All posts by MTechnology

Pakistan Blocks 5 Dating Apps Over ‘Immoral Content’

Pakistan has blocked access to five dating apps for their delivery of “immoral/indecent content” in the majority-Muslim nation. The state regulator, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, PTA, identified the platforms as Tinder, Grindr, Tagged, Skout and SayHi.”PTA issued notices to the above-mentioned platforms for the purpose of removing dating services and to moderate livestreaming content in accordance with the local laws of Pakistan,” PTA said Tuesday. It did not elaborate on the ban, but the country’s laws prohibit homosexuality and extra-marital relationships. The PTA statement noted that the five companies failed to respond to its directive within the stipulated time, prompting the authority to block their services in Pakistan. The statement did not elaborate on the time frame. Officials at the five companies have not commented on PTA’s action, which has been criticized at home. “PTA, deciding what adults should watch privately or not, is itself “immoral” if “morality” or “moral order” could be understood as a term in Islamic Pakistan! PTA is creating undemocratic trends; courts need to stop PTA!,” tweeted Moeed Pirzada, a prime-time TV news anchor in Pakistan.Tinder is globally popular and owned by Match Group.  FILE – A woman checks the Grindr app on her mobile phone, May 29, 2019.Grindr, which has a large following in the United States, describes itself as a social network “for gay, bi, trans, and queer people.” The PTA directive noted, however, that the authority can unblock the services if the management of their companies “assures adherence to the local laws with respect to moderating the indecent/immoral content through meaningful engagement.”Data from analytics firm Sensor Tower shows Tinder has been downloaded more than 440,000 times in Pakistan within the last 12 months, the Reuters news agency reported. Grindr, Tagged and SayHi have each been downloaded about 300,000 times. Skout has been downloaded 100,000 times during the same period, according to the data.   Last week, PTA formally asked video sharing platforms YouTube and TikTok to immediately block what PTA denounced as “vulgar, indecent, nude and hate speech content for viewing in Pakistan.”   The authorities directed both companies to tighten its content monitoring and moderation mechanism to block access to “the unlawful material” and “objectionable” content. 
 

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Facebook, Twitter Suspend Russian Network Ahead of Election

Facebook said Tuesday that it removed a small network of accounts and pages linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, the “troll factory” that has used social media accounts to sow political discord in the U.S. since the 2016 presidential election.  Twitter also suspended five related accounts. The company said the tweets from these Russia-linked accounts “were low quality and spammy” and that most received few, if any, likes or retweets. The people behind the accounts recruited “unwitting” freelance journalists to post in English and Arabic, mainly targeting left-leaning audiences. Facebook said Tuesday the network’s activity focused on the U.S., U.K., Algeria and Egypt and other English-speaking countries and countries in the Middle East and North Africa.  The company said it started investigating the network based on information from the FBI about its off-Facebook activities. The network was in the early stages of development, Facebook added, and saw “nearly no engagement” on Facebook before it was removed. The network consisted of 13 Facebook accounts and two pages. About 14,000 accounts followed one or more of the pages, though the English-language page had a little over 200 followers, Facebook said.FILE – An man looks at a Facebook app on his smartphone in Amritsar, India, March 22, 2018.Still, its presence points to ongoing Russian efforts to disrupt the U.S. election and sow political discord in an already divided country. To evade detection, the people behind the network recruited Americans to do their bidding, likely unknowingly, both as journalists and as people authorized to purchase political advertisements in the U.S. Facebook said the people behind the network posted about global events ranging from racial justice in the U.S. and the U.K., NATO, the QAnon conspiracy, President Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. The network spent about $480 on advertising on Facebook, primarily in U.S. dollars. However, Facebook said less than $2 worth of those ads targeted the U.S. The network’s posts directed people to a website called PeaceData, which claims to be a global news organization that, according to a  report by research firm Graphika, “took a left-wing stance, opposing what it portrayed as Western imperialism and the excesses of capitalism.” The FBI said in a statement Tuesday that it provided information to the platforms “to better protect against threats to the nation’s security and our democratic processes.” “While technology companies independently make decisions regarding the content of their platforms and the safety of their members, the FBI is actively engaged with our federal partners, election officials, and the private sector to mitigate foreign threats to our nation’s security and our elections,” the statement said.  Separately, Twitter said Tuesday it will start adding context to its trending section, which shows some of the most popular topics on the service at any given moment. Experts and even Twitter’s own employees have expressed concerns that the trending section can be gamed to spread misinformation and abuse. Twitter uses algorithms and human employees to determine what topics are trending — it is not simply the most popular topics, but topics that are newly popular at any given time. But it’s not difficult to artificially elevate trends.  In the coming weeks, Twitter said, users in the U.S., U.K., Brazil, India and several other countries will see brief descriptions added to some trends to add context. “To be clear, we know there is more work to do to improve trends and the context updates we’re announcing today are just a small step in the right direction,” said Liz Lee, a product trust partner and Frank Oppong, a product manager, in a blog post. “We need to make trends better and we will.” 

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Amazon Wins FAA Approval to Deliver Packages by Drone

Getting an Amazon package delivered from the sky is closer to becoming a reality.The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday it had granted Amazon approval to deliver packages by drones.Amazon said that the approval is an “important step,” but added that it is still testing and flying the drones. It did not say when it expected drones to make deliveries to shoppers.The online shopping giant has been working on drone delivery for years, but it has been slowed by regulatory hurdles. Back in December 2013, Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos said in a TV interview that drones would be flying to customer’s homes within five years.Last year, Amazon unveiled self-piloting drones that are fully electric, can carry 5 pounds of goods and are designed to deliver items in 30 minutes by dropping them in a backyard. At the time, an Amazon executive said deliveries to shoppers would be happening “within months,” but more than 14 months have passed since then.Seattle-based Amazon is the third drone delivery service to win flight approval, the FAA said. Delivery company UPS and a company owned by search giant Google won approval last year.
 

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How China Dominates Global Battery Supply Chain

After years of planning, China now dominates the world’s production of new generation batteries that are key to transitioning away from fossil fuels. These new batteries are essential for electric vehicles and most portable consumer electronics such as cell phones and laptops.  By 2040, energy analysts estimate over half of all passenger vehicles sold worldwide could be electric, according to 2019 report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. They expect a similar percentage of light commercial vehicles in the U.S., Europe and China sales will be electric within that time, BNEF predicts. If current trends continue, most of them will likely use Chinese batteries, a key element for transitioning away from fossil fuels, and most of those batteries will be lithium ion, which are also popular for cellphones and laptops because of their high energy per unit mass relative to other electrical energy storage systems, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.“Looking at the global automotive industry chain, China, for the first time, has taken the lead in the world in the manufacturing of key parts,” state media Xinhua said in August in a report titled “China’s dominant position in batteries needs to be further consolidated.”  Switching from oil As the United States and China face off over advanced communication technologies like 5G, the world’s battery supply is not yet a major issue. But it will likely grow in importance if the U.S. continues to transition away from fossil fuel energy sources for items such as vehicles, power grids, mobile phones and laptop computers. And that could make the global battery supply an issue of national security.  For nearly half a century, American politicians have sought to protect the country from disruptions caused by foreign oil producers.  “All of our national security decisions were set against the backdrop of what they might mean to our energy security, following the 1973 Yom Kippur war when Egypt and Syria invaded Israel and the Arab nations cut off supplies to the US and allies who helped Israel.” Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the American Energy Alliance, a not-for-profit energy advocacy organization, told VOA. In 2019, the U.S. achieved its long-held goal of energy independence” producing enough oil and gas for its domestic needs. The achievement points to the challenge of controlling the raw materials that will power the world’s next energy revolution. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), last year the U.S. imported 78% of its cobalt, and all of its graphite. For the foreseeable future, the country will likely need to depend on Chinese supply chains to produce the batteries that help power America’s economy.  Graphite, cobalt, lithium According to data released from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a London-based research firm for the lithium-ion battery industry, in 2019, Chinese chemical companies accounted for 80% of the world’s total output of raw materials for advanced batteries.  “Of the 136 lithium-ion battery plants in the pipeline to 2029, 101 are based in China,” the firm said in May. “China controls the processing of pretty much all the critical minerals, whether it’s rare earth, lithium, cobalt or graphite,” Pini Althaus, the chief executive of USA Rare Earth, said in a telephone interview with VOA.  A little-known Chinese company that was founded in 2011 is now the world’s biggest maker of electric vehicle batteries.  For three consecutive years ending in 2019, South Korea’s market tracker SNE Research has ranked China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. (CATL) as No. 1 in the electric vehicle battery production, with a 27.9% market share. CATL makes electric-car batteries for Tesla. CATL hairman Zeng Yuqun told Bloomberg last month that they have developed a power pack that lasts more than a million miles. Among their top customers are Daimler AG, BMW and Toyota.  Battery supply chain China has focused on building capacity at every stage of the battery supply chain.  In addition to rare earths, the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries depends on some key materials like graphite, the material used in pencil tips. In 2019, China produced more than 60% of the world’s graphite, according to U.S. government research. That means Beijing can set world prices. “This is a completely untenable situation,” said Althaus, whose company has a pilot project in Colorado with the goal of producing a full range of rare earths as well as lithium.   He said that it could take the U.S. 20 to 30 years to catch up with China. “It does not matter whether it is China or any other country. It is very dangerous if the world only depends on one country to provide key raw materials.  African cobalt, Chinese factories  Cobalt has emerged as one of the hottest commodities in the new energy revolution because it is widely used in electric vehicles as well as computer and consumer electronics. But unlike graphite, which China has significant natural reserves, the country’s cobalt reserves accounts for only about 1% of the world’s total. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) produces more than 60% of the world’s mined cobalt.  But Beijing controls the global supply of this silvery-blue metal.  According to a working paper published last year by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), eight of the 14 largest cobalt mines in the DRC are Chinese-owned and account for almost half of the country’s output.    DRC mining ownership was not always controlled by China. For example, the largest mine in DRC, the Tenke Fungurume Mine where cobalt is a by-product of its copper mining, was owned by an American company until 2016. That year, for $2.65 billion, Freeport-McMoRan Inc., a leading international mining company with headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona, sold its mine to China Molybdenum. China’s influence dominates cobalt processing with Chinese companies controlling about 80% of the cobalt refining industry, where it is turned into commercial-grade cobalt metal and power, according to Benchmark Minerals. World lithium reserves China is among the five top countries with the most lithium resources, according to the 2020 USGS, but it has been buying stakes in mining operations in Australia and South America where most of the world’s lithium reserves are found.  China’s Tianqi Lithium now owns 51% of the world’s largest lithium reserve, Australia’s Greenbushes lithium mine. In 2018, the same company also paid about $4 billion to become the second-largest shareholder in Sociedad Química y Minera (SQM), the largest lithium producer in Chile.  Another Chinese company, Ganfeng Lithium, now has a long-term agreement to underwrite all lithium raw materials produced by Australia’s Mount Marion mine, the world’s second-biggest, high-grade lithium reserve.  

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Facebook Says Will Stop News Sharing in Australia if New Regulations Become Law

Facebook Inc said it would block news publishers and people in Australia from sharing news on Facebook and Instagram if a proposal to force the U.S. tech giant to pay local media outlets for content becomes law. The Australian government said in July it would require tech giants Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google to pay for news provided by media companies under a royalty-style system that is scheduled to become law this year. “This is not our first choice – it is our last. But it is the only way to protect against an outcome that defies logic and will hurt, not help, the long-term vibrancy of Australia’s news and media sector,” Facebook Australia managing director Will Easton said in a statement published on Tuesday. Following an inquiry into the state of the media market and the power of the U.S. platforms, the Australian government late last year told Facebook and Google to negotiate a voluntary deal with media companies to use their content. After those negotiations failed, Australia’s competition regulator drafted laws that it said would allow news businesses to negotiate for fair payment for their journalists’ work. Easton said the proposed legislation misunderstands the dynamic of the internet and will damage news organizations. Australia’s Ministry for Communications did not immediately respond to questions on Tuesday.  

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Poll Shows 40 Percent of Americans Back Trump Executive Order on TikTok

Forty percent of Americans back President Donald Trump’s threat to ban videosharing app TikTok if it is not sold to a U.S. buyer, according to a Reuters/Ipsos national poll, suggesting that many support the effort to separate the social media upstart from its Chinese parent.The poll published Monday, which surveyed 1,349 adult respondents across the United States, found that 40% backed Trump’s recent executive order forcing China’s ByteDance to sell its TikTok operations in the United States by Sept. 15. Thirty percent of the respondents said they opposed the move, while another 30% said they didn’t know either way.The responses were largely split along party lines, and many of those who agreed with Trump’s order said they do not know much about TikTok. Among Republicans, for example, 69% said they supported the president’s order while only 32% said they were familiar with the app. Twenty-one percent of Democrats also supported Trump’s order and 46% said they were familiar with TikTok.The figures suggest most Americans had only “a fleeting knowledge of the brand,” said Dipanjan Chatterjee, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. Chatterjee said the negative attitudes were likely the result of the public rhetoric around TikTok – and increasing tensions with Beijing.”Clearly there’s been a politicization of TikTok,” he said.TikTok users have captured the teenage zeitgeist with catchy song-and-dance videos in the United States and elsewhere, but its parent company’s ties to Beijing have been the subject of bipartisan concern as relations with China deteriorate.Those worries culminated earlier this month in a do-or-die order from Trump to ByteDance, with the Trump administration saying that TikTok is a potential national security risk due to the vast amount of private data the app is compiling on U.S. consumers. TikTok claims about 100 million monthly active users in the U.S.The Chinese company must now divest TikTok in the United States. Microsoft Corp and Oracle Corp are among U.S. companies fighting to snap up its assets.The Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 38% of respondents said they were either very or somewhat familiar with the app and 25% said they had watched a video on the platform. Thirty-five percent agreed with the statement that they had “heard of it, but that’s about it.”Americans also appeared to be more critical of the Chinese company than they were of American-based technology companies: 47% of respondents said they either held very unfavorable, somewhat unfavorable, or “lean towards unfavorable” attitudes toward TikTok. By contrast, just 11% said they had similarly unfavorable impressions of Seattle-based Amazon – the world’s largest online retailer which is facing allegations of monopolistic behavior from both sides of the U.S. political aisle. 

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China’s New Tech Export Controls Could Give Beijing a Say in TikTok Sale

China’s new rules around tech exports mean ByteDance’s sale of TikTok’s U.S. operations could need Beijing’s approval, a Chinese trade expert told state media, a requirement that would complicate the forced and politically charged divestment.ByteDance has been ordered by President Donald Trump to divest short video app TikTok — which is challenging the order — in the United States amid security concerns over the personal data it handles.Microsoft Corp and Oracle Corp are among the suitors for the assets, which also includes TikTok’s Canada, New Zealand and Australia operations.However, China late on Friday revised a list of technologies that are banned or restricted for export for the first time in 12 years and Cui Fan, a professor of international trade at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, said the changes would apply to TikTok.”If ByteDance plans to export related technologies, it should go through the licensing procedures,” Cui said in an interview with Xinhua published on Saturday.China’s Ministry of Commerce added 23 items –- including technologies such as personal information push services based on data analysis and artificial intelligence interactive interface technology — to the restricted list.It can take up to 30 days to obtain preliminary approval to export the technology.TikTok’s secret weapon is believed to be its recommendation engine that keeps users glued to their screens. This engine, or algorithm, powers TikTok’s “For You” page, which recommends the next video to watch based on an analysis of your behavior.Cui noted that ByteDance’s development overseas had relied on its domestic technology that provided the core algorithm and said the company may need to transfer software codes or usage rights to the new owner of TikTok from China to overseas.”Therefore, it is recommended that ByteDance seriously studies the adjusted catalog and carefully considers whether it is necessary to suspend” negotiations on a sale, he added.ByteDance did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.China’s foreign ministry has said that it opposes the executive orders Trump has placed on TikTok and that Beijing will defend the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese businesses.

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Zuckerberg says Facebook Erred in Not Removing Militia Post

Facebook made a mistake in not removing a militia group’s page earlier this week that called for armed civilians to enter Kenosha, Wisconsin, amid violent protests after police shot Jacob Blake, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said.The page for the “Kenosha Guard” violated Facebook’s policies and had been flagged by “a bunch of people,” Zuckerberg said in a video posted Friday on Facebook. The social media giant has in recent weeks adopted new guidelines removing or restricting posts from groups that pose a threat to public safety.Facebook took down the page Wednesday, after an armed civilian allegedly killed two people and wounded a third Tuesday night amid protests in Kenosha that followed the shooting of Blake, who is Black.”It was largely an operational mistake,” Zuckerberg said. “The contractors, the reviewers, who the initial complaints were funneled to, didn’t, basically didn’t pick this up.”Zuckerberg did not apologize for the error and said that so far, Facebook hasn’t found any evidence that Rittenhouse was aware of the Kenosha Guard page or the invitation it posted for armed militia members to go to Kenosha.Facebook is now taking down posts that praise the shooting or shooter, Zuckerberg said. Yet a report Thursday by The Guardian newspaper found examples of support and even fundraising messages still being shared on Facebook and its photo-sharing service, Instagram.Zuckerberg also contrasted the treatment of Blake, who was shot in the back by Kenosha police, and the white 17-year-old now charged in Tuesday’s slayings, Kyle Rittenhouse, who carried an AR-15-style rifle near police without being challenged. Zuckerberg also acknowledged the civil rights demonstration Friday in Washington, D.C.”There’s just a sense that things really aren’t improving at the pace that they should be, and I think that’s really painful, really discouraging,” Zuckerberg said.Zuckerberg also said the company is working on improving its execution, though he did not provide details. He acknowledged that the approaching presidential election would present greater challenges around polarizing content.”There is a real risk and a continued increased risk through the election during this very sensitive and polarized and highly charged time,” he said.

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Musk’s Neuralink Puts Computer Chips in Animal Brains

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s neuroscience startup Neuralink on Friday unveiled a pig named Gertrude that has had a coin-sized computer chip in her brain for two months, showing off an early step toward the goal of curing human diseases with the same type of implant.Co-founded by Tesla Inc and SpaceX CEO Musk in 2016, San Francisco Bay Area-based Neuralink aims to implant wireless brain-computer interfaces that include thousands of electrodes in the most complex human organ to help cure neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s, dementia and spinal cord injuries and ultimately fuse humankind with artificial intelligence.”An implantable device can actually solve these problems,” Musk said on a webcast Friday, mentioning ailments such as memory loss, hearing loss, depression and insomnia.Musk did not provide a timeline for those treatments, appearing to retreat from earlier statements that human trials would begin by the end of this year. Neuralink’s first clinical trials with a small number of human patients would be aimed at treating paralysis or paraplegia, the company’s head surgeon, Dr. Matthew MacDougall, said.Neuroscientists unaffiliated with the company said the presentation indicated that Neuralink had made great strides but cautioned that longer studies were needed.Musk presented what he described as the “three little pigs demo.” Gertrude, the pig with a Neuralink implant in the part of the brain that controls the snout, required some coaxing by Musk to appear on camera, but eventually began eating off of a stool and sniffing straw, triggering spikes on a graph tracking the animal’s neural activity.Musk said the company had three pigs with two implants each, and also revealed a pig that previously had an implant. They were “healthy, happy and indistinguishable from a normal pig,” Musk said. He said the company predicted a pig’s limb movement during a treadmill run at “high accuracy” using implant data.Musk described Neuralink’s chip, which is roughly 23 millimeters in diameter, as “a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires.””I could have a Neuralink right now and you wouldn’t know,” Musk said. “Maybe I do.”One comment from a webcast viewer described the animals as “Cypork.”Graeme Moffat, a University of Toronto neuroscience research fellow, said Neuralink’s advancements were “order of magnitude leaps” beyond current science thanks to the novel chip’s size, portability, power management and wireless capabilities.Stanford University neuroscientist Sergey Stavisky said the company had made substantial and impressive progress since an initial demonstration of an earlier chip in July 2019.”Going from that to the fully implanted system in several pigs they showed is impressive and, I think, really highlights the strengths of having a large multidisciplinary team focused on this problem,” Stavisky said.Some researchers said longer studies would be required to determine the longevity of the device.Neuralink’s chip could also improve the understanding of neurological diseases by reading brain waves, one of the company’s scientists said during the presentation.Recruiting, not fundraisingMusk said the focus of Friday’s event was recruiting, not fundraising. Musk has a history of bringing together diverse experts to drastically accelerate the development of innovations previously limited to academic labs, including rocket, hyperloop and electrical vehicle technologies through companies such as Tesla and SpaceX.Neuralink has received $158 million in funding, $100 million of which came from Musk, and employs about 100 people.Musk, who frequently warns about the risks of artificial intelligence, said the implant’s most important achievement beyond medical applications would be “some kind of AI symbiosis where you have an AI extension of yourself.”Small devices that electronically stimulate nerves and brain areas to treat hearing loss and Parkinson’s disease have been implanted in humans for decades. Brain implant trials have also been conducted with a small number of people who have lost control of bodily functions due to spiral cord injuries or neurological conditions like strokes.Startups such as Kernel, Paradromics and NeuroPace also are trying to exploit advancements in material, wireless and signaling technology to create devices similar to Neuralink. In addition, medical device giant Medtronic PLC produces brain implants to treat Parkinson’s disease, essential tremors and epilepsy.  

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