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  1. US Officials Use Mobile Ad Location Data to Study How COVID-19 Spreads - An anonymous reader quotes the Wall Street Journal: Government officials across the U.S. are using location data from millions of cellphones in a bid to better understand the movements of Americans during the coronavirus pandemic and how they may be affecting the spread of the disease... The data comes from the mobile advertising industry rather than cellphone carriers. The aim is to create a portal for federal, state and local officials that contains geolocation data in what could be as many as 500 cities across the U.S., one of the people said, to help plan the epidemic response... It shows which retail establishments, parks and other public spaces are still drawing crowds that could risk accelerating the transmission of the virus, according to people familiar with the matter... The data can also reveal general levels of compliance with stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders, according to experts inside and outside government, and help measure the pandemic's economic impact by revealing the drop-off in retail customers at stores, decreases in automobile miles driven and other economic metrics. The CDC has started to get analyses based on location data through through an ad hoc coalition of tech companies and data providers — all working in conjunction with the White House and others in government, people said. The CDC and the White House didn't respond to requests for comment. It's the cellphone carriers turning over pandemic-fighting data in Germany, Austria, Spain, Belgium, the U.K., according to the article, while Israel mapped infections using its intelligence agencies' antiterrorism phone-tracking. But so far in the U.S., "the data being used has largely been drawn from the advertising industry. "The mobile marketing industry has billions of geographic data points on hundreds of millions of U.S. cell mobile devices..."

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  2. Should Students Still Be Graded In the Time of Covid-19? - theodp writes: The LA Times reports that controversies over grading are roiling universities and colleges, as the coronavirus outbreak prompted them to shift to online learning and send most students home to disparate circumstances. Some students and faculty believe that normal grading practices during these times are deeply unfair, while others feel students should be able to choose between a letter grade or pass/fail, arguing that earning high marks can distinguish them for jobs, scholarships or graduate school. At Harvard, all undergraduates will receive grades of either "Emergency Satisfactory" or "Emergency Unsatisfactory" in their spring classes. Faculty may supplement this terminology with a "qualitative assessment of student learning." The coronavirus situation has also prompted grading changes at the high school level. The College Board announced that all AP exams will be streamlined and only include questions on material covered thru early March. Students taking the AP Computer Science Principles course will not even be subjected to an AP exam in 2020 but can still earn college credit.

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  3. NYT Investigates America's 'Lost Month' for Coronavirus Testing - The New York Times interviewed over 50 current and former U.S. health officials, senior scientists, company executives, and administration officials to investigate America's "lost month" without widespread coronavirus testing, "when the world's richest country — armed with some of the most highly trained scientists and infectious disease specialists — squandered its best chance of containing the virus's spread." With capacity so limited, the Center for Disease Control's criteria for who was tested remained extremely narrow for weeks to come: only people who had recently traveled to China or had been in contact with someone who had the virus. The lack of tests in the states also meant local public health officials could not use another essential epidemiological tool: surveillance testing. To see where the virus might be hiding, nasal swab samples from people screened for the common flu would also be checked for the coronavirus... Even though researchers around the country quickly began creating tests that could diagnose Covid-19, many said they were hindered by the Food and Drug Administration's approval process. The new tests sat unused at labs around the country. Stanford was one of them. Researchers at the world-renowned university had a working test by February, based on protocols published by the World Health Organization.... By early March, after federal officials finally announced changes to expand testing, it was too late. With the early lapses, containment was no longer an option. The tool kit of epidemiology would shift — lockdowns, social disruption, intensive medical treatment — in hopes of mitigating the harm. Now, the United States has more than 100,000 coronavirus cases, the most of any country in the world... And still, many Americans sickened by the virus cannot get tested... In tacit acknowledgment of the shortage, Mr. Trump asked South Korea's president on Monday to send as many test kits as possible from the 100,000 produced there daily, more than the country needs. Public health experts reacted positively to the increased capacity. But having the ability to diagnose the disease three months after it was first disclosed by China does little to address why the United States was unable to do so sooner, when it might have helped reduce the toll of the pandemic.

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  4. One Woman Can Smell Parkinson's Disease Before Symptoms Manifest - "For most of her life, Joy Milne had a superpower that she was totally oblivious to," reports NPR. Long-time Slashdot reader doug141 explains what happened next: Milne's husband's natural odor changed when he was 31. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's at 45. When Joy walked into a Parkinson's support group, she smelled the same odor on everybody. A Parkinson's researcher tested her with blind samples from early stage patients, late-stage patients, and controls... NPR tells the story of that test, which took place at the University of Edinburgh with a Parkinson's researcher named Tilo Kunath: [O]ut of all the samples, Joy made only one mistake. She identified a man in the control group, the group without Parkinson's, as having the disease. But many months later, Kunath says, that man actually approached him at an event and said, "Tilo, you're going to have to put me in the Parkinson's pile because I've just been diagnosed." It was incontrovertible: Joy not only could smell Parkinson's but could smell it even in the absence of its typical medical presentation. Kunath and fellow scientists published their work in ACS Central Science in March 2019, listing Joy as a co-author. Their research identified certain specific compounds that may contribute to the smell that Joy noticed on her husband and other Parkinson's patients. Joy and her super smelling abilities have opened up a whole new realm of research, Kunath says... Joy's superpower is so unusual that researchers all over the world have started working with her and have discovered that she can identify several kinds of illnesses — tuberculosis, Alzheimer's disease, cancer and diabetes. Kunath says the ultimate goal is developing a new tool that can detect detect Parkinson's early. "Imagine a society where you could detect such a devastating condition before it's causing problems and then prevent the problems from even occurring."

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  5. Cringely Predicts 2020 Will See 'the Death of IT' - Long-time technology pundit Robert Cringely writes: IT — Information Technology — grew out of something we called MIS — Management Information Systems — but both meant a kid in a white shirt who brought you a new keyboard when yours broke. Well, the kid is now gone, sent home with everyone else, and that kid isn't coming back... ever. IT is near death, fading by the day. But don't blame COVID-19 because the death of IT was inevitable. This novel coronavirus just made it happen a little quicker... Amazon has been replacing all of our keyboards for some time now, along with our mice and our failed cables, and even entire PCs. IT has been changing steadily from kids taking elevators up from the sub-basement to Amazon Prime trucks rolling-up to your mailbox. At the same time, our network providers have been working to limit their truck rolls entirely. Stop by the Comcast storefront to get your cable modem, because nobody is going to come to install it if you aren't the first person living there to have cable... Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) extends both the network and a security model end-to-end over any network including 4G or 5G wireless. Some folks will run their applications in their end device, whether it is a PC, phone, tablet, whatever, and some will run their applications in the same cloud as SASE, in which case everything will be that much faster and more secure. That's end end-game if there is one — everything in the cloud with your device strictly for input and output, painting screens compressed with HTML5. It's the end of IT because your device will no longer contain anything so it can be simply replaced via Amazon if it is damaged or lost, with the IT kid in the white shirt becoming an Uber driver. Since COVID-19 is trapping us in our homes it is forcing this transition to happen faster than it might have. But it was always going to happen.

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  6. Working From Home Hasn't Broken the Internet - sixoh1 shared this story from the Wall Street Journal: Home internet and wireless connectivity in the U.S. have largely withstood unprecedented demands as more Americans work and learn remotely. Broadband and wireless service providers say traffic has jumped in residential areas at times of the day when families would typically head to offices and schools. Still, that surge in usage hasn't yet resulted in widespread outages or unusually long service disruptions, industry executives and analysts say. That is because the biggest increases in usage are happening during normally fallow periods. Some service providers have joked that internet usage during the pandemic doesn't compare to the Super Bowl or season finale of the popular HBO show "Game of Thrones" in terms of strain on their networks, Evan Swarztrauber, senior policy adviser to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said this week on a call hosted by consulting company Recon Analytics Inc.Broadband consumption during the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m . has risen by more than 50% since January, according to broadband data company OpenVault, which measured connections in more than one million homes. Usage during the peak early-evening hours increased 20% as of March 25. OpenVault estimates that average data consumption per household in March will reach nearly 400 gigabytes, a nearly 11% increase over the previous monthly record in January.... Some carriers that use cells on wheels and aerial network-support drones after hurricanes or tornadoes are now deploying those resources to neighborhoods with heavy wireless-service usage and places where health-care facilities need additional connectivity. Several wireless carriers including Verizon, T-Mobile US Inc. and AT&T Inc. have been given temporary access to fresh spectrum over the past week to bolster network capacity. While Netflix is lowering its video quality in Canada, the Journal reports Netflix isn't as worried about the EU: Netflix Vice President Dave Temkin, speaking on a videoconference hosted by the network analytics company Kentik, said his engineers took some upgrades originally planned for the holiday season near the end of 2020 and simply made them sooner. A European regulator earlier this month asked Netflix to shift all its videos to standard-definition to avoid taxing domestic networks. Mr. Temkin said Netflix managed to shave its bandwidth usage using less drastic measures. "None of it is actually melting down," he said. And the article also has stats from America's ISPs and cellphone providers: AT&T said cellular-data traffic was almost flat, with more customers using their home wi-fi networks instead -- but voice phone calls increased as much as 44%.Charter saw increases in daytime network activity, but in most markets "levels remain well below capacity and typical peak evening usage."Comcast says its peak traffic increased 20%, but they're still running at 40% capacity.

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  7. Dark Web Hosting Site Suffers Cyberattack, 7,600 Sites Down - It's the largest free web hosting provider for dark web services. But remember back in 2018 when its 6,500 sites all went down after attackers accessed its database and deleted all its accounts? It happened again -- for the second time in 16 months. And this time, ZDNet reports, Daniel's Host won't be coming back online for several months: Almost 7,600 dark web portals have been taken offline following the hack, during which an attacker deleted the web hosting portal's entire database. This happened earlier this month, on March 10, at around 03:30 am UTC, according to a message posted on DH's now-defunct portal by Daniel Winzen, the German software developer behind the service. Winzen said that an attacker accessed the DH backend and deleted all hosting-related databases. The attacker then deleted Winzen's database account and created a new one to use for future operations. Winzen discovered the hack the next morning, at which time most of the data was already lost. The service doesn't keep backups by design. In an email to ZDNet today, Winzen said he has yet to find out how the hacker breached the DH backend. However, since the dark web hosting service was more of a hobby, Winzen didn't look too much into it. "I am currently very busy with my day-to-day life and other projects, I decided to not spend too much time investigating," he told ZDNet... Winzen said that users should consider the passwords for their DH accounts as "leaked" and change them if they used the same password for other accounts. Winzen told ZDNet he still hopes to relaunch the service "at a later time" with "new features and improvements." "Not having to administrate the services all the time will hopefully give me more time for actual development."

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  8. To Conserve Bandwidth, Should Opting In Be Required Before Autoplaying Videos? - An anonymous reader writes: We keep seeing stories about how providers are slowing down their streaming speed to reduce bandwidth usage during this period when many are being asked to stay at home... But it seems that many are totally ignoring a very obvious way to reduce usage significantly, and that is by disabling autoplay on their web sites and in their apps. To give an example, a couple of days ago I was watching a show on Hulu, and either I was more sleepy than I thought or the show was more boring than I had expected (probably some combination of both), but I drifted off to sleep. Two hours later I awoke and realize that Hulu had streamed two additional episodes that no one was watching. I searched in vain for a way to disable autoplay of the next episode, but if there is some way to do it I could not find it. What I wonder is how many people even want autoplay? I believe Netflix finally gave their users a way to disable it, but they need to affirmatively do so via a setting somewhere. But many other platforms give their users no option to disable autoplay. That is also true of many individual apps that can be used on a Roku or similar device. If conserving bandwidth is really that important, then my contention is that autoplaying of the next episode should be something you need to opt in for, not something enabled by default that either cannot be disabled or that forces the user to search for a setting to disable. "Firefox will disable autoplay," writes long-time Slashdot user bobs666 (adding "That's it use Firefox.") And there are ways to disable autoplay in the user settings on Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. But wouldn't it make more sense to disable autoplay by default -- at least for the duration of this unusual instance of peak worldwide demand? I'd be interested in hearing from Slashdot's readers. Do you use autoplay -- or have you disabled it? And do you think streaming companies should turn it off by default?

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  9. How Devs Can Help Beat the COVID-19 Pandemic - The state of New York hopes to "amplify" its response to COVID-19 by launching tech-driven products with top companies, and it's looking for professional volunteers with experience in software development, hardware deployment/end-user support, and data science (as well as areas like product management, design, operations management). Meanwhile, IBM's 2020 "Call for Code Global Challenge" is a virtual hackathon with a $200,000 prize, and they've now "expanded its focus" to include the effects of COVID-19. Tech columnist Mike Melanson writes: But this is just the beginning of the COVID-19 hackathon boom, which now includes efforts organized by tech giants, state governments, and grassroots initiatives alike. For example, the World Health Organization got together with technology companies and platforms such as AWS, Facebook, Giphy, Microsoft, Pinterest, Salesforce, Slack, TikTok, Twitter and WeChat to launch the COVID-19 Global Hackathon 1.0, which is running as we speak with a deadline for submissions of March 30th at 9 AM PST. If you're too late, fret not, for there are many more, such as the CODEVID-19 hackathon we mentioned last week that has a weekly rolling deadline. And deadlines aside, the U.S. Digital Response for COVID-19 is working to pair technology, data, and government professionals with those who need them, in a form of nationwide, technological mutual aid... [T]he COVID-19 open-source help desk is "a fast-track 'stack overflow' where you can get answers from the very people who wrote the software that you use or who are experts in its use." And if you happen to be either an open source author or expert, feel free to pitch in on answering questions... On the open data side of things, for example, GitHub offers a guide on open collaboration on COVID-19, while StackOverflow looks at the myriad ways to help the fight against COVID-19 from home. ProgrammableWeb has a list of developer hackathons to combat COVID-19, and even the Golang team offers some guidance for Go, the Go community, and the pandemic, with Erlang also joining in.

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  10. Doc Searls: 'Zoom Needs to Clean Up Its Privacy Act' - The former editor-in-chief of the Linux Journal just published an annotated version of Zoom's privacy policy. Searls calls it "creepily chummy with the tracking-based advertising biz (also called adtech). I'll narrow my inquiry down to the "Does Zoom sell Personal Data?" section of the privacy policy, which was last updated on March 18. The section runs two paragraphs, and I'll comment on the second one, starting here: Zoom does use certain standard advertising tools which require Personal Data ... What they mean by that is adtech. What they're also saying here is that Zoom is in the advertising business, and in the worst end of it: the one that lives off harvested personal data. What makes this extra creepy is that Zoom is in a position to gather plenty of personal data, some of it very intimate (for example with a shrink talking to a patient) without anyone in the conversation knowing about it. (Unless, of course, they see an ad somewhere that looks like it was informed by a private conversation on Zoom.) A person whose personal data is being shed on Zoom doesn't know that's happening because Zoom doesn't tell them. There's no red light, like the one you see when a session is being recorded. If you were in a browser instead of an app, an extension such as Privacy Badger could tell you there are trackers sniffing your ass. And, if your browser is one that cares about privacy, such as Brave, Firefox or Safari, there's a good chance it would be blocking trackers as well. But in the Zoom app, you can't tell if or how your personal data is being harvested. (think, for example, Google Ads and Google Analytics). There's no need to think about those, because both are widely known for compromising personal privacy. (See here. And here. Also Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger's Re-Engineering Humanity and Shoshana Zuboff's In the Age of Surveillance Capitalism.) Zoom claims it needs personal data to "improve" its users "experience" with ads -- though Searls isn't satisfied. ("Nobody goes to Zoom for an 'advertising experience,' personalized or not. And nobody wants ads aimed at their eyeballs elsewhere on the Net by third parties using personal information leaked out through Zoom.") His conclusion? "What Zoom's current privacy policy says is worse than 'You don't have any privacy here.' It says, 'We expose your virtual necks to data vampires who can do what they will with it.'"

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