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U.S. entrepreneur bets on new Silicon Valley in west France
December 6, 2017 12:28 pm|Comments (0)

PARIS (Reuters) – When Rob Spiro left San Francisco to settle in France with his wife and kid in 2016, the family chose a mid-sized city on France’s west coast over Paris’ burgeoning start-up scene.

Rob Spiro, American entrepreneur and Director of Imagination Machine, poses in Nantes, France, November 30, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

At 32, the Yale-educated entrepreneur and former Google product manager had already co-founded two start-ups, including one sold to Google for $ 50 million in 2010.

In Nantes, France’s sixth largest city, known for its mediaeval castle and whimsical mechanical creatures, he sees the potential for a smaller version of America’s Silicon Valley, home to tech giants Apple, Facebook and Google.

Quality of life, not money, is the key, he says.

“What everybody in Nantes sees and experiences is that there are thousands of people who move here from Paris,” he said at his start-up accelerator, Imagination Machine.

“They’re looking for a better quality of life, but they want to remain in a city that is active and dynamic.”

His “incubator”, financially backed by the region’s biggest companies, opened its doors in June to support the launch of selected start-ups with seed funding and mentoring.

Nantes itself is part of the promotional picture. The city was ranked second after Bordeaux among cities where Parisian executives would wish to move, according to an August poll for recruiting website Cadremploi.fr.

“Here’s the strategy to become the next Silicon Valley: become a place where people, especially young people, want to live,” Spiro said.

With venture capital investments reaching new records in Europe, the competition to lure new tech companies goes beyond the three usual metropolises – London, Paris, Berlin – and now includes smaller cities that bet on their own mix of schools, research centers, investors and culture to lure hotshots.

RECORD INVESTMENTS

Gregoire Monconduit, Atelier Rosemmod CEO, poses in Nantes, France, November 30, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Venture capital firms invested 8.7 billion euros ($ 10.3 billion) in European tech companies in the first half of 2017, up 21 percent from the year before, according to Dealroom. Such investments jumped 18 percent to 1.3 billion over the same period in France, putting it third after Britain and Germany.

The trend is now gaining further momentum, driven by high expectations for business-friendly policies under new President Emmanuel Macron and the uncertainties caused by the British vote to leave the European Union.

Nantes-based iAdvize has benefited from the boom. The company, which offers a marketing platform connecting customers to experts, closed a 32-million-euro fundraising in October.

It is one of the prime examples of Nantes’ success in the tech field, along with Akeneo, which makes software for retailers, and Lengow, which does the same for e-commerce sites.

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French venture capital fund Alven has shares in all three.

Part of Spiro’s plan for boosting Nantes’ profile is inviting former U.S. colleagues to come and check it out. Julian Nachtigal, who worked as head of Spiro’s second start-up, signed up for the “French tech visa” available since January.

“I never imagined it would be so easy to get a four-year residential visa to the EU,” Nachtigal said, comparing Europe favorably to the U.S. approach under President Donald Trump.

“There’s a growing trend of people leaving Silicon Valley to live elsewhere,” he added, citing the high cost of living.

Within France, too, a similar trend can be seen. Gregoire Monconduit, co-founder of Atelier Rosemood, an online maker of personalized birth announcements and wedding invitations, chose to move to Nantes years ago from Paris.

“We hesitated between three cities: Lyon, Aix and Nantes,” he said. “We thought we’d be out of Paris for three years, it’s been six years already and it’s the best decision we made.”

A long road lies ahead, however, if Nantes is to catch up with Paris, where a 34,000-square-metre megacampus for start-ups, called Station F, opened in June.

The Parisian region drew three quarters of all venture capital investments in the first half of this year, according to accounting firm EY. The region that includes Nantes got less than 3 percent of the total.

Editing by Luke Baker and Gareth Jones

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Canadian charged in Yahoo hacking case to plead guilty in U.S.
November 25, 2017 12:08 am|Comments (0)

(Reuters) – A Canadian accused by the United States of helping Russian intelligence agents break into email accounts as part of a massive 2014 breach of Yahoo accounts is expected to plead guilty next week, according to court records.

A photo illustration shows a Yahoo logo on a smartphone in front of a displayed cyber code and keyboard on December 15, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Karim Baratov, who earlier this year waived his right to fight a U.S. request for his extradition from Canada, is scheduled to appear in federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday for the plea hearing, according to a court calendar seen on Friday.

Baratov, a 22-year-old Canadian citizen born in Kazakhstan, was arrested in Canada in March at the request of U.S. prosecutors. He later waived his right to fight a request for his extradition to the United States.

Andrew Mancilla, Baratov’s lawyer, declined to comment. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco did not respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Justice Department announced charges in March against Baratov and three other men, including two officers in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), for their roles in the 2014 theft of 500 million Yahoo accounts.

Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N), the largest U.S. wireless operator, acquired most of Yahoo Inc’s assets in June.

Prosecutors said that the FSB officers, Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, directed and paid hackers to obtain information and used Alexsey Belan, who is among the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most-wanted cyber criminals, to breach Yahoo.

When the FSB officers learned that a target had a non-Yahoo webmail account, including through information obtained from the Yahoo hack, they worked with Baratov, who was who paid to break into at least 80 email accounts, prosecutors said.

The individuals associated with the accounts they sought to access included Russian officials, the chief executive of a metals company and a prominent banker, according to the indictment.

At least 50 of the accounts Baratov targeted were hosted by Google, the indictment said.

Tuesday’s proceedings before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria are scheduled as a “change of plea” hearing.

Baratov, the only person arrested to date in the case, previously in August pleaded not guilty to conspiring to commit computer fraud, conspiring to commit access device fraud, conspiring to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Tom Brown

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Firefox opts for Google as default search in U.S., surprising Yahoo
November 15, 2017 12:00 am|Comments (0)

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google reclaimed on Tuesday its spot as the default search engine on Mozilla Corp’s Firefox Internet browser in the United States and other regions as the browser maker stunned Verizon Communication Inc’s (VZ.N) Yahoo by canceling their deal.

FILE PHOTO – The Google logo is pictured atop an office building in Irvine, California, U.S. August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

Google confirmed the move but declined, along with Mozilla, to disclose revenue-sharing terms of the multiyear agreement. Google’s growing spending to be the primary search provider on apps and devices such as Apple Inc’s (AAPL.O) iPhone has been a major investor concern.

Google will be Firefox’s default search provider on desktop and mobile in the United States, Canada, Hong Kong and Taiwan, said Mozilla spokewoman Erica Jostedt.

Yahoo had been the default in the United States, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Firefox did not have an official partner in Canada.

Verizon said Mozilla terminating the Yahoo agreement caught it off guard.

“We are surprised that Mozilla has decided to take another path, and we are in discussions with them regarding the terms of our agreement,” said Charles Stewart, a spokesman for Verizon’s Oath unit, which oversees Yahoo.

For a decade until 2014, Google had been Firefox’s worldwide search provider. Google then remained the default in Europe while regional rivals such as Yahoo, Russia’s Yandex (YNDX.O) and China’s Baidu Inc (BIDU.O) replaced it elsewhere.

Former Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer won a five-year contract with Mozilla in 2014 when Firefox and Google’s Chrome browser were battling for users. (reut.rs/2hsYZQo)

Chrome’s U.S. market share has since doubled to about 60 percent, according to data from analytics provider StatCounter, with Mozilla, Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) browsers capturing the rest.

Yahoo paid Mozilla $ 375 million in 2015 and said that it would pay at least the same amount annually through 2019, according to regulatory filings.

Denelle Dixon, Mozilla’s chief business and legal officer, said in a statement that the company had “exercised our contractual right to terminate our agreement with Yahoo based on a number of factors including doing what’s best for our brand, our effort to provide quality web search and the broader content experience for our users.”

She continued, “We believe there are opportunities to work with Oath and Verizon outside of search.”

Yahoo and Google aim to recoup placement fees by selling ads alongside search results and collecting valuable user data. Google said in October that contract changes drove a 54 percent increase in such fees to $ 2.4 billion in the third quarter.

Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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Exclusive: U.S. widens surveillance to include 'homegrown violent extremists' – documents
October 25, 2017 12:00 pm|Comments (0)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government has broadened an interpretation of which citizens can be subject to physical or digital surveillance to include “homegrown violent extremists,” according to official documents seen by Reuters.

A U.S. Air Force airman at Petersen Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, in a file photo. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

The change last year to a Department of Defense manual on procedures governing its intelligence activities was made possible by a decades-old presidential executive order, bypassing congressional and court review.

The new manual, released in August 2016, now permits the collection of information about Americans for counterintelligence purposes “when no specific connection to foreign terrorist(s) has been established,” according to training slides created last year by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI). 

The slides were obtained by Human Rights Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request about the use of federal surveillance laws for counter-drug or immigration purposes and shared exclusively with Reuters.

The Air Force and the Department of Defense told Reuters that the documents are authentic.

The slides list the shooting attacks in San Bernardino, California, in December 2015 and Orlando, Florida, in June 2016 as examples that would fall under the “homegrown violent extremist” category. The shooters had declared fealty to Islamic State shortly before or during the attacks, but investigators found no actual links to the organization that has carried out shootings and bombings of civilians worldwide.

Michael Mahar, the Department of Defense’s senior intelligence oversight official, said in an interview that AFOSI and other military counterintelligence agencies are allowed to investigate both active duty and U.S. civilian personnel as long as there is a potential case connected to the military. Investigations of civilians are carried out cooperatively with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mahar said.

Executive order 12333, signed by former President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and later modified by former President George W. Bush, establishes how U.S. intelligence agencies such as the CIA are allowed to pursue foreign intelligence investigations. The order also allows surveillance of U.S. citizens in certain cases, including for activities defined as counterintelligence.

Under the previous Defense Department manual’s definition of counterintelligence activity, which was published in 1982, the U.S. government was required to demonstrate a target was working on behalf of the goals of a foreign power or terrorist group.

It was not clear what practical effect the expanded definition might have on how the U.S. government gathers intelligence. One of the Air Force slides described the updated interpretation as among several “key changes.”

   

‘CLOAK OF DARKNESS’

However, some former U.S. national security officials, who generally support giving agents more counterterrorism tools but declined to be quoted, said the change appeared to be a minor adjustment that was unlikely to significantly impact intelligence gathering.

Some privacy and civil liberties advocates who have seen the training slides disagreed, saying they were alarmed by the change because it could increase the number of U.S. citizens who can be monitored under an executive order that lacks sufficient oversight.

“What happens under 12333 takes place under a cloak of darkness,” said Sarah St. Vincent, a surveillance researcher with Human Rights Watch who first obtained the documents. “We have enormous programs potentially affecting people in the United States and abroad, and we would never know about these changes” without the documents, she said.

The National Security Act, a federal law adopted 70 years ago, states that Congress must be kept informed about significant intelligence activities. But the law leaves the interpretation of that to the executive branch.

The updated interpretation was motivated by recognition that some people who may pose a security threat do not have specific ties to a group such as Islamic State or Boko Haram, Mahar at the Defense Department said.

“The internet and social media has made it easier for terrorist groups to radicalize followers without establishing direct contact,” Mahar said.

“We felt that we needed the flexibility to target those individuals,” he said.

In August 2016, during the final months of former President Barack Obama’s administration, a Pentagon press release announced that the department had updated its intelligence collecting procedures but it made no specific reference to “homegrown violent extremists.”

The revision was signed off by the Department of Justice’s senior leadership, including the attorney general, and reviewed by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a government privacy watchdog.

Mahar said that “homegrown violent extremist,” while listed in the Air Force training slide, is not an official phrase used by the Defense Department. It does not have a specific list of traits or behaviors that would qualify someone for monitoring under the new definition, Mahar said. 

Hunches or intuition are not enough to trigger intelligence gathering, Mahar said, adding that a “reasonable belief” that a target may be advancing the goals of an international terrorist group to harm the United States is required.

The updated Defense Department manual refers to any target “reasonably believed to be acting for, or in furtherance of, the goals or objectives of an international terrorist or international terrorist organization, for purposes harmful to the national security of the United States.”

Mahar said that in counterterrorism investigations, federal surveillance laws, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, continue to govern electronic surveillance in addition to the limitations detailed in his department’s manual.

Reporting by Dustin Volz; editing by Grant McCool

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U.S. to Collect Social Media Data of Immigrants, Certain Citizens
September 26, 2017 10:30 pm|Comments (0)

The Department of Homeland Security is proposing to expand the files it collects on immigrants, as well as some citizens, by including more online data—most notably search results and social media information—about each individual.

The plan, which would cover data like Facebook posts or Google results, is set out in the Federal Register, where the government publishes forthcoming regulations. A final version is set to go into effect on Oct. 18.

The plan, reported by BuzzFeed, is notable partly because it permits the government to amass information not only about recent immigrants, but also on green card holders and naturalized Americans as well.

The proposal to collect social media data is set out in a part of the draft regulation that describes expanding the content of so-called “Alien Files,” which serve as detailed profiles of individual immigrants, and are used by everyone from border agents to judges. Here is the relevant portion:

The Department of Homeland Security, therefore, is updating the [file process] to … (5) expand the categories of records to include the following: country of nationality; country of residence; the USCIS Online Account Number; social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results

The proposal follows new rules by the Trump Administration that require visitors from certain countries to disclose their social media handles, and allow border agents to view their list of phone contacts.

Those earlier measures alarmed civil rights advocates who questioned whether they would do much to improve security, and worried other countries would introduce similar screening of Americans. In response to the latest effort to collect social media data, the American Civil Liberties Union warned of a “chilling effect.”

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“This Privacy Act notice makes clear that the government intends to retain the social media information of people who have immigrated to this country, singling out a huge group of people to maintain files on what they say. This would undoubtedly have a chilling effect on the free speech that’s expressed every day on social media,” the group said in a statement.

The new rules are currently subject to a comment period until Oct. 18 but, if they go into effect as planned, they will add yet more data to “Alien Files” that can already contain information such as fingerprints, travel histories, and health, and education records.

Such repositories provide powerful intelligence-gathering tools, but brings potential privacy risks such as government surveillance or cyber-attacks.

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U.S. surveillance law may see no new protections for foreign targets
March 9, 2017 1:02 pm|Comments (0)

Any reform of a controversial U.S. law allowing the National Security Agency to spy on people overseas will likely focus on its impact on U.S. residents, without curbing its use elsewhere.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) expires on Dec. 31, and some digital rights groups are calling on Congress to overhaul the law to protect the privacy of residents of both the U.S. and other countries. Congress will almost certainly extend the provision in some form. 

But a congressional hearing on Wednesday focused largely on the NSA’s “inadvertent” collection of U.S. residents’ data, with little time given to the privacy concerns of people overseas.

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How The U.S. Military’s Tech Is Going Green To Save Lives
March 8, 2017 10:30 am|Comments (0)

Refueling a destroyer or any other large piece of military hardware is incredibly dangerous because it leaves troops very vulnerable to attack, especially if it requires a huge convoy. U.S. troops have lost their lives trying refuel vessels that are ultra-dependent on oil. The Department of Defense knows this, and as…

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U.S. Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil Started Out ‘As Underachieving As You Can Get’
October 9, 2016 10:20 am|Comments (0)

How can someone who has underachieved for years change their course and exceed their potential? This question was originally answered on Quora by DJ Patil.


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EU prepares to raise Privacy Shield over data transfers to U.S.
July 8, 2016 6:43 pm|Comments (0)

European Union officials are set to give final approval to a new EU-U.S. data transfer agreement early next week, after member states gave their approval to an updated text on Friday.

Privacy Shield is intended to replace the Safe Harbor Agreement as a means to legalize the transfer of EU citizens’ personal information to the U.S. while still respecting EU privacy laws.

A new deal is needed because the Court of Justice of the EU invalidated the Safe Harbor Agreement last October, concerned that it provided Europeans with insufficient protection from state surveillance when companies exported their personal data to the U.S. for processing.

The first draft of Privacy Shield agreement presented by the European Commission in January lacked key assurances from U.S. officials on the same matters that had concerned the CJEU about Safe Harbor.

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Microsoft’s CEO explains why his company sued the U.S. government
May 3, 2016 1:15 am|Comments (0)

Microsoft surprised the world last month when it filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice, alleging that the frequent practice of attaching gag orders to search warrants for customer data violates the U.S. Constitution.

On Monday, CEO Satya Nadella told a group of tech luminaries why the company did so: Microsoft has a strong view on its privacy promises to users, and the company will fight to prevent government overreach that, in its view, compromises the principles of privacy. 

Governments have a compelling need to help preserve public safety, but Microsoft wants to make sure that users’ privacy is also preserved, Nadella said. 

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