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Amazon Launches Trial of Pay-by-Palm Device

Need to pay for some groceries? No problem, just wave your palm. That could be the new mode of payment at Amazon Go stores if current trials of its new technology in Seattle, Washington, are successful.   The technology, known as Amazon One, is a “free, contactless service that lets you use your palm to pay, enter or identify yourself,” according to its website. The product, which is undergoing trials at two Go stores in Seattle, will allow customers to enter their credit card details and cell phone number and scan their palm or palms for distinct details such as “surface area, lines and ridges as well as subcutaneous features such as vein patterns” on a biometric device. The individual palm details are then used to create a customer’s unique palm signature, and Amazon is counting on that to protect customer information. The e-commerce company assures customers that the Amazon One device does not store information. “We treat your palm signature just like other highly sensitive personal data and keep it safe using best-in-class technical and physical security controls,” according to the website.  Once sign-up is complete, customers can purchase goods and services with their palm prints by hovering over the payment device. It will also allow customers to use their palms as a form of ID, which allows them to enter Go stores without a code. If customers change their minds about using the service, Amazon says it will completely delete their information. “Amazon will permanently delete your palm signature from Amazon’s systems after completion of any remaining transactions,” the website says. “Your Amazon One ID will also be automatically deleted if you do not interact with an Amazon One device for two years.” Amazon says it hopes to replicate the technology in all of its Go stores after its pilot use in Seattle and that it looks forward to other retailers signing up for the service.  

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TikTok Launches US Election Guide

Chinese-owned video sharing platform TikTok says it is creating a guide “to protect against misinformation” during the 2020 U.S. elections. In a blog post Tuesday, the company said its guide would connect “100 million Americans with trusted information about the elections from the National Association of Secretaries of State, BallotReady, SignVote, and more.” “Our The U.S. head office of TikTok is seen in Culver City, California, Sept. 15, 2020.TikTok, which is especially popular with younger people, is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company. TikTok has sought to alleviate U.S. concerns over privacy issues by forming a partnership with two U.S. companies, Oracle and WalMart. The deal has not been finalized, and there have been conflicting statements among the parties about how much of the new venture each company would own.  The Trump administration was moving forward to ban TikTok from app stores, but on Sunday, a judge blocked an order to prevent app stores from distributing it.  The judge gave lawyers for TikTok and the administration until Wednesday to meet and propose a schedule for further proceedings in the case.   
 

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Why Facebook Suddenly Closed 155 Accounts Targeting the Philippines

Facebook’s deletion of accounts targeting the Philippines from bases in China shows that the U.S. internet giant wants a better reputation in Southeast Asia after letting things slide in the past, say analysts who follow the case. On September 22, Facebook said it had removed 155 of its own accounts and six Instagram accounts for violating an internal policy against “foreign or government interference which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign or government entity.” The accounts originated in China and focused “primarily on the Philippines and Southeast Asia more broadly” as well as on the United States, Facebook says. Facebook’s move will endear it to Filipinos, who use the service so fervently that it has become a de facto official homepage for businesses and government agencies but who also worry that it has become too permissive, scholars say.    For Facebook, “it’s more from a kind of a PR point of view – I do this at a particular time, somehow, it’s seen as positive and I can say, ‘look, I have done this,’” said James Gomez, regional director at the Bangkok-based think tank Asia Center. Operators of the deleted accounts had posted in Chinese, English and Tagalog about naval activity in the South China Sea as well as Philippine politics and tried to cover up their identities, Facebook said.  China and the Philippines dispute sovereignty over a tract of the sea that’s rich in fisheries as well as undersea energy reserves. China has the upper hand militarily, frustrating officials in Manila and fanning debate there over whether the Philippines should ask Washington for more help. The connection to Facebook goes back to 2015, when the California-based service joined domestic mobile service provider Smart Communications to offer an app that allowed free access to 24 heavily used mobile sites.The thumbs-up Like logo is shown on a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., April 14, 2020. Facebook’s long-awaited oversight board is set to launch in October 2020.But Facebook has made eyes roll in the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries by allowing relatively unfettered access by politicians, hate-speech spreaders and purveyors of fake news, Gomez said.   “We would welcome that there is self-governance on the part of Facebook,” said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Metro Manila-based advocacy group Institute for Political and Electoral Reform. “There was a lot of that [problematic material] in the past up till now.”’ Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte maintains an “online army” that was reportedly paid to pack Facebook with supportive material in the name of “grassroots activists”, Southeast Asian news outlet New Mandala reported in 2017, a year after Duterte took office.   Filipinos are starting now to eye the 2022 presidential election, motivating Facebook to clean up so it can avoid criticism, said Eduardo Araral, a Filipino and associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s public policy school.  Some of the shuttered accounts carried “content supportive of President Rodrigo Duterte and Sara Duterte’s potential run in the 2022 Presidential election,” Facebook said, referring to the current leader’s daughter. Presidents can serve just one term in the Philippines. “They have to be active in showing Facebook is no longer used or can no longer be used as a platform for inauthentic behavior,” Araral said. Duterte has pursued friendship with China despite the maritime dispute, but common Filipinos remain leery of Beijing’s designs for the surrounding seas. About 74 million people use Facebook in the Philippines, where the total population stands near 109 million. Facebook’s statement says 276,000 accounts followed one or more or 11 deleted Facebook Pages belonging to businesses. The service took down those pages along with the 155 non-business accounts. Facebook said that about 5,500 people followed one of more of the closed-down Instagram accounts. Facebook has removed accounts in Singapore and Myanmar as well, as both countries approached political milestones, Gomez said.  In 2018, for example, a U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights mission found that Facebook had helped spread “hate” speech against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar that has struggled to get along with the country’s government. Facebook took down a page authored by senior Myanmar military officials — a long-time nemesis of the Rohingya — after the U.N. findings appeared. 

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Local Developer Creates Air Monitoring App

There are all kinds of apps that rate the air quality of your home inside and outside. But one young programmer has created one that has taken off in his native Macedonia. Now it’s also expanding worldwide. VOA`s Jane Bojadzievski reports.

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Federal Judge Postpones Trump Ban on Popular App TikTok

A federal judge on Sunday postponed a Trump administration order that would have banned the popular video sharing app TikTok from U.S. smartphone app stores around midnight. A more comprehensive ban remains scheduled for November, about a week after the presidential election. The judge, Carl Nichols of the U.S District Court for the District of Columbia, did not agree to postpone the later ban. The ruling followed an emergency hearing Sunday morning in which lawyers for TikTok argued that the administration’s app-store ban would infringe on First Amendment rights and do irreparable harm to the business. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump declared that TikTok was a threat to national security and that it must either sell its U.S. operations to American companies or be barred from the country. TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is scrambling to firm up a deal tentatively struck a week ago in which it would partner with Oracle, a huge database-software company, and Walmart in an effort to win the blessing of both the Chinese and American governments. In the meantime, it is fighting to keep the app available in the U.S. Judge Nichols did not explain his reasoning publicly, instead filing his judicial opinion under seal. Initially, both the U.S. government’s brief in the case and the entire Sunday morning hearing were also to be sealed, although the court later relented.The U.S. head office of TikTok is seen in Culver City, California, Sept. 15, 2020.In arguments to Judge Nichols, TikTok lawyer John Hall said that TikTok is more than an app, saying it functions as a “modern day version of a town square.” “If that prohibition goes into effect at midnight, the consequences immediately are grave,'” Hall said. “It would be no different than the government locking the doors to a public forum, roping off that town square” at a time when a free exchange of ideas is necessary heading into a polarized election.  TikTok lawyers also argued that a ban on the app would affect the ability of tens of thousands of potential viewers and content creators to express themselves every month and would also hurt its ability to hire new talent. In addition, Hall argued that a ban would prevent existing users from automatically receiving security updates, eroding national security.  Justice Department lawyer Daniel Schwei said that Chinese companies are not purely private and are subject to intrusive laws compelling their cooperation with intelligence agencies. The Justice Department has also argued that economic regulations of this nature generally are not subject to First Amendment scrutiny.  “This is the most immediate national security threat,” Schwei argued. “It is a threat today. It is a risk today and therefore it deserves to be addressed today even while other things are ongoing and playing out.” Schwei also argued that TikTok lawyers failed to prove the company would suffer irreparable business harm. The Justice Department laid out its objections to TikTok’s motion for a temporary injunction in a brief under seal, but it was unsealed in redacted form to protect confidential business information. Trump set the process in motion with executive orders in August that declared TikTok and another Chinese app, WeChat, threats to national security. The White House says the video service is a security risk because the personal information of its millions of U.S. users could be handed over to Chinese authorities. Trump has given tentative approval to a proposed deal in which Oracle and Walmart could initially own a combined 20% of a new U.S. entity, TikTok Global. But Trump also said he could retract his approval if Oracle doesn’t have “total control” of the company; the president did not explain what he meant by that. The deal remains unfinalized, and the two sides have also appeared at odds over the corporate structure of TikTok Global. ByteDance said last week that it will still own 80% of the U.S. entity after a financing round. Oracle, meanwhile, put out a statement saying that Americans “will be the majority and ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global.” Government-owned media in China have criticized the deal as bullying and extortion. ByteDance said Thursday it has applied for a Chinese technology export license after Beijing tightened control over exports last month in an effort to gain leverage over Washington’s attempt to force an outright sale of TikTok to U.S. owners.  China’s foreign ministry has said the government will “take necessary measures” to safeguard its companies but gave no indication what steps it can take to affect TikTok’s fate in the United States. TikTok is also asking a federal court to declare Trump’s Aug. 6 executive order unlawful. The Chinese firm said the president doesn’t have the authority to take these actions under the national-security law he cited; that the ban violates TikTok’s First Amendment speech rights and Fifth Amendment due-process rights; and that there’s no authority for the restrictions because they are not based on a national emergency. 

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TikTok Fate in the Balance as Judge Weighs App Store Ban

Lawyers for TikTok pleaded with a U.S. federal judge on Sunday to delay the Trump administration’s ban of the popular video sharing program from app stores set to take effect at the end of the day, arguing the move would infringe on First Amendment rights and do irreparable harm to the business.The 90-minute hearing came after President Donald Trump declared this summer that TikTok was a threat to national security and that it either sold its U.S. operations to U.S. companies or the app would be barred from the country.TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is scrambling to firm up a deal tentatively struck a week ago in which it would partner with tech company Oracle and retailer Walmart and that would get the blessing of the Chinese and American governments. In the meantime, it is fighting to keep the app available in the United States.The ban on new downloads of TikTok, which has about 100 million users in the U.S, was delayed once by the government. A more comprehensive ban is scheduled for November, about a week after the presidential election. Judge Carl Nichols of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said he would make a decision by late Sunday, leaving TikTok’s fate hanging.In arguments to Nichols, TikTok lawyer John Hall said that TikTok is more than an app but rather is a “modern day version of a town square.””If that prohibition goes into effect at midnight, the consequences immediately are grave,'” Hall said. “It would be no different than the government locking the doors to a public forum, roping off that town square” at a time when a free exchange of ideas is necessary heading into a polarized election.  TikTok lawyers also argued that a ban on the app would stop tens of thousands of potential viewers and content creators every month and hurt its ability to hire new talent. In addition, Hall argued that a ban would prevent existing users from automatically receiving security updates, eroding national security.  Justice Department lawyer Daniel Schwei sought to undercut TikTok lawyers’ argument, saying that Chinese companies are not purely private and are subject to intrusive laws compelling their cooperation with intelligence agencies. The Justice Department has also argued that economic regulations of this nature generally are not subject to First Amendment scrutiny. Plaintiffs can’t claim a First Amendment right in hosting TikTok itself as a platform for others’ speech because merely hosting a platform is not an exercise of the First Amendment, the Justice Department contends.  “This is the most immediate national security threat,” Schwei argued. “It is a threat today. It is a risk today and therefore it deserves to be addressed today even while other things are ongoing and playing out.”Schwei also argued that TikTok lawyers failed to prove it would suffer irreparable business harm.The Justice Department laid out its objections to TikTok’s motion for a temporary injunction in a brief under seal, but it was unsealed in redacted form to protect confidential business information.Trump set the process in motion with executive orders in August that declared TikTok and another Chinese app, WeChat, as threats to national security. The White House says the video service is a security risk because the personal information of its millions of U.S. users could be handed over to Chinese authorities.Trump has said he would approve a proposed deal in which Oracle and Walmart could initially own a combined 20% of a new U.S. entity, TikTok Global. Trump also said he could retract his approval if Oracle doesn’t have “total control.”The two sides of the TikTok deal have also appeared at odds over the corporate structure of TikTok Global. ByteDance said last week that it will still own 80% of the U.S. entity after a financing round. Oracle, meanwhile, put out a statement saying that Americans “will be the majority and ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global.”Chinese media have criticized the deal as bullying and extortion, suggesting that the Chinese government is not happy with the arrangement. ByteDance said Thursday it has applied for a Chinese technology export license after Beijing tightened control over exports last month in an effort to gain leverage over Washington’s attempt to force an outright sale of TikTok to U.S. owners.  China’s foreign ministry has said the government will “take necessary measures” to safeguard its companies but gave no indication what steps it can take to affect TikTok’s fate in the United States.TikTok is suing the U.S. government over Trump’s Aug. 6 executive order, saying it is unlawful. So are resulting Commerce Department prohibitions that aim to kick TikTok out of U.S. app stores and, in November, essentially shut it down in the U.S., it claimed.The Chinese firm said the president doesn’t have the authority to take these actions under the national security law he cited, that the ban violates TikTok’s First Amendment speech rights and Fifth Amendment due-process rights, and that there’s no authority for the restrictions because they are not based on a national emergency.

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US Imposes Curbs on Exports by China’s Top Chipmaker SMIC

The U.S. government has placed new export restrictions on China’s most advanced maker of computer chips, citing an “unacceptable risk” that equipment sold to the country’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (SMIC) could be used for military purposes.According to a letter Friday by the Commerce Department, American suppliers of certain technology products to SMIC will need to apply for individual licenses before they can export to the Chinese company.The U.S. has cut off China’s telecom giant Huawei from essential supplies of semiconductors since September 15. As the requirement takes effect, SMIC becomes the second leading Chinese technology company to face U.S. trade sanctions.When asked for comment, the Chinese chipmaker told Reuters it had not received any official notice of the restrictions from Washington and said it had no ties with the Chinese military.’No relationship’ with militaryLast month, after the Trump administration reportedly was considering adding SMIC to a trade blacklist, the company denied its technology was for military use. “The company manufactures semiconductors and provides services solely for civilian and commercial end-users and end-uses. We have no relationship with the Chinese military,” SMIC said in a statement.The Chinese company indicated last month that in order to avoid U.S. sanctions, it was willing to abide by the American rules and stop selling chips to Huawei.For all of China’s efforts to become a global leader in high technology, the factory of the world is yet not able to manufacture top-level contenders in one crucial area — the microchip, the nervous system that runs just about every electronic device. Last year, China imported more than $304 billion in computer chips, more than it spent on crude oil.SMIC’s best manufacturing process is believed to be able to make 14-nanometer microchips, which are several generations behind Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., which already makes 5-nanometer chips.  Even for those less advanced chips, SMIC still heavily relies on American technology and equipment.

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Justice Department Asks Judge to Allow US to Bar WeChat from US App Stores

The U.S. Justice Department asked a federal judge in San Francisco on Friday to allow the government to bar Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google from offering WeChat for download in U.S. app stores pending an appeal.The filing asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler to put on hold her preliminary injunction issued Saturday. That injunction blocked the U.S. Commerce Department order that was set to take effect late September 20 and that would also bar other U.S. transactions with Tencent Holding’s WeChat, potentially making the app unusable in the United States.Beeler responded late Friday by setting a hearing for October 15 on the motion but said she could potentially hold it on “a tighter time period.”The Justice Department filing said Beeler’s order was in error and “permits the continued, unfettered use of WeChat, a mobile application that the Executive Branch has determined constitutes a threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”Tencent had put forward a “mitigation proposal” that sought to create a new U.S. version of the app, deploy specific security measures to protect the new apps source code, partner with a U.S. cloud provider for user data storage, and manage the new app through a U.S.-based entity, the filing said.However, its proposal still allowed Tencent to retain ownership of WeChat and did not address U.S. concerns over the company, it added.Tencent declined to comment.Lawyers for U.S. WeChat Users Alliance, the group behind the legal challenge to the WeChat ban, questioned the urgency of the government’s request, noting the time it took for the government to seek a stay.”The government’s decision to sit tight for five days shows that there is no emergency,” they wrote.In support of its argument, the Justice Department made public portions of a September 17 Commerce Department memo outlining the WeChat transactions to be banned.”The WeChat mobile application collects and transmits sensitive personal information on U.S. persons, which is accessible to Tencent and stored in data centers in China and Canada,” the memo said. Beeler said WeChat users who filed a lawsuit “have shown serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim.”The Justice Department filing said, “The First Amendment does not bar regulation of WeChat simply because it has achieved the popularity and dependency sought by (China), precisely so it can surveil users, promote its propaganda, and otherwise place U.S. national security at risk.”WeChat has had an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States, analytics firms Apptopia said in early August. It is popular among Chinese students, Americans living in China and some Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.Beeler wrote “certainly the government’s over-arching national-security interest is significant. But on this record — while the government has established that China’s activities raise significant national security concerns — it has put in scant little evidence that its effective ban of WeChat for all U.S. users addresses those concerns.”WeChat is an all-in-one mobile app that combines services similar to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of daily life for many in China and boasts more than 1 billion users.TikTok on Wednesday sought a similar preliminary injunction from a U.S. judge in Washington. A judge on Friday said he would hold a hearing Sunday morning about whether to halt the U.S. app store ban on new TikTok downloads set to take effect Sunday night.  

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