3 Chinese Astronauts Return to Earth After 6-Month Mission

Three Chinese astronauts landed in a northern desert on Sunday after six months working to complete construction of the Tiangong station, a symbol of the country’s ambitious space program, state TV reported.

A capsule carrying commander Chen Dong and astronauts Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe touched down at a landing site in the Gobi Desert in northern China at approximately 8:10 p.m. (1210 GMT), China Central Television reported.

Prior to departure, they overlapped for almost five days with three colleagues who arrived Wednesday on the Shenzhou-15 mission for their own six-month stay, marking the first time China had six astronauts in space at the same time. The station’s third and final module docked with the station this month.

The astronauts were carried out of the capsule by medical workers about 40 minutes after touchdown. They were all smiles, and appeared to be in good condition, waving happily at workers at the landing site.

“I am very fortunate to have witnessed the completion of the basic structure of the Chinese space station after six busy and fulfilling months in space,” said Chen, who was the first to exit the capsule. “Like meteors, we returned to the embrace of the motherland.”

Liu, another of the astronauts, said that she was moved to see relatives and her fellow compatriots.

The three astronauts were part of the Shenzhou-14 mission, which launched in June. After their arrival at Tiangong, Chen, Liu and Cai oversaw five rendezvous and dockings with various spacecraft including one carrying the third of the station’s three modules.

They also performed three spacewalks, beamed down a live science lecture from the station, and conducted a range of experiments.

The Tiangong is part of official Chinese plans for a permanent human presence in orbit.

China built its own station after it was excluded from the International Space Station, largely due to U.S. objections over the Chinese space programs’ close ties to the People’s Liberation Army, the military wing of the ruling Communist Party.

With the arrival of the Shenzhou-15 mission, the station expanded to its maximum weight of 100 tons.

Without attached spacecraft, the Chinese station weighs about 66 tons — a fraction of the International Space Station, which launched its first module in 1998 and weighs around 465 tons.

With a lifespan of 10 to 15 years, Tiangong could one day be the only space station still up and running if the International Space Station retires by around the end of the decade as expected.

China in 2003 became the third government to send an astronaut into orbit on its own after the former Soviet Union and the United States.

China has also chalked up uncrewed mission successes: Its Yutu 2 rover was the first to explore the little-known far side of the moon. Its Chang’e 5 probe also returned lunar rocks to Earth in December 2020 for the first time since the 1970s, and another Chinese rover is searching for evidence of life on Mars.

Officials are reported to be considering an eventual crewed mission to the moon, although no timeline has been offered.

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Ukrainian Engineers Scramble to Keep Mobile Phones Working

With Ukraine scrambling to keep communication lines open during the war, an army of engineers from the country’s phone companies has mobilized to help the public and policymakers stay in touch during repeated Russian missile and drone strikes.

The engineers, who typically go unseen and unsung in peacetime, often work around the clock to maintain or restore phone service, sometimes braving minefields to do so. After Russian strikes took out the electricity that cellphone towers usually run on, they revved up generators to keep the towers on.

“I know our guys – my colleagues – are very exhausted, but they’re motivated by the fact that we are doing an important thing,” Yuriy Dugnist, an engineer with Ukrainian telecommunications company Kyivstar, said after crunching through 15 centimeters of fresh snow to reach a fenced-in mobile phone tower on the western fringe of Kyiv, the capital.

Dugrist and his coworkers offered a glimpse of their new daily routines, which involve using an app on their own phones to monitor which of the scores of phone towers in the capital area were receiving electricity, either during breaks from the controlled blackouts being used to conserve energy or from the generators that kick in to provide backup power.

One entry ominously read, in English, “Low Fuel.”

Stopping off at a service station before their rounds, the team members filled up eight 20-liter jerrycans with diesel fuel for a vast tank under a generator that relays power up a 50-meter cell tower in a suburban village that has had no electricity for days.

It’s one of many Ukrainian towns that have had intermittent power, or none at all, in the wake of multiple rounds of devastating Russian strikes in recent weeks targeting the country’s infrastructure – power plants in particular.

Kyivstar is the largest of Ukraine’s three main mobile phone companies, with some 26 million customers – or the equivalent of about two-thirds of the country’s population before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion drove millions of people abroad, even if many have since returned.

The diesel generators were installed at the foot of the cell phone towers since long before the invasion, but they were rarely needed. Many Western countries have offered up similar generators and transformers to help Ukraine keep electricity running as well as possible after Russia’s blitz.

After emergency blackouts prompted by a round of Russian strikes on Nov. 23, Kyivstar deployed 15 teams of engineers simultaneously and called in “all our reserves” to troubleshoot the 2,500 mobile stations in their service area, Dugrist said.

He recalled rushing to the site of a destroyed cell tower when Russian forces pulled out of Irpin, a suburb northwest of Kyiv, earlier this year and getting there before Ukrainian minesweepers had arrived to give the all-clear signal.

The strain the war is putting on Ukraine’s mobile phone networks has reportedly driven up prices for satellite phone alternatives like Elon Musk’s Starlink system, which Ukraine’s military has used during the conflict, now in its 10th month.

After widespread infrastructure strikes last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy convened top officials to discuss the restoration work and supplies needed to safeguard the country’s energy and communication systems.

“Special attention is paid to the communication system,” he said, adding that no matter what the Russia has in mind, “we must maintain communication.”

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Musk’s Company Aims to Soon Test Brain Implant in People

Tech billionaire Elon Musk said his Neuralink company is seeking permission to test its brain implant in people soon.

In a “show and tell” presentation livestreamed Wednesday night, Musk said his team is in the process of asking U.S. regulators to allow them to test the device. He said he thinks the company should be able to put the implant in a human brain as part of a clinical trial in about six months, though that timeline is far from certain.

Musk’s Neuralink is one of many groups working on linking brains to computers, efforts aimed at helping treat brain disorders, overcoming brain injuries and other applications.

The field dates to the 1960s, said Rajesh Rao, co-director of the Center for Neurotechnology at the University of Washington. “But it really took off in the ’90s. And more recently we’ve seen lots of advances, especially in the area of communication brain computer interfaces.”

Rao, who watched Musk’s presentation online, said he doesn’t think Neuralink is ahead of the pack in terms of brain-computer interface achievements. “But … they are quite ahead in terms of the actual hardware in the devices,” he said.

The Neuralink device is about the size of a large coin and is designed to be implanted in the skull, with ultra-thin wires going directly into the brain. Musk said the first two applications in people would be restoring vision and helping people with little or no ability to operate their muscles rapidly use digital devices.

He said he also envisions that in someone with a broken neck, signals from the brain could be bridged to Neuralink devices in the spinal cord.

“We’re confident there are no physical limitations to enabling full body functionality,” said Musk, who recently took over Twitter and is the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX.

In experiments by other teams, implanted sensors have let paralyzed people use brain signals to operate computers and move robotic arms. In a 2018 study in the journal PLOS ONE, three participants with paralysis below the neck affecting all of their limbs used an experimental brain-computer interface being tested by the consortium BrainGate. The interface records neural activity from a small sensor in the brain to navigate things like email and apps.

A recent study in the journal Nature, by scientists at the Swiss research center NeuroRestore, identified a type of neuron activated by electrical stimulation of the spinal cord, allowing nine patients with chronic spinal cord injury to walk again.

Researchers have also been working on brain and machine interfaces for restoring vision. Rao said some companies have developed retinal implants, but Musk’s announcement suggested his team would use signals directly targeting the brain’s visual cortex, an approach that some academic groups are also pursuing, “with limited success.”

Neuralink did not immediately respond to an email to the press office. Dr. Jaimie Henderson, a neurosurgery professor at Stanford University who is an adviser for Neuralink, said one way Neuralink is different from some other devices is that it has the ability to reach into deeper layers of the brain. But he added: “There are lots of different systems that have lots of different advantages.”

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Arizona Aims to Become a Semiconductor Powerhouse

The United States is pushing to regain its position as a center for semiconductor manufacturing and research as part of a Biden administration plan to make the nation less reliant on supply chains in Asia. VOA’s Michelle Quinn reports from the Southwest state of Arizona on competition for billions of dollars in federal funding to bolster domestic chip manufacturing. Additional videographer: Levi Stallings

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Electric Vehicles, a Century Old, Gain Speed in Marketplace

The International Energy Agency says 13% of cars sold worldwide this year will be electric. Mike O’Sullivan reports from Los Angeles that consumer demand for electric vehicles is increasing as the industry overcomes technical hurdles.

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US Bans Huawei, ZTE Equipment Sales, Citing National Security Risk

The Biden administration has banned approvals of new telecommunications equipment from China’s Huawei Technologies HWT.UL and ZTE 000063.SZ because they pose “an unacceptable risk” to U.S. national security.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said Friday it had adopted the final rules, which also bar the sale or import of equipment made by China’s surveillance equipment maker Dahua Technology Co 002236.SZ, video surveillance firm Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co Ltd 002415.SZ and telecoms firm Hytera Communications Corp Ltd 002583.SZ.

The move represents Washington’s latest crackdown on the Chinese tech giants amid fears that Beijing could use Chinese tech companies to spy on Americans.

“These new rules are an important part of our ongoing actions to protect the American people from national security threats involving telecommunications,” FCC Chairperson Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement.

Huawei declined to comment. ZTE, Dahua, Hikvision and Hytera did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Rosenworcel circulated the proposed measure — which effectively bars the firms from selling new equipment in the United States — to the other three commissioners for final approval last month.

The FCC said in June 2021 it was considering banning all equipment authorizations for all companies on the covered list.

That came after a March 2021 designation of five Chinese companies on the so-called “covered list” as posing a threat to national security under a 2019 law aimed at protecting U.S. communications networks: Huawei, ZTE, Hytera Communications Corp Hikvision and Dahua.

All four commissioners at the agency, including two Republicans and two Democrats, supported Friday’s move.

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Musk Plans to Relaunch Twitter Premium Service, Again

Elon Musk said Friday that Twitter plans to relaunch its premium service that will offer different colored check marks to accounts next week, in a fresh move to revamp the service after a previous attempt backfired.

It’s the latest change to the social media platform that the billionaire Tesla CEO bought last month for $44 billion, coming a day after Musk said he would grant “amnesty” for suspended accounts and causing yet more uncertainty for users.

Twitter previously suspended the premium service, which under Musk granted blue-check labels to anyone paying $8 a month, because of a wave of imposter accounts. Originally, the blue check was given to government entities, corporations, celebrities and journalists verified by the platform to prevent impersonation.

In the latest version, companies will get a gold check, governments will get a gray check, and individuals who pay for the service, whether or not they’re celebrities, will get a blue check, Musk said Friday.

“All verified accounts will be manually authenticated before check activates,” he said, adding it was “painful, but necessary” and promising a “longer explanation” next week. He said the service was “tentatively launching” Dec. 2.

Twitter had put the revamped premium service on hold days after its launch earlier this month after accounts impersonated companies including pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co., Nintendo, Lockheed Martin, and even Musk’s own businesses Tesla and SpaceX, along with various professional sports and political figures.

It was just one change in the past two days. On Thursday, Musk said he would grant “amnesty” for suspended accounts, following the results of an online poll he conducted on whether accounts that have not “broken the law or engaged in egregious spam” should be reinstated.

The yes vote was 72%. Such online polls are anything but scientific and can easily be influenced by bots. Musk also used one before restoring former U.S. President Donald Trump’s account.

“The people have spoken. Amnesty begins next week. Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” Musk tweeted Thursday using a Latin phrase meaning “the voice of the people, the voice of God.”

The move is likely to put the company on a crash course with European regulators seeking to clamp down on harmful online content with tough new rules, which helped cement Europe’s reputation as the global leader in efforts to rein in the power of social media companies and other digital platforms.

Zach Meyers, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform think tank, said giving blanket amnesty based on an online poll is an “arbitrary approach” that’s “hard to reconcile with the Digital Services Act,” a new EU law that will start applying to the biggest online platforms by mid-2023.

The law is aimed at protecting internet users from illegal content and reducing the spread of harmful but legal content. It requires big social media platforms to be “diligent and objective” in enforcing restrictions, which must be spelled out clearly in the fine print for users when signing up, Meyers said.

Britain also is working on its own online safety law.

“Unless Musk quickly moves from a ‘move fast and break things’ approach to a more sober management style, he will be on a collision course with Brussels and London regulators,” Meyers said.

European Union officials took to social media to highlight their worries. The 27-nation bloc’s executive Commission published a report Thursday that found Twitter took longer to review hateful content and removed less of it this year compared with 2021.

The report was based on data collected over the spring — before Musk acquired Twitter — as part of an annual evaluation of online platforms’ compliance with the bloc’s voluntary code of conduct on disinformation. It found that Twitter assessed just over half of the notifications it received about illegal hate speech within 24 hours, down from 82% in 2021.

The numbers may yet worsen. Since taking over, Musk has l aid off half the company’s 7,500-person workforce along with an untold number of contractors responsible for content moderation. Many others have resigned, including the company’s head of trust and safety.

Recent layoffs at Twitter and results of the EU’s review “are a source of concern,” the bloc’s commissioner for justice, Didier Reynders tweeted Thursday evening after meeting with Twitter executives at the company’s European headquarters in Dublin.

In the meeting, Reynders said he “underlined that we expect Twitter to deliver on their voluntary commitments and comply with EU rules,” including the Digital Services Act and the bloc’s strict privacy regulations known as General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR.

Another EU commissioner, Vera Jourova, tweeted Thursday evening that she was concerned about news reports that a “vast amount” of Twitter’s European staff were fired.

“If you want to effectively detect and take action against #disinformation & propaganda, this requires resources,” Jourova said. “Especially in the context of Russian disinformation warfare.”

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Twitter, Others Slip on Removing Hate Speech, EU Review Says

Twitter took longer to review hateful content and removed less of it in 2022 compared with the previous year, according to European Union data released Thursday.

The EU figures were published as part of an annual evaluation of online platforms’ compliance with the 27-nation bloc’s code of conduct on disinformation.

Twitter wasn’t alone; most other tech companies signed up to the voluntary code also scored worse. But the figures could foreshadow trouble for Twitter in complying with the EU’s tough new online rules after owner Elon Musk fired many of the platform’s 7,500 full-time workers and an untold number of contractors responsible for content moderation and other crucial tasks.

The EU report, carried out over six weeks in the spring, found Twitter assessed just over half of the notifications it received about illegal hate speech within 24 hours, down from 82% in 2021.

In comparison, the amount of flagged material Facebook reviewed within 24 hours fell to 64%, Instagram slipped to 56.9%, and YouTube dipped to 83.3%. TikTok came in at 92%, the only company to improve.

The amount of hate speech Twitter removed after it was flagged slipped to 45.4% from 49.8% the year before. TikTok’s removal rate fell by a quarter to 60%, while Facebook and Instagram saw only minor declines. Only YouTube’s takedown rate increased, surging to 90%.

“It’s worrying to see a downward trend in reviewing notifications related to illegal hate speech by social media platforms,” European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova tweeted. “Online hate speech is a scourge of a digital age and platforms need to live up to their commitments.”

Twitter didn’t respond to a request for comment. Emails to several staff on the company’s European communications team bounced back as undeliverable.

Musk’s $44 billion acquisition of Twitter last month fanned widespread concern that purveyors of lies and misinformation would be allowed to flourish on the site. The billionaire Tesla CEO, who has frequently expressed his belief that Twitter had become too restrictive, has been reinstating suspended accounts, including former President Donald Trump’s.

Twitter faces more scrutiny in Europe by the middle of next year, when new EU rules aimed at protecting internet users’ online safety will start applying to the biggest online platforms. Violations could result in huge fines of up to 6% of a company’s annual global revenue.

France’s online regulator Arcom said it received a reply from Twitter after writing to the company earlier this week to say it was concerned about the effect that staff departures would have on Twitter’s “ability maintain a safe environment for its users.”

Arcom also asked the company to confirm that it can meet its “legal obligations” in fighting online hate speech and that it is committed to implementing the new EU online rules. Arcom said that it received a response from Twitter and that it will “study their response,” without giving more details.

Tech companies that signed up to the EU’s disinformation code agree to commit to measures aimed at reducing disinformation and file regular reports on whether they’re living up to their promises, though there’s little in the way of punishment.

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Musk Restores Trump’s Twitter Account After Online Poll

Elon Musk reinstated Donald Trump’s account on Twitter on Saturday, reversing a ban that has kept the former president off the social media site since a pro-Trump mob attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as Congress was poised to certify Joe Biden’s election victory.

Musk made the announcement in the evening after holding a poll that asked Twitter users to click “yes” or “no” on whether Trump’s account should be restored. The “yes” vote won, with 51.8%.

“The people have spoken. Trump will be reinstated. Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” Musk tweeted, using a Latin phrase meaning “the voice of the people, the voice of God.”

Shortly afterward, Trump’s account, which had earlier appeared as suspended, reappeared on the platform complete with his former tweets, more than 59,000 of them. His followers were gone, at least initially.

It is not clear whether Trump would return to Twitter. An irrepressible tweeter before he was banned, Trump has said in the past that he would not rejoin even if his account was reinstated. He has been relying on his own, much smaller social media site, Truth Social, which he launched after being blocked from Twitter.

And on Saturday, during a video speech to a Republican Jewish group meeting in Las Vegas, Trump said that he was aware of Musk’s poll but that he saw “a lot of problems at Twitter,” according to Bloomberg.

“I hear we’re getting a big vote to also go back on Twitter. I don’t see it because I don’t see any reason for it,” Trump was quoted as saying by Bloomberg. “It may make it, it may not make it,” he added, apparently referring to Twitter’s recent internal upheavals.

The prospect of restoring Trump’s presence to the platform follows Musk’s purchase last month of Twitter — an acquisition that has fanned widespread concern that the billionaire owner will allow purveyors of lies and misinformation to flourish on the site. Musk has frequently expressed his belief that Twitter had become too restrictive of freewheeling speech.

His efforts to reshape the site have been both swift and chaotic. Musk has fired many of the company’s 7,500 full-time workers and an untold number of contractors who are responsible for content moderation and other crucial responsibilities. His demand that remaining employees pledge to “extremely hardcore” work triggered a wave of resignations, including hundreds of software engineers.

Users have reported seeing increased spam and scams on their feeds and in their direct messages, among other glitches, in the aftermath of the mass layoffs and worker exodus. Some programmers who were fired or resigned this week warned that Twitter may soon fray so badly it could crash.

Musk’s online survey, which ran for 24 hours before ending Saturday evening, concluded with 51.8% of more than 15 million votes favoring the restoration of Trump’s Twitter’ account. It comes four days after Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency in 2024.

Trump lost his access to Twitter two days after his supporters stormed the Capitol, soon after the former president had exhorted them to “fight like hell.” Twitter dropped his account after Trump wrote a pair of tweets that the company said cast further doubts on the legitimacy of the presidential election and raised risks for the Biden presidential inauguration.

After the Jan. 6 attack, Trump was also kicked off Facebook and Instagram, which are owned by Meta Platforms, and Snapchat. His ability to post videos to his YouTube channel was also suspended. Facebook is set to reconsider Trump’s account suspension in January.

Throughout his tenure as president, Trump’s use of social media posed a significant challenge to major social media platforms that sought to balance the public’s interest in hearing from public officials with worries about misinformation, bigotry, harassment and incitement of violence.

But in a speech at an auto conference in May, Musk asserted that Twitter’s ban of Trump was a “morally bad decision” and “foolish in the extreme.”

Earlier this month, Musk, who completed the $44 billion takeover of Twitter in late October, declared that the company wouldn’t let anyone who had been kicked off the site return until Twitter had established procedures on how to do so, including forming a “content moderation council.”

On Friday, Musk tweeted that the suspended Twitter accounts for the comedian Kathy Griffin, the Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson and the conservative Christian news satire website Babylon Bee had been reinstated. He added that a decision on Trump had not yet been made. He also responded “no” when someone on Twitter asked him to reinstate the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ account.

In a tweet Friday, the Tesla CEO described the company’s new content policy as “freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach.”

He explained that a tweet deemed to be “negative” or to include “hate” would be allowed on the site but would be visible only to users who specifically searched for it. Such tweets also would be “demonetized, so no ads or other revenue to Twitter,” Musk said.

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Botswana Records Surge in Lithium Batteries Theft as Global Demand Soars

Authorities in Botswana are reporting increased thefts of lithium batteries from mobile phone towers amid a surge in global demand for the battery in electric vehicles. The southern African nation’s biggest mobile network operator says it has lost more than $100,000 worth of lithium batteries in the past week alone.

Botswana police spokesperson Diteko Motube said most of the stolen batteries are being smuggled across the border to Zimbabwe.

Motube said five suspects from Zimbabwe and a Botswanan national were arrested this week while in possession of batteries worth more than $100,000.

The batteries were stolen from Botswana’s leading mobile network service provider, Mascom.

Company spokesperson Tebogo Lebotse-Sebego said the thefts are derailing their service delivery.

“This issue is certainly a crisis and it is affecting our quality of services ambitions,” said Lebotse-Sebego. “We are working closely with the relevant law enforcement offices and other administrators, including the community to find sustainable solutions to arrest the situation.”

Electric cars fuel demand

There is a surge in global demand for lithium batteries – and their components – due to their use in electric cars.

However, Zimbabwean-born UK based economic and political analyst Zenzo Moyo said the thefts in Botswana could be the result of the frequent power outages experienced in some southern African countries.

“It is not surprising that these lithium batteries are in high demand now mainly because of the load shedding that is being experienced in southern Africa especially in Zimbabwe and South Africa,” said Moyo.

Some households use lithium batteries for solar lighting, while light industries also rely on them.

Moyo said there is a huge market for the batteries in countries — such as Zimbabwe — that are turning to alternative energy sources.

“The economic hardships that Zimbabwe face cannot be used as an excuse for any kind of theft whether these are batteries or not,” he said. “If you look at the numbers that (the police) intercepted — these are huge numbers — it indicates that the people who were carrying these batteries are either runners or were selling them. There is a huge market for them understandably but the people that were carrying these batteries cannot be people who are starving but selling because there is a market.”

Demand greater than supply

Lithium’s price has risen 13-fold in the last two years, with global demand for the metal rapidly outpacing supply.

Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a London-based price reporting agency, projects, that the lithium mining market will almost double in the next eight years to nearly $6.4 billion in 2030.

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NASA’s Mighty Moon Rocket at Long Last Launches

NASA once again makes moonshot history. Plus, the space agency’s astronauts take a stroll, and a piece of tragic space history found by accident. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi brings us The Week in Space.  

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Taiwan’s APEC Envoy at the Center of Processor Chip Tension

Taiwan’s envoy to a gathering of Asia-Pacific leaders is the 91-year-old billionaire founder of a computer chip manufacturing giant that operated behind the scenes for decades before being thrust into the center of U.S.-Chinese tension over technology and security.

Morris Chang’s hybrid role highlights the clash between Taiwan’s status as one of China’s top tech suppliers and Beijing’s threats to attack the self-ruled island democracy of 22 million people, which the mainland’s ruling Communist Party says it part of its territory.

Taiwan’s decision to send Chang instead of a political leader to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Thailand reflects the island’s unusual status. The United States and other governments have agreed to Chinese demands not to have official relations with Taiwan or have their leaders meet its president.

Chang transformed the semiconductor industry when he founded Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. in 1987 as the first foundry to produce chips only for customers without designing its own. That allowed smaller designers to compete with industry giants without spending billions of dollars to build a factory.

TSMC has grown into the biggest chip producer, supplying Apple Inc., Qualcomm Inc. and other customers and turning Taiwan into a global tech center. TSMC-produced chips are in millions of smartphones, automobiles and high-end computers.

Despite that, TSMC ranks high on any list of the biggest companies that are unknown outside their industries.

Chang, a Texas Instruments Inc. veteran who served as TSMC chairman until 2018, represented then-President Chen Shui-bian at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in 2006. He was re-appointed to the same job in 2018, 2019 and 2020 by President Tsai Ing-wen.

“Taiwan’s semiconductor industry, especially TSMC, plays a pivotal role in the domestic and even the world economy,” Tsai told reporters on Oct. 20. “At this important moment, Chang is an irreplaceable candidate to serve as the representative of our country’s APEC leaders.”

Britain’s trade minister, Greg Hands, said London wants closer cooperation with Taiwan on semiconductors during a visit this month. Britain is home to Arm, a leading chip designer.

Taiwan is in a “very challenging environment” and APEC is the “most important international conference venue for Taiwan,” Chang said at the Oct. 20 briefing with Tsai.

“Taiwan needs to build a secure and resilient supply chain with trusted partners, especially in the electronics sector,” he said.

Last year, Chang warned support was eroding for globalization and free markets that helped TSMC prosper.

“Globalization seems to be a bad word and ‘free market economy’ is beginning to carry conditions,” Chang said while accepting an award from the Asia Society.

“Many companies in Asia and America face challenges as to how to operate in the new environment,” Chang said. “Still, I’m confident that solutions will be found.”

TSMC was thrust into geopolitics in 2020 when then U.S. President Donald Trump blocked the company and other vendors from using U.S. technology to make chips for Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Ltd., which produces smartphones and network gear for phone and internet carriers. American officials say Huawei is a security threat and might enable Chinese spying, an accusation the company denies.

Most of the world’s smartphones and other consumer electronics are assembled in Chinese factories. But they need components and technology from the United States, Europe and Asian suppliers — especially Taiwan, the biggest chip exporter.

Huawei, China’s first global tech brand, designs chips but needs TSMC and other contractors to make them. Their foundries need American manufacturing technology, which gives Washington leverage to disrupt Chinese high-tech industry.

Processor chips are China’s biggest import at $300 billion a year, ahead of oil. The ruling Communist Party sees that as a strategic weakness and is spending heavily to create its own chip producers, but they are generations behind TSMC and other global leaders.

Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, left Trump’s curbs in place and imposed more restrictions that extend to other Chinese companies.

TSMC, headquartered in Hsinchu, adjacent to the Taiwan capital, Taipei, says it made 12,302 different products last year for 535 customers. The company reported an $18.7 billion profit last year on $49.8 billion in revenue.

Chang was born in Ningbo, south of Shanghai, and moved to Hong Kong after a civil war on the mainland ended with the Communist Party taking power in 1949.

The mainland’s former ruling Nationalist Party fled to Taiwan. The two sides have been ruled separately since then. They have no official relations but are linked by billions of dollars of trade and investment.

Chang studied at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before receiving a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 1964.

Chang spent a quarter-century at Texas Instruments, rising to become a vice president in charge of its semiconductor business, before being invited to Taiwan in the 1980s to lead a technology research institute.

In 1988, TSMC became Taiwan’s first company traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Chang’s stake in the company is worth $1.6 billion.

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With Twitter’s Human Rights Team Gone, Some Experts Say Users’ Safety Jeopardized

With Twitter’s human rights team eliminated, legal experts voice alarm about what it could mean for users around the world. Tina Trinh reports. Camera: Daniel Brody.

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FBI Says It has ‘National Security Concerns’ About TikTok

FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday that the bureau has “national security concerns” about popular short-form video hosting app TikTok as the Chinese-owned company seeks U.S. government approval to continue operating in the country.

Speaking during a U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee hearing on “worldwide threats to the homeland,” Wray said the FBI’s concerns about TikTok include “the possibility that the Chinese government could use it to control data collection on millions of users.”

There is also concern, Wray said in response to a question, that the Chinese government could “control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations … or to control software on millions of devices, which gives the opportunity to potentially technically compromise personal devices.”

In written testimony, Wray called the foreign intelligence and economic threat from China “the greatest long-term threat to our nation’s ideas, innovation, and economic security.”

But he declined to answer in an open session a lawmaker’s question about whether the Chinese government has been leveraging TikTok to collect data about U.S. citizens.

Concerns about ties to Chinese government

TikTok’s ties to the Chinese government have been a flashpoint among U.S. lawmakers and officials for years. The app grew in popularity in recent years after its parent company, ByteDance, a China-based company with suspected ties to the Chinese government, bought and later absorbed Musical.ly, which allowed users to create and share lip-sync videos.

Citing national security concerns, then-President Donald Trump issued an executive order in 2020 that would effectively ban TikTok in the United States. But the social platform sued to block Trump’s executive order.

Last year President Joe Biden revoked the Trump directive, asking the Treasury Department to examine security concerns associated with the app.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an interagency body headed by the Treasury Department that reviews the national security implications of foreign investments in U.S. companies, has been examining TikTok’s proposal to continue to remain active in the U.S. market and the risks associated with it.

Noting that the FBI’s foreign investment unit is part of the CFIUS review process, Wray said that “our input would be taken into account in any agreements that might be made to address the issue.”

U.S. lawmakers question how data used

Although TikTok has denied having ties to China’s ruling Communist Party, U.S. lawmakers have long expressed concern about the Chinese government’s ability to access U.S. user data collected by the app.

Questioning Wray during Tuesday’s hearing, Republican Representative Diana Harshbarger cited a recent Forbes article that reported ByteDance “planned to use the TikTok app to track the physical location of specific American citizens.”

TikTok later dismissed the allegation raised in the article, saying in a statement it “does not collect precise GPS location information from U.S. users.”

In a June letter, TikTok sought to reassure U.S. lawmakers about its data security, writing that it now stores “100% of US user data, by default, in the Oracle cloud environment.”

‘Spinach’ vs. ‘opium’ versions

Last week, the U.S. TV news magazine “60 Minutes” reported that TikTok has two versions — a limited, educational “spinach version” for Chinese consumers, and an addictive “opium version” for the rest of the world.

While the version used in the West “has kids hooked for hours at a time,” in China, children under 14 years can use TikTok for only 40 minutes per day and view only videos about science experiments, museum exhibits, patriotic videos and educational videos, according to “60 Minutes.”

Wray said the online “threat to our youth is something we’re always concerned about.” The FBI is just as concerned about the way the Chinese government uses its laws as “an aggressive weapon against companies, both U.S. companies and Chinese companies,” he said.

“Under Chinese law, Chinese companies are required to essentially — and I’m going to shorthand here — basically do what the Chinese government wants them to do, in terms of sharing information or serving as a tool of the Chinese government,” Wray said. “And so, that’s plenty of reason by itself to be concerned.”

Beijing has denied similar allegations in the past.

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EXPLAINER: Nasa’s New Mega Moon Rocket, Orion Crew Capsule

NASA is kicking off its new moon program with a test flight of a brand-new rocket and capsule.

Liftoff was slated for early Wednesday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The test flight aims to send an empty crew capsule into a far-flung lunar orbit, 50 years after NASA’s famed Apollo moonshots.

The project is years late and billions over budget. The price tag for the test flight: more than $4 billion.

A rundown of the new rocket and capsule, part of NASA’s Artemis program, named after Apollo’s mythological twin sister:

Rocket power

At 322 feet (98 meters), the new rocket is shorter and slimmer than the Saturn V rockets that hurled 24 Apollo astronauts to the moon a half-century ago. But it’s mightier, packing 8.8 million pounds (4 million kilograms) of thrust. It’s called the Space Launch System rocket, SLS for short, although a less clunky name is under discussion. Unlike the streamlined Saturn V, the new rocket has a pair of side boosters refashioned from NASA’s space shuttles. The boosters peel away after two minutes, just like the shuttle boosters. The core stage keeps firing before crashing into the Pacific. Less than two hours after liftoff, an upper stage sends the capsule, Orion, racing toward the moon.

Moonship

NASA’s high-tech, automated Orion capsule is named after the constellation, among the night sky’s brightest. At 11 feet (3 meters) tall, it’s roomier than Apollo’s capsule, seating four astronauts instead of three. For the test flight, a full-size dummy in an orange flight suit occupies the commander’s seat, rigged with vibration and acceleration sensors. Two other mannequins made of material simulating human tissue — heads and female torsos, but no limbs — measure cosmic radiation, one of the biggest risks of spaceflight. Unlike the rocket, Orion has launched before, making two laps around Earth in 2014. For the test flight, the European Space Agency’s service module was attached for propulsion and solar power via four wings.

Flight plan

Orion’s flight is set to last 25 days from its Florida liftoff to Pacific splashdown, about the same as astronaut trips. It takes nearly a week to reach the moon. After whipping closely around the moon, the capsule enters a distant orbit with a far point of close to 40,000 miles (64,000 kilometers). That would put Orion about 270,000 miles (435,000) from Earth, farther than Apollo. The big test comes at mission’s end, as Orion hits the atmosphere at 25,000 mph (40,000 kph) on its way to a splashdown in the Pacific. The heat shield uses the same material as the Apollo capsules to withstand reentry temperatures of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,750 degrees Celsius). But the advanced design anticipates the faster, hotter returns by future Mars crews.

Hitchhikers

Besides three test dummies, the test flight includes a slew of stowaways for deep space research. Ten shoebox-size satellites pop off once Orion is hurtling toward the moon. NASA expects some to fail, given the low-cost, high-risk nature of these mini satellites. In a back-to-the-future salute, Orion carries a few slivers of moon rocks collected by Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969, and a bolt from one of their rocket engines, salvaged from the sea a decade ago.

Apollo vs. Artemis

More than 50 years later, Apollo still stands as NASA’s greatest achievement. Using 1960s technology, NASA took just eight years to go from launching its first astronaut, Alan Shepard, and landing Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon. By contrast, Artemis already has dragged on for more than a decade, despite building on the short-lived moon exploration program Constellation. Twelve Apollo astronauts walked on the moon from 1969 through 1972, staying no longer than three days at a time. For Artemis, NASA will draw from a diverse astronaut pool and is extending the time crews spend on the moon to at least a week. The goal is to create a long-term lunar presence that will grease the skids for sending people to Mars.

What’s next

There’s a lot more to be done before astronauts step on the moon again. A second test flight will send four astronauts around the moon and back, perhaps as early as 2024. A year or so later, NASA aims to send another four up, with two of them touching down at the lunar south pole. Orion doesn’t come with its own lunar lander like the Apollo spacecraft did, so NASA has hired Elon Musk’s SpaceX to provide its Starship spacecraft for the first Artemis moon landing. Two other private companies are developing moonwalking suits. The sci-fi-looking Starship would link up with Orion at the moon and take a pair of astronauts to the surface and back to the capsule for the ride home. So far, Starship has only soared six miles (10 kilometers).

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40 States Settle Google Location-tracking Charges for $392 Million

Search giant Google has agreed to a $391.5 million settlement with 40 states to resolve an investigation into how the company tracked users’ locations, state attorneys general announced Monday. 

The states’ investigation was sparked by a 2018 Associated Press story, which found that Google continued to track people’s location data even after they opted out of such tracking by disabling a feature the company called “location history.” 

The attorneys general called the settlement a historic win for consumers, and the largest multistate settlement in U.S history dealing with privacy. 

It comes at a time of mounting unease over privacy and surveillance by tech companies that has drawn growing outrage from politicians and scrutiny by regulators. The Supreme Court’s ruling in June ending the constitutional protections for abortion raised potential privacy concerns for women seeking the procedure or related information online. 

“This $391.5 million settlement is a historic win for consumers in an era of increasing reliance on technology,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement. “Location data is among the most sensitive and valuable personal information Google collects, and there are so many reasons why a consumer may opt-out of tracking.” 

Google, based in Mountain View, California, said it fixed the problems several years ago. 

“Consistent with improvements we’ve made in recent years, we have settled this investigation, which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago,” company spokesperson Jose Castaneda said in a statement. 

Location tracking can help tech companies sell digital ads to marketers looking to connect with consumers within their vicinity. It’s another tool in a data-gathering toolkit that generates more than $200 billion in annual ad revenue for Google, accounting for most of the profits pouring into the coffers of its corporate parent, Alphabet — which has a market value of $1.2 trillion. 

In its 2018 story, the AP reported that many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store users’ location data even if they’ve used a privacy setting that says it will prevent Google from doing so. Computer-science researchers at Princeton confirmed these findings at the AP’s request. 

Storing such data carries privacy risks and has been used by police to determine the location of suspects. 

The AP reported that the privacy issue with location tracking affected some 2 billion users of devices that run Google’s Android operating software and hundreds of millions of worldwide iPhone users who rely on Google for maps or search. 

The attorneys general who investigated Google said a key part of the company’s digital advertising business is location data, which they called the most sensitive and valuable personal data the company collects. Even a small amount of location data can reveal a person’s identity and routines, they said. 

Google uses the location information to target consumers with ads by its customers, the state officials said. 

The attorneys general said Google misled users about its location tracking practices since at least 2014, violating state consumer protection laws. 

As part of the settlement, Google also agreed to make those practices more transparent to users. That includes showing them more information when they turn location account settings on and off and keeping a webpage that gives users information about the data Google collects. 

The shadowy surveillance brought to light by the AP troubled even some Google engineers, who recognized the company might be confronting a massive legal headache after the story was published, according to internal documents that have subsequently surfaced in consumer-fraud lawsuits. 

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed the first state action against Google in May 2020, alleging that the company had defrauded its users by misleading them into believing they could keep their whereabouts private by turning off location tracking in the settings of their software. 

Arizona settled its case with Google for $85 million last month, but by then attorneys general in several other states and the District of Columbia had also pounced on the company with their own lawsuits seeking to hold Google accountable for its alleged deception. 

 

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