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US drops Trump order targeting TikTok, plans its own review

Associated Press

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The White House dropped Trump-era executive orders intended to ban the popular apps TikTok and WeChat and will conduct its own review aimed at identifying national security risks with software applications tied to China, officials said Wednesday.

A new executive order directs the Commerce Department to undertake what officials describe as an “evidence-based” analysis of transactions involving apps that are manufactured or supplied or controlled by China. Officials are particularly concerned about apps that collect users’ personal data or have connections to Chinese military or intelligence activities.

In revoking some of President Donald Trump’s blanket-style orders against Chinese tech companies and replacing them with a narrower approach, the Biden administration has not actually weighed in yet on whether TikTok and other apps pose a danger to Americans.

But a senior administration official said Wednesday that the Trump actions weren’t “always implemented in the soundest fashion” and the aim of the review is to set up clear criteria to evaluate specific data security and privacy risks for each app. He said that could lead to a range of potential future actions on an app-by-app basis.

“We want to take a tailored, tough approach here,” he said.

The department will also make recommendations on how to further protect Americans’ genetic and personal health information, and will address the risks of certain software apps connected to China or other adversaries, according to senior administration officials.

TikTok on Wednesday declined to comment. WeChat did not respond to a request for comment.

The Trump administration’s attempted bans didn’t hold up legally as courts blocked them, and also “ran up against this critique that they were mimicking China’s Great Firewall,” said Samm Sacks, a fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center. “What the Biden administration wants to do is maintain an open, secure internet that doesn’t take a page from Beijing’s playbook, while addressing legitimate risk.”

The Biden administration’s move reflects ongoing concern that Americans’ personal data could be exposed by popular apps tied to China, a chief U.S. economic and political rival. The White House and Congress have both taken action to address Beijing’s technological advancement.

The Biden administration last week expanded a Trump-era list of Chinese companies that Americans can’t invest in because of purported links to the Chinese military and surveillance. Companies on the list include China’s state-owned telecommunications companies, telecom equipment maker Huawei and Chinese oil company China National Offshore Oil Corp.

On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill that aims to boost U.S. semiconductor production and the development of artificial intelligence and other technology in the face of growing international competition. The bill would also ban the federal government’s use of Chinese-made drones.

The new executive order should lead to a framework for protecting Americans’ data from China, rather than targeting specific companies, and could pressure Congress to enact a data-security law in the years ahead, said Paul Triolo, a tech policy expert at the Eurasia Group consultancy.

Biden also on Wednesday revoked a Trump order from January that had banned transactions with digital wallets Alipay and WeChat Pay and six lesser-known Chinese apps over unspecified data security concerns.

Courts had blocked the Trump administration’s efforts last year to ban TikTok, a video app widely popular with young people, and the main WeChat messaging service. But a national-security review of TikTok by a government group called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, is ongoing. CFIUS had set deadlines for TikTok to divest its U.S. operations, but such a sale never happened.

Last year, the Trump administration brokered a deal that would have had U.S. corporations Oracle and Walmart take a large stake in the app on national security grounds. Oracle didn’t returned requests for comment on Wednesday. Walmart declined to comment.

The Biden administration earlier this year sought to delay its legal defense of Trump’s attempts to ban TikTok and WeChat as it reviewed national security threats posed by Chinese technology companies. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has put on hold a case challenging Trump’s TikTok divestment order.

A cybersecurity and privacy analysis of TikTok published in March by the internet watchdog group Citizen Lab found no evidence of malicious behavior and said TikTok’s practices of collecting personal data and tracking users’ behavior were no worse than other major social platforms such as Facebook.

“Our research shows that there is no overt data transmission to the Chinese government by TikTok,” the report said. It added that TikTok’s service did not contact any servers within China, but it was still theoretically possible that servers outside China could later transfer user data to China-based servers.

Citizen Lab, based at the University of Toronto, also described a “plausible” though speculative scenario in which the Chinese government could use one of its national security laws to force TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to turn over user data, but said there’s no evidence China has yet exerted such pressure on the company.


WASHINGTON (AP) — By MATT O’BRIEN, ERIC TUCKER and TALI ARBEL Associated Press

O’Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island, and Arbel from New York.

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US to seek automated braking requirement for heavy trucks

Associated Press

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In a reversal from Trump administration policies, U.S. auto safety regulators say they will move to require or set standards for automatic emergency braking systems on new heavy trucks.

The Department of Transportation, which includes the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, announced the change Friday when it released its spring regulatory agenda.

It also will require what it said are rigorous testing standards for autonomous vehicles, and set up a national database to document automated-vehicle crashes.

The moves by the administration of President Joe Biden run counter to the agency’s stance under President Donald Trump. NHTSA had resisted regulation of automated-vehicle systems, saying it didn’t want to stand in the way of potential life-saving developments. Instead it relied on voluntary safety plans from manufacturers.

NHTSA had proposed a regulation on automatic emergency braking in 2015 before Trump took office, but it languished in the regulatory process. The agency says it has been studying use of the electronic systems, and it plans to publish a proposed rule in the Federal Register in April of next year. When a regulation is published, it opens the door to public comment.

“We are glad to see NHTSA finally take the next step in making large trucks safer by mandating AEB,” said Jason Levine, director of the Center for Auto Safety, which was among the groups that petitioned for the requirement in 2015. “Unfortunately, at this rate, it will still be years until the technology that could help stop the 5,000 truck crash deaths on our roads is required,” he said in an email.

A trade group representing independent big rig drivers says the technology isn’t ready for heavy vehicles and can unexpectedly activate without reason.

“Our members have also reported difficulties operating vehicles in inclement weather when the system is engaged, which has created safety concerns,” the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said in a statement.

The association says that while the technology is still being perfected, legislators and regulators shouldn’t set time frames for requiring it on all trucks.

However, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a research group supported by auto insurers, found in a study last year that automatic emergency braking and forward collision warnings could prevent more than 40% of crashes in which semis rear-end other vehicles. A study by the group found that when rear crashes happened, the systems cut speeds by more than half, reducing damage and injuries.

Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, another group that sought the regulation from NHTSA in 2015, said the agency is moving too slowly by not publishing the regulation until next year.

“I don’t understand the delay,” she said. “I know that might sound impatient, but when people are dying on the roads, 5,000 people are dying on the roads each year, and we have proven solutions, we would like to see more immediate action,” she said.

In 2016, NHTSA brokered a deal with 20 automakers representing 99% of U.S. new passenger vehicle sales to voluntarily make automatic emergency braking standard on all models by Sept. 1, 2022. But that deal did not apply to big rigs.

The announcement of the requirements comes two days after four people were killed when a milk tanker going too fast collided with seven passenger vehicles on a Phoenix freeway. At least nine people were injured.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates crashes and makes recommendations to stop them from happening, said Thursday it would send a nine-person team to investigate the Phoenix crash. The agency said it would look at whether automatic emergency braking in the truck would have mitigated or prevented the crash.

Since at least 2015 the NTSB has recommended automatic emergency braking or collision alerts be standard on vehicles.

At present, there are no federal requirements that semis have forward collision warning or automatic emergency braking, even though the systems are becoming common on smaller passenger vehicles.

The systems use cameras and sometimes radar to see objects in front of a vehicle, and they either warn the driver or slow and even stop the vehicle if it’s about to hit something.


DETROIT (AP) — By TOM KRISHER AP Auto Writer

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Google pledges to resolve ad privacy probe with UK watchdog

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Google has promised to give U.K. regulators a role overseeing its plan to phase out existing ad-tracking technology from its Chrome browser as part of a competition investigation into the tech giant.

The U.K. competition watchdog has been investigating Google’s proposals to remove so-called third-party cookies over concerns they would undermine digital ad competition and entrench the company’s market power.

To address the concerns, Google on Friday offered a set of commitments including giving the Competition and Markets Authority an oversight role as the company designs and develops a replacement technology.

“The emergence of tech giants such as Google has presented competition authorities around the world with new challenges that require a new approach,” Andrea Coscelli, the watchdog’s chief executive, said.

The Competition and Markets Authority will work with tech companies to “shape their behaviour and protect competition to the benefit of consumers,” he said.

The promises also include “substantial limits” on how Google will use and combine individual user data for digital ad purposes and a pledge not to discriminate against rivals in favor of its own ad businesses with the new technology.

If Google’s commitments are accepted, they will be applied globally, the company said in a blog post.

Third-party cookies – snippets of code that log user info – are used to help businesses more effectively target advertising and fund free online content such as newspapers. However, they’ve also been a longstanding source of privacy concerns because they can be used to track users across the internet.

Google shook up the digital ad industry with its plan to do away with third-party cookies, which raised fears newer technology would leave even less room for online ad rivals.


LONDON (AP).

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Amazon now says remote work OK 2 days a week

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Amazon now says remote work OK 2 days a week

Corporate and tech employees at Amazon won’t have to work in offices full time after coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

The Seattle Times reports the online retail giant said in a company blog post Thursday that those workers can work remotely two days a week. In addition, the employees can work remotely from a domestic location for four full weeks each year.

Amazon’s work policy update follows backlash from some employees to what they interpreted as the expectation they would have to return to the office full time once states reopen.

Some tech companies had launched recruiting campaigns that seemed targeted in part at Amazon workers’ dismay over an end to remote work.

Most Amazon employees will start heading back to offices as soon as local jurisdictions fully reopen — July 1 in Washington state — with the majority of workers in offices by autumn, the company said previously.

Amazon has about 75,000 employees in the greater Seattle area. The company’s new remote-work plan is similar to other large tech companies.

Google said last month that it expected roughly 60% of its workforce to come into the office a few days a week, and for 20% to work from home full time. Google also gave all employees the option to work remotely full time four weeks per year. Facebook and Microsoft have both said most workers can choose to stay remote.

Amazon’s new policy could add to the challenges faced by Seattle’s traditional business core. In pre-pandemic times, tens of thousands of Amazon workers commuted into the South Lake Union neighborhood north of downtown every day. Most haven’t returned.

More than 450 downtown retailers, restaurants and other street-level business locations have closed permanently in the 16 months since the pandemic sent office workers home, according to a Downtown Seattle Association survey.

Of the roughly 175,000 people who worked in downtown offices before the pandemic, 80% continue to work remotely, according to association data.


SEATTLE (AP)

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