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Google Says It Used AI to Reduce Traffic Delays, Fuel Use in Israel; Plans to Test in Rio De Janeiro

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By Reuters | Updated: 6 October 2021

Alphabet’s Google cut fuel use and traffic delays by 10 percent to 20 percent at four locations in Israel by using artificial intelligence to optimize signal lights and it next plans to test the software in Rio de Janeiro, the company said on Wednesday.

The early-phase research project is among new software initiatives inside [Google] to combat climate change. Some employees as well as advocacy groups have called on the company, the world’s third-most valuable, to more urgently use its influence to combat the crisis.

While Google has not addressed critics’ calls to stop selling technology to oil companies or funding lawmakers who deny global warming, it has prioritized sustainability features.

Google plans in the coming weeks to allow its Nest thermostat users to buy renewable energy credits for $10 (roughly Rs. 750) a month to offset emissions from heating and cooling. Credits will come from projects in Texas including Bethel Wind Farm and Roseland Solar. A majority of the funds will go toward credit purchases and utility-bill payment costs, Google said, without elaborating on the remainder.

For no charge across the United States, Nest users soon can automatically shift heating and cooling to times when energy is cleaner.

New informational panels alongside search results show emissions or other environmental ratings of flights globally and cars and home appliances in the United States. To stem misinformation, English, Spanish and French queries mentioning “climate change” starting this month will feature explanations from the United Nations.

Based on early results in Israel’s Haifa and Beer-Sheva, Rio de Janeiro’s municipal traffic authority expressed high hopes for the AI to better time traffic signal changes. It told Reuters the system should be introduced within months with locations announced soon.

Aleksandar Stevanovic, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at University of Pittsburgh, said simulations show AI could smooth traffic flow. But he questioned whether a tech company without traffic engineering expertise ultimately could bring such software to reality.

“Every year there is someone new claiming we can do wonders,” he said.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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SolarWinds Hackers Said to Have Stolen Sensitive US Data on Russia Sanctions, Intelligence Probes

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By Reuters | Updated: 8 October 2021

The suspected Russian hackers who used SolarWinds and Microsoft software to burrow into US federal agencies emerged with information about counter-intelligence investigations, policy on sanctioning Russian individuals and the country’s response to COVID-19, people involved in the investigation told Reuters.

The hacks were widely publicised after their discovery late last year, and American officials have blamed Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service, which denies the activity. But little has been disclosed about the spies’ aims and successes.

The reluctance of some publicly traded companies to explain their exposure has prompted a broad Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry.

The campaign alarmed officials with its stealth and careful staging. The hackers burrowed into the code production process at SolarWinds, which makes widely used software for managing networks.

The group also took advantage of weaknesses in Microsoft’s methods for identifying users in Office 365, breaching some targets that used Microsoft software but not SolarWinds.

It has been previously reported that the hackers breached unclassified Justice Department networks and read emails at the departments of treasury, commerce and homeland security. Nine federal agencies were breached. The hackers also stole digital certificates used to convince computers that software is authorised to run on them and source code from Microsoft and other tech companies.

One of the people involved said that the exposure of counter-intelligence matters being pursued against Russia was the worst of the losses.

A spokesperson for the Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

A White House official said that President Joe Biden has issued orders improving federal agency security, among other things requiring more multifactor-authentication and more monitoring of workplace devices.

In an annual threat-review paper released on Thursday, Microsoft said the Russian spies were ultimately looking for government material on sanctions and other Russia-related policies, along with US methods for catching Russian hackers.

Cristin Goodwin, general manager of Microsoft’s Digital Security Unit, said the company drew its conclusions from the types of customers and accounts it saw being targeted. In such cases, she told Reuters, “You can infer the operational aims from that.”

Others who worked on the government’s investigation went further, saying they could see the terms that the Russians used in their searches of US digital files, including “sanctions.”

Chris Krebs, the former head of US cyber-defense agency CISA and now an adviser to SolarWinds and other companies, said the combined descriptions of the attackers’ goals were logical.

“If I’m a threat actor in an environment, I’ve got a clear set of objectives. First, I want to get valuable intelligence on government decision-making. Sanctions policy makes a ton of sense,” Krebs said.

The second thing is to learn how the target responds to attacks, or “counter-incident response,” he said: “I want to know what they know about me so I can improve my tradecraft and avoid detection.”

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Google, YouTube to Stop Serving Advertisements Next to Climate Change Misinformation

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 8 October 2021

Google on Thursday said it will no longer post advertisements next to misinformation about climate change on its search engine or on global video-sharing platform YouTube. The new policy for Google advertisers, publishers, and YouTube creators will prohibit the platforms from helping people make money from content that “contradicts well-established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change.”

That includes online content referring to climate change as a hoax or a scam, or denying the world’s temperature is rising and that human activity is contributing to the problem, Google said in a post.

“Advertisers simply don’t want their advertisements to appear next to this content,” Google said.

“And publishers and creators don’t want advertisements promoting these claims to appear on their pages or videos.”

The Internet giant added that the policy change aligns with efforts by the company to promote sustainable practices and confront climate change.

“Google’s important decision to demonetise climate misinformation could turn the tide on the climate denial economy,” said NGO Avaaz campaign director Fadi Quran.

“For years, climate misinformers have confused public opinion and obstructed urgent political action on climate change, and YouTube has been one of their weapons of choice.”

Quran urged other online platforms to follow Google’s lead and stop funneling money to those peddling debunked denials of climate change.

Social networking colossus Facebook, which is Google’s biggest competitor in the digital advertising market, touts efforts to curb climate misinformation at its platform but has no such advertisement ban in place.

Social media platforms are regularly accused of promoting content that provokes strong emotional responses in order to keep users engaged so the platforms can make more money made from advertisements, even if the content can cause harm.

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Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, More US Tech Giants Should Be Regulated Where They’re Based: EU Lawmaker

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By Reuters | Updated: 6 October 2021

US tech giants such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon should be regulated by the EU country where they are based under proposed EU rules, a top lawmaker said on Tuesday, knocking back efforts by some countries to broaden the planned act’s scope.

The country of origin principle is set out in EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager’s draft rules known as the Digital Services Act which requires US tech giants to do more to police the internet for illegal and harmful content.

The principle means Ireland is responsible for regulating Apple, Alphabet unit Google and Facebook because they have their European headquarters there while Amazon is subject to Luxembourg’s supervision.

France and a few other countries are seeking to broaden the scope, worried that enforcement concentrated in just two countries may weaken the rules and also slow down decision-making.

Lawmaker Christel Schaldemose, who is steering the DSA through the European Parliament and has power to amend or add other provisions to it, supports the act’s core proposal.

“It makes sense to keep the country of origin principle,” she told Reuters in an interview.

Schaldemose however wants to go one step further than Vestager by including a ban on some targeted advertising in the DSA.

“Targeted advertisements that are based on your behaviour on Facebook, for instance, that should not be allowed. Advertisements based on the fact that you have visited websites for buying shoes and things like that, classic commercial advertisements should probably be allowed,” she said.

Schaldemoe said she hopes to finalise her draft with other lawmakers in the next two months so she can thrash out a deal with EU countries next year before the proposed rules can be implemented.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram Outage: Mark Zuckerberg Loses $6 Billion in Hours as Services Plunge

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By Reuters | Updated: 5 October 2021

Mark Zuckerberg’s personal wealth has fallen by more than $6 billion (roughly Rs. 44,790 cores) in a few hours, knocking him down a notch on the list of the world’s richest people, after a whistleblower came forward and outages took Facebook’s flagship products offline.

A selloff sent the social-media giant’s stock plummeting 4.9 percent on Monday, adding to a drop of about 15 percent since mid-September.

The stock slide on Monday sent Zuckerberg’s worth down to $121.6 billion (roughly Rs. 9,06,050 crores), dropping him below Bill Gates to No. 5 on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He’s down from almost $140 billion (roughly Rs.10,43,150 crores) in a matter of weeks, according to the index.

Topping the charts
On September 13, the Wall Street Journal began publishing a series of stories based on a cache of internal documents, revealing that Facebook knew about a wide range of problems with its products — such as Instagram’s harm to teenage girls’ mental health and misinformation about the January 6 Capitol riots — while downplaying the issues in public. The reports have drawn the attention of government officials, and on Monday, the whistleblower revealed herself.

In response, Facebook has emphasised that the issues facing its products, including political polarisation, are complex and not caused by technology alone.

“I think it gives people comfort to assume that there must be a technological or a technical explanation for the issues of political polarisation in the United States,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, told CNN.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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US Lawsuit Blames Hospital Under Cyberattack for Baby’s Death

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By Associated Press | Updated: 2 October 2021

An Alabama woman whose 9-month-old daughter died has filed suit against the hospital where she was born claiming it did not disclose that its computer systems had been crippled by a cyberattack, which resulted in diminished care that resulted in the baby’s death. Springhill Medical Center was deep in the midst of a ransomware attack when Nicko Silar was born July 17, 2019, and the resulting failure of electronic devices meant a doctor could not properly monitor the child’s condition during delivery, according to the lawsuit by Teiranni Kidd, the child’s mother.

Left with severe brain injuries and other problems, the baby died last year after months of intensive care at another hospital. The lawsuit, initially filed in Mobile County in 2019 while Nicko was still alive, was first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Thursday. The malpractice lawsuit, which seeks an unspecified amount of money from the hospital and Dr. Katelyn Braswell Parnell, who delivered Nicko, contends Springhill did not reveal the severity of the cyberattack publicly or to Kidd. The woman “would have gone to a different and safer hospital for labor and delivery” had she known what was going on, it claims.

Springhill has denied wrongdoing and asked a judge to dismiss the most serious part of the lawsuit, which contends officials conspired to publicly create a “false, misleading, and deceptive narrative” about the cyberattack in a scheme that made the child’s delivery unsafe. The hospital claimed any blame lies with Parnell, who “was fully aware of the inaccessibility of the relevant systems, including those in the labor and delivery unit, and yet determined that (Kidd) could safely deliver her at Springhill.” Under Alabama law, the hospital did not have any legal duty to provide Kidd with details of the cyberattack, the hospital argued.

Parnell and her medical group, Bay Area Physicians for Women, denied she did anything that hurt Nicko or caused the child’s injuries and death. Springhill released a public statement about the cyberattack the day before the child was born saying staff “has continued to safely care for our patients and will continue to provide the high quality of service that our patients deserve and expect,” WKRG-TV reported at the time.

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Amazon Settles With 2 Employees It Fired Last Year

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By Associated Press | Updated: 2 October 2021

Amazon is settling with two former tech workers who accused the retail giant of illegally firing them last year for speaking out against the company. The former employees, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, publicly criticized the company and pushed Amazon to better protect warehouse workers from COVID-19.

They also wanted Amazon to do more to reduce its impact on climate change. Cunningham and Costa said the settlement means Amazon will have to pay them lost wages and put up notices saying the company can’t fire workers for organizing and exercising their rights. “This is a win for protecting workers rights, and shows that we were right to stand up for each other, for justice, and for our world,” Cunningham and Costa said in a statement.

In settling, Amazon also avoids a potentially lengthy hearing before the National Labor Relations Board. Amazon said in a statement Thursday that it welcomes “the resolution of this matter.” The former employees, who were user-experience designers at Amazon in Seattle, were the two most prominent voices among a group of workers who wanted the company to take more steps to combat climate change and stop doing business with oil and gas companies.

They held protests and spoke to the media about their concerns. Last year, as COVID-19 spread in the US, Cunningham and Costa were fired after helping to plan a call between Amazon warehouse and office workers to talk about unsafe conditions in the online shopping giant’s warehouses, where people worked throughout the pandemic to pack and ship online orders. At the time Amazon said it fired them for violating internal policies, not because they talked publicly about working conditions or sustainability. Shortly after, an Amazon executive quit in protest, saying he couldn’t stand by as whistleblowers were silenced.

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