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The Biggest Consumer Electronics Show Opens in Two Weeks

January is almost here, and the world is bracing for the unofficial opening of this year's race for the hearts, minds and pockets of tech enthusiasts. The international Consumer Electronics Show, CES for short, is the venue where technology manufacturers, from giants to startups, show their products, hoping they will become among the next must-haves worldwide. VOA's George Putic looks at what may be expected.

Facebook, Twitter Threatened With Sanctions in Britain

Social media giants Facebook and Twitter could face sanctions in Britain if they fail to be more forthcoming in providing details about Russian disinformation campaigns that used their platforms in the run-up to last year's Brexit referendum, the chairman of a British parliamentary inquiry committee warned. The companies have been given until January 18 to hand over information. Damian Collins, chairman of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport committee in the British parliament, which is looking into Russian fake news' efforts, criticized both companies earlier this month, accusing them of stonewalling the parliamentary investigation. But he has now warned they risk being punished and he says his committee is exploring what sanctions could be imposed on Facebook and Twitter. "What there has to be then is some mechanism of saying: if you fail to do that, if you ignore requests to act, if you fail to police the site effectively and deal with highly problematic content, then there has to be some sort of sanction against you," he told Britain's Guardian newspaper. He dubbed the lack of cooperation by the social media firms as "extraordinary." "They don't believe that they have any obligation at all to initiate their own investigation into what may or may not have been happening, he said. "They've not done any of that work at all." Parliamentary committees do not have the power in their own right to impose sanctions on erring companies. But British officials have expressed interest in punishing social media companies for failing to take action to stop their platforms from being exploited by agitators, whether they are working for foreign powers or non-state actors such as the Islamic State terror group. In September in New York at the annual general assembly meeting of the United Nations, British Prime Minister Theresa May expressed frustration with social media companies, saying they must go "further and faster" in removing extremist content and should aim to do so within two hours of it appearing on their sites. "This is a major step in reclaiming the internet from those who would use it to do us harm," she said. The prime minister has repeatedly called for an end to "safe spaces" on social media for terrorists. And British ministers have called for limits to end-to-end encryption, which prevents messages from being read by third parties if they are intercepted. British lawmakers and ministers aren't the only ones considering ways to sanction social media firms that fail to police their sites to avoid them from being used to spread fake news or being exploited by militants. This month, Germany's competition authority accused Facebook of violating European data protection regulations by merging information collected through WhatsApp and Instagram with Facebook user accounts. Collins has written twice to the social media firms requesting information about suspected Russian fake news campaigns in the weeks and months before Britons voted in June 2016 on whether to retain membership in the European Union, Britain's largest trading partner. In a letter to Twitter, he wrote: "The information you have now shared with us is completely inadequate. … It seems odd that so far we have received more information about activities that have taken place on your platform from journalists and academics than from you." In response to parliamentary requests for information about Russian interference in the EU referendum, including details of accounts operated by Russian misinformation actors, the social media firms passed on copies of the details they provided to Britain's Electoral Commission, which is probing advertising originating from Russian actors during the lead up to the Brexit vote. Facebook said only $0.97 had been spent on Brexit-related ads seen by British viewers. Twitter claimed the only Russian spending it received was $1,000 from the Russian state-owned broadcaster RT. Russia has been accused of meddling in recent elections in America, France and elsewhere and of running disinformation campaigns aimed at poisoning political discourse in the West and sowing discord with fake news. In November, Prime Minister May accused Vladimir Putin's government of trying to "undermine free societies" and "planting fake stories" to "sow discord in the West. "Russia has denied the allegations. Three days before Christmas, Britain's foreign minister, Boris Johnson, sparred with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, over the issue of alleged Russian meddling in the Brexit referendum. During his trip to Moscow, the first visit by a British foreign secretary to the Russian capital for five years, Lavrov denied at a joint press conference that the Kremlin had sought to meddle, saying Johnson himself had previously said there was "no evidence of Russian interference in the Brexit referendum." Johnson corrected Lavrov, saying: "Not successfully, is what I said." So far the evidence of a major Russian social media effort during the Brexit referendum remains thin, and at least not on the alleged scale seen, according to investigators, during the 2016 U.S. presidential race. An investigation by the New York Times found that "Russian agents … disseminated inflammatory posts that reached 126 million users on Facebook, published more than 131,000 messages on Twitter and uploaded over 1,000 videos to Google's YouTube service" ahead of the U.S. presidential vote. In January 2017, the Office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence concluded: "Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election." In October 2017, researchers at the City University of London found a "13,500-strong [Russian] Twitter bot army," was present on the social media site around the time of the referendum. Bot accounts post content automatically. Those accounts in the month prior to the Brexit vote posted a total of 65,000 tweets about the referendum with a slant towards the leave campaign, according to City University researchers. But a subsequent study by the University of California, Berkeley, and Swansea University in Wales unearthed more pro-Brexit Russian bot accounts, tracking over 150,000 of them.

New Robot Teaches Autistic Adults to Navigate Office Politics

Autism is on the rise in many developed countries, and the reasons why are still unclear. But more autistic children mean that, one day, more autistic adults will be entering the workforce. A new robot is trying to help these workers navigate the emotional elements on the job. VOA's Bronwyn Benito narrates this report by Kevin Enochs.

Apple Apologizes After Outcry Over Slowed iPhones

Facing lawsuits and consumer outrage  after it said it slowed older iPhones with flagging batteries, Apple Inc is slashing prices for battery replacements and will change its software to show users whether their phone battery is good. In a posting on its website Thursday, Apple apologized over its handling of the battery issue and said it would make a number of changes for customers “to recognize their loyalty and to regain the trust of anyone who may have doubted Apple’s intentions.” Apple made the move to address concerns about the quality and durability of its products at a time when it is charging $999 for its newest flagship model, the iPhone X. Battery prices lowered The company said it would cut the price of an out-of-warranty battery replacement from $79 to $29 for an iPhone 6 or later, starting next month. The company also will update its iOS operating system to let users see whether their battery is in poor health and is affecting the phone’s performance. “We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down,” Apple said in its posting. “We apologize.” On Dec. 20, Apple acknowledged that iPhone software has the effect of slowing down some phones with battery problems. Apple said the problem was that aging lithium batteries delivered power unevenly, which could cause iPhones to shutdown unexpectedly to protect the delicate circuits inside. Lawsuits filed That disclosure played on a common belief among consumers that Apple purposely slows down older phones to encourage customers to buy newer iPhone models. While no credible evidence has ever emerged that Apple engaged in such conduct, the battery disclosure struck a nerve on social media and elsewhere. Apple on Thursday denied that it has ever done anything to intentionally shorten the life of a product. At least eight lawsuits have been filed in California, New York and Illinois alleging that the company defrauded users by slowing devices down without warning them. The company also faces a legal complaint in France, where so called “planned obsolesce” is against the law.

DOJ Charges 2 Romanians With Hacking of DC Police Surveillance Cameras

The Justice Department on Thursday unsealed details of its case against two Romanians who allegedly hacked computers tied to Washington, D.C., police surveillance cameras. Police in Bucharest arrested Mihai Alexandru Isvanca and Eveline Cismaru on December 15. U.S. attorneys have charged them with conspiracy to commit computer and wire fraud. They allegedly hacked into more than 120 computers tied to Washington police surveillance cameras last January. It was part of an alleged scheme to infect personal computers with ransomware. Ransomware restricts users from accessing their own computers and demands a payment to the ramsomware operator to unlock it. The Justice Department said the investigation was of the highest priority because the alleged hacking of the surveillance camera computers came just weeks before the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump. However, it says there is no evidence anyone's personal security was threatened or harmed. If tried in the U.S. and convicted, the Romanian defendants could face up to 20 years in prison.

With Lineup Widening, Apple Depends Less on iPhone X

In years past, demand for Apple Inc.'s latest flagship phone was critical to the company's results over the holiday shopping quarter. That dynamic might be changing, however, as Apple's widening lineup of devices and services more than makes up for any tepidness in demand this quarter for its lead product, the $999 iPhone X. On Tuesday, Apple's stock fell 2.5 percent to $170.57 after Taiwan's Economic Daily and several analysts suggested iPhone X sales in the fiscal first quarter would be 30 million units, 20 million fewer than initially planned by the company. The cut in the forecast was not confirmed, and the stock regained ground Thursday, hitting $171.82 by midday. The mean revenue estimate for the holiday quarter among 30 analysts remains at $86.2 billion, near the high end of Apple's forecast of $84 billion to $87 billion. Apple declined to comment. Part of the support for Apple may reflect a change in its business strategy. Releasing two new models and keeping older ones have made Apple less dependent on its flagship product. Apple shareholder Ross Gerber, chief executive of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management in Santa Monica, California, said the higher price and better margins on the iPhone X would reduce fears of a sales decline. Eye on combined sales "We know that Apple's strategy was different this quarter by releasing two phones, the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X, and I think combined sales will be in line with what people expect," Gerber said. Apple also has fattened its portfolio of accessories and other devices, from its AirPods wireless headphones to a new Apple Watch with cellular data features. While none is a runaway hit, collectively they are an important contributor, with Apple's "other products" segment growing 16 percent to $12.8 billion last year. Customers who buy those add-ons are also likely to buy services from the App Store and Apple Music, part of Apple's services segment, which grew 23 percent to $29.9 billion last year. "Ultimately, it will be this multidevice ownership" that will generate further revenue, said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Creative Strategies. IPhone X sales still matter. Each unit generates nearly twice the revenue of an iPhone 7 and contains technologies like facial recognition that burnish Apple's brand. Bob O'Donnell of TECHnalysis Research said "hit products" still represent "an enormous amount of the company's overall value." "Will it take hold in the mainstream? That's the question that still remains," he said.

Lackluster Year of Space Exploration

While the attention of much of the world was occupied with earthly happenings, space scientists had some notable achievements during the past year, ranging from new projects to the spectacular end of at least one program. VOA’s George Putic reviews the highlights of the year in space.

Social Media is Changing the Way Restaurants Cater to Customers

In this digital age, meals are now shared over the internet. With social media users looking for dishes that are both ready to snap and to eat, restaurateurs across the globe are taking advantage, styling their creations to be camera ready. VOA’s Jesusemen Oni has more.

Military Moves Toward Autonomous Aircraft

When it comes to autonomous vehicles, putting them in the relatively open skies may be easier than putting them on crowded roads. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports on how one branch of the military is investigating the use of autonomous helicopters.

Vietnam Unveils 10,000-strong Cyberunit to Combat 'Wrong Views'

Vietnam has unveiled a new, 10,000-strong military cyberwarfare unit to counter "wrong" views on the Internet, media reported, amid a widening crackdown on critics of the one-party state. The cyber unit, named Force 47, is already in operation in several sectors, Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted Lieutenant General Nguyen Trong Nghia, deputy head of the military's political department, as saying at a conference of the Central Propaganda Department on Monday in the commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City. "In every hour, minute and second we must be ready to fight proactively against the wrong views," the paper quoted the general as saying. Communist-ruled Vietnam has stepped up attempts to tame the internet, calling for closer watch over social networks and for the removal of content that it deems offensive, but there has been little sign of it silencing criticism when the companies providing the platforms are global. Its neighbor China, in contrast, allows only local internet companies operating under strict rules. The number of staff compares with the 6,000 reportedly employed by North Korea. However, the general's comments suggest its force may be focused largely on domestic internet users, whereas North Korea is internationally focused because the internet is not available to the public at large. 'Bad and dangerous content' In August, Vietnam's president said the country needed to pay greater attention to controlling "news sites and blogs with bad and dangerous content." Vietnam, one of the top 10 countries for Facebook users by numbers, has also drafted an internet security bill asking for local placement of Facebook and Google servers, but the bill has been the subject of heated debate at the National Assembly and is still pending assembly approval. Cybersecurity firm FireEye Inc. said Vietnam had "built up considerable cyberespionage capabilities in a region with relatively weak defenses." "Vietnam is certainly not alone. FireEye has observed a proliferation in offensive capabilities. ... This proliferation has implications for many parties, including governments, journalists, activists and even multinational firms," a spokesman at FireEye, who requested anonymity, told Reuters. "Cyberespionage is increasingly attractive to nation states, in part because it can provide access to a significant amount of information with a modest investment, plausible deniability and limited risk," he added. Vietnam denies such charges. Vietnam has in recent months stepped up measures to silence critics. A court last month jailed a blogger for seven years for "conducting propaganda against the state." In a separate, similar case last month, a court upheld a 10-year jail sentence for a prominent blogger.

Securing Your Data in Cloud Storage

Saving digital files in commercial memory banks called cloud storage is a cheap and convenient way for long-term storage of documents, photos, music and video. Private users as well as businesses can access them from anywhere and share them with whomever they give the password to. Providers, such as Dropbox, Google Drive or Amazon S3, claim almost absolute security. But computer scientists say the protection should be in the users' hands. VOA's George Putic has more.

Bike Sharing Business Brings Competition from China

Silicon Valley has long inspired Chinese business and tech ventures. But now that a Chinese dockless bike share company has landed in the Valley, is the tide turning? VOA's Calla Yu has more.

Self-repairing Glass Could End Cracked Cellphones

There is an entire industry of add-ons that are designed to keep your cellphone screen from cracking. And yet broken screens are the main reason cellphones fail. But one Japanese researcher may have solved the problem. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

Bitcoin’s Roller-coaster Ride May Get Wilder

What’s a bitcoin worth? Lately nobody knows for sure, but after a wild ride Friday, it’s worth a good deal less than it was Thursday. After losses over the last few days, the digital currency fell as much as 30 percent overnight in Asia, and the action became so frenzied that the website Coinbase suspended trading. It later made up much of that ground, and slumped 9.5 percent to $14,042 Friday, according to the tracking site CoinDesk. Experts are warning that bitcoin is a bubble about to burst, but things might get crazier before it does: A lot of people have heard of bitcoin by now, but very few people own it. “Bubbles burst when the last buyers are in,” said Brett Ewing, chief market strategist for First Franklin. “Who are the last buyers? The general public, unfortunately.” 1,000 people own 40 percent Ewing said 40 percent of bitcoin belongs to just 1,000 people, and hedge funds and other major investors are going to start buying it soon. But those funds may buy bitcoin and also protect themselves by placing bets that it will fall. Retail investors may just buy it only to see it fall. “I think investors should approach it with caution and I think many people will dive into it not understanding what it is,” he said. As bitcoin skyrocketed this month, the volume of trading was unprecedented as investors hoping to catch a ride up piled in. Prices have risen so fast, the fall on Friday returned the price of bitcoin only to where it was trading two weeks ago. From tea to blockchain overnight The volatility has created a circuslike atmosphere. Some companies that have added the word “bitcoin” or related terms to their names to get in on the action. The craziest thing is, it’s worked. Long Island Iced Tea Corp. until this week had been known for its peach-, raspberry-, guava-, lemon- and mango-flavored drinks. Then, on Thursday, the company announced a radical rebranding. It’s changing its name to Long Blockchain Corp., shifting its primary focus from iced tea to “the exploration of and investment in opportunities that leverage the benefits of blockchain technology.” Blockchain is a ledger where transactions of digital currencies, like bitcoin, are recorded. Shares in Long Island Iced Tea soared 200 percent in one day. The Hicksville, New York, company did what investors are doing, hitching a ride on a currency that raced from less than $10,000 at the end of November to almost $20,000 on Sunday. And it cost less than $1,000 at the beginning of the year. Crash every three months The rise of price of bitcoin, which is still difficult to use if you actually want to buy something, has led to heated speculation about when the bubble might burst. The currency has been, if nothing else, highly elastic, bouncing back every time it crashes, which occurs about once every quarter. It fell 11.5 percent over two days in early December and 21.5 percent over five days in November. Curiosity has now driven bitcoin to the futures market, where investors bet on which direction it will go. Bitcoin futures started trading on two major exchanges, the Cboe and CME, this month. Those futures fell about 8 percent Friday. Investor beware If people get burned, it won’t be because they were not warned. The Securities and Exchange Commission put out a statement last week warning investors to be careful with bitcoin and other digital currencies. The Commodities Futures Trading Commission has proposed regulating bitcoin like a commodity, similar to gold or oil. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a financial watchdog, issued a similar warning recently.

Rocket’s Arc Across California Sky Stops Traffic

A reused SpaceX rocket carried 10 satellites into orbit from California on Friday, leaving behind a trail of mystery and wonder as it soared into space. The Falcon 9 booster lifted off from coastal Vandenberg Air Force Base, carrying the latest batch of satellites for Iridium Communications. The launch in the setting sun created a shining, billowing streak that was widely seen throughout Southern California and as far away as Phoenix. Calls came in to TV stations as far afield as San Diego, more than 200 miles south of the launch site. Cars stopped on freeways in Los Angeles so drivers and passengers could take pictures and video. The Los Angeles Fire Department issued an advisory that the “mysterious light in the sky” was from the rocket launch. Jimmy Golen, a sports writer for The Associated Press in Boston who was in Southern California for the holidays, said he and other tourists saw the long, glowing contrail while touring Warner Bros. studio in the Los Angeles suburb of Burbank. “People were wondering if it had something to do with movies, or TV or a UFO,” he said. “It was very cool.” The same rocket carried Iridium satellites into orbit in June. That time, the first stage landed on a floating platform in the Pacific Ocean. This time, the rocket was allowed to plunge into the sea. It was the 18th and final launch of 2017 for SpaceX, which has contracted to replace Iridium’s system with 75 updated satellites. SpaceX has made four launches and expects to make several more to complete the job by mid-2018. The satellites also carry payloads for global real-time aircraft tracking and a ship-tracking service.

Researchers Date Parts of Jesus' Tomb to Time of Constantine

Over the next month, Christians of all kinds will celebrate the birth of Jesus. The world has been wondering about the reality of his existence, his life, death, and the question of his divinity for thousands of years. But the place considered to be his tomb has been dated to the time he is believed to have walked the earth. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

Lawsuit: Apple Slowed iPhones, Forcing Owners to Buy New Ones

IPhone owners from several states sued Apple Inc. for not disclosing sooner that it issued software updates deliberately slowing older-model phones so aging batteries lasted longer, saying Apple's silence led them to wrongly conclude that their only option was to buy newer, pricier iPhones. The allegations were in a lawsuit filed Thursday in Chicago federal court on behalf of five iPhone owners from Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and North Carolina, all of whom say they never would have bought new iPhones had Apple told them that simply replacing the batteries would have sped up their old ones. The suit alleges Apple violated consumer fraud laws. A similar lawsuit was filed Thursday in Los Angeles. Both suits came a day after Apple confirmed what high-tech sleuths outside the company already observed: The company had deployed software to slow some phones. Apple said it was intended as a fix to deal with degraded lithium-ion batteries that could otherwise suddenly die. "Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolonging the life of their devices," an Apple statement said. It said it released the fix for iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE and later extended it to iPhone 7. Apple didn't respond to a message Friday seeking comment. The Chicago lawsuit suggests Apple's motive may have been sinister, though it offers no evidence in the filing. "Apple's decision to purposefully ... throttle down these devices," it says, "was undertaken to fraudulently induce consumers to purchase the latest" iPhone. Plaintiff Kirk Pedelty, of North Carolina, contacted Apple as his frustration grew. However, the lawsuit says: "Nobody from Apple customer support suggested that he replace his battery to improve the performance of his iPhone. ... Frustrated by slowdowns and intermittent shutdowns of his iPhone 7, Pedelty purchased an iPhone 8." The lawsuit seeks class-action status to represent thousands of iPhone owners nationwide. Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi said she believes the tech giant was seeking to help consumers extend the lives of the older phones — though it would have been better to disclose what it was doing and why right away. "Even if you are trying to do something good for your customers, it is going to be perceived as you are sneaking around behind their backs if you don't tell them about it first," she said.

Hard-line Islamist Group in Indonesia to Boycott Facebook

Indonesia's foremost hard-line Islamist group, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), has announced a Christmas Day boycott of Facebook and the Whatsapp instant messaging service, as well as a live protest at Facebook's Indonesia office in the near future. They say Facebook — like other major social media outlets such as Twitter and Instagram — has blocked several FPI accounts, and that Facebook allows pro-LGBT and anti-Sharia pages to stay on its site. The group also plans to protest at Indonesia's Ministry of Communications and Information in the new year. While the boycott is unlikely to make a major impact on Facebook, it underscores that FPI's official accounts are blocked on many major platforms, leading some to speculate the move was at the national government's request. That's unlikely, said Ross Tapsell, who researches media in Southeast Asia at Australian National University. "There is a misperception, both within FPI and outside of it, that the Indonesian government calls up social media companies like Facebook and Twitter and asks for certain pages to be taken down and these companies simply comply," he said. "That isn't how this works. Social media companies have their own codes of conduct and it is through fairly extensive and rigorous internal debates that these decisions are ultimately made." He suggested that Facebook likely shut down FPI's pages, which have in the past engaged in hate speech and advocated for violence, for violating its terms and policies. This is an ambiguous moment for the FPI, which has risen rapidly from a fringe group, founded in 1999 after the fall of Suharto, to a mainstream organization that swayed the Jakarta gubernatorial election. In late 2016, the FPI organized mass protests in Jakarta against its Chinese Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, for allegedly insulting the Quran. The eventually triumphant candidate, Governor Anies Baswedan, openly allied with the FPI during his campaign. Crackdown on Islamist groups "On the issue of internal regulation, Twitter and Facebook have involved many social organizations from Indonesia to become their trusted flaggers [of problematic content], not only the government," said Damar Juniarto, a coordinator of the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network. He suggested the decision to block FPI happened after numerous complaints from different sources. "Various FPI members have posted videos of violence, bullying and harassing people who criticized them or their leader in 2017, and these videos would have been given as evidence for the need to ban them on Facebook," Tapsell said. In June, a Chinese-Indian teenager in Jakarta was physically abused by FPI members for posting memes about its leader. Facebook and Twitter could not be immediately reached for comment. Beyond social media, other Indonesian hard-liners have been the target of crackdowns this year. In July, the government banned the international Islamist organization Hizbut Tahrir because it threatened the nation's pluralist state ideology, known as Pancasila. Hizbut Tahrir advocates for a global Islamic caliphate. ​Vague leadership Today, FPI's leader, Habib Rizieq Shihab, is a fugitive in Saudi Arabia; he was charged shortly after the Jakarta election under the nation's pornography law for allegedly texting explicit photos with a woman who is not his wife. It is a far cry from late 2016, when he enthralled hundreds of thousands of Muslims who brought Jakarta to a grinding halt to attend the "peaceful actions" that Rizieq and FPI organized against the governor. FPI also has had trouble expanding its brand beyond Java, like in West Kalimantan province in Borneo, where the group failed to hold a similar rally last summer. Support for FPI increased from 15.6 percent to 23.6 percent between June 2016 and August 2017, according to a recent report from researchers Marcus Mietzner, Burhanuddin Muhtadi and Rizka Halida. As the year draws to a close, FPI's agenda is once more trained on local and domestic actions, where it started as Indonesia's unofficial moral police. For instance, it has promised to raid establishments that make their staff wear Christmas hats. It remains to be seen whether FPI will return to influence the national political discourse in the new year, or whether the group's stature has peaked.

Toshiba Unveils Device for Fukushima Nuclear Reactor Probe

Toshiba Corp.'s energy systems unit on Friday unveiled a long telescopic pipe carrying a pan-tilt camera designed to gather crucial information about the situation inside the reactor chambers at Japan's tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant. The device is 13 meters (43 feet) long and designed to give officials a deeper view into the nuclear plant's Unit 2 primary containment vessel, where details on melted fuel damage remain largely unknown. The Fukushima plant had triple meltdowns following the 2011 quake and tsunami. Finding details about the fuel debris is crucial to determining the right method and technology for its removal at each reactor, the most challenging process during the plant's decades-long decommissioning. Toshiba officials said the new device will be sent inside the pedestal, a structure directly below the core, to investigate the area and hopefully to find melted debris. The mission could come as soon as late January. The device looks like a giant fishing rod about 12 centimeters (4.7 inches) in diameter, from which a unit housing the camera, a dosimeter and thermometer slowly slides down. The probe, attached by a cable on the back, can descend all the way to the bottom of the reactor vessel if it can avoid obstacles, officials said. Two teams of several engineers will be tasked with the mission, which they will remotely operate from a radiation-free command center at the plant.  A simpler predecessor to the pipe unveiled Friday had captured a limited view of the vessel during a preparatory investigation in February. A crawling robot sent in later in February struggled with debris on the ground and stalled in the end due to higher-than-expected radiation, its intended mission incomplete.    The upgraded probe has been co-developed by Toshiba ESS and International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning, a government-funded unit of construction and nuclear technology companies over the past nine months.

Bitcoin Plunges Below $12,000, Heads for Worst Week Since 2013

Bitcoin plunged by a quarter to below $12,000 on Friday as investors dumped the cryptocurrency in manic trading after its blistering ascent to a peak close to $20,000 prompted warnings by experts of a bubble. It capped a brutal week that had been touted as a new era of mainstream trading for the volatile digital currency when bitcoin futures debuted on CME Group Inc, the world's largest derivatives market on Sunday. Friday's steep fall bled into the U.S. stock market, where shares of companies that have recently lashed their fortunes to bitcoin or blockchain — its underlying technology — took a hard knock in early trading. The biggest and best-known cryptocurrency had seen a staggering twentyfold increase since the start of the year, climbing from less than $1,000 to as high as $19,666 on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange on Sunday and to over $20,000 on other exchanges. Bitcoin has fallen each day since, with losses accelerating on Friday. In the futures market, bitcoin one-month futures on Cboe Global Markets were halted due to the steep price drop, while those trading on the CME hit the limit down threshold. In the spot market, bitcoin fell to as low as $11,159, down more than 25 percent on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange, its largest one-day drop in nearly three years. For the week, it was down around a third — its worst performance since April 2013. "After its parabolic-like rally, a crash was imminent and so it has proved," said Fawad Razaqzada, market analyst at Forex.com in London. "Investors may have also been put off buying bitcoin at those elevated levels amid repeated warnings from experts about the way it had climbed near $20,000." "A manic upward swing led by the herd will be followed by a downturn as the emotional sentiment changes," said Charles Hayter, founder and chief executive of industry website Cryptocompare in London. "A lot of traders have been waiting for this large correction." "With the end of the year in sight a lot of investors will be taking profits and saying thank you very much and closing their books for the holiday period," he added. Warnings about the risks of investing in the unregulated market have increased — Denmark's central bank governor called it a "deadly" gamble —  and there have been worries about the security of exchanges on which cryptocurrencies are bought and sold. South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Youbit said on Tuesday it is shutting down and is filing for bankruptcy after it was hacked for the second time this year. Coinbase, a U.S. company that runs one of the biggest exchanges and provides digital "wallets" for storing bitcoins, said on Wednesday it would investigate accusations of insider trading, following a sharp increase in the price of a bitcoin spin-off hours before it announced support for it. Crypto-rivals As rival cryptocurrencies slid along with bitcoin, the total estimated value of the crypto market fell to as low as $440 billion, according to industry website Coinmarketcap, having neared $650 billion just a day earlier. But other cryptocurrencies surged this week, with investors moving into cheaper digital coins, rather than cashing out of the sector. Ethereum, the second-biggest cryptocurrency by market size, soared to almost $900 earlier in the week, from around $500 a week earlier. Ripple, the third-biggest, has more than quadrupled in price since Monday. Stephen Innes, head of trading in Asia-Pacific for retail FX broker Oanda in Singapore, said that there have also been moves out of bitcoin into Bitcoin Cash, a clone of the original cryptocurrency. Oanda does not handle trading in bitcoin. "Most of it is unsophisticated retail traders getting burned badly," Innes said on bitcoin's recent retreat. While some say the launch by CME and its rival Cboe Global Markets of bitcoin futures over the last two weeks has given the digital currency some perceived legitimacy, many policymakers remain skeptical. Bitcoin is known to go through wild swings. In November, it tumbled almost 30 percent in four days from $7,888 to $5,555. In September, it fell 40 percent from $4,979 to $2,972. Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss in New York and Jemima Kelly in London; Additional reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro in Tokyo; Editing by Keith Weir and Susan Thomas.

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