Your WIRED.co.uk daily briefing. Today, Microsoft is taking the US government to court for the right to tell its customers when they're being spied on, telecoms minister Ed Vaizey has said that the UK government's pledge to give every household access to 10Mpbs broadband won't be happening, the EU has finalised new data protection laws that give users greater control over who holds information on them and more.
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1. Microsoft sues the US for the right to tell customers when the government is spying on them
Microsoft has sued the US government, demanding the right to tell its users when government agencies access their private data in online storage provided by Microsoft (BBC). The company said that in the last 18 months, it's received 5,624 requests for data and that almost half were accompanied by a court order forcing Microsoft to keep the request secret. The company says that this is a breach of the US constitution, which dictates that individuals must be made aware of government search or seizure of their property. In the lawsuit, Microsoft said that "people do not give up their rights when they move their private information from physical storage to the cloud."
2. Government: 10Mbps internet for all won't happen by 2020
Telecommunications minister Ed Vaizey has backed down on a government pledge, made by David Cameron last year, that promised every household in the UK would have access to a 10Mbps internet connection by 2020 (Ars Technica). Speaking to a parliamentary select committee hearing, Vaizey said "I'm not going to guarantee to you that every single premise is going to get 10Mbps. But it should be possible, as we have a satellite scheme that should get people to the 2Mbps guarantee… But really when you put a satellite on the house you are going to get nearer 10Mbps if not more," in an unusually optimistic assessment of typical satellite broadband speeds. He also reported that that broadband rollout was still on track to provide 10Mbps to 95 per cent of areas in the UK by 2017 and suggested capping the funds made available to pay for connections to remote homes.
3. New European data protection law focusses on rights of individuals
The European Union has passed its new General Data Protection Regulation, designed to give individual citizens greater control over their data and to more effectively punish companies that disregard their users' privacy and security (Independent). The new regulations give users the right to be notified when companies process their data, the right to move their data between companies in its entirety and the right to be forgotten, allowing people to demand that a company erase all data it has stored on them unless there's a legitimate reason to retain it. The regulation will come into force in 2018, when companies that fail to ensure their customers' data security could be fined 4 per cent of their global revenue for the previous year, or €20 million (£15.8 million), depending on which is greater.
4. Canadian police have had BlackBerry's master encryption key for years
Motherboard has revealed that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have had a copy of BlackBerry's global encryption key since 2010 and that it was used to intercept and decrypt over a million BlackBerry messages during an investigation into a mafia killing. A single global key is used to secure all BBM messages that don't go through a BlackBerry Enterprise Server – companies using BES can set their own keys – and privacy expert Christopher Parsons of Canada's Citizen Lab says that it's unlikely that the key would have been changed, as doing so would require an update to every BlackBerry handset. Although court documents reveal that RCMP has the key, it's not clear how the police obtained it, as much information on that subject has been sealed by court order.
5. Shortened URLs can reveal more than you want them to
Security researchers have found that URL shortening tools can make your personal data vulnerable to opportunistic hackers (WIRED). In a new paper, Martin Georgiev and Vitaly Shmatikov describe a method of brute-forcing shortened URLs by substituting characters. Because only a limited number of characters are used, this can reveal anything from documents that were meant for the eyes of only a handful of people, to home addresses or information about who requested directions to drug addiction treatment facilities. The pair also found that URL shorteners used by Microsoft OneDrive and Google Maps both treated and described vulnerably short URLs as more private than they really were.
6. New Microsoft AI can write stories about sets of photos
Microsoft researchers have developed a narrative image recognition AI that can write original stories based on sequences of photos (VentureBeat). The Sequential Image Narrative Dataset (SIND) started with images, image sequence orders and descriptive captions provided by humans, and from that data was taught to create a more abstract story using deep learning techniques. Microsoft has released SIND's stories and source material online to show off its capabilities.
Scientists from Aarhus University in Denmark have developed Quantum Moves, an iOS and Android game based on a genuine quantum computing problem: how fast a laser can move an atom between wells in an egg-box-like structure without changing the energy of the atom as a result of the speed/energy trade-off described by Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle (Nature). In a paper the team describes how human players intuitively picked solutions that were more efficient than those developed by computer algorithms.
8. Minecraft Education Edition beta is coming in May
Microsoft has announced that Minecraft Education Edition will be coming out in a beta version starting from May, with a free early access programme for teachers beginning in June (TechCrunch). The classroom-oriented version of Mojang's wildly successful blocky world-crafting sim, which Microsoft bought in 2014, will be released in 11 languages and 41 countries and Microsoft will help early adopters develop lesson plans, projects and activity ideas for it. Once it's out of early access, Minecraft Education Edition will be available for educators to purchase online and through standard volume licencing channels.
James Cameron confirmed at CinemaCon that he's working on four new sequels to his groundbreaking but divisive CGI-driven 3D sci-fi flick, Avatar (The Verge). The first is due for release in the 2018 holiday season, with its sequels following in 2020, 2022 and 2023. Cameron said that that the new films would make up "a true epic saga that's told in this rich and complex world."
10. Video: the story of zero
The Royal Institution has released a beautiful animated video that explains how and why zero exists in our number system, and what role it has played in mathematics over time (Sploid). Explained by mathematician and science communicator Dr Hannah Fry, the video spans the ages of our understanding of maths from a time before zero was a concept, all the way up to its vital importance in modern computing.
Consider these three words: pine, crab, sauce. Name a single word that will combine with each of them to make a compound word or familiar phrase. The interesting thing about this type of puzzle is that, like many real-world problems, it can be solved in more than one way. For instance, you can solve it by trying out various possibilities. Cognitive psychologists call this kind of linear thought "analysis". You can also solve this with a eureka moment. Cognitive psychologists call this "insight". Many people tend towards one or the other of these styles of thought. We call these people "insightfuls" and "analysts". Though many problems can be solved in either way, some are better suited to one or the other.
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Geraldine Hamilton, president and chief scientific officer at Emulate, and Big White Wall founder Jen Hyatt, are among the first announced speakers who will appear at WIRED Health on 29 April 2016.
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