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Zuckerberg: Facebook Cannot Guarantee Interference-free EU Eections

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 07:00
Facebook is much better than it was in 2016 at tackling election interference but cannot guarantee the site will not be used to undermine European Parliament elections in May, Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said on Tuesday. Chastened since suspected Russian operatives used Facebook and other social media to influence an election that surprisingly brought Donald Trump to power in the United States, Facebook has said it has plowed resources and staff into safeguarding the May 26 EU vote. Zuckerberg said there had been a lot of important elections since 2016 that have been relatively clean and demonstrated the defenses it has built up to protect their integrity. "We've certainly made a lot of progress ... But no, I don't think anyone can guarantee in a world where you have nation states that are trying to interfere in elections, there's no single thing we can do and say okay we've now solved the issue," Zuckerberg told Irish national broadcaster RTE in an interview. "This is an ongoing arms race where we're constantly building up our defenses and these sophisticated governments are also evolving their tactics." U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia ran a disinformation and hacking operation to undermine the American democratic process and help Republican Trump's 2016 campaign. Moscow denies interfering in the election. Under pressure from EU regulators to do more to guard against foreign meddling in the bloc's upcoming legislative election, Facebook toughened its rules on political advertising in Europe last week. It also announced plans to ramp up efforts to fight misinformation ahead of the vote and will partner with German news agency DPA to boost its fact checking. "Here in the EU for the upcoming elections we are bringing the full battery of all of the strategies and tools that worked very well in a lot of important elections so far so I've a lot of confidence," Zuckerberg said during a trip to Dublin, home to Facebook's international headquarters. "But I think that we should expect that for some of these countries that are out there that are trying to interfere, they are just going to keep trying, so we need to stay ahead of that and keep on doing this work in order to stay ahead."

Dutch Security Agency Warns Against Chinese, Russian Technology

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 03:16
The Dutch security service advised the government Tuesday not to use technology from countries with active cyber-hacking campaigns against the Netherlands, such as China and Russia. The recommendation came as the Dutch government is weighing options for a new 5G telecommunications network in the coming years and seeks to replace its domestic emergency services network, known as C2000. The AIVD security agency flagged Chinese and Russian attempts at digital espionage as a major security risk. "It is undesirable for the Netherlands to exchange sensitive information or for vital processes to depend on the hardware or software of companies from countries running active cyber programmes against Dutch interests," the AIVD said in its annual report. Prime Minister Mark Rutte has refused to rule out doing business with Chinese technology companies, even as key allies the United States and Australia restricted Huawei Technologies from accessing its next-generation mobile networks on national security grounds. Washington has said that Huawei is at the beck and call of the Chinese state, warning that its network equipment may contain "back doors" that could open them up to cyberespionage. Huawei says such concerns are unfounded.

Scam Ads Promoting Fake Tax Breaks Prosper on Facebook

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 01:17
Hundreds of ads on Facebook promised U.S. homeowners that they were eligible for huge state tax breaks if they installed new solar-energy panels. There was just one catch: None of it was true.   The scam ads used photos of nearly every U.S. governor — and sometimes President Donald Trump — to claim that with new, lucrative tax incentives, people might actually make money by installing solar technology on their homes. Facebook users only needed to enter their addresses, email, utility information and phone number to find out more.   Those incentives don't exist.   While the ads didn't aim to bilk people of money directly — and it wasn't possible to buy solar panels through these ads — they led to websites that harvested personal information that could be used to expose respondents to future come-ons, both scammy and legitimate. It's not clear that the data was actually used in such a manner.   Facebook apparently didn't take action until notified by state-government officials who noticed the ads.   The fictitious notices reveal how easily scammers can pelt internet users with misinformation for months, undetected. They also raise further questions about whether big tech companies such as Facebook are capable of policing misleading ads, especially as the 2020 elections — and the prospect of another onslaught of online misinformation — loom.   “This is definitely concerning — definitely, it's misinformation,” said Young Mie Kim, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who studied 5 million Facebook ads during the 2016 elections. “I keep telling people: We don't have any basis to regulate such a thing.”   Experts say websites and apps need to be more transparent about the ads that run on their platforms.   Last year, Facebook launched a searchable database that provides details on political ads it runs, including who bought them and the age and gender of the audience. But it doesn't make that information available for other ads. Twitter offers its own database of ads and promoted tweets. Google has an archive for political ads only.   The partial approaches allow misleading ads to fester. One problem is the fact that ads can be targeted so narrowly that journalists and watchdog groups often won't see them.   “That allows people to do more dirty tricks,” said Ian Vanderwalker, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice's Democracy Program.   In mid-March, some websites linked in the fake solar-energy ads disappeared. After complaints from governors' offices, Facebook inactivated nearly all of the ads and several pages affiliated with them.   “These scammy ads have no place on Facebook,” company spokeswoman Devon Kearns said in a statement. “We removed these pages and disabled these ad accounts recently and will continue to take action.”   Facebook says it uses an automated process to review the images, text, targeting and position of ads posted to its site. In some cases, employees review the ads. Users can also give feedback if they believe the ads violate company policies.   Governors' offices were alarmed to see photos of top politicians featured alongside claims such as “you can get paid to go solar.”     Helen Kalla, a spokeswoman for Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, said she notified Facebook last month after staffers saw them.   Facebook took them down days later, although some continued to re-appear days after that complaint. Facebook also yanked ads featuring images of governors in Texas, Illinois, Colorado, Arizona, South Carolina and other states. But the ads had already been running for some time.   After researching solar-panel options for his two-story home in Mount Tabor, New Jersey, 37-year-old Chris Fitzpatrick saw an ad claiming he might qualify for “free” solar panels because Gov. Phil Murphy planned to release “$100 million solar incentives.” He was skeptical because none of the solar companies he worked with mentioned such incentives, but worried others might not be.   “It's very frustrating because it preys upon innocent people,” Fitzpatrick said.   The Associated Press found that some of these ads directed people to solar-energy websites that listed the same business address — a mailbox in Carlsbad, California — that had been used by a company once under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, the government's consumer protection agency. In 2012, the FTC sued Jason Akatiff and his company — then called Coleadium, also known as Ads 4 Dough — for running fake news websites that marketed unfounded health benefits of colon cleanse and acai berry products, according to court records.   Akatiff settled the allegations without admitting guilt and agreed to a $1 million fine. Akatiff changed his company's name to A4D Inc. in 2015, according to California business filings.   Akatiff did not respond to messages left with his California business.     Though the FTC can investigate fake ads, sue to stop them and seek compensation for victims, thousands of ads targeting select groups run online daily, making it harder to catch suspect advertisers.     Scam ads are popular in certain industries, such as insurance or solar power, where companies are looking for people they can target later for products and services, said Peter Marinello, vice president of the Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc.   The scammers sell the personal information they collect to other companies looking for potential customers, Marinello said. “That's how this whole process plays out.”    

Facebook, Rights Groups Hit Out at Singapore's Fake News Bill

Tue, 04/02/2019 - 11:10
Singapore submitted wide-ranging fake news legislation in parliament on Monday, stoking fears from internet firms and human rights groups that it may give the government too much power and hinder freedom of speech. The law would require social media sites like Facebook to carry warnings on posts the government deems false and remove comments against "public interest." The move came two days after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said governments should play a more active role in regulating the online platform. But Simon Milner, who works on Facebook's public policy in Asia, said after the law was tabled, the firm was "concerned with aspects of the law that grant broad powers to the Singapore executive branch to compel us to remove content they deem to be false and proactively push a government notification to users." "As the most far-reaching legislation of its kind to date, this level of overreach poses significant risks to freedom of expression and speech, and could have severe ramifications both in Singapore and around the world," said Jeff Paine, managing director of the Asia Internet Coalition, an industry association of internet and technology companies in the region. Speaking to reporters on Monday, Singapore's Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the new legislation would not hinder free speech. "This legislation deals with false statements of facts. It doesn't deal with opinions, it doesn't deal with viewpoints. You can have whatever viewpoints however reasonable or unreasonable," he said. Tech giants Facebook, Twitter and Google all have their Asia headquarters in the city-state, a low-tax finance hub seen as a island of stability in the middle of the fast-growing but often-turbulent Southeast Asia region. "Malicious actors" Singapore, which has been run by the same political party since independence from Britain more than 50 years ago, says it is vulnerable to fake news because of its position as a global financial hub, its mixed ethnic and religious population and widespread internet access. It is ranked 151 among 180 countries rated in the World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders, a non-government group that promotes freedom of information, below the likes of Russia and Myanmar. The new bill proposes that the government get online platforms to publish warnings or "corrections" alongside posts carrying false information, without removing them. This would be the "primary response" to counter falsehoods online, the Law Ministry said. "That way, in a sense, people can read whatever they want and make up their minds. That is our preference," Law Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters on Monday. Under the proposals, which must be approved by parliament, criminal sanctions including hefty fines and jail terms will be imposed if the falsehoods are spread by "malicious actors" who "undermine society", the ministry said, without elaborating. It added that it would cut off an online site's "ability to profit", without shutting it down, if the site had published three falsehoods that were "against the public interest" over the previous six months. It did not say how it would block a site's profit streams. The bill came amid talk of a possible general election this year. Law Minister Shanmugam declined to comment when asked if the new legislation was related to a vote. "This draft law will be a disaster for human rights, particularly freedom of expression and media freedom," said Phil Robertson, deputy director, Asia division, at Human Rights Watch. "The definitions in the law are broad and poorly defined, leaving maximum regulatory discretion to the government officers skewed to view as "misleading" or "false" the sorts of news that challenge Singapore's preferred political narratives."

Your Body: The Network You Didn't Know You Had

Tue, 04/02/2019 - 10:32
Networks like Bluetooth connect our devices easily and effortlessly. But the area that these portable networks cover is big enough to make them hackable. Now, a group of engineers from Purdue has solved that problem by turning your body into a network. Kevin Enochs explains.

Facebook Removes Accounts Linked to Indian Political Parties, Pakistan's Military

Tue, 04/02/2019 - 04:15
Facebook has removed hundreds of accounts and pages linked to Indian political parties or the Pakistani military for what the company described as "coordinated inauthentic behavior or spam." The Facebook or Instagram accounts, pages or groups were detected through internal investigations into account activity in the region before upcoming elections in India. "These Pages and accounts were engaging in behaviors that expressly violate our policies. This included using fake accounts or multiple accounts with the same names; impersonating someone else; posting links to malware; and posting massive amounts of content across a network of Groups and Pages in order to drive traffic to websites they are affiliated with in order to make money," Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said in a statement. The social media giant has become much more conscious of user activity after a scandal in which data mining firm Cambridge Analytica used information from tens of millions of Facebook users to manipulate political campaigns in multiple countries, including the United States. Indian political parties are relying heavily on social media to push forward their agenda in a tough general election that begins April 11, and the issue of fake news remains a major concern. ​Facebook says 687 pages and accounts that were detected and suspended by its automated system were linked to India's main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, or INC. The Facebook statement also said the company removed 15 pages, groups and accounts tied to officials associated with Indian IT firm Silver Touch. The information technology firm is linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. One Silver Touch Facebook page was followed by 2.6 million accounts, compared to 206,000 followers of the INC-linked pages. The INC tweeted that no official pages run by the party had been taken down. "Additionally, all pages run by our verified volunteers are also unaffected," it said. A party official who did not want to be named told VOA that Facebook has not shared further information with the party about the pages in question or provided a list of them. Pratik Sinha, who runs fact-checking website AltNews.in, said Facebook's announcement gives a "lopsided" view that only the opposition INC has been engaged in pushing spam. Sinha pointed out that Silver Touch, whose accounts were taken down, had spent much more on advertising on the social media platform compared to the pages created by the INC's IT cell. Pakistan's military In neighboring Pakistan, 103 pages or accounts linked to the media cell of that country's military have been removed. "Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found that it was linked to employees of the ISPR (Inter-Services Public Relations) of the Pakistani military," the Facebook statement said. These individuals, according to the statement, were operating "military fan Pages; general Pakistani interest Pages; Kashmir community Pages; and hobby and news Pages" with posts on politics and the military. The ISPR declined to comment for this story. Journalists or rights activists in Pakistan often complain of online trolling or harassment from fake accounts. Journalist Gharidah Farooqi said she regularly faces threats and harassment online from accounts that appear to be military fan pages. She has complained to the military's media wing, but been told the institution has nothing to do with the issue. Another journalist, Asma Shirazi, told VOA she has faced an "organized and institutionalized" campaign against her online for her coverage of opposition leaders, particularly ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Shirazi added that she has been accused of being "anti-Pakistan" and taking bribes from Sharif's (Pakistan Muslim League) party. Last week, several Facebook accounts posted pictures and personal details — such as home address and contact details — of rights activist Marvi Sirmed and incited people to kill her after falsely accusing her of acting against Islam and promoting a "free sex, incestuous society." Sirmed is a regular critic of the military, as well as the current administration of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Facebook has already taken down at least one account, but Sirmed said several others remain.  Sirmed says she has complained to local authorities and is awaiting a response. Anjana Pasricha contributed to this report.

Facebook Reveals How it Ranks Items in The News Feed

Tue, 04/02/2019 - 00:25
Facebook is lifting the lid on the algorithm that decides which posts appear in its news feed, as part of a drive to be more transparent and offer greater control to users. The feature "Why am I seeing this post?", being rolled out from Monday, offers some insight into the tens of thousands of inputs used by the social network to rank stories, photos and video in the news feed, the foundation of the platform. "The basic thing that this tool does is let people see why they are seeing a particular post in their news feed, and it helps them access the actions they might want to take if they want to change that," Facebook's Head of News Feed John Hegeman told reporters on Monday. After a series of privacy scandals, Facebook needs to regain users' trust as it prepares to roll out a single messaging service combining Facebook messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram that could make it even more central to users' communications. The new news feed feature will show users the data that connect them to a particular type of post, Hegeman said, for example that they are friends with the poster and they've liked their posts more than others, they've frequently commented on that type of post before, or that the post is popular with users with the same interests. It will detail some of the interactions that lead the algorithm to reach its conclusion, he said, although it will not show all of the thousands of inputs that influence the decision. "We've tried to really focus on the signals that are most important and play the biggest role in what causes people to see a post or not," Hegeman said. "We don't think this is going to solve everything on the theme of transparency but we think this is an important step." Facebook developed the new tool with research groups in New York, Denver, Paris and Berlin, he said, and as a result of feedback Facebook has made it easy for users to access tools to control what is in the news feed themselves. Facebook is also updating its "Why Am I Seeing this Ad?" feature launched a few years ago with additional details, Hegeman said, such as explaining how ads work that target customers using email lists. The company shifted its strategy for its centerpiece news feed in early 2018 when it decided to prioritize posts from family and friends and downgrade non-advertising content from publishers and brands.  

TSA's Social Media Highlight Weird Stuff in Travelers' Bags

Mon, 04/01/2019 - 22:18
David Johnston stands over a table full of peculiar items confiscated at Dulles International Airport: a glittery clutch with brass knuckles as a clasp. A perfume bottle shaped like a grenade. A rusted circular saw blade. A pocket-sized pitchfork. None of those is quite right. Then Johnston sees it: a guitar shaped like a semi-automatic rifle. Bingo. It will do nicely for the Transportation Security Administration's social media accounts. Johnston, TSA's social media director, is following in the footsteps of Curtis "Bob" Burns, who created unlikely internet buzz for the not-always-beloved agency by showcasing the weirdest stuff travelers pack in their carry-ons. He died suddenly in October at age 48. Burns' work created a model for other federal agencies. The quirky photos combined with a hefty dose of dad humor helped lure in more than a million followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, who would then see important messages about the do's and don'ts of airline travel. "How are we going to replace Bob? The reality is we can't," said Johnston. "We had a unique situation with him, but we can still be entertaining and help people as we find our way forward without him." On the blog, Burns shared a weekly count of firearms that TSA officers found at checkpoints nationwide. He did a summary of knives and all matter of other bizarre and sometimes scary items that travelers had stuffed into their bags, pockets, purses or briefcases. In one Instagram post, someone tried to bring on a glove with razors for fingers and Burns (naturally) made a "Nightmare on Elm Street" joke. "It's safe to sleep on Elm Street again. Freddy lost his glove at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)." The agency's Instagram account won three Webby awards last year, including the People's Voice Award for weird social content marketing. In his acceptance speech, Burns eyed the award, shook it and declared: "This Webby is carry-on approved!" Johnston, who worked with Burns for about three years, and has been in government jobs for nearly a decade, has tried to keep it up all on his own, but it's been tough. Johnston sent out a Valentine's Day post that showed off a throwing star, ax and double-edged dagger confiscated from a passenger's carry-on bag. ("Safe travels, you romantic fool!") And it was national puppy day recently, so that was an excuse for a photo of Cole, a big-eyed TSA explosives detection dog. TSA is growing its social media staff — bringing in three more workers to expand its social media presence. The staff will continue to use fodder sent in by officers around the country, who seize all manner of unusual items people try to bring onboard. But it's hard to find people who have both the government know-how and a sense of humor that resonates. Burns' humor Johnston said the thing that made Burns' posts so special was Burns himself. "When you look at his posts, you're seeing a window into his soul," he said. "It really was from his heart. He was a fun, happy guy." Burns' sister-in-law, Candy Creech, said he had a dry sense of humor and a hefty dose of patriotism: He had served in the Gulf War. Burns had worked in airports before taking over social media and believed there was public negativity around TSA. He wanted to change that. "And I think he felt he could change that by communicating with people in a way that wasn't scolding," she said. "He was one of a kind."  During a TSA Facebook live, "Ask Me Anything" episode last year, Burns said the success of the account was partly due to the shock value. "People don't come to a government Instagram account and expert to see humor," Burns said. "And they also don't expect to see these crazy things that people are trying to bring on a plane." 'They Brought What?' At Dulles, in the prohibited items section, Johnston sees a few possibilities for TSA's YouTube series called "They Brought What?" including a large snow globe with big a white fairy imprisoned in some kind of liquid (It's creepy and it has liquid, so they can highlight the liquid restrictions.)  He passes over the four pairs of nunchucks (Yawn — you can't believe how many people bring those) and a handful of pocket knives. He stops at a large bullet from Afghanistan that has been altered to be a cigarette lighter and pen. "The things people think of," he said. Turning more serious for a moment, Johnston notes the importance of showing off these items, especially to people who aren't well-traveled. "The bottom line is our social media pages makes travelers better informed, so they have a better experience and it frees up our officers to do what they need to do — look for the bad actors," he said.

US, China Face Off Over 5G in Cambodia

Sat, 03/30/2019 - 23:30
For techies and phone geeks, Digital Cambodia 2019 was the place to be. More than a dozen high school students clustered at the booth for Cellcard, Cambodia’s leading mobile operator. Under the booth’s 5G sign, they played video games on their phones. Hak Kimheng, a ninth grade student in Phnom Penh, said his mom bought him a Samsung smartphone a few months ago, when he moved to the capital city from nearby Kandal province to live with his uncle while attending school. Like moms everywhere, she thought the smartphone would help her stay in touch with her son. But smartphones being smartphones and kids being kids, Hak Kimheng, 16, has used it to set up an account on Facebook, Cambodia’s favorite social media platform. He’s also downloaded Khmer Academy, a tutoring app filled with math, physics and chemistry lessons. And for one hour a day, Hak Kimheng watches soccer on the YouTube app he downloaded. While it’s better than nothing, the internet connection is “slow … and the video image is not clear,” he said.  “I want it to be faster. … It’ll be good to have 5G.” Not far from the Cellcard booth, Cambodian government officials, ASEAN telecom and IT ministers, businesspeople, telecom and tech company representatives gathered for the opening ceremonies of Digital Cambodia 2019. The event, which ran from March 15 to March 17, attracted more than 100 speakers from throughout Southeast Asia, high level officials, businesspeople, researchers and telecom company representatives. The discussions focused on 5G, which, with speeds as much as 100 times faster than 4G, will mean better soccer viewing for Hak Kimheng and faster connections for all users. But 5G will also be central to a world of smart cities filled with smart homes and offices replete with devices connected to the “internet of things” [[ https://www.zdnet.com/article/what-is-the-internet-of-things-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-iot-right-now/ ]] humming along amid torrents of personal, business and official data. ‘A milestone year’ David Li, CEO of Cambodian operations for the Chinese company, Huawei, which is facing challenges over security from the U.S., spoke first, promising to “help Cambodia obtain better digital technology to improve social productivity and national economy.” Government ministers, one from finance and economy and one from posts and telecommunication, listened as Li continued, pointing out that Huawei Technologies Cambodia launched in 1999. “We have been operating 2G, 3G, 4G, and now we’re heading toward 5G,” he said. “Currently we are the only industry vendor that can provide the intertwined 5G system. I believe this year 2019 will be a milestone year for 5G in Cambodia,” Li said. While this next generation of mobile networks will take years to roll out, the U.S. and China are in a race over whose technology will set the standards for 5G networks, something which will have immediate commercial value and carry longer term strategic implications for developing the dominant platform for 6G. Citing concern that Huawei is, like all Chinese companies, linked to the Beijing government, the U.S. has been urging allies not to let Huawei build their 5G networks. But in countries like Thailand, which is Cambodia’s neighbor and a U.S. ally, Huawei is building and testing a 5G network because authorities said its low cost trumped U.S. pressure. Huawei has long maintained it doesn’t provide back doors for the Chinese government, pointing out the lack of evidence to support the allegations, according to Bloomberg. William Carter, deputy director of the Technology Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said earlier this month that any country doing business with Huawei on 5G will have to deal with the risk of Chinese influence. “And the question will be to what extent is that concern enough to overcome the price advantage and the service advantages and the integrated financing advantages doing business with Huawei,” he said. Rich market As more private businesses and government services move toward cashless payment and online data access, Cambodia is emerging as a rich market for 5G telecoms. Approximately 13.6 million people, or 82 percent of Cambodians, use the internet, and about 7 million use Facebook, the number of mobile subscriptions is around 19.5 million by January 2019, or 120 percent penetration, according to the Ministry of Posts. Sok Puthyvuth, secretary of state at the posts and telecommunication told VOA Khmer that Cambodia is eager for 5G, urging private companies, including mobile operators and internet companies, “to make 5G available across the country.” Thomas Hundt, CEO of Smart Axiata, one of Cambodia’s mobile telecommunications operators, told VOA Khmer only that the company is preparing for a 5G rollout, because users’ data consumption is overwhelming the 4.5G network. “We see an immediate need to come out with the next evolution of technology … at some point this year.” Cellcard CEO Ian Watson, said the company is targeting a commercial launch of 5G services in the second quarter of 2019. Tram IvTek, Cambodia’s minister of Posts and Telecommunications said at the opening ceremony of Digital Cambodia that the government “is strongly committed to connecting the country and to ensure the benefits of ICT (information and communications technology) reach the remotest corners as well as the most vulnerable communities” by 2020. Aun Pornmoniroth, minister of economy and finance in a March 12 workshop on Cambodia’s digital economy, suggested it will take “five to 10 years or more to set up a complete digital economy and turn Cambodia's economy into a technological leader.” Meas Po, undersecretary of state at Ministry of Post, said the government has yet to decide which company it will partner with for building the 5G infrastructure but it has not ruled out Huawei or other Chinese companies. “In our country, we have our protective system, in other countries, they have theirs. We don’t allow anyone to just freely hack our data.” Protecting privacy Smart Axiata’s Hundt said his company wanted to a partner that would “guarantee to us that the equipment is solid and sound [and] our users’ data is safeguarded and the network is fully secured from cyber-security perspectives.” Nguon Somaly, who earned a master’s degree in law and technology at Tallinn University of Technology in Estonia, has written extensively on data privacy in Cambodia. She contends Cambodian social media users don’t have the data privacy concerns of users in the U.S. and Europe. “Cambodian youths don't really care about privacy [on social media], but people in [the] EU are concerned about their data privacy,” said Somaly, referring to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which restricts how personal data is collected and handled. “That is money and it can be analyzed and generate income,” Somaly said. “China is not a free country and privacy is not their priority. Their priority is to generate business opportunities and income.” Xu Ning, a reporter with VOA's Mandarin Service, contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.    

US Uses Obscure Agency to Target Chinese Foreign Investments

Sat, 03/30/2019 - 07:14
For decades, it was virtually unknown outside a small circle of investors, corporate lawyers and government officials.    But in recent years, the small interagency body known as the Committee for Investment in the United States has grown in prominence, propelled by a U.S. desire to use it as an instrument of national security and foreign policy.    This week, the panel made headlines after it reportedly directed Chinese gaming company Beijing Kunlun Tech to divest itself of Grindr, a popular gay dating app, because of concern the user data it collects could be used to blackmail military and intelligence personnel.    Operating out of the Treasury Department, the nine-member CFIUS (pronounced Cy-fius) reviews foreign investments in U.S. businesses to determine whether they pose a national security threat.   Notification was voluntary   Until last year, notifying the panel about such investments was voluntary, something Kunlun and California-based Grindr took advantage of when they closed a deal in 2016.     But given growing U.S. concern about Chinese companies with ties to Beijing buying businesses in sensitive U.S. industries, the committee's rare intervention to undo the deal was hardly a surprise, said Harry Broadman, a former CFIUS member.      "I think anyone who was surprised by the decision really didn't understand the legislative history, legislative landscape and the politics" of CFIUS, said Broadman, who is now a partner and chair of the emerging markets practice at consulting firm Berkley Research Group.    The action by CFIUS is the latest in a series aimed at Chinese companies investing in the U.S. tech sector and comes as the Trump administration wages a global campaign against  telecom giant Huawei Technologies and remains locked in a trade dispute with Beijing. The U.S. says the state-linked company could gain access to critical telecom infrastructure and is urging allies to bar it from participating in their new 5G networks.    While the administration has yet to formulate a policy on Huawei, the world's largest supplier of telecom equipment, the latest CFIUS action underscores how the U.S. is increasingly turning to the body to restrict Chinese investments across a broad swath of U.S. technology companies.     "CFIUS is one of the few tools that the government has that can be used on a case-by-case basis to try to untangle [a] web of dependencies and solve potential national security issues, and the government has become increasingly willing to use that tool more aggressively," said Joshua Gruenspecht, an attorney at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in Washington, who represents companies before the committee.    CFIUS's history has long been intertwined with politics and periodic public backlash against foreign investment in the U.S.     OPEC investments In 1975 it was congressional concern over the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) investments in U.S. stocks and bonds that led President Gerald Ford to set up the committee through an executive order. It was tasked with monitoring the impact of foreign investment in the United States but had little other authority.     In the years that followed, backlash against foreign acquisitions of certain U.S. firms led Congress to beef up the agency.     In 1988, spurred in part by a Japanese attempt to buy a U.S. semiconductor firm, Congress enshrined CFIUS in law, granting the president the authority to block mergers and acquisitions that threatened national security.     In 2007, outrage over CFIUS's decision to approve the sale of management operations of six key U.S. ports to a Dubai port operator led Congress to pass new legislation, broadening the definition of national security and requiring greater scrutiny by CFIUS of certain types of foreign direct investment, according to the Congressional Research Service.     But by far the biggest change to how CFIUS reviews and approves foreign transactions came last summer when Congress passed the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018.    Slated to be fully implemented in 2020, the new law vastly expanded CFIUS's jurisdiction and authority, requiring foreign companies that take even a non-controlling stake in a sensitive U.S. business to get the committee's clearance.     While the new law did not mention China by name, concern about Chinese investments and national security dominated the debate that led to its enactment.    "There is no mistake that both the congressional intent and the executive intent has a clear eye on the role of China in the transactions," Broadman said.  Threats to 'technological superiority'   Under interim rules issued by the Treasury Department last fall, investments in U.S. businesses that develop and manufacture "critical technologies" in one or more of 27 designated industries are now subject to review by CFIUS. Most of the covered technologies are already subject to U.S. export controls. The designated industries are sectors where foreign investment "threatens to undermine U.S. technological superiority that is critical to U.S. national security," according to the Treasury Department. They range from semiconductor machinery to aircraft manufacturing.     The new regulations mean that foreign companies seeking to invest in any of these technologies and industries must notify CFIUS at least 45 days prior to closing a deal. CFIUS will then have 30 days to clear the deal, propose a conditional approval or reject it outright. If parties to a transaction do not withdraw in response to CFIUS's concerns, the president will be given 15 days to block it.    To date, U.S. presidents have blocked five deals — four of them involving Chinese companies. One was blocked by the late President George H.W. Bush in 1990, two by former President Barack Obama in 2012 and 2016, and two by President Donald Trump.    The number is deceptively small. A far greater number of deals are simply withdrawn by parties after they don't get timely clearance or CFIUS opens a formal investigation. According to the Treasury Department, of the 942 notices of transactions filed with CFIUS between 2009 and 2016, 107 were withdrawn during the review or after an investigation.     In recent years, CFIUS has reviewed between 200 and 250 cases per year, according to Gruenspecht. But the number is likely to exceed 2,000 a year under the new CFIUS regime, he added.     The tighter scrutiny has raised questions about whether the new law strikes the right balance between encouraging foreign investment and protecting national security.     "I think the short answer is it's too early to tell," Gruenspecht said. However, he added, if the new law "becomes a recipe for taking foreign investment off the table for whole realms of new emerging technology, that crosses a lot of boundaries."  Concern in Europe The U.S. is not the only country toughening screening measures for foreign investment. In December, the European Union proposed a new regulation for members to adopt “CFIUS-like” foreign investment review processes.  Gruenspecht said that while foreign investors are not  “thrilled” about the additional CFIUS scrutiny, “a lot of Western nations are also saying, actually, 'We totally understand the rational behind CFIUS and we’re looking to implement our own internal versions of CFIUS ourselves.' ”

Facebook Beefs Up Political Ad Rules Ahead of EU Election

Sat, 03/30/2019 - 01:26
Facebook said Friday it is further tightening requirements for European Union political advertising, in its latest efforts to prevent foreign interference and increase transparency ahead of the bloc's parliamentary elections. However, some EU politicians criticized the social media giant, saying the measures will make pan-European online campaigning harder. Under the new rules, people, parties and other groups buying political ads will have to confirm to Facebook that they are located in the same EU country as the Facebook users they are targeting. That's on top of a previously announced requirement for ad buyers to confirm their identities. It means advertisements aimed at voters across the EU's 28 countries will have to register a person in each of those nations. "It's a disgrace that Facebook doesn't see Europe as an entity and appears not to care about the consequences of undermining European democracy," Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the parliament's liberal ALDE group, said on Twitter. "Limiting political campaigns to one country is totally the opposite of what we want." The response underscores the balancing act for Silicon Valley tech companies as they face pressure from EU authorities to do more to prevent their platforms being used by outside groups, including Russia, to meddle in the May elections. Hundreds of millions of people are set to vote for more than 700 EU parliamentary lawmakers. Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, said it will start blocking ads that don't comply in mid-April. The company will ask ad buyers to submit documents and use technical checks to verify their identity and location. Facebook statement "We recognize that some people can try and work around any system but we are confident this will be a real barrier for anyone thinking of using our ads to interfere in an election from outside of a country," Richard Allen, Facebook's vice president of global policy solutions, said in a blog post. Facebook said earlier this year that EU political ads will carry "paid for by" disclaimers. Clicking the label will reveal more detailed information such as how much money was spent on the ad, how many people saw it, and their age, gender and location. The ad transparency rules have already been rolled out in the U.S., Britain, Brazil, India, Ukraine and Israel. Facebook will expand them globally by the end of June. Twitter and Google have introduced similar political ad requirements. Facebook is also making improvements to a database that stores ads for seven years, including widening access so that election regulators and watchdog groups can analyze political or issue ads.

Students Mix Tech, Fashion Wearables for the Disabled

Fri, 03/29/2019 - 18:56
Most of us don't give much thought to getting dressed every day, but for the elderly and disabled, seemingly simple tasks - like buttoning a shirt - can prove complicated. Fashion design students recently looked at low-tech ways to make clothes smarter. Tina Trinh reports.

Graphene Begins to Realize its Potential

Fri, 03/29/2019 - 13:40
At one atom thick, graphene is one of those miracle materials that many say is the stuff of the future. The future may be now as graphene's potential is being realized as the key to quick efficient 5G networks, and the future of telecommunications. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

US Housing Department Charges Facebook With Housing Discrimination

Thu, 03/28/2019 - 23:51
Facebook was charged with discrimination by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development because of its ad-targeting system. HUD said Thursday Facebook is allowing advertisers to exclude people based on their neighborhood by drawing a red line around those neighborhoods on a map and giving advertisers the option of showing ads only to men or only to women. The agency also claims Facebook allowed advertisers to exclude people that the social media company classified as parents; non-American-born; non-Christian; interested in accessibility; interested in Hispanic culture or a wide variety of other interests that closely align with the Fair Housing Act's protected classes. HUD, which is pursuing civil charges and potential monetary awards that could run into the millions, said Facebook's ad platform is "encouraging, enabling, and causing housing discrimination" because it allows advertisers to exclude people who they don't want to see their ads. The claim from HUD comes less than a week after Facebook said it would overhaul its ad-targeting systems to prevent discrimination in housing , credit and employment ads as part of a legal settlement with a group that includes the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Fair Housing Alliance and others. The technology at the heart of the clashes is what has helped turned Facebook into a goliath with annual revenue of close to $56 billion. It can offer advertisers and groups the ability to direct messages with precision to exactly the crowd that they want to see it. The potential is as breathtaking as it is potentially destructive. Facebook has taken fire for allowing groups to target groups of people identified as "Jew-haters" and Nazi sympathizers. There remains the fallout from the 2016 election, when, among other things, Facebook allowed fake Russian accounts to buy ads targeting U.S. users to enflame political divisions. The company is wrestling with several government investigations in the U.S. and Europe over its data and privacy practices. A shakeup this month that ended with the departure of some of Facebook's highest ranking executives raised questions about the company's direction. The departures came shortly after CEO Mark Zuckerberg laid out a new "privacy-focused" vision for social networking. He has promised to transform Facebook from a company known for devouring the personal information shared by its users to one that gives people more ways to communicate in truly private fashion, with their intimate thoughts and pictures shielded by encryption in ways that Facebook itself can't read. However, HUD Secretary Ben Carson said Thursday there is little difference between the potential for discrimination in Facebook's technology, and discrimination that has taken place for years. "Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live," Carson said. "Using a computer to limit a person's housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone's face." Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Thursday.

British Report Finds Technical Risks in Huawei Network Gear

Thu, 03/28/2019 - 20:31
British cybersecurity inspectors have found significant technical issues in Chinese telecom supplier Huawei's software that they say pose risks for the country's telecom companies.   The annual report Thursday said there is only "limited assurance" that long-term national security risks from Huawei's involvement in critical British telecom networks can be adequately managed.   The report adds pressure on Huawei, which is at the center of a geopolitical battle between the U.S. and China.   The U.S. government wants its European allies to ban the company from next-generation mobile networks set to roll out in coming years over fears Huawei gear could be used for cyberespionage.   The report noted that Britain's cybersecurity authorities did not believe the defects were a result of "Chinese state interference."    

Students Mix Tech, Fashion Wearables for Elderly, Disabled

Thu, 03/28/2019 - 04:19
Most of us don't give much thought to getting dressed every day, but for the elderly and disabled, seemingly simple tasks like buttoning a shirt can prove complicated. Fashion design students recently looked at low-tech ways to make clothes smarter. VOA's Tina Trinh reports.

Facebook, Instagram Ban White Nationalism Speech

Thu, 03/28/2019 - 02:33
Facebook has announced it is banning praise, support, and representation of white nationalism and separatism on its site and on Instagram, which it also owns. The company made the announcement Wednesday in a blog post, saying, "It's clear that these concepts are deeply linked to organized hate groups and have no place on our services." The post says Facebook has long banned hateful speech based on race, ethnicity and religion, though it had permitted expressions of white nationalism and separatism because it seemed separate from white supremacy. "But over the past three months," the post read, "our conversations with members of civil society and academics who are experts in race relations around the world ... have confirmed that white nationalism and separatism cannot be meaningfully separated from white supremacy and organized hate groups." "Going forward," it continued, "while people will still be able to demonstrate pride in their ethnic heritage, we will not tolerate praise or support for white nationalism and separatism." It said people searching for terms associated with white supremacy will be directed to information about the group "Life After Hate," which is an organization that helps violent extremists leave their hate groups through intervention, education, support groups and outreach.

Artificial Intelligence Pioneers Win Tech's 'Nobel Prize'

Wed, 03/27/2019 - 20:18
Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don't think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures. But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as "artificial intelligence," or AI. Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry's version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA. The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead. "Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society," said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award. Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving. Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec. "For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense," Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. "They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don't be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly." Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers' efforts might spiral out of control. While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people's lives more convenient and enjoyable, it's also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines. Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns — especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity. But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI — empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors. "One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people," Hinton said.

India Conducts First Successful Test of Anti-Satellite Weapon

Wed, 03/27/2019 - 18:49
India says it has successfully tested a new anti-satellite missile, marking another major development in its budding space program. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Wednesday in a nationally televised address that scientists had destroyed a satellite orbiting about 300 kilometers above Earth's atmosphere in a mission that lasted only three minutes. The prime minister said the country has now "registered its name as a space power" alongside the United States, China and Russia, the only other nations to achieve such a feat. The United States and the former Soviet Union conducted anti-satellite tests from the early days of the space age, with the U.S. successfully shooting down a satellite in 1985. China achieved the feat in 2007. Modi insisted that Wednesday's test did not violate any international treaties, and was conducted purely in the interest of national security. The test was conducted as Modi leads his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party into parliamentary elections on April 11 in his quest for a second term. It is also the latest demonstration of India's military capabilities since 40 Indian soldiers were killed in February in a suicide bombing attack in the disputed region of Kashmir. New Delhi retaliated with airstrikes on a suspected militant camp in Pakistan, its bitter rival and nuclear-armed neighbor. An Indian fighter jet was shot down and its pilot briefly held captive after the two sides engaged in a subsequent aerial dogfight over Kashmir.

Updating Software, Shaping History: New Imperial Era Name Looms Large in Japan

Wed, 03/27/2019 - 13:39
In Japan, every emperor's era has its own name - appearing in places such as coins, official paperwork and newspapers - and with abdication coming at the end of April, speculation is swirling about what the new "gengo" will be. Although the Western calendar has become more widespread in Japan, many people here count years in terms of gengo or use the two systems interchangeably. Emperor Akihito's era, which began in 1989, is Heisei, making 2019 Heisei 31. The new era name is one of biggest changes -- practically and psychologically - - for Japan at the start of Crown Prince Naruhito's reign on May 1. On April 30, Akihito will abdicate, ending an era in the minds of many Japanese. The new name is so secret that senior government officials involved in the decision must surrender their cell phones and stay sequestered until it is broadcast, media reports say. City offices and government agencies, which mostly use gengo in their computer systems and paperwork, have been preparing for months to avoid glitches. To make the transition easier, authorities will announce the new gengo - -two Chinese characters the cabinet chooses from a short list proposed by scholars -- a month early, on April 1. "We've been working on this change for about a year," said Tsukasa Shizume, an official in the Tokyo suburb of Mitaka, where the era name will be changed on 55 kinds of paperwork in 20 administrative sections. The month-long lead time should be sufficient, he said. Fujitsu and NEC Corp. have been helping customers ensure the switch doesn't crash their systems. Programs have been designed to make it easy to change the gengo, said Shunichi Ueda, an NEC official. "If people want to test their computer systems, they can use a trial gengo and see if it works," he said. Most major companies use the Western calendar in their computer systems, so it won't affect them as much, although smaller companies might run into some problems, he said. In Tokyo's Minato ward, officials will cross out Heisei on thousands of documents and stamp the new gengo above it. National mood The era name is more than just a way of counting years for many Japanese. It's a word that captures the national mood of a period, similar to the way "the '60s" evokes particular feelings or images, or how historians refer to Britain's "Victorian" or "Edwardian" eras, tying the politics and culture of a period to a monarch. "It's a way of dividing history," said Jun Iijima, a 31-year-old lawyer who was born the last year of Showa, the era of Akihito's father, Emperor Hirohito. "If you were just counting years, the Western system might be sufficient. But gengo gives a certain meaning to a historical period." The 64-year Showa era, which lasted until 1989, has generally come to be identified with Japan's recovery and rising global prominence in the decades after World War II. The imperial era name is also a form of "soft nationalism," said Ken Ruoff, director of the Center for Japanese Studies at Portland State University. "It's one of these constant low-level reminders that Japan counts years differently and Japan has a monarchy," he said. The gengo characters are carefully chosen with an aspirational meaning. Heisei, which means "achieving peace," began on Jan. 8, 1989, amid high hopes that Japan would play a greater role in global affairs after decades of robust economic growth. Soon afterward, Japan's economic bubble popped, ushering in a long period of stagnation and deflation. The rise of China and South Korea diminished Japan's international prominence, and a series of disasters - including the 1995 Kobe earthquake and 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crises - has marred Heisei's image. Fading use In daily life, usage of the gengo system is slowly declining as Japan integrates into the global economy. A recent Mainichi newspaper survey showed that 34 percent of people said they used mostly gengo, 34 percent said they used both about the same, and 25 percent mainly the Western calendar. In 1975, 82 percent said mostly gengo. Both calendars use Western months. Japanese drivers licenses have started to print both dates, instead of just gengo. Iijima, the lawyer, says legal paperwork uses the era name because that's what the court system uses. But in daily life he uses both. For global events, he thinks in terms of the Western calendar - like the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks - and uses both dating systems for domestic events. He is indifferent about what characters will be chosen for the next gengo. But remembering that his grandparents suffered during World War II, he hopes that it will be an era without war, that Japan will keep up economically with China and India and that it will grow into a "mature," more tolerant place. "I hope Japan can become a society where minorities can live more easily," he said.

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