A weekly digest of the latest news and research related to the work of the Technology, Economics, and Governance Working Group. Topics covered in the digest include cybersecurity, domestic regulation, innovation, international competition, social media disinformation, and the California exodus.
This week’s edition covers the NATO summit, China’s market dominance in lithium, military use of consumer drones in Ukraine, one FCC commissioner’s appeal to remove TikTok from app stores, and warnings to expect Russian meddling in US midterm elections. Additional topics include advances in human-robot collaboration, California tech legislation, and alleged Russian and Chinese cyber attacks.
Industrial Policy & International Security
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg concluded the annual NATO summit with a sobering acknowledgement that today’s threats are more dangerous and unpredictable than those the allies faced during the Cold War. The summit yielded major changes for NATO. Notably, formal invitations to join NATO were extended to Sweden and Finland, and alliance members adopted a new Strategic Concept that identifies Russia as the greatest threat to “security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.” Moreover, leaders pledged continuing support for Ukraine and agreed on plans to bolster NATO’s readiness and strengthen its force posture.
China dominates the market for processing and refining lithium. It maintains a high market share of lithium ion battery production—estimated to be up to 80%—and is the only country that is able to create finished batteries from raw lithium. In the face of rising geopolitical tensions, the US and Europe are building lithium processing plants to expand battery production. However, it may take decades and around $175 billion for the US to catch up to China, meaning that lithium mined in the US and Europe may still need to be shipped to China for processing. Moreover, Chinese companies own stakes in lithium-rich areas across the globe, increasing their control over the world’s supply. While lithium is not scarce, China will have a massive advantage in the case of any shortages, especially in electric vehicle manufacturing.
How consumer drones are changing warfare | The Economist
Both Ukraine and Russia are buying cheap consumer drones for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. The drones are primarily put to use as artillery spotters; they can spot vehicles from behind ridges and track artillery rounds. China’s DJI dominates the consumer drone market but their products pose security risks, like unencrypted communications, for military users. DJI also produces a device that can track their drones and operators from up to 50km away. In April, the company banned new sales in Ukraine and Russia and deplored military applications of its products. This move, combined with longstanding security concerns, is creating an opportunity for competitors like France’s Parrot to capture a greater share of the drone market by focusing on secure communication for military users.
FCC Commissioner calls on Google and Apple to ban TikTok App | The Washington Post
In the wake of last week’s BuzzFeed News report, Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr sent a letter to Apple and Google expressing concerns about TikTok’s Beijing employees accessing data on the app. Carr urged the companies to remove TikTok from their stores. TikTok was the subject of a national security investigation led by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States in 2019, and former president Donald Trump attempted to ban the app in 2020. A data storage deal with Oracle allowed TikTok to continue operating in the United States and President Biden reversed the ban in 2021. However, the BuzzFeed News report indicates TikTok’s measures to change its data storage practices have not prevented China-based employees from accessing US data. Republican lawmakers still have concerns on TikTok’s security and requested answers regarding the company’s data practices on June 27.
The next step for industrial robotics may be increased collaboration with humans. Today, humans and robots remain separate in many manufacturing facilities to prevent injuries. Robust AI unveiled a new mobile robot called Carter that can identify what human workers around it are doing. It’s up to the workers to task Carter to help through a no-code graphical interface. Led by Rodney Brooks, co-founder of iRobot, Robust AI is looking for clients among smaller warehouses that don’t already have automated systems in place. Amazon is also pursuing similar robotics developments and recently launched Proteus, which can sense humans and navigate through shared workspaces. Human-robot teamwork is expected to improve productivity.
Fake, pro-China social media accounts were responsible for social media campaigns targeting American, Canadian, and Australian mining companies. American cybersecurity firm Mandiant uncovered the operation, known as Dragonbridge. Dragonbridge ran campaigns on Twitter and Facebook posing as environmental activists and targeted the construction of processing facilities and domestic laws perceived to disadvantage Chinese firms. Mandiant needs more data to assign blame but says the operation was well funded. China frequently uses fake social media campaigns, but operations targeting specific industry competitors are rare. China currently dominates the market in rare earth metals and sees the sector as strategically vital.
Lithuania blames Russia for cyberattacks, citing threats over cargo restrictions | The New York Times
Russian cyberattacks are targeting Lithuania in retaliation for alleged restrictions on rail traffic to its Kaliningrad exclave. Lithuania, a NATO member, reported that thousands of online services and major infrastructure were targeted with distributed denial-of-service attacks by the Russian group “Killnet,” which has denied affiliation with Moscow. The Lithuanian government dismissed Russia’s claim of an illegal blockade, explaining that it has restricted only 1% of rail-transported goods in accordance with EU sanctions. Russia has promised increased escalation in response to the restrictions, although NATO forces in Lithuania are confident Russia would not take military action. The EU is currently trying to broker a compromise to defuse the situation.
State & Local Tech Ecosystems
On Monday, 34 companies with an interest in deploying autonomous vehicles signed an open letter to Governor Gavin Newsom asking California to allow autonomous trucking. California has historically been a leader in autonomous vehicle technology, but its ban on trucking has caused some firms to set up in Texas instead. The open letter expresses concern that the ban could cause California to fall behind, citing a Silicon Valley Leadership Group Foundation study indicating automated trucking could inject $6.5 billion into the economy and generate thousands of new jobs. The California Department of Motor Vehicles responded Tuesday that it is moving forward with forming regulations on heavy-duty autonomous vehicles but did not provide a timetable.
Meta, TikTok Could Face Civil Liability if Held to Addict Children in California | The Wall Street Journal
A California bill allowing the government to sue social media companies for deploying features known to cause addiction in minors passed in the state Senate Judiciary Committee. The legislation would allow government attorneys in California’s four largest cities to sue social media companies for unfair business practices. Supporters say the bill will hold companies accountable with the prospect of large fines while opponents critique the blurred line between product liability and freedom of speech. To pass, the bill must be approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee by the end of the legislative session in August.
US intelligence officials are anticipating major Russian election interference in the 2022 midterms. Additionally, Microsoft recently released evidence that Russia is ramping up its cyber operations against US targets and experts believe these efforts will spillover into the midterm elections. While disinformation campaigns are traditionally more widespread during national races, the war in Ukraine is expected to focus Russia’s efforts on key races for Democrats to undermine the Biden Administration.