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A newly released draft intelligence bill, passed by the Senate Intelligence Committee last week, would require the government to detail the threats posed by commercial spyware and surveillance technology.

The annual intelligence authorization bill, published Thursday, would take aim at private sector spyware makers, like NSO Group and Hacking Team, which build spyware and hacking tools designed to surreptitiously break into a victim’s devices for conducting surveillance. Both NSO Group and Hacking Team say they only sell their hacking tools to governments, but critics say that its customers have included despotic and authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

If passed, the bill would instruct the Director of National Intelligence to submit a report to both House and Senate intelligence committees within six months on the “threats posed by the use by foreign governments and entities of commercially available cyber intrusion and other surveillance technology” against U.S. citizens, residents, and federal employees.

The report would also have to note if any spyware or surveillance technology is built by U.S. companies, and what export controls should apply to prevent that technology from getting into the hands of unfriendly foreign governments.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) was the only member of the Senate Intelligence Committee to vote against the bill, citing a “broken, costly declassification system, but praised the inclusion of the commercial spyware provision.

Commercial spyware and surveillance technology became a mainstream talking point two years ago after the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, which U.S. intelligence concluded was personally ordered by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto leader. A lawsuit filed by a Saudi dissident and friend of Khashoggi accuses NSO Group of selling its mobile hacking tool, dubbed Pegasus, to the Saudi regime, which allegedly used the technology to spy on him shortly before Khashoggi’s murder. NSO denies the claims.

NSO is currently embroiled in a legal battle with Facebook for allegedly exploiting a now-fixed vulnerability in WhatsApp to deliver its spyware to the cell phones of 1,400 users, including government officials, journalists and human rights activists, using Amazon cloud servers based in the U.S. and Frankfurt.

In a separate incident, human rights experts at the United Nations have called for an investigation into allegations that the Saudi government used its spyware to hack into the phone of Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos. NSO has denied the claims.

NSO has repeatedly denied the allegations.

John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at the Citizen Lab, part of the Munk School at the University of Toronto, told TechCrunch that the bill’s draft provisions “couldn’t come at a more important time.”

“Reporting throughout the security industry, as well as actions taken by Apple, Google, Facebook and others have made it clear that [spyware] is a problem at scale and is dangerous to U.S. national security and these companies,” said Scott-Railton. “Commercial spyware, when used by governments, is the ‘next Huawei’ in terms of the security of Americans and needs to be treated as a serious security threat,” he said.

“They brought this on themselves by claiming fo years that everything was fine while evidence mounted in every sector of U.S. and global society that there was a problem,” he said.


TechCrunch

A new study on kids’ app usage and habits indicates a major threat to YouTube’s dominance, as kids now split their time between Google’s online video platform and other apps, like TikTok, Netflix, and mobile games like Roblox. Kids ages 4 to 15 now spend an average of 85 minutes per day watching YouTube videos, compared with 80 minutes per day spent on TikTok. The latter app also drove growth in kids’ social app use by 100% in 2019 and 200% in 2020, the report found.

The data in the annual report by digital safety app maker Qustodio was provided by 60,000 families with children ages 4 to 14 in the U.S., U.K., and Spain, so it’s data isn’t representative of global trends. The research encompasses children’s online habits from February 2019 to April 2020, takes into account the COVID-19 crisis, and specifically focused on four main categories of mobile applications: online video, social media, video games, and education.

YouTube, not surprisingly, remains one of the most-used apps among children, the study found.

Kids are now watching twice as many videos per day as they did just four years ago. This is despite the fact that YouTube’s flagship app is meant for ages 13 and up — an age-gate that was never truly enforced, leading to the FTC’s historic $ 170 million fine for the online video platform in 2019 for its noncompliance with U.S. children’s privacy regulations.

The app today is used by 69% of U.S. kids, 74% of kids in the U.K., and 88% of kids in Spain. Its app for younger children, YouTube Kids, meanwhile, is only used by 7% of kids in the U.S., 10% of kids in the U.K., and wasn’t even on the radar in Spain.

The next largest app for online video is Netflix, watched by 33% of U.S. kids, 29% of U.K. kids, and 28% of kids in Spain.

In early 2020, kids in the U.S. were spending 86 minutes on YouTube per day, down from 88 minutes in 2019. In the U.K., kids are watching 75 minutes per day, down from 77 minutes in 2019. And in Spain, kids watch 63 minutes per day, down from 66 minutes in 2019.

During the COVID-19 lockdowns, the time spent increased quite a bit, as you could imagine. In the U.S., for example, kids in mid-April spent 99 minutes per day on YouTube.

In part, the decline in total YouTube minutes could be due to the growing number of daily minutes kids spend on TikTok. The Beijing-owned short-form video app could gain further traction if more YouTube creators leave Google’s video platform as a result of the increasing regulations and the related losses in monetization. More creators would broaden TikTok’s appeal, as it expands its content lineup.

Last year, TikTok became one of the top five most-downloaded apps globally that wasn’t owned by Facebook, and it has continued to grow among all age demographics.

From May 2019 through February 2020, the average minutes per day kids spent on TikTok increased by 116% in the U.S. to reach 82 minutes, went up by 97% in the U.K. to reach 69 minutes, and increased 150% in Spain to reach 60 minutes.

In February 2020, 16.5% of U.S. kids used TikTok, just behind the 20.4% on Instagram, and ahead of the 16% on Snapchat. In the U.K. and Spain, 17.7% and 37.7% of kids used TikTok, respectively.

Time spent on TikTok increased during COVID-19 lockdowns, as well, leaving the app now only minutes away from being equal to time spent on YouTube. In the U.S., for example, kids’ average usage of TikTok hit 95 minutes per day during COVID-19 lockdowns compared with just 2 minutes more — 97 minutes — spent on YouTube

In terms of online gaming, Roblox dominates in the U.S. and U.K., where 54% and 51% of kids play, respectively. In Spain, only 17% do. Instead, kids in Spain currently prefer Brawl Stars.

Similarly, Minecraft is used by 31% of kids in the U.S., 23% in the U.K., and only 15% in Spain.

Roblox isn’t just a minor diversion. It’s also eating into kids’ screen time.

In February 2020, this one game accounted for 81 minutes per day, on average, in the U.S., 76 minutes per day in the U.K., and 64 minutes per day in Spain. On average, kids play Roblox about 20 minutes longer than any other video game app. (Take that, Fortnite!)

During COVID-19 lockdowns, the kids who played Roblox increased their time spent in the game, up 31%, 17%, and 45% respectively in the U.S., the U.K., and Spain. But lockdowns didn’t increase the percentage of kids who used gaming apps, as it turned out.

Education apps, as a whole, did not see much growth from 2019 to early 2020 until the COVID-19 lockdowns. But then, Google Classroom won in two of the three markets studied, with 65% of kids now using this app in Spain, 50% in the U.S., but only 31% in the U.K. (Show My Homework is more popular in the U.K., growing to 42% usage during COVID-19.)

All these increases in kids’ app usage may never return to pre-COVID-19 levels, the report suggested, even if usage declines a bit as government lockdowns lift. That mirrors the findings that Nielsen released today on connected TV usage, which has also not yet fallen to earlier, pre-COVID levels even as government restrictions lift.

“We now live in a world with an estimated 25 billion connected devices worldwide. Many of those in the hands of children,” Qustodio’s report noted. “Today, on average, a child in the U.S. watches nearly 100 minutes of YouTube per day, a child in the U.K. spends nearly 70 minutes on TikTok per day, a child in Spain plays Roblox over 90 minutes a day,” it said. “The world is not going to return to the way things were, because screen-time rates were already increasing. COVID-19 just accelerated the process,” the firm concluded.


TechCrunch

Cake has crafted the Swedish edition of electric motorcycle design starting in the dirt.

The Stockholm based mobility startup’s debut, the Kalk OR, is a 150 pound, battery powered two-wheeler engineered for agile off-road riding and available in a street-legal version.

On appearance, Cake’s Kalk has a minimalist stance and doesn’t evoke “motorcycle” in any conventional sense.

That was intentional, according to the company’s CEO, Stefan Ytterborn — a design aficionado and serial founder — who was more of a mountain biker and skier than a motorcyclist, before launching Cake with is two sons Karl and Nils.

“I wasn’t a motorcycle geek…I actually learned how to ride a motorcycle,” he explained on his foray into the business.

Ytterborn has worked in design development his entire career, leaving Sweden for Milan in his early days, developing product lines for IKEA in the ’90s and founding several design oriented companies over the years.

His last venture — outdoor sporting gear venture POC — supplied Olympic gold medalist Bode miller and the U.S. Ski Team with helmets and optics before it was acquired by Investcorp in 2015 for a reported $ 65 million.

Cake Motorcycles

Cake’s Kalk OR, Image Credits: Cake

Ytterborn’s current company shares some similarities with POC, namely creating products for natural forward motion in the outdoors.

The direction for Cake — according to its founder — was to design a motorcycle from a clean slate, harnessing the advantages of what voltage power could offer to the form.

“I was stoked by the idea of what an electric drive-train could bring,” Ytterborn told TechCrunch . “But then I started realizing nobody is really optimizing the performance of the electric drive-train. Everyone’s trying to imitate what the combustion motorcycle does,” he said.

One of the first things Ytterborn took from that view was engineering a lighter platform with a better power to weight ratio.

A distinguishing characteristic of most e-moto offerings, including the few oriented toward off-road use, is they are heavier than gas motorcycles. Even one of the lightest choices out there for street and dirt use, Zero’s FX, weighs nearly 100 pounds more than Cake’s Kalk OR.

The $ 13,000 Swedish e-motorcycle has a 2.6kWh battery, charges to 80% in an hour and a half using a standard outlet, and offers up to three-hours of off road ride time, according to Cake. The Kalk has 30 ft-lbs of torque and a top speed of 50 miles per hour.

The street legal version, the Kalk&, has similar specs with a mixed city/highway range of 53 miles. Both have capability for quick battery swaps and a second battery goes for $ 3,000.

Cake introduced an additional model in 2020, the $ 8,500 Ösa+, which the company characterizes as an urban utility moped with off-road capabilities.

Cake’s Ösa+, Image Credits: Cake

As a startup, Cake has raised $ 20 million in VC, including a $ 14 million Series A financing round led by e.ventures and Creandum in 2019.

The U.S. is a prime market for the company. Cake has a subsidiary in Park City, Utah, a U.S. representative — Zach Clayton — and is poised to open a sales store in New York City this quarter. 

The company has sold 300 motorcycles in the U.S. this year and America makes up 60% of its sales market, according to its CEO.

On where the Cake fits into motorcycle market, “We’re much more Patagonia than Kawasaki,” said Ytterborn,

He described Cake as something developed for a far from static mobility world, where everything about how people move from A to B is being redefined, including the concept of the motorcycle.

That entails creating something that captures the exhilaration of riding off-road for an eco-conscious market segment, put off by the noise and fumes of gas motocross bikes.

“What really got me going was the intuition that we could flip the market upside down [with Kalk],” said Ytterborn.

Cake’s street legal Kalk&; Image Credits: Cake

“It’s silent, it doesn’t disturb, it doesn’t pollute and is the opposite of what non-motorcycle people associate with motorcycles,” he said.

The U.S. motorcycle market could use some fresh ideas, as it’s been in pretty bad shape since the last recession, particularly with young folks. New sales dropped by roughly 50% in 2008 — with sharp declines in ownership by everyone under 40 — and have never recovered.

At least one of the big gas manufactures — Harley Davidson — and several EV startups, such as Zero, are offering e-motorcycles as a way to convert gas riders to electric and attract a younger generation to motorcycling.

It’s notable that Harley Davidson acquired a youth electric scooter maker, Stacyc, in 2019 and has committed to produce e-scooters and e-mountain bikes as part of its EV pivot. The strategy is to use these platforms to create a new bridge for young people to motorcycles in the on-demand mobility world.

HD’s moves could provide some insight on where Cake might fit in that space. On one hand, the startup’s models could become premium electric motorcycles for the eco-friendly, Outside Magazine and action sports crowd. On the other, Cake could fill a new segment on the mobility product line — somewhere between e-scooters, e-bikes and traditional motorcycles.

“We want to establish a new category where people with an active lifestyle, whether they’re motorcycle people or not, can proceed with sustainability, responsibility and respect,” said CEO Stefan Ytterborn.

One challenge for this thesis could be Cake’s price and performance points compared to the competition. Zero Motorcycle’s FX, while heavier than the $ 13,000 Kalk, starts at $ 8,995 and has a top speed of 85 miles per hour.


TechCrunch

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) is targeting a liftoff time of 9:14 AM EDT (6:14 AM PDT) today for an Atlas V rockets carrying the Boeing-built X-37B orbital test vehicle on behalf of the U.S. space force, which is an autonomous winged spaceplane that looks a little like a scaled down version of the Space Shuttle .

This is the sixth mission for the X-37B, though it’s the first flown under the U.S. Space Force’s supervision, since the space plane was previously operated by the Air Force before the formation of the new wing of the U.S. armed forces.

The X-37B runs various missions for the U.S., though its specific aims are actually classified. The uncrewed test vehicle spends long periods on orbit circling the Earth while conducting these missions, with its longest mission to date being a record 780 days for its flight that landed on October 27.

This launch was rescheduled from Saturday, due to poor weather conditions, and its delay means that the SpaceX Starlink mission that was scheduled to take off from Kennedy in Florida today is now pushed out to Tuesday, due to a tropical storm that looks to be developing on Monday at its original backup date.


TechCrunch

On Saturday, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) is targeting a liftoff time of 8:24 AM EDT (5:24 AM PDT) for one of its Atlas V rockets carrying the U.S. Space Force’s X-37B orbital test vehicle, which is a fully autonomous winged spaceplane that looks a little like a scaled down version of the Space Shuttle .

This is the sixth mission for the X-37B, though it’s the first flown under the U.S. Space Force’s supervision, since the space plane was previously operated by the Air Force before the formation of the new wing of the U.S. armed forces.

The X-37B runs various missions for the U.S., though its specific aims are actually classified. The uncrewed test vehicle spends long periods on orbit circling the Earth while conducting these missions, with its longest mission to date being a record 780 days for its flight that landed on October 27.

Stay tuned for updates, as weather conditions could mean this launch gets pushed to a backup date.


TechCrunch

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest contract semiconductor foundry, said today that it plans to build an advanced chip foundry in Arizona with support from the state and the United States federal government.

The announcement follows a Wall Street Journal report earlier this week that White House officials were in talks with TSMC and Intel to build foundries in the U.S., as part of its effort to reduce reliance on chip factories in Asia. Based in Hsinchu, Taiwan, TSMC provides chip components for many of the world’s largest semiconductor companies and its U.S. clients include Apple and Qualcomm.

The plant, scheduled to start production of chips in 2024, will enable TSMC’s American customers to fabricate their semiconductor products domestically. It will use the company’s 5-nanometer technology and is expected to create 1,600 jobs and have the capacity to produce 20,000 wafers a month.

The U.S.-China trade war, national security concerns, geopolitical unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic have all underscored the shortfalls of relying on foundries located abroad and international supply chains.

The U.S. government has reportedly been in talks with TSMC for months, though one sticking point for the company was the high cost of building a new foundry. TSMC chairman Mark Liu told the New York Times in October that the project would require major subsidies because it is more expensive to operate a factory in the U.S. in Taiwan.

In today’s announcement, TSMC said “U.S. adoption of forward-looking investment policies to enable a globally competitive environment for a leading edge semiconductor technology operation in the U.S. will be crucial to the success of this project.”

The company expects to spend about $ 12 billion between 2021 and 2029 on the project, with construction slated to begin next year.

TSMC already operates a foundry in Camas, Washington, and has design centers in Austin, Texas and San Jose, California.


TechCrunch

Thermal imaging wearables used in China to detect COVID-19 symptoms could soon be deployed in the U.S.

Hangzhou based AI startup Rokid is in talks with several companies to sell its T1 glasses in America, according to Rokid’s U.S. Director Liang Guan.

Rokid is among a wave of Chinese companies creating technology to address the coronavirus pandemic, which has dealt a blow to the country’s economy. 

Per info Guan provided, Rokid’s T1 thermal glasses use an infrared sensor to detect the temperatures of up to 200 people within two minutes from up to three meters away. The devices carry a Qualcomm CPU, 12 megapixel camera and offer augmented reality features — for hands free voice controls — to record live photos and videos.

The Chinese startup (with a San Francisco office) plans B2B sales of its wearable devices in the U.S. to assist businesses, hospitals and law enforcement with COVID-19 detection, according to Guan.

Rokid is also offering IoT and software solutions for facial recognition and data management, as part of its T1 packages.

Image Credits: Rokid

The company is working on deals with U.S. hospitals and local municipalities to deliver shipments of the smart glasses, but could not disclose names due to confidentiality agreements.

One commercial venture that could use the thermal imaging wearables is California based e-commerce company Weee!.

The online grocer is evaluating Rokid’s T1 glasses to monitor temperatures of its warehouse employees throughout the day, Weee! founder Larry Liu confirmed to TechCrunch via email.

On procedures to manage those who exhibit COVID-19 related symptoms, that’s something for end-users to determine, according to Rokid. “The clients can do the follow-up action, such as giving them a mask or asking to work from home,” Guan said.

The T1 glasses connect via USB and can be set up for IoT capabilities for commercial clients to sync to their own platforms. The product could capture the attention of U.S. regulators, which have become increasingly wary of Chinese tech firms’ handling of American citizen data. Rokid says it doesn’t collect info from the T1 glasses directly.

“Regarding this module…we do not take any data to the cloud. For customers, privacy is very important to them. The data measurement is stored locally,” according to Guan.

Image Credits: Rokid

Founded in 2014 by Eric Wong and Mingming Zhu, Rokid raised $ 100 million at the Series B level in 2018. The business focuses primarily on developing AI and AR tech for applications from manufacturing to gaming, but developed the T1 glasses in response to China’s COVID-19 outbreak.

The goal was to provide businesses and authorities a thermal imaging detection tool that is wearable, compact, mobile and more effective than the common options.

Large scanning stations, such as those used in some airports, have drawbacks in not being easily portable and handheld devices — with infrared thermometers — pose risks.

“You have to point them to people’s foreheads…you need to be really close, it’s not wearable and you’re not practicing social distancing to use those,” Guang said.

Rokid pivoted to create the T1 glasses shortly after COVID-19 broke out in China in late 2019. Other Chinese tech startups that have joined the virus-fighting mission include face recognition giant SenseTime — which has installed thermal imaging systems at railway stations across China — and its close rival Megvii, which has set up similar thermal solutions in supermarkets.

On Rokid’s motivations, “At the time we thought something like this can really help the frontline people still working,” Guang said.

The startup’s engineering team developed the T1 product in just under two months. In China, Rokid’s smart glasses have been used by national parks staff, in schools and by national authorities to screen for COVID-19 symptoms.

Temperature detectors have their limitation, however, as research has shown that more than half of China’s COVID-19 patients did not have a fever when admitted to hospital.

Source: Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Research Center

The growth rate of China’s coronavirus cases — which peaked to 83,306 and led to 3,345 deaths — has declined and parts of the country have begun to reopen from lockdown. There is still debate, however, about the veracity of data coming out of China on COVID-19. That led to a row between the White House and World Health Organization, which ultimately saw President Trump halt U.S. contributions to the global body this week.

As COVID-19 cases and related deaths continue to rise in the U.S., technological innovation will become central to the health response and finding some new normal for personal mobility and economic activity. That will certainly bring fresh facets to the common tech conundrums — namely measuring efficacy and balancing benefits with personal privacy.

For its part, Rokid already has new features for its T1 thermal smart glasses in the works. The Chinese startup plans to upgrade the device to take multiple temperature readings simultaneously for up to four people at a time.

“That’s not on the market yet, but we will release this very soon as an update,” said Rokid’s U.S. Director Liang Guan .


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