VOA Science & Tech
Updated: 43 min 1 sec ago
For the 750 million people globally who can't read, using a smartphone can be difficult. One company is helping illiterate and low literacy users get connected. Tina Trinh reports.
It’s a stretch but with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, we thought we’d talk about the heart, but with a tech twist. Each heart is different, and that can make surgery challenging. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports on new technology that creates a 3D model of a specific patient's heart to help a doctor prepare for surgery.
The U.S. military wants to expand its use of artificial intelligence in warfare, but says it will take care to deploy the technology in accordance with the nation's values. The Pentagon outlined its first AI strategy in a report released Tuesday. The plan calls for accelerating the use of AI systems throughout the military, from intelligence-gathering operations to predicting maintenance problems in planes or ships. It urges the U.S. to advance such technology swiftly before other countries chip away at its technological advantage. "Other nations, particularly China and Russia, are making significant investments in AI for military purposes, including in applications that raise questions regarding international norms and human rights," the report says. The report makes little mention of autonomous weapons but cites an existing 2012 military directive that requires humans to be in control. The U.S. and Russia are among a handful of nations that have blocked efforts at the United Nations for an international ban on "killer robots" — fully autonomous weapons systems that could one day conduct war without human intervention. The U.S. has argued that it's premature to try to regulate them. The strategy unveiled by the Department of Defense this week is focused on more immediate applications, but even some of those have sparked ethical debates. The Pentagon hit a roadblock in its AI efforts last year after internal protests at Google led the tech company to drop out of Project Maven, which uses algorithms to interpret aerial video images from conflict zones. Other companies have sought to fill the vacuum, and the Pentagon is working with AI experts from industry and academia to establish ethical guidelines for its AI applications. "Everything we've seen is with a human decision-maker in the loop," said Todd Probert, a vice president at Raytheon's intelligence division, which is working with the Pentagon on Maven and other projects. "It's using technology to help speed up the process but not supplant the command structure that's in place." The Pentagon's report follows President Donald Trump's Monday executive order prioritizing AI research across the government.
Russian lawmakers backed tighter internet controls on Tuesday to defend against foreign meddling in draft legislation that critics warn could disrupt Russia's internet and be used to stifle dissent. The legislation, which some Russian media have likened to an online "iron curtain," passed its first of three readings in the 450-seat lower chamber of parliament. The bill seeks to route Russian web traffic and data through points controlled by state authorities and proposes building a national Domain Name System to allow the internet to continue functioning even if the country is cut off from foreign infrastructure. The legislation was drafted in response to what its authors describe as an aggressive new U.S. national cybersecurity strategy passed last year. The Agora human rights group said earlier this month that the legislation was one of several new bills drafted in December that "seriously threaten Internet freedom." The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs has said the bill poses more of a risk to the functioning of the Russian internet segment than the alleged threats from foreign countries that the bill seeks to counter. The bill also proposes installing network equipment that would be able to identify the source of web traffic and also block banned content. The legislation, which can still be amended, but which is expected to pass, is part of a drive by officials to increase Russian "sovereignty" over its internet segment. Russia has introduced tougher internet laws in the last five years, requiring search engines to delete some search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services, and social networks to store Russian users' personal data on servers within the country. The bill faces two more votes in the lower chamber, before it is voted on in the upper house of parliament and then signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.
Social media service Reddit Inc. says it has raised $300 million in a financing round led by Chinese internet giant Tencent. Reddit's CEO, Steve Huffman, told CNBC on Monday that values the privately held company at $3 billion. Half the new money came from Tencent, Asia's most valuable tech company. Other investors included Sequoia, Fidelity, Andreessen Horowitz, Quiet Capital, VY and Snoop Dogg. The announcement prompted criticism of Reddit for linking itself with a company from China, where the ruling Communist Party enforces extensive online censorship. Access to Reddit is blocked in China. Tencent operates online games and popular WeChat social media service. It owns 40 percent of "Fortnite" creator Epic Games and 15 percent of photo service Snap.
The Iowa Democratic Party on Monday proposed the biggest changes to the state's famed caucuses in nearly 50 years by recommending Iowans be able to participate virtually. If approved, the measure would allow people to caucus using telephones or smart devices during the days leading up to the Feb. 3 caucus night. It's a dramatic shift from the current system in which caucus-goers have to physically show up at a site — often a school, church or community center — and show their support for presidential candidates by standing in groups. If the group doesn't meet an established threshold, the participants have to select another candidate. It's an often chaotic process that plays out before banks of television cameras on an evening that formally ushers in the presidential primary season. But proponents say it will help address criticism that the caucuses are difficult to attend for single parents, people who work at night and the elderly. "Through this additional process we're going to be able to give more Iowans a chance to participate in this process," Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price said. "Whether someone is a shift worker, a single parent, in the military, living overseas or experiencing mobility issues, this process will now give these individuals a voice in selecting the next president of the United States." And while Price says the proposed changes are the state party's effort to open the process often described by critics as antiquated, it was also required by the Democratic National Committee. The results are Iowa Democrats' attempt at threading the needle of complying while maintaining the essence of the caucuses, which are real-time meetings of fellow partisans. Presidential candidates are already beginning to swarm the state — three were here this weekend. They'll likely try to determine whether a virtual caucus would help them turn out more of their supporters. "I suspect presidential campaigns who we've shared this information with are going to be trying to figure out how to get their members to participate in this," Price added. Party officials said they didn't know how many people would take advantage of the new format or how campaigns might seek to capitalize on it. A key element of the proposal, which now goes before Iowa Democrats to comment on for 30 days, is that, no matter how many Iowans participate virtually, their contribution will be factored as a flat 10 percent of the total turnout, apportioned by congressional district. Price said officials reached 10 percent as a starting point, uncertain of how many people might join virtually. "This is a new system so we don't have any data to tell if this number is too high or too low," Price said. "And so we are starting the conversation at the 10 percent threshold, and if it goes gangbusters this year, then we will have conversations in subsequent years about if we need to make adjustments." Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee who narrowly beat Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Iowa that year, criticized the caucus process for deterring late-shift workers and others less able to steal away for an evening of political wrangling. "Campaigns must decide how to organize for that 10 percent," said veteran Iowa Democratic caucus operative Jeff Link, who did not work for Clinton in 2016 and is not affiliated with a candidate heading into 2020. In another noteworthy development, the state party said it would release the raw data of preferences by caucus-goers, information that is typically kept confidential. The caucuses are a series of preference tests in which candidates without a certain level of support are rendered unviable. This data would give a first glimpse of the candidates' support before caucus-goers abandon their first choices to side with more viable contenders. The Iowa caucuses are scheduled for February 3, 2020. The proposal won't be finalized until the spring.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday signed an executive order asking federal government agencies to dedicate more resources and investment into research, promotion and training on artificial intelligence, known as AI. Under the American AI Initiative, the administration is directing agencies to prioritize AI investments in research and development, increase access to federal data and models for that research and prepare workers to adapt to the era of AI. There was no specific funding announced for the initiative, but the White House wants better reporting and tracking of spending on AI-related research and development. The White House said investment in AI is "critical to creating the industries of the future, like autonomous cars, industrial robots, algorithms for disease diagnosis, and more." The initiative aims to make sure the United States maintains its advantage in AI development and related areas, such as advanced manufacturing and quantum computing. Trump, in his State of the Union speech last week, said he was willing to work with lawmakers to deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting-edge industries of the future, calling it a "necessity." Michael Kratsios, a White House science adviser, said in an essay in Wired magazine on Monday that "with proper leadership, AI can empower American workers by liberating them from mundane tasks." "AI is something that touches every aspect of people's lives," a senior administration official told reporters on Sunday. "What this initiative attempts to do is to bring all those together under one umbrella and show the promise of this technology for the American people," the official said. AI and deep machine learning raise ethical concerns about control, privacy, cybersecurity, and is set to trigger job displacements across industries, companies and experts say. A 2018 study from PwC said 30 percent of jobs are at potential risk of automation by the mid-2030s, including 44 percent of workers with low education. At the same time, the study found automation could boost global gross domestic product by $15 trillion by 2030. The White House held a meeting on AI in May with more than 30 major companies from a variety of industries, including Ford, Boeing, Amazon.com and Microsoft, vowing not to stand in the way of its development.
A much-hyped network upgrade called "5G" means different things to different people. To industry proponents, it's the next huge innovation in wireless internet. To the U.S. government, it's the backbone technology of a future that America will wrestle with China to control. To many average people, it's simply a mystery. The technology is one of the issues expected to take center stage at the MWC mobile conference in Barcelona, Spain, this month. The interest goes well beyond engineers: In Washington, there are fears that China could take the lead in developing the technology and sell equipment that could be used to spy on Americans. What, exactly, is 5G wireless — and will you even notice when it comes online? What is 5G? 5G is a new technical standard for wireless networks — the fifth, naturally — that promises faster speeds; less lag, or "latency," when connecting to the network; and the ability to connect many devices to the internet without bogging it down. 5G networks will ideally be better able to handle more users, lots of sensors and heavy traffic. Before we can all use it, wireless companies and phone makers have to upgrade. Phones need new chips and radio antennas. The phone you have today won't work with a 5G network. Wireless companies have been getting ready. They've been revamping their network equipment, buying up chunks of radio spectrum for carrying 5G signals, and installing new 5G antennas on cellphone towers, utility poles and streetlights. Wireless providers will invest $275 billion in 5G-related networks in the U.S., according to CTIA, an industry trade group. When will it be available? A true U.S. mobile rollout will start in 2019. It will take a few years to go national, and even then more rural areas of the country will not be covered in the "millimeter wave" frequencies that promise the highest data speeds and capacities, said Michael Thelander, CEO of wireless consultancy Signals Research Group. Thelander predicts that China may lag the U.S. by a year in its initial rollout, but will ultimately have the biggest deployment, while European countries will build out more slowly. Beware of confusion, though. Wireless carriers have a history of rushing to slap the latest-and-greatest label on their networks, and this time is no different. AT&T has already applied the name 5G on a service that's not really 5G. (Sprint, upset, then sued its larger rival.) Once the network is ready, you'll need a 5G-enabled phone to connect to it. The first ones should be available in the first half of 2019, but a 5G iPhone isn't expected until 2020. 5G phones will most likely be more expensive than current 4G phones. Don't worry, even when 5G turns on, you can keep using 4G phones, just not at 5G speeds. Wat can 5G do? There's a considerable amount of hype over the promise of 5G. Industry groups say it will promote smart cities by connecting sensor networks that could manage traffic and quickly identify streetlight outages. 5G could connect self-driving cars and fuel new applications in virtual and augmented reality. Its high-speed connections could enable better remote surgery and other telemedicine, help companies automate their factories and offer businesses dedicated high-speed internet lanes. "5G speeds, and ever-faster home broadband, will mean that existing applications will get richer, and also that new applications will emerge — new Flickrs, YouTubes or Snapchats. We don't know what yet," Benedict Evans, a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, wrote in a January blog post . The most immediate impact on consumers will be faster download speeds for movies and other video. Thelander says your phone's internet will work better in crowded locations such as stadiums. What are the security concerns? The 5G network is one front in rising tensions between the U.S. and China. The U.S. government has warned U.S. companies not to use Chinese telecom technology in communications networks due to security concerns, and is pressing other countries to ban Huawei, a Chinese telecom company, from 5G network buildouts. U.S. officials have suspected for years that the Chinese government could use Huawei network equipment to help it spy. Huawei has rejected such accusations.
A new type of solar panel promises a cheap, flexible way to get more power from the sun. They may help the growing renewable energy industry expand even faster. VOA's Steve Baragona has more.
In Algeria, it was banned from bidding for public contracts after one of its executives was convicted of bribery. In Zambia, it was probed over allegations of bribery involving a multi-million-dollar contract to build cell towers in rural areas. In the Solomon Islands, it was accused of offering millions of dollars to the ruling party in exchange for an undersea fiber optic cable contract. In all three cases – and half a dozen others in recent years – the alleged perpetrator was Huawei Technologies, the Chinese telecom behemoth facing scrutiny from Western nations over allegations of intellectual property theft and espionage. Saying it poses a national security threat, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand have banned the company from building new, state of the art 5G telecom networks. Other Western countries are debating over a similar ban. Security concerns about Huawei and other Chinese telecom equipment providers are mounting after U.S. prosecutors last month charged the company founded by a former People’s Liberation Army officer with violating U.S. sanctions on Iran, purloining trade secrets from T-Mobile and encouraging its employees to steal intellectual property. The focus on national security concerns about Huawei has eclipsed a little reported aspect of the company’s operations: Huawei’s involvement in corrupt business dealings. The company has denied the allegations of corruption and said it has strong safeguards against corporate graft. In a statement on its website, Huawei says it has a “zero-tolerance” policy on graft. “Huawei believes that corruption severely damages fair market competition and is a threat to the development of our society, economy and enterprises,” the statement said. But experts who have studied Huawei’s business practices say the company’s statements are contradicted by its conduct. “The unfortunate reality of Huawei’s activities on the (African) continent is that they have a proven track record of engaging in corruption and other dodgy business dealings,” said Joshua Meservey, an Africa expert at the Heritage Foundation and author of a recent report on Chinese corporate corruption. With business operations in more than 170 countries and annual revenues of $108 billion, Huawei is the world’s largest supplier of telecom equipment. Last year, the multinational company beat Apple to become the No. 2 manufacturer of smartphones and tablets in the world. In December, Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested by Canadian authorities and she is being held for possible extradition to the U.S. for violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran. Huawei has rejected the charges. In a recent letter to the U.K. Parliament made public last week, Huawei refuted allegations of espionage, saying if the company engaged “in malicious behavior, it would not go unnoticed – and it would certainly destroy our business.” International corruption In developing countries in Asia and Africa, the company’s corrupt business practices are a matter of great concern among industry officials and civil society activists. In the last 12 years, Huawei and its smaller Chinese rival ZTE have been “investigated or found guilty of corruption” in as many as 21 countries, according to Andy Keiser, a former House Intelligence Committee professional staffer. These include a dozen African countries such as Algeria and Ghana as well as the Philippines, Malaysia, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Mongolia, the Solomon Islands and China itself, according to Keiser. “ZTE and Huawei have developed dubious reputations around the world,” Keiser testified before Congress last June. The transaction cost of Huawei’s corrupt business deals runs in the billions. RWR Advisory Group, a consulting firm that tracks Chinese investments around the world, estimates that Huawei has entered into more than $5 billion worth of business deals involving allegations of bribery and corruption. The charges against Huawei range from outright bribery to making illegal donations to political parties in exchange for contracts and other business advantages. The Algerian case involved an elaborate scheme in which Huawei and ZTE executives allegedly paid $10 million in bribes to a former state telecom operator executive and a businessman in exchange for winning contracts. In 2012, an Algerian court convicted the former executive and another businessman of receiving bribes. The two Algerians were sentenced to 18 years in prison. Three executives of the Chinese firms also were tried in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in prison for their role in the scheme. The government fined Huawei and ZTE and banned them from bidding on public contracts for two years. In Ghana, Huawei has confronted accusations of illegally funding the ruling party, a charge Huawei and other Chinese companies have faced in other countries. In 2012, an opposition group disclosed what it claimed was evidence that Huawei had made illegal campaign contributions to the ruling National Democratic Congress in exchange for a $43 million tax exemption. Alliance for Accountable Governance (AFAG) produced invoices and other documents showing the Chinese telecom company had paid for millions of dollars worth of campaign paraphernalia for the ruling party’s 2012 election campaign. In return, the group alleged, the government awarded “one of the juiciest contracts to be doled out by the government” – a $150 million contract to build an e-government platform. Huawei and the government denied the charges. In the Solomon Islands, Huawei has faced similar accusations. In 2017, a Parliamentary committee accused the government of awarding Huawei a contract to build a submarine fiber optic link to Australia after Huawei offered a $5.25 million campaign donation to the ruling party. “The committee is of the view that this is the main reason for the government to bypass procurement requirements in favor of the company Huawei,” a parliamentary report said. Huawei dismissed the allegations. “As a global business entity, Huawei does not involve itself in politics. Huawei forbids all of its global subsidiaries from making any form of political donation, including in places where this practice is legal,” the company said in a statement. Bribery allegations have also plagued Huawei projects in South Africa, Nigeria, and Pakistan. But the company appears to have weathered the allegations, positioning itself as a major player in building 5G networks around the world. WATCH: 5G networks explained As of last February, Huawei had signed 25 memorandums of understanding with telecom operators around the world to trial 5G equipment, according to a Reuters survey of public announcements. In recent years, Huawei has also found itself at the receiving end of a Chinese government crackdown on domestic corruption. In 2017, the head of Huawei’s consumer business group for China was detained on suspicion of taking bribes. To root out corruption among its employees, Huawei says it has implemented policies including requiring executives to take a loyalty oath. But the safeguards are “of limited value if the material incentives for employees don’t reflect those priorities,” said Alexandra Wrage, president of anti-bribery business organization TRACE International. “This danger can be compounded when an enterprise maintains financial and political backing from the government, which is often seen as fostering a greater tolerance for risk in pursuit of growth,” Wrage said.
Scientists are helping patients fight flu, diabetes and other maladies with the help of a smart watch that monitors body chemistry for blood sugar, sweat and other data. Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas say it can also help couples get pregnant by tracking the stress. Mariia Prus traveled to Texas to learn more. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
A new kind of electric car charging point has been switched on in London. It's designed to make electric vehicle, or EV, charging infrastructure cheaper and greener. It also acts as a data port, as VOA's Mariama Diallo reports.
One of the world's top research universities, the U.S.-based University of California, Berkeley, has stopped new research projects with Huawei Technologies, a Chinese telecommunications giant. The university's suspension, which took effect on January 30, came after the U.S. Department of Justice filed criminal charges against the corporation and some of its affiliates two days earlier. The department announced a 13-count indictment against Huawei, accusing it of stealing trade secrets, obstruction of justice, violations of economic sanctions and wire fraud. Vice Chancellor for Research Randy Katz said in a letter addressed to the Chancellor's cabinet members the campus would continue to honor existing commitments with Huawei that provide funding for current research projects. Huawei's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, has been under house arrest in Canada since December 1 for allegedly deceiving U.S. banks into clearing funds for a subsidiary that interacted with Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. Her extradition to the U.S. is pending. Meng's arrest has prompted some observers to question whether her detention was an attempt to pressure China in its ongoing trade war with the U.S. She is the daughter of the corporation's founder, a relationship that places her among the most influential corporate executives in China. UC Berkeley and other leading U.S. universities, meanwhile, are getting rid of telecom equipment made by Huawei and other Chinese companies to prevent losing federal funds under a new national security law. The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump alleges Chinese telecom companies are manufacturing equipment that allows the Chinese government to spy on users in other countries, including Western researchers working on innovative technologies. UC Berkeley has removed a Huawei video-conferencing system, a university official said. The University of California, Irvine is also replacing Chinese-made audio-video equipment. Other schools, such as the University of Wisconsin, are reviewing their telecom suppliers. The action is in response to a law Trump signed in August. A provision of the National Defense Authorization Act prohibits recipients of federal funding from using telecom and networking equipment made by Hauwei or ZTE. Universities that fail to comply with the law by August 2020 could lose federal government research grants and other funding.
What you need to know about the next generation of broadband technology.
More than two-thirds of jobs that today's college students will have in 11 years haven't been invented yet. “Those who plan to work for the next 50 years, they have to have a mindset of like, ‘I’m going to be working and learning and working and learning, and working and learning,' in order to make a career,” says Rachel Maguire, a research director with the Institute for the Future, which forecasts that 85 percent of the jobs that today's young people will hold in 2030 don't exist right now. The Institute for the Future, a nonprofit that identities emerging trends and their impacts on global society, envisions that by 2030, we'll be living in a world where artificial assistants help us with almost every task, not unlike the way email tries to finish spelling a word for users today. Maguire says it will be like having an assistant working alongside you, taking on tasks at which the human brain does not excel. “For the human, for the people who are digitally literate who are able to take advantage, they’ll be well-positioned to elevate their position, elevate the kind of work they can do, because they’ve got essentially an orchestra of digital technologies that they’re conducting," she says. "They’re just playing the role of a conductor, but the work’s being done, at least in partnership, with these machines.” The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says today’s students will have eight to 10 jobs by the time they are 38. And they won't necessarily have to take time away from any one of those jobs for workforce training or to gain additional certifications related to their fields. Instead, they'll partner with machines for on-the-job learning, wearing an augmented reality headset that will give them the information they need in real-time to get the work done. “It eliminates the need for people to step away from income generating opportunities to recertify in order to learn a new skill so they can level up and earn more money," Maguire says. "It gives the opportunity for people to be able to learn those kinds of new skills and demonstrate proficiency in-the-moment at the job.” And forget about traditional human resources departments or the daunting task of looking for a job on your own. In the future, the job might come to you. Potential employers will draw from different data sources, including online business profiles and social media streams, to get a sense of a person and their skill set. Maquire says there's already a lot of activity around turning employment into a matchmaking endeavor, using artificial intelligence and deep learning to help the right person and the right job find each other. In theory, this kind of online job matching could lead to less bias and discrimination in hiring practices. However, there are potential pitfalls. "We have to be cognizant that the people who are building these tools aren’t informing these tools with their own biases, whether they’re intentional or not," Maguire says. "These systems will only be as good as the data that feeds them." Which leads Maguire to another point. While she doesn’t want to sound melodramatic or evangelical about emerging technologies, she believes it is critical for the public to get engaged now, rather than sitting back and letting technology happen to them. "What do we want from these new technological capabilities, and how do we make sure we put in place the social policies and the social systems that will result in what it is we all want?" she says. "I have a deep concern that we’re just kind of sitting back and letting technology tell us what jobs we’ll have and what jobs we won’t have, rather than us figuring out how to apply these technologies to improve the human condition.”
There is no real preparation for dealing with the reality of being in a combat zone. But training helps, and that's the idea behind a virtual reality exercise that the International Committee of the Red Cross is providing to field employees. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.
Apple Inc. on Thursday rolled out software updates to iPhones to fix a privacy issue in its FaceTime video calling service, and said it would contribute toward the education of the Arizona teenager who discovered the problem. The software bug, which had let users hear audio from people who had not yet answered a video call, was discovered by a Tucson, Ariz., high school student Grant Thompson, who with his mother, Michele, led Apple to turn off FaceTime group chat as its engineers investigated the issue. The technology giant said it would compensate the Thompson family and make an additional gift toward 14-year-old Grant's education. Apple also formally credited Thompson and Daven Morris from Arlington, Texas in the release notes to its latest iPhone software update. "In addition to addressing the bug that was reported, our team conducted a thorough security audit of the FaceTime service and made additional updates to both the FaceTime app and server to improve security," Apple said in a statement. Two key U.S. House Democrats on Tuesday asked Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook to answer questions about the bug, saying they were "deeply troubled" by how long it took Apple to address the security flaw. The company said last week that it was planning to improve how it handles reports of software bugs.
Apple Inc has moved its modem chip engineering effort into its in-house hardware technology group from its supply chain unit, two people familiar with the move told Reuters, a sign the tech company is looking to develop a key component of its iPhones after years of buying it from outside suppliers. Modems are an indispensable part of phones and other mobile devices, connecting them to wireless data networks. Apple once used Qualcomm Inc chips exclusively but began phasing in Intel Corp chips in 2016 and dropped Qualcomm from iPhones released last year. Johny Srouji, Apple’s senior vice president of hardware technologies, took over the company’s modem design efforts in January, the sources said. The organizational move has not been previously reported. Srouji joined Apple in 2008 to lead chip design, including the custom A-series processors that power iPhones and iPads and a special Bluetooth chip that helps those devices pair with its AirPods wireless headphones and other Apple accessories. The modem efforts had previously been led by Rubén Caballero, who reports to Dan Riccio, the executive responsible for iPad, iPhone and Mac engineering, much of which involves integrating parts from the company’s vast electronics supply chain. Apple declined to comment. Technology publication The Information previously reported that Apple was working to develop its own modem chip. The Cupertino, California-based company has posted job listings for modem engineers in San Diego, a hub for wireless design talent because of Qualcomm’s longtime presence there and a place where Apple has said it plans to build up its workforce. Apple’s effort to make its own modem chips could take years, and it is impossible to know when, or in what devices, such chips might appear. “When you’re Apple, everything has to be good,” said Linley Gwennap, president of chip industry research firm The Linley Group. “There’s no room for some substandard component in that phone.” 5G on horizon Apple’s investment in modem chips comes as carriers and other phone makers are rolling out devices for the next generation of faster wireless networks known as 5G. Rival handset makers Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Huawei Technologies Co Ltd already make their own modems. Making its own modem chips would likely cost Apple hundreds of millions of dollars or more per year in development costs, analysts said, but could save it money eventually. Modem chips are a major part of the cost of Apple devices, worth $15 to $20 each and likely costing Apple $3 billion to $4 billion for the 200 million or so iPhones it makes a year, said Bernstein analyst Stacy Rasgon. Apple may also benefit by combining its modem chips with its processor chips, as Samsung, Huawei and most other phone makers do. That saves space and battery life, two important considerations if Apple introduces augmented reality features into future products.
Facebook has been ordered to curb its data collection practices in Germany after a landmark ruling on Thursday that the world's largest social network abused its market dominance to gather information about users without their consent. Germany, where privacy concerns run deep, is in the forefront of a global backlash against Facebook, fueled by last year's Cambridge Analytica scandal in which tens of millions of Facebook profiles were harvested without their users' consent. The country's antitrust watchdog objected in particular to how Facebook pools data on people from third-party apps — including its own WhatsApp and Instagram — and its online tracking of people who aren't even members through Facebook 'like' or 'share' buttons. "In future, Facebook will no longer be allowed to force its users to agree to the practically unrestricted collection and assigning of non-Facebook data to their Facebook accounts," Federal Cartel Office chief Andreas Mundt said. Facebook said it would appeal the decision, the culmination of a three-year probe, saying the regulator underestimated the competition it faced, and undermined Europe-wide privacy rules that took effect last year. "We disagree with their conclusions and intend to appeal so that people in Germany continue to benefit fully from all our services," Facebook said in a blog post. In its order, the cartel office said Facebook would only be allowed to assign data from WhatsApp or Instagram to its main Facebook app accounts if users consented voluntarily. Collecting data from third-party websites and assigning it to Facebook would similarly require consent. If consent is withheld, Facebook would have to substantially restrict its collection and combining of data. It should develop proposals to do this within 12 months, subject to the outcome of appeal proceedings at the Duesseldorf Higher Regional Court that should be filed within a month. If Facebook fails to comply, the cartel office said it could impose fines of up to 10 percent of the company's annual global revenues, which grew by 37 percent to $55.8 billion last year. Antitrust lawyer Thomas Vinje, a partner at Clifford Chance in Brussels, said the Cartel Office ruling had potentially far-reaching implications. "This is a landmark decision," he told Reuters. "It's limited to Germany but strikes me as exportable and might have a significant impact on Facebook's business model." Vinje said it would be tough for Facebook to persuade the court that the Cartel Office's definition of the market for social media, and its dominance, were misguided. This is a battle that many firms have fought in court and lost, he added. Implications German Justice Minister Katarina Barley welcomed the ruling. "Users are often unaware of this flow of data and cannot prevent it if they want to use the services," she told Reuters. "We need to be rigorous in tackling the abuse of power that comes with data." The German antitrust regulator's powers were expanded in 2017 to include consumer protection in public-interest cases where it could argue that a company — such as Facebook — had so little competition that consumers lack any effective choice. Facebook has an estimated 23 million daily active users in Germany, giving it a market share of 95 percent, according to the Cartel Office which considers Google+ — a rival social network that is being closed down to be its only competitor. Facebook said the cartel office failed to recognize the extent of competition it faced from Google's YouTube or Twitter for users' attention, and also said the regulator was encroaching into areas that should be handled by data protection watchdogs. Facebook is considering appealing on the data protection issues to the European Court of Justice, but here the Cartel Office may also have the upper hand, said Vinje, the lawyer. "It seems to me that the Federal Cartel Office is informed by data protections, but not dependent on them, and that it has based its decision squarely on competition law," he said. The European Commission said: "We are closely following the work of the Bundeskartellamt both in the framework of the European Competition Network and through direct contacts." "The European legislator has made sure that there is now a regulation in place that addresses this type of conduct, namely the General Data Protection Regulation [GDPR]," it added. As part of complying with the GDPR, Facebook said it had rebuilt the information its provides people about their privacy and the controls they have over their information, and improved the privacy 'choices' that they are offered. It would also soon launch a 'clear history' feature, it said. Mundt also expressed concern over reports that Facebook, which counts 2.7 billion users worldwide, plans to merge the infrastructure of its Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram services. "If I understand things correctly, this move would intensify the pooling of data," said Mundt. "It's not very hard to conclude that, putting it carefully, this could be relevant in antitrust terms. We would have to look at this very closely." Facebook has said that discussions on such a move are at a very early stage.
Twitter said Thursday profits rose sharply in the fourth quarter, lifted by gains in advertising despite a drop in its global user base. The short-messaging platform said it posted a $255 million profit in the final three months of 2018, compared with $91 million a year earlier, as revenues rose 24 percent to $909 million. But Twitter's base of monthly active users declined to 321 million — a drop of nine million from a year earlier and five million from the prior quarter. Twitter said it would stop using the monthly user base metric and instead report "monetizable" daily active users in the US and worldwide. Using that measure, Twitter showed a base of 126 million worldwide, up nine percent over the year. "2018 is proof that our long-term strategy is working," said chief executive Jack Dorsey. "Our efforts to improve health have delivered important results, and new product features like a single switch to move between latest and most relevant tweets have been embraced by the people who use Twitter. We enter this year confident that we will continue to deliver strong performance by focusing on making Twitter a healthier and more conversational service." Twitter shares sputtered and then fell sharply after the report, dropping as much as eight percent in pre-market trade. Jasmine Enberg of the research firm eMarketer said the earnings were nonetheless positive. "Twitter's Q4 earnings prove that the company is still able to grow its revenues without increasing its user base," she said. "The falloff in monthly active users is likely a continuation of Twitter's efforts to remove questionable accounts." Twitter, which has struggled to keep up with fast-growing rivals like Facebook and Instagram, said it changed the measure for its user base to reflect "our goal of delivering value to people on Twitter every day and monetizing that usage."