Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

US Justice Department Asks Court to Block California Net Neutrality Law

The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday asked a federal judge to block California’s net neutrality law, arguing that federal law preempts the state statute.In October, a U.S. appeals court largely upheld the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repeal of landmark U.S. net neutrality rules. In 2018, California agreed not to enforce its own state net neutrality law until a final court decision on the FCC repeal.The Trump FCC in 2017 voted 3-2 to toss out Obama-era rules prohibiting internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or offering paid fast lanes. The California law would reinstate those prohibitions in the state.The U.S. government is seeking a preliminary injunction to block California from being able to enforce its law.The California attorney general’s office said it is reviewing the Justice Department’s filing “and look forward to defending California’s state net neutrality protections.”The 2017 FCC 3-2 vote was applauded by internet service providers (ISPs), as it gave them sweeping powers to recast how Americans use the internet, as long as they disclose changes. The new rules took effect in June 2018, but service providers have yet to change how users access the internet.The California law was applauded by large tech companies and consumer groups that had championed the level playing field of net neutrality.The appeals court, in its October decision, also ruled the FCC had overstepped its legal authority when it expressly declared states cannot pass their own net neutrality laws.The Justice Department said despite that ruling that it still believes California’s net neutrality law is preempted by federal law. A decision on the Justice Department action is not expected before mid-October, according to a court schedule. 

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Instagram Launches Reels to Rival TikTok

Facebook launched a short-film product similar to the popular TikTok app in the United States and dozens of other countries Wednesday.The new product, called Reels, is embedded in the Instagram app and permits users to create 15-second videos set to music from a predetermined music library.The feature has been in production for at least two years, having undergone trials in Brazil in 2018. The addition comes two days after President Donald Trump gave Microsoft 45 days to acquire the U.S. division of the Chinese-owned TikTok over security concerns.FILE – The logo of the TikTok application seen on a mobile phone, Feb. 21, 2019.After the Brazil trials, Facebook tested the product in France, Germany and India, trying to grapple with some of TikTok’s biggest user concentrations. A stand-alone app, Lasso, made it to market but was not successful.TikTok Chief Executive Officer Kevin Mayer called Reels a “copycat product” that would unfairly employ Instagram’s existing user base of more than 1 billion after “their other copycat Lasso failed quickly.”Vishal Shah, Instagram’s vice president of product, acknowledged the similarities in a video conference call Tuesday with reporters and said, “Inspiration for products comes from everywhere,” including Facebook’s teams and “the ecosystem more broadly.”Instagram’s current Stories feature allows users to share a photo or video that disappears after 24 hours, like the popular social media app Snapchat.Reels differs from TikTok in that it employs Instagram’s preexisting augmented reality effects, which let users overlay images and filters onto their videos.Reels’s algorithm reportedly is similar to TikTok’s, maintaining the platform’s draw for unknown creatives to go viral through being featured on the Explore page or sharing content with friends through reposts or personal messages. Content creators will be able to appear on the Explore page if their profiles are set to public.According to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook is pursuing TikTok’s creators by offering them financial incentives to move over to Reels. In response to the report, a Facebook spokesperson said in certain cases, it may help cover production costs for influencers’ “creative ideas.”Instagram said it does not have plans to monetize Reels content in the near future.“We’re experimenting with different monetization options (for creators),” Shah said. 
 

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India Widens China App Ban to Cover More From Xiaomi, Baidu

India has banned some mobile apps of Chinese companies such as Xiaomi Corp and Baidu Inc, three sources told Reuters on Wednesday, in New Delhi’s latest move to hit Chinese companies following a border clash between the neighbors.
 
India in June outlawed 59 Chinese apps for threatening the country’s “sovereignty and integrity,” including ByteDance’s video-sharing app TikTok, Alibaba’s UC Browser and Xiaomi’s Mi Community app.
 
Another ban was imposed in recent weeks on about 47 apps which mostly contained clones, or simply different versions, of the already banned apps, the sources said.
 
Unlike its June move, the government did not make its latest decision public, but there are a few new apps that have made it to that list, including Xiaomi’s Mi Browser Pro and Baidu’s search apps, the sources said.
 
It wasn’t immediately clear how many new apps have been affected.
 
India’s IT Ministry and the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi did not respond to a request for comment. China has previously criticized India’s decision to ban the apps.
 
A spokesman for Xiaomi in India said the company was trying to understand the development and will take appropriate measures. Baidu declined to comment.
 
A ban on the Mi Browser, which comes pre-loaded on most Xiaomi smartphones, could potentially mean the Chinese firm will need to stop installing it on new devices it sells in India.
 
Xiaomi is India’s No.1 smartphone seller with close to 90 million users, according to Hong Kong-based tech researcher Counterpoint.
 
The bans are part of India’s moves to counter China’s dominant presence in the country’s internet services market following a border clash in June between the two nuclear-armed neighbors in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed.
 
India has also made approval processes more stringent for Chinese companies wanting to invest in the country, and also tightened norms for Chinese companies wanting to participate in government tenders.

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EU to Investigate Google’s Proposed Fitbit Deal

European Union antitrust regulators announced Tuesday they’ll launch an investigation into Google’s plan to buy Fitbit.Google, a U.S. tech giant owned by Alphabet, is hoping to break into the wearable technology market, and hopes to buy Fitbit for $2.1 billion. Fitbit makes wearable watch-like fitness devices. A variety of groups advocating for privacy and consumer rights want to block the deal because of antitrust and privacy concerns.The EU and many other groups say they are concerned the deal will increase the amount of data to which Google has access, making it increasingly difficult for other companies to compete effectively in the online advertising space.The EU’s executive commission stated “the proposed transaction would further entrench Google’s market position in the online advertising markets by increasing the already vast amount of data that Google could use for personalization of the ads it serves and displays.”EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager added that the “investigation aims to ensure that control by Google over data collected through wearable devices as a result of the transaction does not distort competition.”Google’s senior vice president for devices and services, Rick Osterloh, countered that “this deal is about devices, not data,” and he added that “we’ve been clear from the beginning that we will not use Fitbit health and wellness data for Google ads.”The EU antitrust enforcer said this promise alone was not adequate.Fitbit was one of the first companies to market wearable fitness devices, which are used to monitor physical activities, heart rates, sleep patterns, and a variety of other factors. Fitbit has more than 28 million active users, and upwards of 100 million devices have been sold.  

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Microsoft in Talks to Buy TikTok in US

Microsoft confirmed that it has held talks with Chinese technology company ByteDance to acquire its popular social app TikTok in the United States. Microsoft said it will work with the U.S. government on a deal that they hope to wrap by September 15.  Matt Dibble has the story. 

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Chinese Executive: Forced Sale of TikTok May Be Inevitable Amid US Scrutiny

The Chinese company that owns popular video-sharing app TikTok is exploring all possibilities to ensure that its subsidiary can continue operating in the United States, according to a memo sent out Monday by Chief Executive Officer Zhang Yiming.Beijing-based ByteDance has come under pressure from Washington to sell off its U.S. TikTok operations over concerns that the company’s links to the Chinese government threaten the privacy of U.S. citizens.Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News on Sunday that President Donald Trump is likely to take action in the coming days. People familiar with the matter told Reuters that Trump agreed to give ByteDance 45 days to negotiate a sale to Microsoft.In the meantime, Microsoft said in a blog post Sunday that its CEO, Satya Nadella, and Trump had a conversation on the potential acquisition and “Microsoft is prepared to continue discussions to explore a purchase of TikTok in the United States.”Zhang, who founded ByteDance in 2012, said Monday that his teams are working around-the-clock “for the best outcome.” Without naming Microsoft directly, Zhang acknowledged that ByteDance is in negotiations with a tech firm, but “we have not decided on the final solution yet. The attention of the outside world and rumors around TikTok might last for a while,” he said.According to the memo that was reported in the Chinese media, Zhang complained to his employees that “the current geopolitical and public opinion environment is becoming more and more complex. TikTok’s U.S. business is facing the possibility of being forced to sell by CFIUS, or TikTok products may be banned in the United States due to administrative orders.”FILE – Tik Tok logos are seen on smartphones in front of a displayed ByteDance logo in this illustration taken Nov. 27, 2019.CFIUS, or the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, opened a review last year of the Musical.ly purchase that led to TikTok’s creation. Zhang also said that despite their willingness to adopt more technical solutions to allay Washington’s concerns, the company believes CFIUS will require it to sell the TikTok U.S. operation. “We do not agree with this decision,” he said.As TikTok surged to become one of the most popular apps in the world, Washington began calling for a national security investigation into the app. White House officials and lawmakers are worried what information TikTok shares with the Chinese government about the app’s roughly 100 million American users.Zhang emphasized again that TikTok is a privately run business.“We’ve always firmly protected the security of users’ data, the platform’s independence and transparency,” he said.U.S. officials have argued that such guarantees mean little because Chinese companies generally have no choice but to bend to Communist Party demands.On Monday China’s foreign ministry said it strongly opposed any U.S. actions against Chinese software companies, and it hoped the U.S. could stop its “discriminatory policies.”In an interview Monday with U.S. business news network CNBC, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer called the company’s pursuit of TikTok “exciting.”“Price is important, as well as whatever restrictions come with it from a government perspective, but I think it’s an exciting avenue for Microsoft to really increase its consumer base,” he said.In the meantime, U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday called for a U.S. company to purchase TikTok.“A U.S. company should buy TikTok so everyone can keep using it and your data is safe,” he said in a tweet, “With TikTok in China, it’s subject to Chinese Communist Party laws that may require handing over data to their government.”

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Trump Gives Microsoft 45 Days to Seal TikTok Deal

The Chinese-owned social media app TikTok “is going to be out of business in the United States” on September 15, unless Microsoft or another company concludes a purchase deal that satisfies the U.S. government, President Donald Trump told reporters Monday.  “A very substantial portion of that price is going to have to come into the Treasury of the United States because we’re making it possible for this deal to happen,” explained Trump. “It’s a little bit like the landlord-tenant (relationship).”  The president suggested it would be “easier to buy the whole thing than to buy a portion” of TikTok. “How do you do 30 percent? Who is going to get the name? The name is hot. The brand hot. And who is going to get the name? How do you do that if it’s owned by two different companies?” Trump said at the White House. In a statement, Microsoft confirmed that its chief executive officer, Satya Nadella, had spoken to Trump and was committed to acquiring the company by the stated deadline.  “Microsoft will move quickly to pursue discussions with TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, in a matter of weeks, and in any event completing these discussions no later than September 15, 2020. During this process, Microsoft looks forward to continuing dialogue with the United States government, including with the president,” the statement read.  “Price is important as well as whatever restrictions come with it from a government perspective, but I think it’s an exciting avenue for Microsoft to really increase its consumer base,” the company’s largest individual shareholder, former CEO Steve Ballmer told CNBC earlier Monday.  The Chinese video app is extremely popular globally. It has been downloaded 2 billion times, including 165 million times in the United States.    TikTok features not only entertainment videos, but also debates, and it takes positions on political issues, such as racial justice and the coming U.S. presidential election.   Trump said late last week that he would ban the app because of security concerns. Trump Sets Clock Ticking for TikTokUS president has threatened to ban popular Chinese-owned social media app amid security concerns Officials in Washington have repeatedly expressed concern that TikTok may pose a security threat, fearing the company might share users’ data with the Chinese government.    ByteDance has said it does not share user data with the government of China and maintains that it stores Americans’ user data only in the United States and Singapore.  TikTok recently chose former Disney executive Kevin Mayer as its chief executive in a move seen as an effort to distance itself from Beijing.   TikTok General Manager Venessa Pappas uploaded a video on Saturday to reassure users that “we’re not going anywhere,” noting the platform has 1,500 employees in the U.S. and has been planning on bringing an additional 10,000 jobs into the country over the next three years.   The U.S. government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an interagency group led by the Treasury Department, opened a national security review of TikTok last year.    CFIUS’s job is to oversee foreign investments and assess them for potential national security risks. It can force companies to cancel deals or institute other measures it deems necessary for national security.     
  

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Microsoft, TikTok to Continue Talks; Trump Gives App’s Chinese Owner 45 Days to Reach Deal to Sell

Microsoft Corp said Sunday it would continue talks to acquire popular short-video app TikTok from Chinese internet giant ByteDance. Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump has agreed to give ByteDance 45 days to negotiate the sale, two people familiar with the matter said Sunday.
 
Microsoft, which is aiming to conclude talks by Sept. 15, released a statement following a conversation between CEO Satya Nadella and Trump. It said it would ensure that all of the private data of TikTok’s American users is transferred to and remains in the United States.
 
“Microsoft fully appreciates the importance of addressing the president’s concerns. It is committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury,” Microsoft said in a statement.
 
The company added there was no certainty a deal would be reached.
 
The ByteDance-Microsoft negotiations will be overseen by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a U.S. government panel that has the right to block any agreement, the two sources added.
 
ByteDance, Microsoft and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.  
 
Earlier Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News that Trump would take action soon.
 
“President Trump has said ‘enough’ and we’re going to fix it and so he will take action in the coming days with respect to a broad array of national security risks that are presented by software connected to the Chinese Communist Party,” Pompeo said on “Sunday Morning Futures.”
 
And Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told ABC on Sunday that the Committee on Foreign Investment on the United States “agrees that TikTok cannot stay in the current format because it risks sending back information on 100 million Americans.”
 
Over the weekend several Republican senators said they backed a plan for ByteDance to divest the U.S. operations of TikTok.
 
Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said on Twitter that a divestment “and purchase by U.S. company is win-win.”
 
Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican who chairs the Commerce Committee, added that “tight security measures need to be part of any deal in order to protect consumer data and ensure no foreign access.”
 
Republican Senator Marco Rubio said on Twitter “if the company & data can be purchased & secured by a trusted U.S. company that would be a positive & acceptable outcome.”
 
On Saturday, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the “right answer” to address security concerns about TikTok would be to “have an American company like Microsoft take over TikTok. Win-win. Keeps competition alive and data out of the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.” 

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Facebook Bows to Brazil Judge, Blocks 12 Accounts Worldwide

Facebook announced Saturday that it had obeyed a Brazilian judge’s order for a worldwide block on the accounts of 12 of President Jair Bolsonaro’s supporters who are under investigation for allegedly running a fake news network.Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes said Friday night that the company had failed to fully comply with a previous ruling ordering the accounts to be shut down, saying they were still online and publishing by changing their registration to locations outside Brazil.Facebook issued a statement saying it had complied because of the threat of criminal liability for an employee in Brazil.But it called the new order “extreme,” saying it posed a “threat to freedom of expression outside of Brazil’s jurisdiction and conflicting with laws and jurisdictions worldwide.” The company said it would appeal to the full court.Facebook also argued it had complied with the previous order by “restricting the ability for the target Pages and Profiles to be seen from IP locations in Brazil.””People from IP locations in Brazil were not capable of seeing these Pages and Profiles even if the targets had changed their IP location,” the company said.Moraes said that Facebook ought to pay $ 367,000 in penalties for not complying with his previous decision during the last eight days.He also had ruled Twitter should block the accounts. While Twitter said then that the decision was disproportionate under Brazil’s freedom of speech rules and that it would appeal, the targeted profiles were disabled.Moraes is overseeing a controversial investigation to determine whether some of Bolsonaro’s most ardent allies are running a social media network aimed at spreading threats and fake news against Supreme Court justices.The probe is one of the main points of confrontation between Bolsonaro and the Supreme Court.The president himself filed a lawsuit last week demanding the accounts to be unblocked.

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