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Tim Berners-Lee on 30 years of the world wide web: ‘We can get the web we want’ | Technology

Tim Berners-Lee on 30 years of the world wide web: ‘We can get the web we want’ | Technology


Thirty years ago, Tim Berners-Lee, then a fellow at the physics research laboratory Cern on the French-Swiss border, sent his boss a document labelled Information Management: A Proposal. The memo suggested a system with which physicists at the centre could share “general information about accelerators and experiments”.

“Many of the discussions of the future at Cern and the LHC era end with the question: ‘Yes, but how will we ever keep track of such a large project?’” wrote Berners-Lee. “This proposal provides an answer to such questions.”

His solution was a system called, initially, Mesh. It would combine a nascent field of technology called hypertext that allowed for human-readable documents to be linked together, with a distributed architecture that would see those documents stored on multiple servers, controlled by different people, and interconnected.

It didn’t really go anywhere. Berners-Lee’s boss, Mike Sendall, took the memo and jotted down a note on top: “Vague but exciting …” But that was it. It took another year, until 1990, for Berners-Lee to start actually writing code. In that time, the project had taken on a new name. Berners-Lee now called it the World Wide Web.

Thirty years on, and Berners-Lee’s invention has more than justified the lofty goals implied by its name. But with that scale has come a host of troubles, ones that he could never have predicted when he was building a system for sharing data about physics experiments.

Some are simple enough. “Every time I hear that somebody has managed to acquire the [domain] name of their new enterprise for $50,000 (£38,500) instead of $500, I sigh, and feel that money’s not going to a good cause,” Berners-Lee tells me when we speak on the eve of the anniversary.



Berners-Lee demonstrating the world wide web to delegates at the Hypertext 1991 conference in San Antonio, Texas. Photograph: 1994-2017 CERN

It is a minor regret, but one he has had for years about the way he decided to “bootstrap” the web up to something that could handle a lot of users very quickly: by building on the pre-existing service for assigning internet addresses, the domain name system (DNS), he gave up the chance to build something better. “You wanted a name for your website, you’d go and ask [American computer scientist] Jon Postel, you know, back in the day, and he would give you a name.

“At the time that seemed like a good idea, but it relied on it being managed benevolently.” Today, that benevolent management is no longer something that can be assumed. “There are plenty of domain names to go around, but the way people have invested, in buying up domains that they think entrepreneurs or organisations will use – even trying to build AI that would guess what names people will want for their organisations, grabbing the domain name and then selling it to them for a ridiculous amount of money – that’s a breakage.”

It sounds minor, but the problems with DNS can stand in for a whole host of difficulties the web has faced as it has grown. A quick fix, built to let something scale up rapidly, that turns out to provide perverse incentives once it is used by millions of people and is so embedded that it is nearly impossible to change course.

But nearly impossible is not actually impossible. That is the thrust of the message Berners-Lee is aiming to spread. Every year, on the anniversary of his creation, he publishes an open letter on his vision for the future of the web. This year’s letter, given the importance of the anniversary, is broader in scope than most – and expresses a rare level of concern about the direction in which the web is moving.

“While the web has created opportunity, given marginalised groups a voice and made our daily lives easier,” he writes, “it has also created opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred and made all kinds of crime easier to commit.

“It’s understandable that many people feel afraid and unsure if the web is really a force for good. But given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better in the next 30. If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web.”

Berners-Lee breaks down the problems the web now faces into three categories. The first is what occupies most of the column inches in the press, but is the least intrinsic to the technology itself: “deliberate, malicious intent, such as state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behaviour and online harassment”.

He believes this makes the system fragile. “It’s amazing how clever people can be, but when you build a new system it is very, very hard to imagine the ways in which it can be attacked.”

At the same time, while criminal intentions may be the scariest for many, they aren’t new to the web. They are “impossible to eradicate completely”, he writes, but can be controlled with “both laws and code to minimise this behaviour, just as we have always done offline”.

Berners-Lee in 1998.



Berners-Lee in 1998. Photograph: Elise Amendola/AP

More concerning are the other two sources of dysfunction affecting the web. The second is when a system built on top of Berners-Lee’s creation introduces “perverse incentives” that encourage others to sacrifice users’ interests, “such as ad-based revenue models that commercially reward clickbait and the viral spread of misinformation”. And the third is more diffuse still: those systems and services that, thoughtfully and benevolently created, still result in negative outcomes, “such as the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse”.

The problem is that it is hard to tell what the outcomes of a system you build are going to be. “Given there are more webpages than there are neurons in your brain, it’s a complicated thing. You build Reddit, and people on it behave in a particular way. For a while they all behave in a very positive, constructive way. And then you find a subreddit in which they behave in a nasty way.

“Or, for example, when you build a system such as Twitter, it becomes wildly, wildly effective. And when the ‘Arab Spring’ – I will never say that without the quotes – happens, you’re tempted to claim that Twitter is a great force for good because it allowed people to react against the oppressive regime.

“But then pretty soon people are contacting you about cyberbullying and saying their lives are miserable on Twitter because of the way that works. And then another few iterations of the Earth going around the sun, and you find that the oppressive regimes are using social networks in order to spy on and crack down on dissidents before the dissidents could even get round to organising.”

In conclusion, he says, “You can’t generalise. You can’t say, you know, social networks tend to be bad, tend to be nasty.”

For a creation entering its fourth decade, we still know remarkably little about how the web works. The technical details, sure: they are all laid out there, in that initial document presented to Cern, and in the many updates that Berners-Lee, and the World Wide Web Consortium he founded to succeed him, have approved.

But the social dynamics built on top of that technical underpinning are changing so rapidly and are so unstable that every year we need to reassess its legacy. “Are we now in a stable position where we can look back and decide this is the legacy of the web? Nooooope,” he says, with a chuckle. Which means we are running a never-ending race, trying to work out the effects of new platforms and systems even as competitors launch their eventual replacements.



Sir Tim Berners-Lee: how the web went from idea to reality

Berners-Lee’s solution is radical: a sort of refoundation of the web, creating a fresh set of rules, both legal and technical, to unite the world behind a process that can avoid some of the missteps of the past 30 years.

Calling it the “contract for the web”, he first suggested it last November at the Web Summit in Lisbon. “At pivotal moments,” he says, “generations before us have stepped up to work together for a better future. With the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, diverse groups of people have been able to agree on essential principles. With the Law of Sea and the Outer Space Treaty, we have preserved new frontiers for the common good. Now too, as the web reshapes our world, we have a responsibility to make sure it is recognised as a human right and built for the public good.”

This is a push for legislation, yes. “Governments must translate laws and regulations for the digital age. They must ensure markets remain competitive, innovative and open. And they have a responsibility to protect people’s rights and freedoms online.”

But it is equally important, he says, for companies to join in and for the big tech firms to do more to ensure their pursuit of short-term profit is not at the expense of human rights, democracy, scientific fact or public safety. “This year, we’ve seen a number of tech employees stand up and demand better business practices. We need to encourage that spirit.”

But even if we could fix the web, might it be too late for that to fix the world? Berners-Lee’s invention has waxed and waned in its role in the wider digital society. For years, the web was the internet, with only a tiny portion of hardcore nerds doing anything online that wasn’t mediated through a webpage.

But in the past decade, that trend has reversed: the rise of the app economy fundamentally bypasses the web, and all the principles associated with it, of openness, interoperability and ease of access. In theory, any webpage should be accessible from any device with a web browser, be that an iPhone, a Windows PC or an internet-enabled fridge. The same is not true for content and services locked inside apps, where the distributor has absolute power over where and how users can interact with their platforms.

In fact, the day before I speak to Berners-Lee, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg published his own letter on the future of the internet, describing his goal of reshaping Facebook into a “privacy-focused social network”. It had a radically different set of aims: pulling users into a fundamentally closed network, where not only can you only get in touch with Facebook users from other Facebook products, but even the very idea of accessing core swathes of Facebook’s platform from a web browser was deprioritised, in favour of the extreme privacy provided by universal end-to-end encryption.

For Berners-Lee, these shifts are concerning, but represent the strengths as well as the weaknesses of his creation. “The crucial thing is the URL. The crucial thing is that you can link to anything.

This is for Everyone seen during the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012, a nod to Berners-Lee’s creation.



This is for Everyone seen during the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012, a nod to Berners-Lee’s creation. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

“The web platform [the bundle of technologies that underpin the web] is always, at every moment, getting more and more powerful. The good news is that because the web platform is so powerful, a lot of the apps which are actually built, are built using the web platform and then cranked out using the various frameworks which allow you to generate an app or something from it.” All the installable applications that run on smartphones and tablets work in this way, with the app acting as little more than a wrapper for a web page.

“So there’s web technology inside, but what we’re saying is if, from the user’s point of view, there’s no URL, then we’ve lost.”

In some cases, that battle really has been lost. Apple runs an entire media operation inside its app store that can’t be read in normal browsers, and has a news app that spits out links that do not open if Apple News has been uninstalled.

But in many more, the same viral mechanics that allow platforms to grow to a scale that allow them to consider breaking from the web ultimately keep them tied to the openness that the platform embodies. Facebook posts still have permanent links buried in the system, as do tweets and Instagrams. Even the hot new thing, viral video app TikTok, lets users send URLs to each other: how else to encourage new users to hop on board?

It may be too glib to say, as the early Netscape executive Ram Shriram once did, that “open always wins out” – tech is littered with examples where a closed technology was the ultimate victor – but the web’s greatest strength over the past 30 years has always been the ability of anyone to build anything on top of it, without needing permission from Berners-Lee or anyone else.

But for that freedom to stick around for another 30 years – long enough to get the 50% of the world that isn’t online connected, long enough to see the next generation of startups grow to maturity – it requires others to join Berners-Lee in the fight. “The web is for everyone,” he says, “and collectively we hold the power to change it. It won’t be easy. But if we dream a little and work a lot, we can get the web we want.”



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Google tried to block autoplay videos on Chrome. But it broke apps and games | Technology

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Google has partially rolled back Chrome’s blocking of autoplaying video with sound after it was found to break a large collection of web apps and games.

The blocking feature was launched in April, and seemed to constitute a big step forward in removing one of the most irritating aspects of the modern web: loud, sudden and unwanted autoplaying videos.

But the update also broke a series of apps, games and interactive art in the process, preventing them from playing audio for alerts and other elements, and causing complaints from developers and users of these interactive web apps.

One of Google’s project managers for Chrome, John Pallett, said: “We’ve updated Chrome 66 to temporarily remove the autoplay policy for the Web Audio API.

“We’re doing this to give Web Audio API developers (eg gaming, audio applications, some RTC features) more time to update their code. The policy will be reapplied to the Web Audio API in Chrome 70 (October).”

The change was greeted with scepticism by developers. Benji Kay, a developer of web games and audio tools, said: “Simply delaying the enacting of this policy doesn’t solve any of the major concerns that have been raised.

“Come October, any existing software which utilises sound and which is not or cannot be any longer maintained will be broken.”

Pallett said that the change will not affect Chrome’s silencing of most autoplaying video and audio on the web. But whether this loophole will end up being abused to autoplay video with sound and get developers to update their apps to avoid them being muted remains to be seen.

The original muting of the nuisance videos within Chrome was designed to remove one of the annoyances that might have pushed users to install adblocking or other software, something Google wants to avoid as advertising is the primary source of the company’s revenue.

But as Chrome is the dominant browser on the internet, claiming a 57.4% share of online users in April across desktop and mobile according data from StatCounter, any changes have a significant impact on the way the web works.



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Twitter announces global change to algorithm in effort to tackle harassment | Technology

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Twitter is announcing a global change to its ranking algorithm this week, its first step toward improving the “health” of online conversations since it launched a renewed effort to address rampant trolling, harassment and abuse in March.

“It’s shaping up to be one of the highest-impact things that we’ve done,” the chief executive, Jack Dorsey ,said of the update, which will change how tweets appear in search results or conversations. “The spirit of the thing is that we want to take the burden off the person receiving abuse or mob-like behavior.”

Social media platforms have long struggled to police acceptable content and behavior on their sites, but external pressure on the companies increased significantly following the revelation that a Russian influence operation used the platforms in coordinated campaigns around the 2016 US election.

Facebook and Google have largely responded by promising to hire thousands of moderators and improve their artificial intelligence tools to automate content removal. Twitter’s approach, which it outlined to reporters in a briefing on Monday, is distinct because it is content neutral and will not require more human moderators.

“A lot of our past action has been content based, and we are shifting more and more to conduct,” Dorsey said.

Del Harvey, Twitter’s vice-president of trust and safety, said that the new changes were based on research that found that most of the abuse reports on Twitter originate in search results or the conversations that take place in the responses to a single tweet. The company also found that less than 1% of Twitter accounts made up the majority of abuse reports and that many of the reported tweets did not actually violate the company’s rules, despite “detract[ing] from the overall experience” for most users.

The new system will use behavioral signals to assess whether a Twitter account is adding to – or detracting from – the tenor of conversations. For example, if an account tweets at multiple other users with the same message, and all of those accounts either block or mute the sender, Twitter will recognize that the account’s behavior is bothersome. But if an account tweets at multiple other accounts with the same message, and some of them reply or hit the “heart” button, Twitter will assess the interactions as welcome. Other signals will include whether an account has confirmed an email address or whether an account appears to be acting in a coordinated attack.

With these new signals, Harvey explained, “it didn’t matter what was said; it mattered how people reacted.”

The updated algorithm will result in certain tweets being pushed further down in a list of search results or replies, but will not delete them from the platform. Early experiments have resulted in a 4% decline in abuse reports from search and an 8% drop in abuse reports in conversations, said David Gasca, Twitter’s director of product management for health.

This is not the first time that Twitter has promised to crack down on abuse and trolling on its platform. In 2015, then CEO Dick Costolo acknowledged that the company “sucks at dealing with abuse and trolls”. But complaints have continued under Dorsey’s leadership, and in March, the company decided to seek outside help, issuing a request for proposals for academics and NGOs to help it come up with ways to measure and promote healthy conversations.

Dorsey and Harvey appeared optimistic that this new approach will have a significant impact on users’ experience.

“We are trying to strike a balance,” Harvey said. “What would Twitter be without controversy?”





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Amazon threatens to move jobs out of Seattle over new tax | Technology

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Amazon has threatened to move jobs out of its hometown of Seattle after the city council introduced a new tax to try and address the homelessness crisis.

The world’s second-biggest company has warned that the “hostile” tax, which will charge firms $275 per worker a year to fund homelessness outreach services and affordable housing, “forces us to question our growth here”.

Amazon, which is Seattle’s biggest private sector employer with more than 40,000 staff in the city, had halted construction work on a 17-storey office tower in protest against the tax.

Pressure from Amazon and other big employers, including Starbucks and Expedia, had forced councillors to reduce the tax from an initial proposal of $500 per worker. The tax will only effect companies making revenue of more than $20m-a-year.

The tax is expected to raise between $45m and $49m a year, of which about $10m would come from Amazon.

The company said it would restart building work on the tower but may sublease another new office block to reduce its tax bill.

“We are disappointed by today’s city Council decision to introduce a tax on jobs,” said Drew Herdener, an Amazon vice-president. We remain very apprehensive about the future created by the council’s hostile approach and rhetoric toward larger businesses, which forces us to question our growth here.”

Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, is the world’s richest man with a $133bn fortune.

Campaigners said the company should be forced to take financial responsibility for Seattle’s cost of living, which has forced many families on to the streets. There are almost 12,000 homeless people in Seattle region, equating to the third-highest rate per capita in the US. Last year 169 homeless people died in Seattle. The city declared a state of emergency because of homelessness in late 2015

Before the council vote on Monday, more than 100 people marched through Amazon’s campus and held a rally outside the company’s new spherical greenhouses, some holding signs saying “Tax Amazon”.

Seattle councillor Teresa Mosqueda said: “People are dying on the doorsteps of prosperity. This is the richest city in the state and in a state that has the most regressive tax system in the country.”

The vote was passed unanimously, with several council members saying they were voting reluctantly in favour of the lower rate for the tax after Seattle’s mayor, Jenny Durkan, threatened to veto a higher rate.

“This was a tough debate. Not just here at city hall, but all across this city,” Durkan, said. “No one is saying that this will solve everything, but it will make a meaningful difference. This legislation will help us address our homelessness crisis without jeopardising critical jobs.”

Politicians from 50 other US cities wrote an open letter to Seattle council in a show solidarity with the councillors attempt to tackle Amazon’s impact on the city.

“By threatening Seattle over this tax, Amazon is sending a message to all of our cities: we play by our own rules,” the letter said.

Starbucks had also fought against the tax, with its public affairs chief, John Kelly, accusing the city of continuing to “spend without reforming and fail without accountability, while ignoring the plight of hundreds of children sleeping outside”.

He added: “If they cannot provide a warm meal and safe bed to a five-year-old child, no one believes they will be able to make housing affordable or address opiate addiction.”

Marilyn Strickland, the head of Seattle’s chamber of commerce, voiced business leaders’ opposition to the tax. “Taxing jobs will not fix our region’s housing and homelessness problems,” she said.



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Golden State Killer: the end of DNA privacy? Chips with Everything podcast | Technology

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Subscribe and review: Acast, Apple, Spotify, Soundcloud, Audioboom, Mixcloud. Join the discussion on Facebook, Twitter or email us at [email protected]

A former police officer called Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested in April in connection with a series of murders, rapes and burglaries attributed to an unknown assailant known as the Golden State Killer.

This 40-year-old cold case was reopened after investigators acquired a discarded DNA sample and uploaded it to an “undercover profile” on a genealogy website called GED match. Through this, they were able to find distant relatives and eventually narrow down their search to match descriptions of the killer obtained throughout the investigation.

But what about the innocent people who sent off their DNA to a genealogy website in hopes of tracing their ancestry who might end up becoming part of a criminal investigation? Our DNA is one of the most inherently personal things we have, but this case raises questions about its privacy. If we spit into a test tube and send it off to a website for analysis, who owns that information? Who has access to it? And what can it be used for?

To try and answer some of these questions, Jordan Erica Webber talks to Prof Charles Tumosa of the University of Baltimore, Prof Denise Syndercombe-Court of King’s College and Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Center.





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Fake terror attacks: why are the frightening pranks going viral? | Technology

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It sounds like another terrifying story of insurgent terrorism in the Middle East: on Tuesday, men dressed in the black garb of the Islamic State stormed through a mall in Iran, brandishing swords and guns, shouting “Allahu Akbar”. Shoppers reportedly fled the scene in fear.

It was reminiscent of the 2017 Tehran Isis attacks in which 17 people were killed. Except that the mall “attack” was actually a Punk’d style prank. The weapons were fake, and the presumed terrorists were actually actors. The whole incident was a piece of viral marketing for a film called Damascus Time about an Iranian father and son who are kidnapped by Isis. Some shoppers worked out what was going in and filmed the stunt on camera phones, but others can be heard screaming in terror.

The film’s director has since apologised – he said he had not been expecting one of the actors to arrive on horseback – but he is far from the first person to pull this kind of stunt. He was just following a tradition of prank terror plots begun by American teenagers.

There are so many videos of fake terrorist atrocities that you can watch entire compilations of unsuspecting members of the public, running, screaming and vomiting in fear. Most of them have been created by young western YouTube stars, many with millions of subscribers. They tend to involve someone dressed in stereotypical Arabic clothing, dropping a package at the feet of some strangers and running away. In one clip, people drinking on a boat all jump into the sea after a bag is thrown aboard. In another, laughing emojis flash on the screen when a man urinates on himself in fear after being surprised in a public restroom.

A “prank” video of terror attacks by Joey Salads has been viewed 3.3m times.

Joey Salads, a YouTuber with 2 million subscribers, has become notorious for these kinds of pranks. He tries to couch his videos as a “social experiments”, claiming to compare reactions between a man shouting “Allahu Akbar” when he drops a steel box on the floor with that of a man in western dress saying “praise Jesus”. Unsurprisingly, people are more distressed by the former prank, but the videos say less about Islamophobia than they do about the wild west of YouTube content, where pranksters seem to be able to get away with almost anything, with little interference from the site.

Last year, the British YouTuber Arya Mosallah, who had 650,000 subscribers, apologised after he made prank videos in which he approached strangers for a conversation and then threw liquid in their faces and ran away, leading them to believe they were victims of an acid attack, common in Britain at the time. Re-uploaded versions of the video can still be viewed on YouTube.

Some of these pranks seem too horrifying to be real, and in some cases they aren’t. Sam Pepper, a YouTuber with 2.3 million subscribers, apologised for faking a prank in which he appeared to kill someone’s best friend in front of him – admitting everyone in the video knew what was happening. In his apology, he said the pressure in the pranking community to make new videos led him to fake some of his content – a very odd version of peer pressure.

YouTube has said videos like Pepper’s do not violate its community guidelines and the site rarely removes prank videos. In most cases it’s more likely that the police will get involved than online moderators. Australian pranksters the Jalal Brothers were arrested by anti-terror police after they faked a series of terror attacks, including aiming a fake AK-47 at a small child. They later admitted that that video was entirely staged, but the police had not been not aware.

Despite the dangers and clear distress involved, new videos are emerging all the time. At this point, many people are more likely to be caught up in a faked YouTube prank than an actual terror attack.



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Wikipedia: the most cited authors revealed to be three Australian scientists | Technology

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An academic paper on global climate zones written by three Australians more than a decade ago has been named the most cited source on Wikipedia, having being referenced more than 2.8m times.

But the authors of the paper, who are still good friends, had no idea about the wider impact of their work until recently.

The paper, published in 2007 in the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, used contemporary data to update a widely used model for classifying the world’s climates.

Known as the Köppen Climate Classification System, the model was first published by climatologist Wladimir Köppen in 1884, but it had not been comprehensively updated for decades.

The lead author of the paper is Dr Murray Peel, a senior lecturer in the department of infrastructure engineering at the University of Melbourne, and he co-authored the updated climate map with geography professor Brian Finlayson and engineering professor Thomas McMahon, both now retired.

“We are amazed, absolutely amazed at the number of citations,” Finlayson told Guardian Australia from his home in Melbourne. “We are not so much amazed at the fact it’s been cited as we are about the number of people who have cited it.

“It’s pleasing that research you’ve done is something other people are finding useful.”

The trio knew their paper had an impact in academic circles and in scientific literature, with the Köppen Climate Classification System used by researchers in a range of fields including geology, sociology, public health and climatology.

But Finlayson said they were unaware of the more widespread success until a journalist from Wired contacted them about the results of an analysis by Wikipedia of the top 10 sources by citation across every Wikipedia language. All 10 were reference books or scientific articles. The updated world map of the Köppen-Geiger climate classification boasted 2,830,341 citations, easily surpassing what came in at No 2, a paper published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry that had 21,350 citations.

Finlayson said the popularity of the paper emphasised the importance of open science, which is the concept that data and findings should be openly and freely available so that others can use and benefit from them. Wikipedia operates on a similar concept, and credible citations are crucial to the encyclopaedia’s reliability.

“The journal we originally published the paper in is free and open access, and we chose the journal for that reason,” he said. “People noticed and said, ‘Hey, we have an updated climate map, we’ll use that’, and then it spread.”

At the time, open access journals were rare.

“I have always been a supporter of open science,” Finlayson said. “Research is no good to anyone locked in a cupboard, or published in a journal you have to pay a lot of money to access.”

He said he first began working with paper co-author McMahon in 1981, and that they got to know Murray, who is “a fair bit younger,” when he became one of their PhD students.

“He did his PhD on global hydrology and kept working with us in that area over the years, and we are all still very good friends and kept publishing together,” Finlayson, now 73, said. “We agree on most of the serious things and then every now and then we have differences of opinion. So we talk about it, and then we set out to test who is right, and write a paper on the results.

“If you want to form an academic group of people who work together well, the fact that they’re friends helps a lot. You’re not concerned about things like someone getting more kudos than you are.”



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Twitter urges all users to change their password after bug discovered | Technology

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Twitter has urged its 336 million users to change their passwords after the company discovered a bug that stored passwords in plain text in an internal system.

The company said it had fixed the problem and had seen “no indication of breach or misuse”, but it suggested users consider changing their password on Twitter and on all services where they have used the same password “as a precaution”.

“We are very sorry this happened,” said Twitter’s chief technology officer, Parag Agrawal, in a blogpost. “We recognise and appreciate the trust you place in us, and are committed to earning that trust every day.”

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(@TwitterSupport)

We recently found a bug that stored passwords unmasked in an internal log. We fixed the bug and have no indication of a breach or misuse by anyone. As a precaution, consider changing your password on all services where you’ve used this password. https://t.co/RyEDvQOTaZ


May 3, 2018

Companies with good security practices typically store user passwords in a form that cannot be read. In Twitter’s case, passwords are masked through a process called hashing, which replaces the actual password with a random set of numbers and letters that are stored in the company’s system.

“This allows our systems to validate your account credentials without revealing your password,” said Agrawal. “This is an industry standard.”

“Due to a bug, passwords were written to an internal log before completing the hashing process. We found this error ourselves, removed the passwords, and are implementing plans to prevent this bug from happening again.”

Agrawal advises people to change their passwords, enable two-factor authentication on their Twitter account and use a password manager to create strong, unique passwords on every service they use.





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EU: data-harvesting tech firms are ‘sweatshops of connected world’ | Technology

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The European data protection supervisor has hit out at social media and tech firms over the recent constant stream of privacy policy emails in the run up to GDPR, calling them them the “sweatshops of the connected world”.

With the tough new General Data Protection Regulations coming into force on 25 May, companies around the world are being forced to notify their users to accept new privacy policies and data processing terms to continue to use the services.

But Giovanni Buttarelli, the European data protection supervisor (EDPS), lambasted the often-hostile approach of the recent deluge of notifications.

“If this encounter seems a take-it-or-leave it proposition – with perhaps a hint of menace – then it is a travesty of at least the spirit of the new regulation, which aims to restore a sense of trust and control over what happens to our online lives,” said Buttarelli. “Consent cannot be freely given if the provision of a service is made conditional on processing personal data not necessary for the performance of a contract.”

“The most recent [Facebook] scandal has served to expose a broken and unbalanced ecosystem reliant on unscrupulous personal data collection and micro-targeting for whatever purposes promise to generate clicks and revenues.

“The digital information ecosystem farms people for their attention, ideas and data in exchange for so called ‘free’ services. Unlike their analogue equivalents, these sweatshops of the connected world extract more than one’s labour, and while clocking into the online factory is effortless it is often impossible to clock off.”

The European Union’s new stronger, unified data protection laws, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), will come into force on 25 May 2018, after more than six years in the making.

GDPR will replace the current patchwork of national data protection laws, give data regulators greater powers to fine, make it easier for companies with a “one-stop-shop” for operating across the whole of the EU, and create a new pan-European data regulator called the European Data Protection Board.

The new laws govern the processing and storage of EU citizens’ data, both that given to and observed by companies about people, whether or not the company has operations in the EU. They state that data protection should be both by design and default in any operation.

GDPR will refine and enshrine the “right to be forgotten” laws as the “right to erasure”, and give EU citizens the right to data portability, meaning they can take data from one organisation and give it to another. It will also bolster the requirement for explicit and informed consent before data is processed, and ensure that it can be withdrawn at any time.

To ensure companies comply, GDPR also gives data regulators the power to fine up to €20m or 4% of annual global turnover, which is several orders of magnitude larger than previous possible fines. Data breaches must be reported within 72 hours to a data regulator, and affected individuals must be notified unless the data stolen is unreadable, ie strongly encrypted.

While data protection and privacy has become a hot-button issue in part thanks to the Cambridge Analytica files, Buttarelli is concerned that it is simply being used as part of the “PR toolkit” of firms. He said that there is “a growing gulf between hyperbole and reality, where controllers learn to talk a good game while continuing with the same old harmful habits”.

A new social media subgroup of data protection regulators will be convened in mid-May to tackle what Buttarelli called the “manipulative approaches” that must change with GDPR.

“Brilliant lawyers will always be able to fashion ingenious arguments to justify almost any practice. But with personal data processing we need to move to a different model,” said Buttarelli. “The old approach is broken and unsustainable – that will be, in my view, the abiding lesson of the Facebook/ Cambridge Analytica case.”



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MPs threaten Mark Zuckerberg with summons over Facebook data | News

MPs threaten Mark Zuckerberg with summons over Facebook data | News


MPs have threatened to issue Mark Zuckerberg with a formal summons to appear in front of parliament when he next enters the UK, unless he voluntarily agrees to answer questions about the activities of his social network and the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Damian Collins, the chair of the parliamentary committee that is investigating online disinformation, said he was unhappy with the information the company had provided and now wanted to hear evidence from the Facebook chief executive before parliament went into recess on 24 May.

Saturday 17 March

The Observer publishes online its first story on the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, written by Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison.

Former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie reveals how the firm used personal information taken in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters.

The data was collected through an app, built by academic Aleksandr Kogan, separately from his work at Cambridge University, through his company Global Science Research (GSR).

Sunday 18 March

As the Observer publishes its full interview with Wylie in the print edition, the fallout begins. US congressional investigators call for Cambridge Analytica boss Alexander Nix to testify again before their committee.

Monday 19 March

Channel 4 News airs the findings of an undercover investigation where Cambridge Analytica executives ​boast of using honey traps, fake news campaigns and operations with ex-spies to swing election campaigns.

Tuesday 20 March

​A former Facebook employee claims​ hundreds of millions of Facebook users may have had their private information harvested by companies in similar methods.

Wednesday 21 March

UK MPs summon Mark Zuckerberg to appear before a select committee investigating fake news, and accuse Facebook of misleading them at a previous hearing. 

Thursday 22 March

It emerges Facebook had previously provided Kogan with an anonymised, aggregate dataset of 57bn Facebook friendships. Zuckerberg breaks his silence to call the misuse of data a ‘breach of trust’.

Friday 23 March

Brittany Kaiser, formerly Cambridge Analytica’s business development director, reveals the blueprint for how CA claimed to have won the White House for Donald Trump by using Google, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.


Photograph: Antonio Olmos

“It is worth noting that, while Mr Zuckerberg does not normally come under the jurisdiction of the UK parliament, he will do so the next time he enters the country,” Collins wrote in a public letter to Facebook. “We hope that he will respond positively to our request, but, if not, the committee will resolve to issue a formal summons for him to appear when he is next in the UK.”

Collins referred to an unconfirmed report by Politico that Zuckerberg planned to appear in front of the European parliament this month, suggesting it would be simple for the Facebook chief to extend his trip to attend a hearing in the UK.

The committee has repeatedly invited Zuckerberg to give evidence but Facebook has sent more junior executives to answer questions from MPs.

Facebook declined to comment on the possibility of a formal summons. In theory, Zuckerberg could be found in contempt of parliament if he refuses one.

When Rupert Murdoch and his son James resisted appearing in front of a select committee in 2011 it was speculated that potential punishments could include “fines and imprisonment”. In reality it is likely that, at worst, the punishment for ignoring such a summons would include an arcane process resulting in little more than a formal warning.

Collins said last week’s five-hour evidence session by Facebook’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, was unsatisfactory and his answers “lacked many of the important details” needed.

Collins’ committee formally issued a list of 39 supplementary questions they wanted answered following Schroepfer’s session, in which Facebook was labelled a “morality-free zone”.

Zuckerberg did make time to appear in front of the US Congress, where politicians were allocated five minutes each to ask questions. British select committee hearings allow politicians more time to ask follow-up questions, potentially making it a more testing experience.



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