Amazon Says Email to Employees Banning TikTok Was a Mistake 

Roughly five hours after an internal email went out to employees telling them to delete the popular video app TikTok from their phones, Amazon appeared to backtrack, calling the ban a mistake. “This morning’s email to some of our employees was sent in error. There is no change to our policies right now with regard to TikTok,” Amazon emailed reporters just before 5 p.m. Eastern time. Spokeswoman Jaci Anderson declined to answer questions about what happened. The initial internal email, which was disseminated widely online, told employees to delete TikTok, a video app increasingly popular with young people but also the focus of intensifying national-security and geopolitical concerns because of its Chinese ownership. The email cited “security risks” of the app.  An Amazon employee who confirmed receipt of the initial email but was not authorized to speak publicly had not seen a retraction at the time of Amazon’s backtrack.  Amazon is the second-largest U.S. private employer after Walmart, with more than 840,000 employees worldwide, and moving against TikTok would have escalated pressure on the app. It is banned on employee phones by the U.S. military and the company is subject to a national-security review of its merger history. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week that the government was “certainly looking” at banning the app.  FILE – This Feb. 25, 2020, file photo, shows the icon for TikTok in New York.Chinese internet giant ByteDance owns TikTok, which is designed for users outside of China; it also makes a Chinese version called Douyin. Like YouTube, TikTok relies on its users for the videos that populate its app. It has a reputation for fun, goofy videos and is popular with young people, including millions of American users. But it has racked up concerns such as censorship of videos, including those critical of the Chinese government; the threat of sharing user data with Chinese officials; and violating kids’ privacy. TikTok said earlier in the day that Amazon did not notify it before sending the initial email around midday Eastern. That email read, “The TikTok app is no longer permitted on mobile devices that access Amazon email.” To retain mobile access to company email, employees had to delete the TikTok app by the end of the day. “We still do not understand their concerns,” TikTok said at the time, adding that the company would welcome a dialogue to address Amazon’s issues. A spokeswoman did not immediately reply to a request for comment Friday evening. TikTok has been trying to appease critics in the U.S. and distance itself from its Chinese roots, but finds itself caught in an increasingly sticky geopolitical web. It recently named a new CEO, former Disney executive Kevin Mayer, which experts said could help it navigate U.S. regulators. And it is stopping operations in Hong Kong because of a new Chinese national security law that led Facebook, Google and Twitter to also stop providing user data to Hong Kong authorities.  Pompeo said the government remained concerned about TikTok and referred to the administration’s crackdown on Chinese telecom firms Huawei and ZTE. The government has tried to convince allies to root Huawei out of telecom networks, saying the company is a national-security threat, with mixed success; Trump has also said he was willing to use Huawei as a bargaining chip in trade talks. Huawei has denied that it enables spying for the Chinese government. “With respect to Chinese apps on people’s cell phones, I can assure you the United States will get this one right too,” Pompeo said, and added that if users downloaded the app their private information would be “in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.” A U.S. national-security agency has been reviewing ByteDance’s purchase of TikTok’s precursor, Musical.ly. Meanwhile, privacy groups say TikTok has been violating children’s privacy, even after the Federal Trade Commission fined the company in 2019 for collecting personal information from children without their parents’ consent. Amazon may have been concerned about a Chinese-owned app’s access to employee data, said Susan Ariel Aaronson, a professor at George Washington University and a data governance and national-security expert. China, according to the U.S. government, regularly steals U.S. intellectual property. Part of Amazon’s motivation with the ban, now apparently reversed, may also have been political, Aaronson said, since Amazon “doesn’t want to alienate the Trump administration.” Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos, are frequent targets of President Donald Trump. Bezos personally owns The Washington Post, which Trump has referred to as “fake news” whenever it publishes unfavorable stories about him. Last year, Amazon sued the U.S. government, saying that Trump’s “personal vendetta” against Amazon, Bezos and the Post, led it to lose a $10 billion cloud computing contract with the Pentagon to rival Microsoft. Meanwhile, federal regulators as well as Congress are pursuing antitrust investigations at Amazon as well as other tech giants. TikTok has content-moderation policies, like any social network, but says its moderation team for the U.S. is led out of California and it doesn’t censor videos based on topics sensitive to China and would not, even if the Chinese government asked it to. As for sharing U.S. user data with the Chinese government, the company says it stores U.S. user data in the U.S. and Singapore, not China; that its data centers are outside of China; and it would not give the government access to U.S. user data even if asked. Concerns about China are not limited to the U.S. India this month banned dozens of Chinese apps, including TikTok, because of tensions between the countries. India cited privacy concerns that threatened India’s sovereignty and security for the ban. India is one of TikTok’s largest markets and had previously briefly banned the app in 2019 because of worries about children and sexual content.   

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Memo: Amazon.com Bans TikTok from Employees’ Phones, Cites ‘Security Risks’

Amazon.com Inc has requested employees remove the TikTok video sharing app from their mobile devices by July 10 over “security risks,” according to a memo to employees seen by Reuters. “Due to security risk, the TikTok app is no longer permitted on mobile devices that access Amazon email. If you have TikTok on your device, you must remove it by 10-Jul to retain mobile access to Amazon email. At this time, using TikTok from your Amazon laptop browser is allowed,” according to the email. Amazon.com representatives did not immediately return requests for comment. “While Amazon did not communicate to us before sending their email, and we still do not understand their concerns, we welcome a dialog so we can address any issues they may have and enable their team to continue participating in our community,” TikTok responded in a statement. Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok, among the fastest growing digital platforms in history, is facing heavy scrutiny outside China. India banned TikTok and other Chinese apps in June. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier this week Washington was considering banning TikTok in the United States. Asked if Americans should download it, he told Fox News: “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.” Two Republican senators in March introduced a bill aimed at banning federal employees from using TikTok on their government-issued phones, amid growing national security concerns around the collection and sharing of data on U.S. users with China’s government. Last year the United States Navy banned TikTok from government-issued mobile devices, saying the short video app represented a “cybersecurity threat.” Last November, the U.S. government launched a national security review of TikTok owner Beijing ByteDance Technology Co’s $1 billion acquisition of U.S. social media app Musical.ly, Reuters first reported last year.  

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Comet Streaking Past Earth, Providing Spectacular Show

A newly discovered comet is streaking past Earth, providing a stunning nighttime show after buzzing the sun and expanding its tail.  Comet Neowise swept within Mercury’s orbit a week ago. Its close proximity to the sun caused dust and gas to burn off its surface and create an even bigger debris tail. Now the comet is headed our way, with closest approach in two weeks. NASA’s Neowise infrared space telescope discovered the comet in March. Scientists involved in the mission said the comet is about 3 miles (5 kilometers) across. Its nucleus is covered with sooty material dating back to the origin of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago. The comet will be visible around the world until mid-August, when it heads back toward the outer solar system. While it’s visible with the naked eye in dark skies with little or no light pollution, binoculars are needed to see the long tail, according to NASA.  Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have already caught a glimpse.  NASA’s Bob Behnken shared a spectacular photo of the comet on social media late Thursday, showing central Asia in the background and the space station in the foreground. “Stars, cities, spaceships, and a comet!” he tweeted from orbit. 
 

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Brazil to Ban Fires in Amazon for 120 Days

Brazil will ban fires in the Amazon forest for 120 days, heeding the demands of global investors upset over environmental destruction, the government said Thursday. A formal decree banning fires will come next week. Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourao made the announcement during a virtual investment conference Thursday with several European firms. He cited a letter signed by 29 firms — some of whom are threatening to cut all investment in Brazil unless the environmental degradation stops. “It’s a positive first step, and we need to continue the dialogue, and hopefully we’ll all see some results on the ground,” said Jeanett Bergan, head of responsible investments for KLP, Norway’s largest pension fund. The investors told Brazilian authorities they monitor deforestation rates, prevention of forest fires, and enforcement of Brazil’s forest code when assessing their investment strategy in Brazil. FILE – Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro leaves his official residence of Alvorada palace in Brasilia, May 25, 2020.Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, has come under global condemnation for his promise to open the vast Amazon rainforest to development and his opposition to assuring that some parts are reserved for Indigenous peoples. Environmentalists say deforestation in the Amazon reached its highest levels in 11 years last year. Some European Union nations threatened not to ratify a long-negotiated free trade deal with a group of Latin countries that includes Brazil unless Brazil’s attitude changes. Mourao said Brazil has been unfairly criticized and said the Bolsonaro government was handed understaffed environmental agencies by the previous administration. Brazilian officials have said they are working to overcome Brazil’s current image as being indifferent to the Amazon and hostile to those who want to save it from destruction. 

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NASA Begins Summer Road Trip

NASA embarks on an epic summer road trip tens of millions of miles away. An astronaut who both walked on the moon and reached the deepest point on Earth shares her journey. And a “natural firework” of a comet streaks the French skies. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi brings us The Week in Space.

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Study Finds Rats, Like Humans, Less Likely to Offer Help When in a Group

A new study using rats suggests that how a person decides whether to step in and help another person who is in distress may be more a factor of biology than psychology and may show why some people show empathy and others do not.A long-held social-psychological concept holds that people in a group are less likely to help someone in need than if those individuals were alone. The idea, known as “the bystander effect,” is often explained by suggesting a larger group “diffuses responsibility.” In other words, an individual might feel less personally responsible for helping.But the study, conducted at the University of Chicago and published Wednesday in the Journal of Science Advances, shows rats, making decisions based purely on biological instincts and not any concept of right or wrong, reacted in a similar way while part of a group.Led by neurobiologist Peggy Mason, the researchers used a small device to restrain a single rat. They then created a group of rats categorized as “bystanders,” giving them an anti-anxiety drug, similar to Valium, to ensure that these rats would not help the one in distress. The goal was to see if a nondrugged rat would still jump in and help the rat in distress, despite guaranteed inactive bystanders.The experiment revealed that when “bystanders” were unhelpful, the nondrugged rats were less likely to help the restrained rat.Mason maintained this showed that the tendency is not a human cultural phenomenon. “This is part of our mammalian inheritance,” she said.   Mason noted that when the “bystander” rats were tested alone and without drugs, they offered aid. “It’s the indifference of these other rats that changes the experience for them,” she added.

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China’s Rival to GPS Navigation Carries Big Risks

After more than 20 years of effort, China completed its satellite navigation system last Tuesday when the last of BeiDou’s 35 satellites reached geostationary orbit.China’s domestically developed BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, designed to rival the U.S.-owned Global Positioning System (GPS), is now offering worldwide coverage, allowing global users to access its high-accuracy positioning, navigation and timing services, which are vital to the modern economy.China’s state media claims the system, formally initiated in 1994, is now being used by more than half of the world’s countries, and that its navigation products have been exported to more than 120 countries.FILE – A GPS station is seen in the Inyo Mountains of California. (Shawn Lawrence/UNAVCO)Like GPS, the services are offered free of charge using public protocols. But technical experts say the differences between the two systems have profound security implications.Security risksAll other global navigation satellite systems — GPS, GLONASS (Russia) and Galileo (EU) — mainly act as beacons, beaming out signals picked up by billions of devices using them to determine their precise position on Earth.BeiDou is a two-way communication system, allowing it to identify the locations of receivers. BeiDou-compatible devices can transmit data back to the satellites, even in text messages of up to 1,200 Chinese characters.”In layman’s terms, you can not only know where you are through BeiDou but also tell others where you are through the system,” China’s state broadcaster CCTV said last month.Such a capability has raised serious security concerns. “All cellular devices, as I understand their function, can be tracked because they continually communicate with towers or satellites,” Dr. Larry Wortzel, a commissioner of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), told VOA.”So just as here in the U.S., there are concerns that police or federal agencies can track people by their cellphones. That can happen. The same is true of a cellphone relying on BeiDou, Glonass and Galileo. The question is: Who are you concerned about being tracked by?”FILE – A Long March-3B rocket carrying the Beidou-3 satellite, the last satellite of China’s Beidou Navigation Satellite System, takes off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province, China, June 23, 2020.Legislation passed in Taiwan in 2016 also noted that two-way communication capabilities could be used in cyberattacks. It recommended that government employees should avoid using smartphones that rely on BeiDou for their phone navigation system.In a public report, Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology said that Taiwanese using mobile phones made in the mainland might be providing Beijing with information via embedded malware. “Because the Chinese BeiDou satellite positioning system has two-way information sending and receiving function and malicious programs could be hidden in the navigation chip of the mobile phone, operating system or apps, the use of BeiDou-enabled smartphones could face security risks,” the report stated.The ministry recommended that national defense agencies monitor signals transmitted by BeiDou and warn of any anomalies as soon as possible.A Staff members walk at Xichang Satellite Launch Center, the day before the Beidou-3 satellite, the last satellite of China’s Beidou Navigation Satellite System, was set to launch, in Sichuan province, China, June 15, 2020.Almost 25 years later, BeiDou is now trying to rival GPS’s dominant positions. It has overtaken its U.S. rival in size. At the end of June, there were 35 BeiDou satellites in operation, compared with 31 for GPS.”It brings full autonomy to China in matters of position and navigation services for ground, sea and air transportation means on a global scale,” said Dr. Emmanuel Meneut in a recent report published by a French think tank, the Institute of International Relations.According to a report released last month by a Chinese research firm Qianxun SI, BeiDou’s satellites were observed more frequently than GPS satellites in most parts of the world. The state media Xinhua reported last Friday that BeiDou now has 500 million subscribers for its high-precision positioning services.As an integral part of everyday life, GPS is nearly ubiquitous in the modern economy. The system is also an indispensable asset to U.S. forces at home and deployed around the globe. It provides a substantial military advantage and has been integrated into virtually every facet of military operations. Being overtaken by BeiDou could have potentially enormous implications for both high-tech industry and national security.To promote greater use of the technology, China has sought to incentivize other countries with loans and free services. Beijing signed a roughly 2 billion yuan ($297 million) agreement with Thailand in 2013, making the country the first overseas client of BeiDou. According to a report released last month by a Shanghai-based market research firm, SWS Research, by the end of 2020, at least 1,000 base stations will be built in the 10 ASEAN countries.”Widespread integration of BeiDou across the Belt and Road [a global development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013] will ostensibly end a member nation’s reliance on the American military-run GPS network,” Heath Sloane, a scholar at the Yenching Academy of Peking University, wrote in The Diplomat in April. “Torn between rival networks, the world may soon be bifurcated into GPS or BeiDou camps.”FILE – A GPS navigation device is held by a U.S. soldier in Kuwait, in this image taken from video.Ironically, the American military says it sometimes uses BeiDou as a backup to GPS.According to General James Holmes, the head of the U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command, pilots of the elite U-2 spy plane wear watches that receive satellite navigation coordinates from BeiDou when GPS is jammed. “My U-2 guys fly with a watch now that ties into GPS, but also BeiDou and the Russian [GLONASS] system and the European [Galileo] system so that if somebody jams GPS, they still get the others,” Holmes said March 4 at the McAleese Defense Programs Conference in Washington.While China’s 5G networking technology has long been considered a security threat, BeiDou receives little criticism from the U.S. Moreover, the system received much-needed help from Washington in 2017.  As Beijing was rapidly developing the system, it faced a problem that only the U.S. could solve: No frequency bands were available.Under the “first come, first served” principle, GPS had occupied most of the spectrum that a global positioning system needs, since the U.S. was the first nation to start broadcasting in those frequencies.China had to obtain permission from Washington before using this limited resource. After three years of negotiations, the two countries agreed in December 2017 to allow BeiDou’s civil signals to be interoperable with GPS. As a result, the three frequency bands that BeiDou satellites use to transmit navigation signals are located adjacent to or even inside GPS frequency bands.’Biggest’ aerospace projectOfficially started in 1994, BeiDou is consistently referenced as “the biggest” aerospace program that China ever undertaken. For the past 2½ years alone, there have been more than 300,000 scientists and engineers from more than 400 research institutions and corporations involved in the program. Along with 5G, BeiDou is called by Beijing “The Two Pillars of a Great Power.”Yang Changfeng, a chief designer of BeiDou, told China’s state broadcaster CCTV last month that China was now “moving from being a major nation in space to becoming a true space power.””The rise of the Chinese GPS BeiDou system is not simply one more positioning service in competition with the U.S. One is a strategic challenge,” Meneut said.

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Facebook Removes False Accounts Linked to Brazil’s Bolsonaro

Social media giant Facebook said Wednesday that it had removed dozens of accounts linked to supporters or employees of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro as part of an investigation into the spread of false news online.Nathaniel Gleicher, the company’s head of cybersecurity policy, said in a statement that 73 Facebook and Instagram accounts, 14 pages and one group had been removed. Brazilian courts have been investigating the spread of false news in connection with Bolsonaro.There was no immediate comment from the presidential office about Facebook’s action.Facebook’s executive said the accounts were linked to the Social Liberal Party, which Bolsonaro left last year after winning the 2018 presidential election, and to employees of the president; two of his sons, Senator Flávio Bolsonaro and congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro; and two other lawmakers.”This network consisted of several clusters of connected activity that relied on a combination of duplicate and fake accounts — some of which had been detected and disabled by our automated systems — to evade enforcement, create fictitious personas posing as reporters, post content, and manage pages masquerading as news outlets,” Gleicher said in the statement.He added that some of the content posted by the accounts had already been taken down for community standards violations, including hate speech.Gleicher said about 883,000 accounts followed one or more of the Bolsonaro linked pages and an additional 917,000 followed one of more of the Instagram accounts that were removed.

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Researchers Say Climate Change Causing Arctic Spider Population Boom

A new study suggests earlier Arctic springs driven by climate change are providing wolf spiders in the region the opportunity to have more babies. The study, published in the June 24 edition of the biological sciences journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that Arctic wolf spiders are taking advantage of the early spring season by producing more batches of offspring — called clutches — because warmer temperatures extend the season when the spiders are active. Authors of the study, from the Arctic Research Center at Denmark’s Aarhus University, dissected individual egg sacs from the spiders and counted the number of eggs and partially developed juvenile spiders. They compared those egg contents with the size of the mothers and determined that the spiders were producing two separate clutches, something previously only observed in spiders living in lower latitudes. The spiders hatched during the second clutch appeared significantly later in the season. In years when the snowmelt happened earlier, the first clutches occurred earlier, and the second clutches were larger, the study shows. The study provides the first evidence of invertebrates in the Arctic producing additional clutches as a result of global warming. The researchers say this could be a “common but overlooked phenomenon due to the challenges associated with long-term collection of life-history data in the Arctic.”  Researchers say that this effect could also have implications for Arctic ecosystems as a whole because wolf spiders are widely distributed. 
 

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After US Departure, WHO Looking at Germany    

In the wake of America’s official departure from the World Health Organization, a former senior director at the U.N. health agency predicted that other countries, particularly Germany, would likely step in to fill any void left by the single-biggest financial contributor.   At a briefing on Wednesday morning, Dr. David Heymann, a former assistant WHO director-general and an American, said he was “very disappointed” at the U.S. decision to exit the agency.   He says the U.S. has been behind incredibly important activities at WHO, noting it was the U.S. and its Cold War enemy Russia that spearheaded the global initiative to eradicate smallpox.   Heymann said, however, that WHO would likely just get on with its work.   He says Germany has become an important partner in global health recently and other countries are stepping up as well.   He says: “As much as it would be terrible if the U.S. leaves WHO and leaves [with] that expertise it has provided throughout the years, the WHO would continue to function.”   FILE – World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference organized by Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus.WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had also been scheduled to appear at the briefing, but pulled out moments before it began. Heymann dismissed the idea that Tedros was unwilling to face questions over the U.S. departure. 

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