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US lifts trade ban on ZTE in controversial deal with Chinese phone maker

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The United States has lifted its trade ban on ZTE, allowing the Chinese telecom to once again obtain critical parts and software from American companies, after three months of being unable to do so. The trade ban all but shut down ZTE after it went into place in April since the company was no longer able to acquire products like Qualcomm processors or Android software from the US.

In an announcement that appears designed to address security concerns around ZTE, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the department would “remain vigilant” in monitoring ZTE’s actions. “Three interlocking elements — a suspended denial order, the $400 million in escrow, and a compliance team selected by and answerable to the Department — will allow the Department to protect US national security,” Ross said in a statement.

ZTE’s road to recovery was an unlikely one: despite constant lamentations of Chinese trade practices, President Trump took up ZTE’s cause, saying too many jobs in China would be lost, and instructed the Commerce Department to work out a deal that would lift the ban. Trump later added that ZTE buys parts from US companies and said the deal was “also reflective of the larger trade deal we are negotiating with China and my personal relationship with President Xi.”

The US enacted the trade ban in response to ZTE violating sanctions on Iran and North Korea. The company then failed to follow through with a series of fairly basic punishments — like not giving bonuses to the people who violated trade sanctions — and repeatedly lied to the US government, according to the Commerce Department. This led the department to conclude that ZTE is “incapable of being, or unwilling to be, a reliable and trustworthy recipient of US-origin goods, software, and technology.”

But after Trump’s instructions, the Commerce Department went back and cut a new deal with ZTE that would lift the trade ban so long as ZTE replaced its board, paid a $1 billion fine, and put another $400 million in escrow should it err again. ZTE must also retain a compliance team, chosen by and answering to the US, for a decade, which will monitor the company’s actions. The department said the deal enacted the most “stringent compliance measures” it had ever issued. It also threatens a 10-year ban, should ZTE not meet the new terms.

The deal was controversial. Several Republicans came out in opposition, expressing distrust of ZTE and concern that it could pose national security threats, since its telecommunications equipment is being used across the US. The Senate even passed an amendment to a bill that would kill the deal, but the House didn’t, and nothing has come of the vote since.

ZTE has now changed its board, paid the fine, and put the money in escrow. In early July, the Commerce Department began lifting portions of the ban so that ZTE could resume basic activities like issuing security updates. Now, the company should be able to get fully up and running again.

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YouTube terminates accounts promoting Twitch streams

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The fight between YouTube and Twitch just got a little uglier. Producers like Linus Tech Tips, Surny and Aztrosizt have complained that YouTube abruptly (though temporarily) terminated their accounts for using videos to promote their Twitch streams,...
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FCC officially changes rules for formal complaints

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The FCC has voted to change its rules around formal complaints from the public. Now, complainants will have to pay a $225 fee to bring their issue to the commission via the official process. Informal complaints, however, are still free.
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Waymo's first Jaguar I-Pace EVs hit Bay Area roads

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At an event before the New York Auto Show back in March, Waymo unveiled the first luxury vehicle it's adding to its nascent self-driving service's fleet: The new I-Pace, Jaguar Land Rover's answer to Tesla's Model X. The Alphabet company finally got...
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Microsoft offers extended support for Windows, SQL 2008—but with a catch

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(credit: Marcus W / Flickr)

Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2, as well as SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2, are due to move out of extended support over the next few years—SQL Server in July 2019 and Windows Server in January 2020. For organizations still using that software, this offers a few options: keep using the software and accept that it won't receive any more security updates, migrate to newer equivalents that are still supported, or pay Microsoft for a custom support contract to continue to receive security updates beyond the cutoff dates.

Today, Microsoft added a fourth option: migrate to Azure. Microsoft is extending the support window by three years (until July 2022 for SQL Server, January 2023 for Windows Server) for workloads hosted on Azure in the cloud. This extended support means that customers that make the switch to the cloud will receive another three years of security fixes. After those three years are up, customers will be back to the original set of choices: be insecure, upgrade, or pay for a custom support contract.

Microsoft isn't requiring customers to demonstrate that they have any kind of migration plan in place, and this support scheme incurs no additional costs beyond those already imposed by running software on Azure in the first place.

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This amazing new web tool lets you create microsites that exist solely as URLs

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Former Google designer Nicholas Jitkoff, who’s now the vice president of design at Dropbox, has created a really nifty new web tool he’s calling itty bitty sites, or self-contained microsites that exist solely as URLs. You can create your own by following this URL: itty.bitty.site. From there, you can fill the equivalent of about one printed 8.5 x 11-inch page with any combination of plain text, ASCII characters, or emojis. The actual byte limit depends on where you’d like to share it; Twitter and Slack allow for around 4,000 bytes, while the Mac version of Chrome can accommodate up to 10,000 bytes.

The site isn’t actually hosted anywhere — the entirety of the webpage exists as a URL compressed using what’s known as the Lempel–Ziv–Markov chain algorithm. In an explanation page for itty bitty sites — stores, of course, as an itty bitty site — Jitkoff says this allows for a “significant reduction in size for HTML, and allows for a printed page worth of content in many cases.” From there, the compressed content is converted from binary into a string of characters that can function as a standard web link. The actual data is stored in the end of the link, comprised by everything after the # symbol. You can also share itty bitty sties as QR codes as well, so long as the site can be compressed into about 2,610 bytes.

According to Jitkoff, even this portion is kept private, because a web browser will usually not send that fragment of a URL to a server. “Instead, the web browser (usually) uses them to scroll to the right section of the page when it is loaded,” he explains. Jitkoff doesn’t quite know what people will do with his creation yet, which exists as an open source project on Github. But he does suggest using it for standalone poetry, bypassing Twitter’s character limit, and using it as a clever alternative for domain redirecting, so you can host larger-than-normal portions of text as standalone URLs.

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