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Microsoft says ‘fundamental responsibility’ to protect US voting

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Microsoft president Brad Smith speaks at the 56th annual Munich Security Conference on February 15, 2020.

Muller | Munich Security Conference

MUNICH — As America prepares for the 2020 presidential election, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said tech companies have a ‘fundamental responsibility’ to safeguard America’s democratic process.

“We have a fundamental responsibility as companies and as a technology sector to help protect our candidates from attacks and hacking. To help protect the integrity of voting, from voting polls to voting results and certainly the voting process itself,” Smith explained at the annual Munich Security Conference.

“We have a fundamental responsibility not just to address but to fight disinformation and I think we have a fundamental responsibility to ensure that our business models do not sap the strength of democracy itself by creating polarized communities that eat away at the core of what makes every democracy successful,” he added.

Smith’s comments Saturday at the security forum followed those of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who said that social media companies need more guidance and regulation from governments in order to tackle the growing problem of harmful online content.

“Even if I’m not going to agree with every regulation in the near term, I do think it’s going to be the thing that helps create trust and better governance of the internet and will benefit everyone, including us over the long term,” Zuckerberg told an audience Saturday at the Munich Security Conference.

“In the absence of that kind of regulation, we will continue doing our best, we are going to build up the muscle to do it, to basically find stuff as proactively as possible,” he said, adding that he did not want Facebook to contribute to polarization or misinformation.

Founder and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the annual Munich Security Conference on February 15, 2020.

Kuhlmann | Munich Security Conference

Facebook has dealt with a number of headaches over the past few years.

The company had to overcome the fallout from Russian interference during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal, and the launch of four separate antitrust-focused investigations in the U.S. into the company in 2019.

Zuckerberg said he now employs 35,000 people tasked with reviewing online content and shutting down fake accounts. He said that his teams currently suspend more than a million fake accounts each day.

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U.S. moving less, sleeping more in quarantine

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San Francisco resident Laurie Farr tries out a Fitbit Ionic

Andrew Evers, CNBC

While Americans are home, under orders to stay indoors or self-quarantine to slow the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus, they’re moving less and sleeping more, according to a new study using data from over 68,000 fitness trackers. The research included Apple Watches, Fitbits and Garmin smartwatches. 

The COVID-19 Pulse study, conducted by Evidation Health, found that activity levels in the United States were down 39% on Tuesday, March 24 compared to activity recorded on March 1. In New York City alone, the data shows that physical activity dropped 50% during the week the city ordered residents to stay home. 

Time asleep increased by 20% after President Trump declared a national emergency on March 13. Evidation’s analysis of the data found that people were sleeping 10% more in every state except Hawaii and Alaska during that time period.

Evidation said people are increasingly willing to contact medical services remotely. Thirty percent of respondents now plan to use telemedicine over a primary care physician or emergency room if they have coronavirus symptoms, up from 19% on March 12.

Results from the survey also showed that 49% of respondents said their anxiety had increased in the past week, up from 29% on March 12. Anxiety was up in every state.

The study was conducted through the company’s Achievement app. Nearly 160,000 people participated across all 50 states (though 68,000 had fitness trackers.) The company plans to update its findings on a regular basis.

The study is tracking declines in physical activity state by state.

Evidation Health

“We’re all staying at home and a lot less active, we’re sleeping more, we’re snacking more, and we’re keeping an eye on our health at home,” Evidation Health president Christine Lemke said.

The study found that time asleep has increased almost 20% nationwide based on data from over 68,000 fitness trackers.

Evidation Health

“Mostly, we wanted to see differences in states. We know states are seeing different symptom rates and different disease rates,” Lemke said. “We’re doing this study to watch the trend over time.”

While Evidation’s data show that activity is down in every state, the speed of the drop varied by state. “It’s not hard to tell the states that put shelter in place ahead of other counties and who might be adhering to them more,” Lemke said, adding that physical activity can be used as a way to infer how well people are social distancing. 

The study can track declines in activity at the county level.

Evidation Health

The study doesn’t just rely on data from smartwatches and other wearables. It also includes a detailed survey that includes questions on whether respondents’ workplaces have been shut down, where they get their coronavirus news and what respondents are doing in response to the outbreak. The company is surveying the same group of people each week so that the results can be compared to each other.

Evidation Health specializes in observing trends from device data that people choose to share. It partners with companies like Apple, Eli Lilly, and Johnson & Johnson to help big companies conduct studies using fitness tracker data.

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NASA picks SpaceX for lunar orbit missions with Dragon XL, Falcon Heavy

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A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, carrying the Arabsat 6A communications satellite, lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, April 11, 2019.

Thom Baur | Reuters

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Friday picked SpaceX as the first supplier to bring cargo to the agency’s Gateway station in orbit around the moon, a big contract win for Elon Musk’s space company.

SpaceX said it will use a new variation of its cargo spacecraft, called Dragon XL, to carry “more than 5 metric tons of cargo to Gateway in lunar orbit.” The company will lift the spacecraft using its Falcon Heavy rocket, the most powerful rocket in the world.

“Returning to the Moon and supporting future space exploration requires affordable delivery of significant amounts of cargo,” SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement.

SpaceX has been launching cargo to the International Space Station under a similar NASA contract since 2012, using its Cargo Dragon spacecraft. Additionally, SpaceX has launched its Falcon Heavy rocket three times. A Falcon Heavy rocket goes for between $90 million and $150 million per launch depending on the circumstances.

NASA expects to award $7 billion worth of supply contracts under the Gateway program. Those will span multiple missions to Gateway, lasting between 6 months and a year each.

Illustration of the SpaceX Dragon XL as it is deployed from the Falcon Heavy’s second stage in high Earth orbit on its way to the Gateway in lunar orbit.

SpaceX

“This contract award is another critical piece of our plan to return to the Moon sustainably,” NASA leader Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

Gateway is a small spaceship that NASA plans to put in orbit around the moon to host astronauts as well as conduct scientific experiments. Bridenstine described Gateway as “the cornerstone” of NASA’s Artemis program, which is the agency plan to land U.S. astronauts on the lunar surface by 2024. 

“This deep space commercial cargo capability integrates yet another American industry partner into our plans for human exploration at the Moon in preparation for a future mission to Mars,” Bridenstine said.

SpaceX has completed 20 cargo missions to the International Space Station since its first in 2012.

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US coronavirus cases top 100,000, doubling in three days

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Confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. surpassed 100,000 Friday, doubling in just three days as the pandemic accelerates and the U.S. rolls out broader testing measures.

Data from Johns Hopkins University showed the total number of coronavirus cases as 101,707 and the total number of deaths in the U.S. as 1,544.

The virus emerged in Wuhan, China, in December. It has since spread to more than half a million people in almost every country around the world and continues to pick up speed, the World Health Organization warned earlier this week.

“The pandemic is accelerating,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday at a press briefing from the organization’s Geneva headquarters. “It took 67 days from the first reported case to reach 100,000 cases, 11 days for second 100,000 cases, and just four days for the third 100,000 cases.”

Confirmed U.S. cases passed 50,000 on Tuesday, up from 5,000 last week. At the beginning of the month, there were roughly 100 confirmed cases in the U.S. On Thursday, confirmed cases in the U.S. surpassed that of both China and Italy, making it the country with the largest outbreak in the world.

The number of confirmed cases likely underestimates the true number of infections across the country, officials have acknowledged. Testing in the U.S. has been hampered by delays and a restrictive diagnostic criteria that limits who can get tested. 

With 44,635 confirmed cases as of Friday morning, New York state accounts for almost half of all cases in the U.S., according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He said Thursday that the rapid growth of confirmed cases is partly due to a “backlog” of infections that had not been confirmed due to lack of testing.

However, the virus appears to be spreading to multiple so-called hot spots around the country, including Los Angeles, Detroit, New Orleans and other cities around the country.

Major outbreaks in hot spots such as New York threaten to overwhelm the local hospital systems, which have a limited number of beds, staff and equipment, particularly ventilators, a potentially life-saving device. Cities and states across the country have rolled out strict measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

Twenty-three states have issued stay-at-home orders or advisories and have closed nonessential businesses. Seven states and Washington, D.C., have shuttered nonessential businesses. Several cities or counties in Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania have issued individual stay-at-home orders in the absence of statewide mandates.

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