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TikTok tells U.S. lawmakers it does not give information to China’s government

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(Last Updated On: October 27, 2021)

An executive at TikTok faced tough questions on Tuesday during the video-sharing app’s first appearance at a U.S. congressional hearing, saying it does not give information to the Chinese government and has sought to safeguard U.S. data, Reuters reported.

Senators at the hearing also voiced concerns that TikTok, owned by Beijing-based internet technology company ByteDance, and rivals YouTube, owned by Alphabet Inc , and Snapchat have algorithms that can be harmful to young people.

Michael Beckerman, TikTok’s head of public policy for the Americas, became the company’s first executive to appear before Congress, testifying to a subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee. Republicans in particular pressed Beckerman on worries regarding TikTok’s stewardship of data on the app’s users.

Senator Marsha Blackburn, the panel’s top Republican, said she is concerned about TikTok’s data collection, including audio and a user’s location, and the potential for the Chinese government to gain access to the information. Blackburn questioned Beckerman on whether TikTok could resist giving data to China’s government if material were to be demanded, read the report.

“We do not share information with the Chinese government,” Beckerman responded.

Under questioning by Republican Senator Ted Cruz, Beckerman said that TikTok has “no affiliation” with Beijing ByteDance Technology, a ByteDance entity at which the Chinese government took a stake and a board seat this year.

According to the report Beckerman also testified that TikTok’s U.S. user data is stored in the United States, with backups in Singapore.

“We have a world-renowned U.S. based security team that handles access,” Beckerman said.

Republican Senator John Thune said TikTok is perhaps more driven by content algorithms than even Facebook, as the app is famous for quickly learning what users find interesting and offering them those types of videos.

Beckerman said TikTok would be willing to provide the app’s algorithm moderation policies in order for the Senate panel to have it reviewed by independent experts, Reuters reported.

Executives from YouTube and Snapchat also testified. In a show of bipartisanship, senators of both parties, including Democratic panel chairman Richard Blumenthal, accused the three companies of exposing young people to bullying and sometimes steering them to information that encouraged harmful behaviors such sexualized games or anorexia.

According to the report the executives responded that their companies have sought to create a fun experience and to exclude dangerous or unsavory content.

Republican former President Donald Trump had sought to bar TikTok – a popular platform used by millions of Americans to post short videos – from U.S. app stores, saying it collected data from American users that could be obtained by China’s government and posed a threat to U.S. national security.

Democratic President Joe Biden later revoked Trump’s plan, but sought a broader review of various foreign-controlled apps, Reuters reported.

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Google to ban political advertising ahead of Philippine election

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(Last Updated On: December 1, 2021)

Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google said on Wednesday it will ban political advertising on its platform in the run-up to Philippine elections in May next year to choose a successor to President Rodrigo Duterte.

The move comes amid pressure on social media platforms over their handling of political advertising during the U.S. presidential election in 2020, Reuters reported.

Social media platforms have become political battlegrounds in the Southeast Asian nation, with studies showing Filipinos top the rankings globally for time spent on social media.

Election advertisements that promote or oppose any political party or the candidacy of any person or party for public office, would not be allowed to run between February 8 to May 9, next year, Google said in an update to its political content policy.

The dates cover the period of campaigning in the Philippines up to election day on May 9.

Google said notifications would be sent to affected advertisers about the policy update.

Google has banned political advertising on its platform before, including in Canada’s federal election in 2019 and before an election in Singapore in 2020.

Social media platforms like Facebook have helped strengthen Duterte’s support base, with analysts regarding them as instrumental in his election victory in 2016.

The Philippines will choose a successor to Duterte, who under the constitution is not allowed to seek another term, but will be standing for a senator’s seat.

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Citing debris risk, NASA delays spacewalk to fix space station antenna

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(Last Updated On: November 30, 2021)

A spacewalk planned for Tuesday to repair a faulty antenna on the International Space Station was postponed indefinitely, NASA said, citing a “debris notification” it received for the orbiting research laboratory.

Two U.S. astronauts had been scheduled to venture outside the space station at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time (1210 GMT) to begin their work, facing what NASA officials had called a slightly elevated risk posed by debris from a Russian anti-satellite missile test this month.

But about five hours before the outing was to have commenced, NASA said on Twitter that the spacewalk had been called off for the time being.

“NASA received a debris notification for the space station. Due to the lack of opportunity to properly assess the risk it could pose to the astronauts, teams have decided to delay the Nov. 30 spacewalk until more information is available,” the space agency tweeted.

It was not made clear how close debris had come to the space station, orbiting about 250 miles (402 km) above the Earth, or whether it was related to the Russian missile test.

NASA TV had planned to provide live coverage of the 6-1/2-hour “extravehicular activity,” or EVA, operation by astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Brown. The outing would be the fifth spacewalk for Marshburn, 61, a medical doctor and former flight surgeon with two previous trips to orbit, and the first for Barron, 34, a U.S. Navy submarine officer and nuclear engineer on her debut spaceflight for NASA.

The objective is to remove a faulty S-band radio communications antenna assembly, now more than 20 years old, and replace it with a new spare stowed outside the space station.

According to plans, Marshburn was to have worked with Barron while positioned at the end of a robotic arm operated from inside the station by German astronaut Matthias Maurer of the European Space Agency, with help from NASA crewmate Raja Chari.

The four arrived at the space station on Nov. 11 in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, joining two Russian cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut already aboard the orbiting outpost.

Four days later, an anti-satellite missile test conducted without warning by Russia generated a debris field in low-Earth orbit, and all seven crew members took shelter in their docked spaceships to allow for a quick getaway until the immediate danger passed, according to NASA.

The residual debris cloud from the blasted satellite has dispersed since then, according to Dana Weigel, NASA deputy manager of the International Space Station (ISS) program.

But NASA calculates that the remaining fragments continued to pose a “slightly elevated” background risk to the space station as a whole, and a 7% higher risk of spacewalkers’ suits being punctured, as compared to before Russia’s missile test, Weigel told reporters on Monday.

Although NASA has yet to fully quantify additional hazards posed by more than 1,700 larger fragments it is tracking around the station’s orbit, the 7% higher risk to spacewalkers falls “well within” fluctuations were previously seen in “the natural environment,” Weigel said.

Still, mission managers canceled several smaller maintenance tasks under consideration for Tuesday’s spacewalk, Weigel added.

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US robot company offers $200,000 to use volunteer’s face for robot

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(Last Updated On: November 29, 2021)

A US robot manufacturer said it will offer $200,000 to volunteers to allow the company to use their face on its robots that will work as assistants for airports, hotels, and shopping malls.

Promobot, which is making new realistic robots, said that the volunteers should be willing to transfer the rights to use of their face forever.

“The condition regarding appearance is set due to the project specifics as the robot will function as a consultant within crowded places. Gender and age do not matter,” Promobot said in a statement.

“Our company is developing technologies in the field of speech and facial recognition, autonomous navigation, and artificial intelligence, among other areas of robotics.”

“We have been actively building and supplying humanoid robots to the market. Our new clients want to launch a large-scale project,” the statement added.

By Monday afternoon, however, Promobot had closed the application process, noting it had received over 20,000 applications.

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