Trump signs bill renewing NSA’s internet surveillance program

January 20, 2018

By Dustin Volz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said he signed into law a bill renewing the National Security Agency’s warrantless internet surveillance program, sealing a defeat for digital privacy advocates.

“Just signed 702 Bill to reauthorize foreign intelligence collection,” Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to legislation passed by the U.S. Congress that extends Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The law renews for six years and with minimal changes the National Security Agency (NSA) program, which gathers information from foreigners overseas but incidentally collects an unknown amount of communications belonging to Americans.

The measure easily passed the U.S. House of Representatives last week despite mixed signals posted on Twitter by Trump and narrowly avoided a filibuster in the Senate earlier this week that split party lines. The measure had drawn opposition from a coalition of privacy-minded Democrats and libertarian Republicans.

In his tweet on Friday, Trump attempted to clarify why he signed the bill despite repeating an unsubstantiated claim that his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, ordered intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on Trump’s 2016 Republican presidential campaign.

“This is NOT the same FISA law that was so wrongly abused during the election,” Trump wrote. “I will always do the right thing for our country and put the safety of the American people first!”

Last September, the U.S. Justice Department said in a court filing that it had no evidence to support Trump’s claim about improper surveillance during the campaign.

Without Trump’s signature, Section 702 had been set to expire on Friday, though intelligence officials had said the surveillance program could continue to operate until April.

Under the law, the NSA is allowed to eavesdrop on vast amounts of digital communications from foreigners living outside the United States via U.S. companies like Facebook Inc, Verizon Communications Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google.

But the program also incidentally scoops up Americans’ communications, including when they communicate with a foreign target living overseas, and can search those messages without a warrant.

The White House, U.S. intelligence agencies and congressional Republican leaders have said the program is indispensable to national security, vital to protecting U.S. allies and needs little or no revision.

Privacy advocates say it allows the NSA and other intelligence agencies to grab data belonging to Americans in a way that represents an affront to the U.S. Constitution.

(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Sandra Maler and Jonathan Oatis)

Facebook to prioritize ‘trustworthy’ news based on surveys

January 20, 2018

By David Ingram

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Facebook Inc will prioritize “trustworthy” news in its feed of social media posts, using member surveys to identify high-quality outlets and fight sensationalism and misinformation, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said on Friday.

The company, which has more than 2 billion monthly users, said its members, not experts or Facebook executives, would determine how news outlets rank in terms of trustworthiness. It also said it would put an emphasis on local news sources.

The move is likely to send shockwaves through the media landscape in nearly every country, given the ubiquity of the world’s largest social network and how central it has become in some places to the distribution of news.

Zuckerberg said on Friday he expects recently announced changes to shrink the amount of news on Facebook by 20 percent, to about 4 percent of all content from 5 percent currently.

The chief executive outlined the shakeup in a post on Facebook, saying that starting next week the News Feed, the company’s centerpiece product, would prioritize “high quality news” over less trusted sources.

“There’s too much sensationalism, misinformation and polarization in the world today,” Zuckerberg wrote.

“Social media enables people to spread information faster than ever before, and if we don’t specifically tackle these problems, then we end up amplifying them,” he wrote.

The quality of news on Facebook has been called into question after alleged Russian operatives, for-profit spammers and others spread false reports on the site, including during the 2016 U.S. election campaign.

Two years ago, Facebook users saw hoaxes saying Pope Francis endorsed Republican Donald Trump for U.S. president and that a federal agent investigating Democrat Hillary Clinton was found dead. Facebook initially proposed fighting false stories by letting users flag them.

The change will affect not only links posted by news outlets but also news stories that individuals share, Facebook said.

News organizations immediately began considering how they would fare in the ranking.

FIGHTING FAKE NEWS

The trust ranking will help to address fake news stories, said David Chavern, president of the News Media Alliance, a trade group for old-line U.S. newspapers.

“For some time, we have argued that Facebook should give priority to news from trusted sources,” he said in a statement.

Tom Gara, opinion editor at BuzzFeed News, wrote on Twitter that he expected partisan outlets to fare worse: “This sounds like extremely good news for news publishers that aren’t hated by one side or the other.”

Facebook has had a stormy relationship with news organizations, especially those with strong political leanings. In 2016, Republican U.S. lawmakers expressed concern that Facebook, based in liberal Northern California, was suppressing news stories of interest to conservative readers.

Facebook said that ranking by trustworthiness was not intended to directly impact any specific groups of publishers based on their size or ideology.

Zuckerberg said he settled on the idea of surveying Facebook users after rejecting having the company itself rank news outlets’ trustworthiness.

“We decided that having the community determine which sources are broadly trusted would be most objective,” he wrote in his post.

Facebook said it did not plan to release the survey results because they will represent an incomplete picture of how a story’s position in a person’s feed is determined.

Many factors determine where a post appears in a Facebook user’s News Feed such as subject of the post, who wrote it and who is commenting on it.

Last week, Zuckerberg said the company would change the way it filters posts and videos on News Feed to prioritize what friends and family share.

News Corp, owner of the New York Post and other outlets, responded to the earlier Facebook announcement with a pledge to look for “any signs that the weighting of news sites is politically motivated.”

The Rupert Murdoch-led company had no immediate comment on Friday.

(Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Leslie Adler and Cynthia Osterman)

Bitcoin use under scrutiny in Indonesian island of Bali

January 19, 2018

By Tabita Diela and Nyimas Laula

JAKARTA/KUTA, Indonesia (Reuters) – Indonesian authorities are investigating the use of bitcoin in the holiday island of Bali, amid warnings by the central bank in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy over the risks posed by virtual currencies, an official said.

The probe started after the central bank on Dec. 7, 2017 issued a regulation banning the use of cryptocurrencies in payment systems, said Causa Iman Karana, head of Bank Indonesia’s representative office in Bali.

“We found out from some postings on social media that Bali appeared to have become a haven for bitcoin transactions,” said Karana.

Central bank officials and police went undercover at the end of 2017 to investigate scores of businesses in Bali advertising online that they offered bitcoin payment services, said Karana.

The team found two cafes still using bitcoin as a means of payment, but 44 businesses including car rental outlets, hotels, travel companies and jewelry stores, previously offering the service, had now stopped, he said.

One of the cafes used bitcoin only for transactions of more than 243,000 rupiah, or about 0.001 bitcoin. A single transaction took about 1 1/2 hours to be processed and included a fee of 123,000 rupiah so this had discouraged its wider use for payments, said Karana.

The official declined to name the businesses because he was still waiting for further instructions from Bank Indonesia in Jakarta.

“The next step is we will ban them as mandated by the law. We ask them not to use it anymore. Along with the Directorate of Special Crime Investigation unit, we will enforce the rule that all transactions in Indonesia must use rupiah.”

Some locals in Bali said bitcoin was being used mainly by foreigners on the island, which is Indonesia’s tourism hub and has a large expatriate community.

Bank Indonesia has called ownership of virtual currencies high risk and prone to speculation, because no authority takes responsibility or officially administers them and because there is no underlying asset to be the basis for the price.

Virtual currencies could also be used in money laundering and terrorism funding, and could have an impact on the stability of the financial system and causes losses for society, it has said.

While trading has not be regulated so far, the central bank has said it was looking into the issue.

Regulators around the world have been grappling with how to address risks posed by cryptocurrencies, as bitcoin, the world’s most popular virtual currency, soared more than 1,700 percent last year.

Prices have plummeted since South Korea said last week it may ban domestic cryptocurrency exchanges.

Bitcoin.co.id, an Indonesian online cryptocurrency exchange, said on its website that bitcoin was trading at 162.70 million rupiah ($12,247) per unit after losing around a quarter of it value this week.

($1 = 13,285.0000 rupiah)

(Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Michael Perry)

Google announces patent agreement with Tencent amid China push

January 19, 2018

BEIJING (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google has agreed to a patent licensing deal with Tencent Holdings Ltd as it looks for ways to expand in China where many of its products, such as app store, search engine and email service, are blocked by regulators.

The U.S. technology company has signed similar agreements before with Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics and Cisco Systems Inc, but the deal with Tencent is a first with a large Chinese tech firm.

Google has previously said that agreements such as these reduce the potential of litigation over patent infringement.

The agreement with the Chinese social media and gaming firm Tencent covers a broad range of products and paves the way for collaboration on technology in the future, Google said on Friday, without disclosing any financial terms of the deal.

Tencent oversees China’s top social media and payments app, WeChat, which has close to a billion users. It also oversees one of the country’s most popular app stores and hosts the country’s biggest gaming and livestream platforms.

Google did not disclose the scope of the new patent deal and Tencent did not immediately respond to questions about which products the patent agreement will cover.

“By working together on agreements such as this, tech companies can focus on building better products and services for their users,” said Mike Lee, Google’s head of patents.

Over the past year, Google has indicated that it was looking to increase it presence in the restrictive Chinese market, with the launch of a local AI research lab, introduction of a version of its translation app and expansion into new cities.

The company announced this month that it had invested in Chinese livestream gaming app Chushou, which is similar to Google’s own YouTube game livestreaming services.

In December, Google CEO Sundar Pichai spoke at a conference in China hosted by the Cyberspace Administration of China, which oversees censorship in the country.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

Uber partners with taxi firm ComfortDelGro for new Singapore service

January 18, 2018

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Uber Technologies [UBER.UL] and Singapore’s top taxi operator ComfortDelGro Corp Ltd will launch a new ride-hailing service in Singapore from Friday, as they team up against their key regional rival Grab.

UberFLASH, that will connect riders to drivers closest to them – either a private vehicle or a taxi, is the first collaboration between the firms since they said in December that ComfortDelGro would buy a 51 percent stake in Uber’s Singapore car leasing unit, Lion City Rentals.

The deal comes at a time when Uber’s new Asia Pacific chief is prioritising collaborations with traditional taxi firms. It is expected to give Uber a leg up in its battle for market share with Grab, Southeast Asia’s dominant ride-hailing player.

Grab has partnered with other taxi operators in Singapore.

ComfortDelGro operated about 13,700 taxis in the city state as of November, official data shows, which is more than the fleet of all the other taxi companies combined. Uber’s Lion City Rentals has a fleet of about 14,000 vehicles.

UberFLASH fares will be, on average, 5-10 percent cheaper than low-cost option UberX, Uber and ComfortDelGro said in a joint statement on Thursday.

UberFLASH is already available in Thailand and Malaysia.

ComfortDelGro’s acquisition of a majority stake in Lion City is waiting for approval from the Competition Commission of Singapore. The anti-trust regulator is reviewing the deal and recently sought public feedback on it.

(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

Facebook widens probe into alleged Russian meddling in Brexit

January 17, 2018

By David Ingram

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Facebook Inc said on Wednesday it would conduct a new, comprehensive search of its records for possible propaganda that Russian operatives may have spread during the run-up to Britain’s 2016 referendum on EU membership.

Some British lawmakers had complained that the world’s largest social media network had done only a limited search for evidence that Russians manipulated the network and interfered with the referendum debate.

Russia denies meddling in Britain’s vote to exit the European Union, known as Brexit, or in the 2016 U.S. elections.

Facebook, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google and YouTube have been under intense pressure in Europe and the United States to stop nations from using tech services to meddle in another country’s elections, and to investigate when evidence of such meddling arises.

Facebook’s new search in Britain will require the company’s security experts to go back and analyze historical data, Simon Milner, Facebook’s UK policy director, wrote in a letter on Wednesday to Damian Collins, chair of the British parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

“We would like to carry out this work promptly and estimate it will take a number of weeks to complete,” Milner wrote.

Facebook said in December that it had found just 97 cents worth of advertising by Russia-based operatives ahead of Britain’s vote to leave the EU. Its analysis, though, involved only accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, a suspected Russian propaganda service.

Collins last month described Facebook’s initial Brexit-related search as inadequate, and said on Wednesday he welcomed the company’s latest response.

“They are best placed to investigate activity on their platform,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing the results of this investigation, and I’m sure we will want to question Facebook about this when we know the outcome.”

Facebook told U.S. lawmakers last year that it had found 3,000 ads bought by suspected Russian agents posing as Americans and seeking to spread divisive messages in the United States about race, immigration and other political topics.

In France last year, Facebook suspended 30,000 accounts in the days before the country’s presidential election to try to stop the spread of fake news, misinformation and spam.

(Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Microsoft tops Thomson Reuters top 100 global tech leaders list

January 17, 2018

(Reuters – Thomson Reuters Corp on Wednesday published its debut “Top 100 Global Technology Leaders” list with Microsoft Corp in the no. 1 spot, followed by chipmaker Intel Corp and network gear maker Cisco Systems Inc .

The list, which aims to identify the industry’s top financially successful and organizationally sound organizations, features U.S. tech giants such as Apple Inc , Alphabet Inc , International Business Machines Corp and Texas Instruments Inc , among its top 10.

Microchip maker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing <2330.TW>, German business software giant SAP and Dublin-based consultant Accenture round out the top 10.

The remaining 90 companies are not ranked, but the list also includes the world’s largest online retailer Amazon.com Inc and social media giant Facebook Inc . ( http://bit.ly/2B8eowE )

The results are based on a 28-factor algorithm that measures performance across eight benchmarks: financial, management and investor confidence, risk and resilience, legal compliance, innovation, people and social responsibility, environmental impact, and reputation.

The assessment tracks patent activity for technological innovation and sentiment in news and selected social media as the reflection of a company’s public reputation.

The set of tech companies is restricted to those that have at least $1 billion in annual revenue.

According to the list, 45 percent of these 100 tech companies are headquartered in the United States. Japan and Taiwan are tied for second place with 13 companies each, followed by India with five tech leaders on the list.

By continent, North America leads with 47, followed by Asia with 38, Europe with 14 and Australia with one.

The strength of Asia highlights the growth of companies such as Tencent Holdings Ltd <0700.HK>, which became the first Asian firm to enter the club of companies worth more than $500 billion, and surpassed Facebook in market value in November.

Reuters is the news and media division of Thomson Reuters, which produced the list.

(Reporting by Sonam Rai in Bengaluru, editing by Peter Henderson)

21 states sue to keep net neutrality as Senate Democrats reach 50 votes

January 16, 2018

By David Shepardson

(Reuters) – A group of 21 U.S. state attorneys general filed suit to challenge the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to do away with net neutrality on Tuesday while Democrats said they needed just one more vote in the Senate to repeal the FCC ruling.

The state attorneys, including those of California, New York and Virginia as well as the District of Columbia, filed a petition to challenge the action, calling it “arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion” and saying that it violated federal laws and regulations.

The petition was filed with a federal appeals court in Washington as Senate Democrats said on Tuesday they had the backing of 50 members of the 100-person chamber for repeal, leaving them just one vote short of a majority.

Even if Democrats could win a majority in the Senate, a repeal would also require winning a vote in the House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a greater majority, and would still be subject to a likely veto by President Donald Trump.

Senator Ed Markey said in a statement that all 49 Democrats in the upper chamber backed the repeal. Earlier this month, Republican Senator Susan Collins said she would back the effort to overturn the FCC’s move. Democrats need 51 votes to win any proposal in the Republican-controlled Senate because Vice President Mike Pence can break any tie.

Trump backed the FCC action, the White House said last month, and overturning a presidential veto requires a two-thirds vote of both chambers.

States said the lawsuit was filed in an abundance of caution because, typically, a petition to challenge would not be filed until the rules legally take effect, which is expected later this year.

Internet advocacy group Free Press, the Open Technology Institute and Mozilla Corp filed similar protective petitions on Tuesday.

The FCC voted in December along party lines to reverse rules introduced in 2015 that barred internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic or offering paid fast lanes, also known as paid prioritization. The new rules will not take effect for at least three months, the FCC has said.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said the issue would be a major motivating factor for the young voters the party is courting.

A trade group representing major tech companies including Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc and Amazon.com Inc said it would support legal challenges to the reversal.

The FCC vote in December marked a victory for AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc and handed them power over what content consumers can access on the internet. It was the biggest win for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in his sweeping effort to undo many telecommunications regulations.

While the FCC order grants internet providers sweeping new powers it does require public disclosure of any blocking practices. Internet providers have vowed not to change how consumers obtain online content.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, a Republican, said in an interview on Tuesday he planned to hold a hearing on paid prioritization. He has urged Democrats to work constructively on a legislative solution to net neutrality “to bring certainty and clarity going forward and ban behaviors like blocking and throttling.”

He said he does not believe a vote to overturn the FCC decision would get a majority in the U.S. House. Representative Mike Doyle, a Democrat, said Tuesday that his bill to reverse the FCC decision had 80 co-sponsors.

Paid prioritization is part of American life, Walden said. “Where do you want to sit on the airplane? Where do you want to sit on Amtrak?” he said.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler)

Google says ‘no changes’ to mapping platform in China after report

January 16, 2018

BEIJING (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Tuesday it has made “no changes” to its mapping platform in China, denying an earlier media report that claimed it was re-launching the function in China, where many of its services are blocked.

Japan’s Nikkei reported earlier that Google had set up a China-specific version of the Google Maps website for the first time in eight years and introduced a map application for Chinese iPhones for the first time. (http://s.nikkei.com/2DcmYjU)

Google, however, stated that the Google Maps browser has been available in China for many years while there is no Maps application offered in the country.

“There have been no changes to Google Maps in China. Maps has been accessible on desktop for years, but does not have an official presence in Android or iOS app stores in China,” Google Spokesman Taj Meadows said in comments sent to Reuters.

A Chinese version of Google Maps was accessible on Tuesday on mobile and desktop browsers with certain functions available, but Reuters was unable to find a Google Maps app available in Chinese app stores.

Nikkei reported users could find an app, but if they tried to use features like navigation they were automatically transferred to an app from AutoNavi, a mapping company owned by China’s Alibaba Group Holding .

AutoNavi did not immediately respond to a request from Reuters for a comment.

Google has tried to re-enter the China market, where its main search platform is blocked along with its popular video platform YouTube, limiting its access to China’s internet users.

Google joined an investment in Chinese live-stream mobile game platform Chushou earlier this month after ramping up an artificial intelligence (AI) push last year, including launching an AI lab in December and hosting a match of the board game Go between its AI project Alpha Go and Chinese Go champion Ke Jie.

Last month, Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai spoke at a high-profile tech event in China organized by the Cyberspace Administration of China, which oversees internet censorship.

A full Google Maps app has not been available in China since the company pulled many of its services in 2010 after refusing to self-censor its search results. Since then, it has maintained a limited presence in the world’s top smartphone market.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell in BEIJING and John Benny in BENGALURU; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Bill Trott and Christian Schmollinger)

BlackBerry launches cybersecurity software for self-driving cars

January 15, 2018

(Reuters) – Canadian software maker BlackBerry Ltd on Monday launched a new cybersecurity software, which identifies vulnerabilities in programs used in self-driving cars.

The product, called Blackberry Jarvis, is being marketed first to automakers – a group of customers the former smartphone maker is hoping will power its turnaround efforts – but could also have applications in healthcare and industrial automation.

BlackBerry said it was offering Jarvis on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Once initiated, automakers will have online access to Jarvis and can scan files at every stage of software development, the company said.

Last year, the global “ransomware” attack, dubbed WannaCry, helped raise awareness of BlackBerry’s security software business, which is largely focused on managing secure connections to mobile devices.

BlackBerry said it had already tested Jarvis with automaker Tata Motors’ Jaguar Land Rover unit, whose chief executive said Jarvis reduced the time needed to assess code from 30 days to seven minutes.

BlackBerry in September announced it would partner with auto supplier Delphi Automotive Plc on a software operating system for self-driving cars.

Earlier this month BlackBerry and Chinese internet search firm Baidu Inc signed a deal to jointly develop self-driving vehicle technology.

BlackBerry has also recently signed automotive-related deals with chipmaker Qualcomm, auto supplier Denso and Ford Motor Co.

(Reporting by John Benny in Bengaluru and Alastair Sharp in Toronto; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)