Blackberry Surges on Deal With Baidu for Self-driving Cars

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BlackBerry Ltd and Chinese internet search firm Baidu Inc on Wednesday signed a deal to jointly develop self-driving vehicle technology, sending BlackBerry’s Toronto-listed shares up 13 percent to a four-year high.

The deal follows similar agreements with firms including Qualcomm Inc, Denso and Aptiv Plc to develop autonomous-driving technology with BlackBerry’s QNX software, which are expected to start generating revenue in 2019.

Investors and analysts are closely watching what comes of those agreements amid expectations that QNX could become a key technology in the burgeoning self-driving vehicle industry, serving as the operating system for computer chips used to run self-driving vehicles.

QNX will be the operating system for Apollo, a platform for self-driving vehicles that Baidu announced in April and has billed as the “Android” of the autonomous driving industry.

“The opportunity is global, it’s for a very large market and I think it’s a very solid win for BlackBerry,” said CIBC Capital Markets analyst Todd Coupland.

Apollo has since signed up several major automakers, including Ford Motor Co, Hyundai Motor Group and several Chinese carmakers.

QNX has long been used to run car infotainment consoles. BlackBerry has recently developed the software to run sophisticated computer chips for autos that manage multiple safety-critical systems.

BlackBerry shares rose 13 percent in Toronto to C$16.95, their sharpest one-day gain since April and highest close since March 2013.

The two companies said they will also integrate Baidu’s CarLife, a leading smartphone integration software for connected cars in China, its conversational AI system and high definition maps with BlackBerry’s infotainment platform.


One Difference Between 2009 vs 2018 Iran Protests? 48 Million Smartphones

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In 2009, the world watched as Iranians marching in the streets turned to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to organize and share information.

The technology-assisted protests were dubbed the first “Twitter revolution.”

Flash forward to 2018 and technology again is playing a role in demonstrations sweeping cities across Iran.

But much has changed in the intervening years when it comes to the communication tools used by Iranian citizens for organizing and publicizing protests.

Here are some of the main changes:

1. The rise of smartphones has brought more Iranians on to the internet

In 2009, fewer than 15 percent of Iranians had internet access, according to the World Bank.

While Twitter was used to get news of the protests out to the world, it is unclear how much of a role it or any service played to help organize political actions. Word of mouth, in some accounts, as well as SMS messaging over cellphones (and just 30 percent of Iranians owned a cell phone) played a larger role than internet services.

Now, with the advent of smartphones in Iran – about half of Iranians, or 48 million people, have smartphones. More than 50 percent of Iranians are online.

2. An explosion in messaging options

In 2009, Facebook and Twitter were relatively new with Iranians accessing the services mostly on their desktop computers.

As the 2009 protests unfolded, the Obama administration asked Twitter to delay an update that would have taken the service offline to allow Iranians to continue to use it.

Now, Iranian citizens have a number of ways of receiving and sending messages – straight from the device they carry in their pockets.

Of these newer services, the most popular in Iran is Telegram, an instant messaging service that offers encrypted secret chats and channels, where people discuss news and current events. By one count, more than 100,000 Iranian channels are on Telegram. Facebook’s Instagram is the second most popular service.

“Telegram channels are frequently used for organizing protests and for sharing political opinion,” said Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

As the protests continued, the Iranian government shut down Telegram and Instagram. But other messaging apps give users options.

“Regime in Iran can shut down signal, telegram, etc., but differently from 2009, the whole country is connected and they have a long list of other messaging apps to use,” tweeted Jared Cohen, founder and chief executive of Jigsaw, an Alphabet company, and a senior fellow on the Council of Foreign Relations. “This time around, it’s much harder to win a game of technology wack-a-mole.”

And indeed, the head of Telegram took to Twitter on Tuesday to suggest users go to Whatsapp, which “remains fully accessible in Iran.”

3. Wider adoption of anti-filtering tools

Since the 2009 Green Movement, more Iranians have access to anti-censorship technology, such as VPNs and proxies, servers that transmit content that can evade government controls.

“Iranian internet users are making use of a wider variety of circumvention tools that allow for selective access to blocked resources,” said Alp Toker, founder of, a digital rights group.

“This could be down to a more mature understanding of internet filtering that has developed since the Green Movement protests after 2009, supported by domestic technical expertise and earlier initiatives to develop tools for Iran,” Toker said. “This suggests that workarounds for Iran’s internet filters have become a way of life for many mobile and desktop internet users.”

4. Dangers exist for Iranians using mobile technology

With more communication technologies available to Iranians, they are more regulated and less open than they were in 2009, says Toker. Mobile devices are more restricted than computers, making it more difficult to circumvent Iran’s internet filters, he added.

In addition, many Iranians are using outdated iPhone devices and skipping software security updates, which means they may be more vulnerable to state-sponsored hacking and surveillance, Toker said.

Since 2009, the Iranian government has worked to create its own internet service and restricted content it considers objectionable on commercial services.

“Iran’s own strict regime of internet filters, but also U.S. sanctions limiting the transfer and sale of technology and security products, are likely contributing factors that mean the choke points are still an effective mechanism for mass control,” Toker said.

China’s WeChat Denies Storing User Chats

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Tencent Holdings’ WeChat, China’s most popular messenger app, on Tuesday denied storing users’ chat histories, after a top businessman was quoted in media reports as saying he believed Tencent was monitoring everyone’s account.

“WeChat does not store any users’ chat history. That is only stored in users’ mobiles, computers and other terminals,” WeChat said in a post on the social media platform.

“WeChat will not use any content from user chats for big data analysis. Because of WeChat’s technical model that does not store or analyze user chats, the rumor that ‘we are watching your WeChat everyday’ is pure misunderstanding.”

Li Shufu, chairman of Geely Holdings, owner of the Volvo car brand, was quoted in Chinese media on Monday as saying Tencent Chairman Ma Huateng “must be watching all our WeChats every day”.

Like all Chinese social media platforms, WeChat is required to censor public posts deemed “illegal” by the Communist Party.

WeChat’s privacy policy says it may need to retain and disclose users’ information “in response to a request by a government authority, law enforcement agency or similar body”.

WeChat did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

According to a report by Amnesty International, Tencent ranked at the bottom of 11 tech firms running the world’s most popular messenger apps for how they use encryption to protect user privacy.

China’s cyber watchdog in September announced a new rule making chat group administrators and companies accountable for breaches of content rules.

In the same month it handed down maximum penalties to tech firms including Tencent, Baidu Inc and Weibo Corp for failing to properly censor online content, and asked them to increase content auditing measures.

Minister: UK May Use Taxes to Get Tech Giants to Do More to Fight Extremism

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Britain may impose new taxes on tech giants like Google and Facebook unless they do more to combat online extremism by taking down material aimed at radicalizing people or helping them to prepare attacks, the

country’s security minister said.

Ben Wallace accused tech firms of being happy to sell people’s data but not to give it to the government which was being forced to spend vast sums on de-radicalization programs, surveillance and other counter-terrorism measures.

“If they continue to be less than co-operative, we should look at things like tax as a way of incentivizing them or compen­sating for their inaction,” Wallace told the Sunday Times newspaper in an interview.

His quotes did not give further details on tax plans. The newspaper said that any demand would take the form of a windfall tax similar to that imposed on privatized utilities by former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government in 1997.

Wallace accused the tech giants of putting private profit before public safety.

“We should stop pretending that because they sit on beanbags in T-shirts they are not ruthless profiteers,” he said. “They will ruthlessly sell our details to loans and soft-porn companies but not give it to our democratically elected


Facebook executive Simon Milner rejected the criticisms.

“Mr. Wallace is wrong to say that we put profit before safety, especially in the fight against terrorism,” he said in an emailed statement. “We’ve invested millions of pounds in people and technology to identify and remove terrorist content.”

YouTube, which is owned by Google, said it was doing more every day to tackle violent extremism.

“Over the course of 2017 we have made significant progress through investing in machine learning technology, recruiting more reviewers, building partnerships with experts and collaboration with other companies,” a YouTube spokeswoman said.

Deadly attacks

Britain suffered a series of attacks by Islamic extremists between March and June this year that killed a total of 36 people, excluding the attackers.

Two involved vehicles ramming people on bridges in London, followed by attackers stabbing people. The deadliest, a bombing at a concert in the northern city of Manchester, killed 22 people.

Following the second bridge attack, Prime Minister Theresa May proposed beefing up regulations on cyberspace, and weeks later interior minister Amber Rudd traveled to California to ask Silicon Valley to step up efforts against extremism.

“We are more vulnerable than at any point in the last 100 years,” said Wallace, citing extremist material on social media and encrypted messaging services like WhatsApp as tools that made life too easy for attackers.

“Because content is not being taken down as quickly as they could do, we’re having to de-radicalize people who have been radicalized. That’s costing millions. They can’t get away with that and we should look at all the options, including tax.”

Facebook said it removed 83 percent of uploaded copies of terrorist content within one hour of its being found on the social media network.

It also highlighted plans to double the number of people working in its safety and security teams to 20,000 by the end of 2018.

YouTube said that progress in machine learning meant that 83 percent of violent extremist content was removed without the need for users to flag it.


The Biggest Consumer Electronics Show Opens in Two Weeks

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January is almost here, and the world is bracing for the unofficial opening of this year’s race for the hearts, minds and pockets of tech enthusiasts. The international Consumer Electronics Show, CES for short, is the venue where technology manufacturers, from giants to startups, show their products, hoping they will become among the next must-haves worldwide. VOA’s George Putic looks at what may be expected.

Facebook, Twitter Threatened With Sanctions in Britain

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Social media giants Facebook and Twitter could face sanctions in Britain if they fail to be more forthcoming in providing details about Russian disinformation campaigns that used their platforms in the run-up to last year’s Brexit referendum, the chairman of a British parliamentary inquiry committee warned.

The companies have been given until January 18 to hand over information.

Damian Collins, chairman of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport committee in the British parliament, which is looking into Russian fake news’ efforts, criticized both companies earlier this month, accusing them of stonewalling the parliamentary investigation. But he has now warned they risk being punished and he says his committee is exploring what sanctions could be imposed on Facebook and Twitter.

“What there has to be then is some mechanism of saying: if you fail to do that, if you ignore requests to act, if you fail to police the site effectively and deal with highly problematic content, then there has to be some sort of sanction against you,” he told Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

He dubbed the lack of cooperation by the social media firms as “extraordinary.”

“They don’t believe that they have any obligation at all to initiate their own investigation into what may or may not have been happening, he said. “They’ve not done any of that work at all.”

Parliamentary committees do not have the power in their own right to impose sanctions on erring companies. But British officials have expressed interest in punishing social media companies for failing to take action to stop their platforms from being exploited by agitators, whether they are working for foreign powers or non-state actors such as the Islamic State terror group.

In September in New York at the annual general assembly meeting of the United Nations, British Prime Minister Theresa May expressed frustration with social media companies, saying they must go “further and faster” in removing extremist content and should aim to do so within two hours of it appearing on their sites.

“This is a major step in reclaiming the internet from those who would use it to do us harm,” she said.

The prime minister has repeatedly called for an end to “safe spaces” on social media for terrorists. And British ministers have called for limits to end-to-end encryption, which prevents messages from being read by third parties if they are intercepted.

British lawmakers and ministers aren’t the only ones considering ways to sanction social media firms that fail to police their sites to avoid them from being used to spread fake news or being exploited by militants. This month, Germany’s competition authority accused Facebook of violating European data protection regulations by merging information collected through WhatsApp and Instagram with Facebook user accounts.

Collins has written twice to the social media firms requesting information about suspected Russian fake news campaigns in the weeks and months before Britons voted in June 2016 on whether to retain membership in the European Union, Britain’s largest trading partner.

In a letter to Twitter, he wrote: “The information you have now shared with us is completely inadequate. … It seems odd that so far we have received more information about activities that have taken place on your platform from journalists and academics than from you.”

In response to parliamentary requests for information about Russian interference in the EU referendum, including details of accounts operated by Russian misinformation actors, the social media firms passed on copies of the details they provided to Britain’s Electoral Commission, which is probing advertising originating from Russian actors during the lead up to the Brexit vote.

Facebook said only $0.97 had been spent on Brexit-related ads seen by British viewers. Twitter claimed the only Russian spending it received was $1,000 from the Russian state-owned broadcaster RT.

Russia has been accused of meddling in recent elections in America, France and elsewhere and of running disinformation campaigns aimed at poisoning political discourse in the West and sowing discord with fake news.

In November, Prime Minister May accused Vladimir Putin’s government of trying to “undermine free societies” and “planting fake stories” to “sow discord in the West. “Russia has denied the allegations.

Three days before Christmas, Britain’s foreign minister, Boris Johnson, sparred with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, over the issue of alleged Russian meddling in the Brexit referendum.

During his trip to Moscow, the first visit by a British foreign secretary to the Russian capital for five years, Lavrov denied at a joint press conference that the Kremlin had sought to meddle, saying Johnson himself had previously said there was “no evidence of Russian interference in the Brexit referendum.” Johnson corrected Lavrov, saying: “Not successfully, is what I said.”

So far the evidence of a major Russian social media effort during the Brexit referendum remains thin, and at least not on the alleged scale seen, according to investigators, during the 2016 U.S. presidential race.

An investigation by the New York Times found that “Russian agents … disseminated inflammatory posts that reached 126 million users on Facebook, published more than 131,000 messages on Twitter and uploaded over 1,000 videos to Google’s YouTube service” ahead of the U.S. presidential vote.

In January 2017, the Office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence concluded: “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.”

In October 2017, researchers at the City University of London found a “13,500-strong [Russian] Twitter bot army,” was present on the social media site around the time of the referendum.

Bot accounts post content automatically. Those accounts in the month prior to the Brexit vote posted a total of 65,000 tweets about the referendum with a slant towards the leave campaign, according to City University researchers.

But a subsequent study by the University of California, Berkeley, and Swansea University in Wales unearthed more pro-Brexit Russian bot accounts, tracking over 150,000 of them.

Apple Apologizes After Outcry Over Slowed iPhones

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Facing lawsuits and consumer outrage  after it said it slowed older iPhones with flagging batteries, Apple Inc is slashing prices for battery replacements and will change its software to show users whether their phone battery is good.

In a posting on its website Thursday, Apple apologized over its handling of the battery issue and said it would make a number of changes for customers “to recognize their loyalty and to regain the trust of anyone who may have doubted Apple’s intentions.”

Apple made the move to address concerns about the quality and durability of its products at a time when it is charging $999 for its newest flagship model, the iPhone X.

Battery prices lowered

The company said it would cut the price of an out-of-warranty battery replacement from $79 to $29 for an iPhone 6 or later, starting next month.

The company also will update its iOS operating system to let users see whether their battery is in poor health and is affecting the phone’s performance.

“We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down,” Apple said in its posting. “We apologize.”

On Dec. 20, Apple acknowledged that iPhone software has the effect of slowing down some phones with battery problems. Apple said the problem was that aging lithium batteries delivered power unevenly, which could cause iPhones to shutdown unexpectedly to protect the delicate circuits inside.

Lawsuits filed

That disclosure played on a common belief among consumers that Apple purposely slows down older phones to encourage customers to buy newer iPhone models.

While no credible evidence has ever emerged that Apple engaged in such conduct, the battery disclosure struck a nerve on social media and elsewhere. Apple on Thursday denied that it has ever done anything to intentionally shorten the life of a product.

At least eight lawsuits have been filed in California, New York and Illinois alleging that the company defrauded users by slowing devices down without warning them. The company also faces a legal complaint in France, where so called “planned obsolesce” is against the law.

DOJ Charges 2 Romanians With Hacking of DC Police Surveillance Cameras

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The Justice Department on Thursday unsealed details of its case against two Romanians who allegedly hacked computers tied to Washington, D.C., police surveillance cameras.

Police in Bucharest arrested Mihai Alexandru Isvanca and Eveline Cismaru on December 15. U.S. attorneys have charged them with conspiracy to commit computer and wire fraud.

They allegedly hacked into more than 120 computers tied to Washington police surveillance cameras last January. It was part of an alleged scheme to infect personal computers with ransomware.

Ransomware restricts users from accessing their own computers and demands a payment to the ramsomware operator to unlock it.

The Justice Department said the investigation was of the highest priority because the alleged hacking of the surveillance camera computers came just weeks before the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump.

However, it says there is no evidence anyone’s personal security was threatened or harmed.

If tried in the U.S. and convicted, the Romanian defendants could face up to 20 years in prison.