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Noise and Pollution Free, Green ‘Flying Taxi’ Spreads Wings on Paris’ Seine

A Parisian startup enterprise looks to ease congestion in one of the world’s densest urban transportation networks.  Entrepreneurs created a green machine unlike any you have ever seen outside of Hollywood films. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi dredges this story from the river Seine.

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Facebook to Name First Oversight Panel Members by Year-end

Facebook said Tuesday that it expects to name the first members of a new quasi-independent oversight board by year-end.The oversight panel is intended to rule on thorny content issues, such as when Facebook or Instagram posts constitute hate speech. It will be empowered to make binding rulings on whether posts or ads violate the company’s standards. Any other findings it makes will be considered “guidance” by Facebook.CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced plans to establish the board last November after Facebook came under intense scrutiny for failures to protect user privacy and for its inability to quickly and effectively remove disinformation, hate speech and malign influence campaigns on its platform.”Facebook should not make so many important decisions about free expression and safety on our own,” he wrote at the time.Critics call the oversight board a bid by Facebook to forestall regulation or even an eventual breakup. The company faces antitrust investigations by the Federal Trade Commission, Congress and a group of state attorneys general.”Facebook is attempting to normalize an approach to containing hate speech internally,” said Dipayan Ghosh, a former Facebook policy adviser and a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School. “If it can illustrate that this approach can work, it can pacify the public itch to regulate the business model behind Facebook.”The multinational board will eventually comprise 40 members, who will collectively decide a few dozen cases a year, company executives told reporters in a conference call. It will at first hear only cases initiated by Facebook but will begin hearing appeals initiated by users in the first half of 2020, the company said. It will get to work as soon as 11 members are named.Priority cases will involve content that “threatens someone else’s voice, safety, privacy, dignity or equality” and affects a large number of people, Facebook said in blog post.Experts say the panel will have a limited range for decision-making, however. Local laws or directives from repressive governments might clash with its rulings, and Facebook might heed them for business reasons.”How to deal with authoritarian regimes is a deep issue for the platform, and for the world really,” said Harvard law student Evelyn Douek, an Australian expert on content moderation.Douek says the group’s charter, also released Tuesday, should insulate board members from public pressure and Facebook’s commercial imperatives. But she believes the conditions under which members could be removed are still too vague.The first few board members will be directly chosen by Facebook; they will then choose additional members. Facebook will also name the administrators of the trust that manages the Oversight Board and pays its members’ salaries.  Brent Harris, Facebook’s director of governance, told reporters the company had not yet decided how much board members would be paid. He did not respond when asked how many hours a week would be expected of them in the part-time job. Facebook expects panelists will include former judges, editors, publishers and journalists, he said.The board members’ access to Facebook data will also be limited. “The board will have access to data that’s pertinent to the case but no more,” said Harris.Oversight board members are to serve three-year terms with a maximum of three terms.They can be removed by trustees for violations of a code of conduct that has yet to be drawn up. Panels of five will convene to review individual cases and decisions will be public, though data and privacy restrictions could apply. Harris said the board will have a staff that will initially consist of Facebook employees seconded from their jobs.It’s unclear where the permanent staff will eventually be located and how often oversight board members would meet in person to decide cases. 

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US Military Still Buying Chinese-Made Drones Despite Spying Concerns

The Air Force and the Navy bought Chinese-manufactured drones for elite forces months after the Pentagon prohibited their use due to cybersecurity concerns, according to government documents.In each case, the services used special exemptions granted by the Pentagon’s acquisition and sustainment office “on a case by case basis, to support urgent needs,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews told VOA.FILE – Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 1, 2019.The Department of Defense issued a ban on the purchase and use of all commercial off-the-shelf drones, citing “cybersecurity vulnerabilities,” in a memo from then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan dated May 23, 2018.The ban came nearly a year after the U.S. Army, the Department of Homeland Security and members of Congress warned that drone-market-leader Da Jiang Innovations (DJI) could be helping the Chinese government spy on the United States.”We know that a lot of the information is sent back to China from those, so it is not something that we can use,” Ellen Lord, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, told reporters at the Pentagon last month.However, purchase orders completed in August and November 2018 show that the Navy spent nearly $190,000 and the Air Force spent nearly $50,000 on drones made by DJI.The Air Force bought 35 DJI Mavic Pro Platinum drones, and the Navy bought an undisclosed number of drones from DJI’s “Inspire” series.Special forces at risk?The 2018 drone purchase orders obtained by VOA via public records appear to be for some of the military’s most sensitive and secretive operators, including Air Force’s only special tactics wing and Navy Sea Air Land (SEAL) teams.VOA has confirmed through documents and sources within U.S. Special Operations Command, the Navy and the Office of the Secretary of Defense that the drone purchases were made by the Florida-based 24th Special Operations Wing and the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division in Indiana, which provides engineering and technical support for the Navy’s electronic warfare and special warfare weapons used by the SEALs.Special tactics airmen in the 24th Special Operations Wing lead global access, precision strike and personnel recovery operations.Navy SEALs carry out military extractions and insertions to accomplish covert missions, including collecting intelligence and capturing high-value enemies.FILE – A Phantom 4, developed by major Chinese consumer-drone maker DJI, flies during its demonstration flight in Tokyo, March 3, 2016.Bradley Bowman, a former active duty officer and the senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the uncovered purchases of Chinese-produced equipment represented a “dangerous and reckless gamble” that was “ripe for additional Congressional investigation.””This is not about protectionism; this is about the ability of our troops to accomplish their missions, protect the United States, and return home safely,” Bowman told VOA.Partially-redacted copies of documents justifying the purchase of DJI drone kits for the 24th Special Operations Wing confirmed that 15 Chinese-made drones were already being fielded by eight Air Force Special Tactics Squadrons and warned that tactics, “software, and optical system development would be negatively impacted if this system was abandoned.”One document acknowledged the security concerns raised over the Chinese-made technology and claimed the military had developed a fix.Specifically, it said that “software has been developed (specific to this model) and implemented to eliminate the cyber security concerns that are inherent to the DJI Mavic Pro.”U.S. Special Operations Command confirmed to VOA that it had taken steps to mitigate cybersecurity issues.”However, for security reasons, we are not able to release specifics about cyber security software developed or implemented by 24th Special Operations Wing,” Army Major Jennifer Bocanegra, a spokesman for Special Operations Command, wrote in response to VOA’s inquiry.Naval Surface Warfare Center — Crane Division procured the drones for both “testing and operations,” Pentagon spokesman Andrews told VOA. The Navy declined multiple requests for more information about their purchase.An additional purchase of DJI equipment for a “training operation” was approved by the Pentagon as late as June 28, 2019, according to a DOD memo seen by VOA and confirmed Monday by a defense official.”The cyber vulnerabilities associated with this training event were mitigated by multiple layers of defense, allowing the critical training to be conducted on schedule,” Andrews told VOA after inquiring about the June memo, which instructed those approved to use DJI equipment to keep the equipment offline from the Defense Department’s networks.American-madeThe military’s use of waivers and work-arounds comes as the Pentagon seeks to recruit investors into manufacturing American-made small drones to provide an alternative to the Chinese models.A new Pentagon project dubbed the “Trusted Capital Marketplace” (TCM) involves hosting a series of DOD job fairs in various tech-heavy cities to meet with private capital investors in order to encourage American investment in the defense industry. The first fair is set for October.Under Secretary Lord told reporters last month that the Pentagon chose small drones as the TCM’s first investment focus because the “entire U.S. marketplace” has been “eroded” by Chinese-made drones.”DJI dumped so many low-price quadcopters [small drones propelled by four rotary blades] on the markets, and we then became dependent on them, both from the defense point of view and the commercial point of view,” she said.The Pentagon is hoping a new American drone industry partnership can eventually build something complex enough for the Pentagon but agile enough to be purchased in stores.”If we meet our defense needs, we feel that there are simpler versions that would be very, very attractive for the commercial market, as well,” Lord said.U.S. military commanders are constantly in need of additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms.The Pentagon currently buys large, technologically advanced American-made drones, which can cost tens of millions of dollars. In contrast, commercially viable, small drones would cost thousands of dollars and could potentially be produced in large numbers.Congressional concernsFILE – Democratic Senator Chris Murphy speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 25, 2018.Members of Congress have become so concerned with the Pentagon’s continued use of Chinese-manufactured drones that the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee included a provision in the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) bill banning their use. The bill, which determines the U.S. military’s budget for the year, will be up for debate in the coming weeks.Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut who penned the provision, said the measure protects U.S. national security while also supporting U.S. manufacturing.”Congress needs to ban the use of all Chinese-made drones by Department of Defense and instead only spend taxpayer money on U.S. drone manufacturers and foster the development of a U.S.-based supply chain,” Murphy said earlier this year.DJI rebuttalIn response to the latest warning from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, DJI said that its customers have complete control over how their information is collected, stored and transmitted.Michael Oldenburg, a spokesperson for DJI’s innovation in the United States, wrote in an email to DJI customers in the United States that reports of DJI cybersecurity vulnerabilities and the memorandum of the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau were “completely false.”DJI also has pointed to an independent research report that says its drone users have complete control over the collection, storage and transmission of data.According to a DJI statement in April 2018, San Francisco-based technology consulting firm Kivu Consulting confirmed that unless the user volunteered, DJI could not receive photos, videos and flight logs collected by its drone.

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Cutting-edge Electric Boat Undergoes Testing on River Seine in Paris

An innovative boat that saves energy by rising out of the water on hydrofoil wings underwent testing on the Seine river in Paris on Monday as its backers seek to obtain a license to operate a taxi service on the river.The SeaBubbles craft is powered by electric motors and its hydrofoil wings reduce the drag on the hull in the water, making it more energy efficient than conventional boats.SeaBubbles co-founder Alain Thebault said the boat, which carries four passengers and one pilot, has green credentials as it is noise free and produces no pollution.The Bubbles water taxi is seen on the River Seine during a demonstration by the SeaBubbles company in Paris, France, Sept. 16, 2019.”It’s the future,” he told Reuters in an interview after the boat had completed its latest tests, running up and down the Seine.The testing will continue until Sept. 20, after which the project’s backers hope to obtain a commercial license to run taxi services from the east of Paris to the west.Hydrofoils were invented decades ago but their commercial use is limited because they tend to be unstable. SeaBubbles uses computer processors to adjust the hydrofoil wings constantly in the water, which its designers say gives passengers a smooth ride.

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Recycled Refrigerators, Imported Carbon Fiber Form ‘Made-In-Senegal’ Drones

Mamadou Wade Diop has been working with drones both in the photography and health sectors for years. But recently, he decided to work with local blacksmiths and construct a drone made entirely in Senegal.Mamadou Wade Diop, who calls himself Dr. Drone on social media, is one of the few people, if not the only person in the Dakar area who can fix broken drones.But recently, he’s taken his knowledge a step further, consulting with drone makers across the world on how to construct one of his own.Diop says that through the internet, he’s been able to communicate with other drone makers in France and China to chat about their experiences. Though he does a lot of work in the audio-visual sector, renting his services out to news and documentary crews as well as collecting drone footage of various places in Senegal to sell, the purpose of his first Made-In-Senegal drone will be in the health sector – a drone that can spread chemicals to prevent mosquito breeding in stagnant water.Not all materials necessary to make the drone are available in Senegal, but Diop says he wants to prove that it’s possible to make this technology right here in his home country.Diop says that carbon fiber isn’t available in Senegal. Though he ordered it from China, he worked with local blacksmiths to shape pieces for his drone. And as for local materials, he was able to recycle a piece of aluminum from a broken refrigerator to form part of the body of his drone.Mamadou Diallo is an owner of a photography shop who often collaborates with Diop.Diallo says that the demand for drones in Senegal is not high but is increasing, though there is not yet enough of a market.But he supports Diop, who says that if they don’t start making their own drones now, foreign companies will come in and begin to sell them at much higher prices.

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Unveiling the Future of Transportation Meets Unwelcoming Committee in Frankfurt

Carmakers unveiled self-driving vehicles and assurances of an eco-friendly future in transportation. Thousands of climate activists blocking the streets in Frankfurt are not buying it. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi looks at the future through a lens of the present.

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US Imposes Sanctions on North Korean Hacking Groups Blamed for Global Attacks

The U.S. Treasury on Friday announced sanctions on three North Korean hacking groups it said were involved in the WannaCry ransomware attacks and hacking of international banks and customer accounts.It named the groups as Lazarus Group, Bluenoroff, and Andariel and said they were controlled by the RGB, North Korea’s primary intelligence bureau, which is already subject to U.S. and United Nations sanctions.The action blocks any U.S.-related assets of the groups and prohibits dealings with them. The Treasury statement said any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitated significant transactions or services for them could also be subject to sanctions.”Treasury is taking action against North Korean hacking groups that have been perpetrating cyberattacks to support illicit weapon and missile programs,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.”We will continue to enforce existing U.S. and U.N. sanctions against North Korea and work with the international community to improve cybersecurity of financial networks.”The United States has been attempting to restart talks with North Korea, aimed at pressing the country to give up its nuclear weapons. The talks have been stalled over North Korean
demands for concessions, including sanctions relief.Earlier this month, North Korea denied U.N. allegations it had obtained $2 billion through cyberattacks on banks and cryptocurrency exchanges, and accused the United States of spreading rumors.Lazarus Group The Treasury statement said Lazarus Group was involved in the WannaCry ransomware attack that the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom publicly
attributed to North Korea in December 2017.It said WannaCry affected at least 150 countries and shut down about 300,000 computers, including many in Britain’s National Health Service (NHS). The NHS attack led to the cancellation of more than 19,000 appointments and ultimately cost the service over $112 million, the biggest known ransomware attack in history.The Treasury said Lazarus Group was also directly responsible for 2014 cyberattacks on Sony Pictures Entertainment.Bluenoroff The statement cited industry and press reporting as saying that by 2018, Bluenoroff had attempted to steal over $1.1 billion from financial institutions and successfully carried out operations against banks in Bangladesh, India, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Chile, and Vietnam.It said Bluenoroff worked with the Lazarus Group to steal approximately $80 million from the Central Bank of Bangladesh’s New York Federal Reserve account.AndarielAndariel, meanwhile, was observed by cybersecurity firms attempting to steal bank card information by hacking into ATMs to withdraw cash or steal customer information to later sell on the black market, the statement said.Andariel was also responsible for developing and creating unique malware to hack into online poker and gambling sites and, according to industry and press reporting, targeted the South Korea government military in an effort to gather intelligence, it said.