Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

Google Opens New Office in Berlin With Eye on Expansion

American tech giant Google has opened a new office in Berlin that it says will give it the space to expand in the German capital.

 

CEO Sundar Pichai said Tuesday the space means Google could more than double the number of Berlin employees to 300. Google currently has 1,400 employees in Germany.

Pichai says “the city has long been a capital of culture and media. Now it’s also home to a fast-growing startup scene and an engine for innovation.”

Google has faced regulatory headwinds in Europe, and was fined 50 million euros ($57 million) Monday in France for alleged violations of European data privacy rules.

Google Central Europe vice president Philipp Justus didn’t directly address the fine, but said Google’s committed to transparency and clarity on what data is collected and how it’s used.

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France Fines Google $57M for Data Privacy Violation

France’s data watchdog fined Google nearly $57 million on Monday, saying the tech giant failed to provide users with transparent information on its data consumer policies and how their personal information was used to display advertising targeting them.

The French agency CNIL said U.S.-based Google made it too difficult for internet users to understand and manage their personal preferences online.

“The information provided is not sufficiently clear,” the regulatory agency said, “for the user to understand the legal basis for targeted advertising is consent, and not Google’s legitimate business interests.”

It was the first ruling using the European Union’s strict new General Data Protection Regulation since it was implemented last year, a sweeping set of rules that has set a global standard forcing large American technology firms to examine their practices or risk huge fines.

Google said it was studying the ruling to determine its next steps.

“People expect high standards of transparency and control from us,” Google said. “We’re deeply committed to meeting those expectations and the consent requirements” of the new regulations.

 

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Russian Media Watchdog Moves Against Facebook, Twitter

Russia’s communication watchdog, Roskomnadzor, opened “administrative proceedings” Monday against Facebook and Twitter for non-compliance with country’s data laws, Interfax news agency reported.

Roskomnadzor head Alexander Zharov is quoted as saying that U.S. social media giants have a month to comply or face legal proceedings.

According to Roskomnadzor, Facebook and Twitter have not explained how and when they would comply with legislation that requires all servers used to store Russians’ personal data to be located in Russia.

Russia has introduced stricter internet laws in the past five years, among other things requiring search engines to share encryption keys with Russian security services.

In April last year, thousands rallied in Moscow in support of internet freedom after Russian authorities attempted to block access to the popular messaging app Telegram.

Telegram had refused to give state intelligence services access to private conversations which are usually encrypted.

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James Webb Telescope Prepping for Launch

Humanity’s efforts to move into and peer into space seem to be experiencing something of a renaissance in the past few weeks. NASA’s pictures of Ultima Thule continue to astound, as do Chinese pictures from their probe on the far side of the moon. Coming soon, the James Webb Telescope will allow NASA to look even farther into the great beyond. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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Report: Facebook’s Privacy Lapses May Result in Record Fine

Facebook may be facing the biggest fine ever imposed by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for privacy violations involving the personal information of its 2.2 billion users.

The FTC is considering hitting Facebook with a penalty that would top its previous record fine of $22.5 million, which it dealt to Google in 2012 for bypassing the privacy controls in Apple’s Safari browser, according to The Washington Post. The story published Friday cited three unidentified people familiar with the discussions.

In an automated response, the FTC said it was unable to comment, citing its closure due to the U.S. government shutdown. Facebook declined to comment.

The potential fine stems from an FTC investigation opened after revelations that data mining firm Cambridge Analytica had vacuumed up details about as many as 87 million Facebook users without their permission.

The FTC has been exploring whether that massive breakdown violated a settlement that Facebook reached in 2011 after government regulators had concluded the Menlo Park, California, company had repeatedly broken its privacy promises .

The FTC decree, which runs through 2031, requires Facebook to get its users’ consent to share their personal information in ways that aren’t allowed by their privacy settings.

Since the Cambridge Analytica erupted 10 months ago, Facebook has vowed to do a better job corralling its users’ data. Nevertheless, its controls have remained leaky. Just last month, the company acknowledged a software flaw had exposed the photos of about 7 million users to a wider audience than they had intended.

The FTC’s five commissioners have discussed fining Facebook but haven’t settled on the amount yet, according to the Post.

Facebook’s privacy problems are also under investigation in other countries and the target of a lawsuit filed last month by Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine.

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Technology Near for Real-Time TV Political Fact Checks

A Duke University team expects to have a product available for election year that will allow television networks to offer real-time fact checks onscreen when a politician makes a questionable claim during a speech or debate.

The mystery is whether any network will choose to use it.

The response to President Donald Trump’s Jan. 8 speech on border security illustrated how fact-checking is likely to be an issue over the next two years. Networks briefly considered not airing Trump live and several analysts contested some of his statements afterward, but nobody questioned him while he was speaking.

Duke already offers an app, developed by professor and Politifact founder Bill Adair, that directs users to online fact checks during political events. A similar product has been tested for television, but is still not complete.

The TV product would call on a database of research from Politifact, Factcheck.org and The Washington Post to point out false or misleading statements onscreen. For instance, Trump’s statement that 90 percent of the heroin that kills 300 Americans each week comes through the southern border would likely trigger an onscreen explanation that much of the drugs were smuggled through legal points of entry and wouldn’t be affected by a wall.

The Duke Tech & Check Cooperative conducted a focus group test in October, showing viewers portions of State of the Union speeches by Trump and predecessor Barack Obama with fact checks inserted. It was a big hit, Adair said.

“People really want onscreen fact checks,” he said. “There is a strong market for this and I think the TV networks will realize there’s a brand advantage to it.”

Networks mum

If that’s the case, the networks aren’t letting on. None of the broadcast or cable news divisions would discuss Duke’s product when contacted by The Associated Press, or their own philosophies on fact checking.

Network executives are likely to tread very carefully, both because of technical concerns about how it would work, the risk of getting something wrong or the suspicion that some viewers might consider the messages a political attack.

“It’s an incredibly difficult challenge,” said Mark Lukasiewicz, longtime NBC News executive who recently became dean of Hofstra University’s communications school.

Adair said the system will be automated. Mindful that many politicians repeat similar claims, the database will be triggered when code phrases that have been fact-checked before come up. An onscreen note would either explain that a claim is false or misleading and direct viewers to a website where they can find more information, or provide a succinct explanation of why it is being challenged. He envisions an average of one fact check popping up every two minutes. A network using the service would likely air the speech or debate on a delayed basis of about a minute.

Lukasiewicz said network executives would likely be wary of letting an outside vendor decide what goes on their screen. Adair said anyone who uses the system would be given veto power over what information is being displayed.

CNN and MSNBC have been most aggressive in using onscreen notes, called chyrons, to counter misleading statements by Trump, although neither did during the border speech. Among the post-speech analyses, Shepard Smith’s rapid-fire reality check on Fox broadcast during the three-minute pause before Democrats spoke was particularly effective. But critics like the liberal watchdog Media Matters for America said anyone who turned the coverage off when Trump stopped speaking was exposed to no questioning of his words.

Complicated, cumbersome

“There is a responsibility to not just be a blind portal and just let things go unchallenged,” said David Bohrman, a former CNN Washington bureau chief who consulted on MSNBC’s 2016 election coverage. “The goal is a good one. The execution is a challenge.”

A technical junkie, Bohrman said he explored different approaches for real-time TV fact-checking while at CNN, but they ultimately proved too complicated and cumbersome.

For networks, an incorrect onscreen fact-check would be a public relations disaster. Politicians also make many statements that a critic might question but isn’t necessarily factually incorrect. For example, Trump’s contention that there is a “crisis” at the southern border: Is that a fact or matter of interpretation?

Rest assured, people will be watching. Very carefully.

Even Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the conservative Media Research Center, concedes that “we all understand that President Trump has a casual approach to factivity.”

But conservatives are deeply suspicious that Trump’s words are being watched more carefully than those of Democrats. They will notice and take offense if Trump is corrected on the air much more than his rivals, he said, no matter if Trump actually makes more false or misleading statements.

“People aren’t going to trust you,” he said, “because they know what the objective is. The objective is to ruin the president.”

Adair stressed that his product is nonpartisan. He believes television networks will catch on at some point because they will realize that their viewers want quick fact-checking.

“Anyone who criticizes will get criticized for criticizing,” Bohrman said. “But the reality is we may be able to help the viewers.”

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Tesla Plans 7 Percent Staff Cut, Says Bumpy Road Ahead

Electric car and solar panel maker Tesla said Friday it plans to cut its staff by about 7 percent.

“The road ahead is very difficult,” the company’s founder and CEO Elon Musk said in an email to employees posted on the company’s website.

He said Tesla Inc. hopes to post a “tiny profit” in the current quarter but that after expanding its workforce by 30 percent last year, it cannot support that size of staff.

Musk said in a tweet in October that Tesla had 45,000 employees. A 7 percent cut would involve laying off about 3,150 people.

Tesla’s shares tumbled earlier this month after it cut vehicle prices by $2,000 and announced fourth-quarter sales figures that fell short of Wall Street estimates.

“Our products are too expensive for most people,” Musk said in the memo to Tesla staff saying the company has to “work harder.”

“Tesla has only been producing cars for about a decade and we’re up against massive, entrenched competitors,” he said.

The company says it delivered over 245,000 electric cars and SUVs last year, nearly as many as all previous years combined. But its 2018 production fell far short of a goal set nearly three years ago of manufacturing 500,000 vehicles for the year. That goal was announced in May of 2016 based on advance orders for its mid-range Model 3, which sells for $44,000.

Musk said Tesla plans to ramp up production of the Model 3, “as we need to reach more customers who can afford our vehicles.”

“Attempting to build affordable clean energy products at scale necessarily requires extreme effort and relentless creativity,” he said in the memo, “but succeeding in our mission is essential to ensure that the future is good, so we must do everything we can to advance the cause.”

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