NASA Completes Historic Rocket Launch in Outback Australia 

NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has successfully completed its first rocket launch from a commercial space facility outside of the United States. A 13-meter rocket blasted off Monday from a site in the Australian outback. A 13-meter sub-orbital rocket took off from the newly built Arnhem Space Centre in Australia’s Northern Territory Monday. Lift-off was delayed by about two hours because of strong winds and heavy rain. The launch was the first of its kind in Australia in more than 25 years and the first of three scheduled NASA missions from the site. Researchers hope the information gathered from the flights will help them understand how light from a star could affect the habitability of nearby planets. They have said that this type of study can only be carried out in the Southern Hemisphere. The unmanned flight briefly scanned the Milky Way, measuring X-Ray emissions and analyzing the structure of stars. Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University, told Australian television that the launch is part of a project to boost the domestic space industry. “When you build a satellite you have to go overseas to do it and so the fact that we are now seeing this build-up of launching from Australia this is, kind of, that final piece of the puzzle to having, you know, a really massive industry in this sector of space and then we see that that, kind of, the first group that says, yes, we want to do it, we want to be a part of the story is Nasa, you know, it just, kind of, gives the street cred[ibility] so to speak that you are on the right track from what you are thinking,” he said. The Arnhem Space Center is the world’s only commercially owned equatorial launch facility. The center is built on Aboriginal land. Tribal elders hope the project will provide jobs and opportunities for young First Nations people. Officials said the center combines one of the “oldest cultures in the world with some of the most advanced technology ever.” The next NASA rocket will be launched …

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Microsoft: Russian Cyber Spying Targets 42 Ukraine Allies

Coinciding with unrelenting cyberattacks against Ukraine, state-backed Russian hackers have engaged in “strategic espionage” against governments, think tanks, businesses and aid groups in 42 countries supporting Kyiv, Microsoft said in a report Wednesday. “Since the start of the war, the Russian targeting [of Ukraine’s allies] has been successful 29 percent of the time,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote, with data stolen in at least one-quarter of the successful network intrusions. “As a coalition of countries has come together to defend Ukraine, Russian intelligence agencies have stepped up network penetration and espionage activities targeting allied governments outside Ukraine,” Smith said. Nearly two-thirds of the cyberespionage targets involved NATO members. The United States was the prime target and Poland, the main conduit for military assistance flowing to Ukraine, was No. 2. In the past two months, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Turkey have seen stepped-up targeting. A striking exception is Estonia, where Microsoft said it has detected no Russian cyber intrusions since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The company credited Estonia’s adoption of cloud computing, where it’s easier to detect intruders. “Significant collective defensive weaknesses remain” among some other European governments, Microsoft said, without identifying them. Half of the 128 organizations targeted are government agencies and 12% are nongovernmental agencies, typically think tanks or humanitarian groups, according to the 28-page report. Other targets include telecommunications, energy and defense companies. Microsoft said Ukraine’s cyber defenses “have proven stronger” overall than Russia’s capabilities in “waves of destructive cyberattacks against 48 distinct Ukrainian agencies and enterprises.” Moscow’s military hackers have been cautious not to unleash destructive data-destroying worms that could spread outside Ukraine, as the NotPetya virus did in 2017, the report noted. “During the past month, as the Russian military moved to concentrate its attacks in the Donbas region, the number of destructive attacks has fallen,” according to the report, “Defending Ukraine: Early Lessons from the Cyber War.” The Redmond, Washington, company has unique insight in the domain due to the ubiquity of its software and threat detection teams. Microsoft said Ukraine has also set an example in data safeguarding. Ukraine went from …

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Elon Musk’s $44 Billion Twitter Deal Gets Board Endorsement

Twitter’s board has recommended unanimously that shareholders approve the proposed $44 billion sale of the company to billionaire and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, according to a regulatory filing Tuesday. Musk reiterated his desire to move forward with the acquisition last week during a virtual meeting with Twitter employees, though shares of Twitter remain far below his offering price, signaling considerable doubt that it will happen. Shares rose about 3% to $38.98 before the opening bell Tuesday, far short of the $54.20 per-share that Musk has offered for each share. The company’s stock last reached that level on April 5 when it offered Musk a seat on the board before he had offered to buy all of Twitter. In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission detailing on Tuesday detailing a litter to investors, Twitter’s board of directors said that it “unanimously recommends that you vote (for) the adoption of the merger agreement.” If the deal were to close now, investors in the company would pocket a profit of $15.22 for each share they own. …

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Investors Coping With Cryptocurrency Plunge 

“I’m in a cryptocurrency chat group at work,” software engineer Adam Hickey of San Diego, California told VOA. Over the last few days, Hickey said, members of the group have been writing things like, “Bloodbath” and, “Are we still good?” “It shook me, honestly,” he admitted. “I just had to stop looking at my balance. At one point, months ago, my investment in crypto had tripled. Now I’m down 40%.” Hickey is far from alone. Serious and casual investors across the United States have seen the value of their investments in the publicly available digital asset known as cryptocurrency shrink dramatically in recent months, with steep plunges recorded in just the last week. The value of bitcoin, the most popular form of cryptocurrency, has dropped more than 70% since its peak in November of last year, erasing more than 18 months of growth and causing many investors to wonder if this is the bottom, or if the worst is still to come. “I have to remind myself that when I got into bitcoin in 2017, it was more of something I just kind of hoped would be the next Amazon.com,” Hickey said. Like many others, Hickey dreamed cryptocurrency could be a way to get rich in the long-term, or at least would be a part of his retirement savings. “I’ve always seen it as a long-term investment. Still, this is the most nervous I’ve been about it,” he said. “You hear people on social media saying this is all a Ponzi scheme. Now I’m having thoughts like maybe those warnings are right – that the people pushing bitcoin so hard are the ones who bought it at the earliest low prices. Of course they want people to buy and drive the value back up. It’s good for them, but is it good for me?”  Getting in  Those skeptical of cryptocurrency point to its lack of regulatory oversight from government as a major reason for concern, making it susceptible to scams and wild price fluctuations. “I’ve always seen it as a highly speculative investment,” said Marigny deMauriac, a certified financial planner …

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Cartier and Amazon Target Knock-offs in US Lawsuits

Amazon and Cartier joined forces Wednesday in U.S. court to accuse a social media influencer of working with Chinese firms to sell knock-offs of the luxury brand’s jewelry on the e-commerce giant’s site.  The online personality used sites like Instagram to pitch Cartier jewelry such as “Love bracelets” to followers and then provided links that led to counterfeit versions on Amazon, one of two lawsuits alleged.  The influencer appeared to be a woman in Handan, China, and the merchants involved in the “counterfeiting scheme” were traced to other Chinese cities, according to court documents.  “By using social media to promote counterfeit products, bad actors undermine trust and mislead customers,” Amazon associate general counsel Kebharu Smith said in a statement.  “We don’t just want to chase them away from Amazon — we want to stop them for good,” Smith added.  The Seattle-based e-commerce giant has booted vendors targeted in the suit from its platform and teamed with Cartier to urge a federal court to make them pay damages and legal costs for hawking knock-off jewelry there from June 2020 through June 2021.  The “sophisticated campaign” sought to avoid detection by having the social media influencer pitch jewelry as being Cartier, but the vendors made no mention of the luxury brand at their shops at Amazon, the lawsuit said.  Buyers, however, were sent jewelry bearing Cartier trademarks, the companies alleged in court documents.  A second lawsuit accuses an Amazon store operating under the name “YFXF” last year of selling counterfeit Cartier goods, disguising jewelry as unbranded at the website but sending buyers knock-offs bearing the company’s trademark.  Those involved in the scheme “advertised their counterfeit products on third-party social media websites by using ‘hidden links’ to direct their followers to the counterfeit Cartier products, while disguising the products as non-branded in the listings in the Amazon Store,” the lawsuit said.  The companies said that Instagram direct messages and shared links were used to instruct social media followers about how to buy knock-offs at Amazon.    …

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Study: Facebook Fails to Catch East Africa Extremist Content

A new study has found that Facebook has failed to catch Islamic State group and al-Shabab extremist content in posts aimed at East Africa as the region remains under threat from violent attacks and Kenya prepares to vote in a closely contested national election.  An Associated Press series last year, drawing on leaked documents shared by a Facebook whistleblower, showed how the platform repeatedly failed to act on sensitive content including hate speech in many places around the world.  The new and unrelated two-year study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue found Facebook posts that openly supported IS or the Somalia-based al-Shabab — even ones carrying al-Shabab branding and calling for violence in languages including Swahili, Somali and Arabic — were allowed to be widely shared.  The report expresses particular concern with narratives linked to the extremist groups that accuse Kenyan government officials and politicians of being enemies of Muslims, who make up a significant part of the East African nation’s population. The report notes that “xenophobia toward Somali communities in Kenya has long been rife.”  The al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab has been described as the deadliest extremist group in Africa, and it has carried out high-profile attacks in recent years in Kenya far from its base in neighboring Somalia. The new study found no evidence of Facebook posts that planned specific attacks, but its authors and Kenyan experts warn that allowing even general calls to violence is a threat to the closely contested August presidential election.  Already, concerns about hate speech around the vote, both online and off, are growing.  “They chip away at that trust in democratic institutions,” report researcher Moustafa Ayad told the AP of the extremist posts.  The Institute for Strategic Dialogue found 445 public profiles, some with duplicate accounts, sharing content linked to the two extremist groups and tagging more than 17,000 other accounts. Among the narratives shared were accusations that Kenya and the United States are enemies of Islam, and among the posted content was praise by al-Shabab’s official media arm for the killing of Kenyan soldiers.  Even when Facebook took down pages, they would quickly …

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SIPRI STUDY: World Headed for New Era of Nuclear Rearmament

After 35 years of decline, the number of nuclear weapons in the world is set to rise in the coming decade as global tensions flare amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, researchers said Monday.   The nine nuclear powers — Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, the United States and Russia — had 12,705 nuclear warheads in early 2022, or 375 fewer than in early 2021, according to estimates by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).    The number has come down from a high of more than 70,000 in 1986, as the U.S. and Russia have gradually reduced their massive arsenals built up during the Cold War.  But this era of disarmament appears to be coming to an end and the risk of a nuclear escalation is now at its highest point in the post-Cold War period, SIPRI researchers said.  “Soon, we’re going to get to the point where, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, the global number of nuclear weapons in the world could start increasing for the first time,” Matt Korda, one of the co-authors of the report, told AFP.  “That is really kind of dangerous territory.”  After a “marginal” decrease seen last year, “nuclear arsenals are expected to grow over the coming decade,” SIPRI said.  During the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has on several occasions made reference to the use of nuclear weapons.  Meanwhile several countries, including China and Britain, are either officially or unofficially modernizing or ramping up their arsenals, the research institute said.  “It’s going to be very difficult to make progress on disarmament over the coming years because of this war, and because of how Putin is talking about his nuclear weapons,” Korda said.  These worrying statements are pushing “a lot of other nuclear armed states to think about their own nuclear strategies,” he added.  ‘Nuclear war can’t be won’  Despite the entry into force in early 2021 of the U.N. nuclear weapon ban treaty and a five-year extension of the U.S.-Russian “New START” treaty, the situation has been deteriorating for some time, according to …

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Musk Threatens to Kill Twitter Deal Over Fake Account Data

Elon Musk accused Twitter of “actively resisting and thwarting his information rights,” as the Tesla founder attempts to get information about fake and spam accounts on the platform. The accusation came in a letter Musk sent to Twitter Monday in which he warned he could walk away from the $44 billion deal to take over the company should Twitter not provide the information he seeks. Musk further accused Twitter of a “clear material breach” of its obligation to provide the data. “Musk believes Twitter is transparently refusing to comply with its obligations under the merger agreement, which is causing further suspicion that the company is withholding the requested data due to concern for what Musk’s own analysis of that data will uncover,” according to the letter. “Twitter has, in fact, refused to provide the information that Mr. Musk has repeatedly requested since May 9, 2022, to facilitate his evaluation of spam and fake accounts on the company’s platform. Twitter’s latest offer to simply provide additional details regarding the company’s own testing methodologies, whether through written materials or verbal explanations, is tantamount to refusing Mr. Musk’s data requests,” the letter said. The social media platform has not commented on Musk’s letter. Twitter stock tumbled over 5% in early trading Monday. Some information in this report comes from Reuters.   …

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Autonomous Mayflower Reaches American Shores — in Canada 

A crewless robotic boat that had tried to retrace the 1620 sea voyage of the Mayflower has finally reached the shores of North America — this time in Canada instead of the Massachusetts coast where its namesake landed more than 400 years ago.  The sleek autonomous trimaran docked in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Sunday, after more than five weeks crossing the Atlantic Ocean from England, according to tech company IBM, which helped build it.  Piloted by artificial intelligence technology, the 50-foot (15-meter) Mayflower Autonomous Ship didn’t have a captain, navigator or human on board — though it might have helped to have a mechanic.  “The technology that makes up the autonomous system worked perfectly, flawlessly,” said Rob High, an IBM computing executive involved in the project. “Mechanically, we did run into problems.”  Trouble at sea Its first attempt at the trans-Atlantic crossing to Plymouth, Massachusetts, in June 2021 was beset by technical glitches, forcing the boat to return to its home port of Plymouth, England.  It set off again from England nearly a year later on April 27, bound for Virginia — but a generator problem diverted it to Portugal’s Azores islands, where a team member flew in to perform emergency repairs. More troubles on the open sea came in late May when the U.S.-bound boat developed a problem with the charging circuit for the generator’s starter batteries.  AI software is getting better at helping self-driving machines understand their surroundings and pilot themselves, but most robots can’t heal themselves when the hardware goes awry.  Nonprofit marine research organization ProMare, which worked with IBM to build the ship, switched to a back-up navigation computer on May 30 and charted a course to Halifax — which was closer than any U.S. destination. The boat’s webcam on Sunday morning showed it being towed by a larger boat as the Halifax skyline neared — a safety requirement under international maritime rules, IBM said.  …

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Companion Robot Responds to User’s Emotional Cues, Health Needs

The arrival of the pandemic intensified feelings of loneliness and social isolation for millions of older people, many of whom were already battling depression and other health issues. For those struggling, a robot companion might make a difference, and states like New York are starting to provide them to residents free of charge. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more. Camera: Adam Greenbaum …

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Sanctions Frustrating Russian Ransomware Actors

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine appears to be having an unanticipated impact in cyberspace — a decrease in the number of ransomware attacks.  “We have seen a recent decline since the Ukrainian invasion,” Rob Joyce, the U.S. National Security Agency’s director of cybersecurity, told a virtual forum Wednesday.  Joyce said one reason for the decrease in ransomware attacks since the February 24 invasion is likely improved awareness and defensive measures by U.S. businesses.  He also said some of it is tied to measures the United States and its Western allies have taken against Moscow in response to the war in Ukraine.  “We’ve definitively seen the criminal actors in Russia complain that the functions of sanctions and the distance of their ability to use credit cards and other payment methods to get Western infrastructure to run these [ransomware] attacks have become much more difficult,” Joyce told The Cipher Brief’s Cyber Initiatives Group.  “We’ve seen that have an impact on their [Russia’s] operations,” he added. “It’s driving the trend down a little bit.”  Just days after Russian forces entered Ukraine, U.S. cybersecurity officials renewed their “Shields Up” awareness campaign, encouraging companies to take additional security precautions to protect against potential cyberattacks by Russia itself or by criminal hackers working on Moscow’s behalf.      And those officials caution Russia still has the capability to inflict more damage in cyberspace.  “Russia is continuing to explore options for potential cyberattacks,” the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s Matthew Hartman told a meeting of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week.  “We are seeing glimpses into targeting and into access development,” Hartman said, noting Russia has for now held back from launching any major cyberattacks against the West. “We do not know at what point a calculus may change.”  FBI cyber officials have likewise voiced concern that it could be a matter of time before the Kremlin authorizes cyberattacks targeting U.S. critical infrastructure, including against the energy, finance and telecommunication sectors.      U.S. and NATO officials on Wednesday also cautioned that it would be a mistake to think that just because there have been few signs …

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Meta Returns with Africa Day Campaign

Meta, the company that owns Facebook, is hosting its second annual Africa Day campaign to promote Africans who are making a global impact. The content producer for the film project, South African filmmaker Tarryn Crossman, said Meta identified eight innovators, creators and businesspeople on the continent whose stories the company wanted told for the “Made by Africa, Loved by the World” campaign. Crossman’s company, Tia Productions, teamed up with Mashoba Media to find four fellow filmmakers in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their job was to make two- to three-minute documentaries about the subjects. “So, for example we did Trevor Stuurman here in South Africa,” Crossman said. “He’s a visual artist and his line was, I just loved so much, he says: ‘Africa’s no longer the ghost writer.’ We’re telling our stories and owning our own narratives. That’s kind of the thread amongst all these characters. They all have that in common.” Nairobi-based filmmaker Joan Kabangu made a movie about Black Rhino VR, a Kenyan virtual reality content producing company which has worked with international brands. “They are the pioneers around creating VR content, 360 content, augmented mixed reality kind of content in Kenya, in the wider Africa. And it’s a company which is run by a young person and everybody who is working there is fairly young. And they are really getting into how tech is being used to elevate the way we are creating content in 2022, going forward,” Kabangu said. Of Meta’s Africa Day campaign she said, “I feel it’s celebrating the good in Africa.” In Ghana, Kofi Awuah’s movie making has been delayed by floods in the capital, Accra. But he is determined to finish. His innovator is designer Selina Beb, whose work can be seen on Instagram and is sold online, often to buyers in the U.S. and Britain. “She’s very unique,” Awuah said. “Based on material she uses and even the processes she uses are kind of things that tell a Ghanian or African story. For instance, she uses a certain kind of stone that you can find only in …

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Facebook, Instagram to Reveal More on How Ads Target Users

 Facebook parent Meta said it will start publicly providing more details about how advertisers target people with political ads just months ahead of the U.S. midterm elections.  The announcement follows years of criticism that the social media platforms withhold too much information about how campaigns, special interest groups and politicians use the platform to target small pockets of people with polarizing, divisive or misleading messages.  Meta, which also owns Instagram, said it will start releasing details in July about the demographics and interests of audiences who are targeted with ads that run on its two primary social networks. The company will also share how much advertisers spent in an effort to target people in certain states.  “By making advertiser targeting criteria available for analysis and reporting on ads run about social issues, elections and politics, we hope to help people better understand the practices used to reach potential voters on our technologies,” Jeff King wrote in a statement posted to Meta’s website.  The new details could shed more light on how politicians spread misleading or controversial political messages among certain groups of people. Advocacy groups and Democrats, for example, have argued for years that misleading political ads are overwhelming the Facebook feeds of Spanish-speaking populations.  The information will be showcased in the Facebook ad library, a public database that already shows how much companies, politicians or campaigns spend on each ad they run across Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp. Currently, anyone can see how much a page has spent running an ad and a breakdown of the ages, gender and states or countries an ad is shown in.  The information will be available across 242 countries when a social issue, political or election ad is run, Meta said in a statement.  Meta collected $86 billion in revenue during 2020, the last major U.S. election year, thanks in part to its granular ad targeting system. Facebook’s ad system is so customizable that advertisers could target a single user out of billions on the platform, if they wanted.  Meta said in its announcement Monday that it will provide researchers with new details that …

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With Roe in Doubt, Some Fear Tech Surveillance of Pregnancy

When Chandler Jones realized she was pregnant during her junior year of college, she turned to a trusted source for information and advice. Her cellphone. “I couldn’t imagine before the internet, trying to navigate this,” said Jones, 26, who graduated Tuesday from the University of Baltimore School of Law. “I didn’t know if hospitals did abortions. I knew Planned Parenthood did abortions, but there were none near me. So I kind of just Googled.” But with each search, Jones was being surreptitiously followed — by the phone apps and browsers that track us as we click away, capturing even our most sensitive health data. Online searches. Period apps. Fitness trackers. Advice helplines. GPS. The often obscure companies collecting our health history and geolocation data may know more about us than we know ourselves. For now, the information is mostly used to sell us things, like baby products targeted to pregnant women. But in a post-Roe world — if the Supreme Court upends the 1973 decision that legalized abortion, as a draft opinion suggests it may in the coming weeks — the data would become more valuable, and women more vulnerable. Privacy experts fear that pregnancies could be surveilled and the data shared with police or sold to vigilantes. “The value of these tools for law enforcement is for how they really get to peek into the soul,” said Cynthia Conti-Cook, a lawyer and technology fellow at the Ford Foundation. “It gives [them] the mental chatter inside our heads.” HIPAA, hotlines, health histories The digital trail only becomes clearer when we leave home, as location apps, security cameras, license plate readers and facial recognition software track our movements. The development of these tech tools has raced far ahead of the laws and regulations that might govern them. And it’s not just women who should be concerned. The same tactics used to surveil pregnancies can be used by life insurance companies to set premiums, banks to approve loans and employers to weigh hiring decisions, experts said. Or it could — and sometimes does — send women who experience miscarriages cheery ads on …

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