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'Science Fiction Writers of America' Accuse Internet Archive of Piracy

13 January 2018 - 6:09pm
An anonymous reader writes: The "Open Library" project of the nonprofit Internet Archive has been scanning books and offering "loans" of DRM-protected versions for e-readers (which expire after the loan period expires). This week the Legal Affairs Committe of the Science Fiction Writers of America issued a new "Infringement Alert" on the practice, complaining that "an unreadable copy of the book is saved on users' devices...and can be made readable by stripping DRM protection." The objection, argues SFWA President Cat Rambo, is that "writers' work is being scanned in and put up for access without notifying them... it is up to the individual writer whether or not their work should be made available in this way." But the infringement alert takes the criticism even further. "We suspect that this is the world's largest ongoing project of unremunerated digital distribution of entire in-copyright books." The Digital Reader blog points out one great irony. "The program initially launched in 2007. It has been running for ten years, and the SFWA only just now noticed." They add that SFWA's tardiness "leaves critical legal issues unresolved." "Remember, Google won the Google Books case, and had its scanning activities legalized as fair use ex post facto... [I]n fact the Internet Archive has a stronger case than Google did; the latter had a commercial interest in its scans, while the Internet Archive is a non-profit out to serve the public good."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Japanese Console Market Grows For the First Time In 11 Years

13 January 2018 - 5:04pm
According to Famitsu, hardware sales in Japan experienced a huge spike in 2017 compared to the previous year. In 2016, Japanese hardware sales were 117.05 billion yen ($1.05 billion), while in 2017, they jumped to 202.37 billion yen ($1.81 billion). Kotaku reports: Software sales also increased: in 2016, they were 182.4 billion yen ($1.63 billion) and the following year, they were 189.3 billion yen ($1.69 billion). A big part of this increase is due to the Nintendo Switch's brisk hardware sales. The PS4 has also continued to churn out steady numbers. The last time the Japanese gaming market saw an uptick was in 2006, when the Nintendo DS Lite, the Nintendo Wii, the PS3 launched.

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Stack Overflow Stats Reveal 'the Brutal Lifecycle of JavaScript Frameworks'

13 January 2018 - 3:59pm
A developer on the Internal Tools team at Stack Overflow reveals some new statistics from their 'Trends' tool: JavaScript UI frameworks and libraries work in cycles. Every six months or so, a new one pops up, claiming that it has revolutionized UI development. Thousands of developers adopt it into their new projects, blog posts are written, Stack Overflow questions are asked and answered, and then a newer (and even more revolutionary) framework pops up to usurp the throne... There appears to be a quick ascent, as the framework gains popularity and then a slightly less quick but steady decline as developers adopt newer technologies. These lifecycles only last a couple of years. Starting around 2011, there seems to be major adoption of a couple of competing frameworks: Backbone, Knockout, and Ember. Questions about these tags appear to grow until around 2013 and have been in steady decline since, at about the same time as AngularJS started growing. The latest startup is the Vue.js framework, which has shown quick adoption, as it is one of the fastest growing tags on Stack Overflow. Only time can tell how long this growth will last. "Let's be honest," the post concludes. "The size of a developer community certainly counts; it contributes to a thriving open source environment, and makes it easier to find help on Stack Overflow."

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Intel Unveils 'Breakthrough' 49 Qubit Quantum Computer

13 January 2018 - 2:54pm
Long-time Slashdot reader cold fjord writes: Extremetech reports, "At CES 2018 this week, Intel's CEO Brian Krzanich declared the company's new 49-qubit quantum computer represented a step towards "quantum supremacy." A 49 qubit system is a major advance for Intel, which just demonstrated a 17-qubit system two months ago. Intel's working with the Netherlands-based Qutech on this project, and expanding the number of qubits is key to creating quantum computers that can deliver real-world results... "Qubits are tremendously fragile," Intel wrote in October. "Any noise or unintended observation of them can cause data loss. This fragility requires them to operate at about 20 millikelvin -- 250 times colder than deep space." This is also why we won't be seeing quantum computers in anyone's house at any point." Krzanich also thanked the industry for "coming together" to address the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities. "The collaboration among so many companies to address this industry-wide issue across several different processor architectures has been truly remarkable."

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Peter Thiel Is Now Bidding on Gawker.com

13 January 2018 - 1:49pm
An anonymous reader writes: Its official. "Venture capitalist Peter Thiel has made an offer for Gawker," reports Reuters, adding that the potential acquisition "would let him take down stories regarding his personal life that are still available on the website, and remove the scope for further litigation between him and Gawker." It was Thiel's 2016 lawsuit which bankrupted the site, prompting a Washington Post blogger to write that Thiel "killed Gawker once. Now it looks like he may kill it again." Elsewhere the Washington Post argues the whole episode "highlighted the immense legal risk borne by news outlets already facing a precarious financial reality in the digital age." The Post's blogger describes Thiel as "a billionaire leveraging his wealth to obliterate a media outlet...as part of a personal vendetta." Last month former Gawker staffers attempted to crowdfund the purchase and relaunch of Gawker.com as a nonprofit media organization. But their 1,496 backers only pledged $89,844, far short of the campaign's $500,000 target.

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Will Facial Recognition in China Lead To Total Surveillance?

13 January 2018 - 12:44pm
schwit1 shares a new Washington Post article about China's police and security state -- including the facial recognition cameras allow access to apartment buildings. "If I am carrying shopping bags in both hands, I just have to look ahead and the door swings open," one 40-year-old woman tells the Post. "And my 5-year-old daughter can just look up at the camera and get in. It's good for kids because they often lose their keys." But for the police, the cameras that replaced the residents' old entry cards serve quite a different purpose. Now they can see who's coming and going, and by combining artificial intelligence with a huge national bank of photos, the system in this pilot project should enable police to identify what one police report, shared with The Washington Post, called the "bad guys" who once might have slipped by... Banks, airports, hotels and even public toilets are all trying to verify people's identities by analyzing their faces. But the police and security state have been the most enthusiastic about embracing this new technology. The pilot in Chongqing forms one tiny part of an ambitious plan, known as "Xue Liang," which can be translated as "Sharp Eyes." The intent is to connect the security cameras that already scan roads, shopping malls and transport hubs with private cameras on compounds and buildings, and integrate them into one nationwide surveillance and data-sharing platform... At the back end, these efforts merge with a vast database of information on every citizen, a "Police Cloud" that aims to scoop up such data as criminal and medical records, travel bookings, online purchase and even social media comments -- and link it to everyone's identity card and face.

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Many US States Propose Their Own Laws Protecting Net Neutrality

13 January 2018 - 11:39am
An anonymous reader quotes the New York Times: Lawmakers in at least six states, including California and New York, have introduced bills in recent weeks that would forbid internet providers to block or slow down sites or online services. Legislators in several other states, including North Carolina and Illinois, are weighing similar action... By passing their own law, the state lawmakers say, they would ensure that consumers would find the content of the choice, maintain a diversity of voices online and protect businesses from having to pay fees to reach users. And they might even have an effect beyond their states. California's strict auto-emissions standards, for example, have been followed by a dozen other states, giving California major sway over the auto industry. "There tends to be a follow-on effect, particularly when something happens in a big state like California," said Harold Feld, a senior vice president at a nonprofit consumer group, Public Knowledge, that supports net-neutrality efforts by the states. Bills have also been introduced in Massachusetts, Nebraska, Rhode Island and Washington. In addition, a representative in Alaska's legislature has also pre-filed legislation requiring the state's ISPs to practice net neutrality, which will be introduced when the state legislature resumes on January 16th. "The recent FCC decision eliminating net neutrality was a mistake that favors the big internet providers and those who want to restrict the kinds of information a free-thinking Alaskan can access," representative Scott Kawasaki told a local news station. "That is not the Alaskan way, and I am hopeful my colleagues in the House and Senate will agree..." The Independent also notes that Europe "is still strongly committed" to net neutrality.

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Erroneous 'Spam' Flag Affected 102 npm Packages

13 January 2018 - 10:34am
There was some trouble last weekend at the world's largest package repository. An anonymous reader quotes the official npm blog: On Saturday, January 6, 2018, we incorrectly removed the user floatdrop and blocked the discovery and download of all 102 of their packages on the public npm Registry. Some of those packages were highly depended on, such as require-from-string, and removal disrupted many users' installations... Within 60 seconds, it became clear that floatdrop was not a spammer -- and that their packages were in heavy use in the npm ecosystem. The staffer notified colleagues and we re-activated the user and began restoring the packages to circulation immediately. Most of the packages were restored quickly, because the restoration was a matter of unsetting the deleted tombstones in our database, while also restoring package data tarballs and package metadata documents. However, during the time between discovery and restoration, other npm users published a number of new packages that used the names of deleted packages. We locked this down once we discovered it, but cleaning up the overpublished packages and inspecting their contents took additional time... In cases where the npm staff accepts a user's request to delete a package, we publish a replacement package by the same name -- a security placeholder. This both alerts those who had depended on it that the original package is no longer available and prevents others from publishing new code using that package name. At the time of Saturday's incident, however, we did not have a policy to publish placeholders for packages that were deleted if they were spam. This made it possible for other users to publish new versions of eleven of the removed packages. After a thorough examination of the replacement packages' contents, we have confirmed that none was malicious or harmful. Ten were exact replacements of the code that had just been removed, while the eleventh contained strings of text from the Bible -- and its publisher immediately contacted npm to advise us of its publication. They're now implementing a 24-hour cooldown on republication of any deleted package names -- and are also updating their review process. "As a general rule, the npm Registry is and ought to be immutable, just like other package registries such as RubyGems and crates.io... However, there are legitimate cases for removing a package once it has been published. In a typical week, most of the npm support team's work is devoted to handling user requests for package deletion, which is more common than you might expect. Many people publish test packages then ask to have them deprecated or deleted. There also is a steady flow of requests to remove packages that contain contain private code that users have published inadvertently or inappropriately."

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Interviewing the Interviewer

13 January 2018 - 9:20am
Terry Gross, NPR's The Fresh Air host, on the art of the Q&A: "People are always projecting things. They're hearing things that weren't said or projecting meaning that was not intended and, perhaps, not even implied. I've gotten both insults and compliments for interviews I've never done. What can you do? There's no way of controlling what people think. I do have a bullshit detector and it's something I'll use, but I do think I try and be empathetic to everyone I interview," said Terry Gross.

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Adult Themed VR Game Leaks Data On Thousands

13 January 2018 - 8:00am
chicksdaddy writes from The Security Ledger: Somebody deserves a spanking after personal information on thousands of users of an adult virtual reality game were exposed to security researchers in the UK by a balky application. Researchers at the firm Digital Interruption on Tuesday warned that an adult-themed virtual reality application, SinVR, exposes the names, email and other personal information via an insecure desktop application -- a potentially embarrassing security lapse. The company decided to go public with the information after being frustrated in multiple efforts to responsibly disclose the vulnerability to parent company inVR, Inc., Digital Interruption researcher and founder Jahmel Harris told The Security Ledger. Jahmel estimated that more than 19,000 records were leaked by the application, but did not have an exact count. SinVR is a sex-themed virtual reality game that allows players to navigate in various adult-themed environments and interact with virtual characters in common pornographic themes including BDSM, cosplay, naughty teacher, and so on. The company discovered the data after reverse-engineering the SinVR desktop application and noticing a function named "downloadallcustomers." That function called a web service that returned thousands of SinVR customer records including email addresses, user names, computer PC names and so on. Passwords and credit card details were not part of the data dump, Harris said.

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Cryptocurrency Exchange Kraken Suddenly Goes Dark For Two Days

13 January 2018 - 5:00am
An anonymous reader quotes the San Francisco Chronicle: One of the biggest cryptocurrency exchanges was down more than 40 hours this week, causing clients to freak out... San Francisco's Kraken went offline at 9 p.m. on Wednesday for maintenance that was initially scheduled to last two hours, plus an additional two to three hours for withdrawals, according to an announcement on the company's website. "We are still working to resolve the issues that we have identified and our team is working around the clock to ensure a smooth upgrade," according to a status update on Kraken's website posted early Friday. "This means it may still take several hours before we can relaunch." Shortly after noon, the company said it was "still working to track down an elusive bug which is holding up launch." It promised customers "a substantial amount of free trading" after the problem was resolved. In previous updates, Kraken mentioned it is working on "unexpected and delicate issues" and assured clients their funds were secure, adding that "Yes, this is our new record for downtime since we launched in 2013. No, we're not proud of it." It's 53 hours after the downtime began, and their web page is still showing the same announcement. "Kraken is presently offline for maintenance."

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French Songwriter Kiesza Composes First Mainstream Music Album Co-Written With AI

13 January 2018 - 2:00am
dryriver shares a report from the BBC, highlighting "a new album that features everything from cowboy sci-fi to Europop." What's special about the album -- Hello World by Canadian singer Kiesza -- is that it's the first full-length mainstream music album co-written with the help of artificial intelligence. You can judge the quality for yourself: First, view the single "Hellow Shadow" with Canadian singer Kiesza. Next, the BBC story, which seems to think that the album is actually rather good: "Benoit Carre has written songs for some of France's biggest stars: from Johnny Halliday -- the French Elvis, who died last year -- to chanteuse Francoise Hardy. But this month, the 47-year-old is releasing an album with a collaborator he could never have dreamt of working with. It's not a singer, or rapper. It's not even really a musician. It's called Flow Machines, and it is, arguably, the world's most advanced artificially-intelligent music program. For musicians, there's been one good thing about these projects so far: the music they've produced has been easy to dismiss, generic and uninspiring -- hardly likely to challenge Bob Dylan in the songwriting department. But Carre's album, Hello World, is different for the simple reason that it's good. Released under the name SKYGGE (Danish for shadow), it features everything from sci-fi cowboy ballads to Europop, and unlike most AI music, if you heard it on the radio, you wouldn't think something had gone horribly wrong. Flow Machines, developed at Sony's Computer Science Laboratories in Paris, does indeed write original melodies, Carre adds. It also suggests the chords and sounds to play them with. But Carre says a human is always needed to stitch the songs together, give them structure and emotion. Without people, its songs would be a bit rubbish. "There were many people involved in this," he says, listing the likes of Belgian house producer Stromae and Canadian pop star Kiesza. "They gave their soul, their enthusiasm. I think that's the most important point of the album, in a way -- that it's a very human one.'"

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Why the World Only Has Two Words For Tea

12 January 2018 - 10:30pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: With a few minor exceptions, there are really only two ways to say "tea" in the world. One is like the English term -- te in Spanish and tee in Afrikaans are two examples. The other is some variation of cha, like chay in Hindi. Both versions come from China. How they spread around the world offers a clear picture of how globalization worked before "globalization" was a term anybody used. The words that sound like "cha" spread across land, along the Silk Road. The "tea"-like phrasings spread over water, by Dutch traders bringing the novel leaves back to Europe. The term cha is "Sinitic," meaning it is common to many varieties of Chinese. It began in China and made its way through central Asia, eventually becoming "chay" in Persian. That is no doubt due to the trade routes of the Silk Road, along which, according to a recent discovery, tea was traded over 2,000 years ago. This form spread beyond Persia, becoming chay in Urdu, shay in Arabic, and chay in Russian, among others. It even it made its way to sub-Saharan Africa, where it became chai in Swahili. The Japanese and Korean terms for tea are also based on the Chinese cha, though those languages likely adopted the word even before its westward spread into Persian. But that doesn't account for "tea." The te form used in coastal-Chinese languages spread to Europe via the Dutch, who became the primary traders of tea between Europe and Asia in the 17th century, as explained in the World Atlas of Language Structures. The main Dutch ports in east Asia were in Fujian and Taiwan, both places where people used the te pronunciation. The Dutch East India Company's expansive tea importation into Europe gave us the French the, the German Tee, and the English tea.

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Snapchat's Big Redesign Bashed In 83 Percent of User Reviews

12 January 2018 - 7:50pm
The new Snapchat redesign that jams Stories in between private messages is not receiving a whole lot of praise. "In the few countries including the U.K., Australia, and Canada where the redesign is widely available, 83 percent of App Store reviews (1,941) for the update are negative with one or two stars, according to data by mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower," reports TechCrunch. "Just 17 percent, or 391 of the reviews, give it three to five stars." From the report: The most referenced keywords in the negative reviews include "new update," "Stories," and "please fix." Meanwhile, Snapchat's Support Twitter account has been busy replying to people who hate the update and are asking to uninstall it, noting "It's not possible to revert to a previous version of Snapchat," and trying to explain where Stories are to confused users. Hopes were that the redesign could boost Snapchat's soggy revenue, which fell short of Wall Street earnings expectations in Q3 and led to a loss of $443 million. The redesign mixes Stories, where Snapchat shows ads but which have seen stagnation in sharing rates amidst competition from Instagram Stories, into the more popular messaging inbox, where Snapchat's ephemeral messaging is more differentiated and entrenched.

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Ask Slashdot: How Would You Use Computers To Make Elections Better?

12 January 2018 - 7:10pm
shanen writes: Regarding politics, is there anything that Americans agree on? If so, it's probably something negative like "The system is broken," or "The leading candidates are terrible," or even "Your state is a shithole." With all our fancy technology, what's going wrong? Our computers are creating problems, not solutions. For example, gerrymandering relies on fancy computers to rig the maps. Negative campaigning increasingly relies on computers to target the attacks on specific voters. Even international attacks exploit the internet to intrude into elections around the world. Here are three of my suggested solutions, though I can't imagine any of today's politicians would ever support anything along these lines: (1) Guest voting: If you hate your district, you could vote in a neighboring district. The more they gerrymander, the less predictable the election results. (2) Results-based weighting: The winning candidates get more voting power in the legislature, reflecting how many people actually voted for them. If you win a boring and uncontested election where few people vote, then part of your vote in the legislature would be transferred to the winners who also had more real votes. (3) Negative voting: A voter could use an electronic ballot to make it explicit that the vote is negative, not positive. The candidate with the most positive or fewest negative votes still wins, but if the election has too many negative votes, then that "winner" would be penalized, perhaps with a half term rather than a full term. What wild and crazy ideas do you have for using computers to make elections better, not worse?

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Americans Still Deeply Skeptical About Driverless Cars, Says Poll

12 January 2018 - 6:30pm
A new poll was released today that basically repeats data we've seen in previous surveys: Americans still don't trust self-driving cars, and are nervous about the coming onslaught. The Verge reports: Asked how concerned they'd be to share the road with a driverless car, 31 percent said they'd be "very concerned," while 33 percent said "somewhat concerned," according to the poll which was just released by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. A majority (63 percent) said they would not support "mass exemptions" from federal motor vehicle safety standards for self-driving cars, and were not comfortable (75 percent) with automakers having the power to remotely disable vehicle controls, such as the steering wheel, and brake and gas pedals, when the autonomous vehicle is being operated by the computer. And people overwhelmingly support (75 percent) the U.S. Department of Transportation developing new standards related to driverless vehicles. The poll surveyed 1,005 adults between December 7-10th, 2017, with a margin of error of +/- 3.09 percent.

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Apple's China iCloud Data Migration Sweeps Up International User Accounts

12 January 2018 - 5:50pm
Yesterday, it was reported that Apple's iCloud services in mainland China will be operated by a Chinese company from next month. What wasn't reported was the fact that Apple has included iCloud accounts that were opened in the U.S., are paid for using U.S. dollars and/or are connected to U.S.-based App Store accounts in the data that will be handled by local partner Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD) from February 28. TechCrunch reports: Apple has given China-based users the option to delete their data, but there is no opt out that allows them to have it stored elsewhere. That has concerned some users who are uneasy that the data migration is a sign of closer ties with the Chinese government, particularly since GCBD is owned by the Guizhou provincial government. When asked for comment, Apple pointed TechCrunch to its terms and conditions site which explains that it is migrating iCloud accounts based on their location: "The operation of iCloud services associated with Apple IDs that have China in their country or region setting will be subject to this transition. You will be notified of this transition via email and notifications on your devices. You don't need to take any further action and can keep using iCloud in China. After February 28, 2018, you will need to agree to the terms and conditions of iCloud operated by GCBD to keep using iCloud in China." However, TechCrunch found instances of iCloud accounts registered overseas that were part of the migration. One user did find an apparent opt-out. That requires the user switching their iCloud account back to China, then signing out of all devices. They then switch their phone and iCloud settings to the U.S. and then, upon signing back into iCloud, their account will (seemingly) not be part of the migration. Opting out might be a wise-move, as onlookers voice concern that a government-owned company is directly involved in storing user data.

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Researcher Finds Another Security Flaw In Intel Management Firmware

12 January 2018 - 5:10pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Meltdown and Spectre are not the only security problems Intel is facing these days. Today, researchers at F-Secure have revealed another weakness in Intel's management firmware that could allow an attacker with brief physical access to PCs to gain persistent remote access to the system, thanks to weak security in Intel's Active Management Technology (AMT) firmware -- remote "out of band" device management technology installed on 100 million systems over the last decade, according to Intel. [T]he latest vulnerability -- discovered in July of 2017 by F-Secure security consultant Harry Sintonen and revealed by the company today in a blog post -- is more of a feature than a bug. Notebook and desktop PCs with Intel AMT can be compromised in moments by someone with physical access to the computer -- even bypassing BIOS passwords, Trusted Platform Module personal identification numbers, and Bitlocker disk encryption passwords -- by rebooting the computer, entering its BIOS boot menu, and selecting configuration for Intel's Management Engine BIOS Extension (MEBx). If MEBx hasn't been configured by the user or by their organization's IT department, the attacker can log into the configuration settings using Intel's default password of "admin." The attacker can then change the password, enable remote access, and set the firmware to not give the computer's user an "opt-in" message at boot time. "Now the attacker can gain access to the system remotely," F-Secure's release noted, "as long as they're able to insert themselves onto the same network segment with the victim (enabling wireless access requires a few extra steps)."

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Google Pulls 60 Apps From Play Store After Malware Exposes Kids To Porn

12 January 2018 - 4:30pm
Cyberthreat intelligence firm Check Point on Friday disclosed the existence of malicious code buried inside dozens of apps that displays pornographic images to users. Many of the apps are games reportedly geared toward young children. As a result, Google quickly removed the roughly 60 apps said to be affected from its Play Store. Gizmodo reports: While they appeared as such, the pornographic images displayed were not actually Google ads. Google supposedly maintains tight controls on all ads that appear in what it calls "Designed for Family" apps. The company also maintains a white-list of advertisers deemed safe for children under the ages of 13. None of the affected apps were part of Google's "Family Link" program, which is the category of recognized kid-friendly apps available across Google's platforms. The malware, dubbed AdultSwine, is said to have displayed the highly inappropriate images while also attempting to trick users into installing a fake-security app, or "scareware." After the fake "ads" were delivered, users would've received a "Remove Virus Now" notification, or something similar, designed to provoke users into downloading the scareware. The affected gaming apps included at least one which may have had up to 5,000,000 downloads -- Five Nights Survival Craft -- as well as many others which had between 50,000 and 500,000 downloads.

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US Supreme Court Will Revisit Ruling On Collecting Internet Sales Tax

12 January 2018 - 3:50pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: The U.S. Supreme Court will consider freeing state and local governments to collect billions of dollars in sales taxes from online retailers, agreeing to revisit a 26-year-old ruling that has made much of the internet a tax-free zone. Heeding calls from traditional retailers and dozens of states, the justices said they'll hear South Dakota's contention that the 1992 ruling is obsolete in the e-commerce era and should be overturned. State and local governments could have collected up to $13 billion more in 2017 if they'd been allowed to require sales tax payments from online merchants and other remote sellers, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office, Congress's non-partisan audit and research agency. Other estimates are even higher. All but five states impose sales taxes. The high court's 1992 Quill v. North Dakota ruling, which involved a mail-order company, said retailers can be forced to collect taxes only in states where the company has a "physical presence." The court invoked the so-called dormant commerce clause, a judge-created legal doctrine that bars states from interfering with interstate commerce unless authorized by Congress. South Dakota passed its law in 2016 with an eye toward overturning the Quill decision. It requires retailers with more than $100,000 in annual sales in the state to pay a 4.5 percent tax on purchases. Soon after enacting the law, the state filed suit and asked the courts to declare the measure constitutional.

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