Instagram Returns After Outage; Facebook Still Down for Some

Instagram is back up after suffering a partial outage for more than several hours, the photo-sharing social network platform said in a tweet, but its parent Facebook Inc.’s app still seemed to be down for some users around the globe.

Certain users had trouble in accessing widely used Instagram, Whatsapp and Facebook apps earlier Wednesday, in one of the longest outages faced by the company in the recent past.

“Anddddd… we’re back,” Instagram tweeted:

Facebook did not provide an update.

Social media users in parts of United States, Japan and some parts Europe were affected by the outage, according to DownDetector’s live outage map. Facebook users, including brand marketers, expressed their outrage on Twitter with the #facebookdown hashtag.

“Ya’ll, I haven’t gotten my daily dosage of dank memes and I think that’s why I’m cranky. #FacebookDown,” a user Mayra Mesina tweeted. 

The Menlo Park, California-based company, which gets a vast majority of its revenue from advertising, told Bloomberg that it was still investigating the overall impact “including the possibility of refunds for advertisers.”

A Facebook spokesman confirmed the partial outage, but did not provide an update. The social networking site had issues for more than 12 hours, according to its developer’s page.

Facebook took to Twitter to inform users that it was working to resolve the issue as soon as possible and confirmed that the matter was not related to a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.

In a DDoS attack, hackers use computer networks they control to send such a large number of requests for information from websites that servers that host them can no longer handle the traffic and the sites become unreachable.

Facebook, Instagram Suffer Outages

Facebook says it is aware of outages on its platforms including Facebook, Messenger and Instagram, and is working to resolve the issue.

According to downdector.com, which monitors websites, the outages started around 12 p.m. E.T. on Wednesday in parts of the U.S., including the East and West Coast, parts of Europe and elsewhere. Both Facebook’s desktop site and app appeared to be affected. Some users saw a message that said Facebook was down for “required maintenance.”

Facebook did not say what was causing the outages, which were still occurring as of 2:15 p.m. E.T., or which regions were affected.

Spotify Files EU Antitrust Complaint Against Apple 

Spotify has filed a complaint with European Union antitrust regulators against Apple, saying the iPhone maker unfairly limits rivals to its own Apple Music streaming service. 

Spotify, which launched a year after the 2007 launch of the iPhone, said on Wednesday that Apple’s control of its App Store deprived consumers of choice and rival providers of audio streaming services to the benefit of Apple Music, which began in 2015. 

Central to Spotify’s complaint, filed with the European Commission on Monday, is what it says is a 30 percent fee Apple charges content-based service providers to use Apple’s in-app purchase system (IAP). 

Forced to raise price

Horacio Gutierrez, Spotify’s general counsel, said the company was pressured into using the billing system in 2014, but then was forced to raise the monthly fee of its premium service from 9.99 to 12.99 euros, just as Apple Music launched at Spotify’s initial 9.99 price. 

Spotify then ceased use of Apple’s IAP system, meaning Spotify customers could only upgrade to the fee-based package indirectly, such as on a laptop. 

Under App Store rules, Spotify said, content-based apps could not include buttons or external links to pages with production information, discounts or promotions and faced difficulties fixing bugs. Such restrictions do not apply to Android phones, it said. 

“Promotions are essential to our business. This is how we convert our free customers to premium,” Gutierrez said. 

Voice recognition system Siri would not hook iPhone users up to Spotify, and Apple declined to let Spotify launch an app on its Apple Watch, Spotify said. 

Spotify declined to say what economic damage it believed it had suffered. 

“We feel confident in the economic analysis we have submitted to the commission that we could have done better than we have done so far,” Gutierrez said. 

Self-driving Test Vehicle Added to Auto History Museum

One of General Motors’ first self-driving test vehicles is going on display at an automotive history museum in suburban Detroit.

The Henry Ford history attraction announced Tuesday that it has acquired a modified pre-production Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle.

The GM-donated vehicle originally made its debut testing on the streets of San Francisco in 2016. Now it will be displayed at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn.

 

The camera- and sensor-equipped vehicle is the first autonomous car to be added to The Henry Ford collection. It’ll be next to a 1959 Cadillac El Dorado at the “Driving America” exhibit, which chronicles the history of the automobile.

 

The Henry Ford President and CEO Patricia Mooradian says self-driving capabilities “will fundamentally change our relationship with the automobile.” She says the acquisition “is paramount in how we tell that story.”

At Age 30, World Wide Web Is ‘Not the Web We Wanted’

At the ripe old age of 30 and with half the globe using it, the World Wide Web is facing growing pains with issues like hate speech, privacy concerns and state-sponsored hacking, its creator says, trumpeting a call to make it better for humanity.

Tim Berners-Lee on Tuesday joined a celebration of the Web and reminisced about his invention at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, starting with a proposal published on March 12, 1989. It opened the way to a technological revolution that has transformed the way people buy goods, share ideas, get information and much more.

It’s also become a place where tech titans scoop up personal data, rival governments spy and seek to scuttle elections, and hate speech and vitriol have thrived — taking the Web far from its roots as a space for progress-oriented minds to collaborate.

As of late 2018, half of the world was online, with the other half often struggling to secure access.

Speaking at a “[email protected]” conference at CERN, Berners-Lee acknowledged that a sense among many who are already on the Web has become: “Whoops! The web is not the web we wanted in every respect.”

His World Wide Web Foundation wants to enlist governments, companies, and citizens to take a greater role in shaping the web for good under principles laid out in its “Contract for the Web.”

Under the contract, governments are called upon to make sure everyone can connect to the internet, to keep it available and to respect privacy. Companies are to make the internet affordable, respect privacy and develop technology that will put people — and the “public good” — first. Citizens are to create and to cooperate and respect “civil discourse,” among other things.

“The Contract for the Web is about sitting down in working groups with other people who signed up, and to say, ‘Ok, let’s work out what this really means,’” Berners-Lee said. It was unclear, however, how such rules would be enforced.

Berners-Lee cautioned it was important to strike a balance between oversight and freedom but difficult to agree what it should be.

“Where is the balance between leaving the tech companies to do the right thing and regulating them? Where is the balance between freedom of speech and hate speech?” he said.

The conference, which brought together Internet and tech experts, also gave CERN the chance to showcase its reputation as an open-source incubator of ideas. Berners-Lee worked there in the late 1980s, and had been determined to help bridge a communications and documentation gap among different computer platforms.

As a young English software engineer at CERN, Berners-Lee, who is now 63, came up with the idea for hypertext transfer protocol — the “http” that adorns web addresses — and other building blocks for the web.

The “http” system allowed text and small images to be retrieved through a piece of software — the first browser — which Berners-Lee released in 1990 and is considered the start of the web. In practice, the access to a browser on a home computer made the internet easily accessible to consumers for the first time.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Berners-Lee recalled how his research was helped his former boss at CERN, Mike Sendall, who wanted a pretext to buy a then-new Next computer by Steve Jobs’ Apple needed for his research.

Berners-Lee said Sendall told him to ”‘pick a random program to develop on it … Why don’t you do that hypertext thing?’”

Berners-Lee has since become a sort of father figure for the internet community, been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and named as one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century by Time magazine.

While he now wants to get the debate going, other panelists expressed concerns like the increasing concentration of control of the internet by big corporate players, and fretted about a possible splintering of cyberspace among rival countries.

“The challenges come from the same things that make it (the Web) wonderful, and that’s the difficulty,” said conference panelist Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science.

“The openness is wonderful, the connectivity is wonderful, the fact that it was created as a network for academics who are kind of into trusting each other…” she said.

Now with the Web, “there’s an enormous amount of centralization going on, with a few big players becoming gatekeepers. Those few big players have built, basically, surveillance machines,” she said. “It’s based on surveillance profiling us and then targeting us for ads — which wasn’t the original idea at all.”

US Warns of WTO Action Over ‘Discriminatory’ New Digital Taxes

The U.S. is weighing a complaint at the World Trade Organization against “discriminatory” new taxes on digital giants such as a Facebook and Google which are being planned by France and other EU nations, a top US trade official said Tuesday.

“We think the whole theoretical basis of digital service taxes is ill-conceived and the effect is highly discriminatory against US-based multinationals,” Chip Harter, a Treasury official and US delegate for global tax talks, said in Paris.

Speaking ahead of two days of talks at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Harter added that “various parts of our government are studying whether that discriminatory impact would give us rights under trade agreements and WTO treaties.”

The OECD is spearheading talks aimed at forging a new global agreement on taxing technology and digital giants who often declare their income in low-tax nations, depriving other countries of billions in revenue.

But that overhaul is expected until next year at the earliest, prompting France, Britain, Spain, Austria and Italy to move ahead with their own versions of a so-called “digital services tax” as soon as this year.

Last week France unveiled draft legislation that would set a 3.0-percent levy on digital advertising, the sale of personal data and other revenue for tech groups with more than 750 million euros ($844 million) in worldwide revenue.

It would be applied retroactively from January 1, 2019, while the measures in the UK and other European countries might not come into effect until next year.

“We do understand there’s political pressure around the world to tax various international businesses more heavily, and we actually agreed that that is appropriate,” Harter told journalists.

“But we think it should be done on a broader basis than just selecting a particular industry,” he said.

 

 

China Tweaks Tech Supremacy Plan

For the first time in recent years, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s annual Government Work Report did not mention Made in China 2025, the country’s ambitious plan to achieve high-tech dominance, and that has analysts asking whether Beijing is going to completely overhaul the plan or keep it going quietly behind the scenes.

Made in China 2025 relies heavily on government subsidies to Chinese companies and their ability to acquire new technologies covering 10 different sectors such as electric cars, emerging bio-medicine, next-generation information technology, advanced robotics and artificial intelligence.

The plan is part of China’s broader industrial policy outlined in the 13th Five-Year plan, which lays out government goals from 2016-2020. It raised concerns, however, because of China’s use of forced technology transfers and specific targets to capture market share by 2025.

The plan has been a focus of discussion between U.S. and Chinese negotiators, with Washington demanding an end to subsidies given to local companies under the plan. The United States also wanted China to do away with unfair trade practices that include the forcible transfer of technology from foreign companies.

A significant portion of technologies used in China in the 10 listed sectors come from foreign sources.

But the government is now amending laws that will leave Chinese companies in a somewhat difficult situation. It is also expected to cut subsidies it gives to local companies in order to overcome objections raised by the United States during the trade war.

New laws and policy changes that the government is bringing on during the ongoing sessions of China’s legislature, or National People’s Congress (NPC), would seriously affect its ability to acquire foreign technology.

“China will suffer in the short run but in the medium run they seem to be fine,” said Lourdes Casanova, director at Cornell’s Emerging Markets Institute.

To a great extent, Chinese companies have used three means to acquire technology: the use of borrowed or stolen ideas, the forcible transfer of know-how from foreign partners and the purchase of foreign companies.

Acquisitions by Chinese companies have now become problematic because of growing cautiousness and recent legislation in the United States and European Union.

Some analysts believe there were design defects in the 2025 plan itself, and the government has been rethinking it for some time now.

“The original 2025 plan was too nationalistic and too top down. It was wasteful,” Mats Harborn, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, told VOA.

“They [government leaders] thought technology should be owned by Chinese companies. There was a ‘we can do this on our own’ attitude,”

“There is a shift or maturity in understanding. There is an understanding that China cannot do all things on its own. It has to use international value chains and integrate as much as possible,” Harborn said.

New information emerging now suggests there has been a struggle within the government about the suitability of this grandiose plan.

“It [the strategy] should not have been done that way anyway. I was against it from the start, I did not agree very much with it,” Lou Jiwei, China’s finance minister between 2013 and 2016, said on the sidelines of the legislative meeting in Beijing.

Other legislators told VOA the government is making adjustments in accordance with public opinion.

Putting less emphasis on Made in China 2025 “reflects a more rational approach by the government, to reduce unnecessary obstacles, noises and reaction, to keep moving forward in a positive direction,” said Tang Nong, a NPC delegate from Guangxi.

“The government is moving forward with the 13th Five-Year plan. What is Made in China 2025, is it a plan or a broad outline?” asked Sun Xianzhong, an NPC delegate and professor of international law at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Analysts believe the government may revamp and repackage the plan, but it is unlikely to soften its efforts.

“The government remains committed to moving China’s economy up the value chain and will continue to use a variety of active industrial policies to achieve this goal,” said Duncan Innes-Ker, regional director for Asia at The Economist Intelligence Unit.

Harborn believes the government will shift from the idea of acquiring new technologies to absorbing them in the industrial value chain.

“This is a wakeup call. The new focus will be on integrating the best technologies at the best price and creating the best final product or service,” he said.

State owned companies in China may be better able to readjust themselves if the 2025 plan is revamped because their focus is more on revenues than on profit.

“For a state-owned company, profits going down in favor of revenues or jobs, so what’s the problem? They are fine,” said Casanova adding, “Profits are less or not of primary consideration.”

 

 

 

US Warns Germany a Huawei Deal Could Hurt Intelligence Sharing

The United States on Monday warned Germany about future “information sharing” if it uses “untrusted vendors” in its 5G telecom infrastructure amid debate over whether Chinese IT giant Huawei is an espionage risk.

The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell sent a letter to German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier on Friday warning that in such a case the US could scale down intelligence and other information exchanges.

A U.S. Embassy spokesperson told AFP on Monday it would not comment on diplomatic communications, but added that its position on 5G network security was well known.

“To the extent there are untrusted vendors in the networks of an ally, that could raise future questions about the integrity and confidentiality of sensitive communications within that country, as well as between that country and its allies,” the spokesperson said.

“This could in the future jeopardize nimble cooperation and some sharing of information. We are engaging intensively with our allies on how to secure our telecommunications networks to ensure continued interoperability.”

German minister Altmaier confirmed he had received the letter, but told AFP he could not comment on its contents, adding: “We will respond quickly”.

Germany, like other EU countries, has relied heavily on US intelligence on terror and other threats provided by the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and other spy services.

The US and several other Western nations, fearful of the security risks posed by the company closely tied to the Chinese government, have shut Huawei out of tenders for the development of the newest 5G infrastructure.

The Chinese telecoms behemoth has strenuously denied the espionage allegations.

Germany, anxious to not get sucked into the maelstrom of an ongoing U.S.-China spat over a multitude of issues including trade, has taken a cautious stance on the issue.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has said it was necessary to talk to Beijing “to make sure that the company does not simply give up all data that is used to the Chinese state, but that there are safeguards”.

Some measures in the works include adding a non-spying clause, a requirement to publish code sources used in the infrastructures as well as allowing independent laboratories to carry out tests on the components used.

Huawei has quietly become a leading supplier of the backbone equipment for mobile networks, particularly in developing markets thanks to cheaper prices.

Germany, although it is Europe’s leading economy, has seen its mobile infrastructure lag behind, with most Germans having access only to 3G.

The 5G network is meant to be 100 times more rapid than 4G, and is viewed as the next major step in the digital revolution that makes data transfers almost instantaneous.

 

 

 

Apple: ‘It’s Show Time’ March 25, TV Service Announcement Expected

Apple on Monday invited media to a March 25 event at the Steve Jobs Theater on its campus in Cupertino, California, where it is expected to launch a television and video service.

Sources previously told Reuters that the company is targeting April for the launch of a streaming television service that will likely include subscription TV service.

Apple often launches products and services in the weeks following an event.

In its invitation, Apple did not specify the focus of the event and gave a single-line description: “It’s show time.”

Apple has long hinted at a planned video service, spending $2 billion in Hollywood to produce its own content and signing major stars such as Oprah Winfrey. Sources familiar with the matter earlier told Reuters that the service may resell subscriptions from CBS, Viacom and Lions Gate Entertainment’s Starz among others, as well as Apple’s own original content.

The TV service is expected to launch globally, an ambitious move to rival services from Netflix Inc and Amazon.com’s Prime Video. Apple’s App Store, where the service is likely to be distributed, is currently available in more than 100 countries.

The potential sales from a television service have become a focus of investors after Apple in January reported the first-ever dip in iPhone sales during the key holiday shopping period and said it would lower iPhone prices in some markets to account for foreign exchange rates.

Apple is also in discussions with HBO, part of AT&T-owned WarnerMedia, to become part of the service and it could yet make it in time for the launch, according to a person familiar with the matter.

While there is a chance Apple will update its iPads or Apple TV devices later this month, the event is likely to be Apple’s first major media event in which hardware is not the primary focus, said Ben Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies.

That is a big shift for Apple, which earlier this year moved to make its Apple Music services work on smart speakers from rivals such as Amazon and partnered with Samsung Electronics to let Samsung television owners watch video purchased from Apple on Samsung sets.

“I don’t look at that as saying Apple has given up on the (Apple smart speaker) HomePod or the Apple TV – those will be the products where Apple Music or an Apple movie experience work the best,” Bajarin said. “But Apple is smart to not limit the places people can consume their services.”