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Top White House Adviser Expects Tough Action on TikTok, WeChat

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said Sunday he expected President Donald Trump to act firmly against the TikTok and WeChat applications, amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing.Trump last week had said he is considering banning the wildly-popular TikTok app as a way to punish China over the coronavirus pandemic.In an interview with Fox News, Navarro argued that “what the American people have to understand is all of the data that goes into those mobile apps that kids have so much fun with… goes right to servers in China, right to the Chinese military, the Chinese Communist Party.”He said these apps can be used to steal intellectual property. “So expect strong actions on that” by Trump, Navarro warned.Fast-growing video-sharing app TikTok belongs to the Chinese group ByteDance and has nearly one billion users worldwide.TikTok has sought to distance itself from its Chinese owners, pointing out it has an American CEO and consistently denying allegations that it shares data with Beijing.WeChat, owned by Tencent, is the main messaging application in China with more than one billion users.
 Navarro also accused TikTok’s new boss Kevin Mayer, former head of Disney’s streaming platforms, of being an American puppet.On Friday Amazon said it mistakenly sent workers an email telling them to dump the TikTok mobile application from their cell phones because of security concerns.An Amazon spokesperson later told AFP “there is no change to our policies right now with regard to TikTok.”Democratic campaign teams for the U.S. presidential election have been asked to avoid using TikTok on personal devices and, if they do, to keep it on a non-work phone.The research firm eMarketer estimates TikTok has more than 52 million U.S. users, having gained about 12 million since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. TikTok is especially popular with young smartphone users. 

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Touchless: How the World’s Busiest Airport Envisions Post-COVID Travel 

With COVID-19 ravaging the aviation industry, airlines and airports worldwide are reining in costs and halting new spending, except in one area: reassuring pandemic-wary passengers about travel.”Whatever the new normal (…) it’s going to be more and more around self-service,” Sean Donohue, chief executive of Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport (DFW), told Reuters in an interview.The airport is working with American Airlines – whose home base is DFW – to roll out a self-check-in for luggage, and all of its restrooms will be entirely touchless by the end of July with technology developed by Infax Inc. They will have hands-free sinks, soap, flushing toilets, and paper towel dispensers, which will be equipped with sensors to alert workers when supplies are low.”One of the biggest complaints airports receive are restrooms,” Donohue said.Dallas is piloting three technology options for luggage check-ins: Amadeus’s ICM, SITA, and Materna IPS.DFW has become the world’s busiest airport, according to figures from travel analytics firm Cirium, thanks in part to a strategy by large global carrier American to concentrate much of its pandemic flying through its Texas hub.Last year DFW rolled out biometric boarding — where your face is your boarding pass — for international flights and is taking advantage of the lull in international traffic to work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to use the VeriScan technology for arriving passengers too, he said.Delta Air Lines opened the first U.S. biometric terminal in Atlanta in 2018, and some airports in Europe and Asia also use facial recognition technology. It has spurred some concerns, however, with a U.S. government study finding racial bias in the technology and the European Union earlier this year considered banning it in public places over privacy concerns.The Dallas airport is also testing new technology around better sanitization, beginning with ultraviolet technology that can kill germs before they circulate into the HVAC system.But it has also deployed electrostatic foggers and hired a “hit team” of 150 people who are going through the terminals physically sanitizing high-touch areas.”Technology is critical because it can be very efficient,” Donohue said, but customers “being able to visualize what’s happening is reassuring as well.” DFW has invested millions of dollars above its cleaning and sanitation budget since the pandemic broke out, while suspending about $100 million of capital programs and reducing its second-half operating costs by about 20% as it addresses COVID-19’s steep hit to the industry, which only months ago was preparing for growth.Nearly 114,000 customers went through DFW on July 11, an improvement from a 10,000 per day trough in April, but still just about half of last year’s volumes.The airport has also been testing touchless technology for employee temperature checks, but is not currently planning hotly-debated checks for passengers, barring a federal mandate for which there has yet to be any inclination by the U.S. government.Michael Davies, who runs the New Technology Ventures program at London Business School, said technology will be one of many changes to the airport experience going forward, with fewer overall travelers who will be seeking more space and spending less time dining and shopping.”You put these things together and this feels in some interesting ways very much like back to the golden age of air travel,” said Davies. 

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US Convicts Russian Hacker in 2012 Data Breach

A jury in San Francisco convicted Russian citizen Yevgeny Nikulin after a series of hacks and cyberthefts eight years ago that targeted major U.S. social-media companies such as LinkedIn and Dropbox.The District Court for the Northern District of California on Friday said Nikulin would be sentenced September 29.Nikulin, 32, faces up to 10 years in prison for each count of selling stolen usernames and passwords, installing malware on protected computers, as well as up to five years for each count of conspiracy and computer hacking.According to U.S. prosecutors, Nikulin in 2012 stole the usernames and passwords of tens of millions of social media users to access their accounts. Some of that data was put up for sale on a Russian hacker forum.Nikulin, who last year was examined by court-ordered psychologists amid concerns about his mental health, had pleaded not guilty to the charges.His lawyer, Arkady Bukh, vowed to appeal the verdict, which he called a “huge injustice.”    Nikulin was detained in the Czech Republic in October 2016 and extradited to the U.S. 17 months later.The move angered Moscow, which had asked Czech authorities to extradite Nikulin to his home country, citing him as a suspect in a $2,000 online theft in 2009.Nikulin’s trial started in California in early March but was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic a week later, when nearly all in-person court hearings were postponed across the United States.

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Amazon Says Email to Employees Banning TikTok Was a Mistake 

Roughly five hours after an internal email went out to employees telling them to delete the popular video app TikTok from their phones, Amazon appeared to backtrack, calling the ban a mistake. “This morning’s email to some of our employees was sent in error. There is no change to our policies right now with regard to TikTok,” Amazon emailed reporters just before 5 p.m. Eastern time. Spokeswoman Jaci Anderson declined to answer questions about what happened. The initial internal email, which was disseminated widely online, told employees to delete TikTok, a video app increasingly popular with young people but also the focus of intensifying national-security and geopolitical concerns because of its Chinese ownership. The email cited “security risks” of the app.  An Amazon employee who confirmed receipt of the initial email but was not authorized to speak publicly had not seen a retraction at the time of Amazon’s backtrack.  Amazon is the second-largest U.S. private employer after Walmart, with more than 840,000 employees worldwide, and moving against TikTok would have escalated pressure on the app. It is banned on employee phones by the U.S. military and the company is subject to a national-security review of its merger history. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week that the government was “certainly looking” at banning the app.  FILE – This Feb. 25, 2020, file photo, shows the icon for TikTok in New York.Chinese internet giant ByteDance owns TikTok, which is designed for users outside of China; it also makes a Chinese version called Douyin. Like YouTube, TikTok relies on its users for the videos that populate its app. It has a reputation for fun, goofy videos and is popular with young people, including millions of American users. But it has racked up concerns such as censorship of videos, including those critical of the Chinese government; the threat of sharing user data with Chinese officials; and violating kids’ privacy. TikTok said earlier in the day that Amazon did not notify it before sending the initial email around midday Eastern. That email read, “The TikTok app is no longer permitted on mobile devices that access Amazon email.” To retain mobile access to company email, employees had to delete the TikTok app by the end of the day. “We still do not understand their concerns,” TikTok said at the time, adding that the company would welcome a dialogue to address Amazon’s issues. A spokeswoman did not immediately reply to a request for comment Friday evening. TikTok has been trying to appease critics in the U.S. and distance itself from its Chinese roots, but finds itself caught in an increasingly sticky geopolitical web. It recently named a new CEO, former Disney executive Kevin Mayer, which experts said could help it navigate U.S. regulators. And it is stopping operations in Hong Kong because of a new Chinese national security law that led Facebook, Google and Twitter to also stop providing user data to Hong Kong authorities.  Pompeo said the government remained concerned about TikTok and referred to the administration’s crackdown on Chinese telecom firms Huawei and ZTE. The government has tried to convince allies to root Huawei out of telecom networks, saying the company is a national-security threat, with mixed success; Trump has also said he was willing to use Huawei as a bargaining chip in trade talks. Huawei has denied that it enables spying for the Chinese government. “With respect to Chinese apps on people’s cell phones, I can assure you the United States will get this one right too,” Pompeo said, and added that if users downloaded the app their private information would be “in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.” A U.S. national-security agency has been reviewing ByteDance’s purchase of TikTok’s precursor, Musical.ly. Meanwhile, privacy groups say TikTok has been violating children’s privacy, even after the Federal Trade Commission fined the company in 2019 for collecting personal information from children without their parents’ consent. Amazon may have been concerned about a Chinese-owned app’s access to employee data, said Susan Ariel Aaronson, a professor at George Washington University and a data governance and national-security expert. China, according to the U.S. government, regularly steals U.S. intellectual property. Part of Amazon’s motivation with the ban, now apparently reversed, may also have been political, Aaronson said, since Amazon “doesn’t want to alienate the Trump administration.” Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos, are frequent targets of President Donald Trump. Bezos personally owns The Washington Post, which Trump has referred to as “fake news” whenever it publishes unfavorable stories about him. Last year, Amazon sued the U.S. government, saying that Trump’s “personal vendetta” against Amazon, Bezos and the Post, led it to lose a $10 billion cloud computing contract with the Pentagon to rival Microsoft. Meanwhile, federal regulators as well as Congress are pursuing antitrust investigations at Amazon as well as other tech giants. TikTok has content-moderation policies, like any social network, but says its moderation team for the U.S. is led out of California and it doesn’t censor videos based on topics sensitive to China and would not, even if the Chinese government asked it to. As for sharing U.S. user data with the Chinese government, the company says it stores U.S. user data in the U.S. and Singapore, not China; that its data centers are outside of China; and it would not give the government access to U.S. user data even if asked. Concerns about China are not limited to the U.S. India this month banned dozens of Chinese apps, including TikTok, because of tensions between the countries. India cited privacy concerns that threatened India’s sovereignty and security for the ban. India is one of TikTok’s largest markets and had previously briefly banned the app in 2019 because of worries about children and sexual content.   

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Memo: Amazon.com Bans TikTok from Employees’ Phones, Cites ‘Security Risks’

Amazon.com Inc has requested employees remove the TikTok video sharing app from their mobile devices by July 10 over “security risks,” according to a memo to employees seen by Reuters. “Due to security risk, the TikTok app is no longer permitted on mobile devices that access Amazon email. If you have TikTok on your device, you must remove it by 10-Jul to retain mobile access to Amazon email. At this time, using TikTok from your Amazon laptop browser is allowed,” according to the email. Amazon.com representatives did not immediately return requests for comment. “While Amazon did not communicate to us before sending their email, and we still do not understand their concerns, we welcome a dialog so we can address any issues they may have and enable their team to continue participating in our community,” TikTok responded in a statement. Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok, among the fastest growing digital platforms in history, is facing heavy scrutiny outside China. India banned TikTok and other Chinese apps in June. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier this week Washington was considering banning TikTok in the United States. Asked if Americans should download it, he told Fox News: “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.” Two Republican senators in March introduced a bill aimed at banning federal employees from using TikTok on their government-issued phones, amid growing national security concerns around the collection and sharing of data on U.S. users with China’s government. Last year the United States Navy banned TikTok from government-issued mobile devices, saying the short video app represented a “cybersecurity threat.” Last November, the U.S. government launched a national security review of TikTok owner Beijing ByteDance Technology Co’s $1 billion acquisition of U.S. social media app Musical.ly, Reuters first reported last year.  

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China’s Rival to GPS Navigation Carries Big Risks

After more than 20 years of effort, China completed its satellite navigation system last Tuesday when the last of BeiDou’s 35 satellites reached geostationary orbit.China’s domestically developed BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, designed to rival the U.S.-owned Global Positioning System (GPS), is now offering worldwide coverage, allowing global users to access its high-accuracy positioning, navigation and timing services, which are vital to the modern economy.China’s state media claims the system, formally initiated in 1994, is now being used by more than half of the world’s countries, and that its navigation products have been exported to more than 120 countries.FILE – A GPS station is seen in the Inyo Mountains of California. (Shawn Lawrence/UNAVCO)Like GPS, the services are offered free of charge using public protocols. But technical experts say the differences between the two systems have profound security implications.Security risksAll other global navigation satellite systems — GPS, GLONASS (Russia) and Galileo (EU) — mainly act as beacons, beaming out signals picked up by billions of devices using them to determine their precise position on Earth.BeiDou is a two-way communication system, allowing it to identify the locations of receivers. BeiDou-compatible devices can transmit data back to the satellites, even in text messages of up to 1,200 Chinese characters.”In layman’s terms, you can not only know where you are through BeiDou but also tell others where you are through the system,” China’s state broadcaster CCTV said last month.Such a capability has raised serious security concerns. “All cellular devices, as I understand their function, can be tracked because they continually communicate with towers or satellites,” Dr. Larry Wortzel, a commissioner of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), told VOA.”So just as here in the U.S., there are concerns that police or federal agencies can track people by their cellphones. That can happen. The same is true of a cellphone relying on BeiDou, Glonass and Galileo. The question is: Who are you concerned about being tracked by?”FILE – A Long March-3B rocket carrying the Beidou-3 satellite, the last satellite of China’s Beidou Navigation Satellite System, takes off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province, China, June 23, 2020.Legislation passed in Taiwan in 2016 also noted that two-way communication capabilities could be used in cyberattacks. It recommended that government employees should avoid using smartphones that rely on BeiDou for their phone navigation system.In a public report, Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology said that Taiwanese using mobile phones made in the mainland might be providing Beijing with information via embedded malware. “Because the Chinese BeiDou satellite positioning system has two-way information sending and receiving function and malicious programs could be hidden in the navigation chip of the mobile phone, operating system or apps, the use of BeiDou-enabled smartphones could face security risks,” the report stated.The ministry recommended that national defense agencies monitor signals transmitted by BeiDou and warn of any anomalies as soon as possible.A Staff members walk at Xichang Satellite Launch Center, the day before the Beidou-3 satellite, the last satellite of China’s Beidou Navigation Satellite System, was set to launch, in Sichuan province, China, June 15, 2020.Almost 25 years later, BeiDou is now trying to rival GPS’s dominant positions. It has overtaken its U.S. rival in size. At the end of June, there were 35 BeiDou satellites in operation, compared with 31 for GPS.”It brings full autonomy to China in matters of position and navigation services for ground, sea and air transportation means on a global scale,” said Dr. Emmanuel Meneut in a recent report published by a French think tank, the Institute of International Relations.According to a report released last month by a Chinese research firm Qianxun SI, BeiDou’s satellites were observed more frequently than GPS satellites in most parts of the world. The state media Xinhua reported last Friday that BeiDou now has 500 million subscribers for its high-precision positioning services.As an integral part of everyday life, GPS is nearly ubiquitous in the modern economy. The system is also an indispensable asset to U.S. forces at home and deployed around the globe. It provides a substantial military advantage and has been integrated into virtually every facet of military operations. Being overtaken by BeiDou could have potentially enormous implications for both high-tech industry and national security.To promote greater use of the technology, China has sought to incentivize other countries with loans and free services. Beijing signed a roughly 2 billion yuan ($297 million) agreement with Thailand in 2013, making the country the first overseas client of BeiDou. According to a report released last month by a Shanghai-based market research firm, SWS Research, by the end of 2020, at least 1,000 base stations will be built in the 10 ASEAN countries.”Widespread integration of BeiDou across the Belt and Road [a global development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013] will ostensibly end a member nation’s reliance on the American military-run GPS network,” Heath Sloane, a scholar at the Yenching Academy of Peking University, wrote in The Diplomat in April. “Torn between rival networks, the world may soon be bifurcated into GPS or BeiDou camps.”FILE – A GPS navigation device is held by a U.S. soldier in Kuwait, in this image taken from video.Ironically, the American military says it sometimes uses BeiDou as a backup to GPS.According to General James Holmes, the head of the U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command, pilots of the elite U-2 spy plane wear watches that receive satellite navigation coordinates from BeiDou when GPS is jammed. “My U-2 guys fly with a watch now that ties into GPS, but also BeiDou and the Russian [GLONASS] system and the European [Galileo] system so that if somebody jams GPS, they still get the others,” Holmes said March 4 at the McAleese Defense Programs Conference in Washington.While China’s 5G networking technology has long been considered a security threat, BeiDou receives little criticism from the U.S. Moreover, the system received much-needed help from Washington in 2017.  As Beijing was rapidly developing the system, it faced a problem that only the U.S. could solve: No frequency bands were available.Under the “first come, first served” principle, GPS had occupied most of the spectrum that a global positioning system needs, since the U.S. was the first nation to start broadcasting in those frequencies.China had to obtain permission from Washington before using this limited resource. After three years of negotiations, the two countries agreed in December 2017 to allow BeiDou’s civil signals to be interoperable with GPS. As a result, the three frequency bands that BeiDou satellites use to transmit navigation signals are located adjacent to or even inside GPS frequency bands.’Biggest’ aerospace projectOfficially started in 1994, BeiDou is consistently referenced as “the biggest” aerospace program that China ever undertaken. For the past 2½ years alone, there have been more than 300,000 scientists and engineers from more than 400 research institutions and corporations involved in the program. Along with 5G, BeiDou is called by Beijing “The Two Pillars of a Great Power.”Yang Changfeng, a chief designer of BeiDou, told China’s state broadcaster CCTV last month that China was now “moving from being a major nation in space to becoming a true space power.””The rise of the Chinese GPS BeiDou system is not simply one more positioning service in competition with the U.S. One is a strategic challenge,” Meneut said.

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Facebook Removes False Accounts Linked to Brazil’s Bolsonaro

Social media giant Facebook said Wednesday that it had removed dozens of accounts linked to supporters or employees of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro as part of an investigation into the spread of false news online.Nathaniel Gleicher, the company’s head of cybersecurity policy, said in a statement that 73 Facebook and Instagram accounts, 14 pages and one group had been removed. Brazilian courts have been investigating the spread of false news in connection with Bolsonaro.There was no immediate comment from the presidential office about Facebook’s action.Facebook’s executive said the accounts were linked to the Social Liberal Party, which Bolsonaro left last year after winning the 2018 presidential election, and to employees of the president; two of his sons, Senator Flávio Bolsonaro and congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro; and two other lawmakers.”This network consisted of several clusters of connected activity that relied on a combination of duplicate and fake accounts — some of which had been detected and disabled by our automated systems — to evade enforcement, create fictitious personas posing as reporters, post content, and manage pages masquerading as news outlets,” Gleicher said in the statement.He added that some of the content posted by the accounts had already been taken down for community standards violations, including hate speech.Gleicher said about 883,000 accounts followed one or more of the Bolsonaro linked pages and an additional 917,000 followed one of more of the Instagram accounts that were removed.

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Facebook Civil Rights Audit: ‘Serious Setbacks’ Mar Progress

A two-year audit of Facebook’s civil rights record found “serious setbacks” that have marred the social network’s progress on matters such as hate speech, misinformation and bias.
 
Facebook hired the audit’s leader, former American Civil Liberties Union executive Laura Murphy, in May 2018 to assess its performance on vital social issues. Its 100-page report released Wednesday outlines a “seesaw of progress and setbacks” at the company on everything from bias in Facebook’s algorithms to its content moderation, advertising practices and treatment of voter suppression.
 
The audit recommends that Facebook build a “civil rights infrastructure” into every aspect of the company, as well as a “stronger interpretation” of existing voter suppression policies and more concrete action on algorithmic bias. Those suggestions are not binding, and there is no formal system in place to hold Facebook accountable for any of the audit’s findings.
 
“While the audit process has been meaningful, and has led to some significant improvements in the platform, we have also watched the company make painful decisions over the last nine months with real world consequences that are serious setbacks for civil rights,” the audit report states.
 
Those include Facebook’s decision to exempt politicians from fact-checking, even when President Donald Trump posted false information about voting by mail. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has cited a commitment to free speech as a reason for allowing such posts to remain on the platform, even though the company has rules in place against voter suppression it could have used to take down — or at least add warning labels to — Trump’s posts.
 
Last month, Facebook announced it would begin labeling rule-breaking posts — even from politicians — going forward. But it is not clear if Trump’s previous controversial posts would have gotten the alert. The problem, critics have long said, is not so much about Facebook’s rules as how it enforces them.
 
“When you elevate free expression as your highest value, other values take a back seat,” Murphy told The Associated Press. The politician exemption, she said, “elevates the speech of people who are already powerful and disadvantages people who are not.”
 
More than 900 companies have joined an advertising boycott of Facebook to protest its handling of hate speech and misinformation.
 
Civil rights leaders who met virtually with Zuckerberg and other Facebook leaders Tuesday expressed skepticism that recommendations from the audit would ever be implemented, noting that past suggestions in previous reports had gone overlooked.
 
“What we get is recommendations that they end up not implementing,” said Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color for Change, one of several civil rights nonprofits leading an organized boycott of Facebook advertising. 

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