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  • US joins global push against violent extremism online
    The Canadian Press

    US joins global push against violent extremism online

    WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Two years after a white supremacist in New Zealand livestreamed the slaughter of 51 Muslim worshippers on Facebook, French President Emmanuel Macron says the internet continues to be be used by terrorists as a weapon to propagate hate. Macron and other leaders from tech giants and governments around the world — including the U.S. for the first time — gathered virtually on Saturday to find better ways to stop extremist violence from spreading online, while also respecting freedom of expression. It was part of a global effort started by Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after deadly attacks in their countries were streamed or shared on social networks. The U.S. government and four other countries joined the effort, known as the Christchurch Call, for the first time this year. It involves some 50 nations plus tech companies including Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon, and is named for the New Zealand city where the slaughter at the two mosques took place. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a prerecorded video that authorities in his country alone had taken down more than 300,000 pieces of terrorist material from the internet over the past decade, which he described as a tsunami of hate. “Terrorist content is like a metastasizing tumor within the internet, or series of tumors," Johnson said. “If we fail to excise it, it will inevitably spread into homes and high streets the world over.” Since its launch, governments and tech companies have cooperated in some cases in identifying violent extremist content online. Ardern, however, said more tangible progress is needed to stop it from proliferating. The meeting was aimed at revitalizing coordination efforts, notably since President Joe Biden entered office, and getting more tech companies involved. Macron and Ardern welcomed the U.S. decision as a potential catalyst for stronger action. Macron said the internet had continued to be used as a tool in recent attacks in the U.S., Vienna, Germany and elsewhere. He said it cannot happen again, and that new European regulations against extremist content would help. Ardern said that two years after the Christchurch Call was launched, momentum was strong. But she acknowledged the challenge in essentially playing whac-a-mole with different countries, internet platforms and algorithms that can foster extremist content. “The existence of algorithms themselves is not necessarily the problem, it's whether or not they are being ethically used,” Ardern said. “And so that is probably the biggest focus for the Call community over the next year." She said part of the solution also came in better equipping a younger generation of internet users to have the skills to deal with radical content or disinformation when they encounter it online. Although the U.S. only officially joined the Christchurch Call this year, it had been consistently contributing to the effort, Ardern said. “Countering the use of the internet by terrorists and violent extremists to radicalize and recruit is a significant priority for the United States,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. She also stressed the importance of protecting freedom of expression and “reasonable expectations of privacy.” Nick Perry, The Associated Press

  • News
    The Canadian Press

    Officials: Tesla Autopilot probed in fatal California crash

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Tesla involved in a fatal crash on a Southern California freeway last week may have been operating on Autopilot before the wreck, according to the California Highway Patrol. The May 5 crash in Fontana, a city 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Los Angeles, is also under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The probe is the 29th case involving a Tesla that the federal agency has probed. In the Fontana crash, a 35-year-old man was killed when his Tesla Model 3 struck an overturned semi on a freeway about 2:30 a.m. The driver's name has not yet been made public. Another man was seriously injured when the electric vehicle hit him as he was helping the semi’s driver out of the wreck. The CHP announced Thursday that its preliminary investigation had determined that the Tesla’s partially automated driving system called Autopilot “was engaged" prior to the crash. However on Friday, the agency walked back its previous declaration. “To clarify," a new CHP statement said, “There has not been a final determination made as to what driving mode the Tesla was in or if it was a contributing factor to the crash." At least three people have died in previous U.S. crashes involving Autopilot. The CHP initially said it was commenting on the Fontana crash because of the “high level of interest" about Tesla crashes and because it was “an opportunity to remind the public that driving is a complex task that requires a driver’s full attention.” The federal safety investigation comes just after the CHP arrested another man who authorities have said was in the back seat of a Tesla that was driving this week on Interstate 80 near Oakland with no one behind the wheel. CHP has not said if officials have determined whether the Tesla in the I-80 incident was operating on Autopilot, which can keep a car centered in its lane and a safe distance behind vehicles in front of it. But it’s likely that either Autopilot or “Full Self-Driving” were in operation for the driver to be in the back seat. Tesla is allowing a limited number of owners to test its self-driving system. Tesla, which has disbanded its public relations department, did not respond Friday to an email seeking comment. The company says in owner’s manuals and on its website that both Autopilot and “Full Self-Driving” are not fully autonomous and that drivers must pay attention and be ready to intervene at any time. Autopilot at times has had trouble dealing with stationary objects and traffic crossing in front of Teslas. In two Florida crashes, from 2016 and 2019, cars with Autopilot in use drove beneath crossing tractor-trailers, killing the men driving the Teslas. In a 2018 crash in Mountain View, California, an Apple engineer driving on Autopilot was killed when his Tesla struck a highway barrier. Tesla’s system, which uses cameras, radar and short-range sonar, also has trouble handling stopped emergency vehicles. Teslas have struck several firetrucks and police vehicles that were stopped on freeways with their flashing emergency lights on. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in March sent a team to investigate after a Tesla on Autopilot ran into a Michigan State Police vehicle on Interstate 96 near Lansing. Neither the trooper nor the 22-year-old Tesla driver was injured, police said. After the Florida and California fatal crashes, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that Tesla develop a stronger system to ensure drivers are paying attention, and that it limit use of Autopilot to highways where it can work effectively. Neither Tesla nor the safety agency took action. In a Feb. 1 letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt urged the department to enact regulations governing driver-assist systems such as Autopilot, as well as testing of autonomous vehicles. NHTSA has relied mainly on voluntary guidelines for the vehicles, taking a hands-off approach so it won’t hinder development of new safety technology. Sumwalt said that Tesla is using people who have bought the cars to test “Full Self-Driving” software on public roads with limited oversight or reporting requirements. “Because NHTSA has put in place no requirements, manufacturers can operate and test vehicles virtually anywhere, even if the location exceeds the AV (autonomous vehicle) control system’s limitations,” Sumwalt wrote. He added: “Although Tesla includes a disclaimer that ‘currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous,’ NHTSA’s hands-off approach to oversight of AV testing poses a potential risk to motorists and other road users." NHTSA, which has authority to regulate automated driving systems and seek recalls if necessary, seems to have developed a renewed interest in the systems since President Joe Biden took office. ___ Krisher reported from Detroit. Stefanie Dazio And Tom Krisher, The Associated Press

  • 7-Eleven Deal for Speedway Chain Called Illegal by FTC Chair

    7-Eleven Deal for Speedway Chain Called Illegal by FTC Chair

    (Bloomberg) -- 7-Eleven Inc.’s purchase of the Speedway retail chain violates antitrust laws, the head of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said, casting doubt over the future of the $21 billion deal that closed Friday.FTC Acting Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter and her fellow Democratic commissioner said the agency would continue to investigate the acquisition even after 7-Eleven announced it had completed the deal.“We have reason to believe that this transaction is illegal,” Slaughter and Commissioner Rohit Chopra said in a statement. The “decision to close under these circumstances is highly unusual, and we are extremely troubled by it.”7-Eleven’s parent, Tokyo-based Seven & i Holdings Co., agreed in August to buy 3,900 Speedway outlets from Marathon Petroleum Corp. to clinch a dominant position of almost 14,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada. The transaction gives 7-Eleven a presence in 47 out of the top 50 metropolitan markets.The transaction followed months of pressure on Marathon from investors including Elliott Management Corp. and D.E. Shaw & Co., for sweeping changes to improve its performance. Elliott had pushed for Marathon to break itself up into three separate businesses: refining, retail and pipelines.7-Eleven Deal Shows Virus-Era Appeal of Gas-Station Beer, SnacksMarathon’s shares plunged as much as 4.8%, erasing gains posted after the company announced earlier on Friday a plan to buy back as much as $10 billion of stock with proceeds from the Speedway sale. The shares closed up 2.2% to $60.08.Marathon said in a statement Friday night that it has the proceeds of the sale and “remains committed” to its plan to buy back shares.7-Eleven and Marathon said in separate statements that they were legally allowed to close the deal after they negotiated an agreement with the FTC that allowed them to complete the transaction Friday if the agency didn’t move to stop it. Such so-called timing agreements are common in merger investigations by the government.7-Eleven said the companies agreed to multiple extensions of the timing agreement this year. During that time, 7-Eleven negotiated a settlement with with the FTC’s staff to resolve the agency’s concerns that the Speedway deal threatened competition, the company said. The agreement called for selling 293 stores, according to 7-Eleven.Then on May 11, Slaughter and Chopra said they wanted more time to review the divestiture settlement, 7-Eleven said. The agreement required approval of a majority of the agency’s commissioners before becoming final.FTC’s Party-Line Split“7-Eleven took the request very seriously, but such a last-minute delay would have created enormous disruption to the lives of our new colleagues at Speedway and to the business,” the company said in a statement. “Given that there was no legal basis for such a delay and given that 7-Eleven was abiding by the negotiated settlement agreement, we closed today on schedule.”A spokeswoman for the agency declined to comment on why the commissioners couldn’t reach an agreement on the proposed settlement. The agency is currently split 2-2 between Republicans and Democrats. The commission needs a majority vote to approve merger settlements or sue to block deals.The FTC’s two Republican commissioners issued a statement agreeing that the deal violates antitrust laws and criticizing the two Democrats for allowing the acquisition to proceed.“Rather than resolve the issues and order divestitures (or sue to block the transaction), the Acting Chairwoman and Commissioner Chopra have issued a strongly worded statement,” Commissioners Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson said. “Their words do not bind the merging parties, leaving consumers completely unprotected.”‘At Their Own Risk’U.S. antitrust enforcers have the authority to revisit closed mergers and sue in court to unwind them. The Democrats hinted at that possibility in their statement.“The parties have closed their transaction at their own risk,” they said. “The commission will continue to investigate to determine an appropriate path forward to address the anticompetitive harm and will also continue to work with state attorneys general.”(Updates with 7-Eleven, Marathon statements, starting in eighth paragraph.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

  • China lands on Mars in latest advance for its space program
    The Canadian Press

    China lands on Mars in latest advance for its space program

    BEIJING (AP) — China has landed a spacecraft on Mars for the first time in the latest advance for its space program. The official Xinhua News Agency said Saturday that the lander had touched down, citing the China National Space Administration. Plans call for a rover to stay in the lander for a few days of diagnostic tests before rolling down a ramp to explore an icy area of Mars known as Utopia Planitia. It will join an American one that arrived at the red planet in February. China’s first Mars landing follows its launch last month of the main section of what will be a permanent space station and a mission that brought back rocks from the moon late last year. “China has left a footprint on Mars for the first time, an important step for our country’s space exploration,” Xinhua said in announcing the landing on one of its social media accounts. The U.S. has had nine successful landings on Mars since 1976. The Soviet Union landed on the planet in 1971, but the mission failed after the craft stopped transmitting information soon after touchdown. A rover and a tiny helicopter from the American landing in February are currently exploring Mars. NASA expects the rover to collect its first sample in July for return to Earth in a decade. China has landed on the moon before but landing on Mars is a much more difficult undertaking because it has an extremely thin atmosphere. Spacecraft must use heat shields for protection from the searing heat of reentry and both retro-rockets and parachutes to slow enough to prevent a crash landing. The parachutes and rockets must be deployed at precise times to land at the designated spot. Only mini-retro rockets are required for a moon landing, and parachutes alone are sufficient for returning to Earth, which has a much bigger atmosphere. Touchdown was at 7:18 a.m. Beijing time (23:18 GMT; 7:18 p.m. EDT), according to the State Administration of Science. Technology and Industry for National Defense. The distance between Earth and Mars caused a delay for mission control in Beijing to confirm successful deployment of a conical heat shield, rockets and a giant parachute to control the craft's descent. NASA Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen tweeted his congratulations, saying, “Together with the global science community, I look forward to the important contributions this mission will make to humanity’s understanding of the Red Planet.” China's Mars landing was the top trending topic on Weibo, a leading social media platform, as people expressed both excitement and pride at the achievement. The Associated Press