posted 9 days ago on ars technica
In its ongoing tug-of-war with the New York Attorney General, Airbnb announced it will hand over data—including names and addresses—on 124 of its hosts within New York City. Airbnb elaborated within a blog post about the compliance on Friday. The company said it reviewed its New York hosts and removed a number of them for failing to live up to the site's standards. And as they were working to reach an agreement with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, they became increasingly confident that he "was truly concerned about a relatively small number of hosts he considered to be 'bad actors,' and that the vast majority of our community was never a target of his inquiries. As a result, we came to expect that we would start receiving requests for individual data at a relatively modest level." Airbnb said the vast majority of the 124 targeted hosts were no longer listed on the site, and those still with the site are hosts with multiple listings. "Without knowing more about why the Attorney General is interested in those hosts specifically, it is hard to know why they have been targeted," the company said. Airbnb did, however, point out that the final number is small (less than one percent) when compared to Schneiderman's original request for data on 15,000+ users. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Ron Amadeo Specs at a glance: Xiaomi Mi4 Screen 1920×1080 5.0"(441 ppi) IPS LCD OS Android KitKat 4.4.2 with MIUI 5 CPU 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 RAM 3GB GPU Adreno 330 Storage 16GB or 64GB, not expandable Networking Dual Band 802.11b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS Network GSM 850/900/1800/1900 HSDPA 850/900/1900/2100 LTE version TBA Ports Micro USB 2.0, headphones Camera 13MP rear camera, 8MP front camera, Size 139.2mm x 68.5mm x 8.9mm Weight 149g Battery 3080 mAh, not removable Starting price $320 unlocked in China, $480 through importer Other perks RBG notification LED, IrLED, NFC, removable back plate Xiaomi (pronounced SHAO-mee) is a complete mystery in the West. We often hear stories about the "Apple of China" and how existing OEMs should be worried, but it's rare to get a look at any actual devices from the company. China is the world's largest smartphone market, and the #1 OEM in China isn't Samsung or Apple—it's Xiaomi. The company was only founded in 2010, but it sold 18.7 million smartphones in 2013. It expects to triple that number this year. Why—and how—is this startup beating the biggest companies in the world? To discover Xiaomi's secrets and to investigate the state of Android in China, we imported the company's brand new flagship: say hello to the Xiaomi Mi4. Xiaomi's greatest strength is its execution. A lot of things the company does are not unique, but Xiaomi does a fantastic job of whatever it puts its mind to. So yes, the front of the Mi4 (pronounced mee-four) is basically a big iPhone, but it's also built like an iPhone. A steel frame with chamfered edges, thin bezels, and impeccable construction make this the best Android hardware we've seen all year. Read 89 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Flickr user: stefanvds The vast expanse between stars is not quite empty—it’s home to a diffuse spread of dust, aptly called the interstellar medium (ISM). Studies of the ISM have largely relied on inferences since direct observations of the dim, diffuse material are difficult. But now it seems we have a chance for an up-close look. According to a recent study, seven dust particles caught by the Stardust spacecraft likely came from the ISM. If true, the particles may be the first material captured from outside the Solar System, allowing scientists to study the ISM more directly. Assuming that they did originate outside the Solar System, the particles can be used to address unanswered questions about the ISM. For one thing, scientists are still unsure whether most of the gas in the ISM is atomic, molecular, or ionic, or whether any of these phases is dominant at all. Scientists would also hope to address whether most particles there are crystalline or amorphous in structure and how much iron is present. (There are materials called GEMS—glass with embedded metal and sulfides—that may also originate from outside the Solar System, but this is a contentious subject within the scientific community.) Read 21 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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A malicious application could enable the theft of login credentials, sensitive images, and other data from Android smartphones by making use of a newly discovered information-leakage weakness in the operating system, according to a team of researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of California at Riverside. The attack, known as a user interface (UI) inference attack, makes use of the design of programming frameworks that share memory, allowing one application to gather information about the state of other applications. The information can be gathered without any special Android permissions or by grabbing screen pixels, according to a paper presented at the USENIX Security Conference on Friday. The technique gives attackers the ability to infer the state of a targeted application, enabling more convincing attacks. If malware knows that the targeted user has just clicked on a "login" button, then it can throw up a dialog box asking for a username and password. If the malware can infer that a user is about to take a picture of a check or sensitive document, it can quickly take a second picture. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Beauty, it is said, is in the eye of the beholder. And yet, there are many faces that a majority would find beautiful, say, George Clooney’s or Audrey Hepburn’s. Psychologists interested in mate selection and the visual processing of faces have long sought to understand why some faces are widely regarded as attractive. Researchers have identified several cues associated with facial beauty, including “averageness”—faces close to the population mean are judged attractive—and “sexual dimorphism”—faces that accentuate characteristics that distinguish males and females are desirable. There has also been long-standing interest in facial symmetry. Most faces appear broadly symmetric. Close inspection, however, almost always reveals subtle deviations from perfect symmetry. It is common for one eye to be positioned slightly above the other, or further away from the mid-line, and features are rarely perfectly symmetric in shape. Having examined the relationship between degree of facial symmetry and perceived attractiveness, many studies have found that beautiful faces exhibit greater symmetry. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The US government claims these are Ross Ulbricht's fraudulent identification cards. United States Attorney's Office, Southern District of NY Federal prosecutors have tacked on three new charges in the criminal case against Ross Ulbricht, the suspect that the government has identified as the mastermind of the Silk Road online drug marketplace. According to a 17-page amended indictment filed late Thursday night, the government added one count of “narcotics trafficking,” one count of “distribution of narcotics by means of the Internet,” and "conspiracy to traffic in fraudulent identification documents." Previously, Ulbricht had been indicted in February 2014 on four formal criminal offenses: narcotics trafficking conspiracy, continuing criminal enterprise, computer hacking conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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CarPlay, Apple’s in-car iOS integration product, has shown up in flashy demos at various trade shows this year, but it will take a while before we see it on the roads, according to Lucas Mearian at Computerworld. Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, and Honda are all believed to be pushing back plans to include CarPlay in some of their new models until 2015. Apple’s influence on the automotive industry may have been unintentional at first, but the arrival of the iPod created an infotainment paradigm shift. iPod owners wanted their MP3 players to connect to their cars. Less than a decade later and even the cheapest rental car now comes with a plethora of USB ports and wireless options for piping one’s tunes through the car’s speakers. CarPlay is an evolution of this approach, moving the display from the mobile device to the car’s center stack, as well as integrating Siri into the infotainment system. An Apple-created solution, (potentially) free of the kludginess that often comes with third-party systems may help sell cars to the 42 percent of American smartphone users who have iOS, but equally might do little to attract their Android-using counterparts, who outnumber them 5 to 4 domestically and by quite a considerable margin worldwide. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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CN.dart.call("xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:["top"], collapse: true});Space Quest wasn’t the first computer game my dad bought for us to play. As a child of the mid-1980s with an IBM PC, I had a whole rapidly exploding industry of games spread out before me, and the first game he brought home from the store (the same store where I'd someday work!) was Oo-topos, the third of Polarware’s Comprehend series of illustrated text adventures. Space Quest came a bit later, after I was already a pro at thinking my way through convoluted parser-based puzzles. But even if it wasn’t the first one, Space Quest was probably the most important game my dad brought home from the store, because Space Quest was my introduction to Sierra On-line. And Sierra was responsible for some of the most amazing experiences available to gamers in the '80s and '90s. When I think back on my kid years, the memories of growing up are intertwined with memories of Space Quest and Quest for Glory and, yes, Leisure Suit Larry. I even remember the smell of the weird yellow invisible ink markers that Sierra packaged with their game hintbooks—oh yes, in those long-ago days, there was no World Wide Web to turn to for game hints. If you got stuck, you called the Sierra hint line (which, if memory serves, was a 900 number), or you went back to the local Babbage's and dropped $10 on an official Sierra hintbook. The answers were all printed in invisible ink, and you scribbled with their provided highlighter-like marker over the books' pages to reveal the answers. Later Sierra games used special blue ink and a red tinted gel filter strip to hide the answers, similar to the "tech stats" on the back of Generation 1 Transformers boxes. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Stack Exchange This Q&A is part of a weekly series of posts highlighting common questions encountered by technophiles and answered by users at Stack Exchange, a free, community-powered network of 100+ Q&A sites. solidsnake asks: I'm a beginner Web developer (one year of experience). A couple of weeks after graduating, I got offered a job to build a web application for a company whose owner is not much of a tech guy. He recruited me to avoid theft of his idea, the high cost of development charged by a service company, and to have someone young he can trust onboard to maintain the project for the long run (I came to these conclusions by myself long after being hired). Read 24 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Nassau County of New York is forgiving thousands of speeding tickets issued this summer from malfunctioning speed cameras, totaling about $2.4 million in fines. The Long Island county executive, Edward Mangano, said cameras from Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions near six schools were unreliable and issued tickets even when school was not in session. Traffic speeds are reduced dramatically during school hours. "I don't have a high confidence level that the cameras were operating at statutory levels," Mangano told Newsday Friday. "So we are declaring amnesty with all tickets issued this summer." Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Scarecrow Video SEATTLE—On a sunny August weeknight, Matt Lynch, a clerk at longtime Seattle rental store Scarecrow Video, grabbed a cup of ice from the shop’s relatively new coffee counter. Cutely named VHS-presso, the counter was one of the shop’s many efforts in recent years to spur interest, attract more renters, and get people to walk into a video store once again. There’s also the shop’s screening room, opened just over a year ago to host cult and niche movie nights by way of a giant screen, a smattering of speakers, and some comfy chairs. Lynch, among the shop floor’s elder statesmen at 12 years of experience, pulled one of those chairs out to sit and chew on ice while marveling at the room’s walls. The shelves are full of classic VHS tapes. The store prides itself on its vast VHS collection, totaling over 15,000 tapes at this point. But neither that fact, nor the shop’s recent additions, resulted in more rentals or sales as of late. Lynch looked at Ars’ digital recorder and commented on “the angle” that most magazines and blogs have run with when talking about video rental shops like Scarecrow Video: “’This [industry] is dead, these people are struggling to save it.’” He bit down on ice to punctuate that expectation. “That’s not what I want to see here.” Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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This BlackBerry keyboard clone has a celebrity in legal trouble. Typo Products In a court order on Thursday, a Northern California District Court judge ruled that BlackBerry can pursue a contempt of court charge against Typo, a company co-founded by American Idol host Ryan Seacrest and CEO Laurence Hallier, which sells a small physical keyboard that attaches to an iPhone. BlackBerry initially sued Typo in January, claiming that Typo's keyboards look almost exactly like its own. Indeed, Seacrest told CNN in an interview that the Typo “came to fruition” because he wanted to put what he liked about the BlackBerry into an iPhone. In March, the judge agreed with BlackBerry and granted the embattled cell phone and software maker a preliminary injunction that banned Typo from selling its $99 keyboard. But according to the judge's order on Thursday, BlackBerry alleged that Typo has been violating that injunction by providing replacement keyboards under its warranty program, by selling its keyboards to foreign retailers, and by cutting a deal with SMI Investments after the judge ruled in favor of an injunction but before the injunction went into effect. This time the judge again sided with BlackBerry, giving the company permission to gather evidence showing that Typo acted in contempt of court. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Brook Dain Earlier this month, a Canadian jetliner spotted a drone flying at 4,000 feet approximately 10 miles east of Los Angeles International Airport. According to the Los Angeles Times, which reported the incident Thursday, a pilot asked air traffic controllers if the drone seen on Aug. 4 was a police drone. It wasn't the only recent drone sighing in L.A. On Aug. 14, Los Angeles Police Department employees reported seeing a drone hovering near the 10th floor of the northwest side of the police headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. According to the Times, a few people took pictures before the drone moved on to hovering above City Hall, across the street. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Flickr user Tranjilla In 1972, long before eBay or Amazon, students from Stanford University in California and MIT in Massachusetts conducted the first ever e-commerce transaction. Using the "Arpa-net" account at their artificial intelligence lab, the Stanford students sold their counterparts a small amount of marijuana. Ever since, the 'Net has turned over a steady but small trade in illicit narcotics. But last year approximately 20 per cent of UK drug users scored online. The majority of them went to one place: the darknet markets. You can't access darknet markets using a normal browser. They sit on an encrypted part of internet called "Tor Hidden Services," where URLs are a string of meaningless numbers and letters that end in .onion, and are accessed using a special browser called "Tor". Tor's clever traffic encryption system makes it very difficult for the police to know where these sites—and the people who use them—are located. It's a natural place for an uncensored drugs marketplace, as it is for whistleblower websites and political dissidents, which also use the same techniques to keep their visitors hidden. The most infamous of these darknet markets was called the Silk Road. In October 2013, following a lengthy investigation, the Silk Road was closed down (the trial of 29-year-old Ross Ulbricht, who the FBI allege ran the site, is ongoing—Ulbricht denies all charges). But as soon as it was knocked offline, copycat sites were launched by anonymous operators to fill the gap. In November 2013 there were a small handful of these marketplaces: there are now around 30. Pandora, Outlaw Market, 1776 Market Place—and most of them are doing a decent trade. Between January and April 2014, "Silk Road 2.0"—set up within a month of the original being busted—processed well over 100,000 sales. But the most shocking thing about these sites is not how many there are, but how they are changing the drugs industry. They work exceptionally well. Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Entertainment Software Association The Entertainment Software Association, best known for its video game rating system, issued its annual "sales, demographic, and usage data" report on Thursday, chock full of statistics about console, PC, and mobile gaming. The numbers are all worth poring over, but this year's report highlights a particular demographic explosion: adult women, whose gaming ranks now more than double the long-sought-after demographic of boys under the age of 18. According to the ESA's measure of 2013 sales, women ages 18 and over now constitute 36 percent of all measured gamers, compared to boys under the age of 18, who represent 17 percent of the total population. This measure shows a further increase from last year's count of 31 percent to 19 percent (and that 2013 measure only counted boys 17 and younger, meaning the total boost may be even bigger this year). While males still hold the total gamer-population lead at 52 percent, that is a drop from last year's count of 55 percent, and the survey's count of "frequent game purchasers" found that men and women split that category neatly in half. The report also notes a giant boost in women gamers over the age of 50, a group that grew 32 percent in 2013. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 11 days ago on ars technica
Jacqui Cheng If you purchased the iPhone 5 early in its life and your battery seems to need charging more often than usual, pay attention: Apple has just announced an iPhone 5 battery replacement program for phones that "may suddenly experience shorter battery life or need to be charged more frequently." The affected phones were all sold in the first few months of the iPhone 5's life, between September of 2012 and January of 2013. Apple's program page, linked above, will tell you if your phone is eligible based on its serial number, which can be found in iOS' Settings app under the "About" subheading. Affected users will need to take their phone to an Apple service provider, an Apple Retail Store, or make arrangements with Apple's phone support technicians. Before taking your phone in for repair, Apple recommends that you back your data up using iCloud or iTunes, turn off the Find My iPhone service, and reset the phone to its factory default settings. The program launches today in the US and China, and it will be available in other countries on August 29. It will be available for two years after your purchase date or until March 1 of 2015, "whichever provides longer coverage." Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Arturo de Albornoz HBO could pocket up to $600 million more a year if the network figures out how to put its content online, according to a report from Barclays Capital released Thursday. The analysis lays out a couple of different ways that HBO could sell its programming online without slighting its cable-provider partners. The report's author, Kannan Venkateshwar, lays out two options. In the first, HBO would sell subscriptions to "windowed" content that would be available six months to a year after it first aired, but at $11 per month versus the $15 cable price. The other option would be to sell digital subscriptions that give immediate access to its shows, but charge an even higher price for the privilege—about $18. Venkateshwar estimates that the lower-priced package would cannibalize regular subscribers a bit, but between 4.4 and 6.6 million homes would be interested in the $11 per month option. He pegs the $18 per month customers as a smaller base, between 300,000 and 800,000 homes. If HBO offered both these options together, Venkateshwar estimates that the total take would be around $600 million annually. For comparison, HBO's earnings for 2013 were $1.7 billion. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Levi's Stadium crowd on August 17, 2014. Jim Bahn The San Francisco 49ers' heralded Wi-Fi network served its first NFL crowd in a preseason game on Sunday, and the team has now released statistics showing that it was able to serve lots of data to lots of fans, just as intended. "We offloaded 2.13 terabytes during the event," 49ers VP of Technology Dan Williams told Mobile Sports Report. The newly built Levi's Stadium has 68,500 seats and more than a third of attendees used the Wi-Fi network simultaneously. "We peaked at 24,775 (roughly 38 percent of attendance) concurrent connections with an average of 16,862 (roughly 25 percent of attendance)," Williams said. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Proposed launch facility site. Federal Aviation Administration More details emerged this week about the deal that lured California-based SpaceX into choosing southern Texas as the site of its commercial space launch facility. According to a short write-up by the Brownsville Herald, SpaceX representatives have an agreement in hand that would exempt the facility, located in Cameron County, from paying county taxes for ten years. Additionally, the Herald says that SpaceX will also accept $13 million in state funds from Texas’ Spaceport Development Trust Fund (along with $2.3 million in additional monies from the Texas Enterprise Fund), which will help offset the $85 million that SpaceX expects to spend developing the site. The final details of the agreement won’t be released to the public until SpaceX formally signs off, which Cameron County officials expect will be some time next week. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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PNAS Materials scientists may have many clever tricks up their sleeves, but with a several-billion-year head start, evolution has already beaten them to the creation of some amazing materials. One of the most astonishing natural systems is the skin of cephalopods such as squid, octopus, and cuttlefish. These animals can sense their background and control tiny structures that can radically change their skin color in a matter of seconds, allowing amazing feats of camouflage. Now, an international consortium of researchers has decided that if you can't beat nature, you can at least copy it. The researchers have developed a flexible structure that can sense ambient conditions and adjust its color to match them. At the moment, it only works in black and white, but it's a start. The color-shifting structures in the skin of cephalopods, termed chromatophores, rely on three layers to rapidly alter coloration. The top is a pigmented structure with muscles that allow it to expand and contract, altering the amount of light of different wavelengths that get absorbed. Below that is a reflective layer, which can also be actively altered by the nervous system. Below that is a passive white pigment that reflects incidental light. By varying the behavior of the two overlying layers, the animals are able to radically alter their visual appearance. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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final gather / flickr In June, the US Supreme Court decided the Alice v. CLS Bank case, tweaking patent law in a way that suggests a lot more patents should be thrown out as overly abstract. Samsung hoped that case would allow it to knock out two patents that Apple had successfully used against it in the long-running patent war between the two smartphone leaders. Last month, Samsung lawyers filed papers arguing that Apple's patents on universal search and "swipe-to-unlock" are exactly the type of basic ideas that the US Supreme Court wants to see rejected. US District Judge Lucy Koh has now ruled that Samsung won't get a last-minute Alice reprieve. In a short five-page order (PDF), Koh found that Samsung didn't raise any defenses from the area of patent law that Alice relates to, Section 101, and it can't do so now. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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401(k) 2012 Comcast’s proposed $45.2-billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable has been criticized by angry customers, consumer advocacy groups, and even some members of Congress. But Comcast has plenty of support, too, much of it from politicians and organizations that benefit from its political and charitable donations. With the deadline to submit initial comments on the merger to the Federal Communications Commission set to expire Monday, a number of elected officials and charities have urged the FCC to think favorably of Comcast during its merger review. Charities supporting the acquisition include the Greater Washington Urban League, the Urban League of Broward County in Florida, the Boys and Girls Club of Rockford, Illinois, and the United Way of Tucson in Arizona. "Comcast has dedicated itself to advancing organizations like ours through financial support and partnerships," the Greater Washington Urban League wrote. Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Almost two weeks ago in Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. The incident kicked off protests in the racially divided town, and Wilson has been in hiding since the shooting. Four days ago, a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to support Wilson was launched, and as of Friday afternoon it had brought 5,901 donations totaling $234,990. However, money wasn’t the only thing people were giving to the crowdfunding campaign: the campaign page quickly found itself drowning in hateful, racist commentary. "We are NOT gonna let that racist bastard Sharpton and his kind railroad you into prison," said a $50 donor under the name Mark Milazzo. "Wake up White America!" Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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On Thursday, 25-year-old Philip Danks was sentenced to 33 months in jail by a Wolverhampton judge for pirating a copy of Fast and Furious 6. Danks bragged that he was the first person in the world to seed the illicit recording, which he recorded from the back of a local cinema in May 2013. His upload was downloaded around 700,000 times. The court also ruled that Michael Bell, the boyfriend of Danks' sister, played a part in distributing the film. He was sentenced to 120 hours of community service. The film's distributor, Universal Pictures, argued to the judge that Danks' upload cost the company about £2.5 million. Danks had also sold DVD copies of the movie for £1.50 each. He said his total profit from the scheme was about £1,000. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Julien GONG Min Censorship of the Internet in China is a heavily studied but little-understood process, driven by both private networks and government employees and having effects that are hard to measure. To better understand it, a group of researchers tested censors and filters by attempting to post over a thousand bits of content on various social networking sites. They found that there was an aggressive pre-filtering process that holds a high number of submissions for review before they're posted and that the results are actually undermining China's censorship mission—the filters hamstring pro-government content as often as they block anti-government writing. Part of the authors' process involved setting up a social media site of their own within China to see what standards they would be subjected to and what tools they would have to use in order to comply with the country's censorship requirements. They found that sites have an option to install automated review tools with a broad range of filter criteria. Censorship technology is decentralized, they wrote, which is a technique for "[promoting] innovation" in China. Most research that has been done on Chinese censorship is largely based on what posts exist on the Internet at one point and then do not at a later time, indicating that they were pulled by censors. While that behavior is easily observed, there is another layer to the censorship system where users' posts get held for review by censors before they're made public. This new study attempted to figure out what sorts of post would get held for review, what would eventually make it through, and what might escape suspicion at either the posting or review stage, only to be removed later. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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