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Apple iPhone factory workers clash with police in China

Enlarge / Workers walk outside Hon Hai Group’s Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, China, in 2010. (credit: Getty)

Violent worker protests have erupted at the world’s largest iPhone factory in central China as authorities at the Foxconn plant struggle to contain a COVID-19 outbreak while maintaining production ahead of the peak holiday season.

Workers at the factory in Zhengzhou shared more than a dozen videos that show staff in a standoff with lines of police armed with batons and clad in white protective gear. The videos show police beating workers, with some bleeding from their heads and others limping away from chaotic clashes.

Beijing’s strict zero-COVID regime has posed big challenges for the running of Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant, which typically staffs more than 200,000 workers on a large campus in the city’s suburbs.

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European Parliament declares Russia a terrorism sponsor, then its site goes down

Enlarge / An iteration of what happens when your site gets shut down by a DDoS attack.

The European Parliament website was knocked offline for several hours on Wednesday by a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack that started shortly after the governing body voted to declare the Russian government a state sponsor of terrorism.

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola confirmed the attack on Wednesday afternoon European time, while the site was still down. “A pro-Kremlin group has claimed responsibility,” she wrote on Twitter. “Our IT experts are pushing back against it & protecting our systems. This, after we proclaimed Russia as a State-sponsor of terrorism.”

While this post was being reported and written, the website became available again and appeared to work normally.

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Nvidia wins award for AI that can play Minecraft on command

Enlarge / MineDojo’s AI can perform complex tasks in Minecraft. (credit: Nvidia)

A paper describing MineDojo, Nvidia’s generalist AI agent that can perform actions from written prompts in Minecraft, won an Outstanding Datasets and Benchmarks Paper Award at the 2022 NeurIPS (Neural Information Processing Systems) conference, Nvidia revealed on Monday.

To train the MineDojo framework to play Minecraft, researchers fed it 730,000 Minecraft YouTube videos (with more than 2.2 billion words transcribed), 7,000 scraped webpages from the Minecraft wiki, and 340,000 Reddit posts and 6.6 million Reddit comments describing Minecraft gameplay.

From this data, the researchers created a custom transformer model called MineCLIP that associates video clips with specific in-game Minecraft activities. As a result, someone can tell a MineDojo agent what to do in the game using high-level natural language, such as “find a desert pyramid” or “build a nether portal and enter it,” and MineDojo will execute the series of steps necessary to make it happen in the game.

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Post News, a Twitter alternative, gets funding from a16z

If it seems like Post News launched overnight, that’s because it kind of did. Unlike Mastodon, Hive Social, or other existing social networks being flooded with dissatisfied Twitter users, Post News emerged two weeks ago. The platform was rushed into a live beta, since its team wanted to go public in a time when the chaos of Elon Musk’s Twitter leadership was front-and-center in our collective headspace.

Post News has some similar basic functions to Twitter: you make posts, you like and repost other people’s posts, you follow interesting accounts. Yet in its beta stage, it still lacks basic functions like DMs, a native app and accessibility features like adding alt text to images (and, sparking concern for some users, the company said it was not prioritizing accessibility at this time).

Post News is trying to capitalize on the “virtual watercooler for journalists” side of Twitter. The platform describes itself as a place to access “premium news content without subscriptions or ads.” News publishers and independent writers are encouraged to share their articles on Post News under a paywall. The idea is that this would allow users to pay for individual articles from a variety of news sources. It’s an alternative, or a supplement, to paying for individual subscriptions to specific news sources.

“I believe the future newspaper is the feed and want to make it more civil for users, profitable for publishers and better for society,” wrote Post News founder Noam Bardin in a tweet announcing the endeavor. Bardin previously served as the CEO of Waze between 2009 and 2021.

A profile on Post News

As of Monday, Post News has about 335,000 users on its waitlist, according to Bardin, while about 65,000 accounts have been activated. (Users are being let in slowly as to not overload the platform’s operations and moderation capabilities). The platform has already secured an undisclosed amount of funding from Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), as well as Scott Galloway, an NYU professor and tech commentator. Silicon Valley journalist Kara Swisher said she is an advisor to the company, but is not an investor.

A16z is a curious choice for an investor in a Twitter alternative, given that the venture capital firm contributed $400 million to Musk’s Twitter acquisition. Sriram Krishnan, a crypto investor at a16z, has also been working closely with Musk at Twitter HQ. But Bardin said that he chose to work with a16z simply because they were the quickest investor to make a decision and fork over a check.

“This does not mean that I am a Crypto fan, that I think [a16z] should have funded some of the personalities they funded lately or that I agree with every statement of theirs,” Bardin wrote on his Post News account on Sunday. “We did discuss the Twitter investment at the highest level and I can assure you that it is not a problem – Post is separated from the people involved with Twitter and a clear line has been set.”

TechCrunch reached out to Bardin and a16z for comment.

Post News’ goals are ambitious. Not only is the platform attempting to compete with a longtime social media mainstay, but its business model relies on digital news publishers opting in to its model of charging readers per article, rather than for a subscription. Plus, the platform is rapidly growing while it is still building out key safety features, which makes things a bit precarious.

“I want to remind everyone that this is a super early beta and it is not right for everyone,” Bardin wrote on Monday. “People looking for a polished product will have to wait. It is OK to take a break and come back when things are production grade – betas are not for everyone.”

Post News, a Twitter alternative, gets funding from a16z by Amanda Silberling originally published on TechCrunch

Flickr weighs support for ActivityPub, the social protocol powering Twitter alternative Mastodon

On the heels of Tumblr’s decision to integrate with ActivityPub — the social protocol powering the open-source Twitter alternative Mastodon and others — it appears that photo-sharing site Flickr is now considering doing the same. Flickr CEO Don MacAskill today began to actively poll users about whether or not they’d like to see Flickr support the protocol, too. If it moved forward with this plan, Flickr would be the latest larger company to commit to joining the “fediverse” — the interconnected group of independent servers across the globe running free, open-source software that allows their users to communicate and connect with one another.

The concept presents a challenge to modern-day social networks controlled by corporations — or billionaires like Elon Musk.

ActivityPub is a key component to the fediverse, powering not only Mastodon, whose popularity has grown in the wake of Musk’s Twitter acquisition, but also other alternative social platforms including the Instagram-like Pixelfed, video streaming service PeerTube, and others. If Flickr were to add support for ActivityPub, it would no longer function only as a photo-sharing site, but would become a part of a larger web of social networks where users could find, follow and engage with one another across platforms without having to create separate accounts for each service they choose to use.

MacAskill had already been weighing Flickr’s direction with regard to the fediverse before today. Last week, following the Tumblr announcement, the Flickr CEO had tweeted that his company had been internally discussing ActivityPub support, too.

“It might be right up our alley,” MacAskill said at the time.

But in a later tweet, he cautioned that taking this path would mean having to deprioritize other projects on Flickr’s roadmap — including those customers said they wanted. That’s why it makes sense that the exec would try to gauge consumer demand for the protocol’s adoption before actually making a commitment.

MacAskill today noted that there “appears to be a lot of interest” in seeing Flickr move forward with ActivityPub, but he wanted to first gauge the type of interest more specifically.

So far, the results of a poll he published on Twitter seem to be promising. As of the time of writing, only 8.9% of respondents have said “no” to the idea of ActivityPub integration.

38.2% said yes, but only if it was free. Meanwhile, two other groups indicated that ActivityPub support could become something that encouraged them to pay for Flickr, as 37.4% said yes, and said they already pay for Flickr, while 15.4% said yes, and said they might pay for Flickr if the protocol was supported.

MacAskill ran the same poll on Mastodon, where the interest towards making the support a part of a free product is so far running even higher, at 47%. 26% and 22% said yes and they even already pay for Flickr or would consider doing so if ActivityPub was added, respectively.

Though an older site, Flickr today claims it’s used by more than 60 million people per month, according to its Jobs listings page. That would bring a significant number of new people to the fediverse, if the company chooses to add support for ActivityPub.

Flickr, of course, could use a feature that encouraged more customer engagement and adoption. Once a prominent company in the Web 2.0 era, Flickr eventually lost out to other social photo-sharing platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, as well as to more utilitarian photo-hosting services, like Google Photos and iCloud.

In April 2018, Flickr sold to SmugMug and soon the company reduced the limits for free usage, began threatening to delete photos from non-paying users, and urged users to help it find more paying subscribers to keep it afloat. Earlier this year, Flickr also began paywalling the ability to upload NSFW photos to its site.

In more recent days, MacAskill has claimed Flickr is “healthy and growing again,” and noted it has established a non-profit to preserve its images in the event that the company again falls on hard times. Flickr didn’t respond to a request for comment on its ActivityPub plans, but a representative noted MacAskill is a “wildly customer-centric leader and technologist with a long track record of successfully identifying meaningful innovations.”

“This is potentially one of those innovations, which is why he’s exploring it publicly,” they added.


updated, 11/28/22, 5:19 pm with flicker comments

Flickr weighs support for ActivityPub, the social protocol powering Twitter alternative Mastodon by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

Nufa lets you live up to unrealistic beauty standards at the tap of an app

It isn’t like Instagram is a beacon of truth as it is, but things are about to get a lot worse, as Nufa takes any image and sculpts you into the “after” picture dream that every gym owner wants to project into our souls as they continue on their mission to make us all look like body-building beasts with cleavage out the wazoo and abs for days.

The new mobile app “seamlessly transforms the human body into a picture in one click,” as it considers muscle structure, body type, skin color, body position and even tattoos to provide a “digital experience that hardly differs from real body transformation pics.”

“For women, we have an additional feature of transforming the breast from the 1st to the 5th size that works even with neckline clothes,” Nufa’s head of Analytics, Artem Petrikeev, said in an email to TechCrunch. “We are changing body pics similar to how Faceapp changes selfies.”

Can we be done making ourselves feel less than already?

But hey, if this is your jam, I guess you, too, can see what you’d look like if you conformed to completely unrealistic beauty standards. You do you, boo, but if you install this app, perhaps think about what it is you’re buying into. You’re perfect as you are, and if you don’t believe that, think about where that belief came from.

Nufa lets you live up to unrealistic beauty standards at the tap of an app by Haje Jan Kamps originally published on TechCrunch

State-sponsored hackers in China compromise certificate authority

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Nation-state hackers based in China recently infected a certificate authority and several government and defense agencies with a potent malware cocktail for burrowing inside a network and stealing sensitive information, researchers said on Tuesday.

The successful compromise of the unnamed certificate authority is potentially serious, because these entities are trusted by browsers and operating systems to certify the identities responsible for a particular server or app. In the event the hackers obtained control of the organization’s infrastructure, they could use it to digitally sign their malware to make it more easily slip past endpoint protections. They might also be able to cryptographically impersonate trusted websites or intercept encrypted data.

While the researchers who discovered the breach found no evidence the certificate infrastructure had been compromised, they said that this campaign was only the latest by a group they call Billbug, which has a documented history of noteworthy hacks dating back to at least 2009.

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Google says that it has, for the first time, licensed its AI research model for breast cancer screening to a medical company, iCAD, looking to deploy it in 2024 (Justine Calma/The Verge)

Justine Calma / The Verge:
Google says that it has, for the first time, licensed its AI research model for breast cancer screening to a medical company, iCAD, looking to deploy it in 2024  —  Google announced today that it has licensed its AI research model for breast cancer screening to medical technology company iCAD.

Move over, operators — consultants are the new nontraditional VC

Operating experience has become a buzzword over the last few years as venture capitalists pump up their resumes in a quest to set themselves apart from other sources of startup capital. Now, it seems that we are seeing the next evolution of that trend.

This year has seen a wave of startup consultant firms looking to raise venture funds of their own to take stakes in companies they are already working with or that align with their practice. In theory, this makes total sense because both consultants and venture capitalists have the same goal at the end of the day: helping companies grow.

“Most come on board because we provide the capital, plus. What is that plus? The plus with us is storytelling.” FNDR CEO James Vincent

But why are so many consultant-led venture capital funds launching now? It’s a particularly rough time in the broader venture market, and economy in general, in addition to being one of the toughest periods for emerging managers and first-time fundraisers. It’s worth noting that all of these funds are raising outside capital as opposed to investing off their balance sheets.

For one thing, the startups they were already working with were asking them to.

Move over, operators — consultants are the new nontraditional VC by Rebecca Szkutak originally published on TechCrunch

Elon Musk’s next trick? Picking a fight with Apple

After decimating Twitter’s workforce, imperiling its infrastructure and emptying its ad coffers all within his first month at the company, it’s on to the next thing for Elon Musk.

The erratic billionaire picked a fight with Apple in a series of tweets on Monday, bracing for a battle — or perhaps just another volley of tweets — that would comfortably position the perpetually aggrieved Twitter owner as the David to Apple’s Goliath.

Musk is now claiming that Apple threatened to “withhold” Twitter from the App Store, implying that the iPhone maker might take action against the social app over changes under its new ownership without offering any evidence of that. TechCrunch has reached out to Apple for clarification, but for now we don’t know if Apple really contacted Twitter over content moderation concerns or something else entirely.

Apple has also threatened to withhold Twitter from its App Store, but won’t tell us why

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 28, 2022

Apple has mostly stopped advertising on Twitter. Do they hate free speech in America?

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 28, 2022

Twitter’s new owner also claims that Apple has pulled most of its advertising on the platform, which seems possible or even likely considering how many other major ad buyers have done the same since Musk’s takeover, citing concerns about brand safety and content moderation changes.

Whatever is really going on here, a few things are true. For one, Twitter needs to stay in the App Store and to do so it needs to clear Apple’s low bar for content moderation, which Truth Social and Parler — apps with far less mature algorithmic content moderation systems — have managed to do. Even with Musk’s threatened policy changes and his deep cuts to moderation teams, Twitter would likely still remain on Apple’s good side if those apps pulled it off.

It’s also true that Apple’s rules for what gets an app get kicked out of the App Store are vague and arbitrarily enforced. Apple warns against “content that is offensive, insensitive, upsetting, intended to disgust, in exceptionally poor taste, or just plain creepy” which would seem to rule out a lot of social apps, pre-Musk Twitter included, if it really came down to it.

At the same time that Musk is portraying Apple as a censor, he’s also railing against the fees the company charges apps that operate in its ecosystem. Musk calls this a “secret 30% tax” but in reality Apple’s cut is well-documented and much-discussed. Epic Games and Apple went to court over Apple’s fees in 2020, with Epic arguing that the iPhone maker wields monopoly power in the software market.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 28, 2022

Whether intentional or not, Musk reigniting the App Store antitrust battle is timely. Epic’s ongoing fight with Apple is kicking off again in appeals court and Congress could be poised for another push to pass the Open Markets Act, a bipartisan bill that would crack open the App Store and “tear down coercive anticompetitive walls in the app economy,” according to its sponsors.

It’s also possible that Apple actually has cautioned Musk that reinstating thousands of accounts banned for stuff like hate speech and harassment might nudge the app afoul of the App Store’s actually quite lenient content moderation requirements. In that case, Musk could position himself as a high profile champion of the anti-Apple crowd, joining Epic’s whole thing and making nice with regulators who are rightfully concerned over Musk’s Twitter plans (or lack thereof).

But even then, Twitter needs Apple in both the short and long term and Apple certainly doesn’t need Twitter. And fighting on yet another front would stretch Musk’s attention even more when he should probably be focused on the basics, like not bankrupting Twitter or running his myriad other companies, say.

At the end of the day, Musk, the world’s literal richest man and maker of luxury cars and spaceships, generally seems to enjoy portraying himself as a scrappy upstart fighting against larger powers that be. If Musk wants to recreate that dynamic at Twitter, Apple is arguably one of the only entities that can still make the hugely influential social media company look like the little guy. Musk might be the Twitter boss now, but he knows that turning everyone against the big boss is a good way to maintain the approval of the miscellaneous internet devotees that affirm his existing beliefs and vote in his deeply unscientific tweet polls, so maybe it’s just about that.

Whatever inspired his anti-Apple tirade, waging a war on Apple is probably a losing fight. But it’s a fresh conflict that diverts attention from Musk’s embarrassing and seemingly endless parade of catastrophes as he fumbles Twitter’s policy, personnel and product alike, possibly running one of the world’s biggest social networks into the ground in the process.

Elon Musk’s next trick? Picking a fight with Apple by Taylor Hatmaker originally published on TechCrunch

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