Sunday, October 4, 2015

US-EU data deal at risk in Facebook case judgment

US-EU data deal at risk in Facebook case judgment
By Danny Kemp
9 hours ago

Brussels (AFP) - The EU's top court is set to rule Tuesday on a transatlantic data deal, relied on by companies such as Facebook, a judgement that could see it declared invalid given spying revelations in the Edward Snowden scandal.

The landmark case before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg stems from a complaint against social media giant Facebook lodged against Irish authorities by Austrian law student Max Schrems.

The complaint focuses on the "Safe Harbour" deal signed in 2000 between Brussels and Washington that allows data transfers by thousands of businesses on the grounds that US laws offer similar protection for data as those in the 28-nation European Union.

But the top legal counsel to the court said last month the mass surveillance of data by the US revealed by former US intelligence contractor and whistleblower Snowden means European citizens' privacy could no longer be guaranteed by the agreement.

The court usually follows the advice of its advocate-general when reaching its final decisions.

In case it agrees the deal is invalid, the European Commission -- the executive arm of the EU -- is widely expected to announce the imminent agreement of a new version of the Safe Harbour pact.

The United States fired back against the EU counsel's position last week, saying it was based on "inaccurate assertions".

The case comes amid widespread tensions between Brussels and Washington on issues of regulation, with several EU anti-trust probes currently underway into US tech firms.

"The United States does not and has not engaged in indiscriminate surveillance of anyone, including ordinary European citizens," the US mission to Brussels said in a statement last week.

"We fully respect the European Union's legal process; however, we believe that it is essential to comment in this instance because the Advocate General's opinion rests on numerous inaccurate assertions about intelligence practices of the United States."

- David and Goliath -

Schrems, a right-to-privacy campaigner in his native Austria, filed the case against Ireland's data protection authority because Facebook's European headquarters are based there.

Major US web giants including Facebook and Apple have set up headquarters in Ireland to take advantage of favourable tax laws. Facebook data is then transferred to servers in the United States.

The Austrian argues that the 15-year-old Safe Harbour deal is too weak to guarantee the privacy of European residents in the wake of details provided by Snowden.

Schrems is fighting the social network on several fronts in what his supporters see as a fight of a European David against a US Silicon Valley Goliath.

In July, an Austrian court rejected a class action case brought by Schrems and 25,000 other Facebook users, citing insufficient legal grounds.

Digital companies operating in Europe warned that the EU court could severely disrupt the growth of the digital economy on the continent.

However they say they hope the European Commission would swiftly bring in a new Safe Harbour deal to minimise the problems.

Larger companies such as Facebook generally have separate legal contracts drawn up on their data protection laws that permit them to carry on operating in the event that agreements like Safe Harbour break down.

Snowden, who remains wanted by the United States and currently lives in Moscow, opened a Twitter account this week, just days before the judgement.

His revelations showed that the US National Security Agency's PRISM programme used Silicon Valley giants Apple, Google and Facebook to gather user data.

In the wake of the scandal, the EU and Washington began talks to revamp Safe Harbour.

A European Commission spokesman said recently that they were working "tirelessly" with Washington on final details and hoped to reach a "positive conclusion" soon.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

FTC Chief Calls for “Targeted” Regulation of Uber, Airbnb

FTC Chief Calls for “Targeted” Regulation of Uber, Airbnb

Edith Ramirez is taking a cautious step to rein in “sharing economy” apps.
October 2, 2015

“Flexible” and “targeted” regulations of so-called “sharing economy” services like Uber and Airbnb may be necessary, the head of the Federal Trade Commission said Friday.

In a speech at Fordham University Law School, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez warned that imposing “legacy regulations on new business models” can stifle competition and ultimately leaves consumers worse off. But, she said, regulators shouldn’t shy away from enforcing important consumer protections on issues like health, safety, or privacy.

“We must allow competition and innovation in the form of these new peer-to-peer business models to flourish,” Ramirez said, according to copy of her remarks. “At the same time, where necessary, targeted regulatory measures may be needed to ensure that these new business models have appropriate consumer protections; but they should be no greater than necessary to address those concerns.”

Any new regulations might not necessarily come from the FTC itself. While the commission does have authority over issues like privacy and data security, it also offers advice to state and local agencies on how to impose regulations without hurting competition.

Ramirez’s speech is the latest tentative attempt by policymakers to try to grapple with the explosion of “sharing economy” (also known as “peer-to-peer” or “on demand”) apps that can connect buyers and sellers with the push of a button. The FTC held a workshop on the services in June and has been sifting through public comments.

Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar allow users to request a car ride; Airbnb allows users to book rooms from other users; and TaskRabbit allows users to hire someone to complete a small job or task. But the services have come under fire from local regulators around the world, and incumbent industries like taxi drivers and hotels have accused the start-ups of having an unfair advantage by ignoring costly regulations. Uber, for example, has been banned in a number of cities, and its executives are facing criminal charges in France.

Ramirez argued that existing regulatory schemes can “entrench” old business models and prevent consumers from accessing exciting new services. And she warned that agencies can be unduly influenced or even controlled by the incumbent industries they regulate.

But she also argued that the government “picking winners” by applying regulations only to the old companies “should be just as undesirable.”

Finding the right middle ground, Ramirez acknowledged, is “complex and challenging” and has “no simple answers.”

The FTC chief’s speech follows a hearing earlier this week in the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s trade subcommittee, in which lawmakers struggled to find the right approach to regulating these new services. The subcommittee’s chairman, Republican Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas, acknowledged that there should be some “limited government oversight” of the companies. But he added, “I for one am more concerned about existing regulations hurting new jobs than I am about the need for new regulations.”

Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, has argued that workers in the on-demand companies should get disability insurance and other benefits, but he has also called for a “regulatory time-out” to give the government time to settle on the right rules.

Daimler tests self-driving truck on German highway

Daimler tests self-driving truck on German highway
8 hours ago

Berlin (AFP) - German automaker Daimler said it trialled a self-driving truck under real traffic conditions for the first time Friday, on a motorway in southern Germany.

The truck has smart systems including radars, cameras and active speed regulators and works without a human driver -- although one has to be in the driver's seat and take the wheel if necessary.

The standard Mercedes-Benz Actros, fitted with the intelligent "Highway Pilot" system, travelled 14 kilometres (about nine miles) on the A8 motorway, with a driver in the cabin but his hands off the wheel.

"Today's premiere is a further important step towards the market maturity of autonomously driving trucks -– and towards the safe, sustainable road freight transport of the future," said Wolfgang Bernhard, board member responsible for Daimler Trucks and Buses.

"Safe testing in real traffic is absolutely decisive for the development of this technology to market maturity. We are now able to proceed with this," said Bernhard, who sat in the driver's seat for the test.

Daimler unveiled the technology in May in the US state of Nevada, on the iconic Hoover Dam, an hour's drive from Las Vegas.

The truck in Friday's trial, the world's first series-production autonomous truck, drove between Stuttgart and the town of Denkendorf in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where Daimler is headquartered.

A totally self-driving truck, without the need for human monitoring, is still a long way off.

Daimler compared the Highway Pilot to a plane's autopilot. It is able to steer the truck by itself, while the driver "retains full responsibility, needs to monitor the traffic at all times and must be able to intervene at any time".

The system includes front-mounted radar and a stereo camera, as well as Daimler's Adaptive Cruise Control system.

Should the weather or the road markings deteriorate badly, the system prompts the driver to take over the controls with audible and visual signals and, if the driver fails to respond, brings the truck to a stop automatically.

The Highway Pilot has already driven around 20,000 kilometres on test routes in Germany and the United States, said Daimler.

State premier Winfried Kretschmann of the Greens party, who was also along for the ride, said "partially autonomous and autonomous driving indicates that a new age of mobility is dawning".

"Autonomously driving and networked vehicles improve the flow of traffic and can play a decisive role in helping to avoid traffic jams and relieving the strain on drivers," he said in a statement. "They also boost traffic safety."

Daimler says autonomous trucks improve efficiency and cut carbon emissions. Thanks to optimised gear shifting, acceleration and braking, they generate at least five percent fewer CO2 emissions, said the company.

Daimler, whose vehicles include the high-end Mercedes-Benz range and compact Smart cars, is also the world's biggest maker of trucks with brands including Mercedes-Benz, Freightliner, Fuso and BharatBenz.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Grocery-carrying robots to come with new homes

Grocery-carrying robots come with new homes
Would-be developer of Lilac Hills housing project teams with robotics company

Mugshot of J. Harry JonesBy J. Harry Jones | 4:02 p.m. Oct. 1, 2015

CARLSBAD — Imagine a futuristic place where robots carry your groceries home and automated, driverless golf carts pick you up at the dry cleaners and deliver you to the doorstep of your suburban abode several blocks away.

Now imagine that neighborhood in North County, within the next decade.

That was the picture painted Thursday by developer Randy Goodson and the chief of a Carlsbad robotics company who said they’re teaming up to create a virtual rail system within the massive Lilac Hills Ranch community that Goodson wants to build on 600 acres of semirural land north of Escondido.

The pair held a demonstration Thursday to announce their collaboration, just a few weeks before county supervisors are set to decide whether Goodson’s company, Accretive Investments Inc., should be granted a General Plan amendment that would allow the housing development to move forward.

Some critics scoffed at the timing of the event, calling it a high-tech publicity stunt.

But Goodson and 5D Robotics CEO David Bruemmer said the automated features would fit perfectly into the “village” type community Goodson has proposed — a 1,746-home neighborhood with parks and commercial businesses where people would be able to walk everywhere.

Bruemmer said positioning sensors would be built into light poles within the development, allowing different types of robots to maneuver safely and precisely along sidewalks and walkways. Some of the robots would be unmanned electric vehicles that would move people; others would be transport robots that could carry groceries, or follow children as they walked home from school to make sure they got there safely.

Goodson and Bruemmer said such technology is the wave of the future and its use at Lilac Hills Ranch would be a first in the development of a master-planned community.

Critics laughed at the idea.

“Did they use a robot to deliver this huge load of bull manure?” former Supervisor Pam Slater-Price said in an interview, and in a group email circulated mostly among people who oppose the project and have argued it would ruin the undeveloped area where it has been proposed.

“It’s kind of pathetic, just a new oddball idea,” said Patsy Fritz, a former county planning commissioner and an outspoken Lilac Hills critic. “He’s just trying to keep the flame alive. It’s not smoke and mirrors, its more like sparklers and razzle-dazzle. Randy Goodson is quite a super salesman.”

Goodson said that he and 5D Robotics have been working together for awhile and are also developing a robotics system for a residential project he is planning in Boulder, Colo.

“This is the future,” Goodson said, during Thursday’s demonstration. He said the system at Lilac Hills Ranch would be built during the first phase of construction and continue during the 10-year build-out process.

“We’re paying for installing this in the community,” he said. “The (Homeowner’s Association) will have to pay for the operations and maintenance. These are intended to replace vehicle trips. While there’s a slight increase in the HOA fee, residents will be able to come home from work and park their vehicle and they won’t have to get into it until they go back to work.”

Goodson said the “location tags” that will be built into light poles make sure robots go only where they should.

“The 5D technology controls where they can go within one centimeter of accuracy and it has sensors that prevent it from running over anybody or anything,” Goodson said.

Whether Lilac Hills Ranch will become a reality still remains to be seen. The neighborhood would be built half way between Temecula and Escondido, about a half mile east of Interstate 15 and south of W. Lilac Road, on 608 acres of mostly farmland. Under the county’s updated General Plan, the area is zoned for only 110 homes.

The General Plan encourages the creation of walkable communities, but in already urban areas near existing infrastructure. The Board of Supervisors will hold a hearing — potentially as soon as Oct. 28 — to decide whether to grant Accretive an amendment that would allow the development to proceed.

Opponents of Lilac Hills Ranch say the design of the project is fine, but its location makes a mockery of the General Plan. They say if the supervisors approve the amendment it could be a harbinger of similar types of big backcountry development.

The county’s Planning Commission last month voted 4-3 to recommend approval of the project.

Bruemmer said he’s pleased to partner with Goodson, a developer “who sees the value of bringing smart mobility technology to the people in their community.”

He said the robots solve the “first and last mile of transit problem,” which he described as the hesitancy of people to take alternative and public transportation if they have to drive a ways to get to that transportation.

For instance, he said, people who have to drive a mile to get to a Park & Ride often will just keep driving all the way to work.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Driverless Taxi Experiment to Start in Japan

5:40 pm JST Oct 1, 2015 AUTOMOBILE
RoboCab: Driverless Taxi Experiment to Start in Japan


 From the country where hotels are operated by robots and androids serve as clerks at department stores comes the latest unmanned project: the robot cab.

Japan’s cabinet office, Kanagawa prefecture and Robot Taxi Inc. on Thursday said they will start experimenting with unmanned taxi service beginning in 2016. The service will be offered for approximately 50 people in Kanagawa prefecture, just south of Tokyo, with the auto-driving car carrying them from their homes to local grocery stores.

According to the project organizers, the cabs will drive a distance of about three kilometers (two miles), and part of the course will be on major avenues in the city. Crew members will be aboard the car during the experiment in case there is a need to avoid accidents.

Robot Taxi Inc., a joint venture between mobile Internet company DeNA Co. and vehicle technology developer ZMP Inc., is aiming to commercialize its driverless transportation service by 2020. The company says it will seek to offer unmanned cabs to users including travelers from overseas and locals in areas where buses and trains are not available.

Shinjiro Koizumi, son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and a vice minister in the current government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, appeared at an event Thursday afternoon to promote the driverless-taxi effort. “There are a lot of people who say it’s impossible, but I think this will happen faster than people expect,” he said.

The project is a part of the government’s effort to promote innovation and startup businesses.

Among companies trying to turn driverless cars into business is Google Inc., which started testing its system in Texas in July.

Amazon to Ban Sale of Apple, Google Video-Streaming Devices

Amazon to Ban Sale of Apple, Google Video-Streaming Devices
By Spencer Soper
October 1, 2015 — 10:05 AM PDT Updated on October 1, 2015 — 3:09 PM PDT Inc. will stop selling media-streaming devices from Google Inc. and Apple Inc. that aren’t easily compatible with its video service, the latest example of the company using its clout to promote products that fit with its own retailing strategy.

The Seattle-based Web retailer sent an e-mail to its marketplace sellers that it will stop selling the Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast since those devices don’t "interact well" with Prime Video. No new listings for the products will be allowed and posting of existing inventory will be removed Oct. 29, Amazon said. Prime Video doesn’t run easily on its rival’s hardware.

Roku Inc.’s set-top device, Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox and Sony Corp.’s PlayStation, which work with Amazon’s video service, aren’t affected, it said. Amazon’s Fire TV stick, which plugs into an HDMI port to connect televisions with streaming services such as Netflix and Prime Video, is the company’s best-selling electronic device.

The move, coming just before the year-end holiday shopping season, shows how Amazon is willing to sacrifice sales of popular brand name products -- Apple and Google have the best-selling media streaming devices generally -- to bolster its own video-streaming service. Amazon has invested heavily in online content, including producing its own exclusive shows such as the award-winning transgender comedy "Transparent", as a way to attract new Prime subscribers, who pay $99 a year for speedy shipping and access to video and other services.

Amazon’s strategy will likely hurt Google more than Apple, which has its own stores and direct access to customers. The move may also cost Amazon sales by diverting purchases of popular devices to competitors such as Best Buy Co.

"This has the potential to hurt Amazon as much as it does Apple and Google," said Barbara Kraus, an analyst at Parks Associates. "As a retailer, I want to give people a reason to come to me. When I take out best-selling brands, I take away those reasons."
Tom Neumayr, a spokesman for Apple, declined to comment. A Google representative also declined to comment.

Media Streaming

Amazon, Apple, Google and Roku devices made up 86 percent of all media-streaming products sold to U.S. households with broadband in 2014, according to an August report by Parks Associates. An estimated 86 million media-streaming devices will be sold globally in 2019, the research firm said.

Amazon supplanted Apple for the No. 3 position in sales in 2014, Parks said. Roku led the market with 34 percent and Google was second with 23 percent, according to the report.

"Over the last three years, Prime Video has become an important part of Prime," Amazon said in the e-mail, which was sent to sellers yesterday. "It’s important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion."

The online retailer used a similar strategy last year in a protracted and dispute with New York-based Hachette Book Group regarding the sale of print and digital books. Amazon blocked pre-orders for some of Hachette’s books while the two sides haggled over prices. A coalition of authors accused Amazon of engaging in anti-competitive practices during the conflict.

‘Weak’ Explanation

Amazon’s decision to limit the sale of Google and Amazon streaming devices probably doesn’t rise to the level of an antitrust violation, because consumers will still have options for buying Apple and Google products at other places, according to Allen Grunes, a lawyer at Konkurrenz Group in Washington.

"Amazon probably wants to teach Apple and Google a lesson about not making their devices more compatible," Grunes said. "This is one way to do it and it’s not likely anticompetitive,"

Amazon’s decision to limit selection "sends the wrong signal to consumers," and the company’s explanation that Prime Video doesn’t work well with its rivals’ products is "especially weak," said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.

"Fewer than 20 percent of Amazon customers are Prime members," Pachter said. "What about the 80 percent who want an Apple TV to stream Netflix? I think that the excuse of avoiding customer confusion is a not-so-veiled attempt to favor Amazon first-party products over third-party products, and think it was a bad move."

Google's Ray Kurzweil With robots in our brains, we'll be godlike

Google exec: With robots in our brains, we'll be godlike

Futurist and Google exec Ray Kurzweil thinks that once we have robotic implants, we'll be funnier, sexier and more loving. Because that's what artificial intelligence can do for you.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

I suspect a few of you are looking forward to being robots.

Who wouldn't be fascinated by the idea of becoming someone other than themselves? We do get so tired of being the same dull soul every day.

What kind of robots will we be? Happily, I can provide an answer. For living inside my head all day have been the words of Google's director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil.

For more than a curt while, he's been keen on humans going over to the bright side. He's predicted that humans will be hybrid robots by 2030.

But what will this be like? More importantly, what will this feel like? Are you ready to engage what's left of your humorous humanity when I offer you the information that Kurzweil believes we're going to be quite wonderful people when we're part robot?

Kurzweil has a truly, madly, deeply optimistic view of who we will be when nanobots are implanted into our brains so we can expand our intelligence by directly tapping into the Internet.

This is such a relief. I had feared that when a robot was implanted into my brain, my head would hurt. I was afraid that I wouldn't be quite in touch with my feelings, as I wouldn't be sure if they were real or just the promptings of my inner robot.

Kurzweil, though, has reassured me. Speaking recently at Singularity University, where he is a member of the faculty, he explained that my brain will develop in the same way my smartphone has.

"We're going to add additional levels of abstraction," he said, "and create more-profound means of expression."

More profound than Twitter? Is that possible?

Kurzweil continued: "We're going to be more musical. We're going to be funnier. We're going to be better at expressing loving sentiment."

Because robots are renowned for their musicality, their sense of humor and their essential loving qualities. Especially in Hollywood movies.

Kurzweil insists, though, that this is the next natural phase of our existence.

"Evolution creates structures and patterns that over time are more complicated, more knowledgeable, more intelligent, more creative, more capable of expressing higher sentiments like being loving," he said. "So it's moving in the direction that God has been described as having -- these qualities without limit."

Yes, we are becoming gods.

"Evolution is a spiritual process and makes us more godlike," was Kurzweil's conclusion.

There's something so uplifting, yet so splendidly egocentric in suggesting that man will soon be God, thanks to artificial intelligence. The mere fact that this intelligence is artificial might be a clue as to its potential limitations.

Moreover, I rather think of us as a dangerous species: Primitive, yet believing we're so very clever.

There are so many fundamental things with which we struggle. Here we are, though, believing that we'll be godlike in a few years' time.

Lord, help us.