UK ditches homegrown COVID-19 tracing app to use Google-Apple model

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will switch to the Apple and Google model for its COVID-19 test-and-trace app, ditching an attempt to develop an app by itself after the homegrown system did not work well enough on Apple’s iPhone, the government said on Thursday. The test-and-trace programme is key to reopening the country but has been dogged by problems. A smartphone app developed by the National Health Service (NHS) was initially expected to be rolled out nationwide in May but did not materialise. Health minister Matt Hancock appeared to blame Apple in part for the pivot, adding that the decentralised Google-Apple system would benefit from work done on the abortive NHS app. “As it stands, our app won’t work because Apple won’t change their system, but it can measure distance. And their app can’t measure distance well enough, to a standard we are satisfied with,” he said at the daily news conference. “So we’ve agreed to join forces with Google and Apple, to bring the best bits of both systems together.” Dido Harding, head of the test-and-trace programme has described the app as the “cherry on the cake” of the overall test-and-trace system, playing down its centrality to the programme. But figures for the second week of England’s test-and-trace showed that while over 85,000 people who had tested positive for the new coronavirus had been reached in the first two weeks, over 25% of positive cases could not be reached. Officials running the programme admitted that the change of tack on the app was unplanned but denied that it was a setback, emphasising that they did not want to rush out an app which fell short of standards. But the opposition Labour party said that warnings about the homegrown app had not been heeded. “This is unsurprising and yet another example of where the government’s response has been slow and badly managed. It’s meant precious time and money wasted,” Labour health spokesman Jon Ashworth said. Britain’s adoption of the ‘decentralised’ approach for its app followed a growing number of European countries, including Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Austria. But Apple and Google’s model has frustrated governments, as they undercut the technology’s usefulness by prioritising user privacy. The pivot happened after the NHS app, which was being tested on the Isle of Wight off the southern coast of England, was found to work well on Google’s Android operating systems but not on Apple iPhones. However, Britain wants further improvements to the Google-Apple platform, meaning that the original hope of a launch in May is set to be missed by months rather than weeks. “We’re not going to put a date on it I’m afraid because I’m absolutely determined that whilst this technology can help, it’s got to be working effectively,” Hancock said.

Facebook takes down certain posts, ads from Trump re-election campaign

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc (FB.O) said on Thursday it took down certain posts and advertisements from U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence related to their re-election campaign, due to violation of the social network’s policy against organized hate.

U.S. prison riot teams faulted for injuring staff during exercises

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Bureau of Prisons riot teams that helped protect the White House during protests earlier this month injured employees by deploying flash bang grenades and pepper spray during exercises last year, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog has found. In a memo issued on Thursday, Inspector General Michael Horowitz said the two mock exercises by the BOP’s Special Operations Response Teams (SORT) led to staff injuries and represented “potential policy violations and dangerous conduct” by the corrections officers involved. The report is likely to raise new questions about the conduct of the BOP’s riot team, one of the federal law enforcement agencies on the scene in Washington on June 1 when officers fired smoke canisters, flash bang grenades and rubber bullets to drive protesters farther from the White House, enabling a photo shoot by President Donald Trump in front of a damaged church. In the first incident, the team deployed an unauthorized flash bang round that hit a staff member and detonated, causing “significant injury requiring surgery and ongoing treatment,” the report said. In the second case, the SORT team used crow bars to breach a room where there were staff members on restricted duty due to medical conditions. Despite verbal warnings, the SORT team shot pepper spray and struck a staffer in the chest with a training round, according to the report, leading to pushing and shoving between the two groups. A BOP spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Attorney General William Barr has defended the decision to push Washington protesters back, claiming that protesters had thrown objects at police and refused orders to move. However, neither Reuters witnesses nor protesters interviewed by Reuters ever heard such warnings or saw projectiles being thrown at the time.

Robinhood trading app back online after major outage

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Robinhood Markets Inc, the fintech startup credited with helping popularize trading with millennials, said on Thursday it resolved an issue that had caused a “major outage” on its platform earlier in the day. “Our systems have been fully restored and our app and web platforms are now functional. We apologize for the trouble and appreciate your patience as we worked to resolve this,” the company said on Twitter. Robinhood, based in Menlo Park, California, has experienced several outages since early March, particularly on days of high trading volumes as the market reacted to news on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Similar to previous outages, customers took to social media to criticize Robinhood, threatening to switch brokerages. “Unacceptable for this to keep happening,” one user said on Twitter. “Give me one reason why I should continue to trade using your platform?” asked another. Robinhood has been at the center of a recent upsurge in day trading by retail investors, who have been homebound due to coronavirus lockdowns. Founded by co-chief executives Baiju Bhatt and Vladimir Tenev in 2013, Robinhood is one of the most popular and well-funded financial technology startups. Last month, it raised $280 million from investors at a valuation of $8.3 billion dollars. The company now has over 10 million user accounts. Customers at the brokerage, which has been credited for helping usher in commission-free trading throughout the retail brokerage industry, have a median age of 31, the company said recently.

UPDATE 4-Lloyd’s of London to pay for ‘shameful’ Atlantic slave trade role

LONDON (Reuters) – The Lloyd’s of London insurance market apologised on Thursday for its “shameful” role in the 18th and 19th Century Atlantic slave trade and pledged to fund opportunities for black and ethnic minority people. As part of a global reassessment of history and racism triggered by the death of George Floyd in the United States, some British institutions have begun re-examining their past, especially connections to slavery. The Bank of England also apologised for what it called the “inexcusable connections” of some past governors and directors to slavery, and said it would remove any portraits of them from display anywhere on its premises. About 17 million African men, women and children were torn from their homes and shackled into one of the world’s most brutal globalised trades between the 15th and 19th centuries. Many died in merciless conditions. “We are sorry for the role played by the Lloyd’s market in the 18th and 19th Century slave trade – an appalling and shameful period of English history, as well as our own,” Lloyd’s said in a statement on Thursday. “Recent events have shone a spotlight on the inequality that black people have experienced over many years as a result of systematic and structural racism that has existed in many aspects of society and unleashed difficult conversations that were long overdue,” it added. The world’s leading commercial insurance market, Lloyd’s – which started life in Edward Lloyd’s coffee house in 1688 – is where complex insurance contracts ranging from catastrophe to events cancellation are agreed and underwritten. Lloyd’s grew to dominate the shipping insurance market, a key element of Europe’s global scramble for empire, treasure and slaves, who were usually in the 18th Century included in insurance policies in the general rate for ship cargo. Weapons and gunpowder from Europe were swapped for African slaves who were shipped across the Atlantic to the Americas. Related CoverageExplainer: London faces up to former role insuring Atlantic slave tradeThose who survived endured a life of subjugation on plantations, while the ships returned to Europe laden with sugar, cotton and tobacco. ‘INEXCUSABLE’ Although Britain abolished the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1807, full abolition did not follow for another generation. Lloyd’s said it would invest in programmes to attract black and minority ethnic talent, review its artefacts to ensure they were not racist and support charities and organisations promoting opportunity for black and minority ethnic people. Among other British institutions reassessing the legacies of the past is Oriel College, part of Oxford University, which said on Wednesday it wanted to remove a statue of 19th century colonialist Cecil Rhodes. Greene King, which describes itself as Britain’s leading pub owner and brewer, apologised for the profit one of its original founders made from the slave trade. Greene King would make investments to help the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) community and to support race diversity in its business, chief executive Nick Mackenzie said. The history of several other British financial firms, including Barclays (BARC.L), is also under fresh scrutiny. The bank was named after David Barclay, a Quaker who campaigned actively against slavery in the late 18th century, but it later acquired institutions with links to the slave trade, including Colonial Bank in 1918 and Martins Bank in 1969. “We can’t change what’s gone before us, only how we go forward,” a Barclays spokesman said. The City of London Corporation has launched the Tackling Racism Working Party, which it said will look to promote economic, educational and social inclusion in the City of London and assess the future of statues and monuments.

UPDATE 3-Robinhood trading app back online after major outage

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Robinhood Markets Inc, the fintech startup credited with helping popularize trading with millennials, said on Thursday it resolved an issue that had caused a “major outage” on its platform earlier in the day. “Our systems have been fully restored and our app and web platforms are now functional. We apologize for the trouble and appreciate your patience as we worked to resolve this,” the company said on Twitter. Robinhood, based in Menlo Park, California, has experienced several outages since early March, particularly on days of high trading volumes as the market reacted to news on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Similar to previous outages, customers took to social media to criticize Robinhood, threatening to switch brokerages. “Unacceptable for this to keep happening,” one user said on Twitter. “Give me one reason why I should continue to trade using your platform?” asked another. Robinhood has been at the center of a recent upsurge in day trading by retail investors, who have been homebound due to coronavirus lockdowns. Founded by co-chief executives Baiju Bhatt and Vladimir Tenev in 2013, Robinhood is one of the most popular and well-funded financial technology startups. Last month, it raised $280 million from investors at a valuation of $8.3 billion dollars. The company now has over 10 million user accounts. Customers at the brokerage, which has been credited for helping usher in commission-free trading throughout the retail brokerage industry, have a median age of 31, the company said recently.

Lufthansa investor Thiele seeks talks with German government: Handelsblatt

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Lufthansa’s (LHAG.DE) biggest shareholder, German billionaire Heinz Hermann Thiele, has reached out to Berlin politicians for talks, Handelsblatt said, the latest step in a standoff over the airline’s 9 billion euro ($10.1 billion) bailout. Lufthansa shareholders need to approve the rescue package but Thiele, who has ammassed a 15% Lufthansa stake, has criticised bailout terms and is raising more cash by selling down 760 million euros worth of shares in rail and commercial vehicle supplier Knorr-Bremse (KBX.DE). Thiele and Knorr-Bremse declined to comment. The entrepreneur is against Germany taking a stake of up to 20% in the airline, terms which Lufthansa and the German government have agreed to as part of the planned rescue of the company. Lufthansa fears that Thiele’s lack of approval for a bailout deal could bring down the rescue package at next week’s Annual General Meeting on June 25.

Satellite images suggest Chinese activity at Himalayan border with India before clash

SINGAPORE/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – In the days leading up to the most violent border clash between India and China in decades, China brought in pieces of machinery, cut a trail into a Himalayan mountainside and may have even dammed a river, satellite pictures suggest. The images, shot on Tuesday, a day after soldiers engaged in hand-to-hand combat in the freezing Galwan Valley, show an increase in activity from a week earlier. India said 20 soldiers were killed in a premeditated attack by Chinese troops on Monday night at a time when top commanders had agreed to defuse tensions on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), or the disputed and poorly defined border between the nuclear-armed neighbours. China rejected the allegations and blamed frontline Indian soldiers for provoking the conflict which took place at the freezing height of 14,000 feet (4,300 metres) in the western Himalayas. The 4,056-km (2,520-mile) border between India and China runs through glaciers, snow deserts and rivers in the west to thickly forested mountains in the east. The Galwan Valley is an arid, inhospitable area, where some soldiers are deployed on steep ridges. It is considered important because it leads to the Aksai Chin, a disputed plateau claimed by India but controlled by China. The satellite pictures, taken by Earth-imaging company Planet Labs and obtained by Reuters, show signs of altering the landscape of the valley through widening tracks, moving earth and making river crossings, one expert said. The images shows machinery along the bald mountains and in the Galwan River. “Looking at it in Planet, it looks like China is constructing roads in the valley and possibly damming the river,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at California’s Middlebury Institute of International Studies. “There are a ton of vehicles on both sides (of the LAC) – although there appear to be vastly more on the Chinese side. I count 30-40 Indian vehicles and well over 100 vehicles on the Chinese side.” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said he was unaware of the specifics on the ground but reiterated that the Indian army had crossed into Chinese territory in several places in recent days and that they should withdraw. Graphic: Satellite images of the Galwan Valley – here BACKLASH The clash was the most serious since 1967. Since early May, soldiers have faced off on the border where India says Chinese troops had intruded and set up temporary structures. The confrontation turned into a deadly brawl on Monday. The fighting was triggered by a row over two Chinese tents and observation towers that India said had been built on its side of the LAC, Indian government sources in New Delhi and on the Indian side of the border in the Ladakh region said. China had sought to erect a “structure” in the Galwan Valley on India’s side of the LAC even after military officials had reached an agreement on June 6 to de-escalate, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told China’s senior diplomat, Wang Yi, in a phone call on Wednesday, the Indian Foreign Ministry said. It was not immediately clear to what structure he was referring. The problem arose when an Indian patrol visited the area near a ridge to verify a Chinese assertion that its troops had moved back from the LAC, the two government sources aware of the military situation said. The Chinese troops had thinned out and left behind the two tents and small observation posts. The Indian party demolished the towers and burnt the tents, the sources said. The satellite images show possible debris from the observation posts on Tuesday morning on a ridge on India’s side of the LAC. There was no such structure in the image taken a week earlier. A large group of Chinese soldiers arrived and confronted the Indian troops, led by Colonel Santosh Babu. They were lightly armed in line with the rules of engagement at the LAC, one of the sources said. India and China have not exchanged gunfire at the border since 1967, despite occasional flare-ups. Soldiers are under instructions to keep their rifles slung at their backs. It was not clear what happened next, but the two sides soon clashed, with the Chinese using iron rods and batons with spikes, one of the sources said. Colonel Babu was one of the 20 victims, they said. More Indian troops were rushed in and the confrontation turned into an hours-long brawl eventually involving up to 900 soldiers, the source said. Still no shots were fired on either side. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao rejected the Indian version of the events. “The rights and wrongs of this incident are very clear. The responsibility does not lie with China.”

Trump says process to deal with Dreamer immigrants must start all over

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday said a legal solution was needed to address the hundreds of thousands of so-called Dreamer immigrants after the nation’s top court blocked his earlier effort to end their protections, but gave no other details on how he planned to proceed. “I am asking for a legal solution on DACA, not a political one, consistent with the rule of law. The Supreme Court is not willing to give us one, so now we have to start this process all over again,” Trump tweeted.

Kaepernick joins Medium, will create content on race and civil rights

(Reuters) – Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has joined the board of directors of Medium and will work on content focused on race and civil rights, the U.S.-based online publishing platform announced on Thursday. Kaepernick, who sparked a national debate when he protested against racial injustice by kneeling here as the U.S. national anthem played during a game, will be publishing across Medium’s platform and sharing thoughts on anti-Black racism in society, the company said. Medium allows users, including companies and media outlets, to post blogs that readers can annotate. “I know he will bring valuable insights and leadership to Medium, especially in this moment when the world is finally catching up to his vision on racial justice,” Ev Williams, chief executive of Medium, said in a statement. “I couldn’t be more happy to welcome Colin to Medium. He’s an incisive, independent thinker, whose integrity has inspired so many. The world needs more of that.” Kaepernick’s protests, aimed at drawing attention to police brutality against minorities, began in 2016 when he popularized the gesture of kneeling during pre-game renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” while a member of the San Francisco 49ers. He became a free agent after that season, during which he went 1-10 as a starter, and has since been unable to find a team to play for. Many experts attribute his political activism as the key reason teams are wary of signing him. The action of kneeling during the U.S. national anthem had all but disappeared from the world of sports, but returned recently following the death last month of George Floyd at the hands of a white policeman, which sparked protests across the United States over police brutality. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said this week he would encourage teams to sign Kaepernick, adding the league would also welcome his off-the-field guidance on social justice. Kaepernick launched a publishing company in February which is also part of the partnership and will help create and feature stories on race and civil rights in America, and elevate emerging voices from communities of color. “I am excited for Kaepernick Publishing to partner with Medium to continue to elevate black voices in the news and publishing industry,” said Kaepernick. “I also look forward to creating new opportunities and avenues for black writers and creators with my new role as a board member.”