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Updated: 11 hours 23 min ago

Solar Storms Can Mess With Whales' Ability To Navigate, Cause Strandings

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 9:41am
The ocean's most mammoth, docile beasts manage to find their way around the oceans with relative ease. And that's especially true for the gray whale, a creature that makes the biggest migration of any mammal, traveling over 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles) across the planet to feed and breed. New research suggests gray whales may navigate with a kind of seventh sense that allows them to detect variations in the Earth's magnetic field -- and this sense can be adversely affected by the sun. From a report: Gray whales are about as long as a school bus and six times heavier than an African elephant. They communicate using low-frequency sounds and navigate the oceans without the help of GPS. In a study published in the journal Current Biology on Monday, researchers examined 186 strandings of gray whales reported between 1985 and 2018. To try to tighten up the data set and remove some variables, the team looked at strandings of whales that were stranded alive with "no signs of injury, illness, emaciation or human interaction." The strandings were then correlated with various measures of solar activity: how many sunspots were present, changes in the Earth's magnetic field and solar radio flux, which is determined by radio frequency noise and has shown to correlate well with sunspot numbers and be affected by solar storms.

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Uber and Lyft Generate 70 Percent More Pollution Than Trips They Displace, Study Finds

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 5:00am
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, ride-hailing trips today result in an estimated 69 percent more climate pollution on average than the trips they displace. The Verge reports: In cities, ride-hailing trips typically displace low-carbon trips, such as public transportation, biking, or walking. Uber and Lyft could reduce these emissions with a more concerted effort to electrify its fleet of vehicles or by incentivizing customers to take pooled rides, the group recommends. "However, those strategies alone will address neither the increases in vehicle miles traveled nor rising congestion concerns," the report says. "For ride-hailing to contribute to better climate and congestion outcomes, trips must be pooled and electric, displace single-occupancy car trips more often, and encourage low-emissions modes such as mass transit, biking, and walking." It's a tall order, but both Uber and Lyft have shown a willingness to reduce their carbon footprint. So far, their methods include introducing bike- and scooter-sharing services, integrated public transportation scheduling and ticketing into their respective apps, and incentive programs to get drivers to switch to electric cars. "We want Uber to be a part of the solution to address climate change by working with cities to help create a low carbon transportation future," a spokesperson said. "To unlock the opportunities we have to reduce emissions, we will continue to invest in products and advocate for policies that reduce car ownership, promote more pooled trips and support greater adoption of bikes, scooters, green vehicles and the use of public transit." Lyft, meanwhile, dismissed the report as "misleading." "This report, like many before it, makes misleading claims about rideshare," a spokesperson said. "Lyft encourages the use of shared rides, was the first rideshare company to put public transit information into our app, and last year, made one of the largest single deployments of electric vehicles in the nation. We are eager to continue this work in partnership with cities, to advance shared, sustainable transportation."

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Singapore Airlines Is Using Aeroponics To Upgrade In-Flight Meals

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 2:00am
Antony McNeil, Singapore Airlines' global food and beverage director, is purchasing produce from AeroFarms' Newark facility, the world's largest indoor vertical farm. "The 16-year-old agtech startup has taken aeroponics to an industrial scale, growing some 800 varieties of leafy greens, tubers, root crops, vine crops, and berries all without soil, sunshine, or pesticides," reports Quartz. Thanks to this partnership, "Singapore Airlines is the first major carrier to serve produce harvested just hours before a flight." From the report: "We now have the best opportunity to serve the freshest produce, and it doesn't have to fly 2,000 miles," McNeil explains. But do classically trained chefs have qualms about lab-grown vegetables, like many do when it comes to genetically modified meat products? After all, what a strange power to calibrate the color, flavor, and texture of produce based on the whims of a cook. McNeil seems unconcerned, however. "I have no issues with it because it's unadulterated," he explains. "It's just fresh, beautiful produce." AeroFarms customizes orders by altering the environmental growing conditions; increasing the wind speed in the farm yields a firmer kale, for instance. "This is stretching our imagination," says McNeil, who dreams of experimenting with discarded stalks of AeroFarms-grown produce to flavor his soups. Beyond the quality factor, McNeil says having data that traces where and how vegetables are grown is a time-saver -- especially for airlines, where food safety is paramount. As he notes, food served on planes has to pass 10 to 12 critical control points in transit from harvest to the time it's served. Singapore Airlines is currently serving the AeroFarms-grown produce on flights originating from Newark and JFK airports. McNeil says the plan is to expand the company's network of sustainable growers to service more routes around the world.

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NSA Phone Surveillance Program Cost $100 Million, Yielded One Major Investigation

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 10:30pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: A National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program that accessed American citizens' domestic phone calls and text messages resulted in only one investigation between 2015 and 2019 despite costing $100 million, a newly declassified study found. The report, which was produced by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and briefed to Congress on Tuesday, also found that the program only yielded information the FBI did not already have on two occasions during that four-year period. "Based on one report, F.B.I. vetted an individual, but, after vetting, determined that no further action was warranted," the report said, according to The New York Times. "The second report provided unique information about a telephone number, previously known to U.S. authorities, which led to the opening of a foreign intelligence investigation." The report contains no further details of the investigation in question or its outcome. The USA Freedom Act of 2015, the law that authorized the program, is set to expire March 15, but the Trump administration has asked Congress to extend it. The House Judiciary Committee is set to consider a bill that would end the program's authorization on Wednesday.

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Scientists Find the First-Ever Animal That Doesn't Need Oxygen To Survive

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 8:45pm
Scientists from Tel Aviv University in Israel discovered that a salmon parasite called Henneguya salminicola doesn't have a mitochondrial genome -- the first multicellular organism known to have this absence. That means it doesn't breathe; in fact, it lives its life completely free of oxygen dependency. ScienceAlert reports: It's a cnidarian, belonging to the same phylum as corals, jellyfish and anemones. Although the cysts it creates in the fish's flesh are unsightly, the parasites are not harmful, and will live with the salmon for its entire life cycle. Tucked away inside its host, the tiny cnidarian can survive quite hypoxic conditions. But exactly how it does so is difficult to know without looking at the creature's DNA -- so that's what the researchers did. They used deep sequencing and fluorescence microscopy to conduct a close study of H. salminicola, and found that it has lost its mitochondrial genome. In addition, it's also lost the capacity for aerobic respiration, and almost all of the nuclear genes involved in transcribing and replicating mitochondria. Like the single-celled organisms, it had evolved mitochondria-related organelles, but these are unusual too -- they have folds in the inner membrane not usually seen. The same sequencing and microscopic methods in a closely related cnidarian fish parasite, Myxobolus squamalis, was used as a control, and clearly showed a mitochondrial genome. These results show that here, at last, is a multicellular organism that doesn't need oxygen to survive. Exactly how it survives is still something of a mystery. It could be leeching adenosine triphosphate from its host, but that's yet to be determined. But the loss is pretty consistent with an overall trend in these creatures - one of genetic simplification. Over many, many years, they have basically devolved from a free-living jellyfish ancestor into the much more simple parasite we see today. The findings have been published in the journal PNAS.

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Key Silicon Valley Reservoir To Be Completely Drained Due To Earthquake Risk

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 8:02pm
schwit1 shares a report from Bakersfield Californian: In a dramatic decision that could significantly impact Silicon Valley's water supply, federal dam regulators have ordered Anderson Reservoir, the largest reservoir in Santa Clara County, to be completely drained starting Oct. 1. The 240-foot earthen dam, built in 1950 and located east of Highway 101 between Morgan Hill and San Jose, poses too great of a risk of collapse during a major earthquake, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates dams, has concluded. Anderson Reservoir is owned by the Santa Clara Valley Water District, a government agency based in San Jose. When full, it holds 89,278 acre feet of water -- more than all other nine dams operated by the Santa Clara Valley Water District combined. "With these new requirements, we expect to see an impact to groundwater basins that are replenished with water released from Anderson Reservoir, including South County and southern San Jose," Norma Camacho, the water district's CEO, said. "Staff is already exploring other sources of water that will have to come from outside of the county. While residents have done an excellent job of conserving water since 2013, another drought during this time frame could require everyone to significantly decrease their water use."

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Tesla Autopilot, Distracted Driving To Blame In Deadly 2018 Crash

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 7:25pm
Slashdot readers TomGreenhaw and gollum123 are sharing the findings from a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation into a fatal Tesla Model X crash that occurred in 2018 near Mountain View, California. The agency says Tesla's Autopilot system and the driver's distraction by a mobile device were two of the probable causes of the crash. The Verge reports: The safety board arrived at those probable causes after a nearly two-year investigation into the crash. NTSB investigators also named a number of contributing factors, including that the crash attenuator in front of the barrier was damaged and had not been repaired by California's transportation department, Caltrans, in a timely manner. Had the crash attenuator been replaced, NTSB investigators said Tuesday that the driver, Walter Huang, likely would have survived. The NTSB shared its findings at the end of a three-hour-long hearing on Tuesday. During the hearing, board members took issue with Tesla's approach to mitigating the misuse of Autopilot, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's lax approach to regulating partial automation technology, and Apple -- Huang's employer -- for not having a distracted driving policy. (Huang was playing the mobile game on a company-issued iPhone.) "In this crash we saw an over-reliance on technology, we saw distraction, we saw a lack of policy prohibiting cell phone use while driving, and we saw infrastructure failures, which, when combined, led to this tragic loss," NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt said at the end of the hearing on Tuesday. "We urge Tesla to continue to work on improving their Autopilot technology and for NHTSA to fulfill its oversight responsibility to ensure that corrective action is taken where necessary. It's time to stop enabling drivers in any partially automated vehicle to pretend that they have driverless cars."

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Microsoft Wants To Do Away With Windows 10 Local Accounts

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 6:45pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bleeping Computer: As time goes on, it is becoming increasingly clear that Microsoft is trying to make local accounts a thing of the past and push all new Windows 10 users to a Microsoft account. Since Windows 10 1903, Microsoft quietly changed the Windows Out-of-box Experience (OOBE) or setup experience so that many users are no longer able to create a local account during set up as they could previously. Recently, this change also expanded to international users in India and Germany. For those affected, the only way to create a local account during setup is to disconnect the computer from the Internet. Yes, that's right, Microsoft now makes you disconnect the computer from the Internet to create a local account during setup! If you don't want to disconnect your network, then you need to first set up Windows with a Microsoft Account and then when done with setup go into the Windows 10 'Family & other users' settings and create a local account. Even that is a bit convoluted as you have to first start the process of creating a Microsoft account and finally on the second screen, be given the option that you wish to create a local account. Once a local account has been created, you can delete the original Microsoft account you created during setup.

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Juul Reportedly Plans To Pitch the FDA An Age-Locked E-Cigarette

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 6:02pm
According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, Juul is planning to pitch federal officials on a locked version of its e-cigarettes that would bar users younger than 21 from using them. From a report: Citing sources familiar with the matter, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Juul is preparing to present the Food and Drug Administration with a massive document laying out its commitment to curbing youth use as well as research about its products and marketing-related information. As part of these documents, Juul is reportedly planning to include a proposal for the new age-locked device. The company may submit the new device to the FDA in May, or file it as part of a submission later in 2020, the paper said. The Journal, citing a Juul official, reported that the company will also seek approval to market its e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to cigarettes -- an assertion previously made by the company that landed it in deep shit with the FDA, as Juul did not have the necessary approval to make such a claim. Juul's presumably regretful Big Tobacco buddy Altria has reportedly been closely involved with Juul's FDA application to keep its e-cigarettes on the market.

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Smithsonian Releases 2.8 Million Images Into Public Domain

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 5:25pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from the Smithsonian: For the first time in its 174-year history, the Smithsonian has released 2.8 million high-resolution two- and three-dimensional images from across its collections onto an open access online platform for patrons to peruse and download free of charge. Featuring data and material from all 19 Smithsonian museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives and the National Zoo, the new digital depot encourages the public to not just view its contents, but use, reuse and transform them into just about anything they choose -- be it a postcard, a beer koozie or a pair of bootie shorts. And this gargantuan data dump is just the beginning. Throughout the rest of 2020, the Smithsonian will be rolling out another 200,000 or so images, with more to come as the Institution continues to digitize its collection of 155 million items and counting.

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Disney CEO Bob Iger Steps Down, Capping His Career With Disney Plus' Epic Launch

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 4:45pm
Disney CEO Bob Iger stepped down as CEO today, effective immediately. "Iger -- who spent his entire career at the company and will leave with Disney's titanic transition to streaming with Disney Plus as the legacy capping his tenure -- will remain chairman of the Walt Disney Company until the end of next year, and Disney's head of parks, Bob Chapek, is now CEO," reports CNET. From the report: "With the successful launch of Disney's direct-to-consumer businesses and the integration of 21st Century Fox well under way, I believe this is the optimal time to transition to a new CEO," Iger said in a statement. "I have the utmost confidence in Bob [Chapek] and look forward to working closely with him over the next 22 months." During his 15-year tenure as Disney CEO, Iger secured the $7.4 billion acquisition of Pixar from Apple CEO Steve Jobs in 2006, as well as the $4 billion acquisition of Marvel in 2009 and the $4 billion purchase of Star Wars studio Lucasfilm in 2012. He oversaw the launch of streaming service Disney Plus at the end of last year, which signed up 28.6 million subscribers in less than three months. Disney also owns streaming services Hulu and ESPN Plus as part of its direct-to-consumer business. Iger was named Time's business person of the year for 2019.

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Firefox for Mac and Linux To Get a New Security Sandbox System

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 3:28pm
Mozilla will add a new security sandbox system to Firefox on Linux and Firefox on Mac. The new technology, named RLBox, works by separating third-party libraries from an app's native code. From a report: This process is called "sandboxing," and is a widely used technique that can prevent malicious code from escaping from within an app and executing at the OS level. RLBox is an innovative project because it takes sandboxing to the next level. Instead of isolating the app from the underlying operating system, RLBox separates an app's internal components -- namely its third-party libraries -- from the app's core engine. This technique prevents bugs and exploits found inside a third-party library from impacting another project that uses the same library.

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How One Singapore Sales Conference Spread Coronavirus Around the World

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 1:45pm
Last month, 109 people gathered in a Singapore hotel for an international sales conference held by a U.K.-based company that makes products to analyze gas. When the attendees flew home, some unwittingly took the coronavirus with them [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. From a report: The virus had a 10-day head start on health authorities who, after belatedly learning a 41-year-old Malaysian participant was infected, began a desperate effort to track the infection through countries including South Korea, England and France. Health investigators have found at least 20 people in six Asian and European countries who were sickened, some who attended the conference and others who came in contact with participants. A globalized economy, one that's far more integrated than in the early 2000s when the SARS virus broke out, is complicating the task of responding to epidemics. After this one conference alone, 94 participants left Singapore, authorities determined. Some joined Lunar New Year dinners. Others went on vacation, one to an Alpine ski town. They had eaten, taken car rides and shared a roof with others who then boarded more planes to places the virus hadn't yet reached. Health officials used international communications channels to share names of the potentially infected and relied on self-reporting by sickened conference-goers, creating "activity maps" that detailed their movement. They checked flight manifests and called passengers. French authorities closed down schools in sparsely populated towns. U.K. public-health officials isolated health-care workers who got the illness and searched for patients with whom they came in contact.

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Disney Blocks John Oliver's New Episode Critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 1:01pm
Disney-owned Hotstar, India's largest on-demand video streaming service with more than 300 million users, has blocked the newest episode of HBO's "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" that was critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. From a report: The move has angered many of its customers ahead of Disney+'s launch in one of the world's largest entertainment markets next month. In the episode, aired hours before U.S. President Donald Trump's visit to India, Oliver talked about some of the questionable policies enforced by the ruling government in India and recent protests against "controversial figure" Modi's citizenship measures. The 19-minute news recap and commentary sourced its information from credible news outlets. The episode is available to stream in India through HBO's official channel on YouTube, where it has garnered more than 4 million views. Hotstar is the exclusive syndicating partner of HBO, Showtime and ABC in India.

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Musicians Algorithmically Generate Every Possible Melody, Release Them To Public Domain

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 12:20pm
Two programmer-musicians wrote every possible MIDI melody in existence to a hard drive, copyrighted the whole thing, and then released it all to the public in an attempt to stop musicians from getting sued. From a report: Programmer, musician, and copyright attorney Damien Riehl, along with fellow musician/programmer Noah Rubin, sought to stop copyright lawsuits that they believe stifle the creative freedom of artists. Often in copyright cases for song melodies, if the artist being sued for infringement could have possibly had access to the music they're accused of copying -- even if it was something they listened to once -- they can be accused of "subconsciously" infringing on the original content. One of the most notorious examples of this is Tom Petty's claim that Sam Smith's "Stay With Me" sounded too close to Petty's "I Won't Back Down." Smith eventually had to give Petty co-writing credits on his own chart-topping song, which entitled Petty to royalties. Defending a case like that in court can cost millions of dollars in legal fees, and the outcome is never assured. Riehl and Rubin hope that by releasing the melodies publicly, they'll prevent a lot of these cases from standing a chance in court. In a recent talk about the project, Riehl explained that to get their melody database, they algorithmically determined every melody contained within a single octave. To determine the finite nature of melodies, Riehl and Rubin developed an algorithm that recorded every possible 8-note, 12-beat melody combo. This used the same basic tactic some hackers use to guess passwords: Churning through every possible combination of notes until none remained. Riehl says this algorithm works at a rate of 300,000 melodies per second. Once a work is committed to a tangible format, it's considered copyrighted. And in MIDI format, notes are just numbers.

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Japan Urges Telecommuting, Staggered Shifts To Curb Coronavirus

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 11:41am
The Japanese government on Tuesday urged companies to recommend telecommuting and staggered shifts for workers in a bid to curb the spread of the new coronavirus. From a report: The plan, approved at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, also urged people with symptoms of cold or fever to stay at home and asked event organizers to carefully consider whether to proceed with their plans. Japan has 159 cases of infections from the flu-like coronavirus, apart from 691 on a cruise ship docked south of Tokyo. On Tuesday, broadcaster NHK reported a fourth death among passengers. Rather than trying to contain the disease outright, authorities are seeking to slow its expansion and minimize deaths. Telecommuting, or working online or from home, would reduce the infection risk from people gathered in one place.

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Early Riser or Night Owl? New Study May Help To Explain the Difference

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 11:01am
Some people are early risers, wide awake at the crack of dawn. Others are night owls who can't seem to get to bed until well after midnight and prefer to sleep in. Why is this? An NIH-funded team has some new clues based on evidence showing how a molecular "switch" wired into the biological clocks of extreme early risers leads them to operate on a daily cycle of about 20 hours instead of a full 24-hour, or circadian (Latin for "about a day"), cycle. From a report: These new atomic-level details, shared from fruit flies to humans, may help to explain how more subtle clock variations predispose people to follow different sleep patterns. They also may lead to new treatments designed to reset the clock in people struggling with sleep disorders, jet lag, or night-shift work. This work, published recently in the journal eLIFE, comes from Carrie Partch, University of California, Santa Cruz, and her colleagues at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore and the University of California, San Diego. It builds on decades of research into biological clocks, which help to control sleeping and waking, rest and activity, fluid balance, body temperature, cardiac rate, oxygen consumption, and even the secretions of endocrine glands. These clocks, found in cells and tissues throughout the body, are composed of specialized sets of proteins. They interact in specific ways to regulate transcription of about 15 percent of the genome over a 24-hour period. All this interaction helps to align waking hours and other aspects of our physiology to the 24-hour passage of day and night. In the latest paper, Partch and her colleagues focused on two core clock components: an enzyme known as casein kinase 1 (CK1) and a protein called PERIOD. Clock-altering mutations in CK1 and PERIOD have been known for many years. In fact, CK1 was discovered in studies of golden hamsters more than 20 years ago after researchers noticed one hamster that routinely woke up much earlier than the others. It turns out that the timing of biological clocks is strongly influenced by the rise and fall of the PERIOD protein. This daily oscillation normally takes place over 24 hours, but that's where CK1 enters the picture. The enzyme adjusts PERIOD levels by chemically modifying the protein at one of two sites, thereby adjusting its stability. When one site is modified, it keeps the protein protected and stable. At the other site, it leaves it unprotected and degradable.

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Amazon is Opening a Supermarket With No Cashiers. Is Whole Foods Next?

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 10:20am
Two years ago, Amazon introduced the idea of high-tech, cashierless shopping with a store that was a cross between a 7-Eleven and a Pret A Manger sandwich shop. Now, Amazon is bringing the same concept to its full-size supermarket. On Tuesday, Amazon will open the doors to a 10,000-square-foot Amazon Go Grocery store in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, less than a mile from the tech giant's downtown Seattle headquarters. From a report: It'll be stocked with 5,000 different products -- from organic fruit to grass-fed beef -- and outfitted with cameras, sensors, and computer vision that eliminate the need for shoppers to fork over cash or plastic before walking out the door with their groceries. The new store, which is the first of its kind in the US, highlights Amazon's unsated appetite for gobbling up market share in the $900 billion US grocery industry, even after spending nearly $14 billion in 2017 to acquire Whole Foods and making same-day grocery delivery a free perk for Prime members last year. At the same time, the expansion of the cashierless store concept raises the question of when -- not if -- the technology will be ready for installation in Whole Foods stores, and what might happen to the chain's thousands of cashiers when it is.

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PayPal Accounts Are Getting Abused En-masse For Unauthorized Payments

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 9:40am
Hackers have found a bug in PayPal's Google Pay integration and are now using it to carry out unauthorized transactions via PayPal accounts. From a report: Since last Friday, users have reported seeing mysterious transactions pop up in their PayPal history as originating from their Google Pay account. Issues have been reported on numerous platforms, such as PayPal's forums, Reddit, Twitter, and Google Pay's Russian and German support forums. Victims reported that hackers abused Google Pay accounts to buy products using linked PayPal accounts. According to screenshots and various testimonies, most of the illegal transactions are taking place at US stores, and especially at Target stores across New York. Most of the victims appear to be German users.

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Firefox To Enable DNS-over-HTTPS by Default To US Users

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 9:00am
Mozilla will bring its new DNS-over-HTTPS security feature to all Firefox users in the U.S. by default in the coming weeks, the browser maker has confirmed. From a report: It follows a year-long effort to test the new security feature, which aims to make browsing the web more secure and private. Whenever you visit a website -- even if it's HTTPS enabled -- the DNS query that converts the web address into an IP address that computers can read is usually unencrypted. DNS-over-HTTPS, or DoH, encrypts the request so that it can't be intercepted or hijacked in order to send a user to a malicious site. These unencrypted DNS queries can also be used to snoop on which websites a user visits. DoH works at the app-level, and is baked into Firefox. The feature relies on sending DNS queries to third-party providers -- such as Cloudflare and NextDNS -- both of which will have their DoH offering baked into Firefox and will process DoH queries.

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