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    Facebook finds groups trying to influence midterm elections

    The social media site removes pages for 'inauthentic' behavior

    Facebook says it has removed 32 pages and accounts from both Facebook and Instagram because they were determined to be engaging in “inauthentic” behavior that purportedly aimed to influence the midterm elections.

    “This kind of behavior is not allowed on Facebook because we don’t want people or organizations creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they are, or what they’re doing,” the company said in a statement.

    Facebook is highly sensitive to that kind of activity after it was revealed in March that Cambridge Analytica, a political marketing firm, made unauthorized use of Facebook user data to try to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

    Discovered two weeks ago

    Facebook said the issue first came to light in mid-July. Since then it has tried to isolate the source, but it has been unsuccessful thus far.

    In its investigation, the social media giant has identified eight pages and 17 profiles on Facebook, as well as seven Instagram accounts, that it says violates the company's ban on coordinated inauthentic behavior. All have been taken down.

    Facebook also said it has turned over all of its findings to law enforcement agencies, Congress, other technology companies, and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, a research organization that helps Facebook identify abuse.

    Little impact

    The Facebook investigation also determined that the group or groups behind the “inauthentic” content apparently had little impact. There were more than 9,500 organic posts by the accounts, but very few seemed to draw much notice since the accounts had few followers.

    The most followers were for four groups – “Aztlan Warriors,” “Black Elevation,” “Mindful Being,” and “Resisters.” The rest of the pages reportedly had between zero and 10 followers.

    Facebook said the targeted groups paid about $11,000 for 150 ads on Facebook and Instagram starting in April 2017. The last ad ran last month.

    “It’s clear that whoever set up these accounts went to much greater lengths to obscure their true identities than the Russian-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) has in the past,” Facebook said. “We believe this could be partly due to changes we’ve made over the last year to make this kind of abuse much harder.”

    The company said it would continue to work with law enforcement and other tech firms to better understand the threats it faces.

    Facebook says it has removed 32 pages and accounts from both Facebook and Instagram because they were determined to be engaging in “inauthentic” behavior t...
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      Trump threatens government shutdown over wall funding

      Most Washington insiders discount that possibility

      President Trump is holding out the threat of a government shutdown in September if Congress doesn't approve funding for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

      But no one else seems to be talking about it.

      “There is no discussion up here about a shutdown," said Sen. Jim Risch, (R-Idaho). "Neither side wants it.”

      But in a presidential tweet, Trump warned that he would decline to sign the annual appropriations bill if “Democrats do not give us the votes for Border Security, which includes the Wall!”

      Currently, the House and Senate have different versions of the appropriations bill, containing very different levels of financial support for a wall. The House version provides $5 billion for wall construction, while the Senate version contains just $1.6 billion.

      Small window of time

      Once Congress returns from its August recess, it will have less than two weeks to approve a spending bill the president will sign. While there doesn't appear to be an appetite for a government shutdown, one can't be ruled out, especially when the president is holding it out as a threat.

      In recent years, the threat of a government shutdown has been used by both Democrats and Republicans as a negotiating tactic. Usually the party in power wants to avoid one because it normally gets the blame.

      The last shutdown occurred early this year and lasted only a few days. When the government shuts down, it mostly affects government workers, who are temporarily laid off because there is no money approved to pay them.

      What happens during a shutdown

      Consumers can be inconvenienced if they need the assistance from one of these "non-essential workers." For example, people applying for or renewing a passport will have to wait until the government is back in operation before they can get their travel documents. In previous shutdowns, the State Department employees who process passports have been among the federal workers who were furloughed.

      If you plan to visit a national park, you will likely find it closed. That won't be limited to parks like Yellowstone, but major tourist attractions in Washington, DC that are operated by the National Park Service.

      If you need assistance from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), you'll have to wait until the government is back in operation. Consumers trying to get a home mortgage approved could be inconvenienced because their lender might not be able to access their tax records.

      President Trump is holding out the threat of a government shutdown in September if Congress doesn't approve funding for a wall along the U.S. border with M...
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      Uber shuts down self-driving truck division

      The company wants to readjust its focus to its self-driving cars

      On Monday, the Uber announced that it will stop development of it self-driving trucks fleet in order to focus its efforts on self-driving cars. Employees who had been working in this division will be transferred to Uber’s self-driving car operation, while the company’s on-demand logistics project Uber Freight will not be affected by this decision.

      “We’ve decided to stop development on our self-driving truck program and move forward exclusively with cars,” said Eric Meyhofer, head of the Uber Advanced Technologies Group.

      “We recently took the important step of returning to public roads in Pittsburgh, and as we look to continue that momentum, we believe having our entire team’s energy and expertise focused on this effort is the best path forward.”

      Uber Freight

      In 2016, Uber acquired the self-driving truck startup Otto, with the idea of uniting self-driving trucks and truck drivers to move freight around the country.

      In March, Uber began putting those trucks on the roads in Arizona, though they had been quietly testing the program in the Grand Canyon since November.

      “In order to provide digital services in the physical world, we must build sophisticated logistics, artificial intelligence, and robotic systems that serve and elevate humanity,” said Travis Kalanick, Uber’s then-CEO and founder.

      “Together, we have one of the strongest autonomous and engineering groups in the word; self-driving trucks and cars that are already on the road thanks to Otto and Uber Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh; the practical experience that comes from running ridesharing and delivery services in hundreds of cities; with the data and intelligence that comes from doing 1.2 billion miles on the road every month.”

      With Uber’s self-driving trucks, the automated system takes control of the vehicle’s accelerating, braking, and steering, but a driver behind the wheel monitors the driving and is ready to take over should something go wrong. Additionally, the trucks come with hardware, software, and sensors designed to detect obstacles, identify the best navigation paths, and interpret relevant signage.

      Controversy

      Nine months after Uber acquired Otto, the rideshare giant was involved in a lawsuit with Waymo, the former Google self-driving project. Waymo accused former Google engineer and Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski of devising a plan that spilled trade secrets related to Waymo’s developing technologies, and ultimately using it to start Otto.

      The lawsuit alleged that Levandowski downloaded over 14,000 confidential and proprietary files before his resignation, and that he was using Waymo’s initiatives to benefit Otto -- and Uber. While Uber fired Levandowski, the two parties reached a settlement out of court.

      Recent successes

      Uber Freight started in just three regions in the country, and has since expanded to cover the entire continental United States. The operation is considered a viable revenue opportunity for the company, as it nearly tripled in size, with offices in both San Francisco and Chicago.

      “Rather than having two groups working side by side, focused on different vehicle platforms, I want us instead collaborating as one team,” Meyhofer said in an email to employees. “I know we’re all super proud of what the Trucks team has accomplished, and we continue to see the incredible promise of self-driving technology applied to moving freight across the country. But we believe delivering on self-driving for passenger applications first, and then bringing it to freight applications down the line, is the best path forward. For now, we need the focus of one team, with one clear objective.”

      On Monday, the Uber announced that it will stop development of it self-driving trucks fleet in order to focus its efforts on self-driving cars. Employees w...
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      It's now illegal to smoke in federal public housing units

      The government’s no smoking policy went into effect today

      A new no smoking policy went into effect today at all federal public housing units because of a 2016 Department of Housing and Urban Affairs (HUD) rule.

      The rule is designed to protect people in public housing from secondhand smoke. Advocates of the rule point out that federal housing is largely made up of multi-unit complexes, where occupants of one unit might be exposed to tobacco smoke from another.

      The rule mandates that lit cigarettes, cigars, and pipes can only be smoked at least 25 feet away from public housing units. Some municipalities may have stricter rules.

      Curtailing secondhand smoke

      In recent years, studies have shown that secondhand smoke can make its way throughout multifamily housing, moving from units occupied by smokers into units occupied by nonsmokers.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently conducted research that found most multi-unit housing residents had smoke-free homes, but nearly one-third of those residents said cigarette smoke from other areas of the building often entered their apartments.

      In 2006, the U.S. Surgeon General concluded that secondhand smoke increases the risk of serious respiratory problems and infections in children. It also said secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer and coronary heart disease in adult non-smokers.

      Anti-smoking groups approve

      In response to the new rule, an anti-smoking group called the Truth Initiative lauded regulators for stepping up and enacting protections for consumer health that include restrictions on more than just cigarettes.

      “We applaud HUD for also including waterpipe/hookah tobacco in its smoke-free policy,” the group said in a statement. “Hookah involves combustion, and hookah smoke exposes users to many of the same toxicants found in cigarette smoke, and may place users at risk for many of the same diseases as cigarette smokers.”

      Work began on the smoking ban in late 2015 when HUD began drafting the rule. In addition to reducing the risk of fires and lowering maintenance costs, HUD said the ban on smoking would drastically improve indoor air quality in public housing spaces.

      The rule was formally submitted a few months later, and after an extended comment period, it has taken effect.

      How the rule will be enforced is another issue. The Truth Initiative urged federal housing officials not to use eviction as a punishment, suggesting enforcement include education and smoking cessation options.

      A new no smoking policy went into effect today at all federal public housing units because of a 2016 Department of Housing and Urban Affairs (HUD) rule....
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      Tesla tests factory-to-consumer delivery for Model 3

      Elon Musk personally delivered one Model 3 to a customer in California

      In an effort to alleviate delivery bottlenecks, Tesla is testing a direct-to-consumer Model 3 delivery system for local deliveries.

      Chief Executive Elon Musk tested the new system himself by coming along to deliver a blue Model 3 to a customer in Playa Vista, California, a few miles from Tesla’s Marina Del Rey delivery center.

      “We tried out a new delivery system using an enclosed trailer straight from factory to owner’s home, so super convenient & car arrives in pristine condition without wasting plastic wrap,” Musk tweeted.

      Streamlining delivery process

      Since Tesla achieved its goal of producing 5,000 units in a week, the electric automaker’s service centers have been overwhelmed with customer deliveries. The direct-to-consumer delivery system may be intended to ease capacity issues and expedite the delivery system.

      For the new system, Model 3s are delivered directly from Tesla’s northern California assembly center to a consumer’s home within a certain radius of the factory. That’s a change from Tesla’s former method of carrying out home deliveries, which was not direct-from-the-factory.

      Electrek points out that the new system enables Tesla to streamline the process for local deliveries by cutting out several steps, including waiting for a truck to load several vehicles, going to a Tesla store or delivery hub, and sitting in transit in between.

      The automaker is also testing other ways to simplify and speed up the process. Its “Sign and Drive” program gets buyers out the door in just five minutes by replacing the need for a lengthy walk-through at the dealership with a series of nine videos watched by the customer beforehand.

      In an effort to alleviate delivery bottlenecks, Tesla is testing a direct-to-consumer Model 3 delivery system for local deliveries. Chief Executive Elo...
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      Survey shows parents spending more on back to school

      The back-to-school shopping season also started earlier this year

      Parents are spending significantly more on back-to-school items this year, according to an annual survey from RetailMeNot.

      In some cases, prices have gone up. In other instances, parents are opting for more expensive versions of supplies than they purchased in the past. According to the survey, parents plan to spend an average of $189 on clothing, compared to $153 last year.

      The largest percentage increase in back-to-school spending is for electronics gear. Parents are spending an average of $186, compared to $121 in 2017. That's a 53 percent increase.

      Spending on shoes is also sharply higher this year, rising 33 percent, from $71 to $95. Other clothing expenses are expected to rise from $153 to $189.

      This year the RetailMeNot survey found that spending on backpacks is expected to rise from $33 to $45, along with higher rates of spending on pencils, folders and art supplies.

      Spending 35 percent more

      In seven categories, parents are projected to spend an average of $569, a 35 percent increase over 2017 back-to-school expenses.

      "Parents aren't just spending more money on back to school, they're getting more strategic with their shopping," says Shopping & Trends Expert for RetailMeNot, Sara Skirboll. "We found that 85 percent have given themselves five weeks to gather all the necessary school supplies for the start of the school year."

      Back-to-school spending has become a major event for the economy in recent years, while causing some families financial stress. Financial advisers suggest families create a back-to-school budget, like they should for any expensive event.

      Back-to-school budget

      A budget should include expenses required by the school first, before consideration is given to clothing and shoes. If your child takes part in sports or music programs, those costs need to be accounted for.

      Starting the shopping season early can not only remove some of the stress, but might also yield better prices on some items. If your state declares a brief sales tax holiday, make sure you do the bulk of your shopping during that time, when you could save 5 percent or more.

      RetailMeNot's survey of teachers found some consistent requests. Students in kindergarten through third grade need to show up at school with a set of crayons. Kids in fourth, seventh, and eighth grades need plenty of loose-leaf paper, and all high school students should have a good supply of pens when the new school year begins.

      Parents are spending significantly more on back-to-school items this year, according to an annual survey from RetailMeNot.In some cases, prices have go...
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      Hewlett-Packard offers hackers a bounty to break into their printers

      The company is the latest to take a proactive approach in finding bugs

      Hewlett-Packard (HP) is offering hackers a bounty of up to $10,000 if they can find vulnerabilities in the company’s printers.

      CNET is reporting that HP quietly started a hacking bounty program in May. A total of 34 researchers have joined, including one who already earned $10,000 for detecting a flaw.

      Printers are one of many consumer products that are vulnerable to hacking. Like other unexpected hacking targets, they can fall to the wayside when it comes to the attention of security researchers, who may be more interested in protecting webcams and other obvious targets.

      "As we navigate an increasingly complex world of cyber threats, it’s paramount that industry leaders leverage every resource possible to deliver trusted, resilient security from the firmware up," said Shivaun Albright, HP's chief technologist of print security, in a statement.

      Taking a proactive approach

      With nearly every industry proven to be vulnerable to hackers, researchers have said that businesses need to be more proactive in patching security holes.

      As a result, hacking corporate clients in exchange for a “bounty”or fee has grown into a full-time career for some researchers. Recently, the automaker BMW honored the Keen Research group for their findings that hackers could remotely access its cars and wreak terror on drivers.

      Hewlett-Packard (HP) is offering hackers a bounty of up to $10,000 if they can find vulnerabilities in the company’s printers.CNET is reporting that HP...
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      BMW recalls X3 and X4 vehicles

      Braking performance may be reduced

      BMW of North America is recalling 5,594 model year 2018-2019 BMW X3 sDrive30i, X3 xDrive30i, X3 M40i and model year 2019 X4 xDrive30i & X4 M40i vehicles.

      The vehicle's rear brake caliper pistons may have an insufficient coating, potentially reducing rear brake performance, increasing a crash risk.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will bleed the rear brake circuit, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin August 21, 2018.

      Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417.

      BMW of North America is recalling 5,594 model year 2018-2019 BMW X3 sDrive30i, X3 xDrive30i, X3 M40i and model year 2019 X4 xDrive30i & X4 M40i vehicles....
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      Model year 2017 Mercedes-Benz G65 AMGs recalled

      The vehicles may have incorrect reverse speed limitation software

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 20 model year 2017 Mercedes-Benz G65 AMGs.

      Thee vehicles may be equipped with the incorrect reverse speed limitation software. While in reverse, any abrupt changes in steering while exceeding 16 MPH may cause the vehicle to become unstable.

      An unstable vehicle in reverse gear can lead to a vehicle rollover, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will update the engine control unit (ECU) software, free of charge.

      The recall was expected to begin July 27, 2018.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-800-367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 20 model year 2017 Mercedes-Benz G65 AMGs.Thee vehicles may be equipped with the incorrect reverse speed limitat...
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      Companies facing tariffs say they'll pass on the higher costs

      Consumers are likely to pay for the trade war

      Farmers, fishermen, and bourbon distillers have been some of the early victims of the budding trade war between Washington and much of the rest of the world.

      Those products have been tagged for retaliatory tariffs after the Trump administration imposed billions of dollars in tariffs on goods from China, Canada, Mexico, and the European Union, meaning U.S. exporters will probably sell less in the months ahead.

      But the next victims will probably be U.S. consumers, who will face higher prices, both on imports and on domestic products produced with imported materials.

      The evidence emerged last week as many major U.S. corporations reported quarterly earnings and reassured investors on conference calls that higher costs from tariffs would not cut into profit margins, but would be paid by consumers.

      'Expect to pass along increased costs'

      "With the latest round of tariff talk we could see an inflationary impact in automotive, however, there is still a fair amount of uncertainty around its timing and ultimate impact," said Carol Yancy, CFO of Genuine Auto Parts, parent company of NAPA. "With that said, we expect to be able to pass along any increases to customers."

      Investors in Grainger got similar assurances from company CFO Thomas Okray.

      "We expect we will see some supplier inflation related to tariffs in the second half, and we are confident in our ability to pass along price increases," he said on the company's earnings conference call.

      Donald Allan, CFO at Stanley Black&Decker, was also confident the tariffs wouldn't be a problem for shareholders.

      'Transferring this cost increase'

      "Our focus right now is really transferring this cost increase on to the customers and end users because we see it as a very direct cost increase, and it's something we believe that's an appropriate response in the short and medium term," Allan said.

      However, not every industry may be able to pass on its tariff costs to consumers. Earl Hersterberg CEO of Group 1 Auto Sales, expressed relief after the White House reached an agreement with the EU, heading off planned tariffs on imported cars.

      "Any appreciable tariff that would ultimately increase the price of new cars from Germany, Mexico and Canada, if those prices go up sales volume will come down," Hersterberg told CNBC.

      The higher prices have not yet appeared for the most part, but have long been predicted. In early July, Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) Executive Vice President for Policy Josh Kallmer warned tariffs on electronic components and finished products would have the greatest impact on consumers.

      He predicted higher costs for LEDs, printer and scanner components, and sensors. Higher costs on those items, he said, would raise the price of computers, phones, thermostats, and similar everyday items.

      Farmers, fishermen, and bourbon distillers have been some of the early victims of the budding trade war between Washington and much of the rest of the worl...
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      Google Play Store bans crypto mining apps

      Google says it is committed to delivering the most innovative and trusted apps to users

      Google has updated its Play Store developer policies, with the company now banning several more categories of apps. The Store has banned cryptocurrency mining apps, as well as apps with disruptive ads.

      “We don’t allow apps that mine cryptocurrency on devices,” the policy update reads. “We permit apps that remotely manage the mining of cryptocurrency.”

      While the new policy has explicitly spelled out bans for crypto mining apps like NeoNeonMiner, MinerGate, and Crypto Miner, apps that “remotely manage the mining of cryptocurrency” will still be available for users.

      These now-banned apps are involved in what has come to be known as cryptojacking -- a “method used by hackers to embed cryptocurrency mining scripts onto a user’s device without their consent, consuming battery power, and degrading system performance,” according to CryptoSlate.

      Google had banned cryptocurrency mining extensions from the Chrome Store earlier this year in an effort to prevent attacks like these.

      Other new restrictions

      In addition to the crypto mining apps, Google has also banned repetitive apps from the Play Store. These are apps that mimic pre-existing apps on the platform or offer users very similar experiences. The company explained that “apps that are created by an automated tool, wizard service, or based on templates and submitted to Google Play by the operator of that service on behalf of other persons are not allowed.”

      The Store has also placed new restrictions on apps that deal with firearms and firearm accessories. Google has banned apps that “facilitate the sale of explosives, firearms, ammunition, or certain firearms accessories.”

      As for firearm accessories, the Play Store defines restricted firearm accessories as those that allow a firearm to “simulate automatic fire or convert a firearm to automatic fire (e.g. bump stocks, gatling triggers, drop-in auto sears, conversion kits), and magazines or belts carrying more than 30 rounds.” Also banned are apps that give detailed instructions on manufacturing explosives, firearms, ammunition, and other weapons.

      Google Play’s new restrictions also include apps that “appeal to children but contain adult themes.” Additionally, apps that force users to submit personal information or click ads in order to gain full access to the app have been banned.

      Google has updated its Play Store developer policies, with the company now banning several more categories of apps. The Store has banned cryptocurrency min...
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      Walmart launches revamped baby section on its website

      The retailer added more than 30,000 nursery and baby-themed items to its website

      Just weeks after the last Babies “R” Us store closed its doors, Walmart is ramping up its assortment of products geared towards new parents.

      Last week, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer updated its website to include a larger selection of baby products.

      Walmart said searches for baby and/or nursery items on its website have increased nearly 40 percent within the past year. In an effort to fill the void left by Babies “R” Us, the company has added more than 30,000 baby-themed items to its website.

      With the help of a new “shop by style” tool, consumers shopping for baby gear on Walmart.com can choose from six curated baby collections: wanderlust, boho chic, mid-century modern, baby boy, baby girl, and gender-neutral nurseries Shoppers can also narrow their search to a specific area or need, such as storage, nursing, or diaper changing.

      "Having to shop for the nursery as a first-time parent can be overwhelming,'' Lauren Uppington, Walmart eCommerce U.S. vice president and general manager for baby, said in a blog post. "That’s why we wanted to make it as easy as possible for new parents to shop for everything they need for their babies’ nurseries.''

      Hitting the summer baby boom

      Uppington said Walmart timed the introduction of these new shopping features for families for mid-summer because it has historically been “when most babies are born.”

      “It also follows efforts to create a new in-store experience in the baby department in more than 2,000 stores across the country,” she said in a statement.

      The retailer’s push into the baby business follows other changes to its online shopping experience. In May, Walmart added high-end items to the fashion section of its website in the hope of becoming a “fashion destination” for shoppers. The company also made changes to the home categories on its site.

      Several other retailers have set out to pick up where Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us left off.

      Earlier this year, Target expanded its private-label brand Cloud Island with more diaper bags and crib sheets. BuyBuy Baby offered to help consumers with Babies R Us gift registries recreate them at its stores.

      Just weeks after the last Babies “R” Us store closed its doors, Walmart is ramping up its assortment of products geared towards new parents. Last week,...
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