Online Companies Bar Far-right Groups

They are being booted off or locked out of their websites. Some can no longer blog. Their electronic payment systems are being canceled. Even their music can’t be heard.

For some white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, operating online has become much harder in the wake of last week’s “Unite the Right” protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, that resulted in violent clashes between extremist groups and counterprotesters.

On Thursday, the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi and white supremacist news site and one of the organizers of last weekend’s demonstrations, was reportedly ejected from a Russian internet domain provider that was hosting its site. Its removal came at the request of Russia’s internet watchdog, according to the French news agency.

The Daily Stormer had recently turned to the Russian firm after being knocked offline by its U.S. providers, first GoDaddy, then Google.

As of Thursday night, the Daily Stormer was not online.

​Resisting the role of censor

While tech firms have been under government pressure to crack down on state-sponsored terrorist groups, they have mostly resisted efforts to play the censor when it comes to who uses their services. Their terms of use guidelines often outline restrictions, but they have traditionally declined to police offensive content.

That laissez-faire approach appeared to be changing after last weekend’s demonstrations prompted by the rally’s violence and the recognition that extremist groups rely on a host of digital services to organize.

But the shift comes with great ambivalence.

​Potentially dangerous moves

CloudFlare, which makes websites secure and fast, decided to stop serving the Daily Stormer. But it wasn’t an easy decision, wrote Matthew Prince, the firm’s chief executive.

“Someone on our team asked after I announced we were going to terminate the Daily Stormer: ‘Is this the day the internet dies?’”

On Thursday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit that advocates for civil liberties in the digital world and one that has stood with tech companies in its battles with the U.S. government on surveillance, criticized the tech companies’ actions.

“We strongly believe that what GoDaddy, Google and Cloudflare did here was dangerous,” the organization wrote in a statement on its blog.

Tech companies, with few competitors, increasingly have more power to control online speech, EFF wrote, and “the consequences of their decisions have far-reaching impacts on speech around the world.”

“Every time a company throws a vile neo-Nazi site off the Net, thousands of less visible decisions are made by companies with little oversight or transparency,” EFF added.

​Cutting off financial services

While Google, GoDaddy and Cloudflare refused to host the Daily Stormer site, other extremist groups and supporters were affected in other ways, such as where they could stay, how they exchanged money and the music they listened to.

Ahead of the protests, Airbnb banned users from staying in Charlottesville if it appeared they were coming for the protests.

PayPal said it does not allow groups such as the Ku Klux Klan or neo-Nazi groups engaged in “activities that promote hate, violence or racial intolerance” to use its service for processing payments. Apple Pay also pulled its services for groups selling far-right merchandise.

Spotify removed “hate bands” from its service.

WordPress, the blogging platform, cut off access to its site for Vanguard America, a group associated with James Fields, who allegedly drove his vehicle into a crowd of counterprotesters. He is charged with second-degree murder in the death of one woman and injuring nearly two dozen other people.

GoFundMe, a crowdfunding site, took down campaigns for assisting in Fields’ legal defense.

Prince, of CloudFlare, wrote that making the decision to boot the Daily Stormer could change how the firm handles other takedown requests.

“Make no mistake, it will be a little bit harder for us to argue against a government somewhere pressuring us into taking down a site they don’t like,” he said.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/online-companies-bar-far-right-groups/3990790.html

Cambodian Girl Coders Push Frontiers for Women in Tech

A group of young Cambodian girls recently took part in a mobile app competition for girl coders in California. Traveling from their home country to participate in the global competition, their story offers inspiration for other girls around the world to consider a career in tech. VOA’s Sophat Soeung reports from Silicon Valley.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/cambodian-girl-coders-push-frontiers-for-women-in-tech/3990239.html

At Global Competition, Girls Push Frontiers of Technology

A group of Cambodian girls who recently traveled to California to compete in a mobile app competition offered inspiration for other girls worldwide to consider careers in technology.

Their pitch in Silicon Valley wasn’t a bid to be the next billion-dollar company. Instead, they want to help their country with a mobile phone application to address poverty.

“Let’s fight poverty by using our app. Don’t find customers for your product, find products for your customers,” said Lorn Dara Soucheng, 12, who led the team that created the app, Cambodian Identity Product.

“We want to increase employment for Cambodians, so there will be a reduction of Cambodian migrants to work at other countries, reducing poverty through making income and providing charity to local Cambodians,” Chea Sopheata, 11, told the judges at Google’s headquarters. Google was one of the program’s sponsors.

To participate in the Aug. 7-11 Technovation global competition, girls around the world had to build a mobile app — and a business plan — that addressed a U.N. development goal. The Cambodian girls picked poverty.

While globalization has boosted Cambodia’s economic growth, especially its tourism industry, it has also created greater economic inequality and competition. The girls think their app can help.

“We want to promote our culture to people from all over the world,” said Lorn Dara Soucheng.

At their young age, no one expects these girls to be able to solve their country’s most pressing issues quite yet. But their presence here highlighted another issue: girls in tech fields.

In the U.S. and worldwide, the number of women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) remains low or even has dropped.

In Cambodia, just 14 percent of students in information technology were women as of 2010. It’s a situation some attribute to a lack of equal access to education and a lack of female role models.

It’s hoped that programs like Technovation can reverse that trend.

“For the first time in history, technology can really help girls have a strong voice and help us have a society that has equality,” said Tara Chklovski, founder and CEO of Iridescent, the nonprofit organization behind Technovation.

These young Cambodian girls have proved how far they can go with technology. Most come from underprivileged backgrounds but had support from teachers, mentors and family.

Cambodian American Pauline Seng, a program manager at Google, said the young coders have become role models for many other Cambodians, including herself. She didn’t get into technology until she was 23.

“There’s going to be so many people who aspire to reach this stage and also inspire other people to get involved in technology,” she said.

Although the Cambodian girls did not win the grand prize, which went to a team from Hong Kong, they were proud to have made it to Google and Silicon Valley.

After watching the male CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, speak at the closing ceremony, the girls said they believed the tech giant would one day have a female leader.

“Yes!” they said, in unison.

Whether that will come true or not, they have themselves already become the youngest role models to inspire others, one girl at a time.

Deana Mitchell contributed to this report, which originated on VOA Khmer.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/global-competition-girls-push-frontiers-technology/3990751.html

Online Companies Bar Far-Right Groups

They are being booted off or locked out of their websites. Some can no longer blog. Their electronic payment systems are being canceled. Even their music can’t be heard.

For some white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, operating online has become much harder in the wake of last week’s “Unite the Right” protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, that resulted in violent clashes between extremist groups and counterprotesters.

On Thursday, the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi and white supremacist news site and one of the organizers of last weekend’s demonstrations, was reportedly ejected from a Russian internet domain provider that was hosting its site. Its removal came at the request of Russia’s internet watchdog, according to the French news agency.

The Daily Stormer had recently turned to the Russian firm after being knocked offline by its U.S. providers, first GoDaddy, then Google.

As of Thursday night, the Daily Stormer was not online.

​Resisting the role of censor

While tech firms have been under government pressure to crack down on state-sponsored terrorist groups, they have mostly resisted efforts to play the censor when it comes to who uses their services. Their terms of use guidelines often outline restrictions, but they have traditionally declined to police offensive content.

That laissez-faire approach appeared to be changing after last weekend’s demonstrations prompted by the rally’s violence and the recognition that extremist groups rely on a host of digital services to organize.

But the shift comes with great ambivalence.

​Potentially dangerous moves

CloudFlare, which makes websites secure and fast, decided to stop serving the Daily Stormer. But it wasn’t an easy decision, wrote Matthew Prince, the firm’s chief executive.

“Someone on our team asked after I announced we were going to terminate the Daily Stormer: ‘Is this the day the internet dies?’”

On Thursday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit that advocates for civil liberties in the digital world and one that has stood with tech companies in its battles with the U.S. government on surveillance, criticized the tech companies’ actions.

“We strongly believe that what GoDaddy, Google and Cloudflare did here was dangerous,” the organization wrote in a statement on its blog.

Tech companies, with few competitors, increasingly have more power to control online speech, EFF wrote, and “the consequences of their decisions have far-reaching impacts on speech around the world.”

“Every time a company throws a vile neo-Nazi site off the Net, thousands of less visible decisions are made by companies with little oversight or transparency,” EFF added.

​Cutting off financial services

While Google, GoDaddy and Cloudflare refused to host the Daily Stormer site, other extremist groups and supporters were affected in other ways, such as where they could stay, how they exchanged money and the music they listened to.

Ahead of the protests, Airbnb banned users from staying in Charlottesville if it appeared they were coming for the protests.

PayPal said it does not allow groups such as the Ku Klux Klan or neo-Nazi groups engaged in “activities that promote hate, violence or racial intolerance” to use its service for processing payments. Apple Pay also pulled its services for groups selling far-right merchandise.

Spotify removed “hate bands” from its service.

WordPress, the blogging platform, cut off access to its site for Vanguard America, a group associated with James Fields, who allegedly drove his vehicle into a crowd of counterprotesters. He is charged with second-degree murder in the death of one woman and injuring nearly two dozen other people.

GoFundMe, a crowdfunding site, took down campaigns for assisting in Fields’ legal defense.

Prince, of CloudFlare, wrote that making the decision to boot the Daily Stormer could change how the firm handles other takedown requests.

“Make no mistake, it will be a little bit harder for us to argue against a government somewhere pressuring us into taking down a site they don’t like,” he said.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/online-companies-bar-far-right-groups/3990790.html

Algorithms Could Tie Trafficking Ads to Their Buyers

A U.S. researcher says she has developed automated ways to identify links between online sex trafficking ads and the digital currency Bitcoin, techniques that may help locate children being sold for sex.

Law enforcement and anti-trafficking groups could use the methods to investigate Backpage.com, an online classified advertising site where sex ads can be found, according to a statement by the University of California Berkeley, where the research was based.

About 1.5 million people in the United States are victims of trafficking, mostly for sexual exploitation, according to anti-trafficking groups.

Most sex trafficking victims are children, and most are advertised or sold online, according to a U.S. Senate subcommittee report released this year.

Algorithms do the digging

The new research uses an algorithm that analyzes writing styles to identify authors and could be applied to online trafficking ads, Rebecca Portnoff, its lead author, said Thursday.

A second algorithm can use time stamps to trace ad payments to accounts, known as wallets, at Bitcoin, a web-based digital currency that allows money to move quickly and anonymously.

Comparing time stamps of ad purchases on Bitcoin and time stamps and information on Backpage ads could help identify who is paying for them, said Portnoff, a UC Berkeley doctoral candidate in computer science who developed the techniques as part of her dissertation.

“Where previously you might have five different phone numbers that you had no idea were connected, when you can see that they all came from the same wallets, that the same person paid for them, that’s a concrete sign that these five phone numbers are all related to each other,” she said.

“I knew this was an issue that law enforcement was especially interested in,” she added.

Boost for law enforcement

Having automated style and time stamp analyses to identify sex ads by authors and Bitcoin owners is significant, said Damon McCoy, a New York University Tandon School of Engineering assistant professor of computer science and engineering and a co-author of the research.

“Any technique that can surface commonalities between ads and potentially shed light on the owners is a big boost for those working to curb exploitation,” McCoy said in a statement.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has said more than 70 percent of the reports it gets of trafficked children involve Backpage, based in Dallas, Texas.

Backpage did not respond to a request for comment.

The findings will be published by the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining, UC Berkeley said.

It said the work was funded by the Amazon Web Services Cloud Credits for Research Program, the technology and security firm Giant Oak, Google, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/algorithms-could-tie-trafficking-ads-to-their-buyers/3990724.html

From Elephants Stable to Air Museum: Strategic Bombers Restored

From the sky over occupied Europe to an elephants stable in India and to its final resting place in an air museum in England, this was the 100-year journey for one of the world’s first strategic bombers. And the last part was the most astonishing because the planes’ remains, found in India, were almost beyond recognition. VOA’s George Putic has the story.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/elephants-stable-to-air-museum-strategic-bombers-restored/3989161.html

Internet Firms Flex Muscle to Exile White Supremacists

Silicon Valley joined a swelling backlash against neo-Nazi groups in the United States on Wednesday as more technology companies removed white supremacists from their services in response to weekend violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Social media networks Twitter and LinkedIn, music service Spotify and security firm CloudFlare were among the companies cutting off services to hate groups or removing material that they said spread hate.

Earlier in the week, Facebook, Alphabet and GoDaddy also took steps to block hate groups.

The wave of internet crackdowns against white nationalists and neo-Nazis reflected a rapidly changing mindset among Silicon Valley firms on how far they are willing to go to police hate speech.

Tech companies have taken down violent propaganda from Islamic State and other militant groups, in part in response to government pressure. But most internet companies have traditionally tried to steer clear of making judgments about content except in cases of illegal activity.

CloudFlare, which protects some 6 million websites from denial-of-service attacks and hacking, on Wednesday afternoon dropped coverage of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer.

“I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the internet,” CloudFlare founder and Chief Executive Matthew Prince said in an email to employees.

CloudFlare is well-known for defending even the most distasteful websites, and services like it are essential to the functioning of websites.

Daily Stormer helped organize the weekend rally in Charlottesville where a 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 people were injured when a man plowed a car into a crowd protesting the white nationalist gathering.

Daily Stormer has been accessible only intermittently the past few days after domain providers GoDaddy and Google Domains, a unit of Alphabet, said they would not serve the website.

By Wednesday, Daily Stormer had moved to a Russia-based internet domain, with an address ending in .ru. Later in the day, though, the site was no longer accessible at that address.

Daily Stormer publisher Andrew Anglin said on a social network used by many of his supporters, Gab, that his site would be back soon.

“The CloudFlare betrayal adds another layer of super complexity. But we got this,” he said. He could not immediately be reached for further comment.

Prince, the CloudFlare chief executive, said in an interview that despite his decision he was conflicted, because it could become harder to resist pressure from governments to censor.

“You don’t have to play this game too many moves out to see how risky this is going to be,” Prince said. “‘What about this site? What about this site?'”

Only the biggest companies will be able to navigate the varying laws in different countries, he added. “We’ve lost a lot of the fight for a free and open internet.”

Twitter on Wednesday suspended accounts linked to Daily Stormer. The company said it would not discuss individual accounts, but at least three affiliated with the Daily Stormer led to pages saying “account suspended.”

The social network prohibits violent threats, harassment and hateful conduct and “will take action on accounts violating those policies,” the company said in a statement.

Larger rival Facebook, which unlike Twitter explicitly prohibits hate speech, has taken down several pages from Facebook and Instagram in recent days that it said were associated with hate speech or hate organizations. It also took down the event page that was used to promote and organize the “Unite the Right” rally.

“With the potential for more rallies, we’re watching the situation closely and will take down threats of physical harm,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote on Wednesday.

Facebook also said it had removed accounts belonging to Chris Cantwell, a web commentator who has described himself as a white nationalist and said on his site that he had attended the Charlottesville rally. Cantwell’s YouTube account also appeared to have been terminated.

Cantwell could not immediately be reached for comment.

LinkedIn, a unit of Microsoft, suspended a page devoted to Daily Stormer and another page belonging to a man associated with the site, Andrew Auernheimer. LinkedIn declined to comment. Reddit this week eliminated one of its discussion communities that supported the Unite the Right rally, saying that the company would ban users who incite violence.

Spotify, based in Sweden, said it was in the process of removing musical acts from its streaming service that had been flagged as racist “hate bands” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“Illegal content or material that favors hatred or incites violence against race, religion, sexuality or the like is not tolerated by us,” the company said in a statement, adding that record companies should also be held responsible.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/internet-firms-flex-muscle-to-exile-white-supremacists-/3989115.html

Reverence for Robots: Japanese Workers Treasure Automation

Thousands upon thousands of cans are filled with beer, capped and washed, wrapped into six-packs, and boxed at dizzying speeds — 1,500 a minute, to be exact — on humming conveyor belts that zip and wind in a sprawling factory near Tokyo.

Nary a soul is in sight in this picture-perfect image of Japanese automation.

The machines do all the heavy lifting at this plant run by Asahi Breweries, Japan’s top brewer. The human job is to make sure the machines do the work right, and to check on the quality the sensors are monitoring.

“Basically, nothing goes wrong. The lines are up and running 96 percent,” said Shinichi Uno, a manager at the plant. “Although machines make things, human beings oversee the machines.” 

The debate over machines snatching jobs from people is muted in Japan, where birth rates have been sinking for decades, raising fears of a labor shortage. It would be hard to find a culture that celebrates robots more, evident in the popularity of companion robots for consumers, sold by the internet company SoftBank and Toyota Motor Corp, among others.

Japan, which forged a big push toward robotics starting in the 1990s, leads the world in robots per 10,000 workers in the automobile sector — 1,562, compared with 1,091 in the U.S. and 1,133 in Germany, according to a White House report submitted to Congress last year. Japan was also ahead in sectors outside automobiles at 219 robots per 10,000 workers, compared with 76 for the U.S. and 147 for Germany.

‘Lifetime employment’

One factor in Japan’s different take on automation is the “lifetime employment” system. Major Japanese companies generally retain workers, even if their abilities become outdated, and retrain them for other tasks, said Koichi Iwamoto, a senior fellow at the Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry.

That system is starting to fray as Japan globalizes, but it’s still largely in use, Iwamoto said.

Although data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show digitalization reduces demand for mid-level routine tasks — such as running assembly lines — while boosting demand for low- and high-skilled jobs, that trend has been less pronounced in Japan than in the U.S.

The OECD data, which studied shifts from 2002 to 2014, showed employment trends remained almost unchanged for Japan.

That means companies in Japan weren’t resorting as aggressively as those in the U.S. to robots to replace humans. Clerical workers, for instance, were keeping their jobs, although their jobs could be done better, in theory, by computers.

That kind of resistance to adopting digital technology for services also is reflected in how Japanese society has so far opted to keep taxis instead of shifting to online ride hailing and shuttle services.

‘Human harmony with machines’

Still, automation has progressed in Japan to the extent the nation has now entered what Iwamoto called a “reflective stage,” in which “human harmony with machines” is being pursued, he said.

“Some tasks may be better performed by people, after all,” said Iwamoto.

Kiyoshi Sakai, who has worked at Asahi for 29 years, recalls how, in the past, can caps had to be placed into machines by hand, a repetitive task that was hard not just on the body, but also the mind.

And so he is grateful for automation’s helping hand. Machines at the plant have become more than 50 percent smaller over the years. They are faster and more precise than three decades ago.

Gone are the days things used to go wrong all the time and human intervention was needed to get machines running properly again. Every 10 to 15 minutes, people used to have to go check on the products; there were no sensors back then.

Glitches are so few these days there is barely any reason to work up a sweat, he added with a smile.

Like many workers in Japan, Sakai doesn’t seem worried about his job disappearing. As the need for plant workers nose-dived with the advance of automation, he was promoted to the general affairs section, a common administrative department at Japanese companies.

“I remember the work being so hard. But when I think back, and it was all about delivering great beer to everyone, it makes me so proud,” said Sakai, who drinks beer every day.

“I have no regrets. This is a stable job.”

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/reverence-robots-japan-workers-automation/3988619.html

Canada Approves First Cryptocurrency Sale in Property Rights Shake-Up

Canadian financial regulators have approved the public sale of a new digital currency in the country’s first official endorsement of money created independently of the government or central banks, company officials said on Wednesday.

Produced with digital encryption techniques, cryptocurrencies like Montreal-based impak Coin allow users to create their own money supply – with potentially significant impacts for how wealth and property rights are controlled.

Impak Coin has already raised more than C$1.5 million ($1.18 million) for the new currency and plans to launch an Initial Coin Offering – or a public sale of the digital money – this month.

By allowing people to create a new currency, the project aims to reduce the power of big banks in determining how property rights are managed and money is created, said Paul Allard, chief executive of impak Finance, the social enterprise behind the project.

“It is up to communities to decide how to manage a currency, it is not only for the government to decide,” Allard told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

‘No need for government’

Throughout modern history governments have had control over how money is created and the power to enforce contracts and determine how goods and services are transferred.

Cryptocurrencies – through blockchain, the information storage and database system they use – have challenged that power, said Simon Trimborn, a professor at the Free University of Berlin who studies digital networks.

“The link between cryptocurrencies and individual property rights is the information storage and transaction system behind cryptocurrencies, the blockchain,” Trimborn told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“It is a database which can guarantee property rights while there is no need for relying on a company or government.”

Contracts are made digitally between peers and transactions are often conducted without government oversight, reducing the state’s power over the market.

The move by financial authorities to approve the sale of the digital money means “confidence and trust for investors”, said Jean-Philippe Vergne, a professor at the Ivey Business School in Ontario, Canada, who studies cryptocurrencies.

“We are observing a profound change in the nature of capitalism,” Vergne told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “For the first time we have a technology that allows us to remove intermediaries such as government or central banks.”

Digital impact

Impak Finance hopes to raise up to C$10 million from its first sale of coins. Users who buy the new currency will be able to spend it via a mobile wallet connected to their phones.

More than 500 businesses have signed up to accept the new currency when it launches, Allard said.

He expects that will grow into the thousands as the project develops a “critical mass” of users, leading to more buyers and sellers making transactions.

Users will be able to exchange impak coins for traditional money which will be credited to their accounts after an initial waiting period in order to stop speculators from causing volatility in the currency’s value, Allard said.

Impak Finance will initially keep 40 percent of the money invested in the new currency as reserves in order to have cash on hand if users want to exchange it for traditional money.

Only businesses adhering to social and environmental standards are able to use the currency, said Allard, who hopes consumers interested in ethical purchasing will be attracted to the plan.

The “impact economy” – a small but growing sector that seeks to put the achievement of social good at the center of business – is expected to grow by more than 15 percent next year in North America, Allard said.

New type of property

Impak Finance will be entering a crowded market of new digital currencies, analysts said.

Following the growth of bitcoin, the most well known cryptocurrency, there are now more than 1,000 similar digital currencies being traded over the internet, said Arvind Narayanan, a computer science professor at Princeton University in the United States.

Most of these new digital offerings, however, are used for speculation – investors hoping the currency will gain popularity and then rise in value – rather than buying and selling tangible goods and services, Narayanan said.

“People are trying to get the state out of money and various forms of property,” Narayanan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “regulators and law enforcement are trying to adapt to a new technological development.”

($1 = 1.2707 Canadian dollars)

 

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/canada-approves-first-cryptocurrency-sale-in-property-rights-shake-up/3988072.html

Ireland Rejects EU’s Demand to Collect Billions From Apple

Ireland’s finance minister rejected the European Commission’s demand that it retroactively collect 13 billion euros in taxes from Apple, saying this was not Dublin’s job in an interview with Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine (FAZ) newspaper.

In the interview, extracts from which the FAZ published on Wednesday, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said the tax rules from which Apple benefited had been available to all and not tailored for the U.S. technology giant. They did not violate European or Irish law, he added.

“We are not the global tax collector for everybody else,” the paper quoted him as saying. The European Commission last year ruled that Apple paid so little tax on its Ireland-based operations that it amounted to state aid.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/ireland-rejects-eus-demand-collect-billions-apple/3988112.html

Tech Companies Ramp Up NAFTA Lobbying on Eve of Trade Talks

Technology companies, such as Microsoft and Cisco Systems, have ramped up lobbying ahead of talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, looking to avoid any future restrictions on cloud storage and to promote an international pact to eliminate technology goods tariffs.

U.S., Mexican and Canadian negotiators are due to start talks on the 23-year-old trade pact on Wednesday. Farming and transportation groups have traditionally dominated lobbying on NAFTA, but technology lobbyists are helping lead the recent surge in efforts to influence Washington, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Tech companies and trade organizations disclosed they had 48 arrangements with lobby groups that discussed NAFTA with administration officials or lawmakers in the second quarter, up from 17 groups in the first quarter and one group at the end of 2016, according to the data.

“It’s both defensive and offensive,” Devi Keller, director of global policy for the Semiconductor Industry Association, said of the industry’s position on the new talks. “There is an opportunity for expansion.”

The industry now has almost as many lobby groups representing its views on NAFTA as the transport sector, which includes automakers. That sector had 52 lobbying groups discussing the trade pact with government officials between April and June. Agriculture still dominates the NAFTA lobbying effort with 86 arrangements with lobbying groups.

While the auto and farm lobbies are seeking to preserve cross-border supply chains and to retain access to markets in Mexico and Canada, the tech sector wants a revamped NAFTA to help it grow future business.

President Donald Trump has blamed NAFTA for the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs and threatened to withdraw from the pact unless it can be reworked in the United States’ favor.

Tech firms want a ban on any future government requirements that providers of services, such as cloud computing, store data in a particular country. They also seek a commitment by NAFTA members to join a broader international pact to eliminate all tariffs on a broad range of information technology goods, including computers, smartphones, semiconductors and medical devices.

Today, the United States and Canada already subscribe to the broader tech agreement but Mexico does not.

Template for future trade

While tech goods already face no tariffs under NAFTA and industry representatives said there are no data flow restrictions in the region hampering trade, U.S. firms want an updated NAFTA to help them access other markets by serving as a tech template for future trade pacts.

Tech industry associations have sent letters to the Trump administration asking negotiators to prioritize free flows of data and low tariffs as well as global cybersecurity standards, and have met with staff at the U.S. Trade Representative.

“We’re fairly confident the issues we identified will be addressed in the negotiations,” said Ed Brzytwa, director of global policy at the Information Technology Industry Council.

It remains unclear, however, how prominently tech concerns will feature at NAFTA talks given Trump’s focus on manufacturing.

The CRP, a nonprofit group that advocates for government transparency, includes media and publishing firms in the technology sector, but the overwhelming majority of the sector’s disclosures on NAFTA came from hardware, software and digital services firms.

The CRP’s database incorporates disclosures to both the Senate and the House of Representatives and includes both in-house lobbyists and external lobbying firms.

Cisco, Microsoft, Amazon

Cisco Systems, a networking hardware company, had as many as 10 lobbyists working on NAFTA issues. On a lobby disclosure form reviewed by Reuters, Cisco Systems listed NAFTA and government procurement as the trade issues handled by its lobbyists.

Microsoft, which counts cloud computing and software as core businesses, had as many as 13 lobbyists working on NAFTA, according to the CRP database.

The disclosure forms filed by Microsoft do not make clear whether all 13 lobbied on NAFTA, which is listed along with several other trade-related issues and cloud computing.

Amazon, a major cloud services provider and internet retailer, also cited NAFTA as well as “customs procedures” in its lobbying disclosure. The Trump administration has proposed easing customs barriers for online purchases.

Cisco Systems and Amazon declined to comment for this story, while Microsoft representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/tech-companies-ramp-up-nafta-lobbying-trade-talks/3987095.html

The Dark and Light Sides of Latest Drone Technology

Drones, small flying machines with cameras mounted on them, have become easily accessible to consumers. Scientists, police and businesses have found often lifesaving uses for drones, but these relatively low-cost machines can also be weaponized. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee reports from a recent Chemical Sector Security Summit in Houston on the light and dark side of drone technology.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/dark-and-light-sides-of-latest-drone-technology/3985935.html

Internet Firms Move to Take Down Hate Speech, Violence

The internet domain registration of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer was revoked twice in less than 24 hours in the wake of the weekend violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, part of a broad move by the tech industry in recent months to take a stronger hand in policing online hate speech and incitements to violence.

GoDaddy, which manages internet names and registrations, disclosed late Sunday via Twitter that it had given Daily Stormer 24 hours to move its domain to another provider, saying it had violated GoDaddy’s terms of service.

The white supremacist website helped organize the weekend rally in Charlottesville where a 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 people were injured when a man plowed a car into a crowd protesting the white nationalist rally.

After GoDaddy revoked Daily Stormer’s registration, the website turned to Alphabet’s Google Domains. The Daily Stormer domain was registered with Google shortly before 8 a.m. Monday PDT (1500 GMT) and the company announced plans to revoke it at 10:56 a.m., according to a person familiar with the revocation.

As of late Monday the site was still running on a Google-registered domain. Google issued a statement but did not say when the site would be taken down.

Caught in the middle

Internet companies have increasingly found themselves in the crosshairs over hate speech and other volatile social issues, with politicians and others calling on them to do more to police their networks while civil libertarians worry about the firms suppressing free speech.

Twitter, Facebook, Google’s YouTube and other platforms have ramped up efforts to combat the social media efforts of Islamic militant groups, largely in response to pressure from European governments. Now they are facing similar pressures in the United States over white supremacist and neo-Nazi content.

Facebook confirmed Monday that it took down the event page that was used to promote and organize the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.

Facebook allows people to organize peaceful protests or rallies, but the social network said it would remove such pages when a threat of real-world harm and affiliation with hate organizations becomes clear.

“Facebook does not allow hate speech or praise of terrorist acts or hate crimes, and we are actively removing any posts that glorify the horrendous act committed in Charlottesville,” the company said in a statement.

Several companies acted

Several other companies also took action. Canadian internet company Tucows stopped hiding the domain registration information of Andrew Anglin, the founder of Daily Stormer. Tucows, which was previously providing the website with services masking Anglin’s phone number and email address, said Daily Stormer had breached its terms of service.

“They are inciting violence,” said Michael Goldstein, vice president for sales and marketing at Tucows, a Toronto-based company. “It’s a dangerous site and people should know who it is coming from.”

Anglin did not respond to a request for comment.

Discord, a 70-person San Francisco company that allows video gamers to communicate across the internet, did not mince words in its decision to shut down the server of Altright.com, an alt-right news website, and the accounts of other white nationalists.

“We will continue to take action against white supremacy, Nazi ideology, and all forms of hate,” the company said in a tweet Monday. Altright.com did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Twilio Chief Executive Jeff Lawson tweeted Sunday that the company would update its use policy to prohibit hate speech. Twilio’s services allow companies and organizations, such as political groups or campaigns, to send text messages to their communities.

Arbiters of acceptable speech

Internet companies, which enjoy broad protections under U.S. law for the activities of people using their services, have mostly tried to avoid being arbiters of what is acceptable speech.

But the ground is now shifting, said one executive at a major Silicon Valley firm. Twitter, for one, has moved sharply against harassment and hate speech after enduring years of criticism for not doing enough.

Facebook is beefing up its content monitoring teams. Google is pushing hard on new technology to help it monitor and delete YouTube videos that celebrate violence.

All this comes as an influential bloc of senators, including Republican Senator Rob Portman and Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, is pushing legislation that would make it easier to penalize operators of websites that facilitate online sex trafficking of women and children.

That measure, despite the noncontroversial nature of its espoused goal, was met with swift and coordinated opposition from tech firms and internet freedom groups, who fear that being legally liable for the postings of users would be a devastating blow to the internet industry.

 

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/internet-take-down-hate-speech-violence/3985994.html

Neo-Nazi Site Moves to Google After GoDaddy Dumps It

Neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer moved its domain registration to Google after hosting firm GoDaddy said it would sever ties with the site that promoted Saturday’s deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

A “whois” search of Internet domains on Monday listed Alphabet’s Google as registrar for The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist website associated with the alt-right movement.

Representatives with Google could not immediately be reached for comment.

GoDaddy disclosed on Sunday via Twitter that it had given The Daily Stormer 24 hours to move its domain to another provider, saying it had violated the company’s terms of service.”

GoDaddy has previously come under sharp criticism for hosting The Daily Stormer and other sites that spread hate.

The company decided to boot the on Sunday out of fear that it could be used to incite further violence after the events in Charlottesville, including the death of Heather Heyer, who was fatally struck by a car allegedly driven by a man with white nationalist views.

“With the violence that occurred over the weekend, the company believed this site could incite additional violence,” said the person who was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.

The hosting company’s rules of conduct ban using its services in a manner that “promotes, encourages or engages in terrorism, violence against people, animals or property.”

Daily Storm publisher Andrew Anglin could not immediately be reached for comment on GoDaddy’s ban.

Scottsdale, Arizona-based GoDaddy, is one of the largest U.S. Internet services firms with some 6,000 employees.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/web-hosting-company-boots-white-supremacist-web-site/3984517.html

First Walking Polymer Could Be Used in Robots

Synthetic polymers, primarily plastics, are used to make a host of items, from paint to plastic bottles to sunglasses and DVDs. Imagine what could be created with a plastic that can be made to shimmy, and even crawl. Now a new polymer has been developed that actually walks like a caterpillar as it reacts to light. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about it.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/walking-polymer/3984553.html

Web Hosting Company Boots White Supremacist Web Site

The web hosting company GoDaddy said on Sunday it had given The Daily Stormer 24 hours to move its domain to another provider after the extremist web site posted an article denigrating the woman who was killed at a white nationalist rally in Virginia.

“We informed The Daily Stormer that they have 24 hours to move the domain to another provider, as they have violated our terms of service,” GoDaddy posted on its official Twitter page.

The Daily Stormer post in question denigrated Heather Heyer, 32, who was fatally struck by a car allegedly driven by a man with white nationalist views, for her physical appearance and what it said were anti-white male views.

The Daily Stormer is a neo-Nazi, white supremacist website associated with the alt-right movement, which was spearheading the rally on Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia which resulted in violence, including Heyer’s death.

GoDaddy, founded in 1997 and based in Arizona, has some 6,000 employees worldwide.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/web-hosting-company-boots-white-supremacist-web-site/3984517.html

Star Tau Ceti Has Two Planets in Habitable Zone

Scientists from U.S. and Britain have found four planets, slightly larger than Earth, orbiting a star visible with a naked eye.

Using a technique so sensitive that it can measure tiny changes in the light emitted by stars, scientists at University of California Santa Cruz and the University of Hertfordshire detected the planets orbiting the star Tau Ceti, which is 12 light-years from Earth. Two of the planets orbit in the so-called habitable zone, meaning the surface water could possibly exist.

The changes in light are caused by gravitational pull of the planets orbiting the star.

Tau Ceti, in the south of the constellation Cetus, emits light spectrum similar to our sun but is about 25 percent smaller.

The two planets in its habitable zone are larger than Earth, but frequent bombardment by asteroids and comets from the star’s massive debris ring make them improbable candidates to sustain life.

Observations were done from the Keck Observatory in Hawaii and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/star-tau-ceti-two-planets-in-habitable-zone/3983590.html

Solar Energy ‘Flower’ Harvests Clean Energy

Some countries depend heavily on fossil fuels for power, including the Philippines. But now a kind of solar energy “flower” is among the clean power alternatives there. The Smartflower can produce 40 percent more energy than a traditional rooftop solar design. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us more about it.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/solar-energy-flower-harvests-clean-energy/3983180.html

Electric Car Worry: Where Can You Charge It?

Around the world, support is growing for electric cars. Automakers are delivering more electric models with longer range and lower prices, such as the Chevrolet Bolt and the Tesla Model 3. China has set aggressive targets for electric vehicle sales to curb pollution; some European countries aim to be all-electric by 2040 or sooner.

Those lofty ambitions face numerous challenges, including one practical consideration for consumers: If they buy electric cars, where will they charge them?

The distribution of public charging stations is wildly uneven around the globe. Places with lots of support from governments or utilities, like China, the Netherlands and California, have thousands of public charging outlets. Buyers of Tesla’s luxury models have access to a company-funded Supercharger network. 

Charging stations scarce

But in many places, public charging remains scarce. That’s a problem for people who need to drive further than the 200 miles or so that most electric cars can travel. It’s also a barrier for the millions of people who don’t have a garage to plug in their cars overnight.

“Do we have what we need? The answer at the moment is, ‘No,’” said Graham Evans, an analyst with IHS Markit.

Take Norway, which has publicly funded charging and generous incentives for electric car buyers. Architect Nils Henningstad drives past 20 to 30 charging stations each day on his 22-mile (35-kilometer) commute to Oslo. He works for the city and can charge his Nissan Leaf at work; his fiancee charges her Tesla SUV at home or at one of the world’s largest Tesla Supercharger stations, 20 miles away.

It’s a very different landscape in New Berlin, Wisconsin, where Jeff Solie relies on the charging system he rigged up in his garage to charge two Tesla sedans and a Volt. Solie and his wife don’t have chargers at their offices, and the nearest Tesla Superchargers are 45 miles (72 kilometers) away.

“If I can’t charge at home, there’s no way for me to have electric cars as my primary source of transportation,” said Solie, who works for the media company E.W. Scripps.

Small percentage of electric vehicles

The uneven distribution of chargers worries many potential electric vehicle owners. It’s one reason electric vehicles make up less than 1 percent of cars on the road.

“Humans worst-case their purchases of automobiles. You have to prove to the consumer that they can drive across the country, even though they probably won’t,” said Pasquale Romano, the CEO of ChargePoint, one of the largest charging station providers in North America and Europe.

Romano says there’s no exact ratio of the number of chargers needed per car. But he says workplaces should have one charger for every 2.5 electric cars and retail stores need one for every 20 electric cars. Highways need one every 50 to 75 miles, he says. That suggests a lot of gaps still need to be filled.

Filling the charging gap

Automakers and governments are pushing to fill them. The number of publicly available, global charging spots grew 72 percent to more than 322,000 last year, the International Energy Agency said. Navigant Research expects that to grow to more than 2.2 million by 2026; more than one-third of those will be in China.

Tesla Inc., which figured out years ago that people wouldn’t buy its cars without roadside charging, is doubling its global network of Supercharger stations to 10,000 this year. BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen and Ford are building 400 fast-charging stations in Europe. Volkswagen is building hundreds of stations across the U.S. as part of its settlement for selling polluting diesel engines. Even oil-rich Dubai, which just got its first Tesla showroom, has more than 50 locations to charge electric cars.

But there are pitfalls. There are different types of charging stations, and no one knows the exact mix drivers will eventually need. A grocery store might spend $5,000 for an AC charge point, which provides a car with 5 to 15 miles of range in 30 minutes. But once most cars get 200 or 300 miles per charge, slow chargers are less necessary. Electric cars with longer range need fast-charging DC chargers along highways, but DC chargers cost $35,000 or more.

That uncertainty makes it difficult to make money setting up chargers, says Lisa Jerram, an associate director with Navigant Research. For at least the next three to five years, she says, deep-pocketed automakers, governments and utilities will be primarily responsible for building charging infrastructure.

There’s also the question of who will meet the needs of apartment dwellers. San Francisco, Shanghai and Vancouver, Canada, are now requiring new homes and apartment buildings to be wired for EV charging.

But without government support, plans for charging stations can falter. In Michigan, a utility’s $15 million plan to install 800 public charging stations was scrapped in April after state officials and ChargePoint objected.

Solie, the electric car owner in Wisconsin, likes Europe’s approach: Governments should set bold targets for electric car sales and let the private sector meet the need.

“If the U.S. were to send up a flare that policy was going to change … investments would become very attractive,” he said. 

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/electric-car-worry-where-to-charge-it/3982829.html

Tesla to Test Self-driving Electric Trucks

U.S. electric car manufacturer Tesla is close to testing a long-haul self-driving electric truck that could drive in convoys following a lead vehicle.

The company is reportedly also in contact with Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles about the possibility of testing the truck on the state’s roads.

Earlier this year Tesla’s founder Elon Musk announced that a new long-haul truck would be revealed in September but did not mention plans to make it self-driving.

Long-haul trucks on interstate highways often drive at relatively constant speeds with little or no intersections which makes autonomous driving easier to achieve.

Several large truck manufacturers, such as Volvo and Mercedes, as well as Silicon Valley companies have been working on the so-called ‘platooning’ technology that will enable long-range trucks to drive in formation, with only the lead vehicle having a human driver.

But even if the tech gets perfected, automakers are still struggling with the current limitations of electronic vehicles, namely their limited range per charge.

Source: https://www.voanews.com/a/tesla-to-test-long-haul-trucks/3982033.html