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Entrepreneurs Flock to Las Vegas for Giant Consumer Electronics Show

Packed inside an SUV and heading to Las Vegas, employees of CaptureProof, a San Francisco startup, are part of a time-honored technology industry tradition — attending the giant consumer electronics show that takes over the Las Vegas strip every January. Starting Monday, more than 180,000 people are expected to attend CES — the show once know as the Consumer Electronics Show — with about one-third of them international visitors. There will be 4,000 exhibitors in every conceivable tech category — gaming, self-driving cars, digital health, digital sports, drones, robots. Outside official CES, many companies set up their own events in hotels throughout Las Vegas. The result is a crush of people and cars, a cacophony of sounds and logos, as everyone tries to get each others' attention.   And that is true for CaptureProof, as well. This is its fourth year at CES, the only consumer-focused show that it attends. The small company, which offers an app to help doctors and patients to visually track symptoms, is a regular at medical and investor shows. But it has to go to CES, says the firm's CEO. There's potential partners and clients to meet — and the possibility that a conversation begins on the convention floor that leads to other business in a new direction. Getting noticed "Every innovation lead of every company walks through CES and spends at least 24 hours there," said Meghan Conroy, CaptureProof's CEO.   Costing $4,500, the 10-foot by 10-foot booth in the Sands Expo will include a make-believe doctor's waiting room, with old magazines and uncomfortable chairs. With a message that no one loves doctor's waiting rooms, the company pitches itself as a more efficient way for doctors and patients to connect outside an in-person visit. At its booth, a giant smartphone (really a 43-inch TV screen) will show the CaptureProof app as the more appealing alternative to waiting around. "Getting the right patient to the right doctor is what we are talking about at CES," Conroy said.   Packing away food, water Once at CES, the CaptureProof staff has to be self-sustaining, much like going camping, said Conroy. She has put thought into the details — the thickness of the booth's floor padding, tables that need to double as storage space, the amount of snacks and water to stow away. The total cost to the company, including the booth, the carpet pads, the staff, hotel and travel is $12,000. Rising above the fray From prior years, the company has learned it has to put its logos and company name at least four feet off the ground — to be seen above the masses of people. Part of the marketing strategy is giving away things affixed with the firm's logo — bags, pens, stickers — so that people walk around advertising the firm. Like many who have been to CES, Conroy acknowledges, "It's awful." But she adds: "Everyone is there. You never know who you will meet."

New Tech Gadgets Are Following the Sound of Your Voice

What's the hottest thing in the world of technology these days? Your voice. Some of the most popular gadgets over the holiday season were smart speakers with digital assistants from Amazon and Google . Apple is coming out with its own speaker this year; Microsoft and Samsung have partnered on another. As the annual Consumer Electronics Show kicks off in Las Vegas this week, manufacturers are expected to unveil even more voice-controlled devices - speakers and beyond - as Amazon and Google make their digital assistants available on a wider array of products. If these prove popular, you'll soon be able to order around much more of your house, including kitchen appliances, washing machines and other devices. CES is expected to draw more than 170,000 people, as some 4,000 exhibitors showcase their wares over the equivalent of nearly 50 football fields, or more than 11 New York city blocks. The show formally opens Tuesday, with media previews starting Sunday. While major tech companies such as Apple and Google typically don't make big announcements at CES, their technologies will be powering products and services from startups and other small companies. Expect more gadgets using Google's Android operating software and Google's digital assistant, for instance, and products that work with Apple's HomeKit, a smart-home system getting a boost with the coming launch of Apple's HomePod smart speaker. Here's what else to expect at CES: Artificial Intelligence Computers that learn your preferences and anticipate your needs are no longer the stuff of science fiction. Consumers are seeing practical applications in voice-assisted speakers such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home. These systems will get more useful as manufacturers design new ways to control their products with voice commands. You might also see hints of where AI is heading. Steve Koenig, senior director of market research at CES organizer Consumer Technology Association, says that as more people use these AI systems, companies have more data to better train the machines. Auto makers will also demonstrate self-driving vehicles propelled by AI. CES is increasing the space for self-driving technologies by more than a third this year. Startups are expected to unveil earphones that promise real-time translations of conversations in different languages, much as Google's Pixel Buds now do, but only for Google's Pixel phones. There are also conference sessions devoted to high-tech retailing, including the importance of collecting and analyzing data on customers. Smart Everything Cars, lights, washing machines and other everyday items are getting internet connections. That could mean checking what's left in your fridge from the grocery store, for instance. Expect more appliances and tasks for them to do online. As more devices get connected, there's greater concern for security. We'll likely see more products and services designed to protect these smart-home devices from hacking. Beyond that, companies will showcase the potential of smartening up entire cities so that maintenance crews can remotely detect roads needing repairs, and motorists can view and reserve parking spaces ahead of time. Better yet, how about traffic lights that aren't set with timers, but reflect actual traffic and pedestrian flows? For the first time, CES has an area devoted to smart cities, with more than 40 companies set to exhibit. The smart-cities concept has been making the rounds at several tech shows, but what remains unanswered is when it will actually begin happening - and who will pay for it. Consumer Gadgets CES is typically when Samsung, LG and other manufacturers announce their TV lineups for the year. In a bid to get consumers to upgrade sooner, higher-end models will come with fancy technologies going by such names as "4K," ''HDR" and "OLED." Many sets will come with voice controls. They will sit alongside basic sets that work just fine for regular viewing. Don't expect new iPhones or flagship Galaxy models. Apple and Samsung typically announce those at their own events. But CES is the place for less-known and lower-cost Android phones, along with tablets, laptops and other personal computers, not to mention storage drives and other accessories. There will also be virtual-reality and augmented-reality technologies, some aimed at sports fans who want to feel they're more part of the game. And while a few companies like Apple and Fitbit are currently dominant in wearable devices, many startups are eager to challenge them with new approaches for tracking fitness and medical issues. There should also be no shortage of flying drones overhead and scurrying robots underfoot. There will even be a robot that folds your laundry - though at a snail's pace of one shirt every two minutes. Behind the Scenes Although CES is about consumer electronics, consumers will never see many of the technologies on display. Network-equipment makers, for instance, might use the show to display technologies for next-generation 5G wireless networks, which promise to be much faster than the existing 4G LTE. Phones that can take advantage of 5G won't be around for a few more years. Gary Shapiro, the head of the Consumer Technology Association, said that given the changing nature of technology, about a third of CES is now about back-end business deals rather than direct-to-consumer products. "Twenty years ago, people bought products sold at retail stores in very defined categories," he said. "Now every company and business defines itself as a tech company."  

Chemical Sniffer Machine Detects Bombs and Illegal Drugs

Dogs are often used in airports to sniff out explosives or illegal drugs. But a high-tech machine has been developed that can "sniff" the air, so baggage handlers and bomb experts can check luggage and containers without touching them. VOA's Deborah Block has more.

Social Media's Impact on Children

Researchers in Europe and the U.S. say the use of social media among preteens and teenagers is on the rise, while internet companies, authorities and parents are slow to recognize its potentially harmful impact. VOA's George Putic reports.

Tech Companies Gear up for CES, the Massive Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

Nearly 4,000 companies and 170,000 people will descend on Las Vegas next week for CES, the massive consumer electronics show. For many small technology companies, the event is a big opportunity to raise their profile. VOA's Michelle Quinn visits one San Francisco company to learn how they prepare for "the Super Bowl of conferences."

Twitter Says Accounts of World Leaders Have Special Status

Social media giant Twitter has reiterated its stance that accounts belonging to world leaders have special status, pushing back against calls from some users for the company to ban U.S. President Donald Trump.  In a blog post Friday, Twitter said it would not block the accounts of world leaders even if their statements were “controversial” because of a need to promote discussions about public policy.  ​“Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate,” Twitter said. It said such a move would also not silence a world leader, but it “would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.” “Twitter is here to serve and help advance the global, public conversation. Elected world leaders play a critical role in that conversation because of their outsized impact on our society,” the post said.  The company has previously said that it considers whether a post is newsworthy and of public interest before deciding whether to remove it.  Twitter did not specifically mention Trump in its statement. The debate over Trump's tweets grew on Wednesday, when he tweeted that he had a “much bigger” nuclear button than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Critics said the tweet violated Twitter's ban against threats of violence.  Last month, Twitter began enforcing new rules to remove “hateful” content on the network, including posts that promote violence.  The company said Friday that it reviews all tweets, including those of world leaders. “We review tweets by leaders within the political context that defines them, and enforce our rules accordingly,” the statement said. A White House spokeswoman said she did not expect there to be any White House comment on the Twitter statement.  Pete Heinlein at the White House contributed to this report.

Businesses Delay Patch, Fear Fix Will Be Worse Than Chip Flaw

Chances that a fix to a major microchip security flaw may slow down or crash some computer systems are leading some businesses to hold off installing software patches, fearing the cure may be worse than the original problem. Researchers this week revealed security problems with chips from Intel Corp and many of its rivals, sending businesses, governments and consumers scrambling to understand the extent of the threat and the cost of fixes. Rather than rushing to put on patches, a costly and time-intensive endeavor for major systems, some businesses are testing the fix, leaving their machines vulnerable. "If you start applying patches across your whole fleet without doing proper testing, you could cause systems to crash, essentially putting all of your employees out of work," said Ben Johnson, co-founder of cyber-security startup Obsidian. Flaws not 'critical' Banks and other financial institutions spent much of the week studying the vulnerabilities, said Greg Temm, chief information risk officer with the Financial Services Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center, an industry group that shares data on emerging cyber threats. The flaws affect virtually all computers and mobile devices, but are not considered "critical" because there is no evidence that hackers have figured out how to exploit them, said Temm, whose group works with many of the world's largest banks. "It's like getting a diagnosis of high blood pressure, but not having a cardiac arrest," Temm said. "We're taking it seriously, but it's not something that is killing us." Testing the patches Banks are testing the patches to see if they slow operations and, if so, what changes need to be made, Temm said. For instance, computers could be added to networks to make up for the lack of processor speed in individual machines, he added. Some popular antivirus software programs are incompatible with the software updates, causing desktop and laptop computers to freeze up and show a "blue screen of death," researcher Johnson said. Antivirus software makers responded by rolling out fixes to make their products compatible with the updated operating systems, he said. In a blog posting Friday, Microsoft Corp said it would only offer security patches to Windows customers whose antivirus software suppliers had confirmed with Microsoft that the patch would not crash the customer's machine. "If you have not been offered the security update, you may be running incompatible antivirus software, and you should consult the software vendor," Microsoft advised in the blog post. Government agencies also are watching. The Ohio Attorney General's office is monitoring the situation, a spokesman said by email. "Intel continues to believe that the performance impact of these updates is highly workload-dependent and, for the average computer user, should not be significant and will be mitigated over time," the world's No. 1 chipmaker said on Thursday in a release. ​No significant patch impact It cited Inc, Apple Inc, Alphabet Inc's and Microsoft as saying that most users had seen no significant impact on performance after installing the patches. The cloud vendors are among a group of firms that quickly patched their technology to mitigate against the threat from one of those vulnerabilities, dubbed Meltdown, which only affects machines running Intel chips. Major software makers have not issued patches to protect against the second vulnerability, dubbed Spectre, which affects nearly all computer chips made in the last decade, including those from Intel, Advanced Micro Devices Inc, and ARM-architecture manufacturers, including Qualcomm Inc.  However, Google, Firefox and Microsoft have implemented measures in most web browsers to stop hackers from launching remote attacks using Spectre. Governments and security experts say they have seen no cyber attacks seeking to exploit either vulnerability, though they expect attempts by hackers as they digest technical data about the security flaws. One key risk is that hackers will develop code that can infect the personal computers of people visiting malicious websites, said Chris Wysopal, chief technology officer of cyber security firm Veracode. He advised PC owners to install the patches to protect against such potential attacks. Computer servers at large enterprises are less at risk, he said, because those systems are not used to surf the web and can only be infected in a Meltdown attack if a hacker has breached that network. Operating system protection Microsoft has issued a patch for its Windows operating system, and Apple desktop users with the most recent operating system are protected. Google has said most of its Chromebook laptops are already protected and that the rest would be soon. Apple said it planned to release a patch to its Safari web browser within coming days to protect Mac and iOS users from Spectre. While third-party browsers from Google and others can protect Mac users from Spectre, all major web browsers for Apple's iOS devices depend on receiving a patch from Apple. Until then, hundreds of millions of iPhone and iPad users will be exposed to potential Spectre attacks while browsing the web.

Internet Association to Join Expected Net Neutrality Lawsuit

The Internet Association, a trade group representing companies such as Google parent Alphabet Inc and Facebook Inc, said on Friday it intends to join an expected lawsuit against a decision to roll back net neutrality rules. Several states including New York, and public interest advocacy groups have said they intend to sue to stop the mid-December ruling by the Federal Communications Commission. The approval of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's proposal in a 3-2 vote marked a victory for internet service providers such as AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc, handing them power over what content consumers can access.  Democrats, Hollywood and companies such as Google parent Alphabet and Facebook had urged Pai, a Republican appointed by U.S. President Donald Trump, to keep the Obama-era rules barring service providers from blocking, slowing access to or charging more for certain content. "The final version of Chairman Pai’s rule, as expected, dismantles popular net neutrality protections for consumers. This rule defies the will of a bipartisan majority of Americans and fails to preserve a free and open internet," the Internet Association said in a statement. The new rules give internet service providers sweeping powers to change how consumers access the internet but must have new transparency requirements that will require them to disclose any changes to consumers. Internet Association members also include Airbnb, Etsy Inc, and several dozen online and social media companies.

Tech Startups Hope to Impress at CES

The Consumer Electronics show opens this weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada. There are a host of new tech startups descending on the city, hoping to become the next big thing. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

Apple to Issue Fix for iPhones, Macs at Risk From Chip Flaw

Apple Inc. will release a patch for the Safari web browser on its iPhones, iPads and Macs within days, it said Thursday, after major chipmakers disclosed flaws that leave nearly every modern computing device vulnerable to hackers. On Wednesday, Alphabet Inc.'s Google and other security researchers disclosed two major chip flaws, one called Meltdown affecting only Intel Corp. chips and one called Spectre affecting nearly all computer chips made in the last decade. The news sparked a sell-off in Intel's stock as investors tried to gauge the costs to the chipmaker. In a statement on its website, Apple said all Mac and iOS devices were affected by both Meltdown and Spectre. But the most recent operating system updates for Mac computers, Apple TVs, iPhones and iPads protect users against the Meltdown attack and do not slow down the devices, it added. Meltdown does not affect the Apple Watch. Macs and iOS devices are vulnerable to Spectre attacks through code that can run in web browsers. Apple said it would issue a patch to its Safari web browser for those devices "in the coming days."

Intel Shares Fall as Investors Worry About Costs of Chip Flaw

Intel Corp shares fell nearly 2 percent Thursday as investors worried about the potential financial liability and reputational hit from recently disclosed security flaws in its widely used microprocessors. The largest chipmaker had confirmed Wednesday that flaws reported by researchers could allow hackers to steal sensitive information from computers, phones and other devices. Apple Inc, Microsoft Corp and other software makers have issued patches to protect against the vulnerabilities. Intel may be on the hook for costs stemming from lawsuits claiming that the patches would slow computers and effectively force consumers to buy new hardware, and big customers will likely seek compensation from Intel for any software or hardware fixes they make, security experts said. "The potential liability is big for Intel," said Eric Johnson, dean of Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management. "Everybody will be scrambling over the next few days to figure out just how big it is." Intel has said that the patches for the bugs would slow its chips down somewhat but that most users will not notice. Amazon Web Services (AWS), the largest seller of cloud computing services, said in a statement it does not "expect meaningful performance impact for most customer workloads." Microsoft and Alphabet Inc's Google both said in statements on their websites that they expect few performance problems for most of their cloud computing customers. Financial repercussions But the incident is likely to spur cloud companies to press Intel for lower prices on chips in future talks, said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh, which owns shares in Intel. "What [Intel's cloud customers] are going to say is, 'You wronged us, we hate you, but if we can get a discount, we'll still buy from you,'" Forrest said. Forrest also expects Intel will have to increase its chip development spending to focus on security. Government agencies and security experts said they knew of no cyberattacks that had exploited the vulnerabilities. Financial services firms were studying information on the vulnerabilities to determine how to best respond, said the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center, a global industry group known as FS-ISAC that shares data on cyberthreats. Banks and other firms are trying to understand what it will cost to respond to the issue, FS-ISAC said in an emailed statement. "In addition to the security considerations raised by this design flaw, performance degradation is expected, which could require more processing power for affected systems to compensate and maintain current baseline performance," FS-ISAC said. "There will need to be consideration and balance between fixing the potential security threat vs. the performance and other possible impact to systems." Lawsuit filed Lawyers filed a lawsuit in San Jose, California, federal court on Wednesday that sought class-action status and compensation for people who had bought vulnerable Intel chips or computers that came with them already installed. Intel did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday about the lawsuit. While more lawsuits are expected, Intel's biggest customers are likely to quietly seek compensation for any harm caused by the vulnerabilities, including costs to patch machines or replace microprocessors, Johnson said. Legal experts said that consumers would have to prove concrete damages and harm to proceed with claims. Intel shares fell 1.8 percent, following a 3.4 percent decline Wednesday. Shares in rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc climbed 4.9 percent as investors speculated the No. 2 maker of microprocessors would woo customers away from Intel. Still, researchers had said some of AMD's chips had one of the two vulnerabilities disclosed on Wednesday, as do processors from ARM Holdings.

YouTube Star Logan Paul Steps Away From Posting After Outcry

YouTube star Logan Paul has stepped away from posting videos following an outcry when he uploaded images of what appeared to be the body of someone who killed themselves in a Japanese forest. Paul took to Twitter on Wednesday to say he was suspending his video blog "for now" and "taking time to reflect." A petition on that demands his YouTube channel be deleted had been signed by more than 125,000 people by Thursday morning. Paul created a furor when he posted a video of him in a forest near Mount Fuji showing what seemed to be a body hanging from a tree. The video was viewed some 6 million times before being removed from Paul's YouTube channel, a verified account with more than 15 million subscribers. A storm of criticism followed despite two apologies, with commenters saying Paul seemed disrespectful and that his initial apology was inadequate. In Paul's initial apology, he said he had wanted to raise awareness about suicide and possibly save lives, and he denied his goal was to drive clicks to his social media content. "I thought I could make a positive ripple on the internet, not cause a monsoon of negativity," he said in his Twitter post. "I don't expect to be forgiven. I'm simply here to apologize," he said on the more somber video apology uploaded on YouTube and Twitter late Tuesday. "None of us knew how to react or how to feel."

Chicken Waste Could Generate Power Plant Electricity

Coal-fired power plants release greenhouse gases into the air, causing pollution and contributing to climate change. But as much as 10 percent of the coal used in power stations could be replaced ... by chicken waste. VOA's Deborah Block has a report.

Security Flaws Put Virtually All Phones, Computers at Risk, Researchers Say

Security researchers on Wednesday disclosed a set of security flaws that they said could let hackers steal sensitive information from nearly every modern computing device containing chips from Intel Corp., Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and ARM Holdings. One of the bugs is specific to Intel but another affects laptops, desktop computers, smartphones, tablets and internet servers alike. Intel and ARM insisted that the issue was not a design flaw, but it will require users to download a patch and update their operating system to fix. "Phones, PCs — everything is going to have some impact, but it'll vary from product to product," Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said in an interview with CNBC Wednesday afternoon. Researchers with Alphabet Inc.'s Google Project Zero, in conjunction with academic and industry researchers from several countries, discovered two  flaws. The first, called Meltdown, affects Intel chips and lets hackers bypass the hardware barrier between applications run by users and the computer's memory, potentially letting hackers read a computer's memory and steal passwords. The second, called Spectre, affects chips from Intel, AMD and ARM and lets hackers potentially trick otherwise error-free applications into giving up secret information. The researchers said Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. had patches ready for users for desktop computers affected by Meltdown. Microsoft declined to comment and Apple did not immediately return requests for comment. Daniel Gruss, one of the researchers at Graz University of Technology in Austria who discovered Meltdown, said in an interview with Reuters that the flaw was "probably one of the worst CPU bugs ever found." Specter a long-term issue Gruss said Meltdown was the more serious problem in the short term but  could be decisively stopped with software patches. Specter, the broader bug that applies to nearly all computing devices, is harder for hackers to take advantage of but less easily patched and will be a bigger problem in the long term, he said. Speaking on CNBC, Intel's Krzanich said Google researchers told Intel of the flaws "a while ago" and that Intel had been testing fixes that device makers who use its chips will push out next week. Before the problems became public, Google on its blog said Intel and others planned to disclose the issues on January 9. The flaws were first reported by The Register, a tech publication. It also reported that the updates to fix the problems could cause Intel chips to operate 5 percent to 30 percent more slowly. Intel denied that the patches would bog down computers based on Intel chips. "Intel has begun providing software and firmware updates to mitigate these exploits," Intel said in a statement. "Contrary to some reports, any performance impacts are workload-dependent, and, for the average computer user, should not be significant and will be mitigated over time." ARM spokesman Phil Hughes said that patches had already been shared with the companies' partners, which include many smartphone manufacturers. "This method only works if a certain type of malicious code is already running on a device and could at worst result in small pieces of data being accessed from privileged memory," Hughes said in an email. AMD chips are also affected by at least one variant of a set of security flaws but that can be patched with a software update. The company said it believes there "is near zero risk to AMD products at this time." Google's report Google said in a blog post that Android phones running the latest security updates are protected, as are its own Nexus and Pixel phones with the latest security updates. Gmail users do not need to take any additional action to protect themselves, but users of its Chromebooks, Chrome web browser and many of its Google Cloud services will need to install updates. The defect affects the so-called kernel memory on Intel x86 processor chips manufactured over the past decade, allowing users of normal applications to discern the layout or content of protected areas on the chips, The Register reported, citing unnamed programmers. That could make it possible for hackers to exploit other security bugs or, worse, expose secure information such as passwords, thus compromising individual computers or even entire server networks. Dan Guido, chief executive of cybersecurity consulting firm Trail of Bits, said that businesses should quickly move to update vulnerable systems, saying he expects hackers to quickly develop code they can use to launch attacks that exploit the vulnerabilities. "Exploits for these bugs will be added to hackers' standard toolkits," said Guido. Shares in Intel were down by 3.4 percent following the report but nudged back up 1.2 percent to $44.70 in after-hours trading, while shares in AMD were up 1 percent to $11.77, shedding many of the gains they had made earlier in the day when reports suggested its chips were not affected. It was not immediately clear whether Intel would face any significant financial liability arising from the reported flaw. "The current Intel problem, if true, would likely not require CPU replacement in our opinion. However the situation is fluid," Hans Mosesmann of Rosenblatt Securities in New York said in a note, adding it could hurt the company's reputation.

Blackberry Surges on Deal With Baidu for Self-driving Cars

BlackBerry Ltd and Chinese internet search firm Baidu Inc on Wednesday signed a deal to jointly develop self-driving vehicle technology, sending BlackBerry's Toronto-listed shares up 13 percent to a four-year high. The deal follows similar agreements with firms including Qualcomm Inc, Denso and Aptiv Plc to develop autonomous-driving technology with BlackBerry's QNX software, which are expected to start generating revenue in 2019. Investors and analysts are closely watching what comes of those agreements amid expectations that QNX could become a key technology in the burgeoning self-driving vehicle industry, serving as the operating system for computer chips used to run self-driving vehicles. QNX will be the operating system for Apollo, a platform for self-driving vehicles that Baidu announced in April and has billed as the "Android" of the autonomous driving industry. "The opportunity is global, it's for a very large market and I think it's a very solid win for BlackBerry," said CIBC Capital Markets analyst Todd Coupland. Apollo has since signed up several major automakers, including Ford Motor Co, Hyundai Motor Group and several Chinese carmakers. QNX has long been used to run car infotainment consoles. BlackBerry has recently developed the software to run sophisticated computer chips for autos that manage multiple safety-critical systems. BlackBerry shares rose 13 percent in Toronto to C$16.95, their sharpest one-day gain since April and highest close since March 2013. The two companies said they will also integrate Baidu's CarLife, a leading smartphone integration software for connected cars in China, its conversational AI system and high definition maps with BlackBerry's infotainment platform.  

One Difference Between 2009 vs 2018 Iran Protests? 48 Million Smartphones

In 2009, the world watched as Iranians marching in the streets turned to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to organize and share information. The technology-assisted protests were dubbed the first “Twitter revolution." Flash forward to 2018 and technology again is playing a role in demonstrations sweeping cities across Iran. But much has changed in the intervening years when it comes to the communication tools used by Iranian citizens for organizing and publicizing protests. Here are some of the main changes: 1. The rise of smartphones has brought more Iranians on to the internet In 2009, fewer than 15 percent of Iranians had internet access, according to the World Bank. While Twitter was used to get news of the protests out to the world, it is unclear how much of a role it or any service played to help organize political actions. Word of mouth, in some accounts, as well as SMS messaging over cellphones (and just 30 percent of Iranians owned a cell phone) played a larger role than internet services. Now, with the advent of smartphones in Iran - about half of Iranians, or 48 million people, have smartphones. More than 50 percent of Iranians are online. 2. An explosion in messaging options In 2009, Facebook and Twitter were relatively new with Iranians accessing the services mostly on their desktop computers. As the 2009 protests unfolded, the Obama administration asked Twitter to delay an update that would have taken the service offline to allow Iranians to continue to use it. Now, Iranian citizens have a number of ways of receiving and sending messages – straight from the device they carry in their pockets. Of these newer services, the most popular in Iran is Telegram, an instant messaging service that offers encrypted secret chats and channels, where people discuss news and current events. By one count, more than 100,000 Iranian channels are on Telegram. Facebook’s Instagram is the second most popular service. “Telegram channels are frequently used for organizing protests and for sharing political opinion,” said Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. As the protests continued, the Iranian government shut down Telegram and Instagram. But other messaging apps give users options. “Regime in Iran can shut down signal, telegram, etc., but differently from 2009, the whole country is connected and they have a long list of other messaging apps to use,” tweeted Jared Cohen, founder and chief executive of Jigsaw, an Alphabet company, and a senior fellow on the Council of Foreign Relations. “This time around, it's much harder to win a game of technology wack-a-mole.” And indeed, the head of Telegram took to Twitter on Tuesday to suggest users go to Whatsapp, which “remains fully accessible in Iran.” 3. Wider adoption of anti-filtering tools Since the 2009 Green Movement, more Iranians have access to anti-censorship technology, such as VPNs and proxies, servers that transmit content that can evade government controls. “Iranian internet users are making use of a wider variety of circumvention tools that allow for selective access to blocked resources,” said Alp Toker, founder of, a digital rights group. “This could be down to a more mature understanding of internet filtering that has developed since the Green Movement protests after 2009, supported by domestic technical expertise and earlier initiatives to develop tools for Iran,” Toker said. “This suggests that workarounds for Iran's internet filters have become a way of life for many mobile and desktop internet users.” 4. Dangers exist for Iranians using mobile technology With more communication technologies available to Iranians, they are more regulated and less open than they were in 2009, says Toker. Mobile devices are more restricted than computers, making it more difficult to circumvent Iran’s internet filters, he added. In addition, many Iranians are using outdated iPhone devices and skipping software security updates, which means they may be more vulnerable to state-sponsored hacking and surveillance, Toker said. Since 2009, the Iranian government has worked to create its own internet service and restricted content it considers objectionable on commercial services. “Iran's own strict regime of internet filters, but also U.S. sanctions limiting the transfer and sale of technology and security products, are likely contributing factors that mean the choke points are still an effective mechanism for mass control,” Toker said.

What’s Next in the Robotics Industry?

The robotics industry has made impressive advancements in 2017, and that's expected to continue as robots are becoming more sophisticated, doing more complicated tasks and spreading almost everywhere. Faiza Elmasry has the story. Faith Lapidus narrates.

China's WeChat Denies Storing User Chats

Tencent Holdings' WeChat, China's most popular messenger app, on Tuesday denied storing users' chat histories, after a top businessman was quoted in media reports as saying he believed Tencent was monitoring everyone's account. "WeChat does not store any users' chat history. That is only stored in users' mobiles, computers and other terminals," WeChat said in a post on the social media platform. "WeChat will not use any content from user chats for big data analysis. Because of WeChat's technical model that does not store or analyze user chats, the rumor that 'we are watching your WeChat everyday' is pure misunderstanding." Li Shufu, chairman of Geely Holdings, owner of the Volvo car brand, was quoted in Chinese media on Monday as saying Tencent Chairman Ma Huateng "must be watching all our WeChats every day". Like all Chinese social media platforms, WeChat is required to censor public posts deemed "illegal" by the Communist Party. WeChat's privacy policy says it may need to retain and disclose users' information "in response to a request by a government authority, law enforcement agency or similar body". WeChat did not immediately respond to a request for further comment. According to a report by Amnesty International, Tencent ranked at the bottom of 11 tech firms running the world's most popular messenger apps for how they use encryption to protect user privacy. China's cyber watchdog in September announced a new rule making chat group administrators and companies accountable for breaches of content rules. In the same month it handed down maximum penalties to tech firms including Tencent, Baidu Inc and Weibo Corp for failing to properly censor online content, and asked them to increase content auditing measures.

Minister: UK May Use Taxes to Get Tech Giants to Do More to Fight Extremism

Britain may impose new taxes on tech giants like Google and Facebook unless they do more to combat online extremism by taking down material aimed at radicalizing people or helping them to prepare attacks, the country's security minister said. Ben Wallace accused tech firms of being happy to sell people's data but not to give it to the government which was being forced to spend vast sums on de-radicalization programs, surveillance and other counter-terrorism measures. "If they continue to be less than co-operative, we should look at things like tax as a way of incentivizing them or compen­sating for their inaction," Wallace told the Sunday Times newspaper in an interview. His quotes did not give further details on tax plans. The newspaper said that any demand would take the form of a windfall tax similar to that imposed on privatized utilities by former Prime Minister Tony Blair's government in 1997. Wallace accused the tech giants of putting private profit before public safety. "We should stop pretending that because they sit on beanbags in T-shirts they are not ruthless profiteers," he said. "They will ruthlessly sell our details to loans and soft-porn companies but not give it to our democratically elected government." Facebook executive Simon Milner rejected the criticisms. "Mr. Wallace is wrong to say that we put profit before safety, especially in the fight against terrorism," he said in an emailed statement. "We've invested millions of pounds in people and technology to identify and remove terrorist content." YouTube, which is owned by Google, said it was doing more every day to tackle violent extremism. "Over the course of 2017 we have made significant progress through investing in machine learning technology, recruiting more reviewers, building partnerships with experts and collaboration with other companies," a YouTube spokeswoman said. Deadly attacks Britain suffered a series of attacks by Islamic extremists between March and June this year that killed a total of 36 people, excluding the attackers. Two involved vehicles ramming people on bridges in London, followed by attackers stabbing people. The deadliest, a bombing at a concert in the northern city of Manchester, killed 22 people. Following the second bridge attack, Prime Minister Theresa May proposed beefing up regulations on cyberspace, and weeks later interior minister Amber Rudd traveled to California to ask Silicon Valley to step up efforts against extremism. "We are more vulnerable than at any point in the last 100 years," said Wallace, citing extremist material on social media and encrypted messaging services like WhatsApp as tools that made life too easy for attackers. "Because content is not being taken down as quickly as they could do, we're having to de-radicalize people who have been radicalized. That's costing millions. They can't get away with that and we should look at all the options, including tax." Facebook said it removed 83 percent of uploaded copies of terrorist content within one hour of its being found on the social media network. It also highlighted plans to double the number of people working in its safety and security teams to 20,000 by the end of 2018. YouTube said that progress in machine learning meant that 83 percent of violent extremist content was removed without the need for users to flag it.  

Using Simple Electric Currents to Clean Dirty Water

The World Health Organization estimates more than 800,000 people around the world die every year because of unsafe drinking water. But researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology may have figured out a simple and inexpensive way to clean the world's dirtiest water. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.