All posts in “Tech News”

Google’s taking another big step to stop the spread of fake news

The internet is filled with too many fake news websites — not the ones Donald Trump keeps falsely accusing, but real sources of provably false information — and Google’s taking another step to stop this garbage from misleading people.

The tech giant is now blocking websites from showing up in search results on Google News when they mask their country of origin.

Per the company’s newly updated guidelines, content that will be displayed on Google News must abide by the following:

Sites included in Google News must not misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about their ownership or primary purpose, or engage in coordinated activity to mislead users. This includes, but isn’t limited to, sites that misrepresent or conceal their country of origin or are directed at users in another country under false premises.

The change may seem small, but it will have wide-ranging impact. By not including websites that mask their country of origin, Google is effectively burying fake news and reducing its chances of spreading.

Publications that willingly spread false information have been blamed for helping elect Trump. In a perfect world, people would only get their news from reputable sources, but as we all know too well, social media — especially Facebook — has made it challenging for even the sharpest readers to distinguish between what’s real and what’s false.

Google’s new war on dishonest websites should greatly help to curb the spread of actual fake news. For example, Russian publications operated by propagandists who write fake U.S. news and distribute it as if they’re legitimate American publications will have diminished online reach.

The move is not surprising considering how Google’s search engine is a primary source of news access for many people on the internet. While Google Search is, fundamentally, merely a conduit through which information flows, the company’s massive reach means it shares in the responsibilities of helping to distribute — and curate, when it comes to weeding out dishonest sources — the news.

It’s not going to happen overnight, but this new measure, along with other new features such as “Fact Check,” is a step in the right direction if Google still wants to uphold its mission statement to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” (emphasis ours)

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Explore ancient civilizations (and their diseases) in this delightful coloring book

A coloring book starring prehistoric tooth extractions, plague rats, and ancient colon contents could be just the right stress reliever for this holiday season. Coloring books are supposed to be soothing — but this one is also scientifically accurate.

Called Adventures in Archaeological Science,” the 12-page book delves into what microbial archaeologist Christina Warinner calls the “archaeology of the invisible”. Warinner, the book’s editor, investigates how tiny microbes like bacteria have shaped human health over time. She studies the gunk still caught between the teeth left in human skulls, ancient poop, and the leftover streaks of food still coating prehistoric pots. So you’ll find a gap-toothed skull and plenty of bacteria, like the ones that cause plague and leprosy.

Credit: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

The coloring book is the product of a two-week workshop on digital illustration that Warinner and her colleague Jessica Hendy taught at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. Each student in the course designed and illustrated a page, and Warinner and Hendy added the finishing touches. Right now, the book is available for free as a PDF in English, German, and Spanish. But more translations are on their way, including Chinese, Nahuatl, Italian, and Mongolian.

Its purpose is to inspire the next generation of archaeological scientists, Warinner says. “Human history belongs to all of us, and the research and discoveries we feature in the book have taken place all over the world,” she writes in an email to The Verge.

But you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy coloring an arc of disembodied teeth. Beyond the soothing exercise, the coloring book is comforting in another way: it’s a reminder that even after past peoples have disappeared, scientists can still learn about them from the traces that remain — stuck between teeth, and lodged in ancient poop. Happy holidays.

Credit: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Meet the unfortunate DJ who shares a name with the FCC’s Ajit Pai

About two months ago, Ajit Pai, a 42-year-old DJ in Goa, India, noticed a puzzling comment on his Instagram. It was abusive, but without any clear reason. The next day, more strange comments began to appear on his account. Some included the hashtag #netneutrality. Finally, it clicked. They were looking for Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai.

Pai first learned that he shared a name with the chairman six months ago, but it had never been a problem until that comment. Last week, as the FCC vote to remove established net neutrality rules became a national controversy, Pai suddenly found himself at the center of the public’s rage about losing access to an unregulated internet.

“I’ve been getting death [threats] and abusive calls the whole night, since we are 10 and half hours ahead of your time [in India],” he tells The Verge via email. “My mailbox on www.ajitpai.com is flooded and I need to make my admin empty it out every two days. I can’t even count the amount of mentions and comments I get every day.”

Pai, to his credit, is handling the abuse graciously. “Well, knowing this hate wasn’t actually meant for me, I was OK with the wrong tags,” he says. “I still reply many times and then people realize it’s not the same person, so they’re apologetic, some of them continue the rage anyways.” Sometimes he tried to redirect the commenters, tagging the correct Aji Pai that they were looking for. “But I couldn’t keep up with the number of posts and soon gave up.”

He isn’t the first person to be confused on social media with a more vitriolic figure who shares the same name. After Vice’s documentary on Charlottesville, people began attacking Halt and Catch Fire creator Christoper Cantwell after confusing him with the crying neo-Nazi who participated in the Unite the Right rally. The two innocent parties have suffered similar fates — extreme abuse by the masses over a case of mistaken identity — and they won’t be the last. No one should violently harass anyone on social media, but it’s particularly egregious when you’ve got the wrong person. In Pai’s case, a sort of guardian angel appeared, a social user under the tag @sigterm_.

“He wanted to help me,” Pai says. @sigterm_, a vocal proponent for net neutrality, wanted to make sure that the comments Pai was getting made their way to the right person. “He said to me he [has] my back,” the DJ says. “I don’t know what he did exactly but from that day on, every comment on any of my posts was given a reply by some people unknown to me, saying this was the wrong guy and gave them the correct ID of the FCC chairman. I don’t even know if they’re people for real or bots on a command. But from that day on I’ve been more relaxed and there is a whole army replying to every wrong tag on my posts.”

Pai feels strongly about net neutrality and remains stoutly in support of it. He says that India experienced a similar situation last year at the hands of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

“They came up with the same stupid plan for India too and the whole country protested the exact same way,” he says. “Repealing net neutrality is like taking away the opportunities from the less privileged independent online entrepreneurs, knowledge seekers and giving only the corporates and wealthy the edge in business and education too. That’s kinda undemocratic and unfair.” He likens the role of the internet in the modern world to oxygen. “No one has the right to differentiate between who should be allowed to breathe more or breathe less.”

Pai may never have the chance to speak with the FCC chairman, but he has some strong words for him nonetheless. “If the inventors of the internet never kept a patent, or any kind of control nor rights for themselves over their invention, and gave it to the world for free … not you, neither any greedy politician nor any over-ambitious corporate has the right to control its flow,” he says.

The Elecjet AnyWatt is a great but sketchy USB-C MacBook dongle

Dongles are, as a general rule, terrible. Using them is bad, losing them is bad, from a design perspective they look bad — even the word “dongle” just sounds bad.

But for the past few weeks, I’ve been trying out Elecjet’s AnyWatt dongle — and it might just be good.

What is it?

The AnyWatt was a Kickstarter from earlier this year, but it’s actually shipping now for anyone who missed the campaign. It’s a dongle, designed (like many dongles are) for users who have made the jump to a USB-C device but still want to use their old cables. But the Anywatt isn’t for USB cables — it converts older laptop chargers into a spare charger for your newer devices.

The final version is a little more streamlined than the original, chunkier plastic one promised on the site and it comes in two models: one designed for Windows chargers (with an array of, you guessed it, more swappable dongles to make the various plugs match up) and one for Macs — specifically, one with Apple’s MagSafe adapter.

The good

The AnyWatt has a solid metal case that feels remarkably sturdy for a dongle. It also does what it says on the can, which is charge stuff, and none of my gadgets have burst into flames or exploded yet, so we’ll call that a win.

It outputs at a maximum of 60W, automatically adapts the voltage and current to offer the best charging experience, and it even supports USB-C PD. In theory, you plug in your MacBook charger and you get a USB-C charger that can charge basically anything. If you’re someone who’s made the jump to a newer MacBook Pro or other USB-C laptop and still have your old charger around, it’s a good way to get a spare on the cheap. Plus, if you’re someone who dislikes the fact that USB-C doesn’t automatically disconnect like MagSafe does, it’s also a hacky workaround to get that functionality back.

But the AnyWatt is just as appealing for someone like me, who doesn’t have a USB-C laptop but does have a bunch of USB-C gadgets I want to be able to charge. Crucially, the AnyWatt let me continue to play Mario Odyssey when I was visiting home for Thanksgiving weekend and forgot my Switch charger, which is also pretty large and bulky.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

The bad

Remember that part where Apple doesn’t let people make licensed MagSafe charging things? Well, this is an unlicensed MagSafe charging thing. Add into that concerns over bad USB-C chargers, and it’s entirely possible that using the AnyWatt is a recipe for the kind of disaster I usually spend a lot of time warning you all to avoid when I write about this stuff.

Again, nothing bad has happened yet, but I can’t say that possibility hasn’t occurred to me.

Should you buy it?

Look, I really like the idea of the AnyWatt, especially when it comes to the MagSafe part of things. And at $23.99, it’s relatively cheap for the benefits it gives.

But the lack of any official sign off does have me a little concerned, especially with the already significant potential of things going wrong with USB-C. But if you’re willing to take the gamble, it’s definitely the best dongle I’ve used all year, at least conceptually.

Bright: All the trailers and commentary for Netflix’s biggest film to date

Streaming on December 22nd

Contributors:

Netflix is about to launch its biggest film to date: Bright. Directed by Suicide Squad’s David Ayer and starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, this fantasy adventure is set in a modern-looking world where humans live alongside creatures such as Orcs and Elves live alongside humans.

Will Smith plays a human cop, in the film, while Joel Edgerton plays his orc counterpart. While they’re on the job, they come across an amazing find: a magic wand that grants wishes, a sort of nuclear bomb of this fantasy world. Needless to say, there’s a lot of people who will do anything to get their hands on it.

While the film itself looks like action-packed, blockbuster material, it’s a clear indication that Netflix is setting its sights high in Hollywood. While the streaming service has made a name for itself with shows such as House of Cards and Stranger Things, it has begun wading into the movie market with films like Beasts of No Nation, where it faces competition from theater chains.

Bright begins streaming on December 22nd.