Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

At G-7, Social Media Firms Pushed to Do More to Fight Terror

Technology firms have improved cooperation with the authorities in tackling online militant material but must act quicker to remove propaganda fueling a rise in homegrown extremism, acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said Wednesday.

The United States and Britain will push social media firms at a meeting of G7 interior ministers this week to do more on the issue, Duke told reporters in London where she had been meeting British Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

Duke said there has been a change in the attitude of tech companies since a rally organized by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August turned deadly when a counter-protester was killed by a car driven into a crowd.

“There has been a shift and for us somewhat with the Charlottesville incident,” she said. “There are a lot of social pressures and they want do business so they really have to balance between keeping their user agreements and giving law enforcement what they need.

“The fact they are meeting with us at G7 is a positive sign. I think they’re seeing the evidence of it being real and not just hyperbole.”

Series of attacks

After a series of Islamist militant attacks this year, British Prime Minister Theresa May and her ministers such as Rudd have been demanding action from tech leaders such as Facebook, Google and Twitter to do more about extremist material on their sites.

British politicians have also called for access to encrypted messaging services like Facebook’s WhatsApp, a campaign that U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave his backing to after meeting Rudd and the head of the UK domestic spy agency MI5 last week.

Internet companies say they want to help governments remove extremist or criminal material but say they have to balance the demands of state security with civil liberties.

“We would like to have the ability to get encrypted data with the right legal processes,” Duke said.

Propaganda’s role

Asked what action governments might take if social media firms failed to act to improve their removal of extremist material, she said: “We will continue to push as far as we can go. I think that we have the cooperation of those companies and we just need to work on that.”

Authorities say propaganda from Islamic State has played a major part in radicalizing people in the West but despite its defeat in its capital Raqqa in Syria, Duke said the group’s online presence was likely to increase.

“I would surmise being able to put terrorist propaganda on the internet might become more imperative,” said Duke, who described the terrorist threat to the United States as being as high as it had been since pre-9/11.

She also warned that those who turned to violence by being radicalized by such material posed a bigger problem than the comparatively small number of fighters who had joined the militant group returning to United States.

“The number of foreign fighters we have returning is declining,” she said. “The number of home-grown violent extremists, most of them inspired by terrorist organizations, is increasing.”

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Iridium to Rely on Used SpaceX Boosters for Next 2 Launches

Iridium Communications says its next two launches of new-generation satellites will use refurbished SpaceX Falcon 9 first-stage boosters that have flown previously.

The announcement Thursday is another step in SpaceX’s effort to reduce launch costs.

 

The company has launched a few used boosters and is trying to expand acceptance of reusability across the industry.

Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX has had successful landings of Falcon 9 first stages after launches from both coasts.

Iridium is in the midst of seven launches to replace its satellite fleet that provides global mobile voice and data communications.

The McLean, Virginia, company says insurers confirmed there is no increase in premiums for “flight-proven” rocket use.

Thirty new satellites are in orbit and the fourth launch is scheduled for Dec. 22 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

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Experimental Virtual and Mixed Reality Technologies Can be Applied to Military of the Future

The U.S. Military is looking at technologies such as wearable sensors, virtual and augmented reality to enhance the training of its recruits. At a recent meeting of military personnel and academics at the University of Southern California’s Global Body Computing Conference, commanding officers talked about why there is a need for ever more modern technology. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles on some of the emerging technologies that can help the military.

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Teens Overwhelmingly Prefer Snapchat to Facebook, Study Finds

Teenagers are turning away from traditional social media like Facebook and increasingly turning to Snapchat to communicate with their friends, according to a new study released Wednesday.

According to Piper Jaffray’s semi-annual “Taking Stock with Teens” research survey, 47 percent of teenagers said Snapchat is their favorite social media platform, compared with just nine percent who said Facebook was their favorite.

The results show a sharp spike in the number of teens who said Snapchat is their favorite platform, up from 24 percent when the survey was given in the spring of last year.

In addition to Snapchat and Facebook, 24 percent of teens said they preferred Instagram – virtually unchanged from 2016 – and seven percent said they prefer Twitter, down from 15 percent last year.

For the report, Piper Jaffray interviewed 6,100 teens in 44 states, with an average age of 16.

While Snapchat is the most popular social medium used by teens, it is also the most harmful for them, according to a study released earlier this year by the British Royal Society for Public Health.

The study, which ranked the psychological impact of various social media on teenagers, showed Snapchat, along with Instagram, to cause the largest number of “health and well-being” issues among those surveyed.

Those issues include anxiety, depression, quality of sleep, body image, loneliness and real-world friendships and connections.

Shirley Cramer, the chief executive of the RSPH, said Snapchat and Instagram likely cause the most mental health issues among teens because “both platforms are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.”

To combat the negative influence of social media, the researchers recommend adding pop ups that warn users of heavy usage, which was supported by 71 percent of the people surveyed.

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Twitter Vows New Crackdown on Hateful, Abusive Tweets

Twitter vowed to crack down further on hate speech and sexual harassment, days after CEO Jack Dorsey said in a tweet-storm that the company was “still” not doing enough to protect its users.

The policy changes were specifically aimed at protecting women who unknowingly or unwillingly had nude pictures of themselves distributed online or were subject to unwanted sexual advances. They would also aim to shield groups subject to hateful imagery, symbols and threats of violence.

In an email Twitter shared with The Associated Press Tuesday, Twitter’s head of safety policy outlined the new guidelines to the company’s Trust and Safety Council, a group of outside organizations that advises the company on its policies against abuse.

The company said it would enact the changes in the weeks ahead. News of the policy changes was first reported by Wired.

Among the changes, Twitter said it would immediately and permanently suspend any account it identifies as being the original poster of “non-consensual nudity,” including so-called “creep shots” of a sexual nature taken surreptitiously. Previously, the company treated the original poster of the content the same as those who re-tweeted it, and it resulted only in a temporary suspension.

It said it would also develop a system allowing bystanders to report unwanted exchanges of sexually charged content, whereas in the past it relied on one of the parties involved in the conversation to come forward before taking action.

Twitter also said it would take new action on hate symbols and imagery and “take enforcement action against organizations that use/have historically used violence as a means to advance their cause,” though it said more details were to come.

While it already takes action against direct threats of violence, the company said it would also act against tweets that glorify or condone violence.

On Friday, Dorsey foreshadowed the coming policy changes in a series of tweets, saying the company’s efforts over the last two years were inadequate.

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Telegram CEO’s Court Appeal Tests Russia Eavesdropping Laws, Technical Acumen

Telegram founder Pavel Durov has announced plans to appeal a Moscow court’s decision Monday to fine the encrypted messaging service some $14,000 (800 thousand rubles) for failing to provide law enforcement agencies with user information and access to private correspondences.

Providing security services with encryption keys to read users’ messaging data violates Russia’s constitution, he said in a post on Vkontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook, which he co-founded in 2007.

“Everyone has the right to privacy of correspondence, telephone conversations, postal, telegraphic and other communications,” Durov said, quoting constitutional excerpts.

Russian special services need decryption keys to “expand their influence at the expense of the constitutional right of citizens,” he said, building on similar comments Durov made in September, when he announced that FSB officials had requested backdoor access to Telegram.

Russian security officials have said encryption codes are vital to protecting citizens against terror attacks such as those earlier this year in St. Petersburg, in which perpetrators, Kremlin officials says, communicated via Telegram.

According to Pavel Chikov, a prominent Russian human rights lawyer, the FSB state security organization (formerly KGB) is trying to gain technical access by announcing ultimatums and making threats. While fines levied aren’t too burdensome for a company of Telegram’s size, they do indicate an FSB willingness to block Telegram from continuing to operate in the country.

Third-party hackers

The situation, Chikov said, is similar to legal proceedings that resulted from FBI requests for encryption access to Apple iPhones — a request that ultimately was dropped, leaving federal investigators to rely on third-party hackers.

Secrecy, anonymity and “the ability to communicate in such a way that representatives of the state do not hear these conversations,” should also be respected in Russia, Chikov told VOA Russian.

“Generally speaking, if we are talking on [a conventional] telephone, the conversation is protected by constitutional guarantees,” Chikov said. However, Russian police and various state security agencies can obtain court-ordered warrants to tap the phone of specific individuals suspected of a plotting criminal activities — and they have the technical acumen required to do it.

Although privacy laws are generally the same for peer-to-peer text-messaging devices, Russian security agencies lack the technical sophistication to hack Telegram’s encrypted conversations.

Durov ‘most likely right’

Professor Ilya Shablinsky, a constitutional law expert with Moscow’s National Research University, says Durov is “most likely right” that FSB demands represent a constitutional violation, as allowing FSB access to Telegram would allow for users’ correspondence to be read.

“When that constitutional norm was drafted, correspondence was typically drafted on paper,” he said.

“And the Russian Constitution’s authors never envisaged a technological variant [such as Telegram]. In this case, we do not know exactly what kind of information the FSB requested, and what it means for Telegram to provide that information.”

According to Shablinsky, although a Russian court can demand access to correspondences of a specific individual who is suspected of committing a crime, it is not known whether the provision covers access to the decryption devices for an entire network of users.

The free instant-messaging app, which lets people exchange messages, photos and videos in groups of up to 5,000 people, has attracted about 100 million users since its launch in 2013.

Telegram threatened

In June, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s state communications watchdog, threatened to ban Telegram for failing to provide user registration documents, which were requested as part of a push to increase surveillance of internet activities.

Although Telegram later registered, it stopped short of agreeing to Roskomnadzor’s data storage demands. Companies on the register must provide the FSB with information on user interactions; starting from 2018, they also must store all of the data of Russian users inside the country, according to controversial anti-terror legislation passed last year, which was decried by internet companies and the opposition.

Telegram has 10 days to appeal Monday’s decision.

‘No planned block’

Asked about a potential block of the service, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday said, “As far as I know … there is no discussion of a block at this time.”

But observers like Chikov say the risk is quite high.

“It is not necessarily going to happen right after the decision on the penalty comes into effect, as I believe that the authorities will still take a pause and try to negotiate with the company’s management,” he said. “However, with its refusal to provide access to correspondence, Telegram entered into direct conflict with the interests of the special services. Consequently, the political weight of people who decide to block is significantly higher than that of the same Roskomnadzor.”

Telegram, one-tenth the size of Facebook-owned rival WhatsApp, has caught on in many corners of the globe, including for a while with Islamic State as an ultra-secure way to quickly upload and share videos, texts and voice messages.

Durov, who has been described as “the Russian Mark Zuckerberg,” spent years fending off intrusions into his users’ communications, forging an uncompromising stance on privacy after founding VKontakte, only to lose control of that social media company for refusing Russian government demands to block dissidents.

Since leaving Russia in 2014 to set up Telegram in self-exile, Durov and his core team of 15 developers have become perpetual migrants, living only a few months at a time in any one location, starting in Berlin, then London, Silicon Valley, Finland, Spain and elsewhere. The company is incorporated in multiple jurisdictions, including Britain.

This story originated in VOA’s Russian Service. Some information for this report provided by AFP.

 

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Microsoft Rolls out new Windows 10 Update and Laptops

Microsoft has begun rolling out an update to its Windows 10 operating system, hoping to spark enthusiasm for its virtual- and augmented-reality ambitions.

 

The Windows 10 update became available Tuesday.

 

Several of Microsoft’s partners — Acer, Dell, HP and Lenovo — are simultaneously launching their first “Windows Mixed Reality” headsets Tuesday. Samsung is also releasing one early next month.

 

Microsoft is also announcing a new generation of laptops in its Surface line. Two versions of the new Surface Book 2 — one 13.5 inches and the other 15 inches — will go on sale next month.

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