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July 6 2016 12:49 PM

A Man Who “Felt Google Was Watching Him” Set One of Its Street View Cars on Fire

Prosecutors have charged an Oakland man who "felt Google was watching him" for setting one of the company's Street View vehicles on fire.

Police arrested Raul Diaz on the Google campus on June 30 and found a firearms case and items to make a pipe bomb in his car, according to an affidavit filed July 1 with the US District Court in San Jose.

July 5 2016 11:45 AM

San Francisco Might Tax Tech Companies More to Address Its Homelessness Problem

San Francisco city officials have found a possible solution to the city’s homelessness problems: taxing tech companies.

The proposal, which was introduced by three city legislators last week, would require the city’s tech firms to pay a 1.5 percent payroll tax, which would be used to pay for programs for the homeless and to aid in solving San Francisco’s affordable housing issues, according to The New York Times.

The tax could raise nearly $140 million each year and would help the city balance its $9.6 billion budget. It could be a preemptive step to help the city’s economy as the tech boom slows down—City Controller Benjamin Rosenfield told The Times the he can already see “signs of cooling.”

The tax would affect companies like Twitter, who received tax breaks to stay in the city of San Francisco instead of moving out to Silicon Valley. Known as the “Twitter tax break,” the incentive allowed companies to avoid $34 million in city payroll taxes for moving to a neighborhood called Mid-Market.

June 30 2016 10:29 AM

Google Is About to Use the Fastest Undersea Cable Ever Built 

Google has a message for Facebook and Microsoft: Eat our spray.

While those two companies have just begun a project to build an undersea cable to speed up internet access to their services, on Thursday, Google will flip the switch on its cable.

Google and its partners started building it two years ago.

Google teamed up with five Asian telecom companies to fund a $300 million underwater cable network connecting the US and Japan in 2014.

In a blog posting announcing the cable was being turned on, Alan Chin-Lun Cheung, who is on Google’s Submarine Networking Infrastructure team, wrote:

“The FASTER Cable System gives Google access to up to 10Tbps of the cable’s total 60Tbps bandwidth between the US and Japan.  We will use this capacity to support our users, including Google Apps and Cloud Platform customers. This is the highest-capacity undersea cable ever built—about ten million times faster than your average cable modem—and we’re beaming light through it starting today.”

 

June 29 2016 4:56 PM

Uber Is Putting the Brakes on Bad Driving

Next time you hop in an Uber you may notice your driver is paying extra attention to the road in front of him or her.

That's because the company is in the process of implementing a new system that tracks how its contracted workers drive. The new system is aimed at improving driver safety and is will be capable of determining when a driver is speeding, cutting corners, and when he or she slams on the brakes. It will also tell the driver when they are going too fast in real-time.The new technology comes with a software update to Uber's app for drivers. It basically uses the sensors in the driver's smartphone to gauge how the driver is performing.

June 29 2016 3:41 PM

What I Found Out When I Requested All the Information That Tinder Has on Me

UK law lets you request a copy of any personal data of yours that is held by a company. I decided to ask the dating app Tinder to send me a full copy of all the data it holds about me and my account.

First off, here’s how it’s done: I sent an email to help@gotinder.com that followed a fairly standard subject access request format (that's the legal term for this kind of email):

[NAME]
[ADDRESS]

[PHONE NUMBER]

[THE EMAIL ADDRESS ASSOCIATED WITH MY TINDER ACCOUNT]

[DATE]

Dear Sir or Madam

Subject access request

Please supply the information about me I am entitled to under the Data Protection Act 1998.

1. Please tell me if any personal data of mine is being processed.
2. Please give me a description of the data, the reason it’s being processed and whether the data has been given to any other organisations.
3. Please give me a copy of all personal data you hold on me.
4. Please give me details of the source of this data if available.

If you need any more information from me, or a fee, please let me know as soon as possible.

June 27 2016 3:45 PM

Bad News, U.S. Economy: Americans Are Losing Their Appetite for Restaurants

The restaurant industry is providing some ominous insight into how Americans are feeling about the economy.

Restaurant sales are virtually flat, and they’re expected to remain weak for the rest of the year, according to The NPD Group, an industry research firm.

Weak growth in the restaurant industry is a warning sign for the entire economy, Nomura analyst Mark Kalinowski told Business Insider.

People need to eat, and when they pull back on restaurant spending, it’s a clear sign that they aren’t feeling confident about the economy.

June 23 2016 11:52 AM

Palantir Is Offering Workers a Generous Stock Buyback—in Exchange for Their Silence

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Palantir, the secretive $20 billion data-mining startup co-founded by Peter Thiel, is buying $225 million of stock back from employees.

The catch, reports BuzzFeed’s William Alden, is that employees and “certain” ex-employees are eligible for the buyback offer only if they agree to a variety of conditions, including:

  1. The renewal of their nondisclosure agreements.
  2. An agreement not to poach Palantir employees for 12 months.
  3. A promise not to sue the company or company executives.
  4. An agreement not to talk to the press—and a promise to forward any emails from reporters to Palantir within three days.

If Palantir employees agree to these terms, then they’re eligible to sell 12.5 percent of their equity, or $500,000 worth, of shares back to the company, whichever is lower. At $7.41 a share, Palantir is offering a higher price than most private brokers, BuzzFeed reports.

It’s a big payout for employees of Palantir, which is backed by the CIA’s venture-capital arm and which has historically capped salaries at lower than competitive rates and made up the gap with stock options.

For the business itself, these rules are a way to ensure its veil of secrecy. That’s especially important now, following a previous report by BuzzFeed about high employee turnover and lost customer deals at Palantir that have been an embarrassment for a company that tries to keep a low profile.

Palantir did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

June 22 2016 4:21 PM

Fiat Chrysler Just Scrapped One of America’s Most Iconic Muscle Cars

While fans have expected the news for quite some time, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles today officially announced the Dodge Viper will cease production in 2017 after 25 years.

Five special editions will commemorate the Viper's exploits and revisit some of its best versions, a much-deserved salute to a car unlike just about anything else in the automotive world.

What made the Viper so special? To answer that, one must first look under its long, many-vented hood.

June 21 2016 1:01 PM

Elon Musk’s A.I. Project Wants to Build a Robot That Will Do Your Housework

Elon Musk has built cars and rockets. Next up: domestic robots.

OpenAI—the artificial-intelligence research nonprofit cochaired by Tesla Motors CEO Musk and Y Combinator President Sam Altman—wants to build a robot for your home.

Building a robot, OpenAI’s leadership explains in a blog entry on Monday, is a good way to test and refine a machine's ability to learn how to perform common tasks. By “build,” the company means taking a current off-the-shelf robot and customizing it to do housework.

June 17 2016 4:22 PM

The Bane of America's Electrical Grid Has a Bushy Tail

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

If your power has ever gone out on a beautiful day, you may have been the victim of a squirrelly attack.

That's because squirrels are responsible for an impressive number of electrical issues each year.

Although it's tricky to get a real sense of how many outages squirrels manage to cause, the numbers are daunting. One estimate tallies 560 in Montana alone last year. Another blames a whopping 400 outages in Austin, Texas, last year on the sneaky rodents.

Squirrels and their partners in crime cause about 10-20 percent of all power outages, according to the Washington Post.

Squirrel-induced power outages tend to be more localized and more quickly fixed than those caused by storms, since one little rodent can only chew so much. But they're still a real issue. Each one can affect as many as 13,000 people at a time, and in 2015, squirrel blackouts cost Montana alone $11 million.

Stack that up against one of the most talked-about grid security issues: cyberattacks. While there have been a handful of blackouts allegedly caused by cyberattacks, like December's in the Ukraine, some cybersecurity experts argue that only the Stuxnet attack on Iran produced confirmed physical damage.

That's not to say, of course, that we should ignore the risk of cyberattacks. Their potential impact is enormous. But we shouldn't pretend they're the only threat our grid faces, says the anonymous information security specialist who runs Cyber Squirrel, a light-hearted website tracking "unclassified Cyber Squirrel Operations."

There is one small silver lining to this nutty problem. Because of everyday issues like squirrel attacks, there are actually a lot of redundancies built into the US electrical grid that make it more resilient. That means outages don't ripple across huge portions of the country, as happened in Kenya last week when a monkey fell on a transformer.

Electricity companies have a collection of techniques to try to protect their wires from rascally squirrels, like plastic coverings on poles where wires intersect and rotating caps that squirrels can't grip onto long enough to let them do any damage. But they're up against a powerful foe, since squirrels never stop teething.

Other animals, including birds,raccoons, and snakes, also cause power outages on occasion, but squirrels are far and away the most common culprit.

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