US Aims to Tap Domestic Lithium Supply Without Chinese Products

washington — Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Energy announced a record conditional loan of $2.26 billion to tap the largest known lithium reserves in North America. The loan is an important step in an effort by the U.S. government to reduce reliance on China for the metal used to make batteries.

Analysts, however, say that it may be too late to move away from reliance on China completely when it comes to metal processing and the production of batteries.

The DOE’s Loan Programs Office (LPO) says the funds, if approved after review, will help the Lithium Americas Corp. construct a lithium carbonate processing plant at the Thacker Pass mine project in Humboldt County, Nevada.

The LPO says the project would help “secure reliable, sustainable domestic supply chains for critical materials, which are key to reaching our ambitious clean energy and climate goals and reducing our reliance on economic competitors like China.”

Lithium Americas Corp. on its official website says battery materials could be “completely sourced and manufactured in the U.S., bringing down the overall carbon footprint, transport costs and supply chain risks.”

The LPO says lithium carbonate from Thacker Pass could eventually support the production of batteries “for up to 800,000 electric vehicles (EVs) per year, saving 317 million gallons of gasoline per year.”

Although the U.S. has made pioneering and groundbreaking contributions to the development of the lithium ion battery, industry experts say lithium processing and EV battery production is dominated today by China.

“Parts of our key supply chains, including for clean energy, are currently over concentrated in China,” said U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in prepared remarks March 2 when she visited a U.S. lithium processing facility in Chile, which holds the world’s largest reserves of the metal.

“This makes America more vulnerable to shocks in China, or whatever country dominates production, from natural disasters to macroeconomic forces, to deliberate actions such as economic coercion.”

A report last year by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said China increased restrictions on its exports of critical minerals ninefold between 2009 and 2020.

Data from the U.S. Geological Survey shows the output and scale of lithium mines in Australia and Argentina far exceed China’s. In 2022, Australia’s lithium mine output was more than three times China’s.

Refining, processing still issues

But industry experts say while Western countries have poured a lot of investment into developing raw minerals, they have paid little attention to refining and processing, areas in which China dominates.

Ellen R. Wald, a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center, tells VOA, “Lithium is not useful just as it is. You have to refine it to make what’s used in the batteries. And that’s really where China controls the supply chain because almost all of the refining for lithium that creates it into the substance that can be used to make batteries is done in China.”

According to the Chatham House, Chinese companies accounted for about 72% of global lithium refining capacity in 2022.

China also dominates much of the global market for battery-related equipment, leaving limited options for U.S. companies that want to showcase their domestic production credentials.

American Battery Factory Inc., or ABF, is an emerging battery manufacturer that says it is “the first network of entirely U.S.-owned vertical manufacturing, supply chain and R&D for Lithium Iron Phosphate battery cells in the United States.”

But to secure custom automation equipment and machinery for use in its first large-scale rechargeable battery factory in Tucson, Arizona, it has formed a partnership with Lead Intelligent Equipment, a Chinese company.

Dependent on China

In an article in January, Wald said China is in a good position to restrict access to lithium-ion batteries to certain countries or companies as it wishes, and if the U.S. military suddenly finds itself in need of more specialized batteries, the Pentagon may not be able to obtain them.

In February 2022, China announced sanctions against Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-35 fighter jet, and Raytheon Technologies, the world’s largest missile manufacturer. Although China did not specify the details of the sanctions, it is generally considered to be a possible threat to cut off the Western countries’ supply of critical minerals.

Wald told VOA, “The U.S. defense industry is basically dependent on China for these specialized batteries that they need in all of their drones and their surveillance systems and all sorts of things.”

David Whittle, adjunct professor in resource engineering at the Department of Civil Engineering at Monash University in Australia, told VOA even if “the world develops a robust, independent supply chain for lithium, up to the point of battery chemical production, at present, China would still be the largest customer for those chemicals, since it is the largest cell manufacturer, the largest battery pack manufacturer, the largest E.V. manufacturer and the largest market for E.V.s.”

The Thacker Pass lithium mine is located at the southern end of the McDermitt Caldera, and is considered to be one of the largest in the world.

The record loan to Lithium Americas Corp. is the largest such loan the U.S. has offered for the development of a lithium mine project since the country stepped up its efforts to build a domestic supply chain for critical minerals in recent years.

The Thacker Pass lithium project is not expected to start production until 2028, and even then, Wald said, that goal may be too ambitious. The mine plans to extract lithium from clay, but Wald says it has never been mined in this way on a commercial scale. In addition, the mine is in a remote and sparsely populated location, requiring the company to build housing for workers and their families and to reassess its environmental impact.

Despite the challenges, Wald said creating a secure supply chain is not impossible for the U.S.

“I don’t think it’s too late,” Wald said. “Will they be able to compete with China globally? Probably not. But can we create non-Chinese sustainable and secure supply chains? Yeah, we can do it.”

Whittle said Western countries being “resilient to challenges from China” can’t mean “isolated from China” anymore, but resilience is still possible.

The DOE’s LPO said while their announcement shows intent to give the loan, the company must first satisfy certain technical, legal, environmental and financial conditions before the funds will be released.

Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

Critics Slam Apple CEO Tim Cook for Laudatory Remarks in China

 Washington — Tim Cook, CEO of the American technology giant Apple, is facing criticism at home over laudatory remarks he made about China during a recent visit to try to boost sagging iPhone sales in the lucrative market. 

Cook was in Shanghai for the opening of China’s largest Apple retail store on Friday and met with Chinese political and business people. He praised China for being “so vibrant and so dynamic,” in remarks widely quoted by state media and Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying. 

 

The new Apple store took seven years and cost over 80 million yuan (roughly $11.1 million) to build. It is said to be the second largest in the world and the largest in Asia, and it is staffed by about 150 people. 

Thursday evening, at least 12 hours before the scheduled opening, a long line had formed in front of the store. Some media said the crowds were “as bustling as New Year’s Eve.” 

In addition to showing their loyalty to the brand by purchasing Apple products, the opening day crowds rushed to take photos with Cook, who was in the store at the event.

Dan Ives, a technology analyst on Wall Street, said on X, formerly Twitter, that Cook’s trip to China shows that Apple will continue to attach importance to the Chinese market.

“Apple is actually increasing its investments and retail footprint in China the past year,” he said, “and to this point Cook has been in China since last week on an important visit to lay the groundwork on Apple’s future in China. Cook reaffirming China strategy.” 

 

Chinese media reported on Monday that Apple will cooperate with Chinese technology company Baidu to provide artificial intelligence capabilities to the iPhones sold in China this year. Baidu has not verified the report. 

However, not all Chinese love Apple. A viral video clip on Chinese social media shows a middle-aged Chinese woman in yellow clothes, a baseball cap and a mask yelling at the people who queued up at the new Apple store the night before its opening, “You worship and favor foreign things.”  

 

She also said Apple’s business expansion in China is “because of scum like you who are willing to pay for it.” 

A person in the line said, “Do you know how many jobs Apple brings to China every year?”  

The woman replied, “No need, we have our own Huawei!” 

The drama reflects the challenges Apple is facing in China. IPhone shipments in China fell about 33% in February from a year earlier, according to official data, marking a second consecutive month of lower shipments. 

In January, the company shipped a total of roughly 5.5 million units, or about 39% fewer handsets than in the prior year, according to China Academy of Information and Communications Technology figures. 

Frank Lee, a senior partner of Blue Ocean Capital in Beijing, said that most Chinese iPhone users have a good experience with Apple products, so they remain loyal to the brand. However, there is a clear trend of declining sales of Apple products due to competition with Chinese domestic brands. 

Lee told VOA, “I think Apple’s opening of a store in Shanghai will play a certain role in [boosting] its sales in China, but it cannot fundamentally reverse the overall slow decline trend of iPhones in China.” 

However, Cook expressed his confidence in the Chinese market. He told the Chinese media, “I love the people and the culture [of China]. Every time I come here, I’m reminded that anything is possible here.” 

Cook’s remarks have been criticized as glorifying the Chinese government’s arrogant treatment of private enterprises. 

Jonathan Eyal, associate director of the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies in the U.K., wrote on X, “‘Everything is possible’ in China, says Apple’s Tim Cook. Including being arrested and expropriated. And losing the market at a stroke of a bureaucratic pen.” 

 

Theresa Fallon, director at the Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies, wrote, “Apple chief Tim Cook’s obsequious praise for China … unlikely to reverse the tide and CCP mandates that government officials can’t use Apple phones.”  

 

Bloomberg reported last year that a growing number of Chinese government agencies and state-owned enterprises were ordering employees not to bring iPhones and other foreign-brand phones to the workplace. China’s Foreign Ministry did not confirm the report. 

Some observers believe Cook’s remarks were not sincere. In recent years, Apple has expanded its production in India. Last year, iPhones made in India appeared for the first time in the first batch of iPhone 15 models released globally. 

However, others say China is irreplaceable to the global supply chain. They noted that Apple has faced challenges in efficiency since its supplier Foxconn moved production lines to India in the past couple of years. 

Noah Smith, an American current affairs columnist, wrote, “LOLLLLLLL meanwhile he’s shifting production out of China as fast as he can.” 

 

Some critics of Cook are more serious. Sophie Richardson, former China director at Human Rights Watch, said, “.@tim_cook, about those “vibrant” and “dynamic” #crimesagainsthumanity committed by your #China govt hosts…?”  

 

Eli Friedman, associate professor of global labor and work at Cornell University, said the past mutually beneficial relationship between Beijing and American companies is no longer playing a diplomatic role. 

He wrote, “Throwing Apple some treats will not help stabilize the U.S.-China relationship, I promise.” 

Adrianna Zhang and Joyce Huang contributed to this report.  

Battery Swap Technologies May Advance E-Vehicle Adoption in Africa

Electric vehicles can lower pollution and save drivers money, but in Africa, uneven access to electricity is a significant barrier to their success. In Ghana, battery-swap technologies are offering a solution. Senanu Tord reports from Accra.

LogOn: Robots Hand Write Letters for Humans

Not long ago, people wrote letters by hand. But like many things eclipsed by modern technology, handwritten letters are less common than they used to be. Now, that technology has started writing those letters. VOA’s Julie Taboh introduces us to handwriting robots in this week’s episode of LogOn.

Florida’s Governor Signs One of Country’s Most Restrictive Social Media Bans for Minors

TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Florida will have one of the country’s most restrictive social media bans for minors — if it withstands expected legal challenges — under a bill signed by Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday. 

The bill will ban social media accounts for children under 14 and require parental permission for 15- and 16-year-olds. It was slightly watered down from a proposal DeSantis vetoed earlier this month, a week before the annual legislative session ended.

The new law was Republican Speaker Paul Renner’s top legislative priority. It takes effect January 1. 

“A child in their brain development doesn’t have the ability to know that they’re being sucked into these addictive technologies and to see the harm and step away from it, and because of that we have to step in for them,” Renner said at the bill-signing ceremony held at a Jacksonville school. 

The bill DeSantis vetoed would have banned minors under 16 from popular social media platforms regardless of parental consent. But before the veto, he worked out compromise language with Renner to alleviate the governor’s concerns and the Legislature sent DeSantis a second bill. 

Several states have considered similar legislation. In Arkansas, a federal judge blocked enforcement of a law in August that required parental consent for minors to create new social media accounts. 

Supporters in Florida hope the bill will withstand legal challenges because it would ban social media formats based on addictive features such as notification alerts and auto-play videos, rather than on their content. 

Renner said he expects social media companies to “sue the second after this is signed. But you know what? We’re going to beat them. We’re going to beat them and we’re never, ever going to stop.” 

DeSantis also acknowledged the law will be challenged on First Amendment issues and bemoaned the fact the “Stop Woke Act” he signed into law two years ago was recently struck down by an appeals court with a majority of Republican-appointed judges. They ruled it violated free speech rights by banning private business from including discussions about racial inequality in employee training. 

“Any time I see a bill, if I don’t think it’s constitutional, I veto it,” said DeSantis, a lawyer, expressing confidence that the social media ban will be upheld. “We not only satisfied me, but we also satisfied, I think, a fair application of the law and Constitution.” 

The bill overwhelmingly passed both chambers, with some Democrats joining a majority of Republicans who supported the measure. Opponents argued it was unconstitutional and that the government shouldn’t interfere with decisions parents make with their children. 

“This bill goes too far in taking away parents’ rights,” Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani said in a news release. “Instead of banning social media access, it would be better to ensure improved parental oversight tools, improved access to data to stop bad actors, alongside major investments in Florida’s mental health systems and programs.”

US Vice President: Banning TikTok ‘Not at All the Goal’

 Austin, Texas — U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said the Biden administration has no intention to ban TikTok, the popular short video application from Chinese company ByteDance. 

Harris told ABC’s “This Week” program on Sunday that a ban was “not at all the goal or the purpose of this conversation.”   

The White House urged the Senate last week to swiftly advance a bill that would force ByteDance to sell TikTok over privacy and national security concerns within six months or face a ban.  

U.S. officials and lawmakers worry that the Chinese government could access American consumers’ data on the platform, which could also be used to push a pro-Beijing agenda.

ByteDance denies it would provide such private data to the Chinese government, despite reports indicating it could be at risk.

The bill passed in the House on March 13 with overwhelming bipartisan support but has yet to advance in the Senate.  

China has firmly opposed any forced sale of TikTok.   

TikTok has urged its American users to call their representatives and tell them not to support the bill, leading to hundreds of phone calls to some senators, including a few death threats, according to The Associated Press. 

Despite the security and privacy concerns, many Americans are still enthusiastic about the app. 

An American social media influencer, who cannot reveal her real name due to her contract with a talent agency, has been on TikTok since 2021 and saw the popularity of her hairdressing videos explode to hundreds of thousands of views. 

She had no idea TikTok was owned by a Chinese company until it gave her a notification telling her to call her congressional representative, and then she read the news reports.   

“I am worried that I won’t be able to use TikTok,” she told VOA. “I think the communities on TikTok are great. You feel like you are part of a super large community when you watch a video. There are so many comments, [and] you can connect to so many more people.”  

TikTok has about 170 million users in the U.S., though its growth rate among youth last year hit a snag, The Wall Street Journal reported. Citing analytics company Data.ai., the Journal reported the average monthly users between 18 and 24 dropped nearly 9% from 2022 to 2023. But the report said the drop probably has more to do with young people being too busy after the COVID-19 pandemic, when TikTok users skyrocketed, than with concerns over what the Chinese government may access. 

Texas-based cereal maker Greg Bastin started using TikTok during the pandemic. 

“I plan to use influencers on TikTok to help market my products, as I know it can be a powerful way to increase sales and create entertaining content at an affordable price,” he told VOA.   

But Bastin admits the security and privacy concerns mean he would not post personal content on TikTok.

“Giving up basic data rights is the price of admission for using social media platforms today,” he said. 

The Financial Times this month reported that TikTok generated a record $16 billion in revenue in the U.S. last year, and ByteDance could soon overtake Facebook and Instagram’s parent company Meta in global sales, though most of ByteDance’s income comes from China.

James Lewis, senior vice president of the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA that if there are disruptions to TikTok, other short video platforms like Instagram will certainly benefit. But he said most American TikTok users are not going to quickly jump ship.  

“People use TikTok for a reason. They are not going to switch.” he said. “So, I think that it’s wishful thinking to say that if you close TikTok down, everyone will move to another platform.”   

A number of governments and institutions have banned TikTok on employee and contractor devices since 2022 over security concerns, including in Australia, Britain, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, Taiwan and the United States.

India has banned TikTok and several other Chinese applications since 2020 after a deadly border clash with Chinese troops. 

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump issued a presidential order banning TikTok and Chinese messaging app WeChat in the U.S. and required ByteDance to either divest TikTok or cease business. 

Court orders stopped the move, and President Joe Biden revoked and replaced the order with a fresh investigation.

Biden’s administration is supporting the legislation for TikTok to be divested or face a ban, while Trump this month appeared to walk back on his previous aim to ban the app. 

The former president said in a call-in interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that he believed TikTok still posed a threat to national security but banning it would help Facebook, which he has attacked since his 2020 election loss.

Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

TikTok Bill Faces Uncertain Fate in Senate

WASHINGTON — The young voices in the messages left for North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis were laughing, but the words were ominous.

“OK, listen, if you ban TikTok I will find you and shoot you,” one said, giggling and talking over other young voices in the background. “I’ll shoot you and find you and cut you into pieces.” Another threatened to kill Tillis, and then take their own life.

Tillis’s office says it has received around 1,000 calls about TikTok since the House passed legislation this month that would ban the popular app if its China-based owner doesn’t sell its stake. TikTok has been urging its users — many of whom are young — to call their representatives, even providing an easy link to the phone numbers. “The government will take away the community that you and millions of other Americans love,” read one pop-up message from the company when users opened the app.

Tillis, who supports the House bill, reported the call to the police. “What I hated about that was it demonstrates the enormous influence social media platforms have on young people,” he said in an interview.

While more aggressive than most, TikTok’s extensive lobbying campaign is the latest attempt by the tech industry to head off any new legislation — and it’s a fight the industry usually wins. For years Congress has failed to act on bills that would protect users’ privacy, protect children from online threats, make companies more liable for their content and put loose guardrails around artificial intelligence, among other things.

“I mean, it’s almost embarrassing,” says Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., a former tech executive who is also supporting the TikTok bill and has long tried to push his colleagues to regulate the industry. “I would hate for us to maintain our perfect zero batting average on tech legislation.”

Some see the TikTok bill as the best chance for now to regulate the tech industry and set a precedent, if a narrow one focused on just one company. President Joe Biden has said he would sign the House bill, which overwhelmingly passed 362-65 this month after a rare 50-0 committee vote moving it to the floor.

But it’s already running into roadblocks in the Senate, where there is little unanimity on the best approach to ensure that China doesn’t access private data from the app’s 170 million U.S. users or influence them through its algorithms.

Other factors are holding the Senate back. The tech industry is broad and falls under the jurisdiction of several different committees. Plus, the issues at play don’t fall cleanly on partisan lines, making it harder for lawmakers to agree on priorities and how legislation should be written. Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has so far been reluctant to embrace the TikTok bill, for example, calling for hearings first and suggesting that the Senate may want to rewrite it.

“We’re going through a process,” Cantwell said. “It’s important to get it right.”

Warner, on the other hand, says the House bill is the best chance to get something done after years of inaction. And he says that the threatening calls from young people are a good example of why the legislation is needed: “It makes the point, do we really want that kind of messaging being able to be manipulated by the Communist Party of China?”

Some lawmakers are worried that blocking TikTok could anger millions of young people who use the app, a crucial segment of voters in November’s election. But Warner says “the debate has shifted” from talk of an outright ban a year ago to the House bill which would force TikTok, a wholly owned subsidiary of Chinese technology firm ByteDance Ltd., to sell its stake for the app to continue operating.

Vice President Kamala Harris, in a television interview that aired Sunday, acknowledged the popularity of the app and that it has become an income stream for many people. She said the administration does not intend to ban TikTok but instead deal with its ownership. “We understand its purpose and its utility and the enjoyment that it gives a lot of folks,” Harris told ABC’s ”This Week.”

Republicans are divided. While most of them support the TikTok legislation, others are wary of overregulation and the government targeting one specific entity.

“The passage of the House TikTok ban is not just a misguided overreach; it’s a draconian measure that stifles free expression, tramples constitutional rights, and disrupts the economic pursuits of millions of Americans,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul posted on X, formerly Twitter.

Hoping to persuade their colleagues to support the bill, Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee have called for intelligence agencies to declassify information about TikTok and China’s ownership that has been provided to senators in classified briefings.

“It is critically important that the American people, especially TikTok users, understand the national security issues at stake,” the senators said in a joint statement.

Blumenthal and Blackburn have separate legislation they have been working on for several years aimed at protecting children’s online safety, but the Senate has yet to vote on it. Efforts to regulate online privacy have also stalled, as has legislation to make technology companies more liable for the content they publish.

And an effort by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to quickly move legislation that would regulate the burgeoning artificial intelligence industry has yet to show any results.

Schumer has said very little about the TikTok bill or whether he might put it on the Senate floor.

“The Senate will review the legislation when it comes over from the House,” was all he would say after the House passed the bill.

South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds, a Republican who has worked with Schumer on the artificial intelligence effort, says he thinks the Senate can eventually pass a TikTok bill, even if it’s a different version. He says the classified briefings “convinced the vast majority of members” that they have to address the collection of data from the app and TikTok’s ability to push out misinformation to users.

“I think it’s a clear danger to our country if we don’t act,” he said. “It does not have to be done in two weeks, but it does have to be done.”

Rounds says he and Schumer are still holding regular meetings on artificial intelligence, as well, and will soon release some of their ideas publicly. He says he’s optimistic that the Senate will eventually act to regulate the tech industry.

“There will be some areas that we will not try to get into, but there are some areas that we have very broad consensus on,” Rounds says.

Tillis says senators may have to continue laying the groundwork for a while and educating colleagues on why some regulation is needed, with an eye toward passing legislation in the next Congress.

“It can’t be the wild, wild west,” Tillis said.

At UN, Nations Cooperate Toward Safe, Trustworthy AI Systems

United Nations — The U.N. General Assembly adopted by consensus Thursday a first-of-its-kind resolution addressing the potential of artificial intelligence to accelerate progress toward sustainable development, while emphasizing the need for safe, secure and trustworthy AI systems.

The initiative, led by the United States, seeks to manage AI’s risks while utilizing its benefits.

“Today as the U.N. and AI finally intersect, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to choose as one united global community to govern this technology rather than to let it govern us,” said U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield. “So let us reaffirm that AI will be created and deployed through the lens of humanity and dignity, safety and security, human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

The Biden administration said it took more than three months to negotiate what it characterized as a “baseline set of principles” around AI, engaging with 120 countries and incorporating feedback from many of them, including China, which was one of the 123 co-sponsors of the text.

While General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, they reflect the political consensus of the international community.

The resolution recognizes the disparities in technological development between developed and developing countries and stresses the need to bridge the digital divide so everyone can equitably access the benefits of AI.

It also outlines measures for responsible AI governance, including the development of regulatory frameworks, capacity building initiatives and support for research and innovation. The resolution encourages international collaboration to address the evolving challenges and opportunities AI technologies pose, with a focus on advancing sustainable development goals.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris welcomed adoption of the resolution, saying all nations must be guided by a common set of understandings on the use of AI systems.

“Too often, in past technological revolutions, the benefits have not been shared equitably, and the harms have been felt by a disproportionate few,” she said in a statement. “This resolution establishes a path forward on AI where every country can both seize the promise and manage the risks of AI.”

At the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, Switzerland, in January, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern about the risk of unintended consequences with “every new iteration of generative AI.” He said it has “enormous potential” for sustainable development but also the potential to worsen inequality.

“And some powerful tech companies are already pursuing profits with a clear disregard for human rights, personal privacy and social impact,” he said at the time.

The U.N. chief created an AI advisory body last year, and it will publish its final report ahead of the U.N.’s Summit of the Future in September.

Reddit, the Self-Anointed ‘Front Page of the Internet,’ Jumps 55% in Wall Street Debut

NEW YORK — Reddit soared in its Wall Street debut as investors pushed the valued of the company close to $9 billion seconds after it began trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Reddit, which priced its IPO at $34 a share, debuted Thursday afternoon at $47 a share. The going price has climbed even higher since, with shares for the self-anointed “front page of the internet” soaring more than 55% as of around 1:20 p.m. ET.

The IPO will test the quirky company’s ability to overcome a nearly 20-year history colored by uninterrupted losses, management turmoil and occasional user backlashes to build a sustainable business.

“The supply is pretty limited and there’s strong demand, so my sense is that this is going to be a hot IPO,” Reena Aggarwal, director of Georgetown University’s Psaros Center for Financial Markets and Policy, said ahead of Reddit’s trading Thursday. “The good news for Reddit is it’s a hot market.”

Still, she also anticipates Reddit’s IPO to be volatile. Even with a sizeable “pop,” it’s possible that some might sell their shares to reap their gains soon after, potentially causing prices to drift.

The interest surrounding Reddit stems largely from a large audience that religiously visits the service to discuss a potpourri of subjects that range from silly memes to existential worries, as well as get recommendations from like-minded people.

About 76 million users checked into one of Reddit’s roughly 100,000 communities in December, according to the regulatory disclosures required before the San Francisco company goes public. Reddit set aside up to 1.76 million of 15.3 million shares being offered in the IPO for users of its service.

Per the usual IPO custom, the remaining shares are expected to be bought primarily by mutual funds and other institutional investors betting Reddit is ready for prime time in finance.

Reddit’s moneymaking potential also has attracted some prominent supporters, including OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, who accumulated a stake as an early investor that has made him one of the company’s biggest shareholders. Altman owns 12.2 million shares of Reddit stock, according to the company’s IPO disclosures.

Other early investors in Reddit have included PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, Academy Award-winning actor Jared Leto and rapper Snoop Dogg. None of them are listed among Reddit’s largest shareholders heading into the IPO.

By the tech industry’s standards, Reddit remains extraordinarily small for a company that has been around as long as it has.

Reddit has never profited from its broad reach while piling up cumulative losses of $717 million. That number has swollen from cumulative losses of $467 million in December 2021 when the company first filed papers to go public before aborting that attempt.

In the recent documents filed for its revived IPO, Reddit attributed the losses to a fairly recent focus on finding new ways to boost revenue.

Not long after it was born, Reddit was sold to magazine publisher Conde Nast for $10 million in deal that meant the company didn’t need to run as a standalone business. Even after Conde Nast parent Advance Magazine Publishers spun off Reddit in 2011, the company said in its IPO filing that it didn’t begin to focus on generating revenue until 2018.

Those efforts, mostly centered around selling ads, have helped the social platform increase its annual revenue from $229 million in 2020 to $804 million last year. But the San Francisco-based company also posted combined losses of $436 million from 2020 through 2023.

Reddit outlined a strategy in its filing calling for even more ad sales on a service that it believes companies will be a powerful marketing magnet because so many people search for product recommendations there.

The company also is hoping to bring in more money by licensing access to its content in deals similar to the $60 million that Google recently struck to help train its artificial intelligence models. That ambition, though, faced an almost immediate challenge when the U.S. Federal Trade Commission opened an inquiry into the arrangement.

Since Thursday just marks Reddit’s first day on the public market, Aggarwal stresses that the first key measure of success will boil down to the company’s next earnings call.

“As a public company now they have to report a lot more … in the next earnings release,” she said. “I’m sure the market will watch that carefully.”

Reddit also experienced tumultuous bouts of instability in leadership that may scare off prospective investors. Company co-founders Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian — also the husband of tennis superstar Serena Williams — both left Reddit in 2009 while Conde Nast was still in control, only to return years later.

Huffman, 40, is now CEO, but how he got the job serves as a reminder of how messy things can get at Reddit. The change in command occurred in 2015 after Ellen Pao resigned as CEO amid a nasty user backlash to the banning of several communities and the firing of Reddit’s talent director. Even though Ohanian said he was primarily responsible for the firing and the bans, Pao was hit with most of the vitriol.

Although his founder’s letter leading up to this IPO didn’t mention it, Huffman touched upon the company’s past turmoil in another missive included in a December 2021 filing attempt that was subsequently canceled.

“We lived these challenges publicly and have the scars, learnings, and policy updates to prove it,” Huffman wrote in 2021. “Our history influences our future. There will undoubtedly be more challenges to come.”

US Takes On Apple in Antitrust Lawsuit

Washington — The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday sued Apple, the first major antitrust effort against the iPhone maker by the Biden administration, alleging it monopolized smartphone markets.  

Apple joins a list of major tech companies sued by U.S. regulators, including Alphabet’s  Google, Meta Platforms and Amazon.com across the administrations of both former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden.

“Consumers should not have to pay higher prices because companies violate the antitrust laws,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “If left unchallenged, Apple will only continue to strengthen its smartphone monopoly.”

The Justice Department alleges that Apple uses its market power to get more money from consumers, developers, content creators, artists, publishers, small businesses and merchants.

The civil lawsuit accuses Apple of an illegal monopoly on smartphones maintained by imposing contractual restrictions on, and withholding critical access from, developers.

Apple has already been subject to antitrust probes and orders in Europe, Japan and Korea, as well as lawsuits from corporate rivals such as Epic Games.  

One of Apple’s most lucrative businesses – its App Store, which charges developers commissions of up to 30% – has already survived a lengthy legal challenge under U.S. law by Epic. While the lawsuit found that Apple did not violate antitrust laws, a federal judge ordered Apple to allow links and buttons to pay for apps without using Apple’s in-app payment commission.

In Europe, Apple’s App Store business model has been dismantled by a new law called the Digital Markets Act that went into effect earlier this month. Apple plans to let developers offer their own app stores – and, importantly, pay no commissions – but rivals such as Spotify and Epic argue Apple is still making it too hard to offer alternative app stores.

The rulings on Apple’s App Store forced the Justice Department to look at Apple’s other practices for the basis of a complaint, such as how Apple allows outside firms to access the chips and sensors in the iPhone.

Consumer hardware firms, such as smart-tracker maker Tile Inc, have long complained that Apple has restricted the ways in which they can work with the iPhone’s sensors while developing competing products that have greater access.  

Apple began selling AirTags – which can be attached to items like car keys to help users find them when they are lost – several years after Tile had been selling a similar product.

Similarly, Apple has restricted access to a chip in the iPhone that allows for contactless payments. Credit cards can only be added to the iPhone by using Apple’s own Apple Pay service.  

And Apple has also faced criticism over its iMessage service, which only works on Apple devices.

Apple has long argued that it restricts access to some user data and some of the iPhone’s hardware by third-party developers for privacy and security reasons.

Biden Administration Unveils Strict Auto Standards to Speed Electric Shift 

New York — President Joe Biden’s administration announced Wednesday revised pollution standards for cars and trucks meant to accelerate the U.S. auto industry’s shift to electric to mitigate climate change.

The rules set ambitious emission reductions for 2032 but are moderated somewhat compared with preliminary standards unveiled last April. Following carmaker criticism, the final rules give manufacturers greater flexibility and ease the benchmarks in the first three years.

Those shifts were criticized as a sop to corporations from at least one environmental group, even as the final rule won praise from other leading NGOs focused on climate change.

The final rules — which were described by administration official as “the strongest ever” and would likely be undone if Republican Donald Trump defeats Biden in November — still require a nearly 50% drop in fleet-wide emissions in 2032 compared with 2026 through increased sales of electric vehicles (EVs) and low-emission autos.

The rules, which dovetail with other key Biden programs to build more EV charging stations and manufacturing facilities and incentivize EV sales, establish the environment as a significant point of difference in the 2024 presidential election.

Trump has mocked climate change as a problem and cast the transition to EVs as a job-killer that will benefit China at the expense of American workers.

Biden argues that U.S. auto builders need to take the lead in the expanding EV market.

“I brought together American automakers. I brought together American autoworkers,” said Biden in a statement. “Together, we’ve made historic progress.”

Alluding to his target set three years ago that 50% of new vehicles in 2030 would be EVs, Biden predicted “we’ll meet my goal for 2030 and race forward in the years ahead.”

EVs accounted for 7.6% in 2023 sales, up from 5.9% in 2022, according to Cox Automotive.

The original proposal had envisioned the EV share surging to as much as 67% of new vehicle sales by 2032.

Carmakers, which are midway through sweeping, multi-billion-dollar investments to build more EV capacity, criticized the initial standards as overly-stringent. They cited the limited state of charging capacity in the United States that has dampened consumer demand, as well as difficulties in supply of metals and other raw materials for EV batteries.

Following input from the auto industry, organized labor and auto dealerships, Biden administration officials decided to allow manufacturers a “variety of pathways” to reaching the standard, a senior Biden administration official said Tuesday.

This path could include a mix of EVs, conventional but more fuel-efficient engines, and plug-in hybrid vehicles, which have seen a rise in demand of late.

Biden administration officials opted to soften year-to-year emissions improvements in the 2027-2030 period, while maintaining the same target in 2032.

Moderating the targets in these first three years “was the right call,” said John Bozzella, president of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a Washington lobby representing carmakers.

“These adjusted EV targets — still a stretch goal — should give the market and supply chains a chance to catch up,” said Bozzella, adding that the extra time will allow more EV charging stations to come on-line.

The final standards set a fleet-wide target of 85 grams of carbon dioxide in 2032, down from 170 in 2027, according to an administration fact sheet.

Wednesday’s initiative won praise from leading environmental groups including the Sierra Club and NRDC, which said the new rules “take us in the right direction,” according to a statement from the Natural Resources Defense Council chief Manish Bapna.

But Dan Becker, director of the climate transport campaign at the Center for Biological Diversity, slammed the adjusted rules as “significantly weaker.”

“The EPA caved to pressure from Big Auto, Big Oil and car dealers and riddled the plan with loopholes big enough to drive a Ford F150 through,” Becker said.

“The weaker rule means cars and pickups spew more pollution, oil companies keep socking consumers at the pump, and automakers keep wielding well-practiced delay tactics.”

Efforts by US to Crack Down on TikTok Spark Backlash Against Israel

Washington — The initial backlash came quickly.

Within hours of last week’s vote in the House of Representatives approving legislation that could lead to a ban of the popular TikTok app in the United States, anger and outrage poured onto multiple social media platforms.

Some of the anger targeted U.S. lawmakers who supported the bill. Some focused on China.

And a number of social media accounts, some with large followings, put the blame on Israel and pro-Jewish groups in the United States.

“A foreign government is influencing the 2024 election,” Briahna Joy Gray posted on X.

“I’m not talking about China, but Israel,” added the former national press secretary for Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.

 

Jake Shields, a former mixed martial arts fighter who has used social media in the past to share his views on transgender issues, blamed the Anti-Defamation League and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC.

“The ADL said Tiktok Is a threat to Israel,” Shields posted on X. “AIPAC the Israeli lobby gave Dan Crebsahaw [sic] millions of dollars Now Crenshaw fights to ban TikTok.”

And journalist Glenn Greenwald said on X that the TikTok legislation gained momentum only after “Bipartisan DC became enraged so many Americans were allowed to criticize Israel” using the TikTok app.

 

Other posts and videos were quickly shared across other major platforms, including TikTok and Facebook.

U.S. officials contacted by VOA said the rush by some social media users to blame Israel or Jewish groups was not a surprise.

“Unfortunately, there are antisemitic people in America who will blame Israel and the Jewish people for anything, even Congress banning a Chinese-controlled app,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio said in a statement to VOA.

“Their love for TikTok is no coincidence; it’s a tool used by the Chinese Communist Party to sow division and weaken our nation,” said Rubio, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a supporter of the legislation. “We can debate Middle East policy, but we must not tolerate hate or allow Communist China to manipulate our discourse.”

The FBI, which has warned repeatedly over the last several months both about the danger of TikTok and about a rising tide of antisemitism across the country, declined to comment, pointing to comments made by Director Christopher Wray at congressional hearings earlier this month.

“Americans need to ask themselves whether they want to give the Chinese government the ability to control access to their data, whether they want to give the Chinese government the ability to control the information they get through their recommendation algorithm,” Wray told House lawmakers during the annual Worldwide Threats hearing last week.

“When it comes to the algorithm and the recommendation algorithm and the ability to conduct influence operations, that is extraordinarily difficult to detect,” Wray added.

Researchers who track influence operations on social media, while wary, tell VOA that they have yet to see evidence that the spread of conspiracy theories blaming Israel or Jewish groups for the TikTok legislation is part of a concerted campaign.

“The period after 10/7 [Hamas terror attack on Israel] made clear that antisemitic conspiracies can spread rapidly across TikTok just by the nature of the platform’s algorithm, so no external coordination would be required as an explanation,” said Ben Dubow, president of Washington-based Omelas, which uses a combination of data collection, artificial intelligence and experts to track and analyze online disinformation and influence operations.

Dubow did not rule out the possibility that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, could be giving the anti-Israel and antisemitic posts more play if the Chinese government thought it might be helpful.

“The scant research available on TikTok’s algorithm often suggests ByteDance privileges content favorable to CCP [Chinese Communist Party] policy goals,” he said.

Omelas also found the conspiracy theories received some attention from other media outlets, including Russia-controlled RT and Qatar-based Al Jazeera.

“We’re seeing a few posts from RT and Al Jazeera tying the renewed push for a ban to TikTok’s role in the spread of ‘anti-Zionism’ in response to October 7,” Dubow said. “But none tying it explicitly to AIPAC and ADL.”

Geoff Roth, a professor of practice and journalism at the University of Houston, agreed the surge of social media posts echoing the Israel-TikTok narrative appeared to be “more organic.”

“The Israel conspiracy theory, as I like to put it, just seems to be coming from people who in general post stuff that is anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian,” he told VOA.

“It comes from different sides of the political spectrum,” Roth said. “But I think there’s people on both sides of the political spectrum that have a lot of anti-Israeli sentiment because of what’s going on in Gaza.”

Roth also noted that the theory tying the TikTok legislation to Israel and Jewish groups, while possibly the most prominent, is not the only narrative that gained traction following the bill’s passage in the House.

“There’s the narrative of security and concerns about the [Chinese]Communist Party and whether or not that [the legislation] is justified,” he said. “And then sort of the more far out things out there like, this is a Republican plot to get younger voters to be against Biden because if Biden signed it into law, he’s going to lose votes from younger people.”

One account on X pushing the Republican plot theory called the TikTok legislation “another trick.”

A second X account added, “I’d wager Republicans who just voted for a TikTok Ban will rename it the ‘Biden Ban the moment he signs it and within weeks that will be the official name and all anyone remembers.”

 

Biden to Tout Government Investing $8.5 Billion in Intel’s Computer Chip Plants in Four States  

Washington — The Biden administration has reached an agreement to provide Intel with up to $8.5 billion in direct funding and $11 billion in loans for computer chip plants in Arizona, Ohio, New Mexico and Oregon. 

President Joe Biden plans to talk up the investment on Wednesday as he visits Intel’s campus in Chandler, Arizona, which could be a decisive swing state in November’s election. He has often said that not enough voters know about his economic policies and suggested that more would support him if they did know. 

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the deal reached through her department would put the United States in a position to produce 20% of the world’s most advanced chips by 2030, up from the current level of zero. The United States designs advanced chips, but its inability to make them domestically has emerged as a national security and economic risk. 

“Failure is not an option — leading-edge chips are the core of our innovation system, especially when it comes to advances in artificial intelligence and our military systems,” Raimondo said on a call with reporters. “We can’t just design chips. We have to make them in America.”

The funding announcement comes amid the heat of the 2024 presidential campaign. Biden has been telling voters that his policies have led to a resurgence in U.S. manufacturing and job growth. His message is a direct challenge to former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, who raised tariffs while in the White House and wants to do so again on the promise of protecting U.S. factory jobs from China. 

Biden narrowly beat Trump in Arizona in 2020 by a margin of 49.4% to 49.1%. 

U.S. adults have dim views of Biden’s economic leadership, with just 34% approving, according to a February poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs. The lingering impact of inflation hitting a four-decade high in 2022 has hurt the Democrat, who had a 52% approval on the economy in July 2021. 

Intel’s projects would be funded in part through the bipartisan 2022 CHIPS and Science Act, which the Biden administration helped shepherd through Congress at a time of concerns after the pandemic that the loss of access to chips made in Asia could plunge the U.S. economy into recession.  

When pushing for the investment, lawmakers expressed concern about efforts by China to control Taiwan, which accounts for more than 90% of advanced computer chip production. 

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat up for reelection this year, stressed that his state would become “a global leader in semiconductor manufacturing” as Intel would be generating thousands of jobs. Ohio has voted for Trump in the past two presidential elections, and Brown in November will face Republican Bernie Moreno, a Trump-backed businessman from Cleveland. 

Wednesday’s announcement is the fourth and largest so far under the chips law, with the government support expected to help enable Intel to make $100 billion in capital investments over five years. About 25% of that total would involve building and land, while roughly 70% would go to equipment, said Pat Gelsinger, CEO of Intel. 

“We think of this as a defining moment for the United States, the semiconductor industry and for Intel,” said Gelsinger, who called the CHIPS Act “the most critical industrial policy legislation since World War II.” 

The Intel CEO said on a call with reporters that he would like to see a sequel to the 2022 law in order to provide additional funding for the industry. 

Biden administration officials say that computer chip companies would not be investing domestically at their expected scale without the government support. Intel funding would lead to a combined 30,000 manufacturing and construction jobs. The company also plans to claim tax credits from the Treasury Department worth up to 25% on qualified investments. 

The Santa Clara, California-based company will use the funding in four different states. In Chandler, Arizona, the money will help to build two new chip plants and modernize an existing one. The funding will establish two advanced plants in New Albany, Ohio, which is just outside the state capital of Columbus. 

The company will also turn two of its plants in Rio Rancho, New Mexico into advanced packaging facilities. And Intel will also modernize facilities in Hillsboro, Oregon. 

The Biden administration has also made workforce training and access to affordable childcare a priority in agreements to support companies. Under the agreement with the Commerce Department, Intel will commit to local training programs as well as increase the reimbursement amount for its childcare program, among other efforts. 

Q&A: TikTok Owner Is Essentially ‘Subsidiary’ of China’s Communist Party, US Lawmaker Says  

washington — The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill March 13 that, if enacted into law, would give ByteDance, the Chinese owner of the TikTok social media app, 180 days to divest its U.S. assets or face a ban over concerns about national security, including Beijing’s ability to access Americans’ private information through the company

ByteDance denies it would provide such private data to the Chinese government, despite reports indicating such information could be at risk.

VOA sat down on the day the bill passed with Republican Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on state, foreign operations and related programs, and co-chair of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, to hear why he supported the bill and why he’s calling for faster military support for Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as a breakaway province that must one day reunite with the mainland, by force if necessary.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of Congress’ enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act, which outlines nondiplomatic relations between Washington and Taipei in the wake of formal U.S. recognition of Beijing as the government of China. The act states that the U.S. must provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

VOA: The House just passed a bill that would require ByteDance to divest TikTok. Did you support this bill?

U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart: I absolutely did. … It has strong bipartisan support. And there’s also been a lot of misinformation about it. People say that it’s to ban TikTok. No, it’s basically saying you have to divest from, in essence, being controlled by the Communist Party of China.

We would have never allowed, during the Soviet empire, the Soviet Union to control, to own, one of the major networks in the United States – ABC, NBC, CBS. Why? Because it’s a threat to national security. In this case, it’s even more dramatic because they [the Chinese] have access not only to getting into people’s homes, but to actually get information from the American people. And they’ve been pretty good and very aggressive at doing that. And so TikTok needs to be divested. That’s the least that we should be requiring, and if so, then they can continue to function. But we cannot allow for this to function, getting information from the American people to an entity that is in essence a subsidiary of the Communist Party of China.

VOA: It is a consensus in Washington that if China invaded Taiwan, it would trigger a domino effect that could be catastrophic for the U.S. What are the most important actions the U.S. can take right now to prevent that from happening?

Diaz-Balart: The key is to avoid China doing something stupid, to avoid China being irresponsible in trying to intervene militarily with Taiwan. … And the way to do that is to make sure that Taiwan has the weaponry, everything it needs, so that China understands that trying to invade Taiwan is a very, very bad proposition.

VOA: The Biden administration last month approved a package of military equipment sales to Taiwan. Some analysts are worried this may not be sufficient to counter China’s aggression in the region. Do you think military sales to Taiwan are sufficient?

Diaz-Balart: I think military sales to Taiwan have to be done quicker. We have to be more aggressive … not only, obviously, directly, to help send the weaponry, sell the weaponry, and send the weaponry to Taiwan, but we also have to keep up with our defense spending domestically to keep the military industrial base alive and, well, with what we’ve seen, for example, going on Ukraine, [that] has demonstrated that we’re not where we need to be as far as our industrial base.

VOA: You visited Taiwan in January right after its election. What is your key takeaway from that trip?

Diaz-Balart: Taiwan is a very vigorous democracy. The press is very aggressive. That’s a good thing. … We made a point of obviously visiting with the president and the vice president-elect, also with the outgoing president. But we also met with the leadership of the other two parties, because it’s important to demonstrate that we cherish and that we love democracy and freedom. Taiwan is a beacon of freedom and democracy.

VOA: It is the bipartisan consensus to see China as one of the biggest geopolitical challenges for the U.S. in the coming decades. What should be the top priority the U.S. should tackle right now with China?

 

Diaz-Balart: We have to be a little bit more serious about understanding that China is a very dangerous player in the world. It is the largest fascist dictatorship on the planet, and the wealthiest fascist dictatorship on the planet. It has very ambitious goals. It has, you know, we see the cyberattacks that have taken place in this country that we know have come from Communist China. We also know that there have been thousands upon thousands of men, military-age males, coming from China across the southern border, which should frankly frighten all of us. …

That means utilizing every diplomatic and economic tool at our disposal to treat China as what it is: a growing threat to the United States and to the world. And you see, for example, in the region, how countries are very concerned about China’s aggressiveness, whether it’s the Philippines or India or even Vietnam. So there’s a growing concern in the world about this aggressive attitude of China. But we need to take real steps to confront that in a way to avoid war.

VOA: You’re also the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on state, foreign operations and related programs. What kind of role would you like to see U.S. international broadcasting agencies like Voice of America play in countering Chinese Communist Party propaganda?

Diaz-Balart: The Voice of America has been a key player for decades in that cause of freedom and in getting real news, real information to people who don’t have access to it because of censorship. And so I’ve always been a strong supporter of it because of that. I think information is key. The first thing that happens in a dictatorship is that they close the ability for people to get real information, to get real news. And if we can be helpful to have people around the world get real information, real news, not only about what happens around the world but also what even happens in their own country, I think that is a service to humanity.

Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

US Supreme Court Examines Government Efforts to Curb Online Misinformation

Washington — The US Supreme Court was hearing arguments on Monday in a social media case involving free speech rights and government efforts to curb misinformation online.

The case stems from a lawsuit brought by the Republican attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri, who allege that government officials went too far in their efforts to get platforms to combat vaccine and election misinformation.

A lower court last year restricted some top officials and agencies of President Joe Biden’s administration from meeting and communicating with social media companies to moderate their content.

The ruling was a win for conservative advocates who allege that the government pressured or colluded with platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to censor right-leaning content under the guise of fighting misinformation.

The order applied to a slew of agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department and Justice Department as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The decision restricted agencies and officials from meeting with social media companies or flagging posts containing “free speech” protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry hailed the “historic injunction” at the time, saying it would prevent the Biden administration from “censoring the core political speech of ordinary Americans” on social media.

He accused federal officials of seeking to “dictate what Americans can and cannot say on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other platforms about COVID-19, elections, criticism of the government, and more.”

The order could seriously limit top government agencies from notifying the platforms about false or hateful content that can lead to harmful consequences.

But the ruling said that the government could still inform them about posts involving criminal activity, national security threats and foreign attempts to influence elections.

In addition to communications with social media companies, the ruling also restricted agencies from “collaborating, coordinating, partnering” with groups such as the Election Integrity Partnership, a coalition of research institutions that tackle election-related falsehoods.

Some experts in misinformation and First Amendment law criticized the ruling, saying authorities needed to strike a balance between calling out falsehoods and veering towards censorship or curbing free speech.

Back to the Moon – Part 1

After the Apollo program ended, the US took a long hiatus from lunar exploration. What happened during this time, and what has NASA been doing? This documentary by the Voice of America’s Russian service explores the multiple attempts to return to the Moon, the space developments that laid the foundation for future concepts, and the birth of the Artemis lunar program.

US Sanctions Network Smuggling American Tech to Iran’s Central Bank

Washington — The U.S. Treasury Department unveiled sanctions against a network of companies and individuals for facilitating illegal technology transfers from dozens of U.S. firms to Iranian entities, including the country’s central bank. 

The sanctions relate to Informatics Services Corporation (ISC), the technology arm of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), the Treasury Department said in a statement Friday.  

It also sanctioned a number of alleged ISC subsidiaries and front companies based in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, and three individuals allegedly linked to them including Pouria Mirdamadi, a French-Iranian dual national. 

Brian Nelson, the U.S. Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said the CBI “has played a critical role” in providing financial support to Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the foreign arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, known as the Quds Force.  

“The United States will continue to use all available means to disrupt the Iranian regime’s illicit attempts to procure sensitive U.S. technology and critical inputs,” he said in a statement.  

The Treasury’s move freezes any U.S. assets associated with the sanctioned individuals and entities, and generally prohibits Americans from doing business with them. 

US Senate Considers Bill That Could Ban TikTok in United States

The White House is urging senators to quickly begin considering a bill that would address national security concerns related to the social media app TikTok. The House approved the measure earlier this week. VOA Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson reports. Camera: Saqib Ul Islam.

World’s Largest Drone Maker Expands in US Amid Rights Abuse Allegations  

washington — Chinese drone maker DJI is expanding in the U.S. with its first flagship store in New York City amid allegations of links to human rights abuses and ties to China’s military.

DJI’s “first concept” North American store on New York’s Fifth Avenue welcomes customers into a futuristic, minimalist space to shop. The company describes itself on its website as “the world’s leader in civil drones and creative camera technology.”

“We continue to see growing consumer demand throughout North America as we expand our consumer product portfolio,” said Christina Zhang, senior director of corporate strategy at DJI.

Headquartered in Shenzhen, China, the company was founded in 2006. DJI, also known as Da Jiang Innovations, has become the world’s largest drone maker, having achieved global dominance in less than 20 years. The company now supplies 70% of the world’s consumer drones and nearly 80% of U.S. consumer drones.

Abuse allegations

On March 5, the day of DJI’s official store opening in New York, the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), a Washington research and advocacy group, released a report titled Surveillance Tech Series: DJI’s Links to Human Rights Abuses in East Turkistan.

The report accuses DJI of being involved in mass surveillance and rights violations against Uyghur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and other Muslim communities in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which the group calls East Turkistan.

“DJI is directly involved in mass surveillance schemes in East Turkistan and has supplied public security agencies with tools to surveil and target Uyghurs, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz people,” the UHRP report said. “Xinjiang public security departments entered into seven procurement orders with DJI that were worth nearly US$300,000 between 2019 and 2022.”

The report stated that DJI sells drones to Xinjiang’s paramilitary organization, the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which the U.S. government sanctioned because of its “connection with serious rights abuses against ethnic minorities” in Xinjiang.

“Other documents show tenders worth US$47,000 for DJI drones for the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps,” the UHRP report stated.

The report also said that a DJI drone captured footage of dozens of individuals, seemingly Uyghur prisoners, blindfolded and shackled at a train station in southern Xinjiang. The video, first released on YouTube in 2019, garnered widespread media attention.

“It’s unethical to support a company that knowingly engages in egregious rights violations,” Nuzigum Setiwaldi, the report’s author, told Voice of America.

The U.S. and several Western parliaments have accused China of genocide in Xinjiang, targeting Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim populations. The U.N. human rights office released a report saying the human rights violations in Xinjiang may amount to crimes against humanity. China criticized Western nations for spreading “lies” about human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet.

A spokesperson from DJI told VOA the company has not engaged in any activities, including sales distribution and product development, that violate or abuse human rights.

“Like other manufacturers, we do not have control over how our products are used as they are available off the shelf,” wrote a DJI spokesperson in an email response. “However, we have demonstrated – through years of investments in product safety and security initiatives – that our products are developed for peaceful and civilian use only.”

Chinese military company or not?

In 2022, The Washington Post reported that DJI obscured ties to Chinese government funding.

In the same year, the U.S. Department of Defense classified DJI as a “Chinese military company.” As of January, DJI remains on the list of such companies operating in the United States. The department said it maintains companies on the list to counter China’s Military-Civil Fusion strategy, which supports the modernization of the Chinese army.

Reuters reported that former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who ran the U.S. Justice Department from 2015 to 2017 and is now with the Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison law firm, wrote a letter to the Defense Department last July on behalf of DJI, urging the removal of her client from the Pentagon’s Chinese military companies list.

In her letter, Lynch cited the importance and urgency of such a move because of the wide use of and dependence on DJI products by a variety of U.S. stakeholders.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) warned in January that Chinese-made drones posed “significant risk” to U.S. national security and critical infrastructure.

“[T]he PRC’s 2017 National Intelligence Law compels Chinese companies to cooperate with state intelligence services, including providing access to data collected within China and around the world,” CISA said in its cybersecurity guidance on Chinese manufactured drones or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

However, DJI’s spokesperson told VOA that DJI “is not a Chinese military company.”

According to DJI, the company remains one of the few drone companies that clearly “denounce and actively discourage” the use of drones in combat.

“We do not pursue business opportunities for combat use or operations. Our distributors, resellers and other business partners globally have also committed to following this policy when they sell and use our products,” DJI spokesperson said.

Spacex Hoping to Launch Starship Farther in 3rd Test Flight

BOCA CHICA, Texas — SpaceX’s Starship, a futuristic vehicle designed to eventually carry astronauts to the moon and beyond, was poised for a third uncrewed test launch Thursday that Elon Musk’s company hopes will carry it farther than before, even if it ends up exploding once again in flight.

The spacecraft, mounted atop its towering Super Heavy rocket booster, was due for liftoff as early as 8 a.m. EDT from SpaceX’s Starbase launch site on the Gulf of Mexico near Boca Chica, Texas.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration just granted a license for the test flight on Wednesday afternoon.

Unlike the first two test flights last year, aimed mainly at demonstrating that the spacecraft’s two stages can separate after launch, the third test flight will involve an attempt to open Starship’s payload door and reignite one of its engines in space.

Each of the previous flights were routed toward a planned crash landing near the Hawaiian islands in the Pacific, while the latest flight is targeting a splashdown zone in the Indian Ocean.

Even if it achieves more of its test objectives than before, SpaceX acknowledges a high probability that Starship’s latest flight will end up like the first two, with the vehicle blowing itself to bits before its intended trajectory is complete.

Regardless of how well it performs on Thursday, all indications are that Starship remains a considerable distance from becoming fully operational.

Musk, SpaceX’s billionaire founder and CEO, has said the rocket should fly hundreds of uncrewed missions before carrying its first humans. And several other ambitious milestones overseen by NASA are needed before the craft can execute a moon landing with American astronauts.

Still, Musk is counting on Starship to fulfill his goal of producing a large, multipurpose next-generation spacecraft capable of sending people and cargo to the moon later this decade, and ultimately flying to Mars.

Closer to home, Musk also sees Starship as eventually replacing the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as the workhorse in company’s commercial launch business that already lofts most of the world’s satellites and other payloads to low-Earth orbit.

For Thursday, SpaceX is aiming to at least exceed Starship’s performance with its Super Heavy booster during their inaugural test launch together last April, when the spacecraft exploded over the Gulf less than four minutes into a planned 90-minute flight.

That flight went awry from the start. Some of the Super Heavy’s 33 Raptor engines malfunctioned on ascent, and the lower-stage rocket failed to separate as designed from the upper-stage Starship, leading to termination of the flight.

The second test flight in November made it farther than the first, and managed to properly achieve stage separation, but the spacecraft exploded about eight minutes after launch.

SpaceX’s engineering culture, considered more risk-tolerant than many of the aerospace industry’s more established players, is built on a flight-testing strategy that pushes spacecraft to the point of failure, then fine-tunes improvements through frequent repetition.

NASA, SpaceX’s biggest customer, has a lot riding in the success of Starship, which the U.S. space agency is giving a central role in its Artemis program, successor to the Apollo missions that put astronauts on the moon for the first time more than 50 years ago.

While NASA Administrator chief Bill Nelson has embraced Musk’s frequent flight-testing approach, agency officials in recent months have made clear their desire to see greater progress with Starship’s development as the U.S. races with China to the lunar surface.