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TikTok and Oracle deal could be approved by Trump despite resistance from Republicans

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The deal would require extensive outside oversight of TikTok in the United States, including a plan for the company to go public within the next year or so to increase transparency into its operations, one of the individuals said.

Mnuchin called senior Defense Department officials Wednesday and briefed them on the deal but told them it was going to get done regardless, according to some of the people familiar with the talks.

His message was, “Give me your concerns and I will try to address them, but we are doing this,” said one former U.S. official briefed on the call who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Oracle chief executive Safra Catz has developed a close relationship with the White House, including serving on Trump’s transition team as he took office. Nonetheless, Trump met with Oracle on Wednesday and expressed concerns with the deal, a senior administration official said.

Trump told reporters Wednesday that he would not be happy if ByteDance maintained its majority stake in the business.

“Conceptually, I can tell you I don’t like that,” Trump said. “If that’s the case, I’m not going to be happy with that.”

Mnuchin will have to overcome Trump’s reluctance. “I don’t think anybody has the ability to push something through if the president is opposed to it,” said a senior administration official.

TikTok confirmed this week that it has chosen Oracle as its “trusted technology partner” after two months of confusion and harried dealmaking, as Trump moved to ban the short-form video app in the country, citing national security concerns. Suitors including Microsoft, Walmart and Oracle were interested bidders, but as government requirements conflicted in Washington and Beijing, TikTok eventually presented a deal that marked a significant step back from a full sale.

Instead, the proposed deal would make TikTok’s U.S. user data entrusted “exclusively” to Oracle and give Oracle oversight over all TikTok’s technical operations in the country, according to the person familiar with the talks. The entire deal is designed to quell officials’ fears that TikTok poses a national security threat because of its Chinese parent company. TikTok has said repeatedly it does not share U.S. customer information with the Chinese government.

U.S. officials say, however, Chinese laws require Chinese companies to share data with the government if directed and give the companies no discretion to refuse.

The Treasury Department sent the proposal back to the companies Wednesday with revisions on how the security structure would work, and ByteDance accepted the changes, one of the people said.

Under the proposed deal, the U.S. government would be able to approve the board members of the new TikTok entity, which would probably include Walmart chief executive Doug McMillon. Walmart would invest in the company, one of the people said.

TikTok would also prepare for a U.S. public offering in the next year. And it would allow a third-party organization to conduct audits and oversight of its operations.

Oracle, Walmart and TikTok did not comment beyond previous public statements earlier this week.

The Treasury Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Pentagon spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell had no comment.

TikTok’s saga with the U.S. government heated up this summer when Trump threatened to ban the app and eventually issued an order that takes effect Sunday, though the government hasn’t said exactly what that ban would look like. The Commerce Department will issue an order Friday spelling out what transactions will be subject to the ban.

“We are focused on the corporate level transactions, the business-to-business relationships,” the senior administration official said. “We’re not interested in going after the college kid in his dorm room taking videos. If people have TikTok on their phones, they’re not going to find themselves before a judge.”

Trump issued a second order that would require ByteDance to essentially divest from TikTok in the U.S. under a process by the Committee of Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an interagency organization that oversees mergers with foreign companies for national security risks.

Longtime CFIUS staff are upset about how the deal is being handled and have expressed concerns that what is supposed to be a walled-off national security process is being increasingly politicized, according to a former CFIUS official.

By law, the Treasury Department “is the chair of CFIUS and therefore the ‘first among equals,’” said another former official, “but it does not grant them authority to blatantly steamroll other CFIUS member agencies and ignore legitimate national security concerns. Unfortunately, the system has drifted off course.”

The companies and government have been working to finish the deal before the ban is set to take place in just a few days. Mnuchin previously said on CNBC that the deal would also require TikTok to establish a U.S. headquarters for the newly created company and hire an additional 20,000 people here. Currently, TikTok runs its U.S. operations from Culver City, Calif.

Oracle was a somewhat surprising choice to win the TikTok deal after weeks of speculation that Microsoft was the front-runner in the bidding process.

Oracle, which provides database and other services to large companies, does not have a consumer business. But its executives have close ties to Trump, and TikTok is probably an attractive target to boost Oracle’s cloud technology business, which has failed to break into the top of the pack.

TikTok could also bolster Oracle’s data brokerage business, which collects detailed information on consumers to sell to advertisers. TikTok has a growing U.S. base of about 100 million users quarterly.

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Monster Wolf robot with glowing eyes protects Japanese town from bears

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Monster Wolf robot was created to scare off bears and other wildlife from towns in Japan.


Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Bears beware. Residents of Takikawa in Japan have turned to a robot wolf to scare off bears who get the urge to roam through their town, located in the central area of Hokkaido. Apparently, bears invading the place is a regular occurrence, as the creatures scavenge for food in residential trash cans.

Usually, the town hires hunters to trap bears and remove them from city limits, but this time residents got more creative with a solution to frighten bears away.

The mechanical robot nicknamed Monster Wolf was created using machine parts from manufacturing company Ohta Seiki located in Hokkaido. Monster Wolf is equipped with infrared sensors that can detect when a bear or other wildlife is in the vicinity, according to SoraNews24.

When a bear or other animal triggers Monster Wolf’s sensors, the robot’s head moves, and its LED red eyes light up. Speakers inside the robot emit a variety of loud sounds — including wolf howls, gunshots and human voices — to startle and drive off the wildlife.

The idea of having a robot drive off encroaching wildlife like bears is apparently very popular in Japan, as 62 communities have their own versions of a Monster Wolf robot in operation, SoraNews24 says. 

Here are some entertaining videos of Monster Wolf in action.



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Activists Turn Facial Recognition Tools Against the Police

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In early September, the City Council in Portland, Ore., met virtually to consider sweeping legislation outlawing the use of facial recognition technology. The bills would not only bar the police from using it to unmask protesters and individuals captured in surveillance imagery; they would also prevent companies and a variety of other organizations from using the software to identify an unknown person.

During the time for public comments, a local man, Christopher Howell, said he had concerns about a blanket ban. He gave a surprising reason.

“I am involved with developing facial recognition to in fact use on Portland police officers, since they are not identifying themselves to the public,” Mr. Howell said. Over the summer, with the city seized by demonstrations against police violence, leaders of the department had told uniformed officers that they could tape over their name. Mr. Howell wanted to know: Would his use of facial recognition technology become illegal?

Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, told Mr. Howell that his project was “a little creepy,” but a lawyer for the city clarified that the bills would not apply to individuals. The Council then passed the legislation in a unanimous vote.

Mr. Howell was offended by Mr. Wheeler’s characterization of his project but relieved he could keep working on it. “There’s a lot of excessive force here in Portland,” he said in a phone interview. “Knowing who the officers are seems like a baseline.”

Mr. Howell, 42, is a lifelong protester and self-taught coder; in graduate school, he started working with neural net technology, an artificial intelligence that learns to make decisions from data it is fed, such as images. He said that the police had tear-gassed him during a midday protest in June, and that he had begun researching how to build a facial recognition product that could defeat officers’ attempts to shield their identity.

“This was, you know, kind of a ‘shower thought’ moment for me, and just kind of an intersection of what I know how to do and what my current interests are,” he said. “Accountability is important. We need to know who is doing what, so we can deal with it.”

Mr. Howell is not alone in his pursuit. Law enforcement has used facial recognition to identify criminals, using photos from government databases or, through a company called Clearview AI, from the public internet. But now activists around the world are turning the process around and developing tools that can unmask law enforcement in cases of misconduct.

“It doesn’t surprise me in the least,” said Clare Garvie, a lawyer at Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology. “I think some folks will say, ‘All’s fair in love and war,’ but it highlights the risk of developing this technology without thinking about its use in the hands of all possible actors.”

The authorities targeted so far have not been pleased. The New York Times reported in July 2019 that Colin Cheung, a protester in Hong Kong, had developed a tool to identify police officers using online photos of them. After he posted a video about the project on Facebook, he was arrested. Mr. Cheung ultimately abandoned the work.

This month, the artist Paolo Cirio published photos of 4,000 faces of French police officers online for an exhibit called “Capture,” which he described as the first step in developing a facial recognition app. He collected the faces from 1,000 photos he had gathered from the internet and from photographers who attended protests in France. Mr. Cirio, 41, took the photos down after France’s interior minister threatened legal action but said he hoped to republish them.

“It’s about the privacy of everyone,” said Mr. Cirio, who believes facial recognition should be banned. “It’s childish to try to stop me, as an artist who is trying to raise the problem, instead of addressing the problem itself.”

Many police officers around the world cover their faces, in whole or in part, as captured in recent videos of police violence in Belarus. Last month, Andrew Maximov, a technologist from the country who is now based in Los Angeles, uploaded a video to YouTube that demonstrated how facial recognition technology could be used to digitally strip away the masks.

In the simulated footage, software matches masked officers to full images of officers taken from social media channels. The two images are then merged so the officers are shown in uniform, with their faces on display. It’s unclear if the matches are accurate. The video, which was reported earlier by a news site about Russia called Meduza, has been viewed more than one million times.

“For a while now, everyone was aware the big guys could use this to identify and oppress the little guys, but we’re now approaching the technological threshold where the little guys can do it to the big guys,” Mr. Maximov, 30, said. “It’s not just the loss of anonymity. It’s the threat of infamy.”

These activists say it has become relatively easy to build facial recognition tools thanks to off-the-shelf image recognition software that has been made available in recent years. In Portland, Mr. Howell used a Google-provided platform, TensorFlow, which helps people build machine-learning models.

“The technical process — I’m not inventing anything new,” he said. “The big problem here is getting quality images.”

Mr. Howell gathered thousands of images of Portland police officers from news articles and social media after finding their names on city websites. He also made a public records request for a roster of police officers, with their names and personnel numbers, but it was denied.

Facebook has been a particularly helpful source of images. “Here they all are at a barbecue or whatever, in uniform sometimes,” Mr. Howell said. “It’s few enough people that I can reasonably do it as an individual.”

Mr. Howell said his tool remained a work in progress and could recognize only about 20 percent of Portland’s police force. He hasn’t made it publicly available, but he said it had already helped a friend confirm an officer’s identity. He declined to provide more details.

Derek Carmon, a public information officer at the Portland Police Bureau, said that “name tags were changed to personnel numbers during protests to help eliminate the doxxing of officers,” but that officers are required to wear name tags for “non-protest-related duties.” Mr. Carmon said people could file complaints using an officer’s personnel number. He declined to comment on Mr. Howell’s software.

Older attempts to identify police officers have relied on crowdsourcing. The news service ProPublica asks readers to identify officers in a series of videos of police violence. In 2016, an anti-surveillance group in Chicago, the Lucy Parsons Lab, started OpenOversight, a “public searchable database of law enforcement officers.” It asks people to upload photos of uniformed officers and match them to the officers’ names or badge numbers.

“We were careful about what information we were soliciting. We don’t want to encourage people to follow officers to playgrounds with their kids,” said Jennifer Helsby, OpenOversight’s lead developer. “It has resulted in officers being identified.”

For example, the database helped journalists at the Invisible Institute, a local news organization, identify Chicago officers who struck protesters with batons this summer, according to the institute’s director of public strategy, Maira Khwaja.

Photos of more than 1,000 officers have been uploaded to the site, Ms. Helsby said, adding that versions of the open-source database have been started in other cities, including Portland. That version is called Cops.Photo, and is one of the places from which Mr. Howell obtained identified photos of police officers.

Mr. Howell originally wanted to make his work publicly available, but is now concerned that distributing his tool to others would be illegal under the city’s new facial recognition laws, he said.

“I have sought some legal advice and will seek more,” Mr. Howell said. He described it as “unwise” to release an illegal facial recognition app because the police “are not going to appreciate it to begin with.”

“I’d be naïve not to be a little concerned about it,” he added. “But I think it’s worth doing.”



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Amazon parcel scam targets woman eight months after her death

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A spokeswoman for Amazon said: “Third-party sellers are prohibited from sending unsolicited packages to customers and we take action on those who violate our policies, including withholding payments, suspending or removing selling privileges, or working with law enforcement. We’ve taken action on the account in question.”

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