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  1. from the be-part-of-the-open-book-experience dept Nothing's too much to sacrifice for the greater good of Australia. Not even Australians. A series of police raids on journalists has raised questions about how far the government will go to control what Australian citizens know about their government's activities. Three separate raids targeted leaks that revealed, among other things, possible war crimes committed by Australian soldiers and the government's plans to place its own citizens under surveillance by expanding the power allotted to the Australian Signals Directorate. The unintentional side effect of government raids designed to discourage further reporting on government secrets is the government is now confirming one of the leaks it targeted. Peter Dutton has confirmed that a plan to create new powers to spy on Australians – which sparked police raids at the centre of the press freedom row – is still on the table. On Sunday the home affairs minister claimed it was “complete nonsense” that the government supported spying on Australians but, in the next breath, called for a “sensible discussion” about whether the Australian Signals Directorate should gain such powers, which he argued could help disrupt paedophile networks and stop cyber-attacks. Ah, the old "we're not going to spy on you, unless..." National security takes a backseat to child porn purveyors in Dutton's directly contradictory statements, but it's still the same tired argument. Domestic surveillance makes it easier for the government to catch bad guys and efficiency should always take precedence over rights and liberties. This followed other statements from Dutton, most of which followed the same pattern: deny the government wants to spy on Australians, followed by reasons why the government should be allowed to spy on Australians. “We don’t support spying on Australians,” he said. “That was a complete nonsense." “But where you’ve got a paedophile network that operates out of Manila that live-streams children being abused, there might be an ability for an Australian agency to try and shut that server down. “If that same server was operating in Fitzroy, here in Melbourne, then there would be very limited capacity in certain circumstances where it was masked or it was rerouted and … we weren’t able to shut that paedophile network down." Well, I guess if the ends justify the means… Like others angling for greater surveillance capabilities at the expense of the public's freedoms, Dutton claims Australians are only a "sensible discussion" away from accepting additional government intrusion. That this "discussion" remains on the table despite Australians' opposition to it just shows how essential it is that Australian journalists remain free to publish leaked documents without fear of government reprisal. Dutton has tipped his hand, though, suggesting neither Australians nor the country's journalists will be as free in the future. He has refused to condemn the raids on journalists and is openly pitching a surveillance program whose unauthorized publication was greeted with a show of force. Source
  2. ACSC, OAIC investigating if Privacy Act breached The head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), Alastair MacGibbon, has warned people to be wary of possible phishing attacks in the wake of a Facebook security breach. “Australians should keep a look out for any unusual activity from friends or family on their Facebook accounts,” MacGibbon said. “This is a timely reminder for Australians to be constantly wary of criminals seeking to exploit their personal information online.” Facebook late last week revealed that some 50 million accounts were affected by an attack that leveraged a vulnerability in the social network’s ‘View As’ feature. In the wake of the attack Facebook said it reset the access tokens of some 90 million accounts, forcing them to log back in to the service. “This attack exploited the complex interaction of multiple issues in our code. It stemmed from a change we made to our video uploading feature in July 2017, which impacted ‘View As’,” Facebook’s vice-president of product management, Guy Rosen, wrote in a statement. “The attackers not only needed to find this vulnerability and use it to get an access token, they then had to pivot from that account to others to steal more tokens.” Facebook said it had fixed the vulnerability and been in contact with law enforcement agencies. In a statement the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) said it had “been advised by Facebook of an incident involving the security of Facebook accounts.” “The OAIC is making inquiries with Facebook about the facts, including the number of Australians who may have been impacted by the incident. The OAIC is also in contact with the Australian Cyber Security Centre about the incident.” The ACSC said it was “working closely with the Privacy Commissioner to establish if Facebook has violated any terms in the Privacy Act 1988.” Source
  3. Vault, QuintessenceLabs, and Ziroh Labs have joined forces to build a system for strong encryption of user data for government. Australian cloud services provider Vault, alongside QuintessenceLabs (QLabs) and Ziroh Labs, has announced a secure enterprise file synchronisation and sharing (EFSS) proof of concept aimed at protecting data. The Canberra-based companies will bring together QuintessenceLabs' quantum key generation and key management with Vault's protected cloud and Ziroh Labs' homomorphic encryption technology, calling the end result "full entropy as a service". Vault and Quintessence Labs recently received funding from AustCyber -- the Cyber Security Growth Network -- which handed out AU$3 million under the 2017-18 Project Fund aimed at advancing Australia's position in innovation and cybersecurity. "It's critical that we continue to research new ways in which we can protect and secure Australians' personal data," Vault general manager Tony Marceddo said. "By combining Ziroh's homomorphic encryption, QuintessenceLabs' quantum key generation, and Vault's protected cloud, we plan to create a unique solution for the global security landscape." The first stage of the project is to develop a proof of concept, and, if successful, Vault said it will be the world's first EFSS system providing three highly technical levels of security to protect sensitive government data. "Traditionally, data can only be encrypted when it is in transit, leaving it at risk while it is at rest or being searched," Vault explained. The companies explained that Ziroh's homomorphic encryption secures files while they are at rest, ensuring they are encrypted at all times, while QLabs uses quantum key generation to create keys that will secure the homomorphic encrypted files. "Quantum key generation addresses traditional computers' lack of ability to randomise passwords and keys," they said. To add another layer of security, the file is then stored on Vault's protected cloud. Vault was one of the first companies to meet the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) requirements for protected-level ASD Certification, alongside fellow Australian cloud provider Sliced Tech. The honour, since extended to Macquarie Government, Dimension Data, and most recently Microsoft, allows Vault to store highly classified government information in its cloud. Meanwhile, QLabs picked up AU$3.26 million in funding from the Australian Department of Defence in July last year to continue the expansion of its quantum key distribution capabilities and develop an Australia-specific solution. This was followed in January by an additional AU$528,000 to progress encryption work for the department. Australian banking heavyweight Westpac has also funded QLabs' work, boasting a 16 percent stake in the company as a result. QLabs was formed in 2008 as a spin-off out of the physics department at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, although QLabs' product suite was developed independent of ANU. At the time, the company was looking at commercialising some technology, research, and experimental work that came out of the physics department in the field of quantum cryptography or quantum key distribution. In addition to its ties with ANU, QLabs has a linkage grant with the University of Newcastle and a partnership with the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and its Centre for Quantum Computation and Communications Technology (CQC2T). The CQC2T currently houses a team of university researchers that is racing to build the world's first quantum computer in silicon. Source
  4. The big telcos don't want their operations disrupted. They want more consultation, and protection for their downstream customers. Australia's two largest telcos, Telstra and Optus, have called for the government to create an efficient consultation process every time it asks for assistance under the nation's proposed new anti-encryption laws. Taken together, the two submissions represent a call for far more clarity in the Assistance and Access Bill 2018, which is currently being rushed through Parliament. The Bill proposes three ways for the government to request or demand assistance in accessing communications from any "designated communications provider". These can be virtually any kind of individual or organisation or individual that manufactures, provides, or maintains any kind of communications equipment or services, or even an "information service". Technical Assistance (TA) Requests, which are described as voluntary requests, but which may be the least constrained; Technical Assistance (TA) Notices, which are compulsory notices for a communication provider to use an interception capability they already have; and Technical Capability (TC) Notices, which are compulsory notices for a communication provider to build a new interception capability, so that it can meet subsequent Technical Assistance Notices. While the two kinds of notices can only be issued if they are "reasonable, proportionate, practicable, and technically feasible", the Bill only specifies a consultation process for the TC Notices. "The decision maker will need to obtain information from the designated communications provider (DCP) about these matters. Accordingly, we believe a consultation process should also be specified for a TA Notice. Further, the 'specified period' in the notice needs to be reasonable and the requirement to consult should expressly allow consultation timeframes to be extended," wrote Telstra in its submission [PDF]. "In setting timeframes, the decision-maker should take account of the DCP's standard development and release cycles, the availability of relevant engineering and technical resources, the impacts on other planned service and network updates, the time required by a DCP to undertake their normal rigorous implementation, integration, and regression and quality testing, etc." Telstra asked for the new law to make it clear that it can't be used to access the content of communications. "The [original] Explanatory Document [PDF] states on a number of occasions the draft Bill is not intended to change the existing mechanisms that agencies use to lawfully access telecommunications content and data for investigations and that the intention is that agencies use existing warrant powers for such access," Telstra writes. These powers exist primarily in the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979. As ZDNet has reported, the fact that the TA and TC notices are issued administratively by the requesting agency, not by an independent third party as happens with a warrant, could create a way to access communications without a warrant. If this new legislation isn't meant to allow warrantless access to communications content, then Telstra wants to see that written into the law. Telstra has also called for the legislation to make it clear that a TA Notice may not ask them to develop a technical capability they don't already have; for the format of requested data to "reference appropriate technical standards and/or be agreed with industry"; for the immunity provisions to be extended to any downstream customers who might be involved with or affected by any actions taken; and for a prohibition on DCPs being asked to do anything that would otherwise be a criminal offence. Optus has echoed Telstra's concerns, and the company's submission [PDF] sketches out in more detail the processes they would like to see. Before any Notice or Request is issued, Optus wants "a mandatory consultation step requiring agencies to consult service providers prior to finalising and issuing" the document. A similar mandatory consultation should be part of any variation or revocation. Optus has also called for "further guidance to decision-makers requiring them to have regard to information submitted by a service provider in forming judgements about whether the decision-making criteria of 'reasonable and proportionate' and 'practicable and technically feasible' are met for each type of assistance request or notice". This process should also include a "mandatory requirement" for an "efficient form of contracting". "For example a standard form contract might be mandated or determined to cover key areas, which is then only varied in pre-determined areas to insert a description of the assistance, the agreed cost and payment arrangements, and any relevant special conditions," Optus wrote. The telco said it will need to "stand prepared to initiate significant scoping and compliance programs" in response to this new regime. "Optus already has major commercial, IT, and network programs in flight and which are scheduled for implementation over the next three years. In practical terms, the assistance regime may disrupt these plans," it said. The Assistance and Access Bill 2018 has been referred to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS). The public consultation period is brief. Submissions close on October 12, with public hearings expected to be held on October 19. Source
  5. The Australian Government is moving full speed ahead with plans to expand its current pirate site-blocking laws. The new proposals make it easier to block new domains and will allow for search engine blocking. According to law professor Matthew Rimmer, these expansions go too far. Instead of a copyright crackdown, the Government should work on a "bill of rights" to protect the freedoms of Australians, he notes. Three years ago Australia amended its copyright law to pave the way for pirate site blocking injunctions. Section 115a of Australia’s Copyright Act allows rightsholders to request ISP blockades of infringing sites in local courts and has been actively used since. While the entertainment industries have signaled that the legislation is effective, they also see room for improvement. The Australian Government appears to agree, as it has tabled a series of amendments that will strengthen the blocking capabilities. Among other things, the new plans will allow copyright holders to apply for injunctions that will not only target infringing ‘online locations’ but also their appearances in searches. This means that Google and other search engines can be required to remove entire domains from their search results. This plan is backed by many entertainment industry companies, including the very vocal Village Roadshow. Google, meanwhile, has asked the Government to slow down, describing an expansion at this time as premature. Similarly, the Digital Industry Group, representing Facebook, Google, and Twitter, cautioned against the expansions as well. Aside from directly affected stakeholders, other interested parties have also chimed in. This includes Matthew Rimmer, Professor in Intellectual Property and Innovation Law at the Faculty of Law, at the Queensland University of Technology. In his submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications last week, Rimmer heavily criticizes the existing site blocking efforts as well as the planned expansions. The professor notes that Australia’s copyright regime is closely tied to the US copyright system, where similar site-blocking efforts were previously rejected. “Given the United States Congress rejected the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) site-blocking legislation, the Australian Parliament should similarly reject the crude policy option of site-blocking,” Rimmer’s first recommendation reads. According to the professor, there’s not enough evidence to indicate that the current blocking measures have been effective. The evidence that’s available comes from the entertainment industry, which seems to be a weak foundation for new copyright laws, he says. Instead of expanding current site-blocking laws, Rimmer recommends repealing the original blocking measures instead. “Given that the legislation has failed to fulfill its original aims and objectives, the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Act 2015 (Cth) should be repealed, rather than expanded.” The professor notes that the new plans to add search engines is “far too broad and wide in its intent and its impact.” This makes it open to abuse by copyright holders. The blocking efforts could restrict access to public domain works, for example, and Rimmer stresses that respect for freedom of speech and freedom of expression is inadequate. “The further expansion of site-blocking by the Australian Parliament will have larger implications for freedom of speech and expression in the digital age,” Rimmer cautions. Instead of increasing the enforcement options for media companies, the professor calls on the Government to work on a “bill of rights” to protect the freedoms of Australian citizens instead. “Australia does need a bill of rights to better protect the freedoms of Australian citizens. This is particularly important in the context of regulation of the Internet, search engines, and cloud computing,” Rimmer notes in his final recommendation. A copy of Rimmer’s full submission can be found here (pdf). source
  6. The Australian Government recently reported that local piracy rates had been slashed in half over a period of 12 months. While this impressive drop was music to the ears of copyright holders, a closer inspection of the data shows that something is not quite right, or potentially, very wrong. Australia’s latest online copyright infringement report, released by the Department of Communications in December, suggested that piracy is falling. The data pointed out that there’s been a steady decrease in the number of people who consume music, movies, and TV shows illegally. This follows a trend that was revealed in earlier reports. According to the Government, a mere 16% of the population can be classified as pirates. This is a drastic drop compared to last year when a similar study found that 32% obtained content illegally. In 2015, when the first survey was taken, the number was even higher at 43%. Like many other news outlets, we reported the numbers as they were presented. However, something didn’t feel right. This prompted us to step back and take a closer look at the reported data to see how this unprecedented drop took place. Specifically, we want to see where this drop comes from and how it can be so massive. The bar chart below provides a good starting point. It shows what percentage of a particular category of digital content is consumed 100% legally, 100% illegally, or a mix of both. The chart also shows the same data for “any of the four” content categories. As reported, the bar on the far right shows that, across all categories, only 16% of the respondents consumed content unlawfully in any of the four categories. That is exactly as reported, so that’s good news. The problem is, however, that this percentage doesn’t make much sense when we look at the individual categories. Based on the reported sample numbers, the 16% across all categories translates to 314 respondents. In other words, 314 people pirated something from any of the four categories which includes music, games, movies and TV. However, when we look at the movies category on its own we see that 25% of the respondents consumed movies illegally. Based on the sample size for that category, that translates to 316 respondents. How can it be that more people consume movies illegally than in the four categories combined, which also includes movies, and thus the same respondents? Technically this can be chalked up as rounding variance. But even when that’s the case, it seems implausible that every person who pirated something also pirated movies. That explanation is even more implausible when we look at the exact same data from the year before. That year 32% of the people consumed content from any of the four categories unlawfully (555 respondents). However, less than half of these were also movie pirates (240 respondents). It seems very unlikely that when in 2018 less than 50% of the self-proclaimed pirates consumed illegal movies, this suddenly went up to 100% in 2019. We shared our findings with the Australian Government’s Department of Communications and the Arts. Despite several back and forths, they were not able to explain these findings. In previous years the report also included the raw numbers for all the categories, which could provide more insight. However, the most recent report no longer includes these and the Government informed us that it does not have permission to share the data. And it doesn’t stop there. The further we delve into the numbers the weirder things get. For example, there is a similar chart to the one shown earlier but in this instance detailing the consumption of “free” content (e.g. downloading from torrent sites). As shown above, this indicates that 46% of all respondents who consumed free content in any of the four categories did so unlawfully. This translates to roughly 678 respondents, which is much more than the number cited for all content consumers (paid and free), which presumably includes the same people. There are many other examples to give but the above clearly illustrates that there’s something fishy with these numbers. According to the Government, the entire pirate population was slashed in half last year, but we doubt that this is really the case. Source
  7. Chinese smartphone maker Huawei says the Australian government has banned it from providing 5G technology for the country's wireless networks. It said fellow communications firm ZTE had also been banned, both reportedly because of national security concerns. "This is a extremely disappointing result for consumers," the company said on Twitter. Faster data download and upload speeds are promised with 5G, which is the next stage of mobile internet connectivity. Wider coverage and more stable connections than current 4G technology are also highlighted as benefits. What is 5G? Superfast 5G mobiles move a step closer 5G auction bidding starts in UK What's the issue? Several countries are preparing for the roll-out of 5G mobile networks, although analysts say few will launch 5G services before 2020. Mark Newman, from the consultancy ConnectivityX, said: "5G is going to be the next significant wave of mobile infrastructure deployment. "If existing suppliers are banned, it will be quite a major blow for them." Huawei is the world's biggest producer of telecoms equipment. It also ranks second in global smartphone sales, behind Samsung and ahead of Apple. In July, a UK security committee warned that it had "only limited assurance" that Huawei's telecoms kit posed no threat to national security. The UK's cyber-defence watchdog - the National Cyber Security Centre - has also warned that the use of ZTE's equipment and services could pose a national security risk. Huawei has a larger share of the phone market than Apple "As we move into 5G, a greater proportion of the network is controlled by software," said Mr Newman. "There is an argument that in this software realm, concerns about who is managing the network and where from are heightened." What has Australia said? On Thursday, the Australian government said national security regulations that were typically applied to telecoms firms would be extended to equipment suppliers. Companies that were "likely to be subject to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government" could present a security risk, it said. The United States has previously banned Huawei from bidding for government contracts because of fears over espionage. ZTE has also had its activity restricted in the US. Under Chinese law, companies must co-operate with the intelligence services. Analysts therefore warn that equipment produced by firms such as Huawei and ZTE could be compromised. How has China responded? China's foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Australia should not "use various excuses to artificially erect barriers". It called on Australia to "abandon ideological prejudices and provide a fair competitive environment for Chinese companies". Huawei has defended the security of its products. "Huawei is a world leader in 5G," the company said in a statement. It said it had "safely and securely" delivered wireless technology in Australia for close to 15 years. Source
  8. Google sued by ACCC for expanded personal data use without consent The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has taken legal action against the tech giant Google over the allegation that the company failed to properly inform the customers on how their data is being used and did not get the consent of customers when expanding its personal data use and privacy policy. The case is filed against the firm for combining users personal information in Google accounts with their activities on non-Google sites in 2016, to display ads. "This meant this data about users' non-Google online activity became linked to their names and other identifying information held by Google. Previously, this information had been kept separately from users' Google accounts, meaning the data was not linked to an individual user," the ACCC said. The ACCC also accused Google of using the newly-combined information to improve the commercial performance of its advertising businesses.“We are taking this action because we consider Google misled Australian consumers about what it planned to do with large amounts of their personal information, including internet activity on websites not connected to Google,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said in a statement. After the advent of coronavirus contact-tracing apps, critics have been vocal about their right to privacy, as they fear that these apps could be used to individually track users. Similarly, the U.S. regulatory body, concerned about how tech companies treat user data, has summoned Big Tech CEOs for a congressional hearing. Source: Reuters Google sued by ACCC for expanded personal data use without consent
  9. It is worried about the potential overstepping that could occur if the government is able to provide assistance to entities in response to significant cyber attacks on Australian systems. The federal government recently closed consultation on a package of reforms focused on protecting critical infrastructure and systems of national significance. With that part of the process wrapped up, the government is now looking to introduce an enhanced regulatory framework, which would build on existing requirements under the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018. This includes: A positive security obligation (PSO) for critical infrastructure entities, supported by sector-specific requirements; enhanced cybersecurity obligations for those entities most important to the nation; and government assistance to entities in response to significant cyber attacks on Australian systems. With the definition of what constitutes critical infrastructure and systems of national significance not yet fully defined, the federal government is seeking to determine who the enhanced framework would apply to, with one proposed sector covering data storage and cloud. Amazon Web Services (AWS) said that while it was broadly supportive of the proposal to expand the regime to include the data and cloud sector, the expansion raises questions such as what service providers should be included in the sector, what security standards should apply, and how the government can prevent over-regulation. In its submission [PDF] to the consultation, the cloud giant also raised concerns that the proposal for government "assistance" or "intervention" powers could give it overly broad powers to issue directions or act autonomously. AWS said the breadth of the newly regulated critical infrastructure sectors, coupled with seemingly broad powers described in the consultation paper [PDF], raised many issues and unknowns. The consultation paper said the government assistance would be provided to entities that are the target or victim of a cyber attack through the establishment of a government capability and authorities to disrupt and respond to threats in an emergency. "Critical infrastructure entities may face situations where there is an imminent cyber threat or incident that could significantly impact Australia's economy, security or sovereignty, and the threat is within their capacity to address. In these cases, we propose that government be able to provide reasonable, proportionate and time-sensitive directions to entities to ensure action is taken to minimise its impact," the government wrote. AWS is concerned that there isn't clarity around whether the triggers for exercising such powers are objective and specific, whether or how the government would be able to objectively assess if its directions or assistance would improve the situation, what an entity could be directed to do or not do, what checks and balances would apply, and whether an entity has rights of review and appeal. Elsewhere in its submission, AWS said it was unclear from the consultation paper whether and how the enhanced regulatory framework would apply, explaining that it was concerned the position of applying the enhanced regulatory framework at the "owner and operator level, not at [a] specific piece of technology" could lead to negative consequences. Instead, the cloud giant has recommended the enhanced regulatory framework only apply to specific critical infrastructure assets of a critical infrastructure entity. In order to avoid over-regulation, AWS said a technology service provider -- that is also a regulated critical infrastructure entity complying with its own sector PSO -- should not have to comply with additional security obligations imposed by another regulator that duplicates or builds upon that entity's PSO. It also wants clarification that entities will not be inspected, examined, or audited against the same requirements by multiple regulators. Acknowledging each sector is different, AWS said PSOs for one sector should not contradict or conflict with those in another sector, but it was concerned this approach could lead to a fragmented set of security requirements across different sectors. Asking for further clarity, AWS wants an appropriate scope of what entities and infrastructure are included in the "data and the cloud" sector. If there was to be a threshold, the cloud giant has suggested a test of "a data centre containing IT equipment capable of consuming more than 100kW of power in total" so that operators of infrastructure have clarity on whether they are covered. In addition, AWS said the PSO should reflect that an entity is only able to implement security processes that are within its control. Source
  10. The standards would clarify how to best measure the amount of personal information that is linked to de-identified data sets, NSW chief data scientist says. NSW Data Analytics Centre CEO and NSW chief data scientist Ian Oppermann has announced that the NSW government wants to standardise the way it measures the amount of personal information used in linked de-identified datasets. "This measure of personal information will hopefully start to be standardised," he said on Tuesday. "We will ask the folks who developed the cybersecurity standards, the SE2700 Series cybersecurity standards, to start to work on taking what we've done so far and build it into a standard. "Two years from now, we will have a standard in this space." Oppermann said the standard setting would be coming off the back of ongoing work the NSW government agency had undertaken over the last three years alongside the likes of the Australian Computer Society (ACS), Standards Australia, Data61, the Australian Bureau Statistics, and every state and territory government on the mainland to determine whether measuring the amount of personal information in linked de-identified data sets was possible. "If we take this dataset and link it with this dataset that are both de-identified, what does that do in terms of the measure of personal information and can we put a measure on it," he said. "And if we link more and more datasets together, how far that payload of information goes, and what becomes the risk of re-identification, it turns out to be a very, very subtle and complex activity." Speaking at CeBiT Australia, Opppermann suggested that introducing a standard would sway citizens to be more trustworthy of government, which ultimately would enable agencies such as the NSW Data Analytics Centre to continue to use datasets to generate insights while protecting individual privacy. "Without getting privacy rights, linking datasets and generating insights without the protection of protecting individual privacy is something that creates a whole world of pain when we're not doing the right thing with the datasets we're linking together," he said. Ultimately, Oppermann said the end goal would be to put the centre in a position to create "evidence-driven policy, and real transparency about what [the NSW government] is trying to achieve and how we're measuring what we're trying to achieve. A focus on outcomes, not a focus on activity." Linking data to improve out of home care Using de-identified datasets linked across Health, Education, Justice, Family and Community Services, Transport, and Department of Industry, the NSW Data Analytics Centre has been able to assist the state government with making data-driven reforms to its Out of Home Care (OOHC) program, which is designed to help young people in risk of harm. "Data is a record of what's happened in the past. The outcomes we are looking at are a way of describing what we're trying to achieve and understand those factors of risk, which leads to either the outcome we're trying to achieve or adverse versions of those things," he said. According to Oppermann, once completed, the reforms would become the basis for helping the federal government to build similar datasets which could be modified for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, as part of an agreement that was signed between the NSW Data Analytics Centre and the federal government in September. "Initially this project will see NSW, Queensland, Victoria, and South Australia linking with the Commonwealth … linking data from NGOs, linking data sets from providers -- all de-identified, all using the gold standard of de-identification, which in NSW is the Centre for Health linkage, with the Commonwealth it's the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare," he said. Source
  11. Proving that you're old enough for online porn could get a lot more awkward. The UK might have ditched plans for an age filter on online porn, but Australia is going all-in with a new proposal that could require internet users to verify their identity in a face-matching database before viewing pornography. The proposal comes as Australian lawmakers consider new restrictions around age verification for online porn and gambling as part of a bipartisan parliamentary inquiry. In a submission to the inquiry, first reported by ZDNet, Australia's Department of Home Affairs proposed using its Face Verification Service to verify internet users wanting to look at porn. "Home Affairs is developing a Face Verification Service which matches a person's photo against images used on one of their evidence of identity documents to help verify their identity," DHA wrote in a submission to the inquiry. "This could assist in age verification, for example by preventing a minor from using their parent's driver licence to circumvent age verification controls." The first phase of the Face Verification Service launched in 2016 with a database that included citizenship images, accessible by government agencies including the Australian Federal Police. However, the Government has proposed expanding the Service to include drivers' license photos to capture a larger part of the population. DHA hasn't outlined the specific technical detail on how the Face Verification Service would be rolled out as means of verifying Australians on adult websites. But the proposal comes at a time when the issue of age verification is being keenly debated, with religious groups calling for the protection of minors and civil liberties groups raising concerns about the privacy and security of adults legitimately accessing legal pornography. A similar porn filter proposed in the UK was delayed a number of times as theBritish government tried to pin down a system for reliably verify ages. The UK porn block proposal was dropped earlier this month. Source
  12. Australia’s consumer watchdog has sued Google and its local subsidiary, accusing the Alphabet Inc. company of misleading users in the way it gets permission to track their location. At issue is Google’s Location History setting on Android mobile devices. The way Google represents it to users would lead them to believe that turning the feature off would be enough to stop the company from storing their location data, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission alleges in its lawsuit. But users in fact needed to switch off "Web & App Activity” tracking to truly block storage of location data, it said in its filing. "We allege that Google misled consumers by staying silent about the fact that another setting also had to be switched off,” said ACCC chair Rod Sims in the statement announcing the action. A Google spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Google’s privacy controls have drawn criticism in the past and the company has taken steps to centralise and make them more transparent. Even so, options remain fragmented across multiple settings. Google’s smartphone services store users’ locations even when privacy settings are adjusted to shut these features off, according to a report by the Associated Press that was confirmed by Princeton University researchers. Google said at the time that Location History is entirely opt-in but – even if it’s disabled – the company will continue to use location to improve user experience in search or navigation, for instance. The period addressed by the complaint in Australia’s Federal Court spans from January 2017 until late 2018, and there’s a supplementary issue raised relating to the second half of 2018. The ACCC’s additional allegation is that Google misled consumers into thinking that "the only way they could prevent Google from collecting, keeping and using their location data was to stop using certain Google services, including Google Search and Google Maps”. That hid the fact, it argued, that disabling location tracking could in truth "be achieved by switching off both ‘Location History’ and ‘Web & App Activity’.” The ACCC seeks penalties and the setup of a compliance program for future activities, among other measures. The watchdog now has the power to levy penalties as high as 10% of revenue, Sims told reporters. Source: Google sued for misleading Australian users on location tracking (via The Star Online)
  13. In the summer a group of major Hollywood studios, Netflix, and other movie companies filed a new pirate site blocking application in Australia. The list contained plenty of obviously infringing sites but also the domains of Iran's 'YouTube' and an Israeli newspaper. The Federal Court has now awarded the injunction but following our initial report, both contentious domains have been removed. For the past several years, entertainment industry companies have been utilizing legislation in Australia that allows for the blocking of ‘pirate’ sites. Movie studios, TV companies and record labels have all taking advantage of the process, filing applications with the Federal Court to have obviously infringing sites blocked by ISPs, to reduce the number of subscribers accessing the platforms from within Australia. The overwhelming majority of applications have contained no obvious major issues, with rightsholders demanding that popular torrent, streaming and similar platforms should be rendered inaccessible by direct means. However, an application filed in the summer raised questions over a pair of domains that at best seemed outliers in the original 78-site list. Application for Injunction Filed in July 2020 The application, filed by companies including Disney, Netflix, Village Roadshow, and Warner Bros., requested an injunction that would compel around 50 ISPs including Telstra, Optus, TPG and Vodafone to block access to more than 100 domains. Many well-known platforms including 0gomovies.org, 1377x.to, best-series.me, pirateproxy.wtf, warez-bb.org, kissasian.sh, and bs.to, were included in the list but two in particular caught our eye. Aparat is often referred to as Iran’s YouTube. It is one of the most-visited sites in the world and the second most-visited site in Iran, where only Google.com gets more traffic. Like many user-uploaded content sites (YouTube included), it has its fair share of copyright infringement issues but the claim from the applicants, that the site’s “primary purpose or effect” is to infringe or facilitate the infringement of copyright, seemed a bit of a stretch. At the time, TorrentFreak reached out to Aparat for a comment on the inclusion of its domain on the list. We also approached the attorney for the movie companies but neither responded. Interestingly, however, at some Aparat was removed from the application but given the lack of documentation at the courts, the precise reason remains unknown. Another unusual entry in the original application was the domain of Israeli newspaper Kul al-Arab. Founded in 1987 and published on a weekly basis, the paper is said to be Israel’s most influential and widely read Arabic-language periodical. While that may be its main area of business, however, the site also has a VOD section, something which may have triggered the complaint process. Nevertheless, like Aparat, Kul al-Arab was also removed from the application at some point. Injunction Handed Down By The Federal Court After adjustments (two other platforms have also been removed, possibly due to inactivity), the final injunction handed down by Justice Steven Rares now targets 74 allegedly infringing platforms (four less than the original application) accessible via 112 domains, all of which must be blocked by the respondent ISPs which together cover most of the Australian market. Notable inclusions are domains operated by torrent site variants 1337x and 1377x, torrent index TorrentGalaxy, various Pirate Bay proxy sites, domains connected to infamous Indian torrent site Tamilrockers, warez portal Warez-bb, YouTube-ripping platform Y2Mate, TV show platforms BS.to and S.to, plus several rising anime sites. (Full list below) “I am satisfied that the owners have taken all reasonable steps to notify each person who operates the targeted sites,” writes Justice Rares in the order. “The owners’ solicitors sought to provide the respective site operators with notice of this proceeding and the relief sought against the site operators through communication to email address, postal address (where it could be found), or the online ‘contact us’ facility offered by the sites. Some of the targeted sites do not appear to offer any facility for receiving such contact. Others gave perfunctory acknowledgments.” The Judge notes that, in his opinion, an order requiring the ISPs to block the sites represents a “proportionate response to the scale and flagrancy of infringing conduct in the circumstances.” Acknowledging that the blocking will negatively affect the pirate sites’ business models, Justice Rares adds that the interference the judgment will cause is necessary to protect the applicants’ rights. “Moreover, I consider that it is in the public interest to disable access to each targeted site. That is because the sites seek to undermine the lawful rights of the owners and others to the protection of their intellectual property,” he concludes. The full judgment published October 15, 2020 can be found here Full list of blocked sites/domains: 1. 0goMovies (0gomovies.org / 2gomovies.net) 2. 123putlocker (123putlocker.to / 123putlocker.is) 3. 1337x torrent (1337xtorrent.net / 1337x.am) 4. 1337x.am (1337x.am) 5. 1377x.to (1337xto.to / 1377x.is / 1377x.to) 6. 91mjw (91mjw.com) 7. alarab.com (not blocked, removed from application/injunction) 8. aparat.com (not blocked, removed from application/injunction) 9. azm (azm.to) 10. best-series (best-series.me) 11. Cmovies (cmovies.ws / c-movies.cc) 12. europix.pro (europix.biz / europix.pro) 13. europixhd (europixhd.io / europixhd.net / europixhd.pro) 14. Fshare TV (fsharetv.co) 15. halimthemes (123moviesoknow.com / all123movies.com / ww2.123moviesoknow.com) 16. iyingshi6 (iyingshi6.tv) 17. limetorrents2020 (limetorrents.buzz / limetorrents2020.xyz) 18. mlcboard (mlcboard.com) 19. Movie INDOXXI (movieindoxxi.me / ligaxxi.me) 20. movies123 (movies123.ag / movies123.sc) 21. movies123.design (movies123.design) 22. movies123.email (movies123.email) 23. movies123.pics (movies123.pics) 24. movies123.sh (movies123.sh) 25. movies123.work (movies123.work) 26. mybinoo (imybinoo.org) 27. Myflixer (myflixer.com / myflixer.to) 28. Noxx (noxx.to) 29. ololo (ololo.to) 30. piratebay-proxylist (piratebay-proxylist.net / piratebay-proxylist.se) 31. pirateproxy (pirateproxy.wtf) 32. poku.tv (not blocked, removed from application/injunction) 33. Project Free TV (projectfreetv.fun) 34. putlockers.bz (putlockers.bz) 35. putlockers.date (putlockers.date) 36. rezka (rezka.ag) 37. soap2day (soap2day.com, .im, .is, .se, .to, .org) 38. sockshare.ag (sockshare.ag) 39. tamilrockers.ws (tamilrockers.com / tamilrockers.ws) 40. Tinyzone (tinyzone.tv / tinyzonetv.to) 41. torrentgalaxy (torrentgalaxy.to) 42. tvhay (tvhay.org) 43. unblockit (unblockit.top, .bid, .biz, .one, .red) 44. Vidcloud (vidcloud9.com) 45. warez-bb (warez-bb.org) 46. Watch Series (mywatchseries.stream) 47. watchonlinemovies (moviesonline.com.pk / moviesonlinewatch.com.pk / movieswatch.com.pk / watchmovies7.com.pk) 48. watchseries.net (watchseries.net) 49. watchseriesHD (watchserieshd.co) 50. watch-seriesHD (watch-serieshd.cc) 51. watchserieshd.tv (watchserieshd.tv) 52. world4ufree (world4ufree.top, .work, .blue, .casa, .host, .icu, .life, .surf) 53. x1337x.eu (x1337x.eu) 54. Y2mate.com (Y2mate.com) 55. Y80s.com (Y80s.com) 56. yifytorrent.pro (yifytorrent.pro) 57. Bs (bs.to) 58. S (s.to) 59. AnimeKisa (animekisa.tv) 60. Anime4You (anime4you.one) 61. Animeram (animeram.cc) 62. 123anime (123anime.cc) 63. Animeflix (Animeflix.to) 64. 4anime (4anime.to) 65. Darkanime Stream (app.darkanime.stream) 66. AnimePill (animepill.com) 67. Anime Simple (animesimple.com) 68. AnimeSim (not blocked, removed from application/injunction) 69. AniMixPlay (animixplay.com) 70. 14tv (14tv.com) 71. Bestdrama (destdrama.net) 72. Dramanice (dramanice.movie / dramanice.site) 73. haitum.com (haitum.com) 74. Have8 (have8.tv) 75. Hktvdrama (Hktvdrama.com) 76. Kissasian (kissasian.sh, .ch) 77. loldytt (loldytt.com) 78. newasiantv (newasiantv.tv) Source: TorrentFreak
  14. After New Zealand's Supreme Court handed down a "mixed bag" decision this week which allows Kim Dotcom more time in the country to fight extradition, former colleague Mat­hias Ortmann is now under the spotlight. Police in Australia are reportedly preparing to seize the assets of the Megaupload co-founder in response to a forfeiture order issued by the United States. Earlier this week attention turned to New Zealand’s Supreme Court as a panel of judges prepared to publish their decision in the extradition case of Kim Dotcom and several of his former Megaupload colleagues. In their ruling, a panel of judges at the Supreme Court confirmed that Dotcom and former Megaupload colleagues Mathias Ortmann, Bram van der Kolk, and Finn Batato, can technically be extradited to the United States to face charges of criminal copyright infringement. However, the Court also granted the men permission to challenge the decision via a judicial review. Mathias Ortmann Now Under the Spotlight Just days after Dotcom’s legal team welcomed the chance to have their say on the alleged deficiencies in the case thus far, all eyes are now turning to Mathias Ortmann. While all of the defendants are facing extradition and serious criminal charges in the United States, as Megaupload co-founder and Dotcom’s former right-hand man, Ortmann is one of the more important pieces in this constantly shifting puzzle. Like Dotcom, Ortmann helped generate significant sums of money for Megaupload and indeed himself, something that didn’t go unnoticed by authorities in the United States who are now trying to get their hands on his assets overseas. Police Are Preparing to Seize Assets in Australia According to a report in The Australian (paywall), the Australian Federal Police (AFP) are preparing to seize assets in the country attributable to Ortmann. The precise nature of those assets is unclear but back in 2015, an asset forfeiture complaint (pdf) filed by the US Government as part of the action against the ‘Mega Conspiracy’ listed Ortmann as the account holder for several Megaupload-related bank accounts in Australia. Huge volumes of cash, vehicles and other assets were originally seized by the authorities following the 2012 raid on Megaupload. Dotcom was subsequently able to claw back some of these after legal processes in New Zealand and Hong Kong. However, after being branded as fugitives by the US Government, Dotcom and his co-defendants were still denied access to millions of dollars. An appeal failed, as did further action at the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Authorities Obtained Order to Seize Ortmann’s Australian Assets In 2017, the US Supreme Court refused to hear a further appeal by the defendants. As a result, the authorities obtained an order from a court in Virginia to use the Australian Federal Police to seize Ortmann’s Australian assets. On the back of the US foreign forfeiture order, the AFP is now pursuing Ortmann through the Supreme Court of New South Wales. According to The Australian, Ortmann – who together with co-defendant Finn Batato still works at Megaupload successor Mega in New Zealand – is yet to respond to the forfeiture attempt. Source: TorrentFreak
  15. Google has reached a new voluntary agreement with copyright holders in Australia. The search engine promises to block proxies and mirrors of pirate sites without a court order. The new agreement aims to fix a loophole that made alternative addresses of blocked pirate sites easy to find. Years ago, Australia was often described as a hotbed for piracy. This was a thorn in the side of copyright holders, who repeatedly asked the Government to help out. On the top of their list was new legislation that would make it possible to compel ISPs to block pirate sites. In 2015 this wish became reality with the passing of Section 115a of Australia’s Copyright Act. Soon after the amendments became law, the first blocking requests were submitted and since then ISPs have been ordered to block hundreds of sites. The entertainment industry was happy with this new enforcement tool. However, they also felt that it wasn’t enough. Village Roadshow’s Graham Burke, in particular, took aim at Google and other search engines, which still indexed these pirate sites and many alternatives. The Proxy and Mirror Loophole To address these and other loopholes, new legislation was passed in 2018 which made it easier for proxies and mirrors to be blocked. In addition, it also opened the door to a new type of measure that required search engines to block pirate sites. Initially, Google fiercely opposed the new plans but in a surprise move last year, the search engine voluntarily agreed to remove hundreds of sites from its Australian search results. This agreement was made without a court order. Instead, Google chose to remove sites that the ISPs were already blocking. This was a step forward in the eyes of the rightsholders, but it was far from perfect. After being blocked, pirate sites would simply switch to new domains which are easy to find through search engines. While these are eventually covered through updated court orders, the process can take weeks. “The pirates are taking advantage of the lag time between their criminal mirror site going up by changing one letter and us taking three or four weeks to go back through the court system,” Burke, who’s also the Chair of Creative Content Australia, told SMH. Google Steps Up its Anti-Piracy Game, Again To fix this ‘loophole’ Google has now agreed to a new arrangement that goes even further. In an agreement with copyright holders, Google promises to de-index mirrors and proxies as soon as they are reported. This will happen before a court order is issued, without any judicial oversight. That said, it only applies to (presumed) alternative locations of domains that have previously been targeted by a blocking injunction. This effectively addresses the mirror and proxy problem while the rightsholders are still in the process of getting an updated court order. By doing so, it will be harder for pirates to find alternative domain names. “This is shutting down that loophole and it’s massive,” Burke said. Did Google Have a Change of Heart? Google’s cooperative stance runs counter to comments that were made earlier by the search engine. The company repeatedly argued that removing full domains from its search results is dangerous. In addition, it actively protested Australia’s blocking plans when they were announced. TorrentFreak asked Google for a comment on the new voluntary agreement and how it differs from its previous statements, but the company didn’t immediately respond. Speaking with SMH, the search engine said that it hopes this measure will help address the piracy problem. “We are hopeful these measures will be a welcome step towards protecting copyright and will provide a faster solution for rightsholders,” Lucinda Longcroft, director of public policy at Google Australia said. Source: TorrentFreak
  16. Australia’s Wildfires Might Intensify Future Climate Crises Wildfires release vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Their broader impact is far more complicated. Australia’s wildfires are burning with such intensity that they’re sparking contained, small-scale weather systems. Thunderstorms triggered by atmospheric disturbance might at first seem to offer relief in the form of raindrops, but instead, bolts of lightning can strike nearby trees and spread the fire even further than before. This is a small-scale example of an environmental feedback loop—where conditions on the ground trigger a self-perpetuating chain of events. Wildfires pump vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, heating up the planet in the short term. But are wildfires helping to accelerate climate change or just a deadly consequence of a more extreme climate? Since September, hundreds of fires across Australia have engulfed more than 6.3 million hectares of land. Villages have been razed and 25 people killed so far. Months of hot, dry weather and strong winds created the perfectly deadly conditions that keep conflagrations roaring. There were at least twice as many fires in New South Wales in 2019 as there were in any other year this century. There are a couple of ways increasingly severe wildfire seasons could speed up global climate change. In the months immediately following wildfires, the volume of CO2 in the world’s atmosphere increases, magnifying the heat trapped there. “Wildfires create a substantial contribution, because they happen in places like the Amazon rain forest and the peat bogs in Indonesia, which contain a lot of carbon,” says Colin Prentice, director of the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires at Imperial College London. The ongoing Australian fire season has released more than 350 million metric tons of CO2 so far, with fires expected to keep burning over the next two months. Fires also throw up clouds of soot into the atmosphere, which compounds the problem. “Black carbon is the most strongly light-absorbing material from fires, and it is regarded as one of the most important individual climate-warming agents,” Yafang Cheng, a researcher from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, told WIRED in November 2018. These particles can float up into the upper layers of the atmosphere where they exert an even greater heating effect—and hang around for months. But there are longer-term effects too. In more typical wildfire cycles, the vegetation that burns is usually replaced by the same type of plant life. But longer and more severe fire seasons—as we’re seeing in many parts of the world—means it’s becoming more difficult to predict what type of vegetation will spring up in place of the freshly incinerated ecosystems. “If the frequency and intensity of fires begins to change, then you’re probably going to change the character of the vegetation as well—toward one that is adapted to more frequent fires,” says Prentice. What type of vegetation might grow back after the Australian wildfires is still uncertain. But there’s a chance that the form it takes could increase the likelihood of future infernos. A 2017 study published in the journal Global Change Biology that examined fauna in the Australian Alps found that one of the first plant species to grow back in the area after wildfires was woody shrubs. Worryingly, these were more flammable than the feathery tussock grasses that had previously colonized the land. One caveat to consider though, is that in the years following an extreme fire, there will simply be less vegetation to burn the next time around—meaning a future blaze would be less intense. None of this bodes well for the future. But there are other factors at play too. “In short, it’s not as simple as ‘more fires cause more fire danger,’” says Park Williams, assistant research professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. “It's not really a dominant mechanism,” Prentice says of the fire-climate change feedback loop. “It’s a mechanism that does exist, and we can quantify it in the sense that if there are a lot of fires globally in a particular year, that does mean the total biomass on land has gone down a bit, and some of that carbon is going to stay in the atmosphere. But it's probably fair to say it’s a secondary effect.” The most important effect being, of course, that we emit millions of metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year, and half of it remains there. Although less plant life means less photosynthesis (and therefore less CO2 being converted to oxygen) in the short term, vegetation eventually grows back. “More important than one big fire year is the question, what is going to happen to the biomass of plants on the continents in the future warmer world?” says Williams. While we generally focus on the negative effects of climate change, one positive is that the rate of plant growth has actually sped up along with accelerating global temperatures. Satellite imagery shows that global plant productivity and biomass has increased over the past several decades due to longer growing seasons in cold places, more agricultural productivity, and increasing CO2—which is, after all, one of the fundamental fuels for plant growth. Right now, global plant life handily gobbles up between 25 and 30 percent of the world’s annual CO2 emissions. But in time, warming and increased CO2 output might put a dent in this oxygen-gifting process. “We don’t know what will happen, and that’s partly because of fire,” says Williams. Fire adds an element of unpredictability—the possible effects on global ecosystems are hard to calculate right now. "Wildfires, particularly these kind of fires, are what is termed a 'wicked' problem,” says Claire Belcher, professor and chair in wildland fire at the University of Exeter. “There is no single cause and no single solution, and they require a shift in our thought patterns. Climate change is a large forcing factor in regards to these fires, but it is not the only cause, and facing it is not the only solution.” And although the number of wildfires has increased in recent decades, historically some human activities have helped curtail the concentration of blazes. “By creating cropland, and having fairly intense grazing that removes all the biomass, you are also removing the fuel,” says Prentice. No one is going to suggest large-scale deforestation as a potential solution to wildfires any time soon. But on the other hand, indiscriminate reforestation could also pose a problem. “Many governments are keen on the idea of resolving climate change by planting trees—but, you know, trees can burn,” says Prentice. As well as a wicked problem, wildfires are also be fiendishly difficult to predict. We know that global warming increases the likelihood of fires—but we need more evidence before concluding the reverse too. This story originally appeared on WIRED UK. Source: Australia’s Wildfires Might Intensify Future Climate Crises (Wired)
  17. Australia's government on Thursday announced a new taskforce to monitor the actions of tech giants such as Facebook and Google but stopped short of a major clampdown recommended by the country's consumer watchdog. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) had called for new regulations to rein in the power of digital behemoths amid global concerns ranging from anti-trust issues to privacy abuse, and their role in spreading disinformation and hateful content. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday several of the watchdog's 23 recommendations would be implemented, including the creation of a new ACCC taskforce to monitor tech giants and "take enforcement action as necessary". He also said the government will review privacy laws to protect consumers. But Morrison said stronger proposals to police some of the 21st century's biggest corporate titans would "need further consideration and engagement" given the "complexity of the issues and the potential to have economy-wide effects". They included opening up commercially sensitive algorithms to outside scrutiny and introducing "sufficiently large sanctions" to deter platforms from misusing data or spreading disinformation. Google and Facebook have had a huge impact on Australia's news industry, with the number of newspaper and online journalists falling more than 20 percent since 2014, as digital advertising revenues were overwhelmingly captured by the two tech titans. Morrison directed the ACCC to work with tech giants and media companies on the creation of a voluntary code of conduct to "address bargaining power imbalances" between the two sides. The measures follow an 18-month inquiry into the power of digital platforms by the ACCC, which welcomed the government's response Thursday. "The world is waking up to the very real harms that stem from the power the digital platforms hold in our society and for our economy," ACCC chair Rod Sims said. DIGI -- a lobby group for tech companies including Facebook, Google, Twitter -- said it would be "studying the proposals in detail to ensure that the consumer protections are fit for a digital era, and that there are no unintended consequences for Australia's digital future, economic growth and global competitiveness". An estimated 17 million Australians use Facebook each month and spend an average of 30 minutes on the platform a day, while 98 percent of Australian mobile searches use Google. Source
  18. Ancient rock formations in the Pilbara. (richiewato/iStock) A Mind-Blowing Study Just Confirmed Earth Had Living Organisms 3.5 Billion Years Ago In the search for the earliest life on Earth, it can be hard to tell whether you're looking at an actual fossil, or crinkles in the rock itself. Such doubts have long shadowed the 1980s discovery of 3.5 billion-year-old fossils in the Australian desert. Now, scientists think they have finally put the matter to bed. In ancient fossilised microbe formations called stromatolites, found in the Dresser Formation fossil site of the Pilbara region, researchers have finally detected traces of organic matter. "This is an exciting discovery - for the first time, we're able to show the world that these stromatolites are definitive evidence for the earliest life on Earth," said geologist Raphael Baumgartner of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia. You may remember the time scientists claimed to have found 3.7 billion-year-old fossils in Greenland. Later research determined that these fossils were just plain old rocks, and the crown was returned to the Pilbara fossils. But, although everyone was pretty sure the Pilbara fossils were the real deal, it hadn't actually been conclusively proven. They had the shape and structure of microbial stromatolites, but no evidence of organic matter to back it up. There's more riding on this than a tiara and a sash reading "Most oldest fossils." It's deeply relevant to one of the fundamental questions about our very existence: When and how did life develop on this sloshy blue marble? So, Baumgartner and his team went digging. Not literally, though; they analysed previously drilled core samples from deep underground, below where the rocks could have been affected by weather. This means these samples were much better preserved than those from the surface; in their paper, the team said the preservation was "exceptional". (Baumgartner et al., Geology, 2019) The researchers analysed the samples in thin slices using multiple techniques, including scanning electron microscopy and scanning transmission electron microscopy; energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy and Raman spectroscopy; nano-scale secondary ion mass spectrometry; and stable carbon isotope analysis. If that seems like overkill, well, it's not really. If one of those lines of enquiry showed a positive result and the rest didn't, it would mean much shakier ground for drawing a conclusion. But things looked good across the board. The team's analyses revealed that the stromatolites are predominantly made up of a mineral called pyrite, riddled with nanoscopic pores. And in the pyrite are inclusions of nitrogen-bearing organic material, as well as strands and filaments of organic matter that closely resemble the remnants of biofilms formed by microbe colonies. "The organic matter that we found preserved within pyrite of the stromatolites is exciting - we're looking at exceptionally preserved coherent filaments and strands that are typically remains of microbial biofilms," Baumgartner said. "I was pretty surprised - we never expected to find this level of evidence before I started this project." Previously, a different team of UNSW researchers found evidence of 3.48 billion-year-old microbes in hot spring deposits in the Pilbara. Because those deposits are about the same age as the crust of Mars, it's thought that they could tell us how to find potential fossils on Mars - especially since there's evidence the Red Planet once had hot springs too. Indeed, NASA has been investigating the Pilbara to try to learn the possible geological signatures that could indicate the presence of stromatolites. "Understanding where life could have emerged is really important in order to understand our ancestry," Baumgartner said. "And from there, it could help us understand where else life could have occurred – for example, where it was kick-started on other planets." The research has been published in Geology. Source: A Mind-Blowing Study Just Confirmed Earth Had Living Organisms 3.5 Billion Years Ago
  19. What’s causing Australia’s devastating fire weather? From climate trends to Indian Ocean temperature patterns. Enlarge / Smoke billows from fires around Canberra. NASA / EO An absolutely astonishing set of bushfires is burning around Australia currently, producing surreal images like those of evacuees fleeing to beaches—or boats—for safety. The situation has been particularly dangerous in Victoria and New South Wales, where fires have surrounded Sydney, choking the air with smoke. So much smoke, in fact, that even New Zealand has been significantly impacted by it over 2,000 kilometers away. So far, almost 15 million acres of land have burned. For comparison, California's nightmare 2018 fire season burned around 2 million acres. Unfortunately, the weather has yet to turn helpful, although there are some encouraging signs for the near future. Saturday, specifically, saw worsening conditions, and Victoria activated emergency powers for the first time amidst ongoing evacuations. Enlarge / Most recent map of active fires in Australia. MyFireWatch So what has been driving these fires to such extremes? Obviously, it's the trio of hot, dry, and windy, but these conditions are occurring due to a combination of long-term trends and short-term weather patterns. First the long-term context. Last year was both the hottest and driest on record for Australia, extending a drought. Like the rest of the world, Australia's temperatures are climbing to ever-higher records as the climate warms, which boosts evaporation and strengthens droughts in situations like this. Rainfall trends are less clear, but declines have been partly attributed to climate change for at least some regions. On December 18, Australia saw the nation's hottest day on record, hitting an average of nearly 42°C (over 107°F). That eclipsed the previous record, set just one day earlier. Besides the long-term warming trend, a couple of factors have been responsible. Although Australia's climate is closely linked to the El Niño Southern Oscillation in the Pacific Ocean, that particular seesaw has been in a neutral state. There is another, similar oscillation in the Indian Ocean, however, called the Indian Ocean Dipole, which has been in a strongly positive phase recently. That means that waters in the western Indian Ocean have been warmer than average, with cooler temperatures to the east. This has the effect of pushing rainy weather away from Australia. Indian Ocean surface temperatures above and below average in November 2019. BOM And in the last few months, an unusual pattern in the Antarctic stratosphere has weakened the pole-circling winds. That has also helped produce clear skies in Australia as well as strong westerly winds blowing dry air seaward over Victoria and New South Wales—stoking the fires. On Saturday, a cold front passed through southeastern Australia and reached the Sydney area in the evening. That may sound like a welcome reprieve, but it came with strong winds at the end of a very hot day—temperatures outside Sydney went as high as 48.9°C (120°F). The winds also shifted from westerly to southerly, pushing the fires in a different direction. The forecast ahead of Saturday's weather. The good news is that the Indian Ocean Dipole has relaxed into a neutral state in the past week, which is clearing the way for Australia's monsoon season to begin in the northern part of the country. Some areas in the south are set to see a little bit of rain soon, as well. That may help, but there's no end to the fire conditions in the forecast yet. Source: What’s causing Australia’s devastating fire weather? (Ars Technica)
  20. SYDNEY (Reuters) - Alphabet Inc’s Google has settled a “longstanding” tax dispute with Australia’s tax office, it said on Wednesday, after paying an extra A$481.5 million ($326.75 million) on top of its previous tax bill. The settlement comes after an audit that looked into the tech giant’s tax practices between 2008 and 2018, a Google spokeswoman said. In a separate statement, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) said it has now netted A$1.25 billion after also settling tax disputes recently with other tech giants such as Microsoft, Apple and Facebook under the Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law (MAAL). “Thanks to the efforts of our ATO officers under the Tax Avoidance Taskforce and the introduction of the MAAL, Australian sourced sales by these digital giants will now be returned to Australia’s tax base,” the ATO said in a statement, calling the settlement “another e-commerce victory.” Facebook, Google, Amazon and other large technology companies have faced criticism globally for reducing their tax bills by booking profits in low-tax countries regardless of the location of the end customer. Such practices are frowned upon by many countries as unfair. A Google spokeswoman said the settlement with the ATO will provide certainty for future tax treatment. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in a statement the establishment of the tax avoidance taskforce in 2016 has helped strengthen tax compliance of multinationals and large corporations. “Ensuring large companies and multinationals pay the right amount of tax means we can continue to deliver the essential services Australians rely on,” Frydenberg said. Source
  21. There is content on the envelope. A Senate committee has been told that law enforcement agencies sometimes get full URLs from telcos, despite government reassurances. The Commonwealth Ombudsman, Michael Manthorpe, has revealed that law enforcement agencies are being given the full URLs of web pages visited by people under investigation. Australia's mandatory telecommunications data retention scheme was meant to deliver only so-called "metadata" to the cops and spooks. Under the scheme, a warrant is not required. But according to Manthorpe, the "ambiguity around the definition of content" means that agencies might effectively be receiving the content of communications. The ombudsman explained his concerns during a hearing of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) on Friday. Senator Andrew Hastie, Committee Chair: Could you talk about your concerns regarding ambiguity around the definition of content and whether or not an agency should have access to that when disclosed by a carrier under an authorisation? Michael Manthorpe, Commonwealth Ombudsman: Yes, essentially, the piece of ambiguity we have observed through our inspections is that sometimes the metadata, in the way it's captured, particularly URL data, and sometimes IP addresses but particularly URL data, does start to actually in its granularity start to communicate something about the content of what is being looked at. That's essentially the point we're making. Hastie: Just to be very clear, you get the URL, you get the full www. whatever it is .com? Manthorpe: That's right. Hastie: Which can indicate indicate what they're looking at. Manthorpe: Exactly. It can be quite long, or it can be quite short, and in some cases the descriptor is long enough to start -- we start to ask ourselves well that's almost communicating content, even though it's captured in the URL. Hastie: And then multiple -- we are getting too technical but you know -- multiple clicks, for example, on a thread would generate more and more, I guess, content. Manthorpe: That's right. Yes, exactly. So it's, we're simply highlighting that I think when the scheme was commenced, the concept of metadata was probably thought to be quite a clean and delineable thing, but we know that there is a greyness on the edges here that we thought we should call out. Hastie: Yeah. Sometimes there's information on the envelope, so to speak, to use the analogy from a couple of years ago. Manthorpe: That's a good analogy. As for the intelligence agencies, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS), Margaret Stone, said that she wasn't aware of any instances of content being provided unlawfully, but she echoed Manthorpe's concerns. "There is this assumption that you get more from content than metadata," Stone told the committee. "But when you look at the range of metadata, and what it tells you, there's an argument that could be made that it is just as intrusive, or almost as intrusive, as content. You can tell a lot about what a person's doing from that." 'Grave concerns' that this wasn't meant to happen Labor Senator Anthony Byrne noted that the major telecommunications companies had given the government "numerous assurances ... that they could keep metadata in a subset" away from the content. "The federal government actually gave these telecommunications companies a substantial amount of money to ensure that that has actually happened," Byrne said. "If that's not happening, that's of grave concern to me." Byrne stressed that he wasn't critical of the agencies, nor the Commonwealth Ombudsman's office, merely that what he was now being told did not match how he thought the system was meant to work. "We are undertaking a review of this mandatory data regime, whether or not it works, whether or not it could be improved," he said. "It's nothing more than that." Telco data requests are meant to be written down Law enforcement agencies are obtaining telco data without written authorisation in a "very small number" of cases, according to ombudsman Manthorpe. "In some cases, they issue an internal authorisation based on verbal advice. And at an operational level, I can understand why that might occur, but it isn't catered for in the legislation," he said. "Sometimes, agencies -- if they issue a verbal authorisation -- do subsequently go to commit[ing it] to writing." Or, presumably, sometimes not. "We see non-compliance in a small minority of cases generally, and this is one area of potential non-compliance," Manthorpe said. "I would want to emphasise that, you know, there is a big volume of authorisations, and as far as we can ascertain, most of them are authorised appropriately." However as the committee noted, with the huge number of authorisations issues, a small percentage might still represent a large absolute number. In the 2018-2019 financial year, 295,691 authorisations to access metadata were issued across all state and federal law enforcement agencies. This number does not include those issued to intelligence agencies. ASIO guidelines 'well out of date' The Attorney-General's guidelines that cover data collection by the Australian Security and Intelligence Agency (ASIO) are "well out of date", according to Margaret Stone. "The present guidelines were issued in 2007, so guidance in relation to new powers introduced since then would be very helpful," she said. As well as accessing mandatory data retention, those new powers include Australia's controversial encryption laws, and the power to conduit a range of "special operations". "We've been saying for many years now, that those guidelines need revising," Stone said. "They're well out of date, the present guidelines." PJCIS has been hearing evidence as part of its review of the mandatory data retention scheme. These powers were legislated as Part 5-1A of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979, usually referred to as the TIA Act, in 2015. The committee is due to report by April 13. Source
  22. Source: https://cybernews.com/security/australian-social-news-platform-leaks-80000-user-records/ To increase efforts to secure user data, Snewpit will be reviewing “all server logs and access control settings” to confirm that no unauthorized access took place and to ensure that “user data is secure and encrypted.” The CyberNews investigations team discovered an exposed data bucket that belongs to Snewpit, an Australian news sharing platform. The unsecured bucket contains close to 80,000 user records, including usernames, full names, email addresses, and profile pictures. The files that contain the records were stored on a publicly accessible Amazon Web Services (AWS) server, which means that anyone with a direct URL to the files could access and download the data that was left out in the open. On September 24, the sensitive files in the Snewpit bucket were secured by the company and are no longer accessible. To see if your email address has been exposed in this or other security breaches, use our personal data leak checker. What data is in the bucket? The exposed Snewpit Amazon AWS bucket contained 26,203 files, including: 256 video files filmed and uploaded by Snewpit users and developers 23,586 image files of photos documenting local events that were apparently uploaded by the users 4 CSV files, one of which contained 79,725 user records, including full names, email addresses, usernames, user descriptions, last login times, and total time spent in the Snewpit app, among other metrics Aside from the user records, the bucket also contained thousands of user profile pictures. Examples of exposed records Here are some examples of the user records, videos, and images left on the exposed Snewpit bucket. The CSV file contains user records for what we assume to be users who downloaded and installed the Snewpit app, which currently has 50,000+ installs on Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play store. The video files stored in the bucket seem to show raw footage from news posts, including criminal incidents. There were also user profile pictures among the files stored in the bucket. Who owns the bucket? The publicly available Amazon bucket appears to belong to Snewpit, a software company based in Australia. Snewpit is a map-based peer-to-peer app that allows users to create, find, and share real-time news updates, as well as receive notifications for news posted within 5 kilometers of their location. According to the developers, the app is aimed at helping users “form a worldwide community of citizen journalists, reporting and discovering local news and events happening around them.” The app is mostly used by Australians, with small userbases currently located in the US and the UK. Who had access to the data? According to Snewpit founder Charlie Khoury, the bucket has been exposed for 5 weeks since the development team made server changes to the system reporting. While Snewpit have not noticed any suspicious activity, the company is reviewing all server logs to confirm that this is the case. With that said, the files were stored on a publicly accessible Amazon S3 server, and bad actors can find unprotected Amazon buckets relatively easily. Since these buckets lack any sort of protection from unauthorized access, there is a possibility that the data may have been accessed by bad actors for malicious purposes during the 5-week period. What’s the impact of the leak? Fortunately, the files stored in the exposed Snewpit bucket don’t contain any deeply sensitive information like personal document scans, passwords, or social security numbers. However, even this data can be enough for bad actors to abuse for a variety of malicious purposes: Contact details like full names and email addresses can be used by phishers and scammers to commit targeted attacks against the exposed Snewpit users by sending them malicious spam emails Particularly determined cybercriminals can combine the data found in this bucket with previous breaches in other verticals in order to build more accurate profiles of potential targets for identity theft What happened to the data? We discovered the Snewpit bucket on September 24 and immediately reached out to the company in order to help secure the bucket. The Snewpit team responded within minutes and secured the files containing user records on the same day. What to do if you’ve been affected by the leak? If you have a Snewpit account, there is a high chance that your records may have been exposed in this breach. To secure your data and avoid any potential harm from bad actors, we recommend doing the following: Use our personal data leak checker to see if your email address has been leaked. Immediately change your email password and consider using a password manager. Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on your email and other online accounts. Look out for incoming spam emails and phishing messages. Don’t click on anything that looks even remotely suspicious, including emails from senders you do not recognize.
  23. Australia’s intelligence agencies have been caught “incidentally” collecting data from the country’s COVIDSafe contact-tracing app during the first six months of its launch, a government watchdog has found. The report, published Monday by the Australian government’s inspector general for the intelligence community, which oversees the government’s spy and eavesdropping agencies, said the app data was scooped up “in the course of the lawful collection of other data.” But the watchdog said that there was “no evidence” that any agency “decrypted, accessed or used any COVID app data.” Incidental collection is a common term used by spies to describe the data that was not deliberately targeted but collected as part of a wider collection effort. This kind of collection isn’t accidental, but more of a consequence of when spy agencies tap into fiber optic cables, for example, which carries an enormous firehose of data. An Australian government spokesperson told one outlet, which first reported the news, that incidental collection can also happen as a result of the “execution of warrants.” The report did not say when the incidental collection stopped, but noted that the agencies were “taking active steps to ensure compliance” with the law, and that the data would be “deleted as soon as practicable,” without setting a firm date. For some, fears that a government spy agency could access COVID-19 contact-tracing data was the worst possible outcome. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries — and states in places like the U.S. — have rushed to build contact-tracing apps to help prevent the spread of the virus. But these apps vary wildly in terms of functionality and privacy. Most have adopted the more privacy-friendly approach of using Bluetooth to trace people with the virus with which you may have come into contact. Many have chosen to implement the Apple-Google system, which hundreds of academics have backed. But others, like Israel and Pakistan, are using more privacy-invasive techniques, like tracking location data, which governments can also use to monitor a person’s whereabouts. In Israel’s case, the tracking was so controversial that the courts shut it down. Australia’s intelligence watchdog did not say specifically what data was collected by the spy agencies. The app uses Bluetooth and not location data, but the app requires the user to upload some personal information — like their name, age, postal code and phone number — to allow the government’s health department to contact those who may have come into contact with an infected person. Australia has seen more than 27,800 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 900 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Source
  24. Can a balance be struck between the privacy of citizens and allowing health officials to access any piece of information for helping to track down a cluster of coronavirus cases? This piece comes to you from the mostly coronavirus-free shores of Australia. But the virus is still not eliminated; various places can have an extended run of virus-free days, which can then turn into weeks and months, before the virus suddenly comes back. There is no better example of this than the reemergence of COVID-19 in New Zealand back in August, after the nation went 100 days without the virus and was widely considered to have eliminated it. At the time of writing, South Australia just left lockdown after a surge in cases, despite the state shutting its borders to places such as New South Wales and Victoria, and only having handfuls of cases reported each day, if any were reported at all, since April. According to the recent National Contact Tracing Review [PDF], the takeaway lesson from 2020 is to throw the kitchen sink at outbreaks when they appear. "In the event of an outbreak, every effort should be made to go hard and go early," the review said. The way to suppress a surge in cases is to make sure those with the virus can have their recent close contacts traced, thereby getting those identified into quarantine and tested. This is in the hopes that the virus can be prevented from spreading further into the community. Key to all of this is having quick access to data. For contact tracers, the first stop is asking people where they have been, but as we all know, the human mind is far from perfect. And this is before even considering the task of identifying random people who happened to be in a venue with a positive case. Enter initiatives such as Australia's COVIDSafe app, which has been far from successful and only identified a small number of unique cases. The app that was touted at its introduction as being akin to sunscreen has since been relegated to double-checking duties. "There is scarce evidence on the effectiveness of digital or automated contact tracing," the report said. Along with the app, Australia has also pushed venues to install check-in processes in response to various parts of the country reopening. This usually takes the form of a QR code and requires filling in an online form with details such as name and phone number, with pen and paper used a backup. If state governments from the get-go had the check-in systems in place that they have now, it could have been possible to have a centralised data store for check-in data, but that was not to be. As it stands, a bunch of private organisations have rushed in to fill the void. "In addition to the disadvantage of not having a centralised database for contact tracers to interrogate the data, many of these apps are requesting unnecessary information from customers that adds significantly to the time taken to register, and is sometimes used for marketing purposes," the report said. "Further, because of the multiplicity of applications, customers find themselves entering the same information repeatedly if they visit different venues. These repetitive and in some cases unnecessary burdens on customers are likely to result in lower overall compliance with attendance recording." It needs little repeating but 2020 is a weird year. Last year, if the prospect of a centralised attendance database run by a government was put before me, I'd have yelled the words "Big Brother", "surveillance state", and probably a few other choice phrases. And yet, as the year ends, I have more faith that my state government will not flog my data to the highest bidder and has created some form of requirement to actually delete the data when it is not needed anymore. Getting more specific than throwing the kitchen sink, the review also recommended for states to have a single app for check-ins, or failing that, that all such apps adhere to a common standard. At this stage, it needs pointing out that in Australia the data retention regime ensures the nation's law enforcement agencies have easy access to which phones are on what mobile tower, so I am not doing a something compared to nothing comparison when I talk about attendance databases. It's a more granular form of data than what the government had access to last year, and at any rate, Google knows where I am. If I wanted to opt out of needing to check in at places like cafes and restaurants, there is a simple solution, of course. Don't go. Get take away instead. In trying to solve that problem, since even getting takeaway might expose you to the virus, the contact tracing review proposed something that would make check-in databases look like small fry. "The Commonwealth should lead the development of arrangements between states and territories and payment card providers so that contact tracers from the states and territories will be able to request contact details of persons who have made a transaction at a hotspot venue, noting that privacy rules will apply and in some jurisdictions legislative change may be required," the report said. Thanks to Australia having a modern payment backbone, access to which cards were used at which venues is a quick API call or two away -- and the payments would be based on cards since the use of cash has plummeted in the days of COVID and there are little signs of its use bouncing back. Not yet done with raising privacy questions, the review also recommended looking into a way to download information from smartphones that could help contact tracers. As is standard, the review said it should be based on citizen consent, and as any privacy-minded person would tell you, authorities have absolutely, positively never bluffed or misinformed their way to get into a person's home, nor have they convinced someone to hand over a phone when they didn't want to. Is it outrageous that payment data and smartphones would be taken to get information into the contact tracing systems that the review proposes? Yes. But we are also talking about a virus that, despite what some may choose to believe, is fatal. If a knife-wielding assailant had been running around town since March, randomly stabbing a couple of people a day, and part of the solution to stopping them was to examine payment data, it would be brave privacy absolutist that stood in the way of that action. But that is the sort of vexed question of balance that now faces nations as they battle with the virus until a vaccine is hopefully rolled out. Magical thinking that some sort of automated dream system could be used was dismissed in the report. In a system where the stakes are this high, the option for humans to eyeball the data is essential, it said. "Importantly, whilst a fully digital contact tracing system can dramatically improve the efficiency of contact tracing, it will never replace the need for well-trained contact tracers and expert public health oversight," the report stated. Similarly, even if the sort of data exchange desired by the report's authors was created -- one where data is not stored in the exchange and quickly pulls from disparate sources spread across all levels of government from airline passenger manifests to vaccination statuses, all the while simultaneously preserving as much privacy as possible -- there are no guarantees it would work. In fact, the opposite is more likely. "Even with the best systems in place, outbreaks are likely to be unavoidable," the report said. Trying to find the balance between wanting to clamp down on outbreaks as quickly as possible and preserving individual freedoms is and has been a job that looks different for every society: China and its door-welding approach has sat on one extreme while the individual-centric United States has been on the other. It's tempting to think the measures taken would be temporary, and therefore unquestionably necessary, in the current situation of fighting the fight in front of us. But with parts of the Australian government apparatus stating last week that they are expecting other zoonotic pandemics to follow in the wake of COVID-19, the balances that are struck will be with us for some time. Adding to that, Australia is without any sort of human rights charter, a lone title among western democracies. Instead, it seems to operate on the famous Denuto vibe argument. "Australians do have a lack of understanding of the rights framework within Australia. They do think we have rights protected that we don't have protected," Law Council of Australia president Pauline Wright told the National Press Club said on Wednesday. "Australians also, the data shows, are quite compliant to regulation. Australians like being regulated. They like rules and [when] something goes wrong, they say 'there ought to be a law against that' -- and that is the way Australians behave." Wright added that so far in the pandemic, it's no surprise that Australians have been "fairly compliant". "I think that we, in some ways, we can be proud of that because people who have been behaving as a collective and saying we want to protect other Australians and ourselves against this disease, so we will do this," she added. "But that social compact will break down if the government takes it too far -- it will break down. At the moment, it hasn't, -- apart from certain pockets." Wright used the opportunity to argue for human rights legislation at the national level. As a first step, it would simply be nice if governments will tear down the apparatuses built since the start of the year when they are no longer needed. But if past form is any indicator, the omens are not good. Source
  25. It's going live Sunday in Australia. Netflix alternative Tubi has announced its expansion to Australia. The US-based video streaming service will launch in Australia on Sunday and will be free and ad-supported. There's going to be 7,000 movies and TV series at launch, Tubi said Thursday. Headquartered in San Francisco, Tubi joins the streaming services already available in Australia including Netflix, Stan and Foxtel Now. Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus are set to launch down under later this year, too. At launch, Tubi will have movies and series like The Blair Witch Project, Kickboxer and Stranger Than Fiction. It said "many more titles" will be added later, including The Grudge, Dirty Dancing, Reservoir Dogs and Saw. It already claims the largest free streaming selection in Australia, but aims to hit 15,000 titles. Australia is "the first of many launch initiatives to advance our global footprint," said Tubi CEO Farhad Massoudi. Customers can use a Telstra TV, Tubi.TV, Samsung smart TVs, Google Chromecast, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, phones, tablets and gaming consoles to access the service. In June, Tubi announced that it passed 20 million monthly active users in the US. Stateside, it offers 15,000 movies and TV shows including content across Lionsgate, Warner Bros, NBCUniversal, MGM and Paramount. Source
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