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United Kingdom

UK Health Secretary Urges Social Media Companies To Block Cyberbullying And Underaged Sexting (betanews.com) 67

Mark Wilson shares his article on Beta News: Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has made calls for technology companies and social media to do more to tackle the problems of cyberbullying, online intimidation and -- rather specifically -- under-18-year-olds texting sexually explicit images. Of course, he doesn't have the slightest idea about how to go about tackling these problems, but he has expressed his concern so that, in conjunction with passing this buck to tech companies, should be enough, right?
Hunt apparently believes there's already a technology which can identify sexually explicit photos, and that social media networks should now also develop algorithms to identify and block cyberbullying, an idea the Guardian called "sadly laughable."

"Is the blanket censorship of non-approved communications for all under 18s -- something that goes far further than even the Great Firewall of China -- really the kind of thing a government minister should be able to idly suggest in 2016?"
Biotech

Our Brains Use Binary Logic, Say Neuroscientists (sciencedaily.com) 67

"The brain's basic computational algorithm is organized by power-of-two-based logic," reports Sci-News, citing a neuroscientist at Augusta University's Medical College. hackingbear writes: He and his colleagues from the U.S. and China have documented the algorithm at work in seven different brain regions involved with basics like food and fear in mice and hamsters. "Intelligence is really about dealing with uncertainty and infinite possibilities," he said. "It appears to be enabled when a group of similar neurons form a variety of cliques to handle each basic like recognizing food, shelter, friends and foes. Groups of cliques then cluster into functional connectivity motifs to handle every possibility in each of these basics. The more complex the thought, the more cliques join in."
China

China's New 'Social Credit Score' Law Means Full Access To Customer Data (insurancejournal.com) 82

AnonymousCube shares this quote about China's new 'Social Credit Score' law from an insurance industry magazine: "Companies are also required to give government investigators complete access to their data if there is suspected wrong-doing, and Internet operators must cooperate in any national security or crime-related investigation."

Note that China has an extremely flexible definition of "national security". Additionally computer equipment will need to undergo mandatory certification, that could involve giving up source code, encryption keys, or even proprietary intellectual data, as Microsoft has been doing for some time.

The article suggests businesses like insurers "will likely see the cost of complying with this new action as a disincentive to conducting business in China."
Crime

Foxconn Employee Faces 10-Year Prison Sentence For Stealing 5,700 iPhones Worth $1.5 Million (thenextweb.com) 45

A Taiwanese Foxconn manager faces a stiff prison sentence after he stole 5,700 iPhones from his employer, and went to sell them for $1.56 million. The Next Web reports: Foxconn is a tech manufacturing giant. It makes a lot of things, including laptops for HP, phones for Apple, games consoles for Sony, and its workers so depressed it has to install suicide nets. The Taiwanese manager at the center of this crime -- known only by his family name, Tsai -- worked in the testing department at Foxconn's factory in Shenzhen, mainland China. According to Taiwanese prosecutors, Tsai ordered eight of his subordinates to smuggle out thousands of iPhones which were used by the company for testing and quality assurance purposes. These were destined to be scrapped after use. The stolen iPhones (mostly iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s models) made their way to stores in Shenzhen, and went on to make Tsai and his accomplices nearly $1.56 million USD (Tw$50 million). Tsai has since been charged with breach of trust and, if found guilty, he faces a maximum 10-year jail term.
Censorship

China Is Censoring People's Chats Without Them Even Knowing About It (qz.com) 76

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: A new study from The Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto, reveals that censorship on WeChat occurs primarily in group chats rather than one-on-one chats between two people, and often in such a way where the sender of a text isn't even aware a piece of text has been scrubbed. The discoveries illuminates how China's government attempts to keep its citizens blind to the scope of its censorship regime. The researchers set out find the extent to which certain keywords got scrubbed from conversations between two or more users in WeChat. To do this, in June 2016 the team posed as a Chinese WeChat user and sent out 26,821 keywords containing terms that had been censored on other apps, including Tom-Skype (a made-for-China version of Skype) and YY (a live broadcast app). A corresponding Canadian user in the two-way chat would then report back to say whether or not the message had been received. The report states that out of the entire sample, only one term -- Falun Gong -- had been scrubbed. When they ran an identical test in August, even that text mysteriously passed without censorship. Yet when they tested group chats, they found multiple cases in which certain keywords triggered a removal. Specifically, while sensitive terms used in isolation were unlikely to trigger censorship (say "June 4th," a reference to the Tiananmen Square protests, brutally put down on June 4, 1989), it took effect when they were used in a full sentence or with other keywords. The researchers also discovered that when WeChat censored a message, the sender received no notice informing him that his text had not reached the intended recipient. The study also notes that "WeChat only censors content for users who bind their account to a mainland Chinese phone number when they first register to use the app." The censorship is still applied even if Chinese residents move to different countries or change phone numbers.
Mozilla

Mozilla Puts New Money To Use Fighting For 'Internet Health' (cnet.com) 110

Stephen Shankland, writing for CNET: Mozilla is marshaling public support for political positions, like backing net neutrality, defending encryption and keeping government surveillance from getting out of hand, says Denelle Dixon-Thayer, Mozilla's chief legal and business officer. The organization is funding the efforts with revenue from Firefox searches, which has jumped since 2014 when it switched from a global deal with Google to a set of regional deals. Mozilla brought in $421 million in revenue last year largely through partnerships with Yahoo in the US, Yandex in Russia and Baidu in China, according to tax documents released alongside Mozilla's 2015 annual report on Thursday. Pushing policy work brings new challenges well beyond traditional Mozilla work competing against Google's Chrome browser and Microsoft's Internet Explorer. They include squaring off against the incoming administration of Donald Trump.
Privacy

China Pilots a System That Rates Citizens on 'Social Credit Score' To Determine Eligibility For Jobs, Travel (technologyreview.com) 204

Speculations have turned out be true. The Chinese government is now testing systems that will be used to create digital records of citizens' social and financial behavior. In turn, these will be used to create a so-called social credit score, which will determine whether individuals have access to services, from travel and education to loans and insurance cover. Some citizens -- such as lawyers and journalists -- will be more closely monitored. From a report on MIT Technology Review: Planning documents apparently describe the system as being created to "allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step." The Journal claims that the system will at first log "infractions such as fare cheating, jaywalking and violating family-planning rules" but will be expanded in the future -- potentially even to Internet activity. Some aspects of the system are already in testing, but there are some challenges to implementing such a far-reaching apparatus. It's difficult to centralize all that data, check it for accuracy, and process it, for example -- let alone feed it back into the system to control everyday life. And China has data from 1.4 billion people to handle.
Earth

India Unveils the World's Largest Solar Power Plant (aljazeera.com) 177

Kamuthi in Tamil Nadu, India is now home to the world's largest solar plant that adds 648 MW to the country's generating capacity. Previously, the Topaz Solar Farm in California, which was completed two years ago and has a capacity of 550 MW, held the title. Aljazeera reports: The solar plant, built in an impressive eight months, is cleaned every day by a robotic system, charged by its own solar panels. At full capacity, it is estimated to produce enough electricity to power about 150,000 homes. The project is comprised of 2.5 million individual solar modules, and cost $679 million to build. The new plant has helped nudge India's total installed solar capacity across the 10 GW mark, according to a statement by research firm Bridge to India, joining only a handful of countries that can make this claim. As solar power increases, India is expected to become the world's third-biggest solar market from next year onwards, after China and the U.S.
China

Russia Falls Behind In Annual Space Launches For First Time Ever (themoscowtimes.com) 93

From a report on the Moscow Times: This year, for the first time in history, Russia has fallen behind the United States and China as the world's leading launcher of space rockets. Russia will finish 2016 with just 18 launches, according to open source data, compared to China's 19 and America's 20 launches. Alexander Ivanov, deputy chief of Russia's Roscosmos space agency, said on Nov. 29 that the launch rate has decreased because Moscow's space strategy has changed. Currently, it's top priority is reviving existing and aging satellite groupings. But there are other reasons Russia's launch rate may be falling behind. Since the 1957 launch of Sputnik, the world's first satellite, Russia has been the undisputed leader in annual launch rates -- a figure that spoke to the general health of its space program and aerospace industry. At the peak of the Soviet space program, Russia often launched around 100 rockets a year. Since 1957, Russia has launched over 3,000 rockets -- roughly twice as many as the U.S. But with the Russian economy in crisis, space budgets have plummeted. Funding for the next decade of Russian space activity stands at just 1.4 trillion rubles ($21.5 billion), a figure that was only finalized after three rounds of cuts to proposed funding, which began at 3.4 trillion rubles ($52.3 billion). The U.S. space agency, NASA, received a budget of $19.3 billion in 2016 alone. To make matters worse, Russian rockets are becoming uncharacteristically undependable.
China

Microsoft Confirms Its Chinese-Language Chatbot Filters Certain Topics (fortune.com) 19

Microsoft's Chinese-language AI chat bot filters certain topics, the company confirmed Monday, although it did not clarify whether that included interactions deemed politically sensitive. From a report on Fortune: Last week, CNNMoney and China Digital Times reported that Xiaoice would not directly respond to questions surrounding topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese state. References to the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 or "Steamed Bun Xi," a nickname of Chinese President Xi Jinping, would draw evasive answers or non sequiturs from the chat bot, according to the report. "Am I stupid? Once I answer you'd take a screengrab," read one answer to a question that contained the words "topple the Communist Party." Even the mention of Donald Trump, the American President-elect, drew an evasive response from the chat bot, according to reports. "I don't want to talk about it," Xiaoice said, reports CNN Money. In response to inquiries from Fortune, Microsoft confirmed that there was some filtering around Xiaoice's interaction. "We are committed to creating the best experience for everyone chatting with Xiaoice," a Microsoft spokesperson tells Fortune. "With this in mind, we have implemented filtering on a range of topics." The tech giant did not further elaborate to which specific topics the filtering applied.
Businesses

Amazon and eBay Sellers' VAT Fraud Rife Despite Crackdown (theguardian.com) 81

Huge numbers of VAT fraudsters are illegally selling goods tax-free to British shoppers on Amazon and eBay, despite new government efforts to crack down on this ballooning 1bn pound VAT evasion crisis, reports the Guardian. From the article: A Guardian investigation found a wide variety of popular goods being illegally sold without VAT on Britain's leading shopping sites. They range from cheap Christmas tree lights, electric toothbrushes and thermal socks to expensive laptops, iPads, music keyboards, violins and pingpong tables. In some cases, VAT fraudsters offer unbeatable prices. Mostly, however, their prices remain in line with law-abiding competitors and the proceeds of evasion disappear overseas, often to China. Guardian investigations found many tax-evading sellers were trading without displaying VAT numbers on Amazon or eBay. Others were showing made up numbers, or numbers cloned, without authorisation, from unsuspecting legitimate businesses.
Japan

Japan Eyes World's Fastest-Known Supercomputer, To Spend Over $150M On It (reuters.com) 35

Japan plans to build the world's fastest-known supercomputer in a bid to arm the country's manufacturers with a platform for research that could help them develop and improve driverless cars, robotics and medical diagnostics. From a Reuters report: The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will spend 19.5 billion yen ($173 million) on the previously unreported project, a budget breakdown shows, as part of a government policy to get back Japan's mojo in the world of technology. The country has lost its edge in many electronic fields amid intensifying competition from South Korea and China, home to the world's current best-performing machine. In a move that is expected to vault Japan to the top of the supercomputing heap, its engineers will be tasked with building a machine that can make 130 quadrillion calculations per second -- or 130 petaflops in scientific parlance -- as early as next year, sources involved in the project told Reuters. At that speed, Japan's computer would be ahead of China's Sunway Taihulight that is capable of 93 petaflops. "As far as we know, there is nothing out there that is as fast," said Satoshi Sekiguchi, a director general at Japan's âZNational Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, where the computer will be built.
China

China Travel Firm Ctrip To Buy Skyscanner For $2.5 Billion (straitstimes.com) 5

An anonymous reader shares a report: Ctrip.com International will buy British flight price-checking site Skyscanner for about S$ 2.5 billion, as China's largest online travel firm explores ways to expand beyond a home market it already dominates. The deal will allow Ctrip, whose growth has been tied to the sharp rise of Chinese tourism, to gain a strong foothold in Europe. Skyscanner, one of the region's larger flight-ticketing services, has more than 60 million monthly active users. Ctrip said it would be able to offer a more complete array of options combining air, rail and road travel. It announced the deal on Wednesday, alongside better-than-expected quarterly revenue and earnings. Its shares climbed almost 7 per cent in New York in after-hours trade.
Businesses

Faraday Future's Factory Construction Paused; Shipping Timelines at Risk (techcrunch.com) 25

Electric vehicle maker Faraday Future may not be able to make its first cars in time to hits its 2017 shipping deadlines, according to a new report by the Financial Times. From a report on TechCrunch: It's hard to ship a car when your factory itself isn't finished, is the main issue -- FF's Nevada-based manufacturing facility broke ground in April, but construction has since been paused because, according to state treasurer Dan Schwartz speaking to the FT, it hasn't paid bills owed by the company to its construction partner. The delay is temporary, according to comments made by general contractor Aecom, which is working with Faraday on the project, and construction will resume sometime in early 2017. That's going to push out the completion date considerably, and will make it quite difficult for FF to make its previously stated production timeline. FT also spoke to an anonymous former employee who said deliveries to customers within the 2017 timeframe were "not possible."
Republicans

Trump Says He's Going To 'Get Apple To Build a Big Plant In the United States' (arstechnica.com) 471

In a Tuesday interview with The New York Times, President-elect Donald Trump said that he would incentivize Apple to "build a big plant in the United States, or many big plants in the United States." Ars Technica reports: Trump indicated to columnist Thomas Friedman that he is going to double-down on bringing factory jobs back to America, especially in the Rust Belt from Michigan to Pennsylvania.

FRIEDMAN: Are you worried, though, that those companies will keep their factories here, but the jobs will be replaced by robots?
TRUMP: They will, and we'll make the robots, too. [laughter]
TRUMP: It's a big thing, we'll make the robots, too. Right now we don't make the robots. We don't make anything. But we're going to. I mean, look, robotics is becoming very big and we're going to do that. We're going to have more factories. We can't lose 70,000 factories. Just can't do it. We're going to start making things.

Trump continued, saying that he had received a call from Apple CEO Tim Cook. As the president-elect recounted: "...and I said, 'Tim, you know, one of the things that will be a real achievement for me is when I get Apple to build a big plant in the United States, or many big plants in the United States, where instead of going to China, and going to Vietnam, and going to the places that you go to, you're making your product right here.' He said, 'I understand that.' I said: 'I think we'll create the incentives for you, and I think you're going to do it. We're going for a very large tax cut for corporations, which you'll be happy about.' But we're going for big tax cuts, we have to get rid of regulations, regulations are making it impossible. Whether you're liberal or conservative, I mean, I could sit down and show you regulations that anybody would agree are ridiculous. It's gotten to be a free-for-all. And companies can't, they can't even start up, they can't expand, they're choking."
A report from Nikkei last week said that Apple is exploring the idea of making iPhones in the United States, but the company has realized that it will cost more than double to make the shiny new gadgets at home.
China

China Breaks Patent Application Record (bbc.com) 28

China-based inventors applied for a record-setting number of patents last year. The country accounted for more than a million submissions, according to an annual report by the World Intellectual Property Organization (Wipo). It said the figure was "extraordinary". From a BBC report:A total of 2.9 million patent applications were filed worldwide in 2015, according to Wipo, marking a 7.8% rise on the previous year. China can lay claim to driving most of that growth. Its domestic patent office -- the Property Office of the People's Republic of China (Sipo) -- received a record 1,101,864 filings. Many of the filings were for innovations in telecoms, computing, semiconductors and medical tech. Beijing had urged companies to boost the number of such applications. But some experts have cast doubt as to whether it signifies that the country is truly more inventive than others, since most of China's filings were done locally.
Android

Apple Captures Record 91 Percent of Global Smartphone Profits: Research (cnbc.com) 196

Apple has captured a record share of profits in the global smartphone industry in the third quarter, according to new research, despite grappling with falling iPhone sales. From a report on CNBC:Third-quarter smartphone operating profit reached $9 billion globally of which Apple took 91 percent of the share, Strategy Analytics said in a note on Tuesday. This amounts to $8.19 billion for the U.S. technology giant. Apple has the highest profit margins in the smartphone industry thanks to a loyal brand following and the ability to price its iPhones at a premium. And the figures come even after Apple reported three straight quarters of iPhone sales declines. Sat a long way behind Apple is China's Huawei which managed to grab 2.4 percent of global operating profit share in the smartphone market, accounting for $200 million, according to Strategy Analytics. Chinese start-up brands Vivo and OPPO are in third and fourth place, both capturing 2.2 percent of global smartphone profit each.
Transportation

China's NextEV NIO EP9 Claims To Be 'World's Fastest' Electric Supercar (hothardware.com) 56

Brandon Hill, writing for HotHardware: NextEV, a Chinese manufacturer that fields a team in Formula E, is looking to take the world by storm with its EP9. Launching under the NIO sub-brand, the EP9 is said to accelerate to 60 mph in just 2.7 seconds and can hit 124 mph in 7.1 seconds. After 15.9 seconds, the EP9 will be traveling at a heady 186 mph. The EV weighs 3,825 pounds, or 1,730kg (about 200 pounds heavier than the 918 Spyder), of which 1,400 pounds is devoted solely to the lithium-ion battery pack. Despite the fact that the EP9's motors combine to produce an astonishing 1390 horsepower, it still has a respectable driving range of 265 miles. So what do all of these performance numbers mean in the real world? Well, NextEV says that the EP9 is capable of lapping the famed Nurburgring Nordschleife race track in 7 minutes, 5 seconds. Interestingly enough, NextEV is claiming that the EP9 is the world's fastest EV, but we have the feeling that Rimac Automobili would take issue with that statement. Rimac's Concept_S can dash to 60 mph in just 2.5 seconds and can hit 186 mph in 13.5 seconds. Likewise, the Concept_S is capable of topping out at 226.8 mph, whereas NextEV hasn't provided a top speed for the EP9.
Censorship

Facebook Said To Create Censorship Tool To Get Back Into China (theverge.com) 45

The New York Times is reporting (Warning: may be paywalled, alternate source) that Facebook has created a censorship tool to automatically suppress certain posts in specific geographic areas of China, according to three current and former Facebook employees. The tool was created in an effort for Facebook to "get into China, a market where the social network has been blocked." Business Insider notes that several Facebook employees have quit because of the tool: This software would give third parties, like internet service providers, the ability to monitor Facebook for popular stories, and suppress them at will. This tool is one of many that Facebook has experimented with to get back into China, where it's been blocked from users since 2009, says the report, and has never actually been used. Regardless, the fact that company leadership would even consider this approach has reportedly troubled some Facebook employees, seeing it as a betrayal of the social network's values around openness and transparency in the name of getting access to the vast market represented by China.
China

China To Build a Solar Plant In Chernobyl's Exclusion Zone (reuters.com) 87

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Two Chinese firms plan to build a solar power plant in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, which has been off limits since a devastating explosion contaminated the region with deadly radiation in 1986. GCL System Integration Technology (GCL-SI), a subsidiary of the GCL Group, said it would cooperate with China National Complete Engineering Corp (CCEC) on the project in Ukraine, with construction expected to start next year. CCEC, a subsidiary of state-owned China National Machinery Industry Corp, will be in overall charge of the project, while GCL-SI will provide and install solar components. GCL-SI did not say how much it would cost. The Chernobyl reactor, which is due to be covered next year by a 1.5 billion euro ($1.6 billion) steel-clad arch, is surrounded by a 2,600 square km (1,000 square mile) exclusion zone of forest and marshland. GCL-SI would not disclose exactly where the solar plant would be built, but a company manager told Reuters that the site had already gone through several rounds of inspections by the company's technicians. China is the world's biggest solar power generator, with 43 gigawatts of capacity by the end of last year. It is also the world's top manufacturer, producing 72 percent of global solar power components in 2015, according to a research note by Everbright Securities last week. "There will be remarkable social benefits and economic ones as we try to renovate the once damaged area with green and renewable energy," said Shu Hua, chairman of GCL-SI. A company manager added: "Ukraine has passed a law allowing the site to be developed for agriculture and other things, so that means (the radiation) is under control."

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