Apple’s China VPN Crackdown Is Just the Latest in a Long Line of Companies Caving

Apple recently removed some of the virtual private networks from the App Store in China, making it harder for users there to get around internet censorship. Amazon has capitulated to China’s censors as well; The New York Times reported this week that the company’s China cloud service instructed local customers to stop using software to circumvent that country’s censorship apparatus. While caving to China’s demands prompts a vocal backlash, for anyone who follows US tech companies in China, it was anything but surprising. Apple and Amazon have simply joined the ranks of companies that abandon so-called Western values in order to access the huge Chinese market.

Doing business in China requires playing by Chinese rules, and American tech companies have a long history of complying with Chinese censorship. Every time a new compromise comes to light, indignation briefly flares up in the press and on social media. Then, it’s back to business as usual. This isn’t even the first time Apple has complied with Chinese censors. Earlier this year, the company removed New York Times apps from its Chinese store, following a request from Chinese authorities. “We would obviously rather not remove apps, but like we do in other countries we follow the law wherever do we business,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook during Tuesday’s earnings call, in response to the vanished VPN apps.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of American companies that have aided Chinese censorship. In 2005, Yahoo! provided information that helped Chinese authorities convict a journalist, Shi Tao. Shi had sent an anonymous post to a US-based Web site. The post contained state secrets, according to authorities, and Shi was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Also in 2005, Microsoft shut down the blog of a Chinese freedom of speech advocate. A year later, Google agreed to censor its search results in China. Internal documents show that Cisco apparently saw China’s “Great Firewall” as a choice opportunity to sell routers at around the same time. In 2006, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Google, and Cisco faced a congressional hearing about their Chinese collaboration. “I do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night,” said representative Tom Lantos at the time.

It turns out that some corporate leaders will sacrifice a good night’s sleep to reach hundreds of millions of internet users—and potential customers. In 2014, LinkedIn launched a Chinese version of its service with the understanding that doing so would curtail freedom of expression. Users who posted politically sensitive content would get a message saying that their content would not be seen by LinkedIn members in China.

In a 2014 interview with the Wall Street Journal, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner was upfront about the Chinese bargain. “We’re expecting there will be requests to filter content,” Weiner said. “We are strongly in support of freedom of expression and we are opposed to censorship,” but “that’s going to be necessary for us to achieve the kind of scale that we’d like to be able to deliver to our membership.”

Perhaps LinkedIn figured that, as a business networking site, it could dodge political controversy. But when it comes to China, it’s never that simple. LinkedIn’s community, after all, includes China-based journalists. It wasn’t long before users complained about receiving notices from LinkedIn that their posts were not available in China. Just this month, the journalist Ian Johnson posted one of those notices on Twitter. Twitter is blocked in China, but some access it with circumvention technology. In the past, China-based activists have used Twitter to get their message to the outside world. Twitter is a rare American platform that offers relative freedom of expression to the Chinese who are willing to use it.

Bending to China’s will doesn’t guarantee success. China remains a tough market, even for those willing to censor. Derek Shen, formerly president of LinkedIn China, recently stepped down after the company had less than impressive results in China. Problems apparently included missed sales targets, and failure to attract new users. In 2010 Google declared wholesale defeat in mainland China, citing problems with censorship and cybersecurity.

Censorship isn’t the only challenge: US companies now have to contend with fierce Chinese rivals. Apple has struggled against domestic Chinese competition, including smartphone powerhouses Oppo and Vivo. Uber flailed against incumbent ride-share service Didi Chuxing before eventually selling its China operations to its local rival. When it comes to the internet, Chinese users aren’t necessarily longing to jump over the Great Firewall to gain access to overseas sites. Many are content with domestic products, particularly WeChat, a wildly popular messaging app.

Still, US companies will always try to break through in China. Facebook has eyed the mainland for a while. A Facebook entry may appear unlikely, especially as China temporarily blocked its WhatsApp messaging service. But CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears willing to go the distance; Facebook has reportedly worked on a censorship tool for the purposes of getting China’s approval. Conventional wisdom once held that Facebook would not risk the public outcry following a decision to self-censor in China. But is that really true? All those other companies got away with it, and Facebook probably would too.

So will Apple. The company might take a beating in China, but it won’t be because of its moral choices. That doesn’t mean that the Chinese internet outlook is bleak. Despite pervasive censorship, information manages to get through. Some circumvention tools will vanish, and others will appear. For every sensitive terms that gets blocked, people will find different words to replace them
The spread of the internet will continue to expand the space for expression in China—just not necessarily thanks to the American companies willing to do whatever it takes to gain a foothold there.

Emily Parker has covered China for the Wall Street Journal and been an advisor in the US State Department. She is the author of Now I Know Who My Comrades Are, a book about the power of social media in China, Cuba, and Russia.

from Wired Top Stories

Oh, Snap! Scientists Are Turning People’s Food Photos Into Recipes

You already know what all of your friends are eating, so you might as well know how to make it, too.

Carlina Teteris/Getty Images

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Carlina Teteris/Getty Images

You already know what all of your friends are eating, so you might as well know how to make it, too.

Carlina Teteris/Getty Images

When someone posts a photo of food on social media, do you get cranky? Is it because you just don’t care what other people are eating? Or is it because they’re enjoying an herb-and-garlic crusted halibut at a seaside restaurant while you sit at your computer with a slice of two-day-old pizza?

Maybe you’d like to have what they’re having, but don’t know how to make it. If only there were a way to get their recipe without commenting on the photo.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) would like that for you, too. That’s why they’re creating an artificial neural network — a computer system modeled after the human brain — to examine those photos and break them down into recipes.

The growth of the Internet has supported the ability to collect and publish several large-scale datasets, allowing for great advances in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), says Javier Marin, a postdoctoral research associate at CSAIL and co-author of a paper published this July at the Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition in Honolulu.

“However, when it comes to food, there was not any large-scale dataset available in the research community until now,” Marin says. “There was a clear need to better understand people’s eating habits and dietary preferences.”

To do this, researchers have been feeding the computer pairs of photos and their corresponding recipes — about 800,000 of them. The AI network, called Recipe 1M, chews on all of that for a while, learning patterns and connections between the ingredients in the recipes and the photos of food.

“What we’ve developed is a novel machine learning model that powers an app. The demo that you see is just a pretty interface to that model,” says Nicholas Hynes, an MIT graduate student at CSAIL who also co-authored the paper.

You, too, can try out this interface, called Pic2Recipe. To use it, just upload your food photo. The computer will analyze it and retrieve a recipe from a collection of test recipes that best matches your image.

It usually works pretty well, although it can miss an ingredient or two sometimes. Take for example, this video, in which the MIT team uploads a photo of sugar cookies.

“The app took the image, figured out what was in it and how it was prepared, and gave us the recipe that it thinks was most likely to have produced the image,” says Hynes.

Pic2Recipe did correctly identify eight out of the 11 ingredients. And it did accurately find a recipe for sugar cookies. Alas, it missed the icing.

But the program doesn’t need to visually recognize every ingredient in the photo to find an accurate recipe.

“Just like a human, it can infer the presence of invisible, homogenized or obscured ingredients using context. For instance, if I see a green colored soup, it probably contains peas — and most definitely salt!” says Hynes. “When the model finds the best match, it’s really taking a holistic view of the entire image or the entire recipe. That’s part of why the model is interesting: It learns a lot about recipes in a very unstructured way.”

But as with every new technology, there are some kinks to work out.

The current model sometimes has trouble making fine distinctions between similar recipes, Hynes says. “For instance, it may detect a ham sandwich as pastrami or not recognize that brioche contains milk and egg. We’re still actively improving the vision portion of the model.”

Another issue, Hynes says, is that the current model has no explicit knowledge of basic concepts like flavor and texture. “Without this, it might replace one ingredient with another because they’re used in similar contexts, but, doing so would significantly alter this dish,” Hynes says. “For example, there are two very similar Korean fermented ingredients called gochujang and doenjang, but the former is spicy and sweet while the latter is savory and salty.”

There are other refinements to be made, such as how to recognize an ingredient as diced, chopped or sliced. Or how to tell the difference between different types of mushrooms or tomatoes.

And when a reporter at The Verge tried the demo, photos of ramen and potato chips turned up no matches. How could the program miss such basics?

“This is simply explained by not having recipes for those foods in the dataset,” Hynes says. “For things like ramen and potato chips, people generally don’t post recipes for things that come out of a bag.”

In the future, the MIT researchers want to do more than just let you have what they’re having. They are seeking insight into health and eating habits.

“Determining the ingredients — and therefore how healthy they are — of images posted in a specific region, we could see how health habits change through time,” says Marin.

Hynes would like to take the technology a step farther, and is working on a way to automatically link from an image or ingredient list to nutrition information.

“Using it to improve peoples’ health is definitely big; when I go to community/potluck dinners, it always astonishes me how people don’t pay attention to preparation and how it relates to plausible serving sizes,” he says.

Hynes also can see how aspiring cooks might appreciate a system that takes a restaurant item and tells them how to make it. “Even everyday people with dietary restrictions — gluten free, vegan, sparse pantry — would appreciate a tool that could minimally modify a complicated dish like Beef Wellington so that it fits the constraints.”

And why stop there? These are MIT scientists, after all, collaborating with researchers from the Qatar Computing Research Institute and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Spain.

“In the far future, one might envision a robo-chef that fully understands food and does the cooking for you!” Hynes says.

from NPR Topics: News

These Countries Have The World’s Fastest Internet Connections (Spoiler: It’s Definitely Not The US)

The US may be one of the world’s leaders when it comes to internet technology, but it certainly doesn’t have the fastest connections. Neither does the UK or Canada, for that matter, according to a new survey released by internet phone provider Ooma. If you want lightning-fast internet, you better head to Asia.

South Korea has the world’s fastest internet connections. At an average speed of 27 Mbps it’s nearly double the average in the United States (15.3 Mbps) and the UK (15 Mbps). Norway has the second-fastest connection speeds, with Hong Kong, Sweden, and Switzerland following. While the UK is well down the list, it does have the fastest mobile internet speeds in the world.

Ooma also looked at who has the fastest public Wi-Fi and found Lithuania has the fastest connections in the world, followed by Croatia and Estonia. The UK came in 6th place, with the US coming in 20th place. Despite the US’s slow speeds, it has a fairly high number of public Wi-Fi hotspots, coming in 5th place in the world at 5.8 people-per-hotspot (ahead of the UK and Canada, but well-behind world leader France).

You can read Ooma’s full findings on its website (including who has the slowest connections), but here’s a quick look at the top countries in the world with the internet connections and the fastest public WiFi.

Fastest Internet Connections

  1. South Korea
  2. Norway
  3. Hong Kong
  4. Sweden
  5. Switzerland

Fastest Public WiFi

  1. Lithuania
  2. Croatia
  3. Estonia
  4. Ireland
  5. Romania
  6. United Kingdom
  7. Denmark
  8. Hungary
  9. Belgium
  10. Slovenia
  11. Bulgaria
  12. Singapore
  13. Finland
  14. Switzerland
  15. Latvia
  16. Germany
  17. Sweden
  18. Portugal
  19. Canada
  20. United States

from GameSpot’s PC Reviews

Footage From the First Fast Hyperloop Test Looks Like a Tron-Inspired Fantasy

Hyperloop One recently crossed a major milestone, after it hurdled a vehicle through a vacuum-sealed tube at an eye-peeling 192 miles-per-hour. That’s almost Formula One speed, and by God, it looks incredible. Too bad people inside the windowless pod will never get to see it.

The test took place over the weekend, when Hyperloop One loaded the 28-foot-long pod into a concrete tube in the Nevada desert. Per Elon Musk’s psychedelic plan, the company then sucked the air out of the tube making it about as thin as the air at 200,000 feet above sea level. Then the pod took off. At first, it used an electric propulsion system to bring it up to speed, and then, the wheels retracted so that a magnetic levitation system could take over. Then the pod really took off, topping out at that record-high 192 mph.

This isn’t the first full-fledged Hyperloop test from the Los Angeles-based company, though. Back in May, the company conducted an initial demo that saw the pod reach 69 mph (nice) on a 315-foot-long stretch of track. But eventually, Hyperloop One hopes to build a system that will go as fast as 250 mph on the test track. Even then, the technology still has a ways to go before it can clock the 500 mph speeds planned for the Abu Dhabi-to-Dubai route.

Let’s all say that again: the technology still has a ways to go. While the nuts and bolts of creating a giant pneumatic tube system that can blast pods over long distances at high speeds is here, a real Hyperloop that humans might use to commute faces plenty more challenges. Land rights, for one, could dictate the ultimate success or failure of the world’s first Hyperloop system. Even then, there are even greater political and bureaucratic challenges that the technology faces. The latest tests show that the Hyperloop isn’t quite a fantasy. But it’s not quite a reality yet, either.

But forget all that boo-hoo business! Let’s all just sit back and enjoy the ultra futuristic marvel of a giant pod zooming through a vacuum tube at crazy speeds. Let’s look at the lights as they zoom overhead, like you’re speeding across the grid in Tron or bringing the ship up to warp speed. Let’s enjoy the laser-themed graphics on display through the window of the po—oh wait. The Hyperloop pod doesn’t have any windows, so we won’t actually see any of this cool stuff. Looks great in the YouTube video, though.

[Hyperloop One]

from Gizmodo

Virgin Orbit will test its rocket-launching plane in 2018

There’s a lot happening at Virgin’s three space companies, even though they might not be making headlines the same way that other commercial spaceflight companies are. Virgin Galactic is focused on human spaceflight, and will be resuming powered test flights later this year after a tragic crash in 2014. The Spaceship Company is just that — it’s aimed at building and testing aerospace vehicles. It’s the company’s third and most recent venture, Virgin Orbit, that we’re focused on today. The first flight of LauncherOne, the company’s rocket, will take place sometime before July of 2018.

Virgin Orbit is designed to be a small satellite launcher, but it doesn’t have a traditional rocket. Instead, a 747-400 aircraft called Cosmic Girl will carry both rocket and payload to 35,000 feet. The plane will then release the LauncherOne rocket, which will begin a powered ascent into space. It can carry a 300-kg (661 lb) payload to an orbit 500-km (310 mi) above the Earth.

The company’s announcement this week focused on the changes to the plane Cosmic Girl. In order to serve as the launch platform for LauncherOne, the plane had to undergo extensive modifications, which were followed by thorough inspections. That process is now complete, and Cosmic Girl is ready. Virgin Orbit’s VP of Launch Tim Buzza expressed excitement that the company was one step closer "towards our vision of launching anyone, anywhere, any time."

It’s a positive step for a company that has mostly been in the headlines for tragedy over the past couple of years. Virgin Orbit’s launch system may seem unorthodox, but it does have advantages: It’s not as subject to the whims of weather as traditional vehicles. The rocket will be shielded from the ravages of bad weather as Cosmic Girl ascends; it’s only when the plane is at a high altitude that LauncherOne will be exposed. It will certainly be interesting to see what Virgin’s space companies achieve in the future, but for now we’re looking forward to that flight in the first half of 2018.

Via: SpaceNews

Source: SpaceRef Business

from Engadget

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