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Google Downed in Donetsk

FILE: Google logo. Taken 4.29.2022

Russian-backed separatists in a breakaway region of eastern Ukraine have blocked access to the search engine Google, their leader said on Friday, citing what he calls "disinformation".

In a message posted on his Telegram channel, Denis Pushilin, head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), accused Google of promoting "violence against all Russians" and said that its "handlers from the U.S. government" were to blame.

"If Google stops pursuing its criminal policy and returns to the mainstream of law, morality and common sense, there will be no obstacles to its work," he said.

He did not provide evidence to support his assertions.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Since sending troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russia and its proxies in eastern Ukraine have accused Western companies of spreading anti-Russian propaganda and taking a one-sided stance on the conflict.

Russia banned Facebook and Instagram in March after a court found Facebook-owner Meta guilty of "extremist activity". Moscow had already curbed access to Facebook for restricting Russian media outlets' access to the platform. read more

The DPR and separate Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) followed suit in blocking Facebook and Instagram, aligning themselves with Russia's policy on the U.S.-based social networks

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Tik Tok Settlement Allows Opt-Outs

A person holds a smartphone as Tik Tok logo is displayed behind in this picture illustration taken November 7, 2019. Taken 11.7.2019

In a boon for consumers, the judge overseeing a $92 million class action settlement of claims that TikTok Inc improperly harvested users’ private data ruled on Thursday that 851 class members can opt out of the deal, despite TikTok’s claims that the opt-outs were improperly solicited.

Some members of the privacy class-action lawsuit against China's social media company believe they can recover more from TikTok in individual arbitration -- and Thursday’s ruling from U.S. District Judge John Lee of Chicago means that 851 of them can attempt to do just that.

About 1.2 million TikTok users submitted claims, according to Thursday’s decision, out of an estimated 89 million TikTok users in the class, for an overall claims rate of 1.4%. (The claims rate was higher, 13%, for a subclass of Illinois residents who alleged violations of the state’s biometric privacy law.)

Judge Lee granted final approval to the $92 million nationwide settlement with video sharing service TikTok and its parent, ByteDance Inc, on Thursday. The judge also awarded about $29 million in fees to class counsel from Lynch Carpenter; Bird Marella Boxer Wolpert Nessim Drooks Lincenberg & Rhow; FeganScott and a host of other plaintiffs' firms that did work for the class that launched the suit.

TikTok has denied harvesting biometric data at all and has said it did not compromise users' privacy.

A handful of plaintiffs' firms had objected to the deal’s stringent rules for opt-outs, arguing that law firms should instead be permitted to opt out their clients en masse, via a single electronic filing, rather than advising their clients to complete, sign and submit individual opt-out forms. Lee nixed that request.

Tik Tok defense lawyers at Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich, & Rosati had argued that the plaintiffs' firms had improperly solicited clients with deceptive ads, then used internet technology to obtain electronic “signatures” from potentially unwitting class members.

“This technology does not change the fact that these firms are still soliciting and submitting opt-out requests en masse to disrupt the court-approved settlement,” the TikTok brief argued. “All of the same concerns discussed with traditional mass opt-outs still apply to these mass-auto-generated individual electronic opt-outs.”

But the TikTok opt-out plaintiffs’ firms said their situation is not analogous. In a strong response to TikTok, they said they didn’t use deceptive ads – and that if anyone is being deceptive, it’s TikTok, which accused them of running one ad they had nothing to do with and claiming another solicitation was misleading when, in fact, it contained no misrepresentations.

TikTok’s “speculative and unprofessional attacks,” the plaintiffs' firms said, were really just an attempt to stymie class members trying to exercise their contractual right to arbitrate. “In TikTok’s view, absentee class members not only should be deprived of their due process rights to opt out, they also lose a right to hire counsel,” the brief said. “This position is contrary to the law, ethics and reason.”

TikTok lawyer Tony Weibell of Wilson Sonsini declined to provide a statement on the opt-out issue. Opt-out lawyers Yana Hart of Clarkson, Michael Kind of Kind Law and Joshua Swigart didn’t respond to email requests for comment.

Ethiopia Fills Controversial Dam

FILE: Ethiopia's Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam, taken 7.6.2021

Ethiopia has completed the third filling of its mega-dam reservoir on the Blue Nile, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Friday, a development that could raise further tensions with downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan.

"Today as you see behind me, the third filling is complete," Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said as images were shown on state television from the dam site.

"Compared to last year, we have reached 600 metres which is 25 metres higher than the previous filling," he said.

"The Nile is a gift of God given to us for Ethiopians to make use of it."

The massive $4.2 billion dam, set to be the largest hydro-electric scheme in Africa, has been at the center of a regional dispute ever since Ethiopia broke ground on the project in 2011.

There is still no agreement between Ethiopia and its downstream neighbors Egypt and Sudan about the GERD's operations despite talks held under the auspices of the African Union.

Cairo and Khartoum view it as a threat because of their dependence on Nile waters, while Ethiopia deems it essential for the electrification and development of Africa's second most populous nation.

Egypt, which relies on the Nile for about 97 percent of its irrigation and drinking water, last month protested to the UN Security Council about the third refilling.

The process of filling the GERD's vast reservoir, which has a total capacity of 74 billion cubic meters, began in 2020.

On Thursday, Abiy sought to reassure the two countries over the impact of dam and called for negotiations to reach an understanding.

"Any other option will not stop what we have started and will be futile," he said, insisting that the third filling was not causing any water shortages downstream.

Ethiopia first began generating electricity from the GERD in February. Currently, the two turbines, out of a total of 13, have a capacity to generate 750 megawatts of electricity.

It is ultimately expected to produce more than 5,000 megawatts, more than doubling Ethiopia's current output.

Project manager Kifle Horo said Thursday that overall the dam was now more than 83 percent complete and that the goal was for it to be finished in the next two and a half years.

The 145-metre (475-foot) high structure straddles the Blue Nile in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of western Ethiopia, near the border with Sudan.

The project was initiated under former prime minister Meles Zenawi, the Tigrayan leader who ruled Ethiopia for more than two decades until his death in 2012.

Ethiopia Amps GERD Output

FILE: Ethiopian Dam (GERD) Starts Generating Power. Taken 2.19.2022

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed kickstarted electricity production from the second turbine at its controversial mega-dam on the Blue Nile on Thursday, despite continuing objections by Egypt and Sudan over the project.

Thursday's move to increase hydropower came even though there is still no agreement between Ethiopia and its downstream neighbors Egypt and Sudan about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam's (GERD) operations.

"We have repeatedly told downstream countries, especially Egypt and Sudan, that by generating power we're developing our economy, as well as (our desire) to see our citizens who live in the dark see light," he said.

There was "no aim to sideline and harm" those countries, he added.

PM Abiy also confirmed that a third filling of the $4.2 billion dollar dam was under way, a development that led Egypt last month to protest to the UN Security Council.

Ethiopia first began generating electricity at the dam in February. Currently, the two turbines, out of a total of 13 at the dam, are generating 750 megawatts of electricity.

The GERD is ultimately expected to produce more than 5,000 megawatts, more than doubling Ethiopia's current output.

The 145-metre (475-foot) high structure straddles the Blue Nile in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of western Ethiopia, near the border with Sudan.

The process of filling the GERD's vast reservoir, which has a total capacity of 74 billion cubic metres, began in 2020.

Last month, Egypt wrote to the Security Council voicing its objections to Ethiopia's plans to fill the dam for a third year without a three-way agreement.

Cairo and Khartoum fear it could threaten their access to vital Nile waters and have demanded a written agreement between on the dam's filling and operation.

The new US envoy for the Horn of Africa, Mike Hammer, discussed the project during visits to both Ethiopia and Egypt last month, saying Washington was "actively engaged" in supporting efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the dispute.

Mine Massacre Families May See Justice Soon

FILE: Some of the thousands of platinum mineworkers report for work at Lonmin, Anglo American Platinum, mine in Marikana, South Africa, June 25, 2014, following the resolution of the five-month strike in the sector.

Outstanding claims of compensation from the massacre of 34 workers at a South African platinum mine a decade ago are likely to be settled this month, an official said on Wednesday.

Police gunned down 34 mineworkers and injured 78 others as they repressed a wildcat strike that had turned violent at the Marikana mine northwest of Johannesburg on August 16, 2012.

The massacre was the worst act of police violence since the end of apartheid, which had been legally dismantled 11 years earlier.

Solicitor-General Fhedzisani Pandelani announced that the last civil claims against the government were on track to be resolved before the end of August.

Forty-eight claims remain, Pandelani told a press briefing in the capital Pretoria.

"I can also give the assurance that to the extent that is possible, we could in fact be in a position to resolve all of those matters within this month," he said.

Pandelani said the last cases hinged on the extent of personal injuries, medical examinations or actuarial calculations.

Compensation claims directly related to miners who were killed had already been settled last year, with the state paying almost 76 million rand ($4.6 million) to the victims' families, he said.

He added it was "regrettable" it took so long to bring the cases to a close.

South Africa marks the 10th anniversary of the massacre that shocked the nation on August 16.

Algerian Education Scammers Get Jail

FILE: A man adjusts a student's mortar board during the graduation ceremony at Fudan University in Shanghai. Taken 6.28.2006

Two Algerian social media influencers were sentenced on appeal Tuesday to a year each in prison, with six months suspended, over a scam targeting students seeking education abroad, local media reported.

Among the charges faced by Farouk Boudjemline, known as Rifka, and Mohamed Aberkane, alias Stanley, were criminal association, forgery, theft, fraud and money laundering.

Their co-accused Numidia Lezoul faced the same charges but was acquitted.

All three are well-known in the north African country, and were originally sentenced to one year each and fined the equivalent of 650 euros for promoting the "Future Gate" agency.

Oussama Rezagui, the head of the agency, was given a six-year jail sentence, reduced on appeal from seven years, and a heavy fine.

The scam involved charging students large sums to arrange their university registration and provide accommodation, but left them to their fate once there.

This ruse had defrauded many Algerians wishing to study abroad, particularly in Russia, Ukraine and Turkey.

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