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Updated: 2 hours 36 min ago

South Korea Moves to Ban Cryptocurrency Trading

The South Korean government Thursday said it plans to ban cryptocurrency trading, sending bitcoin prices plummeting and throwing the virtual coin market into turmoil as the nation’s police and tax authorities raided local exchanges on alleged tax evasion. The clampdown in South Korea, a crucial source of global demand for cryptocurrency, came as policymakers around the world struggled to regulate an asset whose value has skyrocketed over the last year. Justice minister Park Sang-ki said the government is preparing a bill to ban trading of the virtual currency on domestic exchanges. “There are great concerns regarding virtual currencies, and justice ministry is basically preparing a bill to ban cryptocurrency trading through exchanges,” said Park at a press conference, according to the ministry’s press office. Once a bill is drafted, legislation for an outright ban of virtual coin trading will require a majority vote of the 297 members of the National Assembly, a process that could take months or even years. ​Cryptocurrency selloff The government’s tough stance triggered a selloff of the cryptocurrency on both local and offshore exchanges. The local price of bitcoin plunged as much as 21 percent in midday trade to 18.3 million won ($17,064.53) after the minister’s comments. It still trades around a 30 percent premium compared to other countries. Bitcoin was down more than 10 percent on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp at $13,199, after earlier dropping as low as $13,120, its weakest since Jan. 2. South Korea’s cryptocurrency-related shares were also hammered. Vidente and Omnitel, which are stakeholders of Bithumb, skidded by the daily trading limit of 30 percent each. Herd behavior a concern Park Nok-sun, a cryptocurrency analyst at NH Investment & Securities, said the herd behavior in South Korea’s virtual coin market has raised concerns. Indeed, bitcoin’s 1,500 percent surge last year has stoked huge demand for cryptocurency in South Korea, drawing college students to housewives and sparking worries of a gambling addiction. “Virtual coins trade at a hefty premium in South Korea, and that is herd behavior showing how strong demand is here,” Park said. “Some officials are pushing for stronger and stronger regulations because they only see more (investors) jumping in, not out.” Police raids There are more than a dozen cryptocurrency exchanges in South Korea, according to Korea Blockchain Industry Association. The proliferation of the virtual currency and the accompanying trading frenzy have raised eyebrows among regulators globally, though many central banks have refrained from supervising cryptocurrencies themselves. The news on South Korea’s proposed ban came as authorities tightened their grip on some of the cryptocurrency exchanges. The nation’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges like Coinone and Bithumb were raided by police and tax agencies this week for alleged tax evasion. The raids follow moves by the finance ministry to identify ways to tax the market that has become as big as the nation’s small-cap Kosdaq index in terms of daily trading volume. Cashing out Some investors appeared to have taken preemptive action. “I have already cashed most of mine (virtual coins) as I was aware that something was coming up in a couple of days,” said Eoh Kyung-hoon, a 23-year old investor. Bitcoin sank on Monday after website CoinMarketCap removed prices from South Korean exchanges, because coins were trading at a premium of about 30 percent in Asia’s fourth largest economy. That created confusion and triggered a broad selloff among investors. An official at Coinone told Reuters that a few officials from the National Tax Service raided the company’s office this week. “Local police also have been investigating our company since last year, they think what we do is gambling,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said and added that Coinone was cooperating with the investigation. Bithumb, the second largest virtual currency operator in South Korea, was also raided by the tax authorities on Wednesday. “We were asked by the tax officials to disclose paperwork and things yesterday,” an official at Bithumb said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. The nation’s tax office and police declined to confirm whether they raided the local exchanges. South Korean financial authorities had previously said they are inspecting six local banks that offer virtual currency accounts to institutions, amid concerns the increasing use of such assets could lead to a surge in crime.

Maine’s Senators Back Restoring Net Neutrality

Maine’s U.S. senators say they are getting behind an effort to restore net neutrality rules. Republican Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King say they support a bipartisan Congressional Review Act resolution to bring back net neutrality, which was repealed by the Federal Communications Commission last month. Collins and King say in a joint statement that protections under net neutrality have allowed businesses in Maine and elsewhere to have equal access to the Internet so they can “innovate, grow and compete in the global economy.” Collins and King wrote to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in December to call on him to cancel plans to repeal net neutrality. Pai has said the move eliminates regulations that are unnecessary. It’s an Obama-era rule that guaranteed equal access to the internet.

Small Companies Compete with Giants at CES

Paradoxically, the tens of thousands of people who flock each year to the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, the popular CES, are not consumers. They are all professionals - exhibitors, developers, engineers, researchers, scientists, investors or inventors, owners of startups. Many come with a small product, hardly more than an idea. But they dream big. VOA’s George Putic talked with a few of them.

Power Outage Hits Giant Tech Show in Las Vegas

What happens to all those internet-connected refrigerators, robots and other devices when the power goes out? Thousands of people attending the world's biggest consumer technology show got a chance to test the battery life of the latest gadgets Wednesday when some showrooms and hallways went dark inside the vast Las Vegas Convention Center. The power has been out for at least an hour in some areas of the annual CES event. Conference organizers said on Twitter that it was an "isolated power outage" they were working to resolve. Dozens of reporters queued quietly for lunch boxes in a darkened press room. The room was dimly lit thanks to emergency overhead lights and the glow of laptops running on battery power. Rick Rohmer, a product engineer with electrical-systems specialist Legrand, said the power outage affected only part of a booth for Qi, a consortium of companies that make wireless chargers. Most of its display was lit as hundreds of attendees passed by in the dark on their way to a brightly lit giant screen TV over the convention center's fully functioning South Hall. "We lucked out," he said. "If our extension cord went over there we'd be out of power." NV Energy, the region's power supplier, hasn't responded to requests for comment.

Companion Robot Aims to Fight Social Isolation Among Elderly

People around the world are living longer, and their quality of life as they grow old is changing. The World Health Organization finds the number of older adults living alone is dramatically increasing which could lead to loneliness, social isolation and depression. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee has details about a solution, a robot companion, available for homes in the not so distant future, featured at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Companion Robot Aims to Fight Isolation Among Elderly

People around the world are living longer, and how they grow old is changing. The World Health Organization finds the number of older adults living alone is dramatically increasing, and fewer multi-generational families are living together. To help the elderly with loneliness, social isolation and depression, an Israeli company, Intuition Robotics, created a robot called ElliQ designed for older adults. Featured at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, ElliQ is named in part after the Norse goddess that represents old age. Described as a "she" by her founder, ElliQ is a tabletop robot that lights up when she hears her name. ElliQ does not have a face, arms or legs, but it talks and tries to keep her human companion active and engaged. "You’ve been sitting all day. You’re not on your track to completing your goal. You should go for a walk," the robot said. The robot does mimic head movements to connect with the user. "She can look down she can look up, she can get excited," explained Dor Skuler, co-founder of Intuition Robotics. He described ElliQ as a proactive social companion. She takes calls, reads emails and plays music for her human companion. Skuler said ElliQ aims to solve a growing problem in many countries around the world because of a global demographic change. "In China through the one child policy, we’re seeing a huge aging of the population." Skuler added, "and Europe has a negative birth rate for a few decades already, so this is by far a global problem." The voice-activated robot comes with a touch-screen tablet through which the user can interact and access the web and social media assisted by ElliQ. Skuler said this robot is not supposed to replace humans, rather, it allows older adults to "stay sharp, keep connected, active and engaged" with their environment to fend off feelings of isolation and being depressed.  The price of the companion robot is still being determined, but Skuler said it will be on the high end of consumer electronics. ElliQ will be tested in the homes of the elderly in the United States and will be commercially available sometime in 2018. 

Twitter, Snapchat Tie Up with Fox to Provide Coverage of FIFA World Cup

Twenty-First Century Fox's Fox Sports is partnering with Twitter to stream a live show and Snap Inc's Snapchat to showcase stories with match-day highlights on the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament to be hosted in Russia later this year. Fox Sports would produce the show, which will be streamed from Moscow's Red Square on each match day and provide previews, recaps and near real-time video highlights for each game, the company said. Fox said the coverage of the tournament, taking place from June 14 to July 15, will be available in the United States and can be seen using the @FOXSports and @FOXSoccer Twitter handles. Fox Sports will also produce magazine-like editions of content for Snapchat's mobile-first audience, called Publisher Stories. The Publisher Stories on Snapchat will record the day-by-day highlights of the monthlong tournament through recaps, previews and features produced specifically for Snap. Snapchat will also produce FIFA World Cup "Our Stories," featuring video highlights of goals and other key moments provided by Fox Sports. Livestreaming has been one of Twitter's biggest focus areas since last year as it seeks to attract new users. The company had previously signed a multi-year deal with the U.S. National Football League to livestream pre-game coverage as well as a 30-minute show. Snapchat has also done something similar by previously partnering with Discovery Communications Inc's Eurosport for a European, multi-language deal that will see Winter Olympics content held this year as part of Snapchat's "stories" feature.

FBI Chief Calls Unbreakable Encryption 'Urgent Public Safety Issue'

The inability of law enforcement authorities to access data from electronic devices due to powerful encryption is an "urgent public safety issue," FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday as he sought to renew a contentious debate over privacy and security. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was unable to access data from nearly 7,800 devices in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 with technical tools despite possessing proper legal authority to pry them open, a growing figure that impacts every area of the agency's work, Wray said during a speech at a cyber security conference in New York. The FBI has been unable to access data in more than half of the devices that it tried to unlock due to encryption, Wray added. "This is an urgent public safety issue," Wray added, while saying that a solution is "not so clear cut." Technology companies and many digital security experts have said that the FBI's attempts to require that devices allow investigators a way to access a criminal suspect's cellphone would harm internet security and empower malicious hackers. U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, have expressed little interest in pursuing legislation to require companies to create products whose contents are accessible to authorities who obtain a warrant. Wray's comments at the International Conference on Cyber Security were his most extensive yet as FBI director about the so-called Going Dark problem, which his agency and local law enforcement authorities for years have said bedevils countless investigations. Wray took over as FBI chief in August. The FBI supports strong encryption and information security broadly, Wray said, but described the current status quo as untenable. "We face an enormous and increasing number of cases that rely heavily, if not exclusively, on electronic evidence," Wray told an audience of FBI agents, international law enforcement representatives and private sector cyber professionals. A solution requires "significant innovation," Wray said, "but I just do not buy the claim that it is impossible." Wray's remarks echoed those of his predecessor, James Comey, who before being fired by President Donald Trump in May frequently spoke about the dangers of unbreakable encryption. Tech companies and many cyber security experts have said that any measure ensuring that law enforcement authorities are able to access data from encrypted products would weaken cyber security for everyone. U.S. officials have said that default encryption settings on cellphones and other devices hinder their ability to collect evidence needed to pursue criminals. The matter came to a head in 2016 when the Justice Department tried unsuccessfully to force Apple to break into an iPhone used by a gunman during a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. The Trump administration at times has taken a tougher stance on the issue than former President Barack Obama's administration. U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in October chastised technology companies for building strongly encrypted products, suggesting Silicon Valley is more willing to comply with foreign government demands for data than those made by their home country.

Democrats Vow to Force Vote on Net Neutrality, Make It a Campaign Issue

U.S. Senate Democrats said on Tuesday they will force a vote later this year on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's reversal of landmark Obama administration net neutrality rules and will try to make it a key issue in the 2018 congressional elections. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said the issue will be a major motivating factor for young voters the party is courting. "We're going to let everyone know where we stand and they stand," Schumer said at a Capitol Hill news conference in Washington. The FCC voted in December along party lines to reverse rules introduced in 2015 that barred internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or offering paid fast lanes. A group of state attorneys general immediately vowed to sue. A trade group representing major tech companies including Facebook, Alphabet and Amazon.com said last week it will back legal challenges to the reversal. The vote in December marked a victory for AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications and hands them power over what content consumers can access over the internet. It marked the biggest win for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in his sweeping effort to undo many telecommunications regulations. Senate Democrats on Tuesday called the FCC decision "un-American" and an "all-out assault on consumers." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, backs the FCC repeal. A reversal of the FCC vote would need the approval of the Senate, U.S. House and President Donald Trump. Trump also backed the FCC action, the White House said last month. The FCC order grants internet providers sweeping new powers to block, throttle or discriminate among internet content, but requires public disclosure of those practices. Internet providers have vowed not to change how consumers get online content. Democrats say net neutrality is essential to protect consumers, while Republicans say the rules hindered investment by providers and were not needed. Democratic Senator Ed Markey said on Tuesday he had 39 co-sponsors to force a vote, but it is not clear when the vote will occur since the new rules will not take effect for at least another three months. "There will be a political price to pay for those who are on the wrong side of history," Markey said. Republicans control the Senate with 51 votes out of the 100-member body. Senator Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, said the issue was resonating with teenagers and college students. "People are mobilizing across the country to save the free and open internet," Schatz said.

Smart Everything at Computer Electronics Show

The new smart electronic gadgets on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas may help drive you into an increasingly connected future.     In the case of Byton, a futuristic smart car that is one of the hits of the CES - a driver steps into a high-tech sensory experience.   From a tablet embedded in the steering wheel and five hand gestures, the motorist controls the vehicle.   Sensors monitor the driver’s heart rate, blood pressure and other vital statistics.   Other features include tiny cameras instead of side view mirrors, and seats that swivel to give the car a lounge-like feeling.   Aiming for the Tesla market, the first Byton electric SUV is expected to go on sale first in China in 2019, selling for $45,000, before becoming available in the United States and Europe in 2020.   US market for smart devices   For the 170,000 attendees at CES - one-third of them from outside the U.S. - there are plenty of other “smart devices.”  This year’s CES demonstrates that entrepreneurs and companies are coming up with new ideas for adding sensors and connectivity to most everyday items.   But will there be a market?   Smart watches and smart speakers dominate the smart device category, and plenty are on display at the CES; however, just about 20 percent of the U.S. market will use some type of wearable device once a month this year, according to eMarketer, a research firm. “Wearable usage will continue to grow, but the growth rate will slow to single digits beginning in 2019,” the firm said.   Mirror that talks back   Phair Tsai is at the CES to show off her firm’s HiMirror, a “smart” beauty mirror.   By taking a photo, HiMirror keeps track of and analyzes the health of the user’s skin. It also displays news feeds and offers makeup tutorials via YouTube.   If you like what you see, HiMirror can let you share your good looks by sending video messages.   Connected shoe   If the shoe fits, wear it - with a smart device. Digitsole sells an insole with a sensor connected to a smartphone that can fit into any shoe. That can help detect whether a worker is tired or in pain, said Karim Oumnia, president of the firm.   If a soldier falls or is injured, “the shoe will immediately send a message for his team to rescue him,” he said. And it is possible to set the shoe’s temperature via the sensors.     “Smart footware is not just for fun,” he said. “It makes your life easier.”   Smart cars, smart mirrors, smart shoes - more indications that we are living in an ever connected world.  

SpaceX: Rocket Performed OK in Secret Satellite Launch

SpaceX is defending its rocket performance during Sunday night's launch of a secret U.S. satellite, responding to media reports that the satellite codenamed Zuma was lost.   SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell says the Falcon 9 rocket "did everything correctly" and suggestions otherwise are "categorically false."   Northrop Grumman — which provided the satellite for an undisclosed U.S. government entity — says it cannot comment on classified missions.   The rocket's first stage completed its job and landed back at Cape Canaveral following liftoff. But no second-stage information was provided because of all the secrecy surrounding the flight.   The Wall Street Journal quotes unidentified congressional officials as saying the satellite apparently did not separate from the rocket's upper second stage, and plunged through the atmosphere and burned up.  

Native Americans, Canada’s First Peoples, Fight to Keep Long Hair

Tiya-Marie Large, a member of the Pheasant Rump Nakota Nation in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, couldn’t understand why her 8-year-old son, Mylon McArthur, came home from school every day in tears. “I’d ask him what was wrong. I’d ask him, ‘Is there anything you want to tell me? I promise I won’t get mad,’” she recalled. But Mylon refused to speak. Large arranged for a meeting with his teacher, during which her son broke down sobbing, finally admitting that his classmates had been bullying him because he wore his long hair in braids. The family had recently moved to Alberta, where Mylon was the only indigenous child in his class. “I had to finally make the decision that I’d rather have him cut his hair than have him become suicidal,” Large said, pointing to the recent rise in teen suicides across Indian country. Mylon decided to make a Facebook video explaining his decision and sending a message to bullies and educators: "You do not define me."  The video quickly went viral (See below). A source of power Hair has special spiritual and cultural significance for tribes, though traditions and styles vary from tribe to tribe. Whether worn long, braided or bound in a knot, most North American indigenous peoples see hair as a source of strength and power. “Hairstyles helped to define both individuals, nations, and societies within those nations,” explained L.G. Moses, professor emeritus of history at Oklahoma State University.  As part of 19th century policies of forced assimilation of indigenous peoples, the U.S. and Canadian governments began what Moses calls an “assault on tribal hairstyles.” “Long hair signaled whether people were civilized, or sadly, in the minds of teachers and bureaucrats, remained ‘blanket’ Indians,” he said, using a disparaging term for Native peoples who retained traditional customs. Beginning in the 1870s, federal officials in Canada and the U.S. removed Native children into off-reservation boarding schools, where they were forced to give up their languages, clothing and long hair. Even today, some public school systems, prisons and some workplaces still require Native Americans to cut their hair. Conrad Eagle Feather, a Sicangu Lakota living on South Dakota’s Rosebud Reservation, recalls taking a job for an organization in California. “I wanted to grow my hair out, but long hair was a violation of the company’s grooming standards,” he said. “I even had a spiritual leader go explain to them why it was important for me to wear long hair. But they said ‘No.’” After the company altered policy to allow a non-Native man to wear a beard, Eagle Feather enlisted the help of a legal organization and ultimately won the right to grow his hair. Turning to social media Michael Linklater, a Nehiyaw (Cree) from Thunderchild First Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada, and a 3-on-3 pro basketball world champion, says he was harassed as a child for wearing his hair in braids. “A lot of people who see indigenous men or boys with long hair see strength, and they see power. And it makes them uncomfortable. So, they feel the need to bring those people down,” he said. Two years ago, after his own boys confessed to being bullied, Linklater decided to take action. In early 2016, he created a Facebook page that has since become a social movement — Boys With Braids. “There needed to be a platform to foster pride in these young men, give them a voice and create some awareness on the issue,” he said, expressing hopes that the movement can put an end to bullying. Boys With Braids has since spread across Canada and into the U.S., sprouting chapters in California, Michigan, New Mexico and South Dakota — states with large Native American populations. On South Dakota’s Rosebud Indian Reservation, for example, the local Boys With Braids chapter invites boys to weekly meetings and events, including horseback riding camps, cooking lessons and even a buffalo hunt, all designed to instill pride not just in hair but all Lakota traditions. Recently, Nikki Lowe of Albuquerque, N.M., whose son has also experienced bullying, teamed up with another mother to host a first-ever Boys with Braids event for Navajo youth — who traditionally wore their hair in a tsiiyee, a knot tied with wool yarn — but more often today wear braids. “We hosted our first event on Dec. 2,” Lowe said. “We invited a drum group, and we had boys make leather key chains in the shape of traditional shields, something they could carry with them to make them feel strong,” she said. In the future, she’s planning on meeting with state educators and expanding into other states. As for Mylon, he has not yet been able to attend a Boys With Braids event but hopes to in the near future. He tells VOA that the bullying has stopped since he cut his hair three months ago. He also announced another decision: “I’ve decided to grow it out again, and I can’t wait!”

Intel CEO: Fixes on Way for Serious Chip Security Flaws

Intel has big plans to steer toward new business in self-driving cars, virtual reality and other cutting-edge technologies. But first it has to pull out of a skid caused by a serious security flaw in its processor chips, which undergird many of the world's smartphones and personal computers. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich opened his keynote talk Monday night at the annual CES gadget show in Las Vegas by addressing the hard-to-fix flaws disclosed by security researchers last week. At an event known for its technological optimism, it was an unusually sober and high-profile reminder of the information security and privacy dangers lurking beneath many of the tech industry's gee-whiz wonders.   Some researchers have argued that the flaws reflect a fundamental hardware defect that can't be fixed short of a recall. But Intel has pushed back against that idea, arguing that the problems can be "mitigated'' by software or firmware upgrades. Companies from Microsoft to Apple have announced efforts to patch the vulnerabilities.   And Krzanich promised fixes in the coming week to 90 percent of the processors Intel has made in the past five years, consistent with an earlier statement from the company . He added that updates for the remainder of those recent processors should follow by the end of January. Krzanich did not address the company's plans for older chips.   To date, he said, Intel has seen no sign that anyone has stolen data by exploiting the two vulnerabilities, known as Meltdown and Spectre. The problems were disclosed last week by Google's Project Zero security team and other researchers. Krzanich commended the "remarkable" collaboration among tech companies to address what he called an "industry-wide" problem.   While Meltdown is believed to primarily affect processors built by Intel, Spectre also affects many of the company's rivals. Flaws affecting the processor chips also endanger the PCs, internet browsers, cloud computing services and other technology that rely on them. Both bugs could be exploited through what's known as a side-channel attack that could extract passwords and other sensitive data from the chip's memory.   Krzanich himself has been in the spotlight over the security issue after it was revealed that he had sold about $39 million in his own Intel stocks and options in late November, before the vulnerability was publicly know. Intel says it was notified about the bugs in June.   The company didn't respond to inquiries about the timing of Krzanich's divestments, but a spokeswoman said it was unrelated to the security flaws.   During his presentation Monday, Krzanich also launched into a flashy and wide-ranging celebration of the way Intel and its partners are harnessing data for futuristic innovations, from 3D entertainment partnerships with Paramount Pictures to virtual-reality collaborations with the 2018 Winter Olympics and a new breakthrough in so-called quantum computing.   A self-driving Ford Fusion rolled onto the stage of the casino theater where Krzanich gave his talk. It's the first of a 100-vehicle test fleet run by Mobileeye, the Israel-based software company that Intel bought for $15 billion last year. Mobileeye processes the information cars "see" from cameras and sensors. A flying taxi — the German-built Volocopter — later lifted from the stage. Then came the drones, in a musical performance that Krzanich said would mark a Guinness record for the "world's first 100-drone indoor lightshow without GPS."    

CES – Sensors and Connectivity Inside the Most Common Things

At CES, the large consumer electronics show happening this week in Las Vegas, companies are showing off their latest products and services amid a crush of visitors. One theme this year – everything can be made better by adding sensors and internet connectivity. Michelle Quinn reports.

Vietnam Sets Up Command Center for Cyberspace Defense

Vietnam announced on Monday the creation of a cyberspace operations command to protect its sovereignty on the Internet, with prime minister citing risks related to the disputed South China Sea and complex regional and global situations. The new unit would "research and predict online wars," the defense ministry said in report on the government website, which also reported Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc's comments. Vietnam is locked in a long-running territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea, which it refers to as the East Sea. While Phuc singled out the South China Sea, he made no mention of China. "To protect the country in the new situation, the Communist Party has set a high priority on protection of the State in cyberspace," the website quoted Phuc as saying at the foundation ceremony for the new unit. In December, Vietnam revealed it had a cyber warfare unit of 10,000 staff, named Force 47, to counter what it said were 'wrong' views on the Internet, local media reported. The government has also called for closer watch over social media networks and sought the removal of content that it deemed offensive, but there has been little sign of it silencing criticism aired on global platforms. In August, Vietnam's president said the country needed to pay greater attention to controlling "news sites and blogs with bad and dangerous content," amid a crackdown on critics of the one-party state.

China Says It Shut Down 128,000 Websites in 2017

China shut down nearly 128,000 websites that contained obscene and other “harmful” information in 2017, the official Xinhua news agency reported late on Monday, citing government data. Xinhua said 30.9 million illegal publications were confiscated in 2017, while 1,900 people were subject to criminal penalties, according to figures from the national office in charge of combating pornography and illegal publications. Under China's President Xi Jinping’s leadership, China has tightened censorship and controls of cyberspace as part of efforts to maintain “social stability.” But while the government says its rules are aimed at ensuring national security and stability, human rights organizations have warned that the country’s tough laws governing the internet amount to repressive measures aimed at quashing dissent. In Washington-based Freedom House’s 2017 report on internet freedom, China was designated the “worst abuser of internet freedom” for the third consecutive year. “New regulations increased pressure on companies to verify users’ identities and restrict banned content and services,” Freedom House said in its report. China has more than 730 million internet users, boasts the largest e-commerce market in the world and has consumers who enthusiastically embrace mobile digital technology. 

Google Faces Lawsuit Accusing It of Discriminating Against Conservative White Men

Two former employees of Google have accused the tech giant of discriminating against conservative white men, in a class action lawsuit filed Monday.   One of the accusers, James Damore, was fired from the company last year after writing a memo defending the gender gap in Silicon Valley tech jobs as possibly a matter of biological differences between men and women.   Damore and David Gudeman, another former engineer at the Google, filed the suit at the Santa Clara Superior Court in California, alleging discrimination and retaliation.   The two argue in their suit that Google uses illegal hiring quotas to fill jobs with women and minority applicants. "Google's management goes to extreme — and illegal — lengths to encourage hiring managers to take protected categories such as race and/or gender into consideration as determinative hiring factors, to the detriment of Caucasian and male employees," the complaint stated.   The suit also accuses the company of not protecting employees with conservative viewpoints, including employees who support U.S. President Donald Trump.   "Damore, Gudeman and other class members were ostracized, belittled, and punished for their heterodox political views, and for the added sin of their birth circumstances of being Caucasians and/or males," the lawsuit said.   Google said it looks forward to defending itself against the allegations in court.   Google fired Damore in August after he wrote an internal memo that was later made public in which he said that “genetic differences” may explain “why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.”   Google chief Sundar Pichai said "portions of the memo violate our code of conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace."   In Friday’s lawsuit, Damore said his memo was intended to remain internal and said he wrote it as a response to a request for feedback about a recent diversity and inclusion summit he attended.

Israeli Company Says it Has Produced Tiniest Cherry Tomato

They say bigger is better, but in the succulent world of cherry tomatoes, one Israeli company is going smaller than ever before. The "drop tomato" is about the size of a blueberry and the Kedma company in the country's southern Arava desert says it is the smallest one ever cultivated in Israel, perhaps even in the world. It's a point of pride in a country known for its agricultural innovation, where fruits and vegetables are taken seriously and where several strands of the cherry tomato were first invented.   "The idea is that it is comfortable," said Ariel Kidron, a Kedma grower. "You can throw it in a salad, you don't need to cut it. It just explodes in your mouth."   The seed, originally developed in Holland, was modified to match the arid growing conditions in southern Israel. Rami Golan, of the Central and Northern Arava Research and Development center, who accompanied the project, said it was definitely the smallest ever to be grown in Israel — where tomatoes are incredibly popular.   The tiny tomato, smaller than a one shekel Israeli coin, is offered in red and yellow varieties and will be presented to the public at a three-day international agricultural fair in Israel later this month. Early indications are it could be a big hit.   Shaul Ben Aderet, a well-known Israeli chef who owns three restaurants, including Tel Aviv's "Blue Rooster," got some early samples and says the new strand is packed with flavor and will spawn an infinite number of new recipes. He offered it sizzled in a pan, baked into focaccia bread and as a straight-up snack.   "It's very simple, it's clean, it's nice, it's sexy," he said. In a blind taste test alongside two sweets, he said, "they would say the tomato is a candy, that's for sure."    

Apple Investors Urge Action to Curb Child Gadget Addiction

Two major Apple investors have urged the iPhone maker to take action to curb growing smartphone addiction among children, highlighting growing concern about the effects of gadgets and social media on youngsters. New York-based Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers' Retirement System, or CalSTRS, said Monday in open letter to Apple that the company must offer more choices and tools to help children fight addiction to its devices.   "There is a developing consensus around the world including Silicon Valley that the potential long-term consequences of new technologies need to be factored in at the outset, and no company can outsource that responsibility," the letter said. "Apple can play a defining role in signaling to the industry that paying special attention to the health and development of the next generation is both good business and the right thing to do."   The two investors collectively control $2 billion worth of Apple shares.   Among their proposals to Apple: establish an expert committee including child development specialists; offer Apple's vast information to researchers; and enhance mobile device software so that parents have more options to protect their children's health.   The letter cited various studies and surveys on how the heavy usage of smartphones and social media negatively affects children's mental and physical health. Examples include distractions by digital technologies in the classroom, a decreased ability of students to focus on educational tasks, and higher risks of suicide and depression.   The investors' call reflects growing concerns around the world about what the long-term impact will be of using mobile devices and social media, especially for those who start to use smartphones at an early age.   While tech companies have not acknowledged openly that their gadgets may be addictive, some Silicon Valley insiders have begun to speak to media about how gadgets, mobile applications and social media sites are designed to be addictive and to keep users' attention as long as possible.

Scientists Breeding Climate Change Resistant Coral

Coral reefs support nearly a quarter of all marine species, but because of climate change, half of the world’s reefs have disappeared in the past 50 years. With that problem not going away, scientists are looking for ways to make better coral that can resist the rising temperatures. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

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