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  1. China is about to launch a trio of spacecraft to Mars — including a rover Called Tianwen-1, the mission could elevate China’s space program The Long March 5 rocket at the Wenchang Space Launch Center that will launch Tianwen-1. Photo: Xinhua via Getty Images Early on July 23rd, China is slated to launch its most ambitious space mission yet, sending a trio of spacecraft to Mars — including a rover to explore the planet’s surface. If successful, China will become the second nation to land and operate a rover on the Red Planet. The mission is named Tianwen-1 — after the long poem “Tianwen,” which means “Questions to Heaven” — and it entails sending an orbiter, a lander, and a rover to Mars. The three spacecraft will launch on top of one of China’s most powerful rockets, the Long March 5, and then travel through deep space together to the Red Planet. While the orbiter studies Mars from above, the lander and rover will make the daring plunge to the surface. The lander is tasked with touching down gently on the ground in one piece, keeping the rover safe and providing a platform for the wheeled vehicle to roll out and explore. Tianwen-1 is the latest in a long line of increasingly complex space projects that China has tackled over the last decade. The country became the first nation in history to land and operate a rover on the far side of the Moon last year. China remains focused on lunar exploration, with plans to launch a mission at the end of this year to bring back samples from the lunar surface. Now, with Tianwen-1, China is embarking on what could be its first big interplanetary mission. It has even bolder projects planned for the future, such as visiting an asteroid and visiting Jupiter in the 2030s. “They’re definitely on a long-term quest for lunar and planetary Solar System exploration,” James Head, a planetary geoscientist at Brown University who has worked with scientists in the Chinese Space Program, tells The Verge. Of course, Mars missions are no easy feat, and China’s first attempt to reach the Red Planet didn’t even make it beyond Earth. In 2011, the country attempted to send an orbiter to Mars called Yinghuo-1, piggybacking on a much larger Russian spacecraft bound for the planet called Phobos-Grunt. But the launch of the vehicle on a Ukrainian rocket ultimately failed, destroying Phobos-Grunt and the Chinese spacecraft. China is handling both the launch and the spacecraft development for Tianwen-1. If the ambitious mission succeeds, China will become one of only a handful of countries to reach and orbit Mars. China’s goal of landing on the Red Planet during this trip is an even bigger move. Only the United States and the Soviet Union have ever landed on Mars, and only the US has successfully operated a rover on the planet. “It will demonstrate that China is a full-spectrum space power,” David Burbach, a professor at the Naval War College who studies China’s space program, tells The Verge, speaking in a personal capacity. “That they’re able to check all the boxes of what a major space power is able to do.” As is the case with most Chinese missions, details surrounding this launch are relatively scarce. But China has provided some general information about the overall structure of the mission. The three spacecraft will spend about seven months journeying to Mars, reaching the planet sometime in February 2021. That month will also mark the arrival of the United Arab Emirates’ Mars orbiter, which launched on July 19th, as well as the arrival of NASA’s new Perseverance rover, which is set to launch on July 30th. Once Tianwen-1 arrives, the trio will stay in orbit for about two to three months, while China surveys their potential landing site. “Basically they want to validate with their own data the characteristics of the site,” says Head, adding, “You build up confidence every day that you’re in Martian orbit until you reach a decision about when to proceed down to the surface.” China is aiming to land in an area of Mars known as Utopia Planitia, according to the mission’s chief scientist writing in Nature Astronomy. Utopia Planitia is the same region on Mars where NASA’s Viking 2 lander touched down in 1976. Tianwen-1’s rover has a long list of scientific tasks ahead of it, including mapping out Martian geography, looking for any water-ice in the Martian soil, measuring the climate of Mars at the surface, and more. The rover is equipped with six instruments, including its most exciting tool, a ground-penetrating radar that may be able to identify different rocks and even search for reservoirs of water-ice underneath the surface. To get to the surface, the lander and rover pair will perform an audacious seven- to eight-minute descent to the surface of Mars, according to China’s state-run media agency Xinhua News. The process will be similar to how NASA lands its spacecraft on Mars. First, the spacecraft will rely on Mars’ thin atmosphere to cushion their fall, slowing them down substantially after coming out of orbit. They’ll then deploy a parachute for about a minute and a half to slow down even further. Finally, the lander will ignite an onboard engine to hover over the surface for a few moments and then touch down gently. An artistic rendering of the Tianwen-1 rover and lander on Mars. Photo: Xinhua via Getty Images Confirmation about the landing’s success or failure will likely rely on official word from China. “They make a very big deal when things succeed; they’re relatively quiet until it’s clear that they’ve succeeded,” says Burbach. “If it goes into orbit, they’ll make a big deal about that. If the landing is successful, I’m sure there will be a lot of attention to that.” As for the orbiter, it will serve as a relay, providing communications between Earth and the rover. It’ll also attempt to survey Mars from above with seven of its own instruments. But first, the mission has to launch successfully. Airspace closures over the launch site at Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in southern China indicate the launch could occur around 12:45AM ET on July 23rd, according to Andrew Jones, a freelance journalist covering China’s spaceflight program. If the launch on the 23rd gets scrubbed, China will have until early August to try again. This launch will be just the fourth launch of the Long March 5, and its track record hasn’t been perfect. While its debut flight went relatively well in 2016, the second launch of the Long March 5 in 2017 ended in failure. China spent up to two years diagnosing the problem and redesigning the machinery in the engines responsible for the failure. Fortunately, the vehicle returned to flight successfully in 2019. If that launch had failed, it’s doubtful Tianwen-1 would have been able to go up this summer. “This new rocket was designed to take them to the next level,” Jones tells The Verge. “So they’ll be able to launch a space station, carry out a lunar sample return mission and start sending missions to the [lunar] South Pole.” Jones added: “If this launch had failed, they would have a lot of explaining to do as to why basically all these big ambitious space missions which were planned would be delayed again.” A successful mission would certainly bring even more prestige — and more attention — to China’s blossoming space program. In the US, it will likely renew heated discussions among lawmakers and space policy experts about China’s growing dominance in the space world. However, Burbach says a mission based on science should not be of concern to the US. “If you find a Chinese mission to Mars worrying, it means that you find it worrying that China is a competent science and engineering country, with a capable rocket program overall,” he says. He notes that China has done missions in space that have been cause for concern — such as conducting a test in 2007 to destroy a satellite, creating hundreds of pieces of debris. But a science mission is not something he worries about. “If anything I think it’s an opportunity to allow some additional cooperation with the Chinese technical community,” says Burbach. While Tianwen-1 could further elevate China on the global stage, the country also sees these missions as a way to inspire youth in the country, according to Jones. “Engaging in these kinds of really challenging high technology areas is something which boosts the economy,” he says. “It also inspires people, just like with the Apollo missions, to get involved in STEM and to pursue these kinds of these kinds of careers that can lead into exploration and all kinds of areas of science and technology.” Hopefully, if these spacecraft do succeed, we’ll also have a little more insight into Mars. “Every time we go to a different place on Mars we learn something completely new,” says Head. “That’s why it’s so important to have abundant surface exploration and rovers. It just provides a new area; it will be entirely new things, no doubt. And that will complement our overall picture of Mars.” China is about to launch a trio of spacecraft to Mars — including a rover
  2. China moves forward with COVID-19 vaccine, approving it for use in military Early trial data suggests that vaccine is safe, but efficacy still unclear. Enlarge / Chinese President Xi Jinping learns about the progress on a COVID-19 vaccine during his visit to the Academy of Military Medical Sciences in Beijing on March 2, 2020. Getty | Xinhua News Agency 31 with 28 posters participating China has approved an experimental COVID-19 vaccine for use in its military after early clinical trial data suggested it was safe and spurred immune responses—but before larger trials that will test whether the vaccine can protect against SARS-CoV-2 infections. This marks the first time any country has approved a candidate vaccine for military use. China’s Central Military Commission made the approval June 25, which will last for a year, according to a filing reported by Reuters. The vaccine, developed by biotech company CanSino Biologics and the Chinese military, is a type of viral vector-based vaccine. That means researchers started with a viral vector, in this case a common strain of adenovirus (type-5), which typically causes mild upper respiratory infections. The researchers crippled the virus so that it doesn’t replicate in human cells and cause disease. Then, they engineered the virus to carry a signature feature of SARS-CoV-2—the coronavirus’s infamous spike protein, which juts out from the viral particle and allows the virus to get a hold on human cells. The idea is that, when the harmless vaccine virus is injected into the body, it will essentially present the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to the immune system, which can then develop anti-SARS-CoV-2 responses. Those include antibodies, which are Y-shaped proteins that surveil the body and detect previously encountered germ invaders by key features. Once a germ is detected, neutralizing antibodies can glom onto the germ and prevent it from sparking an infection. In a Phase 1 safety trial involving 108 people, the vaccine—dubbed Ad5-nCoV—proved safe and was able to spur the production of neutralizing antibodies and other immune responses. However, the study, published in The Lancet, also detected a potential foil for the vaccine candidate: in people who had been infected with Ad5 in their past, the vaccine didn’t generate as strong of a response to SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein. This may be because their immune systems quickly recognized the adenovirus and focused their responses on the viral vector, rather than the nefarious spike. CanSino said it had since completed a larger Phase 2 trial, looking at safety and efficacy, but has yet to release results, according to the South China Morning Post. The paper also noted that CanSino has reached an agreement with the Canadian government to conduct Phase 3 trials there. Those trials will look at efficacy and potential side effects in an even larger group of people. In the meantime, CanSino declined to say if members of the Chinese military would be required to receive the experimental vaccine or if it would be optional, according to Reuters. According to the latest tally by the World Health Organization, there are 17 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in clinical trials and 132 others in pre-clinical development. Many vaccines are being developed in China, but with the now-limited spread of the coronavirus there, researchers are working to conduct vaccine trials elsewhere, in areas still seeing heavy transmission. China moves forward with COVID-19 vaccine, approving it for use in military
  3. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Hawaii, trying to ease tensions between the world’s two largest economies over various issues, according to media reports. Pompeo was planning the trip “quietly” and the arrangements were not yet finalized, Politico said. Pompeo has been vocal in criticizing China on a range of issues from the origins of the coronavirus pandemic to its Hong Kong policy to the treatment of its ethnic and religious minorities. The U.S. State Department and the Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper cited an unidentified source as saying that Yang, a state councilor and member of the Communist Party Politburo, will represent the Chinese side for the meeting. Relations between the countries have deteriorated in recent months, and U.S. President Donald Trump has said he could even sever relations. Pompeo said last month that China could have prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people around the world by being more transparent about the coronavirus and accused it of refusing to share information. He also said Chinese plans to impose national security laws on Hong Kong would be the “death knell” for the former British colony’s autonomy. Source
  4. BEIJING (Reuters) - A Beijing district put itself on a “wartime” footing and the capital banned tourism and sports events on Saturday after a cluster of novel coronavirus infections centred around a major wholesale market sparked fears of a new wave of COVID-19. Forty-five people out of 517 tested with throat swabs at the Xinfadi market in the city’s southwestern Fengtai district had tested positive for the coronavirus, Chu Junwei, a district official, told a briefing. None were showing symptoms of COVID-19, he said, but added that 11 neighbourhoods in the vicinity of the market, which claims to be the largest agricultural wholesale market in Asia, had been locked down with 24-hour guards put in place. “In accordance with the principle of putting the safety of the masses and health first, we have adopted lockdown measures for the Xinfadi market and surrounding neighbourhoods,” Chu said. The district is in a “wartime emergency mode,” he added. The closure of the market and new restrictions come as concerns grow about a second wave of the pandemic, which has infected more than 7.66 million people worldwide and killed more than 420,000. They also underline how even in countries which have had great success in curbing the spread of the virus, clusters can sometimes easily arise. The entire Xinfadi market was shut down at 3 a.m. on Saturday (1900 GMT on Friday), after two men working at a meat research centre who had recently visited the market were reported to have the virus. It was not immediately clear how they had been infected. People are wearing face masks inside the Jingshen seafood market which has been closed for business after new coronavirus infections were detected, in Beijing, China, June 12, 2020. On Saturday, market entrances were blocked and police stood guard. Beijing authorities had earlier halted beef and mutton trading at the market and had closed other wholesale markets around the city. They plan for more than 10,000 people at the Xinfadi market to take nucleic acid tests to detect coronavirus infections. According to the Xinfadi website, more than 1,500 tonnes of seafood, 18,000 tonnes of vegetables and 20,000 tonnes of fruit are traded at the market daily. TOURIST SITES CLOSE A city spokesman told the briefing that all six COVID-19 patients confirmed in Beijing on Friday had visited the Xinfadi market. The capital will suspend sports events and tourists from other parts of China, effective immediately, he said. In Nanjing, capital of the eastern province of Jiangsu, a local association of restaurants said it would halt the serving of foods containing raw seafood or animal products. Some Beijing residents, including a man shopping at a Carrefour supermarket in Fengtai district, said they were confident authorities had the situation under control. “If I were worried, I wouldn’t come here to buy meat. I believe it has been quarantined,” said the man, who gave his surname as Zhang. Beijing’s Yonghe temple and National Theatre also announced they would close from Saturday, and the city government said it had dropped plans to reopen schools on Monday for students in grades one through three because of the new cases. One person at an agricultural market in the city’s northwestern Haidian district also tested positive for the coronavirus, Chu said. Highlighting the new sense of alarm within the city, health authorities visited the home of a Reuters reporter in Beijing’s Dongcheng district on Saturday to ask whether she had visited the Xinfadi market, which is 15 km (9 miles) away. They said the visit was part of patrols Dongcheng was conducting. And following reports in state-run newspapers that the coronavirus was discovered on chopping boards used for imported salmon at the market, major supermarkets in Beijing removed salmon from their shelves overnight. That concern also spread to other cities, with a major agricultural wholesale market in Chengdu, the capital of the southwestern province of Sichuan, saying it would remove salmon products from its shelves from Saturday. Slideshow of 8 images at the Source Source
  5. Pocket Casts and Castro are gone from China’s App Store Apple has removed Pocket Casts, the popular iOS and Android podcast client, from the App Store in China. The Cyberspace Administration of China has determined that it can be used to access content deemed illegal in the country, and has demanded that Apple remove the app as a result. It’s the second major podcast app to be removed from China’s App Store this month. “We believe podcasting is and should remain an open medium, free of government censorship,” Pocket Casts says in a statement posted to Twitter. “As such we won’t be censoring podcast content at their request. We understand this means that it’s unlikely that our iOS App will be available in China, but feel it’s a necessary step to take for any company that values the open distribution model that makes podcasting special.” Pocket Casts tells The Verge that Apple didn’t provide specifics on which content violated Chinese law upon request, instead suggesting that the team reach out to the Cyberspace Administration of China directly. The app was removed around two days after Apple contacted the developer. China represented its seventh biggest market, Pocket Casts says, and it was considered to be growing. Castro, another iPhone podcast app, was also recently pulled from China’s App Store. The developers say China made up 10 percent of its user base, although it accounted for a smaller percentage of paying subscribers. Apple didn’t provide Castro with specifics on what content fell foul of Chinese regulations, either. The Verge has contacted Apple for more information on the matter, including which podcasts China considers illegal and what actions developers are expected to take, but is yet to hear back. Source
  6. Tickler

    CoronaVirus: News and Updates

    The coronavirus has infected more than 1,700 healthcare workers in China, killing 6 of them As of Friday, 1,716 healthcare workers who were treating patients in China have been infected. Six are dead, National Health Commission Vice Minister Zeng Yixin said at a news conference, according to Reuters. A nurse wrote on Weibo that she is among almost 150 people who work at Wuhan Central Hospital and have either been infected or are suspected to have the coronavirus, CNN found. The nurse added that she holds her breath when her fellow healthcare workers enter the room to check on her, saying, “I’m afraid the virus inside my body will come out and infect these colleagues who are still standing fast on the frontline.” Of the infected medical workers, 1,102 are located in Wuhan alone, and another 400 became ill elsewhere in the Hubei province. Wuhan was the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in December and the threat level skyrocketed for multiple reasons, including a shortage of medical resources to handle the deluge of highly contagious patients.
  7. International Crisis — Apple can’t break up with China, Wall Street Journal report argues Sources say it's not possible to replicate Chinese supply lines elsewhere. Workers assemble and perform quality control checks on MacBook Pro display enclosures at an Apple supplier facility in Shanghai. Apple Inc. 113 with 68 posters participating A report in The Wall Street Journal published today provided new insights and analysis on Apple's heavy reliance on partners in China to manufacture its products. The piece is timed with fluctuating stock for Apple and serious concerns about its ability to meet its goals and ship products to its millions of customers as efforts to contain the coronavirus debilitate the company's supply lines. Twice in about a year, Apple's profits and market value have suffered because of problems faced in China. First, it was the United States' trade war with the country. Now it's the health crisis. Some Apple staffers, executives, and investors have in the past expressed concerns about the company's reliance on the region; generally, it's ideal business practice for a large multinational corporation to diversify and not become overly dependent on one market, region, or partner. Citing people familiar with the discussions, the WSJ story claims some Apple executives floated the idea in 2015 to assemble at least one product in Vietnam instead of China as a first step toward building out the needed infrastructure and base of workers to make a bigger transition over time. However, "senior managers rebuffed the idea." Apple has made some attempts to make products outside of China, though. It has tried making AirPods in Vietnam to skirt US-China tariffs, iPhones in India to avoid an Indian tax an imports for iPhones sold in India, and Macs in the United States in limited ways. But the report says these trial runs have "laid bare a number of difficulties." Speaking with experts such as researchers and former Foxconn executives, the article argues what others have previously argued: it's simply not possible for Apple to make the change frustrated investors and employees want it to make. For one example why, the article says: The population in China has allowed suppliers to build factories with a capacity for more than 250,000 people. The number of migrant workers in China, who do much of Apple's production, exceed Vietnam's total population of 100 million. India is the closest comparison, but its roads, ports, and infrastructure lag far behind those in China. Additionally, the Chinese consumer market accounts for a significant portion of Apple's product sales, and a dramatic move to cut ties could jeopardize that market for the company. Paraphrasing Strategy Analytics technology researcher Neil Mawston, the article goes on to say that "employing so many local workers helped the company gain access to the market and any reduction might weaken its standing with the government, which wields tremendous influence over how global brands are perceived." That said, Apple is already facing fierce competition in the region from local rivals like Huawei—in some cases because of an Apple boycott movement by Chinese consumers in response to rhetoric around the trade tensions between the US and China. When asked about the possibility of making big changes to the company's supply base in a recent Fox Business interview, Apple CEO Tim Cook responded: My perspective sitting here today is that if there are changes, you're talking about adjusting some knobs, not some sort of wholesale fundamental change. There are more details worth reading in the Wall Street Journal story, such as the history of Samsung's move out of China, more specific reasons it's so difficult to manufacture iPhones elsewhere, Apple's response to US President Donald Trump's combative trade policies with China, and Apple executives' and employees' concerns about labor practices in the country. Some of the Journal's sources are part of a chorus of analyst and researcher voices that generally agree that the symbiotic relationship between Apple, Foxconn, China, and the United States is vital and inescapable for a company in Apple's position. But that hasn't stopped investors from being worried about profits. Neither has it prevented watchdogs, consumers, and Apple employees from confronting complicated questions about labor rights in developing economies. To make matters worse, there has been a growing trend of anti-China sentiment or even outright Sinophobia in Western nations in reaction to relentless onslaughts of news stories in Western press outlets—some responsibly reported, some not—about labor crisis, the coronavirus, Hong Kong protests, controversial treatment by the Chinese government of indigenous Muslim populations, and US-China trade policies, among other concerns. Just as many economists argue that the economic futures of the United States, Europe, and many other regions are inextricably tied to China, analysts, researchers, and Apple leadership argue that Apple's future is inextricably tied to partners like Foxconn that have built operations in China that may be impossible to replicate elsewhere. Like many other US companies, the question for Apple can't possibly be whether or not to engage with China at all. Rather, it must be how to best weather the storms that inevitably come with that engagement. And it's a question that sits at the very heart of much of the world's current debates and upheaval about globalization, openness, trade, labor, the environment, and multiculturalism. According to The Wall Street Journal, there's no easy answer to the China question on the horizon for US tech giants, so grappling with these issues is going to be an existential challenge for Apple for a long time to come. Source: Apple can’t break up with China, Wall Street Journal report argues (Ars Technica)
  8. A report published Monday by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute claims that a large number of global companies are benefiting from the forced labor of Uyghurs and other minorities. A total of 83 companies are listed in the report, and some of those names are Microsoft Corp., Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Google LLC, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Sony Corp. The report states that about 80,000 Uyghurs and a number of other ethnic minorities have been moved from the Xinjiang region in China and sent to work in factories that suggest “forced labor.” Besides being sent to work in dozens of factories for large global corporations, the researchers said the workers have also been part of a “re-education” campaign by the Chinese government. “In factories far away from home, they typically live in segregated dormitories, undergo organized Mandarin and ideological training outside working hours, are subject to constant surveillance, and are forbidden from participating in religious observances,” said the report. “Numerous sources, including government documents, show that transferred workers are assigned minders and have limited freedom of movement.” ASPI went on to say the 80,000 number was a conservative estimate, and it has so far identified 27 factories in nine Chinese provinces. The workers are said to have graduated from re-education camps where they were forced to denounce their religion. After graduation those workers were forcibly sent to work in factories, which was part of a government initiative called “Xinjiang Aid.” The Chinese government has denied mistreating the workers and had said the scheme has only been to “fight terrorism and separatism in Xinjiang.” It seems there’s a kind of double-speak going on, since China calls the camps and factories “vocational training centers,” while reports have surfaced that make the labor programs sound more like oppressive forced labor under constant surveillance. Indeed, when the Washington Post visited one such site where Nike Inc.’s products were being made, it described something that sounded more like a prison, with barbed wire fences and watchtowers. That report stated that workers were not allowed to go back to their province. In a statement to the media, Apple said it is “dedicated to ensuring that everyone in our supply chain is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.” Microsoft said it would investigate the claims, adding that all forms of forced labor are banned by its supplier code of conduct. “Microsoft is committed to responsible and ethical sourcing,” the company said in a statement. “We take this responsibility very seriously and take significant steps to enforce our policies and code of conduct in support of human rights, labor, health and safety, environmental protection, and business ethics through our assurance program.” Source
  9. Face masks are mandatory in at least two provinces in China, including the city of Wuhan. In an effort to contain the coronavirus strain that has caused nearly 500 deaths, the government is insisting that millions of residents wear protective face covering when they go out in public. As millions don masks across the country, the Chinese are discovering an unexpected consequence to covering their faces. It turns out that face masks trip up facial recognition-based functions, a technology necessary for many routine transactions in China. Suddenly, certain mobile phones, condominium doors, and bank accounts won’t unlock with a glance. Complaints are plentiful in the popular Chinese blogging platform Weibo, reports Abacus, the Hong Kong-based technology news outlet. “[I’ve] been wearing a mask everyday recently and I just want to throw away this phone with face unlock,” laments one user. “Fingerprint payment is still better,” writes another. “All I want is to pay and quickly run.” Most complaints are about unlocking mobile devices. Apple confirmed to Quartz that an unobstructed view of a user’s eyes, nose, and mouth is needed for FaceID to work properly. Similarly, Huawei says that its efforts to develop a feature that recognizes partially-covered faces has fallen short. “There are too few feature points for the eyes and the head so it’s impossible to ensure security,” explains Huawei vice president Bruce Lee, in a Jan 21 post on Weibo.”We gave up on facial unlock for mask or scarf wearing [users].” Subverting surveillance cameras Biometrics, including facial recognition, are essential to daily life in China, on a scale beyond other nations. It’s used to do everything from ordering fast food meals to scheduling medical appointments to boarding a plane in more than 200 airports across the country. Facial recognition is even used in restrooms to prevent an occupant from taking too much toilet paper. And beyond quotidian transactions, the technology is a linchpin in the Chinese government’s scheme to police its 1.4 billion citizens. Last December, the government passed a new law that forces anyone registering a new mobile phone SIM card to undergo a face scan, in the stated interest of protecting “the legitimate rights and interest of citizens in cyberspace,” as Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information puts it. The technology is also used in some schools, where a camera records student attendance and can offer predictions about behavior and level of engagement. Hong Kong’s government, incidentally, has been trying to install a “mask ban” for protestors participating in anti-government rallies. The anonymity afforded by surgical masks, gas masks, and respirators has somehow emboldened both police and demonstrators to act aggressively, without fear of being caught on camera. Facial recognition technology that can “see through” disguises already exists, but it’s far from perfect. Researchers at the University of Cambridge and India’s National Institute of Technology, for instance, demonstrated one method that could identify a person wearing a mask with around 55% accuracy. In 2018, Panasonic introduced commercially-available software that can ID people wearing surgical masks if the camera captures images at a certain angle. Despite its widespread adoption across China, it’s ironic that facial recognition technology in general has been found to be less reliable when processing non-white faces, observes Jessica Helfand, author of the new book Face: A Visual Odyssey. “The fact that surveillance is increasingly flawed with regard to facial recognition and Asian faces is a paradox made even more bizarre by the face mask thing,” Helfand says. A recent landmark study by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology revealed a racial bias in algorithms sold by Intel, Microsoft, Toshiba, Tencent, and DiDi Chuxing. It showed that that African Americans, Native Americans, and Asians were 10 to 100 times more likely to be misidentified compared to a Caucasian subject. Source
  10. Tech giants’ high-speed internet link to Hong Kong has become politically toxic Google and Facebook seem to have resigned themselves to losing part of the longest and highest profile internet cable they have invested in to date. In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission last week, the two companies requested permission to activate the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN) between the US and the Philippines and Taiwan, leaving its controversial Hong Kong and Chinese sections dormant. Globally, around 380 submarine cables carry over 99.5 percent of all transoceanic data traffic. Every time you visit a foreign website or send an email abroad, you are using a fiber-optic cable on the seabed. Satellites, even large planned networks like SpaceX’s Starlink system, cannot move data as quickly and cheaply as underwater cables. When it was announced in 2017, the 13,000-kilometer PLCN was touted as the first subsea cable directly connecting Hong Kong and the United States, allowing Google and Facebook to connect speedily and securely with data centers in Asia and unlock new markets. The 120 terabit-per-second cable was due to begin commercial operation in the summer of 2018. “PLCN will help connect US businesses and internet users with a strong and growing internet community in Asia,” they wrote. “PLCN will interconnect … with many of the existing and planned regional and international cables, thus providing additional transmission options in the event of disruptions to other systems, whether natural or manmade.” Instead, it has been PLCN itself that has been disrupted, by an ongoing regulatory battle in the US that has become politicized by trade and technology spats with China. Team Telecom, a shadowy US national security unit comprised of representatives from the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice (including the FBI), is tasked with protecting America’s telecommunications systems, including international fiber optic cables. Its regulatory processes can be tortuously slow. Team Telecom took nearly seven years to decide whether to allow China Mobile, a state-owned company, access to the US telecoms market, before coming down against it in 2018 on the grounds of “substantial and serious national security and law enforcement risks.” Although subsidiaries of Google and Facebook have been the public face of PLCN in filings to the FCC, four of the six fiber-optic pairs in the cable actually belong to a company called Pacific Light Data Communication (PLDC). When the project was first planned, PLDC was controlled by Wei Junkang, a Hong Kong businessman who had made his fortune in steel and real estate. In December 2017, Wei sold most of his stake in PLDC to Dr Peng Telecom & Media Group, a private broadband provider based in Beijing. That sent alarm bells ringing in Washington, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal last year. While Dr Peng is not itself state-owned or controlled, it works closely with Huawei, a telecoms company the Trump administration has accused of espionage and trade secret theft. Dr Peng has also worked on Chinese government projects, including a surveillance network for the Beijing police. PLCN has been legal limbo ever since, with Google complaining bitterly to the FCC about the expense of the ongoing uncertainty. In 2018, it wrote, “[any further holdup] would impose significant economic costs. Depending on the length of the delay, the financial viability of the project could be at risk.” Google and Facebook finally secured special permission to lay the cable in US waters last year, and to construct, connect and temporarily test a cable landing station in Los Angeles. But while the network itself is now essentially complete, Team Telecom has yet to make a decision on whether data can start to flow through it. In the past, Team Telecom has permitted submarine cables, even from China, to land in the US, as long as the companies operating them signed what are called network security agreements. These agreements typically require network operations to be based in the US, using an approved list of equipment and staffed by security-screened personnel. Operators are obliged to block security threats from foreign powers, while complying with lawful surveillance requests from the US government. In 2017, for example, Team Telecom gave the green light to the New Cross Pacific (NCP) cable directly connecting China and the US, despite it being part-owned by China Mobile, the state-owned company it later denied US access to on national security grounds. “Normally there wouldn’t be so much fuss over a cable to China,” says Nicole Starosielski, a professor at New York University and author of The Undersea Network. “We’ve had cables to China for a long time and all of these networks interconnect, so even if they don’t land directly in China, they’re only a hop away. It is just one of those moments where it is more difficult to land a cable, no matter who the Chinese partner is, because of the political situation.” In September, Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), who sits on Senate committees for technology, communications and homeland security, sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai urging him to block PLCN. “[PLCN] threatens the freedom of Hong Kong and our national security,” wrote Scott. “This project is backed by a Chinese partner, Dr Peng Telecom & Media Group Co., and would ultimately provide a direct link from China into Hong Kong … China has repeatedly shown it cannot be trusted … We cannot allow China expanded access to critical American information, even if funded by US companies.” Google and Facebook saw the writing on the wall. On January 29 last week, representatives from the two companies – but not PLDC – met with FCC officials to propose a new approach. A filing, made the same day, requests permission to operate just the two PLCN fiber pairs owned by the American companies: Google’s link to Taiwan, and Facebook’s to the Philippines. “[Google] and [Facebook] are not aware of any national security issues associated with operation of US-Taiwan and US-Philippine segments,” reads the application. “For clarity, the [request] would not authorize any commercial traffic on the PLCN system to or from Hong Kong, nor any operation of the PLCN system by PLDC.” The filling goes on to describe how each fiber pair has its own terminating equipment, with Google’s and Facebook’s connections arriving at Los Angeles in cages that are inaccessible to the other companies. “PLDC is contractually prohibited from using its participation interest in the system to interfere with the ownership or rights of use of the other parties,” it notes. Neither company would comment directly on the new filing. A Google spokesperson told TechCrunch, “We have been working through established channels in order to obtain cable landing licenses for various undersea cables, and we will continue to abide by the decisions made by designated agencies in the locations where we operate.” A Facebook spokesperson said, “We are continuing to navigate through all the appropriate channels on licensing and permitting for a jointly-owned subsea cable between the US and Asia to provide fast and secure internet access to more people on both continents.” “I think stripping out the controversial [Hong Kong] link will work,” says Starosielski. “But whenever one of these projects either gets thwarted, it sends a very strong message. If even Google and Facebook can’t get a cable through, there aren’t going to be a ton of other companies advancing new cable systems between the US and China now.” Ironically, that means that US data to and from China will continue to flow over the NCP cable controlled by China Mobile – the only company that Team Telecom and the FCC have ever turned down on national security grounds. Source
  11. The U.S. Department of the Interior has confirmed it has grounded its fleet of non-emergency drones amid concerns over cybersecurity. In a brief statement, the department said the move will help to ensure that “the technology used for these operations is such that it will not compromise our national security interests.” Interior spokesperson Carol Danko said the department affirms with a formal order the “temporary cessation of non-emergency drones while we ensure that cybersecurity, technology and domestic production concerns are adequately addressed,” months after the department said it was grounding its approximately 800 drones. But the drones will still be used for emergency purposes, such as search and rescue and assisting with natural disasters, the statement said. Cyberscoop was first to report the news. The order did not specifically mention threats from China, but said that information collected during drone missions “has the potential to be valuable to foreign entities, organizations, and governments.” Danko told TechCrunch that the department currently has 121 drones made by DJI and 665 drones that Chinese-built but not made by DJI. She added that 24 drones are made in the U.S. but have Chinese components. “The review is to help us identify and assess any potential threats or risks,” said Danko. Several other government departments — including the military — have also banned or grounded their fleet of Chinese-built drones. DJI spokesperson Michael Oldenburg said the company was “extremely disappointed” in the decision. Chinese companies have faced bans and sanctions from operating in the federal government over their alleged connections to the Chinese government. Chief among the fears are that Chinese tech companies could be compelled by Beijing to spy or be used to conduct espionage against the West. Last year, the Trump administration banned federal agencies from buying networking equipment from Huawei and ZTE. Several other companies, including radio equipment maker Hytera and surveillance tech giant Hikvision, were also banned from government. DJI said last year it would look to assemble its drones in California in an effort to dispel concerns. Source
  12. During today's earnings call, Apple CEO Tim Cook commented on the coronavirus outbreak in China, which investors fear could potentially impact Apple's business, affecting production of both current iPhones and the new low-cost iPhone that's on the horizon. Cook said that Apple is donating to China to help with the outbreak and working with partner companies. We're donating to groups that are working to contain the outbreak. We're working closely with our Apple team members in the affected areas, and our thoughts are with all of those in the region. In an interview with CNBC, Cook confirmed that employee travel has been restricted to "business critical travel" only as of last week, and employees in Wuhan and across China are receiving care kits from Apple. "We're restricting travel to business critical travel. For employees that are in the Wuhan area, we are providing care kits and supplying them across our employee population in China as well. Cook said that Apple's decision to set next quarter guidance with a range of $4 billion is reflective of the coronavirus outbreak and the "uncertainty around that." Apple's guidance for Q2 2020 is $63 to $67 billion, a larger range than normal. The situation is still emerging, said Cook, and Apple is monitoring the situation closely and gathering data points. According to Cook, supplier factories in wider China are opening late after Chinese New Year, on February 10, which Apple is working to manage. Apple does have suppliers in the Wuhan area, but all of these suppliers have alternate suppliers, and Apple is working to ensure good supplies. Apple has accounted for the delayed startup with its larger range of outcomes. In its retail stores, Apple is limiting hours, checking employees, and sanitizing its stores regularly. One store has also been shut down for the time being. Apple's retail sales have slowed due to virus concerns, but this is accounted for in Apple's guidance numbers for Q2 2020. Source
  13. A SARS-like virus that has spread across China and reached three other Asian nations is contagious between humans, a government expert said Monday, and the World Health Organization announced that a key emergency committee would meet this week to discuss the infections. The new coronavirus strain, first discovered in the central city of Wuhan, has caused alarm because of its connection to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003. The total number of people diagnosed with the new virus has risen to 218. Beijing and Shanghai confirmed their first cases on Monday while more than a dozen more emerged in southern Guangdong province and 136 new ones were found over the weekend in Wuhan, according to state broadcaster CCTV. A third person died in Wuhan, the local health commission said. Scientists have scrambled to determine the mode of transmission, with a seafood market in Wuhan believed to be the centre of the outbreak. But Zhong Nanshan, a renowned scientist at the National Health Commission who helped expose the scale of the SARS outbreak, said patients could contract the new virus without having visited the city. "Currently, it can be said it is affirmative that there is the phenomenon of human-to-human transmission," he said in an interview with CCTV. In Guangdong, two patients were infected by family members who visited Wuhan, Zhong explained. Fourteen medical personnel helping with coronavirus patients have also been infected, he said, though he added that more than 95 of the total cases were related to Wuhan. Zhong predicted an increase of viral pneumonia cases during the Lunar New Year holiday - when millions travel in China - but expressed confidence in curbing the spread of the virus, China's official Xinhua news agency reported. The World Health Organization panel will meet in Geneva on Wednesday to determine whether to declare the outbreak "a public health emergency of international concern" - a rare designation only used for the gravest epidemics. WHO said earlier that an animal source seemed to be "the most likely primary source" with "some limited human-to-human transmission occurring between close contacts." Wuhan has 11 million inhabitants and serves as a major transport hub, including during the annual Lunar New Year holiday, which begins later this week and sees hundreds of millions of Chinese people travel across the country to visit family. Weighing in on the matter for the first time, President Xi Jinping said Monday that safeguarding people's lives should be given "top priority" and that the spread of the epidemic "should be resolutely contained," according to CCTV. Xi said it was necessary to "release information on the epidemic in a timely manner and deepen international cooperation," and ensure people have a "stable and peaceful Spring Festival," the broadcaster said. Five cases were reported in Beijing, while in Shanghai a 56-year-old woman who had come from Wuhan was hospitalised and in stable condition, local health authorities said. South Korea on Monday also reported its first case - a 35-year-old woman who flew in from Wuhan. Thailand and Japan have previously confirmed a total of three cases - all of whom had visited the Chinese city. There are also six suspected cases in Shanghai and in four provinces and regions in the east, south and southwest of the country. The virus did not slow down the annual holiday travel rush, though some travellers wore masks at crowded railway stations in Beijing and Shanghai. "Watching the news, I do feel a little worried. But I haven't taken precautionary measures beyond wearing regular masks," said Li Yang, a 28-year-old account manager who was heading home to the northern region of Inner Mongolia for the Lunar New Year. Detection measures The WHO said the new cases in China were the result of "increased searching and testing for (the virus) among people sick with respiratory illness." Scientists with the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College in London warned in a paper published Friday that the number of cases in Wuhan was likely to be closer to 1,700, much higher than the official figure. Wuhan authorities said they have installed infrared thermometers at airports and railway and coach stations across the city. Passengers with fever were being registered, given masks and taken to medical institutions. State TV footage showed medical staff working inside an isolation ward at a Wuhan hospital in hazmat suits. In Hong Kong, health officials said they were expanding enhanced checks on arrivals to include anyone coming in from Hubei province, not just its capital Wuhan. More than 100 people are being monitored in the city. Passengers are also being screened at some airports in Thailand and the United States. In Wuhan, 170 people are still being treated at hospital, including nine in critical condition, the city's health commission said. source
  14. Every few days, China finds a new way to introduce facial recognition in people’s daily lives. According to a report from the South China Morning Post, Shanghai is testing face recognition terminals at pharmacies to catch folks attempting to buy controlled substances in substantial quantities, likely for resale. The report noted buyers of drugs containing sedatives and psychotropic substances will have to verify themselves through the terminal. The system will scan both pharmacists and buyers to prevent any misdoings. The move is also to prevent people from obtaining medicines that contain raw materials for illegal drugs. For instance, ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, found in drugs for the common colds, is a key element to produce crystal meth. The system has been adopted by 31 healthcare institutions and has performed over 300 scans. Shanghai city administration aims to cover the whole city with these terminals by the first half of 2021. Previously, China has experimented with facial recognition with subway rides, payments, catching criminals, and buying SIM cards. While some solutions may sound dystopian, this new system is relatively more well-intentioned, as it could help curb drug abuse. Source
  15. An anonymous Microsoft contractor who worked grading audio snippets from Skype conversations and Cortana recordings revealed to the Guardian that "no security measures" were taken to protect the audio clips. The contractor, who worked out of Beijing, had access to the recordings through a Chrome web app through a Microsoft account login. He said that all the contractors' accounts shared the same password. Last year a series of reports provoked public outcry after big tech companies including Microsoft, Amazon, and Google were revealed to be giving customers' audio recordings to human contractors for grading. Microsoft contractors working in China were able to listen to people's Skype conversations and Cortana recordings through a system woefully lacking in cybersecurity, the Guardian reports. An anonymous Microsoft contractor who worked out of Beijing for years told the Guardian that he was able to listen to recordings of users with practically "no security measures." The contractor's work involved listening to short audio clips from Skype conversations and instructions given to Cortana (Microsoft's voice-assistant) to grade them for quality. The contractor accessed the recordings which were selected to help grade and improve Microsoft's services through a Google Chrome web app on his personal laptop. "They just give me a login over email and I will then have access to Cortana recordings," he told the Guardian. "I could then hypothetically share this login with anyone." He said that he and other contractors were instructed to access the clips through company-issued accounts which all shared the same password. He added that employee vetting was practically nonexistent. The contractor was able to listen to incredibly sensitive audio recording through this system. "I heard all kinds of unusual conversations, including what could have been domestic violence," he said, according to the Guardian. "It sounds a bit crazy now, after educating myself on computer security, that they gave me the URL, a username and password sent over email." On top of the usual security risks associated with such low cybersecurity, the employee noted that his location in China made the recordings especially vulnerable. "Living in China, working in China, you're already compromised with nearly everything," he said. Last year Vice revealed that Microsoft had employed contractors to listen to clips of recordings from users' Skype conversations and instructions given to Cortana, Microsoft's voice assistant. The story was part of a slew of reports revealing big tech companies including Amazon, Apple, and Google were sending private recordings from their voice-assistants to human contractors for grading. The reason given for allowing contractors to listen to these clips was to grade the audio and improve the services, although all the companies subsequently changed their policies after the reports sparked a privacy outrage. A Microsoft spokesperson told the Guardian the company ended its grading programmes for Skype, Cortana, and Xbox, and that the remainder of its human grading takes place in "secure facilities," none of which are in China. A Microsoft spokeswoman told Business Insider: "We review short snippets of de-identified voice data from a small percentage of customers to help improve voice-enabled features, and we sometimes engage partner companies in this work. Review snippets are typically fewer than ten seconds long and no one reviewing these snippets would have access to longer conversations. "We've always disclosed this to customers and operate to the highest privacy standards set out in laws like Europe's GDPR. This past summer we carefully reviewed both the process we use and the communications with customers. As a result we updated our privacy statement to be even more clear about this work, and since then we've significantly enhanced the process including by moving these reviews to secure facilities in a small number of countries. We will continue to take steps to give customers greater transparency and control over how we manage their data." You can read the full Guardian report here. Source
  16. Never-before-seen virus may be behind mystery outbreak in China Investigators have already ruled out SARS and other obvious culprits, officials say. Enlarge / Colored image of coronaviruses made from a transmission electron microscopy. Getty | BSIP A mysterious outbreak of viral pneumonia linked to a wild-animal market in the Chinese city of Wuhan may be caused by a never-before-seen virus, according to preliminary reports. Officials in neighboring areas, meanwhile, are screening travelers for symptoms and planning quarantine zones to try to prevent any potential spread of the mystery disease. As of Sunday, January 5, Wuhan Municipal Health Commission reported a total of 59 cases, including seven critically ill patients. There have been no reported deaths. Those sickened are being held in isolation in medical facilities in Wuhan. Their main symptom is fever, according to the World Health Organization. But some patients have also experienced trouble breathing, and chest X-rays have shown invasive lesions in both lungs. Though Wuhan health officials are closely monitoring 163 people who had close contact with those sickened, there's no evidence so far that the illness is spreading from person-to-person. No medical staff members have become ill in the outbreak, either. Those are both promising signs for containing the outbreak and stamping out the disease. Wuhan officials report that the outbreak erupted in the latter half of December. Among the cases identified so far, the earliest onset of symptoms was pinned to December 12 and the latest illness began December 29. Survey data collected during that window indicated that some patients with the mysterious pneumonia were working at the Wuhan South China Seafood City. The market sold seafood, but also chickens, bats, marmots, and other wild animals. According to The Washington Post, it was a 1,000-booth bazaar that state media reports labeled as "filthy and messy." Officials shut down the market on January 1 and reported that it has been thoroughly sanitized. Shadow of SARS Such markets are notorious for helping spawn and spread disease. They often cram humans together with a variety of live animals, which may tote their own menageries of pathogens. Such close quarters, meat preparation, and poor hygienic conditions in the markets offer viruses an inordinate number of opportunities to recombine with each other, mutate, and leap to new species, including humans. After the 2003 SARS outbreak, for instance, SARS-like viruses were found in masked palm civets and raccoon dogs sold for food in live-animal street markets in southern China, where the virus first emerged. Later, researchers also found the viruses circulating in China's horseshoe bat populations. The outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in humans sparked panic as it spread to more than two dozen countries. It ultimately sickened over 8,000 people worldwide, killing 774. Determined to keep such an outbreak from spreading like that again, regions near Wuhan are stepping up precautions amid the mystery illnesses. Hong Kong, for instance, has granted authorities quarantine powers for suspected cases, and residents there are stocking up on protective face masks and gowns. Thailand is screening airline passengers arriving from Wuhan, and authorities in Vietnam are tightening health checks at border gates. Meanwhile, experts in Wuhan are working to figure out exactly what is causing the outbreak. Officials on Sunday said that "respiratory pathogens such as influenza, avian influenza, adenovirus, infectious atypical pneumonia (SARS), and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) have been excluded. Pathogen identification and cause tracing are still underway." Virus más fina This morning, January 8, The Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese scientists had identified a novel coronavirus in samples taken from one patient. The virus subsequently matched samples taken from some—but not all—other cases. The report was based on unnamed sources said to be familiar with the health investigation. Coronaviruses are a species of virus named for the halo-like (corona) appearance they have under a microscope. Species members are known to cause common, mild-to-moderate respiratory infections in humans as well as rare, severe infections. SARS and MERS are both caused by coronaviruses. The species also causes respiratory, gastrointestinal, liver, and neurologic disease in animals, such as cats, dogs, mice, and birds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the WSJ, the coronavirus found during the current outbreak was similar to SARS-precursor viruses found in bats. But the report notes that Wuhan investigators haven't concluded that the novel virus is behind the outbreak. Regardless of the cause, health experts in China are optimistic that the outbreak will be contained and that response efforts will be better than they were during the SARS outbreak. Xu Jianguo, a former top Chinese public health official, noted to The Washington Post in a report today, "More than a decade has passed. It's impossible for something like SARS to happen again." Source: Never-before-seen virus may be behind mystery outbreak in China (Ars Technica)
  17. China’s lander releases data, high-resolution images of the Moon The data was collected over a period of 12 lunar "days." First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all images. A little more than one year ago, China's Chang'e 4 spacecraft landed on the far side of the Moon. In doing so, it became the first-ever vehicle to make a soft landing on the side of the Moon facing away from Earth. To mark the one-year anniversary, China released a batch of scientific data and images captured by five scientific payloads aboard the 1.2-ton spacecraft and its small Yutu 2 rover. Since the landing, the rover has driven a little more than 350 meters across the Moon's surface, studying rock formations and taking additional photos. The data was collected over a period of 12 lunar "days," or most of the last year. The lander itself carried an excellent camera to image its surroundings. Extra sharp with a good color balance, the Terrain Camera was mounted at the top of the lander, with the ability to rotate 360 degrees. Before it died at the end of the first lunar day, this TCAM returned detailed images of the Moon. A helpful Twitter user in France, Techniques Spatiales, converted the camera's imagery into .png files, which can be found here. The Chang'e 4 spacecraft landed in the South Pole-Aitken basin in the southern hemisphere of the far side of the Moon. The lander and rover have produced the best in situ data of the unexplored far side of the Moon to date, including radar and radiation measurements of the largely unexplored environment. After this success, China intends to launch the Chang'e 5 mission late this year. It has the ambitious goal of returning as much as 2kg of lunar regolith to Earth, and is scheduled to launch on a Long March 5 rocket near the end of this year. It would be by far the most complicated robotic mission China has ever attempted and if successful would return the first lunar samples to Earth since the Soviet Luna 24 mission in 1976. Listing image by CNSA Source: China’s lander releases data, high-resolution images of the Moon (To view the article's image gallery, please visit the above link)
  18. Microsoft said it got a court order to seize 50 websites used by a hacker group with ties to North Korea that targeted government employees, universities, human rights organizations and nuclear proliferation groups in the U.S., Japan and South Korea. The group, known as Thallium, uses the network of websites, domains and connected computers to send out “spear phising” emails. Hackers gather as much information on targets as they can to personalize messages and make them appear legitimate. When the target clicks on a link in the email, hackers are then able to “compromise their online accounts, infect their computers, compromise the security of their networks and steal sensitive information,” Microsoft wrote in a blog post. Microsoft showed an example of one of Thallium’s spear phishing messages. It looks very much like a standard notification that comes with signing into a Microsoft account in a new location. One big difference, Microsoft says, is the group combined the letters “r” and “n” in the domain name to look like the first letter “m” in “microsoft.com.” Microsoft, through its Digital Crimes Unit and Threat Intelligence Center, has positioned itself as an important line of defense against so-called “nation state” hacking organizations. Microsoft has in recent years taken on hacking groups with ties to China, Iran and Russia. The tech giant uses the information it gathers from tracking these hackers to beef up its security products. Microsoft recommended a number of actions organizations can take to better protect themselves, including enabling two-factor authentication on business and personal email accounts, training people to spot phising attempts and enabling security alerts about links and files from suspicious websites. Source: MSN
  19. The US Army has banned the use of popular Chinese social media video app TikTok, with Military.com first reporting it was due to security concerns. "It is considered a cyber threat," a US Army spokesperson told Military.com. "We do not allow it on government phones." The ban comes in the wake of Democrat Senator Charles Schumer and Republican Senator Tom Cotton writing a letter to US Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire insisting an investigation into TikTok would be necessary to determine whether the Chinese-owned social media video app poses a risk to national security. "Given these concerns, we ask that the Intelligence Community conduct an assessment of the national security risks posed by TikTok and other China-based content platforms operating in the US and brief Congress on these findings," the letter said. The social media video app, known as Douyin in China and TikTok outside its home market, is owned by Beijing-based unicorn ByteDance. Senator Marco Rubio had previously claimed that the popular app has been trying to censor content in US in order to be in line with the interests of the Chinese government. "[Chinese apps] are increasingly being used to censor content and silence open discussion on topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese Government and Communist Party," Rubio said at the time. On the same day of the US Army announcing its ban, TikTok released its first transparency report that showed how many requests the company received from government bodies and law enforcement in markets in which the application operates. This first report covered the first half of 2019 calendar year. "We take any request from government bodies extremely seriously, and closely review each such request we receive to determine whether, for example, the request adheres to the required legal process or the content violates a local law," the company wrote in its transparency report. "TikTok is committed to assisting law enforcement in appropriate circumstances while respecting the privacy and rights of our users." The report revealed that law enforcement in India made the most total requests during the period with 107. Of those, 99 were legal requests and the remaining eight were for emergencies. However, of the information that was requested by the Indian government, TikTok only provided 47% of it. Meanwhile, the percentage of information produced to US law enforcement reached 86%, based on 79 total requests and 255 total accounts specified. For Japan, the country with the third most total requests at 35, 21% of requested information was produced. Of the total, 28 were legal requests. Countries where law enforcement agencies saw 100% of information produced based on their requests included Canada, Iceland, Israel, Singapore, and Turkey. When it came to requests by government bodies to remove content deemed as a violation of local laws, India topped the chart with 11 requests, while Japan had three, and both Australia and France had two. For the United States, there were six government requests, although a total of seven accounts were removed or restricted. There were, however, no take-down requests by the Chinese government or law enforcement. The transparency report also revealed that 3,345 copyright content take-down notices were issued and of those 85% saw some content removed. "Upon receiving an effective notice from a rights holder of potential intellectual property infringement, TikTok will remove the infringing content in a timely manner," TikTok said in its report. In October, the company hired global law firm K&L Gates LLP, including two former US congressmen Bart Gordon and Jeff Denham, to review its content moderation policies in a bid to further strengthen the platform's moderation policies and overall transparency. TikTok made the external hires to "further increase transparency around our content moderation policies and the practices we employ to protect our community," Vanessa Pappas, TikTok's US general manager, said at the time. Source
  20. The Chinese tech giant Huawei attacked The Wall Street Journal for a report detailing $75 billion in state aid that the outlet said underpinned its explosive growth. The Journal said that loans, grants, tax breaks, and discounted land sales had put the company in a stronger position than its rivals. In response, Huawei denied that state support for its work amounted to special or unfair treatment. It posted a long rebuttal accusing The Journal of using "false information" and a pattern of biased reporting, though it did not substantiate those allegations. Huawei has had a rocky 2019, which saw it blacklisted by the US government. Its chief financial officer spent the whole year under house arrest. It maintained a dominant market position nonetheless. A representative for The Wall Street Journal told Business Insider it stood by its reporting. Huawei launched an angry attack on The Wall Street Journal the day after it published an article laying out what it said was $75 billion in state support from China that helped fuel its growth. The article, published on December 25, ran under the headline "State Support Helped Fuel Huawei's Global Rise." It gave figures for four different ways the Chinese state helped Huawei in its explosive growth to become the largest telecom-equipment firm, which manufactures smartphones and is vying to build 5G networks around the world. Here are the numbers, according to The Journal's research (which it described in a separate article $46 billion in loans, lines of credit, and other financing from state lenders $25 billion in tax breaks for tech companies $2 billion in discounts on land purchases $1.6 billion in grants The total is $74.6 billion. Huawei said in a statement that The Journal relied on "false information" for its reporting and characterized it as part of a pattern of "disingenuous" reporting on the company. Huawei did not specify the information it alleged to be false or provide details to substantiate its claim of an ulterior motive behind The Journal's work. Huawei did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for more information. A representative for The Wall Street Journal told Business Insider that it stood by its reporting. Huawei's status as one of the most visible Chinese companies, and its relationship with the Chinese government, has plagued its role on the world stage. The company was in May placed on a US government blacklist, prohibiting most companies from doing business with it because of national-security concerns. The concerns are based on fears that Huawei could hand over network data to the Chinese government. The company has repeatedly denied that it would do that. The US government has also sought to persuade allied governments from freezing Huawei out of any role developing 5G data networks. On a more personal level, Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, also the daughter of CEO Ren Zhengfei, has spent all of 2019 under house arrest in Canada, where she was detained in December 2018 at the request of US authorities. Despite this, Huawei has maintained its dominant market position. In its rebuttal of The Journal's reporting, Huawei downplayed the significance of state support in its success. It instead cited very large expenditure on research and development, which it said far outstripped its rivals. While it did not deny receiving help from the Chinese state, Huawei said it got no "additional or special treatment" that other companies could not also have accessed. Source
  21. SHENZHEN, China (Reuters) - An art exhibition exploring the impact of facial recognition technology has opened in China, offering a rare public space for reflection on increasingly pervasive surveillance by tech companies and the government. A security personnel stands next to information on artists who applied for the "Eyes of the City" exhibition, as the part of a joint Hong Kong/Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture, at Futian train station in Shenzhen, China December 23, 2019 Hosted jointly by the southern mainland city of Shenzhen and its neighbour Hong Kong, the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture features more than 60 installations from Chinese and foreign artists exploring the loss of urban anonymity brought about by technological change. The “Eyes of the City” exhibition is being held at Shenzhen’s Futian station, the first mainland stop on a high-speed rail link that opened in 2018 amid apprehension in Hong Kong about its deepening integration with mainland China. “Stations have traditionally been a place of anonymity, but they’re becoming places where actually everything is known,” the show’s chief curator, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Carlo Ratti told Reuters. “This is one of the things we want to discuss.” The exhibition comes at a sensitive time in China. Protests against China’s influence have rocked the former British colony of Hong Kong for months and the rapid spread of facial recognition technology has triggered debate about privacy. The New York Times reported in November that a Beijing arts centre cancelled Chinese-American artist Hung Liu’s show of antiwar paintings for no clear reason though she believed it was related to Hong Kong. Asked if he was surprised the exhibition had been allowed to open given the unrest in Hong Kong, Ratti said he “found an openness for discussion” in Shenzhen. “There’s probably not a better place to discuss these issues ... this is a global issue and the best way to deal with it is to open up these technologies and put them in the hands of the public,” he said. Reuters was unable to contact the event’s organisers and foreign media were not invited to an opening news conference amid concern they would ask about Hong Kong, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The exhibition features a facial recognition system that visitors can opt out of, to draw attention to the inability to opt out in public, Ratti said. Other works include facial monitors that track visitors’ emotional engagement with the exhibits and digitalized images of fishing boats in one of Shenzhen’s older harbours using advanced sensing technologies developed by artists Ai Deng and Li Lipeng and by architects INTACT Studio. Source
  22. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration is finalizing a set of narrow rules to limit exports of sophisticated technology to adversaries like China, a document seen by Reuters shows, in a boon to U.S. industry that feared a much tougher crackdown on sales abroad. The Commerce Department is putting the finishing touches on five rules covering products like quantum computing and 3-D printing technologies that were mandated by a 2018 law to keep sensitive technologies out of the hands of rival powers. Before drafting the rules, Commerce sought industry comment last year on a raft of high-tech sectors that it could cover under the law, from artificial intelligence technology to robotics. That fueled concerns among U.S. businesses the department would craft broad, tough regulations that would stymy a host of exports to key customers. But the internal status update seen by Reuters shows for the first time that Commerce is finishing a first batch of rules that touch on just a few technologies that will be proposed to international bodies before taking effect, a reprieve for U.S. companies. “Based on their titles, the rules appear to be narrowly tailored to address specific national security issues, which should go a long way to calming the nerves of those in industry concerned that the administration would impose controls over broad categories of widely available technologies,” said Kevin Wolf, former assistant secretary of commerce for export administration. Commerce declined to confirm any details but said it has a number of proposed rules in the review process. Despite the apparent reprieve, Commerce could issue more rules in the future regulating sales abroad of cutting-edge items. The document failed to outline when the rule proposals would be made public or what the controls would look like for specific countries, buyers and uses. In a move that should appeal to U.S. firms, the rules will be submitted to international bodies for approval so that they may be implemented overseas, not just by the United States. That would establish a level playing field for U.S. companies abroad, but would also take much longer to review and go into effect, likely until mid-2021 at the earliest. Commerce is expected to seek industry comment on the rules before submitting them to the groups, a source said, adding that a sixth rule, covering artificial intelligence, will go into effect in the United States without a comment period. The revelations come amid growing frustration from Republican and Democratic lawmakers over the slow pace of the rule roll-out, with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer urging the Commerce Department to speed up the process. In a statement to Reuters, Republican Senator Tom Cotton said he was “disappointed at the lack of political will” at the Commerce department, accusing it of a “troubling” lack of urgency. “While bureaucrats and industry shills twiddle their thumbs, the Chinese Communist Party continues to purchase sensitive U.S. technologies with clear military applications,” he said. “I will be digging deep into the Commerce Department’s actions.” “China firmly opposes the U.S.’ generalization of the concept of national security and abuse of export control measures to interfere with and restrict the normal communications and cooperation between businesses,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular briefing in Beijing on Wednesday, when asked about the rules. Limiting tech exports will not disrupt China’s innovation or development, said Geng. According to the status update, the agency plans to regulate exports of quantum diluted refrigerators, which are used to keep qubits cold in some quantum machines. Qubits are used in quantum computers to perform calculations that would take conventional computers thousands of years. Major makers of the refrigeration devices include U.K.-based ICE Oxford, Finland-based Bluefors and U.S.-based Janis Research. The rules would apply to exports of goods from the United States as well as shipments of items made abroad that contain a significant amount of U.S. technology or components. That rule was sent to the Commerce Department’s Office of Policy and Strategic Planning on Nov. 19, along with another rule regulating 3-D printing for explosives, the document shows. Another regulation on exports of the so called “Gate-All-Around Field Effect transistor technology, which is used to manufacture semiconductors, was awaiting comments from other agencies on Dec. 5. The transistors are expected to play a major role in newer, faster semiconductors that are under development by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Intel Corp Two other rules would regulate chemicals used to make Russian nerve agent Novichok and single-use chambers for chemical reactions. Source
  23. (Reuters) - U.S. stocks hit fresh record levels on Friday after China said first phase trade talks with the United States have achieved major progress and that Beijing would cancel tariffs scheduled to take effect on Sunday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was up 107.74 points, or 0.38%, at 28,239.79, the S&P 500 .SPX 8.97 points, or 0.28%, at 3,177.54. The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was up 41.69 points, or 0.48%, at 8,759.01. Wall Street opened lower after President Donald Trump said a report about a trade deal with China was completely wrong. The U.S. will phase out China tariffs, Beijing officials say BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has agreed to phase out tariffs on Chinese goods, Chinese officials said at a press conference in Beijing Friday evening. Trump: U.S. to suspend scheduled tariffs after reaching deal with China WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said the United States had reached a so-called Phase One trade deal with China in which Washington would suspend tariffs on Chinese imports scheduled for Sunday, while Beijing would step up purchases of U.S. agricultural products. “We have agreed to a very large Phase One Deal with China. They have agreed to many structural changes and massive purchases of Agricultural Product, Energy, and Manufactured Goods, plus much more,” Trump said on Twitter. Trump also said the United States would curb some tariffs on Chinese goods that had already been imposed. Sources: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-stocks/wall-st-rises-as-china-u-s-agree-on-context-of-trade-deal-idUSKBN1YH1D1 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china/the-u-s-will-phase-out-china-tariffs-beijing-officials-say-idUSKBN1YH1SA https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china-trump/trump-u-s-to-suspend-scheduled-tariffs-after-reaching-deal-with-china-idUSKBN1YH1T3
  24. BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police on Friday detained the chairman and chief executive officer of New York-listed Fincera Inc (YUANF.PK) for suspected financial crime. FILE PHOTO: Li Yonghui, chairman of Hebei province's largest peer-to-peer (P2P) lender Fincera, speaks to members of the media following a promotional event in Beijing, China August 21, 2019. Li Yonghui, a Canadian national, is suspected of illegal acceptance of public funds, Shijiazhuang police in northern Hebei said in a post on its official social media account. Police said they also detained Fincera’s legal representative Shen Hui and several other people. The company did not answer phone calls from Reuters seeking comment. Fincera, once the largest peer-to-peer lending platform in Hebei province by loans, was caught in a regulatory crackdown of the country’s P2P firms and forced to close, according to documents acquired by Reuters in August. Source
  25. CS2C and Tianjin Kylin announce plans to develop a new Chinese operating system. The two biggest OS (operating system) makers in China announced plans last week to unite and jointly build a new "domestic operating system." The two companies are China Standard Software (CS2C) and Tianjin Kylin Information (TKC), two of China's largest software firms, with known ties to the Beijing government. Both companies are known on the local Chinese OS market. CS2C created "China's Windows XP clone," known as the NeoKylin OS, and TKC is the current steward of Kylin, China's first-ever homegrown operating system. CS2C and TKC plan to set up a new company in which they'll become investors, and through which the new joint OS will be developed. The new company will handle the new operating system's development, technological decisions, marketing, branding, financials, and sales. CS2C and TKC have a verbal agreement on a planned investment plan, and a formal deal is to be signed in the future, the two companies said in a joint press conference held last Friday, December 6. The current Kylin and NeoKylin operating systems will serve as a base for the new OS, the two said. As a sign of the merger between the two, the new "domestic OS" will combine the current Kylin OS logo (a blue qilin, a Chinese mythical beast) and the NeoKylin OS logo (a red qilin). The new joint "domestic OS" has no name yet. A history of China's homemade operating systems The roots of both operating systems reside in the original Kylin operating system, created in 2001 by academics at the National University of Defense Technology. The original Kylin OS was based on FreeBSD and was developed via the popular 863 Program, a government fund set up in the 80s to stimulate the development of local tech to help China reach independence from foreign technologies. The FreeBSD version of Kylin OS was never truly successful. It was deployed on some Chinese military networks, but not all, and was never adopted beyond academia and research projects. The OS took a big image hit in 2016, when a Chinese student going by the nickname of Dancefire revealed that the Kylin creators copied large chunks of code from FreeBSD v5.3, with little to no modifications, with code similarities reaching a whopping 99.45% between the two projects. A new version, developed on top of the Linux kernel, was released in 2009, and in 2014, development passed from the National University of Defense Technology to the newly-founded TKC. TKC broadened Kylin's development, and there are now Kylin versions for desktops, servers, and embedded devices, under both commercial and free licenses. These Linux-based versions of Kylin were far more successful than the FreeBSD versions, and they've also been used to power the Tianhe-1 and Tianhe-2, the fastest supercomputers in the world at the time of their launch in 2010 and 2013, respectively. Currently, both supercomputers run a Kylin OS version known as Galaxy Kylin. The community version of Kylin OS is still free, and TCK claims it's downloaded more than 24 million times each year. However, while the original Kylin is still around, it is not the most popular. CS2C forked the original Kylin codebase in 2010 and created a more user-friendly version known as NeoKylin. CS2C, through its subsidiary Winning Software, developed NeoKylin into a powerhouse. The NeoKylin variant is currently compatible with more than 4,000 software and hardware products, ships pre-installed on most computers sold in China, and has wrestled the desktop market away from TKC. Neither Kylin or NeoKylin are in a position to give Apple or Microsoft a run for the top OS in the home PC market, but CS2C claims they and TKC have a 90% joint market share in the government sector, where they've been aided by a 2014 push from the Beijing government to replace foreign operating systems with homegrown alternatives, and primarily NeoKylin. A new push to replace foreign software is underway News about the new jointly-developed "domestic OS" comes just as the Financial Times reported over the weekend that the Beijing government is currently executing a second push to get rid of foreign tech, amidst an ever-escalating trade war with the United States. The FT reported that Beijing had ordered all government offices and public institutions to replace foreign-made hardware and software with Chinese alternatives by 2022 as part of a new national policy named "3-5-2." A source at a Chinese software company has told ZDNet that Beijing's 2014 push to replace Windows with local operating systems has had side effects when local governments choose different operating systems, fracturing a previously Windows-only ecosystem. While Kylin and NeoKylin have a common codebase, they are different from one another. Kylin is focused primarily on servers and cloud deployments, while NeoKylin has historically focused on supporting as many platforms as possible. For example, NeoKylin is the only Chinese-made OS to support all six major "domestic CPUs" -- namely Feiteng, Godson, Zhaoxin, Shenwei, Haiguang, and Kunpeng. Currently, many apps that run on Kylin won't run on NeoKylin, and vice-versa, creating problems with managing a nation-wide IT system without unwanted friction and incompatibilities. With a plan to rip out all foreign hardware and software from government systems within three years, orders likely came down from Beijing to unite the two OSes into a common platform. The Beijing government is well known for its heavy-handed approach to controlling the local tech market, primarily through state-owned companies and generous government subsidies [1, 2]. CS2C, the company behind NeoKylin, is a subsidiary of China Electronics Corporation (CEC), China's largest state-owned tech company. The joint press conference to announce the new joint CS2C and TKC "domestic OS" was held at CEC's headquarters in Beijing. China's two top OS makers and competitors don't just join hands out of the blue. The Sino-US trade war forced China's hand In an interview with CNBC in September, David Roche, the president of Independent Strategy, said the Sino-US trade war is what's forcing China's hand to act and wean itself off American technologies, such as semiconductors, hardware, and software. "China will never trust the United States again, and it will achieve its technology independence within seven years," Roche told CNBC. He also predicted that China would win the trade war. "It is a conflict between a rising global power and a declining global power ... It's not just about trade," Roche said. And it's clear that China's has a long term plan with dealing with the current trade war. The new "domestic OS" will most likely play a minor role, but it was the Chinese who invented the "death by a thousand cuts" form of torture, known as lingchi. Source
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