Update Chrome to Protect Yourself Against Three Major Security Flaws

There’s not one, but three big ol’ security bugs in the latest versions of Chrome, one of which is being actively exploited by hackers. You can read the technical details of the bug in Google blog post, but it basically affects Chrome’s ability to properly check and run JavaScript, leaving the browser open to malicious code.

Google hasn’t said exactly how the attacks are being carried out, but the company has confirmed that the vulnerability is being used to target users, so you’ll want to patch Chrome as soon as possible. Here’s the bad news: only the Windows, Mac, and Linux versions of Chrome have been updated so far. Android, iOS, and Chromebook users will have to wait for their patches.

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It’s pretty easy to see if there’s a Chrome update available—the menu icon in the upper-right corner (the one next to your Google profile icon) will have a notification dot. Click it the icon, and then click “Update Chrome” to install the patch.

You can confirm that you’re already safe by checking your browser version. Click the three-dot “Menu” icon, then go to Settings > About Chrome. The bugs are patched on version 80.0.3987.122 or higher. If Chrome is not up to date and there was no update notification over the menu icon, that might mean that Chrome hasn’t fully finished updating—but fear not, the “About Chrome” screen will also let you know if there’s an update waiting to be installed and will ask you to relaunch the browser to complete it.

If you’ve checked all those options and you’re still not up to date, you can also try downloading and installing the latest version of Chrome manually.

[ZDNet]

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Salesforce co-CEO Keith Block steps down

Salesforce today announced that Keith Block, the company’s co-CEO, is stepping down. This leaves company founder Marc Benioff as the sole CEO and chair of the CRM juggernaut. Block’s bio has already been wiped from Salesforce’s leadership page.

Block stepped into the co-CEO role in 2018, after a long career at the company that saw him become vice chairman, president and director before he took this position. Block spent the early years of his career at Oracle. He left there in 2012 after the release of a number of documents in which he criticized then-Oracle CEO Mark Hurd, who passed away last year.

Industry pundits saw his elevation to the co-CEO role as a sign that Block was next in line as the company’s sole CEO in the future (assuming Benioff would ever step down). After this short tenure as co-CEO, it doesn’t look like that will be the case, but for the time being, Block will stay on as an advisor to Benioff.

“It’s been my greatest honor to lead the team with Marc [Benioff] that has more than quadrupled Salesforce from $4 billion of revenue when I joined in 2013 to over $17 billion last year,” said Block in a canned statement that was surely not written by the Salesforce PR team. “We are now a global enterprise company, focused on industries, and have an ecosystem that is the envy of the industry, and I’m so grateful to our employees, customers, and partners. After a fantastic run I am ready for my next chapter and will stay close to the company as an advisor. Being side-by-side with Marc has been amazing and I’m forever grateful for our friendship and proud of the trajectory the company is on.”

In related news, the company also today announced that it has named former BT Group CEO Gavin Patterson as its president and CEO of Salesforce International.

Disney CEO Bob Iger immediately steps down from CEO position

The Walt Disney Company announced this afternoon that Robert Iger, the company’s long-time CEO who ushered in the company’s lush franchise and entertainment platform profits, will step down immediately as chief executive. Bob Chapek, a long-time senior exec at the company who most recently held the position of chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, will succeed him.

Update: We’ve added Iger’s company-wide email to employees (below).

Chapek, as head of Disney’s Parks Division, was a somewhat divisive figure in that he led with a “value engineering” (the Imagineering word for trimming cool stuff) and budget conscious strategy instead of the more popular “let Imagineers do the most” tactic that has produced some of the parks’ most enduring rides and experiences. Disney Twitter has been quick to descend upon the Chapek choice as a sign of possible rough times ahead for Parks budgets.

Our guess for who would head Parks is Josh D’Amaro, extremely-well liked former head of Disneyland who now heads Walt Disney World — liked by Parks people for a lot of the opposite reasons, which politically could make this a non starter, but would be a very popular appointment.

A few oddities surround this sudden change. Iger is only 14 months into a 36-month contract extension, and this comes not on a regularly scheduled earnings call but in the midst of an interesting time for Disney, as it faces parks shutdowns due to the coronavirus outbreak. Disney’s earnings have been amazing lately, which would have made for a nice two-hander at earnings time. Speculation is still high for the exact reason behind Iger’s departure, with many hoping for something benign (ish) like a presidential run versus a personal issue.

Iger will address Disney employees at 5:30EST today, and we’ll update if anything further comes of that address.

Under Iger’s tenure since 2005, Disney expanded aggressively into movies, theme parks and other entertainment verticals, culminating late last year with the introduction of the company’s Disney+ streaming service and $71.3 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox, a gargantuan television and movie studio.

Iger oversaw such dramatic acquisitions as Marvel Entertainment a little more than a decade ago, and also bought Lucasfilm and its Star Wars and Indiana Jones series. He also helped to rebuild a partnership with late Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs, and eventually acquired the Pixar animation studio, which Jobs had founded in 1986. Those decisions, among other aggressive media growth strategies, have given Disney a commanding role in the media universe.

As Jake Coyle noted in the AP earlier this year:

But in today’s IP-driven movie world, one studio is in a league of its own. In 2019, Disney dominated American moviegoing more than any studio ever has before — roughly 38% of all domestic moviegoing.

The year’s top five films were all Disney movies, and it played a hand in the sixth. Disney’s Marvel Studios produced the Sony Pictures release “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”

Since its launch, Disney+ itself has drawn almost 30 million subscribers, according to data released by the company earlier this month.

Iger will assume the role of executive chairman through 2021 according to Disney’s statement.

It has been no secret that Iger has been thinking about succession planning for years, but at least until recently, details had remained scant. Media analysts probed for news in Iger’s book “The Ride of a Lifetime,” which was published late last year and was a summation of his tenure at the media conglomerate and his business philosophy. Yet, finding a successor at the company has been challenging, with multiple heirs apparent departing the company when the top slot looked like it would remain locked in Iger’s grasp.

On an already heavy red-ink day, Disney stock was further hit in after-hours trading by investors. Yahoo Finance’s most recent quotes puts Disney stock down 2.57% in after-hours trading, following a 3.62% decline during trading hours stemming from the global coronavirus outbreak. Disney has significant properties in Asia, including Shanghai Disney Resort, which was the company’s first platform in China and was overseen by incoming CEO Chapek.

Update: Here’s Bob Iger’s letter to Disney employees.

Dear Fellow Employee,

Today the Board of Directors announced that Bob Chapek has been named Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company, effective immediately. I have assumed the role of Executive Chairman and will continue to direct the Company’s creative endeavors, while also leading the Board. This is an exciting day for our company, an historic day—and I’m thrilled for Bob. I’ve worked closely with him for many years and have absolute confidence in his abilities, as does the Board.

As CEO, Bob will oversee all of the Company’s business segments and corporate functions, and we will work closely together through the end of 2021 to further the Company’s strategic objectives and to ensure a smooth and successful transition.

Bob has been with Disney for nearly three decades, and during this time he has achieved stellar results across a wide array of businesses. Throughout he’s led with integrity and conviction, always respecting Disney’s rich legacy, while at the same time taking smart, innovative risks for the future. As president of Home Entertainment for the Studio, he spearheaded the highly successful “vault strategy” that brought Disney’s iconic films and characters to new generations of viewers. As president of distribution for the Studio, he directed the Company’s film distribution strategy and expanded our global reach across multiple platforms. As head of Consumer Products, he transformed the business, focusing it on our key franchises and embracing technological innovation to deliver unmatched consumer experiences. Most recently, as Chairman of Parks, Experiences and Products, he oversaw the largest capital expansion in the history of our parks that included the opening of Shanghai Disney Resort, a doubling of the Disney Cruise Line fleet, and the creation of the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge lands at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Bob has worked closely and collaboratively with leaders across the different segments of our company, and I’m confident he will apply the same vision, passion and commitment to excellence in his new role as Chief Executive Officer.

I’ve had the tremendous privilege of being CEO for the past 15 years, and it’s been thrilling for me to be part of such an exciting and productive era for our company. I’m enormously proud of all that we’ve accomplished, creatively, financially and strategically—including the acquisition of Twenty-First Century Fox and the incredibly successful launch of our direct-to-consumer businesses. With these key endeavors well underway, I believe it’s the right time to transition to a new CEO and I believe Bob is absolutely the right person to assume this role and lead our company in this next pivotal period. I am certain that under his leadership, our portfolio of great businesses and our amazing and talented people will continue to serve our company and our shareholders well into the future.

I congratulate Bob and look forward to working with him in his new role as CEO, along with the other members of our amazing leadership team.

Bob and I will hold a town hall meeting tomorrow in the Main Theatre at 9 a.m. PT. To RSVP for the theater or to view the live webcast, please click here.

My thanks and best to you all,

Bob

Matthew Panzarino contributed additional details about Chapek and context around Disney’s succession.

You Shouldn’t Play Video Games To Fall Asleep (But Here’s How Anyway)

Illustration: Jim Cooke (G/O Media)

We’ve all done it. One minute, you’re watching Jim say something mean to Dwight; the next, you’re waking up to a screen that asks “Are you still watching The Office (U.S.)?”

While you might feel a bit sheepish when Netflix scolds you for falling asleep to its offerings, the use of media as a sleep aid is pretty common. In a 2016 study published in Behavioral Sleep Medicine that queried more than 800 adults between the ages of 18 and 94, a quarter of respondents said they use music to fall asleep, about a third listed TV, and nearly 40 percent mentioned picking up a book. Ten percent boot up a video game. The study found that participants who used media to doze off scored higher on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, meaning they slept worse than those who fell asleep unaided. The study also found that those who fell asleep to media went to bed later, but also got up later, meaning that, while they might not have slept great, they didn’t lose sleep due to games or television. (Fun fact for fans of middling mid-2000s shooters: The researchers call this result “time shifting.”)

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Still, it’s sleep—a resource most of us don’t get enough of. A 2015 joint consensus statement by the Sleep Research Society and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, two highly respected sleep research orgs, dialed the minimum ideal amount of sleep down to seven hours from the commonly-accepted eight. But, according to research out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 35 percent of American adults often miss that mark. In a 2014 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), 45 percent of respondents reported that insufficient sleep had affected their “daily activities.” Regularly missing out on sleep can, among other things, increase your blood pressure, weaken your immune system, dampen your sex drive, make you less alert, and increase your appetite.

There are a gazillion sleep hacks on the market. If zoning out to sitcom reruns beats staring at the ceiling thinking about that dumb thing you said in an earlier meeting, can a few rounds of Fortnite be used in the same way? Should you use video games to fall asleep?

“Being a sleep doctor, my first impulse is, ‘Hey, don’t play video games. Turn it off. Pick up a book,’” Dr. Nitun Verma, MD, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, told Kotaku in a phone interview. “But I just fell asleep playing a video game two weeks ago.” (Curious readers: Verma was playing Pondo’s bowling mini-game in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.)

But let’s be honest: We’re all busy people, and if the few hours before bed are the only time you get to level-up your battle pass, you’re probably going to take it. Here’s how games affect your sleep—both positively and negatively—and how you can mitigate some of the negative effects.

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How video games affect your sleep cycle

Among somnologists, it’s widely accepted that the actual act of dozing off is a result of two body processes: “process S” sleep and “process C” sleep, or what you might know as a circadian rhythm. The two “work in concert with each other,” Dr. Azizi Seixas, a sleep expert and an assistant professor at NYU’s School of Medicine, told Kotaku on a call last week.

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Process S sleep is linear: The hours pass by, and your energy reserves wane. Process S recharges, so to speak, after a good night’s sleep. Process C, on the other hand, ebbs and flows throughout the day. (That’s why you may feel an “afternoon slump” around 2:00 or 3:00 p.m., which dissipates before dinnertime.) At the end of the day, when you have a confluence of the two processes—when process S is at a peak and process C is at a lull—you’ll fall asleep. But playing video games can knock your process C out of whack for several reasons, ultimately preventing sleep.

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Video games put out blue light.

Plenty of factors—noise, light, caffeine—can have an impact on process C sleep. Even the most adrenaline-pumping Uncharted set piece isn’t caffeinated, of course, but most video games are heavy on sounds and lights. What’s more, the screens you likely use to play video games give off what’s known as blue light. “Our eyes are sensitive to particular wavelengths. The wavelength in particular is 500 nanometers—that’s blue light,” said Verma. “Blue light affects circadian rhythms.” It’s been shown that blue light—the light that comes off screens like your phone or your Nintendo Switch—can interrupt sleep.

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Auditory “microarousals” can keep you alert.

Noise is a more insidious factor. “There’s a difference between the role of noise as an annoyance versus noise as a physiological stimulant,” said Seixas. He brought up the idea of urban newcomers: When you first move to a dense city, horns and sirens might actively bother you. Live there for a while, though, and you’ll stop noticing them; those same horns and sirens fade into the background as white noise. Still, your body physically hears them, and your brain registers them as “microarousals.” Even if you don’t realize it, they perk up your mind. Similarly, the sounds of a video game—the ambient sounds of a strategy game, or the background noise of a Pokémon battle—will put your brain on alert, no matter how low the volume (unless it’s muted).

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A “surprise” factor can keep you awake.

If you’re going to play games before bed, you might think a relaxing game like Gris or Abzu would be a better choice than the latest Battle-fill-in-the-blank or War-whatever. But, according to Verma, the game’s content matters less than how new a game is to you. “If I just got this game, and I just started playing it, there’s no way I’ll fall asleep,” said Verma. “Everything is new, it’s unknown, everything is a surprise. These things wake you up.”

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However, when you’re engaging in repetitive behavior—grinding for experience points or farming for loot—you aren’t building up as much anticipation as when you jump into an unknown game. “In a way, there’s almost nothing to look forward to,” said Verma. That can make you fall asleep.

Why you should consider video games as a sleep aid

Given the above, it would seem safe to say you shouldn’t play games before hitting the sack, right? Well, not so fast. Despite the drawbacks, games have some sleep-inducing bona fides, though it’s mostly because they’re not as bad as other common alternatives.

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Video games don’t pose the same dependency risk as sleep medicine.

Despite the negative effects video games can have on your sleep, relying on media as a sleep aid can actually be a far healthier alternative to over-the-counter sleep medicine. Melatonin supplements, pills like diphenhydramine (Aleve PM), or prescription drugs like Ambien are all short-term solutions. “The biggest risk with sleep medication is that you can take it today and, tomorrow, you could still have trouble falling asleep,” said Verma. “The sleep medicine only helps that night.”

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Because of the short-term effectiveness of sleep medicine, it’s not difficult to develop a dependency. Use it on a Monday, you may fall asleep just fine. Then you skip it on Tuesday and have trouble drifting off. What’s to stop you from using it on Wednesday? Thursday? All weekend long?

“If there is a way to fall asleep reliably without sleep medication, that’s almost always better,” said Verma. “Now, is that me prescribing video games to people who can’t sleep? No. But if you have a choice of falling asleep while playing a video game or taking a sleep medicine, yeah, I’d choose video games.”

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Playing games beats doing nothing.

The surprise factor of games can keep you awake, but playing video games might actually be more effective than staring at the ceiling. Despite what you may have heard, counting sheep doesn’t do much to induce sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that, if you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, you should get up and do something “relaxing.” A quick meditation session might be relaxing for one person; running and rerunning the Proving Grounds in Borderlands 3 might be relaxing for someone else. Playing a game or a part of a game you know inside and out can have a calming effect that might help you sleep. Just be sure to, as Verma said, steer clear of anything new and surprising.

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Replaying an old video game might even be a better sleep hack than reading a new book. Not knowing what’s going to happen compels you to turn the page. Next thing you know, it’s sunrise, and you’re itching to find out whether or not Kvothe learns the name of the wind. (That said, rereading a book you’ve already dogeared to tatters is probably a better bet. No blue light, no microarousals, no surprises.)

How you can use video games to help you fall asleep:

Play a game you’re familiar with. It bears repeating: A bombastic game that’s predictable will be more effective than a quiet game that’s unpredictable. “It’s like watching Seinfeld reruns,” said Verma. “I’ve seen the show a million times. I know how it’s going to end. If I’m going to watch anything before bed, that’s awesome. But if I were watching a movie I’ve been waiting to see, and I don’t know how it’s going to end, there’s no chance I’m going to fall asleep.”

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Play a low-stress mini-game. Take Pondo’s mini-game from Breath of the Wild, for example. It’s repetitive. It requires minimal engagement. “I’m just waiting, and, in a way, it’s not really that exciting,” said Verma. “It’s these small minigame components that, surprisingly, were making me sleep.” (Grinding also neatly fits into this category.)

Keep the big screens out of your bedroom. “The typical advice that most sleep doctors give is that [you should keep] as few devices, as few TVs and big screens, in the bedroom as possible,” said Verma. Living in a small apartment or with roommates might naturally preclude this, but if you can keep the flatscreen in the living room, do that. If you can only play games in your bedroom, smaller screens, like those on the Switch or a phone, give off less total blue light than large screens.

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Turn the brightness down. With smartphones, you can turn on “night mode,” which reduces the output of blue light by shifting the screen’s color outputs to the “warmer” end of the spectrum. Video games don’t really give you this option. Even the Nintendo Switch’s basic black background theme, which you can find in “System Settings,” won’t help you there. After all, when you power up your Switch, you don’t spend the time staring at the menu, do you? Still, according to Verma, turning down the brightness will help a bit.

Turn the volume down. As Seixas said, you want to steer clear of those auditory microarousals. Try playing a game without sound if you can. For games that all but demand you listen to them, the lowest possible volume can help.

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Talk to your doctor. If gaming is interrupting your sleep, or if you’re having serious trouble falling asleep in a general sense, talk to your doctor to try and find out if there’s a deeper reason you’re having trouble dozing off. An article on the internet can only tell you so much.

More exciting reads that won’t put you to sleep:

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Facebook acquires the VR game studio behind one of the Rift’s best games

Facebook is aiming to build on its VR hardware launches of 2019 with an investment in virtual reality software.

Facebook announced today that it has acquired Bay Area VR studio Sanzaru Games, the developer of “Asgard’s Wrath,” considered by many enthusiasts to be one of the Oculus Rift’s best games. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but the studio will continue to operate its offices in the U.S. and Canada with “the vast majority” of employees coming aboard following the acquisition, Facebook says.

The 13-year-old game studio has created a total of four titles for the Oculus Rift, including “Asgard’s Wrath” and “Marvel Powers United VR,” both of which were at least partially funded by Oculus Studios. Sanzaru has also made a number of titles on console and mobile systems, releasing games structured around their own IP alongside licensed titles for properties like Sonic and Spyro.

Following Facebook’s acquisition of Beat Games in November, the Sanzaru Games purchase showcases Facebook’s continued interest in propping up VR game studios and aligning them around their interests while allowing them to operate independently. While Beat Games’ “Beat Saber” was considered a more mass market title, Sanzaru’s “Asgard’s Wrath” represented a play toward courting serious gamers with a lengthier first-person adventure title.

Facebook has already injected billions of dollars into its VR ambitions and, as the company hopes to build out the content ecosystems of hardware it released last year (including the Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S), there is little to suggest that their rate of investment will slow in the near future.

How to Enable DNS Over HTTPS in Your Web Browser

Mozilla has started rolling out DNS over HTTPS for all Firefox users, a solid security change that’s meant to address the issue of third parties spying on the websites you’re visiting. Normally, when you type a website into your browser’s address bar and hit Enter, your browser uses DNS to map the domain name to the actual IP address of the server you’re trying to reach—the one that hosts the website you’re looking to visit.

DNS queries are typically unencrypted, which means that these requests can “leak” and be easily intercepted by a third party. This allows everyone from hackers to advertisers to easily view what websites you’re trying to visit, even if the sites themselves are encrypted (HTTPS). As the Center for Democracy and Technology describes:

This process happens every time you type an address into your browser, every time you send an email, and every time you click a link. Some websites may contain content embedded from other domains, in which case the page itself may trigger additional DNS queries. So, even if all of the actual content of the sites you visit is encrypted, the DNS resolver (and anyone else monitoring the network) sees every single site you visit, every time you visit. This record can be used to infer what you look at, the kinds of information you are looking for, when and how you use the internet, and other personal information. Some DNS providers sell or use this information for targeted advertising.

Beyond the privacy implications of a third party monitoring and selling your internet usage, DNS presents serious security problems. Specifically, DNS is susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks in which a malicious actor (not the DNS service) intercepts the DNS query and returns an incorrect IP address, potentially directing the user to a harmful site. This ‘spoofing’ attack can be mitigated through the use of additional verification procedures, such as DNSSEC, but many domains do not do this.

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With DNS over HTTPS enabled, Mozilla writes, your browsing history should be much more hidden from potential attackers and companies that are trying to track what you’re up to online. But Firefox isn’t the only browser that can handle DNS over HTTPS. Here’s a quick look at how to enable DNS over HTTPS in all the major browsers—Mozilla’s included, if you’re impatient and don’t want to wait for the rollout to hit.

Mozilla Firefox

  1. Click on the hamburger icon in the upper-right corner of your browser, and then click on Options.
  2. Scroll down to “Network Settings” in the General settings section, and click on the Settings button.
  3. Click “Enable DNS over HTTPS” and pick a provider, like CloudFlare, or enter your own under “Custom.”

Screenshot: David Murphy

Google Chrome

  1. Copy and paste this into your browser’s address bar, and hit Enter: chrome://flags/#dns-over-https
  2. Enable the flag for “Secure DNS lookups” and restart your browser
  3. Make sure you’ve switched your operating system’s network settings. Instead of automatically acquiring a DNS from your ISP, you’ll want to force it to use one of the providers from Chrome’s mapping table.

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Screenshot: David Murphy

Edge Chromium

  1. Copy and paste this into your browser’s address bar, and hit Enter: edge://flags/#dns-over-https
  2. Enable the flag for “Secure DNS lookups” and restart your browser
  3. Make sure you’ve switched your operating system’s network settings. Instead of automatically acquiring a DNS from your ISP, you’ll want to force it to use one of the providers that support DNS over HTTPS.

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Screenshot: David Murphy

Brave

  1. Copy and paste this into your browser’s address bar, and hit Enter: brave://flags/#dns-over-https
  2. Enable the flag for “Secure DNS lookups” and restart your browser
  3. Make sure you’ve switched your operating system’s network settings. Instead of automatically acquiring a DNS from your ISP, you’ll want to force it to use one of the providers that support DNS over HTTPS.

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Screenshot: David Murphy

How to see if DNS over HTTPS is working correctly

Simply visit Cloudflare’s help page, which will run a quick check to tell you if your browser is using DNS over HTTPS:

Screenshot: David Murphy

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What about Safari?

Sorry, Mac fans. Apple hasn’t yet implemented this feature in Safari, but I would expect the company to do so at some point. Apple, being big on privacy and all, would have no reason to be the only company not offering DNS over HTTPS in its primary browser.

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Three-quarters of Americans lack confidence in tech companies’ ability to fight election interference

A significant majority of Americans have lost faith in tech companies’ ability to prevent the misuse of their platforms to influence the 2020 presidential election, according to a new study from Pew Research Center, released today. The study found that nearly three-quarters of Americans (74%) don’t believe platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google will be able to prevent election interference. What’s more, this sentiment is felt by both political parties evenly.

Pew says that nearly identical shares of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (76%) and Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents (74%) have little or no confidence in technology companies’ ability to prevent their platforms’ misuse with regard to election interference.

And yet, 78% of Americans believe it’s tech companies’ job to do so. Slightly more Democrats (81%) took this position, compared with Republicans (75%).

While Americans had similar negative feelings about platforms’ misuse ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, their lack of confidence has gotten even worse over the past year. As of January 2020, 74% of Americans report having little confidence in the tech companies, compared with 66% back in September 2018. For Democrats, the decline in trust is even greater, with 74% today feeling “not too” confident or “not at all” confident, compared with 62% in September 2018. Republican sentiment has declined somewhat during this same time, as well, with 72% expressing a lack of confidence in 2018, compared with 76% today.

Even among those who believe the tech companies are capable of handling election interference, very few (5%) Americans feel “very” confident in their capabilities. Most of the optimists see the challenge as difficult and complex, with 20% saying they feel only “somewhat” confident.

Across age groups, both the lack of confidence in tech companies and a desire for accountability increase with age. For example, 31% of those 18 to 29 feel at least somewhat confident in tech companies’ abilities, versus just 20% of those 65 and older. Similarly, 74% of youngest adults believe the companies should be responsible for platform misuse, compared with 88% of the 65-and-up crowd.

Given the increased negativity felt across the board on both sides of the aisle, it would have been interesting to see Pew update its 2018 survey that looked at other areas of concern Republicans and Democrats had with tech platforms. The older study found that Republicans were more likely to feel social media platforms favored liberal views while Democrats were more heavily in favor of regulation and restricting false information.

Issues around election interference aren’t just limited to the U.S., of course. But news of Russia’s meddling in U.S. politics in particular — which involved every major social media platform — has helped to shape Americans’ poor opinion of tech companies and their ability to prevent misuse. The problem continues today, as Russia is being called out again for trying to intervene in the 2020 elections, according to several reports. At present, Russia’s focus is on aiding Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign in order to interfere with the Democratic primary, the reports said.

Meanwhile, many of the same vulnerabilities that Russia exploited during the 2016 elections remain, including the platforms’ ability to quickly spread fake news, for example. Russia is also working around blocks the tech companies have erected in an attempt to keep Russian meddling at bay. One report from The NYT said Russian hackers and trolls were now better at covering their tracks and were even paying Americans to set up Facebook pages to get around Facebook’s ban on foreigners buying political ads.

Pew’s report doesn’t get into any details as to why Americans have lost so much trust in tech companies since the last election, but it’s likely more than just the fallout from election interference alone. Five years ago, tech companies were viewed largely as having a positive impact on the U.S., Pew had once reported. But Americans no longer feel as they did, and now only around half of U.S. adults believe the companies are having a positive impact.

More Americans are becoming aware of how easily these massive platforms can be exploited and how serious the ramifications of those exploits have become across a number of areas, including personal privacy. It’s not surprising, then, that user sentiment around how well tech companies are capable of preventing election interference has declined, too, along with all the rest.

Make Cocktail Syrups Even if You Don’t Drink Cocktails

Photo: Shutterstock

My fridge is full of syrups. Besides the obligatory maple, there’s some cheap-o “pancake syrup,” some berry honey, a bottle of simple syrup, and a bottle of honey syrup. Historically speaking, the last two have been used primarily for cocktails, but literally everyone should have them in their fridge, whether they drink or not.

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You see, the beauty of cocktail syrups lies in how easily they go into solution. Unlike crystalline sugar or unadulterated honey, these diluted sweeteners don’t need a ton of agitation or heat to disperse. This is very helpful in the kitchen.

They’re also extremely easy to make. For simple, just heat equal amounts of sugar and water (cup for cup) in a sauce pan over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. For honey, use a mixture of three parts honey and one part hot water. Both will keep in the fridge pretty much indefinitely.

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I am not known for drinking water, but these syrups help keep me hydrated. Recently, I’ve been making single servings of lemonade- and limeade-esque beverages, sweetening them on the fly with a few squirts of honey or simple syrup, depending on my mood. I might be adding ginger syrup to the mix as well, because ginger lemonade is going to sound pretty good once the weather warms up.

In terms of food, I’ve been using the honey syrup in vinaigrettes, and I’ve swirled the simple into sauces, both peanut and marinara (don’t tell my Italian boyfriend). Sugar makes everything—even savory foods—taste good, and a teaspoon or so of syrup can help make a dish taste complete.

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Do you enjoy iced coffee or tea? You simply have to have simple on hand. There is no way around it. Though it is easy to make a little bit of the stuff in the microwave, it is much easier to make a bottle of it and lazily stir it into your morning cold brew. Life is already hard enough; make yours simpler with syrups.

Comcast acquires free streaming service Xumo

Comcast has acquired Xumo, a free, ad-supported streaming service with more than 190 channels.

The service has a complicated ownership history — it began in 2011 as a joint venture between Panasonic and Myspace parent company Viant, which was acquired by Time Inc. in 2016, and then Time Inc. was later acquired by Meredith.

The companies are not disclosing the financial terms of the deal, which The Wall Street Journal previously reported was in the works. Comcast says Xumo will operate as an independent business within the largest Comcast Cable unit.

“The talented team at XUMO has created a successful, growing, and best-in-class set of streaming capabilities,” the company said in a statement. “We are excited for this team to join Comcast and look forward to supporting them as they continue to innovate and develop their offerings.”

It’s been just over a year since Viacom (now ViacomCBS) acquired another free, ad-supported streaming service, Pluto TV.

And in just a few months, Comcast-owned NBCUniversal will be launching Peacock. While the service will include paid subscription options, the company has emphasized the role that ads will play, with NBCUniversal Chairman Steve Burke arguing that there’s an opening in the streaming landscape to focus “ad-supported, premium content.”

Xumo last announced that it has 5.5 million monthly active users (in spring 2019).

The Fastest Way to Limit Google Search Results by Date

Photo: Shutterstock

A well-worded Google search can bring up the most relevant results in a matter of seconds. But the trouble with those results that are deemed to fit your search query best is that they’re not always the most recent results for that topic.

This happens to me all the time. I’m constantly Googling stuff about personal finance, but numbers for things like tax rates can change yearly. If I’m not getting recent and relevant results, it takes me a whole lot longer to get the information I need.

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That’s why I’m quite pleased with this tip from Reddit user familytreebeard. You can add time limitations to your search right from the text box. Here’s what to do:

You can filter any range of years using “before:<year>“ and “after:<year>“ in any search. Much quicker than clicking through the “tools” menu and selecting a time frame by hand.

The thread highlights using this technique when searching for software or programming information, which can change a lot in the span of just a few years.

Let me give you a quick example of how useful it is. Last week when I wrote about automating your credit card payments, I mentioned the maximum late fee a credit card issuer can charge.

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My initial search to determine the current caps fell short:

Screenshot: Lisa Rowan

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The first result that popped up was correct…in 2010. I knew the rules had changed since then, so it took longer to determine the most current caps.

Here’s the first result I got today when I added a time limitation to the search:

Screenshot: Lisa Rowan

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Now we’re cooking. Even though the highlighted page was updated in December 2019, it grabbed the info I needed for 2020.

This isn’t a replacement for doing your diligence and reviewing search results carefully. But if you frequently conduct searches where you need results from a certain time-frame or just want the most recent information, this is the quickest way to get there.

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