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Android Phone's Battery Use Can Reveal User Location

Most Android smartphone owners probably feel secure knowing that apps must ask permission to access their location. That sense of security is misplaced, say U.S. and Israeli researchers who have figured out how to track smartphone owners based on a mobile device’s battery use alone.

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ISPs, Lobbyists, and Everybody Else React to FCC Net Neutrality Decision

Reactions to the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality ruling are as sharply divided as the 3-2 party-line vote at a February 26 meeting streamed live on the web. “Today the FCC has taken historic action to protect the Internet for a next generation of Americans online," proclaimed Alan Davidson, Vice President of the nonprofit New America and Director of its Open Technology Institute. "This order imposes intrusive government regulations to solve a problem that doesn't exist," said Republican commissioner Ajit Pai before casting his nay vote.

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FCC Votes "Yes" on Net Neutrality

As expected, the Federal Communications Commission today approved proposed Net Neutrality rules by a 3 to 2 vote. Two Democrats joined FCC chairman Tom Wheeler in voting for the rules. Two Republicans dissented at great length. The audience at the open meeting greeted the approval with loud applause. The rules apply to both wireless and fixed broadband. 

At the heart of the FCC proposal are three "bright line rules" embraced by net neutrality advocates. They bar broadband providers from blocking or throttling legal content and services transmitted over the Internet, and prohibit providers from charging content or service providers such as Netflix a premium for high-speed connections. 

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FCC Gives Municipal Broadband Providers (and Internet Competition) a Boost

Today, in addition to reclassifying broadband from an “information service” to a “telecommunication service,” the Federal Communications Commission voted to preempt state laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that previously restricted municipal governments from expanding their broadband services and competing with commercial Internet service providers in surrounding areas. The decision was not a surprise, as FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has been talking about preempting such state laws for over a year

There are at least 19 states with laws that restrict or limit municipal broadband. Just last month, Missouri lawmakers proposed strengthening existing restrictions in their state. Today’s decision only applied to the two specific petitions filed with the FCC—one from The Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and a second from the city Wilson, North Carolina—but it may set a precedent that encourages other municipalities to submit petitions. In the meeting, Wheeler said, “I do hope, however, that this attention…calls out the activities of incumbents to block consumer choice and competition through legislation.”

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Review: Is Your Data Worth a RAID from Western Digital?

Hearing someone tell you that you should backup your data is, in the words of one IEEE Spectrum editor, "about as impactful as your dentist telling you to floss." It's not fun, it's not exciting, and the short term consequences are usually nonexistent, so we often don't do it. You know what, though? Teeth are replaceable. Your data aren't. Back your stuff up. And if you're looking for a place to start, Western Digital has some ideas, just announced today.

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How to Make Multicore Chips Faster, More Efficient

Although transistors continue to get smaller and more numerous on each microchip, they have stopped getting faster because they would get too hot to work if they sped up further. To continue improving electronics, chipmakers are instead giving chips more processing units, or cores, to execute computations in parallel.

The way in which a chip distributes its operations can make a big difference to performance. In 2013, MIT electrical engineer and computer scientist Daniel Sanchez and his colleagues showed a way to distribute data around the memory banks of multicore chips that could improve speed by about 18 percent on average.

Now, in simulations involving a 64-core chip, Sanchez and his colleagues find a new way to distribute both computations and data on such a chip can boost computational speeds by 46 percent and reduce power consumption by 36 percent.

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Infographic: Defining Net Neutrality Without the Politics

Despite its name, few people are neutral about Net Neutrality. This contretemps won’t end when the U.S. Federal Communications Commission convenes tomorrow (26 February) to publicly declare where the U.S. government stands on the matter. Part of what has inspired the disagreement over how bits of data should traverse the networks that together form the Internet is the lack of consensus about whether all information should be treated equally and what “equal treatment” really means. Should it really mean equal treatment for all bits? All information providers? Or should carriers be able to charge extra for premium services, but be barred from blocking or throttling access?

Earlier this month, we published an article that spelled out the arguments and counterarguments in the hope of making sense of it all. Now, Clyde C. McElroy, a former member of the general assembly under ICANN and a participant in domain name system operations (DNSO) working groups on new top-level domains, has further illuminated those points with this infographic:


As for his personal take on how the Internet should evolve, McElroy says, “I'm more in the equal treatment for all information providers camp, but think that the technical people should be in charge of exactly how that happens.”

Internet-of-Things Radio Chip Consumes a Little Power to Save a Lot

Even as electronics become more efficient overall, many gadgets are also requiring power for a new use: to connect to the Internet. Engineers at MIT presented new research this week at the IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference that could help keep the power draw of connected devices in check.

Connected devices, which are seemingly everywhere these days, all require power to send data wirelessly. The need of each thing on the Internet of Things might be small, but the number of devices is expected to more than double between now and 2020 to more than 30 million, according to ABI Research.

Anantha Chandrakasan, professor of electrical engineering at MIT, presented a new transmitter design that reduces power leakage when a radio is in the off state by 100-fold. Even though it has ultra-low power needs, the system can still provide enough power for communication across different standards, including Bluetooth and 802.15.4.

“A key challenge is designing these circuits with extremely low standby power, because most of these devices are just sitting idling, waiting for some event to trigger a communication,” Chandrakasan told MIT News. “When it’s on, you want to be as efficient as possible, and when it’s off, you want to really cut off the off-state power, the leakage power.”

Chandrakasan said the key was to reduce the leakage of power in the transistor. Even when there is no charge applied to the transistor’s gate, it leaks some current. For devices that mostly sit idle waiting for a signal to power up, the slow leak can take a toll on battery life. (Limiting leakage was a main factor in two fundamental redesigns of transistors in computer processors.)

Arun Paidimarri, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science and Nathan Ickes, a research scientist in Chandrakasan’s lab, applied a negative charge to the gate when the transmitter is idle, making the transistor a better insulator. Just a small negative charge, consuming just 20 picowatts of power, was able to save 10,000 picowatts in leakage.

“Ultralow leakage energy is critical for future sensor nodes that need the transmitter to be on only a very small percentage of time,” Baher Haroun, director of the Embedded Processing Systems Labs at Texas Instruments, said in a statement. Texas Instruments and Shell helped fund the work by Chandrakasan’s team.

Google AI Learns Classic Arcade Games From Scratch, Would Probably Beat You at Them

New artificial intelligence software from Google can teach itself how to play—and often master—classic 1980s Atari arcade games.

"This work is the first time that anyone has built a single general-learning system that can learn directly from experience to master a wide range of challenging task—in this case, a set of Atari games—and perform at or better than human level at those games," says one of the AI’s creators Demis Hassabis, who works at Google DeepMind in London. Hassabis and colleagues detailed their findings in in this week’s issue of the journal Nature. (And you can download the source code from Google here.)

The researchers hope to apply the ideas behind their AI to Google products such as search, machine translation, and smartphone apps "to make those things smarter," Hassabis says.

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Following Your Phone Friends Finds You

A relatively complete picture of our movements can be reconstructed from anonymized data generated by mobile phones by analyzing the movements of our social contacts, researchers say.

These anonymized details can also be used to reveal the nature of relationships between people, such as whether they are casual acquaintances, co-workers, or friends or family, scientists add.

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