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Swiss Scientists Create First Computer Generated Genome

Sun, 04/07/2019 - 20:55
Ever since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in 1818, the world has been fascinated with the idea of creating life in a lab. But it remained in the realm of fiction... until it became a bit closer to reality with genetic engineering work in a Swiss lab. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

For Interracial Couples, an Emoji With Choices

Sun, 04/07/2019 - 13:50
Emojis, those cute, vivid images that liven up emails and texts, seem to come in all shapes, colors and sizes. After all, there are more than 2,800 to choose from. Among the favorites: the smiley face, the thumbs up, the birthday cake. But it turns out, there is more people want to say with emojis than what is currently available, including showing two people with different skin tones, together. Since 2015, it has been possible to pick skin tones for many of the people emojis, such as the mermaid, firefighter and baby. But it began to frustrate some users that they couldn’t show two people of different races holding hands or families with different skin tones, says Jennifer Lee, co-founder of Emojination and vice chair of the Unicode Consortium’s emoji subcommittee. They could only use the default yellow image. WATCH: Tailoring the Emoji to Match the Couple ​Frustration over lack of interracial couple emoji “The interracial couple emoji was something we’ve have heard a lot of demand for in terms of people on Twitter,” she said. “People have gotten used to pressing and seeing all these skin tones whether or not it’s a thumbs up or it’s a woman who is a mermaid or a baby. They would long press on the multiple families and long press on the couples and be like, ‘Why is it only yellow?’ Because they were trained to expect skin tones.” Turns out, the birth of a new emoji takes some work. Anyone can apply to the Unicode Consortium, a nonprofit that is run by volunteers. They set the standards for text in all languages and oversees emojis. “As our mission says, we want to make sure that every language makes it into the digital age,” said Greg Welch, a board member of the Unicode Consortium. When it comes to emojis, Unicode’s goal is simple: To make sure that when a person sends a smiley face, no matter the age of the phone or the type of computer software, the receiver sees a smiley face. Unicode, which is working on bringing Rohingya and Mongolian to the Unicode standards, has overseen the tremendous growth in emojis since 2010. ​Emoji — a new language “If you think about a language like English or Russian or Chinese, it’s evolved slowly over the course of centuries,” Welch said. “If you look at emoji, in the last five years, it’s exploded in use. It’s exploded in its vocabulary. This is almost like watching a new proto language emerge right before our eyes.” With the help of Tinder, the dating site, Jennifer Lee pressed Unicode for an interracial emoji. There were technical complications as well as some tough choices, which of the many emojis that show love or families should be the first to be able to show different skin tones? Unicode settled on two people holding hands after much discussion, Lee said. “One of the reasons that that is the emoji of choice is that two people holding hands does not have to be a romantic kind of relationship,” she said. “It can be two friends, it can be a couple, it can represent family members. We felt it was the most versatile of the different emoji.” The approved interracial couple emoji will allow users to pick one of five skin tones and the gender identity for each person in a couple who are holding hands. Unicode gave the code for interracial couple to companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Google and others. They will come out with their own versions of the emoji, as well as 58 others, including a new menstruation emoji, a falafel emoji and a deaf emoji, later this year.

Tailoring the Emoji to Match the Couple

Sun, 04/07/2019 - 13:40
Emojis, those cute vivid images that liven up emails and texts, seem to come in all shapes, colors and sizes. The smiley face, the thumbs up, the birthday cake. Add one more to the list — interracial couples. Michelle Quinn looked into the story behind this new emoji, expected to be released later this year.

US Military Creates 3D-Printed Bridges

Sun, 04/07/2019 - 12:05
3D printers have been used to create incredible things, from robots to prosthetic arms. Now the U.S. Marines have used the technology to make a 3D-printed concrete footbridge. Khrystyna Shevchenko traveled to Camp Pendleton in California to take a look. Anna Rice narrates her story.

Creating the World's Best Battery, an Atom at a Time

Sat, 04/06/2019 - 12:30
Researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio are working on the next generation of batteries — a power supply that could theoretically almost never need to be recharged. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

US Sounds Warning as SE Asia Countries Choose Huawei for 5G

Sat, 04/06/2019 - 01:10
Xu Ning from VOA Mandarin and reporter Rob Garver contributed to this report. STATE DEPARTMENT — The United States is acknowledging that many countries are not heeding warnings about the possible security risks in allowing Chinese tech giant Huawei to build the next generation of high-speech wireless networks known as 5G. The trend is particularly clear in Southeast Asia, where even U.S. allies are racing ahead to partner with Huawei and launch 5G networks in the coming years. In February, Thailand launched a Huawei 5G test network in Chonburi. Thai authorities indicated that the affordability of Huawei's 5G services offset potential concerns over cybersecurity. In the Philippines, its Globe Telecom is rolling out the nation's 5G network in partnership with Huawei. In Malaysia, the country's leading communications and digital services company Maxis signed a memorandum of understanding with Huawei to cooperate and accelerate 5G development. This week, six former top U.S. military officials, including two who were commanders for the U.S. Pacific Command, issued a blunt warning of a future where a Chinese-developed 5G network could be widely adopted among American allies. "There is reason for concern that in the future the U.S. will not be able to use networks that rely on Chinese technology for military operations in the territories of traditional U.S. allies or emerging partners in Europe, Asia and beyond," said the former military leaders in a statement. "The immense bandwidth and access potential inherent in commercial 5G systems means effective military operations in the future could benefit from military data being pushed over these networks," they added. And U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday warned some European countries could soon find themselves cut off from U.S. intelligence and other critical information if they continue to cultivate relationships with Chinese technology firms. "We've done our risk analysis," Pompeo said, following a NATO ministerial meeting in Washington.  "We have now shared that with our NATO partners, with countries all around the world. We've made clear that if the risk exceeds the threshold for the United States, we simply won't be able to share that information any longer." For U.S. officials, the threat posed by a Chinese-built communication network could not be clearer. "Huawei is not a state-owned enterprise. But Huawei is a Chinese company and what we do know is several things. One, broadly speaking, Chinese companies will respond to requests for demands from the Chinese government. Telecommunications is a vital part of national backbones. It has military security implications. It has financial and economic implications," said Dean Cheng, a senior research fellow of Washington-based Heritage Foundation. ​Cheap. Fast. Secure? Huawei insists that it would not turn information over to Chinese authorities if they demanded it, but few outside analysts believe any Chinese company would stand up the country's authoritarian government. U.S. officials are even more direct.  "What we do is in our national interests, we see with companies like Huawei that are supported, if not directed, by central authorities in China. We see challenges and potential threats to the sanctity, the security of our systems in our networks, and the best we can do with our friends and partners and allies, is to share our information, share our experience," Patrick Murphy, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told VOA at a recent seminar at the U.S. Institute of Peace. That message clearly has had a mixed reception, especially after years when the United States' vast electronic eavesdropping capabilities have drawn criticism. Richard Kramer, founder of Arete, a technology research firm based in London, said leaks from U.S. security agencies in recent years have revealed close cooperation between the federal government and U.S. telecoms and tech firms around intelligence gathering. The U.S. position, he said, seems to be: "We don't want China to spy on us, but we want to be able to spy on them." Will pressure backfire? Even in countries where there are open political concerns over the growing power of Chinese influence, too much U.S. pressure could backfire, said Anthony Nelson, Director of the East Asia and Pacific practice at the Albright Stonebridge Group, a global business strategy firm. "Southeast Asian countries that are looking to balance their military relationships with the U.S. and China are not motivated by Washington's security concerns, with the notable exception of Vietnam," Nelson said. Vietnam has had tensions with China in recent years over disputed territory and trade issues.  Vietnamese Ambassador to the U.S., Ha Kim Ngoc, told VOA that all companies operating in the country need to respect Vietnam's sovereignty. "We have one principle: They need to respect our sovereignty, national sovereignty," said the ambassador at the recent USIP event.

US Colleges Halt Work With Huawei Following Federal Charges

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 08:31
Some of the nation's top research universities are cutting ties with Chinese tech giant Huawei as the company faces allegations of bank fraud and trade theft. Colleges including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University and the University of California, Berkeley, have said they will accept no new funding from the company, citing the recent federal charges against Huawei along with broader cybersecurity concerns previously raised by the U.S. government. The schools are among at least nine that have received funding from Huawei over the past six years, amounting a combined $10.5 million, according to data provided by the U.S. Education Department. The data, which is reported by schools, does not include gifts of less than $250,000. It's not uncommon for big companies to provide research dollars to schools in the U.S. and elsewhere. At MIT, which received a $500,000 gift in 2017, officials announced in a memo Wednesday they will not approve any new deals with the company and won't renew existing ones. The memo ties the decision to recent Justice Department charges against Huawei, adding that the shift will be revisited "as circumstances dictate.'' Company officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Federal prosecutors in January unsealed two cases against Huawei. One, filed in New York, accuses the company of bank fraud and says it plotted to violate U.S. trade sanctions against Iran. The other, filed in Washington state, accuses Huawei of stealing technology from T-Mobile's headquarters in Bellevue, Washington. The company pleaded not guilty in both cases. The U.S. government previously barred federal agencies from buying certain equipment from Huawei and labeled the company a cybersecurity risk. Just days after the federal cases were unsealed, officials at the University of California, Berkeley, issued a ban on new research funding from Huawei until the charges are resolved. "UC Berkeley holds its research partners to the highest possible standards of corporate conduct, and the severity of these accusations raises questions and concerns that only our judicial system can address,'' Howard Katz, the school's vice chancellor for research, said in the Jan. 30 directive. Still, the school is honoring its existing multi-year deals with the company, which amount to $7.8 million. Officials say most of the funding supports research centers rather than specific projects, and Katz's memo emphasized that "none of these projects involve sensitive technological secrets or knowledge.'' Berkeley officials investigated whether it had any technology provided by Huawei that could pose a cybersecurity threat. Officials removed one off-campus video conferencing set-up donated by the company, but said it had never been used for research. The school's projects funded by Huawei cover a wide range of science fields, from artificial intelligence and deep learning to wireless technology and cybersecurity. At Princeton, officials told Huawei in January they would not accept the final $150,000 installment of a gift that supported computer science research. Ben Chang, a Princeton spokesman, said the school had decided last July not to accept new gifts from the company, and has no current projects backed by it. Cornell University has received more than $5.3 million from Huawei in recent years, by far more than any other U.S. college, according to the Education Department data. Officials there also said they will heed the government's warnings and bar new funding. Existing projects were carefully reviewed, according to a statement from the school, "to confirm that appropriate safeguards were in place to address data and information security, to protect the independence of our research and to comply with all federal and state laws and regulations.'' Ohio State University is also opting not to pursue any other funding from Huawei. The school has received $1.2 million for engineering research, according to federal data. School spokesman Ben John said officials are "in the process of closing out the final contract, and are not accepting or pursuing any other gifts or contracts from Huawei.'' 

Jeff Bezos' Ex-Wife Cedes Control of Amazon in Divorce Deal

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 01:16
MacKenzie Bezos, ex-wife of Amazon.com Inc founder and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos, will give 75 percent of their stake in the company and all voting rights to the billionaire entrepreneur. MacKenzie Bezos will also relinquish all her interests in the Washington Post newspaper and rocket company Blue Origin, she said in a tweet on Thursday. The announcement resolves questions about the direction of the world's largest online retailer that have abounded since the couple announced their divorce in January. Jeff Bezos, widely viewed as a management guru whose long-term focus has been essential to Amazon's meteoric stock rise, will retain company control. The settlement also suggests that Amazon will be spared the kind of boardroom battle that has plagued other companies whose owners are dealing with family rifts. "Happy to be giving him all of my interests in the Washington Post and Blue Origin, and 75 percent of our Amazon stock," MacKenzie Bezos said in the tweet. Her remaining stake is worth about $36 billion at current market prices. The couple's total stake of $143 billion had made them the richest in the world. "Grateful to have finished the process of dissolving my marriage with Jeff with support from each other and everyone who reached out to us in kindness, and looking forward to next phase as co-parents and friends," MacKenzie Bezos wrote.

WhatsApp Business Launches on iPhones

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 22:11
Facebook Inc's messaging app WhatsApp on Thursday launched its WhatsApp Business app for Apple Inc's iOS operating system, allowing small businesses to communicate with customers through the platform. WhatsApp Business will be available for free download from the App Store in Brazil, Germany, Indonesia, India, Mexico, the U.K. and the U.S. starting Thursday and will be rolled out around the world in the coming weeks, WhatsApp said. The service has been available on Android since last year and has over 5 million users.  

South Korea Launches 5G Networks Early to Secure World First

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 21:51
South Korea launched the world's first nationwide 5G mobile networks two days early, its top mobile carriers said Thursday, giving a handful of users access in a late-night scramble to be the first providers of the super-fast wireless technology. Three top telecom providers -- SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus -- began their 5G services at 11 pm local time Wednesday, despite previously announcing the launch date would be April 5. Hyper-wired South Korea has long had a reputation for technical prowess, and Seoul had made the 5G rollout a priority as it seeks to stimulate stuttering economic growth. Along with the US, China and Japan, South Korea had been racing to claim the title as the world's first provider of the ultra-fast network. But speculation that US mobile carrier Verizon might start its 5G services early forced South Korean providers to hastily organize a late-night launch, Yonhap news agency reported. In the event, Verizon began rolling out its 5G services in Chicago and Minneapolis on Wednesday in the US, a week ahead of schedule. But according to Yonhap, the South Korean launches came two hours earlier. "SK Telecom today announced that it has activated 5G services for six celebrities representing Korea as of 11 pm April 3, 2019," the country's biggest mobile operator said in a news release Thursday. The celebrities -- including two members of K-pop band EXO and Olympic ice-skating heroine Kim Yu-na -- were "the world's first 5G smartphone subscribers", it said. Both KT and LG Uplus said they also went live at the same time, with a total of three specially-selected users: KT offered it to the wife of a technician setting up its network on the disputed island of Dokdo, while LG Uplus provided it to a television personality and her racing-driver husband. For general customers, the services will be available from Friday -- the original launch date -- when Samsung Electronics rolls out the Galaxy S10 5G, the world's first available smartphone with the technology built in. Verizon's network will work with Lenovo's Moto Z3 smartphone fitted with a special accessory, while rival US carrier AT&T launched a 5G-based system in parts of 12 cities in December -- although it is only accessible to invited users through a free hotspot device, rather than paying customers with mobiles. Qatari firm Ooredoo said it offers 5G services in and around Doha -- but does not have devices available to use them -- while Japan is also expected to roll out a limited deployment in 2019 before full services start in time for next year's Tokyo Olympics. Bitter standoff Experts say 5G will bring smartphones near-instantaneous connectivity -- 20 times faster than 4G -- allowing users to download entire movies in less than a second. The technology is crucial for the future development of devices such as self-driving vehicles and is expected to bring about $565 billion in global economic benefits by 2034, according to the London-based Global System for Mobile Communications, an industry alliance. The implications of the new network have pitted Washington against Beijing -- whose firms dominate 5G technology -- in an increasingly bitter standoff. The US has pressed its allies and major economies to avoid 5G solutions from Chinese-owned telecom giant Huawei, citing security risks that technological backdoors could give Beijing access to 5G-connected utilities and other components. Chinese entities, including 1,529 5G patents registered by Huawei, own a total of 3,400 patents -- more than a third of the total, according to data analysis firm IPlytics. South Korea comes next, with its companies holding 2,051 patents, while US firms have 1,368 together. Neither KT nor SK Telecom use Huawei technology in their 5G networks, but it is a supplier to LG UPlus, the companies told AFP.    

Facebook CEO Confident of Stopping Interference in 2020 Campaign

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 20:46
Facebook Inc's Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg is confident the world's biggest social network will do better in 2020 at stopping "bad actors" from manipulating the U.S. presidential election. "We've learned a lot since 2016, where, obviously, we were behind where we needed to be on defenses for nation states trying to interfere," he said in a "Good Morning America" interview released on Thursday. "These aren't things that you ever fully solve, right? They're ongoing arms races, where we need to make sure that our systems stay ahead of the sophisticated bad actors, who are just always going to try to game them.” U.S. intelligence agencies say there was an extensive Russian cyber-influence operation during the 2016 campaign aimed at helping Donald Trump, a Republican, defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. Russia has repeatedly denied the allegations. Zuckerberg said the social media giant had implemented a lot of different measures since 2016 to verify any advertiser who is running a political ad and create an archive so anyone could see what advertisers are running, who they are targeting and how much they are paying. Advertising practices at Facebook, the world's largest social network with 2.7 billion users and $56 billion in annual revenue, have been in the spotlight for two years amid growing discontent over its approach to privacy and user data. The company said in a congressional testimony last year that Russian agents created 129 events on the network during the 2016 U.S. election campaign, shedding more light on Russia's purported disinformation drive aimed at voters. "At this point, (we) have probably some of the most-advanced systems of any company or government in the world for preventing the kind of tactics that Russia and now other countries, as well, have tried," Zuckerberg said. Asked if he could guarantee that there would not be interference in the election, Zuckerberg said, "What I can guarantee is that they're definitely going to try.”  

In Economic Race With China, US Industries Turn to Feds

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 18:56
In the U.S. economic battle with China, the Chinese government is often portrayed as a kingmaker, making large investments in research and paving the way for Chinese companies to thrive. China, it turns out, is a good foil for U.S. industries as they ask the U.S. government to do more to help them compete globally. Two new reports out this week, one from the U.S. wireless industry and the other from the U.S. semiconductor industry, show how U.S. companies are looking more to Washington to help them compete with their Chinese counterparts. CTIA, which represents the U.S. wireless industry, found in its report that the U.S. is now tied with China when it comes to “its 5G readiness.” 5G is the high-speed wireless network that is being built around the world. Last year, the U.S. was in third place, trailing China and South Korea, respectively, according to CTIA. ​US tied with China in 5G race What has propelled U.S. firms? Increased industry investment in 5G networks plus “government action to reform infrastructure policies and make more spectrum available to wireless operators,” according to CTIA. The stakes are said to be high in the global race to 5G. The first nation to the broadest 5G network will attract more investment and create more jobs than countries that lag behind, CTIA research has found. The U.S. was first to 4G deployment, which led to more than $100 billion added to the nation’s gross domestic product, according to CTIA. But it isn’t clear that first is always best. The United Kingdom was seen to be behind other countries in its 4G deployment, and the “U.K. operators launched when they needed it, and they were able to capitalize,” said Caroline Gabriel, a principal analyst at Analysys Mason, a telecom research firm. “I really question if it matters,” she said. “There was a lot of tub-thumping.” CTIA recommends that an upcoming Trump administration “National Spectrum Strategy” include a “five-year schedule of auctions that puts more high-, mid- and low-band spectrum in the hands of America’s wireless industry.” In November, the FCC launched its high-band spectrum auction for 5G. ​More federal investment urged For its part, the Semiconductor Industry Association, in its report, called for the U.S. government to increase its investment in semiconductor research and release the cap on green cards for qualified candidates. The U.S. semiconductor industry is the world leader in semiconductors, commanding nearly half of the $469 billion global market in 2018, the trade association said. But China has increased its investment in semiconductor research as it tries to lessen its reliance on importing semiconductors. “Overseas governments, such as China’s, are seeking to challenge U.S. leadership by making significant investments to achieve breakthroughs in semiconductor technology, artificial intelligence and quantum computing,” the SIA report said. SIA calls for tripling federal investment in semiconductor research over the next five years to $5 billion annually and doubling federal funding for semiconductor research to $40 billion annually. Remove green card caps It also calls on the U.S. to remove caps on green cards for qualified graduates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to meet short-term demand for talent. It also calls for the U.S. to boost its federal funding to $1.5 billion annually for STEM education, a 50 percent increase. John Neuffer, SIA president and CEO, said in a statement that U.S. semiconductor leadership is thanks to the strength of its research, workforce and its ability to sell its products around the world. “Congress and the administration should enact policies that reinforce these pillars and keep America at the head of the class in semiconductor technology,” he said.

South Korea to Launch World's First National 5G Networks 

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 05:39
South Korea on Friday launches the world's first nationwide 5G mobile networks, a transformational leap that has superpowers sparring for control of an innovation that could change the day-to-day lives of billions of people. The fast communications heralded by fifth-generation wireless technology will ultimately underpin everything from toasters to telephones, from electric cars to power grids.    But while Seoul has won the race to be first to provide the user experience, that is only one part of a wider battle that has pitted the United States against China and ensnared giants including Huawei.    Hyper-wired South Korea has long had a reputation for technical prowess, and Seoul has made the 5G rollout a priority as it seeks to stimulate stuttering economic growth.    The system will bring smartphones near-instantaneous connectivity — 20 times faster than existing 4G — allowing users to download entire movies in less than a second.    In the same way that 3G enabled widespread mobile web access and 4G made new applications work ranging from social media to Uber, 5G will herald a new level of connectivity, empowered by speed.    It is crucial for the future development of devices ranging from self-driving vehicles that send data to one another in real time to industrial robots, drones and other elements of the Internet of Things.   That makes it a vital part of the infrastructure of tomorrow, and the 5G standard is expected to bring about $565 billion in global economic benefits by 2034, according to the London-based Global System for Mobile Communications, an industry alliance.  '1 million devices' But the implications of the new technology have pitted Washington against Beijing in an increasingly bitter standoff.  The U.S. has pressed its allies and major economies to avoid 5G solutions from Chinese-owned telecom giant Huawei, citing security risks that technological back doors could give Beijing access to 5G-connected utilities and other components.    But Chinese firms dominate 5G technology.   Huawei, the global leader, has registered 1,529 5G patents, according to data analysis firm IPlytics.    Combined with manufacturers ZTE and Oppo, plus the China Academy of Telecommunications Technology, Chinese entities own a total of 3,400 patents, more than a third of the total, according to the research firm.       South Korea comes next, with its companies holding 2,051 patents.    In contrast, U.S. firms have 1,368, IPlytics said, 29 fewer than Finland's Nokia alone.    All three of South Korea's mobile operators — KT, SK Telecom and LG UPlus — will go live with their 5G services on Friday.    "5G's hyperspeed can connect 1 million devices within a 1-square-kilometer zone simultaneously," KT said in a report.    Neither KT nor SK Telecom uses Huawei technology in its 5G network, but Huawei is a supplier to LG UPlus, the companies told AFP.    On the same day, Samsung Electronics will release the Galaxy S10 5G, the world's first available smartphone using the technology, and rival phonemaker LG will follow with the V50s two weeks later.  Deployment in US Until now, no mobile networks have offered nationwide 5G access.   U.S. network carrier Verizon said Wednesday that it had become the first carrier in the world to deploy a 5G network — in Chicago and Minneapolis, with more cities due to follow this year.  The system will work with Lenovo's Moto Z3 smartphone.    "Verizon customers will be the first in the world to have the power of 5G in their hands," said Hans Vestberg, Verizon's chairman and chief executive officer. "This is the latest in our string of 5G firsts."    Rival US carrier AT&T deployed what it called its 5G E network in 12 cities last year with speeds faster than 4G networks but below those being deployed in other fifth-generation systems.    Andre Fuetsch, president of AT&T Labs, said in a statement Wednesday that independent testing shows "that we are the fastest wireless network nationwide."    Qatari firm Ooredoo says it offers 5G services in and around Doha but does not have devices available to use them.    Japan is also expected to roll out a limited deployment in 2019 before full services start in time for next year's Tokyo Olympics.  Cost barrier More than 3 million South Koreans will switch to 5G by the end of this year, predicted KT Vice President Lee Pil-jae.    Cost is likely to be a barrier initially for users, analysts say, as the cheapest version of the new Galaxy handset will be priced at 1.39 million won ($1,200).    "While there are many cheap 4G smartphones under $300, Samsung's 5G phones are well over $1,000, which could be a major minus point for cost-savvy consumers," a KT representative told AFP.     None of South Korea's three network operators would say how much they have invested in 5G, but Seoul's Economy Minister Hong Nam-ki estimated it would be at least $2.6 billion this year alone.    "If 5G is fully implemented," he said, "it will greatly improve people's lives."

Facebook's WhatsApp Allows Users to Control Who Can Add Them to Group Chats

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 23:19
Facebook Inc on Wednesday changed the privacy settings on its WhatsApp messaging platform, allowing users to decide who can add them to chat groups, as it tries to revamp its image after growing privacy concerns among users. WhatsApp, which has about 1.5 billion users, has been trying to find ways to stop misuse of the app, following global concerns that the platform was being used to spread fake news, manipulated photos, videos without context and audio hoaxes, with no way to monitor their origin or full reach. The messaging service said in January it would limit the number of times a user could forward a message to five in a bid to fight "misinformation and rumors." Concerns about Facebook's handling of personal information have grown since the world's largest social network admitted in March that data of millions of users was wrongly harvested by political consultancy Cambridge Analytica. In a blog post, WhatsApp said a user inviting another to a group will be prompted to send a private invite through an individual chat, giving the recipient the choice of joining the group. The request will expire in three days. The setting will be rolled out Wednesday for some users and be available worldwide in the coming weeks. WhatsApp, seen as a key tool for communications and commerce in many countries, was acquired by Facebook in 2014 for $19 billion.

Boeing Software Under Scrutiny as Ethiopia Prepares Crash Report

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 23:06
Boeing anti-stall software forced down the nose of a doomed Ethiopian jet even after pilots had turned it off, sources told Reuters on Wednesday, as investigators scrutinize the role played by technology and crew in the fatal March 10 crash. A preliminary Ethiopian report into the disaster is due to be published within days and may include evidence the software system kicked in as many as four times before the 737 MAX dived into the ground, two people with knowledge of the matter said. A third person familiar with the findings confirmed the software had fired up again after pilots had initially switched it off, but said there was only one significant episode in which the plane pointed itself lower in the moments before the crash. The so-called MCAS software is at the center of accident probes in both the crash of Ethiopian flight 302 and a Lion Air accident in Indonesia five months earlier that together killed 346 people. It was not immediately clear whether the Ethiopian crew chose to re-deploy the system, which pushes the Boeing 737 MAX downwards to avoid stalling. But one of the sources said investigators were studying the possibility that the software started working again without human intervention. In a statement on media reports about the investigation, Boeing said: "We urge caution against speculating and drawing conclusions on the findings prior to the release of the flight data and the preliminary report." Ethiopian investigators were not available for comment. The Ethiopian crash led to a global grounding of 737 MAX jets and scrutiny of its certification process. Initial results of the accident investigation are due within days. The stakes are high. The 737 MAX is Boeing's top-selling jet with almost 5,000 on order. Ethiopian Airlines is also in the midst of an expansion drive, while other 737 MAX customers and victims' families want answers, and potentially compensation. Boeing shares were down 1.5 percent at 1450 GMT. They have lost more than 8.5 percent since the Ethiopian crash. Emergency procedures Getting the planes flying again depends partly on the role that Boeing design features are found to have played in the crash, though investigators are also paying attention to airline operations, crew actions and regulatory measures. Boeing is upgrading the MCAS software and training while stressing that existing cockpit procedures enable safe flight. People familiar with the investigation have already said the anti-stall software was activated by erroneous 'angle of attack' data from a key aircraft sensor. Now, the investigation has turned towards how MCAS was initially disabled by pilots, but then appeared to resume sending automated instructions to point downwards before the jet plunged to the ground, the two sources said. Boeing issued guidelines to pilots on how to disable the anti-stall system after the Indonesian crash, reminding pilots to use cut-out switches in the console to shut off the system in the event of problems. Cockpit procedures call for pilots to leave the MCAS system off for the rest of the flight once it has been disengaged. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that the pilots had initially followed Boeing's emergency procedures but later deviated from them as they tried to regain control of the plane. Disabling the system does not shut down MCAS completely but severs an electrical link between the software's attempts to give orders to push the plane lower and the actual controls, a person familiar with the aircraft system said. Investigators are studying whether there are any conditions under which MCAS could re-activate itself automatically, without the pilots intentionally reversing the cut-out maneuver. Aerospace analyst Bjorn Fehrm said in a blog post for Leeham News that pilots may have deliberately re-activated the system in order to make it easier to trim or control the aircraft only to be overwhelmed too quickly by counter-moves from MCAS. Safety experts stress the investigation is far from complete and most aviation disasters are caused by a unique combination of human and technical factors.

Tech Brings Historic Cities, Art to Life

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 22:35
Digital mapping technology has been around for awhile, but it’s only recently that it’s been applied to art history. University researchers are receiving grants from sources such as the Getty Foundation to build web applications for users to explore and research historic sites.  Historians increasingly are getting a new perspective on the past by connecting the worlds of art history with computer mapping technology. “It actually lets you think about how people lived in these spaces, moved through these spaces," said Heather MacDonald, senior program officer at the Getty Foundation. "How art works interacted and would have been seen and understood in relationship to one another." 3-D animation and digital mapping allow people to explore and research archeological sites and historic cities to better understand the environment where art objects were found. “Because of the developments in computer science and in regular standard computers even laptops have made this kind of work much easier for art historians,” said Duke University Art History Professor Paul Jaskot, who directs the Wired Lab for Digital Art History and visual culture. The data could include archival information that spans hundreds of years such as a map of the growth of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. For the project, called Visualizing the Mountain Estate, researchers combined digital maps and 3-D modeling of the Qing Dynasty imperial park in China. They used survey maps and historic sources such as  woodblock prints, texts and paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries to show how the park changed over time.  In the Hidden Florence project, augmented reality is used to explore art history in the home of the renaissance. Users can interact with a 16th century map that is embedded into the application as they tour this old Italian city.  "You can start to layer historical evidence or historical views or historical material onto that physical environment,” Jaskot said. “I think that’s the great thing about digital art history is that it gives us all kinds of new horizons both to answer old questions and to ask new ones,” MacDonald said. And with more understanding of the past, it may allow for more awareness of the art that is currently on display in today’s cities.

Tech Brings Historic Cities and Art to Life as Never Before

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 22:34
Digital mapping technology has been around for awhile, but it’s only recently that it’s been applied to art history. University researchers are receiving grants from sources such as the Getty Foundation to build web applications for users to explore and research historic sites. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee explains how technology is allowing art historians to better understand the past.

Zuckerberg: Facebook Cannot Guarantee Interference-free EU Eections

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 07:00
Facebook is much better than it was in 2016 at tackling election interference but cannot guarantee the site will not be used to undermine European Parliament elections in May, Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said on Tuesday. Chastened since suspected Russian operatives used Facebook and other social media to influence an election that surprisingly brought Donald Trump to power in the United States, Facebook has said it has plowed resources and staff into safeguarding the May 26 EU vote. Zuckerberg said there had been a lot of important elections since 2016 that have been relatively clean and demonstrated the defenses it has built up to protect their integrity. "We've certainly made a lot of progress ... But no, I don't think anyone can guarantee in a world where you have nation states that are trying to interfere in elections, there's no single thing we can do and say okay we've now solved the issue," Zuckerberg told Irish national broadcaster RTE in an interview. "This is an ongoing arms race where we're constantly building up our defenses and these sophisticated governments are also evolving their tactics." U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia ran a disinformation and hacking operation to undermine the American democratic process and help Republican Trump's 2016 campaign. Moscow denies interfering in the election. Under pressure from EU regulators to do more to guard against foreign meddling in the bloc's upcoming legislative election, Facebook toughened its rules on political advertising in Europe last week. It also announced plans to ramp up efforts to fight misinformation ahead of the vote and will partner with German news agency DPA to boost its fact checking. "Here in the EU for the upcoming elections we are bringing the full battery of all of the strategies and tools that worked very well in a lot of important elections so far so I've a lot of confidence," Zuckerberg said during a trip to Dublin, home to Facebook's international headquarters. "But I think that we should expect that for some of these countries that are out there that are trying to interfere, they are just going to keep trying, so we need to stay ahead of that and keep on doing this work in order to stay ahead."

Dutch Security Agency Warns Against Chinese, Russian Technology

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 03:16
The Dutch security service advised the government Tuesday not to use technology from countries with active cyber-hacking campaigns against the Netherlands, such as China and Russia. The recommendation came as the Dutch government is weighing options for a new 5G telecommunications network in the coming years and seeks to replace its domestic emergency services network, known as C2000. The AIVD security agency flagged Chinese and Russian attempts at digital espionage as a major security risk. "It is undesirable for the Netherlands to exchange sensitive information or for vital processes to depend on the hardware or software of companies from countries running active cyber programmes against Dutch interests," the AIVD said in its annual report. Prime Minister Mark Rutte has refused to rule out doing business with Chinese technology companies, even as key allies the United States and Australia restricted Huawei Technologies from accessing its next-generation mobile networks on national security grounds. Washington has said that Huawei is at the beck and call of the Chinese state, warning that its network equipment may contain "back doors" that could open them up to cyberespionage. Huawei says such concerns are unfounded.

Scam Ads Promoting Fake Tax Breaks Prosper on Facebook

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 01:17
Hundreds of ads on Facebook promised U.S. homeowners that they were eligible for huge state tax breaks if they installed new solar-energy panels. There was just one catch: None of it was true.   The scam ads used photos of nearly every U.S. governor — and sometimes President Donald Trump — to claim that with new, lucrative tax incentives, people might actually make money by installing solar technology on their homes. Facebook users only needed to enter their addresses, email, utility information and phone number to find out more.   Those incentives don't exist.   While the ads didn't aim to bilk people of money directly — and it wasn't possible to buy solar panels through these ads — they led to websites that harvested personal information that could be used to expose respondents to future come-ons, both scammy and legitimate. It's not clear that the data was actually used in such a manner.   Facebook apparently didn't take action until notified by state-government officials who noticed the ads.   The fictitious notices reveal how easily scammers can pelt internet users with misinformation for months, undetected. They also raise further questions about whether big tech companies such as Facebook are capable of policing misleading ads, especially as the 2020 elections — and the prospect of another onslaught of online misinformation — loom.   “This is definitely concerning — definitely, it's misinformation,” said Young Mie Kim, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who studied 5 million Facebook ads during the 2016 elections. “I keep telling people: We don't have any basis to regulate such a thing.”   Experts say websites and apps need to be more transparent about the ads that run on their platforms.   Last year, Facebook launched a searchable database that provides details on political ads it runs, including who bought them and the age and gender of the audience. But it doesn't make that information available for other ads. Twitter offers its own database of ads and promoted tweets. Google has an archive for political ads only.   The partial approaches allow misleading ads to fester. One problem is the fact that ads can be targeted so narrowly that journalists and watchdog groups often won't see them.   “That allows people to do more dirty tricks,” said Ian Vanderwalker, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice's Democracy Program.   In mid-March, some websites linked in the fake solar-energy ads disappeared. After complaints from governors' offices, Facebook inactivated nearly all of the ads and several pages affiliated with them.   “These scammy ads have no place on Facebook,” company spokeswoman Devon Kearns said in a statement. “We removed these pages and disabled these ad accounts recently and will continue to take action.”   Facebook says it uses an automated process to review the images, text, targeting and position of ads posted to its site. In some cases, employees review the ads. Users can also give feedback if they believe the ads violate company policies.   Governors' offices were alarmed to see photos of top politicians featured alongside claims such as “you can get paid to go solar.”     Helen Kalla, a spokeswoman for Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, said she notified Facebook last month after staffers saw them.   Facebook took them down days later, although some continued to re-appear days after that complaint. Facebook also yanked ads featuring images of governors in Texas, Illinois, Colorado, Arizona, South Carolina and other states. But the ads had already been running for some time.   After researching solar-panel options for his two-story home in Mount Tabor, New Jersey, 37-year-old Chris Fitzpatrick saw an ad claiming he might qualify for “free” solar panels because Gov. Phil Murphy planned to release “$100 million solar incentives.” He was skeptical because none of the solar companies he worked with mentioned such incentives, but worried others might not be.   “It's very frustrating because it preys upon innocent people,” Fitzpatrick said.   The Associated Press found that some of these ads directed people to solar-energy websites that listed the same business address — a mailbox in Carlsbad, California — that had been used by a company once under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, the government's consumer protection agency. In 2012, the FTC sued Jason Akatiff and his company — then called Coleadium, also known as Ads 4 Dough — for running fake news websites that marketed unfounded health benefits of colon cleanse and acai berry products, according to court records.   Akatiff settled the allegations without admitting guilt and agreed to a $1 million fine. Akatiff changed his company's name to A4D Inc. in 2015, according to California business filings.   Akatiff did not respond to messages left with his California business.     Though the FTC can investigate fake ads, sue to stop them and seek compensation for victims, thousands of ads targeting select groups run online daily, making it harder to catch suspect advertisers.     Scam ads are popular in certain industries, such as insurance or solar power, where companies are looking for people they can target later for products and services, said Peter Marinello, vice president of the Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc.   The scammers sell the personal information they collect to other companies looking for potential customers, Marinello said. “That's how this whole process plays out.”    

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