UK to allow driverless cars on roads



Driverless car

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The BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones takes a ride in a driverless car

The UK government has announced that driverless cars will be allowed on public roads from January next year.

It also invited cities to compete to host one of three trials of the tech, which would start at the same time.

In addition, ministers ordered a review of the UK’s road regulations to provide appropriate guidelines.

The Department for Transport had originally pledged to let self-driving cars be trialled on public roads by the end of 2013.

Business Secretary Vince Cable revealed the details of the new plan at a research facility belonging to Mira, an automotive engineering firm based in the Midlands.

“Today’s announcement will see driverless cars take to our streets in less than six months, putting us at the forefront of this transformational technology and opening up new opportunities for our economy and society,” he said.

UK engineers, including a group at the University of Oxford, have been experimenting with driverless cars. But, concerns about legal and insurance issues have so far restricted the machines to private roads.

Other countries have, however, been swifter to provide access to public routes.

The US States of California, Nevada and Florida have all approved tests of the vehicles. In California alone, Google’s driverless car has done more than 300,000 miles on the open road.

In 2013, Nissan carried out Japan’s first public road test of an autonomous vehicle on a highway.

And in Europe, the Swedish city of Gothenburg has given Volvo permission to test 1,000 driverless cars – although that trial is not scheduled to occur until 2017.

Competition cash

UK cities wanting to host one of the trials have until the start of October to declare their interest.

The tests are then intended to run for between 18 to 36 months.

A £10m fund has been created to cover their costs, with the sum to be divided between the three winners.

Meanwhile, civil servants have been given until the end of this year to publish a review of road regulations.

This will cover the need for self-drive vehicles to comply with safety and traffic laws, and involve changes to the Highway Code, which applies to England, Scotland and Wales.

Two area will be examined by the review: how the rules should apply to vehicles in which the driver can take back control at short notice, and how they should apply to vehicles in which there is no driver.

Nissan Autonomous Drive TechnologyNissan is one of many companies developing self-drive vehicles

International rivals

In May, Google unveiled plans to manufacture 100 self-driving vehicles.

The search-giant exhibited a prototype which has no steering wheel or pedals – just a stop-go button.

Google has also put its autonomous driving technology in cars built by other companies, including Toyota, Audi and Lexus.

Other major manufacturers, including BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and General Motors, are developing their own models.

Most recently, the Chinese search engine Baidu also declared an interest, saying its research labs were at an “early stage of development” on a driverless car project.

But concerns about the safety of driverless cars have been raised by politicians in the US and elsewhere.

Earlier this month, the FBI warned that driverless cars could be used as lethal weapons, predicting that the vehicles “will have a high impact on transforming what both law enforcement and its adversaries can operationally do with a car”.

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OKCupid experiments with ‘bad’ matches

OKCupidOKCupid asks users questions and matches them based on the answers

Dating website OKCupid has revealed that it experimented on its users, including putting the “wrong” people together to see if they would connect.

It revealed the tests after the uproar over Facebook manipulating the feeds of its users.

“If you use the internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site,” it said. “That’s how websites work.”

OKCupid said one revelation was that “people just look at the picture”.

As well as allowing users to upload pictures and set up dating profiles, OKCupid asks users questions and matches them with potential partners based on the answers.

In one experiment, the site took pairs of “bad” matches between two people – about 30% – and told them they were “exceptionally good” for each other, or 90% matches. “Not surprisingly, the users sent more first messages when we said they were compatible,” Christian Rudder, one of the founders of OKCupid, said in a blog post on the company’s research and insights blog.

Further experiments suggested that “when we tell people they are a good match, they act as if they are. Even when they should be wrong for each other.” The company later revealed the correct scores to the participants.

“This shows how easy it is for a company to put at risk the trust that users place in them,” Daniel Tozer, a commercial technology partner at the law firm Harbottle and Lewis, told the BBC. “There are data protection issues when you’re using users’ personal information, especially when it appears OKCupid are actually changing things on the page.

“If you’re doing anything extremely unusual with people’s data, and I would argue this is the case here, it’s always best to seek the consent of your users first.”

‘Words worth nothing’

In another experiment, OKCupid ran profiles with pictures and no profile text for half of its test subjects, and vice versa for the rest. The results showed that people responded solely to the pictures. For potential daters, Mr Rudder said that “your actual words are worth… almost nothing”.

The revelations come as a result of Facebook saying that in late June, it changed some “news feeds to control which emotional expressions the users were exposed to” as part of research in collaboration with two US universities.

The research was conducted on 689,000 Facebook users over a period of one week in 2012.

Many users and observers felt the actions were unethical. In the US, Senator Mark Warner asked the regulator, the Federal Trade Commission, to look into the issue, while a Labour MP in the UK called for an investigation.

OKCupid said that experiments like the ones that it and Facebook ran are part and parcel of creating websites. “It’s not like people have been building these things for very long, or you can go look up a blueprint or something,” Mr Rudder said. “Most ideas are bad. Even good ideas could be better. Experiments are how you sort all this out.”

OKCupid is owned by media conglomerate IAC/InterActive Corp, which owns 50 brands across 40 countries.

These include other major dating sites, like Match.com, as well as news website the Daily Beast and web properties like Dictionary.com.

Are you an OKCupid user affected by the experiment? You can share your experience by email at haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk using “Dating” as the subject line

Or get in touch using the form below.

Send your pictures and videos to yourpics@bbc.co.uk or text them to 61124 (UK) or +44 7624 800 100 (International). If you have a large file you can upload here.

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Police placing ads on piracy sites

City of London warning advertsThe banner ads will warn users that the website is believed to be operating illegally

The City of London police has started placing banner advertisements on websites believed to be offering pirated content illegally.

The messages, which will appear instead of paid-for ads, will ask users to close their web browsers.

The move comes as part of a continuing effort to stop piracy sites from earning money through advertising.

Police said the ads would make it harder for piracy site owners to make their pages look authentic.

“When adverts from well known brands appear on illegal websites, they lend them a look of legitimacy and inadvertently fool consumers into thinking the site is authentic,” said Detective Chief Inspector Andy Fyfe from the City of London Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (Pipcu).

“This new initiative is another step forward for the unit in tackling IP crime and disrupting criminal profits.

“Copyright infringing websites are making huge sums of money though advert placement, therefore disrupting advertising on these sites is crucial and this is why it is an integral part of Operation Creative.”

Sunblock

The initiative will make use of technology provided by Project Sunblock – a firm used by major brands to stop adverts appearing alongside questionable content such as pirated material or pornography.

Continue reading the main story

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Without proper oversight perfectly legal sites may end up losing good advertising opportunities if they are wrongfully included”

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Ernesto Van Der Sar
Torrentfreak

Many websites – including those offering pirated content – will use syndication networks to place advertisements on their pages.

Brands use the syndication networks like a wholesaler, and so may not be clear what sites their advert will eventually appear on.

Project Sunblock detects the content of websites to prevent brands’ ads appearing where they do not want them.

When a website on Pipcu’s Infringing Websites List (IWL) tries to display an advert, Project Sunblock will instead serve the police warning.

Neither the police or Project Sunblock are paying the website in question to display the police message.

Piracy battle

In the past, some have raised concerns about Pipcu’s process in adding a website to the IWL.

Ernesto Van Der Sar is the editor of Torrentfreak, a news site that covers issues around online piracy. When Pipcu announced its intentions in March this year, Mr Van Der Sar said he worried about the implications.

“As with all blocklists there is a serious risk of overblocking,” he said.

“Without proper oversight, perfectly legal sites may end up losing good advertising opportunities if they are wrongfully included.”

The battle against online piracy has seen content creators attempt many different strategies in order to stem the flow of illegal downloading.

In the UK, the courts have ordered internet service providers to block almost 50 different websites offering pirated content, either by direct download or through peer-to-peer sharing.

While effective in lowering the traffic of these sites, filtering is a flawed prevention method – many internet users are adept in using different technologies to circumvent the court-imposed restrictions.

This latest attempt looks to hit the owners of these websites in a more painful way – by stopping advertising revenues from coming in.

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC

Have you received one of these messages? Do you think such adverts will stop piracy of material? You can email your experiences to haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk, using the subject line ‘Piracy adverts’.

Or send us your experiences using the form below.

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Hacker McKinnon turns search expert

Gary McKinnonBritish computer hacker Gary McKinnon fought extradition to the US for years

Gary McKinnon, the computer hacker who was the subject of a 10-year legal battle over US extradition, has reinvented himself as a search expert.

Mr McKinnon launched Small SEO, a site where he charges £40 an hour to help businesses get mentioned in search results.

On his site, he says he has more than 20 years’ experience in IT services.

He had hacked US government computers but his extradition to face charges there was blocked.

The story was first reported in the Sunday Times. Search engine optimisation, or SEO, is a strategy to make sure a website or web page appears prominently in Google and other search engine results.

Home Secretary Theresa May said in October 2012 that the Briton should be permitted to stay in the UK on human rights grounds after medical reports said he was very likely to try to kill himself if extradited. Mr McKinnon, who had been fighting extradition since 2002, has Asperger’s syndrome.

The following month, Mr McKinnon was told he would not face any charges in the UK and that he could start to work with computers again.

‘High-quality SEO’

PentagonMr McKinnon says he hacked into the Pentagon looking for UFO evidence

The Free Gary website is still up and running and the site now links to Mr McKinnon’s new services. On his website, he says: “My aim is to provide high-quality SEO to small businesses and individuals. All of my clients have so far reached the first page of Google search results for their primary keywords.”

Some of the clients in his portfolio include law firm Kaim Todner, tutoring service GMAT Tutor London, and Jamm, “home of the egg roller and the child-safety door stop”.

Mr McKinnon was contacted by the BBC, but declined to speak because of a prior agreement with the Daily Mail. He confirmed there were no restrictions on his ability to use computers.

Mr McKinnon was arrested in 2002 and again in 2005 before an order for his extradition was made in July 2006 under the 2003 Extradition Act.

The US authorities tried to extradite Mr McKinnon to face charges of causing $800,000 (£471,000) worth of damage to military computer systems and he would have faced up to 60 years in prison if convicted. Mr McKinnon said he was looking for evidence of UFOs.

US authorities at the time described Glasgow-born Mr McKinnon’s actions as the “biggest military computer hack of all time” that was “calculated to influence and affect the US government by intimidation and coercion”.

An extradition warrant for Mr McKinnon is still outstanding, preventing his travel outside the UK.

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Amazon reports $126m quarterly loss

amazon parcel

Amazon has reported a loss of $126m (£74m) in the second quarter and warned that sales could slow in the current quarter.

Amazon forecast third quarter sales of between $19.7bn and $21.5bn, which could mean sales growth of as little as 15% – well down on previous quarters.

Amazon has traditionally survived on thin profit margins, but investors have been reassured by strong sales growth.

But today’s warning over sales has spooked investors.

In after hours trading in the US shares slumped by 6%.

Digital content

Amazon has been investing heavily to build up its business, including the launch last month of its first smartphone – the Fire Phone.

Amazon's Fire Phone

It has been developing digital content including computer games and TV shows.

In its conference call the company said that producing its own TV shows would cost $100m in the third quarter.

Amazon has also been spending money on improving its delivery systems which includes expanding Sunday delivery to 18 cities in the United States.

Web services

Another major cost of Amazon has been the building of its Amazon Web Services business.

It provides computer services and storage for businesses and has been growing very quickly.

To match that growth Amazon has been investing heavily in infrastructure and has hired “thousands” of staff for the web services operation.

All that has contributed to a negative net income of $126m in the second quarter, which compares with a loss of $7m in the same quarter in 2013.

That loss came despite a 23% jump in second quarter sales to $19.3bn.

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Analysis

Leo Kelion, BBC Technology Desk Editor

Amazon’s enjoyed strong growth in its sales over the past quarter – its 23% revenue rise on last year’s figure was bang on target for Wall Street’s predictions.

But what makes investors nervous is that its net loss was nearly double what had been forecast.

What’s more, it has warned that it might sink further into the red during the current period.

In short, Amazon’s growing list of investments is hurting its bottom line – at least in the short term.

Developing new products such as its Fire Phone, Fire TV set-top box and Dash grocery scanner haven’t come cheap.

The company also pointed to the need to invest in the expansion of its web services division – the behind-the-scenes computing power it rents out to clients including Netflix, Nasa and the CIA, as well as smaller app creators.

On top of that the firm has rolled out Sunday deliveries in the UK and US, commissioned new TV shows for its Prime subscribers and expanded its operations in India and China.

Benefit of the doubt

In the past, shareholders have been willing to give Amazon the benefit of the doubt – foregoing dividends today for the promise of it being in an even stronger position to pay out in the future.

But they may be concerned about how many bets it is taking at once – this week’s lacklustre reviews for the Fire Phone can’t have helped.

The size of today’s sell-off indicates that some at least want more reassurance – particularly since Amazon refuses to break down its numbers to reveal exactly how its different products are performing.

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Gecko sex satellite ‘not responding’

gecko

A Russian satellite containing geckos, fruit flies and mushrooms could plummet to earth if control is not regained, according to reports.

The engine of the Foton-M4 satellite, with several experiments on board, has stopped responding to ground control.

All other systems are intact, the Progress space centre stated, including “one-way” transmission of information.

The five geckos are in space for a study of the effect of weightlessness on their sex lives and development.

The Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, said the six tonne satellite could continue to operate on its own “for a long time”.

A space expert cited by Interfax said it could stay in space for as long as four months.

The satellite was launched on July 19 but yesterday failed to respond to a command to lift into a higher orbit.

Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reported that “specialists are restoring stable connection with Foton and are providing for fulfilment of [the] planned orbital mission program”.

“The equipment which is working in automatic mode, and in particular the experiment with the geckos is working according to the programme,” Oleg Voloshin from Russia’s Institute of Medico-Biological Problems (IMBP) told AFP.

The two-month experiment involving the geckos included video-cameras and was a “study of the effect of microgravity on sexual behaviour, the body of adult animals and embryonic development” according to the IMBP website.

The lizard sex investigation was among several planned experiments, including other biological studies of plant seeds and Drosophila fruit flies.

There was also a special vacuum furnace designed to examine the melting and solidification of metal alloys in low-gravity conditions.

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Mobile test illuminates risk taking

Rock climberOne of the games measures whether it is worth taking a risk in order to gain points

New research shows that risky behaviour and impulsiveness can be reliably tested with specially designed mobile phone games.

Scientists found that four puzzles in The Great Brain Experiment app can reliably measure several different aspects of cognitive function.

Other games test our visual perception and our ability to remember things.

Scientists hope that results from thousands of participants will help them address population differences.

The research has been published in the journal Plos One.

By playing games participants can compare themselves to the other players while sending data back to the scientists.

“Each of these games is a serious scientific experiment,” said Dr Peter Zeidman, a neuroscientist from University College London who was involved with the research.

“By playing the games people can not only have some fun but can contribute to the latest research in psychology and neuroscience,” he added.

Continue reading the main story

Risk taking game introduction

The “Am I Impulsive?” game, for example, asks participants to smash fruit that is falling from a tree using their fingers, but to refrain from smashing it when it is rotting, indicated by the fruit turning brown.

Harnessing big data

“That ability to hold yourself back from an action – trying to not do something – is a really important human ability and something we want to understand better.

“People with certain psychiatric illnesses or neurological problems have an impaired ability to inhibit their actions, for example ADHD or schizophrenia… If we can better understand just in the healthy population how people inhibit their actions then we’ll learn a lot more,” Dr Zeidman told the BBC’s Science in Action Programme.

The team from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging questioned whether results from the games could be reliably included as part of scientific experiments and found that they were as good as lab experiments, with the added benefit of a huge sample size.

They compared the scores of 16,000 participants with similar experiments in a lab setting and they found that all four games gave statistically robust results. This was despite many of the distractions people may face while playing games on their mobile phones.

The scientists hope to answer questions about how memory, impulsivity or risk taking change over time, and they can also look at how these relate to each other.

Crucially, the way the app has been designed allows scientists to contact participants with unusually good scores.

Though the app is completely anonymous, it can send a message to a phone asking if a participant would like to come in for a brain scan.

Playing cardsBigger gains can be made by taking a riskier approach

Results from one of the games have already been used in research looking at working memory – when information is held for only a very short time, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

In this work lead author Fiona McNab from Birmingham University found that the brain deals with distraction in different ways.

“Understanding distraction in this way can resolve previous inconsistencies and lead to new discoveries, such as in schizophrenia and healthy ageing where working memory is impaired,” said Dr McNab.

Predicting the future

While the initial analyses were based on four games, there are now four new ones available. “Can I predict the future?” is one of these and focuses on how people learn about how much reward is available in the environment and whether it might change over time.

So far 93,000 people have installed the app since it was launched and of those, 65,000 people’s data is now being analysed.

The researchers said that over time, data from the games could be combined with medical, genetic or lifestyle information and could be used to learn more about how wellbeing relates to a persons’ psychological characteristics.

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Google Glass rival has neck battery

Lenovo smart glassesThe battery pack gives added capacity for a bigger battery

Chinese computing giant Lenovo has shown off what it hopes will be a rival to Google Glass.

The device, as yet unnamed, hopes to eliminate Glass’s problem of short battery life by adding a separate power device around the wearer’s neck.

The company has created NBD – a system for connected devices – to encourage other companies to make devices on its platform.

In 2013, Lenovo overtook HP as the world’s biggest seller of PCs.

But the company acknowledged it needed help from other companies if the future of having an “internet of things” was to be realised.

“Right now there are too many kinds of devices you can develop for the Internet of Things. It’s too rich. Not one company can do it all,” said Chen Xudong, Lenovo’s senior vice president, as quoted by PCWorld magazine.

Big challenge

The internet of things is the idea that objects all around us – be it smartphones, fridges, toasters or thermostats – are connected to the internet.

It paves the way for connected homes, where appliances can be controlled by apps, and devices can react smartly to their surroundings, such as the heating coming on when it knows you’re almost home.

However, the big challenge facing the growth of the internet of things is a lack of compatibility.

Companies are making devices that connect to the internet, but due to a range of different systems and standards, the devices are unable to talk to each other.

The NBD system is Lenovo’s attempt to solve that issue. As well as its own smart glasses, it is also is working on another device with Vuzix. Another product being worked on is an air purifier that can be controlled via a mobile app.

Any attempt to create a new system would come up against efforts from Google, who recently purchased Nest, a smart thermostat device.

Apple has also invested in the internet of things – it announced HomeKit, a system for developers to write programmes that can control devices around the house.

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Absent fans get robot to do cheering

Hanwha Eagles robot fansPride, passion, proxies! The creators hope the robots can lead chants by real fans too

A struggling Korean baseball team have invented a novel way to improve atmosphere at their matches – by bringing in a crowd of robot fans.

Hanwha Eagles supporters not able to get to the stadium can control the robot over the internet.

The bots can cheer, chant and perform a Mexican wave – but presumably not invade the pitch.

One expert said giving more fans a chance to “attend” was important for professional clubs.

This was especially the case with top football teams, Matt Cutler, editor of SportBusiness International, told the BBC.

“If you look at all the big clubs, you can’t just get a season ticket – you have to sit on a waiting list.

“There is also potential monetisation. You can charge, even if it’s a small amount, to give fans a different kind of viewpoint.”

Football fan John Hemmingham, who runs the famous England supporters brass band, saw the funny side.

“What happens if a robotic fan misbehaves?” he joked.

“Gets aggressive, abusive, spills a drink… I can see it being fraught with danger. What if it sits in the wrong section? A robotic hooligan!”

Chickens

It is not easy being a Hanwha Eagles fan. In the past five years, they have suffered more than 400 losses – so many that fans of the team are regarded with a degree of sympathy, and have earned the nickname Buddhist Saints.

Hanwha Eagles robot fansUsers can upload their own face to the robot so it can be seen at the stadium

Less friendly opposition fans describe them as the Hanwha Chickens.

But those who cannot make it to the stadium now have the option of having a robot stand in for them.

As well as being able to control some robot movements, fans can upload their own face to the machine.

Sport for all

While the robots supporting Hanwha will be dismissed as a gimmick by most diehard fans of any sport, there are other, more serious attempts to help more people experience matches.

Continue reading the main story

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The days have gone where people are completely engrossed in the match”

End Quote
Matt Cutler
SportBusiness International

As part of Japan’s unsuccessful bid for the 2022 World Cup, the country said it hoped to re-create live matches using holographic technology in other locations. It would mean, in theory, that several stadiums full of fans could be watching the same match at once.

Development on the technology was halted when Japan lost its bid, with Fifa instead choosing Qatar to host the 2022 tournament.

Independent experts were sceptical the virtual reality plan could have ever worked – but praised the ambition.

In the nearer term, simple technology additions to stadiums and arenas are already changing how we enjoy sport.

“Within a short amount of time, nearly every Premier League stadium will have wi-fi,” said Mr Cutler.

“Everyone’s got a phone with them, checking other things. The days have gone where people are completely engrossed in the match.”

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC

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Wikipedia blocks US Congress edits

Capitol HillComputers on Capitol Hill have been banned from making edits to Wikipedia in the past

Wikipedia administrators have imposed a ban on page edits from computers at the US House of Representatives, following “persistent disruptive editing”.

The 10-day block comes after anonymous changes were made to entries on politicians and businesses, as well as events like the Kennedy assassination.

The biography of former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld was edited to say that he was an “alien lizard”.

One staffer said they were being banned for the “actions of two or three”.

Edits from computers using the IP address belonging to the House of Representatives have been banned before, following similar acts of vandalism.

Continue reading the main story

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Maybe someone at the House of Representatives better think about their IT staff”

End Quote
Jimmy Wales
Founder of Wikipedia

The latest block comes after rogue edits were brought to light by a Twitter feed, @congressedits, which posts every change made from the government-owned address.

‘Russian puppet’

One of the acts highlighted was an alteration to the page on the assassination of John F Kennedy, which was changed to say that Lee Harvey Oswald was acting “on behalf of the regime of Fidel Castro”.

An entry on the moon landing conspiracy theories was changed to say they were “promoted by the Cuban government”.

Another entry, on the Ukrainian politician Nataliya Vitrenko, was edited to claim that she was a “Russian puppet”.

The biography of former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld was revised, describing him as an “alien lizard who eats Mexican babies”.

JFKOne edit said the Cuban government was behind the murder of John F Kennedy

However the edit that finally brought administrators to ban anonymous edits from the House IP address was made on the entry for media news site Mediaite, describing the blog as “sexist transphobic” and saying that it “automatically assumes that someone is male without any evidence”.

Mediaite had previously run a story on the rogue edits from congressional computers.

Counter productive?

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, told the BBC that the incident did not surprise him, and vandalism has “always gone on and it always will”.

MediaIteThe MediaIte entry on Wikipedia was edited to say the site was “sexist transphobic”

But he said that the @congressedits Twitter feed may have been counter-productive.

“There is a belief from some of the [Wikipedia] community that it only provoked someone – some prankster there in the office – to have an audience now for the pranks, and actually encouraged them rather than discouraged them.”

He added: “Maybe someone at the House of Representatives better think about their IT staff – they might be hunting them down this very moment.”

UK government edits

Earlier this year, the BBC discovered that the phrase “all Muslims are terrorists” was added to a page about veils by users of UK government computers.

Moon landingOne edit wrote that moon landing conspiracy theories were endorsed by Cuba

That followed a report by the Liverpool Echo which found that insults had been added to the entry for the Hillsborough disaster.

Wikipedia allows any user to make changes to a page, even anonymously.

However, the changes are policed by volunteers, known as Wikipedians, who can reverse false edits, and even impose bans on users who continually flout the site’s editing rules.

Collective punishment

Wikipedians have been warning editors from the House of Representatives since March 2012, and moved to block the address for one day earlier this month.

On Thursday, the IP address was blocked for 10 days, but one staffer protested that they were being punished for the actions of a few.

Donald RumsfeldDonald Rumsfeld’s biography was altered to say he was an “alien lizard”

“Out of over 9,000 staffers in the House, should we really be banning this whole IP range based on the actions of two or three?

“Some of us here are just making grammatical edits, adding information about birds in Omsk, or showing how one can patch KDE2 under FreeBSD.”

Another user from the Hill was quick to dismiss suggestions that the rogue edits were made by elected officials.

“I think the probability is near zero that these disruptive edits are being done by a member of Congress.”

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