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Russia: No, we don’t want to curb online freedoms – we want to protect internet

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Russia opens case against Facebook and Twitter over data-localization law
Facebook and Twitter are in breach of laws requiring personal data to be kept on Russian soil, say the authorities.

The Russian government has denied claims by activists that its plan to make the Russian internet separable from the rest of the internet has anything to do with clamping down on online freedoms.

Legislation for the potential independence of the Russian internet space — the so-called Runet — was proposed at the end of last year. 

The idea, which is roughly analogous to China’s Great Firewall, is to be able to block outside content and keep Russian traffic within the country’s borders. A test of the idea’s viability is scheduled to take place on April 1.

Last weekend, as many as 15,000 protesters rallied in Moscow against the internet sovereignty law, which was cleared in February by the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament. An estimated 30 people were arrested before and during the rally.

The protests were spearheaded by the country’s Libertarian Party. According to an account by The Moscow Times, organizers and participants maintained that the legislation is designed to ease the way for censorship of the internet in Russia, and to make it harder for opposition figures to organize protests.

On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied these claims, arguing that “everyone is calling for internet freedom”.

“We cannot support their misunderstanding and deception that the passed bills are somehow aimed at limiting internet freedom,” Peskov told reporters, according to TASS news agency.

“On the contrary, they are designed to ensure [the] internet’s viability amid potential aggressive steps in cyberspace against our country.”

Regarding a televised interview with a protester who apparently claimed the Kremlin wants to be able to cut Russia off the rest of the internet with the press of a button, Peskov said: “This is absolutely a deception. However, this participant somehow is not afraid that someone overseas will press this button and disconnect him from the internet.”

SEE: Can Russian hackers be stopped? Here’s why it might take 20 years (TechRepublic cover story) | download the PDF version

The law has always been pitched as a defensive measure. It would involve the completion of a national Domain Name System (DNS), and the localization of all content that the Russian authorities are prepared to let people see, in the event of the plan being activated. 

Russian internet exchange points and internet service providers would be “required to ensure the possibility of centralized control over traffic, in the event of a threat”.

The aggressor in that scenario is most likely the US, which repeatedly cited Russia as an online aggressor in last year’s National Cyber Strategy — though there is no evidence to suggest the US is planning to cut any countries off the internet.

As for Peskov’s claim that “as far as internet freedom is concerned, the position of [the protesters] can be backed,” there is an awful lot of evidence to suggest that the Kremlin is no fan of the concept.

In recent years, Russian authorities have introduced draconian data-retention and data-localization laws, banned virtual private networks (VPNs), prosecuted many people for sharing “extremist” memes, told mobile operators to record which people are using which messaging apps, banned the messaging app Telegram for refusing to hand over encryption keys, cracked down on bloggers, and called on citizens to help scour the internet for content that should be blocked.

Previous and related coverage

Russia to disconnect from the internet as part of a planned test

Russia’s internet contingency plan gets closer to reality.

Russia: We’re suing Facebook, Twitter for snubbing law on storing users’ data locally

Facebook and Twitter are in breach of laws requiring personal data to be kept on Russian soil, say the authorities.

Russia: Now everyone who uses a messaging app must be identifiable

New decree means messaging services will have to check users’ registration data with their mobile operator.

Google warned: Your YouTube ads interfere with our elections, says Russia

Google has drawn the ire of Russian authorities for running opposition-paid adverts about upcoming protests.

Telegram starts to play nice with security agencies over user data, but not in Russia

Under Telegram’s new privacy policy, it could hand over user IP and phone details given the right court order.

Russian cyber spies busted by Netherlands ‘left behind evidence of many operations’

Equipment seized by Dutch intelligence points to Russia’s involvement in hacking incidents around the world.

Stop jailing people for likes and memes, says Russia’s biggest social network

Mail.ru, which runs leading Russian social network Vkontakte, is calling for a change in the law.

Russia: We want volunteers to help us censor the internet

Russia’s interior minister says he wants citizens to scour the internet for banned material.

Russia’s ‘Big Brother’ data law now in force: Kremlin spies are the big winners

To help Russian security services, providers will now have to keep customers’ texts, calls, and chat logs in full.

Google, Amazon drawn into Telegram ban as Russia blocks millions of IP addresses

Russia’s quest to stop encrypted messaging app Telegram also blocks thousands of Amazon, Google addresses

Microsoft: We’ve just messed up Russian plans to attack US 2018 midterm elections

Claiming a win over Russian plans to hack US politicians, Microsoft unveils a new security service to detect attacks expected in the lead-up to the midterms.

What chief data officers can learn from Facebook about building better big data security practices TechRepublic

Here are four tips for improving big data governance strategies in light of the news about Cambridge Analytica’s harvesting of Facebook user profiles.

Wickr may have a workaround for Russia’s crackdown on encrypted chat CNET

A partnership with censorship-evading experts at Psiphon aims to keep the service going everywhere.

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GM and LG reveal second $2.3bn Ultium EV battery plant

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GM and LG will build a new electric car battery plant together, the two companies have confirmed today, settling rumors of an expansion of the joint Ultium Cells venture as the automaker tries to maximize production of cheaper EV power packs. The new facility will be in Spring Hill, Tennessee, and see General Motors and LG Energy Solution pump in a further $2.3 billion in investment.

It follows an existing $2.3 billion investment by the pair in a battery production facility in Lordstown, Ohio. Construction there is currently underway, as GM prepares for a rapid uptick in demand across its various brands for batteries.

GM Ultium, announced in 2019, is the automaker’s new platform for all-electric vehicles. It’ll underpin models from Cadillac, GMC, Buick, Chevrolet, and other nameplates in General Motors’ portfolio, with the potential for 450+ miles of range and a variety of drivetrain configurations. However, it’ll also be expensive, at least to begin with, and no small part of that is the cost of the battery cells themselves.

It’s leading to a split in GM’s EV portfolio, of sorts, as Ultium is reserved for the electric vehicles that can command the highest sticker prices. That means models like the six-figure GMC Hummer EV and the Hummer EV SUV, along with the Cadillac Lyriq. In contrast, more affordable – and more mainstream – models like Chevrolet’s Bolt EV and new Bolt EV electric crossover will continue using the automaker’s existing, less advanced but much cheaper, platform.

Looking ahead, though, GM is counting on Ultium coming down in price and making affordable batteries at-scale more of a possibility. The roadmap calls for pack sizes from 50 to 200 kilowatt hours, made up of large-format, pouch-style cells which can be stacked either vertically or horizontally for maximum flexibility. There’ll also be support for either 400-volt packs with 200 kW DC fast charging, or 800-volt packs with 350 kW DC fast charging, depending on model and target audience.

Getting that all to a cost-effective point is vital if planned vehicles like the all-electric Chevrolet Silverado are to be competitive.

The new Spring Hill Ultium plant will be built by Ultium Cells on land leased from GM to the joint venture. Eventually it’s expected to span approximately 2.8 million-square-feet, with construction beginning immediately. However it’s not going to be open until late 2023, GM warns.

At that point, it’ll be supplying batteries to GM’s Spring Hill assembly plant nearby. That’ll be the location where Cadillac builds the upcoming Lyriq luxury electric crossover, alongside the existing gas-powered XT6 and XT5 SUVs.

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Samsung’s new smart headlamp tech just leaves me angrier

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You might not associate Samsung with car parts, but the company has revealed new smart LED headlamp clusters that could bring active lights to a much broader range of vehicles – though for the moment it looks like American drivers will miss out. The Samsung PixCell LEDs aren’t just one light source but in fact a whole cluster of more than 100 ultra-small segments, built into a single LED chip.

Those segments can be individually controlled, such as by an adaptive driving beam (ADB) system. For instance, if the system spots an oncoming vehicle at night, while you have your high-beams switched on, it could selectively occlude the parts of the headlamps which are directed at that vehicle.

The result would be avoiding glare for that car, but continued visibility around it for you. Alternatively, headlamps using the PixCell LEDs could focus light according to ambient conditions, such as when driving in fog or heavy rain, to maximize how much of the road can be seen.

Samsung isn’t the first company to offer smart headlamp LEDs like this, but its method is a little different. The PixCell system combines 100+ tiny segments – each separated by a silicon wall – with each acting like a pixel. The light-emitting area is only 1/16th of the size of a conventional discrete LED module used in current ADB systems, Samsung says. That means the overall light assembly could be as much as 50-percent smaller without impairing functionality.

That’s great, assuming you live in a country where these sort of headlamps are actually permitted. It’s a problem US drivers find themselves facing, where automakers have been forced to disable the smart lighting features on cars for sale in America. Currently, regulations in the US don’t allow this sort of selective lighting on vehicles, and while car companies and safety organizations have pushed for changes, there’s no telling when – or if – that will happen.

It’s frustrating, because it leaves American drivers missing out on some of the biggest advances in tech we’ve seen in automotive recently. Audi’s digital matrix LED system, for example, is offered elsewhere in the world on vehicles like the e-tron SUV; the same EV in the US, however, doesn’t offer that feature. Mercedes’ Digital Light – as featured on the new flagship EQS all-electric luxury sedan – is similarly blocked by out-of-date rules. Both systems, when functional, can even do things like project graphics on the road to better communicate vehicle behaviors with pedestrians and other road users; in the US, about the smartest thing they can manage is automatically flip between high- and low-beam settings.

Polestar found itself in the same situation with the recently-launched Polestar 2. The EV has Pixel LED headlamps, made up of 84 individual LEDs within each light, and which can do things like selectively shade the brightness in patches so as not to dazzle oncoming traffic.

While US-spec cars are fitted with the Pixel LED hardware, the advanced ADB features aren’t enabled. Polestar has said that it could do that with an OTA software update in future, should the local regulations change, though again it can’t say when that might happen, if it ever does. In fact, owners of the Polestar 2 could have the EV and never get to use the full extent of the features it’s capable of.

Samsung says there are still good reasons to use the PixCell LED system, even if ADB isn’t legally allowed in every region. For a start, it supports different configuration of the same hardware to suit varying light regulations and requirements. “Based on a single standard headlamp design,” the company points out, “lamp makers can customize light output to suit varying design needs and enjoy reduced lead time for development, production, supply and time-to-market.”

With some software architecture foresight by automakers, then, smart LED lights like these could one day be upgraded with a firmware patch to enable the more advanced functionality that the hardware is capable of. For that to happen, though, we’ll need US road safety regulators to get up to speed with the cutting-edge of vehicle tech, and that’s a process which is frustratingly slow in comparison.

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Alpha Wolf+ EV has an extra pair of suicide rear doors

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California-based startup Alpha Motor Corporation is expanding its electric vehicle portfolio with the Wolf+ (Wolf Plus), an extended-cab version of the brand’s Wolf electric pickup unveiled last month. Whereas a standard Wolf EV pickup truck has only two doors, Wolf+ has dual rear-hinged half-doors to make the rear seats more accessible, similar to what you get in the 2022 Mazda MX-30 EV.

Despite its extended-cab body style, Alpha Wolf+ has the same 5.5-feet bed as the non-plus version. It also gets a bevy of off-road accessories like standard fog lights, a roof basket, and a set of solar panels in the bed cover.

Like the first Alpha Wolf, the Wolf+ you see on this page are just renderings of an incoming pre-production prototype model. We have no word yet of an official launch date, but Alpha is on track to make its first customer deliveries beginning as early as 2023. The company also revealed the JAX (Junior All-Terrain Crossover) SUV earlier this year, a four-passenger off-road vehicle with retro styling cues similar to Wolf and Wolf+.

Alpha claims a range of 250 to 275+ miles from a still-unspecified battery pack. If the Alpha JAX is any indication, we reckon Wolf+ might come with a 75 kWh lithium-ion battery. Additionally, Wolf+ is available in a single motor RWD or dual-motor AWD powertrain. We find this surprising since a standard Wolf with a single motor is a front-wheel-drive unit.

We also found the performance numbers a bit surprising. Alpha claims Wolf+ accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 5.9-seconds versus 6.2-seconds for a front-drive Wolf. It also has a maximum towing capacity of 6274 pounds (3050 kg). In contrast, a standard Wolf can tow 3000 pounds (1,360 kg). Indeed, you can haul more stuff with Wolf+.

Inside, Alpha Wolf+ has a digital instrument cluster, a large center touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, and a premium audio system. Base models get 16-inch wheels, while larger 17 to 18-inch alloys are available. And yes, Alpha Wolf+ has a roomy frunk or front trunk.

Alpha has yet to unveil definite launch dates for its all-electric vehicles, but the reservation books are open for both the Wolf and Wolf+ models. The Wolf has base prices starting at $36,000 to $46,000, while pricing for Wolf+ will follow soon.

Alpha Wolf+ Gallery

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