need computers, algorithms, and software to be able to process all that imagery data into essentially a 3D picture that it’s then going to go ahead and use to plan.”

Fortunately for Perseverance, Mars is not a place where a self-driving rover needs to worry about crashing into another car or hitting a pedestrian.

“On Mars, there’s nothing moving around,” said Wettergreen. “They’re moving slowly, so they can take the time to build a detailed model, do a lot of analysis on that model, and then decide what to do next.”

A self-driving helicopter has flown on another planet. That’s a first.

Also aboard the rover is Ingenuity, which is now both the first helicopter to fly on Mars and the “first aircraft to attempt controlled flight on another planet,” according to NASA. That makes Ingenuity an experiment on its own, one that has undergone extensive testing on Earth. Its mission is to demonstrate that flight on Mars, where it will conduct up to five test flights, is possible, and that flights can be conducted autonomously on the planet.

While the device is essentially a drone, it’s specially crafted for Mars, which has less gravity than Earth. This makes ascent easier, but due to the planet’s comparatively thin atmosphere, flight itself is more challenging. The blades of the helicopter can make more than 2,000 revolutions a minute, several times the speed of helicopter blades whipping around in Earth’s atmosphere. Ingenuity is incredibly light, weighing in at around 4 pounds.

But the tiny vehicle’s autonomy is not just designed to help with navigation; it’s also built to keep Ingenuity alive.

“Mars is very, very cold. It gets to about negative 130 degrees Fahrenheit at night. That’s pretty cold,” explained Twu. “So the autonomy onboard the helicopter is also involved with finding a way to keep the helicopter warm enough to survive all the Martian nights.”

One purpose of the helicopter is to help NASA make decisions about where flight could lend assistance during future missions to the planet. Similar drones could serve as scouts that survey the terrain of Mars — especially places that rovers can’t easily get to — or, as NASA says, become “full standalone science craft carrying instrument payloads.

Will we be seeing any of this tech on Earth one day? It’s hard to say right now, but Twu notes that NASA is famous for its spinoffs.

“Time and time again, we’ve seen that technology developed for NASA missions — a lot of them for space missions — end up having terrestrial applications here on Earth,” he said. “All technology development can cross-pollinate and advances in one area inevitably result in advances in other areas.”

A robotic arm will take samples of Mars that will be studied back on Earth

The rover is armed with a 7-foot-long arm equipped with a drill that’s designed to collect rock and soil samples from beneath Mars’s surface. Those samples will then be stored in as many as 43 containers that the rover carries around on the planet. Once those samples are collected, they’ll be left in tubes that will sit on Mars’s surface for a future mission to pick up.

The arm alone isn’t all that impressive as a piece of space technology. Instead, its virtue is all the stuff that it comes, well, armed with.

“It’s like a Swiss Army knife of scientific instruments,” said Wettergreen. “What’s so amazing about it is all of these different functionalities and capabilities that they’ve been able to pack into such a small package.”

For instance, on the arm is a robotic claw equipped with a laser and other tools, including a camera called Watson that NASA compares to “a geologist’s hand-lens, magnifying and recording textures of rock and soil targets,” which is part of a tool — fittingly named Sherloc — that comes with special spectrometers and a laser. There’s also a tool called PIXL that can analyze incredibly tiny chemical elements and, in NASA’s words, take “super close-up pictures of rock and soil textures” to help scientists figure out whether Mars could have been home to microbial life in the past.

High-tech cameras and microphones will give the rover “senses”

Integrated into the rover are a slew of extremely high-quality cameras23 in total — that will help the vehicle survey the planet. The cameras won’t just help Perseverance get around Mars, but they’ll also take images of samples collected on the planet and record the vehicle’s arrival on the surface in full color. Meanwhile, NASA says that so-called “engineering” cameras will take on tasks like helping the vehicle avoid potentially treacherous areas, like sand dunes and trenches, while others will help the system navigate without human intervention.

A drawing of the NASA rover Perseverance detailing its multiple cameras. NASA There are 23 cameras aboard Perseverance.

At the same time, the rover will pick up sound data through its two microphones. Those devices will listen to the rover as it arrives and travels on the planet. There’s a special microphone that works in conjunction with a laser to study the chemistry of the planet’s geology by zapping it and recording the sound of the zapping. As NASA explains, the microphone hears the intensity of the “pop” made by the laser turning the rock into plasma, which “reveals the relative hardness of the rocks, which can tell us more about their geological context.”

Update, April 19, 2021, 12:50 pm ET: This piece was updated to include details of Ingenuity’s first successful flight.

Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.

- Theodore Schleifer
Andrew Cuomo and Google’s former CEO push to cap internet prices for low-income New Yorkers
Eric Schmidt speaks next to Andrew Cuomo Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt is a longtime ally of Andrew Cuomo. | Alejandra Villa/Getty Images

The law limits the cost of broadband access to $15 a month for needy families.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tapped former Google CEO Eric Schmidt to help him pivot New York to the digital age.

A year later, Cuomo and Schmidt have unveiled the first major change to state policy: A new law signed Friday to expand internet access to low-income New Yorkers.

Cuomo took the recommendation from Schmidt’s reform commission, Reimagine New York, and signed a bill that requires internet providers like Verizon to offer lower-income families basic broadband access for no more than $15 a month, a cap that Cuomo says is the first of its kind in the nation. High-speed plans will be capped at $20 a month.

About 7 million New Yorkers who currently qualify for government assistance will now have access to cheaper internet — a high-speed plan typically costs an average of more than $50 a month, Cuomo said — making it easier for them to attend online classes, communicate with family, and work from home. Americans who lack broadband access are disproportionately low-income and people of color.

“The internet is no longer optional,” Schmidt said on Friday, seated alongside Cuomo. “It’s essential to education. Think of the generation that we could be creating that are not learning because we didn’t give them the right access — and they’re the ones most at risk that need it most of all.”

The law is the most significant accomplishment to date from the Schmidt-led commission. The former Google CEO said from the beginning that the group would have three priorities: expanding broadband access, building out more capabilities for virtual medical appointments, and improving remote learning.

Schmidt is a billionaire philanthropist who splits his time among technical issues like artificial intelligence, political issues like Democratic campaigns, and the intersection of those tech and policy interests — such as ways to bridge the gap between Silicon Valley’s engineering talent and the American military.

Some New York progressives were upset when Schmidt — along with another major tech philanthropist, Bill Gates — were chosen to help guide New York’s post-coronavirus recovery, fearing it would expand the private sector’s influence. A longtime political ally of Cuomo, Schmidt praised the “extraordinary” coronavirus leadership of the New York governor, who is managing several crises, including an FBI investigation over whether he covered up the total number of Covid-19 deaths at nursing homes. Cuomo is also facing unrelated sexual harassment allegations.

In addition to the new state law, Schmidt’s philanthropic group, Schmidt Futures, is also helping to finance internet access for the next school year for up to 50,000 New York families that cannot afford the reduced $15-a-month rate. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers “apparently had no internet access at all,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt portrayed the commission as epitomizing the best of philanthropy and how it can collaborate with the public sector during a crisis.

“This is when New York does its best — a combination of private actors and the public doing the right thing for the benefit of all the citizens,” Schmidt said. “Governor, send us more challenges.”

- Sara Morrison
Biden makes good on his promise to punish Russia for the massive SolarWinds hack
President Joe Biden, in profile while speaking. Andrew Harnik/Getty Images

America has officially blamed the Russian government for the hack of multiple federal agencies.

Open Sourced logo

The Biden administration has officially blamed and sanctioned Russia for its role in the massive SolarWinds hack that compromised computer systems in multiple government agencies as well as private companies.

In an executive order issued April 15, President Biden levied a variety of economic sanctions against several Russian financial institutions, technology companies, and individuals designated as having participated in “harmful foreign activities,” including but not limited to the hack.

In a short speech addressing today’s actions, Biden said his administration concluded that the Russian government “interfered in our elections” and was behind the “totally inappropriate” SolarWinds hack.

Biden said he spoke with Russian president Putin on Wednesday to tell him about the measures, but also hoped that the countries would have a stable and productive relationship moving forward, possibly with the two leaders meeting in person for a summit in the summer.

“I was clear with President Putin that we could have gone further, but I chose not to do so,” Biden said. “Now is the time to de-escalate.”

First reported last December, the series of attacks, linked to software made by the Texas-based software company SolarWinds, infiltrated at least nine federal agencies, including the Commerce, Energy, and Justice Departments, as well as more than 100 private companies, the Biden administration said in February. Officials were initially hesitant to assign blame for the hack — or even acknowledge its existence — under the Trump administration, but they would eventually say the attack was “likely Russian in origin.” Trump said very little and even suggested that China, not Russia, might have been behind it. Russia has always denied any involvement.

The hacks are believed to have begun in March 2020 through network monitoring software called Orion Platform, which is made by SolarWinds. The hackers were able to insert malware into Orion Platform software updates which, once installed, gave hackers access to those systems. This is called a supply chain attack. At one point, there were fears that the attack affected thousands of SolarWinds’ government and private clients. The hack was only discovered when a cybersecurity company that makes hacking tools found that its own systems had been breached.

In contrast to his predecessor, Biden — then as a president-elect — said his administration would do everything possible to improve its own cybersecurity defenses, which the hack made clear were very much lacking, and that the breach would be a “top priority.” Biden also promised “substantial costs” for the perpetrators.

Four months later, the Biden administration is formally naming the Russian Intelligence Service (SVR) — which it says includes the groups known as Cozy Bear, APT29, and The Dukes — as being behind the hack. That group has also been blamed for previous hacks on government systems, the Democratic National Committee, and even institutions doing research on Covid-19 and vaccine development. It’s long been linked to Russian intelligence, which Russia has long denied.

The National Security Agency (NSA), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also released on April 15 a cybersecurity advisory about the vulnerabilities Russian hackers have exploited — and continue to exploit, as the advisory notably pointed out — in software from companies including Fortinet, Synacor, Pulse Secure, Citrix, and VMware. (Pulse Secure told Recode that the issue identified in its software has since been patched.)

Biden’s executive order doesn't just address the hack or Russia’s other cyber malfeasances. It also says the Russian government has tried to undermine free and fair elections in the United States and its allies, targeted dissidents and journalists, and violated international law by refusing to respect other nation-states’ territorial integrity. The sanctions will also apply to individuals associated with the occupation of Crimea; reports that the Russian government paid bounties to Taliban militants to kill American soldiers will be “handled through diplomatic, military and intelligence channels”; and 10 Russians who work at the country’s diplomatic mission in Washington have been expelled.

Russia’s response to the executive order, for now, is to promise that there will be a response.

“Such aggressive behavior will certainly receive a decisive rebuff, and the response to sanctions will be inevitable,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told a Russian news agency.

Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.

- Kyle Orland, Ars Technica
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