Volkswagen and Nissan have unveiled electric cars designed for China at a Beijing auto show that highlights the growing importance of Chinese buyers for a technology seen as a key part of the global industry's future. General Motors displayed five all-electric models Wednesday including a concept Buick SUV it says can go 600 kilometers (375 miles) on one charge. Ford and other brands showed off some of the dozens of electric SUVs, sedans and other models they say are planned for China. Auto China 2018, the industry's biggest sales event this year, is overshadowed by mounting trade tensions between Beijing and U.S. President Donald Trump, who has threatened to hike tariffs on Chinese goods including automobiles in a dispute over technology policy. The impact on automakers should be small, according to industry analysts, because exports amount to only a few thousand vehicles a year. Those include a GM SUV, the Envision, and Volvo Cars sedans made in China for export to the United States. China accounted for half of last year's global electric car sales, boosted by subsidies and other prodding from communist leaders who want to make their country a center for the emerging technology. "The Chinese market is key for the international auto industry and it is key to our success,'' VW CEO Herbert Diess said on Tuesday. Volkswagen unveiled the E20X, an SUV that is the first model for SOL, an electric brand launched by the German automaker with a Chinese partner. The E20X, promising a 300-kilometer (185-mile) range on one charge, is aimed at the Chinese market's bargain-priced tiers, where demand is strongest. GM, Ford, Daimler AG's Mercedes unit and other automakers also have announced ventures with local partners to develop models for China that deliver more range at lower prices. On Wednesday, Nissan Motor Co. presented its Sylphy Zero Emission, which it said can go 338 kilometers (210 miles) on a charge. The Sylphy is based on Nissan's Leaf, a version of which is available in China but has sold poorly due to its relatively high price. Automakers say they expect electrics to account for 35 to over 50 percent of their China sales by 2025. First-quarter sales of electrics and gasoline-electric hybrids rose 154 percent over a year earlier to 143,000 units, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. That compares with sales of just under 200,000 for all of last year in the United States, the No. 2 market. That trend has been propelled by the ruling Communist Party's support for the technology. The party is shifting the financial burden to automakers with sales quotas that take effect next year and require them to earn credits by selling electrics or buy them from competitors. That increases pressure to transform electrics into a mainstream product that competes on price and features. Automakers also displayed dozens of gasoline-powered models from compact sedans to luxurious SUVs. Their popularity is paying for development of electrics, which aren't expected to become profitable for most producers until sometime in the next decade. China's total sales of SUVs, sedans and minivans reached 24.7 million units last year, compared with 17.2 million for the United States. SUVs are the industry's cash cow. First-quarter sales rose 11.3 percent over a year earlier to 2.6 million, or almost 45 percent of total auto sales, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. On Wednesday, Ford displayed its Mondeo Energi plug-in hybrid, its first electric model for China, which went on sale in March. Plans call for Ford and its luxury unit, Lincoln, to release 15 new electrified vehicles by 2025. GM plans to launch 10 electrics or hybrids in China from through 2020. VW is due to launch 15 electrics and hybrids in the next two to three years as part of a 10 billion euro ($12 billion) development plan announced in November. Nissan says it will roll out 20 electrified models in China over the next five years. New but fast-growing Chinese auto trail global rivals in traditional gasoline technology but industry analysts say the top Chinese brands are catching up in electrics, a market with no entrenched leaders. BYD Auto, the biggest global electric brand by number sold, debuted two hybrid SUVs and an electric concept car. The company, which manufactures electric buses at a California factory and exports battery-powered taxis to Europe, also displayed nine other hybrid and plug-in electric models. Chery Automobile Co. showed a lineup that included two electric sedans, an SUV and a hatchback, all promising 250 to 400 kilometers (150 to 250 miles) on a charge. They include futuristic features such as internet-linked navigation and smartphone-style dashboard displays. "Our focus is not just an EV that runs. It is excellent performance,'' Chery CEO Chen Anning said in an interview ahead of the show. Electrics are likely to play a leading role as Chery develops plans announced last year to expand to Western Europe, said Chen. He said the company has yet to decide on a timeline. Chery was China's biggest auto exporter last year, selling 108,000 gasoline-powered vehicles abroad, though mostly in developing markets such as Russia and Egypt. "We do have a clear intention to bring an EV product as one of our initial offerings'' in Europe, Chen said.
Lilium, a German start-up with Silicon Valley-scale ambitions to put electric "flying taxis" in the air next decade, has hired Frank Stephenson, the designer behind iconic car brands including the modern Mini, Fiat 500 and McLaren P1. Lilium is developing a lightweight aircraft powered by 36 electric jet engines mounted on its wings. It aims to travel at speeds of up to 300 kilometers (186 miles) per hour, with a range of 300 km on a single charge, the firm has said. Founded in 2015 by four Munich Technical University students, the Bavarian firm has set out plans to demonstrate a fully functional vertical take-off electric jet by next year, with plans to begin online booking of commuter flights by 2025. It is one of a number of companies, from Chinese automaker Geely to U.S. ride-sharing firm Uber, looking to tap advances in drone technology, high-performance materials and automated driving to turn aerial driving - long a staple of science fiction movies like "Blade Runner" - into reality. Stephenson, 58, who holds American and British citizenship, will join the aviation start-up in May. He lives west of London and will commute weekly to Lilium's offices outside of Munich. His job is to design a plane on the outside and a car inside. Famous for a string of hits at BMW, Mini, Ferrari, Maserati, Fiat, Alfa Romeo and McLaren, Stephenson will lead all aspects of Lilium design, including the interior and exterior of its jets, the service's landing pads and even its departure lounges. "With Lilium, we don't have to base the jet on anything that has been done before," Stephenson told Reuters in an interview. "What's so incredibly exciting about this is we're not talking about modifying a car to take to the skies, and we are not talking about modifying a helicopter to work in a better way.” Stephenson recalled working at Ferrari a dozen years ago and thinking it was the greatest job a grown-up kid could ever want. But the limits of working at such a storied carmaker dawned on him: "I always had to make a car that looked like a Ferrari.” His move to McLaren, where he worked from 2008 until 2017, freed him to design a new look and design language from scratch: "That was as good as it gets for a designer," he said. Lilium is developing a five-seat flying electric vehicle for commuters after tests in 2017 of a two-seat jet capable of a mid-air transition from hover mode, like drones, into wing-borne flight, like conventional aircraft. Combining these two features is what separates Lilium from rival start-ups working on so-called flying cars or taxis that rely on drone or helicopter-like technologies, such as German rival Volocopter or European aerospace giant Airbus. "If the competitors come out there with their hovercraft or drones or whatever type of vehicles, they'll have their own distinctive look," Stephenson said. "Let the other guys do whatever they want. The last thing I want to do is anything that has been done before.” The jet, with power consumption per kilometer comparable to an electric car, could offer passenger flights at prices taxis now charge but at speeds five times faster, Lilium has said. Nonetheless, flying cars face many hurdles, including convincing regulators and the public that their products can be used safely. Governments are still grappling with regulations for drones and driverless cars. Lilium has raised more than $101 million in early-stage funding from backers including an arm of China's Tencent and Atomico and Obvious Ventures, the venture firms, respectively, of the co-founders of Skype and Twitter.
Facebook has revealed for the first time just what, exactly, is banned on its service in a new Community Standards document released on Tuesday. It's an updated version of the internal rules the company has used to determine what's allowed and what isn't, down to granular details such as what, exactly, counts as a "credible threat" of violence. The previous public-facing version gave a broad-strokes outline of the rules, but the specifics were shrouded in secrecy for most of Facebook's 2.2 billion users. Not anymore. Here are just some examples of what the rules ban. Note: Facebook has not changed the actual rules - it has just made them public. Credible violence Is there a real-world threat? Facebook looks for "credible statements of intent to commit violence against any person, groups of people, or place (city or smaller)." Is there a bounty or demand for payment? The mention or an image of a specific weapon? A target and at least two details such as location, method or timing? A statement to commit violence against a vulnerable person or group such as "heads-of-state, witnesses and confidential informants, activists, and journalists." Also banned: instructions on "on how to make or use weapons if the goal is to injure or kill people," unless there is "clear context that the content is for an alternative purpose (for example, shared as part of recreational self-defense activities, training by a country's military, commercial video games, or news coverage)." Hate speech "We define hate speech as a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics - race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disability or disease. We also provide some protections for immigration status," Facebook says. As to what counts as a direct attack, the company says it's any "violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation." There are three tiers of severity, ranging from comparing a protected group to filth or disease to calls to "exclude or segregate" a person our group based on the protected characteristics. Facebook does note that it does "allow criticism of immigration policies and arguments for restricting those policies." Graphic violence Images of violence against "real people or animals" with comments or captions that contain enjoyment of suffering, humiliation and remarks that speak positively of the violence or "indicating the poster is sharing footage for sensational viewing pleasure" are prohibited. The captions and context matter in this case because Facebook does allow such images in some cases where they are condemned, or shared as news or in a medical setting. Even then, though, the post must be limited so only adults can see them and Facebook adds a warnings screen to the post. Child sexual exploitation "We do not allow content that sexually exploits or endangers children. When we become aware of apparent child exploitation, we report it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), in compliance with applicable law. We know that sometimes people share nude images of their own children with good intentions; however, we generally remove these images because of the potential for abuse by others and to help avoid the possibility of other people reusing or misappropriating the images," Facebook says. Then, it lists at least 12 specific instances of children in a sexual context, saying the ban includes, but is not limited to these examples. This includes "uncovered female nipples for children older than toddler-age." Adult nudity and sexual activity "We understand that nudity can be shared for a variety of reasons, including as a form of protest, to raise awareness about a cause, or for educational or medical reasons. Where such intent is clear, we make allowances for the content. For example, while we restrict some images of female breasts that include the nipple, we allow other images, including those depicting acts of protest, women actively engaged in breast-feeding, and photos of post-mastectomy scarring," Facebook says. That said, the company says it "defaults" to removing sexual imagery to prevent the sharing of non-consensual or underage content. The restrictions apply to images of real people as well as digitally created content, although art - such as drawings, paintings or sculptures - is an exception.
Cambridge Analytica unleashed its counterattack against claims that it misused data from millions of Facebook accounts, saying Tuesday it is the victim of misunderstandings and inaccurate reporting that portrays the company as the evil villain in a James Bond movie. Clarence Mitchell, a high-profile publicist recently hired to represent the company, held Cambridge Analytica's first news conference since allegations surfaced that the Facebook data helped Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election. Christopher Wylie, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica's parent, also claims that the company has links to the successful campaign to take Britain out of the European Union. "The company has been portrayed in some quarters as almost some Bond villain," Mitchell said. "Cambridge Analytica is no Bond villain." Cambridge Analytica didn't use any of the Facebook data in the work it did for Trump's campaign and it never did any work on the Brexit campaign, Mitchell said. Furthermore, he said, the data was collected by another company that was contractually obligated to follow data protection rules and the information was deleted as soon as Facebook raised concerns. Mitchell insists the company has not broken any laws, but acknowledged it had commissioned an independent investigation is being conducted. He insisted that the company had been victimized by "wild speculation based on misinformation, misunderstanding, or in some cases, frankly, an overtly political position." The comments come weeks after the scandal engulfed both the consultancy and Facebook, which has been embroiled in scandal since revelations that Cambridge Analytica misused personal information from as many as 87 million Facebook accounts. Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before the U.S. congressional committees and at one point the company lost some $50 billion in value for its shareholders. Details on the scandal continued to trickle out. On Tuesday, a Cambridge University academic said the suspended CEO of Cambridge Analytica lied to British lawmakers investigating fake news. Academic Aleksandr Kogan's company, Global Science Research, developed a Facebook app that vacuumed up data from people who signed up to use the app as well as information from their Facebook friends, even if those friends hadn't agreed to share their data. Cambridge Analytica allegedly used the data to profile U.S. voters and target them with ads during the 2016 election to help elect Donald Trump. It denies the charge. Kogan appeared before the House of Commons' media committee Tuesday and was asked whether Cambridge Analytica's suspended CEO, Alexander Nix, told the truth when he testified that none of the company's data came from Global Science Research. "That's a fabrication," Kogan told committee Chairman Damian Collins. Nix could not immediately be reached for comment. Kogan also cast doubt on many of Wylie's allegations, which have triggered a global debate about internet privacy protections. Wylie repeated his claims in a series of media interviews as well as an appearance before the committee. Wylie worked for SCL Group Ltd. in 2013 and 2014. "Mr. Wylie has invented many things," Kogan said, calling him "duplicitous." No matter what, though, Kogan insisted in his testimony that the data would not be that useful to election consultants. The idea was seized upon by Mitchell, who also denied that the company had worked on the effort to have Britain leave the EU. Mitchell said that the idea that political consultancies can use data alone to sway votes is "frankly insulting to the electorates. Data science in modern campaigning helps those campaigns, but it is still and always will be the candidates who win the races."
Not content to stop at slipping packages inside customers' front doors, Amazon.com Inc on Tuesday started a new program to deliver packages to its members' parked cars. The world's largest online retailer is rolling the program out in 37 U.S. cities for customers with newer compatible vehicles and plans to expand the service. All that is required to have packages delivered to a car is downloading an app from Amazon and linking it to the vehicle's so-called connected car service, such as General Motors Co's OnStar system or Volvo Car Group's On Call service. The in-car delivery effort is part of Amazon's drive to leave packages where they cannot be easily stolen. Since 2011, Amazon has offered secure lockers for urban customers. "Amazon will keep looking for ways to reduce last mile friction and cost. I'm sure many consumers would prefer to have their car trunk opened remotely by a third party than their front door," said Greg Melich, an analyst at MoffettNathanson. The in-car service builds on an effort Amazon launched last fall called Amazon Key. That system uses a $220 combination of an internet-connected door lock and camera to allow Amazon delivery drivers to place packages inside the homes of members of Amazon Prime. By contrast, the in-car delivery service is free for Prime members. It will be offered in San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, Nashville, Milwaukee, Salt Lake City, Washington, D.C. and other areas. The in-home delivery option put Amazon in direct competition with so-called smart home security companies such as Alphabet Inc's Nest Labs and presaged Amazon's $1 billion acquisition of connected doorbell maker Ring. "I think this is a good example of Amazon's test-and-learn culture. The company tries many different things, some are successful, others less so, but all provide important insights for the company," Atlantic Equities analyst James Cordwell said. But the new in-car delivery service may have broader reach because it works with many compatible cars from Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Cadillac and Volvo, with plans to deliver to more makes and models in the future. In a statement, GM said there are at least 7 million owners of compatible GM models. Amazon has not disclosed how many customers have tried its Amazon Key in-home service. In-car delivery also gives Amazon an in-between option for customers who might want a more secure delivery location than the front porch but do not want delivery people inside their homes. The Amazon delivery service taps into the car's built-in unlock feature without ever giving the delivery person a pass code or other permanent access to the car. "Everything is securely encrypted between the two services," said Rohit Shrivastava, Amazon Key's general manager. Shrivastava also said that Amazon cannot see or track the customer's car; instead, the customer gives Amazon an address where the car will be parked and publicly accessible, along with the make, model, color and license plate number to help the delivery person find the right car. Customers also get several reminders on their phones before, during and after the packages are delivered.
Chinese tech firms pledged on Monday to tackle gender bias in recruitment after a rights group said they routinely favored male candidates, luring applicants with the promise of working with "beautiful girls" in job advertisements. A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report found that major technology companies including Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent had widely used "gender discriminatory job advertisements," which said men were preferred or specifically barred women applicants. Some ads promised candidates they would work with "beautiful girls" and "goddesses," HRW said in a report based on an analysis of 36,000 job posts between 2013 and 2018. Tencent, which runs China's most popular messenger app WeChat, apologized for the ads after the HRW report was published on Monday. "We are sorry they occurred and we will take swift action to ensure they do not happen again," a Tencent spokesman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. E-commerce giant Alibaba, founded by billionaire Jack Ma, vowed to conduct stricter reviews to ensure its job ads followed workplace equality principles, but refused to say whether the ads singled out in the report were still being used. "Our track record of not just hiring but promoting women in leadership positions speaks for itself," said a spokeswoman. Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of search engine Google, meanwhile said the postings were "isolated instances." HRW urged Chinese authorities to take action to end discriminatory hiring practices. Its report also found nearly one in five ads for Chinese government jobs this year were "men only" or "men preferred." "Sexist job ads pander to the antiquated stereotypes that persist within Chinese companies," HRW China director Sophie Richardson said in a statement. "These companies pride themselves on being forces of modernity and progress, yet they fall back on such recruitment strategies, which shows how deeply entrenched discrimination against women remains in China," she added. China was ranked 100 out of 144 countries in the World Economic Forum's 2017 Gender Gap Report, after it said the country's progress towards gender parity has slowed.
Facebook said on Monday that it removed or put a warning label on 1.9 million pieces of extremist content related to ISIS or al-Qaida in the first three months of the year, or about double the amount from the previous quarter. Facebook, the world's largest social media network, also published its internal definition of "terrorism" for the first time, as part of an effort to be more open about internal company operations. The European Union has been putting pressure on Facebook and its tech industry competitors to remove extremist content more rapidly or face legislation forcing them to do so, and the sector has increased efforts to demonstrate progress. Of the 1.9 million pieces of extremist content, the "vast majority" was removed and a small portion received a warning label because it was shared for informational or counter-extremist purposes, Facebook said in a post on a corporate blog. Facebook uses automated software such as image matching to detect some extremist material. The median time required for takedowns was less than one minute in the first quarter of the year, the company said. Facebook, which bans terrorists from its network, has not previously said what its definition encompasses. The company said it defines terrorism as: "Any non-governmental organization that engages in premeditated acts of violence against persons or property to intimidate a civilian population, government, or international organization in order to achieve a political, religious, or ideological aim." The definition is "agnostic to ideology," the company said, including such varied groups as religious extremists, white supremacists and militant environmentalists.
Imagine wearing a computer in the form of a jacket. Now, it is possible. "When somebody calls you, your jacket vibrates and gives you lights and [you] know somebody is calling you," said Ivan Poupyrev, who manages the Google's Project Jacquard, a digital platform for smart clothing. Project Jacquard formed a partnership with Levi's to create the first Jacquard enabled garment in the form of Levi's Commuter Trucker Jacket. What makes the jacket "smart" includes washable technology, created by Google, woven into the cuff of the jacket. "These are highly conductive fibers, which are very strong and can be used in standard denim-weaving process," said Poupyrev. A tap on the cuff can also provide navigation and play music when paired with a mobile phone, headphones and a small piece of removable hardware, called a snap tag, that attaches to the cuff. "You get the most important features of the phone without taking your eyes off the road," said Paul Dillinger, vice president of global product innovation for Levi Strauss & Co. Smart clothing The Levi's jacket is just one step to smarter clothing. "Do they want to make shoes? Do they want to make bags? Do they want to make trousers?" Poupyrev explained, "The platform [is] being designed so that this technology can be applied to any type of garment. Right now, it's Levi's but right now, we're very actively working with other partners in the apparel industry and try to help to make their products connected." That means designers need to be increasingly tech savvy. "Fashion designers in the future are going to have to think about their craft differently. So, it's not just sketching and pattern making and draping and drafting. It's going to involve use case development and being a participant in cladding an app and becoming an industrial designer and figuring out what you want these components to look like." Dillinger added, "What we found out is engineers and designers are kind of the same thing. They just use very different languages." New patterns and materials From the functionality of clothes to how they are made, computing power is reshaping fashion. Designers can create structures and patterns that have never existed before current technology. "Designers now have a new set of tools to actually design things they could never design before. We can use computational tools to make patterns and formats that we could not do individually, because they were too mathematically and technically complicated. So, we're using algorithms to help us facilitate design," said Syuzi Pakhchyan whose job is to envision the future as experience design lead at the innovation firm, BCG Digital Ventures. New technologies are also being used to make bioengineered fabrics made with yeast cells in a lab. The company, Bolt Threads, is developing fabrics made out of spider silk. "We take the DNA out of spiders, put it in yeast, grow it in a big tank like brewing beer or wine and then purify the material, the polymer and spin it into fibers so it's a very deep technology that's required many years to develop," Dan Widmaier, chief executive officer and co-founder of Bolt Threads. The company Modern Meadow grows leather from yeast cells. "We engineer them to produce collagen which is the same natural protein that you find in your skin or an animal skin, and then we really grow billions of those cells, make a lot of collagen, purify it and then assemble it into whatever kinds of materials, the brands, the designers that we're working with would like to see," explained Suzanne Lee chief creative officer of Modern Meadow. She said these bioengineered materials are more sustainable and can be described as both natural and man-made. "So, we're really bringing both of those fields together to create a new material revolution. The best of nature with the best of design and engineering," said Lee What's hot and what's not Technology is also disrupting fashion trends.The prevalence of social media means it is not just the designers who decide what is the latest trendy styles in fashion. "Fashion has been democratized. A lot of fashion is being made by influencers with zero design experience," said Pakhchyan. Replacing trend forecasters, artificial intelligence can now collect data from social media and the web to give designers insight on public preferences. "This is actually I think changing the role of the designer. Cause now, you have all this information so what are you going to do with this information?" said Pakhchyan. Shopping on-line How clothes are marketed and sold are also increasingly dependent on technology. If a consumer has shopped on a website once, that data is collected to entice the user to buy other products through personalization. "When I connect online with a brand, they know me. I feel like they know me. They know who I am, they know what I like, they know what I want," said Pakhchyan. The Levi's smart jacket can also be purchased online. The price tag: $350.
Technology is permeating and changing almost every industry, including fashion. From how clothes are made and purchased to your relationship with what you wear, computing power is reshaping fashion as we know it. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee has the details.
Muslims who are traveling and looking for a place to pray can now turn to their smart phones for help. A mobile app, called Islamic GPS, helps users find mosques around the world. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us more about this helpful technology.
Russia says it may block Facebook if the social media company does not put its Russian user database on servers in Russian territory. The warning Wednesday by the head of the country’s state media regulator Roskomnadzor comes just days after a Russian move to block Telegram, the encrypted messaging app. VOA's Iuliia Alieva has more in this report narrated by Anna Rice
The food industry uses plastic to wrap its products in many places around the world. Plastic manufacturers say that keeps produce and meat fresh longer, so less goes bad and is thrown away. But, according to a new European study, while the annual use of plastic packaging has grown since the 1950s, so has food waste. Faiza Elmasry has the story. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Recently, the world was stunned to learn that an island of mostly plastic trash, floating in the Pacific Ocean, grew to the size of France, Germany and Spain combined. Because plastics take centuries to decompose, could civilization someday choke in it? Scientists at Britain's University of Portsmouth say they may have found a way to speed up the decomposition of plastics. VOA's George Putic reports.
Facebook Inc’s Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg came under pressure from EU lawmakers on Wednesday to come to Europe and shed light on the data breach involving Cambridge Analytica that affected nearly three million Europeans. The world’s largest social network is under fire worldwide after information about nearly 87 million users wrongly ended up in the hands of the British political consultancy, a firm hired by Donald Trump for his 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign. European Parliament President Antonio Tajani last week repeated his request to Zuckerberg to appear before the assembly, saying that sending a junior executive would not suffice. EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova, who recently spoke to Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, said Zuckerberg should heed the lawmakers’ call. “This case is too important to treat as business as usual,” Jourova told an assembly of lawmakers. “I advised Sheryl Sandberg that Zuckerberg should accept the invitation from the European Parliament. (EU digital chief Andrius) Ansip refers to the invitation as a measure of rebuilding trust,” she said. Facebook did not respond to a request for comment. Zuckerberg fielded 10 hours of questions over two days from nearly 100 U.S. lawmakers last week and emerged largely unscathed. He will meet Ansip in San Francisco on Tuesday. Another European lawmaker Sophia in’t Veld echoed the call from her colleagues, saying that the Facebook CEO should do them the same courtesy. “I think Zuckerberg would be well advised to appear at the Parliament out of respect for Europeans,” she said. Lawmaker Viviane Reding, the architect of the EU’s landmark privacy law which will come into effect on May 25, giving Europeans more control over their online data, said the right laws would bring back trust among users.
Iran's presidency has banned all government bodies from using foreign-based messaging apps to communicate with citizens, state media reported Wednesday, after economic protests organized through such apps shook the country earlier this year. Chief among those apps is Telegram, used by over 40 million Iranians for everything from benign conversations to commerce and political campaigning. Iranians using Telegram, which describes itself as an encrypted message service, helped spread the word about the protests in December and January. Telegram channels run on behalf of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri were already shut down Wednesday. A report on the website of Iran's state television broadcaster said the ban affected all public institutions. It was not clear if the ban applied to civil servants outside of work hours. The report did not elaborate on penalties for violating the ban. Last month, officials said Iran would block Telegram for reasons of national security in response to the protests, which saw 25 people killed and nearly 5,000 reportedly arrested. Authorities temporarily shut down Telegram during the protests, though many continued to access it through proxies and virtual private networks. The move against Telegram suggests Iran may try to introduce its own government-approved, or "halal," version of the messaging app, something long demanded by hard-liners. Already, Iran heavily restricts internet access and blocks social media websites like Facebook and Twitter. Iran has said foreign messaging apps can get licenses from authorities to operate if they transfer their databases into the country. Privacy experts worry that could more easily expose users' private communications to government spying. Khamenei, however, has stressed that invading people's privacy is religiously forbidden. Iran's move also comes after a Russian court on Friday ordered Telegram to be blocked after the company refused to share its encryption data with authorities. Telegram CEO Pavel Durov responded to the ruling by writing on Twitter: "Privacy is not for sale, and human rights should not be compromised out of fear or greed."
The chief of the Russian communications watchdog acknowledged Wednesday that millions of unrelated IP addresses have been frozen in a so-far futile attempt to block a popular messaging app. Telegram, the messaging app that was ordered to be blocked last week, was still available to users in Russia despite authorities' frantic attempts to hit it by blocking other services. The row erupted after Telegram, which was developed by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, refused to hand its encryption keys to the intelligence agencies. The Russian government insists it needs them to pre-empt extremist attacks but Telegram dismissed the request as a breach of privacy. Alexander Zharov, chief of the Federal Communications Agency, said in an interview with the Izvestia daily published Wednesday that Russia is blocking 18 networks that are used by Amazon and Google and which host sites that they believe Telegram is using to circumvent the ban. Countless Russian businesses - from online language schools to car dealerships - reported that their web services were down because of the communication watchdog's moves to bloc networks. Internet experts estimate that Russian authorities have blocked about 16 million IP addresses since Monday, affecting millions of Russian users and businesses. In the interview, Zharov admitted that the authorities have been helplessly trying to block Telegram and had to shut down entire networks, some of which have over half a million IP addresses that are used by unrelated, "law-abiding companies," he said. Russia's leading daily Vedomosti in Wednesday's editorial likened the communications watchdog's battle against Telegram, affecting millions of users of other web-services, to warfare. "The large-scale indiscriminate blocking of foreign IP addresses in Russia in order to close the access to the messaging app Telegram is unprecedented and bears resemblance to carpet bombings," the editorial said. Zharov also indicated that Facebook could be the next target for the government if it refuses to comply with Russian law. Authorities previously insisted that Facebook store its Russian users' data in Russia but has not gone through with its threats to block Facebook if it refuses to comply. Zharov said authorities will check before the end of the year if the company is complying with its demands and warned that if it does not, "then, obviously, the issue of blocking will arise." Elsewhere in Moscow, a court on Wednesday sentenced a member of the punk collective Pussy Riot, who spent nearly two years in prison for a protest in Russia's main cathedral, to 100 hours of community work for a protest against the Telegram blocking. Maria Alekhina and a dozen activists were throwing paper planes outside the communications watchdog's office on Monday.
Since 2000, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave approval to the world's first robotic surgical system, almost 4,000 of these sophisticated machines have been deployed in operating suites around the world. Recognizing that the proficiency of the surgeons who use them can be subjective, a group of surgeons at the University of Southern California, in cooperation with the manufacturer Intuitive Research, is developing a system for more objective evaluation. VOA's George Putic reports.
Cambridge Analytica's ex-CEO, Alexander Nix, has refused to testify before the U.K. Parliament's media committee, citing British authorities' investigation into his former company's alleged misuse of data from millions of Facebook accounts in political campaigns. Committee Chairman Damian Collins announced Nix's decision a day before his scheduled appearance but flatly rejected the notion that he should be let off the hook, saying Nix hasn't been charged with a crime and there are no active legal proceedings against him. "There is therefore no legal reason why Mr. Nix cannot appear," Collins said in a statement. "The committee is minded to issue a formal summons for him to appear on a named day in the very near future." Nix gave evidence to the committee in February, but was recalled after former Cambridge Analytica staffer Christopher Wylie sparked a global debate over electronic privacy when he alleged the company used data from millions of Facebook accounts to help U.S. President Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign. Wylie worked on Cambridge Analytica's "information operations" in 2014 and 2015. Wylie has also said the official campaign backing Britain's exit from the European Union had access to the Facebook data. Cambridge Analytica has previously said that none of the Facebook data it acquired from an academic researcher was used in the Trump campaign. The company also says it did no paid or unpaid work on the Brexit campaign. The company did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press on Tuesday. The Information Commissioner's Office said Tuesday that it had written to Nix to "invite him" to be interviewed by investigators. The office is investigating Facebook and 30 other organizations over their use of data and analytics. "Our investigation is looking at whether criminal and civil offences have been committed under the Data Protection Act," the office said in a statement. Nix's refusal to appear comes as the seriousness of the British inquiry becomes more evident. Facebook has said it directed Cambridge Analytica to delete all of the data harvested from user accounts as soon as it learned of the problem. But former Cambridge Analytica business development director Brittany Kaiser testified Tuesday that the U.S. tech giant didn't really try to verify Cambridge Analytica's assurances that it had done so. "I find it incredibly irresponsible that a company with as much money as Facebook ... had no due diligence mechanisms in place for protecting the data of U.K. citizens, U.S. citizens or their users in general," she said. Kaiser suggested that the number of individuals whose Facebook data was misused could be far higher than the 87 million acknowledged by the Silicon Valley giant. In an atmosphere where data abuse was rife, Kaiser told lawmakers she believed the leadership of the Leave.EU campaign had combined data from members of the U.K. Independence Party and customers from two insurance companies, Eldon Insurance and GoSkippy Insurance. The data was then sent the University of Mississippi for analysis. "If the personal data of U.K. citizens who just wanted to buy car insurance was used by GoSkippy and Eldon Insurance for political purposes, as may have been the case, people clearly did not opt in for their data to be used in this way by Leave.EU," she said in written testimony to the committee. Leave.EU's communications director, Andy Wigmore, called Kaiser's statements a "litany of lies." It is how the data was used that alarms some members of the committee and has captured the attention of the public. An expert on propaganda told the committee Monday that Cambridge Analytica used techniques developed by the Nazis to help Trump's presidential campaign, turning Muslims and immigrants into an "artificial enemy" to win support from fearful voters. University of Essex lecturer Emma Briant, who has for a decade studied the SCL Group - a conglomerate of companies, including Cambridge Analytica - interviewed company founder Nigel Oakes when she was doing research for a book. Oakes compared Trump's tactics to those of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in singling out Jews for reprisals. "Hitler attacked the Jews, because ... the people didn't like the Jews," he said on tapes of the interview conducted with Briant. "He could just use them to . leverage an artificial enemy. Well that's exactly what Trump did. He leveraged a Muslim."
More than 100 parts for U.S. space agency NASA's deep-space capsule Orion will be made by 3-D printers, using technology that experts say will eventually become key to efforts to send humans to Mars. U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin, 3-D printing specialist Stratasys, and engineering firm PADT have developed the parts using new materials that can withstand the extreme temperatures and chemical exposure of deep-space missions, Stratasys said Tuesday. "In space, for instance, materials will build up a charge. If that was to shock the electronics on a space craft, there could be significant damage," Scott Sevcik, Vice President Manufacturing Solutions at Stratasys told Reuters. 3-D printing, or additive manufacturing, has been used for making prototypes across a range of industries for many years, but is being increasingly eyed for scale production. The technology can help make light-weight parts made of plastics more quickly and cheaply than traditional assembly lines that require major investments into equipment. "But even more significant is that we have more freedom with the design ... parts can look more organic, more skeletal," Sevcik said. Stratasys' partner Lockheed Martin said the use of 3-D printing on the Orion project would also pay off at other parts of its business. "We look to apply benefits across our programs — missile defense, satellites, planetary probes, especially as we create more and more common products," said Brian Kaplun, additive manufacturing manager at Lockheed Martin Space. Orion is part of NASA's follow-up program to the now-retired space shuttles that will allow astronauts to travel beyond the International Space Station, which flies about 260 miles (420 km) above Earth. The agency's European counterpart, ESA, has suggested that moon rock and Mars dust could be used to 3-D print structures and tools, which could significantly reduce the cost of future space missions because less material would need to be brought along from Earth.