Hacker Adrian Lamo Has Died at 37

Hacker Adrian Lamo died at the age of 37, according a Facebook post from his father. “With great sadness and a broken heart I have to let know all of Adrian’s friends and acquaintances that he is dead. A bright mind and compassionate soul is gone, he was my beloved son,” Mario Lamo wrote in a post to the 2600: The Hacker Quarterly Facebook Group. The cause of death is not yet known, but a coroner in Sedgwick County, Kansas confirmed the news to ZDNet.

Lamo was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1981. In the mid 1990s, he volunteered for PlanetOut, a public media company that catered to the LGBTQ community. In 1998, he was appointed to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning Youth Task Force by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Lamo first gained notoriety online in the early 2000s for hacking companies like Yahoo! and AOL, as well as The New York Times. In 2004, after accepting a plea bargain, Lamo was sentenced for hacking the newspaper, where he had added his name to an internal list of op-ed writers and racked up $300,000 in charges using the organization’s subscription to Lexis-Nexis, a pay-per-use search tool.

He was also known for tipping US government authorities about the actions of whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who was later sentenced to 35 years in prison for providing Wikileaks with 750,000 classified military cables. (President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence in 2017.) In a 2013 interview with the Guardian, Lamo explained his decision to report Manning.

“There was no option to interdict just the documents and put him merely in touch with counseling. There was no way to be both kind to [Chelsea] and mindful of the potential for harm to people I had never known and would never know which the situation posed. The reader might think there was some more moderate choice that I overlooked but I looked closely, and no such choice existed,” Lamo said in the interview.

In a 2002 profile of Lamo, former WIRED editor Noah Shachtman detailed how the hacker lived out of a backpack, and accessed the internet using university libraries and Kinko’s laptop stations. The Colombian-American moved around frequently as a child. The extensive travel provided him a love of adventure. “If I didn’t have computers, I’d be exploring storm drains or mountain caves. Hell, I do, when I don’t have a line to the Net,” Lamo wrote in a Usenet group around 2002. “There have been times my laptop has been the only dry thing I owned.”

Shachtman’s 2002 profile closes with an apt moment:

“I’ve had a long day, a long month, and a long year,” he said at the end of a pre-dawn chat.

He follows that with an instant message: “Dream of a warm and safe place.”

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YouTube Will Link Directly to Wikipedia to Fight Conspiracy Theories

After the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February, the top trending video on YouTube wasn’t a news clip about the tragedy but a conspiracy theory video suggesting survivor David Hogg was an actor. The video garnered 200,000 views before YouTube removed it from its platform. Until now, the company hasn’t said much about how it plans to handle the spread of that sort of misinformation moving forward. On Tuesday, however, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki detailed a potential solution. YouTube will now begin displaying links to fact-based content alongside conspiracy theory videos.

Wojcicki announced the new feature, which she called “information cues,” during a talk with WIRED editor-in-chief Nicholas Thompson at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas. Here’s how it will work: If you search and click on a conspiracy theory video about, say, chemtrails, YouTube will now link to a Wikipedia page that debunks the hoax alongside the video. Here’s another example: A video calling into question whether humans have ever landed on the moon might be accompanied by the official Wikipedia page about the Apollo Moon landing in 1969. Wojcicki says the feature will only include conspiracy theories right now that have “significant debate” on the platform.


“Our goal is to start with a list of internet conspiracies listed on the internet where there is a lot of active discussion on YouTube,” Wojcicki said at SXSW.

The decision to include links to other websites represents a dramatic shift for YouTube, which has historically existed as a mostly contained ecosystem. It’s also notable that YouTube chose to link out to text-based sites, rather than rearrange its own search algorithm to further favor content from truthful creators and video journalists. One reason for the decision might be that YouTube wants to avoid the perception that it’s rigging its platform to favor certain creators, a criticism it has faced in the past. It also prevents YouTube from having to censor content outright, serving as the ultimate arbiter of truth.

“People can still watch the videos, but then they have access to additional information,” said Wojcicki.

Merely placing links to factual information alongside videos won’t solve the company’s moderation problems wholesale. For one, as Zeynep Tufekci at The New York Times and others have pointed out, YouTube’s recommendation algorithm is often how users end up seeing conspiracy theories in the first place. Wikipedia in particular can also be edited by anyone, and its own reliability issues of misinformation.

The problem with the recommendation algorithm is that it feeds users ever-more extreme content, sometimes straying from what they searched for in the first place. For example, if you search for a video about the Holocaust, YouTube might recommend that you then watch one about how the tragedy was a hoax. The recommendation system isn’t designed to ensure you’re informed; its main objective is to keep you consuming YouTube videos for as long as possible. What that entails has mostly been an afterthought. Even if every conspiracy video is served up with a Wikipedia article contradicting the information that it presents, there’s no guarantee that users will choose to read it over the video they’ve already clicked on.

Take, for example, what happens when you search conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ videos about the Parkland shooting. After watching one, YouTube recommends you then watch another of Jones’ videos, this time about how the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax. It doesn’t suggest that you watch factual clip about Parkland or Sandy Hook at all. YouTube’s algorithm system serves to radicalize users, and until that’s fixed, the company will likely continue to suffer from scandals related to misinformation.

YouTube has also still yet to decide and implement clear rules for when uploading conspiracy theory content violates its Community Guidelines. Nothing in the rules explicitly prevents creators from publishing videos featuring conspiracy theories or misleading information, but lately YouTube has been cracking down on accounts that spread hoaxes anyway.

In the wake of the Parkland shooting for example, YouTube reportedly issued a “strike” against Jones for uploading a video accusing Hogg of being an actor (this video was separate from the one that trended on the platform). But Jones and his organization InfoWars have been uploading videos to YouTube prompting lies, hate speech, and false conspiracy theories for years, leaving YouTube’s users and creators to guess what’s actually permitted. Often it seems the platform reacts primarily in response to public outcry, which makes its moderation decisions inconsistent. Until YouTube has outlined a clear policy for how it wants to regulate misinformation, its new efforts to introduce text-based links won’t entirely be effective.

Merely serving up factual information has also not been a cure-all for other platforms that have suffered from scandals associated with misinformation, like YouTube’s parent company Google and Facebook. Both Google News and Facebook’s trending bar have surfaced conspiracy theories during breaking news events in the past, despite having plenty of links to more reputable news sites on their platforms. It’s remarkable, too, that an enormous platform, equipped with a flow of advertising cash, has chosen to address its misinformation problem primarily using the work of a donation-funded volunteer encyclopedia.

Another obvious question here is whether Wikipedia and YouTube will be able to keep up with with breaking news events that quickly fall prey to conspiracy theories. For example, the Parkland shooting survivors were accused of being actors within hours of the tragedy. It’s unclear how quickly YouTube will be able to add links to the thousands of misinformation videos that are uploaded every time a major news event occurs.

Still though, YouTube should be applauded for doing something to try to fight conspiracy, especially since adding links elsewhere will do nothing to immediately aid its bottom line.

YouTube Blues

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Dropbox IPO price range puts valuation nearly a third below peak

(Reuters) – Dropbox Inc (DBX.O) on Monday offered a price range for shares in its initial public offering that would value it at up to $7.1 billion, nearly a third below the valuation it commanded in 2014, a clear sign of how overheated the private tech market became a few years back.

Cloud storage company Dropbox is the largest tech IPO after a protracted dry spell, and investors are carefully watching it for signs of how other highly valued tech companies will be received by the public markets. If Dropbox is a barometer for public market sentiment, it appears that investors will not endorse the valuations that many billion-dollar-plus startups now command.

The spring calendar for technology offerings is relatively busy, including cyber security company Zscaler’s planned debut later this week and music company Spotify’s expected listing early next month.

San Francisco-based Dropbox set a price range of $16 to $18 per share, which would raise up to $648 million in the highly anticipated public offering planned for Friday. The range serves as guidance, and the company will set a final price, based on investor feedback, on the eve of the IPO.

The pricing is about a 30 percent drop from the $10 billion valuation Dropbox earned in early 2014 after a financing round led by BlackRock Inc (BLK.N). The company, which started as a free service to share and store photos, music and other large files, has raised more than $600 million from private investors.

New investors ranging from mutual funds to hedge funds began piling into startups a few years ago in hopes of earning better returns than the public markets offered, driving a spike in investments beginning in 2014 that came with outsized valuations.

Now, Dropbox’s valuation cut suggests other companies that similarly raised a lot of money at high valuations but remain unprofitable, such as Uber Technologies Inc, may face a valuation decrease when they, too, go public.

“Dropbox is still loss-making and its revenue is not enough to justify a market value of $10 billion,” said Phil Davis, chief executive of Phil’s Stock World, an investment advisory service.“The price had to come down to lure in the investors.”

While venture financing remains high, startup valuations have mostly stabilized in the United States.

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Dropbox competes with much larger companies such as Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google, Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) and Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) as well as main rival Box Inc (BOX.N). It long struggled to monetize a product that many of its larger rivals offer for free and moved to offer more products for businesses, such as file synch and group collaboration tools.

The efforts appear to have paid off. Revenues grew by 31 percent to $1.1 billion in 2017 over the prior year, and losses narrowed by almost half to $112 million. Last year, it had positive free cash flow of $305 million, more than double the previous year.

By comparison, revenue at Box, which started two years before Dropbox, is expected to increase 25 percent to about $506 million this fiscal year from a year earlier. Box, which also is not profitable, went public in 2015.

Dropbox’s $7.07 billion valuation, based on the high end of its IPO price range, is two-and-a-half times that of Box’s $2.85 billion market capitalization.

Despite its progress and four years of growth, Dropbox’s financial performance still does not justify its 2014 valuation, some investors say.

Eric Schiffer, chairman and chief executive of the Patriarch Organization, a private equity firm, said Wall Street had rational figures for“grossly overvalued unicorns,” using the term for startup companies valued at $1 billion or more.

“The IPO is a slap in the face to investors of the 2014 round” of Dropbox, he added. Dropbox, co-founded in 2007 by Andrew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, has 500 million users across 180 countries. But most use the free service – about 11 million are paying customers.

Upon completion of the public offering, Dropbox will sell $100 million worth of common stock at the IPO price to the venture capital arm of Salesforce.com Inc (CRM.N) in a separate private placement, the company said.

Houston is the largest shareholder and will retain 24 percent of Dropbox after selling 2.3 million shares in the offering. Sequoia Capital is the largest shareholder among outside investors, with about a 25 percent stake.

Reporting by Heather Somerville in San Francisco and Diptendu Lahiri in Bangaluru; Additional reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Henderson and Leslie Adler

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