Google to End Military Contract Following Employee Complaints

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Google says it will not extend a contract into next year to help the U.S. military analyze drone videos following complaints from company employees.

U.S. media reports said Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., told Google employees about the decision Friday. The development was first reported by tech publication Gizmodo.

Google employees say the tech giant will continue to work on the Maven Project until the contract ends next March. The military project uses artificial intelligence to increase defense capabilities, including using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze aerial drone imagery.

Thousands of Google employees signed a petition urging the company to cancel the contract, arguing that helping the military would violate Google’s motto of “Don’t be evil.”

Reuters reports that several hundred Google employees had planned to hold a public rally in San Francisco in July to protest the military contract.

Google had earlier defended the company’s involvement in the project saying it was limited to helping the military with nonoffensive tasks and said the project would help save lives.

Google says it will soon release new company guidelines related to the ethical uses of AI.

Facebook Shareholders Ask Company Leaders for More Accountability

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Outside Facebook’s annual shareholders meeting Thursday, a lone protester paced on the sidewalk, carrying a U.S. flag and a sign that read “Zuckerberg destroys shareholder value.”

Above, a small plane pulled a banner that read “You Broke Democracy.”

Inside, Facebook shareholders offered both praise and criticism of the company’s leadership.

The social media giant has been in a constant spotlight over how foreign actors used its service to try to influence elections worldwide. It suffered a double blow when it was revealed that 87 million users’ information had gone to a political consulting firm without the users’ knowledge. 

The company continues to face inquiries from federal and state regulators about privacy and user data issues. And Mark Zuckerberg, its chief executive, recently testified in front of the European Parliament after appearing in front of Congress on the issues.

Shareholders sound off 

Facebook shareholders provided another sort of oversight. Many expressed their displeasure by selling shares in March after it was disclosed that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, obtained user data without their knowledge. Facebook shares have more than recovered since then, rising 2 percent Thursday to $191.78, which was up 26 percent from the company’s three-month low of $152 in March. 

“We didn’t do enough to see how people could abuse these tools,” Zuckerberg told the shareholders.

“The main thing we need to do right now is take a broader view of our responsibility to the community we serve,” he said.

Investors applauded Zuckerberg several times during the meeting. And they followed the company’s advice and appeared to vote down shareholder proposals, including one that would change the voting power of company shares. Currently, Zuckerberg, 34, and insiders hold a class of stock that gives them more than 60 percent of the voting power. 

Shareholders also appeared to vote against other proposals such as requiring the company to report on its gender pay gap and a content report that would show how the company enforces its terms of service worldwide. (Official results of the tally will be posted in the next several days.)

Despite the defeats, shareholder proposals are worthwhile, said Natasha Lamb, managing partner at Arjuna Capital, an activist investment firm behind two proposals.

They “send a signal to management, send a signal to the board,” she said.

Diversity of ideas 

Amid the applause, there was also sharp criticism. 

“We contend that Facebook’s poor stewardship of user data is tantamount to a human rights violation,” said Christine Jantz, chief investment officer at Northstar Asset Management.

Another investor asked what Facebook was doing to understand political bias among its employees and how that affects decisions about content on the site.

Zuckerberg said the company was “committed to being a platform for all ideas.” 

The company ended the meeting, but not before a shareholder pleaded, “Engage with us on these issues. We are on the same team.” 

Company leaders said they would.

Deana Mitchell contributed to this report.

Gravity Could Be Source of Sustainable Energy

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In today’s energy-hungry world, scientists are constantly revisiting every renewable resource looking for ways to increase efficiency. One researcher in the Netherlands believes even gravity can be harnessed to produce free electricity on a scale sufficient to power small appliances. VOA’s George Putic has more.

US Judge Dismisses Kaspersky Suits to Overturn Government Ban

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A U.S. federal judge on Wednesday dismissed two lawsuits by Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab that sought to overturn bans on the use of the security software maker’s products in U.S. government networks.

The company said it would seek to appeal the decision, which leaves in place prohibitions included in a funding bill passed by Congress and an order from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The bans were issued last year in response to allegations by U.S. officials that the company’s software could enable Russian espionage and threaten national security.

“These actions were the product of unconstitutional agency and legislative processes and unfairly targeted the company without any meaningful fact finding,” Kaspersky said in a statement.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Washington said Kaspersky had failed to show that Congress violated constitutional prohibitions on legislation that “determines guilt and inflicts punishment” without the protections of a judicial trial.

She also dismissed the effort to overturn the DHS ban for lack of standing. Kaspersky Lab and its founder, Eugene Kaspersky, have repeatedly denied wrongdoing and said the company would not help any government with cyber espionage.

The company filed the lawsuits as part of a campaign to refute allegations that it was vulnerable to Kremlin influence, which had prompted the U.S. government bans on its products.

That effort includes plans to open a data center in Switzerland, where the company will analyze suspicious files uncovered on the computers of its tens of millions of customers in the United States and Europe.

Canadian Who Aided Yahoo Email Hackers Gets 5-Year Term

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A Canadian accused of helping Russian intelligence agents break into email accounts as part of a massive 2014 data breach at Yahoo was sentenced Tuesday to five years in prison and ordered to pay a $250,000 fine.

Karim Baratov, who pleaded guilty in November 2017 in San Francisco, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Baratov, a Canadian citizen born in Kazakhstan, was arrested in Canada in March 2017 at the request of U.S. prosecutors. He later waived his right to fight a request for his extradition to the United States.

Lawyers for Baratov in a court filing had urged a sentence of 45 months in prison, while prosecutors had sought 94 months.

“This case is about a young man, younger than most of the defendants in hacking cases throughout this country, who hacked emails, one at a time, for $100 a hack,” the defense lawyers wrote in a May 19 court filing.

Verizon Communications Inc., the largest U.S. wireless operator, acquired most of Yahoo’s assets in June 2017.

The U.S. Justice Department announced charges in March 2017 against Baratov and three others, including two officers in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), for their roles in the 2014 hacking of 500 million Yahoo accounts. Baratov is the only one of the four who has been arrested. Yahoo in 2016 said cyberthieves might have stolen names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth and encrypted passwords.

Gmail targets

When FSB officers learned that a target had a non-Yahoo webmail account, including through information obtained from the Yahoo hack, they worked with Baratov, who was paid to break into at least 80 email accounts, prosecutors said, including numerous Alphabet Inc. Gmail accounts.

Federal prosecutors said in a court filing “the targeted victims were of interest to Russian intelligence” and included “prominent leaders in the commercial industries and senior government officials (and their counselors) of Russia and countries bordering Russia.”

Prosecutors said FSB officers Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin directed and paid hackers to obtain information and used Alexsey Belan, who is among the FBI’s most-wanted cybercriminals, to breach Yahoo.

US Warns Again on Hacks It Blames on North Korea

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The U.S. government on Tuesday released an alert with technical details about a series of cyberattacks it blamed on the North Korean government that stretch back to at least 2009.

The warning is the latest from the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation about hacks that the United States charges were launched by the North Korean government.

A representative with Pyongyang’s mission to the United Nations declined comment. North Korea has routinely denied involvement in cyberattacks against other countries.

The report was published as U.S. and North Korean negotiators work to resuscitate plans for a possible June 12 summit between leaders of the two nations. The FBI and DHS released a similar report in June 2017, when relations were tense between Washington and Pyongyang due to North Korea’s missile tests.

The U.S. government uses the nickname “Hidden Cobra” to describe cyber operations by the North Korean government, which it says target the media, aerospace and financial sectors, and critical infrastructure in the United States and around the globe.

Tuesday’s report did not identify specific victims, though it cited a February 2016 report from several security firms that blamed the same group for a 2014 cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The alert provided a list of 87 IP addresses, four malicious files and two email addresses it said were associated with “Hidden Cobra.”

Last year’s alert was published on the same day that North Korea released American university student Otto Warmbier, who died days after his return to the United States following 17 months of captivity by Pyongyang.

France to Beef Up Emergency Alert System on Social Media

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France’s Interior Ministry announced plans on Tuesday to beef up its emergency alert system to the public across social media.

The ministry said in a statement that from June during immediate threats of danger, such as a terror attack, the ministry’s alerts will be given priority broadcast on Twitter, Facebook and Google as well as on French public transport and television.

The statement said that Twitter will give “special visibility” to the ministry’s alerts with a banner.

In a specific agreement, Facebook will also allow the French government to communicate to people directly via the social network’s “safety check” tool, created in 2014. 

The ministry said that this is the first time in Europe that Facebook has allowed public authorities to use this tool in this way.

This announcement comes as a much-derided attack alert app launched in 2016 called SAIP is being withdrawn after malfunctions. 

Companies Look to Space As the Next Frontier

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The Trump administration is trying to give private companies a boost in their efforts to capitalize on space as a business venture.

U.S. President Donald Trump Thursday signed a space policy directive aimed at streamlining regulations on commercial use of space.

Trump signed the directive just days after Space X launched another rocket from California carrying satellites into orbit.

WATCH: Trump space policy

The launch and several others planned for June are examples of private industries’ growing interests in space for commercial and scientific research.

“It’s a bit of a renaissance, a bit of a space 2.0. Finally, the commercial sector is starting to come back and do some really interesting things,” said Will Marshall, co-founder and chief executive officer of Planet, a leading provider of geospatial data.

The company has put up approximately 200 satellites that image Earth’s entire land mass each day. Marshall said prior to Planet, satellite imagery was only taken every year or several years. The regular images of Earth can be used in many different industries.

“You can use that data to improve crop yields so farmers can use it to decide when to add fertilizer, when to add water because we can tell crop yield from orbit. Or, it can be used by a commercial consumer mapping companies that are trying to improve their maps you see online, or it could be used by governments for a wide range of things from border security to disaster response,” Marshall said.

Satellites also orbit the planet for purposes of national security.

“We just launched a few months ago a satellite that was just like this, but also had laser communication. We were able to send at 200 megabits per second high data rates down to the ground and the ability for satellites to actually talk to each other. The same satellites that are put up to look at the Earth could be looking around the neighborhood and doing neighborhood watch for the benefit of national security and space situational awareness,” Steve Isakowitz, president and chief executive officer of the Aerospace Corporation, an organization that works with the U.S. Air Force and intelligence community.

Also orbiting Earth is the International Space Station, or ISS, an outpost of great interest to some major companies and research institutions. The ISS National Laboratory and astronauts inside conduct a wide range of experiments that would not be possible on Earth.

“When you remove the gravity vector out of the equation which is what we’re used to here on Earth, we see certain impacts and phenomena associated with that, such as lack of sedimentation, lack of convection, lack of buoyancy,” said Jennifer Lopez, commercial innovation technology lead at the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, or CASIS, which manages the ISS National Laboratory.

The space station orbits Earth 16 times a day, with exposure to extreme temperatures and radiation, providing a unique environment for experiments.

Some experiments, including those geared to helping people with bone loss and injuries, may benefit life on Earth; however, the findings can also help with future human exploration into deep space. Lopez notes there is research is “looking at bone loss and muscle wasting in a space environment and the effects that a microgravity environment can have on our biological systems.”

“There is so much opportunity right now in space; Mars is one of those opportunities,” said Chad Anderson, chief executive officer of Space Angels, which invests in the space industry.

While NASA works on sending humans to the moon and Mars, the space near Earth and beyond will become busier as businesses explore this final frontier.

Businesses Looking At Space as the Next Frontier

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Space X recently launched another rocket from California carrying satellites into space – accelerating interest by more businesses and research facilities that now view space as an opportunity. At this year’s Milken Institute Global Conference, those in the space business describe why orbiting the Earth is so exciting. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee has details from Los Angeles.

FBI: Foreign Hackers Have Compromised Home Router Devices

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The FBI warned on Friday that foreign cybercriminals had compromised “hundreds of thousands” of home and small-office router devices around the world which direct traffic on the internet by forwarding data packets between computer networks.

In a public service announcement, the FBI has discovered that the foreign cybercriminals used a VPNFilter malware that can collect peoples’ information, exploit their devices and block network traffic.

The announcement did not provide any details about where the criminals might be based, or what their motivations could be.

“The size and scope of the infrastructure by VPNFilter malware is significant,” the FBI said, adding that it is capable of rendering people’s routers “inoperable.”

It said the malware is hard to detect, due to encryption and other tactics.

The FBI urged people to reboot their devices to temporarily disrupt the malware and help identify infected devices.

People should also consider disabling remote management settings, changing passwords to replace them with more secure ones, and upgrading to the latest firmware.