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Huawei 5G Ban in Sweden Faces Flak From Ericsson CEO Borje Ekholm: Report

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By Reuters | Updated: 18 November 2020

Ericsson’s CEO said Sweden’s decision to ban China’s Huawei from its 5G telecoms networks restricts free competition and trade, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday.

Swedish telecoms regulator PTS earlier this month halted 5G spectrum auctions after a court suspended parts of its decision that had excluded Huawei from 5G networks over national security risks.

The Swedish telecoms gear maker’s CEO Borje Ekholm said it was important to have open markets and free competition.

“I belong in that category that believes competition makes us longer term a better company. It may be painful shorter term but longer term it drives us to be more innovative and make better products for our customers,” he told the FT.

Ericsson has won contracts from all three major operators in China to supply radio equipment for 5G networks, while Nokia has not won any 5G radio contracts in the highly competitive market.

Huawei, which has denied being a national security risk, has appealed against Sweden’s decision to exclude it from 5G networks.

China’s foreign ministry has said Sweden should address its incorrect decision to ban Huawei and ZTE to avoid a negative impact on Swedish companies in China.

Ekholm told FT that he expected the overall rollout of the new telecoms networks to be delayed, adding the political focus in Europe should be on rolling out 5G as fast as possible.

“Think about 4G, the debate in Europe was: what is the killer app? The Americans and Chinese rolled out 4G fastest and the app economy for consumers is now dominated by American and Chinese firms,” he said.

“5G is going to be the same but for enterprise. Slowing the rollout of 5G is a risk for the economy. Europe risks falling behind again.”

© Thomson Reuters 2020

Science

Japan’s Hayabusa2 Space Probe to Bring Asteroid Dust to Earth

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 4 December 2020

Call it a special delivery: after six years in space, Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe is heading home, but only to drop off its rare asteroid samples before starting a new mission.

The fridge-sized probe, launched in December 2014, has already thrilled scientists by landing on and gathering material from an asteroid some 300 million kilometres (185 million miles) from Earth.

But its work isn’t over yet, with scientists from Japan’s space agency JAXA now planning to extend its mission for more than a decade and targeting two new asteroids.

Before that mission can begin, Hayabusa2 needs to drop off its precious samples from the asteroid Ryugu, “dragon palace” in Japanese.

Scientists are hoping the capsule will contain around 0.1 grams of material that will offer clues about what the solar system was like at its birth some 4.6 billion years ago.

The samples could shed light on “how matter is scattered around the solar system, why it exists on the asteroid and how it is related to Earth,” project manager Yuichi Tsuda told reporters ahead of Sunday’s drop-off.

The material is in a capsule that will separate from Hayabusa2 while it is some 220,000 kilometres above Earth and then plummet into the southern Australian desert.

They were collected during two crucial phases of the mission last year.

In the first, Hayabusa2 touched down on Ryugu to collect dust before firing an “impactor” to stir up pristine material from below the surface. Months later, it touched down to collect additional samples.

“We may be able to get substances that will give us clues to the birth of a planet and the origin of life… I’m very interested to see the substances,” mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa told reporters.

Protected from sunlight and radiation inside the capsule, the samples will be collected, processed, then flown to Japan.

Half the material will be shared between JAXA, US space agency NASA and other international organisations, and the rest kept for future study as advances are made in analytic technology.

Two new asteroid targets
After dropping off its samples, Hayabusa2 will complete a series of orbits around the sun for around six years, recording data on dust in interplanetary space and observing exoplanets.

It will then approach the first of its target asteroids in July 2026.

The probe won’t get that close to the asteroid named 2001 CC21, but scientists hope it will be able to photograph it as it completes a “high speed swing-by”.

Getting so close could also help develop knowledge about how to protect Earth against asteroid impact.

Hayabusa2 will then head towards its main target, 1998 KY26, a ball-shaped asteroid with a diameter of just 30 metres. When the probe arrives at the asteroid in July 2031, it will be approximately 300 million kilometres from Earth.

And the target poses significant new challenges, not least because it is spinning rapidly, rotating on its axis about every 10 minutes.

Hayabusa2 will observe and photograph the asteroid, but it is unlikely to land and collect samples, as it probably won’t have enough fuel to return them to Earth.

Still, just making it to the asteroid will be a feat, said Seiichiro Watanabe, a Hayabusa2 probe project scientist and professor of planetary science at Nagoya University.

“It’s like an athlete who scored two tries at a Rugby World Cup game attempting to compete in the Olympics, 10 years after switching over to figure skating,” he told reporters.

“We had never expected that the Hayabusa2 would carry out another mission… but it’s a scientifically meaningful and fascinating plan.”

The mission extension comes with risks, including that Hayabusa2’s equipment will degrade in deep space, but it also offers a rare, comparatively cost-effective way to continue research.

The probe is the successor to JAXA’s first asteroid explorer “Hayabusa”, which means falcon in Japanese.

That probe brought back dust samples from a smaller, potato-shaped asteroid in 2010 after a seven-year odyssey, and was hailed as a scientific triumph.

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Science

China’s Chang’e 5 Probe Leaves Moon With Rock Samples for Return to Earth

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 4 December 2020

A Chinese space probe has lifted off from the surface of the Moon to return to Earth, an ambitious effort to bring back the first lunar samples in four decades.

Beijing is looking to catch up with the US and Russia after taking decades to match its rivals’ achievements and has poured billions into its military-run space programme.

The Chang’e 5 spacecraft, named after the mythical Chinese Moon goddess, left the Moon at 15:10 GMT Thursday (8:40pm Thursday IST), said China’s space agency.

A module carrying lunar rocks and soil was launched into orbit by a powerful thrust engine, officials said of the mission that landed Tuesday on the Moon.

Video footage from China’s state broadcaster CCTV showed the probe taking off from the surface of the Moon in a bright burst of light.

The space agency said that “before lift-off, the Chinese flag was raised on the moon’s surface”.

It added that this was the first time that China had achieved take-off from an extraterrestrial body.

The module then must undergo the delicate operation of linking up with the part of the spacecraft that is to bring the specimens back to Earth, official news agency Xinhua reported.

Scientists hope the samples will help them learn about the Moon’s origins, formation and volcanic activity on its surface.

If the return journey is successful, China will be only the third country to have retrieved samples from the Moon, following the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.

Space dreams
This is the first such attempt since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976.

The spacecraft’s mission was to collect two kilograms (4.5 pounds) of material in an area known as Oceanus Procellarum, or Ocean of Storms, a vast, previously unexplored lava plain, according to the science journal Nature.

Xinhua, which called Chang’e 5 “one of the most complicated and challenging missions in Chinese aerospace history”, reported the probe worked for about 19 hours on the Moon.

The samples were to be returned to Earth in a capsule programmed to land in northern China’s Inner Mongolia region, according to US space agency NASA.

Under President Xi Jinping, plans for China’s space dream, as he calls it, have been put into overdrive.

China hopes to have a crewed space station by 2022 and eventually send humans to the Moon.

China launched its first satellite in 1970, while human spaceflight took decades longer, with Yang Liwei becoming China’s first “taikonaut” in 2003.

A Chinese lunar rover landed on the far side of the Moon in January 2019 in a global first that boosted Beijing’s aspirations to become a space superpower.

The latest probe is among a slew of ambitious targets, which include creating a powerful rocket capable of delivering payloads heavier than those NASA and private rocket firm SpaceX can handle, a lunar base, and a permanently crewed space station.

China’s taikonauts and scientists have also talked up crewed missions to Mars.

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Internet

Make Amazon Pay Campaign: Over 400 Lawmakers From 34 Countries Back Movement Over ‘Dodged’ Debts

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By Reuters | Updated: 4 December 2020

More than 400 lawmakers from 34 countries have signed a letter to Amazon boss Jeff Bezos backing a campaign that claims the tech giant has “dodged and dismissed … debts to workers, societies, and the planet,” organisers said.

The Make Amazon Pay campaign was launched on November 27, the annual Black Friday shopping bonanza, by a coalition of over 50 organisations, with demands including improvements to working conditions and full tax transparency.

The letter’s signatories include US Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, former UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Vice President of the European Parliament Heidi Hautala, co-convenors Progressive International and UNI Global Union said.

“We urge you to act decisively to change your policies and priorities to do right by your workers, their communities, and our planet,” the letter said.

“We stand ready to act in our respective legislatures to support the movement that is growing around the world to Make Amazon Pay.”

Amazon, the world’s biggest retailer, has faced criticism for its tax practices before, including in the UK and the EU. It says its profits remain low given retail is a highly competitive, low margin business and it invests heavily.

It said on Thursday that while it accepted scrutiny from policymakers, many of the matters raised in the letter stemmed from misleading assertions.

“Amazon has a strong track record of supporting our employees, our customers, and our communities, including providing safe working conditions, competitive wages and great benefits,” it said, adding it was “paying billions of dollars in taxes globally.”

Amazon grew rapidly during the pandemic, with sales soaring as restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus closed bricks-and-mortar shops and sent consumers online.

Governments worldwide are considering tougher rules for big tech to assuage worries about competition.

The European Union, for example, last month charged Amazon with damaging retail competition, alleging it used its size, power and data to gain an unfair advantage over smaller merchants that sell on its online platform.

Amazon disagreed with the EU assertions, saying it represented less than 1 percent of the global retail market and there were larger retailers in every country in which it operated.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Internet

Microsoft Azure Purview Cloud-Based Tool Launched to Help Businesses Get Handle on Data

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By Reuters | Updated: 4 December 2020

Microsoft on Thursday announced a new cloud-based tool designed to help corporate customers understand where data is scattered throughout their operations and whether they are in compliance with data privacy regulations.

Once known for its Windows operating system and applications such as Office, Microsoft has built a large business in cloud computing, helping store and process huge amounts of data for corporate customers.

Last year, it introduced a tool called Azure Synapse that is being used by companies such as FedEx to analyse the flow of its 16 million daily packages.

But for large companies, stores of data have become so large, and distributed across so many countries, that Microsoft is rolling out a tool called Azure Purview to help companies better understand precisely what information they have and where it resides.

In particular, the tool is designed to help data privacy and risk management officials ensure their companies are in compliance with rules such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, John “JG” Chirapurath, vice president of Azure data, artificial intelligence, and edge, told Reuters in an interview.

The new tool uses artificial intelligence to detect sensitive or regulated data and can automatically mask it out, for example by redacting data on European customers from a sales report to US employees who are not authorized to access it.

“It’s one thing to generate insights from data, but it’s another thing to ask questions about the data itself. Can we use this data? Are we being responsible with the fair use of this data?” Chirapurath said. “These might seem like esoteric terms, but they are vital to how we run modern businesses. You have to be able to trust your data.”

Microsoft said on Thursday the service was being used by a handful of customers, and Chirapurath said it was expected to become generally available “shortly.”

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Computers

Chinese Chipmaker SMIC Added by Trump Administration to Defence Blacklist

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By Reuters | Updated: 4 December 2020

The Trump administration on Thursday added China’s top chipmaker, SMIC, and oil giant CNOOC to a blacklist of alleged Chinese military companies, a move likely to escalate tensions with Beijing before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

The Department of Defense designated a total of four additional companies as owned or controlled by the Chinese military, also including China Construction Technology and China International Engineering Consulting.

The move, first reported by Reuters on Sunday, brings the total number of companies blacklisted to 35. While the list did not initially trigger any penalties, a recent executive order issued by Republican President Donald Trump will prevent US investors from buying securities of the blacklisted firms starting late next year.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington referred Reuters to prior remarks made by its Foreign Ministry spokesperson that “China firmly opposes the politicisation of the relevant Chinese companies.”

China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

SMIC said in a stock market statement that it was assessing the impact of its addition to the list and said investors should be aware of the investment risks. SMIC shares declined by over 2 percent on Friday before trading in the company’s Hong Kong shares was suspended, while CNOOC slipped 0.7 percent in early morning trade.

Shares of CNOOC’s listed unit CNOOC had fallen by nearly 14 percent following the Sunday report.

SMIC, which relies heavily on equipment from US suppliers, was already in Washington’s crosshairs. In September, the US Commerce Department informed some firms they needed to obtain a license before supplying goods and services to SMIC after concluding there was an “unacceptable risk” that equipment supplied to it could be used for military purposes.

The expanded blacklist is seen as part of a bid to cement Trump’s tough-on-China legacy and to box Biden, the Democratic president-elect who takes office on January 20, into hardline positions on Beijing amid bipartisan anti-China sentiment in Congress.

The measure is also part of a broader effort by Washington to target what it sees as Beijing’s efforts to enlist corporations to harness emerging civilian technologies for military purposes.

The list of “Communist Chinese Military Companies” was mandated by a 1999 law requiring the Pentagon to compile a catalog of companies “owned or controlled” by the People’s Liberation Army, but the DOD only complied it in 2020. Giants like Hikvision, China Telecom and China Mobile were added earlier this year.

In November, the White House published an executive order, first reported by Reuters, that sought to give teeth to the list by prohibiting US investors from buying securities of the blacklisted companies from November 2021.

Top US asset managers Vanguard Group and BlackRock each own about 1 percent of shares of CNOOC’s listed unit CNOOC, and together own roughly 4 percent of outstanding shares of SMIC, disclosures show.

Congress and the Trump administration have sought increasingly to curb the US market access of Chinese companies that do not comply with rules faced by American rivals, even if that means antagonising Wall Street.

On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives passed a law to kick Chinese companies off US stock exchanges if they do not fully comply with the country’s auditing rules, giving Trump one more tool to threaten Beijing with before leaving office.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Facebook Bans False Claims About COVID-19 Vaccines Debunked by Public Health Experts

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By Reuters | Updated: 4 December 2020

Facebook on Thursday said it would remove false claims about COVID-19 vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts, following a similar announcement by Alphabet’s YouTube in October.

The move expands Facebook’s current rules against falsehoods and conspiracy theories about the pandemic. The social media company says it takes down coronavirus misinformation that poses a risk of “imminent” harm, while labeling and reducing distribution of other false claims that fail to reach that threshold.

Facebook said in a blog post that the global policy change came in response to news that COVID-19 vaccines will soon be rolling out around the world.

Two drug companies, Pfizer and Moderna, have asked US authorities for emergency use authorisation of their vaccine candidates. Britain approved the Pfizer vaccine on Wednesday, jumping ahead of the rest of the world in the race to begin the most crucial mass inoculation programme in history.

Misinformation about the new coronavirus vaccines has proliferated on social media during the pandemic, including through viral anti-vaccine posts shared across multiple platforms and by different ideological groups, according to researchers.

A November report by the nonprofit First Draft found that 84 percent of interactions generated by vaccine-related conspiracy content it studied came from Facebook pages and Facebook-owned Instagram.

Facebook said it would remove debunked COVID-19 vaccine conspiracies, such as that the vaccines’ safety is being tested on specific populations without their consent, and misinformation about the vaccines.

“This could include false claims about the safety, efficacy, ingredients or side effects of the vaccines. For example, we will remove false claims that COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips,” the company said in a blog post. It said it would update the claims it removes based on evolving guidance from public health authorities.

Facebook did not specify when it would begin enforcing the updated policy, but acknowledged it would “not be able to start enforcing these policies overnight.”

The social media company has rarely removed misinformation about other vaccines under its policy of deleting content that risks imminent harm. It previously removed vaccine misinformation in Samoa where a measles outbreak killed dozens late last year, and it removed false claims about a polio vaccine drive in Pakistan that were leading to violence against health workers.

Facebook, which has taken steps to surface authoritative information about vaccines, said in October that it would also ban advertisements that discourage people from getting vaccines. In recent weeks, Facebook removed a prominent anti-vaccine page and a large private group, one for repeatedly breaking COVID misinformation rules and the other for promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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