All posts by MTechnology

China’s Rival to GPS Navigation Carries Big Risks

After more than 20 years of effort, China completed its satellite navigation system last Tuesday when the last of BeiDou’s 35 satellites reached geostationary orbit.China’s domestically developed BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, designed to rival the U.S.-owned Global Positioning System (GPS), is now offering worldwide coverage, allowing global users to access its high-accuracy positioning, navigation and timing services, which are vital to the modern economy.China’s state media claims the system, formally initiated in 1994, is now being used by more than half of the world’s countries, and that its navigation products have been exported to more than 120 countries.FILE – A GPS station is seen in the Inyo Mountains of California. (Shawn Lawrence/UNAVCO)Like GPS, the services are offered free of charge using public protocols. But technical experts say the differences between the two systems have profound security implications.Security risksAll other global navigation satellite systems — GPS, GLONASS (Russia) and Galileo (EU) — mainly act as beacons, beaming out signals picked up by billions of devices using them to determine their precise position on Earth.BeiDou is a two-way communication system, allowing it to identify the locations of receivers. BeiDou-compatible devices can transmit data back to the satellites, even in text messages of up to 1,200 Chinese characters.”In layman’s terms, you can not only know where you are through BeiDou but also tell others where you are through the system,” China’s state broadcaster CCTV said last month.Such a capability has raised serious security concerns. “All cellular devices, as I understand their function, can be tracked because they continually communicate with towers or satellites,” Dr. Larry Wortzel, a commissioner of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), told VOA.”So just as here in the U.S., there are concerns that police or federal agencies can track people by their cellphones. That can happen. The same is true of a cellphone relying on BeiDou, Glonass and Galileo. The question is: Who are you concerned about being tracked by?”FILE – A Long March-3B rocket carrying the Beidou-3 satellite, the last satellite of China’s Beidou Navigation Satellite System, takes off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province, China, June 23, 2020.Legislation passed in Taiwan in 2016 also noted that two-way communication capabilities could be used in cyberattacks. It recommended that government employees should avoid using smartphones that rely on BeiDou for their phone navigation system.In a public report, Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology said that Taiwanese using mobile phones made in the mainland might be providing Beijing with information via embedded malware. “Because the Chinese BeiDou satellite positioning system has two-way information sending and receiving function and malicious programs could be hidden in the navigation chip of the mobile phone, operating system or apps, the use of BeiDou-enabled smartphones could face security risks,” the report stated.The ministry recommended that national defense agencies monitor signals transmitted by BeiDou and warn of any anomalies as soon as possible.A Staff members walk at Xichang Satellite Launch Center, the day before the Beidou-3 satellite, the last satellite of China’s Beidou Navigation Satellite System, was set to launch, in Sichuan province, China, June 15, 2020.Almost 25 years later, BeiDou is now trying to rival GPS’s dominant positions. It has overtaken its U.S. rival in size. At the end of June, there were 35 BeiDou satellites in operation, compared with 31 for GPS.”It brings full autonomy to China in matters of position and navigation services for ground, sea and air transportation means on a global scale,” said Dr. Emmanuel Meneut in a recent report published by a French think tank, the Institute of International Relations.According to a report released last month by a Chinese research firm Qianxun SI, BeiDou’s satellites were observed more frequently than GPS satellites in most parts of the world. The state media Xinhua reported last Friday that BeiDou now has 500 million subscribers for its high-precision positioning services.As an integral part of everyday life, GPS is nearly ubiquitous in the modern economy. The system is also an indispensable asset to U.S. forces at home and deployed around the globe. It provides a substantial military advantage and has been integrated into virtually every facet of military operations. Being overtaken by BeiDou could have potentially enormous implications for both high-tech industry and national security.To promote greater use of the technology, China has sought to incentivize other countries with loans and free services. Beijing signed a roughly 2 billion yuan ($297 million) agreement with Thailand in 2013, making the country the first overseas client of BeiDou. According to a report released last month by a Shanghai-based market research firm, SWS Research, by the end of 2020, at least 1,000 base stations will be built in the 10 ASEAN countries.”Widespread integration of BeiDou across the Belt and Road [a global development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013] will ostensibly end a member nation’s reliance on the American military-run GPS network,” Heath Sloane, a scholar at the Yenching Academy of Peking University, wrote in The Diplomat in April. “Torn between rival networks, the world may soon be bifurcated into GPS or BeiDou camps.”FILE – A GPS navigation device is held by a U.S. soldier in Kuwait, in this image taken from video.Ironically, the American military says it sometimes uses BeiDou as a backup to GPS.According to General James Holmes, the head of the U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command, pilots of the elite U-2 spy plane wear watches that receive satellite navigation coordinates from BeiDou when GPS is jammed. “My U-2 guys fly with a watch now that ties into GPS, but also BeiDou and the Russian [GLONASS] system and the European [Galileo] system so that if somebody jams GPS, they still get the others,” Holmes said March 4 at the McAleese Defense Programs Conference in Washington.While China’s 5G networking technology has long been considered a security threat, BeiDou receives little criticism from the U.S. Moreover, the system received much-needed help from Washington in 2017.  As Beijing was rapidly developing the system, it faced a problem that only the U.S. could solve: No frequency bands were available.Under the “first come, first served” principle, GPS had occupied most of the spectrum that a global positioning system needs, since the U.S. was the first nation to start broadcasting in those frequencies.China had to obtain permission from Washington before using this limited resource. After three years of negotiations, the two countries agreed in December 2017 to allow BeiDou’s civil signals to be interoperable with GPS. As a result, the three frequency bands that BeiDou satellites use to transmit navigation signals are located adjacent to or even inside GPS frequency bands.’Biggest’ aerospace projectOfficially started in 1994, BeiDou is consistently referenced as “the biggest” aerospace program that China ever undertaken. For the past 2½ years alone, there have been more than 300,000 scientists and engineers from more than 400 research institutions and corporations involved in the program. Along with 5G, BeiDou is called by Beijing “The Two Pillars of a Great Power.”Yang Changfeng, a chief designer of BeiDou, told China’s state broadcaster CCTV last month that China was now “moving from being a major nation in space to becoming a true space power.””The rise of the Chinese GPS BeiDou system is not simply one more positioning service in competition with the U.S. One is a strategic challenge,” Meneut said.

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Facebook Civil Rights Audit: ‘Serious Setbacks’ Mar Progress

A two-year audit of Facebook’s civil rights record found “serious setbacks” that have marred the social network’s progress on matters such as hate speech, misinformation and bias.
Facebook hired the audit’s leader, former American Civil Liberties Union executive Laura Murphy, in May 2018 to assess its performance on vital social issues. Its 100-page report released Wednesday outlines a “seesaw of progress and setbacks” at the company on everything from bias in Facebook’s algorithms to its content moderation, advertising practices and treatment of voter suppression.
The audit recommends that Facebook build a “civil rights infrastructure” into every aspect of the company, as well as a “stronger interpretation” of existing voter suppression policies and more concrete action on algorithmic bias. Those suggestions are not binding, and there is no formal system in place to hold Facebook accountable for any of the audit’s findings.
“While the audit process has been meaningful, and has led to some significant improvements in the platform, we have also watched the company make painful decisions over the last nine months with real world consequences that are serious setbacks for civil rights,” the audit report states.
Those include Facebook’s decision to exempt politicians from fact-checking, even when President Donald Trump posted false information about voting by mail. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has cited a commitment to free speech as a reason for allowing such posts to remain on the platform, even though the company has rules in place against voter suppression it could have used to take down — or at least add warning labels to — Trump’s posts.
Last month, Facebook announced it would begin labeling rule-breaking posts — even from politicians — going forward. But it is not clear if Trump’s previous controversial posts would have gotten the alert. The problem, critics have long said, is not so much about Facebook’s rules as how it enforces them.
“When you elevate free expression as your highest value, other values take a back seat,” Murphy told The Associated Press. The politician exemption, she said, “elevates the speech of people who are already powerful and disadvantages people who are not.”
More than 900 companies have joined an advertising boycott of Facebook to protest its handling of hate speech and misinformation.
Civil rights leaders who met virtually with Zuckerberg and other Facebook leaders Tuesday expressed skepticism that recommendations from the audit would ever be implemented, noting that past suggestions in previous reports had gone overlooked.
“What we get is recommendations that they end up not implementing,” said Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color for Change, one of several civil rights nonprofits leading an organized boycott of Facebook advertising. 

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TikTok to Exit Hong Kong Market Over New National Security Law 

TikTok, the popular short-form video app, says it will exit the Hong Kong market in response to the new national security law for the semi-autonomous city recently enacted by Beijing. A spokesman for the company issued a statement Tuesday saying it was ending operations in Hong Kong “in light of recent events.”   TikTok’s announcement it would cease operating in Hong Kong coincides with the decisions by U.S. tech giants Facebook, Google and Twitter that they will suspend processing requests by the central government in Beijing for user data in Hong Kong following passage of the new law.  The companies are blocked in mainland China due to the autocratic government’s so-called “Great Firewall,” but operate freely in semi-autonomous Hong Kong.  TikTok is owned and operated by China-based ByteDance.  ByteDance owns a similar app called Douyin which is available on mainland China, where TikTok is unavailable.  TikTok has long denied that its data can be accessed by the Chinese government, as its servers are located entirely outside of China. But U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday the United States is considering banning TikTok and other Chinese social media apps due to privacy concerns. The law, which went into effect last week, calls for the central government to establish a national security office in Hong Kong aimed at confronting subversion of state power, terrorism, separatism and collusion with foreign forces.  The new law was a response to the massive and often violent pro-democracy demonstrations that engulfed the financial hub in the latter half of 2019.   Critics say the measure effectively ends the “One Country, Two Systems” policy under which Hong Kong was promised a high degree of autonomy after the handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997. Hong Kong is a former British colony.     

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Facebook, Others Block Requests on Hong Kong User Data

Social media platforms and messaging apps including Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, Google and Twitter will deny law enforcement requests for user data in Hong Kong as they assess the effect of a new national security law enacted last week.Facebook and its messaging app WhatsApp said in separate statements Monday that they would freeze the review of government requests for user data in Hong Kong, “pending further assessment of the National Security Law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with international human rights experts.”The policy changes follow the rollout last week of laws that prohibit what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities, as well as foreign intervention in the city’s internal affairs. The legislation criminalizes some pro-democracy slogans like the widely used “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time,” which the Hong Kong government has deemed has separatist connotations.The fear is that the new law erodes the freedoms of the semi-autonomous city, which operates under a “one country, two systems” framework after Britain handed it over to China in 1997. That framework gives Hong Kong and its people freedoms not found in mainland China, such as unrestricted internet access.Spokesman Mike Ravdonikas said Monday that Telegram understands “the importance of protecting the right to privacy of our Hong Kong users.” Telegram has been used broadly to spread pro-democracy messages and information about the protests in Hong Kong.”Telegram has never shared any data with the Hong Kong authorities in the past and does not intend to process any data requests related to its Hong Kong users until an international consensus is reached in relation to the ongoing political changes in the city,” he said.Twitter also paused all data and information requests from Hong Kong authorities after the law went into effect last week, the company said. It is reviewing the national security law to assess its implications.”Like many public interest organizations, civil society leaders and entities, and industry peers, we have grave concerns regarding both the developing process and the full intention of this law,” the company said in a statement.Twitter emphasized that it was “committed to protecting the people using our service and their freedom of expression.” Likewise, Google said in a statement that it too had “paused production on any new data requests from Hong Kong authorities” and will continue reviewing details of the new law.Social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and WhatsApp have operated freely in Hong Kong, while they are blocked in the mainland under China’s “Great Firewall.” Though social platforms have yet to be blocked in Hong Kong, users have begun scrubbing their accounts and deleting pro-democracy posts out of fear of retribution. That retreat has extended to the streets of Hong Kong as well. Many of the shops and stores that publicly stood in solidarity with protesters have removed the pro-democracy sticky notes and artwork that adorned their walls. Hong Kong’s government late Monday issued implementation rules of Article 43 of the national security law, which give the city’s police force sweeping powers in enforcing the legislation and come into effect Tuesday.Under the rules, platforms and publishers, as well as internet service providers, may be ordered to take down electronic messages published that are “likely to constitute an offence endangering national security or is likely to cause the occurrence of an offence endangering national security.”Service providers who do not comply with such requests could face fines of up to 100,000 Hong Kong dollars ($12,903) and receive jail terms of six months.

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Facebook Advertisers Boycott, Demand Changes

More than 600 companies say they won’t advertise on Facebook and its sister firm, Instagram, in July, as part of a campaign called Stop Hate for Profit. The goal? Force Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to address his firm’s negative effects on society, says Jim Steyer, chief executive and founder of Common Sense Media, a children’s media education non-profit, and one of the boycott’s backers. “They are amplifying hate speech, racist messages, white supremacy messages, all sorts of misinformation and dishonest political advertising,” said Steyer. “So, we asked the major advertisers of America to pause their advertising on the platform for at least a month.”Just weeks ago, Steyer joined with organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP and Color of Change to FILE – Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington.There’s no shortage of ideas of how to fix Facebook. Some call for regulations. Others say break up the company and make Zuckerberg, who has controlling shares in the firm, answerable to a board. Another idea: Hire ethicists to help with decision-making and give them power in the organization, says Don Heider, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. “I don’t think there’s any one core set of values,” he said. “I wish there was. And I wish it was some sense of trying to help the common good or trying to protect human rights or something that really helped them be a guiding principle for the company.” Facebook says it doesn’t tolerate hate speech and points to its automated system to remove inflammatory ads before users see them.Label content that breaks rulesRecently, the firm agreed to an external audit of how it is doing to make sure advertisers do not appear next to harmful messages, one of the boycott organizer’s demands. Facebook also said it would label content that breaks its rules, even those posted by an elected official. And it will remove posts that Facebook thinks may lead to violence or deprive people’s right to vote. These are important steps. But some critics argue it’s not enough.“Yes, they can change,” said Eisenstat. “It’s a question of whether they want to. Can they change as long as they continue to pursue being the biggest most dominant company in the world that absolutely has the monopoly over all conversations how we get our content, how we connect with people? Possibly not.”  The boycott organizers say their campaign is going global. But it will take time before they know if their efforts have a lasting effect.      

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Will New American CEO Change TikTok’s Image in US?

Kevin Mayer, a former executive at Disney, recently started his new role as TikTok’s new CEO. He must prove to American lawmakers, regulators and consumers that they can trust the Chinese-owned app with their data, which analysts say won’t be easy. VOA’s Adrianna Zhang has more.
Camera: Yiyi Yang

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Trump, Biden Fight for Primacy on Social Media Platforms

On an average day, President Donald Trump sends about 14 posts to the 28 million Facebook followers of his campaign account. His Democratic rival, Joe Biden, delivers about half that many posts to an audience of just 2 million.The numbers are similarly skewed in other spheres of the social media landscape.On Twitter, Trump’s 82.4 million followers dwarf Biden’s 6.4 million. The president has spent years cultivating a ragtag digital “army” of meme makers and political influencers who retweet campaign messages hundreds of times daily. Trump is outspending Biden on Google and YouTube advertising by nearly 3 to 1.  As his reelection bid faces growing obstacles, his primacy in the dizzying digital world is one of his top advantages, giving him a massive platform to connect with supporters and push a message that ignores his vulnerabilities related to the pandemic, unemployment and race relations. Biden and his allies are now working feverishly to establish a social media force of their own.  For the first time, Biden outspent Trump on Facebook advertising in June, pouring twice as much money into the platform as the president. His campaign is recruiting Instagram supporters to hold virtual fundraisers. And it’s plotting ways to mobilize the power of hundreds of teens on TikTok who reserved tickets for Trump’s recent Oklahoma campaign rally and took credit for sinking the event by artificially inflating the crowd count before it began.  But Trump’s head start may be tough to overcome.”Vice President Biden and Trump have very different challenges right now,” said Tara McGowan, the founder of liberal digital firm Acronym and former digital director for the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA during the 2016 campaign. “Trump needs to hold his base … and Vice President Biden needs to define and in a lot of ways introduce himself to you new voters, and potential supporters.”But Trump’s unimpeded access to the digital microphone is facing its limits.Twitter is beginning to fact check Trump’s posts, including one that made unfounded claims that mail-in voting would lead to fraud. The company also alerted users when the president posted a manipulated video, and it hid his Twitter threat about shooting looters in Minneapolis.Under pressure in June as major companies yanked advertising from its site, Facebook promised it would label Trump posts when they break rules around voting or hate speech. Video messaging platform Snapchat last month also said it would keep the president’s account active and searchable but would stop showcasing his profile on the platform. And in a move to clamp down on hate and violent speech, the online comment forum Reddit decided to ban one of the president’s most prolific fan forums, The_Donald.FILE – Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, Michigan, March 9, 2020.Trump and Biden have strikingly divergent tactics on social media.A centerpiece of Trump’s digital efforts is the Team Trump Online! nightly live broadcasts streamed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Twitch, an online streaming platform. The broadcasts feature top Trump surrogates including daughter-in-law Lara Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.Trump also tweets with far greater velocity, sending more than 160 Twitter messages during a seven-day period starting June 14, an Associated Press analysis of Trump and Biden’s accounts reveals. More than 50 of Trump’s posts were retweets from an assortment of users that included the U.S. Army, far-right meme makers, conservative news outlets, little-known congressional candidates and anonymous accounts that in some cases promoted conspiracy theories.  The president’s steady retweets of everyday users helps fans feel connected to him, said Logan Cook, a Kansas internet meme maker whose work Trump has regularly promoted on his social media accounts.  “President Trump’s team, they’re blending in with social media culture, which is also why they’re getting into so much trouble,” said Cook, whose Twitter account @CarpeDonktum was permanently suspended last week for copyright violations. His memes are controversial because he alters videos to mock Trump’s political rivals, including Biden.  Twitter users celebrate being retweeted by the president, or his inner circle, like the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., who has more than 5 million followers.  Trump’s followers see producing sardonic memes or videos as a game where the ultimate prize is a retweet from the president, said Misha Leybovich, a tech entrepreneur who produces social media engagement products that support Democratic candidates and causes.  “The fan base is having a blast,” Leybovich said. “If they never gave the fans the ability to be amplified by the president, the stakes would be lower.”Biden has stuck to a more conventional approach, tweeting nearly 60 messages during that same time, only a handful of which were retweets from verified accounts, like former President Barack Obama, or established news outlets. Every video Biden tweeted out over that week in June was produced by his own campaign.But the effectiveness of campaign messaging isn’t just about numbers, said Jennifer Mercieca, a political rhetoric professor at Texas A&M University.  “If you want to compare the attention and engagement metrics, it might look like Trump is way ahead, but that attention and outrage isn’t always good,” Mercieca said. “When a child is throwing a tantrum, you’re giving them attention, but it’s not because you approve of their behavior.”Indeed, the Biden campaign argues that despite being outmatched on social media, their engagement is strong.”The way that they treat their supporters, it’s about distraction. It’s about keeping them angry,” said Rob Friedlander, Biden campaign digital director. “For us it’s about, how do we make you feel like you’re brought into the campaign.”The campaign is creating Facebook groups, holding virtual events on Instagram and partnering with social media influencers who create posts in support of the campaign.  One such group is an Instagram account called Bake for Biden, which bakes bread and ships sourdough starters across the country in exchange for donations to Biden. The group was born out of what Brooklyn marketing executive Domenic Venuto first saw as an inadequate response from Biden’s campaign to Trump’s taunts and conspiracy theories.  Venuto said he’s come to understand the campaign’s digital strategy of ignoring Trump’s attacks.  “They’ve been very good at promoting values and shying away from being baited into the same tactics (as the Trump campaign),” Venuto said. 

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Advertisers Boycott Facebook, Demand Changes

Companies such as Coca-Cola, Adidas, Ford and Lego are boycotting Facebook this month, pulling ads that appear on the social network in the United States. Some advertisers are part of an organized boycott demanding the company do more to crack down on hate speech, conspiracies and misinformation on its site on topics such as voting. Facebook has responded with some changes but will it be enough? Michelle Quinn reports.
Camera: Deana Mitchell

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