TIME technology

The Silk Road Is Back: The Dread Pirate Roberts Sails The Illicit Online Drug Trade Again

Ross William Ulbricht
An artist rendering of Ross William Ulbricht during a federal court appearance in San Francisco on Oct. 4, 2013. Vicki Behringer—AP

A new report to be released today by the Digital Citizens Alliance and obtained exclusively by TIME shows the arrest six months ago of Ross Ulbricht, the alleged founder of Silk Road, hasn't slowed down the illicit Darknet drug trade

Six months after the arrest of Ross Ulbricht, the alleged founder of Silk Road, the largest online marketplace for illicit drugs and other contraband, business has never been better for the website, according to a new report to be released Wednesday by the Digital Citizens Alliance obtained exclusively by TIME.

There are approximately 13,648 listings for drug on the Darknet website, which requires anonymization technology to known as Tor to access, compared to the 13,000 listed shortly before Ulbricht’s arrest. While that’s an increase of just five percent, the Darknet drug economy has grown an astonishing 75% in the last six months thanks to the proliferation of Silk Road competitors, according to the report. The group spent eight months studying the Darknet drug economy both before and after Ulbricht’s arrest.

Many believed that the Darknet drug trade would die out after Ulbricht’s arrest and the subsequent arrests of three original Silk Road employees. As Lev Grossman and I wrote in a cover story last November, the genius in Ulbricht’s model was to create trust between drug dealers and buyers. He created an Amazon-style marketplace where users and sellers could rate one another, thus building a proven record that the person you’re selling to, or buying from, isn’t a cop in disguise.

Following Ulbricht’s arrest and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s shuttering of the Silk Road website, traffic surged to two competitors, Black Market Reloaded, known for their anything-goes attitude (Silk Road, for example, refused to sell child pornography and weapons of mass destruction) and Sheep Marketplace. Within weeks of Ulbricht’s arrest, Sheep Marketplace shut down citing a security breach. But users believed the site’s owners had simply stolen the $44 million worth of bitcoin in the system when they closed. The online drug trade looked doomed.

But Silk Road soon reopened, with a new “Dread Pirate Roberts”—Ulbricht’s alleged user name taken from the movie The Princess Bride—claiming ownership. At first, it seemed like Silk Road 2.0 might also falter when some $2.6 million worth of bitcoins were stolen in February, according to the report. But DPR2, as he or she is being hailed on the new Silk Road, devised a plan to repay those who’d had bitcoin stolen in order to rebuild confidence in the site. The scheme worked and Silk Road 2.0 is doing better than ever, according to the report.

This, of course, was the Dread Pirate Robert’s plan all along. Why else chose the moniker? After all in the movie, it’s the name and the legend that matter—not the actually person. Here is how the character Westley described the legend in the movie:

Roberts had grown so rich, he wanted to retire. So he took me to his cabin, and told me his secret. “I am not the Dread Pirate Roberts”, he said. “My name is Ryan. I inherited the ship from the previous Dread Pirate Roberts, just as you will inherit it from me. The man I inherited it from was not the real Dread Pirate Roberts either. His name was Cummerbund. The real Roberts has been retired fifteen years and living like a King in Patagonia.” . . . Then he explained that the name was the important thing for inspiring the necessary fear. You see, no one would surrender to the Dread Pirate Westley. So we sailed ashore, took on an entirely new crew, and he stayed aboard for a while as first mate, all the time calling me Roberts. Once the crew believed, he left the ship, and I have been Roberts ever since. Except now that we’re together, I shall retire and hand the name over to someone else.

And, so it goes for Silk Road. The Dread Pirate Roberts is dead. Long live the Dread Pirate Roberts.

TIME Security

Only 4 in 10 Internet Users Changed Passwords After Heartbleed, Poll Finds

A new Pew report finds that while 64 percent of Internet users heard about the widespread security bug that targeted OpenSSL encryption, only 39 percent reacted by changing their passwords or deleting online accounts

A new report reveals a significant rift in the number of Internet users who heard about the Heartbleed security bug and those who took action to protect their personal data in the wake of the vulnerability.

While 64% of Internet users heard about Heartbleed, only 39% reacted to it by changing their passwords or deleting online accounts, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

The research shows a gap between security experts’ and Internet users’ reactions to the bug. After companies began fixing the security vulnerability, many sent emails urging users to change their passwords. Despite those warnings, only 29% of Internet users felt their personal information was put at risk by Heartbleed, while 6% believed their personal information had been stolen — despite the fact that the nature of the bug makes it generally impossible to tell if individual accounts were compromised.

Heartbleed is a security vulnerability in OpenSSL, an open-source and free-to-use encryption method used by many of the web’s top sites, including Amazon, Facebook and Yahoo, among others. The bug was made public by security researchers in early April. While some companies privately received advance notice of the bug, others were left scrambling to address the vulnerability before being targeted by hackers. Internet security experts advised users to wait for notices from individual companies before changing their passwords, as changing login information before a fix was in place could have provided it directly to hackers waiting in the midst.

After Heartbleed was revealed, some commentators criticized top companies for using OpenSSL without contributing significant amounts of money to the project, which is run by a small handful of programmers and, backers say, has been historically underfunded. Several companies, including Google and Microsoft, have since promised funding that will support open-source projects, including OpenSSL.

Pew’s study is based on a nationwide study of 1,501 adults 18 or older. The margin of error was approximately plus or minus 2.9 percent.

TIME Video Games

An Xbox First: Microsoft’s Xbox One to Be Sold in China

Microsoft's Xbox One will be one of the first foreign game consoles sold in the country since China banned foreign game system sales in 2000.

Remember that story about China unbolting its ironclad gates to foreign game system sales back in January? It looks like Microsoft’s going to be one of the first foreign companies to walk through, taking its Xbox One where no Xbox has (legally) gone before: Microsoft says its flagship games console will go on sale in China this September.

It’s part of a deal with China-based media conglomerate BesTV, a subsidiary of Shanghai Media Group, that describes itself as “principally engaged in the provision of technical services, content services and marketing services for TV terminals, computer terminals and mobile terminals through media source platforms.”

China instigated a ban on selling game consoles not made by Chinese companies back in 2000. The ban included unscientific concerns about players’ mental well-being, and in the end probably had more to do with keeping foreign corporations out.

But the games market in 2014 is a totally different animal (among other things, it’s far more lucrative), and you have to assume the Chinese government’s motivations are economic — that China’s State Council views the financial rewards now outweighing any supposed cultural concerns.

China’s the most populous nation on the planet, after all, with over half a billion gamers (according to Microsoft). It’s also long been a wellspring for design essentials like asset creation — one of the most expensive aspects of large-scale game design — in games played everywhere else. So Microsoft’s Yusuf Mehdi isn’t just grandstanding in the following video when he says there’s an “opportunity to create globally and locally created content.” That’s already been happening in spite of the ban for years.

After China lifted the ban in January, foreign companies were to seek the approval of the Chinese government to get officially green-lit to make and sell game systems in the country. Microsoft seems to have done this very quickly, and its gateway in (and perhaps government-liaised gatekeeper) will be BesTV. (And isn’t it interesting that U.S.-based Microsoft is first through the door, not Sony or Nintendo, both Japan-based companies, which may or may not have anything to do with historical China-Japan tensions.)

Not that selling popular foreign game consoles is any kind of business bonanza guarantee. As Games in Asia noted last September, it’s not like China’s gaming demographic is on tenterhooks to buy Xboxes and PlayStations and Wii Us through legitimate channels. The gray market already handles most of that demand, and it sounds like it’ll probably be significantly more expensive to go through legit channels once you factor in the cost of new games (to say nothing of piracy’s impact). Regardless, it’ll be fascinating to watch what happens this fall, and how it’ll impact Sino-American relations rolling forward.

TIME Net neutrality

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Pledges Open Internet in Face of Criticism

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler testifies before the House Communications and Technology panel on Capitol Hill in Washington
U.S. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler testifies before the House Communications and Technology panel on Capitol Hill in Washington Dec. 12, 2013. Gary Cameron—Reuters

Wheeler, a former cable and wireless industry lobbyist, strongly disputed the notion that his proposed Internet rules would imperil "net neutrality"

Federal Communication Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler vigorously defended his new Open Internet proposal during a speech on Wednesday, following a tsunami of criticism from advocates of “net neutrality,” the principle that consumers should have equal access to content available on the Internet.

Appearing at the annual meeting of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the cable industry lobbying group that he once led as president and CEO, Wheeler declared that “reports that we are gutting the Open Internet rules are incorrect.”

Wheeler said that his priority is to quickly craft new net neutrality rules that will withstand legal challenges. The FCC’s Internet governance policies have been in limbo since a federal court struck down most of the agency’s 2010 Open Internet order in January.

That order enshrined net neutrality rules requiring Internet service providers to be transparent about how they handle network congestion, prohibiting them from blocking traffic such as Skype or Netflix on wired networks, and barring them from discriminating against such services by putting them into an Internet “slow lane” in order to benefit their own competing services.

“If you read some of the press accounts about what we propose to do, those of you who oppose net neutrality might feel like a celebration was in order,” Wheeler told the cable executives gathered for the conference. “Reports that we are gutting the Open Internet rules are incorrect. I am here to say ‘wait a minute.’ Put away the party hats.”

Wheeler’s proposed plan would restore the FCC’s ability to prohibit broadband companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon from blocking or degrading Internet services for users. (Comcast agreed to be bound by the now-defunct Open Internet order until 2018 as part of its purchase of NBC Universal, and says it will apply that agreement to its proposed purchase of Time Warner Cable.)

“The Internet will remain like it is today, an open pathway,” Wheeler wrote in a FCC blog post ahead of his speech. “If a broadband provider (ISP) acts in a manner that keeps users from effectively taking advantage of that pathway then it should be a violation of the Open Internet rules.”

The most controversial aspect of Wheeler’s proposal would allow broadband providers to strike special deals with Internet companies like Netflix or Skype for preferential treatment in the “last mile” to consumers’ homes, as long as they acted in a “commercially reasonable manner subject to review on a case-by-case basis.” Such deals are different from the paid peering interconnection agreements that Netflix has recently signed with Comcast and Verizon, which would not be covered by the new rules.

Critics of these special deals charge that they would allow for Internet “fast lanes” and create a system where deep-pocketed Internet companies, also known as “edge providers,” that can afford to pay for prioritized service would have an unfair advantage over smaller companies. Such a system could stifle innovation on the Internet, critics warn, and potentially hamper the development of the next Google, Netflix or Skype.

Such criticism “misses the point,” Wheeler wrote. “The proposed rule is built to ensure that everyone has access to an Internet that is sufficiently robust to enable consumers to access the content, services and applications they demand, as well as an Internet that offers innovators and edge providers the ability to offer new products and services.”

In his blog post, Wheeler reiterated that he is not proposing that the FCC reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service under the common carrier provisions of Title II of the Communications Act. Net neutrality advocates have long urged such reclassification, which would give the FCC broad authority over the broadband companies, but would also spark a bitter battle with industry lobbyists and their allies on Capitol Hill.

Wheeler said that Title II reclassification remains an option, but that wasn’t enough for some critics. “Tom Wheeler still doesn’t get it,” says Craig Aaron, president and CEO of D.C.-based advocacy group Free Press, which has long championed net neutrality. “Encouraging discrimination and calling it Net Neutrality is ridiculous.” Wheeler should “exercise the FCC’s clear authority, and reclassify Internet service providers as common carriers. It’s the most sensible and courageous approach.”

Much of the criticism of Wheeler’s approach has centered on what would constitute a “commercially reasonable” prioritization deal between a broadband provider and an Internet content company. In his blog post, Wheeler outlined what, exactly, he considered commercially unreasonable. Degrading service in order to create a new “fast lane” would qualify as such. So would degrading overall service so as to force consumers and content companies to a higher priced tier, or prioritizing service to an affiliate.

Prohibitions against such actions would ensure the Internet remained an open pathway, Wheeler wrote. “If broadband providers would seek to use the commercially reasonable test as justification of activities in which users can’t effectively use that pathway, or the capabilities of it are degraded, I suggest they save their breath since such conduct would be a violation of the Open Internet rules we propose.”

“If anyone acts to degrade the service for all for the benefit of a few, I intend to use every available power to stop it,” Wheeler continued. “If we get to a situation where arrival of the ‘next Google’ or the ‘next Amazon’ is being delayed or deterred, we will act as necessary using the full panoply of our authority.” He added that he will not “hesitate to use Title II if warranted.”

Despite Wheeler’s assurances, it’s unlikely that many net neutrality advocates will be satisfied with any FCC action that falls short of prompt Title II reclassification. More than 36,000 people have signed a White House petition calling for “complete neutrality in our communication channels,” and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian has raised $9,665 to fund a billboard in Washington, D.C. declaring “Keep the internet free & open for all!”

TIME Travel

AT&T Is Building an In-Flight 4G LTE Network

Watch out, GoGo – you’re about to get some serious, big name competition. AT&T plans to launch the first high-speed, 4G LTE-based broadband service for planes flying as high as 35,000 feet, the company announced Monday.

“We are building on AT&T’s significant strengths to develop in-flight connectivity technology unlike any other that exists today, based on 4G LTE standards,” explains AT&T Chief Strategy Officer John Stankey. “We believe this will enable airlines and passengers to benefit from reliable high speeds and a better experience.”

Currently, the state of in-flight wireless is a mixed bag. Industry leader Gogo is launching a new 60Mbps high-speed network on Virgin America planes later this year, while rival ViaSat is launching high-speed service on select United flights. On the other hand, in-flight wireless is still painfully slow on most U.S. airplanes (if you can even find it at all).

Hopefully, the presence of a new big name in the market will bring more connected flights and better prices. We’ll find out if AT&T has what it takes when the new service launches in late 2015.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Earnings

Twitter’s Stock Slumps Despite Adding New Users More Quickly

Twitter added more active users and generated more revenue during the first quarter than analysts had expected, but that wasn't enough to stop its stock from tumbling in after-hours trading on Tuesday following its first quarterly earnings report as a public company

Twitter is finally adding new users at a faster rate, but still not fast enough to appease wary investors. The company’s stock tumbled more than ten percent in after-hours trading Tuesday after its quarterly earnings report failed to impress Wall Street.

Twitter generated $250 million revenue for the quarter, a 119% increase year-over-year that easily topped analyst expectations. Adjusted earnings were $37 million and net income minus certain items was $183,000, netting zero cents per share. Analysts had been expecting a loss of three cents per share.

The better-than-expected earnings numbers, however, couldn’t stop a Tuesday afternoon slide in Twitter’s stock. The company’s shares have fallen more than 40 percent from their high at the start of the year as investors grow increasingly worried about the network’s growth rate. The social network added 14 million new monthly active users in the first quarter of 2014, rising to a total of 255 million. That’s better than the paltry nine million Twitter added in the fourth quarter of 2013, but still not enough to inspire confidence that the social network has the growth prospects of a Facebook (1.3 billion users) or a WhatsApp (500 million users).

Total timeline views, a measure Twitter uses to measure engagement, rose to 157 billion in the quarter, an increase of 9 billion from the previous quarter. The average number of timeline views per monthly active user increased slightly, to 614. However, both figures are down significantly from a year ago. Twitter attributes the drop to a change in its interface that allows users to follow conversations without having to scroll through unrelated tweets.

Monetarily, Twitter looks poised for increased success in 2014. The company is now generating $1.44 per 1,000 timeline views, nearly double the figure a year ago. A bevy of new ad units, including ads that allow people to install new apps, will boost revenue, as will the scaling of MoPub, Twitter’s ad network that will allow it to help marketers place mobile ads around the Web.

But investors are looking for growth in members and usage now, not profits. “The metrics surrounding user engagement matter more to the stock than the financial performance, in our view,” Stifel analyst Jordan Rohan wrote in a note to investors. “We view monetization improvements as secondary.”

In a conference call with investors, CEO Dick Costolo again emphasized that Twitter’s plan to become more accessible to new users is a work in progress. The company has already rolled out some dramatic changes, like an overhaul of profile pages to make them more similar to Facebook’s, and Costolo said there are more tweaks coming this year. He pointed out that retweets and favorites increased 26 percent quarter-over-quarter. He also noted that the Oscars generated 3.3 billion tweet views in the 48 hours after the show across the Web, proving Twitter’s scale. “Twitter as a platform, we believe is already incredibly mainstream,” he said. “Now what we need to do is help that world of users who already experience Twitter every day understand the increased value of the logged in experience.”

With each passing quarter, though, Wall Street’s view of Twitter’s growth prospects seems to grow a bit dimmer. “Twitter may never get as big as Facebook,” says Gartner analyst Brian Blau, “but as long as they can continue to find, attract and gain a loyal user base the foundations of the company will remain solid.”

TIME Innovation

These Sunglasses Connect to Your Phone So You Don’t Lose Them

Tzukuri
The Tzukuri iPhone app connects via low-power Bluetooth to a pair of sunglasses, tracking their location so you don't lose them. Tzukuri

Finally, a worthwhile use for technology.

Everybody knows that the more you spend on a pair of sunglasses, the faster you lose them. Death, taxes and lost sunglasses: these three things are guaranteed.

I can say with 99% confidence that I’ll never spend $350 on a pair of sunglasses. One, because I’m cheap. Two, because the last pair of $100+ sunglasses I owned were swallowed whole by the Atlantic Ocean before I even got my credit card statement. The $30 pair I bought to replace them? They seem to follow me around like a doughy Twitter user chasing a roving food truck. I can’t shake ‘em.

But – BUT! — the idea of a $350 pair of sunglasses that connect to your iPhone and alert you if you lose them seems to be a better use of $350 than a $350 pair of sunglasses that don’t connect to anything.

These Tzukuri sunglasses will be available toward the end of the year for around $350 (the company seems to be hinting at some sort of crowdfunding campaign, promising early backers a $100 discount) and connect via low-energy Bluetooth to an iPhone app. An Android version will be in the works once BLE (the Bluetooth Low Energy standard) becomes more pervasive on Android handsets.

Should you wander off without your glasses, the app will alert you at 16 feet, 32 feet and 50 feet. The glasses have a range of 82 feet, and their last known location can be plotted on a map if you lose them. The technology to do all this stuff is crammed into a tiny three-millimeter chip hidden in the glasses, which is recharged via solar power.

tzukuri frames
Tzukuri

As for the glasses themselves, they’re ridiculous. And I mean that as a compliment. They’re handcrafted in Japan, each taking up to three weeks to cobble together. There are six styles available, each paying homage to someone famous (whether real or fictional): Atticus Finch, JFK, Tom Ford, John Lennon, Grace Kelly and Truman Capote. As 9to5Mac.com reports, there are prescription glasses in the works as well.

I’ll bet you a buck that none of them would fit my gargantuan cranium. That’s probably best, though: These things may alert me if I walk away from them, but my jam seems to be losing expensive sunglasses in the ocean. And that ocean… she’s a fickle mistress. Once she takes your shades, there’s no getting them back.

Product Page [Tzukuri.com via Uncrate]

TIME Technologizer

Now Would Be a Good Time to Reacquaint Yourself With Firefox

Firefox 29
Firefox's cool new drag-and-drop customization interface Mozilla

Version 29 adds more visual polish and easier customization

How long has it been since Firefox was my primary browser? When it was, its version number was in the low single digits. And today, Mozilla is releasing version 29, which is now available for download.

That’s not as huge a gap as it sounds: Back in 2011, Mozilla moved to a Chrome-like rapid release cycle for Firefox, updating the browser every six weeks and ratcheting up the version number each time. That means that Firefox users don’t have to wait for new features, performance tweaks and bug fixes, but it also tends to make any given update a minor one.

However, Mozilla says that Firefox 29 is the biggest upgrade since version 4 back in 2011. If, like me, you haven’t spent all that much time with the browser in the last few years, it’s well worth checking out.

(I never abandoned Firefox altogether–I just found I was using it less and less. The desktop browser I use most often these days is Safari on my MacBook Air, though I often have both it and Chrome open.)

Firefox 29 isn’t that radical an update, but there’s some significant stuff, including an interface that’s been seriously spruced up. Visually, tabs other than the one you’re on now lose their tab outline and fade into the background, so it’s easier at a glance to see where you are–a solution to a problem I have pretty frequently with Safari and Chrome. There’s a neat Customize menu item that lets you tweak the Firefox interface by dragging items around to the areas of your liking. (Or removing them altogether: I used it to delete the search field, which has long felt redundant given that you can search from Firefox’s address bar.)

Mozilla also gave the browser a new primary menu that looks more like Chrome’s equivalent–it’s accessed via a three-bar “hamburger” icon on the right-hand side of the window–but opens up into a grid of icons for its functions rather than plain text items. And it changed how you hook the desktop browser up with Firefox’s Android browser for syncing of items like bookmarks, getting rid of an activation code that Johnathan Nightingale, VP of Firefox, told me people found intimidating.

In the past, when I’ve wandered away from Firefox, I’ve usually done so because I found it to be slower and/or less stable than Safari and Chrome, at least when I had gazillions of tabs open. (To be fair, the problem may have been with buggy add-ons rather than the browser itself.) So far so good with this new version.

I think I’ll try to stick with it as my main browser for a while to see what happens. There was once a time when I loved Firefox as much as any piece of software on my computer and urged others to adopt it; it would feel good if it became a favorite once again.

TIME How-To

30-Second Tech Trick: Disable In-App Purchases on the iPhone or iPad

Has someone been racking up your iTunes bill with in-app purchases? Here's how to put a stop to it.

TIME Media

Spotify Aims for U.S. Expansion Through Sprint Deal

Sprint customers will be able to take advantage of lengthy free trials and discounted subscriptions to the streaming music service, in a deal that could see Spotify broaden its user base

Spotify has finally nailed down a key partnership that could help it reach a larger audience in the United States. The music streaming service announced today that it is offering extended free trials and discounted subscriptions to Sprint customers.

All of Sprint’s nearly 30 million postpaid customers will qualify for a three-month free trial to Spotify. Customers on Sprint’s multi-line “Framily” plans will get six months of free Spotify, then pay a discounted rate of $7.99 per month or $4.99 per month depending on how many people are on the plan. Spotify regularly costs $9.99 per month.

Partnerships with telecoms providers are a holy grail of sorts for streaming services, which are used heavily on mobile devices. With the Sprint deal, Spotify will be able to slide its fees directly into customers’ cellphone bills, making for a more seamless payment process. The deals are also an opportunity for exposure to a broader market of customers who may not be familiar with on-demand streaming apps. Beats Music, for instance, launched a high-profile campaign with AT&T earlier this year that offers discounts to AT&T’s wireless subscribers and features television commercials with stars like Ellen DeGeneres and Run-DMC.

Spotify remains the leader in the music streaming space, with recent reports indicating that its paying subscriber base is approaching 10 million. Beats, a similar service from Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, is the newcomer with the deepest pockets and the highest pedigree. However, the service is reportedly off to a modest start since its January debut, with Billboard reporting a subscriber count in the “low six-figures.”

The Sprint deal takes effect online on May 2 and in stores on May 9.

 

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