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Updated: 1 hour 34 min ago

Old Tech Increasingly Causing Health, Environmental Troubles

A growing amount of the waste in the world is out-of-date electronics. And inside all of our devices are a lot of valuable metals, and also some dangerously toxic ones. All that stuff needs to be handled with care, and Indonesia is working to make sure it doesn't end up in landfills. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

New Exhibit Shows How Tech Intrudes on Our Lives

The extent to which technology is always watching us is on stark display at a new London exhibit called "The Glass Room." It allows visitors to see just how much of their lives is always available online. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

Afghanistan Blocks Social Media Services

Authorities in Afghanistan are temporarily blocking WhatsApp and Telegram social media services in the country, citing security concerns, officials confirmed Friday. An official at the Afghan Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, ATRA, told VOA the social media tools will be suspended for 20 days. The decision follows a request from state security institutions. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a formal announcement is expected Saturday. ATRA has ordered telecom companies to shut down the services November 1, according to a copy of official instructions appearing in Afghan media. Social media users have complained of technical problems while using the two services in recent days. The controversial move has sparked criticism of the Afghan government, and it is being slammed as an illegal act and an attack on freedom of expression. The outage prompted the telecom regulator to issue a statement Friday, saying the ban is meant to test "a new kind of technology" in the wake of users' complaints. It went on to defend the restriction, saying WhatsApp and Telegram are merely voice and messaging services and their temporary suspension does not violate the civil rights of Afghans. The government is committed to freedom of expression, the ministry added. Afghan journalists and activists on Twitter dismissed the statement. "This seems to be the beginning of government censorship. If it's not resisted soon the gov't will block FB & twitter," wrote Habib Khan Totakhil on Twitter. "Gov't fails to deliver security, now it seeks to hide its incompetence by imposing ban on messaging platforms. Totalitarianism?," said the Afghan journalist. "#Censorship is against what freedom we stood for in #Afghanistan post 2001. Gains shouldn't go to waste," tweeted activist Nasrat Khalid. An estimated 6 million people in war-torn Afghanistan can access internet-based services. The growth of media and social media activism have been among the few success stories Afghanistan has seen in the post-Taliban era. Classifying numbers The restrictions on social media come as the Taliban intensifies attacks on Afghan security forces, inflicting heavy casualties. The insurgent group also relies heavily on WhatsApp, Telegram, Twitter and Facebook to publicize its battlefield gains. The Afghan government has lately barred the United States military from releasing casualty numbers, force strength, operation readiness, attrition figures and performance assessments of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, John Sopko, while briefing members of Congress on Wednesday, severely criticized the classification move. He maintained American taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent. "The Taliban know this [Afghan casualties], they know who was killed. They know all about that. The Afghans know about it, the U.S. military knows about it. The only people who wouldn't know are the [American] people who are paying for it," Sopko noted. The United States has spent nearly $120 billion on reconstruction programs in Afghanistan since 2002. More than 60 percent of the money has been used to build Afghan security forces.

Researchers Working for the End of the Internal Combustion Automobile

Hybrid cars are slowly working their way into car markets, and there are waiting lists for Elon Musk's new all-electric Tesla Model 3. But as popular as these cars are, they have the natural limitations of their batteries. But an answer may be in sight. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

Twitter Employee, on Their Last Day, Deactivates Trump Account

U.S. President Donald Trump’s @realdonaldtrump Twitter account was deactivated by a Twitter Inc employee whose last day at the company was Thursday, and the account was down for 11 minutes before it was restored, the social media company said. “We have learned that this was done by a Twitter customer-support employee who did this on the employee’s last day. We are conducting a full internal review,” Twitter said in a tweet. “We are continuing to investigate and are taking steps to prevent this from happening again,” the company said in an earlier tweet. A Twitter representative declined to comment further. The White House did not respond immediately to a request for comment. Trump has made extensive use of messages on Twitter to attack his opponents and promote his policies both during the 2016 presidential campaign and since taking office in January. He has 41.7 million followers on Twitter. His first tweet after Thursday's outage: In a similar incident last November, Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey's account was briefly suspended as a result of what he said was an internal mistake.

Mexico City Updates 911 App to Push Quake Alerts to Phones

Mexico City has updated its 911 emergency app to send earthquake alerts to residents' smartphones following last month's magnitude 7.1 temblor that killed 369 people, including 228 in the capital, authorities announced Thursday. Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said users of the free 911 CDMX app can get sound and vibration alerts for any quake strong enough to threaten damage in the city. It was developed by the governmental center known as C5, for Command, Control Computing, Communications and Contact, and is available for both iOS and Android. With nerves still raw from the Sept. 19 earthquake that collapsed 38 buildings in Mexico City, Mancera said there would be no demonstration of the system to avoid causing unnecessary alarm. "We are not interested in having anyone hear it who does not know the context in which it is being presented," the mayor said at a news conference. More than 20 million people live in the capital and surrounding suburbs, much of which is built on a former lakebed. Its soil can amplify the effects of earthquakes that strike far away and whose shockwaves arrive in the sprawling metropolis some time later. An even stronger earthquake Sept. 7, whose magnitude was recently adjusted upward from 8.1 to 8.2 by the U.S. Geological Survey, was centered hundreds of miles away, off the country's southern coast, but was still felt strongly by many in Mexico City. The capital already has a system of loudspeakers that blare alarms when a significant temblor is detected. C5 general coordinator Idris Rodriguez Zapata urged residents to download the app. He also said they should heed quake protocols "without hesitation at the moment [the alarm] is heard through the system of speakers or on cellphones." Last month, Mancera said there had been reports of people setting their cellphone ringtones to the sound of the seismic alarm and urged them to remove it so as not to provoke panic. Other 911 app functions let users view tweets about seismic activity, contact a 911 operator, or register their blood type and medical history.

Facebook Pressured to Notify People Who Saw Russian Posts

Facebook received several tongue-lashings during U.S. congressional hearings this week, but the world's largest social network also got an assignment: Figure out how to notify tens of millions of Americans who might have been fed Russian propaganda. U.S. lawmakers and some tech analysts are pressing the company to identify users who were served about 80,000 posts on Facebook, 120,000 on its Instagram picture-sharing app, and 3,000 ads that the company has traced to alleged Russian operatives, and to inform them. The posts from Russia were designed to divide Americans, particularly around the 2016 U.S. elections, according to Facebook, U.S. intelligence agencies and lawmakers. The Russian government has denied it tried to meddle in the elections. "When you discover a deceptive foreign government presentation on your platform, my presumption, from what you've said today — you'll stop it and take it down," Democratic Senator Jack Reed told Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch in the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Wednesday. "Do you feel an obligation, in turn, to notify those people who have accessed that? And can you do that? And shouldn't you do that?" Reed asked. Stretch responded that he was not sure Facebook could identify the people because its estimates have relied on modeling, rather than actual counts, but he did not rule it out. "The technical challenges associated with that undertaking are substantial," Stretch said. Critics of Facebook on social media and in media interviews have expressed skepticism, noting that the company closely tracks user activity such as likes and clicks for advertising purposes. Facebook declined to comment on Thursday. As many as 126 million people could have been served the posts on Facebook and 20 million on Instagram, according to company estimates. Social media critics Many of them will not believe they were manipulated unless Facebook tells them, said Tristan Harris of Time Well Spent, an organization critical of advertising-based social media. "Facebook is a living, breathing crime scene, and they're the only ones with access to what happened," Harris, an ex-Google employee, said in an interview Thursday. The 2.1 billion people with active Facebook accounts often get notifications from the service, on everything from birthdays and upcoming events to friend requests and natural disasters. Shortly before 6 p.m. EDT on Thursday, more than 83,000 people had signed a Change.org online petition asking Facebook to tell users about the Russian posts. Lawyers for Twitter and Alphabet's Google also said their companies would consider notifying customers. The intelligence committee's vice chairman, Senator Mark Warner, drew an analogy to another industry. "If you were in a medical facility, and you got exposed to a disease, the medical facility would have to tell the folks who were exposed," Warner said. IN PHOTOS: A Look at Russian Social Media Election ‘Meddling’ 'Duty to warn' U.S. law includes a concept known as "post-sale duty to warn," which may require notifying previous buyers if a manufacturer discovers a problem with a product. That legal duty likely does not apply to Facebook, said Christopher Robinette, a law professor at Widener University in Pennsylvania. He said courts would likely rule that social media posts are not a product but a service, which is exempt from the duty. Courts also do not want to interfere in free speech, he said. Robinette added, though, that he thought notifications to users would be a good idea. "This strikes me as a fairly significant problem," he said.

Pressure Mounts on Apple to Live Up to Hype for iPhone X

The iPhone X's lush screen, facial-recognition skills and $1,000 price tag are breaking new ground in Apple's marquee product line.   Now, the much-anticipated device is testing the patience of consumers and investors as demand outstrips suppliers' capacity.   Apple said Thursday that iPhone sales rose 3 percent in the July-September quarter, a period that saw the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus come out in the final weeks. Sales could have been higher if many customers hadn't been waiting for the iPhone X, which comes out Friday. Apple shipped 46.7 million iPhones during the period, according to its fiscal fourth-quarter report released Thursday. That's up from 45.5 million at the same time last year after the iPhone 7 came out, but represents a step back from the same time in 2015, when Apple shipped 48 million iPhones during the quarter.   As with recent quarters, one of the main sources of Apple's growth is coming from its services, which are anchored by an app store that feeds the iPhone and other devices.   Revenue in that division surged 34 percent to $8.5 billion during the July-September period. All told, Apple earned $10.7 billion on revenue of $52.6 billion, compared with a $9 billion profit on revenue of $46.9 billion a year earlier.   Apple shares are up 3 percent in after-hours trading.   Nonetheless, the just-ended quarter largely became an afterthought once Apple decided to release the iPhone X six weeks after the iPhone 8. "The Super Bowl for Apple is the iPhone X,'' GBH analyst Daniel Ives said. "That is the potential game changer.''   But it also brings a potential stumbling block. While conspiracy theorists might suspect that Apple is artificially reducing supply to generate buzz, analysts say the real reason is that Apple's suppliers so far haven't been to manufacture the iPhone X quickly enough. Making the iPhone X is proving to be a challenge because it boasts a color-popping OLED screen, which isn't as readily available as standard LCD displays in other iPhone models. The new iPhone also requires more sophisticated components to power the facial-recognition technology for unlocking the device.   Even with the iPhone X's delayed release, Apple is still struggling to catch up. Apple is now giving delivery times of five to six weeks for those ordering in advance online (limited supplies will be available in Apple stores for the formal release Friday). Most analysts are predicting Apple won't be able to catch up with demand until early next year.   On Thursday, Apple predicted revenue for this quarter from $84 billion to $87 billion. Analysts, who have already factored in the supply challenges, expected $85.2 billion, according to FactSet.   Analysts are expecting Apple to ship 80 million iPhones during the current quarter, which includes the crucial holiday shopping season, according to FactSet. That would be slightly better than the same time last year.   Apple is counting on the iPhone X to drive even higher-than-usual sales during the first nine months of next year — a scenario that might not play out if production problems persist and impatient consumers turn instead to phones from Google or Samsung.   "What Apple needs to do is manage consumer expectations so they don't get frustrated having to wait for so long for a new phone,'' Ives said.   Analysts believe Apple can pull off the juggling act. They are expecting the company to sell 242 million iPhones in the fiscal year ending in September 2018 — the most in the product's history. The previous record was set in 2015 when Apple shipped 231 million iPhones, thanks to larger models introduced just before the fiscal year began. By comparison, Apple shipped nearly 217 million iPhones in its just-completed fiscal 2017.   If Apple falters, investors are likely to dump its stock after driving the shares up by 45 percent so far this year on the expectation that the iPhone X will be the company's biggest hit yet.

Here's What We Know About Russian Social Media Election Meddling

Lawyers for internet giants Facebook, Google and Twitter met with three congressional committees this week to answer questions about Russian efforts to use the platforms to spread disinformation in the 2016 presidential election, and what they are doing to stop it from happening again. Lawmakers were clear in their position that Russian use of the platforms was unacceptable, and several even called it an act of war. "Cyber is an attack against our country. When you use cyber in an affirmative way to compromise our democratic, free election system, that's an attack against America," Senator Ben Cardin said Wednesday. "It's an act of war. It is an act of war." That Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 presidential election — an allegation the country adamantly denies — has been the stated position of the U.S. intelligence community since last year. The lawyers said the exact scope of the alleged Russian operation remains unknown, though, even as they released more details about what Russian operatives were posting online. Twitter Sean Edgett, Twitter's acting general counsel, told lawmakers the company studied all tweets posted from Sept. 1 to Nov. 15, 2016, and found that election-related content posted by accounts linked to Russia "was comparatively small." Edgett described the criteria used to identify "Russian-linked account[s]" as "expansive," including any account that was created in Russia, any account linked to a Russian email address, or any account that "frequently tweets in Russian," among other qualifications. Using these extremely broad qualifications, Edgett said Twitter was able to identify around 36,000 automated "bot" accounts that could be linked to Russia. Those Russian-linked accounts, according to Edgett, represented 0.012 percent of total Twitter accounts during the time period, and the 1.4 million election-related tweets emanating from those accounts represented less than 0.74 percent of all election-related tweets. "Those 1.4 million tweets received only one-third of a percent [0.33 percent] of impressions on election-related tweets," Edgett told lawmakers. An "impression" is a metric used by social media companies to note how many times a specific post is served up to a user. An "impression" does not require any additional engagement by the user and doesn't even guarantee a user actually read the post, Edgett said. In addition to the bot accounts, Twitter identified around 2,700 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which has been described as a Russian troll farm. "Of the roughly 131,000 tweets posted by those accounts during the relevant time period, approximately 9 percent were election-related, and many of their tweets — over 47 percent — were automated," he said. Edgett called the number of Russian-linked accounts "small in comparison to the total number of accounts" on Twitter and said tweets from those accounts "generated significantly fewer impressions as compared to a typical election-related tweet." Last week, the company said it would take the $1.9 million that Russian-backed media outlets spent on Twitter advertising since 2011, and spend it on external research into using Twitter in civic engagement, including efforts to root out malicious accounts and misinformation.   Facebook The Russian meddling campaign on Facebook was comprised of approximately $100,000 spent by "fake accounts associated with the IRA" on 3,000 ads between June 2015 and August 2017, according to Facebook lawyer Colin Stretch. The ads, Stretch said, promoted around 120 Facebook pages set up by Russian actors and meant to focus on divisive social messages about racial issues, immigration and gun rights, among others. In total, the Russian-linked Facebook pages produced around 80,000 pieces of content during the two-year time period. Stretch said approximately 150 million people may have been served up the IRA-created content, but it is impossible to know how many people actually saw the posts. He said the content equaled about 0.004 percent of content of Facebook during the time and represented approximately 1 out of every 23,000 pieces of content on the platform. "Though the volume of these posts was a tiny fraction of the overall content on Facebook, any amount is too much," Stretch said, noting the social media company removed the accounts and pages linked to the IRA. According to Stretch, more than half of all impressions of IRA-funded posts came after the election and 25 percent of the ads were never shown to anyone. "For 50 percent of the ads, less than $3 was spent. For 99 percent of the ads, less than $1,000 was spent," he said. Facebook has turned over all the Russian ads to Congress and says its review of the activity is ongoing. Google Google lawyer Richard Salgado said the company reviewed all political ads from June 2015 through last year's election, looking for "even the loosest connection to Russia, such as a Russian IP address or billing address, or use of Russian currency." The company found that two accounts it believes are "associated with known or suspected government-backed entities" spent about $4,700 on ads related to the 2016 presidential election. Salgado said the alleged Russian meddling also included use of YouTube, where the company found 18 channels with around 1,100 videos that were uploaded by individuals Google believes were associated with the Russian effort. "These videos mostly had low view counts — just 3 percent had more than 5,000 views, and constituted only 43 hours of YouTube content," he told lawmakers. He added that people watch "over a billion hours of YouTube content a day, and 400 hours of content are uploaded every minute." He called the Russian-linked videos "a relatively small amount of content," but said "any misuse of our platforms for this purpose is a serious challenge to the integrity of our democracy." IN PHOTOS: A Look at Russian Social Media Election ‘Meddling’

Facebook Faceplants in Cambodia

A trial change to the Facebook news feed in Cambodia and other small countries is stirring criticism of the U.S. tech giant, which champions interconnectivity and openness, but is famously opaque when it comes to how its own product makes critical decisions about information sharing. Their rollout of dramatic trial changes to the news feed in Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Serbia, Guatemala and Cambodia in mid October has been handled no differently - with rattled content producers still unaware even of if or when it will end. The only real source of information is a blog post from the head of their news feed - Adam Mosseri, with the company declining media requests for a two-way dialogue to date. “We always listen to our community about ways we might improve News Feed,” he said in the post late last month lamenting misconceptions some had about the experiment - which was dropped on users in the six countries without warning. Why Facebook implemented this trial in the middle of a crackdown on independent media in Cambodia or whether it will continue into the election campaign next year remains a mystery. “There was no advanced notice, it just suddenly changed, it shocked them and even me. We just understood recently that there is a separation of feeds between Facebook accounts and Facebook pages,” said Nop Vy, media director at the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, which runs the radio news channel Voice of Democracy. The changes essentially banish content posted by official pages - for instance media outlets, NGO's and businesses - from users news feeds and sends them into an extremely obscure "explore feed" - unless the page owners pay to have their content put back. It’s been left to the public to speculate why an experiment with such radical consequences was begun in a country like Cambodia, which is in the midst of a political crackdown in the lead up to an election. “At this point, I haven’t seen any communication from Facebook that acknowledges the negative impact this experiment has had within the six test markets,” Maya Gilliss-Chapman, a Silicon Valley-based technology analyst and founder of Cambodians in Tech, wrote in an email. Trying out a new way to pull advertising dollars from a market losing its appetite for buying likes was more important than user experience for Facebook, said Tharum Bun, a tech blogger and founder of KokiTree, a digital marketing agency. “It's the first time ever that this issue has happened. Facebook should have done much better than this. But after all, it's the global tech company that can decide without listening to their users,” he said. The news feed change also comes as the company is under attack for the rampant spread of disinformation during last year’s U.S. election campaign. “Cambodia has a lot of love stories with Facebook. But the interesting timing is Facebook, Google, and Twitter, are being grilled for their role in last year's U.S. election,” Bun said. All three firms have been questioned by the U.S. Senate’s House Intelligence Committee this week, where regulation of their activities has been raised. But in the same week, Facebook recorded its highest ever single quarter profits of $4.7 billion and hit a record share price. With Cambodia’s election looming next year, the government here has shut down more than 10 stations carrying content from critical voices such as Radio Free Asia (RFA), Voice of America (VOA) and Voice of Democracy (VOD) in August. All three began urgently migrating listeners to Facebook, which is used by almost a third of Cambodians. In fact Facebook/Internet surpassed TV as their most popular source of news last year according to a study by Open Society and The Asia Foundation. RFA spokesman Rohit Mahajan said the timing of Facebook’s experiment was “less than ideal.” “I can say that that the organic reach of the Khmer Service’s Facebook page has been affected, with a dramatic drop from the beginning of the month in comparison with the end by 50 percent,” he wrote in an email. Steven Path, President of the ICT Federation of Cambodia and CEO of IT firm Pathmazing, said the big signal coming out of the trial in Cambodia was that it was a “lose, lose, lose” for all parties - users, brands and sponsors. “I have followed Facebook quite religiously for the past ten years and definitely Facebook has gotten very, very greedy,” he said, adding they risked upsetting what had been to date an effective balance between the wants of users and marketers. “And Facebook has to be careful that if they are to maintain incremental increases of their active daily users, this actually, this strategy could take a hit,” he said. Any backlash though would be limited by the fact that for the foreseeable future there is no social media competitor that could replace Facebook, he added. “Let’s look at it this way: despite Facebook’s highly publicized, alleged role in allowing Russian-linked ads to spread across their platform during the 2016 U.S. elections, they just reported their best quarter ever,” Gillis-Chapman said. “What’s done is done, but it would be great to see Facebook at least acknowledge the negative effect this test has had on the people, economy and politics within the test markets.”

Google, AutoNation Partner on Self-driving Car Program

Google is partnering with AutoNation, the country's largest auto dealership chain, in its push to build a self-driving car. AutoNation said Thursday that its dealerships will provide maintenance and repairs for Waymo's self-driving fleet of Chrysler Pacifica vehicles. The agreement will include additional models when Waymo brings them on line. Terms of the multi-year deal were not disclosed. Google has been partnering with a number of car-centric companies like Avis, the ridesharing company Lyft, and Fiat Chrysler. AutoNation Inc., based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, runs about 360 dealerships in the U.S.

Russia Hackers Had Targets Worldwide, Beyond US Election

The hackers who upended the U.S. presidential election had ambitions well beyond Hillary Clinton’s campaign, targeting the emails of Ukrainian officers, Russian opposition figures, U.S. defense contractors and thousands of others of interest to the Kremlin, according to a previously unpublished digital hit list obtained by The Associated Press.  The list provides the most detailed forensic evidence yet of the close alignment between the hackers and the Russian government, exposing an operation that stretched back years and tried to break into the inboxes of 4,700 Gmail users across the globe - from the pope’s representative in Kiev to the punk band Pussy Riot in Moscow.  “It’s a wish list of who you’d want to target to further Russian interests,” said Keir Giles, director of the Conflict Studies Research Center in Cambridge, England, and one of five outside experts who reviewed the AP’s findings. He said the data was “a master list of individuals whom Russia would like to spy on, embarrass, discredit or silence.”  The AP findings draw on a database of 19,000 malicious links collected by cybersecurity firm Secureworks, dozens of rogue emails, and interviews with more than 100 hacking targets.  Secureworks stumbled upon the data after a hacking group known as Fancy Bear accidentally exposed part of its phishing operation to the internet. The list revealed a direct line between the hackers and the leaks that rocked the presidential contest in its final stages, most notably the private emails of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.  The issue of who hacked the Democrats is back in the national spotlight following the revelation Monday that a Donald Trump campaign official, George Papadopoulos, was briefed early last year that the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton, including “thousands of emails.”  Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the notion that Russia interfered “unfounded.” But the list examined by AP provides powerful evidence that the Kremlin did just that.  “This is the Kremlin and the general staff,” said Andras Racz, a specialist in Russian security policy at Pazmany Peter Catholic University in Hungary, as he examined the data.  “I have no doubts.”  The new evidence Secureworks’ list covers the period between March 2015 and May 2016. Most of the identified targets were in the United States, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia and Syria.  In the United States, which was Russia’s Cold War rival, Fancy Bear tried to pry open at least 573 inboxes belonging to those in the top echelons of the country’s diplomatic and security services: then-Secretary of State John Kerry, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, then-NATO Supreme Commander, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, and one of his predecessors, U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark.  The list skewed toward workers for defense contractors such as Boeing, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin or senior intelligence figures, prominent Russia watchers and _ especially _ Democrats. More than 130 party workers, campaign staffers and supporters of the party were targeted, including Podesta and other members of Clinton’s inner circle.  The AP also found a handful of Republican targets.  Podesta, Powell, Breedlove and more than a dozen Democratic targets besides Podesta would soon find their private correspondence dumped to the web. The AP has determined that all had been targeted by Fancy Bear, most of them three to seven months before the leaks.  “They got two years of email,” Powell recently told AP. He said that while he couldn’t know for sure who was responsible, “I always suspected some Russian connection.”  In Ukraine, which is fighting a grinding war against Russia-backed separatists, Fancy Bear attempted to break into at least 545 accounts, including those of President Petro Poroshenko and his son Alexei, half a dozen current and former ministers such as Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and as many as two dozen current and former lawmakers.  The list includes Serhiy Leshchenko, an opposition parliamentarian who helped uncover the off-the-books payments allegedly made to Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort - whose indictment was unsealed Monday in Washington.  In Russia, Fancy Bear focused on government opponents and dozens of journalists. Among the targets were oil tycoon-turned-Kremlin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who spent a decade in prison and now lives in exile, and Pussy Riot’s Maria Alekhina. Along with them were 100 more civil society figures, including anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny and his lieutenants.  “Everything on this list fits,” said Vasily Gatov, a Russian media analyst who was himself among the targets. He said Russian authorities would have been particularly interested in Navalny, one of the few opposition leaders with a national following.  Many of the targets have little in common except that they would have been crossing the Kremlin’s radar: an environmental activist in the remote Russian port city of Murmansk; a small political magazine in Armenia; the Vatican’s representative in Kiev; an adult education organization in Kazakhstan.  “It’s simply hard to see how any other country would be particularly interested in their activities,” said Michael Kofman, an expert on Russian military affairs at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington. He was also on the list.  “If you’re not Russia,” he said, “hacking these people is a colossal waste of time.”  Working 9 to 6 Moscow time  Allegations that Fancy Bear works for Russia aren’t new. But raw data has been hard to come by.  Researchers have been documenting the group’s activities for more than a decade and many have accused it of being an extension of Russia’s intelligence services. The “Fancy Bear” nickname is a none-too-subtle reference to Russia’s national symbol.  In the wake of the 2016 election, U.S. intelligence agencies publicly endorsed the consensus view, saying what American spooks had long alleged privately: Fancy Bear is a creature of the Kremlin.  But the U.S. intelligence community provided little proof, and even media-friendly cybersecurity companies typically publish only summaries of their data.  That makes the Secureworks’ database a key piece of public evidence - all the more remarkable because it’s the result of a careless mistake.  Secureworks effectively stumbled across it when a researcher began working backward from a server tied to one of Fancy Bear’s signature pieces of malicious software.  He found a hyperactive Bitly account Fancy Bear was using to sneak thousands of malicious links past Google’s spam filter. Because Fancy Bear forgot to set the account to private, Secureworks spent the next few months hovering over the group’s shoulder, quietly copying down the details of the thousands of emails it was targeting.  The AP obtained the data recently, boiling it down to 4,700 individual email addresses, and then connecting roughly half to account holders. The AP validated the list by running it against a sample of phishing emails obtained from people targeted and comparing it to similar rosters gathered independently by other cybersecurity companies, such as Tokyo-based Trend Micro and the Slovakian firm ESET.  The Secureworks data allowed reporters to determine that more than 95 percent of the malicious links were generated during Moscow office hours - between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday to Friday.  The AP’s findings also track with a report that first brought Fancy Bear to the attention of American voters. In 2016, a cybersecurity company known as CrowdStrike said the Democratic National Committee had been compromised by Russian hackers, including Fancy Bear.  Secureworks’ roster shows Fancy Bear making aggressive attempts to hack into DNC technical staffers’ emails in early April 2016 - exactly when CrowdStrike says the hackers broke in.  And the raw data enabled the AP to speak directly to the people who were targeted, many of whom pointed the finger at the Kremlin.  “We have no doubts about who is behind these attacks,” said Artem Torchinskiy, a project coordinator with Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund who was targeted three times in 2015. “I am sure these are hackers controlled by Russian secret services.” 

Social Media Companies Face Tough Congressional Questions on Russian Election Interference

Facebook, Twitter and Google executives testified in public before Senate and House investigations into Russian election interference for the first time Wednesday, amid disclosures that Russian influence on social media platforms was much wider in scope than previously understood. The lawmakers had tough questions for the Silicon Valley executives as VOA's Katherine Gypson reports from Capitol Hill.

Facebook Profit Soars, No Sign of Impact from Russia Issue

Facebook reported better-than-expected quarterly profit and revenue on Wednesday as it pushed further into video advertising, showing no sign of financial damage from the controversy over how Russia used the social network in an attempt to sway voters in the 2016 U.S. election. The company's shares, which hit a record earlier in the day, initially rose in after-hours trading, but later fell into negative territory. They have gained almost 60 percent this year. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg condemned Russia's attempts to influence last year's election through Facebook posts designed to sow division, and repeated his pledge to ramp up spending significantly to increase the social network's security, something he said on Wednesday would affect profits. "What they did is wrong, and we are not going to stand for it," Zuckerberg said of the Russians, on a conference call with analysts. Facebook is at the center of a political storm in the United States for the ways it handles paid political ads and allows the spread of false news stories. U.S. lawmakers have threatened tougher regulation and fired questions at Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch in hearings this week. Facebook, in a series of disclosures over two months, has said that people in Russia bought at least 3,000 U.S. political ads and published another 80,000 Facebook posts that were seen by as many as 126 million Americans over two years. Russia denies any meddling. Facebook's total advertising revenue rose 49 percent in the third quarter to $10.14 billion, about 88 percent of which came from mobile ads. Analysts on average had expected total ad revenue of $9.71 billion, according to data and analytics firm FactSet. Facebook in the third quarter gave advertisers for the first time the ability to run ads in standalone videos, outside the Facebook News Feed, and the company is seeing good early results, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg told analysts on a conference call. "Video is exploding, and mobile video advertising is a big opportunity," Sandberg said. More than 70 percent of ad breaks up to 15 seconds long were viewed to completion, most with the sound on, she said. The 49 percent increase in total ad sales in the latest quarter compares with a 47 percent rise in the prior quarter and a 51 percent jump in the first quarter. Facebook has been warning for more than a year about reaching a limit in "ad load", or the number of ads the company can feature in users' pages before crowding their News Feed. Advertisers seem unfazed, though, spending heavily as the social network continues to attract users. The nearly 50 percent jump in ad revenue "is phenomenal, especially when for the past few quarters they've been trying to bring that expectation way, way down. Yet it keeps going up," Tigress Financial Partners analyst Ivan Feinseth said. Of the Russia scandal enveloping Facebook publicly, Feinseth said: "In the bigger picture, I don't think it's a really big factor." The company's performance was strong in comparison with smaller social media firms Snap Inc and Twitter, Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter said. "Facebook grew revenues by $3.3 billion year-over-year for the quarter. This is more than Twitter and Snapchat generate combined for the full year," he said. Facebook said about 2.07 billion people were using its service monthly as of Sept. 30, up 16 percent from a year earlier. Analysts on average had expected 2.06 billion monthly active users, according to FactSet. Net income rose to $4.71 billion, or $1.59 per share, from $2.63 billion, or 90 cents per share. Analysts on an average were expecting the company to earn $1.28, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Total revenue increased 47.3 percent to $10.33 billion beating analysts estimate of $9.84 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Various U.S. investigations into how Russia may have tried to sway American voters in the months before and after last year's elections are hanging over Facebook and its competitors. There is also proposed U.S. legislation that would extend rules governing political ads on television, radio and satellite to also cover digital advertising. "We expect more scrutiny about Facebook's ad system ahead," analyst Debra Aho Williamson of research firm eMarketer said in a note. "We're also monitoring for any signs that this investigation will have a material impact on ad revenue."

Saudi Women Riled by Robot With No Hjiab and More Rights Than Them

Women in Saudi Arabia have scorned the government's decision to grant citizenship to a female robot who, unlike them, does not need a male guardian or have to cover her head in public. Social media was abuzz with questions about whether the robot, Sophia, who was unveiled at a technology conference in the capital Riyadh last week, will be treated like other women in the conservative kingdom now that she is a citizen. "It hit a sore spot that a robot has citizenship and my daughter doesn't," Hadeel Shaikh, a Saudi woman whose four-year-old child with a Lebanese man does not have citizenship. Women married to foreigners in the gender-segregated nation cannot pass on citizenship to their children. The creation of the world's first cyborg citizen is the latest surprise announcement from the Sunni Muslim kingdom, which granted women the right to drive last month and to watch events in all-male sports stadiums for the first time next year. Shaikh hopes for greater reform as she is worried about the future of her daughter who only has a residency card. "I want her to have all the privileges of her mum," Shaikh told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone. "I want her to feel welcomed even if I am not here." A guardianship system in Saudi Arabia also requires a male family member to grant permission for a woman to study abroad, travel and other activities. "I'm wondering if robot Sophia can leave Saudi Arabia without her guardian consent!" tweeted Saudi feminist, Moudi Aljohani, who is based in the United States. Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon and Jordan are some of the Middle Eastern countries that also do not allow women married to foreigners to pass on citizenship to their children. "It creates a lot of problems," said Suad Abu-Dayyeh, a Middle East expert with Equality Now, a global advocacy organization, calling for restrictions on women's rights to be lifted across the region. "They were born and raised there - but it is not their country."  

Apple X Factor: China Consumers Wowed by New iPhone, But Will They Buy?

Gu Xiaomeng, a 24-year-old primary school teacher in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou, says she's excited about the new iPhone X, set to go on sale Friday. The challenge for Apple Inc is to persuade her to actually buy one. "I'm definitely interested, but don't currently plan to get one," said Gu, whose monthly salary of a little over 6,000 yuan ($905.36) is less than the anniversary model's starting price in China of 8,388 yuan. For Apple, which is looking to rev up sales in China after several quarters of declining revenue there, the test is that Gu is not alone. While interest in the phone is high, that won't necessarily translate into sales. "Price appears to be a major constraint on iPhone X demand, particularly in China," Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi said in a recent report that showed three-quarters of Chinese respondents were excited by the upcoming launch, but only a quarter said they planned to buy one. Investors are keen to gauge Chinese demand for the iPhone X, as it is key to reviving Apple's fortunes in the world's biggest smartphone market where it has lost some of its sparkle — and market share — as local phone makers have advanced. The cheaper iPhone 8, which hit the market in September, has faced sluggish sales, but Apple has said that pre-orders for the iPhone X have been "off the charts." Apple, due to announce quarterly earnings Thursday, said it had no immediate comment. Chatter online on popular Chinese social media platform Weibo also signaled high levels of interest in the new model, though still generally behind levels around the 2014 launch of the very successful iPhone 6. Apple "geeks" Xiao Ming, 32, who works for a blockchain start-up in Beijing, stayed up half the night when pre-sales of the iPhone X opened last week. He has also bought the iPhone 8. "I always try to be one of the first to buy any new iPhone," he said, adding he likes the new phone's augmented reality and facial recognition features. "I'll be very disappointed if I don't get one on the first day." While he plans to buy the new phone, he noted many of his friends were less fussed. "Before, I think a lot of people would try to get it somehow, now it's mostly the geeks," he said. "My friends don't mind so much if they have an iPhone 8 or a 6, for example, because it looks similar and the price [of the iPhone X] makes you feel nervous." Re-sellers and iPhone accessory makers generally agreed there was a buzz about the iPhone X, Apple's first phone to have a full-screen display and functions such as facial recognition security. "People are really anticipating this phone because it's the 10th anniversary version and it has more changes and modifications," said Gary Yiu, manager of the iGeneration smartphone shop at one Hong Kong mall. Yiu and three other phone re-sellers there said they had seen strong demand for the phone from mainland clients. A merchant at the Huaqiangbei electronics hub in Shenzhen, who was offering an iPhone look-a-like called the "E-Feng X" from 1,599 yuan, said sales volumes were "very good." Some Chinese re-sellers, however, said they already canceled pre-orders for the iPhone X, concerned there wouldn't be enough of a supply bottleneck to allow them to charge a steep premium — despite some worries about long waits. "I saw many friends were posting pictures of themselves successfully ordering the iPhone X, so I canceled mine," said Tony Tong, 29, a product manager at a tech firm in Beijing, who said he had ordered four phones in the hope of re-selling them for a profit. "The environment is bad for scalpers." Apple will hope payment plans and easy access to online credit in China will persuade people to buy. Wang Hao, a 24-year-old engineer in the northeastern port city of Dalian, said he ordered the new phone despite the high price tag. His last phone was an iPhone 6S. "The cost is about a month's salary for me," he told Reuters. "But I'm just used to it now, and there wasn't really anything to make me choose another brand."

Malaysia Investigating Reported Leak of 46 Million Mobile Users Data

Malaysia is investigating an alleged attempt to sell the data of more than 46 million mobile phone subscribers online after a major data breach, Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak said on Wednesday. The massive data breach was first reported last month by Lowyat.net, a local technology news website, which said it had received a tip-off that someone was trying to sell huge databases of personal information on its forums. Salleh said the country's internet regulator, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), was looking into the matter with the police. "We have identified several potential sources of the leak and we should be able to complete the probe soon," Salleh told reporters at parliament. The leaked data was being sold for an undisclosed amount of Bitcoin, a digital currency, Lowyat.net said on Monday. It included lists of mobile phone numbers, identification card numbers, home addresses, and SIM card data of 46.2 million customers from at least 12 Malaysian mobile phone operators. Malaysia's population is just around 32 million, but many have several mobile numbers. The lists are also believed to include inactive numbers and temporary ones bought by visiting foreigners, local daily The Star reported. MCMC's chief operating officer Mazlan Ismail said on Tuesday the regulator had met with local telecommunications companies to seek their cooperation in the probe, according to state news agency Bernama. The data also includes private information of more than 80,000 individuals leaked from the records of the Malaysian Medical Council, the Malaysian Medical Association, and the Malaysian Dental Association, Lowyat.net said.

New Fingerprint Technology Solves Mysteries, Brings Closure to Families of Deceased

Modern forensics have come a long way with the use of DNA evidence and fingerprint databases. But it’s not always easy to match a full set of prints, especially if a corpse is stranded in the desert and scavenging animals have picked it apart. But a new FBI database aims to share as much information despite the few clues available. Arash Arabasadi reports.

Social Media Firms' Lawyers Downplay Magnitude of Russian Efforts to Tilt US Election

Attorneys for Twitter, Facebook and Google downplayed the magnitude of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election in congressional hearings on Tuesday. Sean Edgett, Twitter's general counsel, said the company studied all tweets posted from September 1 to November 15, 2016, and found that election-related content posted by automated Russian troll accounts "was comparatively small." He said the Russian troll accounts made up "around 1/100th of a percent of total Twitter accounts" during the time studied, and were responsible for "one-third of 1 percent of election-related tweets" during that time period. "Twitter believes that any activity of that kind regardless of magnitude is unacceptable and we agree we must do better to prevent it," he said. Twitter has taken action against the suspected Russian trolls, suspending 2,752 accounts and implementing new dedicated teams "to enhance the quality of the information our users see," Edgett said. Facebook lawyer Colin Stretch spoke similarly about the $100,000 worth of divisive ads posted on the social media website by a group with alleged ties to the Russian government. "In aggregate, these ads and posts were a very small fraction of the overall content on Facebook, but any amount is too much," he said. Audience of 126 million Facebook said Monday that its investigation of the matter had found Russian-backed operatives published about 80,000 posts on the social network that reached 126 million Americans over a two-year period. In response to the internal investigation, Stretch said, Facebook will hire more ad removers, put in place tighter ad restrictions and require more info from political ad buyers. "We know bad actors aren't going to stop their efforts," he said. "We know we'll all have to keep learning and improving to stay ahead of them." Facebook has turned the alleged Russian ads over to Congress, and earlier this month, the company's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, said she "absolutely" supported the public release of the advertisements. In releasing the ads to Congress, Sandberg said, "it's important that [the investigators] get the whole picture and explain that to the American people." Misuse 'can be serious' During his testimony Tuesday, Richard Salgado, Google's director of law enforcement and information security, called Russian use of its platforms "relatively small," but said "any misuse of our platforms for this purpose can be very serious." In a Monday post on its blog, Google said it found "limited activity" on its platforms coming from potential Russian actors, but vowed to launch "several new initiatives to provide more transparency and enhance security." According to Google, the extent of potential Russian misuse of its platforms during the 2016 election cycle consisted of about 1,000 videos posted on 18 YouTube channels "likely associated" with Russian actors and a total of $4,700 spent on Google ads.

You Can Stymie the iPhone X Face ID - but it Takes Some Work

Apple is offering a nifty way to unlock its new iPhone X — just stare at it. Face ID, Apple’s name for its facial-recognition technology, replaces the fingerprint sensor found on other models. How well does it work — not just technically, but in everyday use? After all, it’s much easier to align your finger with the sensor than to align your face with the phone. The iPhone X costs about $1,000 — $300 more than the iPhone 8. Advance orders began this past Friday, and Apple is now giving delivery times of five to six weeks. Apple says it will have limited supplies at stores for same-day pickup on Friday, but you’ll have to get there early. Better face detection Many rival Android phones already use facial-recognition technology. Samsung also has an unlock feature that scans your iris. But the systems can be tripped with something as simple as eyeglasses. While Android largely bases its match on a two-dimensional camera shot of you, the iPhone X goes 3-D. During setup, the iPhone guides you to rotate your head so it gets a more complete picture of you — analyzing some 30,000 points on your face, to be specific. So if you’re wearing glasses, the iPhone can still recognize you using other parts of your face. Same goes for wearing a hat. And Apple’s system continually learns. Each time you use your face to unlock the phone, it automatically keeps tabs on small changes, such as growing a mustache or simply getting older. With Android, you have to go into the settings to teach the phone’s face recognition to get better. There are limits. If you shave your beard, it’s too big of a change for the iPhone X to be sure it’s you. You’ll need a passcode, but the phone should remember you the next time . Recognizing you I tested the iPhone X against Samsung’s iris scanner on the Galaxy Note 8 and face systems on Google’s Pixel 2 and LG’s V30 phones. V30 improves upon the standard Android technology in asking you to turn your head slightly during the setup, though in practice the Pixel was far better at recognition. Only the iPhone and the Pixel recognized me with standard eyeglasses — important, as I expect the same performance with or without spectacles. That said, Face ID unlocked with just one of the two sunglasses I tried; the other was too big. Costumes and disguises also challenged Face ID. A Santa hat was OK, but a Santa beard wasn’t. Nor did it like funny glasses and a fake nose. Winter clothing was fine, as long as the scarf wasn’t covering too much of my face. Face ID worked better than expected in bright sunlight — not every time, but enough to be satisfying. It also worked in the dark, thanks to the use of infrared sensors rather than just the standard camera. That’s important when you wake up in the middle of the night and must absolutely check Facebook or Tinder. For those keeping score, the Pixel worked in sunlight, but not in the dark; it’s the reverse for Samsung. Samsung also worked with the Santa beard, as it’s focused on your eyes. The iPhone also unlocked after getting a haircut. I didn’t try to fool the iPhone into unlocking with someone else’s face. I’m sure hackers will spend the coming weeks trying. Apple says Face ID could be unreliable with twins and other siblings who look like you, as well as for children under 13 — though young children don’t really need a $1,000 phone. Give them a $200 iPod Touch — or better yet, a book to read. No more fingerprint The home button is gone to increase screen space. Others that have done this have moved the fingerprint scanner to the back. Apple ditches it completely, so Face ID is the only alternative to a passcode. The Olsen twins, among others, will face a hardship. It’s also tougher to check Facebook during a meeting without getting busted by the boss. You can casually unlock a phone with your fingerprint under the table. It’s much more conspicuous to stare at a screen, especially because your face should ideally be 6 to 10 inches (15 to 25 centimeters) away. Besides unlocking the phone, you can use Face ID to confirm app purchases and log into banking apps. You can also confirm Apple Pay transactions. You don’t have to twist your head awkwardly for facial authorization while the phone is laying sideways on a payment terminal, either. With the iPhone X, you authorize Apple Pay before tapping. It was much faster than fingerprint when paying for lunch. Bottom line is Face ID works fairly well — though keeping the fingerprint option would have been nice.    

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