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Individual Cooling Units Could Save Lives

Mon, 10/22/2018 - 13:27
The World Health Organization is closely watching the Ebola outbreak in Congo where the number of cases has risen to 185 since the outbreak started in August. One of the challenges for health workers fighting highly infectious diseases like Ebola is spending time in HazMat suits. They can be unwieldy and incredibly hot, but new technology could solve one of those problems. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

Tiny Wind Turbines Offer Sustainable Urban Alternative to Large Fans

Sun, 10/21/2018 - 12:14
When you think of wind energy, you tend to think of the massive constructs that dot hilly landscapes or the ocean horizon. But two researchers see a future where it's as common for wind turbines to show up in backyards and on rooftops and balconies. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

Using Tech to Save World's Most Endangered Species in Tanzania

Sat, 10/20/2018 - 12:29
In Tanzania, protecting endangered animals has become easier thanks to Earth Ranger. Earth Ranger is not a superhero, it's a technology platform, developed by Vulcan Inc., a company co-founded by U.S. philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The system helps rangers remotely monitor elephants and other animals to stay ahead of poachers. Faiza Elmasry has the story. VOA's Faith Lapidus narrates.

Financial Watchdog: Regulate Cryptocurrencies Now, Or Else

Fri, 10/19/2018 - 23:42
A global financial body says governments worldwide must establish rules for virtual currencies like bitcoin to stop criminals from using them to launder money or finance terrorism. The Financial Action Task Force said Friday that from next year it will start assessing whether countries are doing enough to fight criminal use of virtual currencies. Countries that don't could risk being effectively put on a "gray list" by the FATF, which can scare away investors. Marshall Billingslea, an assistant U.S. Treasury secretary who holds the FATF's rotating leadership, said, "We've made clear today that every jurisdiction must establish" virtual currency rules. "It's no longer optional." The FATF described how the Islamic State group and al-Qaida have used virtual currencies. Financial regulators worldwide have struggled to deal with the rise of electronic alternatives to traditional money.

Former Deputy UK Leader Nick Clegg Takes Post with Facebook

Fri, 10/19/2018 - 23:24
Facebook has hired former U.K. deputy prime minister Nick Clegg to head its global policy and communications teams, enlisting a veteran of European Union politics to help it with increased regulatory scrutiny in the region. Clegg, 51, will become a vice president of the social media giant, and report to Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. Clegg will be called upon to help Facebook and other Silicon Valley stalwarts grapple with a changing regulatory landscape globally. European Union regulators are interested in reining in mostly American tech giants who they blame for avoiding tax, stifling competition and encroaching on privacy rights. Clegg led the Liberal Democrats from 2007 to 2015, including five years in the coalition government with the Conservatives. He lost his Sheffield Hallam seat at last year's general election.

French Startup Offers Visions of Damaged Middle Eastern Cities

Fri, 10/19/2018 - 13:01
The Syrian government says the ancient city of Palmyra, gravely damaged by IS militants, could reopen to the public next spring. But, while restoration continues on the ground, one French startup is showing people how Palmyra and other cities affected by war once looked, how they look now, and how they might look after restoration. Kevin Enochs explains.

Data Project Aims to Stop Human Trafficking Before It Occurs

Fri, 10/19/2018 - 05:50
Computer giant IBM Corp., financial services company Western Union Co. and European police launched a project Thursday to share financial data that  they said may one day be able to predict human trafficking before it occurs. The shared data hub will collect information on money moving around the world and compare it with known ways that traffickers move their illicit gains, highlighting red flags signaling potential trafficking, organizers said. "We will build and aggregate that material, using IBM tools, into an understanding of hot spots and routes and trends," said Neil Giles, a director at global anti-slavery group Stop the Traffik, which is participating in the project. Data collection, digital tools and modern technology are the latest weapons in the fight against human trafficking, estimated to be a $150 billion-a-year global business, according to the International Labor Organization. The U.N. has set a goal of 2030 for ending forced labor and modern slavery worldwide, with more than 40 million people estimated to be enslaved around the world. Certain patterns and suspicious activity might trigger a block of a transaction or an investigation into possible forced labor or sex slavery, organizers said. The project will utilize IBM's internet cloud services as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning to compare data and to spot specific trafficking terms, said Sophia Tu, director of IBM Corporate Citizenship. With a large volume of high-quality data, the hub one day may predict trafficking before it happens, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "You can't do it today because we're in the process of building out that amount of data and those capabilities, but it's in the road map for what we want to do," she said. While law enforcement is teaming up with banks and data specialists to chase trafficking, experts have cautioned that it can be a cat-and-mouse game in which traffickers quickly move on to new tactics to elude capture. Also, less than 1 percent of the estimated $1.5 trillion-plus laundered by criminals worldwide each year through the financial system is frozen or confiscated, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. Along with IBM and Western Union, participants include Europol, Europe's law enforcement agency; telecommunications giant Liberty Global; and British banks Barclays and Lloyds, organizers said.

Rural Americans Struggle with Poor Broadband Access

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 21:30
Even in the country that invented the internet, access has remained painfully slow for many rural residents in places like the central state of Arkansas, far from the big cities of the East and West coasts. That may be about to change. The Federal Communications Commission — a government agency — recently auctioned off almost $1.5 billion in subsidies to get broadband providers to serve an additional 700,000 American homes over the next 10 years. Additional such auctions are planned. For rural residents in Arkansas — ranked as one of the worst connected states in the country — it cannot come too soon. "Remember dial-up?" That's how Ashley Vaughan responds when she's asked to describe her internet speed at home. She's a resident of Pangburn, Arkansas, a town of about 600 people. After leaving the area for a few years, she returned in 2015. ​"[Internet speed is] still as crappy as it ever was," Vaughan said. "I was trying to watch Hulu [a streaming network], and my husband was trying to load a webpage at the same time, and neither of them worked."​ Rural areas The issue of poor broadband access — defined by the FCC as fewer than 25 megabits per second (Mbps) — is not uncommon. Almost 20 percent of the American population, or 60 million people, live in rural areas, which generally experience the least connectivity in the country.  Of those, around 15 million Americans have access to less than 10 Mbps. In Vaughan's case, she says her internet speed is only 0.05 Mbps. She's called her internet provider to complain, but was told her service was the best available where she lives. To get around the problem, many communities have sidestepped big companies and created municipal networks. Individually, some people spend extra on portable broadband access for their phones. That slow speed doesn't just mean fewer shows watched or video games played. It also impacts Vaughan's son's schoolwork, which increasingly requires use of a computer. Vaughan describes an instance in which her son took hours to download a single textbook, preventing anyone else in the house from using the internet during that time. Many households in the U.S. have been wired for DSL, or digital subscriber lines, permitting the transmission of high-speed internet data over telephone lines. Meanwhile, most suburban and urban areas have seen the installation of fiber and copper cables, providing faster service. But many rural areas have been left behind. "Fiber lines are expensive to install, and older copper lines are expensive to maintain," said Jameson Zimmer, a broadband analyst with BroadbandNow, a data aggregation company based in Los Angeles. On average, Zimmer says, it can cost tens of thousands of dollars to run fiber lines, depending on the complexity of the terrain and the length of the line. This means there are fewer internet providers willing to take on that financial burden — giving consumers fewer options.  "What to do about this is overwhelming," Zimmer said. Legislative push It's a problem that both Republican and Democratic party leaders are working to solve. U.S. Senator John Boozman of Arkansas has been one of the leaders in the push for legislation broadening access to high-speed internet. In an email to Voice of America, Boozman wrote that investing in affordable, high-speed internet would strengthen the American economy. He applauded President Donald Trump for signing an executive order earlier this year to expand broadband access into rural areas but said the issue needs attention from "all levels of government." "There is a sense of urgency in the need to close the rural broadband gap. Today, reliable connectivity is just as essential as traditional infrastructure like roads and bridges," Boozman wrote. "I've seen students sitting in the back of pickup trucks outside of schools in order to access the internet to complete their homework." Alisha Summerville feels that urgency. She's a co-owner of the online store ASK Apparel, which launched last year and is based in Pangburn. Even though she relies on her smartphone to do most of her work, the store earns $10,000 to $15,000 a month from online purchases and sells to customers in 18 states. The store earns an additional $5,000 to $10,000 through a brick-and-mortar store in the neighboring town of Heber Springs, but Summerville says the company was set up to serve online shoppers and it encourages foot traffic to become online traffic. "That's where business is going," Summerville said of internet sales. Summerville says she takes her internet connection into consideration every single time she makes a decision — from marketing and design to the equipment she uses. Having better broadband access at home would mean she could accomplish a lot more. "When your internet is down, so is your business," Summerville said. "When I'm thinking about internet, and I'm thinking about sales, I'm thinking about how much further we could reach."

Facebook's Election 'War Room' Takes Aim at Fake Information

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 20:49
In an otherwise innocuous part of Facebook’s expansive Silicon Valley campus, a locked door bears a taped-on sign that reads “War Room.” Behind the door lies a nerve center the social network has set up to combat fake accounts and bogus news stories ahead of upcoming elections. Inside the room are dozens of employees staring intently at their monitors while data streams across giant dashboards. On the walls are posters of the sort Facebook frequently uses to caution or exhort its employees. One reads, “Nothing at Facebook is somebody else’s problem.” That motto might strike some as ironic, given that the war room was created to counter threats that almost no one at the company, least of all CEO Mark Zuckerberg, took seriously just two years ago — and which the company’s critics now believe pose a threat to democracy. Days after President Donald Trump’s surprise victory, Zuckerberg brushed off assertions that the outcome had been influenced by fictional news stories on Facebook, calling the idea ”pretty crazy .” But Facebook’s blase attitude shifted as criticism of the company mounted in Congress and elsewhere. Later that year, it acknowledged having run thousands of ads promoting false information placed by Russian agents. Zuckerberg eventually made fixing Facebook his personal challenge for 2018. The war room is a major part of Facebook’s ongoing repairs. Its technology draws upon the artificial-intelligence system Facebook has been using to help identify “inauthentic” posts and user behavior. Facebook provided a tightly controlled glimpse at its war room to The Associated Press and other media ahead of the second round of presidential elections in Brazil on Oct. 28 and the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 6. “There is no substitute for physical, real-world interaction,” said Samidh Chakrabarti, Facebook’s director of elections and civic engagement. “The primary thing we have learned is just how effective it is to have people in the same room all together.” More than 20 different teams now coordinate the efforts of more than 20,000 people — mostly contractors — devoted to blocking fake accounts and fictional news and stopping other abuses on Facebook and its other services. As part of the crackdown, Facebook also has hired fact checkers, including The Associated Press, to vet new stories posted on its social network. Facebook credits its war room and other stepped-up patrolling efforts for booting 1.3 billion fake accounts over the past year and jettisoning hundreds of pages set up by foreign governments and other agents looking to create mischief. But it remains unclear whether Facebook is doing enough, said Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters For America, a liberal group that monitors misinformation. He noted that the sensational themes distributed in fictional news stories can be highly effective at keeping people “engaged” on Facebook — which in turn makes it possible to sell more of the ads that generate most of Facebook’s revenue. “What they are doing so far seems to be more about trying to prevent another public relations disaster and less so about putting in meaningful solutions to the problem,” Carusone said. “On balance, I would say they that are still way off.” Facebook disagrees with that assessment, although its efforts are still a work in progress. Chakrabarti, for instance, acknowledged that some “bugs” prevented Facebook from taking some unspecified actions to prevent manipulation efforts in the first round of Brazil’s presidential election earlier this month. He declined to elaborate. The war room is currently focused on Brazil’s next round of elections and upcoming U.S. midterms. Large U.S. and Brazilian flags hang on opposing walls and clocks show the time in both countries. Facebook declined to let the media scrutinize the computer screens in front of the employees, and required reporters to refrain from mentioning some of the equipment inside the war room, calling it “proprietary information.” While on duty, war-room workers are only allowed to leave the room for short bathroom breaks or to grab food to eat at their desks. Although no final decisions have been made, the war room is likely to become a permanent fixture at Facebook, said Katie Harbath, Facebook’s director of global politics and government outreach. “It is a constant arms race,” she said. “This is our new normal.”

Twitter Releases Tweets Showing Russian, Iranian Attempts to Influence US Politics

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 00:43
On Wednesday, Twitter released a collection of more than 10 million tweets related to thousands of accounts affiliated with Russia’s Internet Research Agency propaganda organization, as well as hundreds more troll accounts, including many based in Iran. The data, analyzed and released in a report by The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, are made up of 3,841 accounts affiliated with the Russia-based Internet Research Agency, 770 other accounts potentially based in Iran as well as 10 million tweets and more than 2 million images, videos and other media. Russian trolls targeting U.S. politics took on personas from both the left and the right. Their primary goal appears to have been to sow discord, rather than promote any particular side, presumably with a goal of weakening the United States, the report said. DFRlab says the Russian trolls were often effective, drawing tens of thousands of retweets on certain posts including from celebrity commentators like conservative Ann Coulter. ​Some of the tweets posted: “Judgement Day is here. Please vote #TrumpPence16 to save our great nation from destruction! #draintheswamp #TrumpForPresident,” said a fake Election Day tweet in 2016. “Daily reminder: Trump still hasn’t imposed sanctions on Russia that were passed 4,193 in the House and 982 in the Senate. Shouldn’t that be grounds for impeachment?” said another tweet in March of this year. Multiple goals The Russian operation had multiple goals, including interfering in the U.S. presidential election, polarizing online communities, and weakening trust in American institutions, according to the DFRLab. “The thing to understand is that the Russians were equal opportunity partisans,” Graham Brookie, one of the researchers behind the analysis, told VOA News. “There was a very specific focus on specific ideological communities and specific demographics.” Following an initial push to prevent Hillary Clinton from being elected in 2016, the analysis identified a “second wave” of fake accounts, many of which were focused on infiltrating anti-Trump groups, especially those identified with the “Resistance” movement, exploiting sensitive issues such as race relations and gun violence. These often achieved greater impact than their conservative counterparts. “Don’t ever tell me kneeling for the flag is disrespectful to our troops when Trump calls a sitting Senator “Pocahontas” in front of Native American war heroes,” tweeted an account posing as an African-American woman named “Luisa Haynes” under the handle @wokeluisa in November 2017. The tweet garnered more than 32,000 retweets and over 89,000 likes. “They tried to inflame everybody, regardless of race, creed, politics or sexual orientation,” the Lab noted in its analysis. “On many occasions, they pushed both sides of divisive issues.” Iran trolling Iran’s trolling was primarily focused on promoting its own interests, including attacking regional rivals like Israel and Saudi Arabia. However, Iran’s trolling was less effective than the Russian posts, with most tweets getting limited responses. This was partially because of posting styles that were less inflammatory, according to the report. “Few of the accounts showed distinctive personalities: They largely shared online articles,” according to the report. “As such, they were a poor fit for Twitter, where personal comment tends to resonate more strongly than website shares.” Generally, many troll posts were ineffective, and “their operations were washed away in the firehose of Twitter.” All of the accounts linked to the massive trove of tweets released by Twitter have been suspended or deleted, and the analysis notes that overall activity from suspected Russian trolls fell this year after Twitter clampdowns in September and June 2017. But, that does not mean political trolls do not still pose a threat. “Identifying future foreign influence operations, and reducing their impact, will demand awareness and resilience from the activist communities targeted, not just the platforms and the open source community,” according to the report.

Hackers Accused of Ties to Russia Hit 3 E. European Companies: Cybersecurity Firm

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 20:14
Hackers have infected three energy and transport companies in Ukraine and Poland with sophisticated new malware and may be planning destructive cyber attacks, a software security firm said on Wednesday. A report by researchers at Slovakia-based ESET did not attribute the hacking activity, recorded between 2015 and mid-2018, to any specific country but blamed it on a group that has been accused by Britain of having links to Russian military intelligence. The report is the latest to raise suspicions in the West about Russia’s GRU spy agency, accused by London of conducting a “reckless campaign” of global cyber attacks and trying to kill a former Russian spy in England. Moscow denies the charges. Investigators at ESET said the group responsible for a series of earlier attacks against the Ukrainian energy sector, which used malicious software known as BlackEnergy, had now developed and used a new malware suite called GreyEnergy. ESET has helped investigate a series of high-profile cyber attacks on Ukraine in recent years, including those on the Ukrainian energy grid which led to power outages in late 2015. Kiev has accused Moscow of orchestrating those attacks, while U.S. cybersecurity firm FireEye says a group known as Sandworm is thought to be responsible. Britain’s GCHQ spy agency said this month that BlackEnergy Actors and Sandworm are both names associated with the GRU. “The important thing is that they are still active,” ESET researcher Robert Lipovsky told Reuters. “This shows that this very dangerous and persistent ‘threat actor’ is still active.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was no evidence to support the allegations against the GRU and that Russia does not use cyber attacks against other countries. “These are just more accusations. We are tired of denying them, because no one is listening,” he said. After infection via emails laced with malicious weblinks or documents - a tactic known as “spear phishing” - or by compromising servers exposed to the internet, GreyEnergy allowed the attackers to map out their victim’s networks and gather confidential information such as passwords and login credentials, ESET said. Lipovsky said his team then saw the hackers seek out critical parts of the companies’ systems, including computers which ran industrial control processes. “It is my understanding that this was the reconnaissance and espionage phase, potentially leading up to cyber sabotage,” he said. Global hacking campaign The ESET report did not name the three companies infected in Ukraine and Poland, and Reuters was unable to identify them. Ukraine’s Cyber Police confirmed the attacks on two Ukrainian companies but declined to give any further details. Polish authorities did not respond to requests for comment. Ben Read, a senior manager on FireEye’s espionage analysis team, said his own work corroborated ESET’s report and that the Sandworm group was probably responsible. The activity “is similar to the group we track as Sandworm,” he said. “And activity that we attribute to Sandworm has been named by the U.S. Department of Justice as being the GRU.” Western countries including Britain and the United States issued a coordinated denunciation of Russia as a “pariah state” this month for what they described as a global hacking campaign run by the GRU. GRU hackers have targeted institutions ranging from sports anti-doping bodies to a nuclear power company and the world chemical weapons watchdog, they said, as well as releasing the devastating “NotPetya” cyber worm which caused billions of dollars of damage worldwide in 2017. The GRU, now formally known in Russia by a shorter acronym GU, is also accused by Britain of carrying out a nerve agent attack in England on former GRU officer Sergei Skripal. Moscow’s relations with the West have hit a post-Cold War low over Russia’s role in the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. Lipovsky and fellow ESET researcher Anton Cherepanov said the BlackEnergy attackers’ decision to upgrade to the new GreyEnergy malware may have been motivated by a need to cover their tracks and deflect attention from their activities. The power outages triggered by the BlackEnergy attacks in Ukraine in December 2015 drew international attention and are recognised as the first blackout caused by a cyber attack. “Threat actors need to switch up their arsenal from time to time,” Lipovsky said.    

Shanghai Airport Automates Check-in with Facial Recognition

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 11:15
It's now possible to check in automatically at Shanghai's Hongqiao airport using facial recognition technology, part of an ambitious rollout of facial recognition systems in China that has raised privacy concerns as Beijing pushes to become a global leader in the field.  Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport unveiled self-service kiosks for flight and baggage check-in, security clearance and boarding powered by facial recognition technology, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China. Similar efforts are under way at airports in Beijing and Nanyang city, in central China's Henan province. Many airports in China already use facial recognition to help speed security checks, but Shanghai's system, which debuted Monday, is being billed as the first to be fully automated. "It is the first time in China to achieve self-service for the whole check-in process,'' said Zhang Zheng, general manager of the ground services department for Spring Airlines, the first airline to adopt the system at Hongqiao airport. Currently, only Chinese identity card holders can use the technology. Spring Airlines said Tuesday that passengers had embraced automated check-in, with 87 percent of 5,017 people who took Spring flights on Monday using the self-service kiosks, which can cut down check-in times to less than a minute and a half. Across greater China, facial recognition is finding its way into daily life. Mainland police have used facial recognition systems to identify people of interest in crowds and nab jaywalkers, and are working to develop an integrated national system of surveillance camera data. Chinese media are filled with reports of ever-expanding applications: A KFC outlet in Hangzhou, near Shanghai, where it's possible to pay using facial recognition technology; a school that uses facial recognition cameras to monitor students' reactions in class; and hundreds of ATMs in Macau equipped with facial recognition devices to curb money laundering. But increased convenience may come at a cost in a country with few rules on how the government can use biometric data. "Authorities are using biometric and artificial intelligence to record and track people for social control purposes,'' said Maya Wang, senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch. "We are concerned about the increasing integration and use of facial recognition technologies throughout the country because it provides more and more data points for the authorities to track people.''

Google to Charge for Apps on Android Phones in Europe

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 02:35
Google says it will start charging smartphone makers to pre-install apps like Gmail, YouTube and Google Maps on Android handsets sold in Europe, in response to a record $5 billion EU antitrust fine. The U.S. tech company's announcement Tuesday is a change from its previous business model, in which it let phone makers install its suite of popular mobile apps for free on phones running its Android operating system. It's among measures the company is taking to comply with the July ruling by EU authorities that found Google allegedly abused the dominance of Android to stifle competitors, even as it appeals the decision. The company will also let phone makers install rival versions of Android, the most widely used mobile operating system.

Huawei Launches New flagship Phones in Bid to Keep No. 2 Spot

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 23:18
Huawei unveiled new flagship smartphones with novel smart camera and video features on Tuesday, as it seeks to sustain momentum among price-conscious consumers. The Chinese company, which overtook Apple this year to become the No. 2 smartphone maker by units - behind South Korea’s Samsung (005930.KS) - introduced its Mate 20 phone series using Leica camera technology. Huawei’s new premium phone line-up has four models available around the world, expect in the United States where sales are effectively banned over whispered national security concerns. The new line-up includes the Mate 20, with list prices ranging from 799-849 euros ($925-$983), depending on memory configuration. The fuller-featured Mate 20 Pro, is priced as low as 799 pounds at some UK retailers and list priced at 849 pounds or 1,049 euros across Europe. A comparable iPhone X Max from Apple costs 1,099 pounds in the UK. The new phones include a new ultra-wide angle lens, as well as a 3x telephoto lens and a macro that shoots objects as close as 2.5 centimeters (1 inch). Mate P20 models take advantage of artificial intelligence features built into Huawei’s own Kirin chipsets. Features available to Mate 20 users include being able to isolate human subjects and desaturate the colors around them in order to highlight people against their backgrounds. Huawei incorporates bigger light-sensing chips than rival phones to take better pictures in low-light conditions. Gartner analyst Roberta Cozza said that in a highly commoditized smartphone market of look-alike phones, Huawei is managing to differentiate itself with camera and personalization features. “With the Mate 20, Huawei is setting the bar for what users can expect from photography using a smartphone,” Cozza said. The Chinese phone maker managed to surpass Apple to take the No. 2 spot in the second quarter, industry data shows, despite being effectively excluded from the U.S. market. However, Apple commanded 43 percent of the premium market and a lion’s share of profits, CounterPoint Research estimated. “Huawei is clearly ticking all the key boxes needed to displace rivals – and not just Android-powered rivals,” said Ben Wood, research chief of mobile industry consulting firm CCS Insight. Wood said Huawei’s move to match Apple iPhone’s characteristic swipe gestures and face unlock features on its Mate 20 Pro could, in theory, make it easier for committed Apple buyers to switch, although he said that was unlikely near term. “But it’s clear that Huawei has an eye on the future and is ready to take share from Apple if the time comes that a loyal iPhone owner decides to try something else,” he said. The new premium phone line-up from the world’s biggest telecom equipment maker includes four models, the Mate 20, Mate 20 Pro, Mate 20 X, with a 7.2 inch display screen, and a Porsche Design limited edition phone.

Check-in With Facial Recognition Now Possible in Shanghai

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 22:34
It’s now possible to check in automatically at Shanghai’s Hongqiao airport using facial recognition technology, part of an ambitious rollout of facial recognition systems in China that has raised privacy concerns as Beijing pushes to become a global leader in the field. Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport unveiled self-service kiosks for flight and baggage check-in, security clearance and boarding powered by facial recognition technology, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China. Similar efforts are underway at airports in Beijing and Nanyang city, in central China’s Henan province. Many airports in China already use facial recognition to help speed security checks, but Shanghai’s system, which debuted Monday, is being billed as the first to be fully automated. “It is the first time in China to achieve self-service for the whole check-in process,” said Zhang Zheng, general manager of the ground services department for Spring Airlines, the first airline to adopt the system at Hongqiao airport. Currently, only Chinese identity card holders can use the technology. Spring Airlines said Tuesday that passengers had embraced automated check-in, with 87 percent of 5,017 people who took Spring flights on Monday using the self-service kiosks, which can cut down check-in times to less than a minute and a half. Across greater China, facial recognition is finding its way into daily life. Mainland police have used facial recognition systems to identify people of interest in crowds and nab jaywalkers, and are working to develop an integrated national system of surveillance camera data. Chinese media are filled with reports of ever-expanding applications: A KFC outlet in Hangzhou, near Shanghai, where it’s possible to pay using facial recognition technology; a school that uses facial recognition cameras to monitor students’ reactions in class; and hundreds of ATMs in Macau equipped with facial recognition devices to curb money laundering. But increased convenience may come at a cost in a country with few rules on how the government can use biometric data. “Authorities are using biometric and artificial intelligence to record and track people for social control purposes,” said Maya Wang, senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch. “We are concerned about the increasing integration and use of facial recognition technologies throughout the country because it provides more and more data points for the authorities to track people.”

Facebook Now Requires UK Political Ad Buyers to Reveal Identity

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 19:24
Facebook says that anyone who takes out a British political ad on the social media platform will now be forced to reveal their identity, in a bid to increase transparency and curb misinformation.   The company said Tuesday that it will also require disclaimers for any British political advertisements. All the data on the ad buyers will be archived for seven years in a publicly accessible database.   Facebook is already applying a similar system in the United States, which is holding midterm elections this year.   British lawmakers have called for greater oversight of social media companies and election campaigns to protect democracy in the digital age.   A House of Commons report this year said democracy is facing a crisis because data analysis and social media allow campaigns to target voters with messages of hate without their consent.   “While the vast majority of ads on Facebook are run by legitimate organizations, we know that there are bad actors that try to misuse our platform,” Facebook said in a statement. “By having people verify who they are, we believe it will help prevent abuse.”   Facebook said it's up against “smart and well-funded adversaries who change their tactics as we spot abuse,” but it believes that increased transparency is good for democracy and the electoral process.    

Facebook to Ban Misinformation on Voting in Upcoming US Elections

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 09:04
Facebook Inc will ban false information about voting requirements and fact-check fake reports of violence or long lines at polling stations ahead of next month's U.S. midterm elections, company executives told Reuters, the latest effort to reduce voter manipulation on its service. The world's largest online social network, with 1.5 billion daily users, has stopped short of banning all false or misleading posts, something that Facebook has shied away from as it would likely increase its expenses and leave it open to charges of censorship. The latest move addresses a sensitive area for the company, which has come under fire for its lax approach to fake news reports and disinformation campaigns, which many believe affected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, won by Donald Trump. The new policy was disclosed by Facebook's cybersecurity policy chief, Nathaniel Gleicher, and other company executives. The ban on false information about voting methods, set to be announced later on Monday, comes six weeks after Senator Ron Wyden asked Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg how Facebook would counter posts aimed at suppressing votes, such as by telling certain users they could vote by text, a hoax that has been used to reduce turnout in the past. The information on voting methods becomes one of the few areas in which falsehoods are prohibited on Facebook, a policy enforced by what the company calls "community standards" moderators, although application of its standards has been uneven. It will not stop the vast majority of untruthful posts about candidates or other election issues. “We don’t believe we should remove things from Facebook that are shared by authentic people if they don’t violate those community standards, even if they are false,” said Tessa Lyons, product manager for Facebook's News Feed feature that shows users what friends are sharing. Links to discouraging reports about polling places that may be inflated or misleading will be referred to fact-checkers under the new policy, Facebook said. If then marked as false, the reports will not be removed but will be seen by fewer of the poster's friends. Such partial measures leave Facebook more open to manipulation by users seeking to affect the election, critics say.  Russia, and potentially other foreign parties, are already making "pervasive" efforts to interfere in upcoming U.S. elections, the leader of Trump's national security team said in early August. Just days before that, Facebook said it uncovered a coordinated political influence campaign to mislead its users and sow dissension among voters, removing 32 pages and accounts from Facebook and Instagram. Members of Congress briefed by Facebook said the methodology suggested Russian involvement. Trump has disputed claims that Russia has attempted to interfere in U.S. elections. Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied it. Weighing ban on hacked material Facebook instituted a global ban on false information about when and where to vote in 2016, but Monday's move goes further, including posts about exaggerated identification requirements. Facebook executives are also debating whether to follow Twitter Inc's recent policy change to ban posts linking to hacked material, Gleicher told Reuters in an interview. The dissemination of hacked emails from Democratic party officials likely played a role in tipping the 2016 presidential election to Trump, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has warned that Russia has recently been attempting to hack and steal information from U.S. candidates and government officials. A blanket ban on hacked content, however, would limit exposure to other material some believe serves the public interest, such as the so-called Panama Papers, which in 2015 made public the extensive use of offshore tax havens by the world's wealthy. Months ago, senior Facebook executives briefly debated banning all political ads, which produce less than 5 percent of the company's revenue, sources said. The company rejected that because product managers were loath to leave advertising dollars on the table and policy staffers argued that blocking political ads would favor incumbents and wealthy campaigners who can better afford television and print ads. Instead, the company checks political ad buyers for proof of national residency and keeps a public archive of who has bought what. Facebook also takes a middle ground on the authenticity of personal accounts. It can use automated activity it finds to disable pages spreading propaganda, as happened last week, but it does not require phone numbers or other proof of individual identity before allowing people to open accounts in the first place. On the issue of fake news, Facebook has held off on a total ban, instead limiting the spread of articles marked as false by vetted fact-checkers. However, that approach can leave fact-checkers overwhelmed and able to tackle only the most viral hoaxes. “Without a clear and transparent policy to curb the deliberate spread of false information that applies across platforms, we will continue to be vulnerable,” said Graham Brookie, head of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.  

Artificial Intelligence Can Help Fight Global Hunger

Mon, 10/15/2018 - 12:49
A world without hunger by 2030 is the theme of this year's World Food Day, and the goal of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization. Events around the world on October 16th will promote awareness and action for those who suffer from hunger and for the need to ensure food security and nutritious diets for all. Advances in technology and artificial intelligence can help feed the world. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee explains.

Using CT Scans to Predict Heart Attacks

Sat, 10/13/2018 - 13:27
One of the joys of computer algorithms and machine learning is their ability to extract new data from old technologies. Doctors at the University of London in Oxford for instance have figured out a way to take regular CT heart scans and predict heart problems years in advance. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

Facebook: Hackers Accessed 29M Accounts - Fewer Than Thought

Sat, 10/13/2018 - 01:18
Facebook says hackers accessed data from 29 million accounts as part of the security breach disclosed two weeks ago, fewer than the 50 million it initially believed were affected. The hackers accessed name, email addresses or phone numbers from these accounts, according to Facebook. For 14 million of them, hackers got even more data, such as hometown, birthdate, the last 10 places they checked into or the 15 most recent searches.   An additional 1 million accounts were affected, but hackers didn't get any information from them.   Facebook isn't giving a breakdown of where these users are, but says the breach was "fairly broad." It plans to send messages to people whose accounts were hacked.   Facebook said third-party apps and Facebook apps like WhatsApp and Instagram were unaffected by the breach.   Facebook said the FBI is investigating, but asked the company not to discuss who may be behind the attack. The company said it hasn't ruled out the possibility of smaller-scale attacks that used the same vulnerability.   Facebook has said the attackers gained the ability to "seize control" of those user accounts by stealing digital keys the company uses to keep users logged in. They could do so by exploiting three distinct bugs in Facebook's code. The company said it has fixed the bugs and logged out affected users to reset those digital keys.   At the time, CEO Mark Zuckerberg - whose own account was compromised - said attackers would have had the ability to view private messages or post on someone's account, but there's no sign that they did.    

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