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Monday briefing: Social media bears witness to violence against Catalan voters

Your WIRED daily briefing. Today, social media played a key role in documenting Spanish attempts to prevent Catalonia’s independence referendum, Tesla promises that it will finish building the world’s biggest battery within 100 days, a US professor is using British law to find out what Cambridge Analytica knows about him and more.

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1. Social media bears witness to violence against Catalan voters

Citizens of the autonomous community of Catalonia turned to Twitter to share images of Spanish riot police storming schools and firing rubber bullets at people attempting to vote in an independence referendum that Spain’s government has declared illegal (Al Jazeera). Using the #referendumcat and #1Oct hashtags, protesters streamed live footage of ballot boxes being sized and people beaten, with media reports indicating that hundreds were hurt in clashes. Catalan officials say that preliminary results indicate that 90 per cent of those who were able to vote – some 2.26 million Catalans, representing a 42.3 per cent turnout – voted for independence.

2. Tesla begins countdown to the world’s largest battery

Tesla and the state of South Australia have officially started the clock on an offer that’ll see the world’s largest battery bank completed within 100 days or delivered free of charge by Tesla (Ars Technica). Following up on an offer made by Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Twitter when South Australia experienced blackouts last year, the 100MW/129MWh battery bank will be the largest utility-grade installation of its kind. Construction is already underway, and when completed the bank should help prevent future statewide blackouts. Tesla stands to lose “$50 million or more” if it misses its deadline, but with the batteries currently halfway assembled thanks to work carried out in advance of the countdown, it seems likely that the project will be completed on schedule.

3. US professor uses UK law to find out what Cambridge Analytica knows about him

US professor David Carroll of the Parsons School of Design in New York is taking legal action in the UK in an attempt to get political data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica to hand over what it knows about him (The Guardian). While the US doesn’t have any data protection regulation to speak of, the UK’s substantial body of data protection legislation gives people the right to demand that companies give them access to personal information held about them. Cambridge Analytica, largely owned by US billionaire and major presidential campaign donor Robert Mercer, only send Carroll partial information that it held on him, including “scoring” data about how he was likely to vote in the US election about his feelings on guns and national security. He says: “I was perplexed by it. I started thinking, ‘Have I had conversations about gun rights on Facebook? Where are they getting this from? And what are they doing with it?'” He is currently raising funds for legal action to obtain full access to the data he’s entitles for and has reported the company to the Information Commissioner’s Office, which is carrying out an ongoing investigation into the company’s attempts to influence elections in the UK and Europe.

4. Google plans two-factor authentication upgrade with physical security key support

Bloomberg sources report that Google is planning to add additional support for physical security dongles to its two-factor authentication tools. Designed with large enterprise and government clients in mind, the new system will reportedly allow customers to require their users to use both a plug-in USB security key, already supported by Google, and a second physical device – presumably to generate a code – before they can log in to Gmail or Google Drive. Google declined to comment, but sources say that the new high-security service will also block all third-party programs from accessing a user’s email or files.

5. Has Facebook learned anything from Trump and Brexit?

In response to the backlash around the spread of fake news, or more accurately false information, during Brexit and the US presidential election, Facebook has taken a different approach to the recent federal election in Germany (WIRED). In a blog post, Richard Allan, Facebook’s vice president of public policy for EMEA, listed the ways the social network was targeting the spread of fake news and disinformation and eliminating fake accounts from its service. By the time of the German election, investigations into how Facebook, Twitter and others handled the infiltration of fake news, fake accounts, and fake advertising were in full swing. And, to an extent, Facebook has responded to this. In a recent post, chief security officer Alex Stamos said wrote that the social network had seen good results post-election in Germany from the new measures it had implemented. These included removing tens of thousands of fake accounts from Facebook in the month before the election and testing a new related articles feature to give people access to different perspectives. But some will be left wondering how reliable the results from Germany really are. Germans tend to be more suspicious of social media than Americans – five out of ten get their news from Facebook compared to eight out ten in America, news organisations run more fact checking pieces, and Germany also has stricter laws regulating data privacy and political speech.

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6. The human-robocar war for jobs is finally on

The USA’s long-awaited war between self-driving vehicles and the humans they would replace has begun, and the humans just won the first skirmish (WIRED). The first version of the US Senate’s autonomous vehicle legislation laying out a federal, nation-wide plan for autonomous vehicle regulations omits references to commercial motor vehicles like trucks and buses found in an early draft. This means big vehicles are exempt from the bill and that rules for self-driving trucks are still unclear. It’s a small but noteworthy loss for the burgeoning self-driving trucking industry and the innovators therein, like Uber, Tesla, and Amazon, which have all lobbied for clear national rules governing the autonomous big rigs they want to build, sell, or use. And it’s an early win for the labour unions, whose influence in Washington has taken a precipitous dive since the 1980s, and more specifically for the Teamsters, which represents almost 600,000 truck drivers nationally and had asked legislators to keep their commercial vehicles out of the discussion, at least for the time being.

7. The problem with pre-print servers

An ongoing debate about the value and hazards of pre-print servers, which scientific papers are published online prior to peer review, has been summarised in the pages of Science following recent controversies – and swift peer rebuttals – involving wild claims made in papers published to the bioRxiv biology pre-print server (Gizmodo). The tiff – the latest of many – saw biotech firm Human Longevity publish a paper claiming that it could extrapolate a person’s appearance from a fragment of DNA; a claim that was rapidly rebutted, only for the rebuttal itself to be rebutted a few days later. Writing in Science, Jocelyn Kaiser observes:”Such online squabbles could leave the public bewildered and erode trust in scientists.” Other concerns about the use of pre-print servers include poor science journalism, which sees unreviewed, unfinished or even wildly inaccurate pre-print papers feed sensationalistic stories in the press. However, the servers provide useful transparency and open accessibility to papers in disciplines that still often seen much fully peer-reviewed and published content trapped behind paywalls.

8. DC is ditching its interconnected cinematic universe

In the wake of a hit-and-miss selection of attempted blockbusters, DC is reportedly reducing its commitment to a cohesive and interlinked extended movie universe in favour of films that stand on their own merits (The Verge). The move follows the success of director Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, which didn’t depend on other films to prop up its narrative, setting a benchmark for change. DC’s future films will include both movies that would previously have slotted into the expanded universe continuity established in Justice League, while others, such as the forthcoming Scorsese Joker movie, will exist fully outside the shared narrative. DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson says that now: “there’s no insistence upon an overall storyline or interconnectivity in that universe” and that this will “see the DC movie universe being a universe, but one that comes from the heart of the filmmaker who’s creating them”.

9. Steampunk dungeon crawler Vaporum hisses and stomps onto Steam

Crowdfunded steampunk RPG dungeon crawler Vaporum has launched with a trailer showing a gorgeous Bioshock style aesthetic mixed with grid-based gameplay of the sort you’ll find in Legend of Grimrock (Rock, Paper, Shotgun). Inspired by classic games such as Eye of the Beholder and Dungeon Master, the game finds you abandoned at the foot of a vast tower in the middle of the ocean, which you must ascend to uncover its mysteries. As well as an oily and mechanical sci-fi twist, the game also drops the genre’s typical four-player party setup to cast you as a single character with a highly customisable exo-suit that gives you a range of abilities and powers. Vaporum is out now for Windows on Steam and [link url=”https://www.gog.com/game/vaporum”]GOG[/link] for £15, with other formats to potentially follow depending on the game’s success.

10. Nintendo releases a digital cache of classic SNES manuals

To accompany the launch of the SNES Classic, Nintendo has released high-quality digital scans of all its bundled games’ manuals in English and Japanese (Ars Technica). These include a full copy of the accompanying strategy guide for the Earthbound and a newly-completed manual for never-before-released space combat shooter StarFox 2. The manuals are both more colourful and more standardised than the NES Classic manual scans revealed last year.

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