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Case studies in data ethics

2 min read

These studies provide a foundation for discussing ethical issues so we can better integrate data ethics in real life.

Case study
Case study

(source: Nick Youngson on The Blue Diamond Gallery)

To help us think seriously about data ethics, we need case studies that we can discuss, argue about, and come to terms with as we engage with the real world. Good case studies give us the opportunity to think through problems before facing them in real life. And case studies show us that ethical problems aren’t simple. They are multi-faceted, and frequently there’s no single right answer. And they help us to recognize there are few situations that don’t raise ethical questions.

Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy and Center for Human Values have created four anonymized case studies to promote the discussion of ethics. The first of these studies, Automated Healthcare App, discusses a smartphone app designed to help adult onset diabetes patients. It raises issues like paternalism, consent, and even language choices. Is it OK to “nudge” patients toward more healthy behaviors? What about automatically moderating the users’ discussion groups to emphasize scientifically accurate information? And how do you deal with minorities who don’t respond to treatment as well? Could the problem be the language itself that is used to discuss treatment?

The next case study, Dynamic Sound Identification, covers an application that can identify voices, raising issues about privacy, language, and even gender. How far should developers go in identifying potential harm that can be caused by an application? What are acceptable error rates for an application that can potentially do harm? How can a voice application handle people with different accents or dialects? And what responsibility do developers have when a small experimental tool is bought by a large corporation that wants to commercialize it?

The Optimizing Schools case study deals with the problem of finding at-risk children in school systems. Privacy and language are again an issue; it also raises the issue of how decisions to use data are made. Who makes those decisions, and who needs to be informed about them? What are the consequences when people find out how their data has been used? And how do you interpret the results of an experiment? Under what conditions can you say that a data experiment has really yielded improved educational results?

The final case study, Law Enforcement Chatbots, raises issues about the tradeoff between liberty and security, entrapment, openness and accountability, and compliance with international law.

None of these issues are simple, and there are few (if any) “right answers.” For example, it’s easy to react against perceived paternalism in a medical application, but the purpose of such an application is to encourage patients to comply with their treatment program. It’s easy to object to monitoring students in a public school, but students are minors, and schools by nature handle a lot of private personal data. Where is the boundary between what is, and isn’t, acceptable? What’s important isn’t getting to the correct answer on any issue, but to make sure the issue is discussed and understood, and that we know what tradeoffs we are making. What is important is that we get practice in discussing ethical issues and put that practice to work in our jobs. That’s what these case studies give us.

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Steam adds Proton, making Windows games playable on Linux (at least in theory)

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Steam adds Proton, making Windows games playable on Linux (at least in theory)

Last week we wrote about Valve potentially folding support for a WINE-style compatibility wrapper into Steam, allowing Linux machines to play Windows games with minimal hiccups. Now it’s a reality. Valve’s Pierre-Loup Griffais made the announcement on the “Steam for Linux” group today.

The forum post is long and very detailed, and if you’re personally invested in Linux gaming it’s probably worth a read. Here’s the highlight though, direct from Griffais:

“Today we are releasing the Beta of a new and improved version of Steam Play to all Linux users! It includes a modified distribution of Wine, called Proton, to provide compatibility with Windows game titles.”

So not just a WINE-style compatibility wrapper, but a fork of WINE itself. You can find it on GitHub, and as I theorized last week, it’s a wrapper focused on games in particular. Valve claims it’s based on Vulkan, and touts improved full-screen support, controller support, and better performance in multi-threaded games.

It’s a work in progress though. Writes Griffais, “This goes hand-in-hand with an ongoing testing effort of the entire Steam catalog, in order to identify games that currently work great in this compatibility environment, and find and address issues for the ones that don’t.”

The list of currently-supported titles is short, but includes some noteworthy standouts like the 2016 Doom, Google Earth VR, Tekken 7, Mount & Blade, NieR: Automata (which doesn’t even run great natively on Windows), and Into the Breach. Then there’s a grab-bag of miscellaneous titles, like 2005’s Star Wars: Battlefront 2 and Tropico 4, a.k.a. not even the latest Tropico.

Those who want to break out of Valve’s carefully marked sandbox can flip an override switch and theoretically run any game with Proton, though as last week’s code deep dive noted: This “may not work as expected, and can cause issues with your games, including crashes and breaking save games.” Not sure if that error message pops up in the current Steam Linux build, but I hope it does.

Regardless, it’s (theoretically at least) a huge step forward for Linux gaming. WINE’s always been a bit cumbersome to use, so having it built right into Steam—and with Valve actively confirming games will work—should remove some of those barriers. In the absence of Linux ports, Proton sounds like the next best thing.

Alas, Mac gamers are being left out in the cold. From the FAQ: “While Wine and Proton work on macOS, there are no plans to support the new Steam Play functionality on macOS at the moment.” Keep your fingers crossed, I guess.

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The best wireless chargers for iPhone X and iPhone 8

15 min read

Updated 08/20/18: We’ve added reviews of the Funxim Fast Wireless Chrarging Pad and the Mophie Charge Stream Pad+.

With the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, Apple has finally joined the wireless charging revolution. For years, many Android users have had the ability to simply plop their phone on a pad to juice it up, but to do that with an iPhone used to require a special (and bulky) case.

Wireless charging isn’t always a great substitute for plugging in, but it’s a very convenient way to keep your phone topped off through most of the day. A wireless charger on your desk means no more plugging and unplugging throughout the day and a full charge when you head home from work. A wireless charger next to your bed makes it easy to grab and go in the morning, or just pick up your phone to “check one thing” without fussing with the lightning cable.

We’ve tested a big heap of wireless chargers, and these are some of our favorites.

The best wireless chargers

Wireless chargers tend to come in two variants: stands and pads. A pad is great for your bed-side table or lying inconspicuously on your desk, but there are times when a stand makes more sense. In particular, they’re useful for those with an iPhone X, as a good stand with a steep angle will point your phone and your face enough for Face ID to work. This makes it a lot easier to unlock your phone to quickly check something without taking it off the charger.

Stands are great for reading your phone while it charges, but sometimes you want it to lie flat. It’s less conspicuous on your desk or bedside table, and easier to just plop it down in any direction. Wireless charging pads tend to be a little less expensive than stands, too.

Mophie Charge Stream Pad+

mophie charge stream

The Charge Stream Pad+ is a substantial upgrade over Mophie’s previous charging pad offering, the Wireless Charging Base. At a retail price of about $60, it’s a little on the expensive side, but it’s a better buy than the Wireless Charging Base was.

While the Wireless Charging Base used a proprietary power adapter that connected to the charge pad via a small barrel connector, the Charge Stream Pad+ uses a microUSB cable and adapter. The connector for it on the pad is deeply recessed, which makes it hard to use other microUSB cables with it, but at least you can use the adapter and cable to charge other microUSB devices (like digital cameras or Android phones).

Charge performance is improved, too. It tops out at 10 watts on supported Android phones, though the iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X are limited to 7.5 watts (that’s an Apple thing, not a Mophie thing).

The pad itself is a good size with a large sweet spot, so it’s easy to plop down your phone without worrying about getting it perfectly centered. The hefty weight and rubberized finish prevents the pad from sliding around on your desk or your iPhone from sliding on the pad. It can easily charge through modest iPhone cases, and the small status light is subtle enough not to distract you in a dark bedroom.

Oh, and it’s now available in white or black, so you can more easily match your furniture or iPhone.

RAVPower RP-PC069 Wireless Charging Stand

rp pc069 wireless charging stand

RAVPower’s latest charging stand is a nice improvement over its previous models. It’s got a sleek, unassuming design with a nice big ruberized pad to rest your phone on, and two coils so your iPhone will charge in either portrait or landscape orientation. The angle is steep, almost entirely upright, which made us worry that Face ID wouldn’t work well. In testing, Face ID worked just as well as with most other wireless charging stands.

This new charger supports 5W and 10W modes on Android phones, and Apple’s own 7.5W standard on the latest iPhones, too. RAVPower has impreoved the cooling to keep the charging coils from getting too warm, which can slow down charging performance.

The braided micro USB cable is a nice touch, but it’s only about four feet long. We had trouble making it reach the socket with the stand sitting up on a desk. As with so many other wireless charging stands, it can be a little wobbly if you try to use your phone with too much force. Making the base just a little bit longer in back would have made it less prone to tilting.

At $50 it seems a little expensive, but that cost is offset by the 24W USB-A power adapter included in the box. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great choice for the price.

Other wireless chargers tested

While these other chargers weren’t our favorites, they may suit your own needs. There are only so many different ways you can wrap a copper coil in a hunk of plastic, so it’s safe to say that your own personal sense of style and pricing sensitivity might a different charger the right choice for you.

Funxim Fast Wireless Charging Pad

funxim charging

The extended delay of Apple’s AirPower charging pad has left plenty of time for knock-offs to claim a stake. Funxim successfully crowdfunded its effort on Kickstarter, and now it’s here.

For what it is, it’s not bad. This is a $32 pad that can wirelessly charge your iPhone and Apple Watch at the same time. And it works well, even charging our test iPhone through a fairly substantial plastic case. Because it supports the Qi standard, like all iPhone-supporting wireless charging pads, it will also charge most Android phones with wireless charging. 

Naturally, the price comes with a set of compromises. The pad has a large circular cutout to one side, into which you install your official Apple Watch charger. You’ll open up the back to loop around the cable and plug the USB end into a USB-A port hidden in the base.

What’s more, the pad itself is made of a hard, smooth plastic that encourages the phone to slide around (especially without a case). When my iPhone X vibrated while on the pad, it slid around as if pushed by a ghost. What’s more, I had to be fairly precise with my placement in order for the phone to charge. While the pad is oblong, the charging area for the phone is only right in the center; place it too far to the side and it won’t charge. And of course, your Apple Watch has to go on the Watch charger you supply.

Kickstarter backers may have gotten a free Quick Charge 3.0 compatible power adapter and micro-USB cable together with their purchase, which makes this a pretty good deal. But the need to supply your own Apple Watch cable (at least $29 from Apple), the precise placement required, and the too-slick design make it hard to otherwise recommend.

Anker PowerPort Wireless 10

anker powerport wireless 10

Anker’s skinny little PowerPort Wireless 10 is a pretty slick item. It’s easily one of the thinnest charging pads I’ve seen, and can disappear into a bag with you even noticing.

It supports charging speeds up to 10 watts on compatible phones, which is great, but you need a Quick Charge USB adapter to get that performance. Unfortunately, there’s no USB adapter of any kind in the box.

That’s sort of a shame, too, because the price is the only thing giving me pause. We like the ring of blue LEDs that “breathe” for about 10 seconds before turning off, to let you know a charging connection has been made. We like the size. We like the grippy top that your phone won’t slide around on. If you find this on sale, or have an extra Quick Charge USB adapter lying around, it’s a great buy.

Anker PowerPort Wireless 5 Stand

anker powerport wireless 5 stand01

Anker’s PowerPort Wireless 5 stand is a decent choice for iPhone X users who want something with the right angle for Face ID, but a number of small annoyances keep it from being a clear winner.

First, there’s charging speed. Anker employs two charging coils for excellent coverage, and as a result the stand works great whether your iPhone is in portrait or landscape orientation. But it’s limited to 5-watt speed, not the 7.5 watts supported by iPhones. And of course, that’s a bit slow for Android phones, too.

Second, the base is just a little bit too short. The result is that, when you try to use your phone while it’s on the stand, your tapping will constantly cause it to tip back a little. If the base extended back even a half inch more, this would probably be avoided.

And finally, while the price tag looks pretty good (typically around $27 online), that’s without a micro USB adapter. It’s still not overpriced, but it’s not the bargain it seems at first.

PowerBot PB1020

powerbot pb1020

You can easily find this little Qi wireless charger for about $10, which makes it one of the least expensive options for wirelessly charging your iPhone 8 or iPhone X. In some ways, you get what you pay for. The PowerBot PB1020 is as basic as it gets: it doesn’t come with the necessary micro USB power adapter and recommends using one with 2.1A output for best results.

We like the rubberized design that prevents slipping, and who won’t love the price, but that’s where the love affair ends. The small size is convenient for your bag, but it makes it a little difficult to precisely place your phone in the right spot to start charging. Also, power output is limited to 5 watts, rather than the 7.5-watt maximum supported by the latest iPhones.

Anker PowerWave 7.5 Stand

anker powerwave 75 stand

Anker’s new PowerWave products greatly improve quality over its older wireless chargers, but they bump up the price to match.

The new stand looks good, as long as you’re okay with the white color. A small blue charge indicator on the front is subtle enough to use on your bedside table. The angle is steep enough to make it suitable for unlocking your iPhone X with Face ID while your phone is resting on your desk.

Anker includes a Quick Charge 3.0 compatible power adapter and a matching white microUSB cable, but the cable is way too short. Anker’s spec sheet says it’s three feet long, already a little on the short side, and we measured it at 34 inches. The charger supports 7.5W charging on Apple devices and the 10W fast charge mode on the latest Samsung flagship phones.

The power coils inside cover the entire back of the stand, so we had no trouble charging our iPhones in either portrait or landscape orientation. A little cooling fan blows air out a vent in the rear to keep the charge coils cool, which keeps the charge rate from slowing down. If it’s especially quiet and you put your ear up next to it, you can hear the gentle whirring sound.

Qimini Pocket Wireless Charger

qimini pocket 02

We’re not entirely sure who this product is for, exactly. It’s a wireless charging pad with an integrated USB cable that tucks away inside. That’s sort of neat and makes it a little more portable, but you still need something to plug the USB plug into. If you’re on the go, you can plug it into your laptop or something like that, but do you really need a wireless charger for that?

The Qimini site proclaims it to be, “The world’s thinnest wireless charger plate to date,” but the Anker Powerport Wireless 10 is definitely thinner. It sells for $59.95, without a power adapter, which easily twice what it’s worth. Oh, and it maxes out at 5W output, so it’s one of the slower wireless chargers out there.

The Qimini Pocket works, and it’s not a bad design, but it’s slow, expensive, and frankly a bit too large to fit in many pockets. We like the idea of an integrated USB cable, but that’s about all we like about this.

RAVPower Fast Wireless Charger

ravpower fast charger

RAVPower makes two wireless chargers that essentially have the same name. Depending on where you look, they’re usually just called “Fast Wireless Charger.” This one is extremely inexpensive at around $16, while the other one costs almost three times as much.  Believe it or not, that one is the better deal.

This charging pad does not come with a power adapter, but at this bargain-basement price we can hardly hold that against it. This pad only charges iPhones at a 5W rate, and other quick-charge Qi enabled devices up to 10 watts (if you use the right power adapter). It’s heavy and stable, and comes with a nice flat micro USB cable.

But raised rubberized bumps on the top of the pad only cover the left and right side. Depending on how sloppy you are about placing your phone, you could easily miss part of it—why not just make it a complete circle as most other pads do?

It’s a minor design flaw, not a deal-breaker. But the slower iPhone charging speed makes it hard to recommend.

Samsung Fast Charge Wireless Stand

samsung wireless charging stand

Like its flat charging pad cousin, Samsung’s fast-charging wireless stand isn’t much of a looker. The round shape is all wrong for a stand, as it sticks out awkwardly to the sides when you put your rectangular phone on it. Still, at least it loses the clear plastic coating in favor of a uniform glossy black finish.

This stand is a good deal at around $40. It supports fast charging—both the iPhone 7.5-watt limit and faster speeds for Samsung’s phones—and it comes with a micro USB adapter powerful enough to enable it. There’s even a little fan inside that keeps the charging coils cool. Don’t worry, you can’t hear it unless you really strain in a very quiet room.

The angle is appropriate for activating Face ID, and the stand resists tipping well enough that a little gentle phone use won’t cause it to wobble.

RAVPower Fast Wireless Charger + QC3.0 Adapter

ravpower fast charger plus adapter

Not to be confused with the other, less-expensive “Fast Wireless Charger” by RAVPower, this other “Fast Wireless Charger” includes a Quick Charge 3.0 compatible adapter (up to 24 watts on supported Android phones) and has an entirely different design. Despite the higher price, it’s a better buy.

The design is a little plain, but it’s unobtrusive and highly functional. The pad is heavy and wide enough to be really stable, and there’s a nice wide rubberized ring around the top to rest your phone on and prevent sliding or scraping.

It’s fast, too. On iPhones it supports the 7.5W charging speed, and up to 10W fast-charging on other compatible phones.

The $45 price seems a little high, but you get a high-quality USB power adapter along with it, and it’s cheaper than most of the other alternatives that include a power adapter.

Anker PowerWave 7.5 Pad

anker powerwave 75 pad

Anker’s new PowerWave products greatly improve quality over its older wireless chargers, but they bump up the price to match.

The new pad is a rather plain large off-white circle. If that aesthetic goes with your desk or bedside table, that’s great, but we can’t help but wish for a black version. There’s a small blue circle charge indicator on top—we’re not a fan of the location, but the glow is dim enough not to be distracting in a dark room. The charging “sweet spot” is large enough that you don’t have to be too precise about how you place your phone down on the pad.

Anker includes a Quick Charge 3.0 compatible power adapter and a matching white microUSB cable, but the cable is way too short. Anker’s spec sheet says it’s three feet long (we would hope for five or six), and we measured it at 34 inches. The pad supports 7.5W charging on Apple devices and the 10W fast charge mode on the latest Samsung flagship phones.

Anker’s PowerWave products feature cooling fans to keep the charge coils from getting too hot, which can degrade charging speed. If you listen closely in a quiet room, you can hear the little fan inside whirring away.

For the price, we would hope for a longer microUSB cable and sturdier construction. The PowerWave 7.5 pad feels a little lightweight and plastic-y, more than the PowerWave Stand, and it’s too easy to accidentally slide around your desk as a result. Anker needs to give it a little more heft to help keep it in place.

Spigen Essential F306W Fast Wireless Charger

spigen f306w

Spigen’s new F306W charging pad is a nice improvement over its old F301W model. The design is much improved, with a sturdier and heavier metallic frame that won’t move around on your desk or bedside table. The charging indicator light is small, forward-facing, and dim enough not to be a distracting next to your bed in a dark room.

It’s got a fairly broad “sweet spot” for charging, so you don’t have to fuss with placing your phone just-so to get a connection. It comes with a Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 power adapter and a nice braided micro USB cable. It supports Apple’s faster 7.5W charging mode, and if you’ve got a newer Samsung flagship phone you get 10W fast charging. In fact, Spigen says the pad supports up to 15W wireless charging, and while current phones don’t go that high, it’s a bit of future-proofing that may come in handy one day. Heat dissipation is pretty good, too, so the charge rate shouldn’t slow down over time.

You don’t get something for nothing, though. The F306W, while a much nicer product, is twice the price of the F301W. Unless your plug is really close to where you need to put the pad, you’ll have to dig up a longer microUSB cable, too. At just over three feet long, the cable included here is just short enough to be frustrating.

Mophie Wireless Charging Base

mophie wireless charging base

One of the very few wireless charging pads sold at Apple Stores ($59.95), Mophie’s wireless charging base is a quality piece of gear. But I still don’t like it all that much.

It’s a good size, heavy, with a nice rubberized outer coating that prevents slipping. It’s easy to drop your iPhone on it and get a good charging connection without thinking about it. And it supports 7.5W charging, too.

But it has two big strikes against it. First, it’s sixty bucks. You can get good quality wireless charging pads, with adapter, for half that price. Second, the AC adapter connects to a little round DC barrel connector, while most other wireless charging pads use micro USB. Using USB would be far more flexible and convenient—you could plug into dozens of different products, like your laptop, and micro USB cables are everywhere. We have a drawers full of them.

Belkin BOOST UP Wireless Charging Pad

belkin boostup

Belkin’s Boost Up shares a lot in common with Mophie’s Wireless Charging Base. Both are sold at Apple Stores ($59.95). Both are large, with a rubberized non-slip bottom (the Mophie has non-slip coating all over). Both support 7.5W charging on your iPhone, too.

But the Boost Up shares the Mophie’s downsides, too. It costs about $60, nearly double the price of many other wireless chargers. And it includes an AC power adapter that connects to the charger via DC barrel connector rather than micro USB. Again, USB would be far more convenient.

The main difference between the Belkin and the Mophie, then, is your own personal sense of aesthetics. Do you like the matte black rubberized circle of the Mophie base, or do you like the glossy white Belkin, with its reversed slope giving it a sort of “floating” look? It’s really up to you, but we wouldn’t recommend either, based purely on the price and lack of USB connection.

Spigen Essential F303W Fast Wireless Charger

spigen essential f303w

Spigen’s fast-charging wireless stand has a nice A-frame design, but the extra-large lip at the bottom is a bit of an eyesore. More importantly, the angle is not steep enough. It’s very stable to be sure, but we found that an iPhone X is often positioned too far back to easily work with Face ID.

One feature we really like is the way Spigen uses two charging coils, one above the other. This gives the stand great coverage and makes it easy to get a good charging connection whether your phone is turned to landscape or portrait orientation.

Spigen’s suggested retail price is $45, but you can easily find it for about $30 online. That’s not a terrible price, but consider that it doesn’t come with a micro USB power adapter, and it doesn’t look like such a bargain anymore. You’ll need to purchase a fast-charging micro USB adapter separately to make full use of it.

Samsung Wireless Charging Pad

samsung wireless charging pad

If you’re not opposed to the big Samsung logo staring up at you from your desk, you could do a lot worse than this inexpensive pad. For less than $30 you get a solid, no-slip pad with a generous size—it’s easy to drop your phone on and start a wireless charging connection without needing to be too fussy about placement.

Best of all, Samsung throws in a 2A micro USB power adapter, so you don’t need to repurpose one of your own or buy a new one. While this is not a “fast charging” wireless pad, it wasn’t really much slower than the fastest chargers we tested; at least, not when charging iPhones. Some Android phones can handle faster wireless charging speeds.

This is one of the uglier charging pads we’ve used, but it’s inexpensive, solid, and works well.

Spigen Essential F301W

spigen essential f301w

The F301W is the charging pad sibling to the F303W stand. It’s relatively inexpensive at about $30, but the price does not include a power adapter. Fortunately, it will work with almost any USB power adapter, and will support faster charging if you have a Quick Charge adapter.

The F301W suffers from a couple of small design flaws that really annoy, however. The micro USB connection is recessed, with a very narrow cutout surrounding it. The included cable fits fine, but most of the other micro USB cables we tried did not. Also, the top of the charging pad has a convex slope, with a rubberized ring in the middle. Placing your phone on the ring is simple enough, but it’s not wide enough to be really stable there—it’s too wobbly.

It’s a shame, because the price and performance are fine. All it would take a slightly different shape to the plastic mold and Spigen would have a terrific product.

Are you interested in a charger you don’t see listed here? That’s not surprising—while we try to cover the most popular brands, there are literally hundreds of wireless chargers on the market. We can still help make sure you get a product you’re happy with, though. The next page contains some helpful general advice to consider when deciding which wireless charger to buy.

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Facebook Identifies New Influence Operations Spanning Globe

1 min read

In a statement, Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, said, “There’s no way the problem of social media manipulation is limited to a single troll farm in St. Petersburg, and that fact is now beyond a doubt.” He added, “Iranians are now following the Kremlin’s playbook from 2016.”

Mr. Warner said he planned to ask tech company executives more about the matter on Sept. 5 at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington to discuss social media and disinformation. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, and Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, as well as others, are expected to appear at the hearing.

Facebook said on Tuesday that it had identified some of the new influence operations last month after a tip from FireEye, a cybersecurity firm, about a network of Facebook pages called “Liberty Front Press.”

After Facebook investigated those pages, it said it linked them back to Iranian state media using their website registration information and internet protocol addresses. Some of the pages were created in 2013, the company said, and they posted political content focused on the Middle East, Latin America, Britain and the United States.

Other pages also have a far more international bent than the earlier batches uncovered by the social media company. The pages believed to have originated in Iran were written in several languages, including English, Arabic and Farsi. They carried a number of pro-Iranian themes, as well as language attacking Israel and promoting Palestinians. Some included anti-Trump language and were tied to relations between the United States and Iran, including references to the Iranian nuclear weapons deal.

But FireEye said in a preliminary report that “it is important to note that the activity does not appear to have been specifically designed to influence the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, as it extends well beyond U.S. audiences and U.S. politics.”

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