Category Archives: News

worldwide news

Google Launches News Initiative to Combat Fake News

Alphabet’s Google is launching the Google News Initiative to weed out fake news online and during breaking news situations, it said in a blog post Tuesday.

Google said it plans to spend $300 million over the next three years to improve the accuracy and quality of news appearing on its platforms. 

The changes come as Google, Facebook and Twitter face a backlash over their role during the U.S. presidential election by allowing the spread of false and often malicious information that might have swayed voters toward Republican candidate Donald Trump.

In a separate blog post, Google said it was launching a tool to help subscribe to news publications.

Subscribe with Google will let users buy a subscription on participating news sites using their Google account and manage all their subscriptions in one place.

Google said it would launch the news subscription with the Financial Times, The New York Times, Le Figaro and The Telegraph among others. The search engine said it plans to add more news publishers soon.

Egyptian Court Rules Uber, Careem Illegal; Appeal Expected

An Egyptian court on Tuesday ordered authorities to revoke the operating licenses of the Uber and Careem ride-hailing services and block their mobile apps and software.

The government and the companies are expected to appeal the administrative court verdict, which would prevent it from being implemented until a higher court weighs in.

The administrative court in Cairo ruled that it is illegal to use private vehicles as taxis.

Both companies provide smartphone applications that connect passengers with drivers who work as independent contractors.

In a brief statement posted on its Facebook account, Careem said it “hasn’t been notified officially to stop its operations” and was operating normally. There was no immediate comment from Uber.

Uber was founded in 2010 in San Francisco, and operates in more than 600 cities across the world. Careem was founded in 2012 in Dubai, and operates in 90 cities in the Middle East and North Africa, Turkey, and Pakistan.

The applications took off in Cairo, a city of 20 million people with near-constant traffic and little parking. The services have recently started offering rides on scooters and tuk-tuks, three-wheeled motorized vehicles that can sometimes squeeze through the gridlock.

The apps are especially popular among women, who face rampant sexual harassment in Egypt, including from some taxi drivers. Cairo’s taxi drivers are also notorious for tampering with their meters or pretending the meters are broken in order to charge higher rates.

In 2016, taxi drivers protested the ride-hailing apps. They have complained that Uber and Careem drivers have an unfair advantage because they do not have to pay the same taxes or fees, or follow the same licensing procedures.

Britain, US Probing Use of Facebook Data by British Voter Profiling Company

Social media giant Facebook faced new investigations Tuesday in both Britain and the United States about the vast troves of information compiled by the company about their users and how that data has been deployed to influence elections by Cambridge Analytica, a British voter profiling business.

British information commissioner Elizabeth Denham said she is seeking a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica’s London headquarters to see whether Facebook did enough to protect users’ personal information about themselves and their friends.  Weekend reports said Cambridge Analytica had improperly used information about more than 50 million Facebook users, including $6 million in work to influence Americans to vote for real estate mogul Donald Trump in his successful 2016 run for the U.S. presidency.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg News reported the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether Facebook violated terms of a consent decree it had agreed to with the agency and allowed Cambridge Analytica to use the personal data based on information Facebook users post online about themselves.  Facebook has suspended Cambridge Analytica from its vast social network.

Several U.S. lawmakers have called on Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg to testify in Congress about his firm’s use of its users’ information.

“We want to know how this happened,” Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar said.  “What’s the extent of the damage?  Fifty million of these Facebook profiles were basically stolen, hijacked, including information of people’s residence.  And then how did it happen?  Why did it happen?  And how are they going to fix this?”

White House spokesman Raj Shah told Fox News that Trump “believes that Americans’ privacy should be protected.  You know, if Congress wants to look into the matter or other agencies want to look into the matter, we welcome that.”

Denham told BBC Radio, “We are looking at whether or not Facebook secured and safeguarded personal information on the platform and whether when they found out about the loss of the data they acted robustly and whether or not people were informed.”

Investors have reacted negatively to Facebook’s role in the data breach, with its stock price dropping by nearly 10 percent in the last few days, and the company losing billions of dollars in valuation.

British television station Channel 4 News broadcast surreptitious footage Monday showing an undercover interview one of its reporters conducted with Cambridge Analytica chief executive Alexander Nix in which he claimed to have used “a web of shadowy front companies” to influence elections.

According to the broadcast, with the reporter posing as someone who wanted to influence an election in Sri Lanka, Nix suggested using an attractive woman to seduce a candidate the client was looking to defeat, or sending someone posing as a wealthy developer to pass on a bribe to a politician.

After the telecast, the company said Nix’s answers came in a discussion with “ludicrous hypothetical scenarios.”

In a statement, Nix said, “I am aware how this looks, but it is simply not the case.  I must emphatically state that Cambridge Analytica does not condone or engage in entrapment, bribes or so-called ‘honeytraps,’ and nor does it use untrue material for any purpose.”

The company has disputed reports about its use of vast data troves from Facebook.

Facebook says its data was initially collected by a British academic, Aleksandr Kogan, who created an app on Facebook that was downloaded by 270,000 people, which provided not only their personal data, but also that of their friends they had exchanged information with.  Facebook claims Kogan then violated the company’s terms by passing the information on to Cambridge Analytica.

Britain’s Cambridge University, where Kogan teaches, on Tuesday asked Facebook for all information it has about Kogan’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica.

Kogan has told colleagues at the university he would answer questions from U.S. and British lawmakers, along with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, about his data collection from Facebook users, but so far no one has asked to interview him.

Facebook Under Fire for Developer’s Data Mining

The Facebook backlash is intensifying.

Congressional leaders, regulators in the United States and Europe and state officials are putting pressure on Facebook to answer questions about fresh allegations over how the social networking giant was manipulated in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

 

The Senate Commerce Committee has sent questions to the company about how a data consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, allegedly used 50 million Facebook users’ data to aid political campaigns.  British and U.S. lawmakers called for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify.  The company is reportedly holding an employee meeting Tuesday to answer questions.

 

Among the tough questions the company faces is why it did not inform the affected users about the issue.  On Monday, the firm’s stock dropped nearly seven percent, losing $36 billion in value, Facebook’s biggest one day decline in nearly four years.  In early trading Tuesday, Facebook shares were down about three percent.

 

The probe over Cambridge Analytica is just the latest flashpoint around Facebook’s role in the 2016 election and comes as the company faces questions about how it should be regulated and monitored going forward.

 

With its more than two billion monthly users and billions of dollars in profit, Facebook has become a powerful conduit of news, opinion and propaganda, much of it targeted at individuals based on their own data.  The social media site and investigators have found that Russia-backed operatives had used Facebook to spread disinformation and propaganda.

 

In recent months, the company, along with YouTube and Twitter, has changed some of its practices to reduce the power of automated accounts and propaganda.  Facebook has said it would hire 10,000 security employees.

 

A professor and the data-mining company

 

Facebook’s most recent troubles began in 2013 when an app called “Thisisyourdigitallife” developed by Aleksandr Kogan, a Cambridge University professor, offered users a personality survey.  The users were invited to download the app, which then gathered user information about their profiles and that of some of their friends.

 

The professor shared data with Cambridge Analytica, the data-mining firm that worked with U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign, according to The New York Times and The Observer.

 

While the gathering of the data was legitimate at the time, Facebook says the professor did not abide by the company’s rules when he passed the data to a third party – Cambridge Analytica – thus violating Facebook’s terms and conditions.  Facebook discovered the violation in 2015 and required Cambridge Analytica to delete the data, but didn’t tell affected users.

 

Cambridge Analytica has denied that it kept the data.  One Facebook executive in charge of security is reportedly leaving the firm as a result the matter.

 

Facebook suspends accounts

 

Last week, as the story broke, Facebook suspended the accounts of Cambridge Analytica and other parties, including the professor. 

 

Facebook says its policies around outside parties and data collection have since changed.  Now all apps requesting detailed user information go through the company’s App Review process.  The company has hired a digital forensics firm to conduct an audit of Cambridge Analytica to see if the data was deleted.

 

“If this data still exists, it would be a grave violation of Facebook’s policies and an unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments these groups made,” Facebook said

 

What to do about Facebook

 

In recent months, privacy advocates, regulators and lawmakers have discussed new ways of regulating Facebook.  At the moment, lawmakers are calling for answers.

 

“They’ve got responsibility to make sure that that information is used in an appropriate way, so we want to find out how it was gotten, how it was used, and we want Facebook obviously to be transparent about that,” said U.S. Senator John Thune, a Republican representing South Dakota.  

 

“I have serious concerns about the role @Facebook played in facilitating and permitting the covert collection and misuse of consumer information by Cambridge Analytica,” tweeted U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat.

 

 

 

Crash Marks 1st Death Involving Fully Autonomous Vehicle

A fatal pedestrian crash involving a self-driving Uber SUV in a Phoenix suburb could have far-reaching consequences for the new technology as automakers and other companies race to be the first with cars that operate on their own.

The crash Sunday night in Tempe was the first death involving a full autonomous test vehicle. The Volvo was in self-driving mode with a human backup driver at the wheel when it struck 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she was walking a bicycle outside the lines of a crosswalk in Tempe, police said.

 

Uber immediately suspended all road-testing of such autos in the Phoenix area, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto. The ride-sharing company has been testing self-driving vehicles for months as it competes with other technology companies and automakers like Ford and General Motors.

 

Though many in the industries had been dreading a fatal crash they knew it was inevitable.

 

Tempe police Sgt. Ronald Elcock said local authorities haven’t determined fault but urged people to use crosswalks. He told reporters at a news conference Monday the Uber vehicle was traveling around 40 mph when it hit Helzberg immediately as she stepped on to the street.

 

Neither she nor the backup driver showed signs of impairment, he said.

 

“The pedestrian was outside of the crosswalk, so it was midblock,” Elcock said. “And as soon as she walked into the lane of traffic, she was struck by the vehicle.”

 

The National Transportation Safety Board, which makes recommendations for preventing crashes, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which can enact regulations, sent investigators.

 

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi expressed condolences on his Twitter account and said the company is cooperating with investigators.

 

The public’s image of the vehicles will be defined by stories like the crash in Tempe, said Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina law professor who studies self-driving vehicles. It may turn out that there was nothing either the vehicle or its human backup could have done to avoid the crash, he said.

 

Either way, the fatality could hurt the technology’s image and lead to a push for more regulations at the state and federal levels, Smith said.

Autonomous vehicles with laser, radar and camera sensors and sophisticated computers have been billed as the way to reduce the more than 40,000 traffic deaths a year in the U.S. alone. Ninety-four percent of crashes are caused by human error, the government says.

 

Self-driving vehicles don’t drive drunk, don’t get sleepy and aren’t easily distracted. But they do have faults.

 

“We should be concerned about automated driving,” Smith said. “We should be terrified about human driving.”

 

In 2016, the latest year available, more than 6,000 U.S. pedestrians were killed by vehicles.

 

The federal government has voluntary guidelines for companies that want to test autonomous vehicles, leaving much of the regulation up to states.

 

Many states, including Michigan and Arizona, have taken a largely hands-off approach, hoping to gain jobs from the new technology, while California and others have taken a harder line.

 

California is among states that require manufacturers to report any incidents during the testing phase. As of early March, the state’s motor vehicle agency had received 59 such reports.

 

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey used light regulations to entice Uber to the state after the company had a shaky rollout of test cars in San Francisco. Arizona has no reporting requirements. Hundreds of vehicles with automated driving systems have been on Arizona’s roads.

 

Ducey’s office expressed sympathy for Herzberg’s family and said safety is the top priority.

 

The crash in Arizona isn’t the first involving an Uber autonomous test vehicle. In March 2017, an Uber SUV flipped onto its side, also in Tempe. No serious injuries were reported, and the driver of the other car was cited for a violation.

 

Herzberg’s death is the first involving an autonomous test vehicle but not the first in a car with some self-driving features. The driver of a Tesla Model S was killed in 2016 when his car, operating on its Autopilot system, crashed into a tractor-trailer in Florida.

 

The NTSB said that driver inattention was to blame but that design limitations with the system played a major role in the crash.

 

The U.S. Transportation Department is considering further voluntary guidelines that it says would help foster innovation. Proposals also are pending in Congress, including one that would stop states from regulating autonomous vehicles, Smith said.

 

Peter Kurdock, director of regulatory affairs for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety in Washington, said the group sent a letter Monday to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao saying it is concerned about a lack of action and oversight by the department as autonomous vehicles are developed. That letter was planned before the crash.

 

Kurdock said the deadly accident should serve as a “startling reminder” to members of Congress that they need to “think through all the issues to put together the best bill they can to hopefully prevent more of these tragedies from occurring.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Launches Campaign to Prevent US Election Hacking

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee recommended Tuesday that Congress “urgently pass” legislation to bolster federal help to states that are trying to prevent their election systems from being hacked as they were in 2016.

New legislation is included in the committee’s initial draft of recommendations to prevent more hacking of U.S. elections. The recommendations are included in the committee’s initial findings after spending more than a year investigating Russian attempts to target U.S. voting systems during the 2016 campaign.

The recommendations also call on the Department of Homeland Security to develop channels of communication between federal, state and local officials, and that Washington “clearly communicate” that attacks on elections are hostile and appropriate agencies should “respond accordingly.”

The Department of Homeland Security has said Russian agents targeted the election systems in 21 states before the November 2016 election and separately engaged in a social media campaign that was designed to create confusion and fuel social discord. U.S. intelligence agencies have said, however, there is no evidence the 2016 hacks affected election results, although they have concluded that Russia meddled in the campaign to help Republican U.S. President Donald Trump get elected. Moscow has repeatedly denied interfering in the campaign and Trump insists there was no collusion.

Intelligence officials have repeatedly warned they expect Russia or others to attempt to interfere in the November 2018 midterm elections, when control of Congress is at stake.

“We are here to express concerns but also confidence in our state and local governments,” said Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has been conducting what is widely viewed as the least partisan out of the three primary congressional probes of Russia’s meddling in 2016.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller also is investigating Russia’s activities in 2016, as well as looking into the possibility of collusion with Russia or obstruction of justice by Trump associates.

Senate Intelligence Committee Launches Campaign to Prevent US Election Hacking

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee recommended Tuesday that Congress “urgently pass” legislation to bolster federal help to states that are trying to prevent their election systems from being hacked as they were in 2016.

New legislation is included in the committee’s initial draft of recommendations to prevent more hacking of U.S. elections. The recommendations are included in the committee’s initial findings after spending more than a year investigating Russian attempts to target U.S. voting systems during the 2016 campaign.

The recommendations also call on the Department of Homeland Security to develop channels of communication between federal, state and local officials, and that Washington “clearly communicate” that attacks on elections are hostile and appropriate agencies should “respond accordingly.”

The Department of Homeland Security has said Russian agents targeted the election systems in 21 states before the November 2016 election and separately engaged in a social media campaign that was designed to create confusion and fuel social discord. U.S. intelligence agencies have said, however, there is no evidence the 2016 hacks affected election results, although they have concluded that Russia meddled in the campaign to help Republican U.S. President Donald Trump get elected. Moscow has repeatedly denied interfering in the campaign and Trump insists there was no collusion.

Intelligence officials have repeatedly warned they expect Russia or others to attempt to interfere in the November 2018 midterm elections, when control of Congress is at stake.

“We are here to express concerns but also confidence in our state and local governments,” said Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has been conducting what is widely viewed as the least partisan out of the three primary congressional probes of Russia’s meddling in 2016.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller also is investigating Russia’s activities in 2016, as well as looking into the possibility of collusion with Russia or obstruction of justice by Trump associates.

Alabama Lawmakers to Debate Arming Teachers in School

The Alabama House of Representatives will debate on Tuesday whether teachers can carry guns on campus. The latest push for school security proposed by Republican Rep. Will Ainsworth would allow designated teachers or school administrators approved by local law enforcement to carry firearms in school. Parents wouldn’t know which educators carry for security reasons. 

The bill passed in a tight committee vote last week after contentious debate during a public hearing. It’s one of multiple gun-related bills introduced in the Alabama legislature after the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 people.

Lawmakers in at least ten other states have also proposed arming teachers or school employees. Florida passed a school safety and gun control law that included arming teachers three weeks after the Parkland massacre.

Senator: Pompeo to Face Tough Questions on N. Korea, Iran

The Republican who heads the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Monday that U.S. President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, will face tough questions on North Korea and Iran if he is to be confirmed in the role.

“There are going to be some tough issues he’s going to have to navigate, like Iran, like North Korea, numbers of things, and I’m planning to talk with him privately about those,” Senator Bob Corker said ahead of a meeting with Pompeo, the current CIA director.

Corker said the meeting was his “beginning assessment” of Trump loyalist Pompeo, who was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives before moving to the CIA. After the meeting, Corker said he had been “very, very impressed.”

Corker said he could not predict whether the 21-member panel would back Pompeo at his nomination hearing, which could take place as soon as April 12. One of the committee’s 11 Republicans, Senator Rand Paul, has already announced his opposition over issues including his concern that Pompeo would support war with Iran.

Although Pompeo was backed by two-thirds of the Senate early last year when Trump nominated him to lead the CIA, his confirmation this time could be more complicated.

Even if he is approved by the committee – or if Senate leaders bring his nomination up for a vote without its approval – Republicans hold only a 51-49 Senate majority in the 100-member chamber.

Democrats have said it is too early to predict how they will vote on Pompeo before they meet with him or hold his hearing.

Earlier on Monday, Pompeo met with outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department.

It was the first meeting between Pompeo and Tillerson since Trump’s decision to fire the former Exxon Mobil CEO last week following a series of rifts over policy on North Korea, Russia and Iran, a U.S. official said.