WhatsApp Makes Changes in India After Deadly Attacks

WhatsApp has announced changes for its 200 million users in India following the spread of viral messages via the app that resulted in deadly mob attacks.

India’s government has threatened to take WhatsApp to court, saying “…the medium used for such propagation cannot evade responsibility and accountability.”  The information technology ministry said, “If they remain mute spectators they are liable to be treated as abettors and thereafter face consequent legal action.”  

The Facebook-owned messaging app said it will limit Indian users’ ability to forward messages, allowing only five contacts at a time to receive them.

The firm said it will also remove the quick forward button placed next to media messages.

Both moves are designed to make stop the mass forwards that have resulted in the mob attacks.

India is WhatsApp’s largest market.


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Cyberattacks on 2018 US Political Campaigns Already Underway

Hackers targeted the campaigns of at least three candidates running for Congress in the upcoming 2018 U.S. elections, but the attacks were detected and thwarted, a Microsoft executive said Thursday.

The attempted attacks tried to use a fake Microsoft domain as a landing page for phishing attacks, said Tom Burt, Microsoft vice president for customer security and trust. He refused to name which candidates were targeted, citing privacy concerns.

“They were all people who, because of their positions, might have been interesting targets from an espionage standpoint, as well as an election disruption standpoint,” Burt told an audience at the annual Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado.

He also did not identify the source of the phishing attacks, though the tactic was similar to those used by Russian operatives to target the Republican and Democratic parties during their presidential nominating conventions in 2016.

Burt said Microsoft coordinated with the U.S. government and was able to take down the fake domains. He also said none of the campaign staffers targeted by the phishing attacks were infected.

​More attacks are coming

Thursday’s revelation came in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s news conference Monday in Helsinki, Finland, after his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump sided with Putin, supporting the Russian leader’s assertions that his country did not meddle with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Trump’s comments, which directly contradicted the findings of the U.S. intelligence community, have drawn harsh criticism from politicians, and former diplomatic and intelligence officials.

Current intelligence and security officials have warned repeatedly that not only was Russia responsible for meddling in the 2016 election, but that more attacks — both in the form of hacks and in the form of more subtle information operations — are coming.

Russia taking lead

“What we assessed and reassessed and have carefully gone over still stands,” U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said of Russia’s efforts.

“It’s undeniable that the Russians are taking the lead on this,” Coats added, speaking during an appearance at the same security forum. “They are the ones who are trying to undermine our basic values, divide us with our allies.”

But U.S. and private sector officials say that, at least to this point, Russian efforts to influence the 2018 elections appear to be somewhat subdued.

“We’re not seeing the targeting of the actual state and local election systems that we saw in 2016 right now,” said Jeanette Manfra, the Department of Homeland Security’s assistant secretary for cybersecurity.

New tools working

For now, some leading private sector technology and social media companies agree.

Facebook, which Russia used to run ads and false news stories as part of its 2016 influence campaign, thinks some of that could be related to more awareness and crackdowns on the fake accounts Russian-linked operatives had been using.

“The new tools that would identify and remove fake accounts like the IRA [Russia’s Internet Research Agency] was running, combined with the new requirements for transparency in advertising, are such that I think we’re not seeing that same conduct,” Monika Bickert, head of Facebook’s product policy and counterterrorism, said.

“But we are watching for that activity,” Bickert said.

Microsoft’s Burt is also cautious, despite his experts “not seeing the same level of activity by the Russian activity groups” as they did two years ago.

“It doesn’t mean we’re not going to see it,” he said. “There’s a lot of time left.”

“I think we should all be prepared, given that capability and will, that they’ll do it again,” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen warned Thursday. “We would be foolish to think they’re not.”


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Trump Slams Record EU Fine Against Google

President Donald Trump lashed out Thursday after Brussels hit US tech giant Google with a record fine, and warned he would no longer allow Europe to take “advantage” of the United States.

“I told you so! The European Union just slapped a Five Billion Dollar fine on one of our great companies, Google,” Trump tweeted in reaction to the 4.34 billion euro penalty imposed on Google for abusing the dominance of its mobile operating system.

“They truly have taken advantage of the US, but not for long!” he said.

In announcing the fine on Wednesday, EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager accused Google of using the Android system’s near-stranglehold on smartphones and tablets to promote the use of its own Google search engine while shutting out rivals.

The decision, which followed a three-year EU investigation, comes as fears of a transatlantic trade war mount because of President Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on European steel and aluminum exports.

The new sanction nearly doubles the previous record EU antitrust fine of 2.4 billion euros, which also targeted Google, in that case for the Silicon Valley titan’s shopping comparison service in 2017.

Denmark’s Vestager ordered Google to “put an effective end to this conduct within 90 days or face penalty payments” of up to five percent of its average daily turnover.

The Google decision came one week before European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker was due to travel to the United States for crucial talks with the American president on the tariffs dispute and other issues.

Google chief Sundar Pichai immediately said the firm would appeal.

“Today’s decision rejects the business model that supports Android, which has created more choice for everyone, not less. We intend to appeal,” he said in a blog post.

Google provides Android free to smartphone manufacturers and generates most of its revenue from selling advertisements that appear along with search results.

The EU says Android is used on around 80 percent of mobile devices, both in Europe and worldwide.

The Android case originated when a lobbying group called FairSearch — with members then including huge tech companies like Microsoft, Nokia and Oracle — complained that Google was unfairly tilting the field of competition.

Google’s parent company Alphabet ranked as the fifth largest information technology company in the world in 2017, with global revenue of $111 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

That figure represented a doubling in global revenue in only four years.


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Facebook to Remove ‘Fake News’ That Leads to Violence

Facebook says it will begin removing false information from its site that could lead to violence.

“There are certain forms of misinformation that have contributed to physical harm” in certain countries, the U.S. social media giant said in a statement Wednesday announcing the policy.

The company says it will work with local organizations to identify such information, including written posts and doctored photos.

Facebook has been accused for allowing users to spread hate speech and false information that has led to recent violence in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and India. Sri Lanka imposed a state of emergency in March after false news posted on Facebook led to deadly attacks on the country’s minority Muslim population by Buddhist mobs.

The California-based company was thrust into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign through the spread of misinformation among voters. It was revealed last September that Russians, using fake names, used social media to try to influence voters ahead of the election.

Facebook founder and chief operating officer Mark Zuckerberg sparked criticism Wednesday when he tried to explain the difference between misinformation and offensive speech. 

In an interview published by the technology news site Recode, Zuckerberg said he would not ban people who deny the Holocaust, the mass genocide of 6 million European Jews carried out by Nazi Germany.


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Report: Asia-Pacific Factories Lead in Using Digital Technology

She may not be the warmest waitress, but she serves a nice, hot cup of “Joe” at a café on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City.

Though this robotic barista is still getting help from her human counterpart, she is a signal that Asia is ahead of the curve in embracing new technologies ahead of the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

A recent report from PwC Global, a professional services firm, studied 1,155 manufacturing businesses based on how much they were embracing and incorporating innovations in technology, from drones to 3-D printing.

Across the board, companies in the Asia-Pacific region scored higher than their counterparts elsewhere in the world.

In Thailand, for instance, manufacturing companies have widely adopted new technologies to transform their operations.

“Many are using robots to assemble products at their factories to rely less on human labor, reduce costs, and boost overall efficiency,” said Vilaiporn Taweelappontong, consulting lead partner at PwC Thailand.

​ASEAN catches up

The report graded firms based on questions about the kinds of tools they were introducing into their workplaces. For example, manufacturers were asked if they made use of virtual reality; 44 percent in the Asia Pacific said they did compared with 34 percent in the United States and 19 percent in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

The regional group Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) reports that small and medium enterprises are using new technology to catch up to bigger rivals.

“Digitization is enabling SMEs across ASEAN to participate in cross-border trade, allowing them to grow and scale their businesses while reducing costs,” said Bidhan Roy, a general manager at Cisco Systems Pte Ltd.

​Benefits of youth

Observers say the Asia-Pacific region benefits from its youth.

The relatively young population means people are amenable to different work environments and business operations, as well as having a keen interest in using new technology.

Another advantage? The region’s economies are also somewhat young, with many just opening up to global trade in the last two decades. In addition its underdeveloped infrastructure has the ability to adapt for future needs, like public transit or drone deliveries.

“Asian companies have the advantage of setting up robust digital operations from essentially a blank slate in terms of factory automation, workforce, and even organizational IT [information technology] networks as a whole,” the PwC report said.

Baby steps

But more is needed to make these companies successful.

Cisco Systems’ Roy noted that small and medium firms “are at varying stages of maturity in terms of digital adoption” and could use collaboration with governments and corporations.

PwC Thailand’s Vilaiporn agreed on the benefit of collaboration.

“Thailand 4.0 will only be successful if both the government and private sectors understand their roles in fostering investment and focusing on research and development, as well as equipping the workforce with necessary skill sets and capabilities,” he said.

The “4.0” refers to the latest industrial revolution, which goes beyond mechanization and automation. It entails business processes becoming more efficient through a comprehensive application of technology, from smart devices to machine learning.


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Bezos’ Blue Origin Sends Spacecraft Higher Than Ever

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket company shot a capsule higher into space Wednesday than it’s ever done before.

The New Shepard rocket blasted off from West Texas on the company’s latest test flight. Once the booster separated, the capsule’s escape motor fired, lifting the spacecraft to an altitude of 389,846 feet. That’s 74 miles or 119 kilometers.

It’s part of a safety system intended to save lives once space tourists and others climb aboard for suborbital hops.

Wednesday’s passenger was Mannequin Skywalker, an instrumented dummy in a blue flight suit that’s flown before, plus science experiments.

The booster and capsule, both repeat fliers, landed successfully. It was the ninth test flight and lasted 11 minutes.

“Crew Capsule looks great even after it was pushed hard by the escape test. Astronauts would have had an exhilarating ride and safe landing,” Bezos said in a tweet. “Great engineering and the lucky boots worked again.”

Blue Origin has yet to announce when it will start selling tickets or how much flights will cost. Launch commentator Ariane Cornell promised it would be soon. “It’s coming,” she said.

Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon, aims to send people and payloads into orbit from Cape Canaveral. Those missions will rely on the bigger, more powerful New Glenn rocket still under development.

He’s named his rockets after NASA’s original Mercury astronauts Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth.


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Elon Musk Apologizes for Comments About Cave Rescue Diver

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has apologized for calling a British diver involved in the Thailand cave rescue a pedophile, saying he spoke in anger but was wrong to do so.

There was no immediate public reaction from diver Vern Unsworth to Musk’s latest tweets.

Musk’s initial tweet calling Unsworth a “pedo” was a response to a TV interview Unsworth gave. In it, he said Musk and SpaceX engineers orchestrated a “PR stunt” by sending a small submarine to help divers rescue the 12 Thai soccer players and their coach from a flooded cave. Unsworth said the submarine, which wasn’t used, wouldn’t have worked anyway.

“My words were spoken in anger after Mr. Unsworth said several untruths …” Musk tweeted.

“Nonetheless, his actions against me do not justify my actions against him, and for that I apologize to Mr. Unsworth and to the companies I represent as leader. The fault is mine and mine alone.”

Musk’s Sunday tweet, later deleted, had sent investors away from Tesla stock, which fell nearly 3 percent Monday but recovered 4.1 percent Tuesday. Unsworth told CNN earlier this week that he was considering legal action. He did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

In his latest tweets, Musk said the mini-sub was “built as an act of kindness & according to specifications from the dive team leader.”

Musk has 22.3 million followers and his active social media presence has sometimes worked well for Tesla. The company has said in its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it doesn’t need to advertise because it gets so much free media attention.

But straying away from defending his companies into personal insult brought Musk some unfavorable attention at a time when Tesla, worth more than $52 billion, is deep in debt and struggling for profitability. 

In northern Thailand on Wednesday, the 12 Thai soccer players and their coach answered questions from journalists, their first meeting with the media since their rescues last week. Doctors said all are healthy.


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Cute Robots Invade Smithsonian Museum

Known as the largest education, and research complex in the world, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC is a collection of 19 museums that house more than 140 million unique items. It’s no wonder it’s been called “the nation’s attic.” But there’s a novel addition to the venerable complex — a smart new technology that interacts with visitors. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti introduces us to the Smithsonian’s newest resident.


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