Huawei Offers to Sign ‘No-Spy’ Agreements

As anticipation builds for the next-generation mobile communications or 5G, security has become a heated topic. The U.S. government has launched an unprecedented campaign urging countries to ban one of the key makers of equipment for the new network, China-based telecom titan Huawei. But Huawei is vowing to refuse to assist any country in spying and even claims it would rather go out of business. VOA’s Bill Ide recently visited the company’s headquarters in China’s southern city of Shenzhen.

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Tech Startups Move Forward in Africa 

The Afrobytes and Viva Tech conferences in Paris this week have provided an opportunity to look at the progress that high-tech startups have made in Africa, where fundraising is booming.

According to Partech Africa, a venture capital firm, 146 startups in 19 African countries raised $1.16 billion for African digital entrepreneurs in 2018. Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa received 78% of the total funding, with Egypt close behind. 

In French-speaking Africa, Senegal is the leading hub with $22 million raised in four deals. Compared with their Anglophone peers, Africa’s Francophone countries operate in smaller markets, and lack capital and mentors.  

A key: Seeking advice

 

Marieme Diop, a venture capital investor at Orange Digital Ventures, said that “unfortunately in Francophone Africa, it is not in our DNA. People who succeed in business or in electing positions do not necessarily reach back to help their peers to show them how to be successful. In the Anglophone world, it is a must for anyone who wants to start something: seeking advice. So the gap is not only financial” between the regions. 

 

Africa is seen by many as the next frontier for venture capital, with its booming population and mobile-first economy. That’s why Google, Facebook and PayPal participated in Paris in Afrobytes 2019.  

 

“We do not want people globally to see African high-tech as an exotic stuff,” said Afrobytes CEO Ammin Youssouf. “We want to be heard and talk about AI, blockchain, what is happening in Silicon Valley, because it has an impact on us. We already have brilliant minds in Africa, especially in tech, to have those conversations.”

Unlike the global trend, where men dominate the high-tech industry, women are leading the movement in Africa.

“Actually, what we see in the statistics is that women’s involvement and participation on in the African continent is much higher than what you would find in New York, for example, or San Francisco,” said Ben White, chief executive officer of venture capital platform VC4Africa, who has been supporting startups on the continent for more than 10 years. “I think it is an advantage. It also means having women investors who are very sensitive to gender-related questions and can also ensure that the system we are building is inclusive.”

Governments’ role

 

Governments in Africa are trying to regulate the activity and even support the sector. Forty Senegalese startups last November secured a total of $2 million in government funding. But some experts say governments lack the skills needed to pick good investments.

Kenza Lahlou, co-founder and managing partner at Outlierz Ventures, said the public sector “should not invest [in startups]. States should build funds of funds. We have that in Morocco in partnership with the World Bank. The government started Innov Invest, to invest in local venture capitalist funds, to lower the risk for local funds.”

 

With a population expected to reach 1.4 billion people by 2021, and a continent that will put about 1 billion smartphones into use within two years, Africa is a promising area for the world’s leading high-tech and telecom companies.

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Oregon OKs Largest Expansion of Federal Free Lunch Program

Oregon is spending $40 million to dramatically expand the federal free breakfast and lunch program, ensuring that more than 60 percent of its 400,000 public school students will be included, the only statewide effort in the country

Oregon is spending $40 million to dramatically expand its federal free breakfast and lunch program, ensuring that more than 60 percent of its 400,000 public school students will be included, the largest statewide effort in the country.

The program is based on providing free meals to any child whose family lives at up to three times the poverty level, which is $75,000 for a family of four.

New tax package 

The meals expansion program is tucked away in a new tax package for schools, a sweeping $1 billion annual investment explicitly dedicated to boosting student performance. It will be paid for through a new half a percent tax on business. 

Chicago and New York City are among some major cities that offer free breakfast and lunch to all students, but this is the only statewide program according to Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon.

“Hungry kids don’t think about education nearly as much as having something in their stomach,” said Sen. Arnie Roblan, a Democrat from Coos Bay who helped craft the legislation. 

Oregon will allow 761 schools to provide free lunch and breakfast to approximately 345,000 students. 

One in seven households is “food insecure,” according to the Oregon Center for Public Policy , meaning that families have trouble putting food on the table and often don’t know where they’ll get their next meal. 

At least 174,000 children have limited access to food, more than the population of Oregon’s second largest city, Eugene. 

Hunger-Free Kids Act

At least 62% of students attend a school with high federal poverty rates. These schools can get federal assistance to provide free meals to all their students no matter their income levels under the 2011 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a policy championed by former first lady Michelle Obama. 

But even though these schools may qualify for assistance, not all of them take advantage of it because of low federal reimbursement rates. The reimbursement rate is different for each school, depending on the school’s poverty level.

Schools with lower reimbursement rates often choose to provide free meals only to students living about two times above the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that would require an income up to $50,000.  

Around a third of food insecure students in Oregon, however, live above that poverty threshold meaning they’re ineligible for free meals under the federal program, according to data from Feeding America . 

Tim Sweeney, a superintendent in Oregon’s impoverished South Coast, said that his district runs a deficit because it chooses to take on the cost of feeding all its students. Many students are completely dependent on schools for food, he said.

But even with federal assistance, it costs around $25,000 a year to provide free breakfast and lunches, money Sweeney said could have gone to textbooks.

“Poverty is a huge deal here and so many students rely on schools to provide them with food and a warm place for shelter,” he said. “Food service may not be a winning game, but we know it means the world to these kids.” 

Gov. Brown signs package

Gov. Kate Brown signed the school funding tax package, but it’s likely to be referred to the voters to decide in 2020, thanks to Oregon’s robust referendum process.  

 Republicans, who make up the minority of the Legislature, sought to block the package by refusing to show up to the Capitol to vote, shutting down all business for a week. They returned Monday at which point the measure was swiftly approved.

Although the tax package was partisan, Roblan says this is the one provision that was never up for debate.

“This is a big buy for our state,” he said. “But there was no hesitation. This is the right thing to do.”

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NTSB: Autopilot Was in Use Before Tesla Hit Semitrailer

A Tesla Model S involved in a fatal crash with a semitrailer in Florida March 1 was operating on the company’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system, federal investigators have determined.

The car drove beneath the trailer, killing the driver, in a crash that is strikingly similar to one that happened on the other side of Florida in 2016 that also involved use of Autopilot.

In both cases, neither the driver nor the Autopilot system stopped for the trailers, and the roofs of the cars were sheared off.

The crash, which remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, raises questions about the effectiveness of Autopilot, which uses cameras, long-range radar and computers to detect objects in front of the cars to avoid collisions. The system also can keep a car in its lane, change lanes and navigate freeway interchanges.

Tesla has maintained that the system is designed only to assist drivers, who must pay attention at all times and be ready to intervene.

In a preliminary report on the March 1 crash, the NTSB said that preliminary data and video from the Tesla show that the driver turned on Autopilot about 10 seconds before the crash on a divided highway with turn lanes in the median. From less than eight seconds until the time of the crash, the driver’s hands were not detected on the steering wheel, the NTSB report stated.

“Neither the preliminary data nor the videos indicate that the driver or the ADAS (Advanced Driver Assist System) executed evasive maneuvers,” the report stated.

The Model 3 was going 68 miles per hour when it hit the trailer on U.S. 441, the report said. Jeremy Beren Banner, 50, was killed.

Tesla said in a statement Thursday that Banner did not use Autopilot at any other time during the drive before the crash. Vehicle logs show that he took his hands off the steering wheel immediately after activating Autopilot, the statement said.

Tesla also said it’s saddened by the crash and that drivers have traveled more than 1 billion miles while using Autopilot. “When used properly by an attentive driver who is prepared to take control at all times, drivers supported by Autopilot are safer than those operating without assistance,” the company said.

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Huawei Seeks to Win Over 5G Security Concern Skeptics

Joyce Huang contributed to this report.

SHENZHEN, CHINA — U.S. officials have effectively banned Chinese telecom titan Huawei from building next-generation 5G mobile networks in the United States and are warning other countries about the company’s national security risks.

On Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order that bars American companies from using telecommunications equipment that is made by companies that pose a national security risk. The order, which declares a national emergency, is the first step toward formalizing a ban on doing business with Huawei.

For its part, however, Huawei has shown no signs of backing down and has been making extraordinary pledges to win over its critics and dispel allegations that it is a security threat. The company says it will quit its business if forced to spy on its customers and now its company chairman Liang Hua has offered to sign “no spy” agreements as well.

Speaking through an interpreter during a visit to London, Liang said Huawei is willing “to commit ourselves to making our equipment meet the no-spy, no-backdoors standard.”

What does Huawei hand over?

It is unclear what Liang means by “no-spy, no-backdoors” since Huawei, like all technology companies, requires users to sign agreements acknowledging that the company may share their personal information if required by local authorities.

Most technology companies, such as Google and Facebook, disclose these government information requests in regular public reports. The companies explain when they comply with the government requests and when they challenge them in court.

There is no information about what data Huawei hands over to Beijing authorities. If Chinese officials determine a matter involves “state secrets” or a criminal investigation, officials can legally justify intercepting any communication. Critics say Beijing defines “state secrets” so loosely that it can cover virtually anything.

In his comments to reporters, Liang says Huawei does not act on behalf of China’s government in any international market. According to Reuters, he also denies that China’s laws require companies to “collect foreign intelligence for the government or plant back doors for the government.” Adding that Huawei is also committed to following the laws and regulations of every country where it does business.

​Independent business or state organ?

Despite the criticism, Huawei is doing lots of business. The company says it has signed 40 contracts to build 5G networks, more than 20 of which are in Europe. It has shipped 70,000 base stations for installation, all to locations outside of China. Base stations are a key component of the infrastructure that is needed to build up the new network.

Huawei spokesperson Joe Kelly says that maintaining the trust of its customers is key to the company’s continued success.

“Today, with 4 billion people around the world (using our products), at the scale at which we operate, if we were installing back doors and taking data, our carriers would be aware, they would see it for themselves and then they would stop doing business with us,” he said.

In the 5G debate, Huawei has voiced its willingness to stake the company’s continued success on its commitment to security.

Company founder Ren Zhengfei has said that Huawei has never been asked to spy by any country and that the business would be shut down if it was forced to engage in spying.

Joe Kelly repeated that pledge when VOA paid a recent visit to company headquarters.

“He would close the business down rather than compromise the security and safety of any customers’ data,” Kelly said.

In President Xi Jinping’s China, however, critics find such promises hard to believe. Since coming to power, Xi has stressed the party’s dominance over all aspects of society. Since coming to power there have been numerous examples of how Xi has no qualms in using the authoritarian country’s internal security apparatus and technology to silence any who would criticize or challenge him, including influential businessmen just for taking issue with his policies.

U.S. officials have suggested that if countries choose to trust Huawei for their 5G network, Washington may reassess sharing information with them.

The executive order that was signed by Trump on Wednesday not only paves the way for a formal ban on Huawei from building networks in the United States. According to the Commerce Department, Huawei and 70 other affiliates will be added to what is called an “Entity List,” which will make it more difficult for the company and other entities to buy parts and components from U.S. businesses.

​From Chinese tech start-up to global power

Ren Zhengfei, a former military engineer, founded Huawei in 1987 with five other investors in Shenzhen, with a little more than $5,000. Over the past five years, it has invested $60 billion in research and development, and that number is expected to continue to grow.

The company’s massive research and development campus in Dongguan, an industrial city north of Shenzhen, is a stunning visual example of the company’s rags to riches story.

The campus is modeled on a dozen European cities and even has its own train.

Last year, Huawei made more than $100 billion in revenues, and says it continued to grow in the first quarter of this year even as Washington tried to block it from markets globally.

For as much success as the company has had, the future looks even brighter with the promise of 5G technology.

Downside of 5G

5G will link people, homes, industry, cars and cities, offering connectivity that will create new jobs and business opportunities. With that will also come more ways that networks, data and security can be compromised.

The rollout of 3G and 4G mobile networks powered a generation of technology companies, and 5G is expected to be an even greater leap.

“Right now all types of human activities are moving online and after 5G comes what is even more worrisome than the commercial applications and sharing of personal information that will come with it, is that ubiquitously everything will be online,” said Karl Li, an electric engineering professor at Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University. Li was also the former head of cybersecurity at the National Center of High-Performance Computing.

Li said that while it may seem that the debate over Huawei is just about economic benefits and information security, it is much more than that.

“It is also an issue of national competition, it’s also an issue of national security,” he said. “A national security issue that has an implication on international relations as well.”

He adds that if all of the infrastructure and services for 5G networks were controlled by Huawei, the company would not only have complete access to any personal data, but also could instantly paralyze all kinds of systems and operations in a country.

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Consumers Start to Feel Pinch From US, China Trade Standoff

As the U.S. and China escalate their trade standoff, consumers in both countries are starting to see the impact. VOA’s Mykhailo Komadovsky reports from Washington.

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Alabama Passes Near Total Ban on Abortions

The U.S. state of Alabama has passed a law that criminalizes abortion in nearly all cases, including pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Tough abortion laws were earlier adopted in the states of Ohio, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi. A growing number of other states hostile to abortion could follow suit. The trend is raising fears that conservatives will seek to make abortion illegal across the country, forcing women to opt for unsafe methods to end unwanted pregnancies.

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Using Garbage to Rebuild Tired Soil

Soil gets tired as repeated farming slowly robs it of nutrients. In the past, farmers would be forced to keep their fields empty for a season while the soil recharged, or plant crops like peanuts that put nutrients back into the soil. But UK researchers are adding garbage to their dirt as a way to keep it healthy. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports that the project is important because so much of the world’s topsoil is degraded.

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Acting FAA Chief Defends Agency’s Safety Certification Process     

The acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration defended the way his agency certifies airline safety after two deadly crashes of the now-grounded Boeing 737 Max jet.

Daniel Elwell called the system in which FAA-approved employees at plane manufacturers inspect the aircraft they built themselves “a good system.”

But skeptical Democrats on the House Transportation Committee questioned the agency’s credibility.

They told Elwell that the closeness between Boeing and the FAA may be one of the reasons it took the agency a relatively long time to ground the Boeing jets.

“The public perception is you were in bed with those you were supposed to be regulating,” Nevada’s Dina Titus said, while committee chairman Peter DeFazio wanted to know “How can we have a single point of failure on a modern aircraft?”

A Boeing 737 Max crashed off the coast of Indonesia in October and another 737 Max crashed in Ethiopia in March, killing a total of 346 people.

Both planes were equipped with a system designed to push the nose downward to prevent a midair stall.

Faulty sensor readings kept pushing the planes down while the pilots struggled to regain control.

The pilots did not know the planes were equipped with the anti-stall system and their manuals had no explicit information.

Elwell defended the FAA’s approval of the system on the Boeing jets, but admitted the system should have been better explained in the pilots’ operational and flight manuals.

He also faulted Boeing for failing to inform airlines and the FAA that a light that is supposed to flash when there is a faulty reading from the sensors did not work.

But Elwell said pilot error may have also contributed to the Indonesian and Ethiopian disasters.

The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation of Boeing, and Congress is looking into the relationship between Boeing and federal regulators.

Boeing plans to submit changes to the 737 Max software to the FAA, which will study the new software and carry out tests flights. Boeing will train pilots before allowing the planes to fly again.

 

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Lawmakers Seek Probe on US Hacking Services Sold Globally

U.S. lawmakers are pushing legislation that would force the State Department to report what it is doing to control the spread of U.S. hacking tools around the world.

A bill passed in a House of Representatives’ appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday said Congress is “concerned” about the State Department’s ability to supervise U.S. companies that sell offensive cybersecurity products and know-how to other countries.

The proposed legislation, released on Wednesday, would direct the State Department to report to Congress how it decides whether to approve the sale of cyber capabilities abroad and to disclose any action it has taken to punish companies for violating its policies in the past year.

National security experts have grown increasingly concerned about the proliferation of U.S. hacking tools and technology.

The legislation follows a Reuters report in January which showed a U.S. defense contractor provided staff to a United Arab Emirates hacking unit called Project Raven. The UAE program utilized former U.S. intelligence operatives to target militants, human rights activists and journalists.

State Department officials granted permission to the U.S. contractor, Maryland-based CyberPoint International, to assist an Emirate intelligence agency in surveillance operations, but it is unclear how much they knew about its activities in the UAE.

Under U.S. law, companies selling cyber offensive products or services to foreign governments must first obtain permission from the State Department.The new measure was added to a State Department spending bill by Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat from Maryland and member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Ruppersberger said in an emailed statement he had been “particularly troubled by recent media reports” about the State Department’s approval process for the sale of cyberweapons and services.

CyberPoint’s Chief Executive Officer Karl Gumtow did not respond to a request for comment. He previously told Reuters that to his knowledge, CyberPoint employees never conducted hacking operations and always complied with U.S. laws.

The State Department has declined to comment on CyberPoint, but said in an emailed statement on Wednesday that it is “firmly committed to the robust and smart regulation of defense articles and services export” and before granting export licenses it weighs “political, military, economic, human rights, and arms control considerations.”

Robert Chesney, a national security law professor at the University of Texas, said the Reuters report raised an alarm over how Washington supervises the export of U.S. cyber capabilities.

“The Project Raven (story) perfectly well documents that there is reason to be concerned and it is Congress’ job to get to the bottom of it,” he said.

The bill is expected to be voted on by the full appropriations committee in the coming weeks before going onto the full House.

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Mobile App Promises to Detect Child’s Ear Infections Without Doctor Visit

A team at the University of Washington has invented a smartphone app that, when used with a paper funnel, is able to detect ear infections in children, helping parents decide whether a trip to the doctor is warranted.

The app, which was described in the journal Science Transnational Medicine on Wednesday, plays a sound akin to a bird chirp into a child’s ear canal via a simple funnel the parents put together.

It plays for 1.2 seconds and then uses the phone’s mic to listen in: If fluids or pus have accumulated behind the eardrum, in the middle ear, the sound pattern of the returned echo will indicate an infection.

“The way to think about it is almost like a wine glass,” said Shyam Gollakota, head of the lab that developed the project.

“And if you tap on the wine glass, you’re going to get a different sound depending on the level of liquid in the wine glass.”

It had a success rate of 85 percent when tested on around a hundred cases and, according to Gollakota, is more accurate than a visual inspection by a doctor.

If an infection is detected, parents will need to go to a doctor anyway for confirmation and to get a prescription. 

Gollakota likened its utility to that of a thermometer, which helps people decide whether a visit to a doctor is appropriate.

Other apps

The ear infection app is just one of several ideas being developed by the lab at the intersection of mobile technology and health.

The goal is to resolve some of the biggest health issues that people face today at lower costs.

Gollakota’s team has also built another application to detect sleep apnea, and another that warns the relatives or friends of a person taking opioids if they appear to be overdosing.

He hopes to obtain regulatory approval for the ear infection app by the end of the year and have it available in the market by early 2020.

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Costs Mounting in US From Trump’s Tariff Fight With China   

The costs seem to be mounting in the U.S. from President Donald Trump’s tit-for-tat trade tariff war with China, both for farmers whose sales of crops to China have been cut and U.S. consumers paying higher prices for imported Chinese products.

The government said Wednesday that to date it has paid out more than $8.5 billion to American farmers to offset their loss of sales to China and other trading partners because of foreign tariffs imposed by Beijing and other governments.​

​WATCH: Consumers Start to Feel Pinch From US, China Trade Standoff

Trump last year pledged up to $12 billion in aid to farmers — chiefly soybean, wheat and corn growers, and those who raise pigs. Trump says he could ask Congress for another $15 billion if U.S. farmers continue to be hurt by China’s tariffs of as much as 25%  on U.S. agricultural imports.

The U.S. had been shipping $12 billion worth of soybeans a year to China, but Beijing’s imposition of the tariff severely cut down on the U.S. exports as China bought the beans from other countries.

Trump said Tuesday on Twitter, “Our great Patriot Farmers will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of what is happening now. Hopefully China will do us the honor of continuing to buy our great farm product, the best, but if not your Country will be making up the difference based on a very high China buy. This money will come from the massive Tariffs being paid to the United States for allowing China, and others, to do business with us. The Farmers have been ‘forgotten’ for many years. Their time is now!”

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow acknowledged to a television interviewer last weekend that “to some extent” U.S. consumers will bear the brunt of higher costs on Chinese goods after Trump’s tariffs have been levied on the imported goods.

Trade Partnership Worldwide, a Washington economic consulting firm, estimates in a new study the typical American family of four people would pay $2,300 more annually for goods and services if Trump imposes a 25% tariff on all Chinese imports, as he says he is considering.

Such higher tariffs would hit an array of Chinese-produced consumer goods — clothing, children’s toys, sports equipment, shoes and consumer electronics — that are widely bought by Americans.

If that does not happen, but the existing U.S. tariffs remain in place, the research group says the average U.S. family would pay $770 in higher costs each year.

The U.S. imported almost $540 billion in Chinese goods in 2018, while the U.S. exported $120 billion, a trade imbalance that Trump is seeking to even out with imposition of the tariffs. The U.S. exported almost $59 billion in services to China, while importing only $18 billion, but services are not directly affected by tariffs.

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