Congress Moves to Strike Internet Privacy Rules From Obama Era

Republican lawmakers and the new chairman of the F.C.C., Ajit Pai, have said the privacy rules were onerous and unfairly strapped regulations on telecom carriers, but not on web companies such as Facebook and Google that also provide access to online content.

“It is unnecessary, confusing and adds another innovation-stifling regulation,” Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, said this month when he introduced the resolution to overturn the rules using the Congressional Review Act procedure that lets Congress overrule new agency regulations.

The Senate’s vote was a victory for giant telecommunications and cable companies. The F.C.C. chairman under the Obama administration, Tom Wheeler, had declared that broadband would be regulated more heavily, by categorizing the service in the same regulatory bucket as telephone services, which are viewed as utilities.

That move acknowledged the importance of the internet for communications, education, work and commerce and the need to protect online users, Mr. Wheeler had said.

Under the internet privacy rules that Mr. Wheeler passed, apart from broadband providers having to ask permission to track browsing and other online activities of a user, the companies were also required to use “reasonable measures” to secure consumer data against hackers. The privacy rules were scheduled to go into effect at the end of this year

Broadband providers had balked and ramped up lobbying against the rules. Comcast and other broadband providers created the lobbying group 21st Century Privacy Coalition, led by a former Federal Trade Commission chairman, Jon Leibowitz, to defeat the broadband privacy rules.

“We appreciate today’s Senate action to repeal unwarranted F.C.C. rules that deny consumers consistent privacy protection online and violate competitive neutrality,” the cable industry lobby group, NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, said in a statement on Thursday.

With Republicans now in charge across the government, AT&T and Comcast are also poised to benefit from further deregulation. Since the presidential election, the companies have pushed the new Republican-led F.C.C., lawmakers and the White House to roll back net neutrality, the requirement that broadband providers give equal access to all content on the internet, saying the rules hamper their ability to invest in new networks and jobs.

The F.C.C. chairman, Mr. Pai, has also talked with Republican allies in Congress about privacy and broadband classification. Mr. Pai has already chipped away at more than a dozen regulations, including aspects of net neutrality and the program, known as Lifeline, that provides subsidies for broadband users in low-income households.

Consumer groups warned that internet users would suffer from the changes. The Federal Trade Commission, the consumer protection agency, is barred from overseeing broadband providers, so without the F.C.C. privacy rules, the federal government will be a weaker watchdog over internet privacy, supporters of the regulations said.

“Senate Republicans just made it easier for Americans’ sensitive information about their health, finances and families to be used, shared and sold to the highest bidder without their permission,” said Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts.

Democrats had taken to the Senate floor on Wednesday and Thursday to warn that without the rules, broadband providers will now have free range to peer into their customers’ lives. A company like AT&T or Sprint can tell the time people wake up by when they check the clock on their phone, or see where users go to lunch or whom they visit. By tracking a user’s browsing of medical websites, a carrier can also determine if that person might have an illness.

The Senate’s action also signaled a philosophical shift on tech regulation. Lawmakers and Mr. Pai have said regulations should be created only when there is proof of harmful activity. They also argue that the telecom industry competes with internet firms such as Facebook and Google for access to online content, so any rules should also include those companies. Republicans have said the F.T.C. should be the watchdog for all online privacy.

But Democratic regulators have said the key difference is that consumers do not have many choices for broadband access, which makes them vulnerable to data collection by internet service providers.

“Subscribers have little or no competitive choice as to which provider to use,” said Terrell McSweeny, a Democratic commissioner of the F.T.C. Yet broadband providers “know our identities, and their position gives them the technical capacity to surveil users in ways that others cannot.”

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Well: The Best Exercise for Aging Muscles

After 12 weeks, the lab tests were repeated. In general, everyone experienced improvements in fitness and an ability to regulate blood sugar.

There were some unsurprising differences: The gains in muscle mass and strength were greater for those who exercised only with weights, while interval training had the strongest influence on endurance.

But more unexpected results were found in the biopsied muscle cells. Among the younger subjects who went through interval training, the activity levels had changed in 274 genes, compared with 170 genes for those who exercised more moderately and 74 for the weight lifters. Among the older cohort, almost 400 genes were working differently now, compared with 33 for the weight lifters and only 19 for the moderate exercisers.

Many of these affected genes, especially in the cells of the interval trainers, are believed to influence the ability of mitochondria to produce energy for muscle cells; the subjects who did the interval workouts showed increases in the number and health of their mitochondria — an impact that was particularly pronounced among the older cyclists.

It seems as if the decline in the cellular health of muscles associated with aging was “corrected” with exercise, especially if it was intense, says Dr. Sreekumaran Nair, a professor of medicine and an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic and the study’s senior author. In fact, older people’s cells responded in some ways more robustly to intense exercise than the cells of the young did — suggesting, he says, that it is never too late to benefit from exercise.

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We Might Soon Resurrect Extinct Species. Is It Worth the Cost?

But his team’s findings do not fully resonate with all scientists. Some who are engaged in de-extinction efforts say that Dr. Bennett’s analysis, and others like it, are too far removed from actual developments in the field.

One leading group in the field is Revive & Restore, a nonprofit initiative to rescue extinct and endangered species through genetic engineering and biotechnology. The San Francisco-based group is working to bring back the passenger pigeon, woolly mammoth and heath hen.


A woolly mammoth skeleton that was auctioned in 2009. Scientists have proposed splicing mammoth genes into Asian elephant DNA to bring the extinct mammals back to life. Credit Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Conservation is central to Revive & Restore’s mission, said Ben Novak, the organization’s lead researcher and science consultant, and there could be ecological benefits to restoring lost species. In some cases, he said, living species are endangered partly because of “the lack of an ecological partner or some link in the food web.”

“Any de-extinction effort must have long-term benefits that outweigh the costs,” Mr. Novak said.

He added that it is not accurate to assume, as Dr. Bennett does, that funding for de-extinction and conservation is a zero-sum game, noting that all of the funding for Revive & Rescue’s biotechnologies comes from private donors or institutional grants outside the realm of conservation efforts.

De-extinction may certainly have long-term gains, Dr. Bennett acknowledged, but he fears they are a luxury the world cannot currently afford. By some estimates, 20 percent of species on Earth now face extinction, and that may rise to 50 percent by the end of the century.

In their study, Dr. Bennett and his collaborators tried to approximate the costs of re-establishing and maintaining 16 species that went extinct in the last millennium, including the Lord Howe pigeon and Eastern rat-kangaroo from Australia, and the laughing owl and Waitomo frog from New Zealand. The researchers selected these animals because they could estimate what it would cost to conserve them based on proposed government expenditures to save similar living species that are endangered.


Revive & Restore also aims to bring back the extinct Heath hen. “Any de-extinction effort must have long-term benefits that outweigh the costs,” said Ben Novak, the organization’s lead researcher. Credit C. Horwitz

Based on the price of conserving the endangered Chatham Island warbler from New Zealand, for instance, they determined that managing a new population of the extinct Chatham bellbird would cost $360,000 in the first year.

Because the price of genetically reconstructing extinct species is still unknown (although it could cost tens of millions of dollars), the scientists focused on how much it would cost just to reintroduce and maintain these particular species in the wild once they had already been engineered.

In New Zealand, the researchers calculated, the funds required to conserve 11 extinct species would protect three times as many living species. In New South Wales, reviving five extinct species was similar to saving more than eight times as many living species.

The problem with this analysis, said Stewart Brand, co-founder of Revive & Restore, is that “these are all species that would never be considered seriously for de-extinction in the first place,” either because their ecological roles can be approximated by another living species or because the benefits of restoring them are not great enough to warrant the costs.


An illustration of an extinct huia, once found in New Zealand. The researchers who analyzed reviving extinct species found that many more living species could be conserved for the same cost. Credit Encyclopaedia Britannica, via Getty Images

He argued that Revive & Restore strictly assesses its de-extinction projects, through its own criteria and international guidelines, to ensure that they are worth doing and consistent with preserving existing biodiversity.

The passenger pigeon, for instance, was a keystone species that helped regenerate Eastern deciduous forests by landing on trees in giant flocks, breaking down their branches and excreting layers of rich fertilizer that allowed new trees to grow — a role that other birds likely cannot fill. On top of that, Mr. Brand said, the passenger pigeon has unique symbolic value as “one of the great stories of extinction.”

But other scientists agree with Dr. Bennett that spending money on de-extinction is wasteful, even for a case like the passenger pigeon. Paul Ehrlich, president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University, and author of the controversial book “The Population Bomb,” said that conservation is vastly underfunded and there is no guarantee that restoring extinct species will work.

To restore the passenger pigeon, Dr. Ehrlich said, you would need a large breeding population — with possibly more genetic diversity than can be gleaned from the 1,500 or so pigeons preserved in museum collections — and even then there may “not be enough habitat left for them anyway.”

Dr. Bennett said “he wouldn’t want to close the door on de-extinction forever.” There may be some instances where it is worthwhile, he acknowledged, and pursuing it will advance research on genetic technologies.

“If someone wants to work on de-extinction because it’s technically fascinating, that’s fine,” he said. “But if the person is couching de-extinction in terms of conservation, then she or he needs to have a very sober look at what one could do with those millions of dollars with living species — there’s already plenty to do.”

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Op-Ed Columnist: And Jesus Said Unto Paul of Ryan …

“The Lord God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor,” Jesus replied, emphasizing the last two words. Then he turned to a paralyzed beggar at his feet. “Stand up!” Jesus told the man. “Pick up your mat and go home.” As the man danced about joyfully, Pious Paul rolled his eyes dismissively.

“Look, Jesus, you have rare talent, and it should be rewarded,” Pious Paul said. “I have a partner, The Donald, who would like to work with you: He’d set up a lovely hospital, and the rich would come and pay for you to heal them. You’d get a percentage, and it’d be a real money-spinner. Overhead would be minimal because every morning you could multiply some loaves and fishes. You could strike it rich!”

Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God,” Jesus said. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received comfort.”

“Oh, come on, Jesus,” Pious Paul protested. “Don’t go socialist on me again. Please don’t encourage class warfare. The best way to help the needy is to give public money to the rich. That then inspires the poor to work harder, galvanizes the sick to become healthy, forces the lepers to solve their own problems rather than kick back and depend on others. That’s why any realistic health plan has to focus on providing less coverage for the poor, and big tax benefits for the rich. When millions of people lose health care, that’s when a country is great again!”

From everyone who has been given much,” Jesus told him, “much will be required.”

“Well, sure, this hospital would have a foundation to do some charity work. Maybe commissioning portraits of The Donald to hang in the entrance. But let’s drop this bleeding heart nonsense about health care as a human right, and see it as a financial opportunity to reward investors. In this partnership, 62 percent of the benefits would go to the top 0.6 percent — perfect for a health care plan.”

Jesus turned to Pious Paul on his left and said: “Be gone! For I was hungry and you gave me no food; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; and I was sick, and you did not help me.”

“But, Lord,” protested Pious Paul of Ryan, “when did I see you hungry or thirsty or sick and refuse to help you? I drop your name everywhere. And I’m pro-life!”

Truly, I say to you,” Jesus responded, “as you did not help the homeless, the sick — as you did not help the least of these, you did not help me.”

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Large Sections of Australia’s Great Reef Are Now Dead, Scientists Find

But an Australian government study released last week found that over all, last year brought “the highest sea surface temperatures across the Great Barrier Reef on record.”


The shadow of an airplane fell on bleached coral in the northern Great Barrier Reef in March 2016. Credit James Kerry/ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

Only 9 percent of the reef has avoided bleaching since 1998, Professor Hughes said, and now, the less remote, more heavily visited stretch from Cairns south is in trouble again. Water temperatures there remain so high that another round of mass bleaching is underway, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority confirmed last week.

Professor Hughes said he hoped the die-off this time would not be as serious as last year’s, but “back-to-back bleaching is unheard-of in Australia.” The central and southern part of the reef had already been badly damaged by human activities like dredging and pollution.

The Australian government has tried to combat these local threats with its Reef 2050 plan, restricting port development, dredging and agricultural runoff, among other risks. But Professor Hughes’s research found that, given the high temperatures, these national efforts to improve water quality were not enough.

“The reefs in muddy water were just as fried as those in pristine water,” Professor Hughes said. “That’s not good news in terms of what you can do locally to prevent bleaching — the answer to that is not very much at all. You have to address climate change directly.”

With the election of Donald J. Trump as the American president, a recent global deal to tackle the problem, known as the Paris Agreement, seems to be in peril. Australia’s conservative government also continues to support fossil fuel development, including what many scientists and conservationists see as the reef’s most immediate threat — a proposed coal mine, expected to be among the world’s largest, to be built inland from the reef by the Adani Group, a conglomerate based in India.

“The fact is, Australia is the largest coal exporter in the world, and the last thing we should be doing to our greatest national asset is making the situation worse,” said Imogen Zethoven, campaign director for the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

Australia relies on the Great Barrier Reef for about 70,000 jobs and billions of dollars annually in tourism revenue, and it is not yet clear how that economy will be affected by the reef’s deterioration. Even in hard-hit areas, large patches of the Great Barrier Reef survived, and guides will most likely take tourists there, avoiding the dead zones.

The global reef crisis does not necessarily mean extinction for coral species. The corals may save themselves, as many other creatures are attempting to do, by moving toward the poles as the Earth warms, establishing new reefs in cooler water.

But the changes humans are causing are so rapid, by geological standards, that it is not entirely clear that coral species will be able to keep up. And even if the corals do survive, that does not mean individual reefs will continue to thrive where they do now.

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When the Kids Crash Your BBC Interview


There are well-known drawbacks to working from home: the isolation, the need for self-discipline.

But here is a new one: the invasion of the toddlers.

Robert E. Kelly, a political-science professor at Pusan National University in South Korea, learned this the hard way on Friday when he appeared as an expert on the BBC via Skype to discuss the South Korea impeachment scandal.

He appeared to be in a home office, with a door closed behind him. Shortly before the interview, he innocently let his Twitter followers know he would be on TV.

Then, as the questioning began, the door opened. A child toddled in.

Then another strolled in, this time in a squeaky walker. And then their mother, Jung-a Kim, burst into the scene, skidding around a corner and frantically trying to herd the wayward young people out the door.

She knocked books off a table before falling to her knees and grabbing the handle to close the door, finally, behind them all.

The interruption, almost slapstick if it had not been real, was over within 40 seconds, during which Professor Kelly veered from apparent mild annoyance to repeated apologies to stifling smiles, while ultimately keeping his composure as he discussed the latest political drama underway in South Korea, where a court had removed President Park Geun-hye from office.

The toddler intrusion starts just as the BBC World presenter, James Menendez, starts to ask him a question.

“And what will it mean for the wider region — I think one of your children has just walked in,” he said to Professor Kelly.

He continues, gamely: “Do you think relations with the North may change?”

“Umm I would be surprised if they do … the um … pardon me. My apologies,” Professor Kelly said, closing his eyes and smiling — or grimacing — as the sound of the objects toppling off the table and squeals of protest came from behind him.

While the professor appeared to do his best to keep the live broadcast on an even professional keel, the clip was inevitably destined to do what these things do: spread widely across the internet.

Yes, it did “get weird.” News organizations and television channels, including Buzzfeed, The Guardian and CNN, picked up the story. Online, many of the comments were sympathetic (“This is TV Gold!” said one), while others said that Professor Kelly had “strong armed” one of the children when reached behind him to repel her advance, all while keeping his eye contact with the camera and continuing to speak.

Professor Kelly, who is an expert on politics on the Korean Peninsula, has been a contributing guest on the BBC for many years, as well as on ITN News and Sky. Many of his media appearances, chronicled on his YouTube page, appear to take place from the same room, which features a map on the wall and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

He could not immediately be reached on Friday, but his online biography and website, Asian Security Blog, notes his academic credentials and many contributions to scholarly publications and news organizations about North and South Korea. His wife, according to his personal profile, is a yoga teacher.

Working from home with kids can be a challenge, especially when cameras or phones are involved. Tell us your stories in the comments.


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Tech Fix: With C.I.A. Hacking Revelations, How to Protect Your Devices

The fallout may also end up being broader. WikiLeaks, which released documents covering 2013 to 2016, has said its initial publication was just the first installment in a bigger cache of secret C.I.A. material.

So even if you aren’t worried about what WikiLeaks revealed about the C.I.A. right now for yourself, here are some tips for protecting your cellphones, televisions and internet routers.

What you can do if you’re on Android

Hundreds of millions of Android users still use devices based on older versions of the Google-made mobile operating system. The WikiLeaks document collection, which includes 7,818 web pages and 943 attachments, showed that the Android devices targeted by the hacking programs were mostly running a version of Android 4.0.

Runa Sandvik, The New York Times’s director of information security in the newsroom, and Nicole Perlroth, who writes about cybersecurity and privacy, answered reader questions about cybersecurity.

Today, about 30 percent of Android users, or at least 420 million people, are on a variant of Android 4.0, according to Google. The company said it was investigating reports of the security issues described in the WikiLeaks documents.

With the limited information we have now, the best thing people can do is to stop procrastinating on updating their software.

“The one thing that people can and should be doing is keeping their apps and phones as up-to-date as possible,” said Kurt Opsahl, deputy executive director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit.

For owners of older devices, getting the latest software updates may not be easy. Many older Android handsets, like the Samsung Galaxy S3, are unable to download the latest version of the Android software. If you are in that boat, it’s a good time to purchase a new smartphone — such as the Google Pixel — which is running the latest Android software.

Other than ensuring that you have the latest operating system, Google recommends that Android users protect their devices with lock screens and PIN codes, and to enable a setting called Verify Apps, which scans apps downloaded from outside of Google’s app store for malware.

What you can do on an iPhone

Many iPhone owners are far more up-to-date with their mobile software than Android device owners. So only a minority of iPhone users have devices with the versions of the Apple iOS operating system that the WikiLeaks documents mention.

Specifically, the WikiLeaks documents referred to exploits working on versions of iOS up to 8.2. About 79 percent of Apple users are running iOS 10, the latest version of the system, and only 5 percent are running a version older than iOS 9, according to Apple.

In raw numbers, with more than one billion iOS devices sold worldwide, that amounts to at least 50 million people running the outdated software.

For those worried about their iPhone security, the advice is generally the same here as for Android owners: iPhone and iPad users should make sure to be running the latest operating system, iOS 10. Apple said on Tuesday that many of the security issues described in the WikiLeaks documents had already been patched in the latest version of its software and that it was working to address remaining vulnerabilities.

Not all Apple devices can get the latest operating system. Apple’s iOS 10 is compatible with iPhones as far back as the iPhone 5 released in 2012, and with iPads as old as the iPad Air and iPad Mini 2 released in 2013. If you are using anything older than those, it’s a good time to buy a new device for the stronger security.

What you can do with your Samsung TV

With Samsung televisions, the situation is less clear. The documents mentioned programs attacking smart TVs in Samsung’s F8000 series, which include microphones for voice controls. Samsung said it was looking into the WikiLeaks reports, and noted that software updates with the latest security enhancements are automatically downloaded on its televisions. The company did not immediately comment on whether any vulnerabilities had been patched.

The documents published by WikiLeaks disclosed that a tool called Weeping Angel puts the target TV in a “fake off” mode. Then, with the owner believing the TV is turned off, the set secretly records conversations in the room and sends them over the internet to a C.I.A. server computer.

Smart TVs are part of a proliferating category of “internet of things” devices that have raised security concerns because many of the companies that make them do not have strong backgrounds in information security. In a recent column I wrote about defending a smart home from cyberattacks, experts recommended strengthening Wi-Fi settings and regularly auditing smart home devices for software updates, among other tips.

That advice might not be sufficient for addressing privacy concerns around Samsung’s smart TVs, because the Weeping Angel hack continues to control the television even when it appears to be turned off.

Craig Spiezle, executive director of the Online Trust Alliance, a nonprofit privacy group, said the WikiLeaks revelations could spur action that he sees as lacking from makers of connected devices.

“I see this as a wake-up call for the industry to build better security and for consumers of these devices to rethink what they have and, in some cases, disconnect their connectivity,” Mr. Spiezle said.

What to do with your router

The WikiLeaks documents also described methods of injecting malware into routers offered by Asian manufacturers like Huawei, ZTE and Mercury.

In general, it is wise for everyone to regularly check routers for so-called firmware updates to make sure they get the latest security enhancements.

Depending on which router you own, downloading the latest firmware update isn’t very intuitive because it usually requires logging into the router. More modern routers like Eero and Google Wifi include mobile apps that help you download the latest updates automatically, so consider one of those if you are worried.

What to do with your computer

The WikiLeaks documents mentioned attacks on Linux, Windows and Apple computers. Personal computers have always been the most vulnerable devices we own, so this tip is fairly obvious: Make sure to install the latest operating system updates and use antivirus software. And as always, stay on guard for suspicious websites that may be serving malware.

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Trilobites: Figuring Out When and Why Squids Lost Their Shells

During the revolution, underwater life underwent a rapid change, including a burst in fish diversity. Some predators became better suited for crushing shellfish, while some smaller fish became faster and more agile.

“There’s a continual arms race between the prey and the predators,” said Mr. Tanner. “The shells are getting smaller, and the squids are getting faster.”

The evolutionary pressures favored being nimble over being armored, and cephalopods started to lose their shells, according to Mr. Tanner. The adaptation allowed them to outcompete their shelled relatives for fast food, and they were able to better evade predators. They were also able to keep up with competitors seeking the same prey.

Today most cephalopods are squishy and shell-less. The biggest exception is the nautilus. But though there are more than 2,500 fossilized species of nautilus, today only a handful of species exist.

Squid and octopus species number around 300 each, and there are around 120 species of cuttlefish. The differences in number, compared with the nautilus, indicates the advantages that these cephalopods may have gained over their shelled relatives, according to Mr. Tanner.

“It became a much more successful strategy to be a really high metabolism, very rapid moving animal,” Mr. Tanner said, “and they evolved into these really quite amazing things we see today.”

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