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Garmin Says Outage Continues but User Data ‘Not Affected’

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 26 July 2020

Garmin said Saturday that client data from the company’s smartwatch and GPS services — offline since Thursday — has not been compromised, despite fears of a ransomware attack.

“Garmin has no indication that this outage has affected your data, including activity, payment or other personal information,” the company said on its website.

It added: “Although Garmin Connect is not accessible during the outage, activity and health and wellness data collected from Garmin devices during the outage is stored on the device and will appear in Garmin Connect once the user syncs their device.”

Garmin Connect is a health and fitness tracker.

The group, based in Olathe, Kansas, said it was working to restore service as quickly as possible.

While Garmin has yet to explain the nature of the outage, specialised sites have speculated that the company fell victim to a so-called ransomware attack, in which hackers block a victim’s access to its own data unless a ransom is paid.

The company’s Garmin Pilot application, used by pilots to plan flights, has also been blocked, as has the flyGarmin aviation database service.

The outage has affected Garmin’s call centers, meaning the group is unable to respond to customers’ phone calls, emails or online chats.

Specialized website ZDNet reported that after the incident began early Thursday, “several Garmin employees took to social media to share details about the attack, all calling it a ransomware attack.”

It added: “ZDNet has interviewed several and confirmed their claims.”

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Entertainment

Borat Sequel to Release in October on Amazon Prime Video Worldwide: Report

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 30 September 2020

A sequel to the comedy Borat has been purchased by Amazon Prime Video and is expected to hit the streaming platform before November’s US election, a source familiar with the deal told AFP Tuesday following a media report.

The movie will see British comedian and actor Sacha Baron Cohen reprise his cult favorite role as a bumbling and politically incorrect reporter from Kazakhstan, after nearly 15 years.

The 2006 original, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, grossed more than $260 million (roughly Rs. 1,916 crores), winning over critics and spawning endless catchphrases among devoted fans. It even earned an Oscar screenplay nomination.

A sequel to the comedy Borat has been purchased by Amazon Prime Video and is expected to hit the streaming platform before November’s US election, a source familiar with the deal told AFP Tuesday following a media report.

The movie will see British comedian and actor Sacha Baron Cohen reprise his cult favorite role as a bumbling and politically incorrect reporter from Kazakhstan, after nearly 15 years.

The 2006 original, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, grossed more than $260 million (roughly Rs. 1,916 crores), winning over critics and spawning endless catchphrases among devoted fans. It even earned an Oscar screenplay nomination.

According to Deadline, the follow-up movie was shot covertly with minimal crew as soon as coronavirus restrictions eased this summer in the US and overseas. It will debut on Amazon Prime Video in late October in 240 countries and territories, the report adds.

The original saw Cohen’s fictional and homophobic journalist blundering across the US in search of cultural enlightenment, with the joke at the expense of Americans, who nevertheless lapped it up at the box office.

The sequel will again see Cohen “going undercover to get people to reveal their true selves and their often unflattering biases, with only the slightest provocation,” the Deadline report said.

The controversial satirist’s anarchic, gonzo-style comedy has spawned multiple celebrated TV and movie characters such as wannabe rapper Ali G and gay Austrian TV presenter Bruno.

Cohen, who also made the 2012 movie The Dictator starring himself as a Moamer Kadhafi-style despot, was recently seen pranking public figures in the TV series “Who is America?”

In one memorable scene from the show, Cohen hoodwinked Republican politicians into endorsing a made-up plan to train preschoolers in how to fire a gun, although the show drew mixed reviews.

Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential nominee and ex-Alaska governor, slammed the comedian’s “evil, exploitive, sick ‘humor.'”

Cohen plays a leading role in Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar-tipped drama The Trial of the Chicago 7, streaming on Netflix next month.

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Internet

Reliance Retail to Receive Rs. 3,675 Crores Investment From General Atlantic

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By Reuters | Updated: 30 September 2020

India’s Reliance Industries said on Wednesday private equity firm General Atlantic will invest Rs. 3,675 crores for a 0.84 percent stake in its retail arm, Reliance Retail, sending shares of the country’s most valuable company up as much as 1 percent.

The deal underscores growing investor interest in the Mukesh Ambani-led company’s expansion plans as it diversifies from its mainstay oil-and-gas business. Reliance is being seen as a formidable rival to Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart as they battle for market dominance in India.

Wednesday’s investment gives Reliance Retail a pre-money valuation of Rs. 4,28,500 crores, the company said.

Reliance, which in May launched an online grocery service, also operates around 12,000 brick and mortar stores.

Chairman Mukesh Ambani said Reliance would leverage General Atlantic’s “extensive expertise at the intersection of technology and consumer businesses” to expand its new commerce venture, tying neighbourhood stores for online deliveries of groceries, apparel and electronics.

With the latest investment from General Atlantic, which has also invested in Airbnb, Slack and Uber, Reliance has now raised around $2.3 billion (roughly Rs. 16,947 crores) for its retail arm.

General Atlantic is also an investor in Reliance’s digital business Jio platforms, and sources told Reuters this week Abu Dhabi state fund Mubadala is in advanced talks to invest up to $1 billion (roughly Rs. 7,373 crores) in the company’s retail unit.

In India, competition for market share has prompted e-commerce players to look for new partnerships. Financial daily Mint reported on Tuesday US retailer Walmart was in talks to invest up to $25 billion (roughly Rs. 1,84,338 crores) in Tata Group’s planned “super-app”, which will tie in all of the conglomerate’s consumer businesses.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Science

Scientists Publish Most Precise Measurements of Dark Matter Ever Made

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 30 September 2020

A team of US astrophysicists has produced one of the most precise measurements ever made of the total amount of matter in the Universe, a longtime mystery of the cosmos.

The answer, published in The Astrophysical Journal on Monday, is that matter accounts for 31.5 percent, give or take 1.3 percent, of the total amount of matter and energy that make up the Universe.

The remaining 68.5 percent is dark energy, a mysterious force that is causing the expansion of the Universe to accelerate over time, and was first inferred by observations of distant supernovae in the late 1990s.

Put another way, this means the total amount of matter in the observable Universe is equivalent to 66 billion trillion times the mass of our Sun, Mohamed Abdullah, a University of California, Riverside astrophysicist and the paper’s lead author, told AFP.

Most of this matter, 80 percent, is called dark matter. Its nature is not yet known, but it may consist of some as-yet-undiscovered subatomic particle.

The latest measurements correspond well with values previously found by other teams using different cosmological techniques, such as measuring temperature fluctuations in the low-energy radiation left over from the Big Bang.

“This has been a long process over the course of 100 years where we’re gradually getting more and more precise,” Gillian Wilson, the study’s co-author and a professor at UCR told AFP.

“It’s just kind of cool to be able to make such a fundamental measurement about the Universe without leaving planet Earth,” she added.

So how exactly do you weigh the Universe?

The team honed a 90-year-old technique that involves observing how galaxies orbit inside galaxy clusters, massive systems that contain thousands of galaxies.

These observations told them how strong each galaxy cluster’s gravitational pull was, from which its total mass could then be calculated.
Fate of the Universe

In fact, explained Wilson, their technique was originally developed by the pioneering astronomer Fritz Zwicky, who was the first person to suspect the existence of dark matter in galaxy clusters, in the 1930s.

He noticed that the combined gravitational mass of the galaxies he observed in the nearby Coma galaxy cluster was insufficient to prevent those galaxies from flying away from one another, and realised there must be some other invisible matter at play.

The UCR team, whose research received money from the US National Science Foundation and NASA, refined Zwicky’s technique, developing a tool they called GalWeight that determines more accurately which galaxies belong to a given cluster and which do not.

They applied their tool to the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the most detailed three-dimensional maps of the Universe currently available, measuring the mass of 1,800 galaxy clusters and creating a catalogue.

Finally, they compared the number of clusters observed per unit volume in their catalogue against a series of computer simulations, each of which was fed a different value for the total matter of the Universe.

Simulations with too little matter had too few clusters, while those with too much matter had too many clusters.

The “Goldilocks” value they found fit just right.

Wilson explained that having a more precise measure of the total amount of matter in the Universe may take us a step closer to learning the nature of dark matter, because “we know just how much matter we should be looking for” when scientists carry out particle experiments, for example at the Large Hadron Collider.

What’s more, “the total amount of dark matter and dark energy tells us the fate of the Universe,” she added, with the current scientific consensus being that we are headed for a “Big Freeze” where galaxies move further and further apart, and the stars in those galaxies eventually run out of fuel.

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Social Networking

Twitter Says Dataminr Monitoring Service Does Not Violate Surveillance Ban

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 30 September 2020

Twitter defended letting the service, Dataminr, tap into the flow of public tweets to send alerts to police or other government agencies about plans for protests or civil disobedience, such as those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Twitter prohibits the use of our developer services for surveillance purposes. Period,” a spokesman for the San Francisco-based company said in reply to an AFP inquiry.

“We see a societal benefit in public Twitter data being used for news alerting, first responder support, and disaster relief.”

The stance provokes a debate as to what exactly constitutes surveillance.

Dataminr is a social media-monitoring service that uses artificial intelligence to comb platforms such as Twitter for user-determined keywords.

In recent months, Dataminr has provided government clients with alerts that include Twitter handles of those posting messages about protest plans or where activists are blocking streets, according to a Wall Street Journal report that cited seeing email copies of alerts.

A Dataminr service called First Alert “notifies first responders about critical events as they’re happening, minimising response time and enabling them to act quickly and confidently,” according to a post at the company’s website.

First Alert relies on public tweets and was built with input from Twitter. Controls were built in to comply with a Twitter policy against surveillance, according to the social media platform.

Twitter said it does not prohibit alerting information about what is happening that can be gleaned from public tweets.

Protests and discussions about the Black Lives Matter movement are major topics on Twitter.

Threat alerts that can keep people out of danger or help support first responders can focus on specific locations, such as parks or schools, and what is happening, according to Twitter.

Twitter said it has audited Dataminr’s suite of products and found no violation of its ban on surveillance.

“We proactively enforce our policies to ensure customers are in compliance and will continue to do so,” the Twitter spokesman said.

“We consistently hold ourselves accountable to rigorous standards, including third-party audits of key products and services like Dataminr.”

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Apps

TikTok Launches US Elections Guide to Combat Misinformation

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By Reuters | Updated: 30 September 2020

TikTok on Tuesday launched a US election guide as part of an effort to battle misinformation on the wildly popular video-sharing app that the White House has targeted for a ban.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other internet platforms have all ramped up efforts to provide users reliable news and avoid being used to mislead voters during a contentious US election.

TikTok’s in-app guide provides links to voter registration pages and access to election information from sources such as the National Association of Secretaries of State and BallotReady, according to head of US public policy Michael Beckerman.

“Our goal is to keep TikTok a place where authentic content can thrive, and our elections guide reflects our ongoing efforts to protect the integrity of our platform and the US elections,” Beckerman said in a blog post.

The guide can be accessed from a Discover page in the TikTok app and will appear on election-related search results, according to Beckerman.

It will also be linked at the bottom of videos related to the election or on verified political accounts, he said.

“On TikTok we’re seeing how people, especially younger voters, are passionate about important issues and are ready to make their voices heard,” BallotReady chief executive Alex Niemczewski said in the release.

“Younger voters often do not realize everything that will appear on their ballot, and we believe that TikTok can help them vote their entire ballot.”
Voting information

MediaWise at the Poynter Institute will post a series of videos on TikTok aimed at teaching first-time voters how to spot bogus information online, according to program manager Katy Byron.

“We are excited to partner with TikTok to help teach their community how to sort fact from fiction online,” Byron said.

The election guide makes its debut as TikTok battles to stop a ban ordered by US President Donald Trump. The company has challenged the ban in court as being capricious and politically motivated.

A US judge who stopped a ban on TikTok downloads from kicking in on Monday said that Trump likely overstepped the law with the attempted move.

District Judge Carl Nichols issued a temporary injunction at the request of TikTok, which the White House has called a national security threat stemming from its Chinese parent firm’s links to the Beijing government.

The government order sought to ban new downloads of the app from midnight on Sunday. A second phase of the ban aimed at stopping TikTok operations in the US is set to take effect on November 12.

Government lawyers have argued the president has a right to take national security actions, and said the ban was needed because of TikTok’s links to the Chinese government through its parent firm ByteDance.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Internet

Amazon Defends Warehouse Safety Following Report on Injuries

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 30 September 2020

Amazon on Tuesday defended its warehouse safety record after a news investigation pointed to a higher-than-average injury rate in the company’s massive logistics operations.

A report released by the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal project found Amazon fulfillment centers recorded 14,000 serious injuries in 2019 requiring days off or job restrictions.

The report, citing internal documents, concluded that the overall rate of 7.7 serious injuries per 100 employees was 33 percent higher than in 2016 and nearly double the industry standard.

The Reveal report, based on data from 2016 through 2019 from more than 150 US-based Amazon warehouses, suggested that Amazon’s claims on workplace safety belied the statistics.

The report comes amid a wave of complaints over working conditions at Amazon warehouses, even as the company has touted its hefty investments in workplace safety, stepped up during the coronavirus pandemic.

Responding to the report, Amazon strongly denied misleading the public and claimed Reveal’s interpretation of the data was wrong.

“We strongly refute the claims that we’ve misled anyone. At Amazon, we are known for obsessing over customers–but we also obsess about our employees and their safety,” the company said in an email to AFP.

Amazon said Reveal was “misinformed” regarding a safety metric of the government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The company said there is no industry standard on “serious incident rate,” and that using that metric distorts Amazon’s policy which “encourages someone with any type of injury, for example a small strain or sprain, to stay away from work until they’re better.”

Amazon, which has some 900,000 employees worldwide, in 2020 alone has committed some $1 billion to workplace safety to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

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