Medical experts trying to treat illnesses like malaria, heart disease, and tuberculosis are turning to an unexpected population of study subjects for answers: ancient mummies.
Thanks to recent advances in DNA sequencing and CT scan technology, researchers are able to peer more closely than ever into mummified bodies. In fact, they can even discern the cause of death for specimens now thousands of years old. But as Popular Science explains, that finding is just a means to a much more modern end: scientists hope that studying mummies can offer clues about the underlying causes of various illnesses, and how those illnesses have evolved over time. One recent study on 137 mummies, for instance, indicated that 34 percent suffered from hardening of the arteries — suggesting that genetic factors might trump lifestyle choices where heart disease is concerned.
The inventive and modern August smart lock is inching closer to availability today. The company has begun taking pre-orders for its beautiful Yves Behar-designed product that, like the Nest thermostat, aims to reinvigorate a market that's long lacked any real innovation. August set up a reservation list shortly after unveiling its "secure, simple, and social way to manage your home’s lock," but now it's moving one step further by collecting payment information with all pre-orders. To take some sting out of an extremely high $199 asking price, August is offering some nice incentives for buyers that get in early; you'll get to choose from a selection of limited-edition colors and receive priority shipping when the smart lock ships in the first quarter of 2014.
Aside from making lock opening more social, August also wants to make sure you never accidentally leave the house unlocked again. It's today revealing a new feature called EverLock. The technology, which will come included with the main August mobile app, can sense when you've closed a door behind you and is smart enough to automatically lock the door — without any input on your end. We're very much looking forward to getting our hands on the August smart lock in the months ahead, so stay tuned for more coverage.
The price of Bitcoin, the semi-anonymous e-currency that acts like virtual cash, is falling rapidly after the bust of underground drug marketplace Silk Road. Silk Road was by far the largest single source of Bitcoin transactions, conducting more than $1 billion worth of business exclusively in the virtual currency. Federal agents shut the site down today and arrested the man they say is behind it.
The news of Silk Road's demise sent the price of Bitcoin, which had been holding at around $130, plummeting to an average of around $85 in less than three hours with large spikes in trading activity. At the time of writing, the average price had rebounded back up to $108. The sell-off appears to be driven by uncertainty about the future of the virtual economy, along with opportunism driven by speculators who are seeing a chance to make money off the currency's fluctuations.
The sell-off appears to be driven by uncertainty about the future
In addition to spurring fears about Bitcoin's future, the closure of Silk Road resulted in the freezing of however many bitcoins were sitting in users' accounts. Users on the Silk Road forums, which continued operating, expressed remorse that they had not removed their deposits. "I am DEVASTATED That SR is permanently down! But what happens to the amount of BitCoins I had in my wallet?!?! Where the fuck did they go?!?" user prophexy bemoaned. "They can't just take EVERYONE'S coins can they?" another user asked.
Given the volatility of Bitcoin, it will be a few days before the full impact of Silk Road's disappearance is felt.
Major tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and many others have been pressuring the White House and Congress for more transparency around government requests to collect user data, but today the US Justice Department indicated its not willing to pull back its shroud of secrecy just yet. According to papers filed with the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) , the Justice Department says that it opposes requests from technology companies to reveal more information to the public about user data requests because it believes it would hurt national security.
The DOJ thinks security trumps transparency
The rationale for keeping these requests secret boils down to the government having the authority to continue doing so, as well as the belief that the companies requesting these disclosures don't really know how much potential damage increased transparency would do. A section of the FISA response notes that "if our adversaries know which platforms the Government does not surveil, they can communicate over those platforms when, for example, planning a terrorist attack or the theft of state secrets." There's also a common "slippery slope" argument — if FISA begins granting these requests for a few companies, they might be obligated to do so for all the other companies that make such transparency requests.
Despite the Justice Department's predictable stance against increased transparency, this doesn't appear to be an issue that either the technology industry or civil liberties groups are going to let go of anytime soon. A number of new bills asking for increased transparency surrounding government data requests are making their way through the Senate and the House — though they face a tough road, given the president's stance of placing security over transparency. Still, with the vast number of powerful supporters in the tech industry as well as the legislature, bills asking for a clearer look into the government's requests should continue to come up. But with the government shut down, don't expect things to change too quickly.
Over two-thirds of the intelligence communities civilian employees have been told to go home in the government shutdown. But is the disheartening furlough an impending disaster or a sign that the US intelligence apparatus isn't as vital as it says? Today, a spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence told Defense Tech, part of military and veteran membership group Military.com, that the NSA, CIA, and other intelligence agencies were scrambling to cover vacancies. "Today, less than 30 percent of intelligence community employees are on the job," said Shawn Turner, "and those who are working are stretched so thin that they are only able to focus on the most critical security needs." He warned that the longer it lasted, the spottier the intelligence community's information will become.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was more direct in a Senate hearing earlier today. "Does America remain safe, even with a shutdown?" asked Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA). "I have to qualify that," Clapper responded. "I don't feel that I can make such a guarantee as each day of this shutdown goes by. I'm very concerned about the jeopardy to the country because of this."
If the nation is in jeopardy, though, it's difficult to believe that Clapper was unable to keep more people on board — a question that Grassley also asked. "Sir, we're gonna look at that," Clapper responded. He then clarified that his office was constantly monitoring the situation to determine who needs to stay at work. But he also noted that unlike plenty of other US agencies, intelligence organizations can lean on non-furloughed military staff. Early on, Clapper said, the NSA told civilian staffers to go home while keeping military ones on, but "over time, that condition cannot continue."
Neither Clapper nor Turner elaborated on who exactly was furloughed. It's possible many were administrative workers, who are important in the long term but not directly involved in collecting data. It's likely at least a few were in charge of updating intelligence agency websites. But it does suggest that the intelligence community isn't exempt from being considered "non-essential," despite warnings to the contrary.
A businessman walking through the East Side of Manhattan Monday was startled when a three pound helicopter drone crash landed a few feet from him. The man recovered a memory card from the downed craft and passed it along to a local ABC News station, which broke the story of the accident this afternoon.
The man, concerned that he could have been injured by the falling drone, contacted local police, who told him that no law had been broken and did not pursue the pilot. FAA rules state, however, that hobbyist drones must fly below 400 feet and keep away from airports and heavily populated areas like city streets. The Verge contacted FAA spokesman Les Dorr, but reached the following voicemail message: "I am out of the office due to a lapse in funding. Please call back after news reports advise a resumption of services for all federal agencies."
Chris Anderson, founder of the drone company 3D Robotics and the online community for enthusiasts, DIY Drones, confirmed that this kind of flight was illegal. "The FAA has very clear guidelines on this, and such flying over built up areas is clearly in violation of those rules (and has been for decades)," said Anderson. "One of the things we created DIY Drones for was to inform people about such regulations and principles of responsible flight. But clearly the message needs to get out better."
The Verge has also reached out the NYPD for comment.
With news that Silk Road has been taken down by the FBI for providing "several thousand drug dealers" the opportunity to sell "hundreds of kilograms of illegal drugs," it might surprise you to learn that a well-established site, Topix.com, has served as an illegal drug marketplace for years. As an example, look at one of the Topix.com forums devoted to buying and selling OxyContin, Roxicodone, Oxycodone, and heroin. Buyers and sellers operate freely there. And with a few additional searches on Topix, you’ll find opportunities to buy LSD, cocaine, pot, ketamine, Adderall, MDMA, and pretty much any other drug you might want, illegal or not.
This revelation came as a shock to Steven and Lauren Witkoff. They're the parents of Andrew, a 22-year-old who died of an Oxycontin overdose in 2011. His story is a sad but predictable one. He had been in Los Angeles for in-patient rehab related to a drug addiction. He graduated to a halfway house. He was living among sober companions but no one monitored his internet traffic. He did a quick Google search for "Where to buy Oxycodone Los Angeles" and landed in a Topix forum, which was the number one Google result. He responded to a thread — "Los Angeles, help me out! F2F looking!!!" Within a matter of hours, by the evening of August 12th, 2011, he had the drugs in his hands. He was dead two days later.
Within a matter of hours, he had the drugs in his hands
On August 12th, 2013 — on the two year anniversary of Andrew’s F2F request — his parents filed a civil lawsuit against Topix in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. The lawsuit claims that the company perpetuated "a public nuisance" by allowing drug sales to happen openly on the site. The lawsuit says Topix operates a "drug bazaar," and that its inability to monitor and halt illegal drug activity resulted in the wrongful death of their son. They’re asking for unspecified damages.
What makes this case interesting is that it’s not supposed to happen. The reason companies such as eBay, YouTube, Craigslist, and Backpage.com — which has had its own trouble with illicit user-generated content — aren’t constantly in violation of criminal and civil laws is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. It’s only about 800 words of convoluted policy, but it’s considered by many to be the most important Internet law in the US. The gist is that companies can’t be held responsible for what their users post.
Can Topix be held responsible for what its users post?
Bob Gold, one of the attorneys representing the Witkoffs, isn’t blind to all that. He knows that people might view this lawsuit as being moot — an attempt to extract money from a corporation in a way that’s seemingly in opposition to federal law. But he makes a few interesting points. First of all, he claims that the kinds of blatant drug sales that happen on Topix violate a California law prohibiting "nuisances" such as "the illegal sale of controlled substances." Secondly — and because of Topix's alleged violation of that nuisance law — he says that Topix's offenses aren't covered by Section 230. Or at least that they should prompt some reconsideration about Section 230’s validity.
That second point is a bit dubious. Section 230 states, "Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent any State from enforcing any State law that is consistent with this section" and that "no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section" — suggesting that the federal law is the law of the land and no states can supercede it with their own laws. But if a judge in the Los Angeles Superior Court is sympathetic to the Witkoffs, it could be a ground-breaking case that forces companies to rethink the way they handle user-generated content.
"How difficult would it be," he asks rhetorically, "for a company to set up a software monitoring system to identify when Oxycontin, heroin, cocaine and whatever else are being sold?" He answers his own question: "Not prohibitively difficult, is the answer."
He goes on: "[Section 230] was written at a time when such monitoring software wasn't available. Today — as we know from NSA leaks — it is. So why shouldn't we hold companies like Topix liable for doing what they know they're doing, which is: allowing anyone to buy and sell illegal drugs on the web."
"There is a monitoring system already in place: it's called the police."
Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University who oversees the school’s High Tech Law Institute and blogs frequently about internet cases such as this one, categorizes Gold’s argument as silly, if not dangerous to everything we’ve come to expect about free speech on the web.
"To the extent selling [illegal drugs on topix.com] is illegal, there is a monitoring system already in place: it's called the police, who can read publicly posted ads just like everyone else, and they can and do use ads for illegal drugs as investigation leads," he says.
But what about Gold’s assertion that improved "monitoring software" might invalidate Section 230? "I can't imagine [Gold] is arguing that ads for illegal drugs can be magically erased simply by deploying dumb word filters," Goldman says. "After all, they are called ‘dumb’ word filters for a reason: it's trivially easy to get around them, and they often overblock legitimate discussions. Most of us learned that lesson in the 1990s. My favorite early example was the situation when a software program filtered the White House website because it had a discussion about breast cancer."
Another aspect of this discussion is that sites can be held responsible under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, or DMCA, if their users post copyrighted material. But as long as the site establishes "notice-and-takedown" procedures — and complies with requests to take down copyrighted material — they’re protected and can avoid prosecution. The understanding being that legitimate sites will do whatever possible to comply with requests to take down illegal material when it’s noticed. That’s where Silk Road went wrong, according to the criminal complaint against its purported creator, Ross William Ulbricht. In creating Silk Road, Ulbricht "deliberately set out to establish an online criminal marketplace outside the reach of law enforcement or governmental regulation," the complaint reads.
Topix, on the other hand, does everything it can to be compliant with government agencies.
Topix hosts more than 100,000 comments every day
Jonathan Ward, Topix’s director of community, points out that the site hosts more than 100,000 comments every day, and while they filter for certain keywords — mostly involving hate speech and threats of violence — they’re limited in what they can do. Ward offered an example: he says someone in a small-town forum discussion last week announced an intention to "shoot up a school."
"We have mechanisms in place to try to catch when things like that happen," Ward says. He noted that there are "report abuse" buttons beside every post (which send "thousands of alerts" to Topix offices every day), and, on top of that, they’ve set up a special system for members of law enforcement. That’s how last week’s shooting threat was addressed.
"Very early in the morning," Ward says, "we received a report from the local police in that small town, saying, ‘Hey, someone’s made this post, and we’re taking this seriously. Could you please work with us?’" Topix has an employee hired specifically to work with law enforcement. That person provided location information for the person who made the threat. The school was shut down for the day and, Ward says, the person who made the threat was apprehended.
"Even though this could’ve been like some kid calling in a bomb threat to get the day off school, we take it very seriously and address it when we’re aware of it," Ward says.
Goldman says that’s what companies such as Topix should be doing. And it’s also the best option for keeping our rights of free speech intact on the web.
"Congress has made the ground rules for the Internet very clear."
"In the end, Congress has made the ground rules for the internet very clear," he says. "The federal government can prosecute crimes [committed by individuals] without regard to Section 230," but the sites hosting user-generated content "are not liable for allowing third parties to publish content."
"We might debate the policy merits of that conclusion, but I don't think a bogus and obviously preempted lawsuit does much to advance that debate."