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US tells UK using Huawei 5G gear would be ‘madness,’ report says

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A taxi drives past a Huawei advert at a bus stop in central London on April 29, 2019.

Tolga Akmen | AFP via Getty Images

The United States reportedly presented Britain with new evidence showing that the use of Huawei equipment in its 5G networks would put intelligence sharing at risk.

Allowing Huawei access to the U.K.’s rollout of fifth-generation mobile internet would be “nothing short of madness,” U.S. officials told their U.K. counterparts, according to a report from The Guardian newspaper. A U.S. delegation visited the country on Monday to try to convince it not to use Huawei gear.

Washington’s concerns over risks to intelligence sharing appear to contradict a claim just a day earlier from MI5 chief Andrew Parker, who said there was “no reason” to assume a longstanding intelligence sharing agreement between the two countries would be affected by Huawei’s involvement in the U.K.’s 5G rollout.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, when asked by the BBC about the news Tuesday, said critics of Huawei should “tell us what is the alternative,” adding that he didn’t want any 5G infrastructure implemented that would “prejudice our national security or ability to cooperate” with intelligence partners. London is expected to make a decision on whether to include Huawei in its 5G rollout later this month.

President Donald Trump’s administration has placed Huawei under an intense pressure campaign that has seen the Chinese tech giant added to a trade blacklist and its CFO, Meng Wanzhou, detained in Canada for extradition to the U.S. on charges of bank and wire fraud. The U.S. contends that gear provided by the world’s top telecom equipment maker contains so-called “back doors” that could be used by China for spying.

Huawei, which has rapidly grown into a major player in the mobile space in the last few years, denies it would ever hand network data to Beijing. The company’s 5G gear is seen by top telecommunications firms as being cheaper and more advanced than other alternatives in the market.

For more on this story, you can read The Guardian’s report here.



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23andMe lays off 100 people, CEO Anne Wojcicki explains why

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23andMe Co-Founder and CEO Anne Wojcicki speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017 at Pier 48 on September 19, 2017 in San Francisco, California.

Steve Jennings

Home DNA-testing company 23andMe is laying off about 100 people, or 14% of its staff, on Thursday, in the wake of declining sales.

The layoffs primarily cover the operations teams, which were focused on the company’s growth and scaling efforts. In the coming months, the company plans to tighten its focus on the direct-to-consumer business and its therapeutics arm while scaling back its clinical studies arm.

CEO Anne Wojcicki told CNBC she’s been “surprised” to see the market starting to turn.

Wojcicki has theories, but she doesn’t have clear proof for why consumers are shying away from getting tests that reveal their percentage of Irish heritage, propensity for a favorite ice cream flavor, or whether they have a limited set of variants that are associated with breast cancer. Either way, she notes, she’s downsizing because it’s “what the market is ready for.”

“This has been slow and painful for us,” she said.

Wojcicki notes that privacy could be a factor. Fears about people’s DNA ending up in the wrong hands might have been heightened in the aftermath of the Golden State Killer case. Criminal investigations honed in on a suspect involved in a decades-old rapes and murders by running DNA found at the scene through a free online database where anyone who got their DNA tested through a company like 23andMe could upload it. A suspect was found because a distant relative had shared their genetic information — showing how DNA data, unlike other kinds of data, is unique because it’s linked to and potentially exposes information about family members.

She acknowledges that “privacy is top of mind” both for consumers and her executive team. She said the company hired a new chief security officer, who previously ran security at Okta, earlier this week.

“I think the tech world needs to own this better communicate privacy standards to build trust,” she said. “I want to jump in and really own it.”

Wojcicki said another factor could be that people fear an economic downturn, and they don’t want to spend a few hundred dollars on a genetic test. That might make it expensive for 23andMe to acquire customers via social media platforms like Facebook, if the early adopters have already bought tests and the next potential batch of users are reluctant to spend.

A slowdown in genetic testing

23andMe has seen its ups and downs over the years.

The company raised ample venture capital — $786 million, according to Crunchbase — and Wojcicki used that to fuel growth, including by hiring a team to acquire new customers for its tests, and to strike deals with both pharmaceutical companies like GlaxoSmithKline and academic research groups. But the FDA conducted a regulatory probe in 2013 after 23andMe marketed a health test directly to consumers. The company repaired its relationship with the FDA and resumed sales of both its ancestry and health tests in 2015.

What followed was a period of hyper-growth, which involved the company ballooning to 700 people. And it seemed to be working. Sales of DNA tests were growing — until they weren’t, which started sometime in 2019.

The first clear signs of a slowdown in the space came last summer when Francis deSouza, chief executive of Illumina, maker of DNA sequencing machines, noted in its earnings call that the entire segment was down. DeSouza didn’t share an explanation, but said his company is taking a “cautious view” of the market for ancestry and health tests. Illumina’s customers include Ancestry and 23andMe.

Other companies in the sector have also pivoted or struggled, including Veritas Genetics, which shuttered its U.S. operations late last year.

Meanwhile, Color Genomics raised capital in recent months after focusing on the enterprise market, which involves selling to companies, and not just consumers. Its has relationships with Jefferson Health, a major hospital chain, and Apple, among others.

Investors in 23andMe include Google parent-company Alphabet, where Wojcicki’s sister, Susan, is the CEO of YouTube, plus GlaxoSmithKline and Sequoia Capital, among others.

Correction: The layoffs affect 23andMe’s operations team, as well as other groups.



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First U.S. coronavirus patient had at least 16 close contacts before he was placed in isolation, officials say

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The Washington man who developed the first case of the novel coronavirus in the U.S. had at least 16 close contacts before he was placed in isolation, health officials said Wednesday. The officials stressed that the risk to the public remains low.

The Wednesday night press conference came two days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that a man in his 30s — who recently flew to Seattle from Wuhan, China — was the first confirmed case of the new virus strain in the U.S.

The man is being treated at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, outside Seattle, and is in good condition, officials said Wednesday. After interviewing him about what he did when he returned to Washington, officials said they identified 16 people who came in close contact with him before he was put in isolation.

The officials defined close contact as a person who was within 6 feet of the patient for a prolonged period of time.

Officials began reaching out to those contacts on Tuesday. “All the close contacts will be part of what we call ‘active monitoring,'” said Washington state Secretary of Health John Wiesman.

“That means that a public health worker will call the person daily to do a symptom check for them, see if they have a fever, cough, any respiratory issues. And should anyone develop symptoms at any point in time, these people who are under monitoring will be instructed to immediately call a public health worker to report the symptoms, and then we would help facilitate a medical evaluation.”

Coronavirus: Threats, symptoms, and what precautions you can take

Because officials believe that patients don’t become infectious until they begin experiencing symptoms, the close contacts have not been placed in isolation.

Officials emphasized the patient is faring well, and that the risk to the public is low. They added that the patient is the only person in the U.S. who has been tested for the virus.

“Patient continues to rest comfortably, appears in no distress,” said Dr. Jay Cook, the chief medical officer at the Providence Regional Medical Center. “I had the opportunity to go by the unit early this morning, the patient was asleep, so I didn’t wake him up, but the staff reported that he had a really good night.”

The virus is believed to have originated at a food market in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people. But officials said the U.S. patient said he was “just traveling through the area,” and did not visit the market or know anyone who was ill.

Officials added the man did not take a direct flight from Wuhan, but they declined to say which airports he flew through en route to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on January 15.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee said Tuesday night that the man fell ill a day after arriving in the U.S., and sought medical treatment on the same day. He added that the man lived alone and traveled alone.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases,  told reporters Tuesday that the first U.S. case “is concerning.”

“We expect additional cases in the U.S.,” she said.



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Trump Removes Protections for Waterways, Aiding Developers – NBC Chicago

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration lifted federal protections Thursday for some of the nation’s millions of miles of streams, arroyos and wetlands, completing one of its most far-reaching environmental rollbacks.

The changes will scale back which waterways qualify for protection against pollution and development under the half-century-old Clean Water Act. President Donald Trump has made a priority of the rollback of clean-water protections from his first weeks in office. Trump says he is targeting federal rules and regulations that impose unnecessary burdens on businesses.

Chiefs of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed the new rule before appearing at a builders’ convention in Las Vegas.

“EPA and the Army are providing much needed regulatory certainty and predictability for American farmers, landowners and businesses to support the economy and accelerate critical infrastructure projects,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.

The changes had been sought by industry, developers and farmers, but opposed by environmental advocates and public health officials. They say the changes would make it harder to maintain a clean water supply for the American public and would threaten habitat and wildlife.

The administration says the changes would allow farmers to plow their fields without fear of unintentionally straying over the banks of a federally protected dry creek, bog or ditch. But the government’s own figures show it is real estate developers and those in other nonfarm business sectors that take out the most permits for impinging on wetlands and waterways, and stand to reap the biggest regulatory and financial relief.

Wheeler specified the changes lift federal protections for so-called ephemeral waters — creeks and rivers which run only after rainfalls or snow melt. Such streams provide a majority of the water for some dry Western states, including New Mexico.

The final rule will be published in the Federal Register in the next few days and become effective 60 days after that.

The rollback is one of the most ambitious of the Trump administration”s wide-ranging cuts in federal protections on the environment and public health. While many rollback efforts have targeted regulations adopted under the Obama administration, the draft clean-water plan released earlier would lift federal protections for many waterways and wetlands that have stood for decades under the Clean Water Act.

That includes protections for creek and river beds that run only in wet seasons or after rain or snow melt. “That’’s a huge rollback from way before Obama, before Reagan,” said Blan Holman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

State officials in New Mexico have particular concerns given that the Rio Grande, which provides drinking water and irrigation supplies for millions of people in the Southwest and Mexico, depends largely on the types of intermittent streams, creeks and wetlands that could lose protection under the rule draft released earlier. The Rio Grande is one of North America’s longest rivers.

Jen Pelz, the rivers program director with the New Mexico-based environmental group WildEarth Guardians, said the Rio Grande would be hard hit.

“It defies common sense to leave unprotected the arteries of life to the desert Southwest,” Pelz said.

Trump has portrayed farmers — a highly valued constituency of the Republican Party and one popular with the public — as the main beneficiaries of the rollback. He claimed farmers gathered around him wept with gratitude when he signed an order for the rollback in February 2017.

The federal protections keeping polluters and developers out of waterways and wetlands were “one of the most ridiculous” of all regulations, he told a farmer convention in 2019.

“It was a total kill on you and other businesses,” Trump said at that time.

Environmental groups, public health organizations and others say it’s impossible to keep downstream lakes, rivers and water supplies clean unless upstream waters are also regulated federally. The targeted regulations also protect wildlife and their habitats.

___

Associated Press writer Susan Montoya in Albuquerque, New Mexico, contributed to this report.





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