How Microsoft Edge's hidden WDAG browser lets you surf the web securely

Occasionally, for whatever reason, we browse parts of the web we know could be dangerous, where malicious pop-ups, ransomware or other malware could infect our PCs. While no solution is totally safe, Microsoft now has a free, specialized version of its Edge browser specifically designed to protect you online: Windows Device Application Guard, or WDAG.

WDAG was originally developed for Windows 10 Enterprise, protecting companies with billions of dollars at stake. Now that same protection has migrated to Windows 10 Pro—sorry, Windows 10 Home users—as an optional feature that you can turn on within Windows, for free. It debuted on Windows 10 Pro as part of the  Windows 10 April 2018 Update, and will receive some new features as part of the October 2018 update, too.

You may have heard that Google Chrome works by “sandboxing” your browser, isolating the browser renderer and protecting Windows, other PCs on the network, and other devices from malware. WDAG takes sandboxing a bit further, using your PC’s capability for virtualization to protect against malware escaping from the browser. Essentially, Windows is creating a small “virtual” OS and browser for every untrusted browser session (and not every tab), and isolating it from the rest of your PC. Even if malware manages to crash the browser, the idea is that the rest of your PC will remain untouched.

Is browsing with Chrome safer than browsing in an Edge WDAG tab? As you might expect, that’s not an easily answered question. While security experts seem to think highly of WDAG’s sandbox implementation, WDAG does come with some limitations, which we’ll discuss further.

Microsoft Edge (apparently without WDAG enabled) was hacked several times in the Pwn2Own 2017 hacking competition, while Chrome remained untouched. Edge was also hacked in the March 2018 competition. But the bottom line seems to be that Chrome has existed for years, and has built up its defenses over time—including a new site isolation capability that helps better isolate one tab from another. Edge WDAG doesn’t yet seem to have built up that same history of comprehensive third-party testing — though it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s any less safe.

Right now, it’s safe to say that browsing with Chrome and a coterie of security plugins is more convenient, though.

WDAG—a true hidden feature of Windows

Normally, when we review the semi-annual feature updates for Windows 10, we include a “best hidden features” companion article—a sort of junior-varsity list of features that hide deep within the OS. WDAG was significant enough to make our review, but it certainly qualifies as hidden. In the October Update, though, it will emerge from the shadows.

WDAG requires two elements to work: Windows 10 Pro (updated to the April 2018 Update or beyond) as well as a 64-bit, Hyper-V capable processor. Generally speaking, most sixth-, seventh- and eight-generation Intel Core chips will include this capability, and many AMD64 chips will as well. Don’t worry too much about researching this information, however—if your PC supports both of these, WDAG will be enabled.

windows features redo Edge WDAG Mark Hachman / IDG

Here’s where you can find the controls to enable the Edge WDAG feature.

To find it within the April 2018 Update, you’ll need to open your PC’s Control Panel, then open the Turn Windows features on and off menu. Here you’ll find a list of all the features that lie deep within Windows, but don’t necessarily need to be enabled. Scroll down to the Windows Device Application Guard box and toggle it on. If you’re running the October 2018 Update, simply navigate to the Settings menu (Settings > Update & Security > Windows Security (AKA Windows Defender) > App & browser control) and then down to “Isolated browsing”.

isolated browsing wdag Mark Hachnan / IDG

It takes a bit of hunting, but WDAG is in the Oct. 2018 update to Windows 10, too. Note that you’ll have to restart your machine to enable it.

WDAG uses a subset of the Hyper-V virtualization technology that allows you to create virtual machines—self-contained versions of Windows—within Windows 10 Pro. But according to a Microsoft support document, you don’t need to toggle on Hyper-V to use WDAG. WDAG will take care of it itself. After toggling on WDAG and exiting the Features list, Windows will hunt around a bit for the proper software and then ask to reboot the PC. After a small update is applied, your PC will be ready to browse the web with Edge WDAG enabled.

If you’re in the Oct. 2018 Update, you’ll also be able to choose between some Settigngs options that will add some convenient functionality that is turned off in the earlier version, like the ability to print. Enable them if you feel like it.

wdag windows 10 settings Mark Hachman / IDG

Take a minute and configure WDAG with some added conveniences, if you choose.

Browsing the web with Edge and WDAG

Using WDAG to browse the Web with Edge is about as simple as it’s designed to be. To do so, open Edge, and from the ellipsis (three-dot) menu in the upper right, select New Application Guard window

Edge WDAG preparing Mark Hachman / IDG

Expect to see this when you first spin up Edge WDAG.

Application Guard requires some initialization time as the virtual machine spins up. (It took a minute or so on a Surface Pro 4 as well as a Surface Book 2, so it might be somewhat dependent on whether your laptop includes an SSD.) Fortunately, Edge WDAG doesn’t require that same setup time if you open subsequent WDAG tabs, and launching another session is much quicker, too.

Once the WDAG window is opened, the bright-red Application Guard label in the upper left corner distinguishes it from other Edge windows. (It’s black on Oct. 2018 Update builds.) On the taskbar, a small shield icon overlays the task icon, indicating that a WDAG window is in use. Note that you can also open an InPrivate private-browsing window within a WDAG environment, for an additional layer of privacy.

Right now, WDAG is built for security, not speed or (to be honest) even convenience. The Settings menu doesn’t allow much flexibility, with most options grayed out. (Edge itself doesn’t seem to offer any dedicated WDAG controls, either.) Here’s a list of WDAG limitations in the April 2018 Update edition of WDAG, as of press time:

  1. You can’t import Favorites. Nor can you cut and paste a URL from another, non-WDAG window—or from a WDAG window to anywhere else.
  2. Most downloads are currently blocked. 
  3. Extensions are disabled.
  4. WDAG doesn’t offer any way of blocking ads, so there’s still the possibility that you’ll see a deceptive ad, or one that takes you to a website where you’re encouraged to enter personal information. All WDAG does is secure the browser window.

Note that the October 2018 Update allows you to download files, and print, and cut and paste URLs in and out of WDAG, if you enable them via the Settings, above.

Also, if WDAG is enabled in Windows 10 Enterprise, system admins can set a persistence policy, which allows you to navigate to a site within WDAG and add it manually to the Favorites menu. It will then persist until the next session. That capability doesn’t appear in the Windows 10 Pro version. And even though you can “download” something, it doesn’t mean you can actually use it; WDAG’s protected Downloads folder doesn’t seem to be user-accessible. (It is in the Enterprise version, Microsoft points out.)

wdag settings Edge Microsoft Mark Hachman / IDG

The Settings menu within Edge WDAG is essentially useless, with almost all of the options grayed out and unusable.

Your WDAG browser history, though, is preserved until you sign out of your PC. Naturally, you can clear your history from within Edge, or use InPrivate for even more covert browsing.

Still, WDAG performance can be somewhat slow. WDAG is built for one thing: browsing the Web and keeping you secure, and that works best in a text-based environment. If you want to surf a site and download something you probably shouldn’t, though, that probably won’t work either.

While WDAG may protect your browser, however, it can’t do anything to protect you from thinking your browser might have fallen prey to malware. WDAG doesn’t seem to do anything to prevent a webpage from launching another tab, or block pop-up scams from appearing.

A pop-up scam will launch a browser popup with an apocalyptic message, claiming, for example, that your PC will remain infected until you call the number listed in the message. They’re sometimes accompanied by a klaxon, a siren, or an automated voice warning that leaving the website will disable your PC. In my case, one pop-up refused to yield when I tried to close the browser or the taskbar, and I was forced to reboot my machine. That’s the kind of headache a good ad-blocker or script-blocker can help avoid. Edge WDAG doesn’t support these, yet.

So if Edge WDAG is a browser that doesn’t let me download anything, or save Favorites, or protect against the kind of pop-up takeovers that cause relatives to call you in a panic, what good is it? 

Right now, WDAG isn’t an ideal solution. To get there, Microsoft needs to add extension support so sites don’t have the power to trigger pop-up takeovers. It would be nice to be able to right-click a link in Edge and open it in a WDAG window. While download capability isn’t essential, it would be nice — though a security risk, too. Chrome’s sandbox, loaded up with a few script-blocking and ad-blocking extensions, can provide a decent alternative.

edge feedback wdag Windows 10 Mark Hachman / IDG

After I installed the Spring 2018 Update on my PC, Microsoft wanted to know how it could improve the WDAG experience.

This may indicate why Microsoft has been a bit shy about WDAG. Though it noted WDAG’s addition to the Insider builds before the launch of the April 2018 Update, it didn’t exactly trumpet it to the public. 

WDAG doesn’t cost a dime, though, and with a little polishing Edge could have an enterprise-class security solution that’s friendly enough for a consumer to use. WDAG’s not a guarantee that your browser won’t be hacked, and it won’t prevent you from carelessly giving up personal information. But it is an added layer of protection, and worth keeping in mind as Microsoft continues developing Edge.

This story was updated at 3:07 PM on Sept. 18, to add details of the version of WDAG found within the Windows 10 Oct. 2018 Update and an explainer video.

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Microsoft is upping its A.I. battle with Salesforce

Microsoft on Tuesday announced new easy-to-use cloud services that draw on artificial intelligence to help with certain kinds of work — namely customer service and marketing.

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The move could help Microsoft’s Dynamics cloud business software become more competitive with Salesforce, which has begun offering premium AI features for its services. Amazon, Google and other companies are also making strides in these two areas.

Microsoft introduced Dynamics 365 AI for Customer Service and Dynamics 365 AI for Market Insights at an event in San Francisco. The former will highlight existing and emerging issues that agents face and help with the deployment of chatbots that can handle inquiries. The latter is meant to help marketers see what people are talking about on channels like social networks.

Earlier this year Microsoft introduced Dynamics 365 AI for Sales, which can provide deliver insights about individual salespeople and deals logged in Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 sales relationship-tracking service. It can even display information about sales opportunities reported in Salesforce’s Sales Cloud tool, or comparable systems from Oracle and SAP.

Salesforce’s Einstein add-on provides its own suggestions based on information in Sales Cloud, and Einstein enhancements are also available for Salesforce’s marketing and customer-service products. Microsoft’s AI tools for marketing, customer service and sales will become available to customers in preview this fall.

Last year, Microsoft talked about how it worked closely with a handful of customers, like HP and Macy’s, to build sophisticated domain-specific customer-service technology. Every PC that HP shipped even came with the resulting chatbot as part of HP’s Support Assistant software.

But Microsoft won’t be doing these sorts of high-touch AI engagements with customers for the foreseeable future, says Alysa Taylor, corporate vice president for business applications and global industry.

“When we think about those multi-year big contracts, when you’re in-house servicing, we do that through partnerships with global … as well as national and local system integrators,” Taylor told CNBC in an interview.

Put another way, Microsoft will leave these big projects to its army of partners.

Microsoft effectively started and nurtured the program in its research group and turned it over this summer to Taylor’s group, which developed a packaged-up product that’s easier for customers to start using on their own. “We don’t have enough engineers in our research team to serve every organization on the planet,” she said.

“That was the design plan from day one,” Taylor said.

Last year Microsoft added a reference to AI to its corporate vision. At this point, Microsoft is looking to help every company become AI-first, Taylor said.

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FedEx: Amazon's new delivery service 'should not be confused as competition'

FedEx isn’t too worried about Amazon‘s continued expansion in delivery and logistics.

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During FedEx’s earnings call on Monday, the company’s executive VP and chief marketing and communications officer Rajesh Subramaniam downplayed Amazon’s logistics threat, saying it shouldn’t be “confused as competition with FedEx.”

“While there has been significant media interest in what Amazon is doing to expand their in-source delivery capability, this should not be confused as competition with FedEx,” Subramaniam said. “The global infrastructure, the technology, the capabilities, knowledge that’s needed to compete in our business is quite extraordinary, and we have built that up over 40-plus years.”

Subramaniam’s comment was in response to a question asking about Amazon’s Delivery Service Partners, a new program designed to let entrepreneurs run their own local delivery networks of up to 40 vans. Amazon said each Delivery Service Partner can start a business with as little as a $10,000 investment and that successful partners could make up to $300,000 in annual profit.

Subramaniam added that Amazon is a “longstanding customer” of FedEx, and that no one customer accounts for more than 3 percent of the company’s revenue. He also said Amazon and other customers have built their own in-house delivery network to deal with “capacity issues” — an explanation Amazon has made previously as well.

This isn’t the first time FedEx downplayed Amazon’s threat as a competitor. In 2016, as media reports suggested Amazon was getting serious about building its own delivery service, FedEx’s former executive VP T. Michael Glenn said it would be a “daunting task requiring tens of billions of dollars” to build and replicate FedEx’s existing delivery network. Earlier this year, FedEx management reportedly told a Bank of America analyst that it would be difficult for Amazon to “match FedEx’s density.”

Still, the market seems less convinced. Following a Wall Street Journal report that Amazon is preparing to launch its own delivery service in February, FedEx shares dropped almost 4 percent.

Besides the new Delivery Service Partners program, Amazon runs its own network of delivery trucks to handle a part of its package volume and launched an Uber-like delivery network called Flex as well.

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Comparison video proves The Boring Company's 'Not A Flamethrower' isn't a flamethrower

Bottom line: We’ve known for some time now that Elon Musk’s “flamethrower” isn’t a true flamethrower (It’s called Not A Flamethrower, after all) but to get a real sense of just how much of a novelty item it is, you need to see it perform alongside some true flamethrowers.

The Boring Company, the tunnel construction outfit Elon Musk founded in 2016, launched a unique fundraising campaign earlier this year in which it sold “flamethrowers” at $500 a pop. Legally dubbed Not A Flamethrower (and technically, it’s not – it’s just a roofing torch with an air rifle cover), Musk managed to sell 20,000 copies in less than four days, resulting in a quick $10 million.

To prove just how much of a flamethrower it isn’t, earlier this month took the device out along with some proper flamethrowers to create a comparison video. As you’ll see, The Boring Company’s gadget truly is a novelty in terms of performance compared to the real deal.

Found is a TechSpot feature where we share clever, funny or otherwise interesting stuff from around the web.

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You thought Dieselgate was over? It’s not.

It’s been an electrifying month for the German auto industry. Mercedes-Benz presented its first all-electric SUV. BMW offered a glimpse of its upcoming EV strategy by unveiling a concept car. And Audi is going electric, as well. On Monday, the company celebrated the premiere of its first completely battery-powered car, the E-tron. Audi’s release party in San Francisco was especially unlikely when you consider what happened just three years ago.

As a part of Volkswagen Group, Audi played a central role in developing and installing illegal software in 11 million diesel cars in order to trick emissions tests. On September 18th, 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency informed the public about VW’s and Audi’s violation of the Clean Air Act, causing government agencies around the world to launch investigations. Dieselgate became the biggest scandal to rock the car industry in decades, and within three years, Volkswagen Group was forced to pay around $30 billion to settle the case. The sum is likely to rise by several billion dollars.

While they are busy emphasizing their commitment to electric vehicles, German carmakers are still scrambling to contain the fallout of Dieselgate: executives are held in prison; investors are suing for billions; the EU Commission is investigating VW, Daimler, and BMW for collusion; and the once cozy relationship with Angela Merkel’s government has cracked severely.

Guess, who didn’t attend Audi’s release event on Monday? It was Rupert Stadler, the CEO of Audi. Hours before the party started, Volkswagen’s board met in Wolfsburg, Germany to discuss Stadler’s future within the company. He’s expected to be removed from his position next week. After all, he’s been held in custody in a Bavarian prison for three months and can’t very well run a car company from there. Not only is he suspected of having made false statements to authorities, prosecutors think that he also tried to manipulate important witnesses.

Stadler is the sixth Volkswagen Group executive to be imprisoned for Dieselgate-related alleged crimes. The list of suspects from VW, Audi, and Porsche has grown to as many as 70 names, which translates into a lot of work for Volkswagen’s lawyers. But they’re facing another problem.

On September 10th, investors filed a $10 billion lawsuit in Braunschweig, Germany against the company, seeking compensation for the up to 37 percent hit to Volkswagen’s share price following the revelations by the EPA. They argue that VW failed to meet its duty to warn shareholders about the scandal’s financial impact. “I expect the lawsuit to be successful,” Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, professor of Automotive Economics at the University of Duisburg-Essen, told The Verge. “Including this case and all other pending lawsuits, I assume that Volkswagen will have to pay another $15 billion in fines.”

Volkswagen isn’t the only automaker in chaos. Daimler is having some serious diesel-related trouble, too. In Europe, the company recently had to recall 700,000 Mercedes-Benz diesel cars over irregularities with their emissions control software. While the German government threatened the company with a $4 billion fine, it is still unclear if Daimler will actually have to pay.

By comparison, BMW has little to worry about. Although dozens of prosecutors and police officers raided the company’s headquarters in Munich this spring (something that happened to Daimler and VW much earlier), they didn’t find evidence of any major crimes. According to a recent report by daily Süddeutsche Zeitung that cited numbers of Germany’s Ministry of Transport, about 8,000 BMW diesel cars were equipped with inadmissible systems to shut down emission controls. The company says this was caused by “human error.” In the end, BMW might only have to pay a $12 million fine.

In addition to these individual cases, there is a broader set of problems that encompasses the entire German auto industry. Just in time for Dieselgate’s third anniversary, the European Commission announced that it is intensifying its investigation into whether VW, Audi, Daimler, BMW, and Porsche colluded on diesel emissions starting as far back as in the early 1990s. They are accused of having formed an illegal “cartel” which laid the foundation for Dieselgate. The Commission carried out inspections at the premises of BMW, Daimler, VW, and Audi in October 2017. “If proven, this collusion may have denied consumers the opportunity to buy less polluting cars, despite the technology being available to the manufacturers,” said Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition.

Dieselgate has led to an upheaval in Germany’s politics as well. For decades, car executives cultivated friendly relationships with German lawmakers. Things were downright cozy. Before Dieselgate, Germany’s most powerful car lobbyist started his letters to the chancellor with “Dear Angela.” If other EU member states, the EU Commission, or the European Parliament were pushing for stricter regulations, car manufacturers could always rely on German officials to water down new European rules. Experts conclude that politicians are partly to blame for Dieselgate. “German politicians always thought they were helping the car industry by being soft on regulations and keeping their eyes shut”, Dudenhöffer told The Verge.

Now, politicians and manufacturers will pay the price for their close relationship. Most German voters now think the government was too lenient on Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW. Thanks to industry lobbying and German interventions, European rules for the emission of nitrogen oxides (NOx) are full of so many loopholes that virtually all diesel cars emit more pollutants into the environment while on the street than they do at testing facilities. While not illegal, these super-polluting vehicles have made the air in many German cities much dirtier than allowed under EU standards.

“For years, the German government has been reprimanded by the EU Commission,” Dudenhöffer said, “but it has never done anything about it.” To improve air quality, courts have banned older diesel cars from several German cities or parts of them. Hamburg, Frankfurt, and Stuttgart were the first to announce these restrictions. “In the end, we will probably get diesel bans in 20 German cities,” Dudenhöffer said.

Needless to say that this won’t go down well with many German voters as millions of them own diesel cars. To prevent driving bans, the government is finally thinking about obligatory hardware updates at the manufacturers’ expense to reduce NOx emissions in older diesel cars. Environmentalists have been calling for this for months, but the government didn’t want to impose it on the car industry. It only demanded software updates that are less effective, but much cheaper.

The threat of driving bans is already causing the market share of diesel vehicles to collapse. In the first half of 2017, over 41 percent of new cars in Germany were diesel. This year the number went down to 32 percent, according to new research by the University of Duisburg-Essen.

The era of diesel cars, which are particularly important for German manufacturers, is coming to an end much faster than Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW probably wished for. However, as consumers in China and the United States have quickly forgotten the affair, German automakers are still making more money than ever. The move into electric vehicles, then, is both image rehab and financial necessity — because it turns out Germans have fallen out of love with diesel cars.

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Sen. Harris tells federal agencies to get serious about facial recognition risks

Facial recognition technology presents myriad opportunities as well as risks, but it seems like the government tends to only consider the former when deploying it for law enforcement and clerical purposes. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) has written the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Trade Commission, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission telling them they need to get with the program and face up to the very real biases and risks attending the controversial tech.

In three letters provided to TechCrunch (and embedded at the bottom of this post), Sen. Harris, along with several other notable legislators, pointed out recent research showing how facial recognition can produce or reinforce bias, or otherwise misfire. This must be considered and accommodated in the rules, guidance, and applications of federal agencies.

Other lawmakers and authorities have sent letters to various companies and CEOs or held hearings, but representatives for Sen. Harris explained that there is also a need to advance the issue within the government as well.

Sen. Harris at a recent hearing.

Attention paid to agencies like the FTC and EEOC that are “responsible for enforcing fairness” is “a signal to companies that the cop on the beat is paying attention, and an indirect signal that they need to be paying attention too. What we’re interested in is the fairness outcome rather than one particular company’s practices.”

If this research and the possibility of poorly controlled AI systems aren’t considered in the creation of rules and laws, or in the applications and deployments of the technology, serious harm could ensue. Not just  positive harm, such as the misidentification of a suspect in a crime, but negative harm, such as calcifying biases in data and business practices in algorithmic form and depriving those affected by the biases of employment or services.

“While some have expressed hope that facial analysis can help reduce human biases, a growing body of evidence indicates that it may actually amplify those biases,” the letter to the EEOC reads.

Here Sen. Harris, joined by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Elisabeth Warren (D-MA), expresses concern over the growing automation of the employment process. Recruitment is a complex process and AI-based tools are being brought in at every stage, so this is not a theoretical problem. As the letter reads:

Suppose, for example, that an African American woman seeks a job at a company that uses facial analysis to assess how well a candidate’s mannerisms are similar to those of its top managers.

First, the technology may interpret her mannerisms less accurately than a white male candidate.

Second, if the company’s top managers are homogeneous, e.g., white and male, the very characteristics being sought may have nothing to do with job performance but are instead artifacts of belonging to this group. She may be as qualified for the job as a white male candidate, but facial analysis may not rate her as highly becuase her cues naturally differ.

Third, if a particular history of biased promotions led to homogeneity in top managers, then the facial recognition analysis technology could encode and then hide this bias behind a scientific veneer of objectivity.

If that sounds like a fantasy use of facial recognition, you probably haven’t been paying close enough attention. Besides, even if it’s still rare, it makes sense to consider these things before they become widespread problems, right? The idea is to identify issues inherent to the technology.

“We request that the EEOC develop guidelines for employers on the fair use of facial analysis technologies and how this technology may violate anti-discrimination law,” the Senators ask.

A set of questions also follows (as it does in each of the letters): have there been any complaints along these lines, or are there any obvious problems with the tech under current laws? If facial technology were to become mainstream, how should it be tested, and how would the EEOC validate that testing? Sen. Harris and the others request a timeline of how the Commission plans to look into this by September 28.

Next on the list is the FTC. This agency is tasked with identifying and punishing unfair and deceptive practices in commerce and advertising; Sen. Harris asserts that the purveyors of facial recognition technology may be considered in violation of FTC rules if they fail to test or account for serious biases in their systems.

“Developers rarely if ever test and then disclose biases in their technology,” the letter reads. “Without information about the biases in a technology or the legal and ethical risks attendant to using it, good faith users may be unintentionally and unfairly engaging in discrimination. Moreover, failure to disclose these biases to purchasers may be deceptive under the FTC Act.”

Another example is offered:

Consider, for example, a situation in which an African American female in a retail store is misidentified as a shoplifter by a biased facial recognition technology and is falsely arrested based on this information. Such a false arrest can cause trauma and substantially injure her future house, employment, credit, and other opportunities.

Or, consider a scenario in which a young man with a dark complexion is unable to withdraw money from his own bank account because his bank’s ATM uses facial recognition technology that does not identify him as their customer.

Again, this is very far from fantasy. On stage at Disrupt just a couple weeks ago Chris Atageka of UCOT and Timnit Gebru from Microsoft Research discussed several very real problems faced by people of color interacting with AI-powered devices and processes.

The FTC actually had a workshop on the topic back in 2012. But, amazing as it sounds, this workshop did not consider the potential biases on the basis of race, gender, age, or other metrics. The agency certainly deserves credit for addressing the issue early, but clearly the industry and topic have advanced and it is in the interest of the agency and the people it serves to catch up.

The letter ends with questions and a deadline rather like those for the EEOC: have there been any complaints? How will they assess address potential biases? Will they issue “a set of best practices on the lawful, fair, and transparent use of facial analysis?” The letter is cosigned by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Last is the FBI, over which Sen. Harris has something of an advantage: the Government Accountability Office issued a report on the very topic of facial recognition tech that had concrete recommendations for the Bureau to implement. What Harris wants to know is, what have they done about these, if anything?

“Although the GAO made its recommendations to the FBI over two years ago, there is no evidence that the agency has acted on those recommendations,” the letter reads.

The GAO had three major recommendations. Briefly summarized: do some serious testing of the Next Generation Identification-Interstate Photo System (NGI-IPS) to make sure it does what they think it does, follow that with annual testing to make sure it’s meeting needs and operating as intended, and audit external facial recognition programs for accuracy as well.

“We are also eager to ensure that the FBI responds to the latest research, particularly research that confirms that face recognition technology underperforms when analyzing the faces of women and African Americans,” the letter continues.

The list of questions here is largely in line with the GAO’s recommendations, merely asking the FBI to indicate whether and how it has complied with them. Has it tested NGI-IPS for accuracy in realistic conditions? Has it tested for performance across races, skin tones, genders, and ages? If not, why not, and when will it? And in the meantime, how can it justify usage of a system that hasn’t been adequately tested, and in fact performs poorest on the targets it is most frequently loosed upon?

The FBI letter, which has a deadline for response of October 1, is cosigned by Sen. Booker and Cedric Richmond, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

These letters are just a part of what certainly ought to be a government-wide plan to inspect and understand new technology and how it is being integrated with existing systems and agencies. The federal government moves slowly, even at its best, and if it is to avoid or help mitigate real harm resulting from technologies that would otherwise go unregulated it must start early and update often.

You can find the letters in full below.


SenHarris – EEOC Facial Rec… by on Scribd


SenHarris – FTC Facial Reco… by on Scribd


SenHarris – FBI Facial Reco… by on Scribd

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Vankyo’s Leisure 410 LED projector is bright, brilliant, and budget-friendly

When it comes to purchasing a projector for your home theater there’s usually only one important question for consumers: How much do you have to spend? Because, typically, inexpensive projectors don’t perform well. The idea of, let’s say, a $99 projector that’s bright, clear, and capable of working even in broad daylight seems pretty stupendous.

Meet the stupendous Vankyo Leisure 410 LED projector.

Credit: Nicole Gray

I got my hands on a review unit about a month ago and haven’t looked back since. No, it’s not going to drop your jaw and make you eschew traditional TVs – we’re talking about a 720p projector that costs less than many projection screens. Hell, I’ve got audio cables that cost more than this thing. But it works better than you might expect.

First up, it’s a beautiful gadget. The unit I reviewed was an off-white color with gray accents and sides. It reminds me of another gorgeous piece of tech:

But, beyond its looks – which I found it shares with a few other projectors, something common with Eastern tech products – it’s actually a modest beamer that borders on good. And it compares well to other projectors I’ve used in the sub-$300 range.


  • Display Colors: 16.7M
  • Keystone: ±15 degree
  • Lamp life: 40000 hrs
  • Contrast: 2000:1
  • Native Resolution: 800 X 480
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:316:9auto
  • Projection size: 33 – 170 inches
  • Built-in speaker
  • Adjustable height / Tripod mount

So, this thing projects a huge image. Vankyo was nice enough to include a fantastic 100-inch projector screen with the review unit and the Leisure 410 has absolutely no problem filling it up. At about 3 meters away (about twice the reccomended optimum projection distance) it still managed to fill up the entire screen with a crisp bright image.

The Vankyo projector screen, by the way, might be the bigger steal here at $27.99. It’s incredibly high-quality and robust enough that if you left it outside in the rain you could just clean it off, dry it up, and use it again. And that’s what’s cool about it: Coupled with the Vankyo projector you can have movie night outside for less than $150 bucks. Inside the house, you can hang it with temporary hooks (or just strap it to a curtain rod like I did). It’s brilliant, but the best part is that it’s not necessary.

You don’t need a fancy screen or a perfectly white wall in a pitch-black room to use this projector. The 410 is rated (per Vankyo’s literature) at 2500 lumens, which is quite bright. That means you can project on just about any semi-flat surface.

I watched an episode of “Penn and Teller’s BS” projected on dark brown wood paneling that had black vertical lines running from floor to ceiling every few inches – and it was actually watchable. If you’ve got a white wall, a light colored sheet, or just access to some poster board, you’ve got yourself a DIY screen that’ll work fine with this projector.

And this thing is easy to use — techies won’t need a manual, and novice users should be able to muddle through all its capabilities without having to call the Geek Squad. For less than a $100 you’re not getting WiFi or Bluetooth, but you do get an internal speaker that isn’t awful, and a remote control that’ll control all the functions you need. Plus, it’s quiet. It has two fans that help it keep cool, but they won’t bug you during movie time unless your incredibly sensitive to background noise.

There really isn’t anything to quibble about with this device. Sure, you can get better projectors with more features, but probably not for the same price.

Both the Leisure 410 and the Vankyo projector screen I tested come with clever little carrying cases that make it as portable as your ability to find somewhere to plug it in. I found myself moving this thing all over my house, taking it outside, and even watching romantic videos projected on the ceiling above my bed with my fiancee.

It’s perfect for basements, bedrooms, and parties – and if you get drunk and break it you won’t have to sell your car to replace it. The three year warranty boasting a 100% money back guarantee doesn’t hurt either.

I highly recommend this for anyone who wants a projector, but doesn’t want to spend big bucks on one. And it’s ease of use and relatively low cost make it a great projector for parents of small children.

Published September 18, 2018 — 21:51 UTC


ProductLeisure 410 LED Projector by Vankyo

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Senator Hirono wants men to 'just shut up' and 'do the right thing for a change'

Senator Mazie Hirono has had enough
Senator Mazie Hirono has had enough
Image: mark wilson/Getty Images

It’s been a particularly brutal week for women on Capitol Hill, and Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii is sick of it.

Asked about the allegations against Kavanaugh on Tuesday, Hirono expressed deep frustrations with the entire Senate Judiciary process, accusing the White House of victimizing Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s accuser.

“I think we all know when something is unfair. When something smells. We all know this. Let’s face it: This is so patently unfair to her. What really bothers me and gets me so angry is that the White House is victimizing this person […] Why should we participate in a victimization who has the courage to come forward? And she is under absolutely no obligation to participate in a smearing of her and her family.” 

She then answered another question:

“Of course it helps that there are women on that committee. But, you know what, I expect the men in this country and the men in this committee  […] Really, guess who’s perpetuating all of these kind of actions? It’s the men in this country. I just want to say to the men in this country: just shut up and step up. Do the right thing for a change.”

Hirono cautiously added: “Okay, you can see I’m a little upset by this, the unfairness of it.”

Hirono’s response is getting a lot of traction — and it’s bound to bring out strong reactions on both sides.

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A restaurant in Maine is trying to get lobsters high before cooking them alive

Please don't make your lobsters smoke pot.
Please don’t make your lobsters smoke pot.
Image: Shutterstock / Charles Curtis

Welp, it looks like a restaurant in Maine is trying to get lobsters high before cooking them.

The owner of Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound  restaurant, Charlotte Gill, recently revealed the restaurant has attempted to get their lobsters stoned in an effort to make their deaths at her eatery more humane, according to the Mount Desert Islander.

“The animal is already going to be killed,” Gill told the Islander. “It is far more humane to make it a kinder passage.”

Gill concocted a, uh, interesting method of getting her lobsters high. Here’s an excerpt from the Islander that details her first attempt at smoking up a crustacean — a lobster she calls Roscoe:

In an experiment to test the affect of cannabis on lobsters, Roscoe the lobster was placed for a few minutes in a covered box with about two inches of water at the bottom. Marijuana smoke was then blown into the water at the bottom of the box.

Roscoe was later returned to the ocean “as a thank you for being the experimental crustacean.”

Though Gill, a licensed marijuana caregiver, told the Islander that Roscoe seemed more relaxed after his tank had been “infused: with cannabis smoke, it unclear that the lobster actually got stoned.

THC, the compound  in cannabis responsible for getting you high is fat-soluble, not water-soluble, according to the Cannabist. This means it binds to fats not water, making it unlikely that the marijuana-infused water had any effect on Roscoe. This is why drinking bong water won’t get you stoned.

Considering lobsters can remove oxygen (and probably weed smoke) with their gills from the air, it’s possible they can get high from the smoke in the tank, but it’s unclear whether or not lobsters even have cannabinoid receptors.

Gill has set up special tanks dedicated to “sedating” lobsters before their prepared for her customers, but only upon their request. And Gill has made it clear that the lobsters aren’t going to get her diners stoned — but she does insist that the lobsters who’ve been exposed to a little THC are tastier.

While the most humane way to cook lobsters has been a popular debate recently, Gill reportedly steams them alive after hotboxing them. Others insist on killing them with a knife before cooking. 42a7 e91f%2fthumb%2f00001


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A Tesla competitor just got $1 billion boost from Saudi Arabia

Those aren't Teslas, those are Lucid electric vehicles.
Those aren’t Teslas, those are Lucid electric vehicles.
Image: Lucid motors

A hotshot electric vehicle company in Silicon Valley just got a $1 billion investment from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

No, not Tesla. We’re talking about its eventual competitor, Lucid Motors, which is based right next door to Tesla’s Fremont headquarters in Newark, California. 

The luxury electric vehicle brand announced the cash infusion this week, saying it would use the funding to move forward with its Tesla Model S “killer,” the Lucid Air, expected to launch in 2020, and to build out its factory in Casa Grande, Arizona.

Sound reminiscent of Tesla? It’s because it is. After Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted about securing funding to take the company private last month, it was revealed that Saudi Arabia had bought 5 percent of the publicly traded company, or invested almost $2 billion. A deal was nearly struck with the Saudi fund to buy out Tesla from the public market. But that didn’t happen.

The Model S is on the road.

The Model S is on the road.

Image: tesla

The Lucid Air is supposed to arrive in 2020.

The Lucid Air is supposed to arrive in 2020.

Image: Lucid motors

Tesla and Musk have been running into issues, in particular, production problems with the more affordably priced Model 3 sedan. Saudi Arabia seems intent to be on the cutting-edge of electric vehicles, no matter where it takes them. 

Lucid’s been around for a decade, and the Lucid Air debuted at the Los Angeles auto show almost two years ago. The prototype vehicle features a powerful battery, high-tech features, a glass canopy, and an autonomous-capable design. Even former Tesla employees have moved over to Lucid. 

Now Saudi Arabia is giving the notably private company almost as much as it invested in Tesla. Is there enough space on the road for the two EVs? Lucid, unlike Tesla, has yet to put anything in customers’ garages. But that $1 billion will certainly help. e82b a635%2fthumb%2f00001

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