Epoch Times, Tech – Tech News, Products & Reviews, Social Media

Epoch Times, Tech – Tech News, Products & Reviews, Social Media | The Epoch Times The Epoch Times is an independent voice in print and on the web. We report news responsibly and truthfully so that readers can improve their own lives and increase their understanding and respect for their neighbors next door and around the globe. Fri, 13 Dec 2019 15:53:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Australian Politician Names Morally Bankrupt Tech Bosses, Alleging They Tolerate Sexual Abuse of Children Fri, 13 Dec 2019 03:06:42 +0000 Australias Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has sensationally named the “morally bankrupt” social media bosses he believes are tolerating the sexual abuse of children.

The home affairs minister called out the chief executives of Facebook and Apple during a keynote address to a global summit on tackling child exploitation.

“Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook, and other tech CEOs have made billions of dollars, but these CEOs are morally bankrupt on the issue of encryption and protecting children,” Dutton said in Ethiopia.

“These companies have the ability to shift the dial, but instead behave like the tobacco companies of the 1960s. They know with certainty their actions are causing harm and they pretend it isnt happening.”

Mark Zuckerberg among billionaires financing ballot measures
Facebooks CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Paris on May 24, 2018. (Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty Images)
Apple CEO Tim Cook listens as President-elect Donald Trump during a meeting with technology industry leaders at Trump Tower in New York, on Dec. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Dutton accused the tech titans of double standards.

“Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook and other CEOs would not tolerate bullying and sexual harassment or exploitation in their workplace and they would champion the empowerment of women,” he said.

“But at the same time they tolerate the use of their platforms for the sexual exploitation of children, predominantly young girls.”

Duttons incendiary spray is the latest escalation in his long-running war against social media giants for refusing to give police access to encrypted messages.

Australia is working closely with the United States and Britain to clamp down on the digital platforms.

Closer to home, the minister has announced that states and territories have endorsed nationally consistent screening standards for people who work with children.

“We need to be realistic about the threat of child abuse, both online and here within our communities,” Dutton said on Friday.

“We will continue to work with the states and territories to ensure we are ever vigilant in our efforts to bolster child safety across Australia.”

By Daniel McCulloch

]]> Blockchain Firm Advised by Nobel Winner Myron Scholes Launches Stablecoin to Rival Facebooks Libra Tue, 10 Dec 2019 12:45:18 +0000 A blockchain firm advised by Myron Scholes, co-creator of the famed Black-Scholes model of derivative valuation for which he won the Nobel prize, has launched a new “stablecoin” the company hopes will revolutionize cross-border exchange and become a global currency.

Saga said in a press release that its brand of cryptocurrency is different from volatile blockchain-based currencies like Bitcoin because it resembles central bank-issued money and so would be useful as a more stable asset for storage of value and cross-border exchange.

“SGA is the first digital currency that replicates the mechanics of central bank national currencies and applies them on a global scale,” the company said in a press release, adding that its stablecoin “acts as a bridge bringing digital currencies into the mainstream.”

“Saga has been designed with the global economy in mind and to overcome the challenge of buying globally whilst only being able to pay nationally,” said Liquid, a cryptocurrency exchange that has just announced that it would list the stablecoin on its platform for secondary trading. “Saga has developed a system that means a truly global currency can come into existence—away from national or political tensions.”

Sagas currency is similar to Facebooks Libra in that it is pegged to a basket of fiat currencies. Unlike Libra, which is based on a set of currencies of Facebooks own designation—including the U.S. dollar, Japanese yen, and the Singapore dollar—Sagas stablecoin would be pegged to the International Monetary Funds Special Drawing Right (SDR). This is an international reserve asset composed of a basket of five currencies—the U.S. dollar, the euro, the Chinese renminbi, the Japanese yen, and the British pound sterling.

“This acts as a stabilizing mechanism to reduce volatility,” Saga said in the release, explaining the rationale of pegging to the SDR.

“The SDR was initially defined as equivalent to 0.888671 grams of fine gold—which, at the time, was also equivalent to one U.S. dollar,” the IMF explained. “After the collapse of the Bretton Woods system, the SDR was redefined as a basket of currencies.”

The Fund explained that while SDRs are neither a currency nor a claim on the IMF, they act as a “potential claim on the freely usable currencies of IMF members” and so can be exchanged for these currencies.

The downside of most cryptocurrencies is their extreme volatility, which while attractive to speculators, can constrain their usefulness as a medium of exchange and store of value. Saga, like Libra, seeks to address this gap in the market.

“Hyper-volatile currencies, which lack a monetary policy, are usually anonymous,” said Saga founder Sadeh Man, according to TechCrunch. “Stablecoins are pegged to other assets thus preventing their organic growth and major players in this space are opaque concerning their funds. Sagas economy model is designed to allow growth. Participants are obliged to undergo a Know Your Customer process, assuring Sagas economy is compatible with traditional financial institutions.”

With ambitions to serve as a global currency, Saga claims to have built “a robust monetary model and effective system of governance.”

The company said it bases its monetary model on a “blockchain-based liquidity provider: a smart contract that adjusts the supply of Saga tokens to meet market demand, and to limit the impact of fluctuations in market confidence on SGA price.”

“The proceeds of issuing new SGA tokens are kept in a reserve, held in regulated banks, and stored in liquid assets that replicate the currency composition of the SDR.”

Ido Sadeh Man, founder of Saga, said: “Currencies have not kept up with the pace of globalization and they do not address the global scope and needs of modern lives. The decreasing economic importance of national boundaries, changes in society, and a need for monetary diversification have created a necessity for a complementary, global, non-governmental currency.”

Others on Sagas advisory board include Jacob Frenkel, the former governor of the Bank of Israel and chairman of JPMorgan Chase International.

“Technology is not enough,” Sadeh Man told TechCrunch. “The design of a currency requires a broad, interdisciplinary effort. While technology provides the tools, the essence resides in solid monetary policy. Saga has assembled a team of world leaders, combining expertise from several fields: economics, mathematics, the humanities and social sciences, to establish the new currency.”

Myron Scholes, Professor of Finance, Emeritus, at Stanford Graduate School of Business, talks to reporters during a press conference he gave upon learning that he has won the Nobel Prize in Economics in Palo Alto, California, on Oct. 14, 1997. (John Mabanglo/AFP/Getty Images)

European Union Finance Ministers Ban Stablecoins

European Union finance ministers have put a hold on the launch of global stablecoins like Libra or Saga until the bloc has formulated a strategy to mitigate the risks posed by the technology.

“These initiatives should not undermine existing financial and monetary order as well as monetary sovereignty in the European Union,” the European Council and Commission said in a joint statement.

The finance ministers added that “no global stablecoin arrangement should begin operation in the European Union until the legal, regulatory, and oversight challenges and risks have been adequately identified and addressed.”

While acknowledging the potential benefits of stablecoins, including cheaper and faster cross-border payments, the ministers said these technologies pose “multifaceted challenges and risks related for example to consumer protection, privacy, taxation, cyber security and operational resilience, money laundering, terrorism financing, market integrity, governance, and legal certainty.”

“When a stablecoin initiative has the potential to reach a global scale, these concerns are likely to be amplified and new potential risks to monetary sovereignty, monetary policy, the safety and efficiency of payment systems, financial stability, and fair competition can arise,” they added.

The ministers called for greater clarity around the legal status of stablecoin arrangements.

“Some recent projects of global dimension have provided insufficient information on how precisely they intend to manage risks and operate their business. This lack of adequate information makes it very difficult to reach definitive conclusions on whether and how the existing EU regulatory framework applies,” they said.

Saga Lists on Japan-based Cryptocurrency Platform

Global cryptocurrency platform Liquid announced in a press release on Tuesday that it is the first exchange to list the Saga token for secondary trading.

“We are delighted to offer Liquid customers the opportunity to buy and trade SGA. We believe SGA offers our traders an interesting opportunity as we see great value in Sagas approach of replicating the mechanics of central bank national currencies and applying them on a global scale,” said Liquids CEO and co-founder, Mike Kayamori.

“Saga is a new borderless global currency that will be used to store value, move money around the world and purchase goods and services. It is a complement to national currencies, owned and governed by the currency holders with a system of checks and balances in place,” Liquid wrote on its blog.

The Saga token will initially be traded against the USD, Bitcoin, and Ethereum, while more trading pairs are expected in the future, Liquid said.

]]> Chinese Regime Deploys Cyber Weapon to Hijack Hong Kong Protest Forum Sun, 08 Dec 2019 01:05:27 +0000 The Chinese regime has launched an offensive against a popular online forum used by Hong Kong protesters in an effort to undermine the ongoing pro-democracy movement that seeks an autonomous Hong Kong, AT&T Cybersecurity has found.

In a new blogpost on Dec. 4, the firm identified a series of state-linked cyber attacks since Aug. 31 targeting LIHKG—a localized Reddit-like social media forum. The platform has become a hub for Hong Kong activists to organize and coordinate protests since June, when the mass demonstrations first broke out to resist the actions by the communist regime in the territory.

The latest attacks against the forum started on Nov. 25.

From Behind the Great Firewall

Dubbed the Great Cannon, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks work by intercepting traffic from China-based servers and inserting malicious Javascript to millions of internet users, and then hijacking those users connections to bombard a targeted site with traffic causing the victims server to crash.

A 2015 report by the Canadian-based Citizen Lab found that the Great Cannon shared the same infrastructure as the Chinese regimes sophisticated online censorship mechanism, known as the Great Firewall. According to the report, the Great Cannon is “not simply an extension of the Great Firewall, but a distinct attack tool that hijacks traffic … and can arbitrarily replace unencrypted content as a man-in-the-middle.”

hong kong lihkg lennon wall
hong kong lihkg lennon wall
A mural of pixel pig, an icon of LIHKG also known as the Hong Kong version of Reddit, is seen on a Lennon Wall in Hong Kong, on Sept. 27, 2019. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

The malicious code sends repeated requests to the LIHKG home page in an attempt to cripple it. The code also targets several dozen memes and websites that appear on LIHKG, most likely in an attempt to make the number of requests received by LIHKG blend in with “normal traffic.”

The requests also go so far as to direct LIHKG to unnecessarily process remote memes to a new size before they are served to the user—draining the servers computational resources.

However, according to AT&T Cybersecurity researcher Chris Doman, these hijacking activities are unlikely to succeed, owing to the robust anti-DDoS service LIHKG has in place and some bugs in the malicious code.

Doman said it was “disturbing” to see the renewed use of such cyber weapons that are “again causing collateral damage to U.S.-based services.”

In a post dated Aug. 31, LIHKG reported that it had suffered from “unprecedented DDoS attacks in the past 24 hours,” with more than 1.5 billion total requests and a maximum of over 6.5 million unique visitors per hour, which led to internet congestion and overload.

LIHKG said there were “reasons to believe” that a national power was behind the orchestrated attacks. It expressed appreciation to the internet security provider Cloudflare for mitigating the attacks.

Attacks on Telegram

Earlier on June 12, Telegrams Pavel Durov had reported a “state-actor-sized” DDoS attack with majority of IP addresses coming from China. June 12 was the day that around two million Hongkongers took to the streets demanding the local city government withdraw a controversial extradition bill that was seen to be eroding Hong Kongs rule of law free from the control of the Chinese Communist Party.

Like LIHKG, Telegram has also been a chief coordinating tool used by protesters. Durov noted that similar cyber attacks have been seen to coincide with Hong Kong protest activities over the past few months.

Other Cyber Attacks

On Aug. 31, 2017, Great Cannons took aim at a New York-based Chinese language news website Mingjing News. AT&T Cybersecurity said it has continued to observe attacks over the past year, and noted that the Javascript code in the Aug. 31 attack against LIHKG was “very similar” to that used to target Mingjing News.

In March 2015, the Microsoft-owned software sharing platform GitHub experienced the largest DDoS attack in its history, with the intent of forcing the platform to “remove a specific class of content,” according to GitHub. The volume of malicious traffic paralyzed its website for five days.

In the same month, GreatFire, the nonprofit that dedicates itself to monitor and counter the Chinese regimes internet censorship, also experienced multiple similar attacks. The organization said the requests totaled to as many as 2.6 billion per hour—about 2,500 times higher than normal levels.

The timing of the attacks coincided with increased pressure from the Cyberspace Administration of China—the countrys internet regulator—which called GreatFire an “anti-China website” and pressed its IT partners to cease collaboration.

]]> NASA Locates Debris From India Moon Lander That Crashed Tue, 03 Dec 2019 23:47:50 +0000 NEW DELHI—National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said Tuesday that it has found the debris from Indias moon lander, which crashed on the lunar surface in September.

The U.S. space Agency released a photo showing the site of the landers impact and the debris field, crediting an Indian engineer for helping locate the site.

The engineer, Shanmuga Subramanian, said he examined an earlier NASA photo to locate the debris.

The space agency said in a statement that Subramanian first located the debris about half a mile northwest of the main crash site.

“It took days of work to find the crash site,” Subramanian said. “I searched around the north of the landing spot and found a small little dot. When I compared it to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images of the site from the last nine years, I located the debris and reached out to NASA.”

The 33-year-old engineer announced his discovery on Twitter on Oct. 3, after which NASA performed additional searches in the area and made an official announcement.

The space agency said that after receiving Subramanians findings, its team “confirmed the identification by comparing before and after images.”

NASA also said, “Despite the loss, getting that close to the surface was an amazing achievement.”

Indias space agency lost touch with the Vikram lunar lander after it crash-landed during its final approach to the moons south pole to deploy a rover to search for signs of water.

A successful landing would have made India just the fourth country to land a vessel on the lunar surface, and only the third to operate a robotic rover there.

]]> Facebooks Mark Zuckerberg Says Trump Didnt Lobby Him During Private Dinner Tue, 03 Dec 2019 17:08:05 +0000 In a recent interview with CBS, Facebooks CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that President Trump did not lobby him during a private dinner in October.

Instead, Zuckerberg told the TV network on Dec. 3 that both he and Trump, along with Facebook investor Peter Thiel, “talked about a number of things that were on [Trumps] mind. And some of the topics that youd read about in the news around our work.”

When asked by CBSs Gayle King if Trump lobbied him “in any way,” Zuckerberg said, “No … I think some of the stuff that people talk about or think gets discussed and these discussions are not really how that works.”

Zuckerberg added that he wanted “to respect that it was a private dinner with private discussion.”

Financial Times reporter Kadhim Shubber criticized CBSs question posed to Zuckerberg.

“No better example of Facebooks power than Zuckerberg being asked here whether Trump lobbied him, rather than whether he lobbied Trump,” Shubber wrote on Twitter.

No better example of Facebooks power than Zuckerberg being asked here whether Trump lobbied him, rather than whether he lobbied Trump

— kadhim (^ー^)ノ (@kadhimshubber) 2 December 2019

News of the private dinner, which was unreported by the White House and Facebook but reported by NBC, received criticism from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who said it was “corruption, plain and simple,” Common Dreams reported.

Trump has openly castigated Facebook, accusing it of being biased in favor of Democrats.

Facebook Under Fire

Facebook came under fire in October after it declined former Vice President Joe Bidens request to remove an advertisement by President Trumps 2020 campaign.

Facebook responded to Biden saying that it would not take down the advertisement.

“Our approach is grounded in Facebooks fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is,” Facebooks head of global elections policy, Katie Harbath, wrote in the letter to the Biden campaign, according to The New York Times.

“What I believe is that in a democracy, its really important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying, so they can make their own judgments,” Zuckerberg said.

“And, you know, I dont think that a private company should be censoring politicians or news.”

Zuckerbergs comments are consistent with his testimony before the House Financial Services Committee that occurred in October.

During the 6-hour-long hearing, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) asked Zuckerberg if she could buy Facebook ads with lies about her political opponents. Zuckerberg replied she could “probably” run such an ad.

CBS has reportedly pushed for further censorship of content deemed “questionable,” “controversial,” and “harmful” on YouTube, which is owned by Google.

Nadine Strossen, law professor and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Epoch Times in an earlier interview that “any policy that restricts such inherently vague, subjectively defined categories of speech as political or harmful inevitably has an adverse impact on free speech.”

Antitrust investigations against Facebook, including tech giants Google, Amazon, and Apple have been instigated by the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission at both state and federal levels.

Zachary Stieber, Petr Svab, Bowen Xiao, and Reuters contributed to this report.

]]> Facebooks Mark Zuckerberg on Political Ads: People Should Be Able to Judge for Themselves Mon, 02 Dec 2019 17:19:30 +0000 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has defended the companys decision not to remove political advertising that contains what many call “false information,” saying that Facebook users “should be able to judge for themselves.”

“What I believe is that in a democracy, its really important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying, so they can make their own judgments,” Zuckerberg told Gayle King, co-host of CBS This Morning, in a joint interview with his wife, Priscilla Chan.

“And, you know, I dont think that a private company should be censoring politicians or news,” he said.

When King pointed out that 200 Facebook employees wrote a letter, which stated that “free speech and paid speech are not the same” while demanding changes to the platforms political ad policy, Zuckerberg said it was “a complex issue” and did not commit to any changes.

“A lot of people have a lot of different opinions,” said the 35-year-old Facebook co-founder. “At the end of the day, I just think that in a democracy, people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying.”

Pressed by King on whether that should be applied to ads containing false information, Zuckerberg repeated, “I think that people should be able to judge for themselves the character of politicians.”

Zuckerbergs comments are consistent with his testimony before the House Financial Services Committee this October. Some of the most intense exchanges the CEO had during the 6-hour-long hearing were with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who questioned him if she could buy Facebook ads with lies about her political opponents. To that question, Zuckerberg replied she could “probably” run such an ad.

“So you wont take down lies or you will take down lies? Its just a pretty simple yes or no,” Ocasio-Cortez asked.

“In most cases, in a democracy, I believe that people should be able to see for themselves what politicians that they may or may not vote for are saying and judge their character for themselves,” Zuckerberg responded.

Facebook came under fire after it turned down a request from former Vice President Joe Bidens campaign to remove an advertisement by President Donald Trumps reelection campaign. The video ad in question accuses Biden of using his power as vice president to influence Ukraine in order to benefit his son, Hunter. It showed clips of Biden with former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko while stating, “Joe Biden promised Ukraine $1 billion if they fired the prosecutor investigating his sons company.”

]]> EU Antitrust Regulators Seek Details on Googles Data Practices: Report Sun, 01 Dec 2019 22:38:19 +0000 Googles data collection practices are currently being investigated by European Union antitrust regulators, a sign that the tech giant remains in the crosshairs even after several billion-dollar fines against Google by the EU.

The European Commission is now looking for information on how Google, whose parent company is Alphabet, is using and monetizing the data it collects. The latest revelation points to how authorities across the world are increasingly reviewing these tech companies and how they use their dominance.

“The Commission has sent out questionnaires as part of a preliminary investigation into Googles practices relating to Googles collection and use of data. The preliminary investigation is ongoing,” an EU regulator told Reuters in an email.

Several companies that received the questionnaires from the commission are being given a month to reply.

News of the EU probe comes as big tech companies Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple face a historic wave of increased scrutiny, with antitrust investigations begun at both the state and federal levels by the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission.

Congress is also investigating the four companies, with a final report on its antitrust probe from a subcommittee of the Houses Judiciary Committee expected to be completed by the “first part” of 2020.

Documents obtained by Reuters show that the focus of the EU probe is on Googles data related to local search services, online advertising, online ad targeting services, login services, web browsers, and others.

Companies were asked about agreements providing data to Google or allowing it to collect data via their services in recent years, and whether they were compensated. Its unclear which companies are involved.

Regulators also want to know the kind of data sought by Google, how it uses it, and how valuable the companies consider such data to be. Another question asked was whether Google and the companies are subjected to contractual terms that prohibit or limit the use of the data.

At the state level, Google is being investigated by a partnership of 48 U.S. states along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, over the companys practices. Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said in September that the sheer number of attorneys general involved sends a “strong message to Google.”

New York attorney Barry Barnett, who has expertise in antitrust law, told The Epoch Times previously that Congress and its request for documents appeared to focus on acquisition and potential abuses of market power, rather than on agreements among competitors.

Major technology companies, once lauded as engines of economic growth, have increasingly been on the defensive because of their outsized market influence and complaints about their monopoly. Politicians, including President Donald Trump, as well as consumers, firms, and regulators, have criticized that power.

While a spokesperson for Google didnt immediately respond to a request from The Epoch Times into the EU probe, the company told Reuters in an email, “We use data to make our services more useful and to show relevant advertising, and we give people the controls to manage, delete, or transfer their data.

“We will continue to engage with the Commission and others on this important discussion for our industry.”

Dr. Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, told The Epoch Times in a previous interview that Googles power needs to be curtailed in three main areas: surveillance, censorship, and manipulation.

Epstein has discovered a dozen methods that Google uses to sway public opinion or votes, including the search engine manipulation effect and search suggestion effect.

Epstein said he has spoken to various attorneys general about those issues, but he wasnt sure if they had the authority. He said said Congress, the Justice Department, and the Federal Trade Commission could take much more concrete action.

Reuters contributed to this report

]]> Vietnams Communist Regime Jails 3 More Activists in Crackdown on Facebook Posts Fri, 29 Nov 2019 03:17:48 +0000 HANOI—Vietnam has jailed three more people for anti-government posts on social media platform Facebook deemed to defame the ruling Communist Party, state media and police said on Thursday, bringing the total imprisoned this month to five.

Despite its sweeping economic reforms and openness to social change, the party does not tolerate criticism, and its leader, Nguyen Phu Trong, has intensified a crackdown on dissidents and activists since being re-elected in 2016.

Pham Van Diep, a 54-year-old activist from the northern province of Thanh Hoa, was jailed for nine years for spreading “distorted information defaming the Communist Party and the Vietnamese government,” the Vietnam News Agency (VNA) said.

“He also spread fake and baseless news about the countrys policies, which caused Facebook users and residents to misunderstand the party and the government,” it added.

The posts were uploaded between April 2014 and June 2019, VNA said, adding that he had also been jailed for 21 months in Laos for spreading anti-Vietnamese regime literature there in 2016.

Separately, a court in the southern province of Dong Nai jailed a brother and sister on Thursday for a combination of 14 years on similar charges of anti-communist regime posts on Facebook, the provincial police said in a statement on its website.

A spokesman for rights group Amnesty International said previously that at least 16 people had been arrested, detained or convicted this year for anti-regime posts on Facebook. That figure does not include the three latest cases.

Another 12 political prisoners remain behind bars on similar charges, the spokesman said.

Climate of Fear

In the other cases this month, a music teacher was jailed for 11 years on Nov. 15 over anti-state posts on Facebook, and a 38-year-old man was jailed for broadcasting 33 live video sessions.

The broadcasts aimed to “encourage people to participate in protests during national holidays,” a court said.

Smartphone social media apps.
Smartphone social media apps.
This photo illustration taken on March 22, 2018, shows apps for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social networks on a smartphone. (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

Late last month, a 54-year-old architect was jailed for a year on the same charge.

Widely used in Vietnam, Facebook serves as the primary platform both for e-commerce and the expression of political dissent. In May, Facebook said it had increased more than sixfold the content in Vietnam to which it restricted access in the last half of 2018.

Amnesty and New York-based Human Rights Watch have decried curbs on freedom of expression that leaves people facing arrest and jail for voicing their opinion, and have also urged Hanoi to halt a crackdown on an independent publisher.

“This crackdown has further exacerbated the prevailing climate of fear in Vietnam,” the rights groups said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

]]> Apple Changes Crimea Map to Accommodate Russian Demands Fri, 29 Nov 2019 02:39:45 +0000 Apple appears to have changed its apps to show the annexed Crimean peninsula as part of Russian territory on Apple Maps and Apple Weather but only for users in Russia. Users outside of Russia see Crimea as not being a part of any country. The change was made to satisfy Russian politicians who have requested that Crimea shows as a part of Russia.

Reuters reporters in Moscow who typed the name of the Crimean provincial capital Simferopol into Apples Maps and Weather apps on Nov. 27 saw it displayed as “Simferopol, Crimea, Russia.” Users elsewhere–including in Ukraines capital Kyiv and in Crimea itself–see locations in Crimea displayed without specifying a country.

Screenshot from a video shows a smartphone displaying Crimean city of Simferopol as a Russian territory on a Weather app in Moscow, Russia on Nov. 27, 2019 (Video by Reuters)
Screenshot from a video shows a smartphone displaying Crimean city of Simferopol as a Russian territory on a Weather app in Moscow, Russia on Nov. 27, 2019 (Video by Reuters)
Screenshot from a video shows a smartphone displaying the Crimean city of Simferopol as Russian territory on a Weather app in Moscow, Russia on Nov. 27, 2019 (Video by Reuters)

The BBC reported that Apple had been holding talks with Russia for several months on how Crimea should appear on Apples apps. Russias lower chamber of parliament, the State Duma described the way Crimea was shown before the change as “inaccuracy,” says BBC.

The Apple logo is seen outside the Apple Store in Washington, on July 9, 2019. (Alastair Pike/AFP/Getty Images)

According to the statement posted on the State Dumas website, the Chairman of the Committee on Security and Corruption Control, Vasilii Piskarev, met with Daria Ermolina, who represents the interests of Apple in Russia, on Nov. 27. The Apple representative informed the Chairman that the inaccuracy had been removed.

“Piskarev noted that Apple fulfilled its obligations and brought the applications on its devices in compliance with the requirements of the Russian legislation,” the statement says.

The BBC reported that Piskarev said that apple representatives were reminded that showing “Crimea as part of Ukrainian territory was a criminal offense under Russian law, according to Interfax news agency.”

Ukraines foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko, responded to Apple on Twitter, saying, “Let me explain in your terms, Apple. Imagine youre crying out that your design and ideas, years of work, and piece of your heart are stolen by your worst enemy, but then somebody ignorant doesnt give a damn about your pain. Thats how it feels when you call Crimea a Russian land.”

Let me explain in your terms, @Apple. Imagine you're crying out that your design & ideas, years of work & piece of your heart are stolen by your worst enemy but then smb ignorant doesn't give a damn about your pain. That's how it feels when you call #Crimea a ?? land.

— Vadym Prystaiko (@VPrystaiko) November 27, 2019

In 2014 Russian forces invaded the Crimea peninsula, and after that held a controversial local referendum in which “Crimeans voted to join the Russian Federation,” according to the Council of Foreign Relations. The referendum was called illegal by the United Nations General Assembly, however, Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula despite criticism.

The EU and the United States do not recognize Crimea as Russian and have imposed sanctions against the peninsula and individuals they accuse of violating Ukraines territorial integrity.

Reuters contributed to this report.

]]> Lynas Expects Funding News for US Rare Earths Plant by End February Wed, 27 Nov 2019 06:06:31 +0000 MELBOURNE—Australias Lynas Corporation expects to announce how it will fund the development of a new heavy rare earths processing facility in the United States by the end of February, its chief executive said on Tuesday.

The United States has sought to shore up its supplies of rare earths products this year. Escalating trade tensions between it and China fueled concerns that the worlds dominant producer could restrict supply.

Lynas in May signed a preliminary agreement to build out a heavy rare earths separation plant with privately-held Blue Line in Texas, which is likely to be followed by a light rare earths separation facility there, Chief Executive Amanda Lacaze told investors at the companys annual general meeting in Sydney.

Light rare earths, such as Neodymium, prized for their strong magnetic qualities, are used in everything from wind turbines to guided missiles. Heavy rare earths like lanthanum are used in industries such as lighting.

“We are in various different negotiations with respect to funding and offtake for that plant. We do expect to have more announcements on that sometime in the next two to three months,” Lacaze said.

“The U.S. has allowed itself to be really exposed. We think by starting with a relatively defined facility there with heavy rare earths as a starting point, we will help to reinvigorate the supply chain in that market.”

China dominates the supply chain of rare earths from mining to processing to magnet production, accounting for more than 80 percent of global supply.

Lynas was part of an Australian trade delegation that visited Washington last week to promote closer ties between the two nations around minerals, she said.

For now, however, prices for its major products, Neodymium and Praseodymium NdPr, remain weak, Lacaze said.

“Unfortunately, we have not seen a sustained improvement in pricing,” she said.

“Part of the potential response from Chinese industry is to say well; we dont want a lot of new supply starting up. So, therefore, you would have seen the quotas for production in China have already been raised. And certainly, the price at which they are prepared to sell their products remains … in the doldrums.”

China shipped out a fifth more rare earths magnets to the United States in October and lifted its annual rare earth output quotas by 10 percent earlier this month to record-high levels for 2019.

Lacaze also said that mine life at its Mount Weld rare earths deposit, one of the biggest and richest in the world, could extend beyond 25 years.

“It is open at depth, and it is open laterally. So we expect that it will have significantly more life as we go forward.”

By Melanie Burton

]]> Australias Parliamentary IT System Hacked Earlier This Year: Report Fri, 15 Nov 2019 03:38:53 +0000 SYDNEY—The computer network of Australias parliament was hacked earlier this year and data was stolen from the computers of several elected officials, the Australian Broadcasting Corp reported.

Security agencies discovered the attack on Jan. 31 this year and monitored it for a week before shutting down the network, Senate President Scott Ryan told a parliamentary committee, according to the ABC.

During the time the network was compromised, two senators and a small number of lower house members had “non-sensitive” data stolen, the ABC reported without giving detail of the theft.

“A small number of users visited a legitimate external website that had been compromised,” the broadcaster quoted Ryan as telling the parliamentary committee on Thursday. “This caused malware to be injected into the parliamentary computer network.”

The parliaments cybersecurity team stopped another attempted attack in late October, sending an email to users saying that malware had been detected in the system, the ABC reported. People on the parliamentary computer network were temporarily banned from accessing personal email accounts like Gmail, the broadcaster reported without citing sources.

In September, Reuters reported Australian intelligence officials had determined China was responsible for a cyber-attack on its national parliament and its three largest political parties before a general election in May.

Read MoreAustralia Concluded China Was Behind Hack on Parliament, Political Parties: Sources

The cyber intelligence agency, the Australian Signals Directorate, concluded in March that Chinas Ministry of State Security was responsible for the attack but recommended keeping the findings secret to avoid disrupting trade relations with Beijing, Reuters reported.

The Australian Signals Directorate did not immediately respond to a Reuters email seeking comment on Friday.

]]> Costco Warns of $75 Fake Coupon Scam Circulating on Social Media Thu, 14 Nov 2019 10:50:59 +0000 Costco has warned its customers about a scam coupon that has been circulating on social media promising shoppers $75 in celebration of the companys anniversary.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, the company said members should not trust the “recurring hoax” and confirmed it is not giving away $75 coupons.

“While we love our fans and our members, this offer is a SCAM, and in no way affiliated with Costco. Thanks to our fans for letting us know about this recurring hoax!” it said.

The scam post initially appeared on Facebook earlier this year, promoting users to click on a link that is unaffiliated with Costco, in order to collect their coupon. The fraudulent offer quickly spread across social media as it asks users to share the post and also input personal information.

This is not the first time Costco has been forced to address scam coupons, as the same thing happened exactly one year ago when an identical post began circulating online.

Again users were asked to complete a brief survey about their experience at Costco and then taken to a fake site which declared them a “winner” of the coupon.

They were then asked to like and share the post on Facebook and enter “Thanks Costco” as a comment on the post, thus unknowingly recruiting new victims to the scam.

It is not known exactly what happens to the information customers provide, however they are most likely shared with various marketing companies, Hoax Slayer reported.

Victims of the scam are typically inundated with phone calls, emails text messages, and letters promoting a range of products and services, according to the outlet.

In 2017, another fake Costco coupon also did the rounds on Facebook, this time offering $41 off any purchase of $50 or more in celebration of the companys 41st anniversary.

Again, customers were asked to complete a survey and taken to a third-party website where they were prompted to provide their personal information and then share the post with their network.

On its website, Costco, which was founded in 1976, stressed that it never asks customers to provide personal information online unless its through its official website.

“There have been some Facebook accounts using the Costco name and logo claiming to offer merchandise at below-market prices or giving away samples. They are SCAMS, and they are neither sponsored nor endorsed by Costco.

“Costco does not ask for money to ship you samples. We also do not ask you to provide your personal information online, except through our official website,,” it said.

It also described several common online scams and how customers can avoid them, advising never to respond to emails that cannot be verified and calling the company to verify the request.

Costco also warned of any companies that request customers deposit a check or a pay a fee to collect a prize.

]]> Google Looks to Offer Personal Banking Accounts Next Year Thu, 14 Nov 2019 03:01:52 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO—Alphabet Incs Google said on Wednesday it will offer personal checking accounts next year through its Google Pay app, initially in partnership with Citigroup Inc and a small credit union at Stanford University.

The project, codenamed Cache, comes as rivals Facebook Inc and Apple Inc are expanding their own efforts in consumer finance, a broad area that ranges from digital payment apps to bank accounts, brokerage accounts and loans, and which offer Silicon Valley new sources of revenue and new opportunities to strengthen ties with users.

U.S. regulators and lawmakers have expressed concern about how those companies massive influence and poor records on data privacy will play out as they try to gain ground in finance. The scrutiny most recently prompted Facebooks partners to pull back from plans to support the launch of a digital currency.

Google said it has held initial talks with regulators, though it declined to specify which ones, about compliance issues related to the new checking accounts.

Asked about Googles plans, U.S. Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat on the Senate panel that oversees banking, expressed reservations.

“There ought to be very strict scrutiny,” Warner told CNBC about tech giants such as Facebook or Google entering new fields before rules governing them were in place.

Google spokesman Craig Ewer said the companys lead partners were Citi and Stanford Federal Credit Union and that more details would be known within months.

“Were exploring how we can partner with banks and credit unions in the U.S. to offer smart checking accounts through Google Pay, helping their customers benefit from useful insights and budgeting tools, while keeping their money in an FDIC or NCUA-insured account,” Ewer said in a statement, referring by acronym to two U.S. agencies that insure deposits.

Stanford Federal and Citi confirmed their roles.

“This agreement has the potential to expand the reach and breadth of our customer base,” Citi spokeswoman Liz Fogarty said. “Privacy and transparency are, and will continue to be, critical priorities.”

Joan Opp, president and chief executive of Stanford Federal, described the deal as “critical to remaining relevant and meeting consumer expectations.”

Traditional banks have long partnered with companies outside the industry to lure deposits or expand their loan books.

The most recent prominent example is Goldman Sachs Group Inc teaming up with Apple Inc on a credit card this year, but other regulated banks, including JPMorgan Chase & Co, Citigroup Inc, American Express Corp, and Green Dot Bank, have teamed with companies, including Inc, Walmart Inc, Delta Air Lines Inc and Home Depot Inc to offer co-branded products.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier on Googles plan and quoted Caesar Sengupta, general manager and vice president of payments at Google, as describing an approach of partnering deeply with banks.

“It may be the slightly longer path, but its more sustainable,” Sengupta said.

Leaning on the regulatory and financial know-how of banks could allow Google to proceed without engaging much with bank regulators.

For instance, deposits are stored in an account managed by a regulated bank and protected by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC) and National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), and if the lender does not share consumers financial data with Google, there may not be a regulatory problem or license requirements.

Googles biggest success in financial services has been in India, where it has over 67 million monthly users for Google Pay, which is used to digitally pay for groceries, Uber rides and other transactions.

Though still behind Indian rivals, the Google Pay apps popularity in India has overshadowed its usage in the United States and other countries, where it can be used for cashless payments in stores and money transfers.

Sengupta had overseen the Indian service, formerly known as Tez, as head of Googles emerging markets product team. Chief Executive Sundar Pichai last year sought to build on the Indian app, developed by a team of about 150 employees in Asia, and merged it into Googles broader payments organization.

The move has given Sengupta oversight of several thousand workers worldwide, including those who maintain tools to help Google charge its advertisers and app store users.

Former Google Pay employees said the company faces a massive challenge gaining users for payment tools in locations such as the United States that have robust financial products already. High interest rates on deposits or major loyalty perks could become important incentives for Google to draw consumers, the former employees said.

On Tuesday, Facebook launched a unified payment service through which users across its platforms can make payments without exiting the app, named Facebook Pay.

The effort is separate from Facebooks plan to launch its Libra cryptocurrency, which has met with skepticism from U.S., European and Australian regulators concerned about the risk of money laundering and the security of transactions and user data.

By Paresh Dave and Munsif Vengattil

]]> Health Websites Share Sensitive Personal Data with Advertisers Without Required Consent: Report Wed, 13 Nov 2019 15:52:25 +0000 Investigative reporters probing alleged misuse of the sensitive data of Europeans found that health websites were illegally sharing peoples information with ad-targeting companies including Google, Amazon, and Facebook.

The personal data shared without users explicit consent—a requirement under European data protection laws—includes medical symptoms, diagnostic information, as well as names of drugs.

Reporters at the Financial Times used an analytical tool called WebXray to analyze 100 health websites, including WebMD, Healthline, and Babycentre, according to an article headlined “How top health websites are sharing sensitive data with advertisers.”

The FTs investigation found that 79 percent of the sites installed “cookies” on users computers without consent. In Europe, it is a legal requirement for websites to seek explicit consent to install chunks of code that allow third-party companies to track peoples online activity.

Computer scientist Tim Libert, who created the open-source tool WebXray that the FT used in its investigation, told the publication that the problem is that companies could use medical information to prey on the ill and vulnerable.

“There is a whole system that will seek to take advantage of you because youre in a compromised state. I find that morally repugnant,” Libert told the FT.

He said people profiled on the basis of their assumed medical condition might face discrimination.

“As medical expenses leave many with less to spend on luxuries, these users may be segregated into data silos of undesirables who are then excluded from favorable offers and prices,” Libert told the FT. “This forms a subtle, but real, form of discrimination against those perceived to be ill.”

Data Protection in Europe

In May 2018, the EU adopted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which subjects online marketers to tighter constraints.

Under the new rules, advertisers are prohibited from sharing “special category” data without explicit consent, in which the user is informed how their sensitive data will be used and by whom.

According to the British Information Commissioners Office, an independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, “special category” data “is more sensitive, and so needs more protection.”

“There are 10 conditions for processing special category data in the GDPR itself, but the Data Protection Act 2018 introduces additional conditions and safeguards,” the agency said.

The agency notes that “special category” data includes the following: race, ethnic origin, politics, religion, trade union membership, genetics, biometrics (where used for ID purposes), health, sex life, or sexual orientation.

“In particular, this type of data could create more significant risks to a persons fundamental rights and freedoms. For example, by putting them at risk of unlawful discrimination,” it notes.

The FT wrote in its report that none of the websites tested asked for the type of explicit and detailed consent required under law.

Privacy International

The report follows the earlier findings of data privacy advocacy group Privacy International, which reviewed the data gathering habits of 136 popular mental health web pages in France, Germany, and the UK.

In a publication titled “Your Mental Health for Sale,” the group noted its findings that the mental health websites examined shared users sensitive personal data with advertisers without the required consent.

The sensitive data tracked and shared with third-party marketers includes information from depression websites and the results of online mental health check tests.

“Our findings show that many mental health websites dont take the privacy of their visitors as seriously as they should,” Privacy International wrote in its report. “This research also shows that some mental health websites treat the personal data of their visitors as a commodity, while failing to meet their obligations under European data protection and privacy laws.”

Regulators Probe Google-Ascension Deal

A U.S. federal regulator has initiated an investigation into a cloud computing deal between Alphabet Incs Google and Ascension Health, which would give Google access to detailed health information of millions of patients, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

The Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services will look into the data collection to ensure the partnership is in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) which safeguards medical information, the Journal said.

On Monday, Google said patient data “cannot and will not be combined with any Google consumer data.”

Hours after the secret project was revealed, the two companies announced the collaboration in a press release, in which they said the joint project would see Ascensions data moved onto Googles Cloud platform.

The partnership will explore artificial intelligence and machine learning applications to help improve clinical quality and effectiveness, patient safety, and increase consumer and provider satisfaction, according to the statement.

Tariq Shaukat, President of Google Cloud, said, “By working in partnership with leading healthcare systems like Ascension, we hope to transform the delivery of healthcare through the power of the cloud, data analytics, machine learning, and modern productivity tools—ultimately improving outcomes, reducing costs, and saving lives.”

Ascension also said that its work with Google had been compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act 1996 (HIPAA) and “underpinned by a robust data security and protection effort and adherence to Ascensions strict requirements for data handling.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

]]> Reddit Wont Block Alleged Whistleblowers Name, Diverging From Facebook and YouTube Tue, 12 Nov 2019 18:48:05 +0000 Reddit wont automatically delete posts that include the name of a person who is reportedly the whistleblower who filed a complaint against President Donald Trump, leading to the impeachment inquiry.

Facebook and YouTube have publicly said theyre attempting to quash mentions of the name by deleting posts and removing videos. Twitter has said it would allow the name but suspended some users who included the name in posts. Now Reddit says it wont black the alleged whistleblowers name.

Reddit does not “have a specific policy around whistleblowers,” a spokesperson told CNBC.

“Our policy encourages an open discussion regarding issues of public and political relevance, however it forbids posting of personal information, or the encouragement of harassment or vigilantism.”

If the posts violate the policies, moderators will take action. “Context is important in these matters,” the spokesperson said.

In a statement on Nov. 8, Facebook said that “any mention of the potential whistleblowers name violates our coordinating harm policy, which prohibits content outing of witness, informant, or activist.”

It added, “We are removing any and all mentions of the potential whistleblowers name and will revisit this decision, should their name be widely published in the media or used by public figures in debate.”

Attendees walk past a Facebook logo during Facebook Incs F8 developers conference in San Jose, Calif., on April 30, 2019. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

A YouTube spokesperson told CNN that videos mentioning the name of the alleged whistleblower would be removed; the company would be using machine learning and human reviewers to find and remove the content.

The name of the alleged whistleblower has spread widely but some news outlets are declining to print the name for different reasons. The Epoch Times hasnt been able to verify the name, which hasnt been confirmed by official sources, and there are indications the whistleblower might actually be someone else.

RealClearPolitics first published the name on Oct. 30 and a number of outlets and reporters have circulated the name since then.

Republicans are attempting to have the whistleblower testify before the House but House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said over the weekend he was vetoing the request, a reversal of his stance early in the process.

A number of top Republicans have sought to unmask the person, including President Donald Trump and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

The lawyers representing the person have said that anyone who discloses the persons name is at risk of being sued.

The battle surrounding the identity comes as a newly filed complaint to the Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) said that the whistleblower at the center of the impeachment inquiry might have violated federal law by indirectly soliciting hundreds of thousands of dollars via GoFundMe.

The complaint claimed that donations from 6,000 people “clearly constitute” gifts to a current intelligence official, adding that donations may have come from prohibited sources, and asked the ICIG to investigate if any “foreign citizen or agent of a foreign government” contributed to the persons fund.

]]> Googles Project Nightingale Secretly Gathers Personal Health Data on Millions of Americans Tue, 12 Nov 2019 05:06:54 +0000 Google has been working with one of the largest healthcare systems in the U.S. to collect and analyze the personal health information of millions of citizens across 21 states, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Tech giant reportedly teamed up with St. Louis-based Ascension, the largest non-profit health system in the country, last year, and the data sharing has accelerated since summer.

Code-named Nightingale, the project saw both companies collect personal data from patients, which included lab results, doctor diagnoses, and hospitalization records, as well as patient names and dates of birth.

Google said it plans to use the data to create new software that will improve patient care and suggest changes to their care.

Patients and doctors were not notified that their data is being shared, and did not give their consent, according to the report.

One individual who was familiar with the project told the Journal that at least 150 Google employees already have access to much of the data on tens of millions of patients.

Just hours after the secret project was revealed, the two companies announced the collaboration in a press release, in which they said the joint project would see Ascensions data moved onto Googles Cloud platform.

The statement said the joint project aims to “optimize the health and wellness of individuals and communities and deliver a comprehensive portfolio of digital capabilities that enhance the experience of Ascension consumers, patients, and clinical providers across the continuum of care.”

Eduardo Conrado, Executive Vice President of Strategy and Innovations at Ascension, said: “As the healthcare environment continues to rapidly evolve, we must transform to better meet the needs and expectations of those we serve as well as our own caregivers and healthcare providers.

“Doing that will require the programmatic integration of new care models delivered through the digital platforms, applications, and services that are part of the everyday experience of those we serve.”

The partnership will also explore artificial intelligence and machine learning applications to help improve clinical quality, and effectiveness, patient safety and increase consumer and provider satisfaction, according to the statement.

Tariq Shaukat, President of Google Cloud, added: “Ascension is a leader at increasing patient access to care across all regions and backgrounds, particularly those in disadvantaged communities. Were proud to partner with them on their digital transformation.

“By working in partnership with leading healthcare systems like Ascension, we hope to transform the delivery of healthcare through the power of the cloud, data analytics, machine learning, and modern productivity tools—ultimately improving outcomes, reducing costs, and saving lives.”

Ascension also said that its work with Google had been compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act 1996 (HIPAA) and “underpinned by a robust data security and protection effort and adherence to Ascensions strict requirements for data handling.”

]]> Twitter Suspends Users for Naming Alleged Whistleblower Mon, 11 Nov 2019 14:26:38 +0000 Twitter has suspended or forced users to delete tweets naming the alleged whistleblower who sparked the presidential impeachment inquiry, while stating that it isnt company policy to do so.

Several Twitter users said their accounts were suspended for posting the name. One said Twitter later messaged him saying the suspension was “an error.”

A Twitter spokeswoman told Breitbart: “Per the private information policy, any Tweets that include personally identifiable information about any individual, including the alleged whistleblower, would be in violation of the Twitter Rules.”

The spokeswoman said posting the name of the person isnt against the rules.

Screenshots from a number of users confirm they were suspended for tweets they posted that included the name, and Twitter said it was reviewing what happened in those cases.

A mobile phone screen displays the icons for the social networking apps Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram on March 22, 2018. (Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images)

Many other accounts that have posted the name havent been suspended.

The situation with Twitter unfolded after YouTube and Facebook both said theyd delete posts that included the name of the whistleblower.

In a statement on Nov. 8, Facebook said that “any mention of the potential whistleblowers name violates our coordinating harm policy, which prohibits content outing of witness, informant, or activist.”

It added, “We are removing any and all mentions of the potential whistleblowers name and will revisit this decision, should their name be widely published in the media or used by public figures in debate.”

A YouTube spokesperson told CNN that videos mentioning the name of the alleged whistleblower would be removed; the company would be using machine learning and human reviewers to find and remove the content.

Facebook is now claiming that journalism is a crime that could cause harm

They have deleted my post about the whistleblower specifically discussing the importance of journalists disclosing this information

Pic 1 and 2: Removal notice
Pic 3: Section from deleted article

— Tim Pool (@Timcast) November 9, 2019

Independent journalist Tim Pool mentioned the name in an Oct. 31 video that racked up nearly 300,000 views before being blocked through a manual review.

“Welcome to the dystopian nightmare, where big tech is colluding to censor newsworthy and public information,” he wrote.

A number of media figures and companies, including HuffPost contributor Yashar Ali, RealClearPolitics, and Breitbart, have circulated the name of the alleged whistleblower. The name hasnt been confirmed.

Republicans have pushed for the whistleblower to testify before Congress about the complaint House Democrats filed against President Donald Trump, while some congressmen have said the person should be identified publicly so any political bias is made clear.

]]> Ubers Self-Driving Car That Hit and Killed Woman Was Not Designed to Stop for Jaywalkers Sun, 10 Nov 2019 05:38:16 +0000 Ubers self-driving car which struck and killed a pedestrian last year was not programmed to recognize and stop for jaywalkers, according to documents released this week by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The finding comes after 20-months of investigation following the death of 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, who was hit by a Volvo SUV self-driving Uber vehicle while walking her bicycle across the road at night in Tempe, Arizona.

The vehicle had an operator in the drivers seat and was travelling at around 40 miles per hour in autonomous mode when the incident occurred.

According to the documents released Nov. 5, the accident was a result of the automated Uber not having “the capability to classify an object as a pedestrian unless that object was near a crosswalk.”

The Uber vehicle had been fitted with a number of safety systems, which included “a collision avoidance function with automatic emergency braking, known as City Safety, as well as functions for detecting driver alertness and road sign information,” the report said.

However, it noted that on the day the test took place, all of these functions had been disabled as the test vehicle was being operated in computer control mode.

Software fitted in the Uber vehicle detected Herzberg about six seconds before hitting her, according to the documents.

However, the vehicle did not try and stop before impact and instead alternated between classifying Herzberg as an “unknown object, a vehicle, and then as a bicycle” before concluding that it needed to break just 1.3 seconds before it hit her.

Uber told the NTSB that it “has since modified its programming to include jaywalkers among its recognized objects.”

However, the NTSB claims that Uber ignored safety issues on the night of the incident, which resulted in Herzbergs death.

“The Uber Advanced Technologies Group unit that was testing self-driving cars on public streets in Tempe didnt have a standalone safety division, a formal safety plan, standard operating procedures or a manager focused on preventing accidents,” it said.

Uber suspended its self-driving program after the fatal accident but resumed it again nine months later in December 2018—this time ensuring all the vehicles had collision avoidance systems enabled.

Following the release of the report on Tuesday, Uber said in a statement: “We regret the March 2018 crash involving one of our self-driving vehicles that took Elaine Herzbergs life. In the wake of this tragedy, the team at Uber ATG has adopted critical program improvements to further prioritize safety.

“We deeply value the thoroughness of the NTSBs investigation into the crash and look forward to reviewing their recommendations once issued after the NTSBs board meeting later this month.”

With reporting by The Associated Press.

]]> Terrorists Exploit Cryptocurrency, Says Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton Thu, 07 Nov 2019 01:26:17 +0000 Terrorists are exploiting crypto-currencies to fund their deadly missions, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has warned.

Dutton says the anonymity of the online currencies allows extremists to escape scrutiny.

“The anonymity afforded by such technologies enables terrorist financiers to obfuscate their activities,” he told a counter-terror conference in Melbourne on Thursday.

“The increasing use of digital and crypto-currencies, stored-value cards, online payment systems­ and crowd-funding platform­s provide new channels through which terrorism may be financed.”

Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton
Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton
Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton faces the media at a press conference in Canberra on Aug. 21, 2018. (Sean Davey/AFP/Getty Images)

He said countries need to stay ahead of modern financing measures, while also warning terrorists continue to use traditional methods, like ransom money and fraudulent charities.

He called on Australias private lenders to help join the fight, saying nations needed to embrace expertise from outside governments.

Greater scrutiny of charities and not-for-profits is also needed, having become popular terror financing conduits.

“In many cases, not-for-profits are not even aware that they are being taken advantage of,” Dutton said.

Dutton pointed to the work of Australias anti-money laundering watchdog, AUSTRAC, in the Indo-Pacific to combat the terrorist groups ISIS and al-Qaeda.

The minister also lumped Islamist extremism and far-right extremism in with “environmental radicalism.”

]]> Australian Regulators to Probe Facebook Currency Libra Thu, 07 Nov 2019 01:07:01 +0000 Australias financial and consumer watchdogs arent happy with Facebooks proposed global digital currency Libra, also known as the “Zuck Buck.”

The eight regulators, including the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), plan to investigate Libra after the social media giant failed to address concerns about the currency.

There are fears the cryptocurrency could enhance money laundering and expose social media users to more scams and privacy issues.

Regulators met with Facebook executives in the United States in October but werent satisfied with the outcome, The Australian reported on Wednesday.

Documents from ASIC published under freedom of information laws and cited by The Australian say Libra poses “many risks and threats” to Australian financial markets.

The Office of the Australian Information Commission, one of the regulators looking into Libra, has suggested the agencies investigate independently.

Other agencies involved include Australias anti-money laundering regulator, Austrac, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

In light of the backlash against the currency, several big companies initially involved have withdrawn, including Paypal, Visa and Mastercard.

Facebook ceo mark zuckerberg waits for the french president in paris
Facebook ceo mark zuckerberg waits for the french president in paris
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Paris on May 23, 2018. (Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to launch the currency in 2020, allowing Facebook and WhatsApp users to send money to each other, across borders, at low or no cost.

Cybersecurity pioneer, libertarian and independent US presidential candidate John McAfee says even if Libra gets the tick from regulators around the world, he doesnt believe it will be backed by many consumers.

“Libra is a perversion of the original intent of cryptocurrency which is to free people from financial control,” he told AAP in an interview on Wednesday, ahead of him speaking at the Startcon event in Sydney later this month.

“Libra is merely a cryptocurrency that tells Facebook and therefore the government every single thing about your financial life.

“People will discover very fast, oh my god, using this I get 10 times the number of ads addressed to me. It will be a nightmare.”

]]> SpaceX Plans Launching 30,000 More Starlink Satellites to Meet Projected Internet Demands Mon, 04 Nov 2019 05:16:10 +0000 The Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, SpaceX, is planning to send 30,000 new Starlink broadband satellites into the sky in a bid to meet future demands for fast and reliable internet, TechCrunch reports.

Elon Musks company recently filed the request with the International Telecommunication Union, which governs international use of global bandwidth. The proposal is anticipated to be affirmed soon, according to the report.

The company already has permission to launch 12,000 new satellites into space and hopes the extra satellites will responsibly “meet users anticipated needs.”

A SpaceX spokesperson told the publication: “As demand escalates for fast, reliable internet around the world, especially for those where connectivity is non-existent, too expensive or unreliable, SpaceX is taking steps to responsibly scale Starlinks total network capacity and data density to meet the growth in users anticipated needs.”

The publication says SpaceX is hoping to launch hundreds of satellites in the coming year as it anticipates a considerable demand for highly-optimized broadband globally.

However, the service will initially be provided to the northern U.S., as well as parts of Canada, from as early as next year, when the network goes live.

It will reportedly take up to 24 launches of Starlink satellites for SpaceX to be able to provide global coverage. It will not be operating all of its satellites in the same orbital region.

The company is also taking specific measures to avoid additional issues with traffic, such as building an automated collision avoidance system, structuring de-orbiting plans, and sharing information about the orbital routes of their satellites.

It is also said to be turning back around all the Earth-facing Starlink satellites to minimize reflected light. Astronomers and space watchers are worried that a build-up of satellites may impact scientific observation and research.

SpaceX said it is meeting or exceeding all of the industry standards that have been established so far.

Earlier this year, in May, the company deployed 60 of its Starlink satellites from its Falcon 9 rocket, which launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

On Tuesday, founder and CEO Musk appeared to have successfully sent a message using the Starlink network.

Posting on Twitter, he wrote: “Sending this tweet through space via Starlink satellite”, followed shortly by: “Whoa, it worked!!”

However, it has not been confirmed whether he did indeed use the Starlink satellite to send the tweet.

SpaceX was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk to reduce space transportation costs to enable the colonization of Mars.

]]> Do What Makes You Happy, Chemistry Nobel Prize Winner Says Fri, 01 Nov 2019 06:11:23 +0000 BINGHAMTON, N.Y.—In the corner of the hall on the second floor of the Innovative Technologies Complex campus at Binghamton University, theres an office decorated with balloons. A modest way to celebrate Dr. M. Stanley Whittinghams 2019 Chemistry Nobel Prize.

Now 78 years old, Whittingham is still excited about batteries, visiting laboratories, and giving lectures around the globe.

“So people say, When are you going to retire?'” Whittingham said. And hell reply, “I like what Im doing. Im gonna keep doing it.”

And his wife, Dr. Georgina Whittingham, who is a professor of foreign languages, says the same.

“We keep teaching,” he said. “And my doctor says, Dont retire.'”

For more than 30 years, Whittingham has been working at Binghamton University in different positions. Currently, hes a distinguished professor of Chemistry and Materials Science and Engineering.

Its a place he loves.

“Theres a lot more teamwork here,” he said.

Hes a busy man—even more so since being announced as a key figure in history. What won him the Nobel Prize was that he was the first to develop the lithium battery in the 1970s at Exxon.

British at Heart

He came from a small town—Lincolnshire, England—where his high-school teacher got him excited about chemistry.

“Those days, you could make chemicals, blow things up, and things that you are not allowed to do,” he said with a laugh. “So I got excited about chemistry.”

He then made it to Oxford and finished his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D.

At the end of his Ph.D., unlike many colleagues who went to North America and Canada, he decided to go to Stanford University.

“I wanted to go somewhere with sunshine,” he said with a laugh. “Im still British at heart.”

After being there for two months, he was asked to take charge of the material labs of the Department of Defense for the next two years.

“Very successful time, I should say. During those two years, something even more important happened,” Whittingham said. “I met my wife at Stanford.”

“We didnt waste any time. Within, I think, nine months, we were married.”

Next-Generation Batteries

After finishing his postdoctoral research in two years, he went to work for Exxon.

“I was hired to work on energy, but not petroleum or chemicals,” he said.

With a keen interest in solar energy and fuel cells, he started researching batteries.

“We wanted to build the next-generation battery,” he said. “The big interest was electronic vehicles because of the gas crisis in the U.S.”

So they started building batteries in test tubes. At that time, they didnt have any unique environment, advanced machines, or even theories on what they might discover.

“We knew there was something there. We didnt know how big it would be.”

Whittingham never thought his invention would change the world.

“Even 15 years ago, the phone, youd need a whole briefcase to carry it. And I think lithium batteries helped all these little devices.”

In the 1980s, John Goodenough, using the foundation that Whittingham laid, made another breakthrough to even more powerful batteries.

With a physicists eyes, Goodenough set out to test something that they thought wouldnt work, Whittingham said.

Following that, in 1985, Akira Yoshino created the first commercially viable lithium-ion battery.

After decades, these three scientists who changed the world have been recognized with the 2019 Chemistry Nobel Prize.

And its all about perseverance.

“Youre going to make mistakes. Dont worry about that,” Whittingham said. “If you dont make mistakes, you wont make the big breakthrough.”

After working for Exxon, Whittingham realized research and academia was something he always wanted to come back to.

Young at Heart

Whittingham took up a professorship at Binghamton University in the late 80s and continued his research on batteries.

“I really wanted to do research, because lots of academia you get 18-year-olds every year coming in. So it keeps you younger,” he said jokingly.

But in the end, he said what matters is that he does what he likes.

“I think youre successful if youre happy with what youre doing,” he said. Winning a prize certainly helps as well, he said with a laugh.

“Its so motivating that, even at his age, hes still young,” said Anshika Goel, one of his Ph.D. students. “He comes in the lab, he comes to the office every day on time, no matter how much hes traveling.”

“He just replied [to] my email at 3 a.m.; hes still working,” said Yicheng Zhang, another of Whittinghams Ph.D. students.

Now, 30 years later, hes still teaching, and its his passion that keeps him young at heart.

]]> Government Officials Around the Globe Targeted for Hacking Through WhatsApp: Sources Thu, 31 Oct 2019 23:33:18 +0000 WASHINGTON—Senior government officials in multiple U.S.-allied countries were targeted earlier this year with hacking software that used Facebook Incs WhatsApp to take over users phones, according to people familiar with the messaging companys investigation.

Sources familiar with WhatsApps internal investigation into the breach said a “significant” portion of the known victims are high-profile government and military officials spread across at least 20 countries on five continents. Many of the nations are U.S. allies, they said.

The hacking of a wider group of top government officials smartphones than previously reported suggests the WhatsApp cyber intrusion could have broad political and diplomatic consequences.

WhatsApp filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Israeli hacking tool developer NSO Group. The Facebook-owned software giant alleges that NSO Group built and sold a hacking platform that exploited a flaw in WhatsApp-owned servers to help clients hack into the cellphones of at least 1,400 users between April 29, 2019, and May 10, 2019.

The total number of WhatsApp users hacked could be even higher. A London-based human rights lawyer, who was among the targets, sent Reuters photographs showing attempts to break into his phone dating back to April 1.

While it is not clear who used the software to hack officials phones, NSO has said it sells its spyware exclusively to government customers.

Some victims are in the United States, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Mexico, Pakistan and India, said people familiar with the investigation. Reuters could not verify whether the government officials were from those countries or elsewhere.

Some Indian nationals have gone public with allegations they were among the targets over the past couple of days; they include journalists, academics, lawyers and defenders of Indias Dalit community.

NSO said in a statement that it was “not able to disclose who is or is not a client or discuss specific uses of its technology.” Previously it has denied any wrongdoing, saying its products are only meant to help governments catch terrorists and criminals.

Cybersecurity researchers have cast doubt on those claims over the years, saying NSO products were used against a wide range of targets, including protesters in countries under authoritarian rule.

Citizen Lab, an independent watchdog group that worked with WhatsApp to identify the hacking targets, said on Tuesday at least 100 of the victims were civil society figures such as journalists and dissidents, not criminals.

John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, said it was not surprising that foreign officials would be targeted as well.

“It is an open secret that many technologies branded for law enforcement investigations are used for state-on-state and political espionage,” Scott-Railton said.

Prior to notifying victims, WhatsApp checked the target list against existing law enforcement requests for information relating to criminal investigations, such as terrorism or child exploitation cases. But the company found no overlap, said a person familiar with the matter. Governments can submit such requests for information to WhatsApp through an online portal the company maintains.

WhatsApp has said it sent warning notifications to affected users earlier this week. The company has declined to comment on the identities of NSO Groups clients, who ultimately chose the targets.

By Christopher Bing and Raphael Satter

]]> Number of Kids Watching Online Videos Soars: Survey Thu, 31 Oct 2019 11:16:46 +0000 The number of young Americans watching online videos every day has more than doubled, according to survey findings released Tuesday. Theyre glued to them for nearly an hour a day, twice as long as they were four years ago.

And often, the survey found, theyre seeing the videos on services such as YouTube that are supposedly off-limits to children younger than age 13.

“It really is the air they breathe,” said Michael Robb, senior director of research for Common Sense Media, the nonprofit organization that issued the report. The group tracks young peoples tech habits and offers guidance for parents.

The survey of American youth included the responses of 1,677 young people ages 8 to 18. Among other things, it found that 56 percent of 8- to 12-year-olds and 69 percent of 13- to 18-year-olds watch online videos every day. In 2015, the last time the survey was conducted, those figures were 24 percent and 34 percent, respectively. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

Overall screen time hasnt changed much in those four years, the survey found. The average tween, ages 8 to 12 for the purposes of this survey, spent four hours and 44 minutes with entertainment media on digital devices each day. For teens, it was seven hours and 22 minutes. That did not include the time using devices for homework, reading books, or listening to music.

But the findings on video-watching indicate just how quickly this generation is shifting from traditional television to streaming services, often viewed on smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Among the teens surveyed, only a third said they enjoyed watching traditional television programming “a lot,” compared with 45 percent four years ago. Half the tweens said the same, compared with 61 percent in the last survey.

YouTube was their overwhelming first choice for online videos, even among the tweens who were surveyed—three-quarters of whom say they use the site despite age restrictions. Only 23 percent in that age group said they watch YouTube Kids, a separate service aimed at them and even younger children. And of those, most still said they preferred regular YouTube.

“It puts a lot of pressure on a parent to figure out what they can reasonably filter,” Robb said.

When presented with the findings, YouTube said that, in the coming months, it would share details on ways the company is rethinking its approach to kids and families.

For now, Farshad Shadloo, a spokesperson for YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, reiterated the companys terms of use on age: “YouTube is not a site for people under 13.” Among other things, the company also cited its restriction filters and YouTube Kids.

Even so, many children with online access are adept at getting access to regular YouTube or other streaming content—partly because their parents are overwhelmed, said Sarah Domoff, an assistant professor of clinical psychology at Central Michigan University who studies techs impact on youth and families.

Those parents could certainly be doing more to track screen time, she said. But, as she sees it, filters on services such as YouTube also arent adequate.

“Its really hard to block out certain things unless youre really standing over your child,” Domoff said. Thats especially hard to do when devices are portable.

Some are skeptical about how much YouTube will change a service that easily leads its users, young and old alike, down a “rabbit hole” of video content, much of it created by everyday people.

“If your model is built on maintaining attention, its really hard to do something,” said Robb, of Common Sense Media.

His advice to families: “Protect homework time, family time, dinner time, and bedtime. Have device-free times or zones.”

Domoff added, “There needs to be a game plan.”

By Martha Irvine

]]> Facebook Takes Down Ad Falsely Claiming Sen. Lindsey Graham Supports Green New Deal Tue, 29 Oct 2019 21:49:22 +0000 Facebook Inc said on Oct. 26 that it had removed an ad falsely claiming that Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) supported the Green New Deal, demonstrating that it will fact-check ads from political groups but not politicians.

The ad, which ran on Friday, was put up as a stunt by a left-leaning Political Action Committee, or PAC, called The Really Online Lefty League, to test Facebooks political ad policies.

The ad was rated as false by Lead Stories, a fact-checker service used by Facebook. Lead Stories stated in an article posted on its website that “since The Really Online Lefty League is not a politician (or running for office) Lead Stories has rated their ad as “False.”

FILE PHOTO: A screengrab from a video shows U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) appearing in a Facebook ad run by a PAC called The Really Online Lefty League, which falsely claims that he supports the Green New Deal, in order to draw attention to issues around Facebook ad policies, Oct. 25, 2019. (The Really Online Lefty League/Facebook via Reuters)
FILE PHOTO: A screengrab from a video shows U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) appearing in a Facebook ad run by a PAC called The Really Online Lefty League, which falsely claims that he supports the Green New Deal, in order to draw attention to issues around Facebook ad policies, Oct. 25, 2019. (The Really Online Lefty League/Facebook via Reuters)
A screengrab from a video shows U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) appearing in a Facebook ad run by a PAC called The Really Online Lefty League, which falsely claims that he supports the Green New Deal, in order to draw attention to issues around Facebook ad policies, Oct. 25, 2019. (The Really Online Lefty League/Facebook via Reuters)

The Lead Stories article also explained that due to Facebook policy, any Facebook posts, including ads made by a politician, “are not eligible to be rated by the third-party fact-checkers Facebook is working with,” like Lead Stories.

Facebook has been criticized in recent weeks over its decision to not fact-check ads run by politicians, drawing ire from Democratic candidates running in the 2020 presidential election such as former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington on Oct. 23, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Last week, Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg defended Facebooks policy, saying that the company did not want to stifle political speech.

Facebook spokesman Tom Channick told Reuters on Friday that since the new ad came from a political action group, rather than a politician, it was eligible for review by the companys third-party fact-checking partners.

At the time of writing, the ad could still be viewed on the PACs Facebook page, but paid distribution had ceased.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) speaks during a meeting of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 12, 2019. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The ad was posted days after Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) grilled Zuckerberg on whether Facebook would permit her to run such an ad, during a congressional hearing on Wednesday.

The Washington Examiner reported that “Ocasio-Cortez asked Zuckerberg whether Facebook would allow ads targeting Republicans in primary contests that erroneously said they supported the Green New Deal, to which the Facebook head said probably.”

Adriel Hampton, treasurer of The Really Online Lefty League, said the Graham ad was inspired by the exchange.

Senator Grahams office said on Friday that it was aware of the ad and confirmed the senator opposes the Green New Deal, a proposal championed by Ocasio-Cortez.

Facebook and other social media companies are under pressure to identify misinformation on their platforms during the run-up to the November 2020 election.

On Friday, Facebook started to test Facebook News, a new section of its mobile app.

Facebook News will feature content from almost 200 publishers, including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, BuzzFeed News, Business Insider, NBC, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and Breitbart News, among others.

Tapping on the headlines would take the user directly to the publishers website or app if they already had it installed.

Facebook also stated that it would be paying “a range of publishers for access to all of their content.”

According to Reuters, Facebook said that Breitbart is an unpaid partner, unlike some outlets in the section.

Facebook told Epoch Times that if a “publisher falls out of eligibility for posting misinformation, or clickbait or scraping content—for example,” they would be cut from the tab.

Reuters contributed to this report

]]> Hong Kong Students Take Protest to Virtual World Mon, 28 Oct 2019 18:52:02 +0000 HONG KONG—A group of Hong Kong students have developed a virtual reality game they hope will allow people to experience the pro-democracy demonstrations from the view of a “frontline protester.”

The short but detailed first-person game, demonstrated to Reuters in a shabby, high-rise industrial block, allows players to dodge tear gas, duck behind burning barriers and run from riot police.

“It allows you to experience what crisis the frontline protester might have been through,” said Lam, a 30-year developer who covered her face and did not want to give her full name because she had participated in the often-illegal protests.

“That does not mean you will have to go out after playing the game. We hope people that fight for freedom will go out anyway.”

Protesters are concerned that Beijing is eroding freedoms granted when Britain handed the city back to China in 1997, and have been involved with often-violent exchanges with riot police over the last five months.

Lam, who developed the game with two classmates, said it does not allow protesters to inflict violence or do anything illegal. That would stymie their chances of getting it published by an online distributor, Lam said.

A member of a game developers team demonstrates a video game called “Liberate Hong Kong” on Oct. 28, 2019. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

However, she added it did have a “pro-protester” stance.

Virtual reality headsets can be used to experience the game in 360 degrees.

Users can scan the colorful post-it notes that make up the games “Lennon Wall”—murals depicting protest slogans such as “fight for freedom” or “five demands, not one less” that are common around real-world Hong Kong. An interactive feature also explains some key events from the protests.

To the developers, the protest game is a form of protest in itself.

A role-playing mobile app game depicting the protest was suspended by Google earlier this month, while gaming giant Blizzard Entertainment suspended Hong Kong esports star Chung “blitzchung” Ng Wai after he called for the liberation of Hong Kong in a post-game interview.

The students said they have submitted their game to an online video game distributor and hope to have it available to the public next month.

By John Geddie

]]> Google Features Chinese Communist Partys Message About Religion Sun, 27 Oct 2019 21:10:58 +0000 WASHINGTON—The official press office for the spiritual practice Falun Gong is sounding a warning: Beijing attempts to influence U.S. public opinion by using a distorted and biased narrative that portrays an ideal view of the Chinese Communist Party when it comes to religious freedom.

The Party employs this strategy using major search engines, including Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask, and Duckduckgo, researchers say.

When asked about Googles role in spreading Communist Party propaganda that distorts the Partys record on religious freedom and attacks Falun Gong, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback put the issue in a larger context. He said Chinas growing influence has become a major concern in the United States and may demand a response from Congress or the administration.

“Theres a robust debate in the country right now, whether its the tech companies or sports entities. This is a big, robust debate. These issues should be brought up and they should be discussed,” he said at a press briefing on Oct. 25, ahead of International Religious Freedom Day.

Oct. 27 marked the 21st anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which was passed to endorse religious freedom as a foreign policy of the United States.

“We stand for freedom of speech. We stand for freedom of religion,” Brownback said, noting that the government should protect those basic human rights. But these principles also apply to individuals and companies in the United States, he said.

Brownback said the “robust discussions” are important for “reaffirmation of these basic principles” and may sometimes prompt Congress or the administration to take action.

Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the State Department in Washington on July 16, 2019. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

Religious Freedom in China

The Chinese regime tries to exploit Google, the worlds leading search engine, to influence the American public, according to Falun Dafa Information Center (FDIC) researchers.

For example, when a user searches for “religious freedom in China,” Google guides the user by presenting the “People also ask” box. In this box, Google typically lists the most common questions matched up with what the search engine deems to be the most credible answer.

One of the questions presented by Google is “Does China have freedom of speech and religion?”

And the response to the question is: “The 1982 Constitution provides its citizens the right to believe in any religion, as well as the right to refrain from doing so: Citizens of the Peoples Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief.”

A similar issue arises when searching for “Falun Gong,” an ancient spiritual discipline brutally suppressed in China. Google lists the question “Is Falun Gong Buddhist?” and the top answer takes the user to a Chinese regime website that attacks the meditation practice, according to FDIC spokesperson Erping Zhang.

“This is akin to directing users to a neo-Nazi website to learn about the finer points of Judaism,” said Zhang. “These answer boxes are supposed to direct you to what Google considers to be the foremost authority on any given topic. Does this mean Google believes the Chinese regime to be the most authoritative on the topic of Falun Gong and religion?”

Zhang said FDIC raised that issue with Google a few weeks ago and still hasnt received a response.

Googles search results for “Falun Gong” in the UK include the same Chinese Communist Party-controlled websites as appear in searches in the United States.

For searches in the Chinese language, the results are even more slanted toward the Chinese regimes views. On some pages, Chinese Communist Party-controlled sites make up the majority of search results. This pattern is observable across several search engines, including Bing, Yahoo, Ask, and Duckduckgo, according to FDIC.

Increased Pressure on Beijing

The Trump administration has stepped up its criticism of China in recent months for its detention of more than a million Uyghur Muslims in so-called re-education camps in Chinas northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Brownback said the United States would continue to press China to end the persecution of not just Muslims but also Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners. He hoped that these pressures would yield results.

“Its my hope that the Chinese will agree at some point in time to start directly addressing with us, and with other communities around the world, their horrific record on religious freedom, on religious persecution that theyre doing,” he said.

The Trump administration made religious freedom a priority at this years United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), and China was the main target. Brownback said it was the first time a state hosted a religious event at the UNGA.

Vice President Mike Pence in a recent policy speech also raised concerns about Chinas human rights abuses and its growing influence on U.S. companies.

“Today, China is not only exporting hundreds of billions of dollars in unfairly traded goods to the United States, but lately, China has also been trying to export censorship—the hallmark of its regime,” he said on Oct. 24. “By exploiting corporate greed, Beijing is attempting to influence American public opinion, coercing corporate America.”

Pence scolded U.S. corporations such as Nike and also the National Basketball Association for siding with the Chinese regime.

]]> Indonesia Report on 737 MAX Crash Faults Boeing Design, Says Lion Air Made Mistakes Fri, 25 Oct 2019 19:49:33 +0000 Boeing, acting without adequate oversight from U.S. regulators, failed to grasp risks in the design of cockpit software on its 737 MAX airliner, sowing the seeds for a Lion Air crash that also involved errors by airline workers and crew, Indonesian investigators found.

The fatal crash, followed within five months by another at Ethiopian Airlines, led to a global grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX and a crisis for the worlds biggest planemaker, which this week ousted its commercial airplanes chief.

In its final report into the Oct. 29, 2018, Lion Air crash that killed all 189 people on board, Indonesia made recommendations to Boeing, the airline, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other agencies.

Indonesian regulators criticized the design of the anti-stall system known as MCAS, which automatically pushed the planes nose down, leaving pilots fighting for control.

“The design and certification of the MCAS did not adequately consider the likelihood of loss of control of the aircraft,” the report said.

Boeing has been working on a redesign of MCAS although it has yet to certified by the FAA.

The report also said “deficiencies” in the flight crews communication and manual control of the aircraft contributed to the crash, as did alerts and distractions in the cockpit.

The accident had been caused by a complex chain of events, Indonesian air accident investigator Nurcahyo Utomo told reporters at a news conference, repeatedly declining to be drawn on providing a single dominant cause.

“From what we know, there are nine things that contributed to this accident,” he said. “If one of the nine hadnt occurred, maybe the accident wouldnt have occurred.”

Lion Air crash final report news conference
Lion Air crash final report news conference
Indonesian investigators speak during a news conference on the release of the final report into the 2018 crash of a Boeing 737 MAX jet operated by Lion Air, that killed 189 people, in Jakarta, Indonesia on Oct. 25, 2019. (Sekar Nasly/Reuters)

During the flight, the first officer was unable to quickly identify a checklist in a handbook or perform tasks he should have had memorised, it said, adding that he had also performed poorly in training exercises.

The captain did not properly brief the first officer when handing over control just before the plane entered a fatal dive, it also said.

The report noted that according to the cockpit voice recorder, the first officer told the captain the flight was not in his initial schedule and he had been called at 4 a.m. to be informed of the revision, while the captain said he had the flu.

A critical angle of attack (AOA) sensor providing data to the MCAS anti-stall system had been miscalibrated by Florida-based Xtra Aerospace without the recommended equipment, the report said, and there were strong indications that it was not tested during installation by Lion Air maintenance staff.

The FAA, also faulted by the report for its oversight of Xtra, formally revoked the maintenance firms repair station certificate following the reports publication.

Xtra responded in a statement that it had been cooperating closely with the FAA “and though we have reached a settlement with the FAA, we respectfully disagree with the agencys findings.”

The company noted the FAA action was separate from the Indonesias “investigation and report of the Lion Air Boeing 737 Max accident and is not an indication that Xtra was responsible for the accident.”

Lion Air should have grounded the jet following faults on earlier flights, the investigators also found, adding that 31 pages were missing from the airlines October maintenance logs.

A Lion Air spokesman said the crash was an “unthinkable tragedy” and it was essential to take immediate corrective actions to ensure a similar accident never occurred again.

Boeing said in a statement that it was addressing Indonesias safety recommendations and taking actions to enhance the safety of the 737 MAX. Saying it mourned with Lion Air, the manufacturer promised to learn from the crash.

An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 MAX airplanes parked at the Boeing Factory in Renton
An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 MAX airplanes parked at the Boeing Factory in Renton
An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 MAX airplanes parked at the Boeing Factory in Renton, Washington, on March 21, 2019. (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

The FAA said it welcomed the reports recommendations and would carefully consider them and all others as it continued to review Boeings proposed changes to the 737 MAX.

Indonesia may require pilots receive simulator training before the plane returns to service as earlier computer-based training covering differences between the 737 MAX and prior 737 NG model was insufficient, Director General of Civil Aviation Polana Pramesti said on Friday.


Boeing faces a slew of investigations by regulators, U.S. Congress, and the Department of Justice over its development of the 737 MAX, its previously best-selling workhorse for short-haul travel.

Boeing last month settled the first claims stemming from the Lion Air crash, a U.S. plaintiffs lawyer said.

Three other sources told Reuters that families of those killed would receive at least $1.2 million each.

The manufacturer is separately facing around 100 lawsuits over the Ethiopian Airlines crash on March 10 which killed all 157 people on board the flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi.

Indonesia has offered to aid Ethiopian authorities in their investigation into that crash but to date there has been no response, said Soerjanto, the head of Indonesias accident investigator.

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said this week the company was making “daily” progress on testing the final software fix for the 737 MAX and developing related training materials. The FAA has said it would need at least several more weeks for review.

The Indonesia report said that Boeings safety assessment assumed pilots would respond within three seconds of a system malfunction but on the accident flight and one that experienced the same problem the previous evening, it took both crews about eight seconds to respond.

It called for the systems to be designed not just for highly skilled test pilots but also for regular commercial airline pilots.

The FAA had delegated increasing authority to Boeing to certify the safety of its own aircraft, Indonesian investigators said in the report, recommending that all certification processes received adequate oversight.

A panel of international air safety regulators this month also faulted Boeing for assumptions it made in designing the 737 MAX and found areas where Boeing could improve processes.

By Bernadette Christina Munthe and Jessica Damiana

]]> Cal Newport: On Attention in an Age of Digital Distraction Thu, 24 Oct 2019 16:34:28 +0000 Only a few years ago, Cal Newports ideas about digital distraction and social media made him an outlier. He was a millennial who read a print newspaper and never had a social media account, during a time when every small business was starting, if not an account, a whole department.

And even though no one could give Newport a compelling argument for using social media, they asked without a hint of irony, but what if by not having an account, he missed out on a potential opportunity?

“People used to think my thoughts on social media were eccentric if not downright dangerous,” he said. “When I wrote an op-ed in The New York Times in 2016 that said social media was not as important for their careers as many young people think, the outrage was so strong that the paper commissioned a response op-ed for the next week to argue against my points.”

Less than a year later, the tide was turning.

“Starting around early 2017, I noticed this reaction begin to change. People were increasingly receptive to this idea that there might be something rotten about our relationship with our digital devices,” Newport said.

Newport is the author of several books, including “Deep Work” and most recently “Digital Minimalism,” which both deal directly with our relationship with digital distraction.

Hes a computer scientist at Georgetown University and grapples with mathematical theorems for a living—exactly the kind of field that requires deep work, or pushing your cognitive capabilities to their limit. He has published more than 60 peer-reviewed papers that have been cited more than 3,500 times. So he was, in fact, incredibly aware of the sort of cognitive noise that can immediately have a negative, and accumulated, impact on your ability to focus and concentrate.

Author Cal Newport. (Courtesy of Penny Gray Photography)


In 2008, Newport titled an introspective journal entry, “Better.”

In it, he laid out a vision for his personal and professional life, and ended it with the earnest request to “accept only excellence from myself.” By the end of the year, he had an entry titled “The Plan,” in which he listed his values in the categories of relationships, virtues, and qualities.

“In my professional life, Ive always been surrounded by people who do high-impact work at elite levels, so Ive always been driven to understand how I can get better and better at what I do,” Newport said. “This mindset of continual improvements was simply in the air around me at that stage of life, and seemed as natural as breathing.”

It was, in many ways, a natural progression. In 2006, Newport had published his first book, “How to Win at College,” for students, which includes the tip “always be working on a grand project.'”

Newport was a student himself at the time and had found college advice books written to be too fluffy, or talking down to students. Before the books, he had actually been the humor columnist for the student newspaper at Dartmouth.

“Once I started down the path of writing, I found I had a knack for it, and so I kept going long after I moved beyond my student years,” Newport said.

He published “How to Become a Straight-A Student,” and then started blogging about study hacks, and published “How to Be a High School Superstar.” In 2010, he got interested in the idea of “Simplicity 2.0,” or the power of specialized craftsmanship in our age of general-purpose computing, and the danger of passion-driven career planning. These ideas are explored in length in his last three books.

With “So Good They Cant Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love,” Newport debunked the passion hypothesis (“do what you love,” or “follow your dreams”) showing that its not only wrong, but dangerous. He compares it to the “craftsman mindset,” which instead “focuses on what you can offer the world” while “the passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you.” The latter has a track record for leading to disappointment and unhappiness, as he shows through interviews and stories. This book focused on the importance of skill, the beginnings of his attention capital theory.

If his ethos seems clear and unwavering, as he writes in his books, its because he has carved out the solitude necessary to form his ideas and values. He describes a stack of 12 black Moleskine notebooks, accounting for roughly one per year, with one more in his work bag.

It turns out, knowing yourself is the beginning of an antidote to digital distraction.

Its important to have a physical hobby. “Our brains are wired to crave manipulating our physical world with our hands,” Newport said. (Shutterstock)

Connected 24/7

“Deep Work” begins with psychiatrist Carl Jung writing away in a locked private office in a village by the lake.

It goes on to share stories of other acclaimed individuals who eschew email and instant messaging in order to have long stretches of uninterrupted time, during which they churn out sometimes groundbreaking work in a relatively short period of time. Newport aimed to show the reader how to do that.

The book was published in 2016, and he has since many times had to explain that he isnt, in fact, a neo-Luddite (in fact, hes excited about new developments in artificial intelligence and virtual reality).

“Deep work is necessary to wring every last drop of value out of your current intellectual capacity,” he wrote in the first chapter. Many professions require nothing short of this, for one to stand out. But Newport found that with the rise of email and other methods for constant communication, even workers in these fields were working longer hours, dedicating more time to messaging and relegating the actual work to early or late hours outside the office. Knowing this, its hard to make a case for emails ability to aid productivity.

Theres a bigger cost than merely wasting time. Newport shows that if you spend enough time fragmenting your attention, you can permanently reduce your capacity to even do deep work.

After publishing “Deep Work,” Newport planned to write about what the workplace might look like going forward if we actually got rid of email and Slack. He wanted to explore this idea of attention capital theory, that in modern knowledge work, the primary capital resource is the human brain.

But feedback from readers of “Deep Work” took him in another direction.

People kept asking, what about our personal lives? How can I apply these principles outside of the workplace?

Later that year, Newport was on a beach in the Bahamas when he finally found the words: “digital minimalism.”

That was essentially the philosophy he was advocating for, to take the principles of minimalism and apply them to how you use technology. Rather than trying to make a case for whether Facebook or Twitter is good or bad, he outlines a broader philosophy, asking whether an app or platform adds positive value to your life (and making very specific arguments for elements that dont).

Autonomy Versus Convenience

Instead of social media, Newport has an “interesting” inbox, a public-facing email where his readers and followers can send him links to articles, books, studies, and other things that may be of interest to him.

“I love my interesting inbox,” he said. “I learn a lot from what comes through that channel.”

“In this way, it provides the same value to me that social media does for many others, but does so without any engineered addiction.”

In preparing to write the book, Newport had reached out to his readers to ask if anyone would be interested in trying out a “digital declutter.” He expected maybe 40 or 50 brave souls to venture forward; 1,600 signed up.

The results were interesting: people old enough to remember life without the internet talked about reconnecting with old hobbies and interests that were perhaps lost to them with their time sunk into scrolling on their phones. But people who had practically grown up with smartphones felt like they had stepped out into the void. There was real existential fear because they didnt have anything to fill the void, or know how to go about beginning.

It solidified Newports theory that the tips and tricks and weekend digital detoxes werent enough. Especially if those tips relied on depriving oneself of something we had before. People needed an underlying philosophy and values to have a staying reason to use tech in a way that would only improve their lives. “Digital Minimalism” contains not just philosophy, but a practical 30-day guide. He even presents a philosophy for socializing in the digital age.

Newport also interviewed digital minimalists who actually live a variety of lifestyles. Some use social media in a clever and intentional way, some find they dont miss it after all. What it really came down to was reclaiming autonomy.

“Most of the digital minimalists I encountered were people who became fed up with how much of their time they felt they were losing to their devices. They felt like they were losing autonomy, so went looking for ways to redirect their energy back to what really mattered to them,” he said.

In a podcast interview, he used heavier terms to describe what he was hearing: “People were getting the sense that their humanity itself was being degraded.”

This was a huge shift in public opinion from when he was writing “Deep Work.”

Work, Leisure, and AI

In one book, Newport interviews a talented 16-year-old professional banjo player who lives a monastic lifestyle and derives fulfillment from spending hours on improving technique. In another, he tells the story of a craftsman of handmade furniture who wrote a book subtitled “Creative Focus in the Age of Distraction.”

These types of stories demonstrate the importance of concentration and skill, but they also help Newport make a point about the importance of having a physical hobby.

“Our brains are wired to crave manipulating our physical world with our hands; to see intentions made manifest concretely,” he said. “Physical crafts satisfy this craving in a way that no amount of digital memes can approach.”

“In my own life, recently, Ive been getting into soldering together circuits—usually for little toys or gadgets for my kids. Im also struggling to get a cool drip irrigation system up and running in our gardens.”

Newport writes about the difference between low-quality leisure and high-quality leisure, the kind Aristotle identified as crucial for human happiness. These are pursuits he recommends people develop before they try to quit social media or declutter their digital life, not after, in order to prevent that miserable feeling of the void.

Part of this advice includes creating a “leisure plan,” a strategy for committing to high-quality pursuits. It can be seasonal or weekly, and ideally consists of both objectives and habits you intend to honor for that period (“Attend one cultural event per week”).

Newport has three young children, so the familys leisure plan tends to center around activities appropriate for them. “Interesting museums, nature centers, hikes, visits to relatives, games, and family movie nights,” he said.

Despite his work on the dangers of the attention economy, with companies like Facebook and Twitter making money off your eyeballs and having every incentive to press forward, Newport is an optimist.

“Right now, in the world of knowledge work, we are making very poor use of the brains we employ. This is going to shift,” Newport said. This is the subject for his next book, “World Without Email,” set for publication next year. “We will look back at our current workflows—which depend on frenetic communication—with puzzlement.”

Newport also thinks AI will ultimately help solve some of these problems, and “minimize unproductive busyness in the workplace—which is making whole sectors of our economy miserable.”

]]> Facebooks Zuckerberg Testifies About Virtual Currency Project Wed, 23 Oct 2019 22:48:14 +0000 WASHINGTON—Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg conceded to lawmakers that the company is “not the ideal messenger” for its worldwide cryptocurrency project dubbed “Libra,” which aims to allow users to make payments with their smartphones, and said he supports a delay of the venture until regulatory concerns are adequately addressed.

In a five-hour hearing on Oct. 23 conducted by the House Financial Services Committee, Zuckerberg was increasingly on the defensive as he addressed a wide range of concerns, some outside the scope of Libra, such as “deepfakes” and Facebooks policy on fact-checking politicians, in his first appearance in Congress since April 2018.

Libra, which was first announced by Facebook earlier this year, is being created with blockchain technology and would involve working with companies such as MasterCard, Visa, and eBay. Recently, a slew of major companies, including the ones mentioned, dropped out amid concern and public criticism that the digital currency would affect national security and would enable money laundering and other financial crimes.

In his prepared remarks, Zuckerberg said the Libra project “is not an attempt to create a sovereign currency. Like existing online payment systems, its a way for people to transfer money.”

Zuckerberg promised in the hearing, titled “An examination of Facebook and its impact on the financial services and housing sectors,” that the cryptocurrency project should quell regulatory concerns.

“Of course, as a big company, were not going to do something thats unregulated or decentralized, we are going to work with the government that gets to the same standard on anti-money laundering and CFT (counter-terrorism financing) that all of the other world-class payment systems have,” he said during questioning.

President Donald Trump has publicly criticized cryptocurrencies, and also directly denounced Facebooks Libra project, saying the strongest currency in the world will always be the U.S. dollar.

“I am not a fan of Bitcoin and other Cryptocurrencies, which are not money, and whose value is highly volatile and based on thin air,” Trump said on Twitter in July. “Unregulated Crypto Assets can facilitate unlawful behavior, including drug trade and other illegal activity.”

“Similarly, Facebook Libras virtual currency will have little standing or dependability. If Facebook and other companies want to become a bank, they must seek a new Banking Charter and become subject to all Banking Regulations, just like other Banks, both National and International,” he wrote.

When questioned about the fact that a number of big companies had left Libra, Zuckerberg said the project “is too big for any one company to do on its own, which is why we set up this independent Libra association with a number of companies.”

“Its a risky project, and theres been a lot of scrutiny,” he added.

Facebook has been hit with a number of data scandals and fines, recently. On Oct. 22, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced an update of the multistate antitrust investigation into Facebook, which she said that 47 attorneys general now have joined.

Lawmakers, in their questioning, often talked about how they believed Libra to be a digital currency that would challenge the U.S. dollar and said there were serious concerns that Facebook should be broken up.

At one point, Zuckerberg was asked if he would be willing to stop the project if he saw it couldnt be moved forward.

“I will certainly stop Facebooks part of it,” he told lawmakers. “The independent Libra association is a separate thing that exists at this point. If I feel like Facebook cant be a part of it in keeping with the principles that Ive laid out, then Facebook wont be a part of it.”

Lawmakers also pressed Zuckerberg on Calibra, a new digital wallet for Libra that would be used by Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and as a standalone app. They questioned whether the wallets would be anonymous, as that could hide criminal activity.

“Our wallet is going to have strong identity [verification],” Zuckerberg said, adding that he doesnt speak for the Libra association, but promised commitment from Facebook.

The Facebook CEOs testimony follows news of a final report from a bipartisan congressional antitrust probe into big technology companies thats expected to be completed by the “first part” of 2020.

The subcommittee of the Houses Judiciary Committee is investigating Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple over potential breaches of antitrust law. So far, the subcommittee has received tens of thousands of documents from the four companies, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) told reporters on Oct. 18.

]]> Hacking the Hackers: Russian Group Hijacked Iranian Spying Operation, Officials Say Tue, 22 Oct 2019 04:26:10 +0000 LONDON/WASHINGTON—Russian hackers piggy-backed on an Iranian cyber-espionage operation to attack government and industry organizations in dozens of countries. They were masquerading as attackers from the Islamic Republic, British and U.S. officials said on Monday.

The Russian group is known as “Turla.” Estonian and Czech authorities accuse it of operating on behalf of Russias FSB security service. Turla has used Iranian tools and computer infrastructure to successfully hack into organizations in at least 20 different countries over the last 18 months, British security officials said.

The hacking campaign, the extent of which has not been previously revealed, was most active in the Middle East but also targeted organizations in Britain, they said.

Paul Chichester is a senior official at Britains National Cyber Security Centre (GCHQ) intelligence agency. He said the operation shows state-backed hackers are working in a “very crowded space.” They are developing new attacks and methods to cover their tracks better.

In a statement accompanying a joint advisory with the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), GCHQ said it wanted to raise industry awareness about the activity and make attacks more difficult for its adversaries.

“We want to send a clear message that even when cyber actors seek to mask their identity, our capabilities will ultimately identify them,” said Chichester, who serves as the NCSCs director of operations.

Officials in Russia and Iran did not immediately respond to requests for comment sent on Sunday. Moscow and Tehran have both repeatedly denied Western allegations over hacking.

Global Hacking Campaigns

Western officials rank Russia and Iran as two of the most dangerous threats in cyberspace, alongside China and North Korea, with both governments accused of conducting hacking operations against countries around the world.

Intelligence officials said there was no evidence of collusion between Turla and its Iranian victim, a hacking group known as “APT34,” which cybersecurity researchers at firms including FireEye say works for the Iranian government.

Rather, the Russian hackers infiltrated the Iranian groups infrastructure to “masquerade as an adversary which victims would expect to target them,” said GCHQs Chichester.

Turlas actions show the dangers of wrongly attributing cyberattacks, British officials said. They added they were unaware of any public incidents incorrectly blamed on Iran as a result of the Russian operation, though.

“Our main intent right here is to point out that theres a lot of false flagging going on out there, and we want to make sure the national security systems that were trying to defend are aware,” said Doug Cress. He is a division chief within the NSAs newly formed Cybersecurity Directorate.

The United States and its Western allies have also used foreign cyberattacks to facilitate their spying operations. Its a practice referred to as “fourth party collection,” according to documents released by former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden and reporting by German magazine Der Spiegel.

GCHQ declined to comment on Western operations.

“Collection efforts which leverage other infrastructure and the capability of peers, such as this, offer a low-cost, high-reward way to conduct operations while potentially confusing attribution,” explained FireEye director of intelligence analysis John Hultquist.

By gaining access to the Iranian infrastructure, Turla was able to use APT34s “command and control” systems to deploy its malicious code, GCHQ and the NSA said in a public advisory.

“I would say they are extremely talented and effective. Theyre someone we keep a close eye on because were worried about them damaging our national security systems,” Cress said about Turla.

The Russian group was also able to access the networks of existing APT34 victims and even access the code needed to build its own “Iranian” hacking tools.

By Vladimir Soldatkin, and Babak Dehghanpisheh

]]> Apple CEO Appointed Chair of Board at Top Chinese University With Close Ties to Beijing Mon, 21 Oct 2019 21:35:22 +0000 Apples CEO Tim Cook recently became the chairman of an advisory board at the business school under Chinas prestigious Tsinghua University, as the tech giant faced criticism for caving in to the Chinese regimes censorship rules owing to its business interests in China.

Cooks role at the board was to make Tsinghuas School of Economics and Management a world-class institution during his three-year stint, according to the school websites report on an advisory board meeting held on Oct. 18. Cook hosted the meeting with 35 members in attendance.

The advisory board, established in 2000, comprises of roughly 70 business leaders and scholars from the United States, Europe, and Asia, as well as Chinese Communist Party officials. Chinese Vice Chair Wang Qishan is also an honorary member.

Reports from the website show that Cook joined the advisory board in October 2013. Chinas Vice Premier Liu He, Chinese tech conglomerate Tencent CEO Pony Ma, and Baidu Chairman Robin Li, who recently stepped down from his role at the cloud computing unit of internet giant Baidu, also served as board members in the past year.

Tsinghua receives substantial funding from the Chinese regime, including to conduct research benefiting the Chinese military.

Apple CEO Tim Cook attends the Economic Summit held for the China Development Forum in Beijing, China, on March 23, 2019. (Ng Han Guan/AFP/Getty Images)

According to the state-owned newspaper China Education Daily, the university received more than 100 million yuan ($14.53 million) from the Science and Technology Committee of Chinas Central Military Commission—a Party organ that oversees the military—to advance AI capabilities for the military.

The work of the universitys “Military Intelligent High-End Lab,” an AI lab established in 2018, will be “guided by military needs” to make China an advanced AI country, according to the newspaper report.

Apple hasnt responded to a media inquiry as of press time.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) took to Twitter on Oct. 21, criticizing Cook for his decision to chair the board.

“Will you teach a course on human liberties [and] Tiananmen Square? Maybe update students about whats happening in Hong Kong Protests?” he asked.

Bowing to China

Apple has recently come under criticism at home for toeing Beijings line in order to maintain its business in China.

On the same day the Tsinghua meeting took place, a bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote to Cook expressing concern over the companys recent decision to pull a crowd-sourced app,, from its app store.

The app has gained popularity among Hong Kong locals for providing timely updates about the ongoing protests, which could help protesters avoid tear gas and clashes on the street. Apple dropped the app just one day after Chinese state media accused the company of protecting “rioters” and told Apple that its business prosperity in China was at stake.

Apple employees line the stairs as they
Apple employees line the stairs as they
Apple employees line the stairs as they welcome customers during the opening of the first Apple retail store in Hong Kong on Sept. 24, 2011. (Dale de la Rey/AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese factories assemble the majority of Apple iPhones. The greater China area also generated $52 billion of sales in 2018, which accounted for roughly one-fifth of the companys global total in 2018, according to Apples financial earnings report.

The U.S. officials said the firms decision “to accommodate the Chinese government” was “deeply concerning.”

“We urge you in the strongest terms to reverse course, to demonstrate that Apple puts values above market access, and to stand with the brave men and women fighting for basic rights and dignity in Hong Kong,” they wrote in the letter.

Also, on Oct. 17, Cook met with Chinese market regulators in Beijing for “deep discussions” about issues such as corporate social responsibility and business expansion in the country, according to a statement from Chinese authorities.

Citing compliance with local laws, in early October, Apple removed the Taiwan flag emoji from its latest version of the emoji keyboard for users in Hong Kong and Macau. Beijing considers the self-ruled island of Taiwan a breakaway province and has threatened to claim it by force if necessary.

Apple has also been sending data, such as IP addresses, to Tencent, a social media and gaming company with government ties, as part of an iPhone and iPad security feature, according to media reports.

]]> Bipartisan Lawmakers Call Out Apple, Blizzard for Enforcing Chinese Regime Censorship Sat, 19 Oct 2019 01:17:10 +0000 A bipartisan group of lawmakers criticized Apple and Blizzard on Oct. 18 for their recent decisions to censor the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement for the sake of business interests in China.

Apple recently pulled a popular crowd-sourced app that maps out the protest development in Hong Kong from its app store. That came just a day after Chinese state media berated the tech giant for aiding Hong Kong protesters by approving the app. They warned that Apples business prospects are on the line.

The volunteer-run app,, keeps track of movements of both police and protesters. App users can avoid tear gas or clashes in the city embroiled with mass demonstrations in defiance of mounting interference from the Chinese regime.

In a joint letter to Apples CEO Tim Cook (pdf), the lawmakers said that Apples decision “to accommodate the Chinese government” was “deeply concerning.”

Citing data from non-profit Great Fire, they said that the company has also censored more than 2,200 apps in China. Among them were the Virtual Private Network apps used to get around Chinas Great Firewall and apps for oppressed groups such as Uyghurs and Tibetans.

Senate and House members: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.), and Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), signed the letter.

Lanterns hang outside an Apple store in a mall in Beijing, China, on Feb. 23, 2016. (Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)

“We urge you in the strongest terms to reverse course, to demonstrate that Apple puts values above market access, and to stand with the brave men and women fighting for basic rights and dignity in Hong Kong,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.

“When a repressive government refuses to evolve or, indeed, when it doubles down, cooperation can become complicity,” the letter stated.

Hong Kong police face growing accusations of escalating their level of aggression toward protesters. So far, over 2,600 people have been arrested during the protests.

Cook traveled to Beijing and met with Chinas State Administration for Market Regulation on Oct. 17. According to a statement from Chinese authorities, the two sides engaged in “deep discussions” about issues such as corporate social responsibility and expanding Apples business in China.

Visitors try out games at the Blizzard Entertainment stand at the Gamescom 2015 gaming trade fair in Cologne, Germany.
Visitors try out games at the Blizzard Entertainment stand at the Gamescom 2015 gaming trade fair in Cologne, Germany.
Visitors try out games at the Blizzard Entertainment stand at the Gamescom 2015 gaming trade fair in Cologne, Germany on August 5, 2015. (Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images)

Five of the members also wrote a separate letter (pdf) to Activision Blizzard, a California-based video game company. They urge it to reconsider its move to ban pro-Hong Kong player Ng Wai Chung.

Ng, better known for his online name Blitzchung, received a one-year suspension from Blizzard Entertainment—a subsidiary of Activision Blizzard—for shouting out “Stand with Hong Kong” during a post-tournament broadcast.

Blizzard also revoked Ngs $10,000 prize money and fired two hosts who expressed support for the Hong Kong protests. After the decision backfired, Blizzard lightened the ban to six months and returned Ngs prize money.

The company also banned three college sophomores from the games because they held a pro-Hong Kong sign on Oct. 8 boycotting the punishment on Ng.

Activision Blizzards decision to penalize Ng is “disappointing,” and “could have a chilling effect on gamers who seek to use their platform to promote human rights and basic freedom,” the lawmakers said.

“Your company claims to stand by ones right to express individual thoughts and opinions. Yet, many of your own employees believe that Activision Blizzards decision to punish Mr. Chung runs counter to those values.”

They also said that many gamers worldwide have been calling for boycotts of the company.

“As China amplifies its campaign of intimidation, you and your company must decide whether to look beyond the bottom line and promote American values—like freedom of speech and thought—or to give in to Beijings demands in order to preserve market access,” they wrote.

]]> Blizzard Bans 3 More Players for Supporting Hong Kong Thu, 17 Oct 2019 22:18:53 +0000 U.S. gaming company Blizzard Entertainment has suspended three more players for expressing support for Hong Kong during an esport competition, a week after it triggered public criticism for punishing a Hong Kong player for similar actions.

Three Hearthstone players from Washington-based American University held a sign that read “Free Hong Kong, boycott Blizz” during a Collegiate Championship match on Oct. 8.

Their message was in reaction to Blizzard suspending Hearthstone player Ng Wai Chung, better known as “Blitzchung,” on the same day for shouting a pro-Hong Kong slogan during a post-match interview.

The broadcast cut away from the protest sign after a few seconds.

Just a little message for @PlayHearthstone @HSesports #BoycottBlizzard

— Casey Chambers (@Xcelsior_hs) October 9, 2019

“Happy to announce the AU Hearthstone team received a six month ban from competition,” 19-year-old Casey Chambers, one of the college players who goes by the moniker “Xcelsior”, wrote in an Oct. 16 tweet, attaching screenshots of the suspension notification from Hearthstone Admin.

The notice said Chambers had violated a rule prohibiting players from engaging in any activity that is “abusive, insulting, mocking, or disruptive.”

The other two suspended players are Corwin Dark, known as “Giant Dwarf,” and Torin Wright, known as “TJammer,” according to CNN.

Hong Kong has become a sensitive topic in mainland China since mass protests broke out in June in opposition to the growing influence of the Chinese Communist Party in the city.

In addition to Blizzard, a raft of foreign companies including Google, Apple, and the National Basketball Association, have become entangled in controversy over the Hong Kong protests, and have drawn criticism for reigning in free speech in an attempt to placate the Chinese regime.

Protesters shout slogans as they hold flyers at the Southorn Playground in Hong Kong on Oct. 15, 2019. (Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images)

“Every voice matters at Blizzard, and we strongly encourage everyone in our community to share their viewpoints,” the notice from Hearthstone Admin read. It went on to say that the official broadcast needs “to be a place where all are welcome.”

The suspension came almost a week after the demonstration by the three players, who had also forfeited their next game on Oct. 10 because they felt it was “hypocritical” of Blizzard to punish Blitzchung, but not their team, CNN reported.

“While delayed I appreciate all players being treated equally and no one being above the rules,” Chambers said in the tweet.

On Oct. 8, Blizzard initially suspended Blitzchung for a year and stripped him of his prize money for the season for shouting out the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age” during a post-tournament live interview. The slogan has been popularized during the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Amid outcry from employees and players, Blizzard reduced the punishment to six months on Oct. 12 and restored his prize money, which amounted to $10,000.

In response to Blitzchungs suspension, Hearthstone broadcaster Brian Kibler and Nathan Zamora both stated that they would not be casting at BlizzCon 2019, Blizzards annual gaming convention set to take place on Nov. 1 to Nov. 3.

“I will not be a smiling face on camera that tacitly endorses this decision,” Kibler wrote in a statement on Oct. 9.

Another Hearthstone player, William Barton, criticized Blizzard for silencing views deemed offensive to the Chinese regime, saying he supports ”the right of people in Hong Kong and around the world to assemble in protest.”

“I recognize that my decision to speak up may have consequences, but I believe its important to stand for what you think is right, and stand for the rights of others when they cant necessarily do so themselves,” he wrote in an Oct. 10 statement.

]]> Google Debuts Pixel 4 Phone, Wireless Earbuds With AI Tue, 15 Oct 2019 16:49:08 +0000 Google unveiled a new Pixel smartphone and other hardware devices on Oct 15, all aimed at getting people even more dependent on its artificial-intelligence services.

The Pixel 4 phone promises to respond to AI queries even faster than before, while a home Wi-Fi system is getting the AI features for the first time. The company also unveiled a new smart speaker and wireless earbuds, both invoking the AI-powered Google Assistant.

The Assistant, akin to Apples Siri and Amazons Alexa, is now available on more than 1 billion devices, including ones made by other manufacturers. With Googles own products, though, the company can steer users to Assistant features even more.

That in turn, could encourage Google users to interact with other Google services such as search and maps more frequently, feeding into Googles multi-billion dollar advertising business. More use of the Assistant also means that Google gets more data on user preferences and activities to build its advertising profiles.

Amazon and Google are both pushing their voice assistants onto more devices, though they have different ultimate goals, said Victoria Petrock, principle analyst at eMarketer. Amazon is getting a shopping assistant into every device it can, she said, while Google is collecting more information about user preferences.

“I think their end game is trying to collect all this data and target you with advertising,” she said.

The “helpful” features Assistant announces could make people even more likely to use it.

“The voice is a whole new way to capture peoples behaviors,” she said.

Assistant has faced scrutiny this year after reports revealed that Google contractors were transcribing some customers spoken communication with the AI to help improve the system. Google has since clarified its policies and said it will make it more explicit that people must give explicit permission, or opt-in.

Still, many are skeptical of the proliferation of digital assistants in homes and pockets.

With the new Pixel, the Google Assistant will complete some tasks entirely on the device—so it doesnt have to wait for answers from the cloud—allowing users to make commands and dictate text messages more quickly.

The Pixel 4 will have better facial recognition for unlocking the phone with a glance. Unlike the existing “trusted face” feature on Android phones, the new Face Unlock is intended to be more secure and easier to use, matching what Apple and Samsung already offer.

Google Pixel 4 phone 3
Google Pixel 4 phone 3
New Pixel 4 phones are displayed at Google in Mountain View, Calif., on Sept. 24, 2019. (Jeff Chiu/AP Photo)

The new phone gets a second camera lens, for better zooming, even as some Apple and Samsung devices are getting a third lens, for wider-angle shots. True to Googles focus on AI, the Pixels new camera will recognize people you have taken many photos of before and automatically focus on them in new shots.

And the new phone comes with motion-sensing technology that allows people to do simple hand-waving gestures to skip songs or switch apps without touching the phone.

The Pixel 4 will carry a starting price tag of $799—$100 more than the entry-level iPhone 11—and will go on sale Oct. 24. The larger XL version will cost $899.

Google Pixel 4 phone 5
Google Pixel 4 phone 5
Rick Osterloh, SVP of Google Hardware holds a new Pixel 4 phone while interviewed in Mountain View, Calif., on Sept. 24, 2019. (Jeff Chiu/AP Photo)

Googles phones have been well reviewed, but have yet to make much of a splash in the market dominated by Apple, Huawei and Samsung. In fact, Googles hardware products have never been big moneymakers. Rather, they offer a way for Google to showcase its money-making services.

Google introduced a less expensive version of its phone, the Pixel 3a, to positive reviews in May, a trend that is sweeping across the smartphone market as consumers hold on to phones longer rather than buy new, expensive models. Google hinted the trend may continue, but offered no details.

“We see that being a really great long-term opportunity, both for our users and for us,” said Rick Osterloh, senior vice president of hardware at Google

The company also unveiled true wireless earbuds, called Pixel Buds, Googles answer to Apples AirPods. The new model, which will go on sale early next year for $179, does away with the wire that connects the two buds.

Google Wireless Earbud
Google Wireless Earbud
Ivy Ross holds Pixel buds at Google in Mountain View, Calif., on Sept. 24, 2019. (Jeff Chiu/AP Photo)
Google Wireless Earbuds 2
Google Wireless Earbuds 2
Isabelle Olsson, head of color & design for Nest, shows Pixel buds in her ear at Google in Mountain View, Calif., on Sept. 24, 2019. (Jeff Chiu/AP Photo)

Google introduced Nest Mini, the smaller version of its smart speaker. It comes out next Tuesday for $49. Googles refreshed Wi-Fi router, Nest Wifi, will be available in the coming weeks for $269. A new Pixelbook Go laptop goes on sale in January staring at $649.

Google hardware team, including many former Google Glass engineers, work from a light-filled, architecturally impressive building near the companys main campus in Mountain View, California. The building is complete with a “color lab” for finding the perfect device hues, a materials library for all sorts of elemental inspiration and a small model shop to build device prototypes on site.

“We started by defining what it feels like to hold Google in your hands,” hardware design executive Ivy Ross said. “The good thing about coming a little bit late to the hardware arena is you get to stand back and look at everyone else.”

One of the challenges this time around was finding a way to make the products more sustainable, a feat especially notable on the Nest Mini, which has a “fabric” casing made of yarn created from plastic water bottles.

By Rachel Lerman

]]> Qatar Showcases Pricey Cooling Tech for World Cup Soccer Stadium Thu, 10 Oct 2019 23:23:48 +0000 Soccer World Cup host Qatar is touting a new cooling system for open-air stadiums as the energy-efficient model for the future—but will it catch on?

Architects and engineers of Al Janoub, a 40,000-seat venue in Doha for the 2022 Soccer World Cup, said they found a technological solution to beat the unbearable desert heat of Qatar.

Soccer fans and players can enjoy a game at a comfortable 75 degrees in the outdoors, even as temperatures soar past 120 Fahrenheit.

Small ducts under the seats and nozzles at field level gently diffuse cool air. “Youre living inside a micro, climate-controlled bubble,” said Saud Abdul-Ghani, a Qatar University mechanical engineering professor who led the design.

Abdul-Ghani said the system requires about one-fifth of the energy typically needed to cool spaces of the same size, such as airport terminals or closed baseball stadiums. This is because the new system continuously recycles air into small zones.

Nadia Elrokhsy, associate professor of ecological design at Parsons School of Design in New York, said while she appreciates the four-fifths reduction as a step forward, she is less convinced about the overall impact.

“They are comparing it to business as usual. … Business as usual is never as business we should have been in,” she said

Qatar wants to see its new cooling technology spread beyond its borders.

“The Americans, Mexicans, and Canadians will surely look at this because of thermal stress on players,” Abdul-Ghani said, referring to the host nations of the 2026 World Cup.

The system has been left unpatented for anyone to adopt. Still, it is uncertain whether other countries will be willing to pay for the upgrade.

Thani Khalifa Al Zarraa, the project manager for the stadium, said the cooling system increased the cost of construction by two to three times, or around $6,000 to $7,000 per seat.

Reuters contributed to this report.

]]> Apple Pulls Hong Kong App Amid Chinese Regimes Pressure Thu, 10 Oct 2019 17:36:54 +0000 Apple removed an app from its App Store that provides real-time updates for Hongkongers about police and protester movements on Oct. 10, becoming the latest international brand that has caved to pressure from the Chinese regime.

The dynamic, crowd-sourced app has become popular for helping people to navigate through the tear gas-filled streets in Hong Kong, a former British colony where pro-democracy protests have erupted since June against Beijings creeping interference. The emojis and spontaneous updates proved handy for users to track conditions such as train closures and potential clashes.

Hong Kong Protests Apple
Hong Kong Protests Apple
A display of the app “” designed by an outside supplier and that had available on Apple Inc.s online store is seen in Hong Kong, on Oct. 9, 2019. (Vincent Yu/AP)

Apple said in a statement that the app has posed “serious harm” to law enforcement and local residents.

“We have verified with the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau that the app has been used to target and ambush police, threaten public safety, and criminals have used it to victimize residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement,” it said.

Apples CEO Tim Cook defended the apps removal on Oct. 10, saying that it was based on “credible information” from Hong Kong police and Apple users in Hong Kong.

In an internal memo obtained by several media outlets and confirmed by Apple, Cook wrote that although information such as crowdsourced reporting of police checkpoints and protest hotspots is in itself “benign,” the app was “being used maliciously to target individual officers for violence and to victimize individuals and property where no police are present.”

“It is no secret that technology can be used for good or for ill. This case is no different,” Cook wrote.

The move came one day after Chinese state media berated the company for aiding Hong Kong protesters by approving the “toxic” app. The app, which is also on Google Play, had just gone live on the iPhone shelf less than a week ago, after initially being rejected by Apple earlier this month.

Responding to the app removal, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson in an Oct. 10 press conference again described the Hong Kong movement as “extremist” and “criminal activities.”

The developers of said they disagree with claims that the app is a public safety threat and said there was zero evidence backing up the Hong Kong authorities allegations.

“The majority of user review[s] in the App Store … suggest HKmap IMPROVED public safety, not the opposite,” they said.

Apples rejection of the app is “clearly a political decision to suppress freedom and human right in HongKong,” they added.

“HKmap is used by [sic] passerby, protesters, journalists, tourists, and even pro-government supporters … If HKmap is for target and ambush police or other illegal purpose as falsely accused, why would I bother making it available to the public?”

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) criticized Apples decision, saying that the company had just assured him last week that “their initial decision to ban this app was a mistake.”

“Looks like the Chinese censors have had a word with them since. Who is really running Apple? Tim Cook or Beijing?” he said on Oct. 10.

Chinese officials and state media have consistently framed the unrelenting pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong as “riots” and have derided foreign companies that go against the Party line for “hurting Chinese feelings.” expressed disappointment to see U.S. brands “such as Apple, NBA, Blizzard Entertainment, and Tiffany & Co. act against freedom.”

Those companies, among others, have come under fire lately for taking actions to appease the Chinese regime in connection with the Hong Kong protests.

Apple's new iPhone 11 phones are displayed at the Apple Store in IFC, Central district, Hong Kong, China
Apple's new iPhone 11 phones are displayed at the Apple Store in IFC, Central district, Hong Kong, China
Apples new iPhone 11 phones are displayed at the Apple Store in IFC, Central district, Hong Kong, on Oct. 10, 2019. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

Apple had recently removed a Quartz news app from its Chinese mobile app store, due to Chinese government complaints that it “includes content that is illegal in China,” according to The Verge. The news organization told The Verge that they “abhor this kind of government censorship of the internet.”

Google also suspended a role-playing app on Oct. 10 for violating a company policy “prohibiting developers from capitalizing on sensitive events, such as attempting to make money from serious ongoing conflicts or tragedies through a game.” The app, titled “The Revolution of Our Times,” allows users to role-play as Hong Kong protesters.

Greater China is Apples third-largest market in terms of revenue, generating $52 billion—about a fifth of the companys total sales—during the past year. Its also where Apple manufactures most of its products, including iPhones and iPads.

During the Oct. 10 press conference, the foreign ministry spokesperson also said that foreign businesses are welcome to invest in China, “but the precondition is that they comply with Chinese laws and regulations and respect Chinese peoples national feelings. There is no doubt about that.”

]]> Senators Call Out Huawei Threat in Letter to Microsoft Tue, 08 Oct 2019 22:31:33 +0000 Five U.S. senators wrote to Microsoft on Oct. 7 concerning the “real and urgent” threats posed by Chinese tech giant Huawei.

The letter was in response to Microsoft President Brad Smith, also the U.S. software developers chief legal officer, who said in a Bloomberg Businessweek interview that U.S. regulators should provide more evidence to back up its rationale for blacklisting Huawei.

In May, the U.S. Department of Commerce placed Huawei and 68 subsidiaries on an “entity list” on national security grounds, which effectively banned it from doing business with U.S. companies unless it applies for a special license. U.S. authorities have since added more Huawei subsidiaries to the list.

“To tell a tech company that it can sell products, but not buy an operating system or chips, is like telling a hotel company that it can open its doors, but not put beds in its hotel rooms or food in its restaurant,” Smith told Bloomberg.

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