Smog-Fighting Shingles Helping to Clean California Air

Northern California is famous for many things, the sun, the surf, the wine, but it has also been infamous for its smog. Smog is a noxious collection of nitrogen and sulfur oxides, along with smoke and dirty particles, which all combine to form a foglike haze in the air. But some new technology is promising to turn a roof into an air cleaner. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

Silicon Valley Skeptical of Washington’s China Concerns

They call it the Trump effect.

Increased government scrutiny of Chinese investments in Silicon Valley has meant some deals are not getting done. Some aren’t even considered.

Usually eager for money and tantalized by the prospect of the Chinese market, startups are even declining Chinese investment.

After years of growing ties between China and Silicon Valley, the U.S. tech capital sees itself caught between Beijing and Washington over which country will win the competition to create the next generation of communication technologies.

“China’s innovation efforts are broad and deep,” said Michael Wessel, commissioner of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, at a recent congressional hearing. “China wants to be a global innovation leader and is doing all that it can legally and illegally to achieve its goals.”

​Flashpoint Huawei

Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications company that is building a 5G network in countries around the world, remains a flashpoint. Its chief financial officer faces extradition to the United States from Canada on fraud charges.

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week, U.S. and Huawei officials lobbied world leaders on whether Huawei should be trusted.

U.S. concerns about China and technology extend to the nation’s methods to achieve technology dominance, as outlined in Beijing’s Made in China 2025 plan.

In addition to subsidies for industry, and research and development, the U.S. says those methods include massive cyberhacking campaigns to steal corporate secrets, forced technology transfers to Chinese partners, and government policies that reward intellectual property theft.

 

WATCH: Silicon Valley Skeptical of Washington’s China Concerns

Increased scrutiny of Chinese investors

The U.S. government wants new barriers up because it believes some technologies, such as artificial intelligence and robotics, are important to national security. But many in the tech industry see risks in new restrictions.

“By not working with China, not only do we have less access to information to what they are doing,” said Parag Khanna, author of “The Future Is Asian.” They will substitute us for more reliable partners and we will be cut out of the entire market.”

Tim Draper is a prominent venture capitalist in Silicon Valley who says he was the first U.S. venture capitalist to invest in Baidu, the Chinese technology firm.

“I think we should be open and sharing,” he said. “Both countries benefit so much by having a very open communication lane there. … I believe we have a problem that we are putting up barriers where they don’t benefit us.”

The race to build 5G

Chinese companies are racing to build 5G wireless communication networks around the world, which Washington says risks giving Beijing enormous opportunities for electronic surveillance.

The stakes make it hard to predict how the U.S. and China will come to an understanding. In the meantime, Silicon Valley investors and entrepreneurs have accepted for now a cooling-off period for cross-border investment.

The disconnect between Silicon Valley and Washington is hard to bridge, said Christian Brose, head of strategy at Anduril Industries, a Southern California tech company that works with the U.S. government.

“When you have a conversation where one party sees China as an emerging national security challenge, and the other sees it as an emerging business opportunity, that’s just a fundamental clash of cultures and expectations that is difficult to reconcile, but I also think it’s not impossible,” he added.

While the two countries negotiate, Silicon Valley, caught in the middle, waits.

SpaceX Tests Crew Capsule in Flight to Space Station

America’s newest capsule for astronauts rocketed Saturday toward the International Space Station on a high-stakes test flight by SpaceX.

The only passenger was a life-size test dummy, named Ripley after the lead character in the “Alien” movies. SpaceX needs to nail the debut of its crew Dragon capsule before putting people on board later this year.

This latest, flashiest Dragon is on a fast track to reach the space station Sunday morning, just 27 hours after liftoff.

Five day round trip

It will spend five days docked to the orbiting outpost, before making a retro-style splashdown in the Atlantic next Friday — all vital training for the next space demo, possibly this summer, when two astronauts strap in.

“This is critically important … We’re on the precipice of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil again for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. He got a special tour of the pad on the eve of launch, by SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk.

An estimated 5,000 NASA and contractor employees, tourists and journalists gathered in the wee hours at Kennedy Space Center with the SpaceX launch team, as the Falcon 9 rocket blasted off before dawn from the same spot where Apollo moon rockets and space shuttles once soared. Across the country at SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne, California, company employees went wild, cheering every step of the way until the capsule successfully reached orbit.

Looking on from Kennedy’s Launch Control were the two NASA astronauts who will strap in as early as July for the second space demo, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken. It’s been eight years since Hurley and three other astronauts flew the last space shuttle mission, and human launches from Florida ceased.

Private companies

NASA turned to private companies, SpaceX and Boeing, and has provided them $8 billion to build and operate crew capsules to ferry astronauts to and from the space station. Now Russian rockets are the only way to get astronauts to the 250-mile-high outpost. Soyuz tickets have skyrocketed over the years; NASA currently pays $82 million per seat.

Boeing aims to conduct the first test flight of its Starliner capsule in April, with astronauts on board possibly in August.

Bridenstine said he’s confident that astronauts will soar on a Dragon or Starliner, or both, by year’s end. But he stressed there’s no rush.

“We are not in a space race,” he said. “That race is over. We went to the moon and we won. It’s done. Now we’re in a position where we can take our time and make sure we get it right.”

White House Worries Too Few American Kids Study Science & Math

White House officials are worried that unless more American students study math and science the United States won’t be able to compete with China, India and other nations. The U.S. administration has just published a five-year plan to boost the number of kids who go into Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM subjects. VOA’s Sahar Majid has more in this report narrated by Bezhan Hamdard.

YouTube to Block Comments on Most Videos Showing Minors

YouTube said Thursday it will disable user comments on a broad array of videos featuring children to thwart “predatory behavior” after revelations about a glitch exploited for sharing of child pornography.

The Google-owned video sharing service announced further steps to crack down on inappropriate comments a week after an investigation showing how comments and connections on child porn were being displayed alongside innocuous videos.

“We recognize that comments are a core part of the YouTube experience and how you connect with and grow your audience,” YouTube said in a posted message to creators.

“At the same time, the important steps we’re sharing today are critical for keeping young people safe.”

YouTube said that during the past week it has suspended comments on tens of millions of videos to prevent users from exploiting of the software glitch for nefarious purposes.

“These efforts are focused on videos featuring young minors and we will continue to identify videos at risk over the next few months,” YouTube said.

“Over the next few months, we will be broadening this action to suspend comments on videos featuring young minors and videos featuring older minors that could be at risk of attracting predatory behavior.”

A small number of video creators will be allowed to keep comments enabled, but will be required to carefully moderate commentary and to deploy software tools provided by YouTube, according to Google.

YouTube accelerated the release of an improved “classifier” that it said will detect and remove twice the number of policy-breaking comments by individuals.

‘Wormhole’

A YouTube creator last week revealed what he called a “wormhole” that allowed comments and connections on child porn alongside videos.

Shortly thereafter, YouTube deleted many comments and blocked some accounts and channels showing inappropriate comments.

Matt Watson, a YouTube creator with some 26,000 subscribers, revealed the workings of what he termed a “wormhole” into a pedophile ring that allowed users to trade social media contacts and links to child porn in YouTube comments.

The post by Watson sparked a series of news reports and boycotts of YouTube ads from major firms.

The incident raised fears of a fresh “brand safety” crisis for YouTube, which lost advertisers last year following revelations that messages appeared on channels promoting conspiracy theories, white nationalism and other objectionable content.

Thai Lawmakers Approve Controversial Cybersecurity Act

Thailand’s legislature has passed a cybersecurity bill that would allow authorities access to people’s personal information without a court order.

The Cybersecurity Act addresses computer hacking crimes, but activists fear it will allow the government sweeping access to people’s personal information.

The National Legislative Assembly, which passed the bill in its final reading Thursday by a vote of 133-0, was appointed by the junta that came to power after a 2014 coup. It becomes law when published in the Royal Gazette.

The cybersecurity bill allows state officials to seize, search, infiltrate, and make copies of computers, computer systems and information in computers without a court warrant if an appointed committee sees it as a high-level security threat, and relevant courts can later be informed of such actions.

US-China Trade Talks ‘Not Close’

The top U.S. trade official said Wednesday that a new trade agreement with China is not yet close to being completed. State Department correspondent Nike Ching reports from Washington on the latest in the talks and how U.S. concerns over high-tech issues remain a key point of friction. VOA Mandarin reporter Yihua Lee contributes.

TikTok Fined in US for Illegally Gathering Children’s Data 

The fast-growing, Chinese-owned video sharing network TikTok agreed to pay a $5.7 million fine to U.S. authorities to settle charges that it illegally collected personal information from children, officials said Wednesday. 

 

The Federal Trade Commission said the penalty for the social network, which had been known as Musical.ly, was the largest ever in a children’s privacy investigation. 

 

The social network, which has been surging in popularity with young smartphone users and taking over from rivals like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, failed to obtain parental consent from its underage users as required by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, FTC officials said. 

 

The operators of TikTok “knew many children were using the app, but they still failed to seek parental consent before collecting names, email addresses, and other personal information from users under the age of 13,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons.  

No tolerance for lawbreakers

 

“This record penalty should be a reminder to all online services and websites that target children: We take enforcement of COPPA very seriously, and we will not tolerate companies that flagrantly ignore the law.” 

 

TikTok claimed 500 million users worldwide last year, making it one of the most popular worldwide apps. 

 

Owned by China’s ByteDance, it expanded its reach in the U.S. with the merger with Musical.ly. 

 

Teens have been flocking to the service, which allows them to create and share videos of 15 seconds.  

According to the FTC, the company required users to provide an email address, phone number, username, first and last name, a short biography, and a profile picture. 

 

The consumer protection regulator said 65 million accounts have been registered in the United States. 

 

Officials said the company knew that many of its users were under 13 and should have taken greater precautions. 

 

“In our view, these practices reflected the company’s willingness to pursue growth even at the expense of endangering children,” said a statement from FTC Commissioners Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter. 

 

“The agency secured a record-setting civil penalty and deletion of ill-gotten data, as well as other remedies to stop this egregious conduct.” 

Suggestive content

 

TikTok has faced criticism around the world for featuring sexually suggestive content inappropriate for children. 

 

TikTok said in a statement it would create a “separate app experience” for younger users with additional privacy protections as part of its agreement with regulators. 

 

“It’s our priority to create a safe and welcoming experience for all of our users, and as we developed the global TikTok platform, we’ve been committed to creating measures to further protect our user community — including tools for parents to protect their teens and for users to enable additional privacy settings,” the statement said.

Meet Elon Tusk: Tesla Chief Changes Twitter Display Name

Silicon Valley billionaire Elon Musk changed his Twitter display name to “Elon Tusk” in another late-night flurry of tweets on Wednesday, which also promised news from his electric carmaker Tesla Inc later this week.

In a series of tweets to his 25 million followers following charges from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this week, Musk accused the regulator of failing to read Tesla’s annual reports and said its oversight was “broken”.

On Wednesday, he changed his display name and added an elephant tag.

Social media platforms have featured a number of memes involving wordplay around Musk’s name this week.

He also promised Tesla would have “news” at 2 p.m. California time on Thursday. The company, deep in debt as it ramps up production of its popular Model 3 sedan, is due to repay a $920 million convertible bond a day later.

Musk had promised last year to have his public statements vetted by the company’s board, as part of a settlement with the SEC that headed off demands for him to resign as Tesla CEO.

Tesla did not immediately respond to request for comment.