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DeSantis presses Biden to help keep internet flowing in Cuba

Associated Press

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DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other officials pressed the White House on Thursday to support efforts to preserve internet service to antigovernment protesters in Cuba, even advocating the use of giant balloons as floating Wi-Fi hotspots to allow images of dissent to stream unabated from the authoritarian nation.

Cuban authorities blocked social media sites in an apparent effort to stop the flow of information into, out of and within the country after thousands of Cubans began taking to the streets last weekend to protest limited access to COVID-19 vaccines and basic goods. The country is going through its worst economic crisis in decades.

“We obviously have to stand with the people of Cuba against the communist dictatorship,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Miami, adding that restoring access to the internet is vital to supporting the people of Cuba.

President Joe Biden responded later Thursday by denouncing communism and saying his administration is assessing whether it has the technology to maintain internet access for Cubans.

Internet access was restored in Cuba earlier this week, but, as of Thursday, cellphone data was still not fully restored.

The protests in the island nation have sparked an outpouring of support in Florida, which is home to the nation’s largest community of Cuban exiles. Throngs of people in Miami, Orlando and the Tampa area have rallied in support, sometimes shutting down major thoroughfares.

DeSantis said every option should be explored, including using offshore and satellite technology to supply internet service. One option being considered is using balloons to provide connectivity. The Republican governor also suggested using the U.S. Embassy in Havana as a kind of hotspot.

“The one thing that communist regimes fear the most is the truth. And if we’re able to help Cubans communicate with one another — also communicate to the outside world — that truth is going to matter,” DeSantis said. “And so, Mr. President, now’s the time to stand up and be counted.”

It’s unclear how the U.S. government or any other entity, public or private, might keep internet service uninterrupted.

“We need the political willingness from the Biden administration,” said Republican U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, whose parents were Cuban exiles. “And if the federal government considers that they cannot pay for the resources, the Cuban American community will.”

On Thursday evening, Biden denounced Cuba as a “failed state” that is “repressing their citizens” and called communism “a universally failed system” during a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Biden said that the U.S. is considering ways to help Cubans — as long as that aid is not undermined by the communist government.

Dulce Diaz, center, and her brother Carlos Diaz, left, demonstrate, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, as people rallied in support of antigovernment demonstrations in Cuba. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Biden said the administration won’t ease a ban on remittances to Cubans because they believe “it is highly likely the regime would confiscate” them, and that while the U.S. is prepared to send “significant amounts” of a COVID-19 vaccine to the country, they’d have to be administered by an international organization in such a way that average citizens could get them.

“They’ve cut off access to the internet — we’re considering whether we have the technological ability to reinstate that access,” Biden said.

Meanwhile, demonstrations in Florida continued for another day. Hundreds were gathering in Hialeah near Miami to show solidarity with Cubans.

Earlier in the week, two Florida men were arrested during a protest in Tampa in support of the demonstrations and were held on charges related to the state’s new so-called anti-riot law.

Julian Rodriguez-Rodriguez, 30, Maikel Vazquez-Pico, 39, were among those arrested Tuesday night as a group of protesters attempted to take over an exit ramp at Interstate 275 and Dale Mabry Highway, which is a major thoroughfare in Tampa.

Both were arrested on charges that include battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting law enforcement and taking part in an unlawful assembly that blocked streets or sidewalks, records show.

Rodriguez-Rodriguez put an officer into a bear hug as the officer was trying to arrest another protester, according to an arrest report. He then punched an officer in the face, breaking his glasses as the officer tried to arrest him, the report said. He continued to resist arrest until he was placed in handcuffs.

The men were being held without bond in the Hillsborough County Jail early Thursday. It was not immediately clear whether either had an attorney who could comment.

Earlier this year, DeSantis signed into law a Florida bill that boosts penalties against demonstrators who turn violent and creates new criminal penalties for those who organize demonstrations that get out of hand. Provisions of the law also make it a felony to block some roadways and give immunity to people who drive through protesters blocking a road.

The bill was introduced after last summer’s protests for racial justice during which some Black Lives Matter protesters were met by police with tear gas and arrests when they took to the streets for days at a time.

During his Thursday press conference, DeSantis again sought to differentiate recent protests over Cuba from those last year.

“Cuban Americans who are out demonstrating,” he said, “they’re not violent riots. They’re out there being peaceful and they’re making their voices heard, and we support them.”

But he said demonstrators should not be shutting down roads that could impede traffic and commerce.


Calvan reported from St. Petersburg, Florida. Frisaro reported from Fort Lauderdale. Associated Press writer Alexandra Jaffe in Washington contributed to this report.

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Didi pushes back on IPO rumors

Daryn Kara Ali

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Famous Beijing-based giant Didi denied any allegations of plans to go private in a bid to satisfy the Chinese government amidst latest regulations concerning users’ data security.  

After the Wall Street Journal released a report discussing the possibility of Didi going private, the ride-hailing app’s shares increased by approximately 50 percent in Thursday’s pre-market trade. 

The company has been targeted by Beijing regulators ever since it made its U.S. market debut about a month ago, followed by several U.S. senators asking its financial markets regulator to launch an investigation concerning the company’s Chinese share listings. 

In a statement that came as a reaction to the report, Didi debunked any allegations of going private as it currently switching it focus to cybersecurity. 

“The rumors about the privatization of Didi are untrue, and the company is currently actively cooperating with cybersecurity reviews,” Didi said on Chinese social media platform Weibo.  

Two days after the Beijing-based firm began trading shares on New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the Beijing cyberspace supervisory authority ordered Chinese online stores to remove Didi from their app stores under the pretense that it is illegally collecting users’ personal data. 

The Chinese authorities’ move influenced the firm’s market value, leading to a sharp drop by around a third ever since Didi raised its initial public offering (IPO) to $4.4 billion a month ago. 

Since Didi’s released its IPO on NYSE at the end of June, the Chinese driver service broker’s shares fell drastically in value.  

On Thursday, Didi shares finished its U.S. trading day with a rise of 11.3 percent.  

Didi, alongside many Chinese Big Tech companies such as Alibaba and ByteDance have been under the Chinese government’s scrutiny regarding their behavior of monopolizing the market to their benefit.  

This led to some of the firms’ largest share prices slump in the U.S., Hong Kong, and mainland China’s trading market as China puts the industry under tough scrutiny. 

In parallel, Didi follows a comparable business model to its American competitor Ube. The Chinese app had already conquered Uber in a vicious price war in its home market. 

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Google is battling against a $1 billion legal claim

Rim Zrein

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$1 billion

Google is charging people for their digital purchases in its Play Store through an “unfair and excessive” manner, according to a new legal lawsuit filed against the tech giant. 

On behalf of 19.5 million Android phone users in the UK, the legal action is seeking up to $1 billion from Google. 

The lawsuit has been filed with the Competition Appeal Tribunal in London by former Citizens Advice digital policy manager Liz Coll, who’s claiming that the 30 percent cut Google takes from digital purchases on its app store is unjust. 

“Google created the Android app marketplace and controls it with a vice-like grip,” Coll said, explaining that Google has went against UK and European competition law. 

In response, Google defended its case by issuing a statement saying that “Android gives people more choice than any other mobile platform in deciding which apps and app stores they use, in fact most Android phones come preloaded with more than one app store.” 

“We compete vigorously and fairly for developers and consumers,” Google noted, mentioning that 97 percent of developers on Google Play don’t pay any service fee at all, which means their apps are free to consumers.  

“Less than 0.1 percent of developers are subject to a 30 percent service fee and only when they’re earning over one million dollars, that fee is comparable with our competitors and allows us to constantly reinvest in building a secure, thriving platform that benefits everyone who uses it,” Google highlighted. 

The trillion-dollar tech giant recently decreased its service charge to 15 percent for all app creators making less than $1 million, with only a small group of the most valuable app developers paying 30 percent. 

According to Google, the charge allows the company to “constantly reinvest in building a secure, thriving platform that benefits everyone who uses it.” 

The $1 billion lawsuit is the latest incident in an ongoing battle with both Apple and Google, as they’re currently under intense scrutiny following Epic Games’ legal action. 

Epic argued that the Play Store and Apple’s app store policies and management were against producing fruitful competition, as the American video game and software developer described the two tech giants as “monopolistic.” 

For the past years, major tech firms have been in hot water over anti-trust and monopoly charges. 

In 2020, ten U.S. states led by Texas, brought legal action against Google over its ad revenue practices, accusing Google with illegally collaborating with the popular social network Facebook. 

“As internal Google documents reveal, Google sought to kill competition and has done so through an array of exclusionary tactics, including an unlawful agreement with Facebook, its largest potential competitive threat,” the lawsuit stated. 

“This Goliath of a company is using its power to manipulate the market, destroy competition, and harm you, the consumer,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said regarding Google through a video released on Twitter. 

The key question many analysts have been asking is to what extent Google should be given the freedom to charge its services as it sees fit, no matter what the cost is to other developers. 

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Rick rolls past a billion views on YouTube

Rim Zrein

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Rick Rolls

When it comes to famous memes from the 2000s, millennials are just never going to give them up. 

Anyone who was active on the internet since 2009 surely stumbled upon Rick Astley’s music hit “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Almost 12 years later, and the music video has exceeded one billion views on YouTube on Wednesday. 

For the Generation Z who weren’t surfing the web at that time, the video itself started off as an internet meme under the name “Rick Roll,” which is the most famous prank in the internet’s history. 

The prank consisted of luring people to click on a hyperlink that claims to be one thing but turns out to be the red-haired iconic singer’s video “Never Gonna Give You Up.” 

The British singer cannot deny the impact the meme had on his music video. According to YouTube, on April Fool’s Day this year, the “Rick roll” generated 2.3 million views. 

Following Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” A-ha’s “Take on Me,” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Rick Astley’s song is the fourth in line to join the 80’s hits on YouTube. 

The 55-year-old singer celebrated the achievement on Twitter, saying in a video “So I’ve just been told that ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ has been streamed a billion times on YouTube. That is mind-blowing. The world is a wonderful and beautiful place, and I am very lucky.” 

To celebrate the huge milestone, 2,500 copies of the 7-inch blue vinyl of Astley’s popular song were released. Exclusively signed by the singer himself, the $17 vinyl completely sold out, according to Astley’s official website. 

In the past, the singer voiced his perspective on the “Rick roll” meme, saying that he’s completely fine with it. 

In a 2008 interview with the L.A. Times, the famous meme figure in every millennial’s childhood said “I think it’s just one of those odd things where something gets picked up and people run with it. That’s what’s brilliant about the internet.” 

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