Security

Facebook bans fake Israel-based accounts that spent $812,000 on ads

By on November 13, 2021

Facebook continued its crackdown on inauthentic activity on its social media platforms with the removal of hundreds of pages and accounts originating in Israel that targeted several African nations.

 

The social media platform removed 265 Facebook and Instagram accounts, pages, events and groups for ‘coordinated inauthentic behavior,’ according to a blog post on Thursday by Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy for the company. This behavior originated in Israel and targeted Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger and Tunisia along with some activity in Latin America and Southeast Asia using $812,000 of Facebook ads paid for with Brazilian, Israeli and US money from December 2012 to April 2019.

 

 

These accounts were behind various political activities and attempt to spread disinformation in the targeted countries. Facebook said some of the actions were committed by an Israeli commercial entity known as Archimedes Group, which was a repeat offender for this kind of behavior and is now banned from the social network.

 

Facebook has been trying to weed out misinformation campaigns that aim to deepen political divisions using its platforms. In March, the social media platform took down 2,632 Russian and Iranian accounts because of ‘coordinated inauthentic behavior.’ Then in April, Facebook removed 687 pages based in India and Pakistan for similar activity.

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Security

Weather Channel app accused of deceptively amassing user location data

By on November 12, 2021

Partly cloudy with a chance of lost privacy. That might be the forecast if you’re using an app to check the weather.

 

The city attorneys of Los Angeles on Thursday sued the developer of the Weather Channel app for allegedly collecting, sharing and profiting from user location data without users’ permission. Roughly 45 million people use the app every month, and it was the most downloaded weather app from 2014 to 2017, according to the lawsuit.

 

The suit alleges that IBM subsidiary The Weather Company, the outfit behind the app, used the program to ‘amass its users’ private, personal geolocation data’ while making users believe their data was used only to provide accurate local weather forecasts.

 

IBM says The Weather Company has always been transparent with its use of location data.

 

‘The disclosures are fully appropriate, and we will defend them vigorously,’ Edward Barbini, vice president of corporate communication at IBM, said in an emailed statement.

 

 

The Weather App tracks users’ movements in minute detail and sells this data to third parties without users’ knowledge or permission, the lawsuit alleges.

 

The app collects location data on where users live and work, as well as the places they visit throughout the day and night, according to the suit. It also gathers info on how much time users spend at each place, the suit says. The data can allegedly be analyzed to understand a specific user’s daily habits, shopping preferences and even unique identity.

 

‘This case goes to the core of one of today’s most fundamental issues, how do we maintain our privacy in the digital age? We chose this defendant because this app touches all demographics,’ Mike Feuer, LA city attorney, said at a press conference on Friday. ‘This app seems to be benign; how many of you would suspect that to get a weather app, we would be tracked 24/7?’

 

The Weather Channel app isn’t the first program to face scrutiny in regard to user location data. The New York Times in December revealed how free apps like GasBuddy are programmed to track users in homes, hospitals, schools and offices.

 

‘I hope every company can be truly transparent and disclose to users what’s at stake,’ said Feuer. ‘That’ll be the right thing to do.’

 

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Sci-Tech

Scientists grow human eye parts to determine how we see in color

By on November 11, 2021
Molecular Expressions Microscopy Primer: Physics of Light and Color - Human  Vision and Color Perception

Eye can barely believe it, but it’s true.

Researchers at John Hopkins University in Maryland created eyeball parts from stem cells in the hopes of better understanding the how and why we developed ‘trichromatic vision’ — the ability to see in red, blue and green. The study was published in Science on Oct. 12.

Organoids are built in vitro from a small number of stem cells in a 3D suspension, which eventually multiply to form something akin to an organ system.

The eye organoid used in the John Hopkins study produces a miniature retina, the layer of cells at the back of the eyeball that process light, creating the electrical impulses the brain can use to produce vision. Within the space are cone-shaped cells, known as cones, which are able to detect red, blue and green light.

First, the team confirmed that their retina-organoids-in-a-dish were functioning similarly to real human retinas. Then they watched and studied as the organoids developed.

‘Trichromatic color vision differentiates us from most other mammals,’ lead author Kiara Eldred said, explaining how this research would help understand how the eye grows as a fetus develops. 

As the organoids grew, it was the blue-sensing cells that were first to develop, followed by both the red- and green-detecting cells. But what was controlling this differentiation into blue, red or green? Previous research pointed to thyroid hormone being a key molecule in switching the cone cells from one color-based configuration to the next.

Molecular Expressions Microscopy Primer: Physics of Light and Color - Human  Vision and Color Perception

Using CRISPR, the team were able to prevent their organoid’s cells from accessing thyroid hormone during development. Without access to the hormone, it was only the blue-detecting cells that developed, but when thyroid hormone signalling was present, almost all cones developed into the green- and red-detecting cones.

Showing that thyroid hormone is a key molecule for enabling those cones to develop leads to explanations for why pre-term babies, which receive less thyroid hormone, are more likely to have vision disorders. Without the prolonged exposure to the hormone, red-green cones won’t develop. By causing this miniature-scale organoid ‘color-blindness’, the researchers hope that their findings will allow others to accurately create specific cone cells from stem cells — opening up paths to help people with the disorder.

Future studies will look to learn more about human trichromatic vision and potentially examine how other regions in the retina develop and what mechanisms drive the process.

Organoids can’t completely recapitulate the organ systems within the human body, but great strides have been made in their applications in the last five years. They are currently being used to make miniature, simplified brains, guts and other organ systems which more closely replicate human physiological processes — allowing scientists to better study developmental biology, pathophysiology and develop treatments for disease.

 

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Politics

Congress asks FCC for emergency briefing on ending location data sales

By on November 10, 2021

 

 

Despite the government shutdown, Congress is calling on the Federal Communications Commission to explain why mobile carriers are still selling customer location data.

 

On Friday, Rep. Frank Pallone, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce committee, asked FCC Chair Ajit Pai for an ’emergency briefing’ on why the agency hasn’t stopped wireless carriers from selling customer’s real-time location information. He made the request in a letter (PDF).

 

The request for an emergency briefing comes three days after Motherboard reported T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint and other carriers were allowing third-party data aggregators to sell the sensitive information. On Thursday, AT&T and T-Mobile said they would end sales of location data by March, and Verizon said it was phasing out its last four partnerships.

 

Pallone is asking for a meeting on Jan. 14, even if the government shutdown isn’t over by then. The shutdown, which began Dec. 22, has disrupted services at all federal agencies, including the FCC. Pai canceled his CES appearance because of the shutdown.

 

Despite the disruption, Pallone said the issue was a public safety and national security concern. The committee couldn’t wait for the government to reopen to get answers, he said.

 

‘The FCC once again appears to have dragged its feet in protecting consumers,’ Pallone said in the letter. ‘While some carriers have now recommitted to stopping such unauthorized disclosure, the public can no longer rely on their voluntary promises to protect this extremely sensitive information.’

 

Several lawmakers, including Sens. Mark Warner, Kamala Harris and Ron Wyden, have also called for the FCC to investigate this practice.

 

The FCC didn’t respond to a request for comment.

 

Mobile carriers collect your phone location data and often use it for legitimate services, like roadside assistance and finding lost devices. They also provide this data to advertisers and sometimes lose control of it to third parties.

 

Phones can often show your location with pinpoint accuracy, as well as your travel history, allowing anyone with access to find your home, your workplace and other areas you frequent.

 

Some mobile carriers have promised to end this practice by March, but lawmakers are skeptical. AT&T, Sprint and Verizon made a similar promise last June, but recent developments showed that people could still obtain anyone’s location data.

 

After AT&T made its announcement on Thursday, Wyden said in a statement, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’

 

Pallone, a Democrat from New Jersey, also expressed his skepticism. He’s calling on the FCC to make sure these companies make good on their promise.

 

‘The FCC must take immediate action to ensure no wireless carrier is allowing the rampant disclosure of real-time location data, and take enforcement action against carriers that violated the Commission’s rules and the trust of their customers,’ Pallone said.

 

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Security

Facebook discloses bug that exposed 6.8 million people’s photos

By on November 8, 2021

 

 

Even if you didn’t post a photo on your Facebook timeline, a software flaw could have shown it to app developers.

 

The social network disclosed a photo API (application program interface) bug on Friday that affected up to 6.8 million people on 1,500 apps connected to Facebook, the company said in a blog post. The flaw is related to the permission you give for an app to access your photos on Facebook — like when dating app Tinder uses your photos to set up your profile.

 

The bug was caused by an error in a code update in September, Facebook said.

 

The API is only supposed to allow the third-party app to access photos that you share on your timeline, but the bug gave app developers complete access to other pictures, such as those uploaded to Facebook Stories or even ones that you uploaded but never posted.

 

‘For example, if someone uploads a photo to Facebook but doesn’t finish posting it — maybe because they’ve lost reception or walked into a meeting — we store a copy of that photo so the person has it when they come back to the app to complete their post,’ Tomer Bar, Facebook’s engineering director, said in the blog post.

 

The issue didn’t affect photos in Messenger, Facebook said.

 

The bug lived for 12 days, between Sept. 13 and Sept. 25, according to Facebook. The social network said that it would be rolling out a tool next week for app developers to determine whether their users were affected by the security flaw. Facebook will also notify via alert the millions of people whose photos were exposed, the company said.

 

‘We’re sorry this happened,’ Bar said.

 

Although Facebook discovered the flaw in September, it didn’t notify the public for nearly three months because it was investigating the issue to find out how many people were affected, the company said.

 

A spokesperson said Facebook notified the Irish Data Protection Commission as soon as it figured out the breach was considered reportable under the European Union’s data protection laws, or GDPR.

 

‘We’ve heard loud and clear that we need to be more transparent about how we build our products and how those products use people’s data — including when things go wrong. These types of notifications are designed to do just that,’ a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.

 

You can check which apps have access to your photos on Facebook in your privacy settings.

 

The flaw is Facebook’s latest security blunder. The company has been hit with multiple screwups related to privacy this year, and a loss of public trust has pushed Facebook to make efforts like hosting privacy pop-up events.

 

 

Facebook dealt with other controversies this year as well, including the massive Cambridge Analytica data abuse scandal, foreign influence campaigns and a major breach affecting 29 million accounts. That breach, announced in September, was also an issue with Facebook’s API, related to birthday videos on the social network.

 

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Internet

Wikimedia Endowment gets new $1 million backing from Amazon

By on November 7, 2021

Amazon has donated $1 million to the Wikimedia Endowment, a fund supporting Wikipedia, the e-commerce giant said Tuesday.

The gift was intended to support Wikipedia and its nonprofit parent Wikimedia, which Amazon relies on for answers on its Alexa voice assistant. It was Amazon’s first ever to the free online information and education organization.

‘We are grateful for Amazon’s support, and hope this marks the beginning of a long-term partnership to supporting Wikipedia’s future,’ Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said in a statement.

Amazon said consumers can also donate to Wikimedia via Alexa Donations, a feature the company launched in April to let people use their Echo speakers to give money to nonprofits.

Amazon’s donation comes as the company and its founder, CEO Jeff Bezos, have both been working to do more in philanthropy. At the same time, Amazon’s surging stock price has made Amazon one of the most valuable companies in the US, at over $950 billion, and made Bezos the world’s richest person.

After little charitable work in past years, Amazon has stepped up with support for Mary’s Place, providing the Seattle nonprofit with a permanent homeless shelter in one of Amazon’s buildings. In 2013, it also started AmazonSmile, which donates a portion of retail sales to charity.

Bezos, who hasn’t been a major player in giving, earlier this month announced a new $2 billion fund to help nonprofits focused on homelessness and create a new network of preschools in low-income communities.

The company and Bezos have still faced considerable criticism, with some saying Bezos’ latest giving is small when compared with his $159 billion fortune. US Sen. Bernie Sanders and others have also criticized Amazon over how it pays and treats its warehouse workers.

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Internet

Microsoft Bing’s China outage may have been a technical error, not a block

By on November 4, 2021

China’s government may not have censored Microsoft’s Bing search engine after all.

 

The service’s outage stemmed from a technical problem, Reuters reported Monday, citing an anonymous source. Microsoft didn’t get any prior notice of a block from the Chinese government and it wasn’t an intentional move, the source reportedly said. The Financial Times reported last week that the outage was the result of a government order.

 

The outage resulted in Chinese internet users who tried to access cn.bing.com being directed to an error page, as they would if they tried to access other sites blocked in the country, the outlet reported. The problem lasted from Thursday to late Friday, it noted.

 

Microsoft confirmed the outage, but didn’t offer any comment on the cause, or the report.

 

‘We can confirm that Bing was inaccessible in China, but service is now restored,’ a Microsoft spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement on Monday.

 

 

 

Google pulled out of China in 2010 to avoid censorship, and last year an effort to bring a censored version of its service — known as the Dragonfly project — to the country was mired in controversy. Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo are among the many Western sites blocked by the Great Firewall of China.

 

China’s Cyberspace Administration couldn’t be reached for comment.

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Internet

FCC leaders say we need a ‘national mission’ to fix rural broadband

By on October 21, 2021
Ajit Pai is distancing himself from President Trump - Protocol — The  people, power and politics of tech

 

Democrats and Republicans in Washington can’t agree on much of anything these days.

One thing they do agree on: The digital divide undercutting rural America needs to be fixed. But figuring out the details of achieving this goal is where the two sides diverge.

As anyone who’s ventured beyond major cities or population centers in the US can tell you, high-speed internet access is a luxury that millions of people don’t experience. According to data from the Federal Communications Commission, roughly 39 percent of people living in rural regions of this country lack access to high-speed broadband, compared with just 4 percent of urban Americans.

What’s more, the internet that rural Americans can access is slower and more expensive than it is for their urban counterparts. To add insult to injury, rural residents generally earns less than those in urban areas.  

So how are policy makers working to solve this problem? I traveled to Washington last month to talk about this topic with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, the only Democrat on the commission. Specifically, I wanted to know what they see as the cause of this divide and how they think it can be bridged.

One thing they agreed on: Deploying broadband is expensive in many parts of the country, making it hard for traditional providers to make a business for building and operating networks. But not surprisingly, they had different perspectives on what it will take to solve the problem.

‘In big cities and urban areas where you have dense populations, the cost of deployment is lower,’ Rosenworcel said. ‘When you get to rural locations it’s harder because financing those networks, deploying them and operating them is just more expensive.’

She added, ‘That’s not a reason not to do it. We’re just going to have to get creative and find ways to connect everyone everywhere.’

The maps ‘stink’

But before you can do that, you have to address one key issue, she said.

‘Our broadband maps are terrible,’ she said. ‘If we’re going to solve this nation’s broadband problems, then the first thing we have to do is fix those maps. We need to know where broadband is and is not in every corner of this country.’

You can’t solve a problem you can’t measure, she added.

The FCC’s current broadband maps grossly misstate where internet or wireless service exists and where it doesn’t. The issue hasn’t escaped the notice of lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle. At an FCC Senate oversight hearing this summer, Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, put it the most bluntly when he said the maps ‘stink.’

One of the major reasons for that: The FCC has relied on wireless and broadband companies to report to the FCC where they offer service. But the agency doesn’t check the data. What’s more, providers only need to report advertised maximum speeds and not actual speeds. They also keep pricing information confidential, which means that broadband speeds may be available but outrageously expensive.

A bigger issue is that so long as providers report having just one customer in a census block — the smallest geographic area used by the US Census Bureau — who can get broadband service, the entire area is considered served. In rural areas, that home may be the only place with internet service for miles around.

Pai agrees that the inaccuracies of the FCC’s maps are a major problem. And he acknowledges that relying solely on self-reported data from the carriers is an issue. But he blames the previous Democrat-led administration for creating the problem and says his administration has been left to clean up the mess. He said that when he became chairman in January 2017, the FCC had to sift through that self-reported data based on parameters that individual carriers defined, creating a mismatched data set.  

‘So we didn’t just have apples and oranges,’ he said. ‘We had apples, oranges, bananas and many other fruits.’

He said his administration has tried to streamline the process so the FCC is at least gathering the same self-reported information from each carrier.  But he admits that the process is still flawed. To rectify that, the agency has developed a challenge process.

‘We’ve asked the American public, state and local officials, and carriers, consumer groups, farm groups in rural states to challenge those maps and tell us where they’re inaccurate,’ he said.

But he says this process will take some time to play out.

‘The maps as they currently stand aren’t perfect,’ Pai said. ‘But our goal is to make sure with respect to wireless connectivity that we have a clear-cut idea about where those connections are and where they aren’t.’

Rosenworcel argues these efforts aren’t enough. She thinks the FCC needs to use staff from its field offices to go out to check the maps. She also says the FCC needs to go directly to the public for this information.

‘Every one of us knows where we get bars on our phone,’ she said. ‘We need to figure out how to crowdsource all that energy out there in the public and develop a map that isn’t just made here in Washington but is made by all of us.’

Factoring in the net neutrality repeal

Another area of disagreement between the two officials is the role that the repeal of the popular 2015 net neutrality rules has played in spurring investment in broadband infrastructure, particularly for rural carriers.

The Obama-era net neutrality rules prohibited broadband companies from blocking or slowing access to websites or online services. They also banned providers from favoring their own services over competitors’ offerings. But the rules also reclassified broadband as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act, potentially subjecting broadband and wireless networks to regulation originally meant for telephone networks.

The broadband industry and Republicans like Pai argued that saddling broadband and wireless companies with utility-style regulation developed 80 years ago stifled innovation and network investment, particularly in rural areas where capital is already constrained.

‘We saw a downturn for the first time outside a recession in the two years when Title II was in effect,’ Pai said.

He said the rules hit smaller carriers especially hard. He pointed to Paladin Wireless in Royston, Georgia, which he said spent $8,000 in compliance under the previous rules. While that might be a small amount of money for a big company like AT&T or Verizon, he said, $8,000 to a small wireless company ‘could have gone a long way in terms of connecting people.’

Since the rules were repealed, according to Pai, rural operators have said they’re more confident about investing in their networks.

He said VTel Wireless, a small wireless company serving rural Vermont and parts of New Hampshire, decided to invest $4 million to upgrade its 4G LTE network as a result of the net neutrality repeal.

‘Smaller providers will tell you that this does factor into their decisions,’ Pai said.  ‘And to have a light-touch approach that protects consumers on one hand and preserves their incentive and ability to invest on the other is a really powerful solution, especially in rural America.’

Rosenworcel disagrees. She said she supports net neutrality and believes the agency’s ‘misguided decision’ to repeal the rules will ‘squander internet openness.’  

‘The argument is that we will see more deployment in rural locations,’ she said. ‘But I don’t believe that we have evidence that suggests that’s happening. Instead, what we have are more companies with more rights to block and censor content online, and that’s not good for any of us.’

Ajit Pai is distancing himself from President Trump - Protocol — The  people, power and politics of tech

A 1930s-style ‘national mission’

Ultimately, Pai and Rosenworcel agreed what’s really needed to bring broadband to every American is a national vision on the scale of what the US government did when it brought electricity to rural America in the 1930s.

‘We were able to get electrification to happen in rural, hard-to-reach parts of this nation,’ Rosenworcel said. ‘We need to be able to do the same with broadband.’

Pai agrees that a ‘national mission when it comes to broadband,’ on the scale of what happened the better part of a century ago, is necessary. He said what gives people hope in small towns throughout rural America is the ‘promise of digital opportunity.’

People living in these areas want the same thing that people in big cities and suburban areas want, he emphasized. They want to be able to better educate their kids, access high-quality health care and enable precision agriculture to grow their businesses. And all of that in 2018 requires connectivity to high-speed internet service.

‘It really would be a game-changer for rural America if every town in this country were connected,’ he said. ‘And that idea is bipartisan in nature.’

 

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Sci-Tech

The quest to build the perfect horse — for therapy

By on October 20, 2021

Everything was fine for about half a second.

But then the students heard a loud pop from the motor and watched a spark fly across the meeting room.

Anyone peeking through the glass walls of Rice University’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen early in the second semester of 2018 would have seen six very concerned mechanical engineering students race to unplug their senior project, which had just blown a capacitor in a pretty dramatic fashion.

In an instant, the group’s mood had switched from confident to ‘Oh God, what just happened?’ team member James Phillips remembers.

Faculty adviser Marcia O’Malley just sat at a table and laughed.

Turns out, building a robotic horse simulator has its challenges.

It might seem like an unusual pursuit, but the students were creating a machine that could be used in hippotherapy. ‘Hippo’ comes from the Greek for ‘horse.’ You already know what therapy means.

The notion is that a horse’s movement affects a rider’s core posture, balance, coordination, flexibility and strength, while also stimulating the neurosensory systems we need to function, says Ruth Dismuke-Blakely, faculty coordinator at the American Hippotherapy Association. That helps explain why physical, occupational, speech and language therapists use hippotherapy to help patients with a wide range of issues — from Down syndrome and cerebral palsy to coordination disorders and traumatic brain injuries.

‘Everything you do as a functioning human — whether it’s walking or handling a fork or talking or getting dressed — all depends on your core postural mechanism,’ Dismuke-Blakely says.

Which means that robotic horse had to move like the real thing.

green-hill-therapy-magazine-photos-5

By the end of the school year, the students finally produced a mechanical horse called Stewie — named for the Stewart Platform that provides freedom of movement along six axes: longitudinal, lateral, vertical, pitch, roll and yaw. Stewart Platforms are used extensively in flight simulation.

With Stewie’s jaunty brown cowboy hat atop a black mane, the simulator provides the benefits of hippotherapy when there’s nary a horse in sight. Plus, there’s nothing to clean up, if you know what I mean.

Hippo what?

It’s May in Louisville, Kentucky. The sun is up, the grass is shockingly green and the air is thick with pollen.

I’ve driven out to Green Hill Therapy, in the middle of horse country. Executive Director Lee Ann Weinberg shows me around the grounds and leads me to a large barn where an 18-year-old horse named Frejya is midsession with a 6-year-old girl named Reese.

Reese’s grandmother, Candora McKinley, tells me her granddaughter was born with hypotonia, or low muscle tone.

‘It has been tremendous for her. When Reese first came, it was really hard for her to sit up real straight,’ McKinley says as she watches Reese bump along on Frejya, flanked by a therapist and a volunteer. ‘It’s really good for her core.’

When horses walk, their hips and torso move side to side, front to back and rotationally. Each rhythmic movement can benefit a child’s specific needs. The horse’s gait moves riders’ hips for them, stimulating a young paraplegic’s muscles and nerves that are otherwise unused. It can also help build core strength, important for children like Reese.

Or take a kid whose brain has trouble processing information that comes through the senses. Every bump on the horse sends a message along the child’s spinal column telling the brain where her body is in space and helping to regulate her system, says Julie Minnick, equine manager at Green Hill Therapy and certified occupational therapy assistant.

hippo2-300-1

Taking the reins

So how do you build a robot that moves like a horse?

‘Our first step was to ride horses,’ Matt O’Gorman tells me over Google Hangouts one morning. He’s with classmates Phillips and Kelsi Wicker just hours after they’ve turned in their final report.

No, really — they had to collect data on how horses move. But since you’re a lot more likely to find information on how racehorses run than on how the average horse walks, the students had to use their phones’ accelerometers to collect those stats. That helped them program the Stewart Platform to mimic horses’ gaits.

And they prototyped the hell out of it.

‘All of a sudden they had a horse,’ says Matt Elliott, a lecturer in Rice’s Mechanical Engineering Department and co-adviser for the team.

Stewie can hold about 250 pounds and is programmed with the gaits of different horses.

Move it

Movement is a powerful thing.

A few studies have found there’s not a whole lot of difference between simulators and horses when treating kids with cerebral palsy or those paralyzed on one side.

Weinberg and Minnick, though, would argue it’s not just about movement.

Minnick describes the bonds kids forge with the horses, how the horses just seem to absorb emotion and respond to the children, and how even nonverbal kids scan the barn looking for the sweet creatures that don’t expect anything from them.

So, why would you opt for a simulator over a real horse?

‘[Horses] have to be fed, exercised; they need people to manage them,’ Phillips tells me over Google Hangouts. ‘A lot of people who live in the city can’t sacrifice the time or the resources.’

Even Weinberg agrees the simulators have value, although she’d recommend getting to a ranch so you can take in the fresh air, chirping birds and earthy smells.

A horse is a horse, of course. 

 

 

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Politics

Ajit Pai showed no ‘favoritism towards Sinclair,’ FCC watchdog finds

By on October 15, 2021

 

 

An investigation by the internal watchdog for the Federal Communications Commission has found no evidence that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai improperly dealt with Sinclair Broadcast Group before its proposed merger with Tribune Media.

 

Last year, the FCC’s Office of Inspector General opened an investigation into Pai’s dealings with Sinclair before he pushed the agency to loosen rules allowing TV broadcasters to increase the number of stations they own. A few weeks after the FCC adopted those rules in April 2017, Sinclair announced plans for a $3.9 billion buyout of Tribune, which would’ve made it the largest owner of broadcast stations in the US. (The merger ultimately didn’t happen.)

 

The Inspector General report released Monday found ‘no evidence of impropriety, unscrupulous behavior, favoritism towards Sinclair, or lack of impartiality related to the proposed Sinclair-Tribune Merger.’

 

As part of the investigation, the Inspector General’s office reviewed conversations between Pai and executives from Sinclair and the Executive Office of the President, as well as written communications between the chairman and FCC staff concerning the merger.

 

‘Our review did not reveal any improper actions,’ the report reads. ‘When we followed up with both Chairman Pai and [FCC Chief of Staff] Matthew Berry, asking for further details regarding these meetings and calls, we confirmed that belief.’

 

In a statement, Pai said he’s ‘pleased’ with the conclusion of the Inspector General report.

 

‘I have called on the FCC for many years to update its outdated media ownership regulations to match the realities of the modern marketplace,’ Pai said in the statement. ‘As I said when this investigation was first announced, the suggestion that I favored any one company was absurd, and today’s report proves that Capitol Hill Democrats’ politically-motivated accusation were entirely baseless.’

 

You can read the full report below:

 

Office of Inspector General report: Sinclair-Tribune merger by jonathan_skillings on Scribd

 

 

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