Recent outages highlight need for stronger African internet

Nairobi, Kenya — Experts say Africa needs to invest in robust infrastructure if the continent is to have reliable internet after recent outages due to underwater cable failures highlighted the continent’s reliance on single-path connectivity. Disruptions in March and May caused online banking problems and communication delays. Businesses experienced interruptions in many countries. In March, on the Atlantic coast of West Africa, four submarine cables that deliver the internet to at least 17 countries went offline. Less than two months later, Eastern and Southern Africa experienced outages after two undersea cables were damaged. In Tanzania, the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam closed for two days due to the disruption. Ben Gumo, a Kenyan who relies on the internet to sell clothes, shoes and children’s wares, said he lost business during the May disruption. “Someone … puts stuff in the [online] basket, but because of the outage he cannot complete the sale, so he cancels,” Gumo said, adding that he couldn’t update his website with new products. According to the telecommunications research company Telegeography, over 100 cable cuts occur globally each year. Experts blame undersea volcanic activity, rock falls, recent rainfall and currents in rivers that are much stronger than when some of the cables were built. Manmade activities also cause disruptions. According to one report, a ship was attacked in the Red Sea and drifted, its anchor pulling up three underwater cables. Mike Last works with the West Indian Ocean Cable Company, which operates in 20 African countries and has …

From basement to battlefield: Ukrainian startups create low-cost robots to fight Russia

Northern Ukraine — Struggling with manpower shortages, overwhelming odds and uneven international assistance, Ukraine hopes to find a strategic edge against Russia in an abandoned warehouse or a factory basement. An ecosystem of laboratories in hundreds of secret workshops is leveraging innovation to create a robot army that Ukraine hopes will kill Russian troops and save its own wounded soldiers and civilians. Defense startups across Ukraine — about 250 according to industry estimates — are creating the killing machines at secret locations that typically look like rural car repair shops. Employees at a startup run by entrepreneur Andrii Denysenko can put together an unmanned ground vehicle called the Odyssey in four days at a shed used by the company. Its most important feature is the price tag: $35,000, or roughly 10% of the cost of an imported model. Denysenko asked that The Associated Press not publish details of the location to protect the infrastructure and the people working there. The site is partitioned into small rooms for welding and body work. That includes making fiberglass cargo beds, spray-painting the vehicles gun-green and fitting basic electronics, battery-powered engines, off-the-shelf cameras and thermal sensors. The military is assessing dozens of new unmanned air, ground and marine vehicles produced by the no-frills startup sector, whose production methods are far removed from giant Western defense companies. A fourth branch of Ukraine’s military — the Unmanned Systems Forces — joined the army, navy and air force in May. Engineers take inspiration from articles in defense magazines …

Demand for rare elements used in clean energy could help clean up abandoned coal mines in US

MOUNT STORM, West Virginia — Down a long gravel road, tucked into the hills in West Virginia, is a low-slung building where researchers are extracting essential elements from an old coal mine that they hope will strengthen the nation’s energy future. They aren’t mining the coal that powered the steel mills and locomotives that helped industrialize America — and that is blamed for contributing to global warming. Rather, researchers are finding that groundwater pouring out of this and other abandoned coal mines contains the rare earth elements and other valuable metals that are vital to making everything from electric vehicle motors to rechargeable batteries to fighter jets smaller, lighter or more powerful. The pilot project run by West Virginia University is now part of an intensifying worldwide race to develop a secure supply of the valuable metals and, with more federal funding, it could grow to a commercial scale enterprise. “The ultimate irony is that the stuff that has created climate change is now a solution, if we’re smart about it,” said John Quigley, a senior fellow at the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. The technology that has been piloted at this facility in West Virginia could also pioneer a way to clean up vast amounts of coal mine drainage that poisons waterways across Appalachia. The project is one of the leading efforts by the federal government as it injects more money than ever into recovering rare earth elements to expand renewable energies and fight climate …

EU accepts Apple plan to open iPhone tap-to-pay to rivals

Brussels — The EU on Thursday approved Apple’s offer to allow rivals access to the iPhone’s ability to tap-to-pay within the bloc, ending a lengthy probe and sparing it a heavy fine. The case dates back to 2022 when Brussels first accused Apple of blocking rivals from its popular iPhone tap payment system in a breach of EU competition law. “Apple has committed to allow rivals to access the ‘tap and go’ technology of iPhones. Today’s decision makes Apple’s commitments binding,” EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. “From now on, competitors will be able to effectively compete with Apple Pay for mobile payments with the iPhone in shops. So consumers will have a wider range of safe and innovative mobile wallets to choose from,” she said. The EU previously found that Apple enjoyed a dominant position by restricting access to “tap-as-you-go” chips or near-field communication (NFC), which allows devices to interconnect within a very short range, to favor its own system. Now competitors will have access to the standard technology behind contactless payments to offer alternative tap-to-pay tools to iPhone users in the European Economic Area (EEA), which includes the EU and also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Only customers with an Apple ID registered in the EEA would be able to make use of these outside apps, the European Commission said in a statement. The changes must remain in force for 10 years and a “monitoring trustee” must be chosen by Apple to report to the commission during …

Russian election meddlers hurting Biden, helping Trump, US intelligence warns

WASHINGTON — Russia is turning to a familiar playbook in its attempt to sway the outcome of the upcoming U.S. presidential election, looking for ways to boost the candidacy of former President Donald Trump by disparaging the campaign of incumbent President Joe Biden, according to American intelligence officials.  A new assessment of threats to the November election, shared Tuesday, does not mention either candidate by name. But an intelligence official told reporters that the Kremlin view of the U.S. political landscape has not changed from previous election cycles. “We have not observed a shift in Russia’s preferences for the presidential race from past elections,” the official told reporters, agreeing to discuss the intelligence only on the condition of anonymity. The official said that preference has been further cemented by “the role the U.S. is playing with regard to Ukraine and broader policy toward Russia.” The caution from U.S. intelligence officials comes nearly four years after it issued a similar warning about the 2020 presidential elections, which pitted then-President Trump against Biden. Moscow was using “a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment,’” William Evanina, the then-head of the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said at the time. “Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television,” he added.  A declassified post-election assessment, released in March 2021, reaffirmed the initial findings. Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized “influence operations aimed at denigrating President …

TikTok has launched tons of trends. Will its influence last?

new york — TikTok and its bite-sized videos arrived in the United States as a global version of the Chinese app Douyin in 2018. Less than six years later, the social media platform is deeply woven into the fabric of American consumerism, having shortened the shelf life of trends and revamped how people engage with food and fashion.  The popularity of TikTok — coupled with its roots in Beijing — led the U.S. Congress — citing national security concerns, to pass a law that would ban the video-sharing app unless its Chinese parent company sells its stake. Both the company, ByteDance, and TikTok have sued on First Amendment grounds.  But while the platform faces uncertain times, its influence remains undisputed.  Interest in bright pink blush and brown lipstick soared last year, for example, after the cosmetics were featured in TikTok videos with looks labeled as “cold girl” and “latte” makeup. An abundance of clothing fads with quirky names, from “cottagecore” to “coastal grandma,” similarly owe their pervasiveness to TikTok.    Plenty of TikTok-spawned crazes last only a week or two before losing steam. Yet even mini trends have challenged businesses to decipher which ones are worth stocking up for. A majority of the more than 170 million Americans who use TikTok belong to the under-30 age group coveted by retailers, according to the Pew Research Center. Whether fans of the platform or not, shoppers may have a #tiktokmademebuyit moment without knowing the origin story behind an eye-catching product.  Platform’s algorithm is ‘secret …

Russian-linked cybercampaigns focus on Olympics, French elections

paris — Photos of blood-red hands on a Holocaust memorial. Caskets at the Eiffel Tower. A fake French military recruitment drive calling for soldiers in Ukraine, and major French news sites improbably registered in an obscure Pacific territory, population 15,000. All are part of disinformation campaigns orchestrated out of Russia and targeting France, according to French officials and cybersecurity experts in Europe and the United States. France’s legislative elections and the Paris Olympics sent them into overdrive. More than a dozen reports issued in the past year point to an intensifying effort from Russia to undermine France, particularly the upcoming Games, and President Emmanuel Macron, who is one of Ukraine’s most vocal supporters in Europe. The Russian campaigns sowing anti-French disinformation began online in early summer 2023, but first became tangible in October, when more than 1,000 bots linked to Russia relayed photos of graffitied Stars of David in Paris and its suburbs. A French intelligence report said the Russian intelligence agency FSB ordered the tagging, as well as subsequent vandalism of a memorial to those who helped rescue Jews from the Holocaust. Photos from each event were amplified on social media by fake accounts linked to the Russian disinformation site RRN, according to cybersecurity experts. Russia denies any such campaigns. The French intelligence report says RRN is part of a larger operation orchestrated by Sergei Kiriyenko, a ranking Kremlin official. “You have to see this as an ecosystem,” said a French military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to …

Australia plans to build secret data centers with Amazon

SYDNEY — Australia said Thursday a $1.35 billion deal with U.S. technology giant Amazon to build three secure data centers for top-secret information will increase its military’s “war-fighting capacity.” The data centers are to be built in secret locations in Australia and be run by an Australian subsidiary of the U.S. technology company Amazon Web Service, the government said. The deal is part of Australia’s National Defense Strategy, outlining its commitment to Indo-Pacific security and maintaining “the global rules-based order.” The country has a long-standing military alliance with the United States and is a member, with the United Kingdom, U.S., Canada and New Zealand, of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance. Australian officials said the project would create a “state-of-the-art collaborative space” for intelligence and defense agencies to store and gain access to sensitive information in a centralized network. Andrew Shearer, director-general of Australia’s Office of National Intelligence, said in a statement that the project would allow “greater interoperability with our most important international intelligence partners.” Similar data clouds have been set up in the United States and Britain, allowing the sharing of information among agencies and departments. Richard Marles, Australia’s deputy prime minister and defense minister, told reporters that highly sensitive national security data will be safely secured in the new system. “If you consider that any sensor which is on a defense platform, which in turn feeds that data to a high tech capability, such as the Joint Strike Fighter, which will use that to engage in targeting or perhaps …

Silicon Valley steps up screening on Chinese employees to counter espionage

Washington — Leading U.S. technology companies reportedly have increased security screening of employees and job applicants, which experts say is necessary to counter the cyber espionage threat from China. While the enhanced screening is being applied to employees and applicants of all races, those with family or other ties to China are thought to be particularly vulnerable to pressure from the Beijing government. But at least one Chinese computer science graduate student at a U.S. university is hoping to make his ties to China an asset. Zheng, who does not want to reveal his first name for fear of retaliation from the Chinese government, says he recently changed his focus to cybersecurity in hopes of improving his job prospects in the United States. “The goal is a bit high, but I think I know more about China as a person born and raised in China. I hope to become a force with my own characteristics in cybersecurity and a role in fighting against Chinese cyber-attacks,” said Zheng, who is seeking political asylum in the United States. While Zheng said he is not very worried that increased security checks will affect his job prospects, he said many international students in his class worry that they will be shut out from cybersecurity jobs. Google, OpenAI and Sequoia Capital are among a number of technology and venture capital firms that have stepped up security checks on employees and potential recruits, according to a recent report by The Financial Times. The newspaper cited sources at …

Alliance sets sights on minerals needed for global shift to green energy

The U.S. government’s representative to the Minerals Security Partnership, an alliance of mostly Western countries that aims to speed the development of energy mineral supply chains, said last month that a Chinese company was using “predatory” tactics to hold down the price of cobalt mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Henry Wilkins looks at what this means for Africa. …

Meta risks fines over ‘pay for privacy’ model breaking EU rules

Brussels, Belgium — The EU accused Facebook owner Meta on Monday of breaching the bloc’s digital rules, paving the way for potential fines worth billions of euros. The charges against the US tech titan follow a finding last week against Apple that marked the first time Brussels had levelled formal accusations under the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA). The latest case focuses on Meta’s new ad-free subscription model for Facebook and Instagram, which has sparked multiple complaints over privacy concerns. Meta’s “pay or consent” system means users have to pay to avoid data collection, or agree to share their data with Facebook and Instagram to keep using the platforms for free. The European Commission said it informed Meta of its “preliminary view” that the model the company launched last year “fails to comply” with the DMA. “This binary choice forces users to consent to the combination of their personal data and fails to provide them a less personalized but equivalent version of Meta’s social networks,” the EU’s powerful antitrust regulator said in a statement. The findings come after the commission kickstarted a probe into Meta in March under the DMA, which forces the world’s biggest tech companies to comply with EU rules designed to give European users more choice online. Meta insisted its model “complies with the DMA.” “We look forward to further constructive dialogue with the European Commission to bring this investigation to a close,” a Meta spokesperson said. Meta can now reply to the findings and avoid a fine …

Russian satellite breaks up, forces space station astronauts to shelter

WASHINGTON — A defunct Russian satellite has broken up into more than 100 pieces of debris in orbit, forcing astronauts on the International Space Station to take shelter for about an hour and adding to the mass of space junk already in orbit, U.S. space agencies said.  There were no immediate details on what caused the breakup of the RESURS-P1 Russian Earth observation satellite, which Russia declared dead in 2022.  U.S. Space Command, tracking the debris swarm, said there was no immediate threat to other satellites.  The event took place about noon EDT (1600 GMT) Wednesday, Space Command said. It occurred in an orbit near the space station, prompting U.S. astronauts on board to shelter in their spacecraft for roughly an hour, NASA’s Space Station office said.  Russian space agency Roscosmos, which operated the satellite, did not respond to a request for comment or publicly acknowledge the event on its social media channels.  U.S. Space Command, which has a global network of space-tracking radars, said the satellite immediately created “over 100 pieces of trackable debris.”  By Thursday afternoon, radars from U.S. space-tracking firm LeoLabs had detected at least 180 pieces, the company said.   Large debris-generating events in orbit are rare but of increasing concern as space becomes crowded with satellite networks vital to everyday life on Earth, from broadband internet and communications to basic navigation services, as well as satellites no longer in use.  The satellite’s breakup was at an altitude of roughly 355 km (220 miles) in low-Earth orbit, …

News nonprofit sues ChatGPT maker OpenAI, Microsoft for ‘exploitative’ copyright infringement

Los Angeles — The Center for Investigative Reporting said Thursday it has sued ChatGPT maker OpenAI and its closest business partner, Microsoft, marking a new front in the news industry’s fight against unauthorized use of its content on artificial intelligence platforms. The nonprofit, which produces Mother Jones and Reveal, said that OpenAI used its content without permission and without offering compensation, violating copyrights on the organization’s journalism. The lawsuit, filed in a New York federal court, describes OpenAI’s business as “built on the exploitation of copyrighted works” and focuses on how AI-generated summaries of articles threaten publishers. “It’s immensely dangerous,” Monika Bauerlein, the nonprofit’s CEO, told The Associated Press. “Our existence relies on users finding our work valuable and deciding to support it.” Bauerlein said that “when people can no longer develop that relationship with our work, when they no longer encounter Mother Jones or Reveal, then their relationship is with the AI tool.” That, she said, could “cut the entire foundation of our existence as an independent newsroom out from under us” while also threatening the future of other news organizations. OpenAI and Microsoft didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday. The lawsuit is the latest against OpenAI and Microsoft to land at Manhattan’s federal court, where the companies are already battling a series of other copyright lawsuits from The New York Times, other media outlets and bestselling authors such as John Grisham, Jodi Picoult and George R.R. Martin. The companies also face a separate case in San Francisco’s …

Chinese hackers have stepped up attacks on Taiwanese organizations, cybersecurity firm says

Hong Kong — A suspected Chinese state-sponsored hacking group has stepped up its targeting of Taiwanese organizations, particularly those in sectors such as government, education, technology and diplomacy, according to cybersecurity intelligence company Recorded Future.  In recent years, relations between China and Taiwan, a self-governed island across the Taiwan Strait that Beijing claims as its territory, have deteriorated. The cyberattacks by the group known as RedJulliett were observed between November 2023 and April 2024, during the lead up to Taiwan’s presidential elections in January and the subsequent change in administration.  RedJuliett has targeted Taiwanese organizations in the past, but this is the first time that activity was seen at such a scale, a Recorded Future analyst said, speaking on condition of anonymity out of safety concerns.  The report said RedJuliett attacked 24 organizations, including government agencies in places like Laos, Kenya and Rwanda, as well as Taiwan.  It also hacked into websites of religious organizations in Hong Kong and South Korea, a U.S university and a Djiboutian university. The report did not identify the organizations.  Recorded Future said RedJuliett accessed the servers of those places via a vulnerability in their SoftEther enterprise virtual private network, or VPN software, an open-source VPN that allows remote connections to an organization’s networks.  RedJuliett has been observed attempting to break into systems of more than 70 Taiwanese organizations including three universities, an optoelectronics company and a facial recognition company that has contracts with the government.  It was unclear if RedJuliett managed to break into those …

Apple’s App Store rules breach EU tech rules, EU regulators say

AMSTERDAM — Apple’s App Store rules breach EU tech rules because they prevent app developers from steering consumers to alternative offers, EU antitrust regulators said on Monday, a charge that could result in a hefty fine for the iPhone maker. The European Commission, which also acts as the European Union’s antitrust and technology regulator, said it had sent its preliminary findings to Apple following an investigation launched in March. The charge against Apple is the first by the Commission under its landmark Digital Markets Act which seeks to rein in the power of Big Tech and ensure a level playing field for smaller rivals. It has until March next year to issue a final decision. EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager cited issues with Apple’s new terms. “As they stand, we think that these new terms do not allow app developers to communicate freely with their end users, and to conclude contracts with them,” she told a conference. The Commission said under most of the business terms, Apple allows steering only through ‘link-outs’, meaning that app developers can include a link in their app that redirects the customer to a web page where the customer can conclude a contract. It also criticised the fees charged by Apple for facilitating via the App Store the initial acquisition of a new customer by developers, saying they went beyond what was strictly necessary for such remuneration. Apple said it had made a number of changes in the past several months to comply with the DMA …

Germany assures China that doors still open to discuss EU surcharges

Shanghai, China — The German vice-chancellor assured China on Saturday that the “doors” remained “open” to discuss EU surcharges on Chinese electric vehicles, without reassuring Beijing which promised to “firmly defend” its manufacturers. Also, the Minister of Economy and Climate, Robert Habeck is making a visit that seems like a last chance to avoid a trade war between the Old Continent and the second world power, an important economic partner of Germany. A task further complicated by the political context, the German leader reproached China on Saturday for its economic support for Russia against a backdrop of the invasion of Ukraine, stressing it was “harming” relations between Beijing and Brussels. China regularly denounces these upcoming surcharges on electric vehicles as being “purely protectionist.” “These are not punitive customs duties,” Habeck assured Zheng Shanjie, director of the Chinese Economic Planning Agency (NDRC) Saturday, according to a recording sent to AFP by the Chinese Embassy in Germany. “This is not a punishment,” he insisted. Up to 28% increase Without compromise by July 4, the European Commission will impose up to 28% increase in customs duties on imports of Chinese electric vehicles, accusing Beijing of having, according to it, distorted competition by massively subsidizing this sector. These surcharges would become definitive from November. “For Europe, I can say that the doors are open and the invitation or offer for discussion has been made several times. Now it must be accepted,” Habeck said at a news conference in Shanghai. From Brussels, Olof Gill, the EU …