Science & Technology

WASHINGTON: The House Foreign Affairs Committee plans to hold a vote next month on a bill aimed at blocking the use of China’s popular social media app TikTok in the United States, the committee confirmed on Friday.
The measure, planned by the panel’s chair Represen­tative Michael McCaul, a Republican, would aim to give the White House the legal tools to ban TikTok over US national security concerns.
“The concern is that this app gives the Chinese government a back door into our phones,” McCaul told Bloomberg News, which reported the vote timing earlier.
In 2020, then-president Donald Trump attempted to block new users from downloading TikTok and ban other transactions that would have effectively blocked the app’s use in the United States, but lost a series of court battles over the measure.
The Biden administration in June 2021 formally abandoned that effort. Then last month, Republican Senator Marco Rubio unveiled bipartisan legislation to ban TikTok, which would also block all transactions from any social media company in or under the influence of China and Russia.
But a ban of the short video app, which is owned by ByteDance and is popular among teens, would face significant hurdles in Congress to pass, and would need 60 votes in the Senate.
For three years, TikTok _ which has more than 100 million US users _ has been seeking to assure Washington that the personal data of US citizens cannot be accessed and its content cannot be manipulated by China’s Communist Party or anyone else under Beijing’s influence.
TikTok said on Friday “calls for total bans of TikTok take a piecemeal approach to national security and a piecemeal approach to broad industry issues like data security, privacy, and online harms”.
The US government’s committee on foreign investment in the United States (CFIUS), a powerful national security body, ordered ByteDance in 2020 to divest TikTok because of fears that user data could be passed on to China’s government.
The CFIUS and TikTok have been in talks since 2021, aiming to reach a national security agreement to protect the data of TikTok users.
TikTok said it had a “comprehensive package of measures with layers of government and independent oversight to ensure that there are no backdoors into TikTok that could be used to manipulate the platform” and invested roughly $1.5 billion to date on those efforts.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to comment on the bill on Friday. “It’s under review by (CFIUS) so I am just not going to get into details on that,” Jean-Pierre said.
Last month, Biden signed legislation that included a ban on federal employees using or downloading TikTok on government-owned devices. More than 25 US states have also banned the use of TikTok on state-owned devices.

A newly discovered comet could be visible to the naked eye as it shoots past Earth and the Sun in the coming weeks for the first time in 50,000 years, astronomers have said. The comet is called C/2022 E3 (ZTF) after the Zwicky Transient Facility, which first spotted it passing Jupiter in March last year. After travelling from the icy reaches of our Solar System it will come closest to the Sun on January 12 and pass nearest to Earth on February 1. It will be easy to spot with a good pair of binoculars and likely even with the naked eye, provided the sky is not too illuminated by city lights or the Moon.
The comet “will be brightest when it is closest to the Earth”, Thomas Prince, a physics professor at the California Institute of Technology who works at the Zwicky Transient Facility, told AFP. Made of ice and dust and emitting a greenish aura, the comet is estimated to have a diameter of around a kilometer, said Nicolas Biver, an astrophysicist at the Paris Observatory.
That makes it significantly smaller than NEOWISE, the last comet visible with an unaided eye, which passed Earth in March 2020, and Hale-Bopp, which swept by in 1997 with a potentially life-ending diameter of around 60 kilometers. But the newest visit will come closer to Earth, which “may make up for the fact that it is not very big”, Biver said.
While the comet will be brightest as it passes Earth in early February, a fuller moon could make spotting it difficult. For the Northern Hemisphere, Biver suggested the last week of January, when the comet passes between the Ursa Minor and Ursa Major constellations. The new moon during the weekend of January 21-22 offers a good chance for stargazers, he said.
“We could also get a nice surprise and the object could be twice as bright as expected,” Biver added. Prince said another opportunity to locate the comet in the sky will come on February 10, when it passes close to Mars.
The comet has spent most of its life “at least 2,500 times more distant than the Earth is from the Sun”, Prince said. Biver said the comet was believed to have come from the Oort Cloud, a theorized vast sphere surrounding the Solar System that is home to mysterious icy objects. The last time the comet passed Earth was during the Upper Paleolithic period, when Neanderthals still roamed Earth.
Prince said the comet’s next visit to the inner Solar System was expected in another 50,000 years. But Biver said there was a possibility that after this visit the comet will be “permanently ejected from the Solar System”. Among those closely watching will be the James Webb Space Telescope. However, it will not take images, instead studying the comet’s composition, Biver said.
The closer the comet is to Earth, the easier it is for telescopes to measure its composition “as the Sun boils off its outer layers”, Prince said. This “rare visitor” will give “us information about the inhabitants of our Solar system well beyond the most distant planets”, he added. – AFP

NEW YORK: Twitter Inc restored a feature that promoted suicide prevention hotlines and other safety resources to users looking up certain content, after coming under pressure from some users and consumer safety groups over its removal.
A news agency reported on Friday that the feature was taken down a few days ago, citing two people familiar with the matter, who said the removal was ordered by the social media platform’s owner Elon Musk. After the publication of the story, Twitter's head of trust and safety Ella Irwin confirmed the removal and called it temporary. “We have been fixing and revamping our prompts. They were just temporarily removed while we do that,” Irwin said in an email. “We expect to have them back up next week,” she said.
About 15 hours after the initial report, Musk — who did not initially respond to requests for comment — tweeted, “False, it is still there.” In response to criticism by Twitter users, he also tweeted, “Twitter doesn’t prevent suicide.” The feature, known as #ThereIsHelp, placed a banner at the top of search results for certain topics. It listed contacts for support organisations in many countries related to mental health, HIV, vaccines, child sexual exploitation, Covid-19, gender-based violence, natural disasters and freedom of expression.
Its elimination had led some consumer safety groups and Twitter users to express concerns about the well-being of vulnerable users of the platform.
In part due to pressure from consumer safety groups, internet services — including Twitter, Alphabet’s Google and Meta’s Facebook — have for years tried to direct users to well-known resource providers such as government hotlines when they suspect someone may be in danger of harming themselves or others.
In her email, Twitter’s Irwin said, “Google does really well with these in their search results and (we) are actually mirroring some of their approach with the changes we are making.” She added, “We know these prompts are useful in many cases and just want to make sure they are functioning properly and continue to be relevant.” Eirliani Abdul Rahman, who had been on a recently dissolved Twitter content advisory group, said the disappearance of #ThereIsHelp was “extremely disconcerting and profoundly disturbing.”

Apple Inc said on Tuesday it will raise prices of apps and in-app purchases on its App Store from next month in all of the eurozone and some countries in Asia and South America. The new prices, excluding auto-renewable subscriptions, will be effective as early as Oct 5, Apple said in a blog post. The United States tech giant periodically adjusts its prices in different regions and reduced prices for eurozone countries last year to adjust for currencies and taxes, dropping starting prices for many apps to 99 euro cents from 1.09 euros. The latest price rise increases those starting prices to 1.19 euros. A rapid rise in inflation, interest rates and energy prices this year has hammered the yen, the euro and most emerging economy currencies. The euro has dropped to two-decade lows this year and has been languishing around parity against the dollar for weeks. Apart from eurozone countries, the price increases will hit Sweden and Poland in Europe; Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Korea and Vietnam in Asia; and Chile in South America. For some countries like Vietnam, the price increase was due to new regulations relating to collecting tax from consumers, Apple said. Apple, which launched its latest generation of iPhones earlier this month, has been developing its services business to reduce dependency on its mainstay smartphones. Revenue from Apple’s services business, which includes the App Store, has been growing at a rapid pace in the last few years and now hovers around $20 billion per quarter.

اگرچہ پاکستانی صارفین موبائل انٹرنیٹ کی سست رفتاری کا رونا روتے ہیں، تاہم انٹرنیٹ کی اسپیڈ پر نظر رکھنے والے عالمی ادارے کی رپورٹ کے مطابق پاکستان خطے کے دیگر ممالک سے آگے ہے۔
انٹرنیٹ اسپیڈ پر نظر رکھنے والے امریکی ملٹی نیشنل ادارے اوکلا کی اسپیڈ ٹیسٹ کی سال 2022 کی رپورٹ کے مطابق پاکستان خطے کے دیگر ممالک بھارت، سری لنکا، بنگلا دیش اور افغانستان سے موبائل انٹرنیٹ میں آگے ہے۔
رپورٹ میں موبائل انٹرنیٹ کی اسپیڈ میں 139 ممالک کو شامل کیا گیا ہے، جس میں پاکستان 116 ویں نمبر پر ہے۔
افغانستان اور بنگلادیش موبائل انٹرنیٹ کے حوالے سے دنیا کے 10 بدترین ممالک میں شامل ہیں۔
رپورٹ میں بتایا گیا کہ پاکستان میں موبائل پر انٹرنیٹ کی ڈاؤن لوڈنگ کی اوسط رفتار 14.63 ایم بی پی ایس جب کہ اپ لوڈنگ کی اوسط رفتار 9.38 ایم بی پی ایس ہے جو کہ خطے کے دیگر ممالک سے زیادہ ہے۔
حیران کن طور پر انٹرنیٹ ٹیکنالوجی آلات اور سسٹمز کے حوالے سے پاکستان سے کئی گنا آگے رہنے والے بھارت میں بھی موبائل انٹرنیٹ رفتار سست ہے اور وہ فہرست میں پاکستان سے دو قدم پیچھے ہے۔
بھارت مذکورہ فہرست میں 118 ویں نمبر پر ہے جب کہ سری لنکا 121 ویں، بنگلا دیش 130 ویں جب کہ افغانستان 138 ویں نمبر پر ہے، یعنی افغانستان بدترین ممالک میں دوسرے نمبر پر ہے۔
اسی طرح رپورٹ سے معلوم ہوتا ہے کہ برانڈ بینڈ انٹرنیٹ کی رفتار کے حوالے سے پاکستان پڑوسی ملک بھارت سے بہت زیادہ پیچھے ہے۔
برانڈ بینڈ یا فکسڈ انٹرنیٹ کے حوالے سے پاکستان 182 ممالک میں سے 150 ویں نمبر پر ہے جب کہ بھارت اس فہرست میں 72 ویں نمبر پر ہے۔
اس فہرست میں صرف افغانستان ہی پاکستان سے اسپیڈ میں پیچھے ہے جب کہ سری لنکا اور بنگلادیش بھی فکسڈ انٹرنیٹ کی رفتار میں پاکستان سے کہیں آگے ہیں۔
موبائل انٹرنیٹ کی اسپیڈ سب سے زیادہ تیز یورپی ملک ناروے میں ہے جب کہ دوسرے نمبر پر متحدہ عرب امارات (یو اے ای) اور تیسرے نمبر پر بلغاریہ ہے۔
موبائل انٹرنیٹ اسپیڈ کے حوالے سے 10 بہترین ممالک میں پانچویں نمبر پر قطر، ساتویں نمبر پر کویت اور نویں نمبر پر سعودی عرب ہے جب کہ دسویں نمبر پر چین ہے۔
اسی طرح فکسڈ انٹرنیٹ رفتار کے حوالے سے امریکی ملک چلی پہلے نمبر پر ہے اور اس کیٹیگری میں پہلے بہترین 10 ممالک میں ایک بھی مسلمان ملک شامل نہیں۔
برانڈ بینڈ انٹرنیٹ اسپیڈ کے حوالے سے متحدہ عرب امارات 15 ویں، کویت بیسویں جب کہ سعودی عرب 38 ویں نمبر پر ہے۔

MOSCOW: Russia has decided to quit the International Space Station “after 2024”, the newly appointed chief of Moscow’s space agency told President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.
The announcement comes as tensions rage between the Kremlin and the West over Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine and several rounds of unprecedented sanctions against Russia. Russia and the United States have worked side by side on the ISS, which has been in orbit since 1998.

“Of course, we will fulfil all our obligations to our partners, but the decision to leave this station after 2024 has been made,” Yury Borisov, who was appointed Roscosmos chief in mid-July, told Putin.
“I think that by this time we will start putting together a Russian orbital station,” Borisov added, calling it the space programme’s main “priority”.
“Good,” Putin replied in comments released by the Kremlin.
Until now space exploration was one of the few areas where cooperation between Russia and the United States and its allies had not been wrecked by tensions over Ukraine and elsewhere. Borisov said the space industry was in a “difficult situation”.
He said he would seek “to raise the bar, and first of all, to provide the Russian economy with the necessary space services”, pointing to navigation, communication, and data transmission, among other things.

Sending the first man into space in 1961 and launching the first satellite four years earlier are among key accomplishments of the Soviet space programme and remain a major source of national pride in Russia.
But experts say the Russian space agency remains a shadow of its former self and has in recent years suffered a series of setbacks including corruption scandals and the loss of a number of satellites and other spacecraft.

Borisov, a former deputy prime minister with a military background, has replaced Dmitry Rogozin, a firebrand nationalist politician known for his bombastic statements and eccentric behaviour.

BRUSSELS: Google parent Alphabet has offered to let rival ad intermediaries place ads on YouTube to address a crucial part of an EU anti-trust investigation that could pave the way for it to settle the case without a fine, people familiar with the matter said.

The European Commission opened a probe last year to examine whether the world’s largest provider of search and video was giving itself an unfair advantage in digital advertising by restricting rivals’ and advertisers’ access to user data.

The EU competition watchdog singled out Google’s requirement that advertisers use its Ad Manager to display ads on YouTube and potential restrictions on the way in which rivals serve ads on YouTube.

It is also looking into Google’s requirement that advertisers use its services Display & Video 360 and Google Ads to buy YouTube ads. YouTube posted $6.9 billion in sales in the first quarter of this year. Google has been discussing remedies with the commission since last year in a bid to avert a fine that could reach 10 per cent of its global turnover, a person familiar with the matter said last year.

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