Group 4 @ IMBD Lille : China approves the iPhone 6, after a stern look at security


Iphone 6

The Chinese government on Tuesday granted Apple the final license required to release the new iPhone 6 in mainland China, but the announcement came with a twist.

The approval was good news for China’s legions of Apple fans, who will be able to begin making preorders for the phone on Oct. 10, Apple said Tuesday. The phone first went on sale on Sept. 19 in the United States and a few other major markets, including Hong Kong, which operates under laws separate from those of mainland China.

Less encouraging for Apple, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced the approval on its website and, unusually, added a detailed description of security concerns that it had with Apple’s iOS operating system.

The ministry said it was worried about diagnostic tools that run on the iPhone that could compromise users’ private data when the users connect their phones to computers or when they take the phones to repair shops to be fixed. The statement did not mention new encryption functions on the iPhone 6 that are intended to make gaining access to data time-consuming and difficult without the consent of the user.

“What the ministry tests to give this license has nothing to do with the warnings they included about these holes in security,” said Wang Yanhui, secretary of the China Mobile Alliance, a semiofficial organization that facilitates communication between the Chinese government and mobile phone companies in China.

The ministry said on its website that after it presented the concerns to Apple, the company provided it with “official materials” to address them. The ministry said that Apple had shown that the company cannot gain access to customer data without approval from the customer, that the new iOS 8 operating system is more resistant to attempts to steal customer data using diagnostic tools and that Apple had never provided a backdoor to give data to any government agency.

“If companies are found to violate personal information protection policies, the ministry will investigate and take care of the problem according to relevant laws and regulations,” the ministry said.

In a statement issued this month, Apple’s chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, said the company had never cooperated with the government of any country to provide access to customer data.

All smartphones have certain functions that can make them vulnerable when on the Internet, Mr. Wang said. He added, without elaborating, that he believed there was a level of “intentionality” in the inclusion of the remarks about safety.

The Chinese government has hinted strongly over the past year that it will take steps to decrease its reliance on foreign technology after disclosures by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden about surveillance by the United States government.

At a conference in September, Wei Jianguo, the director general of the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, said that the Shanghai municipal government had told its employees to use phones made by the Chinese company Huawei instead of ones from Apple or Samsung, according to a transcript posted on the online news portal Sohu, one of the sponsors of the event.

Three city and central government officials, who requested anonymity because they feared reprisals, said they had not heard of such a policy, but analysts have said the central government could eventually take steps to ensure that officials use phones made by domestic companies.

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Group 4 @ IMBD Lille : Oil Prices Fall, and the Global Economy Wins

Oil prices fall and the global economy wins

Oil is in the midst of one of its steepest selloffs since the financial crisis, with prices falling 16 percent since mid-June. This has the Saudis contemplating even deeper cuts in oil production to keep prices from declining any further. The world’s biggest crude exporter told OPEC recently that in August it reduced output by more than 400,000 barrels a day.

It’s not yet clear how well that’s working. The Saudi cuts were offset in part by more oil from Iran, Iraq, and Nigeria—not to mention the continued record increase in U.S. oil production thanks to the shale boom. While prices are expected to rise slightly for international blends of crude over the next six months, domestic prices in the U.S. are forecast to be cheaper by next spring. That’s not necessarily great news for oil producers, but it could be good news for consumers and the global economy.

There are two schools of thought to explain the recent crash in oil prices: too little demand and too much supply. The question is which one is having the bigger influence. While the results are the same (lower oil prices), the reason for them is equally if not more important to the global economy. Demand certainly could be stronger. A stagnant economy in Europe, slower growth in China, and flat gasoline consumption in the U.S. are all tamping down prices. According to the International Energy Agency, the growth in the world’s demand for oil will be the slowest this year since 2011.

But the bigger factor appears to be on the supply side, as production growth outpaces demand. That was the case last year and is shaping up to happen again in 2014.

A new report by Andrew Kenningham, senior global economist at Capital Economics, attempts to gauge the hard-to-measure global economic boost from lower oil prices. “A $10 fall in the price of oil transfers the equivalent of 0.5 percent of world GDP from oil producers to oil consumers,” he writes. That in turn will have a knock-on effect on global consumption, since consumers tend to spend more of their income than businesses. Assuming consumers spend half their savings for cheaper oil, Kenningham continues, “a $10 fall in the oil price would boost global demand by 0.2 to 0.3 percent.”

This means different things for different parts of the world. In Europe, for example, where policymakers are already struggling with deflation, lower oil prices will only make the European Central Bank’s challenge harder in loosening its monetary policy to try and boost prices. It also might not be good news for some big oil-producing economies. Kenningham points out that while Russia and most of the Middle East will be able to weather lower prices, countries such as Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela will be hit harder, “primarily because they have not been saving much of their oil windfalls.”

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Group 4 @ IMBD Lille – The companies vying to turn asteroids into filling stations

Private companies want to mine asteroids for fuel, and build filling stations in space. A bill now in front of the US Congress would help by allowing them to own what they discover – but it might, if passed, meet stiff international opposition.

Chris Lewicki is trying to get water from a stone. A really big stone thousands of miles from Earth. The president of space mining firm Planetary Resources used to oversee robotic Mars missions at Nasa, but today he’s betting big on asteroids. The chunks of matter hurtling through the cosmos are rich in valuable minerals, he says, but finding water could be like striking liquid gold.

“We can tell from telescopes that look out from mountaintops here on Earth that certain types of asteroids can be relatively abundant in water and water-bearing minerals,” he says. But why is water, which covers much of our planet, so valuable in space ?

According to Lewicki, it currently costs nearly $2bn (£1.2bn) per year to launch enough water – six tons per person – to sustain the six astronauts aboard the International Space Station. But, in addition to providing drinking water, H20 can also be converted into breathable air, and into fuel – liquid hydrogen and oxygen form the most efficient rocket fuel known to man.

Currently, spacecraft must carry all the fuel they require, adding significant weight and driving up the cost of getting beyond Earth’s gravity. Once in space, expensive equipment may be abandoned because it’s too costly to take back to Earth. But, says Lewicki, “Imagine being able to get into space and refuel your spaceship [there].” Asteroids have little gravity, he adds, so landing on and taking off from them does not require too much energy. Their prevalence and proximity to Earth make them valuable potential way stations for refuelling on longer missions into space.

business view of an asteroïd


Michael Lopez-Alegria, former Nasa astronaut and current president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, says industry is definitely interested in the “very lucrative” idea of space mining, and not just on asteroids. “There’s an amazing amount of frozen water at the polar regions of the moon,” Lopez-Alegria adds. “The moon is easier to get to than an asteroid, it’s right next door and it’s much easier to communicate with a robot or people [there].”

Unfortunately, strict legislation in the form of the 1966 United Nations’Outer Space Treaty already prohibits national appropriation of space resources. Basically, mining the moon is legally off limits. But, experts say mining asteroids – particularly for resources which could remain in space – falls into a legal grey area unconceived of by legislators four decades ago.

As the commercial space industry grows, with billions of dollars already invested, entrepreneurs argue they should be able to own what they find. The costs are simply too great to risk having their discoveries taken from them by governments or competitors.

Lewicki says the lack of legal certainty over ownership is already giving potential investors pause and hurting his company’s growth. Other private companies aren’t the only competition, either. Lewicki says China has launched unmanned exploratory missions to asteroids as well as the moon, and Nasa is working on a manned mission to collect samples from a near-Earth asteroid in the 2020s.

If the US wants its private space industry to jump into the fray, argues Lopez-Alegria, legislators must create a more “predictable environment” in which companies can “enjoy the rights of their extraction or to extract without interference” in space.

Cue the American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act, introduced by Republican Congressman Bill Posey in July. The slim five-page document proposes allowing US commercial entities ownership over “any resources obtained in outer space from an asteroid”. Lewicki gave Posey advice on the bill, and though some people say it is overly vague, he argues it provides a broad outline for a new and burgeoning industry.

Democratic Congresswoman Donna Edwards, the ranking member of the US House Subcommittee on Space, disagrees. In her view, it’s perilous to rush into such long-lasting and far-reaching legislation. “Our job is not to do things, enact legislation, for particular business interests,” she says. “Our job is to figure out a plan and a protocol for the United States space program and for the way that we interact internationally.”

In a recent Congressional hearing on the matter, space law professor Joanne Gabrynowicz warned the Asteroids Act’s potential political impact on international treaties “is likely to be sizeable”. “If made into law, it should be expected that there would be both legal and political challenges to its terms,” she added.


Edwards says international partners – including the European Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency – as well as China and Russia, need to be involved from the beginning in conversations over space ownership rights. “We have to [recognise] that we’re not the only game in town,” she says. “We have an obligation… to figure out what the lay of the land is going to look like and all of us then playing by the same rules.”

Ultimately, Edwards adds, “we’re not going to be mining asteroids tomorrow, so we have time to figure out what the framework should be”. But, Lewicki says Planetary Resources will be launching its first spacecraft by the beginning of next year and already has plans for several more.

“If Congress finds a way to… bring [space mining] into law, that allows us really to potentially accelerate our efforts and pursue this even more aggressively than we are today,” he says. It’s “going to happen much sooner than I think a lot of people realise,” Lewicki insists.

“We’re not decades away… there’s companies ready to do this now.”

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