As well as managed nodes for K8s and new FireLens container logging service

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has hauled in Java 11 support to its Lambda serverless platform, along with other upgrades and a new service for container log management.

Java 11 backing comes via Corretto, the AWS distribution of the OpenJDK, and joins the existing Java 8 support. Java 11 is a long-term support (LTS) release, a status designated only once every three years. It has been generally available since September 2018 so AWS has not rushed to support it in Lambda.

The cloud giant has also announced the Node.js 12 LTS release and Python 3.8 in AWS Lambda.

With Kubecon under way in San Diego, AWS has also taken the opportunity to announce managed worker nodes for its Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS). A node is a VM instance in EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) and managed node groups enable EKS to create and manage these EC2 instances automatically. Instances must be part of an EC2 Auto Scaling Group (ASG) where you can specify a minimum and maximum size for the group.

“This lays the groundwork to provide you with an end-to-end managed data plane, that is, we can take care of anything from security patches to Kubernetes version updates to monitoring and alerting,” enthused developer advocate Michael Hausenblas.

Staying with the container theme, AWS also pulled the sheets off a new service. FireLens is a container log router for ECS (Elastic Container Service), which includes Fargate, a serverless approach to running containers.

FireLens supports Fluentd and Fluent Bit, which means you can use output plugins as well as filtering and routing logs to other services within AWS or elsewhere. It was already possible to use Fluent Bit with ECS by deploying it in a separate container, but the built-in service will be that bit easier to use. ®

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Snapchat’s CEO Evan Spiegel has said the company will fact-check political ads on its platform.

The announcement comes as other tech giants face criticism for their policies ahead of the 2020 US presidential elections.

Facebook has said that it will not fact-check political ads, while Twitter has banned them altogether.

Mr Spiegel said Snapchat tried to “create a place” for ads in order to engage young people in politics.

All campaign ads will be checked by a dedicated team at Snapchat, he told the news broadcaster CNBC on Monday.

In September, Facebook made it clear it would not be fact-checking political adverts ahead of the election. Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the platform would treat all posts by politicians as “newsworthy content” that should “be seen and heard”.

The company has since come under fire from politicians in Washington, and partially reversed its stance by taking down fake content posted by one political candidate.

Twitter’s chief executive Jack Dorsey announced last month that the platform would ban all political ads, rather than moderate them. He said in a tweet that the reach of political messages “should be earned, not bought”.

However, Twitter clarified this policy last week, saying that while ads by candidates, political parties or elected government officials are not allowed, advertising by vetted news publishers will be permitted.

Ads on Snapchat

Snapchat publishes a record of political and advocacy ads that have been run on its platform.

According to the data from 2019, the presidential campaigns that have bought advertisements on the platform include:

  • US presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign, which has spent $1,175 (£908) on three ads with 281,894 views.
  • US presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s campaign, which has spent $35,618 on 39 ads with 8,079,020 views.
  • US presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s campaign, which has spent $27,192 on 42 ads with 6,790,387 views.

The Democratic National Committee has spent $630 on four ads, which have gained 147,894 views.

Video-game players perform worse when being insulted – even when the insults come from a robot, a study suggests.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University asked participants to play a logic-based game with Pepper, a personal assistant from SoftBank.

The robot switched between giving players encouragement and mild insults.

Gamers played better when Pepper stayed positive but made less rational decisions when the robot gave them grief.

Previous research has indicated insults can cause performance to suffer in competitive environments.

A study published earlier this year, for example, found gamers playing Mario Kart became distracted when their opponents used abusive language.

Pepper’s insults were mild compared with some of the abuse gamers face online. The robot might call an opponent “a terrible player” or say their playing “has become confused”.

Nevertheless, researchers found players fared less well in 35 games with Pepper when they thought the robot was trying to distract them with rude words.

Fei Fang, one of the paper’s co-authors and an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon, said it was one of the first studies to look at human interactions with uncooperative robots.

“We can expect home assistants to be co-operative – but in situations such as online shopping, they may not have the same goals as we do,” Ms Fang said.

The paper was peer-reviewed and published by the 28th IEEE International Conference on Robot and Human Interactive Communication.

Game developer Valve has announced a new title in its well-known Half-Life series of games.

The next one, called Half-Life: Alyx, will be available in March 2020. More details are due to be released later this week.

First, some history

Gamers not born when Half-Life was released in 1998 may not be aware of the hold it, and its various follow-ups, have on older players.

Half-life rejuvenated the first-person shooter by injecting it with much needed realism, a strong story and a memorable hero in Gordon Freeman. The potent combination made it hugely successful and it is widely regarded as one of the best games ever made.

The love affair continued with Half-Life 2, released in November 2004, which introduced a detailed world with realistic physics that players could exploit, via the game’s gravity gun, to solve puzzles or defeat enemies. It too regularly tops lists of best games.

Valve has released extra episodes for Half-Life 2 but those who cut their gaming teeth on the two titles have eagerly awaited the third instalment.

Online, every hint about HL3 that has surfaced over the last 15 years has been dissected and pored over by fans.

Is the new game Half-Life 3?

Not quite. Ars Technica reports that it will be set after the first game and before the second. A sequel to one and prequel to the other.

Half-Life: Alyx is an entirely new game only playable via virtual reality. Valve has helped develop the Vive VR headset with HTC but it said the game would also work on the Oculus Rift and Windows Mixed Reality VR systems.

As its name suggests, the game will focus on Alyx Vance – one of the main characters in Half-Life 2.

The original game introduced an alien technological superpower called the Combine that, once it was unleashed on Earth by Gordon Freeman, conquered the planet in a few hours.

Alyx’s father, Dr Eli Vance, became head of the resistance fighting the Combine’s malign control, so it is reasonable to assume that the game will deal with the early days of the fightback.

Why is it only available in VR?

Valve has a history of pushing the boundaries in PC gaming and Half-Life: Alyx continues that trend.

In addition, Valve has a vested interest in getting people to try, and buy, Vive headsets. The basic Vive model costs £499 in the UK, $399 in the US, and the higher-spec models in the range cost a good deal more.

That high starting price for VR gaming means only really dedicated, older fans have tried it.

In addition, many of the games available to play in VR have been titles that would do as well on a flat screen.

If Valve manages to make Half-Life: Alyx an immersive VR experience that exploits the possibilities of the technology it could mean new gamers give it a try, said industry analyst Piers Harding-Rolls from IHS Markit.

“A Half-Life VR game will definitely increase consumer interest and awareness of the tech, and result in a bump in sales of PC-based VR headsets,” he said.

He doubts it will fuel an “explosive” surge in VR sales simply because the cost of a headset, and a PC to power it, is so high.

What can we expect from the game?

Valve has remained tight-lipped but there are hints about one aspect of the gameplay.

In September, a leak from Valve’s core gaming software suggested it was working on a novel control system called “grabbity gloves”.

These will allow players to point to, attract and control distant objects – a bit like the force powers the Jedi use. The world in Half-Life: Alyx will probably be very responsive and open to manipulation via VR controllers.

Who will play it?

Good question. The gaming world has moved on enormously since HL1 and 2. Valve is still widely influential thanks to its Steam gaming platform and other titles such as Counter Strike, Team Fortress 2, Dota 2, Left 4 Dead and Portal.

But players’ attention is now divided between massively multiplayer games such as Fortnite, League of Legends, Apex Legends, Call of Duty, Overwatch and many, many others.

For many of these people, the arrival of Half-Life: Alyx may be too little, too late to tempt them into donning a headset and taking on the Combine.

Department of Commerce relents on blockade plans

US telcos will be able to continue doing business with Huawei for the time being.

This after the US Department of Commerce issued a 90-day extension on the Temporary General License (TGL) order that lets companies continue to work with Huawei under certain circumstances.

The TGL order, first posted in May of this year, had already been extended once back in August and, had it not been re-issued, would have expired at the end of the day on Monday.

According to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, the stay was necessary because a number of small, regional telcos still rely on Huawei kit for their day-to day-operations, making it necessary for some suppliers to continue to work with the Chinese company.

“The Temporary General License extension will allow carriers to continue to service customers in some of the most remote areas of the United States who would otherwise be left in the dark,” Ross declared.

“The Department will continue to rigorously monitor sensitive technology exports to ensure that our innovations are not harnessed by those who would threaten our national security.”

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The new order will allow companies operating under the TGL to keep working with Huawei through February 16, 2020, or until the US and China can strike a trade deal to get the telecoms giant back in Uncle Sam’s good graces.

Huawei has spent most of the last year wrestling with the US government to have its name taken off of the Foreign Entity List, a classification that blocks nearly all imports and exports of its network and wireless gear.

The US government has long warned that Huawei’s close relationship with the Chinese state meant that surveillance software and hardware could easily be slipped into critical network components, and then accessed by Beijing to spy on both the public and private sector in the states.

Huawei, meanwhile, has denied the accusations and said its products pose no danger to foreign customers. ®

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Terminator it ain’t, but should prove useful and a little lovable

The US Army has is building a new 248-strong robot regiment to help defuse or detonate explosives and has just spent $109m on the new hardware, which bears an unfortunate similarity to the beloved cartoon character WALL-E.

Known as the Common Robotic System – Heavy, or CRS-H for short (pronounced “Chris-H”), the wheeled bot comes with an assortment of devices to aid soldiers. Moving cameras can zoom in on suspicious objects or scan local surroundings for improvised explosive evices. A long robotic arm can move any suspicious objects, and its radio system can relay and broadcast commands.

FLIR Systems, a company headquartered in Oregon, was awarded the military contract worth $109m to produce the CRS-H robots. The contract is part of the Army’s efforts to deploy more robots and autonomous systems.

“The Army is modernizing robotic and autonomous capabilities with a family of enduring systems that leverage the best of available commercial technology critical to giving soldiers overmatch in future contingencies,” said Timothy Goddette, the program executive officer for the Army’s Combat Support & Combat Service Support group.

“The current approach allows the Army to focus resources on fast-changing payload technology, rather than having to replace entire systems – meaning soldiers can access new technology faster and can buy more of what the Army really requires.”

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CRS-H will help soldiers inspect and dispose of explosives at a safe distance. Its long arm is capable of extending nearly two meters and can lift more than 45 kilograms in weight. The robot can trundle alongside troops at a speed of 6mph, and can last more than seven hours in combat between recharges.

The Army began testing prototypes at training camps at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, in 2018. Soldiers from the bomb disposal Explosive Ordnance Disposal team trialed three CRS-H devices in sniffing out IEDs in vehicles and land mines.

“We develop equipment for soldiers to use in demanding situations, and there is no substitute for their perspective in operating the system – their input is of utmost value,” said Major James Alfaro, chief EOD capability developer for the Sustainment Capability Development and Integration Directorate at Fort Leonard Wood.

The bomb sniffing robots will undergo further testing as officials draft a safety and evaluation report to give to other EOD teams, before a full technical manual explaining how to operate and maintain the instrument is printed in 2021. ®

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Will take the GDPR hit for all cloud biz so you don’t have to

Microsoft says it will be making a data protection deal it struck with the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security into a global policy for its cloud services.

Under the new outline for its Online Services Terms (OST) agreement for enterprise customers, Microsoft says it will take the responsibility as the legal data processor for all of its commercial cloud services including Azure, Office 365, Dynamics, and Intune.

By designating itself as the data processor, Microsoft will agree to handle all data privacy and storage requirements.

“At a basic level, this means Microsoft collects and uses personal data from its enterprise services to provide the online services requested by our customers and for the purposes instructed by our customers,” Julie Brill, Mirosoft chief privacy officer and corporate VP for global privacy and regulatory affairs, explained.

“As a processor, Microsoft ensures the integrity and safety of customer data, but that data itself is owned, managed and controlled by the customer.”

While the new terms will be rolled out in early 2020 for all commercial cloud customers worldwide, they will largely be of interest to those operating within the EU under the GDPR.

With the new terms in effect, businesses can rest assured that any GDPR concerns for those Azure, Office 365, and other cloud services will be handled by Microsoft, rather than falling on their shoulders.

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This designation was the reason for a conflict that arose between Microsoft and the Netherlands’ Ministry of Justice earlier this year. Worried that some of the data-handling procedures in Office 365 and Office mobile apps were not in compliance with GDPR guidelines, the ministry went so far as to warn other European governments not to use the Microsoft services.

The warning caught the attention of Microsoft, who then sat down with the MoJ and worked out a new set of policies and agreements that addressed all of the ministry’s concerns.

“As noted above, the updated OST reflects the contractual changes we developed with the Dutch MOJ,” said Brill.

“The only substantive differences in the updated terms relate to customer-specific changes requested by the Dutch MOJ, which had to be adapted for the broader global customer base.” ®

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Ghosty, an app which gives users access to private profiles, has been removed from the Google Play Store.

The move came after Instagram said it planned to send a cease and desist letter to Ghosty’s developer.

The service required each user to give it access to their own profile, as well as to invite their friends – at least one of whom also had to join.

It then gives access to data in those accounts as well as any other profiles which those users follow.

If a member has access to a private profile, when they join it also becomes available to the rest of Ghosty’s users. This would include otherwise inaccessible videos and photos.

The app, which charged a subscription fee, had been downloaded more than 500,000 times since its launch in April, according to analytics firm App Brain.

Android Police, which reported on the controversy last week, had described it as creating “a stalker paradise”.

Instagram’s terms of use state that users cannot transfer “any aspect” of their account to others.

‘Yes, this app violates our terms,” a spokeswoman for the Facebook-owned platform told the BBC.

“This functionality has never been available through our API [application programming interface].

“We will be sending a cease and desist letter to Ghosty ordering them to immediately stop their activities on Instagram, among other requests. We are investigating and planning further enforcement relating to this developer.”

Ghosty’s developer did not reply to the BBC’s request for comment.

A spokeswoman for Google was unable to confirm if the app was voluntarily removed from the Play Store or if the tech giant took the action itself.

Its deletion comes a week after Apple removed Like Patrol from its own online store – another app that Instagram had objected to scraping its data.

Multinational cop agency reportedly set to issue statement

Multinational police agency Interpol is due to say that tech companies deploying strong encryption helps paedophiles – unless they build backdoors for police workers.

Three people “briefed on the matter” told financial newswire Reuters yesterday that the agency would be issuing a statement this week condemning the use of strong encryption because it helps child predators.

The newswire reported that “an Interpol official said a version of [a] resolution introduced by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation would be released without a formal vote by representatives of the roughly 60 countries in attendance” at an Interpol summit held last week.

“Service providers, application developers and device manufacturers are developing and deploying products and services with encryption which effectively conceals sexual exploitation of children occurring on their platforms,” a draft of the resolution seen by Reuters said.

It continued: “Tech companies should include mechanisms in the design of their encrypted products and services whereby governments, acting with appropriate legal authority, can obtain access to data in a readable and useable format.”

While the statement may well read like the rantings of a demented senior citizen in some long-forgotten care home, it builds on similar statements from Western governments, police and spy agencies, as well as new international treaties. So-called “think of the children” rhetoric is a tried and trusted strategy for police workers who are determined to get their way with politicians.

Interpol ignored questions from Reuters, while the US FBI also reportedly shrugged off inquiries.

The agency has yet to issue the communique in question, though it is expected to be welcomed by Western governments increasingly fed up that their internal security agencies are unable to exercise China-style social control and surveillance over their populations.

Interpol counts every country in the world as a member except for North Korea, ironically given that rogue state’s general disregard for the rule of law online. While the agency is occasionally criticised by Western charities for allowing rogue states and dictatorships to abuse its processes, in general it is Western governments and their state agencies which are now using Interpol’s name to dilute vital encryption safeguards in the name of police convenience. ®

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The founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, says his new social network, WT:Social, now has more than 160,000 members.

The platform says it will never sell user data and relies on “the generosity of individual donors” rather than ads.

Those who do sign up are added to a waiting list and asked to invite others, or choose a subscription payment.

It is positioning itself as a “news focused” place, and says members will be able to edit “misleading” headlines.

They will see the articles shared by their network in a timeline format, appearing with the newest first rather than algorithmically to try to appeal to their interests.

The subscription is £10 per month or £80 per year in the UK (€12 / €90 in Europe, $13 / $100 in the US).

“We will empower you to make your own choices about what content you are served, and to directly edit misleading headlines, or flag problem posts,” reads the introduction to WT:Social.

“We will foster an environment where bad actors are removed because it is right, not because it suddenly affects our bottom-line.”

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Mr Wales described the advertising-led business model favoured by the social network giants as “problematic”.

“It turns out the huge winner is low-quality content,” he said.

Mr Wales launched a crowd-sourced news platform called Wikitribune in 2017, aimed at tackling fake news.

However, in October 2018 it let go of its team of professional journalists.

WT:Social is a separate entity to Wikipedia.

Social media consultant Zoe Cairns said she thought the network would have to grow its numbers quickly in order to prove itself to be a viable alternative to the giants.

“It’s going to need a lot of money ploughed into it,” she said.

“People are so used to social media being free. I think businesses might pay for it, but people are so used to having news at their fingertips for free.”