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Huawei executive returns as China releases 2 Canadians

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Huawei executive returns as China releases 2 Canadians

An executive of Chinese global communications giant Huawei Technologies returned from Canada Saturday night following a legal settlement that also saw the release of two Canadians held by China, potentially bringing closure to a nearly 3-year-long feud embroiling Ottawa, Beijing and Washington.

Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of the company’s founder, arrived Saturday evening aboard a chartered jet provided by flag carrier Air China in the southern technology hub of Shenzhen, where Huawei is based.

Her return, met with a flag-waving group of airline employees, was carried live on state TV, underscoring the degree to which Beijing has linked her case with Chinese nationalism and its rise as a global economic and political power.

Wearing a red dress matching the color of China’s flag, Meng thanked the ruling Communist Party and its leader Xi Jinping for supporting her through more than 1,000 days in house arrest in Vancouver, where she owns two multimillion dollar mansions.

“I have finally returned to the warm embrace of the motherland,” Meng said. “As an ordinary Chinese citizen going through this difficult time, I always felt the warmth and concern of the party, the nation and the people.”

On the same day, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor were freed and flown back to Canada. They were detained shortly after Canada arrested Meng on a U.S. extradition request in December 2018. Many countries labeled China’s action “hostage politics,” while China accused Ottawa of arbitrary detention.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hugged the pair on the tarmac after they landed in Calgary, Alberta early Saturday, following what amounted to a high-stakes prisoner swap involving China, the U.S. and Canada.

“These two men have been through an unbelievably difficult ordeal. For the past 1,000 days, they have shown strength, perseverance and grace and we are all inspired by that,” Trudeau said earlier Friday.

Meng, 49, reached an agreement with U.S. federal prosecutors that called for fraud charges against her to be dismissed next year. As part of the deal, known as a deferred prosecution agreement, she accepted responsibility for misrepresenting the company’s business dealings in Iran.

Shortly before her return, the Communist Party’s flagship People’s Daily newspaper declared the resolution of the case as a “glorious victory for the Chinese people” achieved through the “unremitting efforts of the Chinese government.”

“The evidence shows this was purely a case of the political persecution of a Chinese citizen with the purpose of suppressing China’s technological advancement,” the paper said. “No force can block China’s forward progress,” it added.

In an emailed statement, Huawei said it would continue to defend itself against the allegations. The company also sent a statement from Meng’s lawyer, William W. Taylor III, saying she had “not pleaded guilty and we fully expect the indictment will be dismissed with prejudice after 14 months.”

The case had caused a huge rift in China-Canada relations, with Beijing launching regular broadsides against the Canadian justice system and banning some imports from the country. In addition, two Canadians convicted in separate drug cases in China were sentenced to death in 2019. A third, Robert Schellenberg, received a 15-year sentence that was abruptly increased to the death penalty after Meng’s arrest. It wasn’t immediately clear if those prisoners might receive any reprieve.

In Shenzhen, a 20-year old job seeker at the headquarters of Huawei repeated a government view that Meng’s arrest was driven by politics and rivalry with the U.S. over technology and global influence.

“I think (this) was to stop Huawei’s development in the world,” said the man, who gave only his surname, Wang, as is common among citizens speaking to foreign media in China, where the government closely monitors all speech. “It’s a very important reason — nobody wants other countries to have better technology than itself.”

Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies and a symbol of China’s progress in becoming a technological world power that has received massive government backing. It has also been a subject of U.S. security and law enforcement concerns, with officials and analysts saying it and other Chinese companies have flouted international rules and norms and stolen technology and vital personal information.

The case against Meng stemmed from a January 2019 indictment from the Justice Department under the administration of former President Donald Trump. It accused Huawei of stealing trade secrets and using a Hong Kong shell company called Skycom to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. The indictment also charged Meng herself with committing fraud by misleading the HSBC bank about the company’s business dealings in Iran.

The indictment came amid a broader Trump administration crackdown against Huawei over U.S. government concerns that the company’s products could facilitate Chinese spying. The administration cut off Huawei’s access to U.S. components and technology, including Google’s music and other smartphone services, and later barred vendors worldwide from using U.S. technology to produce components for Huawei.

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has kept up a hard line on Huawei and other Chinese corporations whose technology is thought to pose national security risks.

Huawei has repeatedly denied the U.S. government’s allegations and security concerns about its products.

As part of the deal with Meng, which was disclosed in federal court in Brooklyn, the Justice Department agreed to dismiss the fraud charges against her in December 2022 — exactly four years after her arrest — provided that she complies with certain conditions, including not contesting any of the government’s factual allegations. The Justice Department also agreed to drop its request that Meng be extradited to the U.S., which she had vigorously challenged, ending a process that prosecutors said could have persisted for months.

After appearing via videoconference for her hearing with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Meng made a brief court appearance in Vancouver, where she’d been out on bail while the two Canadians were held in Chinese prison cells where the lights were kept on 24 hours a day.

Outside the courtroom, Meng thanked the Canadian government for upholding the rule of law, expressed gratitude to the Canadian people and apologized “for the inconvenience I caused.”

“Over the last three years my life has been turned upside down,” she said. “It was a disruptive time for me as a mother, a wife and as a company executive. But I believe every cloud has a silver lining. It really was an invaluable experience in my life. I will never forget all the good wishes I received.”

Video was also circulated online in China of Meng speaking at Vancouver International Airport, saying; “Thank you motherland, thank you to the people of the motherland. You have been my greatest pillar of support.”


As SHENZHEN, China (AP)

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Facebook dithered in curbing divisive user content in India

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Facebook dithered in curbing divisive user content in India

Facebook in India has been selective in curbing hate speech, misinformation and inflammatory posts, particularly anti-Muslim content, according to leaked documents obtained by The Associated Press, even as the internet giant’s own employees cast doubt over its motivations and interests.

Based on research produced as recently as March of this year to company memos that date back to 2019, internal company documents on India highlight Facebook’s constant struggles in quashing abusive content on its platforms in the world’s biggest democracy and the company’s largest growth market. Communal and religious tensions in India have a history of boiling over on social media and stoking violence.

The files show that Facebook has been aware of the problems for years, raising questions over whether it has done enough to address the issues. Many critics and digital experts say it has failed to do so, especially in cases where members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party are involved.

Across the world, Facebook has become increasingly important in politics, and India is no different.

Modi has been credited for leveraging the platform to his party’s advantage during elections, and reporting from The Wall Street Journal last year cast doubt over whether Facebook was selectively enforcing its policies on hate speech to avoid blowback from the BJP. Modi and Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg have exuded bonhomie, memorialized by a 2015 image of the two hugging at the Facebook headquarters.

The leaked documents include a trove of internal company reports on hate speech and misinformation in India that in some cases appeared to have been intensified by its own “recommended” feature and algorithms. They also include the company staffers’ concerns over the mishandling of these issues and their discontent over the viral “malcontent” on the platform.

According to the documents, Facebook saw India as one of the most “at risk countries” in the world and identified both Hindi and Bengali languages as priorities for “automation on violating hostile speech.” Yet, Facebook didn’t have enough local language moderators or content-flagging in place to stop misinformation that at times led to real-world violence.

In a statement to the AP, Facebook said it has “invested significantly in technology to find hate speech in various languages, including Hindi and Bengali” which “reduced the amount of hate speech that people see by half” in 2021.

“Hate speech against marginalized groups, including Muslims, is on the rise globally. So we are improving enforcement and are committed to updating our policies as hate speech evolves online,” a company spokesperson said.

This AP story, along with others being published, is based on disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen’s legal counsel. The redacted versions were obtained by a consortium of news organizations, including the AP.

Back in February 2019 and ahead of a general election when concerns of misinformation were running high, a Facebook employee wanted to understand what a new user in India saw on their news feed if all they did was follow pages and groups solely recommended by the platform itself.

The employee created a test user account and kept it live for three weeks, a period during which an extraordinary event shook India — a militant attack in disputed Kashmir had killed over 40 Indian soldiers, bringing the country close to war with rival Pakistan.

In the note, titled “An Indian Test User’s Descent into a Sea of Polarizing, Nationalistic Messages,” the employee whose name is redacted said they were “shocked” by the content flooding the news feed. The person described the content as having “become a near constant barrage of polarizing nationalist content, misinformation, and violence and gore.”

Seemingly benign and innocuous groups recommended by Facebook quickly morphed into something else altogether, where hate speech, unverified rumors and viral content ran rampant.

The recommended groups were inundated with fake news, anti-Pakistan rhetoric and Islamophobic content. Much of the content was extremely graphic.

One included a man holding the bloodied head of another man covered in a Pakistani flag, with an Indian flag partially covering it. Its “Popular Across Facebook” feature showed a slew of unverified content related to the retaliatory Indian strikes into Pakistan after the bombings, including an image of a napalm bomb from a video game clip debunked by one of Facebook’s fact-check partners.

“Following this test user’s News Feed, I’ve seen more images of dead people in the past three weeks than I’ve seen in my entire life total,” the researcher wrote.

The report sparked deep concerns over what such divisive content could lead to in the real world, where local news outlets at the time were reporting on Kashmiris being attacked in the fallout.

“Should we as a company have an extra responsibility for preventing integrity harms that result from recommended content?” the researcher asked in their conclusion.

The memo, circulated with other employees, did not answer that question. But it did expose how the platform’s own algorithms or default settings played a part in producing such objectionable content. The employee noted that there were clear “blind spots,” particularly in “local language content.” They said they hoped these findings would start conversations on how to avoid such “integrity harms,” especially for those who “differ significantly” from the typical U.S. user.

Even though the research was conducted during three weeks that weren’t an average representation, they acknowledged that it did show how such “unmoderated” and problematic content “could totally take over” during “a major crisis event.”

The Facebook spokesperson said the test study “inspired deeper, more rigorous analysis” of its recommendation systems and “contributed to product changes to improve them.”

“Separately, our work on curbing hate speech continues and we have further strengthened our hate classifiers, to include four Indian languages,” the spokesperson said.


NEW DELHI, India (AP)

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Microsoft and Etisalat coact to develop 5G enterprise

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Etisalat and Microsoft join forces to unleash its latest 5G enterprise by emerging Azure Multi-access Edge Compute, a power move to highlight the giant’s partnership with Emirate’s telco.

In a press release, Etisalat revealed that its recent collaboration with the Big Tech titan’s digital crime unit (DCU) will empower digital security in the Middle East to heighten security in the region against any cyber threats.

The union will harness both company’s capacities by partnering Etisalat Core Orchestration and Microsoft’s Azure ARM to develop a 5G driven edge computing plug-and-play framework for companies to leverage threat intelligence solutions.

“Azure MEC offers service providers and customers the same set of tools to build and manage their cloud infrastructure. Our customers can maximize their efforts by employing a ‘build once and deploy many’ strategy to optimize their investments,” regional director, Enterprise and Partner Group (EPG), Microsoft UAE, Naim Yazbeck, said in a statement.

Edge computing is a genre of computing created either on-site or in the vicinity of a specific data source, decreasing the necessity for data to be processed in a remote data center. The technology intends to optimize various industries, minimize latency, and support the complete hosting of applications to produce fast and safe 5G, Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI) applications.

“Etisalat Edge Computing solutions will help customers transform the way they operate, especially transportation, smart manufacturing, logistics, and Oil and Gas,” vice president Fixed and Mobile Core at Etisalat, Khaled Al Suwaidi, said in a statement.

“This drastically increases the value for traditional networks to transition into 5G to develop intelligent and autonomous next-generation technology that unlocks potential opportunities to our customers,” he added.

In reference to the press release, the partnership between the tech companies is an extension of last year’s promising collaboration.

Last year, Etisalat joined forces with the Big Tech mogul to create a public cloud-first plan via a digital transformation program that allowed the Emirati telco to develop a platform intertwined with automation and AI.   

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Facebook’s oversight board seeks details on VIPs’ treatment

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Facebook’s semi-independent oversight board says the company has fallen short of full disclosure on its internal system that exempts high-profile users from some or all of its content rules.

Facebook “has not been fully forthcoming” with the overseers about its “XCheck,” or cross-check, system the board said in a report Thursday. It also said it will review the system and recommend how the social network giant could change it.

The board started looking into the XCheck system last month after The Wall Street Journal reported that many VIP users abuse it, posting material that would cause ordinary users to be sanctioned — including for harassment and incitement of violence. For certain elite users, Facebook’s rules reportedly don’t seem to apply. There were at least 5.8 million exempted users as of last year, according to the Journal article.

Facebook is generally not bound under the oversight board’s rules to follow its recommendations.

“We believe the board’s work has been impactful, which is why we asked the board for input into our cross-check system, and we will strive to be clearer in our explanations to them going forward,” Facebook said in a statement Thursday.

The report said Facebook wrongly failed to mention the XCheck system when it asked the board earlier this year to rule on its ban on former President Donald Trump’s accounts following the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.

“Facebook only mentioned cross-check to the board when we asked whether Mr. Trump’s page or account had been subject to ordinary content-moderation processes,” the report said.

In May, the board upheld Facebook’s suspension of Trump’s accounts, which came out of concern that he incited violence leading to the Jan. 6 riot. But the overseers told Facebook to specify how long the suspension would last. Facebook later announced that Trump’s accounts would be suspended for two years, freezing his presence on the social network until early 2023, to be followed by a reassessment.

Trump announced Wednesday the launch of a new media company with its own social media platform. He said his goal is to create a rival to the Big Tech companies that have shut him out and denied him the megaphone that was paramount in his national rise.

Twitter, which was Trump’s platform of choice, banned him permanently after the Jan. 6 assault.

The oversight board said Thursday that for its review, Facebook agreed to provide the internal company documents on the XCheck system that were referenced in the Journal article. Facebook documents were leaked to the newspaper by Frances Haugen, a former product manager in the company’s civic integrity unit who also provided them to Congress and went public this month with a far-reaching condemnation of the company.

In a separate blog post, the board said Haugen has accepted its invitation for a meeting in coming weeks, to discuss her experiences “and gather information that can help push for greater transparency and accountability from Facebook through our case decisions and recommendations.”

Haugen’s accusations of possible serious harm to some young people from Facebook’s Instagram photo-sharing platform raised outrage among lawmakers and the public.

The board said in its report that in some cases, “Facebook failed to provide relevant information to the board, while in other instances, the information it did provide was incomplete.”

In a briefing to the board, “Facebook admitted it should not have said that (XCheck) only applied to a ‘small number of decisions,'” the report said. “Facebook noted that for teams operating at the scale of millions of content decisions a day, the numbers involved … seem relatively small, but recognized its phrasing could come across as misleading.”

Facebook created the oversight panel to rule on thorny content issues following widespread criticism of its problems responding swiftly and effectively to misinformation, hate speech and harmful influence campaigns. The board’s decisions have tended to favor free expression over the restriction of content. Its members include a former prime minister of Denmark and a former editor-in-chief of British newspaper the Guardian, along with legal scholars, human rights experts and journalists.

The board’s independence has been questioned by critics who say it’s a Facebook PR campaign intended to draw attention away from deeper problems of hate and misinformation that flourish on its platforms.


WASHINGTON (AP)

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