Google Workers Protest China Plan Secrecy

Google is planning a return to China.

But the project is shrouded in secrecy, and employees are demanding transparency.

According to a report by The New York Times on Thursday, August 16, a petition calling for more oversight and accountability in the project racked up more than 1,000 signatures.

Reuters reported this month, the app is a bid to win approval from Beijing to provide a mobile search engine in China.

However, employees are concerned the app would support China’s restrictions on free expression and ultimately violate the company’s ‘don’t be evil’ code of conduct.

The petition, seen by Reuters says, “We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building.”

The company declined to comment.

Sources say the project – codenamed Dragonfly – would block certain websites and search terms.

It would also stand in stark contrast to eight years ago, when Google left China in protest of Beijing’s censorship.

Company executives have not commented publicly on Dragonfly.

But in a transcript seen by Reuters, Google’s Chief Executive Sundar Pichai told employees “it’s all very unclear” whether Google would return to China at all.

He also said that development is still in the early stages, and that sharing information too early could quote “cause issues”.

Federal Forces Intervene, and Rio de Janeiro Homicides Rise

Six months after Brazil sent in federal forces to take control of security in Rio de Janeiro state, murders and the number of people killed in police confrontations have risen, official data shows, raising questions about the strategy.

President Michel Temer on Feb. 16 announced emergency measures authorizing the army to take command of police forces in Rio de Janeiro state, where warring drug gangs and militias have driven a sharp rise in violence.

In the first six months of the federal intervention, however, there were 3,479 murders in the state, up nearly 5 percent compared with the same period last year, according to official state data.

Between February and the end of July, 738 people were killed in confrontations with police, the data examined by Reuters shows, up more than 35 percent from the previous year. Between February and last month, 16 police officers were killed, one fewer than in the 2017 period.

​Worrying scenario

“It’s very worrying, this scenario, in which the most sensitive indicators are getting worse, and we have a security policy that is focused on deepening the very issues that cause violence, such as confrontations and gun battles,” said Silvia Ramos, a coordinator of the Center for Security and Citizenship Studies in Rio de Janeiro.

Growing violence has become a key issue ahead of October elections, with candidates from across the political spectrum seeking to play up their crime-fighting credentials and appeal to an electorate fed up with a weak economy and endemic graft.

Although polls show most people in Rio de Janeiro state support the federal intervention, few discern much improvement since it began, and it has been widely criticized for a lack of transparency and unclear goals.

Feds urge patience

In a statement, the federal intervention office highlighted crime statistics that had fallen, such as cargo and car thefts, adding that “the tendency is for the reduction of the indices to proceed in the coming months.”

In an interview before the six-month anniversary, the federal intervention’s spokesman, Roberto Itamar, said much of the government’s work had focused on administrative and logistical fixes that would take longer to be perceived.

He added that the hardest part of the government’s work in the state was to repair relations between the people and their police.

“Over the course of various years (that relationship) has been weakened,” he said. “Mutual trust needs to be built.”

Ecuador, Peru Tighten Entry Requirements for Venezuelans

Venezuelans entering Ecuador and Peru will soon be required to show their passports, rather than national identity cards, the Ecuadorean government and Peruvian official sources said Thursday, amid concerns over an influx of economic migrants.

Ecuador and Peru have hitherto allowed Venezuelans to enter using national ID cards, providing desperate Venezuelans with an easier route out of their crisis stricken homeland.

“As of this Saturday the government will require that anyone entering Ecuador present his or her passport,” Ecuador’s Interior Minister Mauro Toscanini said. The Foreign Ministry later said it would apply specifically to Venezuelans.

State of emergency

Ecuador declared a state of emergency in three provinces this month after a spike in Venezuelan migrants crossing the Ecuadorean-Colombian border high in the Andean mountains.

Authorities said up to 4,500 Venezuelans were crossing daily, compared with around 500 to 1,000 previously.

An official at Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry told local radio that about 600,000 Venezuelans had entered the country so far this year, with around 109,000 staying on.

Unable to afford flights and often earning a minimum wage of just a few dollars a month, Venezuelans have been taking days-long bus rides across South America, many passing through Ecuador on their way south to Peru or Chile.

Peru to crack down

Peru is also planning to require passports from Venezuelans soon, two government sources said on condition of anonymity ahead of a pending announcement.

Immigration officials estimated that there are nearly 400,000 Venezuelans in Peru, most of whom entered this year.

About 20 percent of Venezuelans enter Peru without a passport, Peru’s interior minister said earlier this week.

Venezuelans selling food or knick-knacks on the streets have become a common sight in Lima and Quito, raising fears among locals that the migrants could take their jobs and increase crime.

Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno is left-wing like his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro, but he has distanced himself from Caracas since taking office last year.

Centrist Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra took office in March after his predecessor, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a vocal critic of Maduro, resigned in a scandal.

US to Impose More Sanctions on Turkey Over Detained Pastor

The United States says Turkey faces more U.S. sanctions if it refuses to release an American pastor held on allegations of helping the organizers of the failed 2016 coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The United States says Ankara has no evidence for the allegations and has held the pastor for too long. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday the United States is ready to hit Ankara with more sanctions if it does not release the American soon. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

Chilean Authorities: 9 Planes Grounded by Bomb Threats in S. America

Nine planes were forced to make emergency changes to their routes within Chilean, Argentine and Peruvian airspace on Thursday because of bomb threats issued to Chile’s civil aviation authority, its director general told journalists.

At least two of the planes were operated by LATAM Airlines and three by Sky, a low-cost Chilean airline, the companies confirmed.

Victor Villalobos Collao, the director general of Chile’s civil aviation authority (DGAC), said 11 threats were made in total on Thursday, two of which were “fictitious” and nine of which related to existing flights.

All of the planes were declared free of explosives, and at least one plane was later allowed to resume its flight, he said.

He said calls warning of bombs onboard flights were made to LATAM’s offices, and the civil aviation authority, and police were now trying to trace their origin.

“We always have an abandoned suitcase or two, that’s normal,” he told journalists in a briefing at Santiago airport.

“But this is a totally exceptional case.”

For four of the flights, Santiago, Chile’s capital, was either the origination or the destination, the DGAC added in a statement.

One flight, Sky 162, took off from Santiago’s Arturo Merino Benítez airport and was headed to the northern city of Antofagasta when it was instructed to return to Santiago, the statement said.

Flight LATAM 2369, originating from Lima, the capital of Peru, and heading for Santiago, was forced to land in the southern Peruvian city of Pisco, it added.

Peru’s transport ministry said no one had been injured and a team for deactivating explosives has been notified. “Right now the situation is under control,” it said on Twitter.

Another Sky flight, Sky 524, is understood according to flight schedules to have taken off from the Argentine city of Mendoza. It made an emergency landing in Santiago before proceeding to Rosario in Argentina, the DGAC said.

Sky said another of its planes, Flight 166, was prevented from taking off from Santiago because of a bomb threat.

In addition, LATAM 800, which according to flight schedules took off from Auckland, New Zealand, performed an emergency landing in its destination of Santiago. That flight was still undergoing security checks, the DGAC added.

Collao said other flights were checked in Iquique, another city in northern Chile, Antofagasta and Mendoza, without giving further details.

LATAM confirmed that at least two of its planes had been affected. “The affected passengers will be transferred by LATAM onto other flights,” it said. “The authorities have not at this moment found any evidence that might put passengers at risk.”

Chilean police did not respond to a request for comment.

Can Twitter Change Its ‘Core’ and Remain Twitter?

After long resisting change, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey wants to revamp the “core” of the service to fight rampant abuse and misinformation. But it’s not clear if changing that essence — how it rewards interactions and values popularity — would even work.

 

Though Dorsey was scant on details, what is certain is that the move will require huge investments for a company that doesn’t have the same resources that Google and Facebook have to throw at the problem. Any change is likely to affect how users engage with Twitter and hurt revenue, testing the patience of both users and investors.

 

“Social networks have a history of … well-intentioned but badly designed efforts to fix this,” said Nate Elliott, principal at marketing research firm Nineteen Insights.

 

Twitter isn’t alone in having to deal with hate, abuse, misinformation and bad actors using the service for elections interference, targeted harassment and scams. And Twitter isn’t alone in proposing fixes that don’t get to the heart of the problems.

 

Case in point: Facebook. After Russian trolls were found to have used Facebook to interfere with the 2016 U.S. elections, including by purchasing ads, the company spent a lot of time and energy building a tool that shows who’s behind political advertisements. But Elliott said it’s not even clear which ads on Facebook are the ones causing problems around foreign elections meddling. In 2016, Russian agents weren’t so much running political ads for or against candidates but rather social ads on divisive such as gun control and immigration.

 

But like Facebook, Twitter has to try — or at least be seen as trying.

 

Dorsey told The Washington Post that Twitter had not considered changing the core of the service until now. Like Facebook and others, Twitter has been accused of tinkering around the edges, tweaking policies and hiring masses of moderators when what’s really needed is a fundamental shift in how they work and how they make money in order to survive. While many former executives and other insiders have proposed radical shifts at major social networks, it’s rare for a sitting CEO to propose something as drastic as revisiting the foundation that his company is built on.

 

“We often turn to policy to fix a lot of these issues, but I think that is only treating surface-level symptoms that we are seeing,” Dorsey said.

 

Twitter confirmed Dorsey’s comments to the Post, but declined further comment.

 

Revamping the core could mean changing the engagement and rewards designed to keep users coming back — in the form of seeing their tweets liked, responded to and retweeted, and seeing their follower counts grow. It’s the tiny dopamine hits we get with each like that makes us feel better and keeps us returning for more. Take that away, and users might not want to return. In turn, advertisers might stay away, too, as they rely on monthly and daily user numbers, as well as user interactions, to gauge how well their ads work and how much to spend.

 

Unlike Facebook, Elliott said, Twitter doesn’t have billions of users to absorb any hits on user growth. Even if the changes work, he said, “it’s going to cost them so many users and so much money I can’t imagine them sticking with these kinds of changes.”

 

Paul Verna, an analyst with research firm eMarketer, also isn’t “terribly optimistic” that Twitter can make its service safer without hurting its business. The same goes for Facebook, and YouTube.

 

“Because they rely on an advertising business model, they need to not only continue to reach audiences, but try to get them to spend as much time on platforms as possible,” he said. “That creates an inherent tension between your business needs and being a good citizen.”

 

That said, Twitter may not have to reinvent itself completely to improve. Elliott said better policies might go a long way toward reducing the abuse. For example, it’s currently OK to harass someone on Twitter, as long as it’s not harassment based on certain categories such as gender and sexual orientation. Elliott said Twitter may just need to prohibit all harassment.

Taiwan President Arrives in Belize to Reaffirm Alliance

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen arrived in Belize Thursday as she seeks to shore up dwindling alliances in the face of pressure from China to stamp out the island’s international recognition.

Belize is one of 18 countries that recognize Taiwan, with Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic shifting diplomatic ties to China earlier this year.

The Caribbean country’s decision to ditch Taiwan came after Panama, which turned from Taiwan to Beijing in June 2017.

Order of Belize

Tsai arrived in Belize for her first state visit to the tiny Central American country after a stop in the United States and Paraguay. She met privately with Belize’s foreign minister and other government officials.

Later she was expected to receive the “Order of Belize,” an honor awarded to foreigners, before speaking Friday to Belize’s House of Representatives.

In a statement issued before Tsai’s visit, the Taiwanese embassy emphasized that the trip would reaffirm the strength of the island’s relationship with Belize, with which it has maintained diplomatic ties since October 1989.

Belize “remained Taiwan’s staunch ally in its bid for participation in U.N. agencies,” the statement said, adding: “Taiwan is Belize’s loyal and trustworthy ally.”

Comfortable relationship

Belize’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington told Reuters this month that he was “very content with the relationship we have with Taiwan.”

Taiwan offers Belize financial aid in the hundreds of millions of Belize dollars, ranging from scholarships to agricultural aid and health care, Elrington said.

Taipei has struggled internationally to maintain diplomatic relations with an increasingly assertive China, despite efforts in recent years to strengthen ties with generous aid packages.

Little Leaguers Connect With Translate, Fortnite, Facebook

Outfielder Rolando Rodriguez from Panama heard a reporter’s question, but he doesn’t speak English. So Georgia shortstop Tai Peete helped him out, pecking the words into Google Translate to ask about how young baseball players are sharing technology during the Little League World Series.

“It was easier than expected,” Rodriguez said of the language barrier, speaking through an interpreter.

So goes life in the International Grove, the dorms where 16 teams all are staying during the double-elimination tournament in pursuit of a world title. Apps and even video games are making it easier for the boys to communicate and get to know each other — making smartphones a key part rather than a distraction during their moment of a lifetime.

Eight teams are from U.S. states while the other teams represent various countries around the world and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.  Players are using Translate to input questions in their native languages and let other players read or hear them in one of more than 100 languages.

Trading pins

That’s changing some of the tournament’s traditions. For example, each team has pins that they are given to trade with other teams. While body language used to go a long way in this process, players are using technology to directly ask for trades.

No words actually need to be spoken aloud, but the kids still are helping fellow baseball players pronounce the words, learning a little bit of a new language in the process.

“I talked to the Mexico team,” Peete said. “I was talking about Little League and they couldn’t pronounce it, so I was helping them.”

Even with better technology, language and cultural barriers still exist.

It’s “a lot harder than I thought,” said Lee Jae-hyeok of South Korea, who noted through a human interpreter that players also were using Facebook to connect.

The days leading up to the start of the series on Thursday consisted of practices, interviews and hanging out in the players village. For the duration of the tournament, each team from the U.S. bracket shares a dorm with one of the international teams. The rooms have bunk beds and TVs, but no Wi-Fi.

They do have a game room, however, which allows players to get their video game fix in a more social way.

Arcade games, table tennis

The space has arcade games, including bowling and motorcycle simulators, but also activities like table tennis. Peete taught the tailgate favorite cornhole to the Australian club.

One common thread for most of the boys: Fortnite, the massively popular, multiplayer shootout video game. They don’t have their consoles but they can still play on their phones and try to impress each other with renditions of the famous dances done by the game’s characters.

But the reason for their visit to Pennsylvania loomed.

“Can we play a [baseball] game?” Peete asked a volunteer at the Little League complex before the tournament started, suggesting that maybe the whole World Series could be moved up.

“There’s nothing else to do,” he said.

Ag Minister: Ban on Glyphosate Would Be ‘Disaster’ for Brazil Agriculture

A potential ban on the popular herbicide glyphosate in Brazil over concerns it may cause cancer in humans would be a “disaster” for the country’s agricultural industry, Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi said on Thursday.

A Brazilian court ruled on Aug. 3 that new products containing the chemical could not be registered in the country and existing registrations would be suspended starting from September, until health authority Anvisa issues a decision on its re-evaluation of glyphosate’s safety.

Maggi said that glyphosate is used on around 95 percent of soy, corn and cotton harvested in the country and that there is no readily available substitute. Brazil is the world’s top exporter of soy and a major producer and exporter of corn.

“Glyphosate makes it viable for us to plant and grow crops.

What is the alternative?” Maggi said at an event in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil’s Solicitor General’s office has said it is preparing an appeal to the court decision with the Agriculture Ministry’s backing. Maggi said he is confident the ruling will be overturned on appeal.

The Brazilian court case is part of a global pushback against the chemical. A U.S. judge ruled last week that Monsanto must pay $289 million in damages to a man who alleged its glyphosate-based products like Roundup caused his cancer.

Monsanto, taken over earlier this year by Bayer AG , said in a statement that more than 800 reviews, including those by the U.S. environmental and health authorities, support that glyphosate does not cause cancer. The company is appealing the U.S. court ruling.

Brazil federal prosecutors brought the case to force Anvisa to make a decision in its re-evaluation of glyphosate, which it started in 2008, said Marco Antonio Delfino de Almeida, a member of a prosecutors’ working group on pesticides.

A 2015 assessment by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer determined glyphosate probably causes cancer in humans, which provides a basis for reconsidering its safety, Almeida said.

If the Brazil ban on existing product registrations goes into effect, it could disrupt farmers who are set to begin planting soy in September.

The sale of glyphosate products would be halted and farmers who use products with suspended registrations could face legal risks, said Brazil-based agribusiness lawyer Frederico Favacho.

Anvisa told Reuters it is prioritizing its re-evaluation of glyphosate but did not give a timeframe for announcing its findings.

Ukraine Demands 15-Year Sentence for Ousted President

Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office on Thursday said had it demanded a 15-year prison sentence for former President Viktor Yanukovych, accusing him of “betraying his nation” to Russia. 

Pro-Moscow Yanukovych has lived in exile in Russia since he was ousted in a Western-backed popular uprising in 2014, and it is highly unlikely he will ever face trial as the two countries remain locked in a bitter standoff.

“Viktor Yanukovych betrayed his nation. He betrayed his army. At the most difficult time for the country and the people,” prosecutors said in court, according to a statement.

“He left the country at the mercy of fate and fled into the arms of the aggressor,” it said. “Without a drop of remorse, in order to please the enemy, he did everything in his power for Ukrainian territory to be seized by the aggressor.”

Yanukovych sparked massive protests when he ditched an association accord with the European Union and then fled to Russia in early 2014 after a bloody crackdown in Kyiv failed to quell the demonstrations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin later revealed this was made possible by a special operation organized by Moscow to exfiltrate Yanukovych. 

After Yanukovych fled Ukraine, Moscow annexed the country’s Crimean Peninsula and war erupted between Kyiv and Russian-backed rebels in the east of the country.

Since then, the fighting has cost 10,000 lives despite repeated international efforts to forge a lasting cease-fire.