Canadian charged in Yahoo hacking case to plead guilty in U.S.

(Reuters) – A Canadian accused by the United States of helping Russian intelligence agents break into email accounts as part of a massive 2014 breach of Yahoo accounts is expected to plead guilty next week, according to court records.

A photo illustration shows a Yahoo logo on a smartphone in front of a displayed cyber code and keyboard on December 15, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Karim Baratov, who earlier this year waived his right to fight a U.S. request for his extradition from Canada, is scheduled to appear in federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday for the plea hearing, according to a court calendar seen on Friday.

Baratov, a 22-year-old Canadian citizen born in Kazakhstan, was arrested in Canada in March at the request of U.S. prosecutors. He later waived his right to fight a request for his extradition to the United States.

Andrew Mancilla, Baratov’s lawyer, declined to comment. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco did not respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Justice Department announced charges in March against Baratov and three other men, including two officers in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), for their roles in the 2014 theft of 500 million Yahoo accounts.

Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N), the largest U.S. wireless operator, acquired most of Yahoo Inc’s assets in June.

Prosecutors said that the FSB officers, Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, directed and paid hackers to obtain information and used Alexsey Belan, who is among the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most-wanted cyber criminals, to breach Yahoo.

When the FSB officers learned that a target had a non-Yahoo webmail account, including through information obtained from the Yahoo hack, they worked with Baratov, who was who paid to break into at least 80 email accounts, prosecutors said.

The individuals associated with the accounts they sought to access included Russian officials, the chief executive of a metals company and a prominent banker, according to the indictment.

At least 50 of the accounts Baratov targeted were hosted by Google, the indictment said.

Tuesday’s proceedings before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria are scheduled as a “change of plea” hearing.

Baratov, the only person arrested to date in the case, previously in August pleaded not guilty to conspiring to commit computer fraud, conspiring to commit access device fraud, conspiring to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Tom Brown

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

U.S. online sales surge, shoppers throng stores on Thanksgiving evening

(Reuters) – U.S. shoppers had splurged more than $1.52 billion online by Thanksgiving evening, and more bargain hunters turned up at stores this year after two weak holiday seasons as retailers opened their doors early on the eve of Black Friday.

A customer loads her shopping cart during the Black Friday sales event on Thanksgiving Day at Target in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. November 23, 2017. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

At the start of the holiday season consumer spending rose 16.8 percent year-over-year until 5 p.m. ET on Thursday, according to Adobe Analytics, which tracked 80 percent of online transactions at the top 100 U.S. retailers.

Surging online sales and a shift away from store shopping have thinned the crowds typically seen at stores on Thanksgiving evening and the day after, Black Friday, for the past two years. But a strong labor market, rising home prices and stock markets at record highs have improved shopper appetite this year.

Crowds at stores in many locations around the country were reported to be strong, according to analysts and retail consultants monitoring shopper traffic across the U.S.

“The turnout is clearly better than the last couple of years,” said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners. “The parking lots are full and the outlet malls are busy.”

The retail consultancy has 20 members studying customer traffic in different parts of the country.

Moody’s retail analyst Charlie O’ Shea, who was in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, reported healthy traffic at local stores including consumer electronics chain Best Buy, clothing store Old Navy and retailer Kohl’s Corp.

“The weather is cooperating and people here are out,” he said.

Customers shop during the Black Friday sales event on Thanksgiving Day at Target in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., November 23, 2017. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

The National Retail Federation is projecting that sales for November and December will rise 3.6 percent to 4 percent this year, versus a 4 percent increase last year. Non-store sales, which include online sales and those from kiosks, are expected to rise 11 percent-15 percent to about $140 billion.

In New Jersey, around 50 people lined up a Macy’s at the Westfield Garden State Plaza mall before it opened and around 200 people stood outside the Best Buy store, many to pick up their online orders.

Slideshow (9 Images)

“Me and my husband have a bigger place and we need a bigger TV for the living room,” said Jenipher Gomes, who bought a 50-inch Samsung TV at Best Buy for $399.99. Shopper Hammad Farooq said he waited at the store for an hour to shop for laptops and monitors.

In Chicago, shoppers appeared to be slightly less enthusiastic to emerge from their turkey slumber and crowds were thin along the city’s popular shopping destination, State Street.

“There’s a few more people than normal but I wouldn’t call this crowded at all,” Deloitte auditor Eugenia Liew said as she shopped at discount retailer Target. “I expected a lot more people.”

The holiday season spanning November and December is crucial for retailers because it can account for as much as 40 percent of annual sales. Retailers try to attract shoppers with deep discounts.

Average discounts ranged between 10 and 16 percent with the best deals online on Thanksgiving evening available for computers, sporting goods, apparel and video games, according to date from Adobe.

The number of customers shopping on their smartphones surged, accounting for 46 percent of the traffic on retail websites, while traffic from desktop and laptop computers declined 11 percent and nearly 6 percent respectively, according to the data.

Reporting by Richa Naidu in Chicago and Nandita Bose in West Hartford, Connecticut; Additional reporting by Jenna Zucker in New Jersey; Editing by Susan Thomas

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Uber's messy data breach collides with launch of SoftBank deal

TORONTO/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A newspaper advertisement for an Uber Technologies Inc stock sale was juxtaposed on Wednesday with a report that the ride-service provider had covered up a data hack – something of a metaphor for Uber, a company with boundless investor interest, but whose penchant for rule-breaking has led to a series of scandals.

FILE PHOTO: A photo illustration shows the Uber app on a mobile telephone, as it is held up for a posed photograph, in London, Britain November 10, 2017. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo

The stock sale advertised in the New York Times will enable Uber [UBER.UL] investors to sell their shares to Japanese investor SoftBank, a critical deal for the company whose problems included building software to spy on competitors and to evade regulators and being investigated in Asia for paying bribes.

Uber on Tuesday said that it had paid hackers $100,000 to destroy data on more than 57 million customers and drivers that was stolen from the company – and decided under the previous CEO Travis Kalanick not to report the matter to victims or authorities. Uber was first hacked in October 2016 and discovered the data breach the following month.

Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi, who took the helm in August with the mission of turning around the company and overhauling its culture, acknowledged in a blog that Uber had erred in its handling of the breach. (ubr.to/2AmxlQt)

The timing of the disclosure could hardly have been worse.

The company is trying to complete a deal with SoftBank Group Corp (9984.T) in which the Japanese firm would invest as much as $10 billion for at least 14 percent of the company, mostly by buying out existing shareholders. SoftBank is advertising to find shareholders who want to sell.

Uber last month announced a preliminary deal for the SoftBank investment.

One question is whether SoftBank will now try to alter the price of the deal. One source familiar with the matter said SoftBank is planning to stick to its agreement to invest in Uber but may seek better terms. SoftBank has not yet made a final decision on whether to renegotiate, the source said.

Another question is the future of Kalanick, the co-founder who led Uber to becoming a global powerhouse but did so with aggressive and controversial tactics. He was forced out by investors in June who feared his leadership style would damage the company, although he stayed on the board and remains a significant shareholder.

A bitter battle among investors over how to resolve Uber’s problems led to a lawsuit by early investor Benchmark, which sought to oust Kalanick from any role. But a settlement was reached earlier this month to pave the way for the SoftBank deal, with Kalanick retaining his board seat and other rights.

Kalanick was made aware of the hack last November and was aware of the $100,000 payment, according to a person close to the matter. Kalanick has declined to comment. Uber did not respond to questions from Reuters on Wednesday.

MULTIPLE INVESTIGATIONS, LAWSUITS

The scope of the repercussions Uber will face for the October 2016 data breach began to take shape Wednesday with governments around the world opening investigations.

Authorities in Britain, Australia and the Philippines said they would investigate Uber’s response to the data breach. London’s transport regulator, which has been in discussions with Uber after stripping it of its license to operate, said it was pressing Uber for details.

Canada’s privacy watchdog said that it had asked Uber for details on the breach, though it had not launched a formal investigation.

Attorneys general offices in at least six U.S. states along with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have announced they are looking into the matter. Some states are likely to go after Uber for breaking laws on data breach notification within a reasonable period of time.

At least two class action lawsuits have been filed against the company in the United States for failing to disclose the data breaches and causing potential harm to consumers.

Uber said that it has been in touch with the FTC and several states to discuss a hack and pledged to cooperate.

Legal experts said the company is likely to face limited financial fallout from data-breach lawsuits. Uber might succeed in squelching them outright because its agreements with both customers and drivers call for mandatory arbitration of disputes.

Uber fired its chief security officer, Joe Sullivan, and a deputy, Craig Clark, over their role in handling the hack.

The board of directors had commissioned an investigation into Sullivan and his team, which is how the breach was discovered. The board committee concluded that neither Kalanick nor Salle Yoo, who was general counsel at the time, had been consulted in the company’s response to the breach, according to a second person familiar with the matter.

It is unclear what the board of directors knew, if anything. Multiple board members did not respond to requests for comment.

“The scope of this breach is something the Uber board should have been briefed about and consulted on at the very least,” said Cynthia Clark, an associate professor of management at Bentley University. “It’s a monitoring issue and one of strategy and reputation.”

Clark said that these sorts of risks could affect Uber’s IPO, which the board has agreed will take place in 2019.

The company has begun overhauling its security practices with help from Matt Olsen, former general counsel of the U.S. National Security Agency and director of the National Counterterrorism Center, CEO Khosrwoshahi said.

Uber in August settled with the FTC after the regulator found the company failed to protect the personal information of passengers and drivers, an agreement that requires 20 years of regular auditing of Uber’s data.

After this week’s disclosures, Uber can expect “more audits and more people inside of the company” from regulators, said cyber security attorney Steven Rubin.

Reporting by Jim Finkle in Toronto and Heather Somerville in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington, Greg Roumeliotis in New York and Alastair Sharp in Toronto.; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Grant McCool

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Multiple Insiders Buying General Electric, Signaling Buy

Over the last three trading sessions, multiple insiders have been following CEO John Flannery by buying General Electric’s (NYSE:GE) beaten down shares around the $18 level. Yesterday’s after-hours announcement that two more insiders bought GE at a six-year low is yet another positive sign that many inside the company feel it is undervalued.

For those of you new to investing, a Form 4 is a SEC document that reflects insider transactions within a security. When insiders believe a stock is undervalued, they will step into the market and buy the shares. Here are the Form 4s filed for yesterday. The first one is by Vice President Jan Hauser who purchased 55,000 shares for $18.21 or just over $1M. They were bought at the close on Friday at the low for the day.

The second form was filed by Francisco D’Souza, co-founder of Cognizant and a director at GE. His shares were purchased yesterday in a retest of the $18 level at $17.94. He bought 55,000 shares for $986,700.

Should You Follow These Insiders and Buy?

I look forward to the comments from readers about these additional insider buys. Some will say yes this is an excellent time as the company is trading at lows not seen since 2011; others will say it is just a drop in the bucket, it means nothing and there is more downside to come. No matter what your view, there will be another investor to disagree, this is what makes a market.

GE being sued over Fukishima

Yesterday I woke up to Seeking alpha breakfast news and saw that GE is in a $500M lawsuit over Fukishima and the accident caused by the terrible earthquake and tsunami that caused so much devastation years ago in Japan. I would not sell any shares because of this event. This is only my opinion, which means very little in the world of investing.

Whatever the outcome, it will take years in court and a $500M lawsuit is peanuts in the scheme of things. The company has already lost nearly half of its market value this year.

Catch-up trade?

There is no doubt that GE is the “dog of the Dow” this year, but that could soon be about to change. The divergence in the charts is massive, which leads me to believe in a catch up trade or reversion trade to the mean.

Source: Google Finance

Interested investors can see the divergence between GE and the Dow Jones average showing nearly 60% divergence. In my opinion, that will have to reverse and I don’t see the economy falling off a cliff with tax reform in the Senate.

Time for a year-end rally or continued tax selling?

Many important questions here that will be answered over time. From the chart above one could easily see the potential for a reversion rally. The next few weeks will be very interesting as CEO Flannery cleans house and rallies the troops around a better future.

There will likely be more tax harvesting and there could be some further pressure to the downside. I remain convicted that any weakness from this level is a clear opportunity for large gains going forward. Sentiment can change in an instant and I believe that we will soon hear of other titans taking a big position in GE very near this level.

This will be a trough year for earnings so it will take some patience, however I believe in six to 18 months, investors that are buying today will be well rewarded for taking on the risk.

50% of GE board leaving

GE is replacing half of its board and going from 18 directors to 12. This is welcome news to me as an over bloated board is not in the best interest of shareholders. Cramer recently said that they all belong on the wall of shame and I, for one, totally agree. The push is to have people in there that have digital experience to drive the company forward. While the market is not currently appreciating Flannery’s moves, it is clearly the right thing for the company.

Retesting last weeks $17.47 low

Today’s trading activity will be interesting as the stock broke back through the $18 level yesterday. Will these recent insider buys give investors more confidence, or will Mr. Market and the fear trade take hold of investors sending the stock lower? If yesterday’s low holds it could be off to the races, the market will be the judge.

I recently wrote an article about Flannery buying $1M of stock last Friday. I received over 110 comments with all types of price targets and ideas. I appreciate all of the feedback and viewpoints as it is a good barometer of sentiment. One thing I can share with you is sentiment is pretty bad and many are expecting lower prices. These are some of the signs I look for when buying a stock in capitulation.

Conclusion

Over the last three trading sessions, multiple insiders are buying significant amounts of GE stock near and around the $18 level. I look for more insider buys as the stock tests the lows of last Tuesday. I do not know if $17.47 will hold, but I like the stock long term and will be buying any type of capitulation from here.

As always, investors should do their own homework and have an exit strategy in place before making any trade.

Disclosure: I am/we are long GE, LYG.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Meg Whitman stepping down as HP Enterprise CEO

(Reuters) – Meg Whitman on Tuesday announced that she will step down as chief executive of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co (HPE.N), ending a 6-year tenure that included overseeing one of the biggest corporate breakups in history.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman is seen following an interview on CNBC on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Shares of HPE fell more than 6 percent in after-hours trading. Hewlett Packard Enterprises, known for its computer servers, is still adjusting to a new landscape in which corporate customers are placing more of their digital operations in the cloud and moving away from purchasing their own equipment.

Whitman, one of the most powerful women in U.S. business and a former candidate for California governor, split Hewlett Packard Co into HPE and PC-and-printer business HP Inc (HPQ.N) in 2015 as part of a plan to turn around the large corporation. She aggressively shed assets and cut tens of thousand of jobs as HPE sharpened its focus on server and networking businesses.

Taking over for Whitman in February will be Antonio Neri, a relatively unknown HP executive who has been with the company for nearly a quarter century and currently serves as HPE’s president. Neri is a trained computer engineer and has worked in every one of HPE’s businesses, Whitman said during the company’s earnings call on Tuesday. Neri did not speak on the call.

“We have a much smaller, much nimbler, much more focused company,” Whitman said during the call after Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi said the move felt abrupt. “I think it is absolutely the right time for Antonio and a new generation of leaders to take the reins.”

Neri will join HPE’s board of directors and Whitman will remain on the board as well.

Whitman’s retooling of HPE included September’s spin off of HPE’s enterprise services and software business to British software company MicroFocus International Plc (MCRO.L) and acquired companies, including Aruba and Nimble Storage. This month, HPE announced it is selling its Palo Alto, California, headquarters, which the company has held for six decades.

Shares of HPE have risen nearly 47 percent since the split up, outpacing the 27.8 percent rise in the S&P 500 index .SPX during the same period. Whitman is leaving just as it is time for an executive with technical prowess to come in and retool the company’s offerings, said Ilya Kundozerov, equity analyst with Morningstar.

”HPE is more focused and more agile than ever before,“ Kundozerov said. ”A CEO with tech background can help HPE to improve its innovative edge.”

Whitman, who previously headed eBay Inc (EBAY.O), was reported to have been a leading candidate for chief executive job at Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] before it was given to Dara Khosrowshahi.

An undated handout photo of Antonio Neri. REUTERS/Hewlett Packard Enterprise/Handout

Whitman ran unsuccessfully for California governor in 2010, and she has served on the presidential campaigns of Republican former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. She endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

She stepped down from the board of HP Inc in July and joined the board of Dropbox in September. Whitman said on Tuesday’s earnings call that she is “going to take a little downtime, but there’s no chance I’m going to a competitor.”

She told Reuters that she is not preparing another run for public office.

”I stay active in politics by contributing to candidates from both sides of the aisle who I agree with on core issues, but aside from that, I have no plans to get involved directly,” Whitman said in a statement.

Although Whitman is one of the most prominent executives in Silicon Valley, with a career that spans startups and older businesses, she is not a household name in California, despite her run for governor, said Elliott Suthers, senior vice president with Grayling public communications and communications and media adviser for the McCain/Palin 2008 presidential campaign.

”To run against a relatively popular incumbent like [Sen. Dianne Feinstein] she’d need to spend record amounts to get within striking distance,” Suthers said. “Outside of Silicon Valley, she’s still a largely unknown quantity. Voters have a pretty short memory and her positions have undoubtedly shifted since 2010.”

Separately, the company reported net income of $524 million, or 32 cents per share, for the fourth quarter ended Oct. 31, compared with $302 million, or 18 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, it reported earnings of 31 cents per share.

Revenue rose 4.6 percent to $7.66 billion.

Analysts were expecting fourth-quarter profit of 28 cents per share on revenue of $7.78 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Reporting by Salvador Rodriguez in San Francisco and Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru. Additional reporting by Akankshita Mukhopadhyay and Arjun Panchadar in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva, Peter Henderson and Grant McCool

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Stopping Robocalls Will Soon Be Easier Than Ever

You probably get robocalls all the time. Some pretend to be from the IRS, others come from a phone number very similar to yours. And then there’s the rash of free airline tickets/problem with your credit card/complete this short survey intrusions. If it feels like they’re cropping up more than ever, you’re right. The blocking service YouMail estimates that 2.49 billion robocalls were placed to US consumers last month, marking a 4.1 percent increase over September. This translates to 80.5 million robocalls, every single day.

Telemarketer calls to landlines have plagued consumers for decades, but the rise in mobile robocalling has made the situation freshly appalling. Efforts to contain the problem, like central Do Not Call lists, have a crucial flaw: They cut down on robocalls from law-abiding groups like charities and corporations, but they don’t deter criminal scam operations. Fortunately, the Federal Communications Commission can. And it’s finally started to take some action.

Rule Intentions

Perhaps most significantly, the FCC announced new rules last week that allow telephony providers to block some connections that are likely robocalls before they ever to get to customers—a proactive step meant to have a dramatic impact on total completed robocalls. But while consumer advocates praise the move, they caution that it won’t singlehandedly solve the robocalling crisis.

“It’s a worthwhile thing to be doing, but it’s not the be all and end all,” says Jim McEachern, a senior technology consultant at the communication industry standards body ATIS. “The catch is that if you start blocking numbers that have [certain properties], then the robocallers will just spoof different numbers.”

The FCC approved telecom companies to block calls from invalid numbers (like ones with a fake area code), numbers that aren’t linked to a service provider, numbers that aren’t currently claimed, and numbers that are only set up to receive calls not make them. This will cut down on a lot of scam robocalls at first, but attackers will probably evolve to get around the limitations. ATIS’s McEachern notes that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has already had similar rules in place for years that have helped, but far from eliminated the robocalling issue.

On Thursday, the FCC also nodded to the possibility that the new rules could lead to some situations where legitimate calls get blocked along with the malicious ones. The “Report and Order encourages voice service providers that elect to block calls to establish a simple way to identify and fix blocking errors,” the agency said. And though the FCC Commissioners unanimously approved the new rules, some opposed the provision that telecoms will be allowed to charge customers for the call blocking services. “It’s a good thing that this agency is taking action,” Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement on Thursday. “But then [it] makes sure you can pay for the privilege. … It’s an insult to consumers who are fed up with these nuisance calls.” Verizon has been charging $3 per month for a robocall blocking service since June, but other companies like T-Mobile and AT&T have so far offered blocking services for free.

Some consumer advocates also worry that the focus on blocking nefarious robocalls could take precedent over securing and strengthening protections for consumers against other types of tormenting calls. “The Commission seems to be talking about unwanted robocalls pretty much exclusively as just the fraud robocalls, but there are as many or more unwanted robocalls that are made by banks or debt collectors or other financial institutions,” says Margot Saunders, senior counsel at the National Consumer Law Center. “There’s a big fight, and there have been a number of petitions filed to the Commission, over whether [financial institutions] should be allowed to make these calls without consent or not stop calling after the consumer says stop calling.”

Still, Saunders says that the National Consumer Law Center, which has been working on anti-robocalling initiatives for years, supports the new FCC rules and is happy the agency is taking more aggressive action. There just isn’t a silver bullet to handling unwanted calls. “It’s a great thing, but there’s a whole lot more to do,” she says.

The FCC has also been working to tackle robocalling through regulation enforcement. In August, the agency fined Philip Roesel and his company Best Insurance Contracts, Inc. more than $82 million for making a total of 21.5 million robocalls, violating the Truth in Caller ID Act. For three months in 2016 and early 2017, Roesel and his company made more than 200,000 robocalls per day using unassigned phone numbers and spoofed caller ID information. “We will do everything in our power to put you out of business,” the FCC told robocallers after the operation.

The Agony and the FTC

The Federal Trade Commission also works to stop robocalls, and began a new information-sharing initiative with telecoms in August. Through this system, the FTC sends the specific consumer complaints it gets about Do Not Call and robocall violations to telecom companies ad call-blocking solutions so everyone has the list of flagged phone numbers the FTC is constantly collecting.

The agency has also run a series of “Robocall Challenges,” awarding thousands of dollars in prize money to projects like call-blocking apps. Popular anti-robocalling services like RoboKiller and Nomorobo both came out of the FTC challenges. Apps like these often collect blacklists of robocalling numbers to block, but many also have a mechanism to pre-answer suspicious calls before they ring for the user. By picking calls up and tracking scam hallmarks—like the voiceprint of the person in the recording, or the types of spoofing an attack uses to seemingly change its phone number—the apps can then add to their lists and expand their protection.

In an attempt to go beyond the block list model, though, ATIS has been working with the Internet Engineering Task Force on a different approach. The idea is to create interoperable standards that can be adopted by all mobile and VoIP calling services to do cryptographic digital call signing, so calls can be validated as originating from a legitimate source, and not a spoofed robocall system. The protocols, known as “STIR” and “SHAKEN,” are in industry testing right now through ATIS’s Robocalling Testbed, which has been used by companies like Sprint, AT&T, Google, Comcast, and Verizon so far.

When you initiate a normal call, your phone goes through an invisible authentication process with the network to validate it for call routing. When SHAKEN detects this verification, it signs the call at your end. The provider on the receiving end can then also use the protocol to check that the call hasn’t been manipulated or bounced around in transit. Over time, the more companies that use signature-based validation, the more conspicuous spoofed robocalling will become, making it easier to detect and block. As with any telecom project, though, interoperability and backwards compatibility are a challenge, and, for now at least, SHAKEN can’t be implemented on legacy landlines that rely on older signaling protocols. ATIS says that the testbed may shut down at the end of this year if companies are ready to start deploying the protocols, or testing may continue into 2018.

The new steps the FCC is taking to block robocalls will go a long way, but the problem is so entrenched and diverse that it will take numerous technical solutions operating behind the scenes for consumers to start experiencing fewer cheery timeshare pitches. “It’s in everyone’s interest to figure this out,” ATIS’s McEachern says. “We’re getting to the point where the consumer doesn’t trust the telephone network, and that’s bad for everyone.”

'Justice League', Rotten Tomatoes, and DC Fans' Persecution Complex

The most recent episode of Rotten Tomatoes’ new movie-review series, See It/Skip It, opened not with a rave, nor a thumbs-down, but a semi-apology. “We’ve seen the conversations online about the Justice League Tomatometer,” co-host Jacqueline Coley told her Facebook Watch audience, “and we get it: You guys are passionate about this film. But we hope everyone understands the only thing we’re trying to do is add context and conversation around the Tomatometer, and not just give a number.”

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It was an odd, stilted start to what’s supposed to be a breezy movie-chat show (the phrase “context and conversation around the Tomatometer” sounds like something a drunken Babelfish bot might spit out). Yet it was an unavoidable one, given that Rotten Tomatoes, the review-aggregator-slash-Hollywood-agitator, had irked DC fans by withholding its Justice League score until Thursday night’s See It/Skip It premiere—even though a wave of reviews for the film had already been posted online. The move was ostensibly a ploy to get viewers to tune in for the show, yet others saw a greater villainy at work: Was Rotten Tomatoes, which is owned in part by Warner Bros., actually trying to shield the studio from an inevitably bad grade that could help kill its opening weekend?

The See It/Skip It pushback—which involved a lot of Tweet-screaming—was a reminder of just how controversial Justice League had become. Not Last Temptation of Christ-level controversial, mind you; this is a film in which one character sounds like Rockbiter while another sounds like Rockbiter with IBS, and in which everyone says the phrase “Mother Box” very gravely. There’s not much protest-worthy content in Justice League, save for Henry Cavill’s new digitally enhanced, stupor-man smile. But just as Justice League (the movie) brings together a bunch of outsiders for a single cause, Justice League (the event) assembles a raft of heated debate topics—from the vision of Zack Snyder to the power of Rotten Tomatoes to the conspiracy-needling coziness of corporate media—under one garish, hastily CGI’d umbrella. And with Justice League having earned a less-than-expected $96 million in its opening weekend, the lowest ever for a DCEU title, the movie will likely be seen as a Flash-point moment for DC movies as a whole.

First, though, a quick origin story: Justice League is the fourth DC movie to be released by Warner Bros. in just under two years, and a crucial one, as it reunites the company’s key franchise players (Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman) while also introducing a few big-screen up-and-comers (Aquaman, The Flash, Cyborg). Such a marvelous team-up collates various storylines while also serving as an excuse to spin off even more solo adventures, which the studio will release every year for the next few years and/or decades, until we finally get to Denis Villeneuve’s four-hour Mxyzptlk: The IMAXyzptlk Experience (slated for spring 2039). With so many characters and plot points to support, Justice isn’t so much a narrative exercise as it is a $300 million infrastructure project.

But there’s another reason for all the pre-release pressure on Justice League: With the exception of this summer’s Wonder Woman, the previous DC entries have all earned disappointingly low scores on Rotten Tomatoes, which in recent years has become the scorn of studio heads and DC-boosters alike. One studio executive told the New York Times that it was his mission to “destroy” RT; Martin Scorsese declared the site had “nothing to do with real film criticism”; and Brett Ratner said this spring that RT was “the worst thing we have in the movie culture.”

Ratner himself would become a quickly vanquished catastrophe a few months later, but his frustration was likely due to the fact that his production company helped finance 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which had been brutally dinged by RT’s critics (its score as of today is a v v disappointing 27 percent). That summer’s Suicide Squad didn’t fare better (it’s now at 26 percent), and even 2013’s slightly well-regarded Man of Steel could only muster a mere 55 percent. All three movies were either directed and/or co-produced by Snyder, the tableau-larding, dudes-and-broods auteur whose work is ferociously debated online; depending upon what time of day it is on Twitter, his movies are regarded as either enthrallingly grown-up, or laughably melodramatic. (Snyder is also credited as director on Justice League, although he stepped away from filming after a family tragedy, and was replaced by Avengers helmer Joss Whedon.)

For some fans, the low scores felt like a referendum not only on Snyder’s work, but the DC Extended Universe franchise as a whole—so much so, a few defenders even began to speculate as to whether Rotten Tomatoes was manipulating the DCEU data (or, at the very least, grading the reviews on a much steeper curve than the Marvel films). Such theories filled message boards and Quora discussions, and there was even a Change.org petition to shut the site down that collected more than 23,000 signatures).

Considering how some DC obsessives have reacted to the films’ bad reviews—there have been death threats in the past—the conspiracy theory is actually a somewhat measured response. Yet there is no damning, X-on-the-bench-style clue-bonanza to pore over here, aside from the reviews themselves. There’s also little in the way of motive: Why would RT want to intentionally and repeatedly crucify a franchise–especially one maintained by Warner Bros., which has held various financial stakes in the company? If RT did hold DC films to a harsher standard than Marvel films, why would movie critics acquiesce to having their opinions misrepresented? And how would the site’s anomalous 92 percent critical score for Wonder Woman play into this supposed RT v DC secret war?

The simple answer to all of these questions is that the DC Extended Universe is, even its better moments, a wobbily constructed franchise-in-flux, and that the critics have responded accordingly. Yet it’s hard not to understand why so many DC fans look at these RT scores and feel as though they’re under attack, as well. In the social-media era, the lines between our personal lives and the pop-cultural ones have been erased, and the heroes we once adored and/or doodled in private have become literal public avatars. DC fans very much do not want these movies to suck, and when their very suckitude becomes a semi-objective truth—something that can be “proven” with a measurement like the Tomatometer—it can become the Mother Box of all insults. Even if the See It/Skip It ratings-ruse wasn’t some Warner Bros.-dictated corporate maneuver (as an RT spokesperson told the Chicago Tribune), dangling the verdict in front of fans, and putting off the inevitable, felt like a misuse of power.

Which may be why, by Monday morning, another Justice League score had begun to draw attention on Rotten Tomatoes: The movie’s audience score, which collected more than 100,000 votes, and is currently standing at 85 percent. Maybe those competing numbers speak to a larger divide, and that the critics who disliked Justice League are simply unaligned with the average moviegoer (a complaint that goes back decades now, and feels as pointless as ever). Perhaps there’s a minor DC-fan counter-rebellion underway, with some users amping up their score a to send RT a message (or to encourage others to see the movie for themselves). Or maybe the future of movie discussion will simply come down to a numbers game, one in which viewers stake out a position, find the stats that seem to back it up, and stick to their own league.

IBM could be set for gains after long slump: Barron's

NEW YORK (Reuters) – International Business Machines Corp (IBM.N) could be the next blue-chip company with a rising valuation, according to a report in financial publication Barron‘s.

The logo for IBM is seen at the SIBOS banking and financial conference in Toronto, Ontario, Canada October 19, 2017. Picture taken October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Helgren – RC14185AA8E0

Some analysts expect IBM to return to growth this quarter, Barron’s said in its Nov. 20 edition.

IBM reported higher quarterly revenue from social, mobile, analytics, cloud and security technology last month, and a long decline in gross profit has slowed already, Barron’s said.

Shares are trading at about 11 times this year’s earnings forecast, well below that of the S&P 500 .SPX, Barron’s said.

Investors could get their first clear sign that IBM is turning the corner in January, when the company will probably give its 2018 outlook, the publication said.

Even with just some upbeat news, investors could make 30 percent or more over the next year, Barron’s said.

IBM’s shares shot up 8.9 percent on Oct. 18, the day after the company reported quarterly results, but have since given back most of those gains.

The stock closed on Friday at $148.97 and is down 10.3 percent for the year to date.

Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

MoviePass Drops Rates Even More – But Can It Make Money?

Movie theater subscription service MoviePass announced on Friday that it would offer a package letting subscribers go to the multiplex as often as once a day for an entire year for only $89.95 – which works out to $6.95 a month plus a small fee.

The service has been around since 2011, but attracted a huge influx of subscribers when it lowered its monthly charge to $9.95 in August. You might think MoviePass is able to offer such a good deal because it’s passing along discounts from theaters – but you’d be wrong. MoviePass pays full price for each ticket, meaning that a subscriber who goes to even two films a month is probably costing the company money. The new, even steeper rate cut signals a willingness to continue trading profit for market share as MoviePass crafts a sustainable business model.

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In the long run, MoviePass says it wants to turn losses into profits by selling subscriber data to studios and other advertisers, and cut deals to share concession stand revenue. Parent company Helios & Matheson Analytics’ stock has exploded on that premise. But despite denials from the company, it also seems likely to recalibrate prices and terms of service – the $6.95 a month deal will only be available for a limited time, suggesting this is a market test and expansion push backed up by deep pockets.

The new deal is also likely to renew theaters’ anxiety over the service. AMC Theaters has already floated the possibility of legal action, echoing the idea that MoviePass was a “shaky and unsustainable” money-losing proposition that would ultimately frustrate consumers when its prices inevitably changed. More to the point, AMC explicitly said that it “will not be able to offer discounts to MoviePass in the future, which seems to be among their aims.” The implicit plan to push down underlying ticket prices is one reason theater stocks dipped after MoviePass’s August rate cut.

But AMC doth protest too much. MoviePass is a hypothetical threat that is probably increasing attendance in the short run, while theater and studio stocks have been battered much more directly by the worst summer movie season in a decade. Under those circumstances, MoviePass’s aggressive expansion gives it increasing leverage to extract concessions (pun intended) from theaters looking to fill empty seats, but the opportunity only exists because so many movies have disappointed theatergoers. MoviePass’s CEO, in fact, has frequently referred to the service as “bad movie insurance.”

That makes MoviePass, like Rotten Tomatoes before it, a convenient scapegoat for an industry whose wounds are largely self-inflicted.

Twitter Will Ban User Ties to Violent Groups ‘Both On and Off the Platform’

Early Friday, Twitter announced changes to its policies on violent and hateful speech, some of them dramatic. Users will no longer be able to use “hateful images or symbols” in profile images or headers. And, in a step with few recent parallels, Twitter says users “may not affiliate with organizations that – whether by their own statements or activity both on and off the platform – use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes.”

The ban on violent affiliations, even when violent views aren’t promoted on Twitter itself, raises a number of questions about enforcement. Among those is whether or to what extent Twitter staff will monitor questionable groups’ behavior outside of the platform; whether only formally organized groups will be impacted; and where the line will be drawn between ‘official’ group stances and activity by group members.

Given the constantly-evolving way Twitter has enforced its existing rules, answers to those questions are only likely to be clear well after the new policies go into effect on December 18 — if ever.

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The ethical case for the new restrictions is likely straightforward to many – Twitter, along with Facebook and YouTube, have in recent years been accused of giving extremists including both Islamic terrorists and white supremacists a vast new platform. Under mounting public pressure, all three sites have taken increasingly stringent steps to limit access to extremist content or ban users who promote it.

But the business case for those moves is at least slightly more ambiguous. Earlier in its development, Twitter took an uncompromising free-speech stance, but over time it has become clear that such permissiveness bred harassment, which in turn may have alienated some users and throttled growth. By that logic, policing user affiliations could help build a larger, more mainstream user base.

On the other hand, at least some Twitter users have reveled in their ability to say whatever they wanted on the platform, for better or worse. Tighter restrictions could push away such users, and small upstarts – including the Twitter copycat Gab – are poised to poach them.

Gadget Lab Podcast: Pixel Buds, AirPods, and the Future of Ear Computers

Toshiba in talks to sell PC operations to Asus: Nikkei‍​

(Reuters) – Japanese conglomerate Toshiba Corp has entered into negotiations to sell its personal computer operations to Taiwan’s Asustek Computer Inc, the Nikkei reported on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Toshiba Corp is seen as window cleaners work on the company’s headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, February 14, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

China’s Lenovo Group Ltd has also expressed interest in the Toshiba business, according to the newspaper. (s.nikkei.com/2hysDnc)

The move is part of a larger restructuring plan by Toshiba, as it scrambles for funds to cover billions of dollars in liabilities arising from its now bankrupt U.S. nuclear unit Westinghouse.

Reporting by Karan Nagarkatti in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Chip gear maker Applied Materials posts strong results, forecast

(Reuters) – Applied Materials Inc reported better-than-expected quarterly results and gave a strong current-quarter forecast as the world’s largest supplier of tools to make semiconductors enjoys strong demand in its chip and display businesses.

The company’s shares were up about 1 percent in trading after the bell on Thursday, reversing course from a drop of nearly 2 percent immediately after the results were released.

Applied Materials has now topped analysts estimates in each quarter of the latest fiscal year, helping its shares surge about 79 percent this year, making them the fourth best performer on the Philadelphia semiconductor index.

Applied Materials, whose results are seen as a barometer for the semiconductor industry, has been benefiting from higher demand for 3D NAND memory chips from smartphone makers and the shift to organic light-emitting diode technology for displays.

Worldwide shipments of PCs, tablets and smartphones are expected to exceed 2.35 billion units in 2018, an increase of 2.0 percent from 2017, according to a report published by research firm Gartner in October. (gtnr.it/2AUZwTp)

While Applied Materials has benefited from surging sales of smartphones, it is also set to cash in on the rise of new technologies such as AI, big data, machine learning, augmented reality and autonomous driving.

“The semiconductor business has clear tailwinds around next generation areas such as AI and other parts of the tech food chain,” Daniel Ives, analyst at GBH Insights said.

The Santa Clara, California-based company forecast current-quarter adjusted earnings per share of 94 cents to $1.02 and net sales of $4.00 billion to $4.20 billion.

The forecasts were comfortably above analysts’ average estimate of a profit of 91 cents and revenue of $3.96 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company said its net income rose 61 percent to $982 million in the fourth quarter. Excluding items, it earned 93 cents per share, 2 cents above analysts’ estimates.

Total net sales rose 20.4 percent to $3.97 billion. Analysts were expecting $3.94 billion.

Sales from its display business, which caters to television, PC and smartphone makers, rose nearly 50 percent to $677 million and handily beat analysts estimates of $452 million.

“There is huge demand for new display technology, while … average screen sizes for both TVs and mobile devices are growing considerably,” Chief Executive Gary Dickerson said on a post-earnings call.

Revenue from its semiconductor business, the company’s largest, rose 14.3 percent to $2.43 billion, topping analysts’ estimate of $2.13 billion.

Reporting by Laharee Chatterjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D’Souza

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

U.S. government approaches 18 states to fight AT&T-Time Warner deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department has approached 18 state attorneys general to try to win their support for an antitrust lawsuit to block pay TV and wireless powerhouse AT&T Inc’s $85.4 billion deal to buy media and entertainment company Time Warner Inc, a person briefed on the matter said on Wednesday.

The department, conducting an antitrust review stretching more than a year, so far has failed to persuade any of the states to join a potential lawsuit, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Another source said at least one state is still considering joining the Justice Department.

The deal has become a political flashpoint because Republican President Donald Trump vowed last year as a candidate to block it and because of his frequent sharp criticism of news network CNN, owned by Time Warner, including in a new tweet on Wednesday. In talks with AT&T, the department has voiced concern that if the merger goes through, the combined company would raise costs for rival entertainment distributors and stifle innovation.

The department reached out to a group of state attorneys general — the top law enforcement officials at the state level — that earlier joined the review, the source said. State attorneys general have been assessing whether the deal could harm competition, and they interviewed industry officials this summer as part of the review, the source added.

The Justice Department declined comment on the matter.

The Justice Department could file suit on its own to try to stop the merger. Its Antitrust Division often works with states on big, complex deals to figure out how a transaction would affect them. Once the department files a complaint, it typically does the bulk of the courtroom fight, not the states.

The Justice Department has a winning record in fighting mergers in recent years. It forced AT&T to scrap a plan to buy T-Mobile USA in 2011 and last year successfully battled in court to stop two insurance industry mergers, among others.

AT&T’s share price was up slightly on Wednesday at $33.91 while Time Warner slipped about half a percent to trade at $87.23 in mid-afternoon trading.

The AT&T logo is seen on a store in Golden, Colorado United States July 25, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

ANTI-COMPETITION CONCERNS

Beyond worries over potential political influence in the department’s review, critics including Democratic lawmakers, consumer advocates and smaller television networks have raised anti-competition concerns about an AT&T-Time Warner marriage.

A screen shows the current price of Time Warner shares, above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, shortly after the opening bell in New York, U.S., November 15, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The proposed merger would give AT&T control of cable TV channels HBO and CNN, film studio Warner Bros and other coveted media assets. It has prompted concerns that AT&T might try to limit distribution of Time Warner content.

AT&T, the No. 2 U.S. wireless carrier and a major pay-TV provider, and Time Warner have struggled to keep viewers who have flocked to online services like Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc’s Prime Video.

AT&T wants to buy Time Warner so it can bundle mobile service with video entertainment and take online advertising from Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc.

Justice Department staff members have recommended that AT&T sell either its DirecTV unit or Time Warner Inc’s Turner Broadcasting unit, which includes CNN, in order to win approval of the deal, a government official said last week.

Trump, just back from a trip to Asia, attacked the news network again on Wednesday morning, writing on Twitter: “While in the Philippines I was forced to watch @CNN, which I have not done in months, and again realized how bad, and FAKE, it is. Loser!”

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday refused during congressional testimony to say whether the White House had contacted his department about its review of the deal.

Reporting by David Shepardson and Diane Bartz in Washington; Additional reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Will Dunham

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

​Linux totally dominates supercomputers

Video: US to invest $258M in supercomputer race with China

Linux rules supercomputing. This day has been coming since 1998, when Linux first appeared on the TOP500 Supercomputer list. Today, it finally happened: All 500 of the world’s fastest supercomputers are running Linux.

The last two non-Linux systems, a pair of Chinese IBM POWER computers running AIX, dropped off the November 2017 TOP500 Supercomputer list.

Overall, China now leads the supercomputing race with 202 computers to the US’ 144. China also leads the US in aggregate performance. China’s supercomputers represent 35.4 percent of the Top500’s flops, while the US trails with 29.6 percent. With an anti-science regime in charge of the government, America will only continue to see its technological lead decline.

When the first Top500 supercomputer list was compiled in June 1993, Linux was barely more than a toy. It hadn’t even adopted Tux as its mascot yet. It didn’t take long for Linux to start its march on supercomputing

In 1993/1994, at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Donald Becker and Thomas Sterling designed a Commodity Off The Shelf (COTS) supercomputer: Beowulf. Since they couldn’t afford a traditional supercomputers, they build a cluster computer made up of 16 Intel 486 DX4 processors, which were connected by channel bonded Ethernet. This Beowulf supercomputer was an instant success.

To this day, the Beowulf design remains a popular, inexpensive way of designing supercomputers. Indeed, in the latest Top500 list, 437 of the world’s fastest computers are using cluster designs that owe a debt of gratitude to Beowulf.

From when it first appeared on the Top500 in 1998, Linux was on its way to the top. Before Linux took the lead, Unix was supercomputing’s top operating system. Since 2003, the Top500 was on its way to Linux domination By 2004, Linux had taken the lead for good.

“Linux [became] the driving force behind the breakthroughs in computing power that have fueled research and technological innovation,” as reported in The Linux Foundation‘s 20 years of Top500.org supercomputer data links Linux with advances in computing performance. In other words, Linux is dominant in supercomputing, at least in part, because it is helping researchers push the limits on computing power.

This happened for two reasons: First, since most of the world’s top supercomputers are research machines built for specialized tasks, each machine is a standalone project with unique characteristics and optimization requirements. To save costs, no one wants to develop a custom operating system for each of these systems. With Linux, however, research teams can easily modify and optimize Linux’s open-source code to their one-off designs.

For example, the new Linux 4.14 enables supercomputers to use Heterogeneous Memory Management (HMM). This enables GPUs and CPUs to access a process’s shared address space. Exactly 102 of the Top500 are using now using GPU accelerator/co-processor technology. All these will perform better, thanks to HMM.

And, just as importantly, as the Linux Foundation pointed out, “The licensing cost of a custom, self-supported Linux distribution is the same, whether you’re using 20 nodes or 20-million nodes.” Thus, “by tapping into the vast open-source Linux community, projects had access to free support and developer resources to help keep developer costs on par with, or below other operating systems.”

Now that Linux has reached the apex of supercomputing, I can’t imagine it losing its leadership. It will take a hardware revolution, such as quantum computing, to shake Linux’s supercomputing grip. Of course, Linux may still since IBM developers are already working on porting Linux to quantum computers.

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