World’s largest sea turtle could come off ‘endangered’ list

Federal ocean managers say it might be time to move the East Coast population of the world’s largest turtle from the United States’ list of endangered animals.

An arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has received a petition from a fishing group asking that the Northwest Atlantic Ocean’s leatherback sea turtles be listed as “threatened,” but not endangered, under the Endangered Species Act. The giant reptiles, which can weigh 2,000 pounds, would remain protected under federal law, but their status would be moved down a notch.

NOAA officials have said the agency has reviewed the petition from New Jersey-based Blue Water Fishermen’s Association and found “substantial scientific and commercial information” that the move might be warranted. The agency now has about eight months to make a decision about the status of the turtles.

Leatherbacks live all over the world’s oceans and have been listed as endangered by the U.S. since 1970. Deciding whether the listing should be changed will require determining the stability of the population, said Jennifer Schultz, a fisheries biologist with NOAA Fisheries.

“We’ll look at scientific papers, we look at the best available scientific and commercial data,” she said. “And then we’ll say, ‘What does the status look like? How are they doing?’”

The fishing group that requested the change wants the Northwestern Atlantic’s leatherback population to be considered a distinct segment of the population. That segment would include all of the leatherbacks that nest on beaches in the eastern U.S. states. But NOAA Fisheries is going to look at the status of the turtles worldwide, said Angela Somma, chief of endangered species division with NOAA Fisheries.

Blue Water Fishermen’s Association requested the change of listing in part to spur new research into the status of the leatherback population, said Ernie Panacek, a past president of the organization. Data about species such as sea turtles and marine mammals play a role in crafting fishing regulations, and fishermen fear the government is using outdated data about leatherbacks, he said.

“I get a little frustrated in the fact that they are making regulations without scientific data in front of them,” he said. “The more turtles there are, the more interactions you are bound to have with them.”

The leatherback sea turtle has been the subject of intense interest from conservation groups over the years. It’s listing as endangered by the U.S. predates the modern Endangered Species Act that was enacted in 1973. The Costa Rica-based Leatherback Trust, an international nonprofit group, describes them as “ancient creatures celebrated in creation myths belonging to diverse cultures around the world.”

International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the leatherback sea turtle as “vulnerable,” which is one notch above “endangered” on the IUCN’s scale. It’s one of the largest reptiles on Earth, feeding mostly on jellyfish, which has left them at risk to plastic in the ocean, which can kill them if they ingest it. They are also notable for being the deepest diving and most migratory of all sea turtles, and for their lack of a bony shell.

NOAA is collecting information and comments on the subject until Feb. 5.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/worlds-largest-sea-turtle-off-endangered-list-52381692

Wave of lawsuits filed to block net-neutrality repeal

The expected wave of litigation against the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net-neutrality rules has begun.

A group of attorneys general for 21 states and the District of Columbia sued Tuesday to block the rules. So did Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox browser, public-interest group Free Press and New America’s Open Technology Institute. Others may file suit as well, and a major tech-industry lobbying group has said it will support litigation.

The rules barred companies like ATT, Comcast and Verizon from interfering with internet traffic and favoring their own sites and apps. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s push to undo them inspired both street and online protests in defense of the Obama-era rules.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is leading the suit, said Tuesday that the end of the net neutrality rules would hurt consumers and businesses.

FCC spokesman Brian Hart declined to comment on the litigation.

The lawsuits are part of a multi-pronged approach against the net-neutrality repeal. There are efforts by Democrats to undo the repeal in Congress. State lawmakers have also introduced bills to protect net neutrality in their own states. However, the FCC’s order bars state laws from contradicting the federal government’s approach. The FCC’s new rules are not expected to go into effect until later this spring.

THE COURTS

Apart from New York, the other attorneys general participating in the lawsuit are from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia.

The New York attorney general says the FCC made “arbitrary and capricious” changes to existing policies and was unjustified in departing from the FCC’s long-standing policy of defending net neutrality.

The legal challenge could face an uphill battle, however. Antitrust attorney David Balto says the courts have generally shown deference to agencies to set regulations as long as they provide adequate explanations. A court would likely judge that the FCC has the authority to class the internet as an “information service” and invalidate the prior rules, just as the Obama-era FCC had the authority to label internet service a telecommunications utility and regulate it more heavily.

The parties may have to file suit again after the FCC’s order is published in the Federal Register. That hasn’t happened yet. The different suits may also be consolidated.

REPEAL IN CONGRESS

Democrats in the Senate will force a vote on a simple repeal of the FCC’s repeal, using the same law, the Congressional Review Act, that Congress used to undo the Obama-era internet privacy rules . The vote probably won’t happen for a few months.

Democrats need a least two Republican votes to pass a repeal in the Senate. Maine’s Republican Sen. Susan Collins has already said she’ll support it. But the resolution would probably run into difficulties in the House, where Republicans have a much bigger majority. And President Donald Trump seems likely to veto it. The White House has said it supports the FCC’s efforts to roll back regulations.

However, if net neutrality does become a campaign issue with young voters in the 2018 elections, as some Democrats hope, they could use Republicans’ “no” votes on restoring net neutrality rules to their advantage.

STATE BILLS

The FCC order bars states and cities from imposing rules on broadband providers that contradict the FCC’s plan. Lawmakers in a number of states are pursuing net-neutrality bills anyway.

In New York, a bill would bar the state from contracting with broadband companies that don’t follow net-neutrality principles.

In California, one bill would forbid companies like ATT, Comcast and Verizon from blocking, limiting or interfering with customers’ internet service. Another is similar in its approach to the New York bill, predicating state contracts and local cable franchises to companies following net-neutrality policies.

State lawmakers have also introduced bills in Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Washington, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks state bills. A New Mexico state senator has said he will propose legislation.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/state-attorneys-general-sue-block-net-neutrality-repeal-52388069

Intel underfoot: Floor sensors rise as retail data source

The next phase in data collection is right under your feet.

Online clicks give retailers valuable insight into consumer behavior, but what can they learn from footsteps? It’s a question Milwaukee-based startup Scanalytics is helping businesses explore with floor sensors that track people’s movements.

The sensors can also be used in office buildings to reduce energy costs and in nursing homes to determine when someone falls. But retailers make up the majority of Scanalytics’ customers, highlighting one of several efforts brick-and-mortar stores are undertaking to better understand consumer habits and catch up with e-commerce giant Amazon.

Physical stores have been at a disadvantage because they “don’t have that granular level of understanding as to where users are entering, what they’re doing, what shelves are not doing well, which aisles are not being visited,” said Brian Sathianathan, co-founder of Iterate.ai, a small Denver-based company that helps businesses find and test technologies from startups worldwide.

But it’s become easier for stores to track customers in recent years. With Wi-Fi — among the earliest available options — businesses can follow people when they connect to a store’s internet. One drawback is that not everyone logs on so the sample size is smaller. Another is that it’s not possible to tell whether someone is inches or feet away from a product.

Sunglass Hut and fragrance maker Jo Malone use laser and motion sensors to tell when a product is picked up but not bought, and make recommendations for similar items on an interactive display. Companies such as Toronto-based Vendlytics and San Francisco-based Prism use artificial intelligence with video cameras to analyze body motions. That can allow stores to deliver customized coupons to shoppers in real time on a digital shelf or on their cellphones, said Jon Nordmark, CEO of Iterate.ai.

With Scanalytics, Nordmark said, “to have (the sensors) be super useful for someone like a retailer, they may need to power other types of things,” like sending coupons to customers.

Scanalytics co-founder and CEO Joe Scanlin said that’s what his floor sensors are designed to do. For instance, the sensors read a customer’s unique foot compressions to track that person’s path to a digital display and how long the person stand in front of it before walking away, he said. Based on data collected over time, the floor sensors can tell a retailer the best time to offer a coupon or change the display before the customer loses interest.

“Something that in the moment will increase their propensity to purchase a product,” said Scanlin, 29, who started developing the paper-thin sensors that are 2-square feet (0.19-sq. meters) as a student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 2012. He employs about 20 people.

Wisconsin-based bicycle retailer Wheel and Sprocket uses Scanalytics’ sensors — which can be tucked under utility mats — to count the number of customers entering each of its eight stores to help schedule staff.

“That’s our biggest variable expense,” said co-owner Noel Kegel. “That sort of makes or breaks our profitability.”

Kegel wants to eventually have sensors in more areas throughout his stores to measure where customers spend most of their time and what products are popular, but he said it’s too expensive right now.

The cost of having the sensors ranges from $20 to $1,000 per month, depending on square footage and add-on applications to analyze data or interact with digital signs, Scanlin said. He said he’s working with 150 customers in the U.S. and other countries and estimates that about 60 percent are retailers.

The emergence of tracking technologies is bound to raise concerns about privacy and surveillance. But Scanlin noted his sensors don’t collect personally identifying information.

Jeffrey Lenon, 47, who was recently shopping at the Shops of Grand Avenue mall in Milwaukee, said he wasn’t bothered by the idea of stores tracking foot traffic and buying habits.

“If that’s helping the retailer as far as tracking what sells and what no, I think it’s a good idea,” Lenon said.

These technologies have not become ubiquitous in the U.S. yet, but it’s only a matter of time, said Ghose Anindya, a business professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

“In a couple of years this kind of conversation will be like part and parcel of everyday life. But I don’t think we’re there yet,” he said.

———

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Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/intel-underfoot-floor-sensors-rise-retail-data-source-52355259

Warning: Stifling sneezes can be health hazard in rare cases

Tempted to stifle a loud or untimely sneeze? Let it out instead, doctors in England warned Monday based on the very unusual case of a man who ruptured the back of his throat when he tried to suppress a sneeze.

In a case study published in the journal BMJ Case Reports, doctors described their initial confusion when the previously healthy man turned up in the emergency room of a Leicester hospital, complaining of swallowing difficulties and “a popping sensation” in his swollen neck.

The 34-year-old patient told them his problems started after he tried to stop a forceful sneeze by pinching his nose and closing his mouth. He eventually lost his voice and spent a week in the hospital.

“When you sneeze, air comes out of you at about 150 miles per hour,” said Dr. Anthony Aymat, director for ear, nose and throat services at London’s University Hospital Lewisham, who was not involved in the case. “If you retain all that pressure, it could do a lot of damage and you could end up like the Michelin Man with air trapped in your body.”

While examining the sneeze-averse patient, doctors in Leicester heard “crackling in the neck” down to his ribcage, a sign that air bubbles had seeped into his chest. Worried about infection and other possible complications, they admitted him to the hospital, gave him a feeding tube and administered antibiotics, according to details published in BMJ Case Reports.

Dr. Zi Yang Jiang, a head and neck surgeon at University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said he sees one or two cases arising from repressed sneezes each year, making them an “exceedingly rare” occurrence.

Jiang said it was bizarre that a single sneeze could generate enough force to cause the kind of physical damage that usually results from trauma, such as a gunshot wound to the neck. A collapsed lung is among the problems that retaining the air from an imminent sneeze can cause, he said.

“The whole point of sneezing is to get something out of your body, like viruses and bacteria, so if you stop that, those may end up in the wrong part of the body,” he said. Jiang said in most cases, the excess air is later absorbed by the body.

The English patient made a full recovery and was advised to avoid plugging his nose while sneezing in the future. Doctors recommend letting sneezes rip into a tissue instead.

“The safest thing to do — although it’s not socially acceptable — is just to sneeze loud,” Aymat said.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/warning-stifling-sneezes-health-hazard-rare-cases-52366566

Palestinians to get 3G in West Bank, after Israel lifts ban

Palestinians in the West Bank are finally getting high-speed mobile data services, after a yearslong Israeli ban that cost their fragile economy hundreds of millions of dollars, impeded tech start-ups and denied them simple conveniences enjoyed by the rest of the world.

Palestinian cell phone providers Wataniya and Jawwal are expected to launch 3G broadband services in the West Bank by the end of this month, Palestinian officials said, after Israel assigned frequencies and allowed the import of equipment.

“It’s about time,” Wataniya CEO Durgham Maraee said of the anticipated launch, speaking to The Associated Press at company headquarters in the West Bank last week. “It has taken a very, very long time.”

The belated move to 3G comes a decade after Palestinian operators first sought Israeli permits and at a time when faster 4G is increasingly available in the Middle East.

This keeps Palestinian mobile companies at a continued disadvantage, including in competition with Israeli companies that offer 3G and 4G coverage to Palestinian customers in the West Bank through towers installed in Israeli settlements. The World Bank has criticized this state of affairs because the Israeli firms do not pay license fees or taxes to the Palestinian authorities.

The Israeli ban on 3G also remains in place in the Gaza Strip, making that Palestinian territory, dominated by the militant group Hamas, one of the last without such services across the globe. Mobile internet is available in far-flung places, from the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan to the Atlantic’s volcanic rock island of Ascension.

In blocking 3G for years, Israel has cited security concerns, without going into details. Officials suggest, for example, that high-speed mobile data could make it easier for Palestinian militants to communicate while reducing the risk of Israeli surveillance.

Israel’s Shin Bet security agency declined comment Sunday.

COGAT, an Israeli Defense Ministry branch, said it worked on implementing a 2015 memorandum of understanding with the Palestinians on 3G, and that it expects a launch in two to three weeks. Officials did not respond to questions about Israel’s yearslong ban on 3G.

Israel has delayed approval for Palestinian economic development projects in the past, leading to efforts by high-level international efforts to try to speed things along. Most recently, President Donald Trump’s Mideast team has urged Israel to make economic gestures to the Palestinians.

Palestinian officials have said they suspect such projects are being used as political leverage.

At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for so-called “economic peace” with the Palestinians, as he stepped back from offers by predecessors to negotiate the terms of an independent Palestinian state on lands Israel captured in 1967.

At Wataniya headquarters, where employees got 3G as part of pre-launch tests, the mood was upbeat.

The CEO said the 3G launch and the company’s recent expansion into Gaza, after Israel lifted restrictions on importing equipment, could translate into profits in 2018 — the first since Wataniya began operations in 2009 as the second Palestinian cellphone provider.

“The future is bright,” Maraee said.

But the company’s struggles also illustrate the difficulties faced by Palestinian entrepreneurs, large and small, as they operate under Israeli obstacles to trade, movement and access.

Israel has kept a tight grip on the daily lives of Palestinians since its 1967 capture of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, areas sought for a Palestinian state.

It annexed east Jerusalem and retains overall control of the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority, a self-rule government, administers 38 percent of the West Bank, while the remaining area, home to 400,000 Israeli settlers, is largely off-limits to Palestinian economic development.

Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but has enforced a border blockade, along with Egypt, since Hamas seized the strip in 2007. The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas is trying to regain a foothold in Gaza in stop-and-go reconciliation talks with Hamas.

The World Bank has repeatedly urged Israel to unshackle the Palestinian economy to allow private sector growth, essential for lowering double-digit Palestinian unemployment.

In 2016, the bank said the Palestinian mobile phone sector lost more than $1 billion in potential earnings over the previous three years, largely due to Israeli restrictions.

It noted that Israeli providers siphoned off as much as 30 percent of the potential Palestinian customer base in the West Bank with offers of 3G and 4G services.

Maraee said Wataniya has stayed afloat in part because of the continued support of its main investors — the Qatar-based telecommunications company Ooredoo and the self-rule government’s Palestinian Investment Fund.

Wataniya is now at the break-even point, but that it once suffered losses of as much as $20 million a year, he said.

“If it wasn’t for the commitment of the PIF and the Ooredoo Group … to the Palestinian economy, probably Wataniya would not have survived under these trying circumstances,” he said.

Smaller Palestinian entrepreneurs also expect an immediate 3G bump in business.

Ali Taha launched Rocab, an online taxi booking service, last July, but has so far captured only a tiny slice of the market. He expects a significant increase with 3G, since customers would be able to summon a ride from anywhere, instead of having to search for a location with WiFi.

Shadi Atshan, founder of the Palestinian start-up accelerator FastForward, said he expects app development to flourish and generate more Palestinian tech jobs.

For ordinary Palestinians, everyday life will get just a little easier.

Alaa Amouri, 20, a student, said she gets 4G from an Israeli provider that offers only partial coverage in the West Bank.

Mobile data from a Palestinian provider would offer real-time updates on potential trouble on the roads, said Amouri, who commutes between east Jerusalem and her West Bank university, passing through the crowded Israeli-run Qalandiya crossing almost daily.

“It (3G) helps in getting news updates,” she said. “Sometimes when we are at the Qalandiya crossing, we find it blocked without knowing why.”

———

Associated Press writer Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/palestinians-3g-west-bank-israel-lifts-ban-52350087

Lava flowing from Philippine volcano, thousands evacuated

Nearly 15,000 people have fled from villages around the Philippines‘ most active volcano as lava flowed down its crater Monday in a gentle eruption that scientists warned could turn explosive.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology increased the alert level for Mount Mayon late Sunday to three on a scale of five, indicating an increased prospect of a hazardous eruption “within weeks or even days.”

Lava flowed at least half a kilometer (less than half a mile) down a gulley from the crater on Monday morning and ash clouds appeared mid-slope as lava fragments rolled down, said Renato Solidum, who heads the volcano institute. It was hard to track down the lava flow given the thick clouds shrouding the volcano.

Molten rocks and lava at Mayon’s crater lit the night sky Sunday in a reddish-orange glow despite the thick cloud cover, leaving spectators awed but sending thousands of residents into evacuation shelters.

Disaster-response officials said more than 14,700 people have been moved from high-risk areas in three cities and four towns in an ongoing evacuation. People in the danger area have put up huge white crosses in the past in their neighborhoods, hoping to protect their lives and homes.

“There are some who still resist but if we reach alert level four, we’ll really be obligated to resort to forced evacuation,” Cedric Daep, an Albay emergency official, told The Associated Press. Level four signifies the volcano could erupt violently within days.

Mayon lies in coconut-growing Albay province about 340 kilometers (210 miles) southeast of Manila.

Three steam-explosions since Saturday have spewed ash into nearby villages and may have breached solidified lava plugging the crater and caused lava to start gushing out, Solidum said.

With its near-perfect cone, Mayon is popular with climbers and tourists but has erupted about 50 times in the last 500 years, sometimes violently.

In 2013, an ash eruption killed five climbers, including three Germans, who had ventured near the summit despite warnings of possible danger.

Experts fear a major eruption could trigger pyroclastic flows — superheated gas and volcanic debris that race down the slopes at high speeds, incinerating or vaporizing everything in their path. More extensive explosions of ash could drift toward nearby towns and cities, including Legazpi city, the provincial capital, about nine miles (15 kilometers) away.

The bulletin sent Sunday night said a hazardous eruption was possible within weeks or even days. It said the glow in the crater signified the growth of a new lava dome and that the evacuation zone should be enforced due to the dangers of falling rocks, landslides or a collapse of the dome.

Airplanes have been warned not to fly close to the volcano.

Mayon’s first recorded eruption was in 1616. The most destructive in 1814 killed 1,200 people and buried the town of Cagsawa in volcanic mud. The belfry of a Cagsawa church juts out of the ground in a reminder of Mayon’s deadly fury and has become a tourist attraction.

———

Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed to this report.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/lava-flowing-philippine-volcano-thousands-evacuated-52349542

WATCH: How well does the iPhone X withstand a fall?

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Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/iphone-withstand-fall-52297970

Puerto Rican astronaut reaches out to island’s schoolkids

The first astronaut of Puerto Rican heritage reached out Friday to schoolchildren on the hurricane-bashed island.

Flying aboard the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Joe Acaba fielded questions from students at the Puerto Rico Institute of Robotics in Manati. One student asked how Puerto Rico looked from space after Hurricane Maria struck in September. Acaba said the first thing he noticed was the lack of lights, making the island almost impossible to see at night.

A boy noted that after the hurricane, it was difficult for some Puerto Ricans to eat given the limited variety of available food. Does Acaba find the limited space menu tough to swallow?

The menu, while pretty good, repeats every week or two and does get monotonous, Acaba said. Of course, he said it doesn’t compare to such Puerto Rican specialties as pasteles, stuffed meat pastries wrapped in banana leaves popular around Christmas, and rice with pigeon peas and pork.

“I’m ready to get home and have a great meal,” he said.

Acaba, a former school teacher, is supposed to return to Earth at the end of February. He arrived at the space station a week before Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, already reeling from Hurricane Irma.

The astronaut’s parents were from Hatillo, Puerto Rico, and moved to the U.S. He was born in Southern California and grew up there, but has lots of relatives still in the U.S. territory.

Technical difficulties with the institute’s Skype connection ate up nine minutes of the 23-minute conversation. Acaba switched between English and Spanish in answering students’ questions, ranging from his experience as a teacher to daily life aboard the orbiting outpost. He assured the students that the drinking water — recycled from the six-man crew’s urine — actually tastes great and is as natural as it gets. As for sleeping, he said he’s getting some of the best sleep of his life.

The students were brought to the institute from across Puerto Rico for the event.

Selected by NASA in 2004, Acaba remains the space agency’s only astronaut of Puerto Rican heritage.

———

AP reporter Danica Coto contributed to this report from Puerto Rico.

———

Online:

NASA: https://www.nasa.gov/mission—pages/station/main/index.html

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/puerto-rican-astronaut-reaches-islands-schoolkids-52310671

Samsung targeted by French lawsuit amid alleged labor abuse

Two French rights groups have filed a lawsuit against electronics giant Samsung, accusing it of misleading advertising because of alleged labor abuses at factories in China and South Korea.

It’s the latest labor challenge to Samsung, which has faced growing health complaints from workers in recent years, even as profits soar thanks to its blockbuster semiconductor business.

The unusual lawsuit filed Thursday in Paris court by groups Sherpa and ActionAid France names Samsung Global, the headquarters in Suwon, South Korea, and its French subsidiary. It is now up to the court to decide whether to take up the case.

It accuses Samsung of “deceptive trade practices,” based on documents from China Labor Watch and others alleging violations including exploitation of children, excessive working hours and use of dangerous equipment and gases.

Samsung did not immediately comment.

On its website, it says it maintains “a world-class environment, safety and health infrastructure and rigorous standards to safeguard our employees’ well-being.”

It notes “the cleanliness of the air within our facilities is equivalent to or better than that we breathe in our general surroundings.” It also says it “monitors all risks associated with work environments at all suppliers … on a real-time basis.”

The lawsuit is part of larger efforts by rights groups to use French courts to hold multinationals to account for alleged wrongdoing, and to push for an international treaty against corporate abuses.

The groups argue that French consumers were among those deceived by Samsung’s pledges of ethical treatment of workers, and therefore French courts can rule in the case. But they want to call attention to the problem beyond French borders.

“We hope to make things evolve not only in France but on an international level,” said Marie-Laure Guislain, legal director for Sherpa.

“It’s not just about Samsung,” she told The Associated Press. “It’s the rights of workers under question.”

China Labor Watch has published several reports on child labor at Samsung suppliers in China based on years of undercover investigations. The New York-based nonprofit has long investigated working conditions at suppliers to some of the world’s best-known companies including Walt Disney Co. and Apple Inc.

In South Korea, where Samsung is a national icon, courts recently have begun to rule in favor of workers believed sickened by chemicals used in manufacturing. Many former Samsung workers have sought compensation or financial aid from the government or from Samsung for a possible occupational disease.

Samsung also is recovering from a management crisis, after its de facto leader Lee Jae-yong was sentenced to prison for bribery and other charges, and the departure of the heads of its semiconductor, mobile business and TV divisions.

———

Youkyoung Lee in Seoul contributed to this report.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/french-groups-sue-samsung-amid-alleged-labor-abuse-52277454

France vs. fake news offers test case for democratic dilemma

Can a democratic country outlaw fake news?

France is about to find out, after President Emmanuel Macron ordered a law to quash false information disseminated around electoral campaigns.

Criticism is pouring in from media advocates, tech experts — and Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT. They say the law smacks of authoritarianism, would be impossible to enforce and is sure to backfire.

Macron’s stance “could be just the beginning of actually censoring freedom of speech. We believe it is a very dangerous situation,” Xenia Fedorova, director of RT’s newly launched French-language channel, told The Associated Press.

Yet in a world where a falsehood can reach billions instantaneously and political manipulation is increasingly sophisticated, Macron argues something must be done.

A congressional report by U.S. Democrats released Thursday detailed apparent Russian efforts to undermine politics in 19 European countries since 2016, using cyberattacks, disinformation, clandestine social media operations, financing of fringe political groups and, in extreme cases, assassination attempts. Macron’s own campaign suffered a big hacking attack last year, though the government later said it found no proof of Russian involvement.

Propaganda and disinformation aren’t new or unique to Russia. Author and technology historian Edward Tenner argues that fake news is as old as George Washington’s cherry tree — an enduring but untrue legend about the first U.S. president.

While democracies usually rely on defamation and libel laws to combat false publications, Macron wants more.

In a New Year’s speech to journalists, he said he’s ordering a new “legal arsenal” that would oblige news sites to reveal who owns them and where their money comes from. It could cap the money allowed for content seen as aimed at swaying an election and allow emergency legal action to block websites. The French broadcast regulator’s power would expand to allow it to suspend media seen as trying to destabilize a vote — notably those “controlled or influenced by foreign powers.”

That probably means outlets such as RT — whose coverage was seen as favoring far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in last year’s French election and which many consider a tool of the Russian government — and Sputnik, another Russian-backed outlet that drew attention for reporting a rumor during the French presidential campaign that Macron was having a gay affair.

He denied it, and beat Le Pen anyway, but never forgot.

RT’s Fedorova says they are being unfairly targeted. Speaking from RT’s gleaming French studios on the banks of the Seine River, she says she struggled to get permits to open in France, and her journalists are routinely barred from the Elysee Palace after Macron accused RT and Sputnik last year of being “organs” of Russian influence.

RT France’s coverage appears broadly similar to other French networks, with a slightly greater emphasis on street violence and migrants. The biggest difference: its extensive coverage of Syria, which stresses the views of the Russian and Syrian governments.

“RT stands for giving the floor, the platform to different opinions, and I personally believe that diversity of voices is absolutely necessary in order to have the big picture,” said Fedorova, who says RT will be watching Macron’s plan closely.

Media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders is also watching closely. It has decried fake news as undermining journalists who work hard to uncover wrongdoing and verify information, but the group is wary of Macron’s order.

“We are not opposed to the principle of a law against fake news. But the point is to be able to write a law without endangering the freedom to reveal things,” the group’s chief, Christophe Deloire, told the AP.

“Probably our democracies have to be defended in front of the fake news wave,” he said, but not “with the ways that despotic countries use.”

His group, also known by French acronym RSF, is working with partners on a potential certification system that could classify news sources according to their verification methods, transparency about financing and other criteria — and leave it up to the public to decide what to believe.

As France’s government prepares its bill, it will be learning lessons from a German law that went into effect this month cracking down on hate speech on social networks. Some fear legitimate posts by satirists or journalists are being accidentally caught up in the dragnet.

Shutting down websites can also backfire by calling more attention to them.

“The only long-term solution for the fake news problem is a more sophisticated public,” Tenner said.

“Sophisticated manipulators of facts will always find a way around whatever regulations are in place,” such as creating a front company to sponsor a website or writing “something that is misleading and inflammatory that is factually true,” he said.

Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, outlines another problem: “People like fake news. It reinforces their beliefs.”

Macron is prompting “a very valid conversation” about campaign funding and transparency. But “where it runs into trouble is when they try to define fake news,” he said.

The Macron government’s digital affairs chief is lucid about the challenges ahead.

“This is the beginning of the debate. We won’t go too fast,” Mounir Mahjoubi told the AP.

He insists governments shouldn’t remain complacent, especially with elections coming up in Italy, Russia and the U.S., and for the European Parliament next year.

“We need to ask this question,” he said, “and work all together on what can be done.”

———

David Rising in Berlin and Jona Kallgren in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/france-fake-news-unwinnable-battle-52339435