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‘Space harpoon’ could be answer to orbital junk

A "space harpoon" designed to catch a defunct satellite the size of a double-decker bus has passed a crucial earthbound test. The one-metre long metal device was fired at 55mph into a 3cm-thick satellite panel, successfully deploying four barbs to lock it in place. Image:An artist's impression of the Envisat, a satellite which stopped working in 2012 The harpoon, designed by Airbus UK, could be launched on a spacecraft in the 2020s in an attempt to snare the 8-ton EnviSat, which stopped working in 2012. Pete Steele, a space systems engineer at Airbus, told Sky News that the captured satellite would then be dragged through the atmosphere, burning up as it goes. "The problem with [EnviSat] is that it is now unresponsive," he said. "We can't control it, we can't steer it, so we can't get out of the way of any debris that comes its way. "If that does happen and the satellite does explode we will have a large cloud of debris, so it's important we get it down as soon as possible." Image:The ''space harpoon' was designed by Airbus UK There are already half a million pieces of space junk larger than a tennis ball orbiting the Earth at 17,500mph. Some of those are satellites that are no longer operational and pose a collision risk. In 2009, a crash between a Russian and an American satellite produced a cloud of 2,000 fragments large enough to destroy other spacecraft. The increasing number of orbiting objects raises the chance of Kessler syndrome – with a crash producing fragments that cause further collisions in a runaway series of explosions. Image:The device was fired at 55mph in a test Alastair Wayman, the harpoon project manager, said: "It's a big risk if we carry on using space as we do at the minute. "If we don't do anything, such as bringing out large pieces of space debris or implementing guidelines to make satellites de-orbit themselves at the end of mission, then this Kessler syndrome will present a real problem as we go forward." A smaller version of the Airbus harpoon will be launched next month on the European Space Agency's RemoveDebris mission. More from UK It will be fired at a test rig from a distance of 2m to confirm that it operates as expected in zero gravity. Even small fragments of junk put the International Space Station at risk, forcing the crew to take evasive action or even evacuate to the Soyuz spacecraft as a precaution. Original Article [contf] [contfnew] Sky News [contfnewc] [contfnewc]

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‘Space harpoon’ could be answer to orbital junk

A "space harpoon" designed to catch a defunct satellite the size of a double-decker bus has passed a crucial earthbound test. The one-metre long metal device was fired at 55mph into a 3cm-thick satellite panel, successfully deploying four barbs to lock it in place. Image:An artist's impression of the Envisat, a satellite which stopped working in 2012 The harpoon, designed by Airbus UK, could be launched on a spacecraft in the 2020s in an attempt to snare the 8-ton EnviSat, which stopped working in 2012. Pete Steele, a space systems engineer at Airbus, told Sky News that the captured satellite would then be dragged through the atmosphere, burning up as it goes. "The problem with [EnviSat] is that it is now unresponsive," he said. "We can't control it, we can't steer it, so we can't get out of the way of any debris that comes its way. "If that does happen and the satellite does explode we will have a large cloud of debris, so it's important we get it down as soon as possible." Image:The ''space harpoon' was designed by Airbus UK There are already half a million pieces of space junk larger than a tennis ball orbiting the Earth at 17,500mph. Some of those are satellites that are no longer operational and pose a collision risk. In 2009, a crash between a Russian and an American satellite produced a cloud of 2,000 fragments large enough to destroy other spacecraft. The increasing number of orbiting objects raises the chance of Kessler syndrome – with a crash producing fragments that cause further collisions in a runaway series of explosions. Image:The device was fired at 55mph in a test Alastair Wayman, the harpoon project manager, said: "It's a big risk if we carry on using space as we do at the minute. "If we don't do anything, such as bringing out large pieces of space debris or implementing guidelines to make satellites de-orbit themselves at the end of mission, then this Kessler syndrome will present a real problem as we go forward." A smaller version of the Airbus harpoon will be launched next month on the European Space Agency's RemoveDebris mission. More from UK It will be fired at a test rig from a distance of 2m to confirm that it operates as expected in zero gravity. Even small fragments of junk put the International Space Station at risk, forcing the crew to take evasive action or even evacuate to the Soyuz spacecraft as a precaution. Original Article [contf] [contfnew] Sky News [contfnewc] [contfnewc]

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Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is mysteriously shrinking and turning orange, Nasa reveals

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot can be seen in the left of this image (Picture: Reuters) It’s a storm big enough to swallow Earth whole and still have seconds and dessert. Now Nasa has spotted Jupiter’s Great Red Spot behaving extremely strangely. The Spot is a huge swirling storm that’s been whirling for centuries. At its biggest, it was large enough to swallow Earth three times over. But it appears to be getting taller as it shrinks and is even changing colour, meaning we might have to call it the Small Orange Spot in future. ‘Storms are dynamic, and that’s what we see with the Great Red Spot. It’s constantly changing in size and shape, and its winds shift, as well,’ said Amy Simon, an expert in planetary atmospheres at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and author of a report into the changing face of the Great Red Spot. Simon’s research indicates the Spot has been decreasing in length since 1878 and is now only big enough to swallow on Earth. It has also started to change colour and started ‘becoming intensely orange’ in 2014. Although Nasa cannot explain this process, it’s believed that chemical which colour the storm are being carried high into the atmosphere as it shape changes, where they are exposed to more UV radiation and change colour. More: UK ‘There is evidence in the archived observations that the Great Red Spot has grown and shrunk over time,’ added co-author Reta Beebe, an emeritus professor at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. ‘However, the storm is quite small now, and it’s been a long time since it last grew.’ Original Article [contf] [contfnew] METRO [contfnewc] [contfnewc]

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How To Delete Your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat

(Picture: Getty) Sometimes social media goes above and beyond its remit – and not in a good way. What starts as a way to keep in touch with family and friends becomes all-encompassing, and all of a sudden you’re living your life through a screen. Perhaps you want to delete your social media account for this reason, or perphaps you just want to free up space on your phone. Either way, we’ve got you covered. How to delete apps? On iPhone, you delete apps by holding down on your home screen. When the apps start moving around click the cross in the top-right corner of the app you want to delete. On an Android phone, open your device’s settings, tap apps & notifications, then choose the app that you want to uninstall. If you don’t see it, first tap see all apps or app info. Then choose to uninstall. This will only delete the app from your phone, however, and won’t actually remove your accounts on these. That comes in next. (Picture: Getty) Delete your Facebook account You can deactivate your Facebook for a short period (which means all your data won’t be lost) or delete completely. To deactivate: Click the account menu down arrow at the top right of any Facebook page in your web browser Select settings Choose security in the left column Choose deactivate your account’, and follow the steps to finalise this To delete your account for good, follow this link. You may wish to save your photos and messages beforehand, as they’ll be permanently gone once you’ve deleted. Delete your Twitter account To delete your Twitter and never have another argument with a stranger again (hopefully) follow these instructions. Sign in to Twitter on desktop. Go to your account settings and click on deactivate my account at the bottom of the page. Tap Deactivate @username. Enter your password when prompted and verify that you want to deactivate your account. After 30 days, your information will begin being deleted for good, so if you change your mind you need to log back in before that time to access it. (Picture: Getty) Delete your Instagram account Like Facebook, you can deactivate or delete Instagram. To deacitivate follow these instructions: Log into Instagram from a mobile browser or computer (as you can’t temporarily disable your account from within the Instagram app). Tap the person icon in the top right and then select edit profile. Click temporarily disable my account in the bottom right. You’ll then be asked to say why you’re deleting your account and re-enter your password. The option to disable your account will only appear after you’ve selected a reason from the menu. Choose temporarily disable account. To permanently delete your Insta account: Go to the delete your account page. You’ll be asked to log in on web first as you can’t delete your account from within the Instagram app. You’ll then be asked to say why you’re deleting your account and re-enter your password. The option to permanently delete your account will only appear after you’ve selected a reason from the menu. Click permanently delete my account. Delete your Snapchat account To delete Snapchat: Follow this link on any browser (you can’t delete the account from the app). Enter your username and password and select ‘log in’ Enter your username and password once again. Select delete my account at the bottom. Like Twitter, Snapchat will keep all your data for 30 days before they start removing it permanently. More: Tech Finally, you can take a break from the endless notifications and pointless updates. That is, until you’re tempted to download again. MORE: Facebook bans Britain First and its leaders from the site MORE: Company is looking for bloggers to travel around Europe – all expenses paid Original Article [contf] [contfnew] METRO [contfnewc] [contfnewc]

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Nasa Planetary Defence Team exploring ‘nuclear option’ to stop Asteroid Bennu hitting Earth in 2135

Scientists want to discover if the space rock can be redirected or blown up using nukes Scientists from a Nasa-led ‘Planetary Defence Team’ are preparing to publish a second piece of research aimed at working out how to stop a huge asteroid hitting Earth in 2135. This week, academics from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory released a study which concluded that Nasa would be unable to use a newly-designed spaceship to nudge Asteroid Bennu onto a new course which ensures it stays well clear of our planet. Horrifying footage of Egyptian student, 18, being 'attacked by gang of 10 women on bus' Now the lab is finalising research which details a ‘nuclear option’ in which the space rock will be blasted with weapons of mass destruction. Metro.co.uk has been told that the results of simulations exploring whether Bennu can be nuked are complete and about to be filed for publication in an academic journal. The study released this week related to a Nasa craft called HAMMER, which is designed to push asteroids onto new path – the ‘preferred option’ – or hit them with a nuclear blast. This graphic shows the size of Asteroid Bennu compared to a tiny ‘planetary defender’ spaceship (Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) MORE: Can nuclear weapons save Earth from apocalypse asteroids? This research said HAMMER would be unable physically move Bennu unless it was launched decades before Bennu’s possible date of impact, or dozens were sent into space at the same time. Nuking the doomsday space rock could be humanity’s only chance of survival – as long as it was carried out properly. The safest approach doesn’t necessarily involve blowing it to bits, but detonating a nuke at a distance from the asteroid. This would bombard the space rock with X-rays and vapourise the surface, creating a ‘rocket-like propulsion as the vaporized material is ejected from the object’ and pushing Bennu into a new trajectory. Of course, this would have to take place a long time before Bennu is due to hit Earth to guarantee our safety. However, nuclear weapons could allow us to save ourselves at the last minute. To view this video please enable JavaScript, and consider upgrading to a web browser that supports HTML5 video ‘Successful disruption requires ensuring that the asteroid pieces are sufficiently small and well-dispersed so that they pose a much-reduced threat to the Earth,’ said Megan Bruck Syal, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and member of the Planetary Defence Team. ‘Disruption carried out as late as tens of days before impact can still be very effective in reducing the total damage felt by Earth. Previous work by our research group has shown that the impacting debris is reduced to less than 1% of its initial mass by disrupting the asteroid, even at these late times.’ Bennu has a 1 in 2,700-chance of striking Earth on Sept. 25, 2135, and it is estimated that the energy unleashed in this impact would be equivalent to 1,200 megatons, which is 80,000 times the energy released by the Hiroshima bomb. At 500 metres wide, it is as wide as five football fields and weights around 79 billion kilograms, which is 1,664 times as heavy as the Titanic. More: World The Nasa-led Planetary Defence Team consists of several different organisations, including Los Alamos National Laboratory and the National Nuclear Security Administration. Nasa is in charge of detecting asteroids, whilst Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is working to discover ways of neutralising the threat. All organisations are involved in considering the emergency response which would be needed if an asteroid hit our fragile planet. MORE: Nasa makes huge discovery on frozen dwarf planet Original Article [contf] [contfnew] METRO [contfnewc] [contfnewc]

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Tech investor TMT is ready to ride the blockchain boom

Tech investor TMT Investments is planning to ramp up its involvement in the blockchain space, though the firm warned there is still plenty of naivety surrounding distributed ledger technology. The figures In the year to the end of 2017, TMT's net asset value per share jumped 28.6 per cent to $2.43 (£1.74). The firm, which has backed successful startups including Uber rival Taxify, made $2.2m in profit through partial cash exits from some of its investments and $20.83m in positive revaluations, but it booked $4.38m worth of impairment charges. Why it's interesting TMT, which focuses on startups in the big data, e-commerce and business software sectors, made its first blockchain-related investment in February through an initial coin offering (ICO) by messaging app Telegram. The Aim-listed firm told City AM it was actively looking into new blockchain companies in its core sectors with proven track records. "In blockchain, the biggest difference is that it's a completely new frontier," Igor Shoifot, investment partner at TMT, said. He added that the excitement – and the naivety – surrounding the sector felt the same as at the end of the 1990s when "anything with 'dot com' at the end was exciting". "We will continue doing what we are good at, but we will also try to capitalise as much as possible on the advantages of blockchain," Shoifot said. He added that TMT's expertise in blockchain investments will allow it to produce returns much faster for shareholders through ICOs. Aside from blockchain, TMT is also looking into companies with subscription-based business models and quantum computing. Read more: Blockchain is more than bitcoin – it has potential to change the world What TMT said Alexander Selegenev, executive director of TMT, said: 2017 was another successful year for the company, with several sizeable revaluations and partial exits across our portfolio. We are very pleased to see that a significant number of our portfolio companies have become star performers led by outstanding management teams that continue to experience rapid growth and attract additional capital at significantly higher valuations. The portfolio at present offers a diversified combination of companies including ones that are already operating globally such as Taxify, Pipedrive and Wrike and those that are preparing to scale up. We strongly expect 2018 to produce further positive revaluations across our portfolio. Read more: Private equity could soon see its tech M&A bubble burst, warns report Original Article [contf] [contfnew] CityAM [contfnewc] [contfnewc]

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Google funds EU academics and research groups, says report

Google cultivated links with academics and research organizations across Europe to influence the region’s tough regulatory stance toward the search giant, according to an analysis by a U.S. non-profit group published Friday. The report argues that as part of a decade-long lobbying campaign, the American tech company earmarked millions of euros to support think tanks in Germany, the United Kingdom and Brussels that focused on hot-button topics like competition and copyright reform central to Google’s core advertising business. The analysis was published by the Campaign for Accountability, a Washington-based organization financed by one of Google’s harshest critics. Google’s financial and policy links with groups like the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels and the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society in Berlin highlight the company’s increasingly sophisticated lobbying tactics to woo EU policymakers, who hold great sway over its corporate interests on the Continent and beyond. Google’s ties to European research groups and academics have not helped it steer clear of regulatory scrutiny. The disclosures by the Campaign for Accountability, which published a similar report last year outlining Google’s links with U.S. academics, also shed light on the tug-of-war between the search giant and its tech rivals. The Washington-based group is partly funded by Oracle, a long-time staunch Google critic, which also holds legal control over FairSearch, another anti-Google group at the center of Europe’s antitrust charges against the company. “Google’s strategy is to put money into a few institutions,” said Daniel Stevens, executive director at the Campaign for Accountability, who declined to comment on the group’s ties to Oracle. “If they can muddy the waters by pointing to academic papers, it helps their cause.” Google refuted claims it had bought influence among EU policymakers, adding that its financial support for research organizations was open to public scrutiny and did not affect those groups’ focus on digital topics. It also questioned the motives of Campaign for Accountability, which did not disclose its own source of funding. “We’re happy to support academic researchers in Europe,” said Al Verney, a Google spokesman. “Unlike our competitors who fund the Campaign for Accountability, we expect and require our grantees to disclose their funding.” Google’s ties to European research groups and academics have not helped it steer clear of regulatory scrutiny. Officials in Brussels, Paris and Berlin have filed antitrust charges, issued privacy fines and tried other ways to reduce the search giant’s perceived dominance of the digital world. That included a €2.4 billion antitrust fine last year from Margrethe Vestager, the EU competition chief, for Google unfairly favoring some of its search services over those of rivals. The company is appealing that decision. Google’s academic ties The tech company provided roughly €9 million to the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society, a Berlin-based research organization whose academics wrote reports and papers linked to digital issues tied to Google’s underlying business, according to the institute’s own public filings. That figure represented roughly three quarters of the organization’s yearly funding at a time when German politicians, including Angela Merkel, the country’s chancellor, raised questions about Google’s dominance over many parts of the online world. Wolfgang Schulz, director of the Humboldt Institute, acknowledged that Google’s funding placed greater responsibility on the organization to be impartial, but said the company had no say over research. He added that the organization’s contract with Google meant it only automatically received half of the annual €1.5 million budget from the search giant. The other half was dependent on the Humboldt Institute finding matching funding, on a euro-per-euro basis, from other corporate or government groups. “We are extremely transparent,” Schulz said. “When you accept corporate money, you are under special observation.” In London, Google also provided funding for the Research Alliance for a Digital Europe, or READIE, a think tank operated by Nesta, an independent foundation with ties to the British government, according to the Campaign for Accountability’s report. READIE published dozens of studies on digital topics, some — but not all — favorable to Google’s lobbying positions, while its events provided the search giant’s executives an opportunity to reach EU decision-makers, according to the Washington-based organization. That included privileged access to some of Europe’s most senior policymakers, including a 2017 presentation on digital policy by READIE’s founder Valerie Mocker, which was attended by Merkel. Mocker said the organization’s costs were split equally between Nesta and Google, and that it was always transparent about which groups and organizations were involved in its research. “Nesta independently runs READIE as a platform to share policies; connect Europe’s policymakers with businesses and entrepreneurs,” she wrote in an email. Building links in Brussels The Campaign for Accountability also highlighted Google’s membership of the Centre for European Policy Studies, or CEPS, a leading Brussels-based think tank chaired by Joaquín Almunia, the former competition commissioner who tried unsuccessfully to settle an EU antitrust probe with Google. The organization counts among its researchers a former Google employee and Andrea Renda, a professor occupying a Google-sponsored chair at the College of Europe, a post-graduate institute. The Campaign for Accountability claimed CEPS researchers’ stance on digital issues was influenced after Google began donating to the think tank and hosting its conferences, which promoted the company’s positions to senior EU policymakers. The group said the think tank wrote several policy papers critical of the Commission’s antitrust investigation into Google, though this work was not fully against Brussels’ stance, according to a review of CEPS’ documents. “It is part of the larger picture where larger internet companies are dominating this conversation” — Daniel Freund, head of advocacy EU integrity at Transparency International The think tank said that Google paid an annual corporate membership of €12,000, or less than 1 percent of its total membership income, and that the relationship did not give the company a say over its research topics. “CEPS remains committed to its founding values of transparency and independence, meticulously upheld by our researchers and members of management,” the organization said in a statement. Renda, the senior research fellow at CEPS, said that his critical stance toward the Commission’s antitrust investigation into Google was similar to his position against Brussels’ previous probe into Microsoft abuses more than a decade ago. Lobbying experts said Google’s ability to influence academics or think tanks depended on its financial deals with them, but that the amount of overall tech funding going into research risked distorting the debate around issues key to corporate interests. “Larger internet companies are dominating this conversation,” said Daniel Freund, head of advocacy EU integrity at Transparency International, whose corporate sponsors include Statoil and Microsoft. “You don’t have to script every message, but you fund the conversation taking place.” Original Article [contf] [contfnew]

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Moscovici: Unhappy about digital tax? Complain to Paris and Berlin

European Tax Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said companies and states that are unhappy with a proposal to tax digital companies’ revenues should direct their gripes to France and Germany, the initiative’s chief backers. According to a draft proposal obtained by POLITICO, the Commission recently floated plans to tax the revenues of digital giants at rates between 1 percent and 5 percent, in what would be a radical departure from the normal practice of taxing profits. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire argued the tax should be higher, between 2 percent and 6 percent. In a conversation with POLITICO Playbook, Moscovici said unhappy parties should bring their concerns to Paris and Berlin as he said the Commission was merely “taking into account” those capitals’ requirements. He also said he will present present proposals on how to tax digital companies next week that include taxing “for the short term some parts of digital activities with a modest rate and a very precise basis.” Other elements of the proposal will push for a European common corporate tax base (which, according to Moscovici, would be a “huge reform, the major reform for the 21st century for corporate taxation” if it were to happen) and better definition of “what is digital presence and how can we measure the presence of digital companies so that they can be taxed.” Original Article [contf] [contfnew]

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British cyber option to punish Russia prompts fear of ‘electronic war’

LONDON — Of all the ways Theresa May could hit back against Russia over the poisoning of an agent on British soil, a cyberattack seems almost fitting. The British prime minister would be using Moscow’s own cherished method of cyber sabotage to teach the Kremlin a lesson — highlighting U.K. covert capabilities with little risk of igniting a hot war. May set a deadline of midnight Tuesday for the Kremlin to explain how a Russian government-manufactured nerve agent came to be used in the attack on double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, southern England. Russia denies involvement: “We have nothing to do with this,” said Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. But while media reports suggest that top officials are examining a cyber response to what May has called an “an unlawful use of force,” senior U.K. lawmakers and international experts warned against prodding the Russian bear with this particular tool. “It is something you would have to continue for some time and Russia would retaliate” — Keith Simpson, Intelligence and Security Committee Not only does Moscow boast one of the world’s most advanced cyberwarfare programs, they said, in the event of a major British attack, Russian President Vladimir Putin is almost certain to hit back in kind, prompting a spiral of retaliation that could escalate into full-blown electronic war. “The Russians have got vast capability on this [the cyber front], both state-organized agencies plus all the mafia elements who are linked in with them,” said Keith Simpson, a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which regularly probes Britain’s intelligence services. Despite Britain’s “considerable capacity” to mount cyberattacks, launching one would not be “a one-off thing,” he added. “It is something you would have to continue for some time and Russia would retaliate.” ‘Top tier’ cyber country To be sure, Britain has been preparing for this sort of scenario for years. George Osborne, formerly the U.K. chancellor and now editor of the London Evening Standard, was behind a major push in 2015 to upgrade Britain’s cyber capability, according to a person close to discussions. He ordered a new National Cyber Security Strategy, which flagged investment in the National Offensive Cyber Program, a partnership between the Ministry of Defence and the main signals intelligence agency, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). “Operationally speaking they have been involved in online covert actions, and they’ve developed their own approach to online covert action” — Alexander Klimburg, The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies A December report by the U.K. Intelligence and Security Committee said Britain’s cyber capabilities have “more than doubled” in past year. And former Defense Secretary Michael Fallon acknowledged in a speech last year for the first time that London had used “offensive cyber” against the Islamic State terrorist group. Willingness to deploy offensive cyber weapons puts Britain in the “top tier” of cyber powers, surpassed only by the United States and “on par” with Russia, according to Alexander Klimburg, director of the Cyber Policy and Resilience Program at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. “They [Britain] have a good reputation,” he added. “Operationally speaking they have been involved in online covert actions, and they’ve developed their own approach to online covert action. They have lots of experience in this.” ‘Anything is possible’ In December, GCHQ disclosed that it is developing a “full spectrum” of cyber weapons — from tactical tools to high-end deterrents, which they said may never be used. Yet the specific tools at the U.K.’s disposal are kept secret. Options available to a power of its size run the gamut from phishing schemes to targeted attacks on individuals’ online identities to shutting down a city’s power grid from a distance and using software glitches only spooks know about to hack networks. “Anything you can think of is possible in cyber,” said Klimburg. “It starts at macro-level stuff that includes turning off power at the level of a city, to targeted attacks … to very specific like changing bank accounts or identities,” he said. Britain could justify such a move, which would amount to an act of war. Under international law, the U.K. could defend against what May described as an “unlawful use of force” by invoking the United Nations charter’s Article 51, which spells out a state’s “inherent right of individual or collective self-defense” in the event of an armed attack. But taking its case to the United Nations would bog London down in diplomatic discussions. And a major unilateral cyberattack against Russia would defeat the weapon’s chief attribute: its covertness, and the fact that the state deploying it can deny responsibility. “There are a lot of different ways to respond, and cyber will only be a part of that puzzle” — Alexander Klimburg Another path is to enlist allies to help mount a cyber operation. NATO announced a major bulk-up of its cyber capabilities last year. In a statement Monday, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insisted that the alliance was “in touch with U.K. authorities on this issue [how to respond to the suspected assassination].” Even so, not all officials are convinced a cyberattack is the best option. For Simpson, it would be better to hit Putin’s allies where it hurts them most: in the pocket. “Denying him [Putin] and his friends their money or their ability to recycle their money through Western banks is the thing that is going to cause him the most pain,” he said. For Klimburg, there is yet another preferred route: confiscating assets. “The U.K. also has a lot of other tools at its disposal, in particular confiscation of assets that are known to be close Putin allies. There are a lot of different ways to respond, and cyber will only be a part of that puzzle,” he said. Original Article [contf] [contfnew]

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Facebook’s refusal to share data undermines global response to fake news

LONDON — For a social network that boasts about how much its 2.2 billion users swap photos, videos and messages online, Facebook isn’t a big fan of sharing. And that’s becoming a serious problem. The company refuses to give researchers, academics and journalists access to data it collects on people’s individual Facebook pages. That makes it almost impossible to track, analyze and predict how waves of online misinformation — last week’s Italian election again showed how such fake news could circulate rapidly among voters — are spread on the world’s largest social network. By failing to open its digital doors, Facebook is doing itself, and the wider public, a disservice. Disinformation, spread by homegrown activists and foreign actors, is now part of almost every country’s election cycle. And without a full understanding of what is posted and circulated on the social networking giant, policymakers in Brussels, London and Washington are left fighting blind when figuring out how best to tackle online misinformation just as people’s trust in what they read online has hit an all-time low. Without access to Facebook’s private data, fake-news researchers must rely on imperfect proxies It’s about transparency — and Facebook’s lack of it. “Right now, we don’t know anything that goes on inside Facebook,” said Alexandre Alaphilippe, co-founder of the EU DisinfoLab, a Brussels-based nonprofit organization that tracked the spread of fake news during the recent French and Italian elections. “All of this content is concentrated in a private black box.” Facebook rejects claims that it’s not doing its part in tackling fake news. The company says its strict privacy rules (arguably based on past painful run-ins with European data protection watchdogs) mean that it can’t just hand over people’s data to any researcher or journalist that asks for it. The social media company also said it was working with some researchers on projects that use anonymized data, even if it has balked at providing one-off access to other academics, according to several people who have asked for it. Without such independent research, countries’ lawmakers must rely on the company’s own analysis about what type of misinformation is spreading in this no-go zone Facebook officials cite fears that sharing private data would create a precedent in which others (read: government agencies or unfriendly private actors) could also come calling. “We want to work with the academic community to continue to understand the impact of our platform while making sure we are protecting people’s privacy,” Lena Pietsch, a Facebook spokeswoman, said in a statement. But privacy concerns are an imperfect excuse. What researchers are looking for aren’t the names, likes and birthdays of Facebook users. Instead, they’re asking for anonymous datasets to analyze trends about how online content is produced and shared among groups of Facebook users — something that so-called data-brokers, or companies that sell users’ digital data, already get through existing commercial agreements with the social network. Currently, Facebook allows outside groups to analyze data from so-called ‘public’ pages — those created by politicians, brands and companies to share posts on the platform, which can, by default, be read by anyone online. But it offers no access to anonymized data for individuals’ “private” Facebook pages (the ones that you and I use to stay in touch with friends and family), which — importantly — represent the lion’s share of online activity where most of the misinformation is created and shared. “There’s a fundamental tension here, but we need greater transparency to shed a light on what Facebook’s algorithms do,” said Dipayan Ghosh, a former Facebook privacy adviser, who has become a staunch critic of the company while working at New America, a think tank in Washington, DC. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Menlo Park, California Without access to Facebook’s private data, fake-news researchers must rely on imperfect proxies, including other social media sites, to garner any insight into how misinformation is spread on Facebook’s network. Many, including the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, rely on Twitter, mostly because people’s posts on that platform are almost always open to the wider world. That makes sense in the United States, where 68 million Americans (or 20 percent of the population) regularly tweet. But outside the U.S., such a reliance on Twitter (whose international reach is marginal, at best) can skew results and miss important trends in how fake news is circulated. What happened in Italy Take last week’s Italian election. Facebook has roughly 25 million users in the country, while Twitter has less than 2 million, according to industry estimates. When a false report about potential ballot tampering in Sicily started to spread online on voting day, Twitter users retweeted the misinformation roughly 1,000 times, according to an analysis by EU DisinfoLab. Yet on Facebook, the same story was shared more than 18,000 times — and that’s only on public Facebook pages. How that misinformation spread within Facebook users’ private pages (and, notably, who helped to circulate it) remains unknown. The same story has played out again and again across multiple elections, from the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign to last September’s nationwide vote in Germany. Researchers are left scrambling to use unwieldy Twitter data or proxy Facebook public statistics to gauge what was happening on people’s private pages. A start would be for Facebook to offer public interest access to all of its data to verified researchers. Without such independent research, countries’ lawmakers must rely on the company’s own analysis about what type of misinformation is spreading in this no-go zone. Last year, for instance, the social networking giant eventually told U.S. politicians that roughly 126 million people may have seen Russian-linked posts ahead of the 2016 election, or a more than ten-fold increase on Facebook’s initial estimates. In the United Kingdom, Facebook also said that Kremlin-backed groups spent less than £1 on digital advertising connected to the country’s 2016 referendum to leave the European Union — a figure that local lawmakers derided as laughably small. “They could be doing things more useful to explain how the platform is used in campaigns,” said Sam Jeffers, co-founder of WhoTargetsMe, a British nonprofit organization that relies on people downloading software onto their computers so the group can track political advertising on individuals’ private Facebook pages. “We want to give people more transparency over the types of political messages that they’re seeing.” A start would be for Facebook to offer public interest access to all of its data to verified researchers. An employee walks past a Facebook logo at the company’s new headquarters in London | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images Such tools, known in the industry as “APIs,” already exist for the social network’s public pages. It wouldn’t take much to provide anonymized data on online disinformation so that academics and policymakers can get a handle on what really is going on within Facebook’s ever-expanding universe. So far, the social networking giant has opposed such steps. But if it continues to put up digital roadblocks, Facebook may soon find that countries’ lawmakers — many of whom have been the target of fake news campaigns — will take action into their own hands, forcing the company to cough up the data or face the regulatory consequences. If that happens, Facebook will only have itself to blame. Mark Scott is chief technology correspondent at POLITICO. Original Article [contf] [contfnew]

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