Apple and Google on Tuesday proposed a tech standard to make sure people get tipped off when their movements are being tracked with Bluetooth devices like AirTags or Tile.
The tech titans behind rival mobile operating systems that, together, power most of the world’s smartphones said the “first-of-its-kind” specification has backing of Samsung, Tile and others.
Small location devices intended as a way for people to find backpacks, laptops, keys, handbags or other items have been used by stalkers to secretly track people such as ex-romantic partners.
“Bluetooth trackers have created tremendous user benefits, but they also bring the potential of unwanted tracking, which requires industry-wide action to solve,” Google vice president of Android engineering Dave Burke said in a joint release.
A proposal Apple and Google submitted to a leading internet standards development organization would make Bluetooth tracking devices compatible with detection and alert systems in iOS and Android mobile software.
If adopted as a standard, Bluetooth tracking device makers would have the option of building the capabilities into their products.
“This new industry specification builds upon the AirTag protections, and through collaboration with Google results in a critical step forward to help combat unwanted tracking across iOS and Android,” Apple vice president of sensing and connectivity Ron Huang said in the release.
Conceived as an aid for the absent-minded, AirTag sensors have been diverted towards more sinister ends, with manufacturer Apple facing anger — and lawsuits — over their use as a stalking tool.
The silver and white gadget the size of a large coin is “an easy way to keep track of your stuff,” the Apple website boasts. Customers can attach it to their keys, a wallet or a backpack.
When linked to a smartphone app, a $29 AirTag helps users detect their belongings’ real-time location in case they get lost — but the transmitter can also trail the humans carrying those items.
Unwanted surveillance is a common tactic of abuse, according to Erica Olsen, senior director of the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
“It’s imperative for advocates and technology companies to work together on solutions to minimize the opportunities for misuse,” Olsen said of Bluetooth trackers.
Center for Democracy and Technology chief executive Alexandra Reeve Givens commended Apple and Google for collaborating on a way to improve detection of unwanted tracking devices.
“We look forward to the specification moving through the standardization process,” Reeve Givens said.
UK unveils £11 bn windfarm investment by UAE, German firms
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced Friday plans by UAE state-owned renewables firm Masdar and German energy giant RWE to invest up to £11 billion ($14 billion) in a giant offshore windfarm.
The joint investment plans will help erect turbines at the UK’s massive Dogger Bank site in the North Sea, he said at the COP28 climate talks in Dubai.
The long-planned offshore windfarm off the coast of Yorkshire in northern England, will be the largest in the world, the UK government claims.
Several other multinational companies are involved in ventures.
“I’m pleased to announce a new deal between Masdar and RWE, which includes a commitment to jointly invest up to £11 billion into the UK’s new windfarm at Dogger Bank,” said Sunak.
“This is a huge boost for UK renewables, creating more jobs, helping to power three million homes and increasing our energy security,” he told a press conference on the fringes of COP28.
Masdar will purchase a 49-percent stake in RWE’s 3.0 gigawatt (GW) projects at Dogger Bank South, both companies said.
The southern section is capable of powering three million typical UK homes, creating 2,000 jobs during construction and over 1,000 direct and indirect roles during its operational phase, it added.
The financial deal is expected to complete in the first quarter of next year, the state-owned UAE enterprise noted.
Sunak has come under pressure over his commitment to climate change mitigation this year, after softening several policies aimed at reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
But he used his appearance at the United Nations climate conference to defend those decisions and insist the UK was on course to meet its commitments.
“What I can reassure you is we’re going to continue to do more than others going forward to,” Sunak told reporters.
“We can meet targets that are already more ambitious than anyone elses but we can do so in a more pragmatic way,” he added, noting the cost-of-living crisis impacting many Britons.
The British leader, struggling in the polls ahead of an expected general election next year, claimed no other world leaders at COP28 had raised his slew of recent rollbacks to UK climate policies.
“Because most of their targets are less ambitious than the UK’s,” he said.
EU wants to know how Meta tackles child sex abuse
The EU on Friday demanded Instagram-owner Meta provide more information about measures taken by the company to address child sexual abuse online.
The request for information focuses on Meta’s risk assessment and mitigation measures “linked to the protection of minors, including regarding the circulation of self-generated child sexual abuse material (SG-CSAM) on Instagram”, the European Commission said.
Meta must also give information about “Instagram’s recommender system and amplification of potentially harmful content”, it added.
The investigation is the first step in procedures launched under the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA), but does not itself constitute an indication of legal violations or a move towards punishment.
Meta must respond by December 22.
A report by Stanford University and the Wall Street Journal in June this year said Instagram is the main platform used by paedophile networks to promote and sell content showing child sexual abuse.
Meta at the time said it worked “aggressively” to fight child exploitation.
The commission has already started a series of investigations against large digital platforms seeking information about how they are complying with the DSA.
It has sought more information from Meta in October about the spread of disinformation as well as a request for information last month about how the company protects children online.
The DSA is part of the European Union’s powerful regulatory armoury to bring big tech to heel, and requires digital giants take more aggressive action to counter the spread of illegal and harmful content as well as disinformation.
Platforms face fines that can go up to six percent of global turnover for violations.
US judge halts pending TikTok ban in Montana
A federal judge on Thursday temporarily blocked a ban on TikTok set to come into effect next year in Montana, saying the popular video sharing app was likely to win its pending legal challenge.
US District Court Judge Donald Molloy placed the injunction on the ban until the case, originally filed by TikTok in May, has been ruled on its merits.
Molloy deemed it likely TikTok and its users will win, since it appeared the Montana law not only violates free speech rights but runs counter to the fact that foreign policy matters are the exclusive domain of the federal government.
“The current record leaves little doubt that Montana’s legislature and attorney general were more interested in targeting China’s ostensible role in TikTok than they with protecting Montana consumers,” Molloy said in the ruling.
The app is owned by Chinese firm ByteDance and has been accused by a wide swathe of US politicians of being under Beijing’s tutelage, something the company furiously denies.
Montana’s law says the TikTok ban will become void if the app is acquired by a company incorporated in a country not designated by the United States as a foreign adversary.
TikTok had argued that the unprecedented ban violates constitutionally protected right to free speech.
The prohibition signed into law by Republican Governor Greg Gianforte is seen as a legal test for a national ban of the Chinese-owned platform, something lawmakers in Washington are increasingly calling for.
The ban would make it a violation each time “a user accesses TikTok, is offered the ability to access TikTok, or is offered the ability to download TikTok.”
Each violation is punishable by a $10,000 fine every day it takes place.
Under the law, Apple and Google will have to remove TikTok from their app stores.
State political leaders have “trampled on the free speech of hundreds of thousands of Montanans who use the app to express themselves, gather information, and run their small business in the name of anti-Chinese sentiment,” ACLU Montana policy director Keegan Medrano said after the bill was signed.
The law is yet another skirmish in duels between TikTok and many western governments, with the app already banned on government devices in the United States, Canada and several countries in Europe.
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