UK parliament calls Facebook leaders ‘digital gangsters’

UK parliament calls Facebook leaders ‘digital gangsters’


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Facebook and its execs have been labeled “digital gangsters” in a UK parliamentary report that calls for the company to be regulated. The 180-page document — which lays out the findings of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee’s 18-month investigation into fake news — concludes that Facebook wilfuly broke data privacy and competition laws.

The damning report also reprimands Mark Zuckerberg for twice refusing to testify before the committee. “By choosing not to appear…and by choosing not to respond personally to any of our invitations, Mark Zuckerberg has shown contempt towards…the UK Parliament,” the report states.

The committee also released internal Facebook documents that originate from a US lawsuit filed by app-maker Six4Three in 2015. “They highlight the link between friends’ data and the financial value of the developers’ relationship with Facebook,” the report states. “The main issues concern: ‘white lists’; the value of friends’ data; reciprocity; the sharing of data of users owning Android phones; and Facebook’s targeting of competition.” Facebook said in December that the documents were “cherrypicked” to tell “only one side of the story.”

In conclusion, the committee recommends creating a mandatory code of ethics that social media companies should be forced to abide by. It also calls for an independent regulator to monitor tech companies and bring legal charges against them. And it proposes that UK anti-trust regulators should investigate whether Facebook has been involved in anti-competition practices. In addition, the committee advised the UK government to examine recent elections for evidence of voter manipulation.

The UK previously fined Facebook £500,000 ($646,000) in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal for failing to protect user data. According to recent reports, its privacy lapses are also to blame for an impending multi-billion dollar FTC fine.

In a surprisingly restrained response, Facebook said it is “open to meaningful regulation” of social media. “We also support effective privacy legislation that holds companies to high standards in their use of data and transparency for users,” said Karim Palant, the company’s UK public policy manager. Regulation would, of course, be imposed on Facebook, whether the company is open to it or not.

“We have already made substantial changes so that every political ad on Facebook has to be authorised, state who is paying for it and then is stored in a searchable archive for 7 years,” he added. “No other channel for political advertising is as transparent and offers the tools that we do.”

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UK believes it doesn’t need to ban Huawei from 5G networks

UK believes it doesn’t need to ban Huawei from 5G networks


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The US may have had some success in persuading allies to ban Huawei equipment from their 5G networks, but not everyone is convinced there’s an existential threat. Financial Times sources claim the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre has found that it can limit the risks of using Huawei gear in 5G deployments without banning it entirely. This could include using a variety of suppliers and restricting some parts of 5G networks.

You might not hear about these findings for a while. A Digital, Culture, Media and Sport department spokesperson told the FT that the review of 5G security was “ongoing” and that talk of any definitive decisions was “inaccurate.” That last statement doesn’t necessarily contradict the apparent leak. It’s possible that the NCSC has ruled out a blanket ban, but hasn’t formally settled on what to do in response.

If that is the agency’s conclusion, it could throw the US’ agenda off-course. American officials have maintained that Huawei could use its equipment to spy on China’s behalf despite a lack of public evidence, and have succeeded in obtaining some device bans both at home and in allied nations like Australia. That’s on top of fraud and trade secret charges leveled against the company. If the UK rejects this view, the US will have a tough time persuading other countries to ditch Huawei entirely. The UK has access to some of the most sensitive US intelligence available — if it’s not overly worried about Huawei, other allies may be equally tolerant.

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Game streamer Ninja will have his own toy line

Game streamer Ninja will have his own toy line


Wicked Cool Toys

You can’t usually show support for a game streamer in the real world outside of t-shirt and stickers, but Wicked Cool Toys is kicking things up a notch. It’s introducing a line of toys themed around streamers, starting with Twitch superstar Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. You’ll find two-inch collectibles in blind packs ($5 each, above) and four-inch dancing figures ($10) themed around his characters and emotes, as well as head wear ($20) that gives you that blue hair and headband. All of those should ship in the fall, and there are plans for plush toys, games and other goodies.

Other streamers will get nods as well. WCT is launching an augmented reality-enhanced set of four-inch vinyl figurines ($10 each) that will use a QR code to unlock a virtual experience based on top streamers. Ninja is unsurprisingly part of the mix, but he’ll also be joined by well-known streamers like Lirik, Summit1G and Tim the Tat Man. There’s no release date for these collectibles, but WCT stressed that they’ll be “owned by and made for” the streamers.

Whether or not these toys succeed is up in the air. Their existence says a lot about how much game streaming has grown, at least. While it’s been a regular part of the gaming scene for years, it’s now large enough that it attracts the interests of celebrities (see: Drake) and regularly draws tens of thousands of viewers on the best-known channels. Simply speaking, there’s a significant potential audience for these toys — it’s just a question of whether it’s significant enough to support a toy line.

Gallery: Tyler “Ninja” Blevins toys from Wicked Cool | 10 Photos

Check out the rest of our coverage from Toy Fair 2019 here.

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Indigenous hunters have positive impacts on food webs in desert Australia

Indigenous hunters have positive impacts on food webs in desert Australia

Australia has the highest rate of mammal extinction in the world. Resettlement of indigenous communities resulted in the spread of invasive species, the absence of human-set fires, and a general cascade in the interconnected food web that led to the largest mammalian extinction event ever recorded. In this case, the absence of direct human activity on the landscape may be the cause of the extinctions, according to a Penn State anthropologist.

“I was motivated by the mystery that has occurred in the last 50 years in Australia,” said Rebecca Bliege Bird, professor of anthropology, Penn State. “The extinction of small-bodied mammals does not follow the same pattern we usually see with people changing the landscape and animals disappearing.”

Australia’s Western Desert, where Bird and her team work, is the homeland of the Martu, the traditional owners of a large region of the Little and Great Sandy Desert. During the mid-20th century, many Martu groups were first contacted in the process of establishing a missile testing range and resettled in missions and pastoral stations beyond their desert home. During their hiatus from the land, many native animals went extinct.

In the 1980s, many families returned to the desert to reestablish their land rights. They returned to livelihoods centered around hunting and gathering. Today, in a hybrid economy of commercial and customary resources, many Martu continue their traditional subsistence and burning practices in support of cultural commitments to their country.

Twenty-eight Australian endemic land mammal species have become extinct since European settlement. Local extinctions of mammals include the burrowing bettong and the banded hare wallaby, both of which were ubiquitous in the desert before the indigenous exodus, Bird told attendees at the 2019 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science today (Feb. 17) in Washington, D.C.

“During the pre-1950, pre-contact period, Martu had more generalized diets than any animal species in the region,” said Bird. “When people returned, they were still the most generalized, but many plant and animal species were dropped from the diet.”

She also notes that prior to European settlement, the dingo, a native Australian dog, was part of Martu life. The patchy landscape created by Martu hunting fires may have been important for dingo survival. Without people, the dingo did not flourish and could not exclude populations of smaller invasive predators — cats and foxes — that threatened to consume all the native wildlife.

Bird and her team looked at the food webs — interactions of who eats what and who feeds whom, including humans — for the pre-contact and for the post-evacuation years. Comparisons of these webs show that the absence of indigenous hunters in the web makes it easier for invasive species to infiltrate the area and for some native animals to become endangered or extinct. This is most likely linked to the importance of traditional landscape burning practices, said Bird.

Indigenous Australians in the arid center of the continent often use fire to facilitate their hunting success. Much of Australia’s arid center is dominated by a hummock grass called spinifex.

In areas where Martu hunt more actively, hunting fires increase the patchiness of vegetation at different stages of regrowth, and buffer the spread of wildfires. Spinifex grasslands where Martu do not often hunt, exhibit a fire regime with much larger fires. Under an indigenous fire regime, the patchiness of the landscape boosts populations of native species such as dingo, monitor lizard and kangaroo, even after accounting for mortality due to hunting.

“The absence of humans creates big holes in the network,” said Bird. “Invading becomes easier for invasive species and it becomes easier for them to cause extinctions.” The National Science Foundation and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology supported this work.

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TCL’s folding phone projects include a watch-like bracelet

TCL’s folding phone projects include a watch-like bracelet


TCL/CNET

Multiple companies have ideas as to how they’ll develop folding smartphones. TCL, however, isn’t content to settle on one — it’s seemingly tackling them all. CNET has obtained images and patent filings that show TCL exploring five foldable designs. Four of them are ultimately variants on a theme (folding horizontally or vertically, inward or outward), but a fifth model would turn into a smartwatch-style bracelet. Effectively, it’d resurrect Lenovo’s Cplus concept as a practical product.

Whether or not TCL will make these isn’t certain. CNET stressed that it was early. TCL previously vowed to ship its first foldable device in 2020, but it wasn’t clear what its plans were at the time beyond some kind of smartphone. It’s clearly more interested in the phone than first thought, although it said that TVs and other devices could use the technology.

Whatever ships, it might not live up to people’s dreams. Current bendable displays won’t fold like paper, so they’ll typically be thicker. The relatively exotic nature of the hardware tends to carry a premium. There’s also the all-important software. While Android will natively support foldable phones, it’s not certain how well that will work in practice. This could still amount to an early adopter device.

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Twitter can keep copies of your deleted DMs for years

Twitter can keep copies of your deleted DMs for years


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Twitter might still have copies of your DMs saved in its system even if it’s been years since you deactivated your account. Security researcher Karan Saini told TechCrunch that he found years-old messages in an archive of his Twitter data — which you can request from Twitter itself under the Settings menu — even if they were from accounts that had been deleted or suspended. The publication has confirmed Saini’s report by looking through an archive and finding a conversation with a suspended account from way back in March 2016.

Under Twitter’s guidelines, the company wrote that “there is a very brief period in which [it] may be able to access account information, including Tweets.” You can only restore your account with all its data intact within 30 days, after all. Twitter accepts requests from law enforcement to preserve records, but the platform said it will only keep a temporary snapshot of relevant account records for only 90 days.

In addition, the security researcher discovered that those archives could also come with messages you’ve previously deleted or were deleted by the person you were chatting with. While Twitter now only removes DMs you delete from your own inbox, Twitter used to scrub them from the recipient’s inbox, as well. It looks like the platform can still keep a copy of them either way.

Saini said the records remain accessible due to a “functional bug” rather than a security flaw. Whatever it is that causes this issue, it’s clearly a privacy problem — one that Twitter still doesn’t have a full grasp of. A Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch that it’s “looking into this further to ensure [the company has] considered the entire scope of the issue.”

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Updated Mormon rules let missionaries call or text their families weekly

Updated Mormon rules let missionaries call or text their families weekly


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Until now, Mormon missionaries have only allowed to use phone calls or video chats to reach their families on Christmas and Mother’s Day. After that, they’d had to rely on email or traditional letters. They’ll have an easier time staying in touch from now on, though. The Church now permits missionaries to call, text, message or video chat with their families each week on preparation day (effectively, their break), not just two times a year. They’re also encouraged to get in touch on other holidays.

There are restrictions beyond the timing. The Church wants missionaries to initiate any conversations, and asks them to use “good judgment” on the length of calls and chats. They’re also told to be respectful of how this affects their missionary companions.

The Church is direct in explaining why it’s loosening the rules: the widened communications should help keep families in touch and give a boost to missionaries who are feeling homesick. Indirectly, it’s also an acknowledgment that communication technology has changed — there’s a whole generation of missionaries that has grown up with smartphones and may prefer a video call to an email.

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Exercise might improve health by increasing gut bacterial diversity

Exercise might improve health by increasing gut bacterial diversity

Bacteria, often synonymous with infection and disease, may have an unfair reputation. Research indicates there are as many, if not more, bacterial cells in our bodies as human cells, meaning they play an important role in our physiology (1). In fact, a growing body of evidence shows that greater gut microbiota diversity (the number of different species and evenness of these species’ populations) is related to better health. Now, research published in Experimental Physiology has suggested that the efficiency with which we transport oxygen to our tissues (cardiorespiratory fitness) is a far greater predictor of gut microbiota diversity than either body fat percentage or general physical activity.

The findings suggest that exercise at a sufficiently high intensity, to improve cardiorespiratory fitness, may support health through favourable alterations in the presence, activity and clustering of gut microbes. Such exercise-induced improvements, in cardiorespiratory fitness, often correspond with central (e.g. increased volume of blood pumped by the heart each beat) and peripheral adaptations (e.g. increased number of capillaries to transport oxygen from blood to muscles).

Before now, it was understood that higher cardiorespiratory fitness tended to coincide with greater gut microbiota diversity, but it was unclear whether this relationship was attributable to body fat percentage or physical activities of daily-living. Since cancer treatment is known to trigger physiological changes detrimental to cardio-metabolic health, including increased body fat percentage and declining cardiorespiratory fitness, this research was performed on cancer survivors. In total, 37 non-metastatic breast cancer survivors, who had completed treatment at least one year prior, were enrolled.

Participants performed a graded exercise test to estimate peak cardiorespiratory fitness, assessments of total energy expenditure and examination of gut microbiota from faecal swipes. The results showed that participants with the higher cardiorespiratory fitness had significantly greater gut microbiota diversity compared to less fit participants. Further statistical analyses highlighted that cardiorespiratory fitness accounted for roughly a quarter of the variance in species richness and evenness, independent of body fat percent.

These data offer intriguing insight into the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and gut microbiota diversity. However, given the cross-sectional nature of the study design, the research team’s findings are correlative in nature. The participant sample was restricted to women with a history of breast cancer, who tended to exhibit low cardiorespiratory fitness and other health problems, meaning generalisation to other groups should be made with caution.

Stephen Carter, lead author of the paper from Indiana University, is enthusiastic about continuing his team’s research:

“Our group is actively pursuing an interventional study to determine how variation in exercise intensity can influence gut microbiota diversity under controlled-feeding conditions to uncover how exercise may affect functional outcomes of gut microbiota, as well as, studying how exercise prescription may be optimized to enhance health outcomes among clinical populations.”

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New molecular blueprint advances our understanding of photosynthesis

New molecular blueprint advances our understanding of photosynthesis

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have used one of the most advanced microscopes in the world to reveal the structure of a large protein complex crucial to photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight into cellular energy.

The finding, published in the journal Nature, will allow scientists to explore for the first time how the complex functions and could have implications for the production of a variety of bioproducts, including plastic alternatives and biofuels.

“This work will lead to a better understanding of how photosynthesis occurs, which could allow us to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis in plants and other green organisms — potentially boosting the amount of food, and thus biomass, they produce,” said lead researcher Karen Davies, a biophysicist at Berkeley Lab. “This is particularly important if you want to produce renewable bioproducts that are cost-effective alternatives to current petroleum-based products.”

Discovered decades ago, the protein complex targeted by the researchers, called NADH dehydrogenase-like complex (NDH), is known to help regulate the phase of photosynthesis where the energy of sunlight is captured and stored in two types of cellular energy molecules, which are later utilized to power the conversion of carbon dioxide into sugar. Past investigations revealed that NDH reshuffles the energized electrons moving among other protein complexes in the chloroplast in a way that ensures the correct ratio of each energy molecule is produced. Furthermore, NDH of cyanobacteria performs several additional roles including increasing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) available for sugar production by linking CO2 uptake with electron transfer.

In order for scientists to truly comprehend how NDH executes these important functions, they needed a molecular blueprint indicating the location and connectivity of all the atoms in the complex. This is something that even highly powerful transmission electron microscopy (TEM) technology simply could not provide until very recently.

“Research on this enzyme has been difficult and experimental results confounding for the last 20 years or so because we have lacked complete information about the enzyme’s structure,” said Davies. “Knowing the structure is important for generating and testing out hypotheses of how the enzyme functions. The resolution we obtained for our structure of NDH has only really been achievable since the commercialization of the direct electron counting camera, developed in collaboration with Berkeley Lab.”

Prior to this invention, explained Davies, a staff scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Biophysics and Integrative Bioimaging Division (MBIB), determining the structure of a single molecule could take several years because cryo-TEM imaging relied on film, meaning that each exposure had to be developed and scanned before it could be analyzed. The main limitation, however, was that most images turned out blurry. When you directed a beam of electrons at a molecule, the charged, high-energy particles excited the atoms in the molecule, often making them move at the moment of exposure. This meant that researchers needed to take and process hundreds, if not thousands, of film images in order to get an accurate glimpse of an entire molecule.

The new electron counting camera solves this problem by taking digital movies with an extremely high frame rate, so individual frames can be aligned to eliminate blurring caused by beam-induced particle motion.

In the current study, first author Thomas Laughlin, a UC Berkeley graduate student with a joint appointment at MBIB, isolated NDH complexes from membranes of a photosynthetic cyanobacterium provided by the Junko Yano and Vittal Yachandra Lab in MBIB and imaged them using a state-of-the-art cryo-TEM instrument fitted with the latest direct electron detector. Located on the UC Berkeley campus, the cryo-TEM facility is managed by the Bay Area CryoEM consortium, which is partly funded by Berkeley Lab.

The resulting atom density map was then used to build a model of NDH that shows the arrangement of all the protein subunits of NDH and the most likely position of all the atoms in the complex. By examining this model, Davies’ team will be able to formulate and then test hypotheses of how NDH facilitates sugar production by balancing the ratio of the two cellular energy molecules.

“While the structure of NDH alone certainly addresses many questions, I think it has raised several more that we had not even thought to consider before,” said Laughlin.

Among the many Berkeley Lab scientists focused on advancing knowledge of fundamental biochemical and biophysical processes, Davies and her staff also use direct electron camera cryo-EM to investigate how variations in the organization of photosynthetic complexes, caused by changes in growth and light conditions, affect the efficiency of photosynthesis. Her project on electron flow in photosynthesis is supported by a five-year DOE Office of Science Early Career Research Program grant that was awarded in 2018.

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Facebook reportedly tracks the location of ‘credible threats’

Facebook reportedly tracks the location of ‘credible threats’


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Facebook’s security teams reportedly have a list of people they’re instructed to watch out for, including ex-employees and users who have threatened the company, according to CNBC. That’s a reasonable safety measure, particularly given Facebook recently evacuated its headquarters over a bomb scare and a shooter attacked YouTube’s HQ last year. While many businesses keep records of potential threats, not many will be able to monitor them in a similar way to Facebook, whose information security team is able to potentially track them through location and IP data.

Security teams reportedly only track those deemed as credible threats, such as people who indicate the time and location of a supposed attack, or those who attend Facebook shareholder meetings and have issued threats. When the global security operations center and the global security intelligence and investigations units identify such a threat, they can file a request with the information security team, which can access user locations. If someone on the list made a threat about a place they’re close to, the information security team may keep tabs on their location and take action if needed, such as informing law enforcement.

The CNBC report has plenty of details from former security employees on Facebook’s “be on lookout” (BOLO) list, which it created in 2008 and updates around once a week. It now apparently includes hundreds of names, including most of the people the company has fired. Facebook is said to notify security employees whenever it updates the list, passing along information on that person including their name, photo, rough location and details about why they were included.

Facebook added some people for repeatedly showing up to offices or sending threatening emails, but others were supposedly included for “saying something as simple as ‘F— you, Mark,’ ‘F— Facebook’ or ‘I’m gonna go kick your a–,'” in comments on posts by CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg. Decisions on who to add to the BOLO list are reportedly made on a case-by-case basis.

“Our physical security team exists to keep Facebook employees safe,” a Facebook spokesman told CNBC. “They use industry-standard measures to assess and address credible threats of violence against our employees and our company, and refer these threats to law enforcement when necessary. We have strict processes designed to protect people’s privacy and adhere to all data privacy laws and Facebook’s terms of service. Any suggestion our onsite physical security team has overstepped is absolutely false.”

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Cryptocurrency influencers are even worse than normal influencers

Cryptocurrency influencers are even worse than normal influencers

Tech marketers have been using celebrity endorsements for decades – Microsoft and Apple have relied on this method to flock their goods to the masses since the ’80s – and the cryptocurrency industry, although nascent, is no different.

In the beginning, one could argue the objective was to put a friendly, familiar face on a product to make it more relatable to the average consumer. Today, it’s much more about the cool factor and reinforcing the link created between the endorser, the product, and the consumer.

We live in a world where celebrities, or the new generation of influencers, are paid to sell us anything from miracle diet products, all the way through to makeup, and even cryptocurrencies.

Cryptocurrency, which has long suffered from a branding problem, can certainly benefit from the seeming legitimacy celebrities bring, but it goes without saying that a dodgy partnership can directly impact the market and in turn, peoples’ virtual wallets.

Enticed by generous paychecks, celebrities may enter into an endorsement deal for reasons other than money. They may genuinely love and believe in the product, it may align with their own personal brand, but unfortunately, they repeatedly fail to understand what they’re endorsing.

As a result, the due diligence supposedly carried out by them – or their teams – typically falls short, particularly when it comes to peoples’ health, and in this case, virtual money.

With this in mind, Hard Fork has taken a look at some of the most unexpected celebrity endorsement deals to have taken place in the often unpredictable world of cryptocurrencies.

Mike Tyson

Legendary boxer and convicted felon, Mike Tyson is arguably not the best candidate to rid Bitcoin of its association with the crime underworld, but that didn’t stop him from promoting the cryptocurrency in 2015.

Speaking to CoinDesk prior to the launch of his first branded Bitcoin ATM in Las Vegas, Tyson said he was grateful to be part of the “Bitcoin revolution,” although at the time he admitted he’s “no guru” yet.

Profits deriving from the deal would be split evenly between Tyson and Bitcoin Direct, according to Peter Klamka, the company’s CEO.

Bitcoin Direct first came under fire when the partnership surfaced in the Summer of 2015. At the time, pundits speculated the announcement could be a scam at Tyson’s expense, noting the patchy internet trail of Klamka’s other firm, OTC stock Bitcoin Brands Inc.

This, however, didn’t swerve Tyson’s opinion. The boxer stated he already knew about the cryptocurrency before meeting Klamka, and said he was drawn in by the idea of having options beyond the traditional banking system.

Paris Hilton

Paris Hilton, heiress and ultimate it-girl, took to Twitter in September 2017, to discuss a newly emerging coin called Lydian.

The Tweet said: “Looking forward to participating in the new @LydianCoinLtd Token! #ThisIsNotAnAd #CryptoCurrency #BitCoin #ETH #BlockChain.”

The tweet was deleted but not before reports surfaced suggesting that LydianCoin’s chief exec had previously pleaded guilty to domestic abuse.

Weeks later, the SEC issued a statement, urging caution around celebrity-backed Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), with many assuming the warning was directed at Hilton.

Hilton remained tight-lipped about the cryptocurrency until the following June when her father Richard Hilton auctioned a $38 million mansion and allowed people to bid with Bitcoin.

Steven Seagal

More recently, actor Steven Seagal (who by the way has endured his fair share of lawsuits) was brought on by Bitcoiin2gen (B2G) as a worldwide brand ambassador.

Eventually, regulators in New Jersey and Tennessee issued warnings that investors should steer clear of the cryptocurrency endorsed by the faded film star.

An investigation by CoinDesk also revealed ‘Bitcoiin’ resembled a pyramid scheme. Following that, New Jersey’s Bureau for Securities issued a cease-and-desist order describing “Bitcoiin” as an unregistered security, and highlighted the unclear nature of Seagal’s relationship with the project.

Additionally, Tennessee’s Department of Commerce and Insurance issued an alert stating that “Bitcoiin” was not registered as a security issuer with the state, and re-emphasized the fact that investors should “be cautious when investing in cryptocurrencies.”

Seagal tweeted about the project on various occasions using the hashtag #ad, as the project sought to gain traction in the wake of its ICO. But, not long after, Seagal and the company’s founders parted ways with the coin.

It’s not clear why Seagal became involved with the company, but it’s worth noting that his interest in cryptocurrency may have a geopolitical angle. Seagal is a fervent supporter of Russian President – and autocrat – Vladimir Putin, and received Russian citizenship in 2014.

Gwyneth Paltrow

Hollywood royalty Gwyneth Paltrow founded lifestyle brand Goop in September 2008. It started off offering new age wellbeing and lifestyle advice.

The company has been criticized over the years for promoting and selling products and treatments that lack scientific basis, efficacy, and in some instances are recognized by medical professionals as either harmful or misleading.

As previously reported by Hard Fork, Paltrow’s brand published a piece encouraging readers to find out more about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies last year. The actress shared the article, which featured an interview with Abra’s CEO Bill Barhydt, with her Twitter followers.

Masked as an explainer on digital currencies and their underlying blockchain technology, the article read like a shameless advertorial for the company, going on to promote the benefits of using Abra over other companies in the space.

This approach is dangerous on several fronts, but I mostly take issue with the fact that it violates the notion of transparency – a rife problem in the wider influencer marketing industry – as it failed to tell readers of Paltrow‘s involvement in the business as an advisor.

Can we learn from their mistakes?

Ultimately, these are just some examples of how companies have leveraged the power of celebrity to make their products more appealing to a mainstream audience, but they help to highlight how some partnerships are beyond questionable.

Investing in a cryptocurrency comes down to choice, and while it’s up to the individual to carry out their own due diligence, seeing a celebrity endorse a product can be misleading at the best of times.

We live in an age where everybody (and their dog) can become a social media influencer, but there’s something to be said about the difference in reach of a blogger, or content creator, and that of a Hollywood A-lister.

Research suggests that, on average, a celebrity endorsement increases a company’s sales by just 4 percent relative to its competitors. One questions whether or not this is all worth it – and the sad fact is that it may very well be for some to look too closely at what they’re peddling.

Celebrities may not understand the technology behind cryptocurrencies but yet, bearing in mind their reach and influence, seemingly have no qualms in telling people to use their hard-earned cash to invest in them. It’s for this reason alone that celebrity cryptocurrency endorsements are capable of being the worst kind of all.

Published February 14, 2019 — 12:10 UTC

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iOS pirates are using Apple’s developer certificates to share hacked apps

iOS pirates are using Apple’s developer certificates to share hacked apps


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Just days after it was revealed that dozens of gambling and pornographic apps have been abusing enterprise certificates to distribute apps outside of Apple’s app store, Reuters has found that software pirates have been using the same process to distribute hacked versions of popular apps such as Spotify, Minecraft and Pokemon Go. The apps have been modified to block in-app advertising and make paid-for features available for free.

The illicit software distributors, which include TutuApp, Panda Helper and AppValley, are able to provide these hacked apps — which are otherwise tightly controlled within Apple’s App Store ecosystem — by using enterprise developer certificates which act as digital keys that tell an iPhone if a piece of software can be trusted and opened. According to TechCrunch, these certificates are relatively easy to obtain and cost a one-off payment of $299. Distributors make money by charging a small yearly fee — around $13 — for access to “VIP” versions of their services.

Apple initially banned some of the pirates, but within days they were operational again having simply obtained another certificate. Apple says it’s now working on implementing two-factor authentication — a code sent to a phone as well as a password — to log into developers accounts, which should be in place by the end of the month. It’s not clear how much revenue these apps have siphoned away from the App Store and genuine app providers, nor how much these pirates have made from their activity, but Reuters reports that these distributors combined have more than 600,00 followers on Twitter, so it’s safe to assume there are significant figures at play.

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Stable coins sees big inflows amid cryptocurrency volatility

Stable coins sees big inflows amid cryptocurrency volatility

Amid a collapse in the digital asset market in 2018, which saw bitcoin lose 80 per cent of its value, many investors have moved into stable coins, which have been described as the “holy grail” of cryptocurrencies. Here is what you need to know about stable coins:

What is a stable coin? 

A stable coin is a cryptocurrency pegged to another stable asset, such as gold or the US dollar. While conventional digital money like bitcoin is highly volatile, stable coins are generally traded at a fixed price.

Why are they useful?

Right now stable coins typically serve as a gateway for investors to enter the crypto-asset market.

Most cryptocurrency exchanges in the world only allow users to trade one digital token for another. That is because converting fiat currencies into cryptocurrencies is a relatively complicated matter, which involves dealing with banks and regulators in different jurisdictions.

China’s diehard cryptocurrency fans lash out at scams, lament losses as price plunge bites

If you want to buy a cryptocurrency for the first time, one of the easiest ways to do so is to turn your money into stable coins via fiat-to-crypto exchanges, such as US-based Coinbase and Hong Kong-based Coinsuper. With your stable coins, you can then jump onto bigger platforms, such as Binance, where you can trade hundreds of digital tokens.

If you decide to exit digital tokens because of volatility or another reason, you can trade them back for stable coins without having to move any money back to the fiat world.

But the use cases for stable coins go beyond being a simple gateway to the trading of digital tokens.

Stable coins can be used for everyday transactions, such as buying coffee, paying salaries or buying real estate — facing fewer barriers to mass adoption than traditional cryptocurrencies, which often come with low transaction speeds and high fees in addition to current volatility.

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What are the different types of stable coin out there?

The most common type of stable coin is backed by US dollars or other fiat currencies at a 1:1 ratio. The coin issuers hold the same amount of fiat money in their bank accounts – think of them as IOUs redeemable for the underlying assets.

The market leader in this category is Tether, or USTD, issued by the US-based start-up Tether Limited. However, after the company failed to provide an independent audit report, the price of Tether dipped to US$0.90 in October as investors questioned whether it is fully backed by US dollars. Still, Tether remains one of the most-traded cryptocurrencies with a market value of US$2 billion.

Rival US dollar-backed stable coins such as Gemini, TrueUSD, USDC, and Pax are issued by companies regulated in the US, and auditing is generally more transparent. All these offerings are available on most exchanges.

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The second type of stable coin is still pegged to the US dollar at a 1:1 ratio but the underlying collateral is other cryptocurrencies, such as ether. Every step of coin issuance is completed via a set of protocols executed on blockchains. A cryptocurrency investor is required to deposit, or lock up, an amount of ether that is worth more than the stable coin they will get in return. The over-collaterisation is intended to act as a buffer to daily price swings in ether.

There is no auditing required because everything happens on the blockchain. Popular examples include MakerDAO’s DAI and Havven’s nUSD.

The third model has no collateral at all. As crazy as the idea might sound, these stable coins use blockchain-based algorithms as a kind of central bank, whose sole purpose is to control the ‘money supply’ to make sure the coins will always trade at US$1. Examples of algorithmic stable coins include Basis and CarbonUSD.

How Chinese cryptocurrency exchange Huobi is weathering the prolonged bitcoin bear market

What is next for stable coins?

Some researchers have indicated that stable coins are not the only solution to volatility in the digital asset market – insurance policies and derivative products from the traditional world of finance can also do the job. And there appears little demand for multiple forms of stable coins and as such, weaker projects will likely get edged out of the market by the strongest.

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Just got some Bitcoin: how to choose your first cryptocurrency wallet

Just got some Bitcoin: how to choose your first cryptocurrency wallet

So you’ve entered the world of crypto, have bought your first Bitcoin BTC and want to know how you should choose your first cryptocurrency wallet.

For seasoned cryptocurrency investors this may seem obvious, but for a newbie who’s keen to get involved, it can seem like a daunting task. With so many options available, what’s the best answer? There is no hard and fast rule. At the end of the day it simply comes down to personal preference, but here are some tips to bear in mind.

A cryptocurrency wallet is, essentially, a software program that stores private and public keys, enabling users to send and receive cryptocurrency at the press of a button. It can be considered a misnomer as the coins aren’t stored in the wallet, but permit a person to interact with the blockchain when transactions are being made.

The first thing to understand is that there are three ways a person can store their cryptocurrency: hardware wallets, software wallets, and custodial wallets.

There’s also storage to think about, which can either be hot or cold. Hot storage is when a user’s coins are stored online and may be susceptible to hacking, whereas cold storage is taking a person’s coins and maintaining the security of them offline.

So let’s take a look at the three different types of wallets available.

Custodial wallets

These types of wallets store the private keys of its users through a third party. If someone is first starting out in crypto they are likely to use a custodial wallet.

San Francisco-based crypto exchange Coinbase and Hong Kong-based Bitfinex, a crypto trading platform, are examples of custodial wallets. If you buy crypto on these platforms they also provide users with a wallet in which to store your funds.

A few advantages to custodial wallets is that a user doesn’t need to worry about remembering their private key; all they have to do is remember their login details to the platform. Another benefit is that a person can manage their funds quickly and simply.

However, while they may be easy to use, a person doesn’t have full control over their funds, as the exchange manages them. Custodial wallets are also typically hot wallets.

Yet, while these wallets don’t give full control to users, they can offer a high level of security compared to others. That being said, if a large amount of crypto is stored in these wallets they can be a magnet to hackers. If such a hack takes place and your funds are stolen then there’s no way to retrieve them.

Software wallets

Based on computer software, software wallets are largely accessible anywhere. Available in three formats: desktop, mobile, and online, they are simple to use and provide an array of options depending on the device you use the most.

Let’s break software wallets down even further.

Desktop wallets: These are, essentially, wallets that are solely stored on a person’s laptop or PC. One of the main benefits to desktop wallets is that they don’t rely on a third party and a user has complete control of their funds.

However, on the flip side, security is down to each individual person. So, if the device doesn’t have the latest security procedures in place or isn’t protected against viruses or hacking then the computer may be hacked or compromised, resulting in the loss of a person’s coins forever.

Similar to custodial wallets, desktop wallets are a type of hot wallet.

Examples of software wallets include ArcBit, BitGo, Electrum, and Exodus.

Mobile wallets: These function through an app on your phone, and deliver quick and easy access when needed.

A person’s private keys are stored on the app, enabling purchases to be made through the phone. With more people using their smartphones for day-to-day expenses, the use of mobile wallets may see a steady increase.

For some, smartphones provide the best security for cryptocurrency. However, if a person’s phone is stolen and access is gained then their funds may be at risk of theft. Similar to a desktop wallet, they are only secure as long as steps have been taken to ensure this is the case.

One example of a mobile wallet is eToro’s crypto wallet. Rolled out last November for Android and iOS, it initially provides support for Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, and Litecoin. It’s planning to support more in the near future.

Other examples of mobile wallets include Airbitz, Breadwallet, eToro, Jaxx, and Mycelium.

Online: As these are web-based wallets, they can be accessed anywhere and on any device.

These are another convenient source to use; however, one disadvantage to these is that a person’s private keys are stored by a third party rather than on the device used. As such, a level of trust is required in the owners as well as their level of security. This, in turn, could make them vulnerable to hacking.

Examples of online wallets include BTC Wallet, Coinbase, OpenLedger, and Xapo.

Hardware wallets

With a person’s cryptocurrency stored offline, hardware wallets provide the most secure way to store funds.

A hardware wallet is a physical device with the sole purpose of storing a person’s private and public keys. This is similar to a USB device. As it’s never connected to the internet (unless a transfer needs to be made) there’s no way that it will become vulnerable to potential hackers.

In order to use a hardware wallet, a user simply plugs it into their computer, enters a pin, sends the required currency, and confirms the amount they want to transfer. By entering a person’s private key into the device they never have to reveal it on their computer.

What’s more, if the hardware is broken or lost, a person can upload their funds to a new device with the use of seed words received with the hardware wallet that restores their funds.

Examples of hardware wallets include KeepKey, Ledger Blue, Ledger Nano S, and Trezor.

When it comes to choosing your first cryptocurrency wallet there is no clear answer. At the end of the day, it will come down to what you require the most: security, convenience or ease of use.

Depending on how you use your cryptocurrency, how much you own, and how you plan on storing it will play a major role. If you think you’ll eventually own a significant amount then a hardware wallet may be the ideal choice, but if you want something to spend as and when needed then maybe a mobile wallet is the answer.

Before choosing one, though, make sure to conduct your own research to make sure the one you pick is the right choice.

This post is brought to you by eToroeToro is a multi-asset platform which offers both investing in stocks and cryptocurrencies, as well as trading CFD assets.

Please note that CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 76% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work, and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

Cryptocurrencies can fluctuate widely in price and are, therefore, not appropriate for all investors. Trading cryptocurrencies is not supervised by any EU regulatory framework.

Past performance is not an indication of future results. This is not investment advice. Your capital is at risk.

Published February 13, 2019 — 17:18 UTC

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Google will have offices and data centers in 24 states by the end of 2019

Google will have offices and data centers in 24 states by the end of 2019


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Google is still closely associated with California to many people (and to a lesser degree New York), but it’s determined to change that reputation. The company is launching a $13 billion expansion in 2019 that will give it a total US footprint of 24 states, including “major expansions” in 14 states. The growth includes its first data center in Nevada, a new office in Georgia, and multi-facility expansions in places like Texas and Virginia. This is on top of known projects like its future New York City campus.

The company is unsurprisingly eager to brag about job creation. It didn’t say how many permanent jobs it would offer, but CEO Sundar Pichai expected “more than 10,000” construction jobs in Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia. This will be the second year where Google will be growing “faster outside of the [San Francisco] Bay Area than in it,” Pichai said.

While it’s a significant expansion, it might not be quite as sweet as it sounds. Modern data centers are highly automated affairs that only need a small number of workers to keep them running. The construction jobs will go away once the buildings are finished — the permanent headcount increase is likely to be considerably smaller. This is still an important move that extends Google’s interests well beyond its Mountain View campus, but it’s as much about burnishing the firm’s public image as it is delivering practical improvements.

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