Cape Canaveral, Oct 18 (AP/UNB)— The world's first female spacewalking team made history high above Earth on Friday, floating out of the International Space Station to fix a broken part of the power network.
As NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir emerged one by one, it marked the first time in a half-century of spacewalking that a woman floated out without a male crewmate.
America's first female spacewalker from 35 years ago, Kathy Sullivan, was delighted. She said It's good to finally have enough women in the astronaut corps and trained for spacewalking for this to happen.
NASA leaders — along with women and others around the world — cheered Koch and Meir on. At the same time, many noted that this will hopefully become routine in the future.
"We've got qualified women running the control, running space centers, commanding the station, commanding spaceships and doing spacewalks," Sullivan told The Associated Press earlier this week. "And golly, gee whiz, every now and then there's more than one woman in the same place."
Tracy Caldwell Dyson, a three-time spacewalker who watched from Mission Control, added: "Hopefully, this will now be considered normal."
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine watched the big event unfold from NASA headquarters in Washington.
"We have the right people doing the right job at the right time," he said. "They are an inspiration to people all over the world including me. And we're very excited to get this mission underway."
NASA originally wanted to conduct an all-female spacewalk last spring, but did not have enough medium-size suits ready to go. Koch and Meir were supposed to install more new batteries in a spacewalk next week, but had to venture out three days earlier to deal with an equipment failure that occurred over the weekend. They need to replace an old battery charger for one of the three new batteries that was installed last week by Koch and Andrew Morgan.
"Jessica and Christina, we are so proud of you. You're going to do great today," Morgan radioed from inside as the women exited the hatch.
Meir, making her spacewalking debut, became the 228th person in the world to conduct a spacewalk and the 15th woman.
It was the fourth spacewalk for Koch, who is seven months into an 11-month mission that will be the longest ever by a woman.
Washington, OCT 18 (AP/UNB) — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday defended the social media platform's refusal to take down content it considers newsworthy "even if it goes against our standards." But while he promoted free expression, limitations were place on coverage of his remarks at Georgetown University.
Reporters were not allowed to ask questions — only students were given that chance, filtered by a moderator. Facebook and Georgetown barred news organizations from filming. Instead organizers provided a livestream on Georgetown's social media site and made available video shot by Facebook.
"It's quite ironic," said Sally Hubbard, director of enforcement strategy at the Open Markets Institute and a former state prosecutor. More generally, she said of Facebook, "The key to free expression is to not have one company control the flow of speech to more than 2 billion people, using algorithms that amplify disinformation in order to maximize profits."
Facebook, Google, Twitter and other companies are trying to oversee internet content while also avoiding infringing on First Amendment rights. The pendulum has swung recently toward restricting hateful speech that could spawn violence. The shift follows mass shootings in which the suspects have posted racist screeds online or otherwise expressed hateful views or streamed images of attacks.
Facebook also has come under criticism for not doing enough to filter out phony political ads.
"Right now, we're doing a very good job at getting everyone mad at us," Zuckerberg told the packed hall at Georgetown.
He said serious threats to expression are coming from places such as China, where social media platforms used by protesters are censored, and from court decisions restricting the location of internet users' data in certain countries.
"I'm here today because I believe that we must continue to stand for free expression," he said. People of varied political beliefs are trying to define expansive speech as dangerous because it could bring results they don't accept, Zuckerberg said. "I personally believe this is more dangerous to democracy in the long term than almost any speech."
Taking note of mounting criticism of the market dominance of Facebook and other tech giants, Zuckerberg acknowledged the companies' centralized power but said it's also "decentralized by putting it directly into people's hands. ... Giving people a voice and broader inclusion go hand in hand."
John Stanton, a former fellow at Georgetown who heads a group called the "Save Journalism Project," called the CEO's appearance "a joke."
Zuckerberg "is the antithesis of free expression," Stanton said in a statement. "He's thrown free speech, public education and democracy to the wayside in his thirst for power and profit."
The social media giant, with nearly 2.5 billion users around the globe, is under heavy scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators following a series of data privacy scandals, including lapses in opening the personal data of millions of users to Trump's 2016 campaign.
Facebook and other social media platforms have drawn accusations from President Donald Trump and his allies that their platforms are steeped in anti-conservative bias.
Zuckerberg recently fell into a tiff with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, who ran a fake political ad on Facebook taking aim at the CEO. Warren has proposed breaking up big tech companies. With the phony ad, she was protesting Facebook's policy of not fact-checking politicians' speech or ads in the same way it enlists outside parties to fact-check news stories and other posts.
"We think people should be able to see for themselves," Zuckerberg responded Thursday on the fact-checking issue. "If content is newsworthy, we don't take it down even if it goes against our standards."
The social media network also rebuffed requests that it remove a misleading video ad from Trump's re-election campaign targeting Democrat Joe Biden.
A spokesman for Biden said Zuckerberg's speech was an effort "to cloak Facebook's policy in a feigned concern for free expression."
"Facebook has chosen to sell Americans' personal data to politicians looking to target them with disproven lies and conspiracy theories, crowding out the voices of working Americans," campaign spokesman Bill Russo said in a statement.
Several of the students' questions to Zuckerberg at Georgetown pointed up the conflict. One asked, if Facebook supports free speech, "why is conservative content disproportionately censored?" But another asserted that the policy of not fact-checking political ads is pro-conservative.
"I think it would be hard to be biased against both sides," Zuckerberg replied, smiling.
Asked about the handling of questions, Facebook spokeswoman Ruchika Budhjara said, "They were submitted by students as they walked into the room. And they're being picked at random by Georgetown."
Cape Canaveral, OCT 18 (AP/UNB) — Men have floated out the hatch on all 420 spacewalks conducted over the past half-century.
That changes Friday with spacewalk No. 421.
NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir will make "HERstory," as NASA is calling it, with the first all-female spacewalk. All four men aboard the International Space Station will remain inside, as Koch and Meir go out to replace a broken battery charger.
The battery charger failed after Koch and a male crewmate installed new batteries outside the space station last week. NASA put the remaining battery replacements on hold to fix the problem and moved up the women's planned spacewalk by three days.
NASA, meanwhile, is asking schoolteachers to share photos of their students celebrating "HERstory in the making." The pictures might end up on the spacewalk broadcast.
Russia holds claim to the first spacewalk in 1965 and also the first spacewalk by a woman in 1984. The U.S. trailed by a few months in each instance.
As of Thursday, men dominated the spacewalking field, 213 to 14.
Meir, a marine biologist who arrived at the orbiting lab last month, will be the 15th female spacewalker. Koch, an electrical engineer, already has done three spacewalks; she's seven months into an 11-month spaceflight that will be the longest by a woman.
NASA planned the first all-female spacewalk in March, but had to call it off because of a shortage of medium-size suits. Koch put together a second medium over the summer.
San Francisco, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — Netflix's subscriber growth is bogging down even before the leading video streaming service confronts high-powered threats from Apple and Walt Disney Co.
The latest sign of the challenges the company is facing emerged Wednesday with the release of its third-quarter results. The numbers provided further evidence that Netflix's salad days may be over, particularly in the U.S., where most households that want its 12-year-old streaming service already have it.
Netflix added 6.8 million subscribers worldwide from July through September, below the 7 million customers forecast by the Los Gatos, California, company. Just 520,000 of those subscribers were picked up in the U.S., below the 800,000 that management anticipated. The shortfall came after Netflix lost 123,000 subscribers in the U.S. during the April-June period, marking its first contraction in eight years.
The latest miss on U.S. subscriber growth "spells trouble for the company ahead of heightened competition," said eMarketer analyst Eric Haggstrom. "The fourth quarter represents a completely new ballgame for Netflix."
Uncertainty about Netflix's future growth is the main reason the company's stock had dropped by about 30% below its peak price of $423.21 reached 16 months ago. Netflix's shares surged 10% in extended trading Wednesday, apparently because some investors had been bracing for an even bigger letdown in the third quarter.
Netflix said it expects to add another 7.6 million worldwide subscribers during the final three months of the year, down from 8.8 million during the same period last year in an acknowledgment of the fiercer competition.
"The launch of these new services will be noisy," Netflix advised in its third-quarter letter to shareholders. "There may be some modest headwind to our near-term growth, and we have tried to factor that into our guidance."
The big question now is whether some of Netflix's existing subscribers will decide to cancel its service and defect to cheaper alternatives that Apple and Disney will launch within the next month.
Apple is charging only $5 per month for its service, set for a Nov. 1 debut, while Disney is selling a service featuring its vast library of treasured films and TV shows for just $7 per month beginning Nov. 12. Netflix's most popular plan in the U.S. costs $13 per month.
Netflix is counting on the unique lineup of award-winning TV shows and movies that it has amass since expanding into original programming six years ago to help it retain its competitive edge and attract more subscribers.
It has taken advantage of its head start in video streaming to track the viewing interests 158 million subscribers around the world, giving it valuable insights into the kind of programming that is most likely to appeal to wide swaths of its audience.
That knowledge, in theory, will help Netflix and choose which TV shows and movies to back in the future as it bids for programming against the likes of Apple, Disney and existing rivals such as Amazon and AT&T's HBO.
Even if Netflix keeps picking winners, some budget-conscious subscribers may be tempted to abandon its service and be content with the entertainment options being dangling by Apple and Disney.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings acknowledged Wednesday that a U.S. price increase imposed earlier this year is causing some current subscribers to cancel the service and perhaps causing some prospective customers to shy away.
"There's a little more sensitivity, we are starting to see a little touch of that," Hastings said during a discussion about the third quarter. "What we have to do is just really focus on the service quality, make us must-have."
Apple is trying to make its new streaming service even more tempting by offering it for a year to anyone who buys an iPhone, iPad or Mac computer. And Disney already is heavily promoting on Twitter its forthcoming service by highlighting that it will feature classic films such as "Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs" and "The Lion King."
Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives said he is expecting Netflix to lose some of its appeal. He thinks the company could lose about 24 million subscribers, or about 15% of its customers, during the next 18 months.
As more competitors take aim at Netflix, some of them are also pulling their programming from the service. Disney is yanking its films from Netflix beginning next year. Beloved TV series "The Office" and "Friends' will disappear from the service in 2020 and 2021 in separate decisions made by NBC and AT&T.
The losses of those popular shows may hurt Netflix even more than the competing streaming services from Apple and Disney, said Michael Pachter, another Wedbush Securities analyst.
"Netflix is going to lose 50% of its most viewed hours during the next two years," Pachter said. "As that starts to happen, subscribers are going to start to notice and some may start looking elsewhere."
Netflix has another problem: It has been borrowing billions of dollars to pay for most of its programming. With its debt load already standing at $12 billion and still likely to climb, Netflix probably can't afford to cut its prices without risking bankruptcy, Pachter said.
Belgrade, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — When hundreds of video cameras with the power to identify and track individuals started appearing in the streets of Belgrade as part of a major surveillance project, some protesters began having second thoughts about joining anti-government demonstrations in the Serbian capital.
Local authorities assert the system, created by Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, helps reduce crime in the city of 2 million. Critics contend it erodes personal freedoms, makes political opponents vulnerable to retribution and even exposes the country's citizens to snooping by the Chinese government.
The cameras, equipped with facial recognition technology, are being rolled out across hundreds of cities around the world, particularly in poorer countries with weak track records on human rights where Beijing has increased its influence through big business deals. With the United States claiming that Chinese state authorities can get backdoor access to Huawei data, the aggressive rollout is raising concerns about the privacy of millions of people in countries with little power to stand up to China.
"The system can be used to trail political opponents, monitor regime critics at any moment, which is completely against the law," said Serbia's former commissioner for personal data protection, Rodoljub Sabic.
Groups opposed to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic say police are leaking video of protests to pro-government media, which publish the images, along with the identities of participants. Vucic himself has boasted the police have the capability to count "each head" at anti-government gatherings. During a recent rally, protesters climbed up a pole and covered a camera lens with duct tape scrawled with the word "censored."
Serbian police deny any such abuse of the Huawei system, which will eventually encompass 1,000 cameras in 800 locations throughout Belgrade. Huawei said in a statement that it "complies with all applicable laws and regulations" in Serbia and anywhere else it does business.
While facial recognition technology is being adopted in many countries, spurring debate over the balance between privacy and safety, the Huawei system has gained extra attention due to accusations that Chinese laws requiring companies to assist in national intelligence work give authorities access to its data.
As a result, some countries are reconsidering using Huawei technology, particularly the superfast 5G networks that are being rolled out later this year.
Still, Huawei, which denies accusations of any Chinese government control, has had no trouble finding customers eager to install its so-called Safe Cities technology, particularly among countries that China has brought closer into its diplomatic and economic orbit.
Besides Serbia, that list includes Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Angola, Laos, Kazakhstan, Kenya and Uganda, as well as a few liberal democracies like Germany, France and Italy. The system is used in some 230 cities, exposing tens of millions of people to its screening.
In a promotional brochure, Huawei says its video surveillance technology can scan over long distances to detect "abnormal behavior" such as loitering, track the movement of cars and people, calculate crowd size and send alerts to a command center if it detects something suspicious. Local authorities can then act upon the information they receive.
In one case advertised on its website, the company says a suspect in a hit-and-run accident in Belgrade was later discovered in China with the help of face recognition data shared by the Serbian police with their Chinese counterparts.
In view of the cybersecurity accusations leveled by the U.S. and international rights groups against Huawei, the relationship between China and countries that use the company's technology is coming under renewed scrutiny.
China's influence in Serbia, a European Union candidate that Beijing views as a gateway to the continent, has significantly expanded in recent years through Beijing's global Belt and Road investment programs. The populist Serbian regime has been keen to develop closer ties and the country's fragile democracy allows China's economic interests to grow relatively unchecked, without raising too many questions about human rights, environmental standards or transparency.
China's state investment bank has granted billions of dollars in easy-term loans to build coal-powered plants, roads, railroads and bridges. Chinese police officers even help patrol the streets of Belgrade, a security presence officially billed as assisting the growing number of Chinese tourists who visit the city.
It's a similar story in Uganda, where China has invested heavily in infrastructure like highways and a hydropower dam on the Nile.
When longtime President Yoweri Museveni launched a $126-million project to install Huawei facial recognition systems a year ago, he said the cameras were "eyes, ears and a nose" to fight rampant street crime in the sprawling capital, Kampala. Opposition activists say the real goal is to deter street protesters against an increasingly unpopular government.
"The cameras are politically motivated," said Joel Ssenyonyi, a spokesman for the musician and activist known as Bobi Wine who has emerged as a powerful challenger to Museveni. "They are not doing this for security. The focus for them is hunting down political opponents."
In neighboring Kenya, the government has also renewed its focus on public safety after a spate of extremist attacks. It has been pushing to register people digitally, including by recording DNA, iris and facial data. To do so, it turned to China, which helped finance the installation of surveillance cameras in Kenya as far back as 2012.
The Kenyan government wants to pool into one database all the information from public and private CCTV cameras, including those with facial recognition technology, a move that activists warn would vastly expand its surveillance powers in a country that does not have comprehensive data protection laws.
A growing number of countries are following China's lead in deploying artificial intelligence to track citizens, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The group says at least 75 countries are actively using AI tools such as facial recognition for surveillance — and Huawei has sold its systems in 50 of those countries, giving it a far wider reach than competitors such as Japan-based NEC and U.S.-based IBM.
"It's very unclear what safeguards are being put in place," said Steven Feldstein, a Carnegie Endowment fellow who authored a report on the issue. "Where are images being stored? How long are they being stored for? What kind of accountability procedures will there be? What type of operations will be linked to these surveillance cameras?"
Huawei said in an emailed statement that it "complies with all applicable laws and regulations in our countries of business. This is the most fundamental principle of our business operations. We are dedicated to bringing people better connectivity, eliminating digital gaps, and promoting the sustainable development of our societies and economies."
In Belgrade's bustling downtown Republic Square, high-tech video cameras are pointed in all directions from an office building as pedestrians hurry about their everyday business.
With public authorities disclosing little about how the cameras work, a rights group has set up a tent to ask pedestrians whether they know they are being watched.
"We don't want to be in some kind of Big Brother society," said rights activist Ivana Markulic. "We are asking: Where are the cameras, where are they hidden, how much did we pay for them and what's going to happen with information collected after this surveillance?"