US Recruits Next Generation of Cybersecurity Professionals

Online data is at risk. Hackers are getting smarter and companies across the globe are facing a shortage of trained professionals who can help protect their data. To fill this gap, the U.S. government is beefing up its efforts to recruit the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. VOA’s Sahar Majid has more.

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Research: Russian Disinformation on YouTube Draws Ads, Lacks Warnings

Fourteen Russia-backed YouTube channels spreading disinformation have been generating billions of views and millions of dollars in advertising revenue, according to researchers, and had not been labeled as state-sponsored, contrary to the world’s most popular streaming service’s policy.

The channels, including news outlets NTV and Russia-24, carried false reports ranging from a U.S. politician covering up a human organ harvesting ring to the economic collapse of Scandinavian countries. Despite such content, viewers have flocked to the channels and U.S. and European companies have bought ads that run alongside them.

The previously unpublished research by Omelas, a Washington-based firm that tracks online extremism for defense contractors, provides the most comprehensive view yet of the Russian government’s success in attracting viewers and generating revenue from propaganda on YouTube, which has 2 billion monthly viewers worldwide.

YouTube, owned by Alphabet Inc’s Google, introduced a policy in February of 2018 to identify channels predominantly carrying news items and are wholly or partly funded by national governments, in order to help users make informed viewing decisions.

YouTube said on Wednesday that following inquiries from Reuters it added the state-funding disclaimer to 13 additional Russian channels, including eight of the channels spreading disinformation.

Twelve other Russia-sponsored channels identified by Omelas with misleading or inaccurate news reports already had the state-funding label.

Collectively, the 26 channels drew 9 billion views from January 2017 through December 2018, Omelas found. Another 24 Russian channels with no apparent ties to disinformation attracted an additional 4 billion views, Omelas said.

Omelas estimated those 13 billion total views could have generated up to $58 million from ads, including some from Western advertisers. It estimated that Russia could have received $7 million to $32 million under YouTube’s standard revenue-sharing program, while YouTube itself would have pocketed from $6 million to $26 million.

An accurate analysis is difficult because YouTube shares limited audience and sales data. YouTube declined comment on the channels’ revenue. Calls and emails to the Russian government and the country’s embassies in the United States and Britain were not returned.

It is not uncommon for state broadcasters around the world to put videos on YouTube. Russia’s channels, though, have faced more scrutiny since the United States concluded that Russian operatives attempted to disrupt the 2016 presidential election by posting fake news to social media from fabricated personas and news organizations. Russia has denied any wrongdoing.

“YouTube continues to enable the monetization of state propaganda, fringe conspiracies and intentional outrage,” said Ryan Fox, chief operating officer of cybersecurity firm New Knowledge.

Money-maker for Google

YouTube said it welcomes governments in its revenue-sharing program and does not bar disinformation.

“We don’t treat state-funded media channels differently than other channels when it comes to monetization, as long as they comply with all of our other policies,” YouTube spokeswoman Alex Krasov told Reuters. “And we give users context for news-related content, including by labeling government-funded news sources.” 

The Russian-sponsored YouTube channels come from government ministries and state media networks, some dating back 13 years, according to Omelas, which based its research on a public database from the European Union of online disinformation sources.

The channels listed by Omelas, of which NTV was the most viewed, contain nearly 770,000 videos, including singing competitions, talk shows and news clips, some more clearly biased or inaccurate than others. A few of the channels are in English, French or other languages but most are in Russian. YouTube mostly generates its revenue from selling ads placed adjacent to, before or during videos on its service.

Some Western advertisers, which were unaware their ads were appearing on Russian channels, told Reuters they were concerned about being associated with questionable content.

Grammarly, an online grammar-checking service whose ads appeared on Russian channels with deliberately misleading news, told Reuters it would never knowingly associate with misinformation.

“We have stringent exclusion filters in place with YouTube that we believed would exclude such channels, and we’ve asked YouTube to ensure this does not happen again,” spokesperson Senka Hadzimuratovic said in a statement.

Other ads reaching viewers on Russian-funded conspiracy videos came from insurer Liberty Mutual, the European Central Bank and software firms Adobe Inc, Yandex NV and Wix.com Ltd, according to research by Omelas and Reuters.

The ECB, Adobe and Yandex declined to comment. Liberty Mutual and Wix did not respond to requests for comment. John Montgomery, a global executive vice president at ad buying company GroupM, said advertisers can set filters to automatically avoid supporting some objectionable channels but they are imperfect.

“Disinformation is probably the biggest challenge we’ve got on the internet today,” he said.

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Facebook Stops Huawei From Pre-Installing Its Apps on Phones

Facebook has stopped letting its apps come pre-installed on smartphones sold by Huawei in order to comply with U.S. restrictions, dealing a fresh blow to the Chinese tech giant.

The social network said Friday that it has suspended providing software for Huawei to put on its devices while it reviews recently introduced U.S. sanctions.

Owners of existing Huawei smartphones that already have Facebook apps can continue using them and downloading updates.

It’s not clear if buyers of new Huawei devices will be able to install Facebook’s apps on their own.

Facebook’s move is the latest fallout in the escalating U.S.-China tech feud.

The Commerce Department last month effectively barred U.S. companies from selling their technology to Huawei and other Chinese firms without government approval.

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Google Cloud Gaming Service to Launch in 14 Countries This Year

Google on Thursday released new details about its video game streaming service Stadia, which will be available in 14 countries starting in November.

For the launch, Google will sell its “founders edition bundle” hardware pack for $129, with a monthly subscription price of $9.99. In Europe, the price will be 129 euros and 9.99 euros per month.

The new gaming platform aims for a Netflix-style subscription that enables players to access games on any device, powered by the internet cloud.

This could disrupt the huge gaming industry by allowing users to avoid consoles and game software on disc or download.

Subscribers will have access to free games and will be able to purchase some blockbuster titles as well.

The first free title will be the shooter game Destiny 2 from game developer Bungie.

Users may also purchase hit titles such as Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Ghost Recon Breakpoint.

Stadia will launch in the United States, Britain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden.

Announcing the game platform earlier this year, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said the initiative is “to build a game platform for everyone.”

Google’s hope is that Stadia could become for games what Netflix or Spotify are to television or music, by making console-quality play widely available.

Yet it remains unclear how much Google can grab of the nascent, but potentially massive, industry.

As it produces its own games, Google will also be courting other studios to move to its cloud-based model.

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Ai-Da, Humanoid Robot Artist, Gears Up for First Solo Exhibition

Wearing a white blouse and her dark hair hanging loose, Ai-Da looks like any artist at work as she studies her subject and puts pencil to paper. But the beeping from her bionic arm gives her away – Ai-Da is a robot.

Described as “the world’s first ultra-realistic AI humanoid robot artist,” Ai-Da opens her first solo exhibition of eight drawings, 20 paintings, four sculptures and two video works next week, bringing “a new voice” to the art world, her British inventor and gallery owner Aidan Meller says.

“The technological voice is the important one to focus on because it affects everybody,” he told Reuters at a preview.

“We’ve got a very clear message we want to explore: the uses and abuses of A.I. today, because this next decade is coming in dramatically and we’re concerned about that and we want to have ethical considerations in all of that.”

Named after British mathematician and computer pioneer Ada Lovelace, Ai-Da can draw from sight thanks to cameras in her eyeballs and AI algorithms created by scientists at the University of Oxford that help produce coordinates for her arm to create art.

She uses a pencil or pen for sketches, but the plan is for Ai-Da to paint and create pottery. Her paint works now are printed onto canvas with a human painting over.

“From those coordinates from the drawing we’ve been able to take that into a algorithm that is then able to output it through a Cartesian graph that then produces a final image,” Meller said.

“It’s a really exciting process never been done before in the way that we’ve done it…We don’t know exactly how the drawings are going to turn out and that’s really important.”

On show at the “Unsecured Futures” exhibition are drawings paying tribute to Lovelace and mathematician Alan Turing, abstract paintings of trees, sculptures based on Ai-Da’s drawings of a bee and video works, one of which, “Privacy” pays homage to Yoko Ono’s 1965 “Cut Piece.”

Ai-Da, whose construction was completed in April, has already seen her art snapped up.

“It’s a sold out show with over a million pounds worth of artworks sold,” Meller said.

The exhibition, which opens on June 12 at the Barn Gallery at St John’s College, looks at the boundaries between technology, AI and organic life.

Asked by Meller about “all the AI going on at the moment,” Ai-Da, who has pre-programmed speech, replied: “New technologies bring the potential for good and evil. It is a great responsibility to try to curb excesses of negative use, something that we all must consider.”

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Canada Details Plans for 5G Internet Rollout

Canada on Wednesday said it was preparing for the arrival of ultra-fast 5G internet service as it outlined plans to make more 5G spectrum available starting next year.

The federal Innovation Ministry released a paper outlining changes to an auction expected next year, a decision on a higher frequency millimeter wave spectrum in 2021, and a proposal for a new frequency in 2022.

“The next steps in our plan will continue to improve rural internet access and allow for the timely deployment of 5G connectivity while increasing the level of competition to lower prices for Canadians,” Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said in a statement.

The government estimates that 5G wireless technologies could be a C$40 billion ($29.8 billion) industry in Canada by 2026, and it is investing C$199 million over five years to modernize spectrum equipment.

Canada has not yet said whether or not it will use 5G equipment provided by China-based Huawei Technologies Co Ltd.

The United States has accused Huawei of being tied to China’s government, and has effectively banned U.S. firms from doing business with the company for national security reasons.

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Amazon Says Drones Will Be Making Deliveries In Months

Amazon said Wednesday that it plans to use self-driving drones to deliver packages to shoppers’ home in the coming months 

The online shopping giant did not give exact timing or say where the drones will be making deliveries.

Amazon said its new drones use computer vision and machine learning to detect and avoid people or laundry clotheslines in backyards when landing.  

“From paragliders to power lines to a corgi in the backyard, the brain of the drone has safety covered,” said Jeff Wilke, who oversees Amazon’s retail business. 

Wilke said the drones are fully electric, can fly up to 15 miles and carry packages that weigh up to five pounds. 

Amazon has been working on drone delivery for years. Back in December 2013, Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos told the “60 Minutes” news show that drones would be flying to customer’s homes within five years. But that deadline passed due to regulatory hurdles.  

The Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates commercial use of drones in the U.S., did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. 

In April, a subsidiary of search giant Google won approval from the FAA to make drone deliveries in parts of Virginia. 

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